THE BATTLE OF CYNOSCEPHALAE, 197 BCE.
This is a refight of the battle of Cynoscephalae, using Philip Sabin’s ‘Lost Battles’ rules. Romans under Flaminius take on Macedonians under Philip V. We’d previously played Pydna (168 BCE) a few times, which had proven very difficult for the Macedonians. Cynoscephalae looked like it could be closer. As we lacked a large enough ‘arid’ hill, the high ground occupied by the Macedonians is indicated by the bushes. . . . Both armies started with some cavalry and light infantry on the table, with the bulk of the army deploying as the battle started.
All figures are Xyston. And all the pikes are very sharp!
^ Initial Roman position
^Initial Macedonian position
Roman turn 1: Romans deploy. Elephants support a strong centre, cavalry push out to each wing.
^ Romans deploy, sending cavalry out to each wing
Macedonian turn 1: Infantry deploy with strong centre and right, intending to refuse the left flank. Preliminary fighting sees the Romans’ Aitolian cavalry routed by the Thessalian cavalry on the Macedonian right.
^ Macedonians deploy
Roman turn 2: The Roman centre moves forward initially on both its wings with a reserve held back in the centre. The Roman cavalry advances on its left to fill the gap left by the Aetolians.
^Roman advance. In the distance, the cavalry can be seen pushing on.
Macedonian turn 2: Macedonian infantry advance but refuse their left. On their right, Illyrian light infantry drive off Roman skirmishers.
^ The Macedonian left refused as the centre advances.
Roman turn 3: The Roman left wing cavalry, commanded by Flaminius, defeat the Thessalians. On their right, allied cavalry move to outflank the Macedonian infantry, and the legionaries move forward.
^ In the background the Roman infantry advance on the Macedonian left. The cavalry fight is out of shot!
Macedonian turn 3: The infantry come together and the struggle begins. On their right, the Macedonian cavalry make headway against the Romans, but Flaminius is able to rally them and save them from destruction- a critical point.
Roman turn 4: The Roman right wing cavalry moves to the flank of the Macedonian infantry. On the left the Roman cavalry, nearly destroyed the previous turn, are able to break the Macedonian cavalry, leaving both flanks of the Macedonian army exposed.
Macedonian turn 4: The centre struggles to make any progress against the stubborn legionaries. The difficult terrain may allow the Macedonians a little more time to try and break the Roman centre before the pressure from the flanking cavalry becomes too much.
Roman turn 5: Flaminius leads his cavalry around the back of the Macedonians into the foothills.
^ Flaminius leading his cavalry. Left of picture, the light infantry rearguard can just be seen.
^ Another view of the Roman flanking manoeuvre.
Macedonian turn 5: The mercenary light infantry are sent back from the centre to protect the Macedonian rear against the Roman cavalry. The right wing infantry attacks the Roman left, putting light infantry and the Aetolian infantry to flight. The Macedonians have done some damage to the Romans, enough to hope for a breakthrough.
Roman turn 6: The pressure on the Macedonian left becomes too much, as one phalanx unit is broken, causing the others to flee and sweeping away the light infantry rearguard.
^ The Macedonian left is broken and the centre looks doomed.
Macedonian turn 6: The writing is on the wall now for the Macedonians, who fail to put enough pressure on the Roman centre.
Roman turn 7: Now the Macedonian centre is broken and put to flight, leaving only their right wing intact.
Macedonian turn 7: The last gasp for the remaining infantry, inflicting some damage on the Romans.
Roman turn 8: It’s all over as the Macedonian army collapses completely.
After the battle it was time to tot up the victory points. Lost Battles uses a ‘handicap’ system, whereby the inferior army (in terms of its fighting value) gets a victory points bonus to offset their inferiority. As it turned out the Macedonians, despite losing the battle, ‘won’ the game narrowly by 89 points to 86.
As the Macedonians, I had intended to try and smash the Roman centre and left, while refusing my own left, using the favourable position on the hill. There were two critical points. The first was where the Roman cavalry was saved from death by the general rallying them. Had this failed, I would have had cavalry to threaten the Roman left, and the Romans would have no general. As it was the Romans added insult to injury by immediately destroying my cavalry on the next turn. The second critical point was the morale test for the Macedonian left, where anything bar a 1 or 2 on a d6 would have kept them in the game for another turn at least, and probably would have enabled them to defeat the Romans in front of them.
Once again, the resilience of the Roman legions was evident. They are much less likely to fail morale than the Macedonian infantry. And once again, the battle held the temptation of victory for the Macedonians even though it’s virtually impossible to win! Still, the Macedonians ‘won’ on points so that’s something.
Lost Battles is perhaps not the most accessible set of rules, being part of a greater study on classical warfare, but if you are interested in the classical period, I would highly recommend it.