Siege of Amida (502–503)

The siege of Amida occurred in 502–503, during the Anastasian War. The city was not garrisoned by any troops of the Byzantine Empire but nevertheless resisted for three months before falling to the military of the Sasanian Empire under Kavadh I. According to the detailed account of Zacharias Rhetor, the city's sack was particularly brutal, and accompanied by a massacre of the population for three days and nights. The fall of the city urged the Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus to react militarily, before a truce was agreed between both parts in 505.

Siege of Amida
Part of the Anastasian War
DateOctober 502 – January 503
Location
Result Sasanian victory
Belligerents
Sasanian Empire Byzantine Empire
Commanders and leaders
Kavadh I
Adergoudounbades
Bawi
Glon
Cyrus (WIA) (POW)
Leontius (POW)
Casualties and losses
80,000 (including civilians)[1]
Many were deported

BackgroundEdit

In 502, the Persian king Kavadh I needed money to pay his debts to the Hephthalites who had helped him regain his throne in 498/499. The situation was exacerbated by recent changes in the flow of the Tigris in lower Mesopotamia, sparking famines and flood. When the Roman emperor Anastasius I refused to provide any help, Kavadh tried to gain the money by force.[2]

During the summer 502, Kavadh I invaded Roman Armenia and Mesopotamia with an army which included Armenian and Arab allies.[3] He quickly captured the unprepared city of Theodosiopolis (present-day Erzurum), perhaps with local support; the city was in any case undefended by troops and weakly fortified.[4]

SiegeEdit

Kavadh then besieged the fortress-city of Amida (present-day Diyarbakır) through the autumn and winter (502–503). The siege of the city proved to be a far more difficult enterprise than Kavadh expected. The defenders, although unsupported by troops, repelled the Persian assaults for three months. The city, behind its walls of black basalt, resisted desperately, before finally succumbing to the siege.[5] The city was being defended by Cyrus, the praeses of Mesopotamia.[6]

Having discovered a weak point in the walls, Kavadh sent a small squad to breach them at night.[7] According to Procopius, the Persians had a stroke of luck in their attempt. Indeed, it seems that some guards were drunk and fell asleep after celebrating a festival,[8] allowing the Persians to quietly scale the walls and get inside the city.[9]

A slaughter of the people of the city followed during three days until a priest went to meet Kavadh, begging him to stop killing, arguing that it was not a kingly act. As Kavadh asked him why they were fighting against him, the priest replied: "Because God willed to give Amida to you not by our decision but by your valour". Then, Kavadh ordered a stop to the slaughter but allowed his men to plunder the city and enslave the survivors.[10] The population was deported to Persia and contributed in re-founding the town of Arrajan.

AftermathEdit

Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus reacted to the news of Amida's fall by sending a huge force of 60,000 men east, but the Byzantines were unable to recover the city until the conclusion of a truce in 505, when they ransomed it for 1100 pounds of gold.[11]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Evans, J. A. S. (2002). The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power. Routledge. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-134-55976-3.
  2. ^ Procopius. History of the Wars, I.7.1–2; Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 62.
  3. ^ Greg Fisher, Arabs and Empires before Islam, Oxford University Press, p.221
  4. ^ Procopius. History of the Wars, I.7.1–2; Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 62.
  5. ^ Procopius. History of the Wars, I.7.1–2; Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 63.
  6. ^ Elton, Hugh (2018). The Roman Empire in Late Antiquity: A Political and Military History. Cambridge University Press. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-521-89931-4.
  7. ^ Conor Whately, Battles and Generals: Combat, Culture, and Didacticism in Procopius’ Wars, p.74
  8. ^ Conor Whately, Battles and Generals: Combat, Culture, and Didacticism in Procopius’ Wars, p.74
  9. ^ J. A. S. Evans, The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power, Taylor and Francis e-library, 2001, p.89
  10. ^ The Wars of Justinian, Procopius, translated by H.B. Dewing, Hackett Publishing Company Inc, 2014, p18
  11. ^ Procopius. History of the Wars, I.7.1–2; Greatrex & Lieu 2002, p. 77

SourcesEdit