Sambre (Caesar's Romans vs the Belgae)

This scenario has also been published in Society of Ancients' Slingshot issue 243

The Background

Having read the article about the battle of the Sambre in Slingshot 241 (Journal of the Society of Ancients we felt that we just had to play this battle.

When Julius Caesar was campaigning in the North of Gaul (Belgian) a trap was laid against his legions in 57 BC by the Nervii. Around 85,000 Belgae lay waiting in the woods to attack when the Romans were still building their camp for the night. As soon a the baggage train arrived the crossed the Sambre river and hit the Romans by surprise. The legions barely had the time to form up. A fierce battle commenced.

The Romans (at that moment only 30,000 were present, the rest was still marching towards the camp) had much trouble holding the Nervii and their allies. Eventually the Belgae even started to attack the Roman camp. But in the mean while the tenth legion managed to rout the barbarians and attack the barbarian camp. When they saw that their own camp was being attacked, they quickly redrew to help their unfortunate comrades.

In the end the return of the tenth legion and the arrival of the two legions at the tail of the Roman column proved to be too much for the barbarians. According to Caesar almost all Nervii died.

A Belgae attacks a Roman consul (GW Spartacus diorama)


       Read the actual account from Caesar himself.

The Scenario

Celtic cavalry charge towards the Roman camp.

Based upon the description from Julius Caesar and the Slingshot article we developed the following scenario to play with WAB:


  • The table should be 4 x 8 feet.

  • The Belgae deployment side (up to 12" from the edge of the table) is wooded.

  • The Romans deployment side (also 12" from the table edge) is on top of a hill.

  • The terrain counts as uphill  all the way from the Sambre towards the deployment edges (for combat results).

  • The Roman and Belgae camps (max.8x8") are situated in the centre of their deployment space at the edge of the table.

  • The barbarians had placed obstacles from the Roman camp towards the river, dividing the roman table space into three parts. These barricades count as difficult terrain.

  • The Sambre river runs across the table at about 18" from the Belgae table edge.

  • The 4" next to the river are still flat level. So no uphill bonus here.


  • The Romans must divide their army into three equal parts. Each part consisting out of 2 legions close together.

  • The Roman cavalry and missile troops already have crossed the river in the middle of the table.

  • Caesar and labienus are at the left part of their table.

  • The Romans deploy first.

  • The barbarians are all in the woods at the start.

  • The Nervii have the left part of the wood.

  • The Atrebates are at the middle of the deployment zone.

  • The Veromandui are at the right.

  • The General and Battle standard are with the Nervii.


  • The Belgae take the first turn.

  • On (their) turn 2 the Roman Allied cavalry arrives anywhere at their table edge. They may march and shoot, but may not charge that turn.

  • On turn 3 the last two conscripts legions arrive in the same way.

Special rules

  • When fighting in the river, the unit in the river looses 1 rank bonus for the purpose of combat results.

  • The Sambre is easily crossed, but you may not move over it at double movement rates. So marching and charging at base movement.

  • The Roman legions on the table are still in disorder. (About a third was constructing the camp, while the other two thirds were guarding.) They have one rank bonus less until they throw a 1 or 2 on a D6 at the start of their turn. (To visualise this, place the last rank in a disorderly fashion behind the unit.)

  • Cavalry and skirmishers may try to rally and to not automatically break if they are only 3 models large (instead of the normal 5 models).

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

  • All Roman units are stubborn (for free).

  • The idea is to play with the same number of points for each army. But in this case you should try to keep the barbarians twice as large as far as models are concerned. We came up with a 2400 points list.

  • Victory conditions are as normal.

 Click here for the Army lists.

The Setup

This is how the battlefield looks:

Nervii Belgae Camp Viromandui Atrebates Roman cavalry & skirmishers Roman Camp Roman legions Obstacles Obstacles

The barbarians emerge from the woods (left).
The legions of Caesar are still building their camp (right).
(move over the picture to get unit info)

A Battle report

We played this scenario and here is the result. Due to the obstacles the battle was divided into three separate parts:

The (Roman) Left
The Romans were played by Richard. The Belgae by Don.
The tenth legion accompanied by Labienus easily routed the Atrebates. The other legion also did.
One Legion was then sent to the centre to reinforce the battle there.
The ninth legion planned to attack the camp but was held up by a Belgae unit. It had a long struggle with the them. In the end the Romans were routed of the table.

The Belgae posing for the camera.

The struggle on this flank was not decisive for the outcome of the battle...


Roman Legions at the top in red.
Barbarians at the bottom in green.
Camps in blue.

Large arrows are attacks.
Narrow arrows are path of retreat.


The (Roman) Right
Two Roman legions were opposed by 60,000 Nervii (6 warbands of 30 models each!) with their warlord (Boduognatus) and an army battle standard. No way they could win the battle on this flank...
The Romans decided to advance and hold up the attack as long as possible, hoping for reinforcements to arrive.
Both legions were routed. One was destroyed, and the other ran of the table. They slowed the advance of the Nervii. But was that long enough?

The outnumbered Romans are bracing for the impact of the Nervii.

By the time the Nervii approached the camp the two remaining legions arrived. They choose to block the way towards the camp.


Roman reinforcements in yellow.



The Centre
The Roman cavalry and skirmishers that were harassing the Belgae in the centre across the river were easily routed when the Belgae started the full attack on all fronts. The skirmishers were destroyed, but the cavalry got away.
The Viromandui hesitated to cross the river. The two Roman legions there were guarding the crossing, and the Roman cavalry rallied. The next turn they were also joined by the allied cavalry.
And now also help from the Roman left appeared. But these Romans headed for the enemies camp. Finally the Viromandui crossed the river, while the Romans plundered the enemy camp with their cavalry.
The last two legions to arrive did so to hold up the Nervii coming from the right. At this point the barricades pulled up by the Belgae became an unwanted obstacle against themselves! 5 Nervii units were pushing themselves through a small gap were the conscripts were waiting for them.

Roman legion defending the camp.

The newly arrived legions did not held out in the end, and the Roman camp fell too.  At the same time the Viromandui units were both fleeing in the centre battle.
The Romans had held on very fiercely, but the loss of 5 legions out of 8 against 4 Belgae units out out 10 was bound to be too close for comfort...


Julius Caesar

The Result

The battle ended in a clear victory for the barbarians. The Belgae lost 4 units out of 10, while the Romans lost 5 units. A result of about 1500 victory points against 1000.


The Aftermath

The Romans had a very difficult time against a much larger enemy with warband rules. This decided us to add an additional rule; the Romans should be stubborn to represent the willingness to hold whatever the price.

A charge of the Roman cavalry

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