The Battles of
Boniface (413-432 AD)
Battles > DBA
Aetius, sometimes called the “last Roman” and famous to
war gamers for his fight against Attila, had only one serious Roman
rival. His name was Boniface. The first documentary evidence about
Boniface and his military career comes in the wake of the Visigothic
sacking of Rome (410 A.D.). The Visigothic king Ataulf (Alaric’s
successor) had made a deal with the Roman Emperor Honorius. In return
for crushing Jovinus (a pretender to the purple in Gaul) the Visigoths
were to receive shipments of grain from Roman Africa and a Gallic
province as Federates of the Empire. The deal was wrecked when Heraclian,
Comes Africae, stopped the transport of grain from Africa. Hungry and
angry because of what was perceived as Roman double-dealing Ataulf led
his Visgoths to attack the ancient city of Masillia (the current city of
Marseilles had been founded as a Greek city state long before the rise
of the Roman Republic). The choniclers of the time note the city was
ably defended and the Visigoths thwarted by “the most noble” Boniface in
413 A.D. Boniface seems to have been an officer equivalent in rank to a
modern lieutenant colonel and already had a good military reputation. We
are, however, in the dark as to what this reputation had been built on.
We next find Boniface as a commander of troops in Roman
Africa. The schismatic (divisive) Donatists (who claimed that only they
had remained the true church because they refused to forgive and restore
those who had given in during times of persecution) seemed to be trying
to make common cause with some Germanic Arian (a rival version of
Christianity that denied the divinity of Christ) troops under his
command. Boniface wrote to the famous African bishop Augustine of Hippo
for advice in the matter. Over time their correspondence continued and a
friendship blossomed. When Boniface was widowed, he considered entering
a monastery. Augustine and another bishop from Carthage talked him out
of it. They worked to convince him that the empire needed him more as
soldier than as a monk and that this should be his way of serving God.
Boniface then surfaces in
Spain in 422 AD, participating in the effort by Castinus, The Master of
Soldiers, to restore order. We are uncertain as to the extent of his
military role, if any, in the defeat Castinus suffered when Visigothic
Federates under his command proved less than loyal. As a result of this
the Vandals were able to establish themselves in Baetica. It seems to
have been at this time that Boniface met and married his second wife
Pelagia, a Vandal and an Arian. Baronius was of the opinion that she was
related to the Vandal king Gunderic though some like British historian
J.B. Bury doubt this. Boniface returned with his new wife to Roman
It was at about this time that the emperor Honorius
died. In the west a usurper named John, a civil servant who had risen to
the position of primicerius notariorum. John’s previous claim to fame
had come from his being set to negotiate with Alaric back in 408. John
was backed by the Master of Soldiers Castinus,
but the imperial family had other ideas. Theodosius, the emperor in the
east, decided to recognize the child of Honorius’s sister Galla Placidia,
a boy named Valentinian, as the rightful
emperor in the west and sent Ardaburius and Aspar with an army to back
that claim. Aetius had accepted a post in the usurpers government and
was now sent on an urgent mission to bring back Hunnic help for John.
Aetius had been a hostage among the Visigoths and later among the Huns
and had developed a close friendship with the Hunnic king Rugila.
In this situation it became vital which way the
provinces of Roman Africa with their grain, olive oil, and horses would
go. Would they support the imperial family or the usurper? Boniface is
credited with holding Africa for the imperial family. Once John had been
defeated, captured and killed, Galla Placidia was enthroned as empress
regent ruling in her son’s name. Boniface was confirmed as Comes Africae
as a reward for his loyalty. Aetius arrived too late with his
Hunnic friends (according to the accounts 60,000 of them). Because he
arrived at the head of this large army, Aetius was able to make
favorable terms for himself. She was forced to both pardon him and
accept his services as Master of Horse in Gaul, where (in 427) he would
establish his military reputation by the relief of Arles from Gothic
siege. Placidia, however, saw his ambition and growing influence as a
threat to the imperial family and much preferred the Comes Africae
(Count of Africa) Boniface.
Boniface now found himself in some difficulties with his
old friend Augustine. Augustine objected to Boniface allowing his
daughter to be baptized as an Arian. More importantly he felt Boniface
was not doing enough to protect the borders against Moors and other
raiders. Instead, he accused Boniface of trying to cement his own power
and influence in Africa. According to Prosper and Procopius, Aetius
began to use the events in Africa as pretexts for poisoning the minds of
Felix, the Master of Both Services (supreme commander of the western
Imperial army), and Placidia against Boniface. At the same time, again
according to Prosper and Procopius, Aetius secretly tried to
influence Boniface through letters that the empress regent was
becoming unreasonable and dangerous. When Placidia demanded that
Boniface appear in court to answer certain charges, Aetius convinced
Boniface that what awaited him there was not a fair hearing but torture
and death. Aetius seems to have seen in Boniface his chief rival for
The empress regent now had Boniface declared an “enemy
of the Republic” and sent an army under three commanders against him. In
427, Boniface defeated this force and slew all three of its commanders.
At the beginning of 428, an army under Segisvultus the Goth was sent
against him. Segisvultus managed to seize Hippo Regius (where Augustine
was bishop) and Carthage. Segisvultus’ force was made up of such a high
percentage of Goths that it had as its chaplain an Arian Bishop named
Maximinus. While Arianism had been made illegal for Roman citizens by
Theodosius the Great (died 395) barbarians in Roman service were allowed
to practice this religion freely as well as paganism. Most of the
barbarian federates were Arians. Theodosius had also tried to outlaw
Boniface’s forces had never been that large to begin
with and had now already fought one hard fought campaign. Boniface
decided he needed some federate help of his own. He evidently trusted
the Vandal king Gunderic, perhaps because of a connection through his
wife. Boniface sent him a letter proposing an exchange of federate
status in Roman Mauretania for military service against his enemies.
The Bishop Augustine decided it was time to intervene.
He sent letters to Galla Placidia encouraging a reconciliation with
Boniface. The empress regent sent an official named Darius on a fact
finding mission, to find out what was really going on in Roman Africa.
Darius began the process of negotiation and thinks looked to be getting
back to normal. That is they were until the Vandals landed.
Gunderic, the Vandal king that Boniface trusted, had
died. He had been succeeded by his brother Gaiseric. For Gunderic his
word was his bond but Gaiseric would break any agreement if he could get
away with it and it would enrich or empower him. Gaiseric is described
by Jordanes, Cassiodorus, and Possidius as a covetous man with an
uncontrollable anger. He was, they said, very resourceful in sowing
seeds of discord and stirring up hatred among foreigners. He was very
intelligent but completely untrustworthy. Gaiseric landed and led the
Vandals on a campaign of rape, murder, and pillage unprecedented
in the period of Rome’s decline. Gaiseric soon attracted all the
disaffected to his army. Those, who had tried to raid the
borders, and those, who felt they had been oppressed by Rome or the
Catholics, flocked to Gaiseric’s banner. Frightened bishops wrote
Augustine for advice about whether they should stay at their posts or
flee. Gaiseric, unlike most of the barbarians, made open and violent war
on the Catholic Church. Writers of the time said that compared to the
Vandal wolves, the Visigoths had been lambs. Even the youngest both male
and female were cruelly tortured to reveal any suspected treasures that
might be hidden. Some church congregations were indiscriminately
Darius tried to make some sort of truce but the truce
proved to be short lived. Gaiseric came eastward into Numidia defeated
Boniface’s forces and besieged Boniface in the city of Hippo Regius.
During the year long siege (430 A.D.) the aged Augustine lay dying. It
was at this time that Boniface and Augustine were reconciled. Gaiseric’s
siege failed and he gave up the effort in July of 431.
New forces arrived from Italy and forces were also sent,
under the command of Aspar, from the eastern empire. A battle was fought
in which Aspar and Boniface were so thoroughly defeated that they could
make no further effort to resist the invader. Hippo Regius fell to
Gaiseric and the Romans had lost all the important towns and
cities of Roman Africa except Carthage and Cirta. Another truce was
concluded with Gaiseric and Boniface made arrangements for the defense
of Carthage and Cirta in his absence.
Boniface was finally in a position to answer an urgent
request from Galla Placidia which he had received in 429.
Aetius’ power was growing. He was now influential and
strong enough to pretty much dictate terms to Placidia. He extorted from
her the deposition of the Master of Both Services Felix and his own
appointment to that post in 429. He had then arranged the death of Felix
on suspicion of treachery. Boniface came with what was left of the Army
of Africa to help Galla Placidia depose Aetius. Galla Placidia declared
Boniface the new Master of Both Services. Aetius refused to submit to
her wishes. The result was civil war in Italy.
Boniface and Aetius fought a battle near Ariminum.
Boniface’s forces won the battle but their general suffered a wound that
led to his death. Aetius, having fled to Rugila (his friend the Hunnic
king), came back and was able to dictate terms to the imperial court in
Ravenna. He got back his old office as Master of Both Services and the
rank of a Partrician in 434.
Battle of Masillia
Boniface’s battle against the Visigoths in 413 was a
siege and was unlikely to have had any field operations. However, just
for fun, one can pit a Late Imperial Roman Army II/ 78a with the
artillery option against II/65b Early Visigothic with a Knight General.
The Terrain is arable and the use of a BUA for the Romans is suggested.
conditions are standard DBA.
Action Against the Moors
The second battle is also a bit hypothetical. Boniface
was assigned to guard Africa. This battle pits his II/78a Late Imperial
Roman Army with the Knight option (there were Clibinarii stationed in
Roman Africa) against II/57 Later Moorish. The Moors are on their home
terrain and are the defenders. The Moors have no camp. To win Boniface
must destroy at least 4 of the Moorish units and prevent them from
leaving the opposite side of the board from where they start. The Moors
win if either of these conditions are not met.
Against the Vandals in Spain (422
The third battle is actually that of Castinus against
the Vandals in 422. The Terrain is arable, but
the Romans are the attackers.
Vandal Army (II/66 Early Vandal).
The Roman army is modified as follows: Romans: 1 x 3 Cv
(Gen), 2 x 2 Lh, 2 x 4 Bd, 2 x 4 Ax, 1 x 2 Ps, and
their Gothic Federates: 1 x 3 Kn, 3 x 4 Wb
(1) When a Gothic Federate unit is brought into contact
with Vandal troops for the first time a die must be rolled. On a die
roll of a 5 or 6, the Gothic Federate element switches sides and will be
controlled for the rest of the game by the player commanding the
Vandals. If no such contact has occurred by turn 7, all remaining Gothic
Federates (those who have never been tested) must be tested and on a die
role of 5 or 6 will switch sides.
(2) One of the Roman elements excluding the 3 Cv (Gen)
unit is under Boniface’s command. This element is always counted as
being in command radius and all opponents get a -1 to their die rolls
Victory Conditions: Standard DBA.
"Enemy of the Republic" (427 AD)
The fourth of our battles pits our protagonist Boniface
against an army sent against him that is under three commanders.
The Terrain is arable and Boniface is the defender.
armies should be (despite the date) II/ 78a Late Imperial Roman.
Boniface’s army must have the Knight option and his opponents cannot
Special Rule: Because of the indecision and
confusion caused by having three commanders all movement pip die rolls
except a roll of 1 take a -1 before being applied to the army of
Victory conditions: Standard DBA
Boniface vs. Segisvultus (428 AD)
This battle pits Boniface against Segisvultus.
The Terrrain is arable and Boniface is the defender.
Boniface’s army: II/78 Later Imperial Roman with the Knight option. (I
think the army in Africa was the last of this type and I think this was
probably its last fight in anything like the traditional configuration).
Segisvultus’ army is II/ 83a Patrician
Victory conditions: Standard DBA
Battle for Numidia (430 AD)
In this battle Boniface
unsuccessfully opposes Gaiseric’s advance into Numidia.
Terrain arable and Boniface is the defender.
Armies: Boniface now has a II/83a
Patrician Roman army because of his previous
losses and the Roman use of barbarians to fill in the gaps.
Gaiseric has a II/66 Early Vandal army.
Victory conditions: Standard DBA
Hippo Regius (431 AD)
Boniface and Aspar oppose Gaiseric’s further advance.
Terrain arable and the Romans are the defenders.
Armies: Boniface and Aspar’s
combined army is II/83b Patrician Roman.
Gaiseric’s army is II/66 Early Vandal army.
Special Rules: Because of a divided
command movement pips, except on a roll of 1, are reduced by -1 for the
Victory Conditions: Standard DBA
Battle of Ariminum
Boniface against Aetius in Italy.
Terrain arable and Aetius is the defender.
Armies: Both armies are II/83a.
Victory Conditions: Standard DBA