Battle of Raphia, 217 BC

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Ptolemy IV versus Antiochus III the Great: An Egyptian army under Plotemy confronts a very similar Seleucid army under Antiochus. Neither side’s opening maneuvers will decide this battle. Which commander will maintain command and control, and react to the battle’s changing circumstances effectively? Also known as the Battle of Gaza.

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This battle seems to have very little long term impact as two more Syrian wars were fought within a century. The battle is unique in that it features a rising power being defeated by a falling power so it is understandable that its consequences were more immediate than anything else.


While earlier ancient battles were generally decided by which infantry phalanx could push the other back until rout, it is rare for this time period. By this time, infantry phalanxes were often deployed as a pinning force so cavalry strike forces could decide the day in decisive manner. Ptolemy was able to react better to the changing battlefield situation than Antiochus but neither really showed themselves to be effective commanders. In his excellent survey of battles of the ancient Hellenistic world, Pietrykowski is extremely critical of the generalship displayed in this battle:

It should come as no surprise that two young and inexperienced kings were able to mismanage the handling of one of the largest battles of antiquity. Handicapped by the uncertainty with which he viewed his men, Ptolemy was from the start hesitant to seize the advantage which his numerical superiority offered him. As it turned out, the resource which he felt no hesitance in employing, his African war elephants, proved to be not only completely ineffectual, but also dangerous to his own men.

On the other hand [Antiochus], outnumbered by his more powerful foe, may have subscribed too literally to Alexander’s hell-for-leather principles of warfare. After all, Alexander was fighting mere Persians while the young [Seleucid] king had a fellow Macedonian phalanx with which to contend. Thanks to his overly-aggressive tactics and virtually non-existent contingency plan for the rest of his men, a resounding success for Antiochus early on was later transformed into the main cause of his abysmal defeat. (2009: 194)

The mention of Alexander is an interesting one. Alexander was an aggressive cavalry commander on the battlefield but never lost sight of purpose of the cavalry attack and the overall goal, as in the Battle of Gaugamela when he called off his cavalry pursuit to save his phalanx.

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This battle is a perfect example as to why I need viewers to suggest battles. I had never heard of this battle when it was suggested but was initially intrigued by the nature of this battle because it was not formulaic as some masterpieces are. When you have a list of roughly one hundred battles you have researched and seriously consider animating in the near future with another one hundred you still need to research, any battle that can stand out is a treat. In fact, just as an exercise on your own: take a battle or two from each era and compare them. One will be shocked at how similar the tactics and strategies employed are across history. Sometimes I must cross a battle off the “maybe” list because I feel I have already animated it. Anyways, thank you for suggesting this battle because I do not know everything and definitely need some guidance sometimes.

– Jonathan Webb

Works Consulted

Pietrykowski, Joseph. Great Battles of the Hellenistic World. Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2009.

Polybius. The Histories of Polybius. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1962.

Rickard, J. “Battle of Raphia, 22 June 217 BC.” History of War. (accessed May 24, 2009).

Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World. London: Salamander, 1980.


Antioch III the Great:

Egyptian cavalry:

Egyptian infantry:

Egyptian peltast:

Egyptian war elephant:

Map of the Mediterranean:

Map of the world:

Ptolemy IV:

Seleucid cavalry:

Seleucid infantry:

Seleucid peltasts:

Seleucid war elephant:


If you enjoyed the Battle of Raphia 217 BC battle animation, you may also enjoy these other battle animations:

Battle of Ipsus 301 BC, another battle featuring the Seleucids, phalanxes, and war elephants:

ipsus preview 1

Battle of Thymbra 546 BC, another battle from the Ancient Era fought in modern day Turkey:

thymbra preview 1

Battle of Breteinfeld 1631, another battle featuring the initial defeat of each side’s left wing:

breitenfeld preview 1Thank you for visiting The Art of Battle: Animated Battle Maps.

Readers Comments (3)

  1. This is excellent!

  2. Great subject and great deed. Thank you. I read about that in

  3. Thought provoking and bring down history in our time.

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