Siege of Onoguris

The Siege of Onoguris occurred in 554 or 555 AD during the Lazic War between the Byzantine Empire and the Sasanian Empire.

Siege of Onoguris
Part of the Lazic War
Date554 or 555 AD
Location42°24′30″N 42°26′30″E

Decisive Sasanian victory

  • The Byzantine base in Archaeopolis is destroyed
Sasanian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Unnamed garrison commander
50,000 3,000 cavalry
Unknown number of garrison force
Casualties and losses
Heavy Unknown
Location within Georgia

The Byzantine generals led by Martin needed to score a quick victory on the battlefield to redress their assassination of the Byzantine ally King Gubazes II of Lazica. They launched a full-scale assault on the new Sasanian fort at Onoguris (possibly located at modern village Khuntsi[1]), which was located near the main Byzantine stronghold of Archaeopolis. The unexpected arrival of a small relief force under the new Sasanian commander Nachoragan turned the tide of the battle and resulted in an easy victory for the Sasanians instead. The Byzantines subsequently abandoned their base at Archaeopolis also, which was then destroyed by the Sasanians who now gained momentum.


After succeeding in dislodging the Byzantines from Telephis–Ollaria, the Persian commander in Lazica, Mihr-Mihroe, did not follow up the victory, but returned to Mocheresis and reinforced the Persian garrison at Onoguris on his way. The latter was near Archaeopolis, the main Byzantine stronghold in the region. Mihr-Mihroe died shortly afterward and was succeeded by Nachoragan.[2]

After the defeat at Telephis, King Gubazes II of Lazica sent a complaint against the Byzantine generals to Emperor Justinian I, who then sent General Bessas into exile. Martin and Rusticus, two other generals criticized by Gubazes, then assassinated the Lazic king. This resulted in confusion among the Lazi who abandoned their support for the Byzantines.[2]

Martin immediately prepared a large force to capture the nearby Persian fort at Onoguris, expecting an easy victory. According to Agathias, Martin and those behind the assassination of the Lazic king wanted to gain a success which could defuse a volatile situation in case Emperor Justinian I would notice their culpability.[3]

The siege

In 554 or 555, the Byzantine force of 50,000 fighting men under Martin besieged the Persian fort of Onoguris using wicker roofs (spaliones), ballistae, and other siege equipment. A captured Persian revealed the approach of a Persian relief force from Mocheresis and Cutais under Nachoragan. The idea of a full-scale attack against the force was rejected; instead, a 600-strong force, under Dabragezas and Usigardus, was sent to ambush the relief force, while the main Byzantine force engaged in the siege. Agathias describes the siege to be "more like a pitched battle".

The Persian relief force (or a vanguard?) was caught off-guard and was routed, but as the Persians, an all-cavalry force numbering 3,000, noted that it was not the main Byzantine force, the Persians turned against them and routed the pursuers. As both parties reached the Byzantine line, the main Byzantine force was seized with panic and fled together with their commanders. The Persian garrison then sallied and further contributed to the Byzantines' wavering. As the Byzantine cavalry fled, the infantry was left behind, and the narrowness of the bridge over the Catharus River further hampered their flight, many of them being killed in the subsequent stampede. Bouzes and his cavalry noticed the situation, returned, covered their retreat, and prevented their total annihilation.[3]

As the pursuing Persians reached Archaeopolis, they found the plain abandoned; thus they dismantled the Byzantine fortifications, looted their camp, and returned.[3]

See also


  1. Paul Everill, Besik Lortkipanidze, Nikoloz Murghulia, Ian Colvin, Davit Lomitashvili The lost fortress of Onoguris? Newly discovered sixth-century AD fortifications at Khuntsistsikhe, western Georgia. April 2017 Antiquity Volume 91 Issue 356 doi:10.15184/aqy.2017.1
  2. Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (2002). The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars, Part II, 363–630 AD: A Narrative Sourcebook. New York and London: Routledge (Taylor & Francis). pp. 120–121. ISBN 0-415-14687-9.
  3. Frendo, Joseph D., ed. (1975), Agathias: The Histories, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-003357-1 |pages=72-75}}