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DBA 2.0 Army Essays

Dense-based Polybians
6mm Polybian Romans from the Author's Collection

Polybian Romans (II/33)
(275 BC - 105 BC)

The Polybian Roman army covers the wars of the Roman Republic with Carthage, Macedonia and the Seleucids as recorded by the Roman (Greek) historican Polybios, plus campaigns in North Africa, Spain and elsewhere. This is a citizen army based on an annual levy whose successes and failures varied according to the caliber of its generals. Among the best were the great Publius Cornelius Scipio (a.k.a. Scipio Africanus), T. Flaminius, Lucius Aemilius Paullus and the cagey Quintus Fabius. Those less successful include Sempronius (Trebbia), Gaius Flaminius (Lake Trasimene), and Varro (Cannae). Because the Polybian Roman army was based on a sound tactical system and strong logistical base, it ultimately prevailed despite the failures of its worst amateur generals.

The Roman military system was still comparable in most respects to the Roman army created by the Camillan reforms, although perhaps better drilled, better supported logistically, and having learned anti-elephant and anti-phalanx tactics from their battles with Pyrrhus in southern Italy. Troops were formed in maniples of two centuries (120-160 men) in strength. Three types of maniples were organized -- the young or less well armoured Hastati, the experenced and often better protected Princeps (Principes), and the mail-clad, veteran Triarii. The Hastati and Princeps were equipped with a heavy throwing javelin (pilum), as well as the Spanish-style sword (gladius), while the Triarii retained the long thrusting spear (hasta). Cohorts were formed from maniples of Hastati, Princeps and Triarii plus accompanying skirmishers (Velites or earlier Rorari). Ten cohorts (approx. 4200 men) with skirmishers and ten turmae of cavalry formed the basic Roman legion. During the Polybian period, the Roman state normally levied and supported four active legions of Roman citizens (two Consular armies of two legions each) each year for annual service, which were supplemented by an equal number of cohorts provided by ally/subject Italians. The Punic Wars saw the number of legions greatly expanded, and as disasterous defeats sapped Roman manpower, the Roman Senate even resorted to fielding legions comprised of prisoners.

Beginning in 275 AD as the threat of Pyrrhus receded, the Polybian Romans are classed as a low aggression army, apparently being happy to consolidate its conquests in southern Italy and then later forced on the defensive in 216 BC by the invasion of Italy by Hannibal. After 203 BC, the Polybian Army is reclassed with a 4 aggression, having taken the war to Carthage at Zama and then extending its reach eastward in punitive wars against the Macedonians, the Seleucids and the lesser Kingdoms of Asia Minor. During this same period, the expansionistic Polybians subjugated the Iberian, Lusitanian and Celtiberian tribes (culminating in the seige of Numantia, 133 BC), destroyed Carthage once and for all (Carthage Delenda Est) in the 3rd Punic War, and defeated the designs of Jugurtha in Numidia to ensure their hold on North Africa. The Polybian list ends in 105BC, when the panicked Senate called upon Gaius Marius to save the eternal City from the threat of Cimbri and Teutones invaders, who had crushed a Roman army in the Rhone valley.


3Cv (with Gen) At least one element of Roman (Italian) citizen cavalry. The second element can be Roman equites and/or mixed with Gallic or Spanish allies.
4Bd The Roman (and allied) Hastati and Princeps. Hastati can be depicted with helm, scutum shield, pilum, and gladius. Princeps would have a small breastplate in addition to their scutum and weapons.
4Sp The Roman (and allied) Triarii with thigh-length mail coat and greaves, in addition to helm, scutum and long spear (hasta). Alternatively, you could field your army by mixing in the elite Triarii figures with your 4Bd, and using the 4Sp options to represent the lower quality Italian (Oscan) allies.
2Ps Skirmishers, typically the youngest and/or poorest soldiers, equipped with javelins. Prior to 211 BC, the skirmishers were referred to as Rorari and were most likely distinquished by the absence of a shield. Thereafter, skirmishers were referred to as Velites, who added an oval shield made of hide-covered wicker, and a helm. Acording to Polybious, Velites also often draped a wolf or bear skin over their helmets.

To field a typical Polybian Roman army, you will need 46 miniatures comprising 6 Roman cavalry (including a General figure) 24 Roman legionaries suitable for Hastati/Princeps, 8 mail coated Triari and 4 shielded Velites or unshielded Rorari skirmishers. Polybian (Republican) Roman figures are available from a number of sources in a variety of scales:

  • 15mm: Chariot, Donnington, Essex, Falcon US, FreiKorps, Irregular, Lancashire, Minifigs, Museum (Camillans), Old Glory, Outpost, Tin Soldier, Viking Forge, and Xth Legion.
  • 25mm: Amazon, Essex, Foundry, Hinchcliffe, Irregular, Matchlock, Minifigs, Navigator, Newline Designs, Old Glory, and Warrior Miniatures.
  • 6mm: Baccus Miniatures has an amazingly detailed range of Polybians, as well as Carthaginians, Ancient Spanish and new Macedonians. Irregular also carries 6mm Polybians and enemies.
  • 1/72 or 20mm: HaTT.


The enemies of Polybian Rome are extensive and include the Illyrians (I/47), Thracians (I/48), the Italiot Greeks (Tarantine) (II/5g), Siciliots (II/5h), the Southern Italians (Bruttians, Lucanians, Campanians and Apulians)(II/8abc), Sycracusans (II/9), Gauls (II/11), Ariarathid Kappadokians (II/14), Seleucids (II/19bcd), Galatians (II/30b), HeAchaians (II/31g), Eleians (II/31i), Aitolians (II/31j), Later Carthaginians (II/32), Attalid Pergamene (II/34), Later Macedonians (II/35), Ancient Spanish (II/39abc), Numidians (II/40), Commagene (II/44), and the slave revolts (1st Servile War) on Sicily (II/45a).


In Big Battle games, the Polybian Romans may ally with the Gauls (II/11), the Aitolians (II/31j), Attalid Pergamene (II/34), Iberians (II/39a), Celtiberians (II/39b), or the Numidians (II/40).

Painting Your Polybians

The legionary tunic would most likely be made of unbleached (off-white) linen and madder-dyed (reddish brown) cloth, although other dyes are possible. The Montefortino or Etrusco-Corinthian helmet would be polished bronze. Feathers inserted in the helmet could be red, black or white. Helmet crests and horsehair plums were also common. There is no clear rule of thumb for Polybian Roman shields, which may or may not have been uniform colors (althought they were property of the state). Most gamers, however, tend to paint shields of a particular legion with uniform colors, typically white, red, yellow, light blue or even green. It is believed the Polybians decorated their shields with personal designs, typically animal totems from Roman mythology, such as wolves or boars, rather than fixed patterns (e.g. the thunderbolts of the Imperial period).

For painting references, see Osprey's Armies of the Carthaginian Wars (Men-at-Arms 121), and Cannae 216 BC (Campaign Series 36). Also very useful is Duncan Head's "Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars 259-146 BC" by Wargames Research Group.

Camps and BUAs

Although perhaps not as prolific at field engineering as Marius' Mules, the Polybian Army was still adept at fortifying camps on the march. The Polybians perfected the basic Roman march camp, which consisted of a ditch (fosse) and rampart or ager (mounded earth, turf or stone) at least eight Roman feet wide and six feet tall topped with a stake pallisade (vallum). Fortified camps became more elaborate depending on the duration of stay and/or permanency of the fortification. To represent Roman armies on the march (as at Lake Trasimene), you could field a camp comprised of two-wheeled carts drawn by onagers. BUAs could be depicted in small scale as a large, well-fortified military camp or as a walled city, possibly even Rome itself. Similarly, a section of wall with towers can comprise the BUA in larger scales.


The tactics of the historical Polybian Roman army were simple. The Velites drove off any enemy skirmishers and then annoyed and disordered the opponent's line. The Hastati would then advance and let fly their pilum. As the enemy line staggered under the missile attack, they would close to engage with sword. If the attack faltered or the fighting ground down into stalemate, the Hastati would retire to regroup, and the fresh Princeps would advance and renew the pressure. The third line Triarii with their long spears would plug holes in the line or guard the flanks against cavalry. Roman small unit drill gave the Roman maniples considerable tactical flexibility, allowing them to maneuver around the flanks of Macedonian pike phalanxes or create gaps through which Carthaginian elephants or Seleucid scythed chariots could pass with minimal damage.

These tactics do not translate especially well to DBA, since a typical three line formation of hastati, princeps and triarii would result in a battleline with a frontage of only three elements. In DBA terms, you might as well assume that each element of Blades represents both Hastati and Princeps, and make use of your Triarii (Spear) as front line troops. Another option is to assume that the Blade elements represent the Roman cohorts of Hastati, Princeps and Triarii, while the Spear elements represent Italian allies.

With this approach, your tactics are much simplified. Your Blade and Spear form a strong line of battle, which can be supported by your Psiloi against mounted attacks. Your Cavalry is deployed on the wing(s) to protect your flank(s) or acts as a mobile reserve. If facing a foot army, you can turn your Psiloi loose to skirmish on the enemy flanks or guard your own, taking advantage of whatever terrain may be available. In any event, you will win by grinding down (i.e. out rolling) your opponent with favorable Blade match-ups, and by taking advantage of whatever flanks and overlaps may present themselves.

The simplicity of Roman tactics stands in stark contrast to the wide-array of fighting styles employed by the wide-array of Roman opponents, from the impetuous rush of the Gallic warbands, to the guerrilla-style hit and run of the ancient Spanish, to the mixed arms, cavalry, and strategems of Hannibal's Carthaginians, to the plodding advance of the Macedonian/Seleucid phalanx. In almost every case, Roman success will depend on getting the bulk of its heavy infantry into close combat with its counterparts as quickly and as safely as possible. Roman cavalry and psiloi are seldom game winners on their own, but serve to protect the legion as it comes to grips and to enhance it's attack by harrying the enemy's flanks.

One important point to remember, given the number of bad going troops likely to be employed against Polybian Roman armies. Commanders of Blade armies are often reluctant to use their troops in Bad Going against enemy Auxilia and Psiloi because of the -2 penalty in close combat. But in reality, even with the bad going penalty, Roman Blades are a heads-up match against Auxilia and still outweigh Psiloi. So if circumstances dictate, don't be reluctant to commit your Blades to bad-going, especially if those enemy bad-going troops would otherwise be able to use that terrain to play on your flanks or take advantage of gaps in your line.

Another useful tip. Since the Polybian General fights with his cavalry, be careful of his deployment. If your cavalry is deployed on the wings to defend the flanks, remember that it will be relatively easy to move your General out of command control range of your army. On the other hand, with the bulk of the Roman army formed in a solid line of battle, your ability to command from the flanks will typically only be interrupted by intervening terrain. Similarly, it is relatively easy to trundle a Roman legion forward through group movement even with the out-of-command penalty.

Last but not least, when coming to grips with Gauls, Galatians, and other Warband armies, make sure your lines are well-ordered by the time your foe reaches a distance of 400Paces, to discourage them from taking advantage of any disorganization through a second movement into close combat.

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Authored by Chris Brantley. Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: August 16, 2002