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Three Days of Battle (Spring, 209 BC)

By Bill Sumruld
(Inspired by Livy, The History of Rome
Book 27, Chapters 12-14)

In the Spring of 209 BC, as soon as there was adequate forage, Marcellus left winter camp and continued his pursuit of Hannibal. He found the Carthaginian trying to get the city of Canusium to switch sides. The country being too open for an ambush and Hannibal having lost much of his cavalry advantage, the Carthaginian withdrew and headed southward toward Bruttium.

Marcellus followed closely, using the Numidian and Spanish cavalry that had recently deserted to the Romans, to harrass Hannibal's retreating forces. Eventually these forces interfered with the Carthaginian's attempts to fortify a camp. Without a plan on either side the conflict gradually escalated to a full scale battle in the late afternoon. Night brought an end to the fighting with fortified camps relatively close to each other.

The next morning the two forces, after Hannibal made a rousing speech to his men, met in open battle on an almost featureless plain. For two hours the battle raged. Then Marcellus tried to relieve some of his allied forces on the right wing with the Eighteenth Legion, which he had held in reserve. As the legion slowly advanced the allies broke and burst into the lines of the legion causing a confusion that turned to a rout and resulted in some 2,700 Romans and allies being killed. The Romans fled to their fortified camp but the Carthaginians did not pursue. The allies had lost four military standards and the legion two.

Back in camp, Marcellus harangued those troops who had fled. According to Livy, his speech was so bitter and angry that the men felt "a whole day's fighting followed by defeat was a lighter burden...." These men were then given only barley for rations and subjected to public ridicule. The next morning these men begged Marcellus to put them in the front line and he praised them. He hoped to have a victory before word of the previous day's failure could reach Rome.

Hannibal was puzzled, when the Romans came out of their camp full of fight. According to Livy, his comment was, "How very odd! We have an enemy to deal with who seems unable to endure either success or failure. If he wins, he can't keep his hands off the vanquished; if he loses, he renews the struggle with the men who beat him." According to Livy, both sides fought even harder this third day than they had the second.

The Eighteenth Legion formed on the extreme right and the allies, who had broken the day before, on the extreme left of the Roman battle line. Able subcommanders, Lentulus and Nero, commanded these forces while Marcellus placed himself with the Legionaries in the center. On Hannibal's side, Livy says that Hannibal placed his best troops, the Spaniards, in the front line.

The battle seemed indecisive, so Hannibal sent his elephants into the front line in hopes of causing panic among the Romans. At first it worked, the Romans were thrown into confusion and pushed back. When it looked like a Roman rout was likely, a military tribune, named Gaius Decimius Flavus, seized the standard of the first maniple of Hastati and led them in a counter attack. They let fly with missile weapons and caused a panic among the elephants. The elephants charged their own line and broke a hole in it. The Romans followed up and shattered the Carthaginian line. Roman cavalry pursued the routing Carthaginians to their fortified camp. The Carthaginians had a hard time getting into the camp because two elephants lay dead in the gateway. The Romans felt themselves too spent to attempt taking the Carthaginian camp.

The butcher's bill for this last day of battle was five elephants and eight thousand of Hannibal's men. A thousand seven hundred Romans from the two legions involved and thirteen hundred Roman allies had also been killed. During the night, Hannibal got on the march again. Marcellus felt himself unable to follow because of the great number of his wounded but sent scouts to monitor the progress of Hannibal's column.


Hannibal's Carthaginians (#31b): 2x3Cv, 1x2Lh, 1xEl, 2x4Sp, 2x4Ax (Spanish Scutarii), 2x3Wb, 1x2Ps (Spanish Caetrati), 1x2Ps (Balearic Slingers).

Marcellus' Polybian Romans (#46b): 2x3Cv, 1x2Lh (Spanish and Numidian deserters), 5x4Bd, 2x4Sp, 2x2Ps.



Victory Conditions

The first army to lose its general or five elements (and which has also lost more elements than the enemy) losses the battle. Losses from the previous day(s) of battle do not count against the five element requirement in subsequent battles.

Special Rules

Hannibal's elite Spanish foot troops, Scutarii (Ax) and Caetrati (Ps), get an automatic +1 to their combat factors.

Camps are immune to capture. If forced to flee, forces from both sides will try to make it to their respective camps instead of table edge. Troops who flee into a camp are automatically available for battle the next day and are not considered lost for victory condition purposes.

First Day: Use Tony Stapell's Random Game End rules variant with a very low number of total pips before nightfall (20 might be good). Before the second day's battle, dice for any lost elements. On a roll of 2-6, they are available for the second day. On a roll of 1 they are not.

Second Day: Again use Tony Stapell's "Random Game End" rules variant but this time increase the number of pips before nightfall (30-40 might be good). Also use my own Random Recoils rules variant with the exception that everything follows the normal recoil rules on a roll of 2-6, but on a roll of 1 an element must panic and attempt to flee. Before the third day's battle, dice for any lost elements. On a roll of 3-6, they are available for the second day. On roll of 1-2 they are not.

Third Day: Again use Stapell's "Random Game End" rules variant and my "Random Recoils" rules variant. This time, however, (as in its original form) a roll of 6 results in a "fighting rage," a roll of 1 in a "panic," and a roll of 2-5 in a normal recoil. Also use Tony Stapell's Berserk Elephants rules variant.

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Last Update: May 7, 2000

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