I am continuing my social distancing solitaire plays – this time with Cataphract, one of the Great Battles of History installments. I really like the period described – late Roman and early Byzantine times, with great generals like Attila, Belisarius or Narses playing key roles. The impact of cavalry and introduction of composite bow really changed the battlefield dynamics and that game greatly depicts this. What follows is clash of Byzantine and Frank forces in mid 6th century in Italy.

My Great Battles of History Campaigns:
(SPQR) Bagradas Plains (255 BC)
(Alexander) Erigon Valley (358 BC)
(Alexander) Crocus Fields (353 BC)
(Alexander) Sellasia (221 BC)
(Alexander) Mantinea (207 BC)
(Cataphract) Callinicum (531 AD)
(Cataphract) Tricameron (533 AD)

Historical background

The scenario I had chosen was:


During the later stages of the Gothic War, the Ostrogoth king Teia called upon the Franks for help against the Byzantines under Narses. Although king Theodebald refused to send aid, he allowed two of his subjects, the Alamanni chieftains Leutharis (Lothar) and Butilinus (Buccelin), to cross into Italy. The two brothers gathered a host of 75,000 Franks and Alamanni, and in early 553 crossed the Alps, confident that they could overwhelm Narses, for whose military talents, eunuch and chamberlain as he was, they professed supreme contempt.

The two brothers advanced into central Italy. Buccelin had marched south towards Campania and he was finally persuaded by the Goths to risk an open battle with the Byzantine army which he tried to avoid until then. He encamped on the banks of the Vulturnus river, near modern Capua, and waited. Narses left Rome to meet him.

Narses, as usually, placed his cavalry on the two wings and the infantry in the center. Buccelin had drawn up his all-infantry army in the shape of a deep column, which should hit like a wedge through enemy lines. In this array the Franks attacked, armed with missile lances, swords, and axes, confident that they would sweep all before them at the first rush. They penetrated into the center of the Byzantine array, but there, found themselves between the cross-fire of the cavalry, who were all armed with bows. It was a complete annihilation. Buccelin was slain and only a handful escaped.

Anecdote: The army of the Franks was initially 75, 000 but one third was lost of dysentery which was caused by the consumption of ripe grapes

Source: https://byzantium.gr/battles.html

The session report


Here is how the forces of both sides looked like on the onset of battle (click to enlarge)


Here they come – wedge moved forward twice, incurring 1 cohesion hit and getting into the “uncontrolled advance” mode.
The Franks were met with the powerful archery attack by Romans; only two leaders can be activated first turn so this was the end of all actions for turn.


Here they come and stick into the Byzantine infantry wall! Yeah, Frank’s charge started!
You cannot deny the impact of barbarian charge – some weaker units on Roman side routed.
The battle is fierce, one of the front line Byzantine leaders is wounded (he refused to evade!).
Buccelin himself fights in first row, accompanied by berserkers.
Unfortunately, barbarian impetus is soon lost. The bonus +2 Troop Quality for unorganized armies lasts till first of their units routs and leader fails appropriate check. In the wedge charge, three such Frank units were routed and the ensuing check was unsuccessful.
So it was time for the Roman counter attack – first Heruli under Pharas hit from the wing.
Then Sunicas joins the fray forcing another barbarian to flee.
When the whole left wing byzantine cavalry hits the undefended flank of Frank’s wedge things start to look grim for them.
Still, they do not give up – many Barbarians are quickly rallied ready to fight another day.
But all this is in vain, as this time the right-wing Roman cavalry hits very, very hard the exposed barbarians.
Overview of battlefield at the end of Turn 2 when game ended.
And close-up on the situation. Instead of recovering routed troops, Romans decided to hit from wings and finish game asap. Good choice!
Final losses, Rome victory: Byzantine 46Franks 16


The ancient sources claim that only 8 Romans died while only 5 Franks survived. In my game the disproportion was not so vivid but still barbarians really did not stand a chance. That was a nice solo experience, especially when played with my young sons who love to roll for archery, charge and the clash of shields. Still, definitely not a good scenario for competitive play but a good history lesson.