Ceasar battles Pompey at Dyrrhachium - July 7, 49BCE
By Neldoreth
April 12th, 2011

This battle uses Mantic Miniatures' Kings of War game along with the Kings of War - Historical Ancient Combat - Rome Rising supplement to re-fight the battle pitting Pompey against Ceasar at Dyrrhachium on July 7, 49BCE. The battle was part of Rome's First Triumverate War, which was ultimately won by Ceasar and marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Empire! Historically at Dyrrhachium though Pompey won the day, while Ceasar just barely escaped with his army and his life... This is also one of many playtests for the Rome Rising lists.

Dawn broke over the horizon and the sight of Pompey's army glinted through the mists as Ceasar issued orders for his army to form up. Despite being surprised by Pompey's move, Ceasar took pleasure in his ability to muster his men and deploy them so efficiently before Pompey could gain any advantage. As the shadows shortened at the break of day, and the horns blew readying their legions for way, the battle began...

Ceasar's legions (red) stared down the field at the rag-tag, barbarian-infested army of Pompey (green).

Ceasar took stock of his army. His six legions, two of which were deployed in two parts (troop-sized units) on the flanks to screen the barbarian hordes formed the basis for his army. Along with that was a single standard bearer, a junior officer, and a unit of Numidian skirmishers. Ceasar surveyed Pompey's army; a pitpful sight with only three legions, two regiments of German barbarians, some barbarian heroes, and a single troop-sized unit of light horse. They'd be no match for him...

Pompey commits his flanks while Ceasar looks on and has yet to decide how to divide his troops among the left and right.

As the armies advance, Pompey finds that he must deal with a small forest of trees right in the middle of the battlefield. After spending some little time in consideration he sent the barbarian and Numidian allies to his right flank (left in the above picture). He was sure they could hold Ceasar's legions long enough for the centre to be decided... if he was lucky they would hold as much of Ceasar's army as possible locked in a stalement for the entire battle!

Ceasar commits two legions to Pompey's right flank, while the rest of his army moves to face the bulk of Pompey's force.

Ceasar made the call to split his forces around the trees. Sending two legions, one of which deployed in halves, to deal with Pompey's barbarians and light horse on the right, and the remaining four legions to the centre, the battle begins in earnest. His hope is to secure the flank quickly, and to stem the barbarian horde before it can rampage through the rest of his army.

In the center, Ceasar realizes that he has the advantage. With five separate fighting units, all legionary units, battling against four of Pompey's, the victory is as good as his! The only potential problem is the marsh on the far left. If Pompey could somehow use it to make the battles more difficult for his legions, he could be in trouble...

The battle opens on Ceasar's left flank with the light horse and skirmishers drawing first blood.

Pompey eyeing Ceasar's lines from the forest.

Before the lines could crash in the centre, Pompey's light cavalry and Ceasar's skirmishers began the rain of javelins that would last the entire battle. To Ceasar's dismay, Pompey's light horse managed to inflict significant casualties on one of Ceasar's legions. The Numidian skirmishers on the other hand managed to inflict only minor casualties onto their barbarian targets.

Despite the ranged fire so far, both Pompey and Ceasar watched the flank with trepidation; the barbarians weren't predictable enough to make a good estimate of the outcome there. In spite of that, Ceasar was reasured that his legions would route Pompey's forces on the flank.

Meanwhile, the lines in the centre were drawing perilously close. Pompey took refuge in the forest. Seeing that there was an opportunity to put Ceasar's skirmishers to flight, he called a general charge of the main lines into Ceasar's forces while he lead his own charge to skatter the skirmishers!

The main line of battle finally engages and the blood begins to flow...

Two of Pompey's legions followed his command to charge, smashing into the line of Ceasrian legionaries. The fighting was brutal, and casualties were inflicted. This early in the battle though, Ceasar's legionaries stand firm, eager for their counter-charge!

Pompey's own charge into the Numidian skirmishers causes carnage, but the skirmishers stand regardless. Their resolve, thanks in part to Ceasar's presence on the battlefield keeps them in the fight. In the mean time, the barbarian regiment that was until recently screened by legionaries was given its freedom to charge into battle during its next opportunity!

The barbarian standard bearer, who had been standing in front of the barbarian unit, finally moved and let them charge
the closes legionary unit, which promptly routed.

Ceasar counter Pompey in the forest!

Ceasar had sprung his trap on the right flank: Moving one legionary troop unit to face Pompey's light horse, Pompey's barbarians were able to charge into the second legionary troop. With a screaming rage, the barbarians over ran the outnumbered legionaries and drove them from the field... which took them straight toward a completely fresh regiment of legionaries!

Unfortunately, all didn't go perfectly for Ceasar; the legionaries that strove to come to blows with Pompey's light horse took more and more casualties from the relentless barrage of javelins that fell upon them. Ceasar ordered his junior officer to advance with them for support. Thanks to their training they stood firm.

Seeing the threat from Pompey in the forest Ceasar charged in; keeping Pompey from securing the middle near forest would ensure that his lines maintained their cohesion, and would keep Pompey from doing too much damage. Ceasar was able to sew discord and inflict casualties on Pompey! Pompey stood firm.

The battle rages on... The units in the centre bash away at each other while a legion on the
right looks ready to take control of the flank.

In defiance of Pompey's attack, Ceasar orders the charge and the battle is properly joined. Ceasar's legions dish out as much and more than they took in Pompey's initial charge, however the Roman legions on both sides hold firm while the blood flows. Ceasar realizes that he has the upper hand on the far left, but the marshes/swamps there keep him from taking advantage of his extra unit.

On the far right, an unbloodied legion stood poised to charge home against the barbarian regiment, and potentially secure the flank. Also, the remains of the second legion prepared to charge Pompey's light horse (not in the picture above), and drive them from the field.

As the lines of both Pompey and Ceasar began to wear thin, Pompey's barbarian allies finally broke one of Ceasar's legions.

A cry of anger and panic tore through the battlefield as one of Ceasar's legions were broken under the charge of Pompey's barbarian allies. Ceasar took confidence despite the loss however, since he had a unit of legionaries ready to fill the gap in his lines. It wasn't just Ceasar's legions that were wavering, as Pompey's legions were in a tenuous position as well.

It was to both Pompey and Ceasar that after the hard-fought battle in the centre, the tide was about to sweep in one direction or the other, and when it did, it was likely to be painfully swift for whoever was to be defeated. Two of Pompey's four remaining units in the centre were on the brink of routing, and the same was true for Ceasar's army.

The battle on the right flank continued to be undecided, despite the best hopes of both Ceasar and Pompey.

On the right flank Ceasar's regiment-sized legion routed Pompey's barbarians, but not before they took some serious casualties. Ceasar took this as a sign that the flank would soon be secured and that he could crush Pompey's legions in the centre with a flanking legion. Unfortunately for him, it was not to be.

Despite being charged by the remains of Ceasar's second legion on the flank, Pompey's light cavalry stood their ground and continued to rain javelins down on the battered troop of legionaries. The barage of javelins quickly became too much for the legionaries, and they fled the field in a route. At this point Ceasar grudgingly admitted that he needed to recruit some light horse to counter Pompey's ranged superiority... The right flank remained contested between Ceasar's legion and Pompey's light cavalry.

Pompey flees Ceasar's relentless assault!

A Ceasar and his retunie continued to tear into Pompey's personal guard, Pompey lost his resolve. Seeing that Ceasar himself strove to dispatch him personally, Pompey called a retreat and regrouped on the flank of one of Ceasar's legions; he hoped desperately to drive into the flank of Ceasar's legion and hide himself from an inevitable death at Ceasar's hands!

After much carnage, the battle in the centre began to show a decisive conclusion.

As the battle raged in the centre, luck finally broke two of Ceasar's legionary anchors on the flanks of his line. With one last furious charge, Ceasar's legionaries charged in and inflicted grievous casualties on Pompey's units, but whether because of luck, divine inspiration, or downright pig-headed resolve, Pompey's legions refused to be routed (Ed.: The Ceasar player rolled a 2 and then a 3 for nerve checks attempting to route Pompey's legions!). The counter charge proved too much for them, and the flanks legion units were routed, leaving two of Ceasar's legions stranded in the middle of the line, surrounded by their enemies...

Pompey lead the final charge against the beleaguered legions of Ceasar, breaking them and securing the victory.

Ceasar called for a retreat when he saw that his flanking units were routed in a desperate attempt to save his men from being crushed, but it wasn't too be. In one last attempt to secure victory, he charged Pompey once more, but failed to dispatch him. His legions were charged in the centre of the field, and routed.

Not all of Ceasar's legions left the field with a route however. His single remaining legion on the right flank managed to withdraw in good order despite a (not so) devastating charge to its rear by Pompey's light horse. And so, as with the historical outcome of the battle at Dyrrhachium - July 7, 49BCE, Pompey won the day!

Aftermath...

Despite the many solitary play tests of this supplement, this was the first real battle played with the final rules, and it was a blast. Legions vs. legions are of course, by definition, balanced, their battle in the center played exactly as expected: in the end it came down to the luck of the nerve rolls and specific tactics to decide who would come out on top. In the center especially, both side were happy to stand and bash it out, without too many fancy-schmancy tactical maneuvers.

The story that unfolded on the right flank was much different. There was a lot more posturing, tactical maneuvering, and care in deployment that lead to a pretty interesting match up. The light cavalry really shined in particular, which isn't necessarily a given, though it certainly shows the value of the unit, which is relatively highly priced!

The only major criticism of the system was that of the saga-style historical feel of the army lists. Given that the characters are so agile and can (almost) turn the tide of the battle alone, the lists really give the feel of the epic hero that wades into the enemy lines and causes much carnage! It's fun, but it's not for everyone. It's easy to remedy though: a player can choose to field only a single senior officer/chieftain character and then any number of standard bearers, allowing the heroes to play their more historically subdued roll of supporting the army's moral and mainting discipline.

As for the battle itself, it was quite satisfying. It went quickly, came to a decisive conclusion, and maintained the tension all the way through. In hind sight, there were some less obvious possibilities that could have tipped the balance of the game in favour of both armies, so perhaps at the planned rematch (read The Battle of Pharsalus) there will be a lot more crazy risks and heroic outcomes! It was a great time though and I look forward to the next battle!