Sunday, 13 April 2014

Battle of Trebia, December 218 BC

Hannibal: still the greatest soldier of his age

The senate commanded consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus to sail from Sicily to reinforce general, Publius Cornelius Scipio whose forces had been beaten by Hannibal at the Battle of Ticinus, during which Scipio was wounded. Sempronius assembled his two legions at Ariminum south of the Po river and from there marched to Placentia.

The two consuls did not agree on the best plan to deal with the Carthaginian threat.
"...the one consul being dispirited by the battle of the cavalry [Ticinus] and his own wound, wished operations to be deferred: the other having his spirits unsubdued, and being therefore the more impetuous, admitted no delay" (Livius Book XXI, Chap 51,52).
"...received information, that some of the Gauls that lived between the river Trebia and the Po, who had before concluded an alliance with him, had now entered also into terms of treaty with the Romans, he sent away two thousand foot, and a thousand Numidian and Gallic horse, to plunder and lay waste their country. ...the detachment was now returning with their booty, when the Gauls came running to the Roman camp, and implored assistance. Tiberius [Sempronius], who for some time had been impatient to be in action, seized the occasion, and immediately sent away the greatest part of his cavalry, together with a thousand light-armed foot. These troops, ...charged the Numidians and the Gauls that were loaded with the plunder, and forced them to retreat in haste to their intrenchments. [...] Tiberius, being beyond measure elated by his success, was impatient to try the fortune of a general engagement. [...] Publius was fixed in different sentiments. For he had considered himself, that when the troops had first been trained and exercised during the time of winter, they would be able to perform much greater service in the following season... He was persuaded likewise, that the natural levity and perfidious disposition of the Gauls would soon lead them to revolt from their new allies, in case that the Carthaginians should be forced to remain long inactive. [...] Annibal, on the other hand, having formed the same reflections in his mind as Publius had made, ... was led to just the opposite determination, and resolved to engage the enemy without delay" (Polybius Book III Chap VII, p. 258–260).
Reports brought in by his Gallic allies and his assessment of the terrain, determined Hannibal as to his best course of action.
"...when the Gauls, who were the safer spies to ascertain what he wished, as they served in both camps, had brought intelligence that the Romans were prepared for battle, the Carthaginian began to look about for a place for an ambuscade. [...] Between the armies was a rivulet, bordered on each side with very high banks, and covered around with marshy plants, and with the brushwood and brambles with which uncultivated places are generally overspread; ... sufficient to afford a covert even for cavalry..."  (Livius Book XXI, Chap 53–54).
He sent his brother Mago with one thousand foot and horse (as both sources report) to lie in wait in the broken ground near the bank of the river.
"...Mago, having been thus sent off, Hannibal orders the Numidian cavalry to ride up, after crossing the river Trebia by break of day, to the gates of the enemy, and to draw them out to a battle by discharging their javelins at the guards... Sempronius, eager for the contest, let out, on the first tumult raised by the Numidians, all the cavalry, being full of confidence in that part of the forces; then six thousand infantry, and lastly all his army, to the place already determined in his plan (Livius Book XXI, Chap 54).
The Romans pursued the Numidians across the river to the plain on the opposite bank.
"It happened to be the winter season and a snowy day... there was no heat in the bodies of the men and horses thus hastily led out without having first taken food, or employed any means to keep off the cold;... when, in pursuit of the flying Numidians, they entered the water, (and it was swollen by rain in the night as high as their breasts) then in truth the bodies of all, on landing, were so benumbed, that they were scarcely able to hold their arms; and as the day advanced they began to grow faint, both from fatigue and hunger" (Livius Book XXI, Chap 54). 
The armies faced one another across the frozen plain, the Romans at right having just crossed the swollen Trebia River.

Sempronius formed his army in the classic Roman manner: cavalry and Italians on the right, Gallic allies on the left and legions in the centre.

Hannibal's dispositions faced off the Romans: Carthaginian cavalry on the left, Numidians  on the right, Gauls in front of his Spanish and Carthaginian infantry, with an elephant flanking the Gauls on each side.

Both armies advanced to battle; seen from the Roman lines (above) and from our 'eye in the sky' (below).

The Gallic allies of each side charged in.

The early stages of the battle seen from three views: slightly elevated, eye level and 'eye in the sky'.

First blood Carthaginians; their superior cavalry defeated their Roman foes after two turns of combat.

Hannibal's light infantry got the better of their Roman velites foes in a 'firefight' of spears! 

Hannibal's Gauls crashed into the Hastati, taking but a few losses (a die roll of one for the determination of 'permanent losses' is very good; i.e. no losses).

Meanwhile their countrymen overcome two of the warbands allied to the Romans (a die roll of five and six for the determination of 'permanent losses' is not good). Clearly they were suffering greatly from the cold and lack of a hearty breakfast!

They did not like being sprayed with missiles from those sneaky Numidian cavalry either (another die roll of six for the determination of permanent losses. I was on fire; in the wrong way)!

A heartening sight for Sempronius as his Gallic allies defeat one of Hannibal's units of elephants,...

but then charged impetuously to "death" at the hands of the Numidians!

Success too for the last Roman-allied warband.

On the Roman right, defeat of the Italian cavalry opened up that flank...

at the same time, above and below, Hannibal’s trap was sprung. The ambush, lead by his brother Mago, emerged from the woods on the Romans' left flank.

It was all down to the legions as the last of the Gallic warbands was driven off by Numidians and Hannibal's Gauls.

This is what a surrounded Roman army looks like:
from the Carthaginian side,

in the clinches as the Spanish and Carthaginian infantry crashed into the line of Hastati,

 from the northern perspective,

 and c/- the 'eye in the sky'!

Having held out bravely against overwhelming numbers, the left-most unit of Hastiti broke. It's all over (50% of the army VDU reached).

The Numidians get perilously close to Sempronius; fortunately unattached commanders are not combat targets under Impetus rules!

This is what a defeated Roman army looks like!

This, our third game using the Impetus rules and second attempt at an historical re-fight, was another enjoyable and satisfying one that produced an historically 'reasonable' outcome.

These ancient battles/games are proving to be a fine 'interlude' between our Napoleonic re-fights and campaign games. Napoleonics will always be my/our first and chief reason for being in the hobby, but these have sparked my interest in the classical era and I'm enjoying developing more in-depth knowledge of the period through reading, devising scenarios, playing the games and writing these reports!

Next stop: Bibracte 58 BC.


Livius, T (1887) The History of Rome: Books Nine to Twenty Six. Translated by D Spillman and C Edmonds. Book XXI, Chap 46–57, pp. 744–756. George Hill & Sons, London.

Polybius (1823) The General History of Polybius, Translated from the Greek by Mr. Hampton. Vol. I. Printed by W. Baxter, for J. Parker; and G. and W. H. Whittaker, Ave Maria Lane, London, Oxford. Fifth Edition. Book III, Chap VII, pp. 258–267.


  1. Very nice AAR, splendid armies...Long live to Hannibal!

    1. Thanks Phil. The Romans will have their revenge....!

  2. Great looking game - how can you not love an army with elephants?

    1. Too right Ian. Why didn't the Emperor raise a unit of chasseurs à éléphant de la garde?!!!

  3. Very good replay of the day itself - looking forward to what you do with Bibracte. I'd love to refight that one!

    1. Thanks Paul. Mark did a great job with the scenario and set-up for this one (the figures were all his, as usual). The rough painted board gave a wonderful 'texture' to the snow, didn't it?
      We played out Bibracte yesterday. I got to put some of my Caesarian legions on the table. It was a good stoush, much closer than the history as writ by Caesar! Report to follow, soonish.

  4. As you know, I did The Trebbia a few months ago, but didn't impose the Historical deployment (although it wound up very close to it anyway). How did you reflect the impact of crossing the cold river upon the Romans?

    As I was reading the report, I was trying to remember which Ancient rules you were using, and came to the conclusion it must be Impetus; I see that I was correct. If you plan on doing more Punic Wars actions, let me heartily recommend Glenn Pruit's excellent scenario book "Hannibal ad Portas". Although designed for use with Piquet's Archon rules, the battles should be fairly easy to transpose for use with other rules sets.

    1. We decided not to have any special scenario rule to downgrade the Roman side for being cold, tired and hungry... (about to break out into the GT and the DD's "It wasn't me"!) as we felt that the 'ambuscade' and some inherent advantages for the Carthaginians should suffice. As it was, the dice did it for the Gaul vs Gaul fights, but it was Hannibal's cunning plan that ensured that they carried the day.
      I don't think that I saw your reports of your game of Trebia. I've seen it now though, so will enjoy having a read of the three parts.
      Thanks for the tip about the scenario book. I might look it up, but I tend to prefer to be a 'do it yourself' boy and go back to at least secondary sources to devise my own. All part of the learning and enjoyment of the hobby for me.
      Cheers, James

  5. Great post. I must try and do an historical game using Fields of Glory. Great to see some Airfix Ancient Britons in play.

    1. Thanks 'Marc'. Plenty of Airfix Britons (and Romans) in Mark's armies. You may have noticed some early-ish Minifigs too (are they referred to as second 'edition', or 'new')?