Win the Battle, Lose the War: 6 of History’s Costliest Military Victories

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2 – Battle of Avarayr (451)

Apart from the original Pyrrhic victory in the 3rd century BC, the Battle of Avarayr is one of the earliest examples of the concept. The battle took place between the Sassanid Empire of Persia and an Armenian army under the command of Vardan Mamikonian. Many historians suggest Avarayr was one of the first major battles for Christianity in history.

The fight took place in the middle of an Armenian uprising which occurred after the Sassanid king, Yazdegerd II, ordered the Armenians to convert to Zoroastrianism. Armenia had been a Sassanid dependency since 428 AD.

The battle took place on May 26, 451 AD and a 66,000 man Armenian army took on a Sassanid army with an estimated strength of at least 200,000. The omens for the Armenians were not positive; the Byzantines rejected appeals for assistance and a number of important noble houses defected.

During the battle, the smaller force held their own until the enemy unleashed its elephant corps which crushed the Armenians. Vardan and a number of other commanders died in the battle, but the Sassanid’s also suffered enormous losses.

Indeed, the casualties suffered by the Persians were so great that Yazdegerd was unable to force the faith issue because he also had to deal with other problems; a difficult task due to his severely depleted army. The Armenian Church was able to reject the Council of Chalcedon, and its citizens were allowed to worship as they wished.

The Armenians continued to resist the Sassanids, and eventually, the Nvarsak Treaty was signed in 484. It granted religious freedom to the Armenians and allowed them to continue building churches. To this date, many Armenians view May 26 as a holy day.

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