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The Battle of Chrisophilae, 86 BC


The Roman World, Hail Caesar, 28mm

The day after my Napoleonic game my attic wargaming den in Orkney was pressed into service again. The excuse was a visit from my friend Chris Henry, who brought his Successor army to bolter my growing collection of Hellenistic troops. The scene was set for a fictitious battle set during the First Mithraditic War (88-84 BC), fought between the Romans of the Late Republic and the polyglot army of Mithradites VI Eupator, King of Pontus. Mithradites is a colourful character – he was immune to poison, he murdered most of his family and other rivals, and he fought three wars against Rome, making him one of the Roman Republic’s most implacable enemies. In our game a Roman force of eight units (let’s call them cohorts) and a mixed brigade of Allied cavalry faced a Mithraditic army. The Pontic force consisted of pike phalanxes, a Galatian warband, Cappadocian archers, Greek peltasts, Scythian horse archers, Pontic cavalry, Armenian cataphracts and scythed chariots. Chris Henry took command of this assorted rabble, while I took charge of the Romans. Actually, the Pontic army doesn’t consist of bad troops – it just has an awful lot of different types, each with their own capabilities.The battle began with both sides moving forward, with a brace of pike phalanxes in the centre and left of the Pontic line. The left pair were supported by two units of peltasts, while those in the centre were accompanied by a Galatian warband – the Celts baying for Roman blood. Over on the Pontic right the cavalry advanced slowly, harried as they advanced by my Numidian light cavalry. The Pontic cavalry was of better quality than my own Gallic and Greek allied cavalry, so I let the skirmishers soften up the enemy before the main clash. Over on the Pontic left the scythed chariots were launched in their all-or-nothing charge. Both smashed into the Roman line, but thanks to some lucky die rolling the disciplined Romans merely opened ranks to let them through, and these spectacular one-shot weapons were rendered impotent.Next up were the Galatians. A Celtic charge is pretty difficult to stop, and sure enough my Roman cohort was forced to give ground, and then chopped to pieces. The frothing Galatians then smacked into the Roman reserve cohort behind the line, and forced them to retreat disordered. This pushed the Romans off the table edge, and so out of the game. However, by this time the warband was spent, having garnered enough hit markers to become badly shaken. It would take time to recover sufficiently for them to rejoin the fight. Meanwhile on the Pontic left the chariots were followed by the pike phalanxes, supported by the peltasts. In the melee which followed the phalangites were held by the Roman front line.The Romans then called up their reserves, pushing back and then breaking the two units of peltasts supporting the Pontic pikes. Without their supports the fight was knocked out of the phalangites, particularly as their Roman opponents closed ranks, reducing their own casualties but still putting enough pressure on their opponents to render them “shaken”. A strong of break tests followed, and within a turn the Pontic left-hand brigade collapsed, with two pike units and two peltast units removed from the table.This meant that it was now unlikely that Chris’ Mithraditic army would win the day. However, he still had his veteran cavalry. They launched an all-out charge, and while my Greek and Gallic horse did their best they were repeatedly forced back towards the Roman table edge. Eventually the Gauls broke and ran, leaving the Pontic cavalry free to gang up on the Greeks. The following turn they too were swept from the field. The only saving grace for the Romans was that thanks to the pluckiness of the Numidians the heavier enemy cavalry suffered draining losses from javelins, and it would take a few turns for them to get back into the fight.  Over on the Roman right the cohorts swung round to form up along the road which ran down the middle of the table. In effect they had turned their line round through 90°. In the process they charged and broke the battered Galatians – a moment of sweet revenge for me, having lost a quarter of my infantry to the warband!On the far side of the field a small skirmish unit of Persian archers hid in a small wooded hill, and two units of Cappadochian medium infantry archers tried to held the swinging line of Romans. The Persian skirmishers were screened by a small unit of Cretan archers. The Romans then assaulted the Capapdochians, but were repulsed. A second assault went in, this time supported by a second cohort. This time the archers broke and fled, taking their supporting unit with them. Chris was fast running out of troops.A lull followed, as both sides rallied their shaken units, ready for the last phase of the battle. By now the Romans had formed back into a steady line of six cohorts, supported by a small skirmish unit Balearic slingers. Facing them were the remaining two units of Pontic pikemen, some Scythian horse archers and foot archer skirmishers, and of course the two remaining units of Pontic and Armenian cavalry. The Armenian cataphracts were so badly shaken they were going nowhere, particularly as they were still being harried by those pesky Numidians. So, the remaining large unit of Pontic horse charged the far left of the Roman line. They broke the Romans, meaning I’d lost a third cohort. This proved something of a Pyrrhic victory, as they also suffered enough hits to force a break test on them. They failed, and were removed from the table. Given that Chris only had his two pike blocks left he decided to call it a day. He stood no chance of breaking the Roman line, and so the remnants of the Mithraditic army withdrew from the field. We both thoroughly enjoyed the game – only the second one we’d played with these highly playable rules. We’ll certainly revisit this – a new period for us – some time very soon.

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