Syrian Wars 7

Seleucids against Ptolemies



The Battle of Panion
A scenario for Ancient Battle games

by Jeff Jonas

Photo by Rene from his Kingdom Con archive:

One       Two       Three      Four      Five      Six    Seven


NEWSFLASH!!!....King Ptolemy Vth makes an announcement-- no skimping on taxes....NEWSFLASH!!!



Panion_01.jpg (193821 bytes) Panion:
The Unknown Battle

Unfortunately some of the more important battles of the Successors are rather poorly described, one of these is the battle of Panion, a battle which we have a firm identification of locale, but a rather weak historical narrative.  We don’t even really know when the battle took place, it could be in 200 BC or 198 BCE, such is the scant nature of the record. What we do know is that in the hills and small plateau near the fountains of Pan at Banias (later Caesarea Philippi), located on the northern border of modern Israel, there was a decisive battle that ended Ptolemaic rule in Coele-Syria, the final major act in the hundred year long Syrian Wars.

Luckily the location is clearly defined, and Google maps makes it all much clearer, since that bit of knowledge gives us a bit of a window into what might have happened there. Two ancient sources discuss things in detail- one lost, one critical of the other. The initial source is lost, this is by Zeno of Rhodes, a contemporary of Polybius,  who is the famous historian of the Punic Wars. Zeno’s Local History is mentioned by Diogenes Laertius I.7 c. 35.2:145. 147). Zeno luridly describes the battle with some detail, but we can only decipher it through Polybius’ criticisms in book 16.18.  It is a shame since we have very detailed accounts of the dramatic but indecisive battle of Raphia, even though Panion’s result was much more long lasting. Modern sources include Bar Kochva’s dissertation on the Seleucid army presents a number of solutions. One thing will never be clear since there is no order of battle, the numbers and quality and organization of much of the armies will remain guesswork.

It seems that both Zeno and Polybius were unfamiliar with the terrain, and what we get is something quite mangled from both through Polybius’ description (see below). Luckily we can kind of sort some of it out by looking at the terrain.. and I must admit that Polybius may have held Zeno’s account in less contempt if he had been able to simply Google it !

When Ptolemy IV passed in 204 he left his son then aged five as king. The regents and court officials seemingly fell into an orgy of graft and corruption that would have shamed even the Ptolemies, had they not built their empire based entirely on such graft and corruption. As a result the defenses of the frontier fell into decline as a resurgent and re-invigorated Antiochus III invaded Syria and Palestine. The Ptolemies were forced to turn mostly to foreign mercenaries to fend off this new surge, as the frontiers had been in revolt for many years after Raphia, and the southern reaches of the Nile were at times under control of the Egyptian rebels. It is interesting that the famous Rosetta Stone is a document of this period, a marker establishing the rule and legitimacy of the boy king Ptolemy V. Egypt turned to the Aetolian General Scopas to take back Palestine and Syria, and with a massive mercenary army full of Greeks he did so sometime between 200 and 198. After a winter break Antiochus III mustered his army and marched from Damascus down the Sea Road- which would take him to the springs at Panion, and the headwaters of the Jordan River. Scopas rushed to block the enemy approach with his army, but apparently Antiochus got to Panion first and set up camp.

panion_campaign_map.jpg (74060 bytes)

The Terrain
The area of the battle can be surmised from the description by Polybius, with the area mapped in using Google.  The hills generally fit the description. Apparently the Banias stream is not an obstacle as it progressed toward the Banias plateau, but as it reaches there it becomes unfordable, becoming deep pools with waterfalls and rocky outcrops.  The photos of the area suggest terrain very similar to hiking in Southern California, such as out in Cuyamacha, or Mt. Palomar.

panion_overlay_israel_google.jpg (132637 bytes)  

The Battle
Our game was set up by Paul Rigby at the new(ish) Kingdom Con gaming convention in San Diego.  We decided to do a demo game using Warhammer Ancient Battles version 2 as our rules. We had hoped to get three players per side so we could coach them, but we ended up with three only, so it was three on two with Paul and I playing as well. Paul lined up with Pat Lowinger, and Mike Russell on his side.  I had an enthusiastic partner in John Palomino.  John and Mike were novices to WAB, although John was well versed in older ancient rules sets.  Pat is a WAB grognard, so he knew what he was doing.   Because this was a demo game we set up our troops based on my deployment map below.   I felt it was better to get to the action as soon as possible.

The game did not follow history completely.  In the real battle, we are told that the Seleucid cataphracts bowled over their opposition then turned on the Ptolemaic center- which had been pushing back the Seleucids until their elephant reserves and Tarentine cavalry held them in check.  It appears that the Ptolemaic right wing held its own or even was victorious.  The Ptolemaic general Scopas was defeated entirely, and he fled with ten thousand survivors. 

In our game things went a bit differently.  On the Seleucid right the cataphracts were not as successful.  One unit was wiped out early in the game.   As the centers locked horns, things became confused around the broken ground.   On the Seleucid left, they were eventually totally routed.  As the game ended both sides were still locked in combat, but the Seleucid guard cavalry were about to flank the last reserve of the Ptolemaic army. On the right wing the Ptolemaic forces under John completely routed the Seleucid left wing troops.  So the game was decided as a minor Ptolemaic victory.  After the fact I decided that the Seleucid guard cavalry should be able to deploy more forward, or to the left flank, this allows them to get into action faster and can make it tougher on the Ptolemaic army.

Both sides deployed 4200 points of troops, so we had large forces on our eight foot by five foot table.  I laid out the terrain as best I could, since I did not have time to build a table.  Luckily I had enough bits to make the terrain interesting.

Thanks to Paul Rigby for getting this going. I hope the players enjoyed playing our demo and the spectators enjoyed our game!!


Panion slide show


panion_map.jpg (172991 bytes)

Here's the layout for the game.  The Seleucids go first, their right wing has the jump on the Ptolemaic left. 
They should get a free triple move for the Seleucid Guard cavalry to either flank (we did not do this in our game and I think it is important). Thureophoroi were open order for this game as were thorakites.

Here is the army list for the units!


More pictures at:


Photos by Rene from his Kingdom Con archive:


Polybius’ criticism of Zeno's Account of the Battle of Panium

The best illustration of what I mean will be the following. This same writer, in his account of the siege of Gaza and Antiochus's pitched battle with Scopas in Coele-Syria, at Mount Panium, (1) showed such extreme anxiety about ornaments of style, that he made it quite impossible even for professional rhetoricians or mob-orators to outstrip him in theatrical effect; while he showed such a contempt of facts, as once more amounted to unsurpassable carelessness and inaccuracy. For, intending to describe the first position in the field taken up by Scopas, he says that "the right extremity of his line, together with a few cavalry, rested on the slope of the mountain; while its left with all the cavalry belonging to this wing, was in the plains below. That Antiochus, just before the morning watch, despatched his elder son Antiochus with a division of his army to occupy the high ground which commanded the enemy; and that at daybreak he led the rest of his army across the river which flowed between the two camps, and drew them up on the plain: arranging his heavy-armed infantry in one line, facing the enemy's centre, and his cavalry, some on the right and the rest on the left wing of the phalanx, among which were the heavy-armed horsemen, under the sole command of the younger of the king's sons Antiochus. That in advance of this line he stationed the elephants at certain intervals, and the Tarentines (2) commanded by Antipater; while he filled up the spaces between the elephants with archers and slingers. And finally, that he took up his own station on the rear of the elephants with a squadron of household cavalry and bodyguards." After this preliminary description he continues: "The younger Antiochus"—whom he had described as being on the level ground with the heavy-armed cavalry—"charged down from the high ground and put to flight and pursued the cavalry under Ptolemy, son of Aeropus, who was in command of the Aetolians in the plain on the left wing; but the two lines, when they met, maintained a stubborn fight." But he fails to observe that, as the elephants, cavalry, and light-armed infantry were in front, the two lines could not possibly meet at all.
(1) Called Panion or Paneion. See Josephus B. Jud. 3, 10, 7,  The town near it was called Paneas, and afterwards Paneas Caesarea, and later still Caesarea Philippi. Scopas, the Aetolian, was now serving Ptolemy Epiphanes; see 13, 2; 18, 53.
(2) See on 4, 77; 13, 1.
Histories. Polybius. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. translator. London, New York. Macmillan. 1889. Reprint Bloomington 1962.
Robert B. Strassler provided support for entering this text.

Next he says that "the phalanx, outmatched in agility and forced backwards by the Aetolians, retired step by step, while the elephants received the retreating line, and did great service in charging the enemy." But how the elephants got on the rear of the phalanx it is not easy to understand, or how, if they had got there, they could have done good service. For as soon as the two lines were once at close quarters, the animals would no longer have been able to distinguish friend from foe among those that came in their way. Again, he says that "the Aetolian cavalry were thrown into a panic during the engagement, because they were unaccustomed to the look of the elephants." But, by his own account, the cavalry which was originally stationed on the right wing remained unbroken; while the other division of the cavalry, that on the right wing, had all fled before the successful attack of Antiochus. What portion of the cavalry was it, then, that was on the centre of the phalanx, and was terrified by the elephants? And where was the king, or what part did he take in the battle, seeing that he had with him the very flower of the infantry and cavalry? For not a word has been told us about these. And where was the elder of the young Antiochi, who, with a division of the troops, occupied the high ground? For this prince is not represented even as returning to his quarters after the battle. And very naturally so. For Zeno started by assuming two sons of the king named Antiochus, whereas there was only one in the army on that occasion. How comes it, again, that according to him, Scopas returned first and also last from the field? For he says: "when he saw the younger Antiochus, after returning from the pursuit, on the rear of his phalanx, and accordingly gave up all hopes of victory, he retired." But afterwards he says that "he sustained the most imminent peril when his phalanx got surrounded by the elephants and cavalry, and was the last man to retire from the field."
These and similar blunders appear to me to reflect very great discredit upon writers. It is necessary, therefore, to endeavour to make one's self master of all departments of history alike. That is the ideal; but if that is impossible, one ought at least to be excessively careful on the most essential and important points in it. I have been induced to say this because I have observed that in history, as in other arts and sciences, there is a tendency to neglect the true and essential, while the ostentatious and the showy secure praise and emulation as something great and admirable. The fact being that in history, as in other departments of literature, these latter qualities require less trouble and gain a cheaper reputation. As to his ignorance of the topography of Laconia, considering that his error was an important one, I did not hesitate to write to Zeno personally.
Polybius wrote to Zeno on his geographical mistakes.
For I thought it a point of honour not to look upon the mistakes of others as personal triumphs, as is the way with some writers; but to do the best I could to secure correctness, not only of my own historical writings, but of those of others also, for the benefit of the world at large. When Zeno received my letter and found that it was impossible to make the correction, because his history was already published, he was much vexed, but could do nothing. He, however, put the most friendly interpretation on my proceeding; and, in regard to this point, I would beg my own readers, whether of my own or future generations, if I am ever detected in making a deliberate misstatement, and disregarding truth in any part of my history, to criticise me unmercifully; but if I do so from lack of information, to make allowances: and I ask it for myself more than others, owing to the size of my history and the extent of ground covered by its transactions. . . .


Josephus (Ant. 12 3 4): "Antiochus overcame Scopas, in a battle fought at the fountains of Jordan, and destroyed a great part of his army".
The Roman historian Josephus Flavius wrote that the Hasmonean king captured the Golan (Wars 1 4): "He also demolished Golan, and Seleucia, and what was called the Valley of Antiochus". (The latter area is the valley west of Banias).

Banias temples and springs:
map of area:

Overlay maps from:

Caesarea Philippi: Banias, the lost city of Pan By John Francis Wilson
Other Panion resources:
The Seleucid Army
Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns
By Bezalel Bar-Kochva
Tel-Aviv University 1976
DBA Resource:
Caesarea Philippi:
This game was large enough to get some of the old figures off the shelf and onto the table... including some old Minifigs and Ral Partha's and RAFM figures... if you look close you will see them in the photos!!

 Aventine Miniatures:
 Wargames Foundry:
 Old Glory:
 SHQ (Newline Designs):
 Magister Militum:
 Ral Partha historicals: Not found online.



Antiochus_III.jpg (98089 bytes) Relic Miniature's Antiochus III model once again......



Thanks to Kingdom Con for allowing us space to play, they are always helpful and friendly to us historical gamers.


Did you know the Rosetta Stone was created in this period? The Stone is one of a series of monolithic advertisements
placed around Egypt to remind folks to keep their place even though Ptolemy Vth was only five years old.
This great historical find broke the code on Egyptian hieroglyphics, since the proclamation was written in Greek, Demotic, and hieroglyphics.

"The Gods Adelphoi and the Gods Soteres and to set up in the most prominent place of every temple an image of the EVER-LIVING King PTOLEMY, THE BELOVED OF PTAH, THE GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS, an image which shall be called that of ‘PTOLEMY, the defender of Egypt’, beside which shall stand the principal god of the temple, handing him the weapon of victory, all of which shall be manufactured (in the Egyptian) fashion; and that the priests shall pay homage to the images three times a day, and put upon them the sacred garments, and perform the other usual honours such as given to the other gods in the Egyptian festivals; and to establish for King PTOLEMY, THE GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS, sprung of King Ptolemy and Queen Arsinoe, the Gods Philopatores, a statue and golden shrine in each of the temples, and to set it up in the inner chamber with the other shrines; and in the great festivals in which the shrines are carried in procession the shrine of the GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS shall be carried in procession with them."




Follow the Seleucid side of the campaign on Paul Rigby's Blog:



Wise Ptolemy speaks:

"Fear not the sparrow, for the sparrow is not a large bird of prey,
tearing our your entrails, while your army is trapped in Sidon"



The exalted one, Ptolemy V guarantees the veracy of the Memphis Gazetteer's press.
One hundred years of honest, almost always truthful, very often unbiased, state run media excellence

One      Two      Three      Four      Five      Six    Seven



Back to Home Page

Back to Successors