(Foreground: Roman heavy cavalry forms the filling in a sandwich of Carthaginian horse, while in the middleground Hannibal leads his noble cavalry in a charge. Behind them the lines of the Roman legions watch on)
Back in the olden days wargamers didn’t get too hung up about the historical accuracy of their miniatures. When Charles Grant needed Sumerian chariots for his re-fight of Kadesh he used a load of vehicles culled from Celtic, Indian and Persian armies. For his Punic Wars era Battle of the Po, Terry Wise meanwhile opted for Airfix Roman legions, with Hannibal boasting Numidian cavalry from the same firm’s Red Indian set.
The second of our wargame weekend battles was something of a homage to the late and much lamented Wise (All the gamers round the table had bought figures from the great man over the years), pitting a Carthaginian army against one made up of Garrison 20mm Imperial Roman legion and auxiliaries.
For the purposes of the game all the Romans were counted as Princeps.
Hannibal (Plus 2)
Marhabal (Plus 1)
3 x Libyan/Phoenician spearmen
2 x Spanish Scutari
4 x Gallic warbands
4 x Balearic Slingers
2 x Spanish Javelins
1 x Carthaginian Noble Cavalry (elite)
2 x Phoenician Cavalry
1 x Spanish light cavalry
2 x Numidian light cavalry
3 x Elephants
Fabius (plus one)
Convolvulus (plus one)
14 x Roman Legions (elite) – fight as princeps.
2 x Ligurian Archers
2 x Samnian javelins
2 x Roman Heavy Cavalry
2 x Roman Light Cavalry
(Light Cavalry skirmish, while the elephants rumble forwards)
With Stephen called away by work commitments the table was expanded to 6x4. Old John and Clive took charge of the North Africans, while Richard and I commanded the home army.
The formations of the two battlelines were predictable (as yet Ancient wargaming has not embraced the equivalent of the total football revolution) with both armies matching up like for like. For the Romans the key to the battle was clearly to fend off the Carthaginians’ superior cavalry for as long as possible, trust that the elephants would prove to be more bluster than substance, and then destroy the enemy centre with their better disciplined and more powerful infantry.
The Carthaginians meanwhile hoped quickly to dispose of the outnumbered Latin horse, and turn in on the flanks of the infantry while it was engaged in beating off the elephants.
The opening rounds of action saw the Roman heavy cavalry charging out to meet the Carthaginian heavy horse in the hope of knocking one unit out of the action and evening up the odds. Sadly the Carthaginian noble horse, commanded by the great man himself, were not amenable to this scheme, and the Romans quickly found themselves engaged in a melee in which they were outnumbered 3:2.
On the opposite flank the Roman light horse rode out to meet their Numidian and Spanish counterparts and then began a slow retreat in front of them, the aim being to keep things on that flank as indecisive as possible for as long as possible.
In the centre the elephants rumbled forwards with Spanish skirmishers protecting them from missile fire and doing their best to disperse the Roman auxiliary lights.
(The final moments)
Initially all seemed to be going well for Hannibal. The Roman heavy cavalry was battered and fell back, while the Numidians and Spanish destroyed one unit of light cavalry with ease and now enjoyed a 3:1 advantage over the other. The outnumbered Roman light troops also took a hammering and soon only one unit remained.
At this point, however, the favour of the dice Gods turned in favour of the Romans. The remaining light cavalry and light infantry held on, despite both teetering on the verge of destruction, while the remaining Roman heavy cavalry unit also refused to give way. In the centre the elephants were now within charge move, but in the morale tests one of the great beasts panicked and charged back towards his own table edge. The Carthaginian commanders had sensibly left a gap behind the elephants for just such and eventuality and no harm was done. The remaining two pachyderms did charge home. The Legion were not awed by their trumpeting however and stood their ground. In the ensuing melee the elephants failed to make any headway and soon, disheartened and bloodied by pila and swords, turned and fled.
If the Romans though victory was now secure they were wrong. For at more or less the same moment as the elephants ran, their own cavalrymen finally gave up and fled, leaving the flanks of the legionaries open to attack.
However, in a masterstroke of strategy the Roman commanders had held four units of Legion in reserve behind the main battle line. These units were now able to move into action against the Carthaginian horsemen.
As the heavy Carthaginian infantry and Gaulish allies crashed into the Romans the outcome was still in the balance. But after several rounds of bloody hand-to-hand fighting the superior discipline of the Legion proved decisive.
Hannibal, who had cheated death in a positively Alexander-like manner (The Roman generals were not nearly so lucky) galloped off with the remainder of his cavalry leaving the bloodied field to the Romans.
This was a cracking little battle, which went to the wire, producing much joy and laughter amongst the participants. What more can you ask for?