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Battle of Tara (81 AD)
Rome Invades Ireland!

By Tim Donovan

The Romans never did actually invaded Ireland although this had been seriously considered by Agricola as recorded on more than one occasion by Tacitus. Agricola belived that Ireland could be "reduced with a single legion with a fair-sized force of auxiliaries" and this would have fallen perfectly in line with his proposed strategy of holding Britain by completely surrounding her with armies. However all he did manage to do was send a small force of Auxilia, in 81 AD, to help an exiled Irish King regain his throne. The divided and divisive nature of Ireland made this the more expedient Œforeign policy" of Rome, that is, intervening with a small force to help an exile regain his throne or help one kingship rise up and dominate the others in the hopes of ensuring good relations. This strategy was prone to backfire though, as when their puppet fell the new High King often retaliated by launching raids, especially for slaves, against the west coast of Briton.

For the Irish had, despite the flimsy nature of their hide covered Curraghs, become adept as sea raiders and harried the whole coast of Briton and Alba. Their depradations as slave raiders were an annoying nuisance in earlier times but later in the fourth and fifth centuries famine, plague, and violent political upheaval was transforming Irish society. The raiders, now often displaced tribes, were settling in growing numbers in what we now know as Wales, Cornwall and western Scotland.

The following scenarios are a hypothetical Roman invasion of Ireland. Tired of constant raiding and piracy, or to instill stability to slow the migration to Briton, the Romans finally decide to launch an invasion of Ireland, striking for the the Hill of Tara, the traditional seat of the Ard Ri, or High King.

The Standard Scenario

The Armies: The standard scenario would have the Scots-Irish (#61) fight any of the appropriate Western Roman army; Marian (#59), Early Imperial (#64), Middle Imperial (#69) or Late-Roman (77a).

Terrain: I suggest the Irish place the terrain, including their +4 Hillfort (1 element capacity), 2 hills, 2 woods, and 1 road and then 0-3 additional terrain pieces of woods, bog, or road. Terrain pieces should be no smaller than 200 paces in length and or breadth and no larger than 1000 paces with least 200 paces separating all terrain pieces excluding river or roads.

Deployment: The Warband to Blade and Mounted to Auxilia match-ups make initial deployment critical. I suggest that the Irish set the terrain excepting the hillfort. The Romans pick the edge to invade, then the Irish deploy their fort and 6 elements. The Romans then deploy 6 elements, then the Irish finish their deployment followed by the Romans. Dice for the initiative.

Rules and Victory: Standard.

The Expanded Scenario

I have always preferred Big Battle DBA as it allows for a more appropriate representation and balance of the armies. My expanded scenarios utilize armies of roughly 100 points as per DBM and are played on an expanded battleboard (2 x 4 for 15mm, 4 x 6 for 25mm).

In this scenario the Late Romans have recovered from the dreaded triple alliance onslaught of Picts, Scots-Irish and Saxons that broke through the frontier in 379 AD. Once the frontier has been again stabilized the Romans finally launch a much belated invasion of Ireland, ostensibly, and as always, to place an exiled king on the throne.

The Armies

  • Scots Irish: 6 LCh or Wb (Nobles and Fianna) 4 Wb (mercenaries)12 Ax, 8 Ps. By this time the use of chariots was fading with the Irish king and his loyal Fianna often fighting on foot to bolster the more brittle and lightly armed warriors. Many historical sources mention mercenaries, fanatic Attecotti early on, often Franks or later Scots, as a personal guard or force accompanying the king.

  • Late Roman: 1Kn or Cv, 2 Cv, 1 Lh , 4 Bd, 6 Ax, 2 Ps, + 1 LCh or Wb, 6 Ax, 2 Ps (rebel Irish exiles). I would assume the that the Romans would place an emphasis on Auxilia and rebels leaving more of their Heavy Cavalry and legions at home in Britain. However I have always wanted to see Late Roman Catafractarii and Chariots clash, however fanciful this may be. Feel free to modify as you see fit.

Terrain Notes: I suggest the Irish place the terrain, including their +4 Hillfort (1 element capacity), 3 hills, 3 woods, and then 0-3 additional terrain pieces of woods, bog, or road. No terrain piece should be overly large and their should be at least a 2 element width gap separating all terrain pieces.

Deployment: I suggest that the Irish set the terrain excepting the hillfort. The Romans pick the edge to invade, then the Irish deploy their fort and 12 elements. The Romans then deploy 12 elements and their camp, then the Irish finish their deployment followed by the Romans. Dice for the initiative.

Special Rules: There are 2 Roman Generals and 2 Irish Generals, however only one pip die is used.

Optional: The Romans roll 2 pip die taking the ONE higher score to represent their regular status.

The single rebel Irish chariot element is the "puppet" ruler to be placed on the throne. He fights as a general (+1) but has no pip die and counts as 2 elements lost if destroyed.

Victory Conditions: Normal DBA with army break point at 8 elements for the Irish and 7 for the Romans. All generals, the camp, and the rebel Irish King element count as 2 elements lost.

Background Resources

* The Age of Arthur, John Morris, 1973, Scribners,
*Early Medieval Ireland, Daibhi Oš Croinin, 1995, Longman History of Ireland.
*Barbarians and Romans, Justine Davis Randers-Pehrson, 1983, Oklahoma
Medieval Ireland, Michael Richter, 1995, St. Martinšs press
Arthuršs Britain, Leslie Alcock, 1971, Penguin
*Arthur and the Anglo-Saxon Wars. David Nicolle, 1984 Osprey (#154)
Medieval Historical Battles 732 to 1485, Peter Sides, 1993, Gosling
The Celts, Nora Chadwick, 1971, Penguin

WRG
*Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome, Phil Barker
Armies of the Dark Ages, Ian Heath,
*Army Lists, Book Two, 55bc -1000 AD (for WRG Rules)
*D.B.M. Army Lists, Book 2 : 500 BC to 476 AD
D.B.A. version 1.2

* Denotes primary sources for this battle.


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Last Update: March 17, 2000

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