Naval Warfare
between the Romans
and the Carthaginians

In the third century BC Rome was growing in power, but Carthage stood in the way. The Carthaginians had controlled the Western Mediterranean for more than a century using a fleet of hundreds of war galleys. By coincidence the Romans captured one of these vessels. And because all parts of the vessel were painstakingly numbered Rome could now build its own fleet. Within 6 months Rome possessed a fleet of 120 war galleys. The war for the Mediterranean could commence...

More information about the rules are at the Navarchus page.


13 February 2010


We also have been playing a few games with the Corvus ruleset. This game has been adapted by Society of Ancients and is a very interesting game for 1/600th or 1/1200th naval warfare games from 320BC to 30BC.

(The Romans are closing in. All ships are from Warrior Online and Triton)

On February the 13th we played one of these games with a squadron of Roman and Punic ships. The Romans had a "corvus" at the front of their ships, played by Richard. The Punic fleet was commanded by Henri.

Here the Romans are the red ships, and the Carthaginians are green. No one knows what colour the Quinquiremes of that era were, so I decided to paint them in distinctive red and green colours to be able to keep them easily apart, because naval battles tend to be quite chaotic due to the difficulty steering and turning these warships.

(A closer look at the Roman fleet.)

There were two very important tactics in sea warfare in the ancient period. The first one (the Periplous) was trying to extend your line beyond that of the enemy to be able to roll up their line one by one. The other tactic (the Diekplous) used ships that were behind each other. If the enemy tries to ram the first ship, its vulnerable side is exposed to the second ship. Also the first ship could shear the oars of an enemy ship and the second could than finish the job by ramming the battered enemy vessel.

The Punic player tried this second tactic. He placed his ships in a kind of checkerboard formation The Romans went for outmanoeuvring the Punic fleet and tried to extend their right flank. This turned out to be a mistake.

(A good impression of the chaos
and havoc a Naval battle consists of.)

The corvus (Click here for photos of the corvus entering method) made it difficult for the Romans to outmanoeuvre the Carthaginians. Therefore it were the Punic ships that were able to do the first damage. Soon the sea was scattered with the remains of sinking and burning ships. In this chaos the Roman commander made some serious mistakes and the Punic fleet was able to hit a few Roman ships in the oar bank.

But if it was Neptune that helped the Romans, or only the dice, I don't know, but two of the Punic ships that did the ramming sank themselves. After that, the Romans were able to regroup, and now superior numbers faced the Carthaginians.

(The remaining Carthaginian ships flee
back to the harbour of Lilybaeum.)

As the Carthaginian fleet fled to the harbour of Lilybaeum the Romans started counting their dead. This had not been a great victory. A Pyrrhic victory at the most.

But both players have had a nice Saturday afternoon. And that counts for something as well, doesn't it?



The Corvus rulebook

320BC to 30BC

The game "Corvus" has everything you would like in a naval wargame set in this period of ancient history. The ships can ram each others, they can can shear its opponent's oars. One can use missiles and the ships may try to enter the deck of the enemy by grapping hooks, or even by making use of the famous Roman Corvus (=raven). This kind of bridge that was lowered and pinned into the deck of the enemy with a sharp point was the secret weapon the Romans invented to hit the Carthaginian fleet by surprise. But these contraptions made the ships cumbersome and unstable. It is nice to see that even this effect is added to the rules of this game; it is possible that a Roman ship with a Corvus sinks then trying to enter the enemy...

The movement system of the game is also very well designed. The different types of ships (from Lembus, Trireme, Quinquireme up to Dekeres ships) all have there different speeds, and a different turning circle, which is larger for the larger type of ships. A ship needs one turn in the game to speed up to cruising speed, which is needed in order to ram the enemy. And it is also not possible to stop a once. (I use little pieces of cardboard which indicate if a ship is at cruising speed. This works very well as a visualisation of the speed of the vessels.)

Enemy ships can be captured or burned and the (burning) wrecks become obstacles in the water, making the game even more fun to play. 

The rules are easy and summarized on one sheet, and fast play is possible. But you will need some time to get a good feeling of the difficulties moving the ships. It is therefore advised to be lenient with the movement rules, otherwise a game may last for many hours.



I currently use 1/600th ships from warrior online and Triton. They are about 3 inches long. The wrecks are simply made from left-over pieces of wood and cardboard. I put some red and black wool on the ships that are burning adding to the visual show.

The sea is made by latex structure paint using a special roller normally used to get a nice structure on a wall you paint with this same paint. Afterwards I painted the latex with different shades of Acrylic blue paint and finished it by applying a glossy varnish.

More information:


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