Author Topic: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1  (Read 104 times)

Chris

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A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« on: November 07, 2019, 01:51:07 AM »

“Abstract” — The following is a 3,219 word report of an unusually large Armati 2nd Edition wargame, wherein Middle Imperial Romans faced off against Sassanid Persians. This is the first narrative of two planned. In addition to a brief introduction, I consider orders of battle, terrain, adjustments and amendments, and deployment of the sizable forces. A summary of the wargame is followed by an assessment. There are half a dozen notes as well. These account for 569 words of the reported total. Spoiler alert: The Romans won rather handily if not very easily. The dice as well as tactics did not seem to favour the Sassanids.



As the calendar year neared its end, as the days grew shorter and the weather was more often of the nasty and brutish variety, I found myself thinking of warmer climes and wishing for longer periods of sunlight. Unable to arrange a temporary change of location that matched these desired qualities, I settled for a mental vacation via my wargaming table. With the all too soon arrival of the month of November, I started drafting plans for an extended as well as imaginary trip to the western border of Sassanid Persian territory, circa 229 BC. This figurative excursion would see two solo wargames staged on my comparatively small tabletop. The first contest would employ the Armati 2nd Edition rules, modified of course. The second engagement would see the L’Art de la Guerre (ADLG or ALG) rules being used. This second effort would not involve the preparation of use or use of homegrown amendments.

The Adventure with Armati 2nd Edition
Orders of Battle - Being a fan (as well as sometimes an advocate) of larger battles, I prepared 107 units of Persians and, for the opposition, 121 units of Middle Imperial Romans. [1]

Terrain - As I had increased the normal amount of units deployed in a friendly Armati wargame by a factor of six, it appeared that I would be well within my rights to place six core pieces of terrain and then choose from perhaps as many as 12 pieces of bonus terrain. If I elected to follow this course, however, the Sassanid terrain choices and the Roman terrain choices might produce a model battlefield rather choked with gentle rises, steep hills, patches of rough ground, in addition to quite a few wooded areas. After reviewing a number of options and researching what the ancient authorities had to say on the subject of terrain, I decided to exercise what am calling the “Goldsworthy Option” (at least until I can think of a better title) when it came to landscaping my comparatively small table. [2] To be sure, I had the 23 August 2019 initiating post for ‘River deep, mountain high - terrain thoughts’ in mind as I prepared the table for a large, fictional encounter. Checking the “3 As” listed and described by Society member Anthony Clipsom, it appeared quite evident that my resources and “talents” were focused on abstraction, with aesthetic quality running a distant second. I did not really concern myself with authenticity. Skimming through the early chapters of Battle Notes for Wargamers, I borrowed an idea from Donald Featherstone. On page 31, in describing how to build the terrain for a refight of Pharsalus, this founding father remarked that Pharsalus “was fought on a perfectly flat plain, so that any wargames table or flat surface will suffice, though, for the sake of colour and interest, patches of scrub could be dotted over the terrain, with small groups of rocks, etc.”. Unfortunately, “scrub” is not one of the identified terrain features included in the Armati 2nd Edition rules. Anyway. On my table, the landscape was fairly open. There were several gentle rises. I do not think they could truly be called hills. For the sake of colour and interest, I cut out more than several patches of scrub from a special kind of paper purchased at a local crafts store, and positioned them around the table. 

Adjustments & Amendments - In order to fit over 200 separate formations on my tabletop, I reduced the footprint of 15mm Epic Scale Units by 60 percent. With my “new” system, heavy cavalry units had a frontage of 3.2 centimetres and a depth of  2.4 centimetres, while heavy infantry units had a similar frontage but a depth of just 1.8 centimetres. For measuring missile ranges and movement rates, I made a number of copies of the 15mm Optimal/Epic scale ruler provided on page 36 of the rulebook. These rulers were reduced by the same percentage. Turning to the sometimes contentious topic of rule amendments, I printed a fresh copy of the Armati Rule Variants. [3] In addition, I borrowed then built upon a few of the scenario rules, especially those concerning interpenetration, that were included in Mark Fry’s engaging Chalons Battle Day Report. [4] Briefly explained, “work-in-progress” rules was drafted that allowed light infantry, light-heavy infantry, and heavy infantry formations to move through one another. [5] With regard to command and control concerns or issues, I divided the model battlefield into a centre sector, a left sector, and a right sector. Each army would be able to assign control points to each sector that would equal the number of control points allowed in a double-sized Armati game. Each army would also have a separate initiative rating for each sector. Rather than determine the key unit break point total for each sector, I decided to keep the key unit break point at the army level. For this fictional and unusually large contest, the Sassanids had an army break point of 35 key units, while the Romans had an army break point of 36 key units.

Deployment - The Romans took the near side of the sparsely landscaped table, adopting what could be called a traditional deployment of their various formations. The wings were assigned to the cavalry, whether it was light horse (Illyrian, Dalmatian, or from an Eastern potentate) or heavy horse (Roman Cunei, Eastern Cataphracts, or Sarmatians). Due to the limited space, there were some infantry formations positioned on the wings. On the left flank, there were several units of spear/bow foot from that Eastern allied nation. There were also light infantry and light-heavy infantry (Numeri). On the right flank, there was more light-heavy infantry, some Eastern legions, and some warbands. The centre of the line was the responsibility of the legions. Here, behind a fairly substantial screen of skirmishers (Auxilia), there was a line of Citizen legions, then a line of proper Roman legions, and then a smaller reserve formation consisting of capable cohorts (COH - heavy infantry). Just over two bow shots separated the Roman skirmishers and light horse from the Persian’s first line. The Sassanid centre was also screened by light troops, just not as many as in the Roman line. Foot units bookended by several troops of elephants made up the first line. This was followed by a phalanx of levy. Clibanarii units protected the levy formation, and another group acted as a kind of reserve. The Arab contingent and 6 units of elephants were assigned to the left wing. The pachyderms were screened by skirmishers. The flank was augmented by several units of light infantry and more Clibanarii. The main strength of the Sassanid cavalry was deployed over on the right wing. Three lines were drawn up. The first consisted of light cavalry. The second of lighter Clibanarii on the flanks of the formation and heavier units in the middle. The cataphracts were in the third line. Their flanks were protected by additional units of Clibanarii.

Summary of the Engagement
At the end of 5 turns of play, the Roman right wing appeared to be winning the local battle. The Illyrian light cavalry had proved more than a much for the Arab light horse.The Roman effort was supported by the allied warbands, who gleefully charged into a line of Sassanid elephants and proceeded to make large sausages out of the animals. All was not going smoothly however, as the participation of some Roman heavy horse had been embarrassed when a bloody nose was received at the hands (javelins) of some enemy light cavalry in a melee. The Persians were not completely alarmed, as they had a number of reserve units available. Even so, the loss of 6 key units on this flank was a bit disconcerting. In the centre of the field, the Sassanids were content to stand and wait for the Roman infantry to come to them. The Roman commander obliged, at least partially so, by sending his strong screen of skirmishers forward. This cloud was followed by a solid line of citizen legion units. The regular Roman legions were ordered to hold in place.
As the Roman skirmishers came within long bow range of their Persian counterparts, missiles flew. Neither side suffered casualties from this exchange. Over on the Roman left, the Dalmatian light cavalry fell victim to poor die rolls and better Sassanid tactics. Effective arrow volleys and effective charges quickly reduced the number of Roman light horse units operating on this flank. Reinforcements, in the form of light infantry (Numeri) and heavy horse were brought up. The small contingent of Eastern Allied formations were ordered to advance as well. New melees were generated then, when Clibanarii regiments met the Roman horse and infantry units. At the end of 5 turns, the advantage seemed to be with the Sassanids. However, it was still rather early in the battle, and the Persians had not been able to bring the weight of their cataphract cavalry to bear.

At the end of 10 turns of play, the Citizen legions on the left of the line had just come into contact with a formation of Persian foot accompanied by some elephants. Before this local meeting, the Roman skirmishers had exerted some pressure on the Sassanid centre, loosing and or hurling a variety of missiles into the opposing screen of skirmishers as well as the supporting line of heavy foot. The enemy elephants were not ignored. Indeed, a few units suffered quite a bit of attention and earned fatigue markers as a consequence. The Sassanid levy and its supporting cavalry were still not involved. The same could be said of the proper Roman legions and their supporting formations. On the Roman right wing, their light-heavy infantry and heavy horse defeated a number of elephants as well as the Arab heavy cavalry, but only after a prolonged melee. The assistance of the Sarmatians was needed in this chaotic engagement. A belated attempt by the Anatolian light infantry and some reserve Clibanarii to shore up the line did not to much for the Persian position on their left wing. In fact, a count of key units lost in this sector showed a significant imbalance. The Romans had lost just 5 units versus 18 units routed on the Sassanid side of the field. Meanwhile, over on the Persian right flank, a bloodier and slightly more even contest raged. The Clibanarii proved more capable (luckier?) than the Roman heavy cavalry in most of the melees, but due to command and control problems and “traffic jams”, the Persians could not really generate any momentum in this area of the field. The allied contingent from the Eastern king proved rather stubborn, even though it was subjected to numerous arrow volleys from nearby enemy regiments. These Persian horse made the tactical mistake of charging the enemy foot and became embroiled in a back-and-forth melee. The dice started to fall in favour of the Roman sub-general on this flank. At the conclusion of Turn 10, the butcher’s bill in this sector was: 15 key units lost for the Sassanids and 12 lost for the Romans.

Given that the Sassanids were 94 percent of the way to their army morale breaking point (they had lost 33 key units out of 35), and the Romans were only at 47 percent (having lost 17 key units out of 36), I decided to forego playing an eleventh or even twelfth turn, and awarded a fairly decisive victory to the Romans.

Assessment
Additional remarks regarding the abstract quality of the terrain features and the abstract representation of the various troop types deployed are unnecessary. To be sure, this recently completed solo contest featuring Middle Imperial Romans and Sassanid Persians cannot begin to be compared to a Simon Miller production. [6] That stipulation aside, I think the wargame went rather well. I was engaged and entertained for 10 turns. I was able to spend a few days in an imaginary location that was definitely warmer and kinder when compared to the actual weather. Overall, I think the rule amendments worked. The work-in-progress adjustments concerning interpenetration are nowhere near perfect, however. There is much more play-testing and tweaking to be done. Even so, it was nice to be able to get light cavalry out of various “death traps”. This was a relief to both commanders, as the vast majority of the light horse deployed on both sides were rated as key units. The extension of the rout path to 9 inches (a variation on the usual 3 inches or a straight line off the board) seemed to work. Of course, it was a learning curve, as there were a couple of uncomfortable instances when the Persian commander (a sub-general, of course) had moved some Clibanarii too close to engaged elephants. When the elephants broke, as they often did, unfortunately, when fighting Roman light infantry or light-heavy infantry, the Clibanarii were burst through, routed, and removed. There was also a learning curve with the light Clibanarii. Their effectiveness in terms of effective archery was minimal. Their effectiveness in melee was even less. On reflection, it appears that, in the role of the Sassanid commander, I should have put my cataphracts in the front line so that I could smash through the Romans set against me. The light cavalry and other heavy cavalry could have followed up my presumed success. Staying with the Persians for a moment, it appears that I need to review my tactics when using elephants. While I did deploy a strong division of these animals and did screen them with skirmishers, they were easily countered by enemy light infantry. In the centre of the field, my “bookend” elephant units were also annoyed by Roman skirmishers. Initially, it felt that I had plenty of command and control points. However, as the battle developed, I found the Sassanid right wing suffering from divisions being split and the initiative rating for that sector of the field decreasing, eventually to nothing.

Shifting my critical gaze to the Roman side of the field, it appears that I did more reacting than acting. Even though I had the move option for 7 of the 10 turns, it felt like I was trying to prevent my formations from being overwhelmed by the Sassanids. Indeed, when the exchange of arrows on the second turn went very much against me, I began to worry. I began to think about shifting some Roman legions from a reserve line to shore up both wings. I was a bit disappointed that my proper Roman legions never got into the action. I suppose that I could have deployed them forward and, like the cataphracts, used them to smash through (or try to) the centre of the enemy position. This seemed a bit blunt as well as costly. Why risk proper Roman legions when I have Citizen legions, Eastern legions, warbands, and light infantry to spare? In contrast to the Persian chain of command, I never had any worries about control points and initiative on this side of the field. Upon further reflection, I wonder if I should have reduced the heavy and light control points? For each of the three sectors, the Romans had 10 heavy control points and 8 light control points. This allowed me to deploy quite a few single unit divisions. I could not help but contrast this flexibility with the mass of cavalry on the Persian right wing. The units of Clibanarii and cataphracts stretched Sassanid command and control, I think.

In summary, an entertaining wargame that offers plenty of room for improvement. It will be interesting to see if the Sassanids even the score in the second scenario. It will be interesting to see if this fictional pitched battle sees similar tactics and plans used, or if the table is witness to something a little more “gamey” than historical.


Notes
1.  I like to think that Dr. Paul Innes, former editor of Slingshot, player of Tactica and Tactica II, and owner of a tremendous collection of miniatures, would approve of the size of this fictional engagement. In his colourful and engaging article,”Philippi at the Society Conference”, which was published in the May/June 2017 issue of Slingshot, Paul stated that he had a measure of affection for larger tabletop actions. (See the second paragraph, please.) The Persian host was drafted from the Early Sassanid list (221-290 AD), authored by one Subodai Bahadur. The Roman army was selected from the Mid Imperial Rome list (118AD to 235AD), created by someone named Luxor. Both lists may be found here: http://warflute.org/approved_army_en.php. Referencing the approximate unit scales provided on page 1 of the Armati 2nd Edition, let me establish or suggest the following parameters: a unit of skirmishers represents 400 men; a unit of light cavalry also represents 400 men; a unit of heavy cavalry represents 600 men; a unit of light infantry represents 800 men; a unit of heavy or line infantry represents 1000 men; a unit of levy represents 1400 men, and a unit of elephants represents 24 animals. According to my rough math then, the Sassanid army contained 21,600 heavy horse, 8,800 light horse, 240 elephants, 9,000 infantry, 16,800 levy troops, 5,600 skirmishers, and 3,200 light infantry. Adding these totals, I arrived at an approximate strength of 30,400 cavalry, 240 elephants, and 34,600 infantry for the Sassanid Persians.
2. Initially, I considered copying the terrain used in scenario reports written by Charles Grant ( “The Battle of Behistun” in Wargame Tactics) and Rick Priestley (the battle report featuring Dr.Phil Hendry’s gorgeous miniatures and matching terrain cloth in Hail Caesar). I also toyed with the idea of modeling some other historical terrain and using it for this battle. For example, how would Sassanids and Romans fare if deployed on ground that resembled Pydna, Mantinea, or Chalons? With regard to the ancient authorities, I looked over Frontinus (please see  http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Frontinus/Strategemata/2*.html#2), Onasander (please see http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Onasander/I*.html), Vegetius (please see http://www.imperium-romana.org/uploads/5/9/3/3/5933147/vegetius-roman-army.pdf), and Chapter X of Sun Tzu (please see http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html). On page 133 of his excellent study, The Roman Army At War 100 BC—AD 200, Professor Adrian Goldsworthy explains: “In most large-scale actions the terrain was more open and level, so that more of the army could be put into the line”.
3. Please see http://warflute.org/playtest_rules_en.php.
4. Please see “Chalons 451AD - With Epic Armati”, on pages 25-28 of Slingshot 289 (July/August 2013).
5. In crafting this experimental amendment, I referenced the interpenetration rules found in the Hail Caesar rulebook (please see “Moving Through Friendly Units” on page 35) as well as the short paragraph found at the bottom of page 19 of a PDF copy of WRG 3rd Edition, dated September 1971.
6. See, for just one example of his spectacular art work, the demonstration game he staged at SELWIG. Please see https://bigredbat.blogspot.com. On October 24, he posted several photos and comments on his blog about Mancetter.  Just one of the jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring pictures can be seen here: https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-L2wrHO_uFF0/XbBesVcbRkI/AAAAAAAA70o/n5u5gaDr0FY-jSMykXR3vDfYpwujhP4vwCLcBGAsYHQ/s1600/IMG_9376.JPG.
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DougM

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Re: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2019, 08:23:14 AM »
If allied warbands are beating up elephants, I would be dubious about the rules. 
  • Doug Melville
"Let the great gods Mithra and Ahura help us, when the swords are loudly clashing, when the nostrils of the horses are a tremble,...  when the strings of the bows are whistling and sending off sharp arrows."

Chris

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Re: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2019, 12:19:10 PM »
Noted. I shall take yet another look. Thanks for reading.

Cheers,
Chris
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DougM

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Re: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2019, 12:23:34 PM »
There were a few other comments I could make, but they are largely based on views of the Sasanian army that aren't necessarily widely held in wargames circles :)
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Mark G

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Re: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2019, 06:19:36 PM »
Nellies have impetus against warband, and should be going in at evens or above, with the option to break off, so they should win unless you roll down a lot.

That said, if you conceive warband as including javelins, and the elephants as being without skirmish support, halted they would make a fine roast dinner...
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Re: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2019, 10:42:19 PM »
Given the elephant victory, and the troubles that the Julian expedition had against even very small numbers of elephants, the lack of a skirmishing formation that can evade the elephant while darting it (just having javelins doesn't make you velites by training, formation and capacity for independent action), plus the unfamiliarity factor, I would expect most rules would make elephants a firm favourite. I certainly (my personal opinion) would be dubious about a set of rules that didn't.
  • Doug Melville
"Let the great gods Mithra and Ahura help us, when the swords are loudly clashing, when the nostrils of the horses are a tremble,...  when the strings of the bows are whistling and sending off sharp arrows."

Patrick Waterson

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Re: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2019, 08:25:59 AM »
Elephant effectiveness seems to depend primarily on the level of training of troops facing them.  Xanthippus' elephants crunched the better part of an army of Romans, apparently without loss.  Hannibal's elephants were sort of effective at the Trebia, but practically ineffectual at Zama (again, apparently without loss).  Hellenistic elephants must have been useful (everyone wanted them) but it is hard to point to many instances where they were decisive against a Hellenistic army.  Against Galatians who had never seen an elephant before, and deployed to maximise the surprise effect, they were dramatically effective battlewinners.

Alexander dealt with them at the Hydaspes in a long day of wearing down in the approved manner, but it is hard to point to any elephants actually killed on that day.  Elephants do seem to have been tough beasties; deaths in combat appear to have been rare, e.g. the Metaurus, where ten elephants were stuck between the two sides: four elephants ended up dead; six broke through the Roman lines and ran off, being rounded up after throwing their drivers.

In wargame rules, removal from play need not signify death but rather ineffectiveness; no particular representation problem there.  However the effectiveness of elephants does seem to have been directly related to the effectiveness of the other side's training to deal with them - if this was lacking, the elephants made hay, or at least casualties.  The contrast between elephant effectiveness at Bagradas and Zama would pretty much require a different set of rules for each battle.  The elephant victory would require another set again.

Hence, as Doug says, familiarity matters - it is not just a simple weapons vs animals equation.  Perseus of Macedon is perhaps the archetypal illustration of this point: realising the likely effect of elephants on his troops, who lacked familiarity with them, he trained a special elephantomachoi ('elephant-fighter') force.  This had everything needed to deal with elephants, down to spiked armour so they could not be grabbed.  It trained against very realistic-looking dummy elephants, which made elephant-like noises (a trumpeter hidden in the belly).  And yet, when it came to the crunch, and the elephantomachoi went into action, they found the real thing too unfamiliar and too much to handle.

Ammianus records how Julian's troops in AD 363 were apprehensive of Sassanid elephants and terrified by their appearance, but in almost the next sentence he has the Romans driving them back along with the rest of the Persian army.  This suggests (at least to me) that Julian had instructed his troops in dealing with elephants, or had made sure they were instructed, and furthermore that at least some of them had familiarity with elephants, if not the friendly kind.

So - elephants against troops who have not met them before will be dramatically effective.  Elephants against troos who have been familiarised and trained to deal with them will be frightening but largely ineffective.  The differences are very marked and ideally we should grade armies as 'unfamiliar with', 'acquainted with', 'familiar with' or 'expert against' elephants and devise relevant levels of elephant effectiveness in order to replicate historical performance.

In this connection, we may note that Alexander's troops at the Hydaspes seem to have had a 'familiar with' effectiveness level, the elephants doing comparatively little damage (except to subsequent morale).  This suggests he had taken considerable pains to familiarise his men with the beasts and means of dealing with them prior to the battle, probably courtesy of his Indian allies.
  • Patrick Waterson
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Chris

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Re: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2019, 01:00:11 PM »
In reply to Mark's observations, I believe the warband types (at least as deployed for the scenario) were at +1 vs all, while the elephants had +1 versus foot, plus impact on first round (another +1). If the nellies win, they get furious charge bonus, which tilts the cohesion point loss of the unfortunate enemy unit up a level. So, yes, elephants can have an impact. If they roll low, then the modifiers are reduced, so prolonged melees versus enemy foot, especially, can result in elephant "sausages". I do not believe the elephants can disengage. Will have to check to be sure. As for skirmisher screen, this particular command was comprised of 6 elephants and 6 stands of hill tribesmen (LMI with javelins). My reading of the rules (understanding that is), was that elephants could not interpenetrate the LMI, so I arranged then in 2 groups of 6 stands, each having 3 stands of each type. Sufficed to say, the LMI did not last long versus heavier opponents.

Picking up on one point mentioned by Patrick, ADLG does allow for routing elephants to panic forward, and smash through their tormentors. They can also go left or right. Half the time, they will trundle off to the rear, so give them space!

Patrick's short and informative lecture seems familiar ground, as I recall being in the audience while working on my submission on elephants that appeared some time ago. I think, too, that there was probably a similar discussion thread. So like the hoplite "push", we seem to be returning to familiar territory. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

Looking on the bright side, at least my posted battle reports sometimes generate a discussion about a particular topic. Unfortunately, the number of readers or views does not appear to reflect those who actually look at the report. They follow the discussion thread topic instead.

FWIW, looking into a To The Strongest! scenario, as Simon Miller has provided for elephant screens as well as elephants in a tighter formation. Then again, Tactica II also has this provision. I have more experience with the former set than the latter, albeit not that much more.

Cheers,
Chris
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: A Surfeit of Sassanids - Part 1
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2019, 09:06:22 AM »
I have more experience with the former set than the latter, albeit not that much more.

Experience is never lost, and can only grow. :)
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