Legio Wargames

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By smacdowall, Apr 16 2021 08:34PM

Having completed the renovation and rejuvenation of my Alamanni it is time to test them on the field of battle using my Comitatus rules (see rules section of my website)

I set up a relatively simple game set in the time of Caesar Julian’s campaign against the Franks in AD 356. This meant my Alamanni masquerading as Franks but to the Romans all barbarians looked the same! In truth there were probably few differences in appearance between the Franks and Alamanni and whatever differences there were are now lost in the mists of time.

The partially fictitious scenario imagines Julian marching to relieve the Frankish siege of Cologne but he is too late. The Franks have sacked the city and, under the leadership of Mallobad, are advancing further into Roman territory where they meet Julian’s army. It is a meeting engagement with two relatively equal strength forces battling it out on an open field with a few hills and woods.

The Romans have a slight cavalry advantage, deploying them all on their right flank — a mix of cataphracts, horse archers and conventional cavalry.

Facing them is Mallobad with his Comiataus and Frankish mounted nobles supported by a warband of Burgundians on foot.

The Frankish infantry are massed in the centre.

While their right is occupied by more cavalry supported by light infantry.

Facing them, the Roman left is strongly held by two legions also supported by light infantry.

Julian holds the centre with a mix of Auxilia Palatina and Limitanei deployed on a ridge.

They may not be the best fighters on the table...

...but this unit of Limitanei (Wargames Foundry Romano-British) is one of my favourite units in my late Roman collection. I love the war-weary look of the men resting on their shields.

The battle opened with a furious cavalry engagement on the Roman right. With high morale, shock tactics, and led by Mallobad in person, the initial impact of the Frankish cavalry charge could have been devastating. But the Romans fought them to a stand-still. With the impetus of their charge blunted the Franks were now at a disadvantage. Then disaster struck! Mallobad was killed in the ensuing hand to hand combat and Frankish morale collapsed. Their entire right wing disintegrated, apart from the survivors of Mallobad’s Comitatus who surged forward to chase the Roman cataphracts off-table as they sought to avenge their leader.

Bad luck plagued the Franks on their right wing also. For several turns the cavalry refused to advance, allowing the legions to close in on them. When their leader finally got them moving they had suffered casualties from Roman missiles and when they closed the legions held and they were forced to retire.

It would appear (in the above photo) than the man on foot is trying to convince his leader of the inadvisability of launching a frontal cavalry charge against formed Roman infantry!

The Romans were in a strong defensive position occupying a ridge in the centre but this was where the greatest Frankish strength lay and if they had any hope of winning the day they had to surge forward to engage.

Unfortunately for the Franks their advance began to waver from a combination of missile casualties and disorder from their rapid move. Meanwhile the victorious Roman cavalry were closing in on their flank and rear.

Julian himself then decides to take the initiative and leads the elite Cornuti and Celtae in a charge down the hill into the midst of the Franks.

The charge was successful, driving back one of the Frankish warbands as the Roman right wing cavalry were lining up to join in the fray.

By now it was clear that the Franks had no chance of winning but they still had the chance to pull back many of their troops from the centre and right to potentially fight another day. So it was game-over and Caesar Julian could now continue his advance to shore up the Rhine frontier and maybe re-take Cologne.

By smacdowall, Apr 10 2021 07:00AM

Caesar Julian had cataphracts in his army at the Battle of Strasbourg (AD 357). My view is that the equipment and tactics of such men were inspired by the Sarmatians and so I have attempted to give this unit of heavily armoured lancers a sort of Romano-Sarmatian look. The miniatures are all Wargames Foundry 28 mil.

The Notitia Dignitatum (early 5th C) lists all catafractarii being stationed in the East. They are relatively low ranking comitatenses and have Gallic unit designations indicating western origins (Biturigenses, Ambianenses, etc). Many Sarmatian prisoners of war were settled in Gaul as Laeti and I believe these were the inspiration for the catafractarii units in the Roman army, probably taken to the East for Julian’s invasion of Persia and remaining there.

The higher ranking clibanarii tend to have eastern names (Parthi, Persae, etc.) probably indicating that they were modelled on Persian heavily armoured cavalry. I believe they were formed later than the catafractarii units and were more completely armoured.

My lance-armed catafractarii for Julian’s army of 357 are more heavily armoured than your average Roman cavalryman but I have only given a couple of men armoured horses..

My rationale is that Ammianus Marcellinus goes into great detail describing his amazement at the fully armoured horses and men of the clibanarii at a later parade in Rome but does not do the same when he mentions the catafractarii at Strasbourg. As a relatively low ranked unit I am inclined to think that they would not have been given the top levels of equipment. Their poor performance at the Battle of Strasbourg tends to back this up but there is no way of being certain.

By smacdowall, Apr 7 2021 04:17PM

Fresh off my painting table are some Alamanni nobles circa AD 350. Ammianus Marcellinus describes the Alamanni cavalry riding into battle “interspersed with light armed foot”. This is what I have attempted to recreate here.

The Alamanni incorporated some of the Suebi, famous for their topknot hair style. Therefore I feel comfortable using some figures with topknots (marketed as Franks). Whether some Alamanni also shaved the back of their heads as some Franks are recorded as doing is not known.

The miniatures are a mix of Foundry, Gripping Beast plastics, and First Corps with a few head swaps. The standard is a First Corps Celtic horse standard with a twist of foil cut from a wine bottle top to represent red streamers. I have deliberately given them a mix of Roman and native equipment.

In order to give the unit a coherent look I have used a limited colour palate with various shades of red and natural wool or linen. The shields all have a predominantly black background.

I am looking forward to seeing how they perform on the games table before too long.

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