Legio Wargames

The Battle of Châlons, June AD451

Background

In late June AD 451 a formidable invasion of Huns and Germans led by Attila was defeated by an alliance of Romans, Goths and other Germans under Aëtius in a battle that took place on the plains of Champagne in France. The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (also known as Campus Mauriacus, or more commonly the Battle of Châlons) arguably changed the course of European history.  

 

For such an important battle, very little is know about it for certain. There is not much hard archaeological evidence and contemporary literary evidence is patchy. Any reconstruction, is a difficult task at at times must fall back on conjecture.

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The Armies

The army Attila led through Germany and into France was very large for the time. Some claim it was half a million men strong. Such numbers are impossible. It took a great deal of logistical effort to keep even tens of thousands of men and horses fed and supplied on campaign and for that reason it was rare for armies of this period to exceed 20,000. The actual manpower that could be raised by some of the 5th century barbarian tribes was nowhere near as many as some fearful Roman chroniclers recounted. The only reasonably reliable number we have is that the Vandals crossed into Africa in AD 429 with 80,000 people. This would give at best 10-15,000 fit and able fighting men. The Huns probably could raise more than that but the problems of logistics remained and it was also unlikely that Attila would have taken every fighting man with him while relations with the Eastern Empire were still quite hostile.

 

Large numbers of Germanic subject and allied contingents marched with the Huns. These included Ostrogoths, Gepids, Franks, Burgundians living east of the Rhine, Scirians, Thuringians and Rugians. The Gepids, under Ardaric, commanded the right wing at Châlons and the Ostrogoths under the brothers Valamir, Theodimir and Vidimir commanded the left wing. Probably the army numbered somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 men.

 

When Attila crossed the Rhine in 451, the Roman commander Aëtius moved from Italy to France taking with him only a small force of maybe a couple of thousand Auxilia and a few cavalry. He linked up with his former enemies, the Visigoths, who were led by their King Theodoric and his son Thorismund.  Other forces that joined Aëtius included  a contingent of Franks opposed to those supporting Attila, Burgundians settled in France, Armoricans, Alans and presumably some remnants of the Roman army in Gaul. The Alans, led by Sangiban, were unreliable allies as they had earlier promised to join Attila.

 

Possibly the allied force outnumbered the Huns slightly as Attila, who had shown himself perfectly happy to take aggressive action on the past, acted very defensively as soon as the combined Roman-Visigoth army came close.

The Roman General Aëtius and his Comitatus. 15mm Isarus figures (general and standard bearer) with converted Black Hat Huns for the troopers. Prior to Châlons Aëtius had relied on the Huns for support and it is possible that some would have remained with him through personal loyalty.

The Battle

Aëtius deployed with the Visigoths holding the right wing, Sangiban's unreliable Alans in the centre  while he commanded the 'Roman' forces on the left wing. Attila placed his Huns in the centre with the Gepids on the right, facing the Romans and the Ostrogoths on the left facing the Visigoths. We do not know where the other German contingents deployed. It is possible that they were split between the two wings.

 

The battle field was an open plain with a significant ridge off the Hun left flank. Aëtius opened the battle by sending a force of Visigoths under Thorismund, King Theodoric's son, to seize the ridge The struggle for the hill was preliminary to the main conflict and it may have been this action that forced Attila to accept battle.  The details of what happened are sketchy. The Huns drove back the Alans in the centre and then swung around to join the Ostrogoths in an assault on the main Visigoth position.  On the other wing the Gepids and other Germans made no headway against the Romans.

 

The main Visigoth line was shaken by the rout of the Alans but apparently held firm although King Theodoric was killed while riding along the line to encourage his army. This could have resulted in disaster but the situation was saved by Thorismund's men who had earlier succeeded in taking the hill charging down it into the Hun/Ostrogoth flank.

 

As darkness fell the Huns withdrew to their wagon laager. The following day Aetius did not order an assault on the Hun laager and Attila was able to withdraw unmolested.

Ostrogoth cavalry fighting on Attila's side. A mix of 15mm Isarus and Magister Militum figures

goth cav wedge mid res

Wargaming Châlons

For anyone who likes variety this makes a great game. As Edward Gibbon said 'all the nations from the Volga to the Atlantic' were present. You can have Hun and Alan horse archers, Germanic warriors on foot and horse, a mix of Roman types and even 'Arthurian' Britons in the form of the Armoricans. It would make a good project for a club or group of friends where each person could build up a contingent rather than a full army.

 

It is also very well suited to a multi-player game with a degree of role play and personal objectives for the main commanders: Attila (Huns), Valamir (Ostrogoths), Adaric (Gepids), Aetius (Romans), Theodoric (Visigoths) and Sangiban (Alans). Other players could take on the roles of Thorismund and other subordinate commanders.

 

As a big battle with lots of cavalry the game is best played on a fairly large surface. At a pinch you could manage a 15mm game on a 6x4 foot table but it could be a bit cramped and a larger table would be better. In larger scales you probably need 8x5.

 

The battlefield was an open plain with a significant large hill or ridge on the Hun left flank. No other significant terrain features are needed.

 

Full Orders of Battle and Scenario are on the following pages.

Orders of Battle Game Scenario