In AD 357 the future emperor Julian, with 13,000 men, defeated the Alamanni who had crossed the Rhine near modern Strasbourg. The battle was not of huge historical significance, other than temporarily stabilising the lower Rhine frontier and increasing Julian's reputation which led to his troops proclaiming him as emperor 3 years later. It does, however, make for a good wargame as the numbers of troops are manageable enough and we have very detailed accounts of the troops involved as well as the action itself.
Julian had 13,000 men and many of his actual units are known. These include the Cornuti, Bracchiati, Regii and Batavi (Auxilia Palatina); Catafractarii (very heavily armoured cavalry); Equites Sagittarii (light horse archers), Scutarii and Gentiles (guards cavalry of the Schola) and the Legio Primani. A reasonable reconstruction of the full 13,000 men could be: 4000 Legionaries, 1000 Archers, 1000 light infantry javelinmen, 4000 other Auxilia Palatina, 500 cataphracts, 500 light horse archers, 1000 heavy cavalry of the Scholae and 1000 other cavalry. Severus commanded the Roman left wing and apart from Julian the other senior commanders are not known. Among the dead, however were Bainobaudes tribune of the Cornuti, Lapsio and Innocentius who commanded the cataphracts.
The Alamanni are said to have numbered 35,000 men 'drawn from various peoples, some whom served as mercenaries and the rest in accordance with pacts of mutual assistance.' The Romans were notorious for exaggerating the numbers of their enemies so it is quite likely there were fewer of them, perhaps closer to 20,000. The Alamanni were commanded by King Chnodomar with the left wing led by Serapio. A number of other notable chieftains are mentioned: Vestralp - a king, along with Urius, Ursicinus, Suomar and Hortar.
The Caesar Julian at the head of his troops. 28mm Foundry and converted Essex figures
The battle was fought over a 'gently sloping hill, covered with crops already ripe, a short distance from the banks of the Rhine. The Alamanni held the high ground with their right flank covered by woods. They hid a number of troops in trenches in the woods, hoping to surprise the Roman left wing.
The Romans deployed first, forming up in two lines with all their cavalry on the right. The Cornuti and Bracchiati were in the front line of infantry in the centre while the Primani Legion along with the Batavi and Regii were in the rear line. It is likely that archers were deployed behind the front line of infantry in a position to shoot over their heads, as was the usual late Roman practise.
Seeing the Roman dispositions, the Alamanni placed all their mounted men opposite the Roman cavalry, interspersing them with light infantry. The bulk of the other infantry were arrayed on the high ground with presumably light infantry waiting in ambush in the woods. The kings and other commanders were mounted but they dismounted just prior to battle. It is not clear if the rest of the German cavalry also dismounted.
The Battlefield and Historical Deployment
Cornuti and Bracchiati
Regii and Batavi
Light Infantry or Auxilia
Strasbourg as a Game
With the numbers involved this battle makes for a very manageable game even in 28mm on a 6x4 table. For Comitatus I recommend a scale of 1 heavy infantry stand (8 figures) representing approximately 500 men; cavalry (2-3 figures) and 1 light infantry stands (4 figures) representing approximately 250 men.
The map opposite shows the approximate historical deployment. Players are free to choose whether or not to follow this or to deploy freely. The Romans deploy their forces first followed by the Germans. As the Romans suspected the ambush I suggest that there is no point in trying to hide a possible deployment by the Alamanni in the woods. Troops deployed there, however, will not be visible to the Romans and they will count as 'surprised' if they are engaged from the woods.
Roman Order of Battle
The following is how the Roman Army can be fielded using Comitatus rules. All troops are A Grade.
Julian, General, 4 Command Points
Severus, Left Wing Commander, 3 Command Points
Innocentius, Cavalry Commander, 2 Command Points
Bainobaudes, Infantry Front line Commander, 4 Command Points
Scholae: 4 stands Heavy Javelin Cavalry, High Morale, each stand forming the Comitatus of one of the Commanders. Julian's Comitatus has Exceptional Morale.
Catafractarii: 2 stands Cataphracts, Average Morale.
Alternatively the cataphracts may be classified as Partially Armoured Shock Cavalry on the assumption they were less completely armoured than later Clibanarii
Horse Archers: 2 stands Light Horse Archers, Average Morale
Dalmatians: 2 stands Light Javelin Cavalry, Average Morale
Other Cavalry: 2 stands Heavy Javelin Cavalry, Average Morale
Legions: 8 stands, Roman Infantry, Armoured, Average Morale
Auxilia Palatina: 10 stands, Roman Infantry, Average Morale
Option to replace 2 stands of the Auxilia Palatina with 4 stands of Light Infantry. Up to 2 of these may be crossbowmen to represent the possibility that the Balistarii, Julian had with him prior to the battle were crossbow armed. Another alternative is to have them as artillery.
Archers: 4 stands Foot Archers, Average Morale
I tend to use units of 2 stands for most of my Romans. Such a unit then represents a single Legio, or two Auxilia Palatina brigaded together, or a cavalry Vexilation.
All the Alamanni are B Grade exccept for the archers who are C Grade
Chnodomar, General, 3 Command Points
Serapio, Left Wing Infantry Commander, 3 Command Points
Suomar, Centre Infantry Commander, 3 Command Points
Vestralp, Right Wing Infantry Commander, 3 Command Points
Hortar, Cavalry Commander, 3 Command Points
Chnodomar's Comitatus: 4 Shock Cavalry, Exceptional Morale
Serapio, Suomar and Vestralp's Comitatus: each 2 Shock Infantry, Armoured, High Morale
Hortar's Comitatus: 2 Shock Cavalry, Exceptional Morale
Mounted Warriors: 6 Shock Cavalry, High Morale
Foot Warriors: 24 Shock Infantry, Average Morale
Option to replace up to 8 Shock Infantry with Shieldwall Infantry to represent Burgundian allies
Archers: 4 Foot Archers, Average Morale
Light Infantry: 8 Skirmishers, Average Morale. One unit with Serapio, the other with Hortar
If using the historical deployment Chnodomar's Comitatus must dismount to form 2 Shock Infantry. All of the cavalry have the option of dismounting either as Shock or Shieldwall Infantry replacing 2 cavalry stands with 1 infantry stand.
Instead of fielding the cavalry and light infantry as separate units they could be combined into units of cavalry with integral infantry.
I use 4 stand units in cuneus (wedge) formation 2 stands deep for my foot warriors. The mounted warriors are in either 2 or 4 stand units, also deployed in cuneus.
As the Alamanni in the woods were concealed in trenches, they count as 'defending fortification' if attacked
Alamanni Order of Battle
The Alamanni close in on the Roman Legions. A mix of Foundry and Gripping Beast 28mm figures
Tips and Tactics
This is a fairly simple and straight forward game. The Alamanni need to launch a full coordinated charge on the Romans, try to break the front line, or at least elements of it and then hope that the morale effect on the rear line will cause the reserves to weaken. The Romans will have a very hard time containing the initial charge and it will only be through the intervention of their commanders and the judicious use of reserves that they can repair any initial damage.
I have played this scenario, or versions of it many times. Usually the Romans win, but not always. The key to an Alamannic victory is to hit hard in a coordinated way and don't try any fancy manoeuvre.