Category Archives: 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.

Celtic Clashes

One of the fascinating engagements for me has always been those between Romans and Celts, be that in an historical sense or on the wargames table. A couple games last night were an apt reminder of why I enjoy these historical matchups so much. From a DBA perspective, and especially as a Roman commander, the clash can be particularly nerve racking. A well coordinated Celtic attack, along with some luck, can quickly result in the sudden collapse of the Roman line.

To achieve this breakthrough the Celts, be they Gauls or Galatians, need depth. To ensure they gain the needed rear rank support. This depth of course comes as a loss of frontage. Yet the Roman commander needs his own reserves to counter the inevitable gaps that can occur in his own line. Here the conundrums for both players begin.

In some clashes the use of a dismounted Gallic general has proven to be a useful tool to achieve such a breakthrough. A Gallic commander, with rear support, engaged at equal factors to the Roman line. When combined with the advantage of a quick kill this can potentially smash a hole in the Roman line. Of course there are ways to delay or breakup such tactics. In time a Roman player will develop these in an effort to halt the Celtic onslaught.

Of course aside from theses infantry clashes the mounted Celts can provide plenty of interest on the flanks. Chariots or cavalry harassing, outflanking or overwhelming the often numerically inferior Roman mounted.

Terrain plays a critical part. Should the Celtic commander use woods and steep hills for his warriors to move through or is a more open battlefield of benefit to his mounted troops? Despite relatively few troop types the range of permutations are numerous.

Then of course there are times that the Romans collapse and the last hope is to be found at the camp where only a few camp followers are all that protects the Roman coin from the Celtic onslaught…

Ancient Pharos

My travels in Croatia continue and recently I managed a short stay on the Island of Hvar, and in particular the town of Stari Grad. Originally founded by the Greeks in 385 BC the town was called Pharos.

I’ve posted a short summary of my exploration around Pharos, and the adjoining Stari Grad Plain which is another UNESCO World Heritage site.

I have compiled a short post called “In the Footsteps of Demetrius of Pharos” for those interested.

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.