Once Hannibal had been defeated at Zama in 202BC, Rome was clear to concentrate on securing and expanding its eastern frontier beyond the Adriatic.

The resources required for the Second Punic War had previously forced the Romans to conclude a compromise peace with Philip V of Macedon, but with the Carthaginian threat removed, it was payback time.

The neutral states of Rhodes and Pergamum provided an excuse for war: appealing to Rome for aid against Macedonian aggression, and the legions marched towards Greece.  

Philip had blocked the passes onto the peninsular at Epirus, but a consul named Titus Quinctius Flaminius managed to get a small force around the Macedonian flank.  Philip, convinced that the whole Roman army was about to descend upon him, pulled back into Thessaly.

The Romans consolidated their hold on Epirus and voted Flaminius in for another term as consul and therefore military leader.  After some intense diplomacy to establish which of the less dominant, minor powers of the region were allied to whom, Flaminius and Philip met at Cynoscephalae, named from the Greek for “dog’s head” after the shape of a nearby ridge. 

It was to be an epic clash between phalanx and legion!

The Phalanx Advances (15mm Tin Soldier)

Opening Phase

Cynoscephalae began as an encounter battle:  with the scouts of either army meeting in heavy mist at the top of an uneven ridge.

The Macedonians enjoyed initial success, but were pushed back by Roman re-inforcements.  Philip brought up his cavalry and mercenary infantry, and the Romans retreated in good order.  Both sides then established a marching camp, one either side of the ridge, and, next morning, emerged to do battle.

The Battlefield

Considering that the main strike force of both sides was close order infantry, they couldn’t have chosen a worse place to fight!

The main battle took place across a ridge of broken terrain that interfered with the order of both sides’ main bodies.

The tabletop should therefore be dominated by a triple peaked ridge surrounded by open terrain (See Figure 1).

The Macedonian camp is to the north of the ridge, the Roman camp to the south, both in good terrain.  

The ridge, for gaming convenience, should be on two contours.  The lower contour should be Rough terrain, and two of the three (the western and central) upper contour areas should be Difficult terrain.  Remember that under Vis Bellica, Close Order infantry and all mounted troops who end their movement phase in Rough or Difficult terrain are marked as Disordered.

The Historical Battle

The terrain forced both sides to split into their main bodies into two halves.

Philip formed half his phalanx and the Thracians in a line across the crest of the central peak, and sent his lights, with the cavalry protecting their flanks, forward to skirmish.  The rest of his troops were still emerging in column from the Macedonian camp.

Flaminius also sent his light troops and cavalry forward but, seeing them hard pressed, led one legion and his allies forward on the left to relieve them, whilst holding back the other legion and the elephants on the right (see Figure 2).

The Macedonians retreated their lights through their main battle line, as did the Romans, and both sides withdrew slightly to re-organise.

Philip now brought up his remaining troops on his left, making room for them by doubling up his original force on top of the ridge.  These then charged down hill at Flaminius’ half of the Roman line, pushing it back sharply.  The rest of the Romans, however, also advanced:  easily pushing back the still-deploying Macedonians opposite them (see Figure 3).

As the two halves of the battleline began to separate, an un-named Roman tribune (surely Flashmaninus in a bid to escape the impending melee!) detached a force (said to be around 20 maniples strong) from the Roman right hand force, and slammed them into the rear and flank of the Macedonian phalanx (see Figure 4).

The phalanx, unable to contend with this threat, collapsed, followed by the rest of Philip’s army.  Macedonian losses were approximately 8000 killed and 5000 captured, Roman losses totalled around 1000.  

Wargaming Cynoscephalae

The “Dog’s Head” is a compact affair ideal for a four-player evening or afternoon battle.

Army Sheets

The Vis Bellica army sheets included give the forces and command structure of each side.  If playing with four players, I would recommend that each player takes one sheet, and that each division starts the battle as a distinct and complete entity.

Click on the links below to download the army sheets:

The Romans

The Macedonian Successors

Initial Deployment

If gaming from the initial encounter phase, each side should write an order of march for their leader bases and, during the movement sub-phase, deploy one per turn onto the table at their respective starting points (see Figure 1).

If gaming only the main battle, both sides should start within their respective camps. 

Defeat Conditions

The Macedonians have the defeat condition “Big Man Down” on Philip, their General.

The Romans have the defeat condition “All Gone”.

Robert Avery

This article reproduced from Wargames Illustrated (issue dated April 2003)