IAXS Research Project #08
By Clayton J. Powers (
Copyright © 1997 held by author
4878 words



[113] Xena again made all preparations as if her army at the passes was to remain at least the night. After dark the force in its entirety was withdrawn to the north. Corinth is a hill top fastness surrounded by a vast plain, which at the time of the battle was high in winter wheat and other grasses. There are three major promontories. The city itself, a hill about a half mile south of the city walls and another hill about two miles due west of town. Xena decided to construct a three sided defense using the city walls as one corner and the far western hill as another corner. The flanks were refused to the sea. The left flank made nearly a perfect ninety degrees angle from the north wall of Corinth to the sea. The right flank formed an angle of about one hundred and twenty degrees to the sea. The defensive line was established on the eastern bank of the shallow but swift running River of Nemea. The big advantage of the position was the area immediately to the northwest of the city. This area was only visible to the south by the ramparts of the city. The hill south of town was significantly lower that of the city itself. This dead ground was large enough to hold an entire wing, roughly 20,000 men. The disadvantage was that Corinth had yet to be taken. This was the characteristic of the site that made its defense so bold. Xena used an enemy fortress as a bulwark towards her own defense.

[114] The position wasn't as dangerous as it looks. The Corinth garrison was small, approximately 2,000 men. Xena had approximately 45,000 in the immediate vicinity A force that is outnumbered twenty to one usually does not have an offensive attitude. A sally from the walls was not likely. Nevertheless, Xena had several catapults and many ballistae built and the garrison was kept under constant rock and bolt fire. A message was sent into the city warning the inhabitants that if any carrier pigeons were dispatched from the town the rocks would be followed by burning pitch barrels. The pigeon flights stopped.

[115] The far left flank between the sea and the City walls was commanded by Darfus. He arranged his forces in two reinforced brigade groups facing to the east. The far right flank, commanded by Draco was made up of three reinforced regiments of infantry. The Center, commanded by Xena herself was made of a full division in the dead ground behind the hill on her right front and two reinforced brigades from the hill's right flank to the western wall of town. The entire southern and eastern wall of Corinth was invested by deep entrenchments and about 5,000 troops under Darfus' command.

[116] The stealthy withdrawal of Xena's army from the vicinity of the passes was a total success and this bought the Warrior Princess at least three days to make preparations. Xena knew that her army was not trained for defensive warfare, neither was it equipped for such. The Infantry had to be "Heavied Up" and fast. A large work party was sent into the woods of the Isthmus to harvest as many young trees as possible to make lances and pikes. This process would take time, and none of Xena's infantry was trained to march in tight formation. Xena thought that this lack of training could be compensated by leaving the formations static, and when the time was right for movement, the pikes (30 fool long spears) could be abandoned and the traditional long broadsword used. The division on the hill on the right flank was the first so equipped. Unlike the famous Greek Phalanx of a 500 years later, this force was arranged in a square with the pikes pointing outward on each of the squares four sides, not unlike the famous Swiss infantry square of the fifteenth century. However unlike the Swiss the unit was meant to remain static. It was the hinge that the front and right flank pivoted upon.

[117] Even then Xena might not have the time to get the pikes and improvised shields to her forces, but there was something that would buy her more time. Each of Xena's infantrymen carried as their normal equipment two caltrops. A caltrop is basically an anti-cavalry mine. Although not explosive, this small, iron three pointed star designed to always have one point up, and each point razor sharp, can be devastating to cavalry. The caltrop if stepped upon by a horse or Centaur will slip off the horseshoe and bury itself in the soft "Frog" portion of a hoof. This would normally fell the horse or at least render it helpless. If the Centaurs could be hung up in a field of caltrops they could be struck hard by arrow fire and then counterattacked by infantry. Xena knew this little surprise's potential but had never used them in combat before, so when Tyldus encountered them surprise was sure to greatly increase their effectiveness. So Xena ordered over 100,000 caltrops placed in the wheat and the long grass of the plain in a wide circumvelling belt. Three large corridors were left open in these fields for the purposes of keeping routes for cavalry counter charges available.


Phase one

[118] Before the dawn on the morning of the battle Tyldus had sent a party under a truce flag demanding a parley with Xena. Xena accepted this invitation and so a negotiation occurred between the forces south of Corinth. Present were Xena, and her two senior subordinates Draco and Darfus. The Allied army was represented by Tyldus, Sisyphus and Orestes. Tyldus presented the facts that in combat power she was outmatched and that surrender would save further useless effusion of blood. The copper scroll continued: "I replied in kind to the Centaur king. I knew that I was in a very strong position and that if my plan worked I would drive Tyldus from the plain and Corinth would fall to me like an overripe apple. This demand was refused. At that point I told Tyldus: 'Show me what you've got!' and the meeting broke up.

[119] Looking at the position as it presented itself Tyldus saw that Xena's position was indeed strong but that the walls of the city was the defense's weakest link. The problem was he didn't have enough human infantry to storm the walls. Although Orestes did come through with reinforcements, they numbered about 10,000 troops and they were tired and beat up. Orestes column had been continuously harassed by partisans in the hills and they had also encountered Estrogon's force of Immortals who had given Orestes a bloody nose. So that left the hill on his left flank. This hill was slightly higher than the one on which he observed the position and there were no troops to be seen on top of it. But Tyldus knew Xena loved to hide troops in dead ground so he expected that the area on the reverse slope of the hill was probably swarming with infantry. Therefore a feint appeared to be in order. He would fake a charge at the city walls and then shift his centaurs to his left and strike the hill after Xena had shifted reserves to the walls. He would also position a centaur battalion on the far left flank to prevent a left wheel by the right flank of Xena's line.

[120] Xena had another stratagem in mind, she knew that the human charge assembling had to be a feint. As she watched the Argosian infantry assemble on the forward slopes of the hill in front of Corinth, she ordered a battalion of infantry from Draco's hill formation to drag long rakes through some plowed fields that lay just behind her front to raise dust. This dust cloud gave the impression that largest masses of men were being pulled from her right flank to reinforce her left. In fact this dust cloud was a cover for a large reinforcement of the right flank by at least a brigade of archers who had been previously hidden behind Corinth. Xena then finished the ruse by having her two front divisions left face and march slowly towards town. Xena knew Tyldus well. He bit the bait.

[121] The force that Orestes threw at the walls of Corinth consisted of three regiments of heavy infantry consisting of about 9,500 men. These troops were not the later Hoplite heavy infantry but rather they were equipped in a similar manner to the Roman Legionary. They carried a short bronze sword designed for stabbing from behind shields. However these troops were organized loosely and carried no javelin. They held no organizational discipline. What headed towards Corinth was a mob of individuals hoping for glory. Behind them lay the mass formation of Centaurs who were a far different kind of trooper.

[122] The 17,000 Centaurs that followed the infantry were all armed with a fifteen foot long lance and a heavy round shield with a spike on its boss. Hanging from a belt on each animal was a steel two handed broadsword or spiked club. A centaur charge wasn't like a typical cavalry charge. They advanced at the trot with their lances When the front of the enemy was broken the first several ranks would hold formation and push through the enemy to reorganize behind them. The trailing ranks would abandon their lances and take out their hand weapons making an anvil to which the hammer of the remaining lancers would smash the enemy against. Once the target was annihilated the centaurs would retrieve what lances that they could and retire to reform and then begin another charge meant to break the entire enemy's front and begin the pursuit.

[123] As the infantry made contact along the wall, the huge formation of Centaurs moved out at the walk. The interviewee noted that it was the most stirring and terrifying sight she had ever seen. The block moved with rigid discipline. As it crossed the brow of the hill the Centaur formation broke into a trot. Then one hundred yards from making contact with the rear of the Argosian infantry, each centaur individually performed a left turn making the short left flank of the formation the front. The formation then trotted westward along the entire front towards the western hill. About when the hill came abreast of the front center rank of the hill each animal made a forty five degree right turn resulting in a charge in oblique order towards the hill.

[124] Xena, who was on the hill with Draco ordered the men to their positions and the long pikes went down with the front ranks burying the hilts of the spears in the ground. Xena then rode towards town to the center front and halted its slow march towards town. Quickly she ordered a counter march and the formations troops turned in their places and double timed it back towards the hill. Xena had ordered that each man hold their positions in the formation. When the far western rank of the two divisions contacted Draco's men on the reverse slope of the hill Xena's men halted, presented their pikes and waited.

[125] With a roar that the interviewee reported was unforgettable, the Centaur formation broke into a canter and charged. Within seconds the roar of battle was replaced by the screams of wounded and falling Centaurs as the formation barreled into the thick belt of caltrops. At least the first ten ranks hit the sharpened stars and fell wounded. Within minutes thousands of the animals were out of the battle, many downed Centaurs were trampled to death by those behind. Then Xena rode back and led a supporting brigade of archers forward to the rear of the infantry at the front and flight after flight of arrows flew into the helpless centaurs killing many outright. The shock of the caltrops prevented many of the animals from defending themselves against the arrow flights many of which struck home leading to heavy casualties.

[126] Tyldus saw what had happened and personally charged into the milling formation outside of the caltrop field to reorganize the charge. Tyldus did succeed in reorganizing a good proportion of his troops but formation discipline was broken and the shock value of the charge was lost. He sent small groups forward to find out what had stopped his assault but many of them were cut down by the massed arrow fire. Eventually many Centaurs did pick their way through the caltrop field but they ran into masses of javelins thrown by the infantry on the lines. When the first Centaurs finally hit the massed pikes of the infantry line, Xena deemed that the time to counterattack had arrived.

[127] Xena ordered a wheeling advance to her right by her right front division which consisted of about 12,000 men. As they were instructed, this division dropped their pikes and pulled their swords. This force ran into the right flank of the still milling Centaurs where a general melee of great size developed. The interviewee reported that she herself got within feet of Tyldus himself but the Centaur King was able to battle his way out of his predicament. The battle went on like this for at least a half an hour. As this attack struck home, the left flank line of Xena's wing swung to its left hitting Orestes' infantry in the left flank as ordered. Orestes forces were not as well trained or as disciplined as the Centaurs and they immediately broke and ran with Xena's division hot on its heels. Eventually Darfus succeeded in recalling these troops but only after they had nearly succeeded in wiping out Orestes infantry. This division inflicted nearly 8,000 deaths on Orestes nearly eliminating his force from the rest of the battle.

[128] The slugfest with the Centaurs was close until Draco, against orders, made a great innovation. He ordered his men to pick up their pikes and walk with the spears presented right into the Centaurs. Yelling for the men to keep their dressing Draco had the advance slam into the centaurs and even some of Xena's own men and began to run over them. Draco had inadvertently invented the Phalanx. This steady charge worked. Tydus Centaurs finally began to give way. After the action Xena reprimanded Draco for his insubordination but gave him a significant monetary award for his invention.

[129] Tyldus had finally had enough. He had taken nearly twenty percent casualties and he ordered a general retirement. The Centaurs showed their mettle here for the retreat was not a rout. It was a fighting withdrawal with many of the dead and wounded being successfully evacuated. The interviewee said that this withdrawal was one of the most courageous things she had ever seen and applauded the centaurs for their endurance under stress and coolness in a dangerous situation. The confrontation proved to be bloody in the extreme. The engaged parts of her army took nearly fifteen percent casualties totaling about 8,000 dead. The first phase of the Battle of Corinth was over.

[130] Xena demonstrates to an excellent advantage during this battle her cunning in tactics. Her thorough knowledge of her opponent led her to make unexpected innovations in the military arts that shifted the battle to her advantage. She also demonstrated great coolness in assessing that the infantry attack that was forming on her left flank was a feint to cover a Centaur charge on her right. She also showed a characteristic that became famous when demonstrated by the Duke of Wellington during his illustrious military career. Xena had the knack of knowing when and where a crisis would occur and then placing herself in the crisis' midst. The effect of the presence of the Warrior Princess never failed to galvanize her troops. Xena herself was worth at least a division of reinforcements.


[131] The remainder of the day was spent in a truce to evacuate the wounded and bury the dead. That night both sides sent out parties of pioneers (engineers) to either try to clear or reestablish the caltrop fields. Several sharp small unit engagements broke out leading to some casualties and some dead on both sides One of the Centaur sallies was strong enough to warrant a full scale assault from one of Xena's right front battalions but the man horses were quickly driven off.

[132] The important event was further reinforcement by humans to Tyldus forces. Tyndareus had succeeded in giving the Centaur King a brigade of infantry, approximately 5,000 men. These were highly trained and motivated Spartan infantrymen, possibly the finest in the world, but as of yet they were still solely sword armed and trained in the heroic mode of combat. Nevertheless they could prove to be extremely useful, but for one thing. Tyndareus had ordered the brigade's commanding officer (name again sadly lost) to not engage in offensive operations. They were not to fight unless attacked. Tyldus and Sisyphus argued incessantly with the Spartan Brigadier but the man showed the two kings his written orders and they were completely explicit. The reasoning was clear. Tyndareus was afraid that Spartan interests would be subverted by Sisyphus. In other words he was afraid that Sisyphus would deceive the Spartan soldiers into attacking Tyndareus so that Menelaus could be overthrown. (Sisyphus was known to be a master of deception.) All three kings present, were enormously bitter about this development. It was now much more difficult to throw Xena out of the Corinth plain.

[133] Nevertheless, Sisyphus was convinced that it could be done. Intelligence reports had filtered back that led him to believe that Darfus was commanding Xena's far left flank. The king of the invested city remembered very well Darfus' impetuousness in attacking the Centaur hill top strongholds at the Battle of the Passes. Perhaps Darfus could be induced to stick his neck out again so that Tyldus could chop his head off, and thus leave Xena's entire left flank wide open. Tyldus noted that there was an area of dead ground about a thousand yards southeast of Corinth that could hide at least a brigade of his Centaurs. Again they turned towards the Spartan Brigadier who said that he could position his brigade in extended formation against Xena's right flank to prevent her from reinforcing her left. That was the most he could offer.

[134] The decision to try this stratagem was accepted. Tyldus would place 7,000 of his remaining Centaurs in the fold of the ground. Orestes would place his remaining 1,200 in a single regiment on Xena's far left with several companies in front of the main formation to sweep caltrops. Tyldus would place his remaining 8,000 Centaurs opposite Xena's center and attack if Darfus bit at the bait. All prayed that the Centaurs in the fold would be enough to exploit the opportunity that should be presented to them, if Darfus advanced.

[135] "Darfus was a fool!" The interviewee declared. "He was told specifically about the terrain in front of Corinth, but the man's blood was up so nothing could be done about it. I wanted to completely relieve him and send him home, but his men trusted him. I could not afford to loose his wing, so I had to keep him. Keeping Darfus turned out to be both the biggest mistake, and greatest boon, of my entire life. Chasing Orestes regiment nearly lost us the battle outright." Xena had taken heavy casualties the day before, and unlike Tyldus she had not been reinforced. Her numerical superiority over Tyldus was at the lowest of the entire campaign. A centralized infantry reserve had to be formed. All of the line formations were reduced and a brigade of about 8,000 men was assembled near the center of Xena's position. Xena knew that she had the interior lines so she intended to shift these troops to wherever they were most needed in a crisis.

Phase two

[136] Dawn the next morning presented large forces on two of Xena's three sides and weak forces apparently on her right. Slowly, carefully Orestes moved his regiment forward. Three companies of pioneers preceded the infantry movement. Darfus saw the advanced and was convinced that a great opportunity to annihilate Orestes existed because of the vulnerability of his position and of this relatively small force. Repeatedly he sent messages for to the Warrior Princess requesting authority to advance. Each time he was refused. Finally on his own initiative he did advance his two regiments, about 8,000 men. Orestes, when he saw this advance ordered a withdrawal, but the deception was increased because instead of retreating in order, Orestes men broke and fled. Darfus immediately ordered a headlong pursuit. It had become a chase---a contest to see who could run faster. Suddenly, there was the blare of horns and out of the fold of ground erupted Tyldus 7,000 Centaurs directly on Darfus' right flank

[137] Xena was up a large tree near the center of her position and she saw Darfus move out. She jumped from the tree directly onto her war horse and rode over to stop him. But it was too late. By the time she arrived at the limb of the eastern wall of Corinth she was nearly in contact with the Centaurs herself. Immediately, she knew that her entire army was in grave danger and she reined around to the west to get the infantry reserve and at least part of her cavalry. When she arrived at the commander of the reserve brigade, Estrogon, (who had been given the command of the brigade on his return from his 'vacation") she told him to run, not double-time, run to seal the gap between the sea and Corinth.

[138] Turning she rode back to Marcus who had his troopers up and mounted the moment he saw the reserve move out. She told him to sit tight and watch the center. There were a lot of Centaurs out there and if they hit, Marcus was to counter charge as hard as possible. She additionally told him to send about a squadron to Draco in case the Spartans on the right attacked. She then grabbed a trooper and told him to ride and find Draco. She told the messenger to tell Draco to take command of the front as well as his flank and to keep an eye on the infantry on his right. With the left in a state of near collapse an attack from the other two flanks was expected. Xena then took personal command of her Immortals and rode them hell for leather for the left flank and the area of maximum danger.

[139] Foolish he may have been but Darfus was no coward. When the Centaurs hit him he stood his ground and by sheer force of will prevented many of his men from fleeing. He was able to face many of them around towards the charging man horses and he succeeded in starting a melee on the grandest scale. Only about two battalions ran away which is an amazing performance considering the total surprise of the flanking attack. However, the lance armed Centaurs hit like a sledgehammer and men went down in appalling numbers. Darfus and the remnants of his two flanking regiments fought like demons for about fifteen minutes when Estrogon's infantry finally arrived. Estrogon formed his men in an extended block that covered about half of the distance between Corinth and the sea and pushed them forward. The infantry counter charge surprised the Centaurs who began to reel but they recovered. Darfus' men, heartened by the timely support, renewed their struggle.

[140] Draco was presented with a different problem. He was presented with a huge force of Centaurs to his front and an equally huge formation of elite Spartan infantry to his right. As Xena's runner told him the Centaurs did advance. This was not a hell for leather charge but it was a walking speed attack with groups of pioneers leading in order to clear the caltrops. Xena had taken all of the archer's with her to try to save the left so he waited for the Centaurs, which were under Tyldus' personal command, to advance. Draco rode behind the lines showing great personal courage and he steadied the center regiments as the massed man horses approached. According to the interviewee on the scrolls he expressed extreme puzzlement about the Spartans. As the Centaurs advanced, the infantry sat down! Clearly the Centaurs intended to not shatter the thinned out line of Xena's infantry with shock but to bludgeon their way through like a battering ram. The Centaurs were armed with swords and shields, not lances.

[141] When one reads the interviewee's action report, one cannot help but think of the Duke of Wellington's assessment of the Battle of Waterloo when the "Hooky Nosed Bastard What Always Whomps the French" commented upon the charge of Napoleon's Imperial Guard at the crisis of the battle: "They came on in the same old way, and we killed them in the same old way!" The advance of the Centaurs was slow, orderly and accompanied by the hammering of drums. Xena's men, pikes presented, waited stolidly as the Man horses approached. The collision was gigantic. Hundreds of Centaurs went down in the front ranks but eventually pikes began to shatter and the long swords of the Centaurs began to tell. Draco could do little but stand and fight like hell, which he did. It was a classic case of the irresistible force hitting the immovable object.

[142] The battle when on for at least an hour. The long pikes of the infantry providing an advantage against the superb strength of the man horses, but after a while that strength began to tell. To Draco's continued surprise the Spartan infantry did nothing. Taking a huge risk, Draco rode to the division holding the hill and ordered a regiment to follow him. The left flank regiment did a left face, presented their pikes and marched resolutely into the melee. They immediately affected the situation positively to Dracos' relief. The struggle intensified. Casualties began to mount and after a while no matter how resolute the human defense Centaurs began to filter through. The line finally began to give way when a flight of fire arrows flew into the air from Marcus' cavalry. This was a signal for the line to open and let the enemy through.

[143] Draco saw the signal and yelled at all of the infantry to run for the hills or walls. They did. At that moment Marcus charged with his 6,200 cavalry. Riding for the corridor in the caltrop field the horsemen hit the Centaurs hard and for fifteen minutes the flashing swords of the horsemen and Man horses clashed, and men, horses and Centaurs fell in waves of screaming wounded. Marcus was magnificent for his resolution broke the Centaurs. He was seen to have been engaged with Tyldus in personal combat. At long last the Centaurs retired in disorder. Marcus, although wounded was able to prevent his enraged horsemen from following the centaurs and return his troopers to order and reserve. Marcus' magnificent charge was to earn him the highest of awards for valor, "The Squeeze."

[144] Estrogon's arrival on the right helped the situation there but did not cure it. The Centaurs still had tremendous momentum and Xena feared that what was left of Darfus' two regiments would be driven into the sea. The additional infantry checked the advance but the fighting became even more desperate. The fighting was easily the most brutal reported from Heroic Greece. Dead and wounded accumulated in the hundreds. Finally, Xena and the Immortals arrived and again the Warrior Princess' presence tipped the balance. Xena rode her Immortals through the corridor in the Caltrops by the sea and formed them parallel to the coast. They drew swords and with the rhythmic chanting of their commander's name The Immortals charged into the melee, in the Unknown Bards words, like a tornado. The Unknown Bard said that the piercing sound of Xena's ululation so unnerved the Centaurs that many of them just stopped fighting only to be slaughtered by Xena's infantry. Finally after murderously confused and vicious fighting, the Centaurs broke and retired in confusion.

[145] It had been a close run thing indeed. Darfus' infantry assault cost him nearly five thousand dead. On the central front Marcus and Draco's forces suffered nearly seven thousand. dead. But the lines had held and the Centaurs had been beaten off. Tyldus total casualties are unknown but of the Fifteen thousand Centaurs that attacked close to four thousand had been killed. Xena's effective strength had been whittled down to less than 35,000. Tyldus had about 11,000. Yet the battle was not over.

Concluded next month in Part 6

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