Thursday, 7 May 2009

First Post - Callinicum 531 CE

I spent six months painting fresh figures to add to my 25mm collection, intending to contribute in some way to the Society of Ancients Battle Day. I already have a large number of veteran Byzantines of various kinds that could serve at a pinch for the Eastern Romans. Warrior Miniatures Parthians would do for the Persian light horse and the elite aristocracy. I also have a bunch of Essex Islamic Persians purchased from another gamer a while ago. In order to put the game on properly, I needed more Persian heavy cavalry, which I bought from Gripping Beast. I also needed plenty of pre-Islamic Arab allies for both armies, some of which I bought from another gamer and repainted and rebased (something of a theme with me...); I purchased the rest from Musketeer Miniatures. I decided to include some camelry for the Lakhmid Arabs who were Persian allies, mainly because I already had a few lying around (Gripping Beast figures again). I managed to get it all together with a couple of weeks to spare. The venue was the hut of one our club members, which has a 16' by 5' sand table. We needed 10' for the battlelines, plus space for the Euphrates, the islands and something to represent the town of Callinicum itself, so there was more than enough room; see the Society of Ancients website for the Battle Pack setting out the details. We played the game on April 26th 2009. The rules were a pre-publication set of Tactica II; our lot in Glasgow is one of the playtest groups. The shot below shows the whole table, taken from the location of Callinicum and looking out across the Euphrates towards the rising ground in the distance: Rather than duplicate too much, the sequence explaining the relative deployments is mostly taken from behind the Persian lines, looking towards their Roman adversaries. The first is of the Persian right, with the Euphrates just off the extreme right:
The Persian deployment was symmetrical, with two large commands of heavy cavalry in the centre, and a command of lighter troops on each wing. Some of the light horse on the right wing can be see in the photo above, along with the first of the central heavy commands. The shot below continues along the rear of the Persian army, from right to left:
Next comes a closer look at the Persian aristocracy as they face the weakest point in the Roman line, the light infantry linking their own centre with their Ghassanian Arab allies on their right flank:
The figures in the left foreground are Warrior Miniatures Parthian cataphracts, remodelled with differing cloaks, helmets and arm positions. I bought these years ago from one of the other painters in our club. The mass of cavalry to the right are some of my newly painted Gripping Beast heavy archers. The next one is the penultimate in the sequence, showing the same command as above, but from an angle looking uphill to the Persians' Lakhmid Arab allies:To round off the Sassanian deployment, we have the Lakhmids on their hill. The guys to the centre right of the following shot are recently repainted old heavy cavalry figures doubling up as armoured light horse; hence the base spacers. To their left are newly painted Musketeer Miniatures Bedouins, and to their left some of the Gripping Beast camelry:
The entire Persian army was mounted. By way of contrast, the Romans were set up in rather a peculiar manner, based upon the historical information summarised in the Society of Ancients Battle Pack. Their left flank rested on the Euphrates and was composed of heavy infantry. Their centre was divided into three heavy cavalry commands. To their right were the light infantry and, finally, their Ghassanian Arab friends on the high ground facing the Lakhmids. Here we have the Roman left:

The Romans did have a few skirmishers, but their force was also mostly mounted. Their main problem on the day seems to have been some kind of command control problem, which Belisarius' biographer Procopius blames on jealous rivalries among the generals. We simulated this by making the Romans roll to activate their various commands. The next shot is from behind the Roman centre:

The Roman army was larger than its Persian foe, but it suffered from several factors in addition to command and control problems. The Sassanians deployed with a strong following wind, which acted to the detriment of Roman missile fire. Also, we felt that the Sassanians have been unfairly downgraded by gamers over the years due to something of an unavoidable bias in the historical sources; we gave their heavy cavalry a further advantage of horse armour against missile fire. We were hoping that the combination plus the poor initial Roman setup would compensate for their superior size - in effect, we wanted a close game. We were even hoping ultimately for a draw that would approximate the historical outcome. Both sides' missile fire was pretty poor as the armies closed. The Romans advanced piecemeal in the centre, and were suitably punished, forcing them to commit their only reserve (the elite Bukellarii) to try to shore things up:

The Roman figures are a real mix of Old Glory, Minifigs and Hinchliffe. At the top right you can just see the impending clash of the Arabs. The next shot is from behind the Roman left. They easily pressed back the Persian light horse, allowing their heavy cavalry in this sector to overlap the Persian heavies:The battle had now reached its crisis point. The Ghassanians on the Roman right had refused to move all game. Here they are being charged by the Lakhmids:

The Ghassanians surprised everyone by winning this fight. As this was happening, the Romans caught and destroyed the Persian light horse and the battered Persian heavies fought their way through the Roman centre. Both armies reached their break points in the same turn, so we declared a very bloody draw, although the Romans felt that the Persians deserved the honours. All in all, the outcome we desired, although not quite as it probably happened in 531. And all in just over two hours, not bad for a large game like this one. Just after we played the game, I received Issue 263 of Slingshot, the journal of the Society of Ancients, which includes an interesting article on the battle by Stuart Hey. He argues that Procopius misrepresents a great deal of what happened at Callinicum, and theorises that the Romans were caught in march column as they pursued the retiring Persian army, which turned and took them by surprise. This would explain the Roman deployment and the poor performance of the Ghassanians, who were at the head of the column and so were the first troops exposed to the attack. We will take these comments into consideration when we run a scaled down version at Claymore in Edinburgh this August, probably with a more staggered Roman deployment to simulate the turn from column.


  1. What are good ways to open the game from the time at which the march column realizes it must deploy?

    You could give the player a diagram of his units in column and the general terrain behind his edge of the board, and an estimate of how many turns before the enemy arrives on their edge of the board in line of battle.

    He must choose whether to advance and turn 90 degrees in a mass column and then face, or whether to bring out units from behind. Do the rules allow for various methods of manoeuver, and command levels appropirate to moving groups of units together, etc?

  2. Thanks for the comment. We deliberately began the game at Claymore with the Romans in staggered deployment, having just shaken out from army march column; we also made them roll to activate their commands. On a deeper table, it could be interesting to start them off in column, and make them try to turn to meet the Persians. This is possible in Tactica II, but it will be messy, especially given the requirement to remain within command radius of the various generals. Which would probably be about right; it would ceratinly be another way to simulate what probably happened.