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Battle Scenarios

Maximus' Vindobona (c. 180 AD)
(Great Battles of Hollywood Series)

By Jonathan Lim

The main reason most wargamers went to see "Gladiator" when it came out in 2000 was to see the huge recreated Romans v. Germans battle at the beginning. Now you too can recreate this battle, on the wargames table!

Miniatures

While the Romans seem to be cliched "Trajan's Column" legionaries, widely available, the Germans might be a little more difficult to provide. Mainly they are clichedHollywood barbarians wearing skins and huge beards, which are a far cry from the colourful linen costumes worn by the real thing.

The Romans seem rather worn, with blackened armour and faded shields. The shield device is the generic "yellow wings on red background" that re-enactors seem to cherish so much. Most Roman miniatures seem already suited to this scenario.

Terrain

The terrain table should be as follows:

               (GERMAN SIDE)
     ........................................
     ........WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW................
     .....WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW...........
     .WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.....
     .....WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW........     
     ............WWWWWWWWWW.................. 
     ................................WWWWWWWW
     .............................WWWWWWWWWWW
     .........................WWWWWWWWWWWWWWW
     ...........................WWWWWWWWWWWWW
     ................................WWWWWWWW
     ........................................
     ........................................
     ......FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF.................
     ......FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF.................
     ........................................
             (ROMAN SIDE)


     . = Good going
     W = Bad going (woods)
     F = Roman fortification (BUA)

The Germans stupidly form up inside the woods, allowing them to be open for a wonderous Hollywoody stunt; an attack by fire. Also seen in Spartacus (coming soon!) and The Ten Commandments (probably not coming soon), fire seems to be every decent Hollywood director's standard strategem. (See also Falkirk in Braveheart, the battle in Battle of the Bulge...etc etc)

The Opposing Armies

ROMANS

  • Cavalry: Marcus Aurelius is sitting on a horse behing the Fortifications, with a really cool purple costume. The actual battle is commanded by Decimus Meridius Maximus (is that even a proper Latin name???) who commands some stands of Cavalry. Nice cavalry, heavily armed. Count as Cavalry. Maximus appears to be accompanied by a dog, which in true Asterix the Gaul style manages to get his fair share of enemy kills.

  • Legionaries: Commanded by a sub-General, Quintus. He is wearing a silly woolly hat. The legionaries seem to be there in great force, and they form up initially within the fortifications, and advance outwards when the battle begins. Strangely, they do not use their pila in this film - even though they are very realistic pila. I can see three possible reasons:

    1. Ridley Scott was being terribly ignorant, and thought they were stabbing weapons,
    2. It was too dangerous to throw the pila, and this was left out for safety reasons, or
    3. We can presume that the German charge was so damn fierce that the Romans had no time to throw their pila.

    The first reason is the most likely, but we'll take 3 as it makes more sense for a real battle.

  • Syrian archers: Armed with fire-arrows, are lined up in front of the legionaries before the battle begins. Count them as Bows.

  • Artillery: Nicely represented in this film. Really nice and realistic bolt-shooters with steel plates protecting them, along with rather less-realistic one-armed Hollywood catapults. They begin by shooting fiery projectiles, but as the woods burn up, they also use massive iron-headed bolts, and stones. One of these is seen piercing a warrior through the torso!

Altogether, then, the Romans are a realistically balanced force. Except the fire.

GERMANS (Marcomanni and Quadi)

  • Warband: This is all. No Germans are depicted on horseback, which is fairly realistic for this period. All warriors are beer-swilling, animal-skin clad, hairy barbarians. They at least have shields, which are oval; and are also armed with swords and spears. The Chieftain (unnamed)is armed with a Carnyx, the Celtic battle-horn shaped like a dragon or snake. He use it like a club.

The Battle

Maximus wanders about waiting for the Roman envoy to return from the German camp. The envoy has been gone two hours. Unfortunately when the poor man returns, he is missing a part of his body. Said part is thrown into the air by a terrifying German Chieftain who is leading his warband into the woods. The Germans howl and roar in a manner suspiciously similar to that of the Zulus - or, to be more precise, "Zulu" (1964).

Maximus: "They say no."
Quintus: "People should know when they are conquered."
Maximus: "Would you, Quintus? Would I?"

Anyway, the archers and artillerymen get ready thereafter. The archers line up in a row in front of the Fortifications, while the Artillery is inside it. In true Hollywood style, the arhcers light up their arrows. The artillerymen light up their bolts and stones, which are covered in napalm.

The legions are lined up in front of their fortifications.

The German army is concentrated inside the forest at their end of the table. The Roman tactic appears to be to flush the Germans out of the forest with napalm, then advance with legions when they rush from the woods.

Meanwhile, Russell Crowe has a diabolical second plan. He concentrates the cavalry in the woodlands to the right of the Roman camp.

Maximus: "If you find yourself in green fields, with nobody around and the sun on your back - do not be troubled! For you are in Elysium, and you are already dead! (men cheer)

After such rousing oratory, who could fail to follow whither Russell Crowe/Maximus should lead?

(Classicist's note: Elysium was one of the few concepts of "afterlife" that Romans had. It was believed that if a soldier died he went to the Elysian Fields. Unfortunately for those who had rather a taste for living forever, Elysium was not a place of pleasure. Upon arrival, the said soldier would be stripped of body and mind, and would remain as the merest shade. Incidentally, the crappiness of this rare belief of the afterlife should remind one that the constant references to a "heaven" or "afterlife" in this film are totally unrealistic. Unless both Juba and Maximus are Christians or Neoplatonists, of course.)

Anyway, the idea is that, as the Germans charge out from cover, they will be sprung in the flank by Maximus' cunning ambush.

This is exactly what happens. The Germans, as the Romans shoot the forest full of napalm and fire, decide to leave. They clash with the line of Roman Legionaries, with incredible violence (within the grounds allowed by the Office of Censorship naturally).

As the Germans lock in mortal combat with the poor legionaries, they turn in horror. On their flank, coming from the second forest, is a large body of Roman cavalry. With utter disregard for the DBA rules, the Roman cavalry charge in formation through the heavy woods. They charge into the German flank, causing dreadful carnage (within the M 15+ range...).

Roman Cavary: "Roma Victor! Roma Victor!"
German Warband: (incomprehensible howling and roars...)

The battle is a complete success. According to the debriefing given by Maximus, however, the Roman army lost around 5000 men in this battle. But the German casualties must have been far higher.

Results of Battle

The battle clinched the problem of ol' M.A.'s succession. Commodus was given the Imperial flick in favour of Maximus. Unfortunately, this also results in the murder of Marcus Aurelius (unhistorical), Maximus' downfall (unhistorical) and career as a gladiator (unhistorical). But without the poor result of this battle, we'd have no "Gladiator" to watch.

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Last Update: July 2, 2001

My thanks to Jonathan Lim for this scenario. Gamer feedback is welcome. Send comments to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.