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Battle of Argentoratum (Strasbourg) (357 AD)

By Chris Jones

In 357 AD, a large army of 35,000 Germanic tribesmen crossed the Rhine under the command of their King Chnodomar. The Emperor Julian the Apostate marched to intercept them with an army of 13,000, comprised of 4,500 legionnaries, 5,500 auxilliaries, 600 heavy Clibanarii cavalry with both man and horse armoured, and other troops.

Julian advanced his forces for some 21 miles on a hot August morning before crossing a hill to find the Germans arrayed before him. He quickly advanced with a line of Auxiliaries backed by his legions forming the left wing and centre. His right wing was formed of the heavy cavalry backed up by Auxillaries (Batavii and Regii). Skirmishers were deployed to cover his right flank, and Light Horse covered his left.

The Germans were formed in a line with some troops hidden in a large wood on their right flank. The German noble cavalry were dismounted either because they felt they had no chance against the Roman heavy cavalry or to bolster the morale of the infantry.

As the Roman battlelines advanced, the Roman left wing halted before the woods and began to skirmish, fearing a trap. Seeing the Romans did not intend to advance any further, the Germans in the wood broke cover in a rush but were easily driven back. This was followed by a general advance by the German line.

The Roman left wing held but on the right the Roman cavalry fell back in disorder when the Roman Clibannarii commander was killed. The supporting Batavii and Regii Auxillaries now countercharged the Germans, driving them back. A final charge by German nobles broke through the Roman centre but was halted and eventually recoiled by the Primani Legion. The Romans now advanced, driving back the Germans who broke and ran, suffering severe losses in the pursuit, including many tribesmen who drown in the Rhine. King Chnodomar was captured. Over 6000 Germans were killed for the loss of 250 Romans.

Simulating Argentoratum in DBA

Order of Battle

Late Roman -- 1x Kn, 2x Cv, 1x Lh, 4x Bd, 3x Ax, 1x Ps

German (Early Alamannic) -- 1x Bd, 9x Wb, 2x Ps

Terrain

The battlefield is open except for a large hill centered on the Roman baseline (which the Romans have just crossed over) and a large wood in the German half of the board located on the Roman left flank.

Deployment

Normal DBA, except the Germans may place troops in ambush in the wood.

Special Rules

None.

Victory conditions

Normal DBA.

Gamer Feedback

Roger L. Pearce: I did my thesis on Julian's Campaign in Gaul and have as close as an OB for the Roman side of the battle of Strasbourg (Argentoratum) as one can get.

Julian Hand three guard units, the Scutarii, Armaturae, and Gentiles (probably heavy infantry 600 each). The cavalry consisted of Dalmatae (Light Horse with javelins), Clibinarii ("oven men"), and Cataphractarii (the specific unit, e.g. Catfractarii Britaniae can't be known with any confidence) of 500 each. Julian had four legions (palatine and other): the Celtae, the Primani, the Joviani and the Heculani (the last two I suspect were the seniores) of about 1000 men each. His auxilia of about 500 each included the Reges, Petulantes, Bracchiati, Cornuti, Batavii, and Heruli (who may also have been light cavalry). There were also units of Sagitarii, massed archers probably on foot firing from behind the infantry. There was also a unit of ballistarii firing their ballistae from the forward crest of the hill Julian or his magister equitum picked for the Roman's position. You cannot put this OB together just from Ammianus's description of the battle. What should be called the Army of Gaul is revealed in the whole account of Julian's campaign in Ammianus and Zosimus.

The Alaman army can be thought of as layered not by unit function but by social class. Their Chiefs had their own Comitatus bands of superior warriors (Beowulf is as good a source as Tacitus on this social organization--sorry 2nd MA in English). But there was a great deal of tribal levy in this army and mercenaries from east of the Rhine. Their cavalry fought interspersed with skirmishers as the Germans did in Caesar's day. Delbruck's Germanophilic comments to the contrary, they out numbered Julian's army 35,000 to 13,000.

Casualties were high, 6000 among the Alamans because they ran just as Julian, who lost control of his cavalry the battle, returned to the scene with his heavy cavalry. His infantry passed the crisis of the battle without the Caesar on the field; so credit for the victory must go to the Magister Equitum (just a rank by this period, not really "master of horse") and the anonymous officers of the Legions and Auxilia.

I don't see how this could be less than a double game in DBA, and some way to show mass (mostly poor quality) against tactics may be needed. The Alaman cavalry should have been able to roll up the Roman line but the auxilia simply formed a testudo (Roman version of a square) and held them while the Alaman infantry wore itself out against the Roman center and its reserve.

The Alamans need to have Cv, Lh, and a Ps. The Alaman Cavalry played a prominant role in their attack. Chonodomarius (General in charge) needs to be a group of Bd. He and the other chiefs dismounted to fight in the ranks because the "rankers" were afraid their leaders would abandon them if the fight went against them. The Alaman right led by Serapio, a nephew of Chonodomarius was on swampy ground near an aqueduct. There is no other way to interpret the Latin of Ammianus and the Greek of Libanius as far as I can see. The Alaman right tried to lay an ambush here near the aquaduct that the Romans apparently didn't spring. Some translators interpret the words as meaning trenches but that does quite get to the idea of "elevated waterway" that Libanius uses. The Roman left was protected by a brook with swampy ground. The Roman right was in the air although there was another brook just beyond the Roman road from Saverne (Tres Tabaernae) to Strasburg.called the Brueke on 19th century German maps. The modern battlefield is under the Strasburg rail lines (where the Alamans formed) and a hill to the west of the city (where the Romans formed) that used to have polygonal German forts on it and is now a park.


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Last Update: Jan. 17, 2002

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.