A Pyrrhic Victory


Pyrrhus and a standard bearer

Several years ago, you may recall, I began a project to wargame Pyrrhus' campaigns in Italy. It stalled after a while, largely because I couldn't decide how I was going to 'model' the interaction between the Roman Maniples and the Phalanx - little meets large is hard to make 'work' in wargaming - either you have to game a very small part of a large battle, so as to have the small units (the Maniples in this case) a reasonable size, or else you have to settle for tiny maniples (a couple of figures) which look really silly. Or so I thought…

After a lot of cogitating, I decided that the method devised by my friend, the late, great, Allen Curtis was probably the most sensible… Which is to, in effect, 'bathtub' the legion - use (effectively) large cohorts to represent the maniples - with a legion being represented by five units - a detachment of cavalry (which can be brigaded with others to form a 'decent-sized' unit), and units of velites (or leves), hastati, principles and triarii. I decided to go for a notional figure:man ratio of 1:75, so a Roman 'legion' has 4 cavalry figures, 16 each of velites, hastati and principes, and lastly 8 triarii.

Facing these 'legions' will be units of 30 phalangites. I picked 30 because it's approximately double the number in a 'maniple' so that, in some sense, it can represent a 'syntagma' (the smallest unit making up the phalanx - nominally of 256 men (versus 120 men for a Roman maniple) arranged in either eight or sixteen ranks.

By basing the 'syntagmata' in five ranks, we maintain something like the same ratio of depths of the units, and the maniples are slightly wider than the syntagmata too, which is as it probably ought to be.

Working at 1:75 though, this is going to be a very large project for one individual working alone. Laevinius' army at Heraclea was made up of four Roman legions and four allied 'legions', so I'll probably need at least 480 figures for the Roman army at least. So far I have one Roman and one allied legion painted, and I am working on a unit of allied cavalry - so I am almost of the way to my Roman goal.

I have not yet made such good progress with the Pyrrhic forces though - I have two elephants, two units of infantry (Tarentine Levy phalanx and hoplites) and a unit of Tarentine cavalry. A long way to go!

As far as rules are concerned, I am intending to adapt my own AVGVSTVS to AVRELIAN. Intially the plan is to re-write them of use in only this campaign. I may 'branch out' later and make them suitable for more general use - Republican Rome versus whoever. If I'm feeling really daft, I might even make them useable for more general 'Hellenistic' period warfare.

So, that's where I'm up to right now. This week's project is a unit of Etruscan cavalry… And to construct a gallery on this site containing all the units I've painted so far!

Copyright Dr. P.C. Hendry, 2010