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Total War: ROME II – Palmyra Guide (Empire Divided)

Tips and opinions for playing as Palmyra in the Empire Divided campaign.

Why play Palmyra?

Basically, after saving the Roman Empire from disaster after the Sassanid Persians captured the Emperor Valerian in battle, the Palmyran king Odaenathus (or Septimius Udhayna) decided to be a stand up chap, defend Rome and kick the Persians where it hurt. Which he did. I thoroughly advise you search for Extra History: Ghosts of the Desert on Youtube if you’re interested.

Anyway, after generally being a bamf and preventing disaster single handedly, Odaenathus and his heir are assassinated.
This is where Empire Divided kicks off. Odaenathus’ young son takes the throne, the regent being his widow Zenobia, who even the Romans had to admit was almost as badass as her late husband. Odaenathus saved the empire from losing the east to the Sassanids – why shouldn’t his heir be in line for the Imperial throne?

Palmyra’s burgeoning empire stood at a crossroads – part of the Roman Empire, jammed between Persian, Arabic, and Egyptian cultures, with Galatians to the north and a history of Greek culture thanks to Alexander and the later Seleucids. The empire was multilingual, multicultural, and essentially a hodgepodge of everything in the area.

Remeber how the best thing about Rome in the grand Campaign is the auxiliary barracks, allowing you to flesh out armies with units from other races? Well Palmyra gets that, AND its basic unit chains have some of that diversity as well. Take a Roman legion, greek phalanxes, eastern spearmen and ranged firepower, and ram them all together. Palmyra has options for days, and doesn’t really struggle against anyone. Not to say that they’re easy – but that’s the point of this guide, to highlight the strengths.

Unit Overview

Palmyrene Spearmen
Palmyran armies are heavily dependent on the spear. Even their Cohors and Legionary units have them, rather than the traditional Roman gladius.
Said Cohors and Legionaries are fantastic units that you are going to want: and, in my opinion, should avoid for a while. I’m going to discuss the issues you face as a faction in the next chapter, but suffice to say for now that you will need more than one army. I am normally all for having few elite troops, but for Palmyra you will need to economise at least a little.

Enter Palmyrene Spearmen. These fellows have weaker stats than the senior Cohors, most notably less armour – however, they cost a lot less. They also cost far less upkeep, which is just as crucial if not more so for allowing you to keep building up your settlements despite the near-constant warfare.
Another key thing to note is that while Palmyrene Cohors and Legionaries have Defensive Testudo, the standard Spearmen have Hoplite Phalanx. Thus their formation is less resistant to missiles, but in the early game there hopefully won’t be much more than slingers and skirmishers to deal with. The phalanx also provides better melee buffs than a testudo, and allows them to keep moving slowly.
Oh, and did I mention that nearby factions will be relying on Vigiles, Eastern Spearmen, or Levies at this point, all of which are quite inferior to Palmyrene Spearmen in a straight up fight?

Not that Palmyrene Cohors and Legionaries are bad units, but for approaching double the cost they don’t really bring double the effectiveness. By all means, once your borders are stabilised and your income solid move over to the legionaries, especially if you’re dealing with lots of archers or missile cav.


Pikemen are amazing. Simple as. They are weak out of formation or when flanked, but when used properly they can beat up even elite units by just keeping them at arms length. Farther than arm’s length, really. About 15 feet away.
Although Pike Phalanx does grant some shield strength, they are still quite vulnerable to missiles, however. You’ll want them near the middle to reduce flanking, and backed up by your own missile troops.

General’s Bodyguards

Scythed Chariots
Ah, chariots, how I both love and loathe you. I’ve played a lot of Iceni out of sympathy for the underdog and my homeland, so I’m very aware of Chariots in this game, and the Palmyran chariots are that turned up to eleven.

On the plus side, chariots can fairly easily rack up 300+ kills if micro’d correctly in battle. They will literally flatten entire units, like elephants but fast. Zenobia starts with a chariot, and I find it quite suitable for female generals to use the chariot since it relies less upon the personal combat skill that queens would rarely train in.

On the minus side, Chariot units die in auto resolve. Always. Could be a twenty stack against 3 garrison units, and you will still lose 2 of your 12 chariots. At least. For whatever reason, autoresolve HATES chariots with a passion and slaughters them, so you’d best be prepared to manual EVERY battle with a chariot-featuring army, or wait around to replenish before another fight. It is INFURIATING. I still do it though, because having 500 kills on the Queen Mother is hilarious.
Also, chariots can be fragile. Just the other day I lost one of my best and oldest generals because a basic spear unit I thought wasn’t braced managed to turn and prepare just before I hit it. Bam, half the unit dead, including Mr Zabbai Septimius (RIP). They are incredibly micro-heavy, which might be alright as you’ll want to be micro-aware of your general most of the time anyway, but it is still an issue.

Palmyrene Palace Guard
The basic general unit: your usual infantry, but top tier. Very good, heavily armoured spearmen. Basic, solid, dull, reliable. Take your pick of adjectives. That said, their unit card looks a fair bit like that of Vigiles, a very much NOT good unit, which always slightly confuses me. But when something superficial like that is the most notable thing I have to say…

Royal Pikemen
A tricky one. I feel like I should love these guys because I love pikes, and these are very skilled, heavily armoured pikes. However, pikes are great in a slow advance, gently murdering everyone in front of them role. Not only am I uncertain about having my general that close to the front line, I also quite like the General’s unit to be more flexible. Move around the line to give leadership boosts, use abilities, maybe charge in if a section is about to collapse. Royal pikes are undoubtedly a great unit, and might be worth taking for that alone, but I do feel that it reduces the value of a good general by keeping them pinned down.

Royal Cataphracts
Heavy shock cavalry. Want chariots without all the fuss, and willing to have a slightly lower kill count? Cataphracts are for you. Tough, more mobile than infantry, killer charge and good stats. Probably a good standard choice, although beware spears and missile cav.

I don’t like Slingers here. They get outshot by Eastern factions, and can’t get through the armour of Roman factions.
The Skirmishers, though. Skirmishers are a fantastic flanking unit, acting as a mini hammer to the spearmen’s anvil. They also counter jav cav perfectly by virtue of just throwing more pointy sticks, and can weather enemy sling-fire long enough to murder them. Plus, once you upgrade to the slighter better Skirmishers, they have good enough morale and melee stats to charge into a flank once they’ve expended all of their javelins.

Palmyra gets so many options that it’s hard to break down. Melee cav, archer cav, camel riders to scare enemy cav.
Early game my particular favourite is Lanciarii. They have worse stats than your standard horsemen, save one: charge bonus. They also cost far less. When you’re msotly fighting smaller armies, and weak ranged units, one heavy charge from the lanciarii (spoiler: they have lances) will break your opponent before they have a chance to hit your cavalry back, so the lower melee defence is less of an option.
If the enemy has a tendency to use a fair amount of melee cavalry themselves, however, Camel Spearmen are a great substitute for not much more money. Much worse on the charge, but with higher melee defence to keep them from being slaughtered, and scare horses to send the enemy running.
Camel Archers are also worth a shout. Beware Jav cav, however – skirmish mode won’t keep you out of their range, and their javelins do far better burst damage.

Campaign Overview

That which makes Palmyrene culture so interesting is also their biggest weakness. They are surrounded by other cultures.

West, Egypt. South, Arabia. East, Persians. North, Galatia, Lydia, and Armenia, the first two being Aurelian’s clients and the latter that of the Persians.
Not only are you surrounded, but the borders are quite stretched. This is why I emphasised value for money in the unit section: unless you are very lucky, you will have to fight on more than one front, and your armies will not be able to cross your empire in a hurry. Even if you are only fighting on one front, said front is usually too large for one army to cover. If you take a settlement, only to lose the one you just left, you can get stuck playing musical chairs with the AI. That’s a fantastic way to stagnate and lose the campaign.

You should start at war with Egypt, with an objective to beat them as well. This is lovely: the Nile crossing is narrow enough that you can easily defend it. While Egypt is huge, the settlements quite some way apart and thus hard to keep a hold of, it is only a single province. Ambush, besiege, or otherwise catch their main army and run it down, and you will be able to stomp the rest of the province in short succession. The objective will give you a money boost, and Egypt itself is a very rich region to build up once you stabilise it.

Now you’re in the danger zone. My advice is to build up the economy, and annoy Galatia.
Emphasis on ANNOY. If you declare war on Galatia yourself, you will also declare war on Aurelian’s Rome, which holds Greece and Libya, and Lydia, which is the other client state. This will split you between two states marching down through Galatia, and having to hold BOTH roads from Libya into Egypt, or else your brand new breadbasket is going to get sacked and burned. However, it seems that if you can encourage Galatia to declare war on you their allies won’t necessarily get involved, meaning you only have the one faction to deal with. While Galatia does have two routes into Syria, that is still far easier to deal with.

I also recommend a bit of appeasement with the Sassanids. Paying them for a non-aggression pact is almost worht giving up on a bit of construction, at the very least for the benefit of giving them some positive opinion of you so they’re less likely to attack early. There is a minor objective to become allied to the Sassanids, but I’m not sure that’s really feasible – but you should endeavour, through money or politics, to stop them hating you at least.
It’s worth noting that the Sassnids are opportunistic, heartless. If they think you are outclassed, struggling, or weak, they will declare war and try to crush you. I had a 16 stack sitting on their border for the entirety of my current campaign just to dissuade them – “this land is defended. Stay out”

Once Galatia is dead, stabilise. Get public order steady. Now you have a barrier, you can afford to upgrade provinces like Syria and Judea with better economic buildings.
For minor settlements with not much squalor, the new Urban building provides some garrison, some sanitation and reduces banditry. Almost all major settlements will want a sanitation chain, and since they give growth it might be worth building them early. Generally, Culture penalties are less of an issue as Palmyra, most people quite happy to share culture. One alternative is the Christians – their cult reduces public order for every other cult or temple in the province, and all it provides is some unit replenishment. Useful, perhaps, in a border province that you don’t expect to hold or don’t want to pour money into while it’s still being fought over, but otherwise pretty detrimental.
Generally speaking, I prefer the blue sanitation chain to temples as Palmyra. They provide better sanitation, and while high Imperium in the late game increases public order penalties from presence of different culture, Palmyra has a late game tech that completely removes these penalties, so really different culture public order penalties should never be much of an issue for you. Multicultural empire! Rome but without the superiority complex. Much.

In most of my campaigns, the Latin Families faction has spawned with god-awful traits. Somewhere in the early game, while they only hold one, settlement, if you ever get a period of peace it might be worth provoking a civil war just to get them out of the way, so that they don’t rebel when you’re doing something important.

Getting contact and trade agreements is great. You will expand into a lot of resources, and taking Egypt allows you trade access across both major oceans. If you take over Lydia’s territory you can get access to the Bosphorus and Pontic sea for even more trade – and the Gothi will probably like you for kicking Balthasar Gelt Aurelian in the backside.

Get some archers!

Archers are good. You’re going to have to deal with armoured dudes from Rome, and missile spam from African and Eastern Kingdoms. Archers will slaughter slingers, missile cav, and will also deal with enemy javelins if they have proper protection in front of them.

Palmyra gets what are, in my opinion, some of the best archers in the game. They are called Hamian archers, and they have good range, good damage, and great armour. They seem to carry spears too?
The only downside is, you need a Tier 3 barracks to recruit them, which itself requires a corresponding tech. So what do you do in the early game?

Remember I mentioned that you get auxiliaries, much like other Roman factions? Well, auxiliary archers are fantastic.
Cretan archers are the best, but you’re not likely to get there very fast. However, auxiliary barracks in Egypt (which should be the first place you take) allow you to get Egyptian archers, cheap and easy. Rubbish armour, rubbish survivability, but they have bows, they have ammo variety, and they can shoot. Whether you are ploughing through African skirmishers or Aurelian’s Vigiles, these lads will do the trick – and from behind the comfort of your spear wall!

A Sample Army

General, of your preferred kind.
4 Palmyrene Spearmen
2 Pikemen
4 Archers
2 Skirmishers
2 Missile cav
2 Melee cavThis is my basic template.

Skirmisher – Spear – Spear – Pike – Pike – Spear – Spear – Skirmisher
Archer – Archer – Archer – Archer

Cav in reserve, missile cav roaming.

You’ll note it comes to 17 units – the remaining three slots can be filled with whatever you want. It is worth noting, also, that you should vary based on opponent.

if you don’t have access to archers, double up on the flanking skirmishers and missile cav. If your opponent relies on slingers or skirmishers, take more melee cav.
If you’re going to be attacking into a lot of cities or melee unit spam, add more melee units. I quite like sticking a couple of armoured swordsmen units in next to the pikes, just to ensure that their flanks are sturdy.

As Palmyra, your basic battle tactic is as follows: hold enemy with solid line of spears, beat their flanks off, encircle them. Slaughter their skirmishers, either with your flanking forces or with archers firing over the lines. Your spears and pikes should hold if in phalanx (Spear Cohors and Armoured Swordsmen should hold regardless by virtue of being great units). Then javelins and cavalry charge to the back.
It’s classic hammer and anvil, taking inspiration from the old Macedonian tactics, with the extra flavour of chariots, cataphracts, and missile firepower.

Your roster is flexible, but your enemies are numerous and varied. Chariots will slaughter legionaries, if they are engaged and cannot throw pilae. Lighter melee cav will run through the lightly armoured ranged units of Africa and the East. Archers will also slaughter them, but may need to flank against heavy armour. Missile cav will laugh at enemy melee cav, but will be nigh useless against missile-heavy enemies. Your Palmyrene spears will hold anything off, but don’t expect them to beat gladius-armed legionaries or Immortals. They are the Anvil – they’re damn good at it, but they need your support to crush the enemy.

The only unit you want a long grind with is the pikes. Especially in settlements – attacking or defending, get some archers behind a phalanx and then buildings on either side, and just slowly stab the entire garrison/attacker to death. Your later armoured pikemen will be even tougher, but even the early ones can get a lot done if they aren’t being shot to death.

Remember to analyse the enemy, and adapt to them. Remember that you have access to the units of lots of different cultures – use them together and nobody will be able to stop you.

Why You Shouldn’t get Involved with a Land War in Asia

See this?

That was a good battle. Note how horrendously outnumbered I was?
In my current campaign, Aurelian is dead. The Senate is pretty much gone too, and Tetricus still somewhat likes me so I won’t have to invade Italy immediately. And since the victory conditions require holding Parthia, and I will soon want to invade the west, I thought let’s kill the huge Persian thorn in my side.
This sort of battle is the BEST case scenario. I have managed to fight off a similar 20 stack with a 5-unit garrison. And that was also a good battle. Not shown are the dozen awful, surprise matchups I had to autoresolve.

War isn’t a terrible idea. You might want to remove the Sassanids before they gobble up all of Arabia and outflank you on ANOTHER side.

The problem is, your border province is Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is long. Very long. Not only will the Sassanids attack you with their many armies, ALL of their Satraps apparently have nothing better to do than march across Asia to attack you. And what with the border being so large, I guarantee that at some point a huge stack of trash Persians will emerge from the fog of war to take a settlement that you left undefended while fighting off the big, cataphract-laden actually scary enemy. So you’ll have to either raise new armies or turn back, stalling your advance. And because Total War allows even rubbish AI states to have a full stack, the hordes WILL NOT STOP.

Did I mention Armenia is a Satrapy as well? So your ENTIRE eastern flank will be bombarded by Persians, and you’ll have more stacks coming from the North. In about twenty [20] turns, I have just about managed to take Mesopotamia, having had to run back to slap some stupid levy armies which razed my homes.

It’s not that you can’t beat the Sassanids: they’re just a colossal pain.
That said, it is incredibly satisfying to slaughter them by their thousands. Apart from the Shahanshah, who likes to run around with actually good units, a lot of the armies thrown against you are a hot load of garbage. They even have people who can afford swords, but not shields somehow, which will die by the droves to even your worst units.

I strongly suggest you get Hamian archers before trying anything against the Sassanids, however. Pikemen (supported by others units on the flanks) counter all of their melee units, but you’ll need missile superiority to stop your pikemen from being shot to pieces.

You will need to kill them eventually, unless you somehow manage an alliance. Make no mistake – in my opinion, the Sassanids are the real enemy. Sure, you want Rome, but it’s not the centre of your world, unlike when playing as Tetricus or Aurelian. The Sassanids are the big bad, the Empire looming over you. Even if you do the campaign course set out for you and do the whole ‘Empire Divided, one must stand’ thing, the Sassanids will be waiting for you as your final test. Even if you want to create a new Roman dynasty, centred in the East about a hundred years earlier than history, you will have to live up to Odaenathus’ legacy sooner or later.

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