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Battle of Cynocephalae (197 BC)

By Chris Jones

After the final defeat of Carthage in the Second Punic War at Zama, Rome began to find itself drawn into the internal politics of Greece. Philip V of Macedon had been an ally of Hannibal and despite having done little to help his ally during the war there was a sour feeling in Rome towards those who aided their enemies.

Despite the war-weariness of the Senate and the people of Rome, Titus Quinctius Flaminius managed to get senatorial authority to wage war in Greece. He then invaded Thessaly in 200 B.C. with two legions, including the Cannae legions who had not seen their homes for over 14 years. Philip mobilised his forces and a series of indecisive manoevers followed.

Finally, the two armies ended up camped on opposite sides of a series of rocky ridges with hillocks named Cynocephalae or "Dogs Heads" for their appearance. Philip placed light troops on top of the ridge although he was as yet unaware of the proximity of the Roman forces. The Romans sent out velites and cavalry to recce the slopes and a combat began. The Romans were initially driven off the slopes but were reinforced and drove back their opponents. As the mist began to clear both armies marched out to do battle. The scene was set for a battle pitting two fundamentally different theories of ancient warfare -- phalanx vs. legion. The result of this battle would be decisive. It is a rare example of a true encounter battle.

The Roman forces managed to fully deploy albeit down the slope from the advancing Macedonians. Philip had deployed his left wing while his other wing trailed behind in order of march. Realising that his right wing was dangerously exposed, Philip ordered his left wing phalanx to lower their spears and attack. They drove the Roman right wing down the slope in disarray. Meanwhile the Roman left wing had attacked the disorganised Macedonian right wing and broken it.

At this decisive moment, when victory hung in the balance, a Tribune in the advancing Roman left wing realised the dire position in which the Roman right wing stood, and detached 20 maniples (probably the reserve Triarii) from the left wing to attack the victorious Macedonian phalanx in the rear. This broke the Macedonian left and completed the Roman victory.

The Macedonians lost 8000 killed with 5000 prisoners. Roman losses were about 700. Philip was forced to give up all his possessions in Greece in the subsequent treaty including ancestral lands which had been held by Macedon for generations.

Simulating Cynocephalae in DBA

Order of Battle

  • Polybian Roman (#46b) - 2xCv, 6xBd, 2xSp, 2xPs

  • Later Macedonian (#49) - 2xCv, 6xPk*, 2xAx, 2xPs

* The number of Pk is increased to reflect the effect of even half the Macedonian Phalanx.


The battlefield should have a large ridge with slopes covering half the playing area placed in the centre of the table. A road should run from one base line to the other across the ridge (about 1/3 of the way from the side edge to the Macedonian's right). The ridge area is good going but gives combat advantage to those upslope of their opponents.


Normal DBA except that each player can place one element anywhere in their half of the table. This represents the light forces initially engaged.

Each player will have to decide whether to rush their forces ahead to gain the uphill bonus at the risk of not being fully deployed when the action begins (as chosen historically by Phillip) or to advance less quickly and deploy fully but maybe down slope ( the choice of Flaminius in the actual battle).

Special Rules


Victory Conditions

Normal DBA.

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Last Update: Feb. 15, 2000

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