Tuesday 19 December 2023

Rome vs. the Alani

Emperor Hadrian placed Lucius Flavius Arrianus as governor of Cappadocia, in 132 AD, a service he continued for six years. Not long after the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judea, the Alani crossed the Caucuses Mountains to invaded neighbouring territories, including Cappadocia, where their advance was halted by Arrian's legions.

Cassius Dio, Historia Romana

See also Arrian’s Array against the Alans.

Game one

Rome deployed its legion along a gentle hill, the rocky ground on its left was held by several cohorts of auxilia. More auxilia and archers were positioned on the right supported by the cavalry.

Anticipating Rome would not leave a defensive position, the Alani formed two groups, the largest would demonstrate against the Roman centre while the lancers of the second group would crush the open right flank. Alani horse archers on the extreme flanks would probe for any weakness.

The Alani centre remained halted giving the left flank time to seize a hill to protect the advance of the lancers. On the extreme right flank, Alani horse archers followed the advance of Roman auxilia among the rocks.

Satisfied with their alignment, the two groups of lancers slowly closed the distance to the Roman line. On the Roman left, the auxilia left their position among the rocks to catch the Alani horse archers off guard.

The approach of the Alani toward the Roman centre was met with a shower of ballistae bolts and arrows, bringing disorder among the Alani ranks. On the Alani right, the horse archers experienced further problems losing half its number to Roman auxilia.

Despite the disorder caused by bolts and arrows, the Alani tried in vain to charge the Roman line. The uncoordinated assaults generated no significant breakthroughs. Incurring significant losses, the Alani called for a retreat. Rome 8 – 4


Game two

Protected by scrub on both flanks, Rome interspersed its ballistae and archers between the legionnaires and auxilia. Positioned in a second line were more legionnaires and forming a third line, the cavalry.

For this battle, the Alani grouped all its lancers opposite the Roman position, anticipating the sheer weight of heavy cavalry would crush the Roman line.

The Alani centre remained in position to allow its horse archers to harass and turn the Roman flanks. Rome seized the moment to advance 80 paces forward to provoke the Alani lancers to action.

The move forward offered Alani horse archers to catch and destroy a cohort of legionnaires, but they paid dearly for their impetuousness.  

The Alani lancers advanced forward and were met with ballistae bolts and volleys of arrows. The disorder caused left too few groups to charge and engage the Roman line. Nonetheless, their charge did cause alarm when Alani lancers broke through to threaten the Roman second line.

The clash in centre now evolved into a soldier’s battle forming small combats. Casualties fell heavily on both sides bringing both forces to reach break point (7 – 7).

The Alani were quick to seize the moment to tip the balance in their favour. Alani 8 – 7.


Roman options are limited with fighting in relative open ground (steppe). Game one, an opportunity opened for the auxilia to harass and destroy horse archers, forcing the Alani to send more troops from its centre and stabilise the right.

On the Roman right flank, the Alani greatly outnumbered their opposition to what could have developed in a desperate situation. But Rome held its ground, sending its reserve cavalry to deal with Alani lancers.

Game two was a tight game. The Alani centre became disordered when greeted by a hail of bolts and arrows. Alani had to make hard choices, spend pips redress the group or launch small groups in suicidal charges. Choosing the latter option did destroy five Roman elements, for the loss of two, in one bound.

Turn five, Rome took advantage of the chaos to even the score at 7 – 7. Quick off the mark, the Alani squeezed a Pyrrhic victory, destroying an element of auxilia.

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