Thursday 7 December 2023

Rome vs. The Suevi

The Suevi (19 AD – 49 AD) army list II/47f, are active during the reign of three Roman emperors; Tiberius (14 – 37), Caligula (37 – 41) and Claudius (41 – 54). Researching any campaigns is made difficult as Roman historians referred to many tribes across the Rhine as Suevi, some use the term Suevi to describe a confederation of tribes, to include the Alemanni, Quadi and Marcomanni. The Suevi, as described by Tacitus, are a nomadic folk, having little interest in cultivating crops or raising domestic animals. What items they lacked were acquired through the frequent incursions made into the Roman Empire. 

Reviewing the DBMM army list for the Early German, a Suevian host may be commanded by a Sarmatian general (3Kn) leading a large number of Sarmatian cavalry. The Sarmatian, of the period, inhabited a region between the Marcomanni and Quadi or opposite the Roman provinces of Noricum or Moesia. 

The forces

The Suevi invade and find Rome defending an arable district complete with a BUA (hamlet), two woods, scrub, one difficult hill and a road. The invading Suevi comprise of four Sarmatian cavalry, sixteen warriors and four skirmishers.  Roman composition has remained unchanged with one exception, two bowmen (4Bw) have been replaced by two archers (Ps).


Game one

Rome have deployed the bulk of its forces between the village and hill and positioned on the opposite side of the village are the cavalry and auxilia commanded by the sub-general.

The Suevian warbands moved steadily forward, while the Sarmatian cavalry wheeled to attack the Roman right wing. Skirting the warband host and Sarmatians, skirmishers attempt to seize the village.

The Suevian host close the distance, but flanking columns are forced to negotiate around the village and steep hill. Skirmishers sent to take the village find this a harder task than anticipate as it is fiercely defended by Roman archers.

On contact, the Sarmatian lancers shatter the Roman wing leaving the auxilia scrambling to form a defensive line. Elsewhere, under a hail of ballistae bolts, the Suevian host lost its cohesion, but not its determination to close with the Roman line.

Despite the wave of uncoordinated assaults, the Roman centre broke, forcing the general to call a retreat. Suevi, 8- 5.

Game two

Rome deployed in two lines with auxilia interspersed among the legionnaires. With the exception of the light horse, all the cavalry were placed in the second line as a reserve.

The Suevi were forced, by the presence of the village, to split their infantry force in two wings. The Sarmatian cavalry were placed centrally to run down Roman infantry.

Rome held its centre in position while auxilia and skirmishers moved to a position to flank the barbarian horde. This left the unenviable task of holding off the second Suevian wing of 12 elements to three auxilia.  

Securing the village, Roman archers quickly found themselves at the rear of the barbarian host. As the host neared the Roman centre, ballistae proved effective at destroying enemy foot and cavalry, among the casualties was their warlord.

Leaderless, the warband host faltered, Rome smelled victory and attacked the host and the remaining Sarmatian cavalry. Casualties mounted on both sides, but the timely use of Roman cavalry effectively turned the battle. Rome victorious, 9 – 5.


The combination of Sarmatian cavalry (3Kn) and warband proved a deadly combination in game one, sweeping all resistance away.

Game two lasted 8 turns and proved a meat-grinder with Rome holding a slight lead. On the Roman left, three auxilia held back three times their number giving the rest of the army enough time to crush the Sarmatian cavalry and Suevi warband.

Recommended viewing

The Suebi Reign of Terror. (YouTube)

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