Polybian Romans & Allies

Readers here will have noted that for a while my Polybian Romans have featured over the last year in a few games featured on this site. I thought it worthwhile out lining some of their history in my wargaming collection and how they have found new life in DBA 3.0.

Some of you may recall that DBA was first published back in 1990, goodness some 25 years ago. With its publication I purchased my first 15mm Ancients army, which just happened to be a Polybian Roman army. I had played Ancients before this but always with 20mm plastics and with mixed results. With DBA however Ancients was far more accessible. In time my Romans grew to provide a DBM army, yet DBM just failed to provide lasting appeal. I infrequently fought historic opponents and to be honest the people playing DBM were just too competitive. After a few years however, and reestablishing an interest in DBA locally, I considered pulling my Polybians out of retirement. The list was however a little too restricted being one army with no options. As a result they infrequently made an appearance on the table.

With the release of DBA 3.0 the Polybian Romans have changed considerably, in my view they are now more historical representative and interesting on the table. In previous versions of DBA the Polybian Romans (II/33) had a set list of 12 elements with no variation. Under DBA 3.0 the Polybians can field 1 x General (Cv), 1 x equites (Cv), 4 x hastati/principles (4Bd), 2 x hastati/principles (4Bd) or allies (3/4Ax), 2 triarii (Sp), 2 velites (Ps).

I decided to pull a number of figures out of retirement and repainted them from scratch. Above, the basic army without allies. They are comprised of a mixture Essex and Museum figures, 25 year old veterans. The general is with the Roman cavalry (right) while Italian cavalry are on the left. Below, the very important camp.

The first change in the basic troops is the rating of the triarii, who now can count as supported spear in some situations. Under 2.2 the triarii were inferior to the hastati and principles while now they are on similar factors, at least when supported. Further, they show a little more control in the melee as they do not pursue enemy foot. I think this is a very useful and certainly subtle change that is not appreciated at first glance.

In the list above you will have noticed the Polybians now have a couple of options in their base list. Specifically, one or two stands of hastati/principles can be replaced by allies and are rated as auxilia. These stands must all be represented as 3Ax or 4Ax, that is, they can’t be mixed. The DBMM list provides some additional detail on what the stands of auxilia would represent. Prior to 211BC many are likely to represent allied Italian troops fighting in more traditional styles. I have yet to paint some figures to represent these, but it won’t be long I’m sure. However, other light troops can to be fielded, though in more limited numbers. These include small numbers of Spanish or Illyrian mercenaries or if representing armies in Greece and Asia from 198BC, Macedonian, Thracian or Ligurians. For my Polybians I therefore have a stand of Spanish (3Ax) or Ligurians (4Ax). While they can’t be used together I’ve provided a photo of the two stands. These provide some additional infantry to contest areas of bad going.

Yet the variety of troops for the Polybians doesn’t stop with these troops. One of the fascinating additions to DBA 3.0, at least in my opinion, was the introduction of allied contingents into the standard DBA army. In DBA 3.0 the Polybian Romans can draw allied contingents from no less than six different lists. So how is this achieved?

If a single ally is selected three elements of the army are removed from the primary army and replaced by three elements drawn from the allied list, with some restriction on the choice. The first element is that of the allied armies general while the second is that of the most common type. The third element can be selected freely from elements not selected.

As way of an example a Numidian allied contingent, which was historically used in Africa between 204 to 202BC would contain: 1 x General (Cv or LH); 1 x horsemen (LH) or javelinmen (Ps); and one other element. This very different army, with the potential for two stands of light horse, would be well at home on the fields of Zama.

An alternate ally for the Polybians, historically used from around 212BC in Spain, could be the Iberians (II/39a) or Celtiberian (II/39b). Here an Iberian allied contingent would contain: 1x General with long-shield cavalry (Cv); 1 x scutarii (3/4Ax); and one other element. In contrast the Celtiberians would contain: 1x General with long-shield cavalry (Cv); 1 x scutarii (3Bd); and one other element. I suspect that when I field these options I will use two stands of scutarii. These two contingents provide additional variety, and an interesting feel well suited to campaigning in Spain. While not battle winning they provide a little of the frustration of using local allies.

Romans fighting in Greece or Asia, from 198BC, called on contingents from their Greek or Pergemene allies. A Pergemene allied contingent (II/34) would comprise: 1x Pergamene General (3Kn or Cv); 1 x mercenary peltasts (Ps); as well as one additional element. This provides a very different army from the Numidian contingent, especially if you select a 3Kn. A few armies are allowed two allied contingents at the same time and the Polybian Romans are one such list. In this case (II/31j) and (II/34) which represents those armies in Greece and Asia. In this situation four elements are removed from the base army and two each from the allied armies are used. I suspect the PIP penalties with this arrangement may be very prohibitive.

In the game two very simple rules are used to model these allied contingents. Firstly, the allied general gains no combat advantage and secondly the elements of the allied contingent can not be moved as a group with elements of the main army or another allied contingent. This of course means that the allied contingent can be a drain on PIPs unless consideration is given on how the contingent will be used.

When using a Numidian Ally I tend to drop the two stands of triarii (Sp) and one stand of velites (Ps). I replace these with two stands of Numidian light horse and one of Numidian light infantry (Ps), shown above. This allows me to mass the Numidian light horse on one flank and the Roman cavalry on the other. This potentially creates command issues, as the general’s element is on one flank. However, as light horse operate at an increased command range this tends to be less of a problem than it would seem. Of course all this can quickly go pear shaped, and sometimes a more traditional deployment, without allies, is safer.


5 thoughts on “Polybian Romans & Allies

    1. Indeed!

      I’ll have to get some DBA 3 under my belt at some point; I first played DBA before it was even published, when Phil was demoing it on one of his trips to NZ, but it’s always been a bit of a filler-type game for me, due to its lack of spectacle. But using bases made of 4 elements on a double-sized table removes most of that problem…

  1. 30/01/2016 21:40
    Les photos sont toujours superbes.
    Les références historiques sont les bienvenue Pergame Etc … (cela me rappelle DBM)
    La présentation des listes avec alliés est originale, peu de listes sont utilisée avec alliés dans notre association.

    1. I think Phil Barkers description at the start of each list is very useful, and as you say much like those in DBM. Certainly it provides excellent background for many armies.

      I also think the description of each troop type within each list is useful. Are many allied contingents used by players in your group. They are occasionally used here, though I expect there use will increase.

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