The First Battle of Tapae - 87 AD


Victrix 28mm Dacians launch their attack

At the beginning of 86AD, the Dacian King Duras ordered his men across the Danube to attack the Roman province of Moesia, (what is now present day Bulgaria), catching the Romans completely by surprise and wiping out the Roman V Legion. The emporer Domitian, enraged by this intrusion into the Empire, gathered forces together and personally led the IV, I and II Legions into Moesia and reestablished Rome's authority. He then looked to invade Dacia itself and bring "the barbarians" under Roman rule, however before this was attempted Domitian returned to Rome and left the expedition under the command of Cornelius Fuscus, Prefect of the Praetorian Guard. Keeping one Legion in Moesia, Fuscus marched the other two into Dacia (modern day Romania) where to attack the heartland of the Dacian tribes he had to march through "The Iron Gates", a natural pass between forested mountain ranges leading into Transylvania.

Here the Dacians waited in readiness to face the might of Rome.


Suggested initial set up for the First Battle of Tapae 87AD

ORDERS OF BATTLE - Using a 1;50 figure ratio


ROMAN ARMY

Cornelius Fuscus - Commander-in-Chief - veteran, elite, over confident

2 Sub-Generals - veteran, experienced, over confident

Units as per map, right to left

Auxiliary Archers (800 men) - 16 figures - open order, lightly armoured infantry, experienced, trained, steady, bow

Legionaries (4200 men) - 84 figures - close order heavy infantry, armour, large shield, experienced, veteran, disciplined, pilum and sword

Cavalry (600 men) - 12 figures - close order heavy cavalry, armour, experienced, trained, steady, shield, spear, sword

Legionaries (4200 men) - 84 figures - close order heavy infantry, armour, large shield, experienced, veteran, disciplined, pilum and sword

Cavalry (600 men) - 12 figures - close order heavy cavalry, armour, experienced, trained, steady, shield, spear, sword

Artillery (several heavy stone throwers and crew) - 1 model and crew - lightly armoured crew, experienced, veteran, well trained

Auxiliary Infantry (1200 men) - 24 figures - open order, lightly armoured infantry, experienced, trained, steady, spear, javelins and shield


DACIAN ARMY

At the mouth of the pass

King Decebalus - Commander-in-Chief - veteran, elite, inspirational leader

Flaxmen (1200 men) - 24 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, flax (two handed cutting weapon)

Warriors (1200 men) - 24 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, spear, sword, shield

Warriors (1200 men) - 24 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, spear, sword, shield

Dacian Cavalry (500 men) - 10 figures - open order light cavalry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, spear, javelins, shield

At top of map (r to l)

Sub- General - Sub-Commander - veteran, elite, ferocious warrior

Archers (1000 men) - 20 figures - open order, light infantry, veteran, trained, bow

Sarmatian Heavy Cavalry (600 men) - 12 figures - close order heavy cavalry, light body armour, lance, bow

Warriors (2000 men) - 40 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, spear, sword, shield

Warriors (2000 men) - 40 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, spear, sword, shield

Flaxmen (2000 men) - 40 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, flax (two handed cutting weapon)

Sarmatian Cataphracts (600 men) - 12 figures - close order extra heavy fully armoured cavalry, horse armour, lance, bow

At bottom of map (r to l)

Sub- General - Sub-Commander - veteran, elite, ferocious warrior

Archers (1000 men) - 20 figures - open order, light infantry, veteran, trained, bow

Sarmatian Cataphracts (600 men) - 12 figures - close order extra heavy fully armoured cavalry, horse armour, lance, bow

Bastarnae Allied Infantry (2000 men) - 40 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, fanatical fighters, flax (two handed cutting weapon)

Warriors (2000 men) - 40 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, spear, sword, shield

Warriors (2000 men) - 40 figures - open order infantry, warriors, experienced, veteran, ferocious fighters, spear, sword, shield

Bastarnae Allied Cavalry (300 men) - 6 figures - open order lightly armoured cavalry, veteran, fanatical fighters, javelins, shield


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Due to the outcome and period of the battle reliable sources are near impossible to find to give an accurate description of what exactly happened, however the better sources to agree on certain events.

As the Romans marched through the Iron Gates pass, the Dacians prepared an ambush towards its end. King Decebalus positioned himself at the end of the pass with a small force, with the intention of tricking the Romans to advance to make contact. As they neared the Dacian force ahead of them, the ambush was sprung. The archers on both sides of the pass emerged from the dense woods and showered the Romans with hail of arrows, immediately followed by the Dacian forces pouring over the ridges and charging down on to the Romans below. The Bastarnae and Dacian Flaxmen carved into the Roman legionaries with their deadly and fearsome flax weapons, while the Sarmatian cavalry completely destroyed their Roman counterparts.

The Roman infantry attempted to make a stand, but without cavalry support they soon began to get lose their cohesion as both the Dacian warriors and now the Sarmatian cavalry repeatedly charged into their ranks. In the chaos of battle Fuscus was killed, causing even more disorder and soon almost two entire legions lay massacred. The only Romans who were deliberately captured rather than killed were the artillery crews, who were rounded up and forced to train the Dacians how to use use their new captured "toys"; to which they would make good use of in future battles against Rome.

So important was The Iron Gates pass, it would be the site of three more battles between these enemies in the coming years. Not all with the same outcome as this first one.


WARGAMING THE BATTLE

Due to the scant records of this battle, we have chosen forces for each side as we believe they would likely to have been, but feel free to make slight alterations.

Bastarnae Allies charge out the woods - image Victrix Ltd


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