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-Roman Battle Tactics -by Paul Bruffell-


Back to my favourite period in history – the Punic Wars and particularly the Second Punic War with Hannibal Barca; Nic Fields has created a very good book on this period printed by Osprey Publishing called – 'Roman Battle Tactics 390 – 110 BC'.

Everyone thinks of the Legionary when we talk about the Roman army, but what about their cavalry.

Roman Cavalry

The Roman army of the Servian and Polybian period used its own citizens or local Italian allies as the main cavalry force. Not until the conquest of Gaul do records clearly state other nationalities provided the cavalry arm of the Roman army.

This article will look at use of the Roman Citizen/Italian allied Heavy Cavalry (HC). These are shock troops designed to crash in to an enemy and use the long sword or short spear for the kill.

Roman cavalry are high point value units so should be used sparingly. Look to support the cavalry with Legionaries or light troops. Although traditionally used on the wings of an army when your heavy cavalry numbers are small consider placing the group as a strategic reserve to the rear of the army. They can then be used at the critical point to turn a battle, stop a flanking attack or seize the initiative when a gap appears in the enemy line.

Do not commit your HC to a frontal attack on large numbers of light medium, medium or heavy infantry. The enemy infantry will absorb the shock of your HC charge then start to kill more than they lose. Maximum benefit on use of HC comes by charging into the rear of an enemy unit. HC can also role over artillery units and light infantry.

Unfortunately, HC are not immune to archery fire and can suffer significant losses if they remain within range. The usual approach is to chase off the skirmishers or retire behind the main line.

The other key role for HC is to face off against enemy cavalry and seek to neutralise the threat of an enemy envelopment. HC were principally designed to give the main infantry line time to destroy the enemy centre. This was often the role assigned by the Roman army for its HC.

The optimum number is usually between 30 – 60 per unit. If the combat is expected to last more than two turns I seek to operate units with a strength of 45 each.

More to come...