Carthaginians vs Pyrrhus of Epirus

The Background
and I often play with his Macedonians against my Carthaginians in the spring of 2004. But these armies are from a different time era. When we found a Pyrrhus army list on Jeff Jonas's pages, we decided to make use of that army to play battles with armies in the same era.

After his adventure in Italy, Pyrrhus got involved in a campaign in Sicily. The terrain in Sicily is a little hilly. We thought it nice to put a few hills on the battlefield.

The Plan
Pyrrhus wanted to create an extreme strong right flank. During the setup of the battlefield (random movement of terrain)
he thought it would be difficult for there was a big mountain in the middle of my deployment area. But the mountain would not interfere with his strategy. Only the phalanx and cavalry stood close to each other on the right flank.The left flank would be “sacrificed” to hold the Carthaginians.

  • Right flank: The cavalry (Thessalians and Tarentine) together with a unit of Epirote Phalangites would go straight for a clash. Hopefully the Carthaginians would not be impressed at first because these 3 units were not extreme strong. The plan was to use a night march with the Chaeonian guards. With a little help of the dice the Guards would appear and create chaos at left flank of the enemy.

  • Left flank: In the beginning Pyrrhus used his archers and bolt thrower to get first blood. At the same time the elephants were moving forward. A lot of skirmishers would hold and volley (bow, javelin, slingers) at the enemy. Together with 2 elephants and 1 bolt thrower the left flank would be enough to keep killing Carthaginians.

The Carthaginians were planning a strategy like one of their ancestors would be using at Cannae. The large Celtic warband had to take the main offence of the enemy. The Carthaginian units next to them would have to attack the enemy in the flank. These units were in Phalanx formation. That would make it difficult to turn into the enemies flanks (only 1" wheel and 180 degrees turn allowed). But a little give and take from the opponent (give in this case) would make this possible. On the left flank the three cavalry units had to be enough to destroy the enemy's right flank. After that, they would close the trap by attacking the enemy in the rear. And, like Vegetius advices, the Spanish light infantry and the third Carthaginian unit were the reserve to take any enemy that might break through.

As you will see the saying that "no plan survives contact with the enemy",  is once again underlined below.

The Battle

The Setup

The Carthaginian line

The Carthaginians thought that due to the rocky formation in the middle of the deployment zone of the enemy that the best place to place their trap was on the right flank. But the Epirotes placed their best troops on the other site!

The battlefield and setup of Pyrrhus made it difficult for the Carthaginians to unfold their trap. They suspected the enemy to wield some large infantry units. The trap was laid, but the victim didn't appear. "One unit of phalanx to the left only? How could this be possible? Are you sure you used 2000 points? had i made an error in the Armybuilder files? You don't want me to look at your armylist? ...better place the reserves on the left flank, just in case..." The danger that lurked from the deployment of the elephants it was also impossible to ignore that side.


The arrival of the Chaeonian Guard 








The Chaeonians appear out of thin air

The special rule 'night march" was used bij Pyrrhus! Now it was clear why the Epirots had so few units on the table. In the second turn the surprise appearance had the following effect: Because the enemy didn’t know where to aspect the night march he turned his first phalanx on his right 90 degrees and the Carthaginian cavalry pulled back immediately when they heard of the arrival of un unexpected enemy flank or even rear attack. The arrival of the Chaeonians made the enemy very nervous.  "So there was another infantry unit!". But soon after that first panic the units reformed and resumed their planned attack.

The Chaeonian Guard appeared on his left flank. It was not entirely clear if they were allowed to arrive within 8" of the enemy (and thus be able to charge that turn). We allowed them to do so, to make it even nastier for the Carthaginians!


The battle on the left flank of the Carthaginians

Some skirmish battles between the light troops was the next fase of the war, as often happens.

Pyhhrus couldn’t take advantage of the enemy's cavalry retreat. He couldn’t get through: both phalanx on the right were waiting for each other. Pyhhrus decided to take the wedge and general to the middle of the battlefield. That was a good idea; He defeated his second phalanx with the general and elephant. The wedge pushed away the warband. Also the appearance of my night march could hold his first phalanx but in the end it was slain.  But the Carthaginian troops began to get the upper hand on their left flank.







The Numidian Light Cavalry runs away a lot

The Tarentines unexpectedly got beaten by Numidian skirmishers and fled. They rallied within a fraction of an inch from the edge.


The attack of the elephants

This part is always one of the nicest. Elephants are so unpredictable, but also potentially very dangerous. And they look great on the battlefield.

Pyrrhus attacks with artillery and elephants

We do not allow Bolt Throwers to shoot into close combat to avoid the confusion, and we also think that a Bolt Thrower shot into a skirmish formation can only hit one model (there are no ranks after all). This is one of the many situations you will encounter in every single battle where the rules are not conclusive. Whenever we think the exact rule is crucial to the outcome of the battle, we take some time to look things up in the rulebooks. Otherwise we try to get an agreement on what would be logical, or let the dice decide.

The Celts soaked up the attack of the elephants. Mostly due to their large numbers they held ground for a while. FBIGO rule (outnumber 2:1) prevented them form running away directly. They also outnumbered the elephants, so the fear rule was not an issue. but they lost every turn with about 5 casualties!


Fleeing elephant!

The Celts even managed to chase off one of the elephants. For a moment we thought the other elephant had to take a panic test, but in time we remembered that they are immune to psychology. We decided not to let the freshly arrived Chaeonians flee in panic, as that would have an undesired impact on the game. But the fleeing elephant nearly ran into the Chaeonian unit!

On the other flank the Carthaginians moved up and began surrounding the enemy. The Tarentines were once again broken. This time they had the decency to flee of the table.


The general flees

The Carthaginian general joins the elephant battle, but his miscalculated his fortunes: no panic test for a flank attack (elephants are immune to psychology), no rank bonus, almost impossible to wound the elephant (only on a 6) and a crew that were behind a 3+ armour save! The elephant broke the general and his unit, and they never recovered from the shock.

The next turn they disappeared from the battlefield. Whether we had to test the army for the disappeared general was not clear at that moment (it turned out you do not test for a general that flees off the table). We decided that the Carthaginians were punished enough by loosing their general.

The mounted Epirote general came too close to the elephants and had to take a terror test. However, he did not loose his nerve and stood firm.


The flanks of the Epirotes get crushed

When the Epirote Phalangites were completely surrounded, you could not, but feel pity for them. getting sandwiched from 4 sides is never funny.

The single unit left on the right Epirote flank gets crushed.

Chaeonian guards take up against a Carthaginian phalanx

The Chaeonians in loose formation were no match for the Carthaginian phalanx with the Army battle standard in close formation. The guard were wearing their Heavy Armour. This was technically allowed in the army list, but after informing Jeff Jonas, he wisely decided to disallow this in an updated version of the army list.

On the right also the Epirpte phalanx was slain and al the skirmishers were leaving the battlefield. The left and right flank of the Epirotes were now destroyed. But in the centre of the Carthaginian line things are getting worse.


The Celts leave the battle

The Celts that chased off the elephant were now being attacked by the Thessalian wedge in their flank. Again the FBIGO rule allowed them to hold on. But they were in deep trouble.

The continuing attacks by the elephant are decimating the Celts (only 21 left of the 42)

Then Pyrrhus also joined the battle. After a brave but short struggle both Celtic units are pushed of the table, literally.


The left flank of the Carthaginians arrives

At this stage both armies grew tired of fighting. Neither one had been able to decisively break their opponent. 

The Carthaginians had taken the left flank, but the centre had been beaten. The trap had not worked.

The Result

Pyrrhus of Epirus

The Carthaginians

Enemy units lost:


Enemy units lost:


Table edges: 100 Table edges: 100
Enemy general fled: 100 -
Battle standards captured: 200 Battle standards captured: 200
TOTAL: 1439 TOTAL: 1400

Pyrrhus caught 3 banners from the Carthaginians, but one was re-captured. This is not officially stated in the rules, but we like the ability to recapture standards. Think of the Roman officer that threw his banner into the enemy lines at the coast of Britain: "Leap, fellow soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy. I, for my part, will perform my duty to the commonwealth and my general." When he had said this with a loud voice, he leaped from the ship and proceeded to bear the eagle toward the enemy. Then our men, exhorting one another that so great a disgrace should not be incurred, all leaped from the ship. When those in the nearest vessels saw them, they speedily followed and approached the enemy.

The Carthaginians' plan didn't even survive the setup phase. They were quite upset by the arrival of the Chaeonian Guard. Their plans on the left flank got confused, and the right flank didn't meet the expected enemy.
Atacking the elephant with the general's unit was also a mistake, not te be repeated. Too late in the battle the left flank finished with the opponent. When they finally arrived on the left flank, there was not much left of it. Their general had already left the battlefield.

The Epirotes thought that because of the overwhelming light cavalry at the left flank of the enemy and the arrival of the guards in their second turn, the initial plan would not work. Pyrrhus decided to let the guards arrive on the enemies right flank behind a forest so they could pinpoint the enemy phalanx.
Now his right flank was not strong enough to hold the cavalry and the phalanx. Pyrrhus changed his idea and the rest of his army was sent to the left flank.
One stampeding elephant was lost but the other (together with Pyrrhus) and the Thessalians were able to crush 2 units of Celts and one Phalanx with the enemy general. The skirmishers did a good job volleying at the enemy.
There was too little left of the army to speak of a great victory. Maybe next time with 2 bolt throwers and a little more luck with the night march and the elephant they will be able to defeat the enemy more convincing.

The Epirotes won the battle by about 39 points. But is really was a Pyrrhus victory. There was not much left of this army: 6 Thessalians, an elephant, some skirmishers and Pyrrhus himself. He won the battle, but would probably loose the war with so few of his men left....

The Rosters


Pyrrhus of Epirus

See also for information about the novel I wrote about the life of Pyrrhus.

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