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DBA 2.0 Army Essays

Patrician Roman, 425-493 AD
(DBA V 2.0, West II/83a & East II/83b)

By Chris Jones

The armies in this list cover the period from the rise to power of Aetius as Patrician in the West to the overthrow of the Italian Kingdom of the general Odoacer by the Ostrogoths in the West and the accession of Zeno in the East. During this period the West and East Roman Empires were run by generals acting as supreme military commanders known by the title of 'Patrius' with the actual Emperors being essentially little more than figureheads. The title was not in fact new but the absolute power wielded by its holders who were generally of barbarian birth was novel. The history of the later Empire is that of such Patricians as Aetius, Ricimer and Odoacer rather than the unimportant Emperors who they supported and often placed on the throne.

Between 430 and 450 AD Aetius was involved in a series of campaigns against the Visigoths, Burgundians and Franks. The Burgundians were destroyed in a battle near Worms in 443 AD in which their king Gunther was killed. In this battle Aetius used large numbers of Hun Foederatae with whom he had much affinity, having spent his youth as a hostage of the Huns. The remnants of the Burgundians were settled in Savoy.

The Vandals under their king Gaiseric moved together with the Alans by sea from Spain to take over Roman North Africa in 429 AD. In 431 AD an unsuccessful invasion was attempted by joint forces from both the East and West Empire.

The Eastern Empire was assailed by a series of raids by the Huns. The most serious was that by Attila in 447 AD, which together with an earthquake that wrecked the walls of Constantinople, appeared for a time to place the city in jeopardy..

The Eastern Empire was involved in some campaigning against the Sassanid Persians during this period.

In 451 AD Aetius and the Western Romans were faced by an invasion of Gaul by Attila and his Huns allied with Ostrogoths, Gepids and other Germans. Aetius now allied with the Visigoths under Theoderic and commanding a mixed force of Romans, Visigoths, Alans, Franks and Amorican Britons faced Attila's forces at the battle of the Catalaunian fields or Chalons. Although the battle was a small tactical vistory for Aetius, Attila was allowed to retire unmolested after it. Some commentators suggest this was because Aetius wanted to keep the Huns as a viable threat to hold the burgeoning Visigothic Kingdom in Southern France in check as an ally of Rome

The Patrician OdoacerIf so it clearly backfired as Attila launched an invasion of Italy in 452 AD. Without the support of the Visigoths, Aetius did not dare offer battle. Fortunately for Rome, Attila withdrew without threatening Rome and died the following winter to immense relief no doubt in Rome. One reason for his withdrawal from Italy may have been the invasion of his Danubian possessions by an army from the Eastern Empire.

In 455 AD the Vandals under Gaiseric launched a seaborne assault on Italy. Aetius had fallen from favour and was murdered by the Emperor. Whether he could have dealt with the Vandal threat we shall never know but without his leadership the Vandals captured Rome. Although no longer the capital of the Empire in the West the sack of Rome was significant and indicated the weakness of the Empire.

After the death of Aetius control in the West passed to the general Odoacer. He ruled through a puppet Emperor until in 476AD the young Emperor Romulus Augustulus was put to death by Odoacer. Odoacer then ruled in his own name with the title King of Italy. There were no more Emperors of the West.

In 489 AD the Ostrogoths launched an offensive into Italy encouraged partly by the Eastern Emperor Zeno and besieged Ravenna. The city fell in 493AD and Odoacer was captured by treachery and put to death.

The Empire in the West had long ceased to exist in other than name, but the death of Odoacer severed the last link with the Imperial Glory of Rome. The Empire in the East continued untouched behind the walls of Constantinople and would later recapture Italy for a brief period. The Roman Empire continued there until the Turks captured the city in 1453.

Army Composition

Patrician Roman - West (II/83a)
3Cv or 3Kn (Gen) Scholae armoured Roman cavalry or Germanic Foederatae. Also Hunnic armoured cavalry in Aetius' Army
3Cv Armoured Roman cavalry
2Lh Roman Illyrian javelin cavalry or bow-armed Equites Sagitarri or Hun horse archers
4Bd Legions armed with javelins and darts
4Ax Auxilia armed with javelins and darts. Some would be elite Auxilia Palatina.
3Kn Gothic/Germanic cavalry
4Wb Visigoth/Frank/Burgundi "foederati" infantry
2Ps Roman archers (historically used in rear ranks of infantry formations to provide support.)
Patrician Roman - West (II/83a)
3Cv or 3Kn (Gen) Scholae armoured Roman cavalry or Gothic Foederatae.
3Cv Armoured Roman cavalry
2Lh Roman Illyrian javelin cavalry or bow-armed Equites Sagitarri or Hun horse archers
4Bd Legions armed with javelins and darts
4Ax Auxilia armed with javelins and darts. Some would be elite Auxilia Palatina.
3Kn Roman lance-armed cavalry or Gothic cavalry
4Kn Roman cataphracts or clibanari with armour for both man and horse
4Wb Goth or similar infantry
2Ps Roman archers (historically used in rear ranks of infantry formations to provide support.)

Tactics Against Historical Enemies

(All from Book II of the Army Lists unless specified otherwise)

Both West and East Patrician Romans have low aggression (Ag0 and Ag1 respectively) and as both are arable will usually be the defender in most historical matchups and will have a BUA to defend. As both armies can field Bd it will be possible to defend the BUA well. Perhaps surprisingly, neither army has an option for Art and so will not be able to use this in the BUA.

The Patrician Romans offer a combined arms array with reasonable numbers of mounted troops (Kn, Cv and Lh), some Bd, optionally Wb, potentially large numbers of Ax and some Ps. The Ps can either be used in bad going or perhaps better to support either Bd or Ax against mounted attack.

The low aggression factors mean that the correct terrain can generally be chosen for each opponent. Against most opponents the Patrician Romans will have an advantage in Bad Going (Ax, Ps and Bw) troops and so could lay down a lot of terrain. Note that Bd are also pretty good in bad going.

67b Early Ostrogothic, Herul, Sciri or Taifali: This army consists of an equal number of Kn and Ps. As they are Ag 3 you will set up terrain most of the time. Avoid the Kn with your Wb, Ax and Bd and attack the Psiloi with your Ax. Use bad going to tie up the enemy Kn.

69 Sassanid Persia (East only): The Sassanids have two elements not featured in the army of any other enemy. One is the El which have a QK on Wb or Kn so will need avoiding. Attack them with Ax, preferably Ps supported. The other element are the 7Hd which are essentially the same as Wb which do not recoil except that they are QK by the your Wb and do not gain rear support against them. So they are probably a good target for the Wb. Otherwise the army consists chiefly of Kn and Cv which your mounted can match.

Warband Armies - 66 Early Vandal (West only), 70a Burgundi 72cd Early Frankish, Rugian or Turcilingi (West only), 73 Old Saxon (West only): These are all Wb heavy armies with little else. Only the Early Vandal has a Kn general so your Wb can take on their Wb on equal terms. Use your Kn to QK Wb and keep your Bd away from Wb especially double-ranked.

71 Gepid (East only): This army consists of an equal number (4) of Kn, Wb and Ps and so you must search out the best matchups while avoiding the worst. As they are Ag3 you will set up terrain most of the time and can rule bad going with your Ax against their Ps. Target their Wb with your Kn and tie up their Kn with your other troops.

80ad (West)/80abd (East) Huns: 80b and d consist of Lh with perhaps a Cv general. 80a (Attila's army differs in including 4 4Wb and 2 3Kn as well as 1 2Ps. With an Ag of 3 (or 4 if 80a) you will set up terrain most of the time so can use bad-going to limit the Lh ( and Kn / Wb). Support your Bd or Ax with Ps and avoid any Kn with your Wb. Generally avoid being out-flanked while your mounted attempt to catch the Lh at a disadvantage.

82a Later Visigothic (West only): This army has a Kn General and Cv as well as Wb. So again avoid the Kn with your Wb and use your Bd, Wb and especially Kn to attack the Wb. However this army also has 4 elements which can be taken either as 3 Bw or 2 Ps. Avoid the Bw elements with your mounted troops.

83ab Patrician Roman West and East: What can we say - two very similar armies! No specific tactics just out-general your opponent and roll good dice!

84African Vandal: Kn, Kn and yet more Kn! This army fields a minimum(!) of 11 Kn with either a Lh or another Kn as the 12th element. They are Littoral Ag3 so the Patricians should set up terrain and don't lay down a Waterway. Take a minimum of Wb (preferably none), lay down lots of Bad Going, maximise your Ax, support your Bd with Ps and keep your mounted troops in control and try to catch some Kn with Cv/Kn combining with Lh.

III/1c Early Slav (East only):: Essentially Ax and Ps with perhaps a Cv general. However as they are Ag1 as well they will set up terrain 50% of the time and their home terrain is forest. Maximise Ax and Bd elements to clear the inevitable bad going and use your mounted to trap any troops in the open.

III/2 Early Lombard (West only): This army is similar to 84 with less Kn and possibly some Wb, Bw or Ps thrown in. Tactics will be similar although the waterway won't matter too much as they are arable. Your Ax should still rule Bad Going even against Bw or Ps.


There are two Osprey titles that cover this period, both by Simon McDowall:

Also Phil Barker's Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome, published by the Wargames Research Group.

[CB Note: Additional historical titles are available in the Rome and Her Enemies section of the Fanaticus Bookstore]

Other Resources

Chris Jones' Patrican Roman (West) army featuring 28mm Whitecross and Gripping Beast figures.

Chris Brantley and David Kuijt's essay on the Patrician Romans (DBA 1.1)

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My thanks to Chris Jones for submitting this essay. Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: January 18, 2003