Alternative History

The Battle of Isfahan (simplified Chinese: 伊斯法罕之战; traditional Chinese: 伊斯法罕之戰; pinyin: Yīsīfǎhàn zhī zhàn) was a military engagement fought by the allied Roman army and the Abbasid army against the armies of Song Serica from September 1393 to March 1394 in the First Silk War. Until this battle, gunpowder weapons had not been used in such a large scale.


June 1394 to February 1396


Isfahan, Persia


Allied victory; Persia freed from Serican control


Roman Empire and the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate

Song Serica


Tiberius Servilius

Li Baoheng †


55,000 troops of the Roman-Arab coalition with 15,000 reinforcements

15,000+ with 10,000 reinforcements

Casualties and Losses

25,000 killed

5000 killed; 2000 captured; 100,000 civilian deaths



After losing a battle in the city of Rey, the Sericans retreated south toward Isfahan to meet up with the local Serican garrison there. The reinforced Allied Roman and Abbasid armies under the command of Roman general Tiberius Servilius pursued closely behind them, occasionally harassing them when they had the chance. However, Allied advance was slowed when the Serican army retaliated and blindly fired several cannon shots, killing the primus pilus (highest-ranking centurion) of the II Persia legion.

Beginning of the Battle[]

By the time the Allied army arrived at the city, many residents had already fled and the Serican army was on the other side (south) of the Zayandeh River. Servilius sent a captured Serican officer across to try to persuade General Li Baoheng (李保衡) to surrender, but the officer merely encouraged Li to fight back. Meanwhile, Servilius had grown impatient and attempted to ferry his 65,000 men across the river, but they were driven back by heavy cannon bombardment and fire arrows. Any attempts to build bridges over the Zayandeh River were abandoned when Serican troops blew apart the wooden foundations of an unfinished bridge.

1000px-Isfahan city map svg

Map of Isfahan

The battle[]

By October, the Romans and Arabs had given up attempts to cross the river directly, and now focused on causing as much destruction on the enemy camp across the river. In the previous battle, the Allied troops captured some heavy Serican artillery. Using the captured cannons, the Allies created panic in the Serican ranks but the Sericans recovered and fired back. Now they were desperate enough to recruit the remaining residents of Esfahan.

As a result of famines and political tension back in the Serican homeland, only ten thousand reinforcements were sent to Isfahan. Arriving a few days after the Serican traditional Duanwu Festival, the reinforcements secretly launched a surprise attack on the Allied army from the east when the sun was slowly setting. Taking advantage of the confusion, the main force of 15,000 men ferried across and joined the assault, slaughtering thousands of Roman and Arab troops and razing their camp to the ground. When the sun set, however, it became practically impossible to identify one another, so the Sericans retreated back to the other side of the Zayandeh River. In the morning, General Li Baoheng ordered rockets to be fired at the destroyed camp in mockery. The officers were outraged, but Tiberius Servilius knew if his demoralized army attacked now, they would be easily defeated.

In January 1394, the 15,000 reinforcements Servilius was waiting for finally arrived, along with several new weapons. He sent a division of about 20,000 men to march several miles upstream to an unguarded point in the river. The division then crossed the river and set up camp south of where the Sericans were located. In the month of March, Servilius ordered an all-out surprise attack. Under the full moon, first division suddenly charged down toward the Sericans while the other division crossed the river amid the chaos. General Li Baoheng was killed in the assault and the Serican army retreated in panic. Out of the 25,000 Serican troops, 7000 were killed or captured. Meanwhile, the Romans and the Arabs suffer 25,000 casualties out of 70,000 men. The Romans and Arabs would not face another persistent Serican force until they reached Khavakend.