Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mago's last battle scenario (following Jim Webster)

Amongst the recent influx of new members on the Lost Battles yahoo group, I recognised a name from Slingshot - Jim Webster. This reminded me that I'd been meaning to convert his recent discussion of Mago's final battle in Insubria into a Lost Battles scenario. Jim's article, "The Italian Campaign of Mago" (Slingshot 276) gives an account of Mago's expedition to Italy and the battle there that resulted in the younger Barca's defeat in 203 and the subsequent evacuation of his army from the mainland. Incidentally, I can't actually find an accepted name for this battle. Wikipedia calls it "The Po Valley Raid", but given that there appear to have been four legions involved as well as a good 20-odd thousand Carthaginians, calling it a 'raid' might be a little insulting! Has anyone an answer to this?

Anyway, this OOB relies on Jim's research and conclusions, which are themselves based on Livy's account of the battle. Livy's treatment can be found in Book XXX.18 of his "History of Rome". Here is the relevant excerpt (Canon Roberts's translation) taken from the electronic text centre, University of Virginia:


During this summer P. Quintilius Varus the praetor and M. Cornelius the proconsul fought a regular engagement with Mago. The praetor's legions formed the fighting line; Cornelius kept his in reserve, but rode to the front and took command of one wing, the praetor leading the other, and both of them exhorted the soldiers to make a furious charge on the enemy. When they failed to make any impression upon them, Quintilius said to Cornelius, "As you see, the battle is progressing too slowly; the enemy finding themselves offering an unhoped-for resistance have steeled themselves against fear, there is danger of this fear passing into audacity. We must let loose a hurricane of cavalry against them if we want to shake them and make them give ground. Either, then, you must keep up the fighting at the front and I will bring the cavalry into action, or I will remain here and direct the operations of the first line while you launch the cavalry of the four legions against the enemy." The proconsul left it to the praetor to decide what he would do. Quintilius, accordingly, accompanied by his son Marcus, an enterprising and energetic youth, rode off to the cavalry, ordered them to mount and sent them at once against the enemy. The effect of their charge was heightened by the battle-shout of the legions, and the hostile lines would not have stood their ground, had not Mago, at the first movement of the cavalry, promptly brought his elephants into action. The appearance of these animals, their trumpeting and smell so terrified the horses as to render the assistance of the cavalry futile. When engaged at close quarters and able to use sword and lance the Roman cavalryman was the better fighter, but when carried away by a frightened horse, he was a better target for the Numidian darts. As for the infantry, the twelfth legion had lost a large proportion of their men and were holding their ground more to avoid the disgrace of retreat than from any hope of offering effectual resistance. Nor would they have held it any longer if the thirteenth legion which was in reserve had not been brought up and taken part in the doubtful conflict. To oppose this fresh legion Mago brought up his reserves also. These were Gauls, and the hastati of the eleventh legion had not much trouble in putting them to rout. They then closed up and attacked the elephants who were creating confusion in the Roman infantry ranks. Showering their darts upon them as they crowded together, and hardly ever failing to hit, they drove them all back upon the Carthaginian lines, after four had fallen, severely wounded.

At last the enemy began to give ground, and the whole of the Roman infantry, when they saw the elephants turning against their own side, rushed forward to increase the confusion and panic. As long as Mago kept his station in front, his men retreated slowly and in good order, but when they saw him fall, seriously wounded and carried almost fainting from the field, there was a general flight. The losses of the enemy amounted to 5000 men, and 22 standards were taken. The victory was a far from bloodless one for the Romans, they lost 2300 men in the praetor's army, mostly from the twelfth legion, and amongst them two military tribunes, M. Cosconius and M. Maevius. The thirteenth legion, the last to take part in the action, also had its losses; C. Helvius, a military tribune, fell whilst restoring the battle, and twenty-two members of the cavalry corps, belonging to distinguished families, together with some of the centurions were trampled to death by the elephants. The battle would have lasted longer had not Mago's wound given the Romans the victory.


Returning now to Jim's take on this, the reference point is a Roman army under P. Quintilius Varus and M. Cornelius Cethegus consisting of 4 legions plus allies. At a Lost Battles troop multiple of 4, this force could come out like this:

24,000 heavy infantry - 12 units of average legionaries.

c.10,000 velities - 2 levy and 1 average light infantry units.

c.5,000 cavalry - 5 average heavy cavalry units.

Quintilius Varus (uninspired commander; perhaps even uninspired leader) with the cavalry and Cornelius Cethegus (average leader) for a total fighting value of 79.

Mago's force could look something like this (again, these are Jim's numbers and my guestimates are just to fit them into the LB scheme):

12,000 veterans from Spain - perhaps 4 units of average heavy infantry and 4 units of veteran heavy infantry.

4,000 Africans - 2 units of average heavy infantry or 1 heavy and 1 light.

7 elephants and 2,000 light infantry - 1 African elephant unit with accompanying skirmishers.

8,000 Ligurians & 4,000 Gauls - mixing these contingents together we could say 2 average heavy infantry, 1 levy heavy infantry and one levy light infantry.

1,000 Spanish cavalry - 1 average heavy cavalry unit.

1,600 Numidian cavalry and c.400 Gallic cavalry - 2 average light cavalry units.

With Mago as an average commander (though I would perhaps think about making him an inspired commander to account for the positive morale influence Livy attributes to him in this battle) this would give a fighting value of 62 (or 68 if Mago is an IC).

So far so good. This OOB can be tweaked easily enough, but is hopefully a reasonable start given what is known of the forces involved and the way Livy reports the salient features of the battle. It would be possible to use a troop multiple of five and allow both sides more veteran units, but I'm not sure that the account warrants that (though playtesting might).
The terrain is, as Jim intimates, one of the the most difficult elements of the battle to attempt a reconstruction of, as there is not very much to go on. He suggests that Mago picked a site with restricted frontage so as to negate the Roman advantage in numbers, and posits terrain on the flanks to effect this. Regarding the reserve lines, no special considerations need to be made here, as Lost Battles already effectively accounts for reserves through the zone attack limits and the gradual attrition caused by units becoming spent and rotating out of the lead position.

As two legions with ala deployed side by side might take up around 1500-1600 metres frontage, we could probably go with 600m zones, giving us a battlefield 3kms across, an attack limit of three, and ample space for the other two legions to wait for their turn on the front line. To further restrict things as per Jim's vision we could add an impassable hill on one flank and perhaps another (normal) hill in the Roman wing zone of the opposing flank to interfere with the Roman cavalry deployment and give Mago time to bring the elephants in to support the cavalry on that flank if he so desired.

Alternatively, we could make the zones 500 across, do away with the impassable hill altogether, and consider the attack limit of three to be an adequate enough representation of a constricted battlefield as it is.

There does not seem any call for weather, fatigue, or surprise to have any special impact on the battle. Key zones should probably be in the centre as usual, though if the impassable hill battlefield is used the key zones could be shifted one zone farther away from that. Mago should certainly have the first move, and if he were classed as an inspired commander would have enough commands available to set up a strong defensive position with either battlefield configuration. Even as an average commander he would be able to do a fair bit with a deployment turn of 12 commands.

Well, there we go for a start. Thanks very much to Jim for an interesting article on such an overlooked battle.
This has also been posted on the yahoo group, though in an insufficiently proof-read form, I regret to say!

1 comment:

  1. An interesting article. Are we going to see a refight at some stage?


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