The Battle of Nicopolis (47 BC)
In 47 BC, Pharnaces, the son of Mithdridates VI, invaded Cappadocia, Bithynia, and and lesser Armenia, threatening Rome's territories and allies in Asia Minor at a time when Julius Caesar was otherwise occupied in Egypt. The provincial Roman governor Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus concentrated his forces at Comana, piecing together an army out of the 36th Legion (formed after Pharsalus with veterans, presumably from Pompey's disbanded legions), two green legions recruited in Lesser Armenia and armed in the Roman style by King Deiotarus of Galatia, and a mixed bag of local auxiliary skirmishers and cavalry from Cilicia. Despite being outnumbered, Domitius advanced toward Pontus to unite with a legion of military settlers hastily recruited from the Roman colonies there, taking the precaution of marching along high woody ridges to neutralize Pharnaces' advantage in cavalry. Employing ambassadors in an unsuccessful attempt to delay Domitius, Pharnaces retired from Cappadocia to the vacinity of Nicopolis in lesser Armenia.
Moving aggressively, Domitius marched his army to within seven miles from Nicopolis and then encamped, deftly avoiding an ambush set by Pharnaces. Withdrawing to the city, Pharnaces prepared the field for the coming battle, digging two deep trenches at right angles to his battle line to protect its flanks. There is historical debate over the exact composition of Pharnaces' army, namely whether it featured Roman-style "immitation legionaries" that had been trained by his father, or whether Pharnaces had reverted to a Hellenistic-style pike phalanx. Given his despositions, it is assumed that the phalanx was in use.
Domitius advanced to find Pharnaces' heavy foot formed in deep ranks between the two trenches, fronted by skirmishers, and the numerous Mithrandic cavalry (including heavy Sarmatian cataphracts) deployed on the flanks beyond the trenches.
Domitius deployed his veteran 36th on the right wing and his Pontic legion on the left, with the unblooded Armenian legions in the center. The line was stretched thin to match the front of Pharnaces' army, perhaps in hope that the Roman foot would envelope Pharnaces' foot. Domitius also deployed his auxiliary skirmishers to the front, and his outnumbered cavalry on either flank opposite their Mithradatic counterparts. The historical accounts are not detailed, but it is theorized that Pharnaces cavalry quickly drove the Roman auxiliary horse from the field, pursuing it deeply into the Roman rear.
As the cavalry fought on the flanks, the Roman foot advanced, while Pharnaces' foot stood on the defensive. On the right, the 36th Legion advanced to the walls of Nicopolis bypassing the left flank of Pharnaces phalanx across the ditch and then turning to attack toward the center. On the left, the Pontic legion advanced and then attempted to cross the ditch, but was pinned down and disordered in the attempt. Meanwhile, the Armenian legions advancing in the center made contact with Pharnaces' foot phalanx, but quickly broke and fled, possibly because of the threat posed to their rear by the returning Mithdradatic cavalry. That left only the 36th Legion in good order; the veterans formed a circular formation and marched off to high ground nearby where Domitius rallied his survivors. Although the 36th Legion escaped with light losses of only 250 men, Domitius purportedly lost all but 12,000 of his 30,000 man army, and was forced to retire. A subsequent rebellion, however, prevented Pharnaces from capitalizing on his victory.
Wargaming the Nicopolis
Nicopolis represents a pretty straight-forward battle, requiring only slight modifications to the DBA army lists and special rules to deal with deployment, the Mithradatic trenches, and the proximity of Nicopolis.
Domitius - Modified Marian Roman (II/49). 1x 4Bd (Gen), 3x 4Bd, 4x 4Sp, 1x 2Lh, 1x 3/4Ax and 2x 2Ps. The 4Sp represent the Armenian legions. Alternatively, you could represent them as Blades with a -1 modifier to close combat.
Pharnaces -- Modified Mithradatic/Pontic (II/48). 1x 3Cv (Gen), 1x 3Kn, 1x 2Lh, 5x 4Pk, 1x 4Ax, 1x 3Ax and 2x 2Ps. Given descriptions of the battle, it is believed that Pharnaces abandoned his father's experiment with Imitation Legionaries in favor of a classical Hellenistic phalanx. Similarly, there is no mention of Scythed Chariots in the historical descriptions.
Deployment: Pharnasces deploys first, with at least six foot elements (including all Pike elements) between the ditches and with all cavalry outside the ditches on either (or both) flanks. Domitius deploys normally and then moves first.
Trenches: Mark the trenches as indicated on the map and treat them as bad going but with steep embankments on each edge that can be defended like a river bank. Elements attempting to cross a ditch must end movement in the ditch in the first bound, and then move at bad going rate to clear the ditch in the subsequent bound.
Nicopolis: Nicopolis is represented as an oversize BUA rather than a camp.
Normal, except there is no Roman camp.
Last Updated: Sept. 26, 2003
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