The most disastrous disaster of Gnaeus Pomposius Disastrius.

A Kings of War – historical battlereport

Prologue :

Having for once some free time on a sunday afternoon and annoyed by ghastly weather, we grasped the opportunity to run some wargames and enjoy ourselves slaughtering the enemy.
Among others, we played a game of kow-historical, opposing my republican Roman to Erics Carthaginians.

We set up a 2000pts game, using the “hilltop defense” scenario from the rulebook. The Dice Gods decided, the Romans played as the defender of an elevated area and the Carthaginians assumed the part of the attacker. The victor would be decided by comparing the points-value of destroyed units and the game duration was set to 4+ rounds. The defender could only deploy 1500pts worth of troops, but (if used properly) had the advantage of the high ground.

Needless to say, we did not intend to recreate a real historic battle. The fascinating period of the Punic wars serves merely as a setting for our attempts at escapism ­čÖé .

Transcription of a speech by the roman senator Titus Claudius Narrator,
211 BC.

Titus Claudius Narrator was an extraordinary and plenipotentiary envoy of the roman senate, charged to observe the ongoing war in southern Italy. This is his account to the senate.

Titus Claudius Narrator speaks…

Patres!
The account I have to give is one of tragedy, of mistakes made, of roman blood shed and of roman honour tainted. For almost seven years now, Carthage, the great city beyond the sea and our most formidable enemy, is waging war on the Republic… and the war goes not our way…
Three days ago, a large Carthaginian host, led by a certain Erko, departed the city of Herdonia. They headed towards the pass of Navis Linguina on the via randomia, one of the gateways into Samnium.

It took not long for our scouts to detect them and guess their destination.
Their objective known, our very diligent Consul assembled an expeditionary force and sent it, led by Gnaeus Pomposius Disastrius, to the pass of Navis Linguina.
Pomposius had straightforward orders: establish a foothold in the highlands and defend it against the Carthaginians until reinforcements could arrive.
And here opens the first act of this tragedyÔÇŽ

Mistakes were made…

Gnaeus Pomposius Disastrous was no veteran general and certainly not from the same stock as his father. It saddens me to say, that sending this young and loyal, yet inexperienced man, was the first mistake.

The Carthaginian army surpassed our own forces in number, but we controlled the high ground around the via randomia. As Erko deployed his troops in a long attack line, Pomposius Disastrius focused on defending the high ground and the roads to Samnium.

When the pieces were set on the field, the Gods had already decided the outcome.

Erko clearly aimed for a quick battle. His chariots and horsemen served as first line of attack, while his infantry and those Gods forsaken war elephants formed the second line of attack. Pomposius deployed his triari on the main road, the via randomia, supported by one principes maniple, as well as some principes on the elevated areas. Several units of archers, north and south, should harass the advancing forces from the high ground. Last and evidently leastÔÇŽ the hastati would, at least for a while, hold some secondary positions.

Foolish Pomposius. Ill advised Pomposius. Tragic Pomposius.
He focused to much on the heavy center of Erkos force and stretched his flanks too thin. True, Poposius had gained some experience by leading men into battle in the vast plains of Hispania, but he lacked the experience of fighting in rough terrain.
The lack of skirmish troops and cavalry prevented him from acting in the areas below his own position. Consequently he could not harass the enemy in order to slow down their advance.

A most disastrous engagement…

Patres, I try to imagine, what Erko must have thought, when he looked at our lines. Instead of a more concise deployment using the advantages of the terrain, Pomposius tried to hold the entire area. In consequence, Erko could throw all of his might against the thin line of defense with impudence.

At first, it seemed that Pomposius’ plan would succeed. The Punic chariots and cavalry rushed towards our lines and met with Roman steel and Roman bravery. Meanwhile our archers, brave men from Greece and distant Numidia, unleashed their arrows at the enemy.
Despite the disastrous outcome, this battle is a testament to Roman valor and bravery. I can only admire the way our brave soldiers, good and loyal citizens, fought a desperate battle.

But alas, our archers on the southern flank could not inflict real damage and were soon caught in battle by enemy horsemen. Pomposius needed to send troops from the center and thus weakened his own position. The southern flank soon became a focal point of the battle. I may only hypothesize, what greater plan the enemy commander initially had. But from this moment on, it seemed like he intended to crush our lines in brutal sweeping movement.

the green fields and the sun of Elysium…

Supported by Gaul Infantry and slinger from their homeland, the Carthaginian cavalry battered our troops. Our men were soon routed by the sheer mass enemies, freeing the barbarian warriors to head for the center and threatening or triari at the via randomia.

The Carthaginians crushed the Romans with their overwhelming numbers. Despite their best efforts, the principes could not rout the main unit of enemy horsemen. Consequently they could not support their beleaguered countrymen.

At the same time, the war elephants and the remaining Carthaginian infantry made contact with our soldiers at he northern flank. It saddens me to report, that our men, bravely defending those hills, were cruelly beaten by those beasts. The battle was lost. Everybody knew that.

I do not know, what poor Pomposius felt at that moment. What does it feel, knowing one was solely responsible for the imminent threat to sacred Rome.
But Gnaeus Pomposius Disastrius left the stage of this tragedy as only a Roman would. He launched a final and desperate charge at Erko, the enemy commander, himself. I did not see the outcome of the fight. But when we scoured the field after the enemy passed, we found Pomposius’s body, slain but still holding his sword.

Only the augures will know the future…

Patres. The doors of the temple of Janus stand ajar. The spear still rests in the field of Mars. Roman blood will be shed in the days and years to come. Sacred Rome is threatened.
If we remain unable turn the tide, we shall face more hardship, or worse, annihilation. Can any of you picture the sacrifice of our children to their cruel gods? Can you imagine the destruction of our dominion? Does any one of us even dare to contemplate a world without the values and virtues of Rome, the very light of civic life?
I for one dare not to contemplate such a future.

Epilogue :

The game ended with a crushing victory for Carthage. We did not even bother to add up the points and calculate the win margin. As Roman player, I admit I completely underestimated terrain advantages and ignored the versatility of my regiment size units. Stretching my lines thin (which is not one of my habits) meant I exposed them to Eriks hordes and heavy hitters (aka those damned war elephants). I should have “turtled up” in a more defensible position and play on time. Indeed, on my northern flank, I was able to survive (longer) because my units could support and defend each other. Gods know where my mind was during deployment.

It was nonetheless a very entertaining game. MVP was the Carthaginian cavalry regiment who rolled multiple snake eyes while testing courage.

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