The Battle of Chalons 20 th June 451 AD

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1 Introduction The Battle of Chalons This project has been designed as a Kings of War battle supplement for use with Rome's Rise and Fall from This battle, fought from mid-afternoon until late into the night, represented a watershed event in Western history. It removed the Hun terror from Europe, and foreshadowed the rise of the Holy Roman Empire which was neither holy nor Roman. Chalons was a clash between a highly evolved Roman society and a nomadic steppe society. The Romans, had ruled for nearly 1200 years, through a policy of carrot and stick. Trade was their preferred method of conquest. The Hun preferred subjugation and obedience through terror. Rome seldom embarked upon a campaign without first debating the cost. The Hun considered only the personal prestige of victory; the spoils could be counted later. It was this fundamental divergence in their aims and objectives of war that ultimately defeated Attila and his Hun army. We tend to think of the Hun invasion of Western Europe as a series of large battles. This is not the case. The Huns relied almost entirely on light horse shock tactics, whereby parties of horse mounted archers would unexpectedly raid deep into enemy territory then, just as suddenly withdraw, leaving behind chaos and alarm. No one knew where they would strike next; rumor was rife, but their sieges were often unsuccessful due to a lack of equipment and training in siege-craft. Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus who lived and wrote in the days of the Emperor Valens, left us the following contemporary description of them. They all have compact strong limbs and thick necks and are so ugly and misshapen, that one might take them for two-legged beasts, or for the stumps, rough-hewn into images, that are used in putting sides [adorning] to bridges Roaming at large amid the mountains and woods, they learn from the cradle to endure cold, hunger and thirst. They dress in linen cloth or in the skins of field mice sewn together They are not at all adapted to battles on foot, but they are almost glued to their horses, which are hardy, it is true, but ugly They are all without fixed abode, without hearth, or law, or settled mode of life, and keep roaming from place to place, like fugitives, accompanied by the wagons in which they live Jourdanes, in his History of the Goths, written about 100 years after the event, writes: For by the terror of their features they inspired great fear in those whom perhaps they did not really surpass in war. They made their foes flee in horror because their swarthy aspect was fearful, and they had, if I may recall it so, a sort of shapeless lump, not a head, with pin holes rather than eyes. Their hardihood is evident in their appearance, and they are beings who are cruel to their children on the very day they are born. For they cut the cheeks of the males with a sword, so that before they receive the nourishment of milk they must learn to endure wounds. David Child-Dennis (2012) 1

2 The Battle The Battle of Chalons The exact numbers of troops involved is unknown, although it must have been substantial. Contemporary historians estimate there to have been about 50,000 a side. The ground over which the battle was fought was a typical northern French plain, with a prominent rise on the left flank, where battle would commence. The weather was dry and probably warm. The Roman troops appear to have been of mixed experience, coming from a combination of field and garrison units, hastily assembled for the relief of the town of Chalons, then under siege by Attila. The Visigoths, under the leadership of Thoederic (then some 70 years of age), realizing the Huns were a far greater danger than the Romans, joined forces with Aetius legions and advanced on Chalons. At dawn, on 20 th June, they were within sight of Chalons, forcing the Huns to break off their siege and prepare for open battle. Sangiban, with his Alans, joined the Western Army sometime later in the day. It appears the three groups were approximately of equal size. Each contained cavalry and infantry. The Huns were accompanied by Theodomir s Ostrogoths and Adaric s Germans. Again, their numbers are uncertain, but I assume they were of approximately equal size. Only the Germans and Ostrogoths contained infantry. The Huns would have consisted solely of horsed archers. A modern Mongolian rider who is almost identical to his Hun predecessor. Both Attila and Aetius kept their commands in the centre of the battlefield. The Visigoths on the right flank, advanced to seize the high ground immediately to their front. Unbeknown to them, an Ostrogoth detachment was attempting the same thing. The Visigoths arrived on the feature (a low hill, probably no more than 20 meters higher than the surrounding plain) driving the scouting David Child-Dennis (2012) 2

3 Ostrogoth cavalry from the hill. In the resulting skirmish, Theodric was unhorsed and trampled to death in the melee. Fortunately for the Western Force, his son, Thorismund, immediately assumed command and continued the advance against the Ostrogoths. The Alans and Germans under Sangiban advanced against Attila s Huns, only to be split in two and threatened with annihilation after Ellak s Huns succeeded in attacking them from the rear. But Sangiban s forces held until Aetius forces had managed to dispose of Adaric s Germans and Gepids, then, with the Visigoths pressing in from the right flank and the Romans from the left, the Hun centre collapsed ending in a general withdrawal of the Hun forces. By this time night had fallen and confusion reigned on the battlefield. Aetius was almost captured when he joined a band of Hun he misidentified as Visigoths in the dark. Rules modifications for the King of War rules Historical supplement for the Late Imperial Roman period Troop types and models I use 20mm Italeri plastic figures from their current range Late Imperial Legionaries, 6138 Gothic Cavalry, 6022 Gauls, and 6124 Mongols as Huns. Zvezda also produce beautiful Mongol figures! Roman Legionaries: 1-base of 4-5 figures (I use 100mm by 40mm bases) of 20mm Italeri plastic figures. The Gothic cavalry are too large to fit more than 4 figures on a single base. Unit types I have redefined the basic unit types to suit the historical Roman organization of the time. Players should assemble units by base, rather than how many figures are on any one base. This is because there are small variations in actual figure scales, and poses, which often complicates basing. However, there was a historical difference between the sizes of a Hun pony and a Gallic Horse, it is not a scaling error by the manufacturers! This is the purpose for including the photo of a modern Mongolian rider. Hun Steppe ponies were considerably smaller than the European horse. Cohorts from different Legions were often brigaded together to prevent the total loss of a Legion. Mixing figures with different shield designs, on the same base, especially from the Italeri 6137 set, is, quite acceptable. David Child-Dennis (2012) 3

4 A Legionary Troop (4-10 figures on a base) becomes a Vexillum, which means troop or standard in Latin. A Legionary Regiment (16 20 figures) becomes a Cohort. For simplicity, TWO-Vexillum makes ONE Cohort, even though this may only be a total of 8-10 figures on two bases. It s important players use this form of organization. A Legionary Horde (32-40 figures) or 16 infantry bases - becomes a Legion. It was unusual for a legion to fight as a single body, their cohorts being split into detachments as required. Battle hardened cohorts were often deployed among less experienced cohorts to stiffen the line in battle. Auxiliary units (bow, artillery and cavalry) attached to Legions should be Auxiliary Cohorts or Vexillum. They may only be described as skirmishers if they are infantry deployed as a skirmish line, usually in front of legionary heavy infantry. Auxiliary skirmishers must always withdraw (using the nimble rule) when charged by Legionaries, warbands containing a larger number of bases, or any cavalry unit. If the auxiliary unit is within one move distance of a friendly legionary unit, it will immediately withdraw, at the beginning of the opponent s charge move, to behind that unit. It may do so using the interpenetration rule. The fleeing skirmish unit may only move. It may do nothing else but remain stationary to reorganize in the following friendly game turn. Special Rules Roman Legionary testudo A Legionary Cohort of two Vexillum may turn its bases back to back to form the testudo (tortoise) when attacked by Hun cavalry. This gives the Cohort an extra +1 in defense, (raising the DE to 6 ) as long as they remain in that formation. They may not move, but may fight as normal. Phalanx (Shield Wall?) I can t understand why Auxiliaries would be given such a formation rule, when it required expertly trained troops to perform the manoeuvre? It was an attacking formation developed by the Greeks, not a passive defensive formation implied by the rules. I would suggest the phalanx rule only applies to a stationary auxiliary unit drawn up in a shield wall formation to meet an enemy charge. This would require a unit to remain stationary for that game turn, in order to claim the rule. The player claiming the use of this rule, must first declare it to his opponent, before the opponent orders a charge against the defending unit. David Child-Dennis (2012) 4

5 Adding some historical flavor to the mix The Army Generals Each allied and enemy force has one Army General (Aetius and Atilla) to lead their forces, accompanied by an Army Standard Bearer. They will also have one commander (senior officer) for each of their allied commands. These selections will be without points cost. Aetius The Roman commander Aetius was considered a gifted tactician and able leader. He was a well experienced, battle-hardened campaigner, in whom his legionaries had confidence. I would allow a 2 on his first nerve test dice roll total. The Roman Allies There is little doubt the Visigoths and Alans knew the terrible price of defeat, this battle would bring. The Visigoths withstood some of the most savage fighting in the centre, paying a heavy price, after being attacked in the flank and rear by the Huns. In this battle, the Roman allies proved utterly reliable. Atilla The Hun commander, Atilla, was a brutal, but clever leader of his forces. All Hun, forces should have a 2 on their first nerve test, while Attila remains commander. If he is killed or driven from the field, this advantage reverses to a +2 on their first nerve test after the event. The Hun Allies Ostrogoths and Germans (Gepids) These were allies in name only, being considered nothing more than vassals by the Huns, to be exploited as they saw fit. While Atilla had originally raised many of the Germans in revolt against the excesses of Roman rule, they soon realized they had managed to exchange one arrogant master for a tyrant. In the event of a nerve test, they will add +1 to the score. If their commanders are killed or routed, their entire command tests with a +2 added to the dice roll. David Child-Dennis (2012) 5

6 War Engines The Battle of Chalons History does not record the use of ballista, scorpio or onager in the Roman order of battle, at Chalons, but I find it unlikely ballista or scorpio were not included. It was usual for each cohort to have 4 scorpio under direct command. Such weapons were extremely effective against massed targets, at long range and I cannot imagine the Romans leaving them out of their battle line. The forces Each command will contain units to the value of 1,000 points from the KoW supplement, Rome s Rise and Fall. The Roman army will use the Late Imperial Roman Armies list, the Later Visigoth Army Composition and the Alani or Alan Army Composition lists. The Hun army will use the Hunnic Army Composition (p21) the Early Ostrogoth Army Composition, and the Gepid Army Composition (p19) lists. Some further thoughts... The final part of the battle took place in the long twilight of the Northern Hemisphere's early summer. I would therefore recommend a total game length of six turns with the final two turns in darkness. By early evening, units had become spread across a large area as three separate lines of battle were fought. The Huns had worked their way behind the Alans and Germans, but in turn had been cut off from their wagon lager by the Visigoths. Confusion reigned! To simulate this 'confusion factor' in game terms, I would suggest a simple single dice roll off, between opponents, to determine who sees what and when, before a charge is declared. The charging player may test once for every enemy unit within their arc of visibility. Once having made a successful test, they may immediately charge the unit they have successfully identified. If they decline to charge, no other charge may be attempted in that game turn. They may not continue to make identification dice rolls then select a target from all the successful rolls. Both players roll a single dice and the highest dice roll wins. If the player, whose game turn it is, wins, they may charge or shoot at their nominated enemy target unit. If they lose, they may not, but may move as normal or remaining halted. The only 'unit' that would have been unlikely to be mistaken in the dark was the Hun wagon lager. David Child-Dennis (2012) 6

7 David Child-Dennis (2012) 7

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