Sunday, 15 February 2015

Hail Caesar – The battle of Raphia (217BC) in 6mm

In June, 217 BC, the Fourth Syrian War was decided outside Raphia on the border of Koile-Syria and Egypt. Antiochos III the Great commanded a large field army that had thus far been successful in driving the forces of Ptolemy IV out of Koile-Syria. Polybius (Histories 5.79-87) provides a detailed description of the troops present and their respective roles in the battle. It is actually one of the few Seleukid battles where we have a decent account of the build-up, forces involved and outcome. 

In short, Antiochos commanded the right flank in person and forced Ptolemy’s left flank (commanded by the Egyptian king) to flee the field. However Antiochos pushed his pursuit too far. With their commander distracted, the Seleukid left flank was defeated and the centre outflanked and routed. Antiochos was forced to abandon his conquests and the region remained Ptolemaic for another 17 years until the Koile-Syrian question was settled in favour of Antiochos at the battle of Panion.

This is the order of battle provided by Bar-Kochva (The Seleucid Army: Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns). A handy summary of the battle by Michael Park may be found HERE.

Cobbling together a Ptolemaic army out of Hellenistic Spartans and Carthaginians, we abandoned our respective loved-ones on St Valentine’s night to sit around a table and re-enact the battle. Below are the army rosters which I put together based, more-or-less, on Polybius. Serendipitously, they also tally up very well as evenly matched forces. 

Below we have a bit of a photo-log of our version of the game. Commands retained their overall position (i.e. left wing, centre, right wing), but we were not strict on the specific deployment of units within commands.

The powerful Seleukid right wing commanded by the king himself prepares for the coming onslaught.

The Seleukids moved first. The right wing advanced swiftly, the left more slowly, and the centre stalled. We were not off to a good start.

The Ptolemaic line on their left and centre advance, but their right wing also held back. It wasn't their aim, just the luck of the dice. Back on the Seleukid side, rather rubbish command dice saw the left wing continue to, obstinately, sit back and watch. This seemed to influence the centre who did likewise, while on the right the infantry and elephants thundered forward and the heavy cavalry blundered, moving off in the wrong direction!
Ptolemy took advantage of the Seleukid disorder to press forward on his left flank. The Ptolemaic agema pike punched square into my thureophoroi while his agema cavalry unwisely engaged with my elephants and his elephants thundered into some hillmen.

In the first round of combat the agema horse held their own against the Seleukid elephants and the hillmen stopped the elephants in their tracks. Ptolemy himself had joined the fighting around the elephants and hillmen and was one of the first to fall. Above you can see the double six roll that killed him. The elephants came off the worse for wear and fell back, pursued by whooping highlanders. The Seleukid thureophoroi did not do so well and disintegrated on impact with the pikemen. 

The Seleukid cavalry starts to pursue the Ptolemaic klerouchoi cavalry but don't quite make the distance. The Cretan archers on the Seleukid right let off a volley of arrows at the same klerouchoi and force them to withdraw. Antiochos throws himself into the melee between the hillmen and Ptolemaic elephants hoping to finish the nellies off. Unfortunately, he meets the same fate as Ptolemy and goes down in the fight. The Seleukid centre slowly starts to advance against the Ptolemaic centre which by now had formed one contiguous wall of pikes. The Ptolemaic right and Seleukid left continue to do very little.

Both hillmen and elephants route. The Seleukid centre gets into position to engage with the Ptolemaic pike.

On the Seleukid left/Ptolemaic right, the two commands finally burst into action while the two centre commands join in a push of pike.

The Seleukid agema and companion cavalry can be seen here in the lower left of the photo. Pretty much in the position they had been since their early blunder. The same position they had been in as they watched their king die.....

The Seleukid right finally broke the Ptolemaic left, and just in time. The nasty Ptolemaic agema pike now had no choice but to withdraw. As a result, the Ptolemaic centre had an exposed flank, and not a moment too soon as the Seleukid pikemen were not doing so well.

The Seleukid left finally engages the Ptolemaic right. The Galatians hit the Seleukid xystophoroi with everything they had, but the heavily armoured horsemen soaked up most of the hits and shrugged them off.

The hillmen on the Seleukid left throw themselves into the Ptolemaic cavalry cavalry and are followed by Tarantine horse and Indian elephants with a devastating result.

Back on the Seleukid right, the heavy cavalry start to outflank the Ptolemaic centre with great effect.

The Seleukid right continues to roll into the Ptolemaic centre while the left wing holds its own.

The combats on the Seleukid left/Ptolemaic right grinds on. The xystophoroi are supported now by skirmishers and light infantry, giving the Galatians a very hard time.

Almost the end. The last Ptolemaic phalanx takes it in the flank from a combined heavy cavalry charge and collapses, together with their supporting thureophoroi. The Seleukid cavalry would go on to make a sweeping charge into the rear of the other Ptolemaic Thureophoroi (in the background) and destroy them as well (losing a unit in the process).

The end result
A rather crushing victory for the Seleukids. They looked very shaky to begin with, but in the end, the superiority of the Seleukid right won through. Terrible rolling on the Ptolemaic left contributed greatly to the Seleukid victory by keeping their units out of the game for the majority of the game and then failing to defeat the weaker Seleukid wing to their front. 

Notable Ptolemaic deaths
Ptolemy IV
Ptolemy IV's replacement general
Sokrates' replacement general

Notable Seleukid deaths
Antiochos III
Antiochos III' replacement general
Byttakos the Macedonian (wounded but not killed)

Men of the match
By all accounts, the two small units of hillmen (light infantry) in the Seleukid army punched well above their weight. Well done wee boys!


  1. Grand stuff - and thanks for posting the diagram and rosters!

  2. Sounds like a great game, very impressive!

  3. Ancients is 6mm is always impressive and this is fantastic!

  4. great game and good looking figures

  5. Seeing this in 6mm is really impressive. Are these minis by Baccus?

    1. Cheer! The models are a mix of Baccus and Rapier. The 'Ptolemaic' army is all Baccus, my Seleukids as a complete mix. The biggest difference is noticeable on the pike units. Otherwise I happily mix and match.

  6. This is really fantastic. My friend and I have just started a 6mm ECW project because we want to be able to play games just like this. This is our project blog:

    1. Cheers. Great wee blog there.

      And what are the chances that your friend is non other than my old gaming chum Alanus Dux? Small world (and smaller figures). Please give him my best!