Welcome / Bienvenu

This blog presents my different wargames armies, after action reports, campaigns which I have run, some scenarios and a presentation of some of the different rules I play. The pages at the top of the blog contain historical information on the periods that interest me. They are an aid to my poor memory, and not in any way exhaustive nor necessarily correct. As I am an Englishman living in France, some pages are in English and others in French...sorry, I am too lazy to translate...

I hope this blog offers you much enjoyment and some inspiration !

dimanche 19 août 2012

Early Roman (340-241)

Building a Roman army for this period is apparently not widespread, so I thought it might be worthwhile going into further explanations of my choices. This is the early manipular army, probably introduced c.340 and lasting down to the wars with Pyrrhus (280-275) and perhaps still relevant for at least the first part of the 1st Punic War (264-241). Mine is made up of figures from Xyston and Mirliton.
The change from a hoplite phalanx to a manipular army occurred at some time during the 4th century; in the days of Camillus and the Gallic Wars according to the tradition (c.-390) but, more probably, during the Samnite Wars (-343 to -290), the phalanx being poorly adapted to warfare in central and southern Italy.
Dionysius, in his accounts of the Pyrrhic Wars, states this dramatically.  As regards the Roman victory of Beneventum he says: “It was bound the happen, as might have been expected, that hoplites burdened with helmets, breastplates and shields and advancing against hilly positions by long trails that were not even used by people but were mere goat-paths through woods and crags, would keep no order and, even before the enemy came in sight, would be weakened in body by thirst and fatigue.”(Book XX, 11)

The main literary sources for the somewhat obscure period of the early manipular Roman army are threefold: Livy (book 8, chapters 8 and 9); Dionysius of Halicarnassus (books XIV and XX) and Plutarch’s “Life of Pyrrhus”, (chapter XXI). The first two are from the 1st century BC, the latter from the 1st century AD. Their works are fragmentary, in particular, for the subject of interest here, that of Dionysius. Iconographical evidence is rare to inexistant.

The first issue to address is the reality of the early five-line manipular army discussed by Livy, which adds, to the traditional hastati, principes and triarii the enigmatic rorarii and ascensii. Some modern historians have considered this to be pure invention; I have no opinion on the matter, but have decided it is somewhat spurious to represent rorarii and ascensii on the basis of one chapter in one (often unreliable) source, despite the internal logic of the chapters concerned, and the fact that these two troop types would be the logical extension of the 4th and 5th classes of the Tullian phalanx. Nonetheless, Livy provides interesting information on the three better-known lines of the Roman manipular force.

The second major issue is the earliest date at which the Roman army used the pilum, and who exactly used it.   In Book XIV, Dionysius places in Camillus’ mouth a speech that claims “Better arms than the barbarians possess have been fashioned for us — breastplates, helmets, greaves, mighty shields, with which we keep our entire bodies protected, two-edged swords, and, instead of the spear, the javelin, a missile that cannot be dodged”. Modern theory claims that, upon the introduction of the manipular system, ie. around 340 B.C., the Romans used a heavy javelin called the hasta velitaris, the term hasta being applied to the long spear only at a much later date. From this, it may be concluded that the hastati used the pilum from the very beginning. This is certainly consistent with their role, which was to wear down and break up the enemy, then give way to the principes.

A third thorny issue is that of armour. In the Tullian phalanx, only the 1st class wore body armour and these are the future triarii; the 2nd class had helmet and greaves, the 3rd class a helmet alone. Furthermore, although weapons were apparently provided by the state, each soldier came with such armour as he had; since attribution to the hastati or principes was a matter of age and experience, and not of wealth or equipment (excepted only the least well-equipped, who joined the light infantry), armour cannot have been homogenous for each troop-type.
From the various sources available, I have drawn up the following army :


Livy suggests that the only thing that distinguished the hastati from the leves was that the former had a scutum.  Many may thus have been unarmoured; nonetheless, it is likely that some wore limited armour, in particular Samnite-style trilobe breastplates. As for chainmail, it is first found in mid-4th century Celtic graves and was presumably adopted by the Romans during their wars against them, before coming predominant in the later Republican army. It would however have been scarce in this early period, as it is long and expensive to make; it is in any case inappropriate for the hastati who, as younger men, were generally less wealthy.

The role of the hastati was to wear down the enemy, then generally give way to the principes who would deliver the killing blow. This is consistent with the battlefield role of auxilia, and it is thusly that I have decided to classify the hastati in the different rules I play.


In the later Republican army, the principes were armed identically to the hastati. One fragmentary and isolated reference in the surviving chapters of Dionysius suggests this was not always the case: “Those who fight in close combat with cavalry spears grasped by the middle with both hands and who usually save the day in battles are called principes by the Romans” (book XX, 11).
Dionysius’ source for the Pyrrhic Wars is usually considered to be credible, and his account is in any case very meticulous and devoid of the usual rhetoric; his assertion does also concord with the presentation of the principes tactical role and description in Livy. It does however contrast with other descriptions in Dionysius as well as in Plutarch, where the skilled use of swords rather than spears is the quality of the Roman soldier most put forward.
Nonetheless, it is the portrayal of the principes that I have adopted, which also gives a particular flavor to this army. This incidentally is the choice of N. Sekunda in Osprey’s “Early Roman Armies”.
As far as armour goes, since no principes figures with trilobe breastplates are available, I have opted for a mix of greave-wearers (modeled on the 2nd Class troops of the old hoplite army, of which the principles are the direct descendants). As, according to Livy, the principes were “remarquable par l’éclat de leurs armes”, I have included a few wearing chainmail.


Livy says of these : « [ils] demeurent immobiles sous leurs drapeaux, la jambe gauche tendue en avant, le scutum appuyé sur l’épaule, la hasta inclinée et plantée à terre, la pointe droite : dans cette position, ils semblent une armée retranchée derrière une haie de palissades » (VIII, 8.10).

Their appearance is however a bit of a mystery and, in any case, handicapped by the absence of available figures, unless one chooses to put them all in chainmail.
I decided to follow my intuition. First up, if the manipular army came into being c.340, the triarii (made up of men aged 40-50) of 340-310 are the young hoplites of the old Tullian army, who may very well have kept the same armour, expensive to replace. As the triarii are a conservative corps (still wearing hoplite-style helmets during the Second Punic War), perhaps they continued to look like Roman hoplites of the mid-4th century. That in any case is how I decided to portray them.

Roman hoplites were characterized by a short tunic, a bronze muscle-cuirass long out of fashion among Greek hoplites, and a cloak.  I was lucky to notice that one of the Xyston Roman Generals wears exactly that dress…which incidentally is proof that such dress did still exist even down to -200.

It is unsure whether the triarii were equal in numbers to the hastati and the principes (as in Livy) or half their number, as in the Second Punic War army. I have opted for the latter choice, mainly to keep down the number of figures to paint ; )


The wolf-headed velites of the later army are absent in the Pyrrhic Wars; the legion is instead preceded by leves, selected amongst the most lightly equipped men who present themselves on the Champ de Mars : they are thus, along with the equites at the other end of the scale, the only troops in this Early Roman army whose combat role is determined by social status rather than age.
In Dionysius’ account of Ausculum, these light troops are a mixture of javelineers, archers, slingers and even caltrop throwers (to counter the elephants).


The Romans were never known for the skill or the numbers of their cavalry. I have therefore provided only two bases of them. Their appearance is a total mystery; I have therefore opted for the Mirliton cavalry, who are lightly armoured.  As in the Greek cities, Roman cavalry were drawn from the wealthy social elite, so refusing them armour may be a mis-representation, but much will depend on how they were used tactically.


Livy is probably right as concerns the presence of ascensii in the Roman army, but wrong about their use. They are no-doubt poor- or ill-armed camp or baggage attendants; indeed that is what the word refers to in later periods. According to Livy, they were supposed to systematically use the weapons of the dead, but doubtless they were a last-ditch gambit used only in the most dire straits. My lone unit of ascensii conveniently fleshes out my C&C Roman Army to 60 pts.


Each Roman legion – of which there were generally four up until the Punic Wars – was commanded by six Tribunes, a certain number of whom were elected by the plebeians. All Tribunes must have already held some public office (the cursus honororum) and have fought five campaigns (for the senior tribunes, ten).
Two legions formed a consular army. As my army in its C&C configuration represents 3 legions, the Generals can both be assumed to be Consuls. They are therefore accompanied by their lictors.

Tactically, this army fought by maniples, each maniple of 60 men separated by a short interval from its neighbour. This allowed the Romans to exploit local weaknesses in the enemy line or retire through the second or third lines, whilst allowing them to draw together to face off a dense enemy formation.  As regards C&C Ancients, my hastati form units of Auxilia whilst two bases of principes and one base of triarii are brought together to form a unit of Medium Infantry. The army benefits (with the agreement of its opponent) from the following special rule :

- If a unit of Principes-Triarii is activated, it may exchange its position with an adjacent unit of Hastati in front of it. Only the unit of Principes-Triarii is considered to be activated as concerns the capacity to combat. This maneuver is possible only if the hastati have lost at least one base.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire