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  • Martin Boulter

Clash of Empires The Battle of Cynoscephalae 197 BC

In this article I’m going to use the Clash Battle System to recreate the Roman victory over the Macedonians at Cynoscephalae in 197 BC. This battle is significant because it was a contest for supremacy between the two superpowers of the day namely Macedonia and Rome each of which used a different type of warfare. These being the old and ridged Macedonian Phalanx versus the new and flexible Roman Legion. The battle also marked the start of Roman domination over the Hellenistic World.


Background

During the Second Macedonian War (200 - 196 BC), while campaigning in the hilly country of Thessaly a Roman army led by Titus Quinctius Flamininus clashed with that of the Macedonian King Philip V at Cynoscephalae in 197 BC. Both armies were approximately equal in strength at about 26,000 men although the Romans did have a few war elephants. While trying to locate each other in an early morning mist the two armies were separated by a range of low hills over which an initial period of skirmishing gradually developed into a full-scale battle. Philip seized the initiative by taking the high ground with the Macedonian phalanx of his right wing. He then took a gamble by sending this formation in a charge down the slope at the left wing of the Roman army. The legions on this side of the battlefield shook under the impact of the phalanx and began to give ground. In reply to this Flamininus personally led his right wing which was reinforced with the war elephants up the slope in an attack upon the Macedonian left wing the phalanx of which was still in the process of forming up. The elephants burst through the Macedonian ranks which began to disintegrate. At this point an enterprising Roman tribune saw an opportunity and led 20 maniples (probably of triarri) in an attack against the rear of the Macedonian right wing which was now more or less at the bottom of the slope and still fully engaged with the Roman left wing. Unable to turn and face this new threat the Macedonian phalangites were slain in great numbers and it wasn’t long before the entire army lost all cohesion and broke. The Macedonians lost about 13,000 men whereas the Romans lost a few hundred.     

Clash of Empires

Using the Clash of Empires rules the battle strength and capabilities of the belligerents can be shown as follows: -


Republican Roman Army

The Republican Roman army consists of 21 units inclusive of cavalry. There is also 1 unit of War Elephants, but this unit doesn’t count towards outnumbering an opponent. The Roman army is still a Part-Standing army which uses 2D8 (highest scoring die only) for its Battle Dice. However, after many years of war against Carthage the Roman army has a strong core of experienced veterans. Therefore, this army contains 5 veteran Praetorian units. They have a Combat Rating of , whereas the rest of the army has a normal Legionary army Combat Rating of . On the Combat Rating to Fighting Bonus Conversion Table in the rulebook this equates to +4 FB for the 5 Praetorian units and +8 FB for the remaining 16 Roman Legionary units. This means that the Roman army has a total Fighting Bonus of +12 or +13 if using the full Combat Rating of the War Elephant unit (see below). The Roman Legion hasn’t got a Battle Bonus, but it does have a Special Ability called Relentless. This allows the Roman army to save against defeat by rolling 5-6 on 1D6. This can be used for a field battle and once only. If successful, the Roman army can fight again. In this refight any tactical or numerical superiority that either side might have is negated, but the Roman army will get a manipular support bonus of +1D6. If the Romans choose not to refight then they can disengage with 25% losses to the loser and 10% losses to the winner. By this stage the Romans have also improved their cavalry by upgrading it to Heavy which gives them a +1D8 Battle Advantage Die and associated +1 to Initiative for cavalry. As for the War Elephant unit it has a Combat Rating of which converts to +1 FB and can reduce an opponent’s Battle Roll by 1D6 for Panic on an Initiative win. However, the opponent does get a saving throw and if successful the War Elephant’s CR is reduced to which in this case will convert to 0 FB and the Panic roll drops to 1D3. The Roman commander Flamininus is ranked as competent and rolls 1D6 for Initiative. Due to combat experience the army under his command has a superior command structure +2 Initiative. Therefore, the Republican Roman army rolls 1D6 +3 for Initiative. Both sides are equally matched in number so there is no advantage for outnumbering an opponent.  


Successor Macedonian Army

The Macedonian army also consists of 21 units inclusive of cavalry. It is a Mixed army which uses a 1D10 and 1D6 (highest scoring die) for its Battle Dice and has an army ratio of 3:1. The primary army type is the Standing Macedonian Phalanx and the secondary army type is the Citizen Hoplite Phalanx made up of Greek allies and mercenaries. The Pre-generated Army Ratio Table in the rulebook shows that an army of 21 units in the ratio 3:1 will consist of 16 Primary units and 5 Secondary units. This means that there will be 16 Macedonian Phalanx units at Combat Rating and 5 Hoplite Phalanx units at Combat Rating . On the Combat Rating to Fighting Bonus Conversion Table in the rulebook this equates to +13 FB for the 16 Macedonian units and +2 FB for the 5 Greek Hoplite units. This gives a total of +15 for the Fighting Bonus which is added to the Battle Roll. The primary Battle Bonus belongs to the Macedonian Phalanx and is 1D10 (x2) which can be activated on an odds or evens score on the Battle Dice. The (x2) is a double bonus which is awarded on odds or evens dice and an Initiative win. The Macedonians also have a Heavy Cavalry upgrade which gives them a +1D8 Battle Advantage Die as well as the normal +1 to Initiative for cavalry. As for the Macedonian King Philip V he is ranked as a competent commander and rolls 1D6 for Initiative. For this battle he has decided to put everything in offence and doesn’t keep 20% of his army’s FB in reserve to mitigate the -2 penalty to Initiative for unwieldy Macedonian Phalanx. Furthermore, unlike the battle-hardened Roman army the Macedonian army of this period doesn’t have a superior command structure. Therefore, the Macedonian army rolls 1D6 -1 for Initiative. Both sides are equally matched in number so there is no advantage for outnumbering an opponent. 


Clash Battle System

After rolling for Initiative the Battle Roll for each army consists of the following procedure: -

Roll Battle Dice (highest scoring die only)

Plus, Combat Rating (CR) to Fighting Bonus (FB) (conversion dependent upon number of units)

Plus, Fighting Technique Battle Bonus (activated by odds or evens Battle Dice)

Plus, Advantage Dice (representing a numerical, tactical or other special advantage)

Highest score wins and the difference between the two Battle Rolls determines the number of casualties.


Battle Log

Republican Roman

Initiative

Battle Dice

No. of Units

CR to Fighting Bonus/Battle Bonus if applicable

Battle Advantage Dice

Total Score

1D6 +3

4 + 3 = 7

 

 

 

2D8 =

5 and 1

(Highest die only)

 

21

(4 normal legions plus an extra strong Praetorian legion)

x1 War Elephant unit ❺❷ +1 /+0 FB = +1

Panic (1D6/1D3) = 1D6 = - 6 to opponents Battle Roll

❸ x 5 = +4 FB

❷ x 16 = + 8 FB

Total = +12 FB

 

 

 

Relentless 5-6 1D6 = 3

Heavy Cavalry +1D8

Tactical Advantage +1D6

 

5 + 5 = 10

5 + 1 + 12 + 10 = 28

Note: - As a result of their +3 bonus the Romans snatch the Initiative from the Macedonians and this yields a +1D6 Tactical Advantage. This contributes to the successful attack upon the flank and rear of the Macedonian right which is annihilated. Prior to this the Macedonian left is caught trying to deploy and is routed by the Roman counterattack which is spearheaded by the War Elephants. They cause panic and reduce their opponents Battle Roll by 1D6 = -6. Thus, a great victory for the Romans for the loss of only 3 units.


Successor Macedonian

Initiative

Battle Dice

No. of Units

CR to Fighting Bonus/Battle Bonus if applicable

Battle Advantage Dice

Total Score

1D6 - 1

6 – 1 = 5

 

 

 

1D10/1D6 =

2 and 4

(Highest die only)

 

21

 

(26,000 troops incl. of cavalry)

❸ x 16 = +13 FB

❷ x 5 = +2 FB

Total = +15 FB

Macedonian Phalanx

1D10 (x2) = 3

Save versus War Elephants = 3

 

Heavy Cavalry +1D8

 

= 6

4 + 15 + 3 + 6 - 6 = 22

Note: - The Macedonian right wing has some success against the Roman left as shown by the activation of the Macedonian Phalanx Battle Bonus by two even numbers on the Battle Dice. However, only a 3 is rolled and there is no double bonus for an Initiative win. This is not enough to break the Romans whose subsequent counterattack against the ill prepared Macedonian left wins them the battle. Particularly grievous was their failure to save against the War Elephants. As a Mixed army with a Standing primary element, they needed a 5 or 6. They rolled 3 which results in a -6 penalty to their Battle Roll for panic. Hence a disastrous defeat for the Macedonians who lose 50% of their army which rounded up equates to 11 units. 


The Romans show the superiority of the new flexible Legion over the rigid Macedonian phalanx at Cynoscephalae 197 BC. Figures by Irregular Miniatures from their 25mm Greek & Roman range. Painted by Silurian and from the author’s own collection. The numerical strength of each army is denoted by the coloured plastic counters. Game board from the Clash of Empires: The Hellenistic World Game.



The Roman triarri attack the Macedonians in the rear securing an overwhelming victory at the Battle of Cynoscephalae 197 BC. Figures by Essex Miniatures from their 15mm Ancients range. Painted by Silurian and from the authors own collection. Army composition calculated by the Clash Conversion Table for Wargaming.


Sources

Boulter, M. L. 2009/2024: Clash of Empires: The Hellenistic World. Silurian War Games Ltd.


Dupuy, R. E. and Dupuy, T. N. 1993: The Collins Encyclopaedia of Military History. Harper Collins Publishers.

 

Goldsworthy, A. 2001: Cannae. Cassell & Co.

 

Hackett, J. 1989: Warfare in the Ancient World. Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd.

 

Head, D. 1982: Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars 359 BC to 146 BC. A Wargames Research Group Publication.

 

Mellersh, H.E.L. 1995: Chronology of the Ancient World, 10,000 BC – AD 799. Helicon Publishing Ltd.


Wise, T. and Healy, M.1999: Hannibal’s War with Rome. The Armies and Campaigns 216 BC. Osprey Publishing Ltd.


Article Front Page Picture

Roman Legion. A Roman general and his Legion returning to Rome in triumph. Wood engraving, 19th century. After Alamy (IY04447310).

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