Faction Overview: The Sassanid Empire (Eran Shahr)

by General KickAss

Greetings, Exalted Spahbod, and I welcome you to glorious Ctesiphon, grand capital of mighty and awe-inspiring Eran Shahr. The Roman dignitaries who come to our splendid court fiercely maintain that they have seen better, cities like their Rome or Constantinople, but what do these folks possess, apart from monstrous pride - and plentiful gold ripe for the taking? I am Melchior, by the way, Eran Spahbod of the Shahr and the king's personally commissioned governor of Phraaspa, and it heartens me to see Sassanid glory as well as Persian sovereignty embodied in our capital. The city of Ctesiphon defines heterogeneity, for it is in our markets that you will find merchants from all over the world - and I do mean "all over the world"- with their refined textiles, exotic spices and stunning artworks carried here from the furthest reaches of Asia: India and China, our long-time trade partners in the East. Now what would every Roman nobleman do without the fine silk garments to adorn their mistresses with, the exquisite Persian carpets with which to decorate their lavish villa floors, or even a simple pinch of nutmeg to flavour the muck they consume everyday?

Even now, many of them fine people must be hysterical - what with the Euphrates trade that has been halted by the warriors' blood flowing in its currents, once again. Though you can be sure that so far, most of it is Roman blood, and that their last emperor has just gotten himself killed in his recent desert excursion. As I recall his name was Julian, and what the emperor did was to take his army all the way to shining Ctesiphon, only to turn back before its high walls, then die fighting some skirmish in some forgotten valley. His successor, Theodosius, came to the throne, upon which he immediately swore to his god that he would see Ctesiphon captured and razed to the ground and everyone of us slaughtered before he died. Then he had stayed rooted to Antioch ever since. That imbecile of an emperor is going to need much longer than he has left.

Unlike the King of Kings who leads the people of Persia! He is Shapur the victor of many battles and should he be in need of advice, you are the one he will look to. The Shahanshah also has some quite extraordinary men in his court, the great lords and noblemen who aid him in his daily affairs of running the empire, among other tasks. Not that the king needs much help with administrative matters, for he is one of the most efficient and organized men I have come across and served. There is the Prince Ardashir in Artaxata, Mobadan Mobad of Eran Shahr, and he is in charge of all matters relating to the worship and study of Zoroaster's teachings, our religion. The high priest is also a capable administrator, which makes him a suitable candidate as governor of your newly conquered Roman cities, if you are man enough to take them. Then there is the Eran Spahbod Melchior: me. It might sound immodest to say so, but to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of one of the most powerful empires on earth should sufficiently testify to my prodigious level of leadership qualities and command talent, surely? But shameless boasting aside, I do like to think of the duo of Ardashir and Melchior as the armour and spangled mace of Eran Shahr's mighty horse-masters. If King Shapur is the rider to lead us in war with Rome, then Ardashir is the one who will keep the empire well-armoured and prepared for other foreign intrusions during Shapur's western campaigns, while the king's campaigning armies shall be given sharp tusks with me in command. So, with that said, let us give our grand Shahr a good look.

The Lands

We Sassanids control all that lies south of the Caucasus, all the way down to where the Euphrates separate the Arabian wilderness from the fertile landscape of Babylonia; east until the mineral-rich (but invisible) Pamir Mountains, west until where the River Euphrates bends left and right to border our lands of Assyria and Armenia with the rich and strategic Roman province of Syria Coele, as well as the ragged country of Roman Cappadocia. Now in case you do not know how to count, our Shahr opens with five main provinces: the rich and peaceful valleys of Babylonia directly ruled by King Shapur, the frontier region of Assyria, the mineral-ridden Caucasian province of Atropatene run by myself, the disorderly and often bandit-infested ancient heartland of Media, plus recently-returned Armenia, where Heir-apparent Ardashir rules. You will find that the south is all wide valleys of rich farms and plump villages which the Romans crave, and that the further north you travel through our extensive highway system, the more rugged the land becomes, so take my advice: do not linger in the central trans-Tigris wilderness, for it is there that many travellers encounter and get robbed by brigand scumbags. The regional governors send a few squadrons of riders up into those hills to cleanse them of bandits every so often, but then they run into other vermin presenting themselves in the form of Roman negotiators. These 'men' often lurk near the main roads, ready to talk our men into disbanding and forsaking the state in return for their golden gifts. This is why I always have the men travel up or down in larger bands of at least four or five companies to be safer.

Speaking of which, there is one such field force standing ready in Assyria, somewhere to the north of Hatra. Last time I heard, they were two units of Levy Spearmen, one detachment of Mountain Slingers, one squadron of Camel Raiders, and one squadron of the famed Clibinarii camped near the Cappadocian frontier with orders to perform some border raids. I do not know whose orders it was, but I would not recommend their venturing into Roman territory with such an inconsistent and ill-balanced force, especially when the enemy border patrols are on such high alert (and numbers) ever since the loss of their last war. Instead, I suggest we bring the boys back in, and have them ready to help bolster Hatra's leaderless fortifications against the inevitable Roman counter-attacks. Also, it might be a good, if risky, idea for King Shapur to ride to Hatra from Ctesiphon and lead the frontier's defences against Theodosius' armies, because a king cannot hide in his lavish palace without putting his life on the line and still expect men to be ready to die for him on the frontlines.

Agent-wise, the courteous diplomat Bagabigna awaits your instructions patiently in his quarters to the southwest of Hatra, so perhaps you could have him cross the Euphrates to talk the Romans into surrendering everything they hold east of the Hellespont to us - or wait for us to come take it piece by piece. The adept spy, Bistam, quietly anticipates your orders to journey from his Caucasian lodgings into Roman towns and start sowing discontent and sending back critical intelligence. Also, Artavardiya the expert assassin expects to be told immediately that he would travel to the Levant and start murdering every Roman general, captain, and diplomat he sees. Let us hope news of his sightings in every city never fail to give many Roman leaders sleepless nights.

The Units

At last, we look at my jurisdiction - the Sassanid Military - in detail. Persia has always been known for its excellent array of heavily armoured shock cavalry, and we Sassanids are no strangers to this time-honoured tradition. They come in two varieties, one elite version and one camel-borne variant: the bow-and-mace Clibinarii, the lance-and-no-camelshit Cataphracts, the Clibinarii Immortals, hand-picked bow-and-mace warriors from every corner of the empire to serve in the household troops of our esteemed commanders, plus the Armoured Camel Riders which combine classic full-body armour with traditional foul camel stench which is certainly effective in scaring horses.

As devastating as our heavy cavalrymen are in the open field, they still need support in the other cavalry tasks, such as running down enemy skirmishers, rounding up fleeing foes, and to help shake up the enemy formations before the charge. To do these jobs we have available two different kinds of light mounted warriors: the foul-smelling and horse-startling Camel Raiders come from the sands of Media, Ctesiphon and Hatra, along with our famed and feared Nomad Archer Cavalry, who can shoot as well as they can ride whilst terrorizing Roman foot-borne soldiers with ease. Though be aware that since camels are not bred and reared everywhere - thanks be to all-seeing Ahuramazda for that truth - depleted camel-borne squadrons cannot always be retrained, so we may have to make do with any local mercenaries available when the need arises.

Our excellent cavalrymen aside, Eran Shahr is uniquely blessed with three different regular missile units: Kurdish Javelinmen, the aforesaid Mountain Slingers, and the cornerstone of our light infantry - Desert Archers: long-range, composite bow-wielding givers of steely and pointy death, they make a good match for the Eastern Archers fielded by our Roman enemies. The Kurds have a long history of providing us with guerrilla warbands of javelin-throwers capable of travelling great distances over rough terrain to surprise and raid, but they also carry no shields and wear barely any armour, limiting their role to exclusive skirmishing. Mountain Slingers come from the northern regions of our Shahr, and personally I regard them as more of a hindrance than a source of assistance, for the levelness of their firing trajectory forces spahbods to place them in front of regular hand-to-hand combatants, adding to our list of worries in the heat of action.

Now you might be thinking about Persia's long reputation as a fielder of powerful cavalry, but abysmal melee infantry. Fear not, for we Sassanids have half-altered that tradition, as testified by the steadfast Sughdian Warriors fighting in our ranks, recruitable only throughout Eran Shahr's starting five provinces wherever Army Barracks are available. The Sughdians go into every fight wearing tough chainmail armour, with a round shield painted red-and-teal at their side, in addition to a cavalry-style spangled mace, which they use to crush and mangle metal and flesh in a gory display of the weapon's cruel beauty. It is a real pleasure to watch them hammer and pound their way into every Roman infantry battalion they face, unlike the uneasiness I always feel when watching a bunch of Levy Spearmen struggle against even the weakest host of enemies who almost always outclass them in terms of training and bravery. As magnificent as they are, I still tell every young spahbod to charge the Sughdians home before the Roman infantry can unleash their javelin volley to avoid excessive casualties - as the Romans like to say, Victory loves prudence.

The clever engineers and savants in Ctesiphon have also developed advanced siege engines rivalling those of Rome, unlike the Parthians before us who had a tough time taking properly fortified Roman towns by storm. Our arsenal boasts three different versions of the magnificent machines: the classic Onagers, the Ballistae, and the unpleasant-looking Heavy Onagers, whose massed volleys of onerous rocks should be able to knock down most Roman walls with reasonable ease, but if it is up to me, I would draw the defenders out and fight them in the open any day instead of wasting good men's lives assaulting walls like that, especially when Roman infantry and Levy Spearmen are involved.

The Gods

As with the Parthians before us, we believe in and draw strength from the teachings of Zoroaster the Prophet. Ahuramazda, known to some as Ormazd, is the most important god in our religion. He is the creator and upholder of arta, which means "truth", and while He is the Omniscient One, He is not omnipotent, but he shall eventually destroy Angra Mainyu, the spirit and creator of evil, whose existence shall be obliterated before frashokereti - the day of judgement, when our dead rise from their graves and present themselves before Ahuramazda's trials. Zoroastrian worship is not, however, limited to one god, for there are people among us who also pray to and invoke the trinity of Ahuramazda, Mithras, and Apam Napat. To avoid confusion and rivalry, we build shrines and temples devoted to not just any one god, but to all the gods, and such temples grant much in the way of public law, happiness and population growth bonuses as the cities grow in size.

The Mods

I am beyond embarrassed to say that this world is probably the only one featuring the full might of Eran Shahr, where wondrous things happen and Persian glory climbs back to its zenith once again, as in the olden days before Alexander and Xerxes. Yet that sad truth might soon be amended, for the portents bring us encouraging news: thanks be to the Heavens, our future generations could play a part in the alternate world of the Dark Ages, where Aetius and his people stagger back from the cliffs of destruction and return to claim supreme power in the West. So there, something for the Sassanids to look forward to.

And so this concludes your basic introduction to the running and unique attributes of Eran Shahr: Its diverse topography, its unstoppable military, rolling economy, distinctive religion, rich culture, and the noble group of elite individuals who put the advancement of Sassanid prominence before all else. We hope this partnership between us proves mutually beneficial, Esteemed Spahbod, and wish you great success in slaughtering Romans.