Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Magnesia: the battle

Following on from the previous post which detailed pre-battle information of interest, we can now move to describe the actual battle as it unfolded on the table top.

The Romans moved first and scored high with their command roll.  This saw them advance the cavalry and attack in two zones on their right, attack in position with velites on their left, advance the legions to contact in the centre (with no attack) and bring up reinforcements in the left and right centres.  Movements are illustrated with black arrows in the picture below.

Eumenes' initial attack (seen in the shot below) was a great success.  The Italian cavalry automatically put the scythed chariots to flight and Eumenes's guard troops subsequently hit the levy light infantry hard, forcing Seleucus (not present on table, but commanding the flank in the real battle) to hurriedly bring his levy cataphracts up into the lead position.

To the right of Eumenes the veteran Roman cavalry charged home against their Galatian levy opposites, but the Galatians stood the initial attack with minimal disruption.

On the Roman left the velites' skirmishing was ineffective but they successfully covered the advance of the legion and ala of the Roman left centre.  In the central zone, and encouraged by the success of Eumenes' assault, Scipio advanced his legionaries at the double to prevent the Seleucid centre from advancing and to pin it in place in expectation of a forthcoming flank attack.

On the right the peltasts and Cretan light infantry moved up to reinforce the cavalry who had made the first assault.

The Seleucids responded by rolling low for command, meaning that there could be no complicated manoeuvring.  Starting from the left, the levy Galatian cavalry launched an all-out attack on the veterans opposite them, leaving both units only one hit shy of shattering.  The levy cataphracts also managed a successful attack on Eumenes' zone, driving off the Italian cavalry, disrupting the peltasts in the process, and causing the Cretan infantry to be brought into the lead position.  The shot below shows the situation on the Seleucid left after the attacks; out of view is the unit of Roman veterans, who are just in front of the Galatians in the foreground.

The attack in the central zone was similarly successful, with the levy light infantry sending the velites running for safety and the massed pike of the phalanx units disrupting some of the hastati.

Fortunately for Rome, on the right the velites successfully evaded the attentions of the light infantry and Antiochus' guard cavalry.  Nonetheless, these half-hearted sallies allowed the right wing of the phalanx to be brought up into line without interference from the enemy.

On the third Roman turn the command roll was low, but with two generals there were still ample commands for the fighting that lay ahead.  The veteran cavalry on the far right launched a determined attack on the Galatian levies and this time broke them, sending a shiver through the Seleucid left and allowing the Romans to advance onto the flank of Seleucus' zone.  Despite this setback, the remaining troops on the left withstood any urge to flee. 

Elsewhere, the Roman attacks were largely ineffective against the main infantry lines, managing only to disperse the levy light infantry and send them scurrying back behind the phalanx. 

The Seleucid turn saw a better command roll, allowing the light cavalry to be brought into play against the Roman left.

A desperate attack was launched by the cataphracts and the guard cavalry against Eumenes, which succeeded in inflicting four hits.  The peltasts shattered and carried off the Italian cavalry in rout.  The situation for Eumenes - so promising just a moment ago - was now rapidly deteriorating.  

The shot below shows the aftermath of the attack by the cataphracts and the guard cavalry.  In the foreground can be seen the Roman veteran cavalry, on whose elan Eumenes' wing now greatly relies.

The elephants next commenced their attack in the centre with support from paired phalanx units, and the Romans could find no answer defensively to this combination of arms and types.  The remainder of the hastati and the lead elements of the principes now began to buckle under the strain.

On the right Antiochus himself pressed the attack, driving off the velites while the phalanx got its blood up and the light cavalry positioned itself on the flank of the Roman left.

The Roman fourth turn presented Scipio with some unenviable choices: his centre was under increasing pressure from the phalanx and the elephants while Eumenes' zone was held together only by the force of his personality.  On the plus side for Scipio, the veteran cavalry was in position to strike at the exposed flank of the Seleucid left and his own left was still in good shape; it having seen off a number of attacks and inflicted some hurt on the enemy while still keeping the legionaries fresh and ready for battle.

Scipio appears to have been a glass-half-full man, for he did not withdraw in the centre, and nor did he bring up reinforcements from his camp.  He staked the battle on a calculated assault from the right on the fragile levies of Seleucus' zone, trusting to fortune and the skill of the Roman and Eumenes' veteran cavalry to break the wing speedily.

The Roman response was indeed swift and deadly: Antiochus paid for his rashness in taking the lead by having his guard cavalry hit, necessitating their withdrawal behind the phalanx.  The elephants were at last hit in the centre and some fell back upon their own men, causing disruption in the phalanx.  On the far right, the Roman cavalry did all that was asked of them, as did Eumenes' Pergamenes, with both the cataphracts and the heavy infantry support being severely struck.  The guard cavalry and last fresh unit of Seleucus' zone was accordingly ordered into the lead position.

The following shot shows the situation facing the Roman centre and left during the fourth turn following the assault on Antiochus' household cavalry and immediately prior to the successful attack on the elephants.

The Seleucid turn saw every effort made to break Eumenes' command, but it availed them nothing.  The Seleucid left, down to its last fresh unit, now had the attacks of three veteran units, including two cavalry units, to endure next turn.

The centre was also less effective this time around, scoring only one hit.  The right was more successful however as the phalanx launched a frontal assault in conjunction with the horse archers' peppering of the Roman infantry from their open flank.

The shot below shows the situation as the phalanx on the Seleucid right engages the legionary infantry.

The Romans in their turn were now faced with a repeat of their earlier dilemma: should they retreat or push on with the attack?  As it had been all battle, it was left to Eumenes to set the tone.  He charged in again with his cavalry in the lead position and two combat bonuses to all but ensure success, only to baulk at the fatal moment.  The Roman cavalry on the flank seeing this also wavered and failed to push their attack through.  With the heavy cavalry so affected, the Cretans could hardly be expected to be immune from this crisis of confidence and they too failed to strike effectively.

Scipio in the centre was disheartened by the failure of his right to seize its chance, but his troops were oblivious as they worked away making further inroads into the phalanx opposing them.  They scored two hits, but two more would still be needed before any units of the Seleucid centre would be in danger of shattering.

Like the right, the Roman left struggled to get to grips with the enemy.  They were beginning to feel the pressure from the horse archers on their flank, and with one eye to their left they felt unable to press home frontal attacks with the urgency that the situation demanded.

So again the onus was on the Seleucids to tip the balance in their favour by forcing the issue on their left.  The shot below shows the guard cavalry preparing to charge at Eumenes.

The guard cavalry charged true, landing a ferocious double blow.  Eumenes tried to recover the situation by rallying his men but it was too late and he fell in the attempt.  This triple blow was felt all across the field as the Roman right collapsed.  As the next picture reveals, it was judged to be time to send the elephants to the lead and to press the issue in the centre.

The elephants scored a hit, as did the massed phalangites.  Under this much strain the Roman centre crumbled, losing men both shattered and routed until only Scipio and two of his veteran units remained.

It was a similar story on the left, which had lost two units to rout before coming under attack itself.  Under pressure from the phalanx and flanking archers it too was hit, and then even the veterans fled the field.

Scipio lasted one more turn in which time the veteran cavalry still in position on the flank managed to shatter the levy cataphracts, but it was all too late, and the centre broke as the Seleucid centre surged forward in victory.


So, there we have it - a dramatic reversal of the historical battle!  Stay tuned for the final results and a review of the game which will follow soon in another post.


  1. Excellent report just one question your phalangites seem to have 6 bases per unit. I thought the usual was 4 for average units

    1. Hi Chris, if I remember correctly, for this battle I had veterans at 4 bases (2 for cav), average units at 6 bases (4 for cav) and levy units at 12 bases (6 for cav).

      Hope that helps, and thanks for dropping by!


    2. That makes sense now thanks just getting into lost battles very spectacular


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