"Shower your blows thickly; strike at the face
with your swords' points." - Germanicus

IDISTAVISO (16 AD)

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Seven years afer the loss of Varus' Imperial Roman army (Legios XVII, XVIII and XIX) at Teutoberg Wald, the Emperor Tiberius sought to restore Rome's Germanic fortunes by dispatching his Rhine army under nephew Claudius Drusus Germanicus to invade Germania in 16 AD. The army sailed down the Rhine river, through canals to the North Sea, than along the coast to the River Ems, where they disembarked and marched upriver into Germania. They were met near the River Weser by a German confederation of Cherusi, Semnones and Langobardi tribes lead by the rebel Arminius (aka Hermann the German), the former Roman auxiliary officer who had lead Varus into the German trap at Teutoberg Wald. After a Roman cavalry foray across the Weser was repulsed, Germanicus moved decisively, bridging and crossing the river in force before Arminius could attack. He establishing a fortified camp within a bend of the Weser overlooking the Idistaviso plain (also known as the Valley of the Maidens). Plans for a surprise assault on the Roman camp was betrayed, and the Germans prudently withdrew to the nearby heights rather than attacking the strongly manned fortifications.

After several days of German taunts, speechs and omen-taking, Germanicus lead his army of 29,000 legionaries, 30,000 auxiliaries, 7,500 cavalry and 5,000 Batavian allies forward onto the Idistaviso plain. (The cavalry and Batavians had suffered previous losses in early skirmishes and their exact numbers are not known; nor is it known what troops were left to garrison the fortified camp).

Arminius had formed his 55,000 Germans in an arching battleline that stretched across the plain, with their left on the Weser River and their right anchored on heavy woods. His Cherusci held the center of the line on high ground.

To face them, Germanicus formed his army into three lines, with auxiliaries to the front supported by skirmishers, a second line of legionaries centered on his Praetorians, who were flanked by two legions on each side, and a reserve line of legionary, auxiliary and allied detachments. The Roman equites were deployed on the Roman left, hidden in the cover of the forest.

The Roman advance to the high ground prompted an impetuous German charge, which fell upon the first line of Roman auxiliaries. In the center, the Cherusci fought fiercely but could not break the Roman line. The German left and right wings were even less successful, being heavily recoiled. Warriors of the left wing, seeking to avoid the Weser river, fled toward the right. Germans on the right wing were driven rapidly away from the woods by charging Roman cavalry and fled toward the left. With both wings collapsed and milling in their rear, the Cherusci in the center gave way, and a general rout ensued followed by a Roman pursuit in which Arminius escaped by covering his face in blood to avoid recognition.

The extent of the engagement is disputed, with some arguing that the Germans suffered heavily in the rout and others (e.g. Hans Delbruk) arguing that it was a relatively minor skirmish. It is clear, however, the the battle was not decisive, as Arminius was able to regroup his tribesmen and allies, and fight a series of similarly indecisive, but less well-recorded engagements with the Romans until Germanicus and his legions were eventually withdrawn. The war did, however, serve to restore alliances between Rome and the German tribes west of the Elbe, thus restablishing a buffer to Rome's German frontier.

The Armies

Germanicus - Early Imperial Roman (II/56), using 4Bd(Gen) option.

Arminius -- Early Germans (II/47e), using 3Wb(Gen) option.

The Romans start with a fortified camp, but there is no German camp or logistical element.

Battle Map and Terrain Notes

The River Weser is impassable. The Woods were tall, old growth trees relatively clear of undergrowth. Although classed as bad going, treat combat in the woods as -1. The Hill is also bad going.

Special Rules

Germans deploy first anywhere behind the line indicated on the battlemap, but with no troops starting in the woods or beyond the Weser. Romans deploy second, between the Weser and their left board edge, forward no more than 600P from the base edge (or 1000P on a 32" board). Romans may deploy any mounted within 300P of their left board edge, but no foot.

The Roman cavalry played a key role in this battle with its advance through the woods to fall on the German right flank. A special terrain effect is noted above to allow Roman cavalry to fight more effectively in the relatively open forest. However, given the narrow patch of woods depicted on the gameboard and to better simulate the morale effect of the Roman cavalry attack, players may opt to use a special "flank march" rule that allows for one or more Roman mounted elements to be deployed off board and to enter on the 2d or subsequent bound anywhere along the German right edge on a Roman pip roll of 6.

Concluding Notes

Tacitus (Annales II:5-26) highlights Germanicus' campaigns and briefly recounts the battle of and subsequent disputes between Arminius of the Cherusi and Maroboduus, King of the Marcomanni, whose Semnones and Langobardi had joined forces with the Cherusi.

This scenario was inspired in large part by the scenario "The Original Unlease Hell" developed by Robert Avery for the Wargames Journal.


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Last Updated: 7 June 2004

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.