Legio Wargames

The Battle of Adrianople, 9 August AD 378

The Battle of Adrianople is relatively well known. The Romans thought they were dealing with only 10,000 Goths defending a wagon laager. With this faulty intelligence, Valens, the Eastern Emperor, decided to attack with his army of about 15,000 men rather than wait for reinforcements on their way from the West.

Fritigern, who had been leading the Goths in a guerilla campaign against the Romans for the past 2 years, had about 10,000 Goths of the Tervingi clan defending the camp. However other contingents: the Gothic Greuthungi under Alatheus as well as Alans and possibly Huns under Saphrax, were nearby foraging along the Tundzha River. Fritigern played for time, delaying the Romans with negotiations until the rest of the army could link up.

The vanguard of the Roman army, consisting of a guards unit of Scutarii and some light horse archers, impetuously engaged the Gothic line while the main body of Romans were still deploying. They were driven back and at that moment the Greuthungi and Alans arrived from the north-west. Fritigern's Tervingi launched a charge downhill against the Roman infantry who were suffering from heat and thirst while the Greuthungi and Alans drove off the Roman left wing cavalry and then charged into the flank of the Roman infantry. The Romans broke. those that could escaped, only the Lanciarii and Matiarii Legions standing firm. All others died, including the Emperor.

 

For a fuller description of the battle, including my conclusions about numbers and units involved, see my Osprey book Adrianople.

Roman Army approximately 15,000 men consisting of:

1500 Scholae (one unit of which may have been horse archers - possibly armoured)

1000 Equites Palatinae (probably including 1 unit of light horse archers)

1500 Equites Comitatenses (both light and heavy cavalry and possibly up to 2 units of cataphracts)

5000 Legiones Palatinae (heavy infantry)

6000 Auxilia Palatinae (heavy infantry and light foot archers)

 

Of these some specific units are named. These are:

Schola Scutarii (there were several such units, one of which was horse archers, quite likely heavy)

Equites Promoti Palatina

Comites Sagittarii Palatina

Lanciarii Legio Palatina

Matiarii Legio Palatina

Batavi Auxilia Palatina

Gothic Army just over 15,000 men, 10,000 of which were defending the wagon laager.

 

Tervingi

up to 1000 cavalry

up to 1000 Gothic deserters from the Roman Army

6000-8000 warriors on foot

1000-2000 archers

Any number of women, children and infirm but probably at least 10,000 inside the camp but not in the battle line.

 

Greuthungi, Huns and Alans

3000-4000 Greuthungi Warriors

up to 500 Alan Heavy Cavalry

1000-2000 Alan Light Cavalry

maybe up to 500 Huns

up to 1000 Greuthungi  Archers

The Armies

Scaling the army for a wargame

 

For a manageable game with limited space or figures, I would recommend a rough scale of one 15mm or 28mm wargames figure representing about 100 real men  If you have more figures and large enough table you could take this up to 1:50. For 6mm figures this ratio could easily be increased further.

 

Using Comitatus Rules (where one 'stand' contains 6-8 heavy infantry figures in 2 ranks; light infantry 4-5 figures and cavalry 2-3 figures) I find a good ratio for this battle is 1 stand of heavy infantry representing roughly 750-800, light infantry 4-500, and cavalry 2-300 men.

Morale and Experience.

 

The morale of both armies was pretty good at the outset. The Romans were initially confident of victory as they thought they outnumbered their opponents and they were the elite of the Eastern army. However, by the time battle was joined they had marched 8 miles over rough hilly ground under a blistering sun with no food or water. To top it off the Goths had started grass fires to make their situation even more uncomfortable. The horses especially would have been suffering and this possibly accounts for the generally poor performance of the Roman cavalry. For this reason I choose to downgrade the morale levels of the Romans from what might otherwise be expected, except for the Lanciarii and Matiarii Legions which held firm right to the end.

 

The Goths had fought a hard campaign over the past two years and although it had been very hard going, they had bested the Roman regional forces in most engagements and were well equipped with captured weapons and armour. They were also well fed and watered. Therefore their morale levels should be generally higher than the Romans.

The Battlefield.

 

The Romans advanced north along a long rough ridge line which climbed slowly towards the site of the Gothic wagon laager. The wagon laager itself would have been a baricade of wagons and other things blocking off approaches to the camp which were also protected by woods and scrub. The ridge fell off sharply to the west and and east. The valley of the Tundzha river lay to the west and this is where the force of Greuthungi, Alans and Huns had been foraging, hidden from Roman sight.

 

To represent the essential terrain on the wargames table it is best to assume that the table ends represent the points where the ridge drops off sharply to the east and west. The Gothic wagon laager should be situated on a low hill to represent the fact that they were on slightly higher ground than the Romans. This higher ground should be interspersed with scrub and patches of woods which protect the flanks of the Gothic infantry. No other terrain features are really necessary to represent other than perhaps a few vineyards or olive groves for decoration along with patches of scrubby ground.

 

One account of the battle says that Valens took refuge in a fortified farm at the end so this could be represented at the rear of the Romans - more for visual impact that a terrain feature that would in any way effect the game.

Goth wagons mid res 1 Game Scenario The Wagon Laager Battle Report