Sunday 27 October 2019

ROMANES EVNT DOMVS III: Pilums for the poisoner-prince of Pontos

Andrew and I met up again this week for a third game of l'Art de la Guerre between his Triumvirate Romans and my assorted late Hellenistic principalities. After previously being steam-rolled by Tigranes II's Armenians, and then being only just defeated by the Ituraeans of Chalkis, this time the legions of Rome were faced by Mithridates VI of Pontos. If you're not already a fan of his, you should read up on him - a true hero of the Hellenistic world in the face of vile Roman oppression... 😇

This time around, the Triumvirate Romans were on the defensive, choosing to fight on a coastal plain broken only by three fields and treeless plantation (far right). The Romans had a small army consisting of 12 veteran legionary units (heavy swordsmen, armoured, impact, elite) supported by two heavy cavalry (one on each flank), two elite Cretan archer skirmishing units and a regular unit of skirmishing bowmen.

The Pontic left was made up of an infantry division: two javelineers, two pike, two thureophoroi heavy spearmen, two slingers and two scythed chariots. The centre was led by Mithridates himself and consisted of two units of elite Pontic heavy cavalry, two units of light horse with javelins, and two units of elite Galatian heavy swordsmen. On the right was the Pontic secret weapon - an Armenian ally division consisting of four units of cataphracts, three units of horse archers, and compulsory infantry dross (a javelinman and two units of skirmishing archers).

The first turn was a success for Mithridates, in that the Armenian general rolled a 2 for CPs. He might not have been very active in turn one, but at least he wasn't hesitant! In all other ways, the first turn was very messy with few CPs to play with. The Pontic and Armenian mounted units all charged forward while the infantry mostly stood around and picked their noses.

Being obsessed with linearity, and not wanting the legions to be caught in the field, the  Romans plodded forward.

The Pontic light horse made a dashing charge, chasing off the Roman skirmishers and clearing the way for the scythed chariots to crash, unhindered, into the line of legionaries. Amazingly, both chariots survived the clash and caused significant upset among the Latin ranks.

Inland, the Armenians screened their cataphracts with horse archers who fired very ineffectually at the elite armoured Roman heavy infantry opposite them. 

The Roman heavy cavalry (supporting the legions opposite the Armenians) charged forward and drove back the horse archers. 

While the legions on the Roman left and centre advanced, the left-hand corp held back to deal with the scythed chariots. At this point we hadn't remembered about furious charges yet, so only one cohesion point had been applied to the disordered legionaries. Andrew was beyond gentlemanly later on when he applied the extra hit to each unit.  

Having driven off the horse archers, the sole Roman heavy cavalry unit on the inland wing was charged by Armenian cataphracts. The horse archers then wheeled around and started moving up the flank.

On the Pontic left, one of the scythed chariots collapsed in the second round of combat, but the other one hung on, impeding the whole Roman flank. In the centre, the Pontic lancers charged home against their opposing Roman division, while the Galatian swordsmen were not far behind. 

Fed up with the remaining scythed chariot unit, the Roman commander sent his heavy cavalry into its flank, dispersing the last of the vehicles.

With the chariots gone, more Romans plunged on into the fight. The Armenian cataphracts obliterated the sole Roman cavalry unit and crunched into the legions behind. On the Roman left and centre, commanders were thrown into the melee to add their weight to the respective combats.

The cataphracts drove one legionary unit from the field forcing their attached commander to scurry out of the way of thundering hooves, seeking shelter with the  next unit in the line. The Galatians charged into the Roman line like the howling mass of crazy Celts that they were, but unfortunately they found that the Romans were elite, armoured and had the impact ability. Suffice to say, the Galatians did not have the same level of success that their mounted comrades had already enjoyed.

The Armenian allied commander couldn't help himself, and so joined in the fighting personally - just in time to see the Roman commander opposite fall under a cataphract's mail-clad horse. The Armenian horse archers, meanwhile, continued to execute a perfect outflanking manoeuvre.

The jaws of the cataphract trap slamed closed on the end of the Roman line, while the Armenian horse archers skirted the field. It is safe to say that at this point in the battle, Roman morale was pretty low. Several units had already broken and there were disordered legionaries all down the line ... 

... but it was very much a line. The Pontic army was still a mess of different groups, some struggling to get into combat, others struggling to keep out of the way. Both Galatian units had suffered in their first charge, and one of the elite units of Pontic heavy horse were being badly hurt by the solid swordsmen of Rome.

As the Pontic infantry finally reached the fighting, the tide slowly began to turn. Even disordered heavy swordsmen can hold their own in a prolonged fight - at least when they are elite, armoured and have impact. There was even now a Roman cavalry unit threatening the end of the Pontic line where the pikemen were the only units putting on a decent show against the legions.

As Pontic heavy cavalry and thureophoroi units began to flee, Mithridates pulled back his remaining cavalry to form a second line. He also sent forward his highland javelineers to impose their zone of control over the Roman cavalry, thereby preserving the flank of the Pontic pike.

The Roman cavalry charged into the javelineers, but the latter decided to hold their ground. Over at the far end of the battle, the Roman skirmishers in the field turn to exchange arrows with the Armenian horse archers - the only effective shooting all battle. However, at the same time, three more Roman legionary units broke and fled - those facing pikemen and thureophoroi (having been weakened by the chariots), and those in the cataphract vice.

The Armenian commander coordinated the the attack on the next Roman infantry unit vicious efficiency ...

... and Mithridates was not to be out-shone, leading another charge of the Pontic heavy cavalry.

Both commanders were unsympathetically successful, causing more legions to flee and breaking the Roman army. By the end of the turn, the Romans stood at 19 breakpoints against their threshold of 17, while the Pontic army was also at 19 breakpoints - but without nearing the higher threshold of 24. 

There is no doubting that Mithridates' army took a brutal beating and, had the fight continued, the Romans could have held their own against the scrappy Pontic units still on the field. Sadly for Rome, that is not how it works. The Romans were mauled and withdrew from the field leaving Mithridates VI of Pontos sovereign over all Asia Minor.

 And doesn't he look pleased with himself!


  1. Glad to see scythed chariots in action, even if routes...Great looking game, splendid armies!

  2. Second that. Quite well done, sir. Very much like the "chunky" stands and the display of the colourful elements. The status markers are a nice touch as well. There is much to be said for 6mm figures.
    Thanks for posting. Looking forward to your next chapter.

  3. This really makes me want to start an ancients army.

  4. Thanks for the comments gents.

    This was the first time I'd used scythed chariots in years and they did me proud.