Heraclea (Romans vs Pyrrhus of Epirus)

The Background

Pyrrhus, king of Epirus (in the west of Greece) arrived in Tarentum early in the spring of 280 BCE to defend the southern Italian states against Rome. A Roman Consular army consisting of 50,000 troops, was led by Publius Laverius Laevinius and struck into Lucanian territories to keep them from joining forces with Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus gathered his Hellenistic veterans and challenged the might of the Legions at Heraclea in May 280 BCE.

The Scenario

Click here for the Scenario from Jeff Jonas.
Click here for the  map from Jeff Jonas.


One thing you should prepare before the battle is a little note for every infantry unit that it has terror of the elephant. Otherwise you will certainly loose track of that rule. We used the picture on the right and made 2 by 2 cm cards for every of the 32 infantry units and characters.

As background I took a picture of the table we were going to play on, to get the right colour for this marker. It is also a good idea to place markers for the results of combats.



The battle took us 11 hours to play in the summer of 2004! So you are warned!


Pictures of my Roman Republican Army.

Pictures of my Epirote Army.


The Plan

Wargames Foundry Companions

This was the first time we played an historical battle of this proportion. The Romans had trouble crossing the river the first time we played the scenario, but managed to hold back the flanks of the Epirotes then. They even drove off one of the elephants.


The second time the Romans thought they would win the flanks again. The plan was to draw the phalanx into combat with the light troops and then flee back across the river to get them into difficult terrain. A few units to attack the flank of the phalanx and a little luck in the middle might break them.


The Epirotes (played by Don) learned from their mistake to enter the battle with the elephants too soon, and kept them back a bit more.



Learn more about the Roman Tactical Formations here.



The Battle

The Setup

Chaeonians Phalangites, Hoplites Cavalry Cavalry Rhodian slingers Archers Archers Elephant Elephant Tarentine Hoplites Tarentine Hoplites Light Cavalry Light Cavalry Light Cavalry Skirmishers Roman Cavalry Roman Cavalry Velites Romans and allied legions I - IV Light infantry Light infantry

The start of the battle (Romans in this side of the table)
...only 4 of the 8 legions (below) have arrived yet !
(move over the picture to get unit info)


Choosing positions

Both armies wanted to secure the river as soon as possible. The Light troops of the Epirotes were fleeing in no time, and all but one left the table without looking back.

The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th legion formed a backup for the first 4 legions and also reinforced the flanks.

Both armies (Romans above, Epirotes below)  race towards each other



The plan to draw the Phalanx into combat and lure them into the river worked. But it took the Romans many units to do so. A brave attack from the Roman left flank ended in a fierce cavalry battle and ultimate loss.

The Romans get pushed back in the middle and on the right

On the flanks very different situation arose. The Epirote right got rid of the Romans left quite easily. The following panic virtually destroyed the total Roman left position. Luckily for the Romans the Epirote wedge got stranded in the woods for a while.

On the other flank all the cavalry sat back and waited... and waited... for the elephant to arrive!

Meanwhile the big battle in the centre commenced.


Breaking through

Due to the generals and Battle Standard bearers the centre battle was a very tough one. Stubborn units with relatively high leadership held their positions on either side. units that were broken often rallied the next turn and got stuck in the grinding machine once again.

The Romans, although, were having a very tough time. they realised that they had to break the centre before the Epirote flank would arrive.

On the left the Epirotes don't dare to cross the river. In the middle both sides win and loose and regroup often.

But Pyrrhus' Leadership encouraged the Macedonian units just enough to wear out the Romans. Far away on the other side the Roman General did the same for his troops.


Heading for the kill

Finally the Roman plan the knife down the Epirote Phalanx in the river almost succeeded. In the end the Tarantine levy phalanx did not hold anymore. This gave way and the Romans got the opportunity they waited for to get to the flanks of the phalanx battle line..

At the end the Romans suffer the most, but the phalanx is now exposed and vulnerable

The regrouped cavalry on the right of the Epirotes, and the cavalry strength left on the left side at last moved in for the kill in round 8. That was right on time, because the Roman maniples were swarming the phalanx like wasps by now!

Pyrrhus, having only eyes for his troops, forgot to get out of the way of the advancing Romans. He got into a fight and fled. This could have had a disastrous effect on the battle, but luckily he ran away stayed out of range of the Romans.


Navigator kneeling triarii

The Result

Pyrrhus of Epirus

The Romans

Enemy units lost:



Enemy units lost:


Table edges: 100 Table edges: -
Enemy general fled: - Enemy general fled: 100
Battle standards captured: 600 Battle standards captured: 500
Army Battle standards captured: - Army Battle standards captured: 200
TOTAL: +/- 3000 TOTAL: +/- 2500

This replay of the battle resulted in 22000 men lost for the Romans (1model=100men). We suppose that only 1/3 of them were killed (7500). The other 2/3 would have been taken prisoner, wounded or fled the battlefield (14500). The Epirotes suffered  16000 losses (5500 killed, 10500 captured, ran away or wounded).

In reality the Romans lost 7000-15000. Pyrrhus’ army suffered 4000 up to 13000.


The Aftermath
The first time we played the scenario, the Romans did slightly better on the flanks. They thought they could repeat this. But the Epirotes were a bit more careful this time.

The first time the elephants also had a very big impact, but one of them fled! Due to different movements their impact was less this game. Only a few units had to take a terror test.

In the end the Romans were pleased that they were able to inflict more casualties than happened in reality.

The next time the Epirotes will not get themselves lured into the river. We think this will be a very difficult battle for the Romans indeed.

It turned out to be an exiting battle with ups and downs on both sides. Our compliments to Jeff Jonas.

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

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