Scenario Asculum 279 BC

"If we defeat the Romans in one more such battle,

we shall be completely ruined"


The Background
One of the successors of Alexander the Great, Pyrrhus from Epirus, was tempted to invade Italy to get the Romans of the back of the Greek city of Tarantum. The first encounter was at Heraclea.  This battle was the second encounter between Pyrrhus and the Roman legion. The two armies were equally numbered.

The Romans had more infantry (four legions, 20,000 Romans, plus allies) and 300 anti-elephant wagons.

Pyrrhus deployed Macedonian en Epirote Phalanx and cavalry, Greek mercenary infantry, allied Italian Greeks (including  Tarantine), 19 elephants, and Samnite infantry and cavalry. The Epirote army had an advantage in horses and the 19 elephants. In order to counter the more flexible Roman legion, Pyrrhus had mixed some light Italic troops to his phalanx.

Both armies deployed with their cavalry on the wings and infantry in the centre. Pyrrhus held his Guard cavalry in reserve behind the centre under his personal command. The Elephants were also kept initially in reserve.

Romans lost 6,000 men; Pyrrhus had 3,500 casualties, among which were many of his officers. A narrow victory. Also the Romans refused to give up (a quality Hannibal would learn too, many years after). Pyrrhus left Italy to try his luck in Sicily against the Carthaginians.

The Historians write different stories about the battle of Asculum. Orosius says it was a devastating defeat for Pyrrhus. Some write Pyrrhus got wounded. Some talk about two days of battle, some only about one day. But the most detailed description is given to us by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. I decided to take this account as the basis for this scenario. 

The Historical Battle

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Roman Antiquities Book XX 1-3)

Having agreed through heralds upon the time when they would join in battle, they descended from their camps and took up their positions as follows: King Pyrrhus gave the Macedonian phalanx the first place on the right wing and placed next to it the Italiot mercenaries from Tarentum; then the troops from Ambracia and after them the phalanx of Tarentines equipped with white shields, forced by the allied force of Bruttians and Lucanians; in the middle of the battle-line he stationed the Thesprotians and Chaonians; next to them the mercenaries of the Aetolians, Acarnanians and Athamanians, and finally the Samnites, who constituted the left wing. Of the horse, he stationed the Samnite, Thessalian and Bruttian squadrons and the Tarentine mercenary force upon the right wing, and the Ambraciot, Lucanian and Tarentine squadrons and the Greek mercenaries, consisting of Acarnanians, Aetolians, Macedonians and Athamanians, on the left. The light-armed troops and the elephants he divided into two groups and placed them behind both wings, at a reasonable distance, in a position slightly elevated above the plain. He himself, surrounded by the royal agema, as it was called, of picked horsemen, about two thousand in number, was outs the battle-line, so as to aid promptly any of his troops in turn that might be hard pressed.

The consuls arrayed on their left wing the legion called the first, facing the Macedonian and Ambraciot phalanx and the Tarentine mercenaries, and, next to the first legion, the third, over against the Tarentine phalanx with its white shields and the Bruttian and Lucanian allied forces; adjoining the third army they placed the fourth, facing the Molossians, Chaonians and Thesprotians; and the second on the right wing opposite the mercenaries from Greece — the Aetolians, Acarnanians and Athamanians — and the Samnite phalanx that was equipped with oblong shields. The Latins, Campanians, substitutes, Umbrians, Volscians, Marrucini, Peligni, Ferentani, and their other subjects they divided into four divisions and mingled them with the Roman legions, in order that no part of their lines might be weak. And dividing the cavalry, both their own and that of their allies, they placed it on both wings. Outside the line they stationed the light-armed troops and the waggons, three hundred in number, which they had got ready for the battle against the elephants. These waggons had upright beams on which were mounted movable traverse poles that could be swung round as quick as thought in any direction one might wish, and on the ends of the poles there were either tridents or swordlike spikes or scythes all of iron; or again they had cranes that hurled down heavy grappling-irons. Many of the poles had attached to them and projecting in front of the waggons fire-bearing grapnels wrapped in tow that had been liberally daubed with pitch, which men standing on the waggons were to set afire as soon as they came near the elephants and then rain blows with them upon the trunks and faces of the beasts. Furthermore, standing on the waggons, which were four-wheeled, were many also of the light-armed troops — bowmen, hurlers of stones and slingers who threw iron caltrops; and on the ground beside the waggons there were still more men.

Elephants attack the anti-elephant wagons

This was the battle order of the two armies that had taken the field. The forces on the king's side numbered 70,000 foot, of whom the Greeks who had crossed the Ionian gulf amounted to 16,000; on the Roman side there were more than 70,000, about 20,000 of them being from Rome itself. Of horse the Romans had about 8,000, while Pyrrhus had slightly more, as well as nineteen elephants.

When the signals for battle were hoisted, the soldiers first chanted their war songs, and then, raising the battle-cry to Enyalius, advanced to the fray, engaged and fought, displaying all their ski in arms. The cavalry stationed upon both wings, knowing beforehand in what tactics they had the advantage over the enemy, resorted to those tactics, the Romans to a hand-to-hand, stationary combat, and the Greek horse to flanking and deploying manoeuvres. The Romans, when they were pursued by the Greeks, would wheel their horses about, and checking them with the reins, would fight an infantry battle; the Greeks, when they perceived that the Romans were their equals in combat, would swerve to the right and countermarching past one another, would whirl about their horses once more to face forward, and applying the spurs, would charge the enemy's ranks. Such was the character of the cavalry battle. The fighting of the infantry was in some respects similar to it, in other ways different; it was similar on the whole, but different in details. For the right wing of each army was the stronger one, the left being weaker. Nevertheless, neither side turned its back ignominiously to the foe, but both maintained good order, remaining with the standards and protecting themselves with their shields while gradually falling back. Those who distinguished themselves for valour were, on the king's side, the Macedonians, who repulsed the first Roman legion and the Latins arrayed with it; and, on the Roman side, those who constituted the second legion and were opposed to the Molossians, Thesprotians and Chaonians. When the king had ordered the elephants seem to be led up to the part of the line that was in difficulties, the Romans mounted on the pole-bearing waggons, upon learning of the approach of the beasts, drove to meet them. At first they checked the onrush of the beasts, smiting them with their engines and turning the fire-bearing grapnels into their eyes. Then, when the men stationed in their towers no longer drove the beasts forward, but hurled their spears down from above, and the light-armed troops cut through the wattled screens surrounding the waggons and hamstrung the oxen, the men at the machines, leaping down from their cars, fled for refuge to the nearest infantry and caused great confusion among them. The Lucanians and Bruttians arrayed in the middle of the king's battle-line, after fighting for no great while, turned to flight when repulsed by the fourth Roman legion. When once these gave way and their part of the line was broken through, the Tarentines also, who had their station next to them, did not remain, but they too turned their backs to the enemy and fled.

When King Pyrrhus learned that the Lucanians, Bruttians and Tarentines were in headlong flight and that their part of the line was disrupted, he turned a part of the squadron that was with him over to other commanders, and from the right wing sent other horsemen, as many as he thought would be sufficient, as reinforcements to those who were being pursued by the Romans. But during the time that this was going on, there was a manifest intervention of the divine power on the side of the Romans. Some of the Daunians, it seems, from the city of Argyrippa, which they now call Arpi, four thousand foot and some four hundred horse who had been sent to the assistance of the consuls, arrived near the royal camp while proceeding by mere chance along the road that led in the enemy's rear, and saw the plain full of men. After stopping there a short while and indulging in all manner of speculations, they decided not to descend from the heights and take part in the battle, since they did not know either where there was a friendly force or where a hostile one, nor could conjecture in what place they should take their stand in order to render some aid to their allies; and they thought it would be best to surround and destroy the enemy's camp, since not only would they themselves get much fine booty if they should capture the baggage, but they would also cause much confusion to their enemies if these should see their camp suddenly ablaze. (The scene of the battle was not more than twenty stades distant.) Having come to this decision and having learned from some prisoners, who had been captured when they had gone out to gather wood, that only a very few were guarding the camp, they attacked them from all sides. Pyrrhus, learning of this through the report of a cavalryman who, when the siege of the camp began, drove his horse through the enemy's lines, and applying the spurs, was soon at hand, decided to keep the rest of his forces in the plain and not to recall or disturb the phalanx, but sent the elephants and the boldest of the horse, carefully selected, as reinforcements for the camp. But while these were still on the way, the camp was suddenly taken and set on fire.

Those who had accomplished this feat, upon learning that the troops sent by the king were coming down from the heights against them, fled to the summit of a hill which could not easily be ascended by either the beasts or the horses. The king's troops, having arrived too late to be of assistance, turned against the Romans of the third and fourth legions, who had advanced far ahead of the others after routing the foes who faced them. But the Romans, becoming aware in advance of their approach, ran up to a lofty and thickly-wooded spot and arrayed themselves in battle order. The elephants, accordingly, being unable to ascend the height, caused them no harm, nor did the squadrons of horse; but the bowmen and slingers, hurling their missiles from all sides, wounded and destroyed many of them. When the commanders became aware of what was going on there, Pyrrhus sent, from his line of infantry, the Athamanians and Acarnanians and some of the Samnites, while the Roman consul sent some squadrons of horse, since the foot needed such assistance. And at this same time a fresh battle took place there between the foot and horse and there was still greater slaughter.

Tarantine "White Shields"

Following the king's lead, the Roman consuls also recalled their troops when it was near sunset, and taking them across the river led them back to their camp as darkness was already coming on. The forces of Pyrrhus, having lost their tents, pack-animals and slaves, and all their baggage, encamped upon a height, where they spent the following night under the open sky, without either baggage or attendance and not well supplied with even the necessary food, so that many wounded men actually perished, when they might still have been saved had they received assistance and care. Such was the outcome of the second battle between the Romans and Pyrrhus, near the town of Asculum.

The opposing Armies

The lists are based upon the forthcoming Punic Wars and Successors WAB supplements. The scale is 1:200.

The armies converted into WAB army lists with as starting point the two thoughts:
1) To keep the number of models in line with the historical proportions to get a genuine army.
2) To keep the number of points equal for both armies to keep things playable.

The characters will have the same weapons as the troops they fight with (for free).

Chalcidian Helmet (Louvre Museum, Paris)

To keep the impact of the light troops low I had only a few small units on the flanks.

Roman Army
had 70,000 infantry (more likely 40,000), 8000 cavalry and 300 anti-elephant wagons.

The Republican Roman Cohort consisted of one maniple of 120 velites, being the poorest Romans, one maniple of 120 hastati, one maniple of 120 principes and one maniple of 60 triarii. To represent this, I choose to let each legion consist out of 12 hastati, 12 principes and 4 triarii. You must combine the triarii of 2 legions into one unit, because that plays better in Warhammer. The hastati and principes used Pilums, the hastati being the younger and poorer of the two, so that they usually fought without armour. The triarii and Principes still used thrusting spears.

There is no evidence that the Legions from the allies were differently build, but Dionysius does say that the Romans put the allies in between their own units to prevent weak spots. Therefore I choose to make the allied legions not drilled.


Type Origin Models Points
Consul Publius Sulpicius Saverrio
Consul Publius Decius Mus
1 consul (equipment free)
1 consul (equipment free, sub general)
Standard Battle Standard (equipment free) 80
20,000 Romans

4 Legions:
Each legion consists of:
12 Hastati (LSM, drilled, Lsh, Pilum)
12 Principes (LSM, drilled, LSh, LA, Thrust)
4 Triarii *)
(LSM, drilled, stubborn, LSh, LA, Thrust) 

Leves 6 Leves (jav)
6 Leves (jav)
6 Leves (jav)
6 Leves (jav)
20,000 Allies

4 Allied Legions:
(Latins, Campanians, Substitutes, Umbrians, Volscians, Marrucini, Peligni, Ferentani and others)
Each legion consists of:
12 Hastati (LSM, Lsh, Pilum)
12 Principes (LSM, LSh, LA, Thrust)
4 Triarii
(LSM, drilled, stubborn, LSh, LA, Thrust)

8,000 Cavalry

8,000 Roman and Italian Cavalry 9 Roman/Italian Cavalry (LSM, Throw, Sh, LA)
9 Roman/Italian Cavalry (LSM, Throw, Sh, LA)
9 Roman/Italian Cavalry (LSM, Throw, Sh, LA)
9 Roman/Italian Cavalry (LSM, Throw, Sh, LA)
300 Anti-elephant 300 Anti-Elephant Wagons 4 Anti-Elephant Wagons 340
4000 Flanking Force 4000 Daunians (Apulia) 20 Italian Spearmen (Throw, LA, LSh, light) 175
TOTAL of 3 characters, 236 infantry, 36 cavalry, 20 flanking force, 4 anti-elephant wagons, +/- 4000 points

*) Note that The triarii should be combined into units of 8 models.     

Click here to see pictures of my Roman Republican army

Pyrrhus' Army
Pyrrhus had 70,000 infantry (more likely 40,000), 9,000 cavalry and 19 elephants.

I wanted to make the opposing cavalry, infantry and elephant forces equal, so 2 elephants oppose the 4 anti-elephant wagons. The Epirote cavalry has slightly more models than the Romans, but one of their units (the Agema) is in reserve).

Dionysius described the Samnites as a phalanx. I kept them a normal unit, but added pila to make them more of a match against the Romans, and to represent the fact that many believe the Romans adopted the pilum from the Samnites.

The Thessalian wedge has thrusting spears instead of Xyston, because they do not only represent Thessalians, but also other Greek cavalry. The Agema wedge has Light Armour for the same reason.


Type Origin Models Points

Pyrrhus Pyrrhus (equipment free) 195
Sub General Strategos (equipment free, sub general) 165
Standard Battle Standard (equipment free) 80
16,000 Greeks

5,000 Macedonians 20 Macedonian Phalanx  (LSM, Pike, La, Sh, stubborn) 315
11,000 other Greek Phalanx
(Mollosian, Thesprotians, Chaeonians)
25 Epirote Phalanx (LSM, Pike, La, Sh)
25 Epirote Phalanx (LSM, Pike, La, Sh)
20 Chaeonian Guards  (LSM, Pike, La, Sh, drilled, stubborn)
24,000 infantry

Tarantum Phalanx 25 Tarantine Phalanx (LSM, Pike, La, Sh, levy) 165
Italian Allies:

-Bruttians, Lucanians

-Mercenaries from Tarantum

20 Oscan/Samnite Warriors (LSM, Pila, LA, LSh, Formed)
20 Oscan/Samnite Warriors (LSM, Pila, LA, Sh, Formed)
25 Italiote Hoplites (LSM, Thrust, LA, LSh, Phalanx)



Greek mercenaries:
- Aetolians
- Acarmanians (South Epirus)
- Athamanians (East Epirus/Thessaly)

20 Aetolian Peltasts (LM, Jav, thrust Sh, light, feigned flight)
20 Mercenary Peltasts (LM, thrust, Sh, light)

Skirmishers 6 Expert Slingers (Sling, pelta)
6 Psiloi (jav)
6 Cretan Archers (Bow, Sh)
6 psiloi (jav)
8,000 Cavalry

2000 agema 9 Agema Cavalry (LSM, Xyston, La, stubborn, wedge) 240
Greek Cavalry:
- 500 Thessalian
- 500 for the other Greek mercenaries:(Acarnamians, Aetolians, Macedonians, Athamanians, Ambraciot)
10 Thessalian Cavalry (LSM, Thrust, LA, wedge, drilled, light) 275
6,000 Italian cavalry
10 Samnite Cavalry (LSM, Jav, Sh, LA, Throw)
10 tarantine Cavalry (LSM, Jav, LSh, Light, Feigned flight)
19 elephants 19 elephants 2 Elephant models 308
TOTAL of 3 characters, 229 infantry, 39 cavalry, 2 elephants, +/- 4000 points

Click here to see pictures of my Epirote army



  • The table should be 4 x 8 feet. (See map 1 & map 2)

  • On the Epirote side two hills are situated in the corners.

  • Deploy up till 12" from your table edge, and not closer than 12" to the table edge on the sides. The wooded hill the Dauni sheltered must be on the left wing of the Epirotes, because the Athamanians, Akarnanians and Samnite (on the left) were sent to them.

  • The hills are treated as normal terrain for movement purposes.

  • The Romans must divide their army into four equal parts. Each part consisting out of 1 Roman legion and 1 allied legion close together.

  • The Roman general and Battle Standard start at the rear of the Roman legions.

  • Pyrrhus is with the Agema unit at the rear of the Epirotes. The Battle standard is somewhere behind the infantry line.

  • Both sides have a camp that may be placed anywhere in the deployment zone.

  • The units should oppose each other like described in the table below. Divide the deployment zone into 8 sectors to do this.

Map 1


2 anti-elephant wagons with Leves

1 Elephant and 2 skirmish units (1 with missiles) at a distance on a hill.

2 Roman and allied cavalry units

1 unit of Samnite cavalry (Samnite, with some  Thessalian and Bruttian and the Tarantine mercenaries)

2 consuls and
Battle Standard

Legion I

1 Macedonian phalanx
1 Italiot hoplite unit
(mercenaries from Tarantum)

1 unit of Agema with Pyrrhus

Battle Standard


Legion III

1 Tarantine Phalanx (white shields)
1 unit of Oscans (Allied force of Bruttians and Lucanians)

Legion IV

1 Epirote (Mollosian) Phalanx
1 Epirote (Thesprotian) Phalanx
1 Chaeonian Guard Phalanx

Legion II


1 unit of Aetolians Peltasts (Mercenaries of Aetolia)
1 unit of Peltasts (Acarmanians and Athamanians)
1 unit of Samnites (with oblong shields)

2 Roman and allied cavalry units

1 unit of Tarantine cavalry (Ambraciot, Lucanian and Tarantine)
1 unit of Thessalians (Acarnamians, Aetolians, Macedonians, Athamanians)

2 anti-elephant wagons with Leves

1 Elephant and 2 skirmish units (1 with missiles) at a distance on a hill.

map 2


  • The Epirotes have just taken the hills and wood, now it is up to the Romans to respond: the Romans have the first turn.

  • On (their) turn 3 the Roman allied Daunii arrive on the Roman Right table edge.

  • Skirmishers may not make an extra 4" move before the game starts.

  • The battle lasts 8 rounds.


Special rules

  • When you capture the camp (the turn after you touched it with a non-fleeing unit), you will receive 100 pts victory points.

  • Romans are unused to and afraid of elephants and can’t use the “open lanes” rule, even though they are drilled!

  • The Epirote side does not suffer from fear or terror for elephants.

  • Normal victory conditions count (p. 85 of the rulebook)

  • The Anti Elephant wagons function as follows:












Anti Elephant Wagon











Equipment: It is accompanied by 6 velites with bows, javelins, shield and swords.
Special rule: The wagon is a heavy chariot. The elephants fear this wagon and will not charge it voluntarily. The wagon may not charge units other than elephants. The velites must stay in contact with the wagon or themselves.


Let me know what you think of this scenario. I am eager to learn!

The Theoretical Tactics

The Epirotes can hold the Roman cavalry at bay using the elephants. But are they up to the anti-elephant units?

The wedges are very strong against the cavalry if you can manoeuvre them right.

Where must Pyrrhus go? To his left to counter the arrival of the Daunii, or to the right to support the outnumbered Samnite cavalry?

The Epirotes have some weak spots in the phalanx line. Can the Romans use this to their advantage?

Use the high manoeuvrability of the maniples, but do not give up your formation to fast. On their own the maniples are vulnerable.

The Daunii can give the Romans the upper hand when put to good use.

Learn more about the Roman Tactical Checkerboard Formation here.


The Practical Tactics
See how things worked out when we played this scenario here.



  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities XX:1-3

  • Plutarch, Pyrrhus 21(5-10)

  • Zonaras 8:5

  • Orosius 4:1

  • Livy, Epitome 13

  • Appian, Samnite wars

  • Warfare in the classical world (John Warry)

  • Battles of the Greek and Roman World (John Drogo Montagu)

  • Fighting techniques of the Ancient World (Anglim, Jestice, Rice, Rusch and Serrati)

  • Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars (Duncan Head)

  • Early Roman Armies (N. Sekunda & S. Northwood)

  • WAB successors (Jeff Jonas) & WAB Hannibal and the Punic Wars (Allen Curtis)


back to the scenarios page

To the Index page