Legio Wargames

The Battle of Heraclea 280 BC

Historical Background


Fearing Roman expansion, the Greeks of Taras in southern Italy appealed to Pyrrhus, King of Epirus for help. By 280 BC Pyrrhus was the most powerful ruler in the western Greek world, having taken control of Macedon just a few years before. He was highly ambitious and benefited from the support of his father-in-law Ptolemy of Egypt.


On learning of Pyrrhus's arrival in Italy the Romans send an army of 4 legions under the consul Valerius Laevinus to stop him while other Roman armies took to the field against the Italian tribes to stop them joining Pyrrhus.


The two armies met at the River Siris near the town of Heraclea in Lucania. In numbers they were evenly matched. Pyrrhus had 3,000 cavalry, 2000 archers, 500 slingers, 20,000 Epirote and Macedonian pikemen 20 elephants and a number of hastily trained Tarrantine allies.  The Romans with 4 legions and allies would have been fairly well matched in inantry numbers with a few more cavalry but no archers. It was the first time the Romans had faced either pikemen or elephants.

Pyrrhus, King of Eprios, was arguably the most capable of the kings and generals who succeeded Alexander the Great.

The Actual Battle


The Romans attacked across the River Siris which was held by only a small number of Greek light infantry. They withdrew, slowing the Roman advance while Pyrrhus deployed from his fortified camp. The Greeks charged the Romans with their cavalry and then deployed the phalanx to engage the Roman legionaries. The infantry lines seesawed back and forth with neither side able to make any headway until Pyrrhus unleashed his elephants which he had been holding in reserve. They succeeded in routing the Roman cavalry and spreading terror amongst the legionaries. A charge by Pyrrhus' Thessalian cavalry  completed the Romans' defeat.

The Game Scenario


The scenario that follows is designed for Civitates Bellantes rules but I hope I have given enough generic detail that they can be used with any rule set. It is a deployment game as well as a formal battle. Both sides initially begin with their forces only partially deployed. They must first fight for position and then defeat the enemy in battle. For this reason players will need more depth on the playing table than for a game where both sides begin fully deployed.


The game can be played with 6mm figures lengthwise on a 4 x 6 foot table. For larger scale figures greater width will be needed - probably at least 6 feet for 15mm figures on bases 40mm wide and 8 feet wide for 28mm figures. In larger scales it would be better to have Pyrrhus' camp off table

The Battlefield

The river Siris is fordable all along its length but counts as a major obstacle. There is however one ford which can be crossed without penalty. These can accommodate units up to two stands wide. The only other feature is Pyrrhus' camp which is fortified. There is no other terrain of any significance on the table, though scattered copses, farms etc may be added for visual effect and removed or re-positioned when they get in the way. If using the smaller scale then players could add a second ford.



The Roman player may deploy one commander and as much of his cavalry and light infantry as he wishes on table in his deployment area behind the River Siris. Remaining troops will be off table and may enter from the first turn in one or two columns with units one behind the other.


The Greek player may deploy one commander and as much of his light infantry as he wishes anywhere on the table to the right of the river. His remaining troops start the game in the camp (which may be off table)


The Romans move first on the first turn. The Greek commander on table may send a messenger back to Pyrrhus to warn him once the Romans start moving. Once the messenger reaches the camp the Greeks may start to deploy their remaining troops, leaving the camp in column of commands.

Suggested Scale for 28mm figures:

1 Heavy Infantry or javelinmen stand = 800-1000 men

1 Cavalry or other light infantry stand = 4-500 men


Alternative for smaller scale figures or if more figures available:

1 Heavy Infantry or javelinmen stand = 4-500 men

1 Cavalry or other light infantry stand = 2-250 men

Pyrrhus Orders of Battle Deployment Map heraclea 3m