Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pyrrhic campaign: Asculum, 279BC

This is the second part of the Pyrrhic campaign that Luke and I fought out today.  Pyrrhus had died at Heraclea (see here  for the report), but we sailed blithely on, conveniently ignoring the fact that his army would've broken up and gone home...

Greeks, with a fighting value of 74:

5 units of average and 2 units of levy phalangites (18,000 men)
7 units of average and 1 unit of levy heavy infantry (18,000 men)
1 unit of elephants, and one of light infantry (20 elephants and 3000 men)
2 units of average light cavalry (2000 horse)
1 unit of veteran and 3 units of average heavy cavalry (3500 horse)
Average leader, a precocious Alexander perhaps?

Romans, with a fighting value of 80:

13 units of average legionaries (26,000 men)
2 units of levy light infantry (8000 men)
5 units of average heavy cavalry (5000 horse)
Average commander (Publius Decius Mus), uninspired leader (Sulpicius)

The Greeks deploy their main cavalry force on the right and have strong infantry centres.  Rome looks to win the cavalry fight on their own right and hold on the left.  The Romans err in not activating the cavalry of the left separately and securing their left wing. 

Elephants and light infantry in advance of the Greek centre left.

Equites deploy with the infantry of the left centre.

(Very!) Young Alexander of Epirus out for revenge.

The lines engage.  The Roman left is weaker than the opponents they face, so a speedy win on their own right is required.

Alexander double moves his men forward to trap the equites behind the Roman infantry line and reduce their room to manoeuvre.

The Greek right exerts tremendous pressure.

The Roman right shatters the enemy cavalry, but at a cost of some disorder to their own ranks.

Both sides' lefts are beset by superior forces, but the Greek attacks have more sting.

The legionaries begin to succumb to the spears of the enemy...

The last line on the left.

Charge and...

The Roman left breaks!  They rout, but the centre holds firm.

The Roman right tries to emulate that of the enemy, but without the same degree of success.

It's now the turn of Decius and the Roman centre to take the brunt of the Greek attack as the phalangites look to roll up the line.

Sulpicius breaks the Greek left in turn!  Again, the Greek centre refuses to panic.

The Roman centre with enemies on three sides.

The elephants show no mercy.

The Roman right turns its attention to the Greek centre in a classic 'revolving door' clash.  Both centres finally give way, but without the respective right flanks hold.

The victorious rights cross as darkness falls.

Sulpicius tries one last attack, but without success.   The remnants of both armies return to camp, having fought each other to a standstill.


Well, after ten turns of carnage both sides still had forces on the field, so a draw was declared.  The victory points told a different story however - a narrow victory to the Epirote prince, 102 to 90.  A fine battle, and a thoroughly deserved victory to Luke and his Greeks.  Sadly, due to my work commitments in the morning, we did not have enough time to fit in the third of our trinity, Beneventum.  We may save that for another time.

All in all, it was a fantastic day's gaming.  Lots of laughs and plenty of moments of high tension as fortunes ebbed and flowed.  Many thanks to Luke for making the trip down, and will look forward to doing it again as soon as possible.


  1. Well, this was a good "game" in the sense of going right down to the wire, and being full of tension, but as a simulation it seemed much poorer - it's hard to think of too many real battles where each side was still fighting at the end of the day - but each with only 1/4 of their forces.

    Lost Battles doesn't do enough to encourage forces to withdraw "for another day" - after an appropriate period of time contesting the field - say the 6th turn.

  2. PS - interesting perspective down that pike on my elephant!

  3. Hmmm, perhaps; but I think we approached it as more of a Successor battle than your standard Roman up-the-middle-and- at-'em fight. We both refused our lefts and won on our rights, so it was more like a Paraitacene, Gabiene or - dare I say it - first day at Asculum (if that did in fact happen)!

    I agree though that it's not very satisfying to have contingents that hang around like that, but I do think there are historical precedents. It has happened to us a number of times though, so it could have something to do with our bloodymindedness!

  4. Some very interesting photos here. It is interesting to see the battle develop with both right wings taking the offensive. The attack of the Greek phalanx on the Roman centre looks most impressive.

  5. One question, what are you using the shields to mark? Spent status?

  6. Yes.

    Casualty figures (as in dead soldiers) aren't easy to come by in Ancients, and I dislike tiddly winks and the like. Aaron's green round discs of wood are fairly unobtrusive, however, and I don't mine them.

  7. Thanks for the kind words, Keith. Regarding the shields, Luke's given me a few ideas for other ways to mark status on table, so when time permits I'll try to get those underway.


  8. Looks like a good refight and I think you got the numbers about right for this one (glad you didn't follow the example of Jeff Jonas who gives impossibly high cavalry proportions for this period).

    One issue that has always bothered me in recreating an accurate representation of the Pyrrhic army for this battle, based upon the deployment as described by Dionysius, is how to interpret the correct troop type for the Aetolian, Acarnanian and Athamanian mercenaries in the Greek line. It seemed at first to assume these might be armed like skirmishers since the mountainous terrain of that part of Greece would best suit the evolution of that type of very mobile light armed troop type but Dionysius clearly seems to refer to them as line infantry rather than the light infantry that he says were on the wings supporting the elephants which is where one would probably expect to find light skirmishing types. This then made me think that they must have been armed like mercenary Peltasts, which would explain why they were placed next to the Samnite infantry who would have been armed in a similar fashion and why they were used in conjunction with Samnites to 'flush out' those Roman troops who fled to a wooded position on high ground in his description of the first day's fighting. However, after further consideration, I began to think that they must have been armed in an even heavier style to Peltasts to have been deployed in the main battle line where they would have been expected to fight in melee style with the Romans and this made me think they could even have been armed as light hoplites. Eventually I decided that they must have retained some javelin capability and determined that the only troop type that fitted both kinds of combat would have been Thureophoroi, trading the Pelta type shield for the Thureos which would have offered much more protection in hand to hand combat. The only problem with this is that it seems a little early for this troop type to appear in Greek armies but it may be that Pyrrhus introduced this innovation after seeing the effective protection that the similar scutum offered to the Romans and his Samnite allies and decided to arm his Peltasts in a similar way.

    Steve C.

    1. Interesting thoughts, Steve. Thanks for posting!


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