Thursday, 11 September 2014

134 BC: Servile War in Sicily

The latest battle in our ancients campaign sees a punitive Roman army attempt to put down the slave revolt in Sicily. The Romans are led by the junior consul that year, Gaius Fulvius Flaccus, the senior consul (Scipio Aemilianus Africanus) being rather too grand to lead an army on such a menial task.  He has, after all, conquered Carthage and Numantia, and has graciously condescended to leave some minor military glory for others. The slaves, mostly Greek in origin, are led by Eunus.

I constructed and supplied both armies and, in the interests of saving time, laid out the defending slave army's deployment on a map. Simon couldn't make it, so we used a mixture of North Africans and Spanish to simulate the slaves. I played them with Graham against Billy and Gordon as Flaccus and his legate. Map:

The slaves are in blue, Romans are in red, Socii in white, and auxiliaries in yellow. The large pale rectangle denotes the slaves' deployment zone, just by way of explaining the choices open to me as defender of all that is good and right against the rapacious hordes of greed.

On our side, Graham led our paltry cavalry forces from our left, with plenty of support from light infantry and skirmishers, while I ran the infantry masses. In terms of deployment, I packed our left and refused our right, leaving a lone unit of foot in front of a marsh to hold up the opposition for as long as possible, and hiding another in some woods. Most of our foot was concentrated in large columns aimed at where I thought the Romans would be on the right of their army. We ruled that the slaves shouldn't have much cavalry or decent equipment, but should have high morale.  They really hate Romans, and they know what will happen to them if and when they lose. But Eunus is going to go down fighting and take as many of them with him as he can. Our army:

Extreme Left Wing Command
Four units of 12 Peltasts

Left Wing Command
Two units of 8 light horse with javelins
One unit of 12 medium horse +1 morale
One large unit of 15 slingers

Main Infantry Command
Two units of 48 massed medium foot (+1 Morale) in four ranks
Three units of 48 massed medium foot (+1 Morale) in six-rank columns; these deploy in between the two wider units to either side of the formation
Two units of 11 skirmishers with javelins

The Consular army comprises two Roman and two Socii legions, each having 8 Velites, 24 Hastati and 24 Principes. There is no functional difference between Romans and Socii, nor between the two types of heavy infantry, this being a very late Republican army only one generation before the reforms of Marius are due to take place. They also have various auxiliary types.  Gordon set them up as follows:

Right Wing Command
One unit of 12 Spanish Caetrati
Three units of 8 Numidian Light Horse
One large unit of 15 Numidian skirmish archers

Centre Right
The Socii legions, deployed as four units of 24 figures, each in three-rank columns

Centre Left
The Roman legions, deployed in the same way as their allies.

Left Wing Command
18 Roman Equites medium cavalry
18 Latin Equites medium cavalry
Three units of 12 Spanish Caetrati
One large unit of 15 Numidian slingers

Before the battle, the Roman commanders in their conference decided that the enemy would try to pack one wing and break through the Roman lines, doing as much damage as possible.  It would be impossible to predict which wing this would be, but since the wood at the left of the field as seen from the Roman point of view could be easily taken by the Caetrati, the wide open area beyond could then be exploited by the cavalry, which would also incidentally set them up for pursuit. This explains the somewhat unusual reversed deployment, with Romans on the left instead of their more usual position in the right.

We used the reverse of my cloth, which is red, to make the battlefield seem more volcanic (it is in southwestern Sicily). Mots of the photos didn't really come out, but I hope the deployment map gives some sense of the relative starting positions.  Terrain favours the defenders, but even so it will be a race to see if the large columns can crash through the Italians before the right wing of the slave army is destroyed. I as Eunus know that this is all or nothing.
We join the battle at mid-point, the exciting bit. This is our main moment of attack. The Italians perform badly, but so do the columns. The best we can now hope for is that at least our left gets away before the Romans come crashing in with full force.
This is what threatens our right. The Equites, led by the Italians, have ridden all the way round the rightmost wood and are now in position to hit the flank of our rightmost infantry unit. Our hope was that by this point the columns would have punched through, but now we are in real danger of losing the entire army.
Having said that, on our extreme left Graham is having real fun destroying Numidians and Caetrati. Our entire left has been cleared.
First blood to the Equites, but our enhanced morale enables the rest of the army to hold firm.
Our central column has collapsed, and the one to our right is about to go the same way. However, Eunus leads the left most column in person and our weight at the left finally tells - one and a half Italian legions suddenly disintegrate, allowing about 40% of the slaves to make a run for it.  Eunus himself dies as the Equites slam into his unit on pursuit.

His sacrifice, however, is not in vain.  The destruction of all of the auxiliaries on the right of the Roman army plus the loss of all those Italian legionaries means that, although victorious on the field, Rome does not have enough power left to hunt down and finish off the remnants of the slave army. They will need reinforcements to do that, so Consul Flaccus' dreams of military glory are somewhat dashed.  In the meantime, nasty guerrilla actions will continue over the winter and into the next year before Rome can finally decree the area pacified.

I have to say that this was a real fun game.  Campaigns have many difficulties, not least striking a balance as to which games are worth playing.  The slaves were always going to be well up against it, with little likelihood of pulling off a victory.  However, as with the Parthians, the tabletop challenge in these circumstances seems to work well: maybe you won't see a victory in battle, but there will be ongoing campaign consequences if you do your best. It can be somewhat liberating to know that you are meant to lose, but nevertheless manage to pull something out of it.  Besides, if you do win, you earn serious bragging rights. The trick is to make such games plausible and interesting to play, even if they are somewhat unbalanced.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Welcoming Maurizio Marini

Thanks for joining, Maurizio.

Monday, 1 September 2014

On the Painting Tray: September 2014

One of Caesar's legions.  This one will have cloaks, but I'm painting them a different shade from the previous lot.  Basically, officers' will remain bright red, but the rank and file will have a deeper, crimson shade.  I don't want too much of the same thing; besides, if they are side by side on the table, the player will need some sort of visual clue about which legion is which.  There will be 80 figs plus a mounted legate.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Welcoming Einar Olafson

The redoubtable Einar has a well-known painting blog here. I will try to link back, if blogger lets me!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Campaign Events, 138-134 BC

Summer 138: The Romans subjugate Illyria  and their roving eastern Mediterranean army arrives in the Propontis. Both of these armies will remain in place for some considerable time, due to uncertain rumblings from the many other tribes in the region. In the east, the Egyptians retire to Babylonia and the Parthians re-enter Persis.
Autumn 138: The Romans annexe Propontis and the Parthians retake Persis.

Spring 137: The Parthians advance into Characene.
Summer 137: The Parthians retake Characene.

Autumn 137: The Parthians advance into Elymais.
Winter 137: An Indian army arrives in Sind ready for conquest northwards.

Spring 136: The Parthians retake Elymais and the Indians move into their northernmost province of Sattagydia.
Summer 136: The Indians invade Gandhara.

Autumn 136: Alarmed by Indian movements, the Parthians move their army to Aria on the Bactrian border, picking up central reinforcements on the way. In the meantime, the ndians annexe Gandhara.
Spring 135: The Indians invade Ammyrgia. In the west, a massive slave uprising occurs in Siciliy, led by one Eunus. 

Summer 135: The Romans raise a new army in Latium to deal with the slaves, who establish full control over Sicilia Poeni. In the east, the Indians annexe Ammyrgia.
 Autumn 135: The Roman army moves to Sicilia Sicarii and Eunus advances his slaves into Sicilia Greacus. The Indians move into Tocharia.

Spring 134: The Romans advance into Sicilia Greaci. There is some vicious guerilla warfare and then the slaves retire to Sicilia Poeni. The Indians annexe Tocharia.

Autumn 134: The Romans attack the slaves in Sicilia Poeni and the Indians invade Bactria.
This gives us two major battles in the same season, after four campaign years of relative quiet.  Things are heating up again...

138 BC: Somewhere in Illyria

A Roman consular army attempts to subdue the brave Illyrian tribes:
Simon constructed the Illyrian list and Gordon deployed them.  This is what the Romans see facing their own left: a range of hills with a large marsh protecting the extreme right of the enemy forces, and an area of dead ground behind the hills.  There's actually a wood there, but the Romans don't know that yet.  Infesting this part of the field are some cavalry, peltasts and thureophoroi types, ably screened with large numbers of skirmishers.  Malcolm in command here.
There is a large gap in the Illyrian deployment, and the main forces is concentrated on their left (our right).  Many infantry on a large hill (Keith in command), with peltasts ready to go into a large wood beyond that.  The cream of the nobility leads the way at the far flank, all mounted, with even more warbands following (Gordon in command here). I had thought that the Illyrians might want to sit on the (very) favourable terrain and wear down the legions, but instead it looks as though they are going to gamble on an all-out assault on our right.
Our left: Numidian auxiliaries, Latin Equites, and two large units of mercenary peltasts, with skirmish archers out front.  I am in charge of this lot.
The central legionary deployment: two Latin legions on the left (Graham) and Billy in command as consul of the day leading the two Roman legions on the right.  No Triarii in this transitional period.  As consul, Billy has decided to go for a double-line of Hastati supported by Principes to give maximum power in the centre, as opposed to a semi-sort of cohortal deployment.
Our right: Willy in command of a mirror image of my lot on the far left flank, except that he has some more skirmishers.  He is going to be well up against it here; lurking off to the top of the photo is most of the enemy army.
The opening moves on my flank: I spread my cavalry wide to try to take advantage of my superior weight here.  Malcolm wisely holds position and advances his skirmishers to try to soften me up a bit.
A view across the entirety of the rest of the field from my position.
Back on my wing.  My forces have straightened up to face the enemy.
To my immediate right, Graham's Latin legions advance remorselessly, while you can just see some manoeuvres to the right by the Roman legions, shifting to face the impending threat from that direction.
Another side-shot of the rest of the field as the Illyrians thunder forward in the distance.  My role as Prefect of the Latin Equites makes me quite happy at this point.
My forces close on Malcom's.  He hasn't inflicted as many missile hits as he would have liked.
Billy's legions trying to face the threat. Melee is already taking place as the enemy chieftain leads in the warbands.
A rare shot of the action at the other end of the field.  Willie's command is about to be swamped. If it goes, the right flank of the Roman legions will be wide open.
Initial contact on my flank as the Numidians gang up on sone enemy light horse - the Numidians have already inflicted a couple of javelin hits.  Malcolm and I are having a nice civilised little combat over here -m not like all that noise emanating from the far side of the field.
The left most of the Latin legions prepares to assault the hills just to my right, while the second start to move into position to go to their right.
Confused fighting at our army's right.
I am efficiently and rather boringly grinding down my opponents - the enemy light horse has been vanquished.
Meanwhile, on our extreme right, howls of anguish erupt from the Illyrians. Against all reason (not to mention the odds), Willy's outnumbered cavalry has crushed the enemy's noble horse.  It looks as though this will be Rome's day after all.
Gaps begin to appear in the centre too. One Roman legion has had its Hastati removed, but one of the main warbands has been destroyed too.
I grind on relentlessly as well, destroying the rest of the cavalry facing me.

Another central warband goes down, taking the enemy general with it, and it is game over, a major victory for Rome. This kind of deployment is always a gamble for a tribal army - if something minor goes wrong, it could spell disaster, and indeed this is what happened here, although it wasn't so minor. Rome marches omwards...