Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pyrrhic campaign: Heraclea, 280BC

Here are some shots from the Pyrrhic campaign Luke and I played today.  The plan was to play Heraclea, dice for force changes based upon the battle, then play Asculum, dice again, and finish with Beneventum.

Reported here is Heraclea (280 BC), which sees four legions and allies under Laevinus challenge Pyrrhus and his men.

The Roman army, with a fighting value of 74, is comprised of:

13 units of average legionaries (26,000 men)
2 units of levy light infantry (8000 men)
5 units of average heavy cavalry (5000 horse)
Uninspired commander, Publius Valerius Laevinus.

Pyrrhus' army has an FV of 81, and is comprised of:

1 unit of veteran, 9 units of average, and 1 unit of levy phalangites (23,000 men)
1 unit of average heavy infantry (2000 men)
1 unit of average light infantry (2000 men)
2 units of elephants (20 elephants and 2000 men)
4 units of veteran and 1 unit of average heavy cavalry (3000 horse)
1 unit of average light cavalry (1000 horse)
Inspired leader, Pyrrhus of Epirus.

Both armies are surprised, meaning that they can only deploy four units per turn, and Rome moves first.

The Roman advance guard and their Greek counterparts in the middle distance.

Elephants and cavalry find themselves facing legions.  Where's that phalanx!

Pyrrhus himself.

Ah, here they come...

The legions advance in a solid mass.

The lines solidify.

Engagement of the centres, but both wings are still out of contact.

Pyrrhus' novel tactic of leading off with light cavalry in the centre pays dividends: they skirmish with irritating effectiveness!

By turn 5 the Roman centre is entirely spent, with one unit shattered, as the light cavalry, elephants and phalanx combine to inflict hit after hit.

Despite the furious fight in the centre, elsewhere the engagement is still tentative.

The Roman centre withdraws to buy time and get the trairii into the line.

The Greeks advance in the centre and on the right.

The Romans attack on the right, but the battle is Pyrrhus' to lose...

Oh oh - look out!  The Epirote adventurer dies in an ill-advised rally attempt (ill-advised only because it didn't succeed!) and then Luke rolls a 1 for morale, which sees most of his army flee the field, including the hitherto victorious centre.  Perhaps Pyrrhus should have exchanged cloaks with someone?

Fortuna takes a hand, and the Romans breathe again!

The Greek right escapes to fight another day, but the phalanx of the centre left is trapped, and butchery is about to begin.

Steady boys, steady!

And from an almost certain defeat comes Roman victory, proving that the enemy scoring three ones in a row at the right time can rescue even the most dire of situations!

The end result was major victory to Rome, even though they only shattered one unit!  Pyrrhus' death undid a formidible position, and it was a very lucky break for me.

It was said that Pyrrhus did not defeat Rome, but that Pyrrhus defeated Pyrrhus...

As a result of this battle, the forces for Asculum were slightly changed - the Roman commander was promoted to average, and he was given an uninspired sidekick to lead the cavalry.   The Greeks lost Pyrrhus of course, had two of their Macedonians phalanx units replaced with levy Italians, lost an elephant unit, and had two units of veteran cavalry downgraded to average quality.

(Go here to see Asculum)


  1. A great game, although I'm very surprised the victory points were quite as skewed as they were: to lose by over 70 points, nearly double what was required for a major victory, and yet have only one unit shattered - on the 9th turn, didn't seem right.

    A major victory OK, but not a incredibly comfortable one...

  2. Nice work both of you, especially the photos.

  3. There were surprising results all round, but it was a most enjoyable day! Am looking forward to the next round :)

  4. Interesting battle report. Even in the few games of Lost Battles I've played I have learnt to be nervous of the loss of a general. This one illustrates why!

  5. One thing that I think your scenario shows to good effect and which must have been a serious issue for Pyrrhus in all three of his encounters is the risk of his line being outflanked by the Romans. If one assumes that the majority of Pyrrhus's infantry were pikes, as I think one should, then these would have been formed up in phalanx formations of some depth and this would have had the effect of shortening his line - which is probably why he stood on the defensive - possibly on the slightly higher ground to the south of the River Siris between the modern day towns of Anglona and Troili, which would make sense militarily. The only problem with this is that the battle would have taken place nearer to the ancient city of Pandosia rather than Heraclea from which it takes its name but on the whole I think it is far more logical that the Greek camp would have been on this higher ground where it overlooked the course of the River rather than on the flatter ground nearer Heraclea (modern day Policoro) and a general of the calibre of Pyrrhus would surely have seen the advantage of this. Even allowing for the regular Roman deployment in the triplex acies formation, the Roman line must have very likely extended well beyond that of the Greek line unless Laevinus formed up with his maniples directly behind each other as Scipio did at Zama, which is highly unlikely and your demonstration shows this well and I think this fact underlines the importance of Pyrrhus's strength in the cavalry arm, which contrary to Jeff Jonas's re-enactment, I think must have given Pyrrhus a numerical superiority in this arm, as he is likely to have enjoyed in all three of his battles with the Romans. Again, as previously stated in another one of your website forum threads, I disagree with your numbers for this battle on the basis that Laevinus was clearly the only Consul on the battlefield and that he therefore could have had no more than two legions. It is worth bearing in mind that even at the time of Hannibal's invasion of Italy in 218 B.C., neither Consul were given command of the normal two legions for a consular army, in spite of the dangerous gravity of the situation. For the reasons I have previously stated, I therefore reassert my previous belief that the numbers for each army should therefore be reduced to about 25,000 on each side with the Romans having a slight numerical superiority if one accepts the testimony of Justinus. That said, I always enjoy revisiting your website as I do that of Jeff Jonas, not purely for the thought provoking issues that it helps to raise but for the aesthetics of the photography. Nice work Prufrock. Steve C.

  6. I should like to edit for the above text that you read "It is worth bearing in mind that even at the time of Hannibal's invasion of Italy in 218 B.C., neither Consul were given command of MORE THAN the normal two legions for a consular army, in spite of the dangerous gravity of the situation.


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