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Battle of Metaurus (207 BC)

By Chris Jones

In 209 BC, Hannibal's depleted army was still at-large in southern Italy, too weak now to threaten Rome, but still too dangerous for Rome to attack directly. Instead, they sent armies west to attack Carthaginian territories in Spain.

Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal was in command of one of the Carthaginian armies defending Spain from the Romans. Publius Corneilius Scipio had taken the initiative against them and captured the capital of Carthaginian Spain, New Carthage (modern Cartagena) by a ruse. Seeing that the war in Spain was going the way of the Romans and determined to aid his brother in Italy, Hasdrubal led his army east along the path taken by Hannibal ten years before. He wintered in Gaul in 208 B.C. and then crossed the Alps in the spring.

The Romans were aware of his advance but Hannibal was not. The Romans therefore sent an army under the consul Gaius Claudius Nero to keep Hannibal occupied while another army uder the consul Marcus Livius Salinator was sent north to oppose Hasdrubal. The Romans only needed to know his direction of march south to be able to intercept him. Then fate intervened - six messengers sent by Hasdrubal were captured by Nero. He immediately force marched 1000 cavalry and 6000 infantry north to join Livius. Arriving tired from their march, Nero nevertheless was determined to offer battle at once before Hasdrubal could realise he was there.

Nero's plan was thwarted when Hasdrubal's scouts reported that the trumpets had sounded twice that morning at the consul's tent. Hasdrubal was also told that some of the soldiers and horses were dusty as if from a long march. Aware that he was facing both consuls, Hasdrubal attempted to march off secretly to the north but missed his way or was led astray by his guides and was brought to bay by the pursuing Romans.

Forced to give battle, Hasdrubal deployed his army of 30,000 so to take as much advantage of the local terrain as possible. His left wing rested on the river Metaurus along a stretch that was too deep to cross. Hasdrubal formed his Gauls along a ravine that covered their front. He placed his Ligurians in the center with his best troops, the Spanish, on his right wing. The Elephants were placed in front of his Ligurians and Spanish. There appears to have been little cavalry and their position is unknown.

Facing him was the Consul Livius with about the same of troops and Nero with his 7,000. Livius deployed his legions opposite the Ligurians and Spanish and Nero deployed facing the Gauls. The Romans appear to have been unaware of the ravine when they advanced.

Hasdrubal attacked with the Elephants, followed by his right wing and centre. The battle was hard fought and hung in the balance. Meanwhile Nero found he could not get at the Gauls across the ravine. He therefore took 2,000 infantry and marched them across the Roman rear to fall on the Spanish flank. This decided the battle. About 20,000 Carthaginians were killed including Hasdrubal. Hannibal's hope of support in Italy was dashed as his brother's severed head was hurled into his camp by the victorious Romans.

Simulating Metaurus in DBA

The Armies:

Polybian Roman (46b) --

  • Livius - 2x3Cv, 2x2Ps, 6x4Bd, 2x2Sp
  • Nero - 2x4Bd

Later Carthaginian (31b) -- 1x3Cv, 4x3Wb (Gauls), 3x3Aux (Ligurians), 2x3Aux (+1) (Spanish), 1x 2Ps, 1xEl.

        Cv El Ax Ax Ax Ax Ax Ps Wb Wb Wb Wb ||
                    Ps Ps                   ||
        Cv Cv Bd Bd Bd Bd Bd Bd Sp Sp Bd Bd ||

(R=ravine, | | = river)

Treat the ravine as bad going.

Victory conditions

Normal DBA.

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Last Update: Jan. 31, 2000

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