2005 Society of Ancients Battle day: The Sambre 57 BC

The Battle Pack




We strongly recommend you read Caesar’s own description of the battle. Read it online at The Internet Classics Archive, website address: http://classics.mit.edu/Caesar/gallic.html - it can be found in their numbering sustem from chapter 15 onwards of book 2. Alternatively see section 3 of chapter 2  of the Penguin Classic Caesar: The Conquest of Gaul.


The Romans

Eight legions of 10 cohorts each, each legion strength of around 5000 – close to full strength since little fighting has occurred up until now in the campaign season.

Six legions should be seasoned (but not veteran), two are newly-raised and since Caesar is in the habit of keeping such troops to the rear in his major battles, we should consider them at this stage to be raw. Your rules should differentiate between the two.


On the Roman left are (from left to right) the Xth and IXth legions, in the centre the VIIth then XIth, and then on the right the VIIth and then the XIIth on the far right.


Around two thirds of each legion, 6 or 7 cohorts, should be stood to arms xxx hundred paces down the hill, while 2 or 3 cohorts are engaged in building the ditch and ramparts for the camp and 1 cohort is “scattered” seeking materials.


There is a small amount of Gallic allied cavalry scouts (say 500), infantry javelinmen (“Numidians”) (say 200) and archers (“Cretans”) (say 200) across the river on the open ground before the wood.


The substantial Roman baggage train should be arriving gradually, and approaching the camp. Sighting the baggage was the signal for the Belgic attack, so the front of the baggage should start the game on the top of the hill – the first time it comes into sight of the Belgic warriors on the hill opposite.


The allied Treviri cavalry, say 1,000 strong, are off-table and will arrive after the baggage but before the two raw legions. The Treviri are probably reluctant, “fair weather” allies. Certainly, they are very brittle and will flee at the first sign of trouble. For example, if the Nervii are in the Roman camp when they arrive, they should have a strong chance of promptly fleeing, as happened historically.


These should be followed by the final two newly recruited legions.



The Belgae

60,000 Nervii foot warriors, plus optional maximum 600 cavalry

15,000 Atrebates foot warriors, plus optional maximum 150 cavalry

10,000 Veromandui foot warriors, plus optional maximum 100 cavalry


The warriors should be deployed in their three tribal groups, inside but on the edge of the wood, each facing a pair of Roman legions. Naturally the depth of the nervii will be greater, but so will their frontage – this is the part of the battle where the Romans almost lost it, because the Nervii were able to get round their flanks.



The Terrain

Two gentle sloping hills, separated by the River Sambre. The hills should slope gently down to the river on both sides, so troops nearer the river are always downhill of those further away.

The Belgic hill is heavily wooded except for the last 200 paces before the river.

The Roman hill is open, except for the artificial “hedges” made by the Nervii to obstruct Roman movement. These hedges served to make it difficult to move troops laterally across the battlefield and obstructed sight. Therefore, we suggest that the hedges are represented by obstacles running from the marked out camp down the hill between each of the three pairs of legions, effectively dividing the battlefield into three separate parts on the Roman side of the river. There should be no hedges on the Belgic side of the river.

The Roman camp is on the top of the Roman hill. The plan of the camp is marked out, tents pitched or in the process of being pitched. The ditch and ramparts have been started but are not in any state to be defensible, and so do not provide any movement restrictions or combat modifiers.

The Belgic camp is on the top of the Gallic hill. This could be represented by a few wagons perhaps.

The River Sambre is no more than 3 foot deep, but has steep banks. Nonetheless, it should not slow down the Belgic attack. Troops defending the banks of the river should be advantaged against those attacking them. Troops fleeing while being pursued across the river should take heavy casualties.



The Game Start Point

Although there is earlier cavalry action, we choose to start the battle at the point that the Belgae foot attack from the woods. Despite Caesar implying that he knew they were there, we suggest he was taken by surprise by the speed and ferocity of this attack. We postulate that if he had been expecting attack, he would not have had his army so dispersed. It is important that your game allow for the initial disorganisation and dispersion of the Roman legions.







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