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Rome Total War: The Seleukids

I recently got to thinking about RTW again, and decided to write up a short piece on the Seleukid Empire, one of the diodachoi or Successor States left behind after the death of Alexander III and the dissolution of his empire. Their army has a unique combination of Greek, Roman, and Middle Eastern influences that make it one of the strongest and most flexible forces in the game (their units were detailed in my earlier entry about the Greeks. Scroll down a wee bit).The Seleukids also control rich lands in Syria and Mesopotamia, with the wealth of Greece and Egypt easily within their reach. However, they, like the Greek Cities, start out with vulnerable, far-flung cities surrounded by many potential enemies. Their cities stretch in almost a straight line from the western coast of Asia Minor all the way to the foot of the Iranian Plateau. They share borders with the Greeks, Armenians, Parthians, Pontians, and Egyptians, as well as a number of independent cities which can quickly change the strategic situation, regardless of who conquers them. Needless to say, the Seleukids must spend much of the early game trying to maintain diplomatic relations between many potential allies and enemies.

However, prospects are good if you can survive the early stages. Ptolemaic Egypt, another Successor State and a historical blood enemy of Seleukia, will attack early and often, but good generalship and aggressive campaigning can gradually push them back to the Nile itself. A sound strategy is to land a small force on Cyprus and force the Egyptians out of Salamis- this deprives Egypt of a secure naval base and nets you considerable overseas trade. From there, your forces can advance almost in a straight line, issuing out of Damascus, marching south into Phoenicia to sieze Sidon, then continuing south to Jerusalem. A sharp turn west brings you to the Nile delta, where your army must cross several narrow, easily defended bridges before reaching Alexandria. This is the most dangerous terrain you'll face in your Egyptian campaign, but hopefully Egypt's armies will have been sufficiently depleted in the battles for Judea and Phoenicia. Once Alexandria falls, there is little hope for an Egyptian comeback- Thebes and Memphis are only a stone's throw away, and although they are both very large, rich cities, they can't hope to field enough men to match whatever experienced troops and officers you should have at this point.

So, what about the actual nuts-and-bolts of defeating the Egyptians; how does their army operate, what are its strengths and weaknesses? How do their troops compare to the Seleukids? Although the Egyptian troops are extremely Egyptian-looking, in form and function they very closely resemble the Carthaginian or even Greek armies. Their most common infantry, the Nile Spearman, is a phalanx unit, and a competent one. Like the Carthies and Greeks, they carry fairly long spears, with about three points extending out in front of their formation. However, the spear carried by your phalangites, the Macedonian-style sarissa, is much longer, with up to five spearpoints projecting ahead of your ranks. However, unlike Greek or Carthaginian hoplites, who make up for their shorter spears with heavier armor, the Nile Spearman is not particularly tough. It may be able to contend with your Levy Pikemen, who are not even a match for Milita Hoplites (or Egypt's Nubian Spearmen, who are identical statistically) on an individual basis, but your Phalanx Pikemen- good infantry by anyone's standards- should eat them for lunch. However, Egypt has another infantry unit which my prove more problematic- the Desert Axeman. These excellent heavy infantrymen are, statistically speaking, more than a match for most of your troops in hand-to-hand fighting. Fortunately for you, you can put five spearpoints between them and your phalangites, so long as they attack from the front. The bad news is, these men, fighting in loose formation on open ground, are substantially faster and more maneuverable than pikemen advancing in close order. They are extremely dangerous to your flanks- guard them well with cavalry.

On the subject of cavalry, yours and the Egyptians are roughly on a par. Early Seleukid cavalry is basically identical to that of the Greeks- you get Greek Cavalry, which are effective lancers, and Militia Cavalry, which are weak in close fighting but can throw javelins while moving. These horsemen are fast, light, and cheap, making them a good counterpart to your ponderous Pikemen. The Egyptians have two light lancer-type units, Nubian Cavalry (slightly weaker than Greek Cavalry) and Nile Cavalry (slightly stronger than Greek Cavalry). These, however, are less common than chariots, the thing that really sets Egyptians apart. Some carry archers,and some carry swordsmen, but both have scythed wheels that are deadly when charging- unless they're charging into pikes. Although charging chariots will sometimes have just enough momentum to breach the spearwall and deal some casualties, they will invariably be destroyed in the process. Chariot archers are also so relatively few in number that they can easily be outshot by foot archers. However, they candevastate whatever non-phalanx infantry you have (missile troops and mercenaries) with their unstoppable charge, and in a battle with cavalry, they will usually be defeated (due to their low defense) but at great cost (due to their ability to mow down many soldiers at once with their scythed wheels). Militia Cavalry are still very effective against them, since they can avoid actually closing with the enemywhile hitting them with javelins, which are very effective at killing their crews. Of course, you can train Chariots of your own- they are less effective than Egyptian ones, however, since they have only a driver, now archers or swordsmen. Theymay be usefulagainst the light infantry of Armenia, Pontus, and Parthia, but against the massed spearmen of Egypt, they're not particularly useful.

In missile troops, the Seleukids probably have the advantage in the early game. The Seleukids can train archers, which are extremely effective against the kind of massed, lightly-armored spearmen you'll probably face early and often, and can also train Peltasts, javelin-throwers who, despite short range and low ammunition, make excellent close-in support for your slow-moving phalanxes. The Egyptians can also train archers, but instead of peltasts, they train slingers. Slingers have long range and lots of ammunition, but are less lethal than archers and, because they fire along a flat trajectory rather than an arc, can only provide support before the melee infantry engage. Needless to say, you'll probably be seeing a lot more archers than slingers during your campaigns. If you take your time, you may encounter Pharaoh's Bowmen, which besides being extremely deadly at long range are also well-armored and competent at hand-to-hand fighting. These troops are deadly against your own archers and especially your slow-moving, densely-packed phalangites. It's best to try and finish the Ptolemies off before they can get such superb troops.

So, basically, your Pikeman units will be very effective against the Egyptian infantry and chariots, so long as you make good use of combined-arms tactics, as Alexander the Great did.Use your phalanxes as a strong base of maneuver, protecting your missile troops from enemy horsemen and chariots and holding the enemy infantry in place for your fast, light horsemen. Keep winning battles and taking cities, and you should be able to gradually grind the Egyptians to dust. With their rich territories added to your kingdom, you have a strong, secure base and, due to your many victories, a large and experienced army under a famous commander. The good news is that, with this new strength, it should be easy to seize the rest of Asia. Pontus and Armenia are both small kingdoms with only 2 cities initially, and although the Parthians own an additional city on the northern coast of the Caspian Sea, they also have only 2 starting cities in Asia. All three of these factions rely mainly on Hillmen and Eastern Infantry, unarmored soldiers with short spears and wicker shields. Your phalanxes will wade through them. These three kingdoms will often make good use of cavalry as well though; employing missile cavalry early on and later developing superb heavy cavalry, but you should be able to eliminate both before any of their cities are sophisticated enough to produce high-tier troops. In response to the missile cavalry that you will doubtless encounter, it's probably best to have your own foot archers engage them at range, with your own cavalry ready to repel a charge. Sending cavalry of your own to chase them down is sometimes worthwhile, but often just leads your horsemen away from the real battle, tiring them and reducing their effectiveness. The Pontic Heavy Cavalry, mounted javelin men, are actually quite tough for low-tier cavalry, and pursuing them can sometimes result in a bloody melee. Basically, fight defensively with your archers and pikemen and hold your cavalry in reserve, and you may even defeat them before you conquer Egypt.

With all the land from the Caucasus to the Nile delta now under your control, you have three main options- you can march through the wastes of Libya to reach the rich cities of West Africa, you can cross the Hellespont to subjugate Greece, Thrace, and Macedon, or you can march north via the Caucasus mountains, to mop up the last of the Parthians and conquer Scythia. The third is the least cost-effective. The Seleukid army is poorly suited to warfare against horse archers on the open plains of Ukraine and Russia, and the cities of the region are small and unsophisticated (read: not worth conquering). Although West Africa is a rich prize, a long march through the open deserts between Thebes and Thapsus means wasted time, and a diversion from the richer and more immediate prizes of the southern Balkans. With the collossaltrade income and large powerbase that Greece and Macedon will give you, your kingdom will be prepared to take on the Romans- in fact, you'll probably run into the Roman Scipii during your Greek campaign.

Against the Romans, your best bet is to try to defeat them through superior combined-arms tactics. That is to say, don't rely too heavily on infantry. Use your high-tier heavy cavalry, the Cataphracts and Companions, and make good use of your Silver Shield Legionaries, which make for a good link between your phalangites and horsemen and may even be your infantry-of-the-line in some armies. Don't forget Elephants, either. Your elephants and cavalry are the biggest advantage you'll have over the Romans,but your phalanx is both a blessing and a curse- it gives your infantry a chance to beat superior forces in head-on combat, but leaves them miserably vulnerable to enemy flanking attacks and missile fire. Just fight the good fight and your forces should be parading through Rome in no time.

Rome Total War: Why the Greeks are my favorite faction

The Greek Cities are among the quirkiest and most challenging factions in Rome: Total War. They're also one of the most fun. They are, however, daunting to an inexperienced player, because their territories are so far-flung and they share borders with so many powerful enemies, including Carthage, Rome, Macedon, and Seleucia. They actually own only two mainland Greek cities- Sparta and Thermon- along with Rhodes, Syracuse (in southern Sicily) and a single city on the coast of Asia Minor. When I first attempted the Greek campaign, I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of micromanaging the Greek Cities. Because every individual Greek city is completely isolated from the rest of the faction, they must maintain a very high degree of autonomy and self-reliance, whereas centralized factions can afford to specialize their cities for certain economic or military activities. Not to mention, their lack of heavy or even medium cavalry puts them at a major disadvantage against their most immediate enemy, Macedon, as well as most every other faction in the Mediterranean. Their hoplites also carry shorter spears than their Macedonian and Seluecid counterparts. Fortunately, they also have an interesting set of geographical and tactical advantages that make for a challenging but totally playable experience.

First things first, you've gotta understand the differences between the Greek armies and the Macedonian/Seleucid armies, which are their main rivals.

The Greek armies are made up of these units (units on the right require more advanced structures):
Militia Hoplites-> Hoplites-> Armored Hoplites-> Spartan Hoplites
Peltasts-> Archers-> Heavy Peltasts
Militia Cavalry-> Greek Cavalry

The Macedonian and Seleucid armies are like this:
Militia Hoplites-> Levy Pikemen-> Phalanx Pikemen-> Royal Pikemen (Mac)/ Silver Shield Pikemen (Seu)
Peltasts-> Archers
Light Lancers (Mac)/ Militia Cavalry (Seu)-> Greek Cavalry-> Macedonian Cavalry (Mac)/ Cataphracts (Seu)-> Companion Cavalry
The Seleucids also get Elephants, War Elephants, and Armored Elephants.

Greek Cavalry is simply inferior to Successor State cavalry. Greek Cavalry is pure light cavalry- they are fast, light, and relatively cheap for horsemen, but the downside is that they get torn to pieces in any kind of heavy combat. They don't have a prayer in battle with heavy cavalry. Militia Cavalry are even weaker, but have the advantage of being able to throw javelins, even while moving. I generally prefer them over Greek Cavalry in most cases, because when faced with enemy cavalry, they can simply skirmish and throw javelins as they fall back, thereby denying the enemy battle, dealing casualties, and serving the ultimate purpose of keeping the enemy cavalry away from my phalanxes' flanks. They are also useful in a supporting role, because they are fast and strong enough to run down enemy missile troops, or to hurl javelins into the flanks of enemy heavy infantry.

Greek missile troops are exactly the same as Macedonian and Seleucid troops, exept for a unit that is totally unique to the Greeks: the Heavy Peltast. These javelin-men are also pretty solid light infantry, well able to beat peasants and militia troops. Their large shields and overall maneuverability make them a great screen for slow-moving Greek phalanxes, and once the fight starts, their superior mobility makes them useful flankers. They are hardly a game-winning unit, but they are one of the precious few advantages that make the Greek Cities playable.

Where the Greeks really shine, though, is infantry. Hoplites are outstanding troops, among the best in their tier (cost-wise). Statistically, they're very similar to Rome's Hastati or Carthage's Libyan Spearmen, but their ability to form a phalanx, coupled with their superior stamina and morale, make them more than a match for either of them in a frontal attack. They're also fairly handy swordsmen. This sets them apart from the Levy Pikemen, the Successor infantry of the same technological tier. Levies are basically unarmored, clothed only in a long tunic, and their shields are substantially smaller. Their only advantage is the length of their spears, hence the name Pikemen. The same is basically true of Armored Hoplites and Phalanx Pikemen; Phalanx pikemen wear light leather cuirasses, whereas Armored Hoplites wear the full, old-fashioned bronze panoply, and are crack troops to boot. Armored hoplites are far superior to Rome's Principes and Carthage's Libyan Spearmen. Spartan Hoplites are the best regular infantry in the game; although they have low armor ratings for a phalanx unit, they have absurdly high attack for hoplites and also sport excellent stamina and morale. Royal and Silver Shield Pikemen are armed exactly like Phalanx Pikemen, they just have slightly better morale and fighting ability.

So, this creates a unique tactical situation. In a straightforward infantry battle, the Greeks are basically peerless. This means that Syracuse, threatened by the infantry-heavy Romans and the lightly-armed Carthaginians, is quite secure as long as no mistakes are made. Rhodes, well away from any enemies, is also fairly secure, and makes a great naval base. It is in Greece, therefore, that the real danger lies. Most of Greece is occupied by Macedon- Thermon and Sparta are under the control of the Greek Cities, and Athens is currently independent, but will invariably fall to the Macedonians in due time. Geographically speaking, the forces in Thermon need only hold the line as the Spartan soldiers drive North. It seems easy enough on the map, but the real challenge is in actually winning those battles.

Macedon has excellent cavalry, and will begin taking advantage of it immediately. The Macedonian phalanx may be frail compared to the Greek one, but it isn't designed to kill Greeks; it's designed to hold Greeks in place while the cavalry kill them. Because you can't hope to match them in cavalry battle, except through sheer weight of numbers, your best bet is simply using large hoplite reserves to repel flanking attacks, in concert with a little light cavalry. Archers are useful for blooding enemy cavalry from a distance, and peltasts (javelin throwers) are extremely lethal against the Macedonian phalanxes, with their pitifully poor armor. Keep in mind, any cavalry used in battle with the Macedonians is used more for pursuit after a rout than for actual combat, because they will suffer catastrophic losses if they engage the enemy horsemen, but it's worth having them. You basically have to rely on sheer muscle and killing power to break the Macedonians- their system is tactically superior to yours. Therefore, you want to get as much bang for your buck as possible, by making each battle as bloody for them as you can. That's true of just about every battle in this game, but even more so for the Greeks, because their economic and geographical underdog status forces them to be miserly with both money and men.

Upon clearing out Macedon, you'll have a series of new threats; the barbarian kingdoms Dacia and Thrace, and, more likely than not, the Roman Brutii clan as well. The Seleucids of Syria and the Pontic kingdom of Asia Minor are, doubtless, also threats by now. Fleets from Egypt will probably be in your waters as well. The possibilities are endless from there.

EDIT: I decided to add a picture so that you have a visual aid. This is of Militia Hoplites, apparently Macedonian (judging by the pattern on their shields), but their spears and shields are a good representation of the Greek hoplite infantry in general. The pikemen's spears are long enough for 5 spear points to extend in front of the ranks rather than three, but their shields are very small and strap onto their forearms (i.e., they're pretty worthless).

Normally, these Roman Hastati would butcher the Militia Hoplites, especially since they have the advantage of charging downhill. However, the spearwall created by the phalanx formation holds them at bay and gives the otherwise-outmanned hoplites a fighting chance.

Minus the Bear

So the same guy who loaned my Carnavas just loaned me Menos el Oso, from the band 'Minus the Bear.' Another great album, but very different from Carnavas. Minus the Bear's sound is extremely smooth and minimalistic. Check it out!

Carnavas

A friend of mine recently loaned me Carnavas, the debut album from Silversun Pickups. It's definitely worth a listen to anyone interested in rock; it's sweet and melodic for the most part, but carries a grungy edge that keeps things interesting. Songs are generally very textured, with a heavy 90's-alternative influence. Some notable tracks are 'Melatonin,' 'Lazy Eye,' and 'Checkered Floor.'  Check it out.

Steven Pressfield is awesome

I've recently taken an interest in the Peloponnesian War, often called the 'first modern war,' and I recently stumbled on a historical novel about it, called 'Tides of War.' The novel is by Steven Pressfield, who wrote 'The Legend of Bagger Vance,' (you know, that golf book), as well as 'Gates of Fire,' a bestselling account of the battle of Thermopylae. Pressfield really is a master storyteller, describing the events of the war through the eyes of Polemides, a soldier of the Athenian armored infantry who initially serves with the famed general Acibialdes, and then ultimately assassinates him. The grueling siege of Potidaea, the Plague in Athens, and the shameless life of a mercenary on endless campaign are all described vividly, sparing no ugly detail. If I had the book handy right now, I'd post an excerpt. It's a fairly lengthy book, and I'm only about 70 pages in so far, but the story really has no low points. I recommend this book not just to history buffs, but to anybody who enjoys good literature.

'300' is not anti-Iranian.

So, there's been a lot of talk about this new movie '300.' Being a teenaged male (obviously the movie's target demographic), I was drawn by the movie's promise of epic storytelling, stunning imagery, and beautifully choreographed gore. Before I get to what I thought of the movie, I want to make a few things perfectly clear.

A surprising number of people have accused this movie of being all kinds of racist, paranoid, and xenophobic. Which means that a surprising number of people weren't paying a whole lot of attention. For example, the 'Anti-Iranian' crowd accuse the movie of depicting the Greeks as noble and heroic and the Persians as being opulent, corrupt, sexually perverse, and warmongering. These people, apparently, slept through the first half hour or so of the movie, as well as a few moments towards the end.

--SPOILERS--

The very first images this movie presents you with are of a young Spartan boy being taken from his parents and taught to kill. The movie goes to great lengths to indicate just how sick and deranged the Spartan culture is, showing viewers a society in which the only valued skills are the ones that can be used to kill things (the viewers who accuse this movie of being pro-eugenics or otherwise neo-nazi clearly missed how intentionally dark, grotesque, and brutal this sequence is). The film offers its criticism of Hellenism as a whole through the characters of the Ebors- the high priests of Greece's cruel gods, who choose beautiful young women as oracles and exploit them during their drug-induced trances. These, among the highest and most influential individuals in Greek religion and politics, are hands-down the most repugnant characters in 300. Sparta's politicians are every bit as conniving and selfish as any other politicians, and the Greek volunteer forces who fight with the Spartans are anything but heroic.

The film's depiction of Persia, while certainly not favorable, is not as negative as some would suggest. Xerxes, God-King of the Persian empire, commands legions of slaves and pursues conquest at a whim, but is not particularly malign as far as bad guys go. He is depicted not as deranged or bloodthirsty, but as someone who deeply and honestly considers himself a God, and pursues his interests with the utmost selfishness. The Persian rank-and-file are more the object of pity than anything else- they're just ordinary men, conscripted into Xerxes' massive army and sent to die spectacularly gruesome deaths at the hands of the Spartans. The Persian Immortals, however, are quite plainly depicted as evil- they massacre a village in northern Greece and nail the corpses of the villagers to a tree (which is actually not especially cruel compared to the kinds of psychological warfare that were really used in the classical world). A fair and honest comparison shows that 300 isn't too fond of Greece or of the Persian Empire, but it's madly in love with Leonidas.

When you get right down to it, this movie is a simple story set in a complicated world. It is not a story about Greek nobility and Persian savagery. It is not a story about democracy overcoming tyranny. It's most definitely not about the greatness of Sparta (the only truly heroic figure of the movie, King Leonidas, is only great because of how fundamentally un-Spartan he is). It's really a story about defiance, about having the balls to stand against impossible odds. It's about daring to love your wife and son in a society that expects you to be a machine, and about refusing to be a slave, even to the most generous master.

I guess you guys can all tell what I thought of the movie.

Goin' to California

Tomorrow at 5:30 PM, I'm going on a roadtrip to Los Angeles. I'll be staying 'till Sunday morning. The main point of this is to visit my sister Lindsay, who'll be turning 17 in February. I know I've explained the situation with my sister in detail in at least one blog entry, but it's kind of an interesting story and I feel like retelling it.

So, my sister is missing a chromosome. Which is serious business, because a single missing chromosome can leave you with serious developmental problems, and in Lindsay's case, it did. The end result is a baby-faced 17-year-old who's about the size of a vintrilloquist's dummy and is unable to sit up under her own will, much less speak. Regardless of her miserable state, she's astoundingly survived a long string of potentially life-threatening illnesses and complications. She lives in an LA home for the disabled (she was put in the home during the short time that my family lived in Orange Country- shortly after Dad came back from the First Gulf War, we moved to Georgia, where living was cheaper and family was closer). To this day, we make a habit of visiting at least once a year, despite the fact that she doesn't seem to recognize us, or anybody else for that matter.

This is an excercise in writing, spurred on by darkness (which, I'm told, is a depressant- which is why posts and entries made late at night often, upon further reflection, seem to be selfish and nonsensival excercises in self-pity), and by a genuine belief that my family history is actually very interesting. Good material for a novel or something.

Now that we're on that topic, I'd like to talk about geneology. My mom's been researching her family line extensively (her brother has already done so and compiled all his findings, but he's too self-absorbed to share it with anybody), but all we know so far is that her grandfather's line, the Ishees, were Dutch, and that there is Cherokee ancestry on her grandmother's side. A great deal of the related familes have names like Green, Blue, and Pink.

My dad's side of the family is much better known, at least since they came to America. They were Sotch-Irish living in England, when they migrated to Georgia during the Colonial Period, probably rendering some service in the Revolution (it's not clear which side). During the time between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the line came into a great deal of money, finding themselves the owners of a moderate-sized plantation, but would lose it within a few generations (cause unknown). They fought on the losing side of the Civil War (they were Southern, after all), and would remain in Georgia until my parents moved to California in the late 1980's.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with Georgia. I actually prefer the Lundsford's Georgia to the Green's Mississippi- Savannah is one of my favorite towns, and I definitely wouldn't mind living there. I think I'll stay in the West, though, because the climate suits me better.

Well, this thread has just about run dry, and I'm out of material for now. Au revoir, as they say in Frankreich.