Friday 19 July 2019

The Battle of Ticinus 218BC

The Battle of Ticinus was the first direct clash between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Romans (under the Consul, Publius Cornelius Scipio) in mainland Italy. It was a small battle between mainly cavalry forces and is often overlooked from a wargaming perspective. However, I think this is is an excellent little battle that offers some interesting challenges to both sides. The encounter was also significant because success was a massive morale boost to Hannibal's weary troops that were still recovering from the crossing of the Alps. It was also significant in another way that Hannibal could never have imagined. The consul's 18-year-old son, the future Scipio Africanus, first distinguished himself by saving his father at the height of the battle. 

When Hannibal crossed the Alps he had effectively outflanked the Romans under Scipio who had been sent to Gaul to stop the Carthaginian advance. Scipio decided to return to northern Italy leaving most of his army behind to make their own way back along the coast. Hannibal didn't know this and expected to face a full consular army, however, he had to locate it first. Scipio had taken command of troops in northern Italy and the second consul, Tiberius Sempronius Longus, was recalled from Sicily with his army and began to march northwards. However, it would take him 40 days to arrive  (an incredible achievement in itself) and Scipio was confident he could deal with this upstart Carthaginian before then.

Both sides needed an early victory to consolidate the loyalty of the local Gaulic Tribes, but arguably Hannibal needed this more having lost up to half of his army crossing the Alps. Scipio and Hannibal began to reconnoitre in force in an attempt to find the other army and these two relatively small armies would come together near the Ticinus River. Scipio was confident as his force was larger, albeit a large portion consisting of Velites. Hannibal spotted an opportunity and deployed his small force with the fast, Numidian Light Cavalry on his flanks to wrap around the Romans.

The actual battle was a disaster for the Romans. Hannibals Cavalry charged the Velites who barely had time to throw any Javelins before being driven from the field. Then, as planned the Punic cavalry held the Roman cavalry in position while the Numidians raced around the flanks and hit the Romans from behind. Scipio was himself surrounded, seriously wounded and would have been killed were it not for the prompt action of his 17-year-old son, leading a Turmae of cavalry into the thick of the fighting. The younger Scipio would remember this encounter for the rest of his life and learned an important lesson in not underestimating the Carthaginian General. He would later defeat Hannibal at Zama and earn himself the title, Scipio Africanus. 

The topography of the battlefield is open to wide interpretation but it is possible to derive some information from Polybius. Scipio had recently crossed the Ticinus river on a pontoon bridge and faced Hannibal across a flat open area. The terrain in this area would probably have been heavily wooded but Polybius describes the land as open and flat. My map is entirely my own invention, but it fits the descriptions I have read. Incidentally, as the battle takes place in late November, I have decided to use my new winter game mat that I bought from Deep Cut Studio

Incidentally, the two main sources on the battle are the History of Rome by Livy (Book XXI) and Histories of Polybius (Book III). Polybius makes it clear in his account that he visited the places and monuments and looked at documents.

Order of Battle
This OOB is derived largely from the description of Polybius.

    General - Hannibal Barca
       Punic Cavalry x4 (one Veteran unit)
       Numidian Light Cavalry x4
    General - Publius Cornelius Scipio
       Equites Romani x2
       Equites Latinii x2
       Velites x6

The Romans have a slight points advantage but also have two more bases than the Carthaginians. If I was deploying these troops myself I would have put the Velites on the flanks but I have followed the historical disposition of forces and arrayed the Light Troops in front of the Roman Cavalry as Scipio did. 

The Action
Initial deployment. Hannibal puts his Numidians on the flanks but positions them in such a way as not to present too wide a frontage to the need to scare the enemy off when they are about to make a mistake!

As the Carthaginians advance, they spread out. The heavier cavalry in the centre expects to receive a hail of Javelins but exceptionally high activation rolls mean the Velites move forwards but don't get a chance to activate again and use their ranged weapons. In the actual battle, Polybius describes the Velites as not getting a chance to throw their Javelins so this is starting out following history. 

The Punic Cavalry now charge the light Velites who automatically fall back. The rules say they need to move out of contact to the nearest box so they take up positions behind the Roman Cavalry....possibly where Scipio should have put them in the first place!

All the velites in the centre fall back but on the flanks, against light-horse, they decide to stand and fight. These dice show a Numidian activation charge and melee attack, saved by the Velites who strike back which is itself saved by the Numidians. Inconclusive, but nailbiting as these units can only take one hit before being destroyed!

About three turns in and the Numidians on the Carthaginian right flank are following the plan and are ready to outflank the Roman line. One of the Roman calvary units in the centre is disrupted, as is a Carthaginian unit. However, for the Romans, this is more of a problem because they can't attempt a Rally activation while in the Zone of Control of an enemy unit. They will have to either risk fighting (one more hit will destroy them) or fall back and attempt to Rally. 

The disordered Roman unit falls back but fails to Rally. There then follows a turn where both sides hurled Javelins at each other without a single hit, let alone needing to save. 

Now the Carthaginians start to encircle the Romans. The Numidians on the far right flank have turned and have opened up a chance for one of the heavier units to get a flank attack on the Roman Equites. This is crucial and could mark the point of no return for the Romans.  

The flank attack - combined with missile attacks from the front - destroy the equities. Scipio is with the unit and needs to check to see if he is wounded or killed. He receives a minor wound only just avoiding a critical injury or death. History repeats itself yet again for the second time in this game. 

The wounded Scipio moves to the last remaining Equite unit which has already been distrupted. 

As the Carthaginians tighten the noose the remaining Velites flee of the table (if they can't flee to a valid box they are removed and the river seals their fate). 

Scipio, bleeding and humiliated, wisely escapes with the tattered remains of his cavalry back across the Ticinus river. 

A short but bloody battle that almost completely followed the historical accounts of this fight. Scipio may have had many good qualities (one must assume, as he was a Consul) but clearly, tactics weren't one of them. Putting his light Velites in front, between his and the enemy's cavalry was a properly stupid move and lost him the battle. I may play this game again to see if the dice produce a different result but next time I'll untie the Romans hand and deploy in a more sensible fashion. 


  1. Great looking game Lee. Great that the battle leaned towards history too. Must be a great set of rules? Or was it your dice?

    1. The rules worked well. Hannibal is classed as a Brilliant General meaning he cam make a command move of three boxes. This means his influence covers a lot of the battlefield (with a small army like this). He was dashing back and forth all game, using his activation re-roll ability nearly every turn. It certainly made a difference, but the Roman deployment was the real deciding factor. Still can't get over how bad it was. Hannibal clearly saw the opportunity and took full advantage while Scipio was blissfully unaware of the danger until it was too late. He was lucky to survive the battle.

  2. Your 6mm kit looks excellent in action

    1. Thanks. I'm chuffed with my new mat. It means I can now do some winter games. Now I just need to make some winterised terrain!

  3. Lovely looking game and a nice little scenario to boot. I hope you find the time to replay this, but with the Roman hands untied as you say.

    1. I'm definitely going to replay this. The game is small enough and short enough to get done in just a couple of hours (if that). I may even twist the army of the Young Padawan and see if I can get her to play again... I live in hope :)

  4. It's always great when battles go like the historic ones. A good indicator of a good scenario and good rules. I love TTS rules too.
    Best wishes,

    1. I was glad it went the way it did. Now I just need to see what would have happened if I'D been in command of the Romans... lol. I'll probably get splattered but its worth playing again.

  5. Impressive stuff Lee, the 6mm armies look amazing.

    1. Thank you. I'm planning a big game that will include nearly my whole Punic war collection...but that will be after my holiday, so probably late August.

    2. Beautiful and interesting Lee!


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