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The Battle of Cannae, 216 BC

A scenario for Warhammer Ancient Battles
Written by Anthony Edwards

Historical Context:

Hannibal had crossed the Alps into Italy. Rome immediately dispatched an army to deal with this new threat under the command of Sempronius Longus. This met with disaster at the autumn Battle of Trebbia. Despite 10,000 Romans in the center managed to cut their way through the celtic center their allied leigons and cavalry were completely destroyed. The following spring a new consular army was raised and sent to confront Hannibal. They were ambushed at Lake Trasimene and wiped out - never before had such a large scale ambush been so successful. The situation was now desperate. Flexing the last of what it felt was its remaining muscle Rome raised a double consular army under the commands of Terentius Varro and Aemilius Paulus. They caught up with Hannibal near the town of Cannae...

Orders of Battle

Carthage

Note: The following army lists use our own homegrown lists for Rome and Carthage. Rome in AoA is lacking and Carthage is basically a 1st War list.

Command
Hannibal (general) Sword, light armor, horsie 150
ASB Sword, light armor, horse 85
Heavy Infantry
24 Hannibal's Veteran Africans thrusting spear, large shield, light armor, drilled, stubborn, std ld mus 351
24 Hannibal's Veteran Africans thrusting spear, large shield, light armor, drilled, stubborn, std ld mus 351
16 Spanish Scutari heavy throwing spear, shield, std ld mus 143
16 Spanish Scutari heavy throwing spear, shield, std ld mus 143
35 Celtic Warriors mixed weapons (counts as throwing spears), shield, std ld mus 225
35 Celtic Warriors mixed weapons (counts as throwing spears), shield, std ld mus 225
35 Celtic Warriors mixed weapons (counts as throwing spears), shield, std ld mus 225
Light Infantry
12 Celtic Skirmishers javelin 48
12 Lybian skirmshiers javelin, buckler 84
12 Lybian skirmshiers javelin, buckler 84
12 Spanish Caetrati throwing spear, buckler 84
12 Baleric Slingers sling 72
Cavalry
10 Spanish Horse throwing spear, lt armor, shield, std ld mus 225
10 Numidian Horse javelin, shield, std ld mus 155
10 Numidian Horse javelin, shield, std ld mus 155
10 celtic noble cavalry throwing spear, lt armor, shield, std ld mus 325
10 celtic light cavalry javelin, shield, std ld mus 135
10 celtic light cavalry javelin, shield, std ld mus 135
Total 3400 points

That is just about proportionately correct - a 3:2:5 ratio of Africans:Spanish:Celts, 3:1 Heavy:Light infantry, 2:1:3 Numidian:Spanish:Celtic horse, and 4:1 foot:horse. Sure some of the numbers seem a little stock and overly canned, like the stoic assignment of 12 foot and 10 horse to all. The Baleric slingers are a little over represented, but there is nowhere to run, little time to shoot, and the Romans are well screened with their own lights it should not be an issue. (It was not in our refight.) I am also not too certain about calling 2/3 of the celtic cavalry "light", but then I highly doubt it was entirely composed of what WAB refers to as "noble".

Historically Hannibal had roughly 40,000 foot and 10,000 horse. The infantry was reported to be 12,000 Africans, 8,000 Scutari, and roughly 20,00 Gauls. About 1/3 of his infantry were skirmishers - Connolly said in roughly similar proportions but others disagree. I think the take-home lesson is the majority of the skirmisers are the simple javelin throwing kind. Hannibal also had approximately 4,000 Numidian horse, 2,000 Spanish horse, and 6,000 new Gaullic horse. I already mentioned my uncertainty about the composition of the barbarian cavalry. The important part here is their role was undistinguished from the Spanish, aside from having been deployed behind the spanish horse.

Rome

These are intentionally formed into large and unweildy units, to help 'simulate' the perceived density and oversized mob of Roman leigonaires on the field of battle. While the Romans will have the 'larger' army the Carthaginian side actually will have more tactical units, and thus more tactical options, than the Romans. When deployed into units of 5x5 models their frontage will be approximately the same as Carthage.

Characters
General Horse, light armor, sword 150
ASB Light armor, sword 85
Leigons
Hastati
25 Hastati pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
25 Hastati pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
25 Hastati pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
25 Hastati pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
25 Hastati pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
Principes
25 Principes pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
25 Principes pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
25 Principes pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
25 Principes pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
25 Principes pilum, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 265
Triarii
12 Triarii thrusting spear, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 159
12 Triarii thrusting spear, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 159
12 Triarii thrusting spear, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 159
12 Triarii thrusting spear, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 159
12 Triarii thrusting spear, large shield, light armor, std ld mus 159
Velites
12 Velites javelin, sword, shield 63
12 Velites javelin, sword, shield 63
12 Velites javelin, sword, shield 63
12 Velites javelin, sword, shield 63
12 Velites javelin, sword, shield 63
Cavalry
8 Roman Cavalry throwing spear, light armor, shield, std ld mus 159
10 Allied Cavalry throwing spear, light armor, shield, std ld mus 195
Total 4349 points

The Romans had an oversized double counsular army at their disposal, however due to the tragedies of Trebbia and Traisamene they were deficient in skilled horsemen. There is an awful lot of speculation on just how many roman leigonaires took the field that dreadful morning. Livy (I think) records there being as many as 10,000 of the 80k maximum left behind to guard the camp. There are also those who claim the standard percentages left behind due to sickness and other levels of combat unpreparedness - although in this case there is no reason to assume Rome was any more severely inflicted that Carthage.

What I have listed above gives Rome about a 150% advantage in infantry. More than enough for a small gaming group to manage, thank you very much. (We didn't on our first attempt.) The true gluttons for punishment will bulk the maniples above up to a full 36 models (6x6) each, and 18 models for the Triarii (6x3) and velites. Now that is a lot of Romans! Leavy the cavalry alone. One interesting variant with the cavalry is cut the Roman cavalry down to five models, and allow the Roman player to bring an extra general - the villan Varro himself. He would not get the army general ability - didn't appear to deserve it this time - but he would be riding a horse, wearing his light armor, and flashing a fine blade. That certianly will look neat and you can laugh when he goes riding off into the sunset.

While I feel that part of the fun of historical reenactments is to see if you can do better than your counterpart, part of the fun of Cannae (for me anyway) is to knowingly fall into the same trap. At Cannae this is easy - deploy your super deep maniples wide enough the other guy cannot possibly flank you, and only commit a single line at a time. Boring...

In this case "fun" means deploying your Romans just wide enough to match the Carthaginian center. The cavalry are to keep your flanks clear - that was the theory anyway. And then intentionally do not react the second and later lines until the Carthaginian player has sprung his trap. I can say from experience, it takes a REAL man to survuve after that.

Terrain

Simply put there should be the river Aufidus on the Carthaginian left and a mass of rolling hills on the right. We left the gap just wide enough for Mike to deploy Hannibal's setup for the infantry and Spanish and Celtic horse in the open, and 'forced' the Numidians to scamper over the hills. A nice sample would look like the following image.

Historical Deployment

Carthage

>From the left:
Spanish horse, celtic noble horse, celtic light horse in a long column
Veteran unit
Celt warband
Scutari block
Celt warband
Scutari block
Celt warband
Veteran unit
Numidian horse
The skirmishers (wow, that is a lot) busied themselves in front of the line.

Rome

>From the right:
Roman horse
Leigon (velites screen hastati screen principes screen triarii spectators)
Leigon (velites screen hastati screen principes screen triarii spectators)
Leigon (velites screen hastati screen principes screen triarii spectators)
Leigon (velites screen hastati screen principes screen triarii spectators)
Leigon (velites screen hastati screen principes screen triarii spectators)
Allied horse

Game Brief

I am a little biased, but once we got the armies setup and ready for action I was a beautiful sight. Six feet of painted troops lining each table edge. And this time it was not some scrumby game, it really was the battle that made Hannibal famous. Lining one side of the table was a freshly painted river terrain by yours truely and on the other was an overlapping mob of shallow hills, we only handpicked the best we had available. It was a stunning sight. I setup the tripod on one table corner, to get a group shot of the Carthaginian line, and "Hey! Where is the camera?!?" I will get pictures next time, I promise.

At this point the 'historical' gloves were off and it was time to get dirty and fight a real game. The roman skirmishers won the upper hand against the carthaginian ones, only to be dispersed by the formed troops behind. Wasn't much else they could do. The Romans almost reversed history and won on the right as well, a pumped unit of velites plowed right through the enemy skirmishers and ALMOST took out the spanish horse. But Hannibal had forseen this encounter and rode to the side to lend the might of his personality. As a result they burst through the skirmishers the next round, foiling a poorly laid Roman trap, and drove off the Roman horse. On the right things were different, Bob managed to defy history and his italian cavalry not only survived the battle but they kept the Numidians in check the entire time.

In the center the Romans had the upper hand in the initial conflict, the Spaniards themselves bugging off to the rear. (Hannibal was directing his horsies when these guys got scared.) Rather than watch his celtic warbands get 'gang raped' they disengaged from the Romans, being able to go back far enough to escape a next round pursiut. At this point Hannibal's gambit began, the cavalry on both sides and the veterans advanced. (*1) Hannibal himself scrambled back to the center to keep it from collapsing. The victorious Romans surged forth with the Hastati, trying to get some fresh kill, while attempting to redirect the Principes on the flanks to face the new danger. This move screwed up our manipular formation, and to make a long story short we collapsed. It was neat for the next turn or two to watch the fleeing Roman units squeeze into the center, rally, and be unable to do anything useful.

But in the end the Romans were defeated. Although this time the army was not completely destroyed, as the famous double envelopment failed to materialize. But it was still a crushing defeat, leaving Hannibal free to roam the Italian country side unopposed.

(*) At this point I choked down my gut impulse, draw the hastati back while widening the line with the principes and triarii, and then stomp my way up the center again. I guess on some level I really wanted to see if 'it could happen again'. My take on Bob's reaction after the game is he really wanted to see it "go off historically" as well.