Category Archives: II/33 Polybian Roman

The Road to Magnesia

The defeat of the Seleucid fleet at the Battle of Myonessus in September 190 BC opened the way for the invasion of Asia Minor by the Romans under Lucius Cornelius Scipio. Soon after the landing Antiochus dispatched his trusted general Zeuxis to engage the Roman invaders while he assembled the main army.

Aware that only a portion of the Seleucid army was advancing on him Lucius Cornelius dispatched Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus to deal with it. The two armies converged in late October. Zeuxis deployed on what was a relatively open plain resting his left on a steep and rocky slope with his army extending to the right. The infantry of the phalanx, some 8,000 in number, were massed in two blocks interspersed by around 2,000 Galatians. To the right of the phalanx elephants, scythed chariots and cavalry extended the Seleucid line. Opposite the Romans deployed in their usual manner.

As the two armies moved forward Lucius Cornelius began to expand his line transferring his reserves to each flank. His strategy clearly focused on a double envelopment of the now shorter Seleucid line. Despite this Zeuxis pressed forward against the enemy centre. Soon the deep formations of phalangites and Galatians were locked in combat with the Roman hastati and principes. The Roman centre soon began to buckle under Seleucid pressure.

On the Seleucid right cataphracts and scythed chariots advanced, pressing the Roman line further. While much importance was placed on the success of the scythed chariots their attacks proved a failure.

Above the Scythed Chariots advance, while below they crash into the Roman lines.

Yet, as the fighting on the flanks slackened that in the centre intensified. As the phalangites and elephants pushed their opponents back the Galatians surged forward breaking portions of the Roman line. Now with no Roman reserve, it having reinforced the Roman flanks, the Galatians overwhelmed the flanks of those Romans engaged frontally by the phalangites. Seleucid success was complete.

Shocked by the defeat Lucius Cornelius reinforced Gnaeus Domitius and ordered him to engage the Seleucids once again. Advancing down the coast it was not long before the forces clashed.

Zeuxis, buoyed by his recent success, again prepared for battle. The coastline was separated from the mountains on the Seleucid right buy a large plain, though broken by a rocky hill near the coast. Unable to deploy his phalangites here Zeuxis deployed his thureophoroi and Galatians on the slopes while deploying his phalangites, pachyderms and mounted to the right.

He reasoned that his lighter troops deployed on the slopes were well able to pin much of the Roman infantry while his phalangites and superior mounted would shatter the Roman left.

The Romans again deployed their infantry traditionally while massing their cavalry on the more open left.

As was to be expected the Romans opened the battle with velites intent on frustrating the Seleucid elephants. Yet, as some velites pressed rashly forward they were ridden down by a body of Seleucid cataphracts. Zeuxis sensed victory.

Yet his hopes were soon tested. His plan called for his cataphracts to be reformed after their initial charge. He had calculated incorrectly as Roman triarii, and unforeseen cavalry swept forward catching the disordered cataphracts. Shaken they fled in panic at this determined counterattack.

Undeterred Zeuxis reinforced his line and pressed forward with his right. Elephants and phalangites were soon engaged, the pachyderms advancing ever further forward. Seleucid scythed chariots were now unleashed. Yet again instead of breaking the enemy to their front the machines failed to achieve a breakthrough.

Now with his elephants surrounded and his only reserve that of his own companions Zeuxis charged forward, determined to secure a final victory.

Above and below the moment of decision on the Seleucid right flank.

Alas, his massed heavy cavalry were neutralised by the numerically superior Roman cavalry and soon Zeuxis, previously so confident of victory, now watched as his army collapsed.

With Roman victory achieved and his army concentrated, Lucius Cornelius Scipio prepared to advance on the road to Magnesia. That critical battle still lays ahead.

These two battles formed the second pair of battles from our themed Seleucid weekend which, like the other battles, proved both entertaining and challenging. The Seleucids are mostly from Tin Soldier’s 15mm range supplemented by Xyston. My opponent’s Romans are mostly from Essex Miniatures supplemented by a scattering of Museum Miniatures to provide figure variety.

Gracchus, Flaccus & Maximus

Like much of the world here in New Zealand we are under a lockdown in an effort to control the spread of Covid-19. For many weeks now all wargaming, at least face to face, has been on hold. However, my son and I decided to attempt some virtual DBA games using Skype. In the ensuing weeks we have played around five games. In the end the majority of engagements comprised battles involving Rome, so these are presented here in something of a campaign, though at the time we had no such plan.

Frustrated by the ever growing restlessness of the Gallic peoples north of Rome the Senate determined to move against the Cisalpine tribes despite the ongoing threat Hannibal posed to Rome. The Consul Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was dispatched and pressed north engaging a large Gallic army in the Spring of 215 BC.

Above and below the view of the engagement with the Gallic cavalry and chariots massed on the Gallic left.

Gracchus was particularly aggressive and exploited ruthlessly the gaps in the Gallic lines.

However, the Punic threat could not be ignored and in 212 BC Rome moved against the Carthaginians in the south. Having assembled a large army the Consul Quintus Fulvius Flaccus marched south.

The Carthaginians, commanded by Hanno the Younger, deployed along the coast their flank resting on an occupied Italian city. Reinforced with a number of pachyderms Hanno hoped to break up the Roman lines with these beasts. Soon a dramatic battle developed with the elephants repeatedly pressing the Roman centre.

Above and below the Carthaginians are engaged against the Romans.

However, Roman determination was unwavering and slowly the Roman infantry gained the advantage until finally the Punic veterans were overwhelmed. 

Yet before the Punic threat could be overcome events in the north required attention. Therefore in the Spring of 211 BC a new Consul, Gnaeus Fulvius Centumalus Maximus, marched north to confront the Gauls.

Maximus hoped the campaign would be short and therefore planned to suppress the tribal alliance before moving south again. However, the old Gallic commander undertook a series of complex manoeuvres and fell on the overextended Roman right.

Above, the move against the Roman right, while below the Gallic main effort seen from the Gallic right.

The Gallic attack against the Roman right had clearly surprised Maximus whose attack temporarily stalled. This now allowed the Gallic centre to decimated the Romans opposite and secure a clear Gallic victory. 

Yet undeterred Maximus reinforced his army and by autumn was prepared to again move on to the offensive. In due course the Gauls offered battle and again the Gallic commander attempted a series of complex manoeuvres.

However, this time his cunning only created a series of gaps in his own line which he was unable to plug.

Maximus struck with deadly determination, shattering the Gauls and handing them their worst defeat since Telmon.

In the course of three years the Consuls Gracchus, Flaccus & Maximus had inflicted three defeats on the enemies of Rome. Now Rome, emboldened with confidence, could focus on the final defeat of Hannibal…

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.

Epeirot Adventures

Because of the size of DBA games, and that you can more easily build armies in historical pairs, it is relatively straightforward to link several battles together to form a linear or narrative campaign. Over the last couple of weeks, as time has allowed, my son and I traced the campaigns of Pyrrhus of Epirus in Italy and Sicily using his and my own armies.

As way of a refresher Pyrrhus entered Southern Italy in 280 BC with an Epeirot army to support Tarentum against the growing power of Rome. Pyrrhus then fought the battles of Heraclea (280 BC) and Asculum (279 BC) where he secured a very costly victory. By 277 BC Pyrrhus had quit Italy and was campaigning in Sicily where he hoped to carve out a new kingdom. But as the campaign against the Carthaginians stalled he departed for Italy once again. Then in 275 BC Pyrrhus faced the Romans at Beneventum, but was defeated in battle. Unable to overcome Rome he finally departed to continue his wars elsewhere.

Pyrrhus, King of Epeiros 297 to 272 BC

For our purposes we decided on five battles with the first two or three against the Romans. These would decide the conquest of Italy. If the first two were defeats, or costly victories for the Epeirots, Pyrrhus would move to Sicily for two more battles before returning to Italy for a final battle. If however the first two battles against the Romans were victories Pyrrhus would fight a third battle against the Romans potentially securing his Italian conquests before moving to Sicily.

The army of Pyrrhus would be represented by the standard DBA list (II/28b). Pyrrhus would select a smaller phalanx and supplement his army with Italiot and Sicilian hoplites. While not perfectly historic the Romans would be represented by the Polybian list (II/33) in all three battles, this would at least allow Joel to use his own Romans which would of course fight with great determination. The Carthaginians would be represented by the Early Carthaginian list (I/61b) and in both battles the Carthaginian player selected to field heavy chariots, though less chariots and more cavalry may have been more realistic.

In the first battle in 280 BC near Heraclea Pyrrhus deployed his army with a strong centre and his elephants on the immediate left of the phalanx and his left extended further by a significant portion of his mounted. While Pyrrhus and his companions formed on the right he ordered a swift attack on the left in an attempt to destroy the Roman right before it was fully deployed. Unfortunately before the Epeirot line engaged the Roman right the Romans had completed their deployment and fought back with great determination. The resulting battle hung in the balance for some time. However, despite heavy Epeirot casualties the Roman army eventually collapsed and Pyrrhus secured a narrow victory.

Below, the Epeirot left and centre advance on the Romans. The Epeirot cavalry have just achieved a breakthrough and will soon exploit the situation.

In the second battle of the campaign, at Asculum in 279 BC Pyrrhus deployed with his companions and elephants in the centre flanked by phalangites while the rest of his army extended both flanks. He now aimed to simply cut his way through the Roman centre with the combination of Epeirot phalangites, pachyderms and Epeirot heavy cavalry. The Romans, having selected the battlefield countered with heavy reserves in the centre. In this battle however the Romans were unable to stop Pyrrhus. As dusk settled the Romans had suffered complete collapse of their army and as those few survivors fled north Rome was overtaken by panic. Pyrrhus now marched on Rome his conquest almost complete.

Above and below the forces at Asculum. Above the phalanx is seen advancing with Pyrrhus in support while below the refused Epeirot left wing with Italiot hoplites protecting a portion of the phalanx.

Rome was now galvanised into action and assembled another army and offered battle in 278 BC. Again Rome selected the battlefield and a now desperate and frustrated consul determined to offer battle near Fregellae, resting his left flank on the walled town. Constrained by woods on his left and right Pyrrhus struggled to fully deploy, especially on his right. Below, the general situation with Fregellae on the right.

Undeterred Pyrrhus advanced and progressively attempted to expand his right. It was against the Epeirot right that the weight of the Roman attack came and soon Pyrrhus himself was in the thick of the fighting. His first attack was to drive off the Roman infantry attempting to envelop the Epeirot phalanx, seen below.

Unfortunately Pyrrhus’ luck was not to hold. The first disaster was the loss of a portion of his phalanx engaged from the front and enveloped from the flank.

Pyrrhus now attempted to stabilise the situation and led his heavy cavalry in another charge. Unfortunately the attack was beaten back and worse Pyrrhus was wounded. The combination was too much and the Epeirot army retired from the field defeated. Above and below, the defining moments of the battle.

Clearly the casualties were becoming too great and in the late 278 BC Pyrrhus, having recovered from his wounds, departed for Sicily. As in Italy his arrival in was warmly received by his allies, and with concern by his enemies.

The first major battle occurred in early 277 BC near Agrigentum. Pyrrhus, his army reinforced and bolstered by Sicilian mercenaries, faced the Carthaginians on the coast. The Punic commander had selected an open battlefield ideal for heavy chariots and Punic foot. To counter the Carthaginian deployment Pyrrhus’ left rested on the coast and his infantry extended to the right. Again, Pyrrhus deployed towards the centre and between the phalanx. His right was extended by his massed elephants and cavalry interspersed by Sicilian auxilia.

The advance of both armies was swift and despite some attempts to adjust to the Epeirot deployment the Carthaginian chariots crashed into the Epeirot phalanx and pachyderms with unsurprising results. Meanwhile, other parts of the Epeirot phalanx, supported by Pyrrhus, pressed ever forward against the heavy Punic foot.

The fighting was desperate, as can be seen above, but the Carthaginian army was unable to withstand the Epeirot veterans. As night fell the Carthaginian army abandoned the field.

The ensuing months resulted in several great cities surrendering to Pyrrhus. However, as he advanced on Eryx, the last Carthaginian stronghold on the island in 276 BC, the Carthaginians having been reinforced offered open battle.

Again, the Punic army was deployed along the coast where it was supplied by the fleet and the terrain was open. The Carthaginian commander this time deployed more traditionally his mounted massed on the left and his heavy infantry extending to the right where a wood provided some protection from a move against the Punic right. Pyrrhus massed his mounted on his right opposite the Punic mounted and likewise extended his centre and left with his heavy infantry and the extreme left with his light troops. Again the armies advanced and soon both would be locked in combat. Punic light troops, originally to be used on the Punic right for an attack against the Epeirot left, were hastily moved to counter the Punic elephants but failed to adequately redeploy.

Above, the Epeirot army advances while the Carthaginian commander attempts to redeploy a number of slingers to his left. Below the advancing Epeirot phalanx, elephants and Pyrrhus heavy cavalry.

Instead, of the pachyderms being engaged with light troops it was the Gallic cavalry who skirmished against the Epeirot elephants while heavy chariots and Numidian light horse attempted to delay the advancing Greeks, as can be seen below.

But it was too much for the Punic host and the advancing phalangites, encouraged by Pyrrhus, pressed ever forward until the Punic army collapsed.

Thus ended our Epeirot adventures. Pyrrhic hopes of an Italian Kingdom looked initially likely to be achieved. That is until their devastating defeat at Fregellae in 278 BC. However, Pyrrhus’ campaign in Sicily was completely successful. With the Carthaginians utterly defeated there was nothing to prevent his establishment of a lasting kingdom on this rich island – other than a few rebellious locals and the rising power of his two new neighbours…