MAGNESIA ad Sipylum

Scenario Magnesia 190 BC

by Richard, Dennis and Karel

The Background


Antiochus III

At the beginning of the 2nd century BC Rome began, after subduing Hannibal’s Cartage and thus becoming master of the western Mediterranean sea, with extending their influence towards Greece. The successors of Alexander the Great, that had build several empires after Alexander's death and were constantly fighting each others, became more and more nervous of the aggressive Rome. After Macedonia fell for the might of Rome a war with the Seleucids (that occupied Syria and its surroundings) was becoming inevitable. Their king Antiochus III had, not tactically, given the expelled Carthaginian general Hannibal a military function in his army. A confrontation was only a matter of time now. In 190 BC the two powers met each other for the second time, now at Magnesia. The Romans had good cavalry support this time, something they lacked often. On the right flank the Roman Allies from Pergamum quickly dealt with the scythed chariots of the Seleucids. The chariots turned and fled into the Seleucid cavalry! The Roman lef came under heavy attacks from the Seleucid heavy cavalry, led by Antiochus himself. But Antiochus chased the fleeing Romans for too long, and reserves called from the Roman camp managed to hold up Antiochus. Just long enough because the phalanx of Antiochus had both flanks uncovered now.  The dense phalanx formation tried to hold on in a defensive position, but when the Romans managed to panic the 54 elephants of the Seleucids, this dense formation became their undoing. Many were crushed by the elephants. The more agile units of the Romans were often able to open lanes to let a rampaging elephant pass without making casualties. According to Livy 50.000 Seleucid infantry died and only 300 Romans.


The Historical Battle


The Roman army was practically uniform as regards both the men and their equipment; there were two Roman legions and two of Latins and allies, each containing 5000 men. The Romans occupied the centre, the Latins the wings. The standards of the hastati were in front, then came those of the principes, and last of all the triarii. Beyond these, whom we may call the regulars, the consul drew up on his right, level with them, the auxiliary troops of Eumenes who were incorporated with the Achaean caetrati, amounting to about 3000 men; beyond them again were stationed nearly 3000 cavalry, 800 of which were furnished by Eumenes, the rest being Romans. Outside these were posted the Trallian and Cretan horse, each body numbering 500 troopers. The left wing was not considered to need so much support as it rested on the river and was protected by the precipitous banks; four squadrons of cavalry, however, were lined up at that end. This was the total strength which the Romans brought into the field. In addition to these, however, there was a mixed force of Macedonians and Thracians, 2000 in all, who had followed as volunteers; they were left to guard the camp. The sixteen elephants were placed in reserve behind the triarii; they could not possibly stand against the king's elephants, of which there were fifty-four, and the African elephants are no match for the Indian elephants even when the numbers are equal, for the latter are much larger and fight with more determination.
The king's army was a motley force drawn from many nations and presented the greatest dissimilarity both in the men and their equipment. There were 16,000 infantry in the Macedonian fashion. known as the "phalanx." These formed the centre, and their front consisted of ten divisions; between each division stood two elephants. They were thirty-two ranks deep. This was the main strength of the king's army and it presented a most formidable appearance, especially with the elephants towering high above the men. The effect was heightened by the frontlets and crests on the animals, and the towers on their backs on which stood the drivers, each accompanied by four soldiers. On the right of the phalanx Antiochus stationed 1500 Gallograeci infantry, and with them were linked up 3000 cavalry, clad in mail armour and known as "cataphracti." These were supported by the "agema," another body of cavalry numbering about 1000; they were a select force, consisting of Medes and men drawn from many tribes in that part of the world. Behind these in support were sixteen elephants. The line was continued by the royal cohort called "argyraspides" from the kind of shield they carried. Then came the Dahae, mounted archers, 1200 strong; then 3ooo light infantry, half of them Cretans and half Tralles. Beyond these again were 2500 Mysian bowmen, and at the end of the line a mixed force of Cyrtian slingers and Elymaean archers.
On the left of the phalanx were 1500 Gallograeci infantry and 2000 Cappadocian, similarly armed and sent by Ariarathes, next to whom were posted a miscellaneous force numbering 2700. Then came 3000 cataphracti and the king's personal cavalry, 1000 strong, with somewhat slighter protection for themselves and their horses, but otherwise closely resembling the cataphracti, made up mostly of Syrians with an admixture of Phrygians and Lydians. In front of this mass of cavalry were scythe chariots and the camels which they call dromedaries. Seated on these were Arabian archers provided with narrow swords four cubits long so that they could reach the enemy from the height on which they were perched. Beyond them again a mass of troops corresponding to those on the right wing, first Tarentines, then 2500 Gallograeci cavalry, 1000 newly enlisted Cretans, 1500 Carians and Cilicians similarly armed, and the same number of Tralles. Then came 4000 caetrati, Pisidians, Pamphylians and Lydians, next to these Cyrtian and Elymaean troops equal in number to those on the right wing, and finally sixteen elephants a short distance away.
The king commanded the right in person, the left he placed in charge of his son Seleucus and his nephew Antipater. The centre was entrusted to three commanders, Minnio, Zeuxis and Philip; the latter was the master of the elephants. The morning haze, which as the day advanced lifted into clouds, obscured the atmosphere, and then a drizzling rain coming with the south wind wetted everything. This did not inconvenience the Romans much, but it was a serious disadvantage to the king's troops. As the Roman line was of only moderate length, the indistinctness of the light did not obstruct the view over the whole of it, and as it consisted almost entirely of heavy-armed troops, the fine rain had no effect on their weapons which were swords and javelins. The king's line, on the other hand, was of such an enormous length that it was impossible to see the wings from the centre, let alone the fact that the extremes of the line were out of sight of each other, and the wetting mist relaxed their bows and slings and the thongs of their missile spears. Antiochus trusted to his scythe chariots to throw the enemy ranks into utter confusion, but they only turned the danger against their own side. These chariots were armed in the following manner: On either side of the pole where the yoke-bar was fastened spikes were fixed which projected forward like horns, ten cubits long, so as to pierce anything that came in their way, and at each end of the yoke-bar two scythes projected, one on a level with the bar so as to cut off sideways anything it came against, the other turned towards the ground to catch those lying down or trying to get under it. Similarly two scythes pointing in opposite directions to each end of the axis of the wheels.
The chariots thus armed were stationed, as I have already said, in front of the line for had they been in the rear or the centre they must have been driven through their own men. When he saw this, Eumenes, who was quite familiar with their mode of fighting, and knew how much their assistance would be worth when once the horses were terrified, ordered the Cretan archers, the slingers and javelin men, in conjunction with some troops of cavalry, to run forward, not in close order but as loosely as possible, and discharge their missiles simultaneously from every side. What with the wounds inflicted by the missiles and the wild shouts of the assailants, this tempestuous onslaught so scared the horses that they started to gallop wildly about the field as though without bit or bridle. The light infantry and slingers and the active Cretans easily avoided them when they dashed towards them, and the cavalry increased the confusion and panic by affrighting the horses and even the camels, and to this was added the shouts of those who had not gone into action. The chariots were driven off the field, and now that this silly show was got rid of the signal was given, and both sides closed in a regular battle.
These useless shams, however, were soon to prove the cause of a real disaster. The auxiliary troops who were posted in reserve next to them were so demoralised by the panic and confusion of the chariots that they took to flight and exposed the whole line as far as the cataphracti. Now that the reserves were broken the Roman horse made a charge against these, and many of them did not await even the first shock, some were routed, others owing to the weight of their mail armour were caught and killed. Then the remainder of the left wing entirely gave way, and when the auxiliaries who were stationed between the cavalry and the phalanx were thrown into disorder the demoralisation reached the centre. Here the ranks were broken and they were prevented from using their extraordinarily long spears-the Macedonians call them "sarisae"-by their own comrades who ran back for shelter amongst them. Whilst they were in this disorder the Romans advanced against them and discharged their javelins. Even the elephants posted between the divisions of the phalanx did not deter them, accustomed as they were in the African wars to evade the charge of the beast and attack its sides with their javelins or, if they could get nearer to it, hamstring it with their swords. The centre front was now almost entirely beaten down and the reserves, having been outflanked, were being cut down from the rear. At this juncture the Romans heard in another part of the field the cries of their own men in flight, almost at the very gates of their camp. Antiochus from his position on his right wing had noticed that the Romans, trusting to the protection of the river, had only four squadrons of cavalry in position there, and these, keeping in touch with their infantry. had left the bank of the river exposed. He attacked this part of the line with his auxiliaries and cataphracti, and not only forced back their front, but wheeling round along the river, pressed on their flank until the cavalry were put to flight and the infantry, who were next to them, were driven with them in headlong flight to their camp.
The camp was in charge of a military tribune, M. Aemilius, son of the M. Lepidus who a few years later was made Pontifex Maximus. When he saw the fugitives coming towards the camp he met them with the whole of the camp guard and ordered them to stop, then, reproving them sharply for their cowardly and disgraceful flight, he insisted on their returning to the battle and warned them that if they did not obey him they would rush blindly on to their ruin. Finally he gave his own men the order to cut down those who first came up and drive the crowd which followed them back against the enemy with their swords. The greater fear overcame the less. The danger which threatened them on either hand brought them to a halt, then they went back to the fighting. Aemilius with his camp guard-there were 2000 of them, brave soldiers-offered a firm resistance to the king who was in eager pursuit, and Attalus, who was on the Roman right where the enemy had been put to flight at the first onset, seeing the plight of his men and the tumult round the camp, came up at the moment with 200 cavalry. When Antiochus found that the men whose backs he had seen just before were now resuming the struggle, and that another mass of soldiery was collecting from the camp and from the field, he turned his horse's head and fled. Thus the Romans were victorious on both wings. Making their way through the heaps of dead which were lying most thickly in the centre, where the courage of the enemy's finest troops and the weight of their armour alike prevented flight, they went on to plunder the camp. The cavalry of Eumenes led the way, followed by the rest of the mounted troops, in pursuing the enemy over the whole plain and killing the hindmost as they came up to them. Still more havoc was wrought among the fugitives by the chariots and elephants and camels which were mixed up with them; they were not only trampled to death by the animals, but having lost all formation they stumbled like blind men over one another. There was a frightful carnage in the camp, almost more than in the battle. The first fugitives fled mostly in this direction and the camp guard, trusting to their support, fought all the more determinedly in front of their lines. The Romans, who expected to take the gates and the rampart, were held up here for some time, and when at last they did break through the defence they inflicted in their rage all the heavier slaughter.
It is stated that 50,000 infantry were killed on that day and 3000 of the cavalry; 1500 were made prisoners and 15 elephants captured with their drivers. Many of the Romans were wounded, but there actually fell not more than 300 infantry, 24 cavalry and 25 of the army of Eumenes. 


Both marched out about the last watch, just before daylight. The ordering of the troops on either side was as follows. The Roman legionaries, to the number of 10,000, formed the left wing resting on the river. Behind these were 10,000 Italian allies, and both these divisions were in files in triple line of battle. Behind the Italians came the army of Eumenes and about 3000 Achaean peltasts. Thus stood the left, while on the right wing were the Roman and Italian cavalry and those of Eumenes, not more than 3000 in all. Mingled with all these were light-armed troops and bowmen, and around Domitius himself were four troops of horse. Altogether they were about 30,000 strong. Domitius took his station on the right wing and placed the consul in the center. He gave the command of the left wing to Eumenes. Considering his African elephants of no use, being few in number and of small size, as those of Africa usually are (and the small ones are afraid of the larger), he placed them in the rear of all. Such was the Roman line of battle.
The total force of Antiochus was 70,000 and the strongest of these was the Macedonian phalanx of 16,000 men, still arrayed after the fashion of Alexander and Philip. These were placed in the center, divided into ten sections of 1600 men each, with fifty men in the front line of each section and thirty-two deep. On the flanks of each section were twenty-two elephants. The appearance of the phalanx was like that of a wall, of which the elephants were the towers. Such was the arrangement of the infantry of Antiochus.

His horse were stationed on either wing, consisting of the mail-clad Galatians and the Macedonian corps called the agema, so named because they were picked horsemen. An equal number of these were stationed on either side of the phalanx. Besides these the right wing had certain light-armed troops, and other horsemen with silver shields, and 200 mounted archers. On the left were the Galatian bands of the Tectosagi, the Trocmi, the Tolistoboii, and certain Cappadocians furnished by king Ariarathes, and a mingling of other tribes. There was another body of horse, mail-clad but light-armed, called the Companion cavalry. In this way Antiochus drew up his forces.

He seems to have placed most reliance on his cavalry, whom he stationed in large numbers on his front. The serried phalanx, in which he should have placed most confidence, on account of its high state of discipline, was crowded together unskillfully in a narrow space. Besides the forces enumerated there was a great multitude of slingers, archers, javelin throwers, and peltasts from Phrygia, Lycia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Crete, Tralles, and Cilicia, armed after the Cretan fashion. There were also other mounted archers from the Dahae, Mysia, Elymais, and Arabia, riding on swift dromedaries, who shot arrows with dexterity from their high position, and used very long thin knives when they came to close combat. Antiochus also placed scythe-bearing chariots in the space between the armies to begin the battle, with orders to retire after the first onset.

The appearance of his formation was like that of two armies, one to begin the fight, the other held in reserve. Each was arranged in a way to strike terror into the enemy both by numbers and equipment. Antiochus commanded the horse on the right wing in person; his son Seleucus commanded the left. Philip, the master of the elephants, commanded the phalanx, and Mendis and Zeuxis the skirmishers.

The day was dark and gloomy so that the sight of the display was obscured and the aim of the missiles of all kinds impaired by the misty and murky atmosphere. When Eumenes perceived this he disregarded the remainder of the enemy's force, and fearing only the onset of the scythe-bearing chariots, which were mostly ranged against him, he ordered the slingers, archers, and other light-armed under his command to circle around the chariots and aim at the horses, instead of the drivers, for when a horse becomes unmanageable in a chariot all the chariot becomes useless. He often breaks the ranks of his own friends, who are afraid of the scythes.

So it turned out. The horses being wounded in great numbers charged with their chariots upon their own ranks. The dromedaries were thrown into disorder first, as they were next in line to the chariots, and after them the mail-clad horse who could not easily dodge the scythes on account of the weight of their armor. Great was the tumult and various the disorder started chiefly by these runaways and spreading along the whole front, the apprehension being even worse than the fact. For, as by reason of distance and multitude, discordant cries and manifold fears, the truth was not clearly grasped even by those near the danger, so these transmitted the alarm constantly magnified to those beyond.

Eumenes, having succeeded admirably in his first attempt and cleared the ground held by the dromedaries and chariots, led his own horse and those of the Romans and Italians in his division against the Galatians, the Cappadocians, and the other collection of mercenaries opposed to him, cheering loudly and exhorting them to have no fear of these inexperienced men who had been deprived of their advance supports. They obeyed him and made so heavy a charge that they put to flight not only those, but the adjoining squadrons and the mail-clad horse, who were already thrown into disorder by the chariots. The greater part of these, unable to turn and fly quickly, on account of the weight of their armor, were captured or killed. While this was the state of affairs on the left of the Macedonian phalanx, Antiochus, on the right, broke through the Roman line of battle, dismembered it, and pursued a long distance.

The Macedonian phalanx, which had been stationed between the two bodies of horse in a narrow space in the form of a square, when denuded of cavalry on either side, had opened to receive the light-armed troops, who had been skirmishing in front, and closed again. Thus crowded together, Domitius easily enclosed them with his numerous light cavalry. Having no opportunity to charge or even to deploy their dense mass, they began to suffer severely; and they were indignant that military experience availed them nothing, exposed as they were on all sides to the weapons of the enemy. Nevertheless, they presented their thick-set pikes on all four sides.

They challenged the Romans to close combat and preserved at all times the appearance of being about to charge. Yet they did not advance, because they were foot-soldiers and heavily armed, and saw that the enemy were mounted. Most of all they feared to relax their close formation lest they might not readily bring it together again.

The Romans did not come to close quarters nor approach them because they feared the discipline, the solidity, and the desperation of this veteran corps; but circled around them and assailed them with javelins and arrows, none of which missed their mark in the dense mass, who could neither turn the missiles aside nor dodge them.

After suffering severely in this way they yielded to necessity and fell back step by step, but with a bold front, in perfect order and still formidable to the Romans. The latter kept their distance and continued to circle around and wound them, until the elephants inside the Macedonian phalanx became excited and unmanageable. Then the phalanx broke into disorderly flight.



Romans Seleucids


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~   200-1200 Light Cavalry with bow (Dahae) 16 Elephants (Indian)
  120? Cavalry ? Bows & Slings (Cyrtian and Elymerean)

2500 Bows (Mysians)

3000 Light Troops (Cretan & Tralles)
? Hypaspists (Argyraspides)
2000 Thracians and Macedonians

16 Elephants (African)

1000 Cavaly (Agema)
5000 Allies Legion

5000 Roman Legion

5000 Roman Legion

5000 Allies Legion

3000 Cataphracts
  1500 Warband (Galatians)

16.000 Phalanx
20 elephants (Indian)

1500 Warband (Galatians)
1000 bow (Cretans)

1500 Light troops (Carians & Cilicians)

1500 Light Troops (Tralles)

2700 misc. Light Troops

2000 Peltasts (Cappadocians) 16 elephants (Indian)
3000 Peltasts (Eumenes)
Scythed chariots 3000 Cataphracts

1000 Cavalry (Royal cataphracts)

? Light cavalry (Tarantines)

2500 Warband (Galatian Cavalry)

3000 cavalry (800 Eumenes) ? Camels
500 cavalry (Trallian)
500 cavalry (Cretan)
4000 Skirmishers (Caetrati, Pisidians, Pamphylians and Lydians)

? Bows & Slings


There is a lot of uncertainty about the argyraspides. Livius mentions a cohort (500?), Bar Kochva mentions 10,000, which I find a bit too much. They are also placed at a strange place in the flank instead of the normal place for the phalanx: the centre. But things do not add up to the supposed 60,000 infantry. At Raphia, a few decades earlier, there were numbers of soldiers involved that resemble the army at Magnesia. There were more Argyraspides (=silver shields) there, but also a lot more Arabian troops. On the other hand, Appian mentions 10,000 infantry dead at the earlier battle between Antiochus and the Romans at Termopylea. What troops were these?

The deployment also has another possibility. Appian mentions that it looked like there were two armies, one advancing, and one held back. With this scenario we can implement this possibility by deploying the light troops, chariots and cavalry to the front and placing the heavier infantry more to the back together with the elephants. This way it is possible to connect the Argyraspides to the rest of the phalanx, solving another awkward situation.

One last possible error is the Cretan and Trallian "horse". These should be infantry according to some people.

Antiochus III Army

- Use the AoA Alexander and his successors list or the Seleucid Empire lists from the WAB Successors book when it is released.
- Antiochus is the general and should join the cavalry on the right.

Roman Army

- Use the HatPW Romans Eastern campaigns list
- Add AtG AoA units to represent Eumenus forces from Pergamum.
- May have one African elephant.
- Domitius should be with the legions and is the general.
- Eumenes is a sub general for the units of the right wing. He should join this wing.

Special rules

- The movement of Cataphracts should be 6" (including penalties for barding) .
- The Roman African Elephant should fear the Indian Elephant.
- The Scythed chariots, if panicked and driven into an unit should cause impact hits.
- The left wing may not have a character, to represent the lousy way this wing was managed.
- The Roman reserve (Macedonians, Thracians and Elephant) may appear on the left Roman table edge at the start of turn 2, and move the next turn.

The Theoretical Tactics

The Romans strength is in their very well trained infantry. Usually the Romans were weak on Cavalry, but this time they have excellent horsemen from Pergamum.

The Seleucids have a wide variety of units. From scythed chariots, elephants, phalanx up to cataphracts. Use every unit only there were they are good at, otherwise the Romans might luagh you in the face.

Learn more about the Roman Tactical Checkerboard Formation here.

A Battle Report

Click here to read about when we actually played this scenario in Delft at the open day of Murphy's Heroes.

Click here to read about when we played the scenario in Hoek van Holland at the game day of Société de La Grande Armée.

Click here to read about when we played this scenario in Belgium at Crusade 2007.

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




Book IV (Livy)
- Syrian Wars (Appian)
The Seleucid Army : Organisation and Tactics in the Great Campaigns (Bar Kochva)
- Warfare in the classical world (John Warry)
- Battles of the Greek and Roman World (John Drogo Montagu)
- Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars (Duncan Head)
WAB successors (Jeff Jonas) & WAB Hannibal and the Punic Wars (Allen Curtis)

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