Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sulla He Isn’t

Just to prove that I do occasionally play wargames, not just pontificate about them, I present for your delectation a battle report; in fact, a playtest of the soon to be forthcoming Polemos: Imperial Rome set, Pontic vs. Republican Rome. I've even got some pictures, of dubious quality, but hopefully they will show the flow of the battle, even though they are hardly eye candy.

One afternoon some time in late summer in the 1st century BC, a Republican Roman army drew up in battle formation. To the extreme left were Moorish light cavalry, with cavalry to their right. Elements of an under strength legion formed the front rank of the centre, supported by their colleagues from the other legion behind. To the right came the main strength of the cavalry, Gaul’s finest.

Figure 1: The Roman Army from its right wing

The Pontic army, having arrived slightly later, formed up with light cavalry on its extreme right, followed by a mixed formation of stratiotas and bowmen. The pikes came next in a single line, supported on their left by skirmishers. Further left was the main force of Pontic cavalry, equal numbers of Greek horse and cataphracts. On the extreme left was more light horse.

Figure 2: Pontic Army from its left wing

The opening moves confirmed the two side’s battle plans. The Pontic aim was to strike with the left and then encircle the Roman foot while keeping the pike and soldateri out of trouble. The Roman aim was to hit the centre of the Pontic army with the legionaries while keeping the Pontic cavalry occupied.

The critical clash occurred on the Roman right, predictably, while the legions were still some way off contacting the Pontic foot. The cavalry action went totally the Pontic way; all the Gallic cavalry could do was flee.

Figure 3: The Clash on the Roman Right

Figure 3 shows the aftermath of the initial cavalry clash. Only one base of Gallic horse is still in action, while the Greeks and the cataphracts pursue the rest. In the foreground the Pontic light horse lurks. In the next bound it charged across the field and hit the surviving Roman cavalry in the flank, causing it too to disperse.

In the background, the legions are advancing and, further behind, the Roman left is moving forward to prevent the stratiotas from threatening the legion’s flank. The collapse of the Roman right meant, however, that the Roman left wing cavalry had to be transferred to prop up the right.

A slight lull in proceedings occurred as both sides reorganised. The Pontics rallied their victorious cavalry, while the rear line of legions about faced to counter the threat and the Roman left wing cavalry redeployed. The fatal clash occurred behind the Roman centre, as the rallied Pontic horse clashed with the Roman left wing cavalry.

Figure 4: The Clash Behind the Roman Centre

In this, too, the Pontic cavalry was successful, leading to the dispersal of the remaining Roman horse and, crucially, the incapacitation of the Roman general. The lack of command and control structure severely hampered the remaining Roman efforts, in spite of the fact that, remarkably, their morale held firm.

Figure 4 shows the cavalry clash in the foreground while, in the background, the Roman legion has nearly made contact with the phalanx. To the top left of the picture the stratiotas and bowmen can just be seen moving forward to threaten the legions, although their advance was slowed by the Moors.

The battle finished with the legion's attack on the phalanx which was uncoordinated and unsuccessful, a couple of legionary bases being lost and even the skirmishers holding against Rome’s finest. It had, the Roman commander considered, been that sort of a day.


  1. Coulnt the Roman have used his second line to ward of the cavalry like Caesar at Pharsalus?

    Aside from that it looks good - were both sides composed using the rules army generation rules?

    Are you using 6mm figures?

  2. The Roman did use the second line to ward off the cavalry, but it all got a bit messy.

    The sides were all morale equal, as it was a playtest.

    And the figures are Mr Berry's best, on 40 x 20 mm bases.