Ancient Hippo Regius

The Battles of
Boniface (413-432 AD)

By Bill Sumruld

> Battles > DBA Resources > Fanaticus

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 Africa.

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 Roman authority.

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 traditional paganism.

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 massacred.

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 (413 AD)

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. Victory
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 AD)

The third battle is actually that of Castinus against the Vandals in 422. The Terrain is arable, but the Romans are the attackers.

Armies:  The 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

Special Rules:

(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 against it.

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.

ArmiesBoth armies should be (despite the date) II/ 78a Late Imperial Roman. Boniface’s army must have the Knight option and his opponents cannot have it.

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 Boniface’s opponents.

Victory conditions: Standard DBA

Boniface vs. Segisvultus (428 AD)

This battle pits Boniface against Segisvultus.

The Terrrain is arable and Boniface is the defender.

Armies 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 Roman.

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.

ArmiesBoniface 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.

ArmiesBoniface 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 Romans.

Victory Conditions: Standard DBA

Battle of Ariminum (432 AD)

Boniface against Aetius in Italy.

Terrain arable and Aetius is the defender.

ArmiesBoth armies are II/83a.

Victory Conditions: Standard DBA

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Last Update:  1 April 2006

Thanks to Bill Sumruld for contributing this scenario.
Comments and feedback welcome and can be sent to Chris Brantley.