Thursday 5 November 2020

Britannia Campaign: Vespasian v The Atrebates

As Vespasian moves inland with the 2nd Legion with the expectation that allies would be quickly formed with the Atrebates, scouts hurriedly return informing him of an approaching large force of Celts. Clearly the Romans were going to have to stamp their authority on these barbarians from the start. An example would have to be made.

Crossing the South Downs Vespasian deployed in a defensive position and awaited the approach of the Atrebates warbands.

Table Size: 4'6" x 3'

Figures: 6mm Baccus and Rapier

Rules: My own (based on General de Brigade)



1 x CinC + 2 sub-commanders

2nd Legion: 1st Cohort 60 figures. 9 x cohorts of 36 figures each
4 x Scorpios

Auxiliaries -

1 x Medium Cavalry cohort 30 figures
1 x Light Cavalry cohort 30 figures
1 x Equitata cohort - 1 x 12 light cavalry + 1 x 24 Aux infantry
2 x Batavian cohorts each 1 x 12 medium cavalry + 1 x 24 Aux infantry)
3 x Auxiliary infantry cohorts each 36 figures
1 x Auxiliary archers cohort of 36 figures

Total 668 figures


1 x CinC + 2 sub-commanders

1 unit of 8 light chariots
1 unit of 24 medium cavalry
2 units of 16 light cavalry
2 units of 12 light cavalry
1 x warband 72 figs
1 x warband 60 figs
5 x warbands of 40 figs
2 x warbands of 30 figs
1 unit of 16 Slingers
2 units of 16 Javelinmen

Total 536 figures

River is impassable - Vespasian located a ford on his approach to his position and used it to cross his Scorpios and escorting cohorts. He was not aware of another ford off table behind the Atrebates position although guessed this may be a possibility.
Continued -

View from behind Vespasian's position. The bulk of the 2nd Legion occupied the centre with its right flank anchored on the river. The Equitata cohort and a Batavian cohort provided a reserve.

Looking south east from behind Atrebates right flank.

Vespasian place most of his Auxiliaries on the left flank.

The Roman right flank was positioned on the high ground on the opposite side of the river. 4 scorpios with 1 Legionary cohort and 1 Batavian cohort.

The Atrebates warbands are positioned in the centre with cavalry on the left flank and chariots along with light cavalry and javelinmen on the right flank.

The 2nd Legion stares defiantly across the valley towards....

....the warbands who shout obscenities in return.

Atrebates javelinmen on the right flank.

Light chariots prepare to move out.
Turns 1 - 4

The first 2 moves saw the Atrebates gradually advance with the chariots racing ahead. The most notable development involved the Atrebates cavalry straying into range of the Scorpios who punished them severely. The heavy bolts scythed through the medium cavalry downing 5 of them. It was clear to the tribal leader that the Scorpios must be silenced. 

He recalled the cavalry and instructed them to retire to the ford. They were to cross the river and descend on the Romans occupying the high ground. The slingers would be ordered to harass the Roman artillery from the valley floor.

Although he occupied high ground the Atrebates tribal leader had no intention of waiting for the Romans. He was going to eject them from his land in short order.

The warbands were slow to move off their high ground but the chariots had no such difficulty. They raced across the valley floor and launched their javelins at the Roman lines. Most clattered off shields but one legionary from the 1st cohort was not so lucky and was struck down. 

On the Roman left flank a unit of javelinmen had made to run up the hill but were intercepted by a cohort of archers who exchanged fire with them. 

The two units of Roman cavalry had cantered towards the Atrebates light cavalry unit ahead of them now aware of a second celt cavalry unit behind the hill (middle right).

In turn 4 the Romans had the initiative but the Numidian light cavalry unit failed to charge as ordered. The Atrebates had no such qualms with both light cavalry units charging the Numidians. The latter successfully counter-charged but was caught in the flank by the 2nd Atrebates unit. The Numidians were lucky to survive the 1st round of melee successfully fighting the celts to a standstill with both sides losing 5 casualties. The melee will continue for another turn.
Turns 5 - 7

Seeing the finely balanced melee ahead of them, the Roman medium cavalry cohort moves in to reinforce the Numidians. This tips the scale decisively in the Roman favour. The Atrebates light horse on the right was utterly destroyed with the other suffering heavy casualties and routed. The Numidians pursue the survivors finishing them off. The more disciplined medium cavalry reform and prepare to descend on the main body of warbands. 

The slingers prove to be an irritation for the Scorpio crews who decide to give them a volley of bolts. Several slingers fall victim but their morale holds.

The Atrebates tribal leader is alarmed to see Auxilliaries emerge from the woods atop the hill threatening his flank. He decides that rather than be distracted by this new threat he will drive the Legionaries from the field before they have time to intervene. 

Urged on by the tribal leader, the warbands surge on towards the Roman line. The chariots having downed a handful of Romans now pulls out leaving the way clear for the main force.

The Roman Legionaries hold steady having been subjected to some irritating chariots hurling their javelins.

At the bottom of the photo the scorpios have exacted a heavy toll on the nearest warband. Two volleys scythed their way through the mass of celts reducing them to almost half strength. At the top of the photo the Atrebates javelinmen have retired to the safety of the woods. An auilliary cohort has been sent to deal with them. The Roman medium cavalry can be seen making their way to the rear of the warbands and will soon be joined by the Numidian light horse.

Turn 8

Having endured a volley of Pilums all bar one of the warbands storm up the hill into the Legionaries.

The Legionaries are rocked back on their heels with the initial impact.

Ominously for the Atrebates the Roman Auxiliaries begin to sweep around the barbarian flank. The tribal leader looks anxiously towards the river. Still no sign of his cavalry on their flanking manoeuvre!

Most of the melees continue into a second round with just one warband being pushed back.

Although inflicting heavy casualties on the warbands, it is not all one way. Gaps open in the Roman lines as casualties mount. The large 1st Cohort (middle of photos) came dangerously close to giving way under a particularly ferocious charge (Atrebates rolled a double '6'!). Had they scored on less on their die roll it could have spelt disaster for the Legionaries.
Turn 9

Having withstood the initial impact, the Roman Legionaries hold firm with cohorts in reserve feeding centuries forward to fill any gaps in the line. They then begin to inflict a terrible price on the disordered and tiring Britons.

Tow auxiliary cohorts pile into the flank of the warbands and start to roll them up.

All warbands in contact with the Romans suffered severely with the survivors routing. One large warband attempted to retreat out of the path of charging Roman cavalry (middle of photo) but failed with many cut down. 

The chariots had been brought together to counter a threat by the Numidians (top right) but alas it was to no avail. The badly mauled warbands disintegrated into a mass rout. The Atrebates cavalry that had been conducting a flanking march had now begun to arrive on the battlefield only to see their army fleeing the field. Needless to say a discrete withdrawal seemed more prudent.
This brought to conclusion a short but brutal battle. The Romans suffered light casualties but tougher challenges lie ahead. It was disconcerting for Vespasian to meet opposition so early in the campaign. The Atrebates were supposed to have seen the benefits of meekly being absorbed into the Roman empire. 

The flanking move by the Atrebates cavalry was clearly a tactical error but had they been quicker or the warbands held out for longer, they could have caused the Romans some difficulty in defending their scorpios. 

The rules are a work in progress and although I intended them to be bloody I will be dialling down the casualty rate slightly. Other than that I am reasonably happy with the way they are developing. I have the 2nd Legion as elite whereas the other 3 legions in the campaign are a mix of veteran and trained. Even so one of their cohorts very nearly buckled under the impact of the warband charge. The other legions under the same circumstances may not be so lucky.

The rules are such that the warband's best chance when conducting a frontal attack is that ferocity testing the Roman line on first contact. If they fail to break through then Roman discipline decisively swings to the latter's advantage. Should the warbands break through or outflank them the Romans are in trouble!


  1. A most enjoyable game report between two splendid looking armies.

  2. Now that's what I call a lovely looking Ancients game! You table looks fantastic as always (good job you kept those terrain tiles) and the 6mm figures look superb en mass. Now I just have to be patient and await the campaign update, as it will be interesting to see the fallout from this action.

  3. A wonderful looking table, the work you did on you rivers has really paid off.

    1. Many thanks Norm. Yes very pleased with how the rivers turned out.

  4. That's a fabulous looking game Jon. It's great to see an ancients battle with significant terrain. So often they seem to be played out on open grassland, no matter what the opposing troops!
    Based on your account of this game, your rules seem to be working really well. I got a good sense of my understanding of a Roman v Celt battle from your words and pictures. Great stuff!
    Regards, James

    1. Many thanks James. I always thought it was a shame more was not made of ancients battlefields. In my DBM days different coloured patches of felt represented BUA's, woods etc. Practical for determining boundaries but that was pretty much it!

  5. Love your games, a real inspiration!

  6. An early test for the Romans, passed with relative ease. Tougher challenges doubtless lie ahead! Great looking table and game!

    1. Many thanks Peter. Will get harder for them as the campaign progresses.

  7. A really impressive looking game and start to your campaign Jon.