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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The First Battle of Taras 490 BC

The Greek colony of Taras in southern Italy was originally settled by Sparta. The indigenous tribe with which they were regularly in conflict were the Messapians - originally of Illyrian descent but who had taken on many Oscan ways of life both domestically and militarily.

In 490BC the full Messapian host advanced on Taras intent on wresting control of the area from the Tarantines.  Fred Eugene Ray in “Land Battles in 5th Century BC Greece” estimates that the Messapians fielded of the order of 6000 foot and 2000 cavalry against 4000 Hoplites, 1000 psiloi and 500 cavalry. Although he has a system to calculate approximate army strengths in the period these numbers are still of course very much guesstimates so I only use them as a very rough guide when translating them into table strengths for wargames purposes.

The historic result was a decisive Tarantine victory.  The Hoplites proved superior to their tribal opponents and the Greek commanders must have been experienced enough to negate their opponents cavalry superiority by careful deployment.

The rules used were WRG 6th.  I normally have a few special rules for historical refights and this was no exception.  These were:

Special Rules

The Messapian warriors get +1 on combat to balance what will be a difficult fight for them against hoplites. To simulate the fierceness of their charge the first warrior unit to declare a charge will add +3 to charge reaction and subsequent units a +1.

Warriors cannot use their javelins as missile weapons


Difficult terrain should be placed on each flank to restrict the possibility of Messapian flank attacks
Tarantine Generals must be placed in a Hoplite unit - the C in C will control the 2 Reg B units which will be deployed on the right and the sub general will control the 2 Reg C units on the right.

The Tarantines deploy their hoplites in a two deep line and cover their flanks with cavalry and skirmishers. The Hoplite line should attempt to keep together up until first contact.

Tarantines deploy first - no off table flank attacks allowed

The Tarantine army list

C in C                             HI LTS Sh
Sub general                     HI LTS Sh     
Cavalry            REG B    HC JLS           7
Cavalry            REG B    HC JLS           7
Hoplites           REG B    HI LTS Sh      24
Hoplites           REG B    HI LTS Sh      24
Hoplites           REG C    HI LTS Sh      24
Hoplites           REG C    HI LTS Sh      24
Javelinmen      IRREG C  LI JLS Sh       10
Javelinmen      IRREG C  LI JLS Sh       10

The Messapian List   
C in C                             HC  JLS     
Sub General                    HC JLS     
Cavalry            IRREG B HC  JLS             9
Cavalry            IRREG C MC JLS             9
Cavalry            IRREG C MC JLS             9
Warriors          IRREG B LHI LS LTS Sh  24
Warriors          IRREG C LMI JLS Sh       24
Warriors          IRREG C LMI JLS Sh       24
Warriors          IRREG C LMI JLS Sh       24
Warriors          IRREG C LMI JLS Sh       24
Slingers           IRREG C LI Sl Sh             12
Javelinmen       IRREG C  LI JLS Sh         12

My opponent for the night was Kev and to be fair to him my experience of these rules is about 100 times his, although I only play very occasionally these days.  Having narrowed the centre of the table with woods on wither side to restrict the effectiveness of the Messapian cavalry I offered Kev the choice of sides but he sportingly tossed a coin for it which resulted in me having command of the Tarantines.

I deployed as per the instructions.  Kev’s inexperience with the rules showed as he deployed all but one unit of warriors in line but included his cavalry in blocks of 3 by 3 in the line where they were likely to be in difficulties against the long spears of the hoplites.

Both armies moved forward.  Simultaneous play is almost unknown in modern rules and takes a while to readjust to! My worry was that my flanks were dangerously exposed.  Although cavalry only move at quarter speed in woods the Messapian foot all move at full speed.  Their disadvantage is that they manoeuvre at half speed and so would take time to exploit any flanking advantage.

The skirmishers moved through the woods and exchanged missiles.  The lines closed and declared mutual charges.  Unfortunately for Kev his left flank javelinmen had a rush of blood to the head and decided to take on the Tarantine C in C’s unit by themselves in an impetuous counter charge!  All the other skirmishers evaded, but one of the cavalry units was forced to declare a charge on the hoplites or risk being charged itself and caught standing.

In the melee that followed the foolhardy skirmishers, the cavalry and one unit of warriors broke.  The right flank warrior unit had gone impetuous but just chased skirmishers in the first round and was only able to get a couple of figures in on the second round of fighting.  On the other flank the elite Messapian warrior unit also went impetuous and chased away the skirmishers but having exited the wood were terribly exposed to the threat of a flank attack by the Tarantine cavalry.

We had to stop it there with the Tarantines having the advantage and likely to make history repeat itself.  I enjoyed setting up the game and it played reasonably well but the Messapians were a tough challenge for a player inexperienced in the rules.  It was certainly good to get my Greeks on the table and my Gauls stood in for most of the Messapians.

View at the start from the Tarantine left

Arty photograthy from behind the Tarantine line

Much more practice needed with the camera!