The Battle of Mons Graupius - 83AD


Since 43AD when the Romans invaded Britain they had been gradually securing and colonising more and more of the country. By the 80's it was largely the north of Britannia (modern day Scotland, Cumbria and Northumberland) that remained unconquered. The Governor of Britain, Gnaeus Julius Agricola (pictured left) decided to launch a northern offensive to try and bring "Roman Rule" to the entire province and from 79AD began campaigning in the lowlands of Scotland, before then making a major offensive up the north east coast, his men marching while a fleet of supply ships sailed in support along the coastline for a constant resupply of provisions, men and arms.


The exact location of the battle remains uncertain to this day, but it is generally believed to be in the far north east of Scotland. Agricola chose his forces carefully, using mainly Auxiliary infantry rather than the usual Legionaries. Auxiliary infantry were generally slightly lighter equipped, so could be more maneuverable over the rugged Highland terrain, but also they were recruited from the provinces rather than Rome itself, which gave Agricola troops more familiar with the harsher weather of northern Britannia, Batavians and Tungrians making up the majority of his men.


In contrast, the Caledonians (the Celtic people who lived in Scotland) were masters at fast movement and managing to thrive in the wilds of the Highlands. Traditionally living in tribal settlements which they relocated as and when the need arose, several of these tribes came together to form a Caledonian Confederacy led by Calgacus in the face of a common enemy, Rome. In total they were able to muster almost 30,000 warriors at Mons Graupius, and army more than twice the size of Agricola's expedition force.


Initial Deployment at Mons Graupius

ORDERS OF BATTLE working on a scale of 1 to 50 men as this was a large battle

ROMAN ARMY

Agricola - Commander in Chief - excellent tactician

Auxiliary Infantry (8000 men) 160 figures - Open Order Heavy infantry, well trained, steady, veterans, spear, sword, large shield

Equites Alares (2 x 1500 men) 2 x 30 figures - Heavy cavalry, well trained, solid, veterans, javelins and shield

Reserves

Legionary Infantry (3000 men) 60 figures - Close Order Heavy Infantry, well trained, solid, veterans, heavy throwing weapon, sword, large shield

Equites Alares (2 x 500 men) 2 x 10 figures - Heavy cavalry, well trained, solid, veterans, javelins and shield


CALEDONIAN ARMY

Calgacus - Commander in Chief - fanatic warrior

Chariots - (400 vehicles) 8 models - light 2 horse chariot, 1 unarmed driver & 1 warrior with javelins and shield, fast, impetuous, veterans

Skirmishers (2000 men) 40 figures - light infantry, javelins, shield

Cavalry - mixed with skirmishers (2000 men) 40 figures - light cavalry, impetuous, javelins and shield

Cavalry - on flanks (2 x 1000 men) 2 x 20 figures - light cavalry, impetuous, javelins and shield

Warriors (20000 men) 400 figures - Open Order Medium Infantry, javelins, long sword, shield


ADDITIONAL WARGAMING NOTES

Due to the size of these armies you should add several sub-commanders to both forces as per your preferred rules allow.

The battlefield should be a central large flat plain with a gentle slope behind Roman lines and a large hill, steeper hill behind the Caledonians, a stream runs across the Roman front which is easily crossed with minimal disruption to infantry, but a more onerous disruption for the chariots. Woods are dense where marked on the map.


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Agricola deployed his Auxiliary Infantry to his front behind the stream to offer some protection from the chariots, He protected his wings with cavalry and finally deployed his smaller legionary units to guard the camp with a small cavalry reserve. It must have been a frightening sight to see the Caledonian army gather underneath the shadows of Bennachie mountain, the sloping ground allowing the Romans to appreciate the full scale of the force they were facing.


The Caledonians gather beneath Bennachie

The battle began with the Caledonian chariots zigzagging in front of the Roman lines exchanging missile fire with the front franks. Agricola then ordered his cavalry forward on the wings, these superior cavalry quite quickly routed the Caledonian cavalry off the field and made the skirmishers fall back in amongst the ranks of their warriors for protection. The Roman Auxiliary infantry then began to advance which prompted the Caledonian warriors to charge down the slopes to meet them. The mass of foot soldiers, causing the chariots to scatter or be trapped within the melee which broke out.

Romans and Caledonians clash

The better armed and more disciplined Romans began to cut through the charging Celts, who were more used to fighting as individuals rather than in coordination with each other. The rear ranks of warriors tried to move out to the wings in an attempt to outflank the Romans, but found the Roman cavalry, having disposed of the Celtic cavalry, now outflanked their position. Panic began to set in the Caledonian ranks and their troops began to run, seeking the protection of the dense woods behind. The Romans in pursuit, cut down hundreds of men before they reached the safety of the treeline. Once in the woods, the lightly equipped Celts could escape the heavier Romans who now were victors of the battle. Agricola claimed 360 Roman soldiers killed, to over 10,000 Caledonians.


Scotland was never conquered by the Romans. Soon after Agricola's victory Roman attention was turned to threats on their eastern frontiers, depleting forces in Britannia. Later attempts by the Romans found the Caledonians impossible to defeat. Unlike the Britons in England with permanent fortified settlements and seats of power that the Romans captured and destroyed, the Caledonians were used to temporary settlements, and simply kept literally "upping sticks and moving" away from the Roman threat whilst maintaining communities and their seats of power. Without towns, cities or forts to capture, the Romans never quite got to grips with how to win a war against them.

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