Back on May 16th 2008 taking advantage of a short trip I took home to
Buenos Aires Argentina we decided to organize a multi player macro battle to familiarize players with FOG. Adding this report which has been featured in the FOG online forums before seemed like a good way to get this blog going.
The chosen battle to represent was Magnesia due to the great variety of troops available to both sides.
The battle was thought to be a good representation of the historical battle of the end Syrian Wars where Lucius Cornelius Scipio (brother to Scipio Africanus), accompanied by his brother and joined by an allied force led by Eumenes II of Pergamum faced in battle Antiochus III of the Seleucid kingdom.
The historical battle took place in 190 BC when based on what we know the Roman army finally managed to bring the Seleucid army to battle not far from the city of Magnesia in the valley of the river Hermus.
As usual different accounts of the battle exist thought the general agreement appears to be that Antiochus deployed his army with a river on his right flank. He succeeded in breaking one of the roman flanks but failed to exploit this advantage. On the opposite flank an unsuccessful attack with chariots was exploited by Eumenes and when the flank of the pike phalanx battle line fell the Seleucid army was lost.
Representing the historical armies
When building the armies we were faced with the inconvenience that according to most historical accounts the Seleucid army had a considerable superiority in numbers.
In our analysis of the Later Seleucid army list we found that, in order to achieve this balance of force, the quality of the Seleucid army would have to be downgraded; for example having the regular phalanxes as poor and the Agryspides as average.
This made much sense in our view since we do believe that the authors have been a bit to generous with the Later Seleucid army which is stronger in general quality terms even than previous Alexandrian and Successors evolutions. However we decided not to adjust the quality of the Seleucids in order to make sure that we are using the original rules and no house rules, even if we slightly disagree with this interpretation of the later Seleucid quality. After all it is best to run an introductory game without any house rules.
Balancing the opposing forces and establishing “commands”
The solution to the quality and quantity issue mentioned before was to insure a battle balanced on points with armies fully compliant with the army lists. Given that we expected to have about 5 players per side we selected to build armies of about 1500 points. Since the lists are not proportional and going beyond the 1000 point mark is a stretch we multiplied all minimums and maximums by 1.5.
We did use a special rule for this game regarding commanders.
We forced each side to establish lines of command assigning battle groups to specific commanders; hence whenever the rules refer to a commander being in line of command this would only apply to the battle groups assigned to that commander. This served two purposes:
1) Limiting the ability of commanders to pre assigned battle groups meant that the armies were more fragile since it was more difficult to have commanders running around bolstering troops. In a battle with about 22 to 27 battle groups per side that had to be finished in a day (since I was flying back to the US ) more fragile armies seemed like a good idea.
2) Forcing players to command a certain number of units on their own with no interference from their team mates ( no inter team advice was permitted ), we made sure that all players would participate actively
The only exception was that the CiC was allowed to “steal” units from other command while being “with” that particular unit.
We placed 4 commanders per side since, this was the number of players confirmed for the game and when the two additional unconfirmed players showed up they were assigned joint commands with one previous player on each side.
Regarding the troop composition, rather than allowing for customized armies, we the organizers, built armies that in our view roughly followed the variety of troops available in the battle according to the chosen recount of the battle (out of the many different versions available), for example having camels, chariots Galatians etc on the Seleucid army and having Pergamum allies for the Roman army.
Given the “increased size” of the lists for the 1500 points armies, we allowed the Romans to represent the legions as a combination of 4 base and 8 base battle groups as long as the proportion in the lists for triarii and velites was maintained.
As a result we represented the roman core troops in the following fashion with an approx scale of 1 figure being equivalent to something between 90 and 100 soldiers,
2 roman legions:
1 Bg 8 bases of Hastati ( superior and protected )
1 Bg 4 bases of Hastati ( superior and protected )
1 Bg 8 bases of Princeps (superior and armored )
1 Bg 4 bases of Princeps ( superior and armored )
1 Bg 4 bases of Triarii ( elite and armored )
1 Bg 2 bases of Triarii ( elite and armored )
3 Bg 4 bases of Velites
2 allied latin legions )
1 Bg 8 bases of Hastati ( average and protected )
1 Bg 4 bases of Hastati ( average and protected )
1 Bg 8 bases of Princeps (average and armored )
1 Bg 4 bases of Princeps ( average and armored )
1 Bg 4 bases of Triarii ( superior and armored )
1 Bg 2 bases of Triarii ( superior and armored )
3 Bg 4 bases of Velites
As you can see we used the list option of protected for the hastati and armored for the princeps, we decided to use the upgraded legions as “roman” and the regular ones as “latin allied legions”. We allowed this combination of 8 base and 4 base battle groups to symbolize the flexibility of the maniple system. In fact the lists where perfectly matching what the army list allows, but we simply decided to use a figure scale where this number of troops would represent two roman legions and two allied legions.
The full composition of the armies was as follows:
Selecting the battlefield
Thought the general agreement is that the battle took place close to the city of Magnesia, historians have slightly different interpretations of where the battle took place. A river is featured in every recount but sometimes it is the river Hermus, sometimes it is a northern tributary the river Phrygius.
We took advantage of this to adopt the concept that although the battle would take place close to Magnesia and next to one of the rivers the actual terrain would be decided with the FOG terrain system of pre-battle initiative since this is an interesting feature of the rules and we wanted the players to see it at work.
The idea was that the winner of the initiative would choose on which side of the river to fight. The terrain selection would come from the Agricultural terrain type, but we would replace the steep hill terrain option for a marsh.
The Romans won the initiative and chose to have the river Phrygius to their right flank. The rest of the terrain rolls resulted only in a couple of open fields on the opposite side to the river.
Hence this was the resulting terrain for the battle of Magnesia.
The table was three and a half meters by 2 meters and we used 25mm miniatures with 1 MU = 40 mm = 4 cm.
Now everything was set for the big battle and the players rejoined at 11:30 AM on May 16th for a day of FOG and fun !!
The armies deploy
Historically since Scipio Africanus was taken sick Gnaeus Domitius was appointed as counselor to Scipio’s brother and was effectively acting as commander in chief of the army.
Over and over again the Roman command had been trying to bring Seleucid force to battle, but over and over again Antiochus had refused considering the terrain not to be ideal for his force to deploy in full swing.
Finally on this occasion observing the extensive open ground where the Roman army had deployed Antiochus deployed for battle:
To accelerate the deployment, instead of doing the typical deployment with order of march we simply raised a screen on the middle of the table and both armies deployed at the same time without looking at each other.
The Seleucid army deployed in the following manner:
Of Antiochus forces the strongest of was the Macedonian phalanx of aprox 17,000 men, still arrayed after the fashion of Alexander and Philip. These were placed in the center, divided into two halves of 8600 men each (two battle groups of 12 bases each). Between the two sections were twenty elephants (one battle group of 2 bases). The rightmost phalanx was that of the veteran Agryspides (one battle group of 12 superior bases). The appearance of the phalanx was like that of a wall, of which the elephants were the tower. Such was the arrangement of the infantry of Antiochus. This wall of pikes was supported by a second battle line of Thureoforoi (one BG 8 bases ), Galatian foot ( on BG 6 bases ) and mail-clad Galatian cavalry ( one BG 4 bases ).
In front of the phalanx, light foot archers were deployed to deal with the expected velite threat.
His horse were stationed to the left of the phalanx, consisting of the Macedonian corps called the agema, so named because they were picked horsemen another body of horse mail-clad called the companions were deployed next to the agema.
Although Antiochus apparently placed most reliance on his cavalry, he deployed them on a second line behind scythed chariots, Tarantine light horse and Scythian archer cavalry
On the right wing he deployed Thorakitai in the open fields flanked by Tarantine light horse, light foot archers and a powerful force of 40 elephants ( 2 BGs of 2 bases each )
Finally on the left wing Antiochus deployed his arab camelry and between the camels and the river a warband of Thracian troops and psiloi that would attempt to take control of the marshes upfront.
The appearance of his formation was like that of two armies, one to begin the fight, the other held in reserve. Each was arranged in a way to strike terror into the enemy both by numbers and equipment. Antiochus commanded the horse on the left wing in person and left relied on junior officers for the two leftmost phalanx blocks, his son Seleucus commanded the right. Philippos, the master of the elephants, commanded the right phalanxes including the Agryspides and the center elephant battle group as well as the supporting second line, and Zeuxis commanded the skirmishers and Thracians on the left as well as the camels, horse archers and light horse.
Seleucus, Domitius and Scipio concentrate on the battle, while Philippos in the back is going to order the empanadas – troops are getting hungry!
The Roman army deployed in the following manner:
The roman forced deployed in an intricate an elaborate battle line that requires careful analysis.
Knowing the advantage that the phanlanx would have in open terrain, Domitius planned to use the flexibility of the manipular system (small units ) to insure that he would clash against the phalanx and the elephants with an optimal combination of princeps and triarii.
The hastati were removed from their traditional front rank knowing that they would perish against the phalanx and hence were deployed either in support or on the wings.
The center of the Roman deployment was composed of roman and latin princeps ( 2 BG of 8 bases ) to the sides of the main latin trairii maniples ( one BG of 4 bases ). The main line was supported by a second line of roman hastati and latin princeps ( both BG of 4 bases )
To the left of the main battle line ( right side of map ) a powerful flanking force composed of roman princeps ( 1 BG 4 bases ) roman triarii ( 1 Bg 4 bases & 1 BG 2 bases ), elephants ( 1 BG 2 bases ), thureophoroi and finally roman hastati in support ( 1 BG 8 bases ) was deployed.
On the Roman right wing ( left side of map ) stood the roman cavalry, composed of equites ( 2 BG of 4 bases ) and allied Xystophoroi ( 1 Bg 6 bases ).
Behind the cavalry on final force of latin hastati would provide support and close gaps ( 1 BG of 8 bases ).
In front of the roman army a never ending screen of velites, cretan archers, trallian slingers and Illyrian light horse would try to disrupt and disorganize the enemy.
Domitius joined the left wing of the Roman army ( right side of the map ), and he asked the consul Publius Scipio to lead the Roman legions in the center. Ramirus Aemilius was given command of the latin legions and Eumenes took command of the Roman and allied cavalry on the right wing ( left side of the map ).
And so both armies were finally on the field of glory to bring the Syrian war to an end !!
The battle -Stage I –
Due to the magnitude of the battle I will try to recount the main evolution of the action rather than try to mention every little encounter. I will provide the general guidelines of what happened and you can spend time looking at the pictures which is what most of us prefer to do anyways
Once the deployment was revealed both sides analyzed in detail the opposing battle line. The Romans appeared to have a very powerful force on the right side of the battlefield, where despite facing the seleucid main elephant force the high quality of triarii and princeps could try to outflank the phalanx if the first line of Tarantine light horse, Roman elephants and Thureoforoi could rash forward.
The big advantage when you have more than one battle line and small flexible units like the Roman is that if you manage to force the enemy into an echelon your second line can turn and attack the enemy. A good example of this is what happened in Cynocephale where the romans did exactly that against the Macedonian phalanx.
Seleucus quickly recognizing the cunning tactic that Domitius had in mind and after joining his Tarantine light horse pushed them forward to try to stall the roman advance by engaging the opposing light horse ( skirmish melees take some time to resolve so that would create an obstacle preventing the supporting roman lines to be in position to outflank the phalanx, IF the phalanx could engage on time).
In the center Phillippo also understood the situation and started pushing forward the phalanx line as fast as he could. Unfortunately the Seleucid advance got stalled when the light foot in front of the phalanx felt overly confident when charged by the velites and instead of evading decided to fight them.
Tarantine Light Horse engage the Illyrians
Eumenes and Aemilius showing their poker faces
So at this point the situation on the center and right flank was such that both battle lines were stalled unable to engage while the skirmish battle was taking place.
An interesting episode saw Domitius joining the same battlegroup as Publius Cornelius to instruct him to delay his advance as Publius was feeling a bit impetuous and was starting to leave his left wing behind !!
Meanwhile on the left wing the powerful Seleucid cavalry appeared to have good chances of overturning the enemy an outflank the roman battle line, hence the Romans would attempt similar delaying tactics as the Seleucids were trying on the right to prevent the superior enemy force from being able to exploit the flank.
The Battle – stage II
While the right and center skirmish battles remained undefined further stalling the battle lines on the left wing Antiochus was preparing to unleash his powerful cavalry upon the Romans. The Scythian archers and the Tarantine light horse where having mixed success in dealing with the enemy skirmishers.
The scythed chariots were find it very hard to find a spot to engage enemy combat troops and were maneuvering to avoid the deadly enemy light troops.
Finally on the center right things turned for the better when the foot skirmishers melee ended allowing the phalanx to close in on the enemy.
Suddenly on the left as Antiochus was about to charge with his Cavalry the trickery of Eumenes became evident. Suddenly all the Roman and allied cavalry turned away and retreated refusing to engage the enemy.
Antiochus frustration was visible when his troops heard him scream to the enemy lines:
“ Eumenes, you bastard dog of the Roman usurper, come back at fight like a man !! “
But the screams fell upon deaf ears and accomplished nothing. By turning away and refusing to engage Eumenes was driving the Seleucid cavalry away from the main engagement that was soon to take place between the battle lines and thus preventing the superior Seleucid cavalry from exploiting the roman flank.
The Battle – stage III-
On the right the light horse melee still endured as the Tarantine light horse refused to break from the Illyrian light horse thanks to the personal encouragement of Seleucus.
The phalanx line could now clash against the legions with the flanks secured from the powerful roman flanking force on the right. And so finally the battle lines engaged each other.
In open ground the phalanx has a clear advantage over the legions. Even so the Romans had managed to present battle at the least disadvantageous situation by insuring that all the heavily armored princeps where in the fornt line. Even more they had managed to face the elephants with the Triarii thus matching the advantage of the pachyderms and they were able to overlap the sides of the phanlanxes that were force to echelon due to the allied legions position vs the roman legions position.
Both battle lines had supporting units. On the center right superior romans were facing superior phalanx, average phalanx and regular phalanx. This meant that if the romans could avoid loosing too many bases to death rolls, on the long run they would have more staying power.
On the center left average legions where facing average phalanx.
At this point the battle was very evenly matched. Both armies had failed to exploit each others flanks where they had tried, Romans on the right and Seleucids on the left.
The battle lines were matched and this gave the Seleucids and overall slight adavantage on POA and the Romans had a slight advantage on staying power due to their greater number of superior troops which tend to do better in cohesion.
On the right, the light horse battle endured and everything remained stalled. On the left things where turning very awkward. On of the equites BG retreating caught the Thracian foot on the flank while they where pursuing the fleeing velites.
The Agema tried to crush the other group of equites that was parading around the field but in the process clashed against the trallian slingers that attempted a heroic resistance. In fact the slingers did manage to resits, allowing the equites to escape. They resisted long enough for the latin hastati in reserve and the Xystophoroi to engage the Agema in combat.
The companinon cavalry could not decide what unit of equites to engage, either the ones chasing the Thracians who were by now running, or the equites threatening the flank of the battle line, and the chariots were still failing to find their purpose in life.
The Battle – stage IV-
The Romans on the center right were facing a dire situation, although they remained strong in cohesion due to the presence of Publius Scipio on the battle line the death rolls had been quite unlucky and the roman princeps had lost more than 25% of their numbers. It was a matter of time before the Agryspides would break through.
This is when one of the roman subcommanders made a game changing move. Realizing that Antiochus was completely involved in the flank action, Ramirus Aemilius starting moving from unit to unit bolstering the morale of the latin legions. As a result it significantly added to their staying power.The roman line is beginning to debilitate ( see disruptions and fragmentations ) but Aemilius starts doing his bolstering rounds on the latin legions
Meanwhile the equites that escaped behind the slingers turned around and, after defeating the Scythian horse archers, managed to infiltrate the left flank of the battle line that was being guarded by Thureophoroi.
The phalanxes had been very close to breaking the legions, but when the legions managed to stay long enough, the lack of generals of the main Seleucid battle line proved to be terminal.
At this point the Seleucid right flank finally opened up to the Romans as now the second line of elephants and hastati where getting into position, and even on the left flank the infiltrating equites where doing harm, but the battle had already been called when the main phalanxes in the center had routed since at this point the smaller 4 base roman battle groups would start exploiting these gaps and it was just a matter of time.
Rome had prevailed and Antiouchus would have to sue for peace on a meeting with Publius Cornelius Scipio now “Asiaticus”.
It was 9PM, we had been playing since 11AM and we all thought it was time for pizza.
The next morning with better light conditions we took a few close ups of the final positions in the battle. ( The cohesion counters had already been removed)
Field of Glory is by far my favorite rules for large scale ancients wargames.
The battle was sensational, 5 players per side, more than 800 miniatures on the table. The rhythm of the game was fast and agile. My brother and I, though commanders on opposite sides, also served partially as game masters since we were well acquainted with the rules.Players were impressed by how the rules managed to incorporate so many tactical and historical factors while remaining an agile playable game system.
The battle developed very interestingly. Typical observations that have been brought up in the forum came up: “if you want to engage the battle lines quickly avoid skirmish melees”, “make sure melees where you have an advantage start early in the game or you won’t be able to exploit your advantage on time”, “positioning generals is critical”.
In fact positioning generals is so critical that since no side was able to successfully exploit the enemies’ flank it was having one more general in the battle line what gave the Romans the final victory.
An interesting note is that some historians blame Antiochus absence in the main battle line of Magnesia for the defeat, a mistake he had also done in Raphia, a similar situation to what occurred in this battle.