Thursday, 14 November 2019

ROMANES EVNT DOMVS IV: The road to Damascus

Imperator Andrew and I clashed recently for the fourth of our L'Art de la Guerre battles over control of late Hellenistic Asia. This time his Triumvirate Romans attacked my Late Seleukids on the road to Damascus.

Each of the Roman flank commands consisted of four legionary units (heavy swordsmen, impact, armoured), a group of gladiators (elite heavy swordsmen) and some medium cavalry. His centre was made up of four elite legion units and a couple of skirmishers. 

The Seleukid left consisted of two units each of mediocre medium Arab camelry, skirmishing archers, Thracian medium swordsmen with two handed rhomphaiai, and mediocre elephants. The centre was made up of four pike phalanxes, two units of reformed legionaries and two scythed chariots. The right was held by four units of cataphracts (two of them elite) and a single unit of horse archers. The command also included two units of elite Cretan archers hiding in an ambush in the field to the far right.

The Romans advanced quickly across the open plain, being slightly hampered by the coastal city which was difficult going for all that heavy infantry.

The Seleukids advanced to meet them, the two flanks moving faster than the heavy infantry centre where only the scythed chariots had any speed about them. The Cretans also gave up their ambush and started wandering over towards the battle.

Once bitten, twice shy, Andrew threw his skirmishers forward and pelted one of the chariots with his javelin-armed skirmishers, destroying one of them.

Hampered by poor CP rolls, the shooting units on the Seleukid flanks both advanced and conducted ineffective missile fire. The remaining scythed chariot smashed into the legionaries facing it and managed to disorder them.

The gladiators on the Roman right decided that they would make their way through the town, while the right-most unit of legionaries made a charge at the camelry, driving them off.

The Seleukids advanced as fast as they could go, the Cretans and horse archers pestering the cavalry on the Roman right - but getting dangerously close in the process.

The Roman cavalry charged. Although the Cretans tried to evade, they could not get away fast enough and one unit was ridden down.

On the Seleukid left, the elephants with their Thracian flank guards charged into melee against the Roman right.
At the same time, a unit of cataphracts and the horse archers on the Seleuid right performed a pincer manoeuvre on the Roman cavalry that have ridden down the Cretans. 

The two centre divisions now advanced to meet... in the centre. The Seleukid cataphracts were distracted by the Roman horsemen who lasted just long enough to stop the Syrian horsemen charging the legions in front of them for a turn. 

The clash on the Seleukid left and in the centre could have gone better in the first couple of melees. The Romans quickly broke a unit of Thracians and even one of the doughty pike phalanxes.

Seeing the centre faltering, the Seleukid cavalry now charged into the legions opposite, starting the slow process of destroying a Roman flank to which my cataphracts have become accustomed. 

The elephants, though visually impressive, were pretty mediocre actually (appropriate really).   

They both broke after only a couple of rounds of combat, causing more damage to the Romans as they rampaged out of control than they had when under orders.

Suddenly, the Seleukid centre felt a bit drafty and the pike phalanxes began to waver.

The Roman gladiators finally peeled themselves away from the taverns and brothels of the town to charge the Arab camels. At that stage it seemed like a good idea to stand and fight, and the skirmishing archers moved up between the camels and the coastal zone to add support. In the centre, a roman unit advanced to plug the gap in the Seleukid line. How polite.

The Seleukid cataphracts were having a much better time of it and drove off the heavy infantry facing them, riding down the local tribune in the process.

But alas, it was all a bit late. Far from riding down the Romans, the Seleukid army was on the very edge of destruction. The towny gladiators defeated the camelry and moved pursued into the gap they left, while another pike phalanx was broken in the centre. At this stage I believe the bruised Romans were sitting at 18/19 break points, the Seleukids at 19/21. 

The break-through Roman legionaries from the centre charged the Thracians in the flank causing them to break. At the same time, the towny gladiators turned and hit the two units of skirmishing archers in the flank. Even if they could have evaded, there was nowhere to go but into the sea.

In the centre, the remaining Seleukid pikemen miraculously held on, but they were hard pressed, and they knew it.

... and on the right, snatching a bloody draw from disastrous defeat, the Seleukid cataphracts destroyed the last unit in the opposite command - the elite gladiators.

The end result: the Roman army broke having suffered 19/19 break points; the Seleukids broke and hastily moved off in the direction of Damascus having been battered to 25/21 break points. A very bloody technical draw, but there can be no doubt that the Romans held the moral victory. If the remaining forces of both armies met again tomorrow, the Seleukids could not stand. Well done Andrew. 👍

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