Battles of Nola 216-214 BC

Catching up with the two month backlog of WR gaming activities. At the end of YR 2017, on the last gaming saturday of December, WR drove south to join several friends for a Clash of Arms (COE) 28mm ancients game. David our host had designed a Roman-Carthaginian 214-216 BC battle based from the Hannibal campaigns around the Roman city of Nola.

First a little background before the COE game scenario report posted below. Digging about on the internet we found Nola was one of the oldest cities of Campania, its coinage bearing the name Nuvlana. Generally thought as been founded by the Ausones, who were certainly occupying the city by c. 560 BC. During the Roman invasion of Naples in 328 BC, Nola was probably occupied by the Oscans in alliance with the Samnite allies, from which the Romans took the city in 311 BC, during the Samnite War. Later, Nola and nearby Capua rivaled each other as “cities of luxury” south of Rome during the years of peace before the arrival of Hannibal and his army.

The historical city of Nola was the site of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battles of Nola during Hannibal‘s invasion of Italy amid the Second Punic War. On two occasions (215 and 214 BC), it was defended by Consul Marcellus and his roman army. After the departure of Hannibal from Italy, the city returned to their business trade pursuits. Falling to treason, the Samnites controlled the city during the Social War. They held it until their ally Gaius Marius was defeated by Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who subjugated it with the rest of Samnium in 80 BC. It was stormed by Spartacus and his army of slaves during his failed slave revolt to worsen their lot a decade later. Though a relative backwater city by now in history, Nola retained its status as a municipium, its own institutions, and the use of the Oscan language during this period of Roman history. It was divided into pagi, the names of some of which are still preserved to this present day: Pagus Agrifanus, Capriculanus, Lanitanus for examples.

Campaign map for 216 – 214 BC (.doc):  Nola map

Many people think Hannibal’s won all his battles and suffered his only defeat at the battle of Zama near Carthage. That is false. Hannibal himself was held in 3 inconclusive battles outside the city walls of Nola during the 2nd Punic War Italian campaign. All were tactical stalemates, somewhat uncommon for the Punic warfare period, but allowed Republican Rome to regain its momentum against the recent Carthaginian victory on the bloody battlefield of Cannae.

As mentioned earlier, Nola was the setting for three inconclusive battles outside its city wall. In 216 BC, after the total Roman defeat at the Battle of Cannae and the death of Consul Pallus, the Consul Varro retreated his army to the safety of Roman walls south of Cannae. The Roman General Marcus Claudius Marcellus heard of the defeat while at the port of Rome and brought his 15,000 (1500 marines per Plutarch) men to defend Rome. Consul Varro found himself stuck in his walled city and the Roman Senate requested Marcellus to go find him and reinforce and rescue the army who survived the Cannae disaster. Marching quickly south, Marcellus is successful linking up and extracting Consul Varro with his intact army, as Hannibal’s army was busy in Samnium trying to get Italian allies for his army. Hannibal’s cavalry commander Mahaba tries to persuade Hannibal to march on Rome but Hannibal refuses, preferring Rome to surrender when he defeated all their Italian allies and he felt a siege of Rome was too risky both men and logistics wise. Hannibal puts his main base in Capua and marches around Samnium. While Hannibal marched around Samnium, Rome quickly brought their legions back to strength.

The city of Capua defects from Rome to Hannibal. Marcellus then gathers all the men who survive from Cannae plus more legions at Casslinum, finally outnumbering Hannibal for the first time since Cannae. Hannibal decides to march to Neapolis from his base in Capua but Neapolis is a major ally of Rome with many soldiers garrisoning the city, therefore Hannibal chose not to besiege the city. Hannibal, leaving Neapolis behind, moves his army near Mt. Vesuvius and around the nearby town of Nola. Marcellus sees this and moves towards Nola to protect the city. Nola isn’t as powerful as Neapolis or Capua but still has a lot of influence in the Roman Senate. The city population of Nola is torn between who to choose. The Senate of Nola chooses Rome but the city population choose Hannibal. Marcellus knows Nola is a potential ally and marches his larger unified army to “support or more likely protect” the Nola senatorial decision.

Hannibal hears of Marcellus’ army approach and makes a decision to withdraw back to Neapolis area. He asks the Neapolis city commoner population to join him, they refuse and stay behind their city wall. Hannibal withdraws and moves to Nuseria and asks them to join his cause, they refuse too. This time Hannibal takes a risk and launches a quick siege, which leads to the sack and destruction of the city of Nuseria. Marcellus remains back in Nola and doesn’t want to chase Hannibal or his army. Successful at Nuseria, Hannibal regains his confidence, his army is flush with another victory, and is ready to launch his siege on Nola.

Marcellus fortifies in the city of Nola. He puts his best troops around the gates inside the city walls as he isn’t sure of the city loyalty. However he decides to engage Hannibal’s army outside the city walls if the opportunity presents itself. With many civilians in Nola loyal to Hannibal, Marcellus decides to create a law saying no civilians around the city gate(s). The Carthaginian army arrives at Nola and Hannibal orders his handful of siege towers, wall or gate rams, and ladders to assault the city walls. Marcellus’ army in a surprise ambush bursts out of the gates and attack Hannibal’s army. Meanwhile skirmishes burst through the flanks exiting different city gates (not covered by Hannibal’s army), launching flanking maneuvers on Hannibal’s army. The shock of the Roman action caused Hannibal to retreat. Some say Hannibal lost a total of 20,000 and the Romans 500. Some historians say 5,000 lost of Hannibal. Like a lot of ancient battles its “pick a number” for combative losses for the 1st Battle of Nola in 216 BC.

Hannibal retreats from Nola and continues his Italian campaign raiding Roman small towns and seeking replacement troops and Italian allies. Hannibal would try to launch more attacks on Nola, one in 215 BC which failed, and again in 214 BC. Why the fascination with Nola thinks WR?

In 214 BC Hannibal tried to take Nola again for the third time. He was about to get reinforcements commanded by Hanno. The reinforcement included 1,200 Numidian horsemen, along with 17,000 Bruttians, and Lucanians up the Via Appia from Bruttium. ProConsul Fabius decided to fight Hannibal when Hannibal was not there. Heard this before as a Roman strategy…. before Hanno’s army could reach Nola, Fabius sent General Tiberius Grachus to intercept Hanno and defeat him at the Battle of Beneventum 214 BC. Almost the entire army of Hanno, of 17,000 infantry and 1,200 cavalry is destroyed.

Hannibal never took Nola after the third Battle of Nola in 214 BC (details below), and the Battle of Beneventum prevented him from ever getting reinforcements. Following Scipio’s campaign in Africa closely, with messages to return from the Carthaginian government, Hannibal returns with the majority of his army to the north african shore at Carthage, thus ending the Italian campaign phase of the 2nd Punic war.

Additional summary details for the 1st Battle of Nola 216 BC;

Following his victory at Cannae, Hannibal encamped before the town on Nola.  The Roman forces of the town were commanded by Marcellus. Initial contact between the antagonists was limited to minor skirmishes. After repeated skirmishes, Hannibal decided to launch a decisive attack on Nola. Marcellus anticipated this and managed to devise a trap for Hannibal.  Marcellus was aware that the Carthaginians were planning an attack and quietly drew up his lines of battle inside the walls of Nola.  He placed his legions near the town’s main gate.  Allied forces, light forces, and cavalry were placed inside gates to the left and right of the town.  Hannibal approached the town with his light forces in the fore.  Carthaginian infantry encumbered by ladders and scaling gear followed the light forces. Carthaginian cavalry brought up the rear of Hannibal’s formation. As the Carthaginians neared the town, the gates were thrown open and the Romans rushed forth.  The initial shock made a great impression on the Carthaginians, but with Hannibal’s personal intervention, a battle line was established. The Roman wings then fell upon the Carthaginian flanks with great effect.  Marcellus managed the Roman force admirably.  Hannibal finally gave up trying to rescue the day and retired in good order after sustaining severe casualties.

Second Battle of Nola 215 BC:

Roman forces under Marcellus made a series of raids from Nola into the lands of Hannibal’s allies, the Hirpinians, Lucanians, and Caudine Samnites. These peoples appealed to Hannibal for assistance. Their pleas led Hannibal to march once more on Nola. He first tried to take the town by treachery, but failed. He then tried an assault however Marcellus led a vigorous counter-attack. The fighting was sharp, but undecided.  A heavy thunderstorm ended the fighting. The next day, when a large portion of the Carthaginian army was off foraging, Marcellus seized his opportunity to attack Hannibal once more. He drew up his legions outside the town’s walls. He armed the citizens of Nola as a reserve, in lieu of the usual triarii. Hannibal drew up his forces opposite the Romans.  Marcellus opened the battle with a strong attack. The Carthaginian foragers were attracted by the tumult and returned to the battlefield. The fighting raged for many hours and was bloody and stubborn with a paucity of maneuvering. Finally both sides withdrew, leaving the battle’s outcome a draw.

Third Battle of Nola 214 BC:

After the defeat of Hanno at Beneventum deprived Hannibal of reinforcements, he decided to move once more against the town of Nola. At Nola, he once again met Marcellus who planned to give battle to his Carthaginian opponent. Marcellus sent his legate, Claudius Nero, with a chosen body of cavalry by a long circuit to attempt to fall on Hannibal’s rear during the battle that he himself would provoke by attacking the Carthaginians the next morning. On the next morning, the opposing forces drew up for battle. Marcellus opened the combat, which raged for several hours. Nero, however, was not heard from. The failure of Nero to appear led Marcellus to withdraw. Nero turned up later, alleging that he had lost his way and had not been able to find the Carthaginians. Marcellus reproached Nero, but it is likely that the route given was simply too long for the allotted time. Marcellus offered battle the following day, but Hannibal turned and marched from the town he had thrice failed to take.

Our Clash of Empires 28mm scenario game is somewhat representative of the third Battle of Nola 214 BC. Scenario has both armies deployed, with the Romans outnumbered by the Carthaginian army. Six complete turns of play, with possible 50/50 extension for turns after turn six. If the Romans can hold on the battlefield, they win. Otherwise the Carthaginians gain the field of victory. Victory determined by the COE victory determination if a close hung battle. All terrain and 28mm miniatures from the collection of David.

Starting COE setup: With the city of Nola off-board behind their deployed ranks, the Roman army deployed in their classic triple line. First formed rank is made of the hastati, the middle rank are the princeps, and finally the two triarii units near each flank. On the left flank two roman cavalry units with the remaining cavalry placed on the right flank, across the narrow stream and sloped hill. covering the forward front a screen of velites with their javelins. Marcellus positioned in the center with Nero commanding the left flank cavalry. An unknown Roman general led the remaining right flank cavalry. Hold for six or maybe seven turns…. then we have done the Roman duty defending the city of Nola from the Carthaginian horde.

Center of the Roman lines in foreground, with velites out front, then hastati, the princeps, and lastly a few triarii for the rear rank. All 28mm miniatures and terrain from David’s collections.

Side view of the Roman left flank cavalry with Nero leading in foreground. Clearly shows the three-line formation of the Roman infantry.

WR’s Roman battle plan. Advance to secure the center line and forward farm position. Anchor the flanks with the triarii units and send forth the Roman cavalry to engage the Carthaginian horse.

Now for the Carthaginian horde whom outnumber the Romans half again across the tabletop. General Hannibal (Tim) formed up his infantry across the table center with skirmishers out front. His sole remaining elephant anchored the right end of the battle line. Numidian horse paced about on the Carthaginian left flank with allied foot and slinger units. Out on the open right flank the bulk of the Carthaginian cavalry, mostly veteran, and steeled in battle. Battle plan was simple… crush the Roman flank cavalry units, threaten the Roman flank infantry then send in the elephant to mess things up. Meanwhile the massed Carthaginian infantry…. Libyans, Gauls, Spanish…. and other allied units overwhelm the Roman front.

The long Italian / Carthaginian battle line across the 16′ table, facing the Romans. Outskirts of Nola upper right table corner. Note the lone elephant anchoring the end of the infantry line.

Turn One: Opening movement with the Italian / Carthaginian army moving first. Rapidly their cavalry advanced across the tabletop and open ground separating the two armies. Since both armies are lacking in long-range archery, the turn moves quickly for both sides. Roman response…. advance to secure favorable position near the central farm while preparing a back up position in case their left flank horsemen are routed by the veteran Carthaginian opposite number.

After Italian / Carthaginian army finished first movement, the Romans turn saw them occupy the central farm. Nero leads his cavalry forward to engage advancing Carthaginian horsemen.

Out on the right flank there was a shallow stream and steep hillside to contend with. Both Carthaginian and Roman cavalry struggled to advance across the steep slope (half speed).

Riding fast, the Carthaginian right flank cavalry quickly is closing in on their Roman opposites.

Carthaginian view of the left center…. massed ranks of allied barbarian infantry plod forward as the javelin skirmishers dart ahead to exchange javelin tossing.

Turn Two: Picking up speed, the veteran Carthaginian cavalry charge home on the Roman cavalry led by Nero. Like speared chickens, the Roman ranks are pierced through and a bitter struggle fought by the surviving Romans. Nero wildly swinging his stubby sword about beating off Carthaginian horsemen.

The Carthaginian veteran horsemen pierce the Roman cavalry ranks and inflict heavy casualties. Still the Romans battle on, rolled a “3” for their morale pass, encouraged by Nero’s bravery.

Roman charge another unit into the fray. They give token support as the veteran Carthaginians crave apart the combined Roman cavalry with ease.

Shattered unit breaks first, survivors routing away. Their flight takes the fresh Roman cavalry unit with them, leaving Carthaginians to rally in place vs. chasing them into the waiting infantry ranks.

Left flank cavalry fight is over for now….. Rome on the losing position. At least the triarii have positioned themselves to somewhat cover the flank.

Out on the right flank. the sole Roman cavalry watch the approaching Carthaginian allied cavalry and skirmishing Numidians seeking a flanking position up on the steep hill.

In the center the two infantry lines square up for the pending fights. Wood javelins are tossed between the skirmishers.

Turn Three and Four: Critical for the Romans. With their left flank cavalry heading for the rear, it is up to the third rank triarii to hold the open flank with their long spears. Joined by the edge princeps unit, both wheel into position and anchor the flank against Carthaginian cavalry encroachment. Javelins are tossed by velites to inflict loss on the massed Carthaginian ranks.

Clearly the left flank Roman cavalry haven’t any intention of stopping soon and rally. Nero and his survivors are heading fast off the battlefield between the Roman infantry units.

Roman velites are sent packing , falling even to shoot then retire, caused by Carthaginian infantry units charges. The crops of Italy are in season it seems.

Still running, the velites fail to rally up on the Roman rally phase. Supportive princeps infantry fill any openings in the Roman battle line as the massed Carthaginian infantry marches forward.

On the Roman center right, the velites are having some success dropping Gauls and allied Carthaginian infantry.

Different view of the Roman center left positions. Clearly the Roman velites skirmishers are thinking about the pending clash of the massed ranks and want no part of that conflict.

Some Roman success. They remaining Roman cavalry rally before exiting the tabletop. They form up level with the Roman infantry line. A future glory awaits them?

Carthaginian cavalry gets close, and closer. Suddenly Roman triarii line charges forth catching the horsemen off guard. They quickly retire as the revenge seeking Roman horsemen charge forth.

One Carthaginian cavalry unit bolts from the charging triarii. The other sees the cheering Roman “mule riding” horsemen thundering towards them. A clash of arms, and Romans see Carthaginian cavalry flee away. A sunlit miracle for the open Roman left flank.

On the right, the Roman horse struggle to wheel on the steep hillside, laughed at by the nimble Numidian horse above them. You can teach a monkey to ride better on a horse…..

The Roman velites hearing the cheers on their left flank, rally up as the center right retire tossing javelins into their pursuing enemy ranks.

Carthaginian view from the elephant. It spys the Roman infantry exposed flank.

Carthaginian view of their center left. The massed Gaul ranks so far have behaved themselves, even teased by Roman javelins.

Turn Five: This is it….. The massed infantry ranks on both sides charge forward into deadly combat. With the Carthaginians moving first half of turn, they have the glory and dice ready for the several engagements along their right half of the battlefront. But first, the cavalry combats on both flanks should be mentioned.

Whoops… you missed. The charging Romans are side-stepped by the fleet mounted horsemen of Numidia. Note the Roman ranks have been thinned by the repeated javelins tosses of Numidians.

The gallant Roman second horse unit continues to “plow forward into the Carthaginian cavalry ranks. Another unit charges in and the sword play ends in a draw (arrow sideways).

Now for the infantry battles starting at the far left Roman line. The princeps unit is charged by elephant and foot. Pilum fly forth and disrupt the Carthaginians. Losses are heavy on both sides, but again the Romans have come to fight. If the Romans can hold for the first shock of combat, their expert swordmanship will kick in on the second combat round.

Charged by elephant and veteran Carthaginian spear, the Romans are hard pressed but hold their ground…. giving almost as good as they took.

Next infantry blocks hammer home. The veteran Carthaginian spear rip large gaps in the hastati ranks. They are pushed and pushed to the rear but hold with their last strength from breaking.

The savage cavalry brawl continues. Neither side is departing from the fighting. Romans reach minimum unit strength without noticing.

Time for Roman swordplay into the Carthaginian ranks.  Two Carthaginian infantry block retire from combat, the Romans failed to catch their foes so their will be back later after rallying.

The elephant stamps out Roman bodies before it as both foot units heave and push ranks in the bloody struggle. The princeps unit is quickly dying in place.  Velites toss javelins at the elephant.

General view of the battlefield after turn five completed. Both armies a locked into deadly combat. Table size is 16′ x 6′ for the big ancients battle experience at David’s.

Turn Six and end of scenario: Unless another scenario turn is rolled for (50/50 chance), this is the last full game turn. Can the Romans hold their position before the city of Nola?

Reduced to a single rank, somehow the princeps fighting the veteran Carthaginian spear and their elephant is still in the fight. More Carthaginian horse arrives to threaten the Roman infantry.

As seen, both sides are winning or losing their battles. The massed Gaul mob has charged in, pushing back the stressed Roman hastati front line. Marcellus is everywhere directing his battle.

Having routed their opposite Roman number, the Numidians ride forward to threaten the Roman right flank. Allied infantry rush forward to support the continued assault across the stream.

With the scenario hung in the balance, the extra turn possibility is rolled. Nightfall has fallen so the battle ends inconclusive. Fitting for the Battle of Nola, our miniature refight ended the same as the historical counterparts.

Book summary: Marcellus’ military exploits were largely unmatched by any other aristocrat of Roman Middle Republic. As a young soldier in the First Punic War, he won a reputation for his skill in single combat. In his first consulship, he earned a triumph for defeating a Gallic tribe, no small feat in and of itself, and also slew the Gallic chieftain Britomartus in single combat. Consequently, he earned the spolia opima, an honor, according to Roman antiquarians, which had only been earned twice before, once by Romulus himself. He went on to defeat the hitherto-invincible Hannibal in small battles around the central Italian city of Nola, and subsequently led an army to subdue and plunder the powerful city of Syracuse in an epic two-year siege (despite the ingenious defensive measures of the inventor Archimedes). Yet, despite his undeniable success as a warrior and commander, Marcellus met with considerable political opposition at Rome. Marcellus’ career not only makes exciting reading, but gives an excellent vantage point from which to view the military and political struggles of the period and the role of military successes in the aristocratic culture of the Roman Republic.

Dice rolling in the warren. Looking forward next quarter for another COE scenario David. Let’s make plans for another ancients scenario. In the WR production works are some two rank sabot trays for the Roman infantry formations.



9 thoughts on “Battles of Nola 216-214 BC

  1. Great background and a very nice report. Good to see some Ancients gaming on the menu (and even better when someone else runs it, too!)

    Punic Wars were on the table a few months ago for Jared’s game club, and more Punic Wars action (with To the Strongest!) is planned for Historicon this July.


    • Peter,
      Thank you again for stopping by the warren. Was fun to toss the “ancients dice” again even if they are lowly d6. Enjoying your expanding Spanish army reports. Then you reported the large modified BP Borodino game with the school…. what fun for all and you having the chance to see the young minds wrestle with the wargame miniature tactics.
      Hope to run my Arronches 1801 gme soon…. AAR to follow if I succeed. Even have the orange trees now.


      • Always a pleasure to visit the Warren, especially with prime Rabbit season nearing. 🙂 Looking forward to the Arronches game and report.

        The big game with the kids was a blast. Jared ihas been asked to host a possible seminar for teachers on starting game clubs in their schools (NY state federation of private schools), with some possible HMGS support.

        More Spanish to cone from the Danube! 🙂

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