Celtiberian Intrigues

The intrigues of the Celtiberians were of course at the root of the Second Celtiberian War. In particular the powerful city of Segeda which was intent on building a circuit of walls seven kilometres long. The Celtiberian tribe of Belli had agreed previously to the treaties at the end of the First Celtiberian Wars and clearly was now in breach. Rome forbade the building of the wall, demanded tribute and the provision of a contingent for the Roman army in accordance with the stipulations of treaty. The Segedans replied that the treaty forbade the construction of new towns, but did not forbid the fortification of existing ones. The situation was clearly unacceptable to Rome.

Early in 153 BC Quintus Fabius Nobilitor arrived in Hispania and began his campaign against the Celtiberians who were now in full revolt. As Nobilitor advanced on the city of Segeda, the people fled taking refuge with the surrounding tribes who tried to mediate in the dispute. Nobilitor however required complete surrender and therefore battle seemed inescapable.

Soon a great Celtiberian host, some 20,000 strong, was assembled and deployed across a series of steep and rocky hills overlooking an open plain. The commander of the Celtiberian army was a Segedan called Carus. But Nobilitor was alerted to his past military skills and knew only too well that Carus was a enemy not to be underestimated. Carus’ dispositions were simple but effective. His centre comprised warriors with renowned fighting capabilities. Half would be positioned on the narrow flat plain between two ridges while others extending into the larger of two advanced rocky hills bordering the open plain where the Romans and their allied legions were formed. On each flank, and within the confines of the hills were massed formations of Celtiberian light infantry. Finally, a small body of Iberian light cavalry were positioned on the right while a reserve of heavy cavalry under the direct control of Carus were positioned in the centre.

Above, the general situation. In the right distance the Celtiberians have yet to secure the second hill overlooking the plain. Below, a view of a portion of the Celtiberian line.

Quintus Fabius Nobilitor for his part formed up in a reasonably traditional deployment with his hastati and principes in the centre with his triarii in reserve. His allied legions were on the left but they were now all fighting in the same style as the Romans themselves, so were all but indistinguishable. Each flank was protected by cavalry as well as velites. Numerically Nobilitor had a small advantage, in numbers as the Celtiberians fought in more open formations, which enabled them to move more quickly especially across difficult ground. Nobilitor was confident that if the Celtiberians could be lured from the high ground his troops would have the advantage.

However, it was soon apparent to Nobilitor that his deployment was flawed and with the barbarian line extending past his own he moved to extend his line by moving triarii towards each wing. This significantly reduced his reserves.

Simultaneously, he ordered elements of his left wing to advance against the extreme Celtiberian right. Soon battle was joined here and the Celtiberian light horse were quickly overwhelmed by the Italian mounted cavalry fighting in denser formations.

Below, battle is joined against the Celtiberian left by the Roman left. From left to right are Italian cavalry, velites and triarii.

Now aware that his Roman opponent was unlikely to foolishly advance into the steep rocky hills, and alarmed by the events on his right wing, Carus now ordered a general advance of his centre and left. The Celtiberian foot moved rapidly forward and fell upon the ranks of the hastati and principes. Desperate fighting developed along the lines as the Celtiberians gaining ground in parts while being pushed back in others.

Above and below the Celtiberians abandon their positions on the hills to attack the Roman lines.

It is worth noting that the Celtiberian left flank extended some distance left of the Roman right flank but throughout the battle this apparent advantage was not pressed, in part by the echeloned triarii and velites.

However, while the Roman right was not assailed disaster was soon to unfold in the centre where a section of hastati broke after a determined attack by Celtiberian infantry. Quintus Fabius Nobilitor acted quickly and ordered his cavalry forward to bolster the line and break the now isolated Celtiberian infantry. Clearly, they were at his mercy. Despite his personal bravery and his determined Roman cavalry the Celtiberians held, repulsing his attacks twice. Yet no sooner had he halted one breakthrough another section, just to his left, also broke.

Meanwhile on the Roman centre left a determined attack by hastati and principes was gaining ground and here the Celtiberians were quickly losing the advantage. With disaster likely the Celtiberian commander now committed his own reserve and moved his mounted to plug the failing line. Yet it was it was Carus who was to collapse, outflanked by advancing Italian troops Celtiberian cavalry collapsed and Carus was killed in the headlong rout. Nobilitor, now sensing victory, prepared to destroy the now leaderless Celtiberian host.

Yet, for some strange reason Celtiberian resolve stiffened and in several places their warriors surged forward. Most dramatically was in the centre where Nobilitor, defender of Rome, was attacked from front and flank by warriors. Despite displaying great bravery Quintus Fabius Nobilitor was cut down and with his loss Roman resolve collapsed. Yet, Celtiberian casualties had been great and without the their commander the Celtiberians failed to pursue. The Roman province was therefore not immediately impacted. Indeed, it would be only matter of time before another Roman army would be dispatched to put an end to the Celtiberian intrigues…

It had been some time since my Romans had faced Robin’s Celtiberians and as I suspected the game was well balanced. The interactions of 3Bd and 4Bd were especially intriguing and created some opportunities for both players, though not all could be exploited.

Finally for those considering the generals, cities and situation mentioned here – they are historical. The battle itself is fictional though historically Quintus Fabius Nobilitor did suffer a major defeat by Carus.

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