Ancient Warfare magazine

Monday, September 5, 2016

Defense in Depth - Testing L'Art de la Guerre

       So, how effective was Roman deployment in multiple lines anyway? Or, more specifically, how well does deploying in depth work using the L'Art de la Guerre rules?

Both armies are deployed! The Romans have a very narrow front, depending on their cavalry to protect the flanks.

       During the Roman republic it was quite a common for Roman armies to deploy in multiple lines - in this case three.
  • The first line was made up of the less well armored hastati.
  • The second line was made up of legionaries with a tad better armored - chain shirts in this case, called principe.
  • The third and final line was made up of not only the best armored troops, but the most veteran - the triari.
One might also count the velites - light skirmish infantry - as a separate line as well, being well positioned ahead of the army ready to pitch their javelins at the advancing enemy.

The Gauls were a good mix of warriors on foot and on horseback.

       Curious as I am, I wanted to see how well my favorite ancient rules hold up using a deployment such as this. I saw right away I would have to make some adjustments to the rules, although minor. For one, I would not be using the standard rules for deploying armies in left, right, and center corps. I would still divide the army in to three corps, just not being so strict as to where each was deployed. In addition, since I would be using only two legions, I decided that each legion would be a separate corps. The third and final corps would be the armies general, consisting of only the two units of triari. These would be positioned in the third line and in the center. Each of the remaining two legions would deploy on the right and left and would both be deployed in two separate lines, representing the first/hastate line, and the second/principe line Each of these two legions also included some non-legionare troops in the form of cavalry - both Roman and Numidian. Each legion also had a couple of units of velites. These were deployed ahead of the hastate/first line. In addition, to avoid front units routing and causing cohesion hits on rear friendlies, I left gaps between each line of just over 1UD each.

       The Gaul army had a nice mix of med. and hvy. infantry which were impetuous. They also have a good number of cavalry on both flanks - more than enough to handle the meager Roman cavalry.

As the attacker in this scenario, the Gaul army surges forward on all fronts, quickly engaging the flanks of the Romans
       Right from the beginning I knew that I would have issues protecting the Roman flanks, preventing an envelopment of the legions - thoughts of Zama spring to mind here. However, I decided to carry on with the battle.

As the Roman flanks are engaged, the initial wave of Gaul warriors crashes in to the Roman defenders. This first wave was made of the med. infantry. Also note the intense and close run cavalry fight on the Roman left. The Numidians went toe-to-toe with the Gaul cavalry here for some time during the battle.

Although the Roman right flank was defeated in detail, the first Roman line remained intact after losing a unit and receiving heavy losses. I knew at this point that I would have to commit some rear line troops to defend that right flank. Not exactly what I wanted to do.

It was obvious to me that the flanks would play a huge role in the battle's outcome. Of course, this is not unlike what occurred historically in many battles.

The Gaul left penetrates deep on the flank of the Romans, pushing back the velites, forcing a unit of triari to commit. Also note the first line of Romans has weathered the initial assault and

At this point, with no on-board camp to worry about, I considered going on the offensive with the legions in order to hasten the fight in the center. However, since this was more of a test to see the value of the defense in depth, I chose to stay back and see how effective the rear ranks would be in defending against flank attacks.

As the main Gaul infantry approach, the rear ranks become more and more engaged as the Gaul cavalry defeat the Roman left wing as well! Both triari have been committed, as well as the second line. Not what I expected.

At this point in the battle the fighting was all over the place. The first Roman line, although battered initially, still was intact. The rear lines were all but fully engaged and committed to the fight on the wings.

The battle was pretty much over at this point, with the Gauls withdrawing from exhaustion. The Roman first line is once again assaulted - this time by the more worthy heavy Gaul infantry.

The Romans are engaged on all fronts! There is no doubt that the Romans at this point were in trouble. However, being less resilient than their opponents, the Gaul forces initial impetuousness was spent. It was only a matter of time before they would fatigue and withdraw from the fight.

       The battle was over. It should be noted that I kept playing the fight longer than I should have. The Gaul army was defeated a tad earlier, but I kept the game up regardless. Even so, it was a close fight for both sides.

       Although the test didn't go the direction I wanted - testing out the defense in depth against a frontal assault, it did show how effective the deployment was at protecting against flank attacks. The Romans were able to shift forces relatively quickly against the less able Gaul cavalry, dealing with them quite effectively.

       Realistically, having a much smaller frontage, the Romans would often deploy rear ranks to extend the front. Optionally, the flanks could have had more troops as well.

       Overall, it was a fun battle. Exciting throughout - as the L'Art de la Guerre rules tend to be, I enjoyed every bit of the fight. Although not having been able to test out the durability of the three lines against heavy frontal assaults - at least in the manner I planned, I did learn a lot about the effectiveness of the system to adapt as needed. I also learned the vulnerability of the flanks! Again, I kept thinking Zama as the flanks each crumbled.
       I hope you enjoyed the article. I hope to have another like this soon. In fact, I am already planning some scenario type battles for use with L'Art. More on these in the coming months.

Until next time...



  1. Great article and betrep buddy, that is what testing is all about, things don't happen as you had planned, so a really good test of the rules.

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  2. Thank you. Nice experiment. I had thought about this as well as I was going to start using a Roman army.

    1. Thank you Phil. I have some more tests to run, trying different historical tactics/deployments. Good luck on your project.


  3. Great photos and AAR! I have built some of my ADLG armies with a cavalry or elite infantry reserve in mind. Shortening your main battleline is acceptable so long as you can deploy a reaction force to shore up your flanks or exploit a breach in the enemy's battleline. Flexibility can be decisive. Thanks.