Monday, August 26, 2013

More distractions - Ancient Rome

Having been thoroughly entertained by the Jack Ludlow series on the Norman Conquest of Italy, I decided to give his Republic series. I am now well into the second book. It has been very entertaining thus far. While this is set during the Republic Era of the Roman Empire, it had the wheels turning in my head.

I have wanted to do a campaign game featuring Imperial or Late Imperial Roman troops. Something set on a border somewhere. Most likely somewhere on Hadrian's Wall or the like. Similar to my previous thoughts of a Norman campaign, I started thinking about this as well instead of focusing where I should be. On that note, all pictures are ready for the book. Waiting on a forward from a friend and I am ready to release the CSIR supplement.

What scale?
Well, like everything else I am doing, 15mm. In particular, I am looking to pick up the "big men" from Eureka Miniatures. The Optio, Centurion, Primus Pilus , Mounted Legatus, Signifer and Cornicea figures in particular will be Eureka minis. For the whole of the men, I am looking at trying the Rebel Minis Legionary and Auxiliary figures. And lastly, the Corvus Belli scorpion and mule team figures.

What would this look like?
Well, that I have no idea about. I was looking at a number of web sites for what would be the garrison of a Roman Milecastle on Hadrian's Wall. That answer seems rather flexible. It seems that the barracks within a Milecastle would vary from 8 men to 32. This is interesting as 8 men maps to a Roman Contubenium or tent party. This was led by a Decanus or file leader.

A Roman Centuria was formed around 10 of these Contubeniums or 80 men. They were led by Centurian and his second in command - a Optio. Each century had a standard bearer (a Signifer) and a musician (Cornicea). This gives us just 2 fellows that qualify as a Big Man in game terms for a body of 80 fighting men. This does not work out too well for Dux Britannarium. However, there were others that one might consider. Within the ranks, there was some room for upward mobility. The lowest of the low were the recruits (Tirones). These were newly recruited troops in the first 6 months of their service next were the Milites Gredarrii or ordinary troops. It seems that there were two career paths after this. First there was the route of the immunis who provided some of the skilled craftsmen and clerical workers for the army. In terms of soldiering, there was promotions in pay. There were those that received pay and a half and those who received double pay. But for purposes of a game and a trooper who would be useful in the chain of command for a body of 80 men. This could be found in the Tesserarius or guard sergeant.

Dux B used groups of 6 men as the basis of a group. To make this work for Romans, lets think about making each group a single tent party or Contubenium of 8 men. It seems that the tent party was the division in which postings were made. For instance, it is supposed that the garrison of a milecastle tower to either side of the milecastle was 8 men. The possible garrison size of the milecastle itself is either 8 or a multiple of 8. Easy enough but that still is not a very cool looking game to have a single block of a century out in the field against a barbarian horde.

This poses the problem in that it seems that Legions had a fairly homogenous units within them. A normal infantry Legion was made of of 10 Cohorts. Each Cohort was made up of 6 legions. Just to muddy things up a bit, the first Cohort of a Legion was double sized. The Legion did have a artillery unit of 30 pieces of artillery in addition to the scorpion that was assigned to each century. The legion also possessed a tiny cavalry arm of 300 cavalry with it as well. Still that gives us no archers, no skirmishers and no light infantry. I want to play a skirmish game not an army based game. So how do I get a variety of troop types on the table and still be historically accurate? The answer is, I don't really know. But there is this.

It seems that Rome would create adhoc formations called Vexilations. Here troops would be groups together from various legions and posted out to the frontiers to deal with problems. One example of this is a Vexilation of Legio X that was sent to Jerusalem to deal with the insurrection of the locals. Only a portion of the legion was sent. In other places, cohorts of legions were sent out to far flung posts to occupy the border forts and pacify the populace. Could a Vexilation be formed by units from multiple legions including Auxiliaries to form a "combined arms" force that is usable by a skirmish wargamer? The answer is maybe. I have not found anything that proves this was not done (again, that is based on a couple hours of Google searches and not serious research).

So lets return to our Milecastle. The Milecastles were typically tended by Auxiliaries rather than regular legion troops. Between the two towers and the milecastle, you had possibly just over half of a century guarding a stretch of wall about 1080 yards long. It is unlikely that just one century would be assigned to the milecastle. The rest of the force would be based back at a fort that would house around 480 infantry and 120 cavalry. That is interesting as the fort offered cavalry as well as infantry. The fort would not have enough room for an entire Legion. Instead it can house only one Cohort yet it also housed cavalry. This is of course based on a couple of forts in England behind Hadrian's Wall rather than any searches beyond this one small border of the Empire.

The 120 cavalry would equate to four turnae of cavalry with each turnae consisting of 30 cavalry troopers. This would be less than half of the cavalry contingent that would be part of a Legion. This suggests that it is likely that if one cohort would rate almost half the cavalry of a full legion, this is possibly a mixed legion fortification. Well, at least in my imagination. Proper historians out there are probably rolling their eyes.

So what would our little fort consist of? The wall itself was manned by Auxilliaries as noted before. So most of the fort would probably be some form of Auxilliary troops. So of 6 cohorts, say 4 are Auxilliaries. Of those two are infantry and two are archers. The remaining two centuries would be regular legions or the heavy infantry. Likely the cavalry would have been a homogenous group rather than from several different cavalry legions so they would either be Auxiliary light cavalry, Auxiliary heavy cavalry or Regular legionary heavy cavalry. Of artillery, you would have the scorpions from the various centuries plus probably some engineers present with some other assorted onagers and the like.

This gives us an interesting mix of troops to tinker with. So our little vexilation in the fort supports one or more milecastles. They are all connected by roads. The milecastle guards a gate to the other side of the wall that allows commerce to pass between the tribes to the north and the pacified tribes to the south.

What does our Dux force look like?
At the moment, my thoughts are still forming. The force represents a force being sent out to interdict a tribal revolt north of the wall or to block a force that has crossed the wall. The whole force would be lead by a senior centurion. Two groups of regular legions as the Heavy Infantry/elites. Rounding out the force would be three groups of Auxiliary Infantry/Warriors and one group of archers (subdivided into 2 groups of 4). The force can be supplemented by cavalry or a scorpion.

More to come later.


  1. Sounds interesting. Somebody in the Too Fat Lardies Yahoo Group posted about a DB game with imperial romans and british tribesmen. You may take a look, and get some ideas.

  2. Found it!

    1. I saw that. He has a good start there as he has already looked at the Celts as well. I am OK with most of his changes, I just want to keep the Romans at 8 men groups to match the tent parties. There is more to think about with this but it is a start. I just need a way to fund it.

  3. If you did late Romans, the light infantry and cavalry could always be barbarian 'foederi' (or whatever their name is)?

    1. Absolutely. It would be interesting in how to differentiate the mercenary troops from proper auxiliaries. That is part of the reason I was thinking of about Early Imperial Rome first. Anyway, it should be fun.

  4. Absolutely. I am easily distracted by an "Oooh Shiny" moment. I have held off on getting into Romans now for several years. I think by Christmas I may give in.

  5. Looks like a great start. At the end of the day I would err more on the side of making a game of it than being "historically accurate".

    1. Good advice. I still need to tinker with it more. I have not even bought any miniatures yet.