Battle of Callinicum

The Battle of Callinicum took place on Easter Saturday, 19 April 531 AD, between the armies of the Byzantine Empire under Belisarius and a Sasanian cavalry force under Azarethes. After a defeat at the Battle of Dara, the Sasanians moved to invade Syria in an attempt to turn the tide of the war. Belisarius' rapid response foiled the plan, and his troops pushed the Persians to the edge of Syria through maneuvering before forcing a battle in which the Sasanians proved to be the pyrrhic victors.


In April 531 AD, the Persian king Kavadh I sent an army under spahbod Āzārethes, consisting of a cavalry force numbering about 15,000 Aswaran with an additional group of 5,000 Lakhmid Arab cavalry[3] under Al-Mundhir, to start a campaign, this time not through the heavily fortified frontier cities of Mesopotamia, but through the less conventional but also less defended route in Commagene in order to capture Syrian cities like Antioch.

The Persian army crossed the frontier at Circesium on the Euphrates and marched north. As they neared Callinicum, Belisarius, who commanded the Byzantine army, set out to follow them as they advanced westwards. Belisarius' forces consisted of about 5,000 men and another 3,000 Ghassanid Arab allies, for the remainder of his army had been left to secure Dara. The Byzantines finally blocked the Persian advance at Chalcis, where reinforcements under Hermogenes also arrived, bringing the Byzantine force to some 20,000 men. The Persians were forced to withdraw, and the Byzantines followed them east.

Initially, Belisarius only wanted to drive off the Persians, without a risky battle. The Byzantine troops, however, were restless and anxious, and had become over-confident after their recent victories at Dara and Stala, and clamoured for battle. After failing to convince his men, and realizing they would not fight, and possibly mutiny unless he agreed, Belisarius prepared his force for battle.


The two armies met outside Callinicum on 19 April 531 AD. Both armies formed up differently, Belisarius again choosing an "odd" formation that confused his opposing general. In this case he anchored his left flank on the bank of the river with heavy Byzantine infantry, to their right the army's centre, all of the Byzantine cavalry, many of which were cataphracts under the command of Ascan. Linking the centre to the Byzantine right was a detachment of Lycaonian infantry (under Stephanacius and Longinus), positioned such that their right was anchored on a rising slope occupied by the army's right wing, which consisting of the 5,000 strong Ghassanids allies. Belisarius himself took up position in the centre of his deployment.

Āzārethes, who was an "exceptionally able warrior" according to Byzantine historian and chronicler Procopius, chose a much more conventional deployment by dividing his army into three equal parts with the Lakhmid allies under Al-Mundhir's command constituting the left wing such that they corresponded to the Ghassanid section of the Byzantine army. It is possible that he also held an elite tactical reserve behind his divisions of Persian Savārān.


Callinicumin taistelu 1
Azarethes reinforces his left wing and the Byzantine right wing is beaten back.
Callinicumin taistelu 2
The Byzantine cavalry is routed. Infantry led by Petrus manages to delay the Persian advance until the defenders can complete their retreat.

For much of the day, the battle was a stalemate, with the Persian Savārān skirmishing with the Byzantine light and missile troops, with the Persians gaining the upper hand due to a combination of expertise and wind-direction. Meanwhile, however, Āzārethes redeployed some of his cavalry to his left wing. This manoeuvre, which went unnoticed by Belisarius, carried calamitous results for the Byzantines later on. After "two thirds of the day" had elapsed, mostly spent by skirmishing by smaller units, the Persian left came forth and led a devastating and sudden charge in the lead of the Lakhmid contingent under Al-Mundhir. Such was the impact of the charge that the Ghassanids were routed off the field with such ease as to later inspire accusations of treachery. This exposed the right flank of the Lycaonian infantry as well as Ascon's heavy cavalry in the centre.

At this juncture the elite Persian cavalry and their Lakhmid allies were placed upon the rising ground looking down on the unprepared right flank of the Byzantine cavalry of Belisarius' centre. Despite valiant efforts by Ascon to rectify the crisis on his right his cataphracts were crushed, causing the Lycaonian infantry to lose morale and retreat, effectively ridding the Byzantine army of its centre also. With his right flank and centre mauled and driven of the field of battle, Belisarius was forced to retreat in an effort to re-form his line, but the retreat was followed and soon the Byzantines found themselves pressed against the river. Here Belisarius scrambled to form a right angle with whatever remnants and reserves he had left to him in order to brace for the coming onslaught. This proved relatively successful as repeated charges by the Persian cavalry did not result in much more than mounting casualties on both sides. Unfortunately for Belisarius, his men could not hold in such a precarious condition indefinitely.

Zacharias of Mytilene said of the battle: "[The Romans] turned and fled before the Persian attack. Many fell into the Euphrates and were drowned, and others were killed."[4] However, it is unknown what stage of the battle Zachariah was referring to.

According to Malalas, Belisarius fled by boat and let the army to continue the fighting under Sunicas and Simmas.[5] Here on the river, the Byzantines were able to resist the Persians and withdraw much of their army across the river. The Persians attacked the Byzantine lines over the course of several hours, killed many resisting Byzantine troops, and inflicted heavy casualties on them. Eventually, the Byzantines gave up, and Belisarius fled alongside his soldiers.


The strategic outcome of the battle was something of a stalemate; the Byzantine army had lost many soldiers and would not be in fighting condition for months, but the Persian army had taken such heavy losses that it was useless as to its original purpose, the invasion of Syria.

Emperor Kavadh I removed General Āzārethes from command and stripped him of his honors, as the casualties were high and the Persian army failed to actually capture any Roman fortress as initially intended.

This mutual disaster was the first of Emperor Justinian's series of (relatively) unsuccessful wars against Sassanids, which led Byzantium to pay heavy tributes in exchange for a peace treaty and the remaining Byzantine land still in Persian hands.

Callinicum ended the first of Belisarius' Persian campaigns, returning all of the land lost to them to Byzantine rule under Justinian I in the Eternal Peace agreement signed in summer 532 AD.


  1. ^ The Empire at War, A.D. Lee, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, ed. Michael Maas, (Cambridge University Press, 2005), 122.
  2. ^ Quraysh and the Roman Army: Making Sense of the Meccan Leather Trade, Patricia Crone, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Vol. 70, No. 1 (2007), 73.
  3. ^ a b Geoffrey Greatrex and Samuel N.C. Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars Ad 363-628, Part 2, (Routledge, 2002), 92.
  4. ^ Historia IX.4,95.4-95.26
  5. ^


  • Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (2002), The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (Part II, 363–630 AD), Routledge, ISBN 0-415-14687-9
  • Martindale, John R.; Jones, A.H.M.; Morris, John (1992), The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire – Volume III, AD 527–641, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-20160-8
  • Shahîd, Irfan (1995). Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, Volume 1. Dumbarton Oaks. ISBN 978-0-88402-214-5.
  • Stanhope, Phillip Henry (1829). The Life of Belisarius. Bradbury and Evans Printers.

Coordinates: 35°57′00″N 39°01′00″E / 35.9500°N 39.0167°E


Year 531 (DXXXI) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year after the Consulship of Lampadius and Probus (or, less frequently, year 1284 Ab urbe condita). The denomination 531 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

Al-Harith ibn Jabalah

Al-Ḥārith ibn Jabalah (Arabic: الحارث بن جبلة‎; [Flavios] Arethas ([Φλάβιος] Ἀρέθας) in Greek sources; Khālid ibn Jabalah (خالد بن جبلة) in later Islamic sources), was a king of the Ghassanids, pre-Islamic Arabs who lived on the eastern frontier of the Byzantine Empire. The fifth Ghassanid ruler of that name, he reigned from c. 528 to 569 and played a major role in the Roman–Persian Wars and the affairs of the Syriac Orthodox Church. For his services to Byzantium, he was made patrikios and vir gloriosissimus.


Al-Hirah (Arabic: الحيرة‎ al-Ḥīrah, Syriac: ܚܝܪܬܐ‎ Ḥīrtā) was an ancient city in Mesopotamia located south of what is now Kufa in south-central Iraq.

April 19

April 19 is the 109th day of the year (110th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 256 days remaining until the end of the year.


Azarethes (Greek: Ἀζαρέθης), also recorded as Exarath (Ἑξαράθ) and Zuraq, was a Sassanid Persian military commander during the Byzantine–Sassanid Wars. His Greek name is possibly a misunderstanding of the honorific title hazaraft.

Battle of Satala (530)

The Battle of Satala was fought between the forces of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and the Sassanid (Persian) Empire in summer 530, near Satala in Byzantine Armenia. The Persian army approached the city to lay siege, when it was attacked in the rear by a small Byzantine force. The Persians turned back to meet them, but were then attacked by the main army from inside the city. A determined attack by a Byzantine unit led to the loss of the Persian general's flag, causing the panicking Persians to retreat.


Flavius Belisarius (Greek: Φλάβιος Βελισάριος, c. 500 – 565) was a general of the Byzantine Empire. He was instrumental to Emperor Justinian's ambitious project of reconquering much of the Mediterranean territory of the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost less than a century before.

One of the defining features of Belisarius's career was his success despite varying levels of support from Justinian. His name is frequently given as one of the so-called "Last of the Romans".

Belisarius is considered a military genius who conquered the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa in the Vandalic War in nine months from July 533 to March 534. He defeated the Vandal armies at the battles of Ad Decimum and Tricamarum and compelled the Vandal king Gelimer to surrender. After the conquest of North Africa, Belisarius took over most of Italy from the Ostrogothic Kingdom in a series of sieges between 535 and 540 during the Gothic War.


Callinicus or Kallinikos (Greek: Καλλίνικος) is a surname or male given name; the feminine form is Kalliniki, Callinice or Callinica (Greek: Καλλινίκη). It is of Greek origin, meaning "beautiful victor".


Constantiolus (Greek: Κωνσταντίολος) was a general of the Byzantine Empire, active early in the reign of Justinian I (r. 527–565). He succeeded Justin in command of Moesia Secunda. A passage of Theophanes the Confessor incorrectly identifies him as "Constantinus" (Constantine).


Domnentiolus was a Byzantine military officer, active in the reign of Justinian I (r. 527–565). He is better known for his service in Sicily during the Gothic War.

Iberian War

The Iberian War was fought from 526 to 532 between the Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Empire over the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia.


The Lakhmids (Arabic: اللخميون‎) referred to in Arabic as Al-Manādhirah (Arabic: المناذرة) or Banu Lakhm (Arabic: بنو لخم‎) were an Arab kingdom of southern Iraq with al-Hirah as their capital, from about 300 to 602 AD. They were generally but intermittently the allies and clients of the Sassanian Empire, and participant in the Roman–Persian Wars.

List of Byzantine battles

The following is a list of battles fought by the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, from the 6th century AD until its dissolution in the mid-15th century, organized by date. The list is not exhaustive. For battles fought by the Byzantine Empire's Roman predecessors, see List of Roman battles.

List of conflicts in the Near East

The area known as the "Near East" is usually referred to as Middle East in modern contexts.

For periods predating Classical Antiquity, the common term is Ancient Near East.

The Near East is generally associated with Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Caucasus.

Military of the Sasanian Empire

The Sasanian army was the primary military body of the Sasanian armed forces, serving alongside the Sasanian navy. The birth of the army dates back to the rise of Ardashir I (r. 224–241), the founder of the Sasanian Empire, to the throne. Ardashir aimed at the revival of the Persian Empire, and to further this aim, he reformed the military by forming a standing army which was under his personal command and whose officers were separate from satraps, local princes and nobility. He restored the Achaemenid military organizations, retained the Parthian cavalry model, and employed new types of armour and siege warfare techniques. This was the beginning for a military system which served him and his successors for over 400 years, during which the Sasanian Empire was, along with the Roman Empire and later the East Roman Empire, one of the two superpowers of Late Antiquity in Western Eurasia. The Sasanian army protected Eranshahr ("the realm of Iran") from the East against the incursions of central Asiatic nomads like the Hephthalites and Turks, while in the west it was engaged in a recurrent struggle against the Roman Empire.


Procopius of Caesarea (Greek: Προκόπιος ὁ Καισαρεύς Prokópios ho Kaisareús; Latin: Procopius Caesariensis; c. 500 – c. 554) was a prominent late antique Greek scholar from Palaestina Prima. Accompanying the Byzantine general Belisarius in Emperor Justinian's wars, Procopius became the principal Byzantine historian of the 6th century, writing the History of the Wars, the Buildings, and the Secret History. He is commonly classified as the last major historian of the ancient Western world.


The pushtigban was an elite military unit of the Sasanian Empire, charged with the protection of the Persian Emperor.

They were stationed during peacetime in the royal capital of Ctesiphon and were drawn from the best of the ranks of the Sassanid Savārān cavalry. They numbered 1000 men, under the command of the pushtigban-salar ; in battle they fought mostly as cataphracts, heavily armed and armoured horseman who would charge enemy positions with tremendous momentum.

A sub-unit of pushtigban were the gyan-avspar, the "sacrificers of their lives" - the best of the pushtigban. The pushtigban fought with distinction and zeal befitting their name during Julian's invasion of Persia in the 4th century AD.

The pushtigban disappeared with the Muslim conquest of Persia, that led to the Fall of the Sasanian Empire.


Sittas (Greek: Σίττας; died 538) was a Byzantine military commander during the reign of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565). During the Iberian War against the Sassanid Empire, Sittas was given command of forces in Armenia, similar to the status of Belisarius in Mesopotamia. He won a victory over the Sassanids at the battle of Satala.


Sunicas (Greek: Σουνίκας) was a Hun who served in the Byzantine military during the Iberian War, in the early reign of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565).

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