Caesar in Gaul: the Dumnorix uprising

28 March, 2010

Last Tuesday I finally got to stage the continuation to Cassivellaunus’s victory over Caesar last month. Picking up where it was left off, Caesar snuck back to Gaul somewhat battered from his time in Britain; the losses of men were not so heavy, as his veterans maintained an orderly retreat in defeat; however, he’d loss prestige, and his legendary sword, ‘yellow death’!

This sword, in the hands of its winner, Nennius, followed Caesar back to Gaul. Nennius, sent by Cassivellaunus to punish Caesar for his invasion, met up with someone keen to raise the banner of resistance against the Romans, the Aeduan patriot, Dumnorix.

Readers of Caesar’s account of events in Gaul may detect that things have begun to spiral off into an alternate history, my favourite kind! In Caesar’s portrayal, Dumnorix comes across as a highly suspect individual, someone who’d tried to gain supreme power in his state (in no way, of course, resembling Caesar!). After failing to deprive Caesar’s army of supplies during the Helvetian war, he is not heard of again until just before the start of the second invasion of Britain, when he is accused of again seeking the kingship of the Aedui. After trying to escape from Caesar’s camp he is pursued by his peers, the mounted nobility of Gaul serving Caesar, and is cut down. His dying protest is that he is a free man, a citizen of a free state.

It’s possible, even likely, that Caesar’s account of this figure is not free from bias. What if he wasn’t simply consumed by ambition for self-promotion as Caesar implies, but actually something of a patriot? Well, for the purposes of this history he is a patriot, and he successfully made that escape from Caesar’s camp. Caesar set sail trying to make light of the affair and while he was in Britain, Dumnorix was hard at work preparing the revolt.

Caesar, on returning to Gaul, learnt that Dumnorix had liberated the Aedui from the control of his boot-licking Roman-loving brother, Divitiacus, who, lap-dog that he was, was serving in Caesar’s army. The Aedui, delighted to throw off the shackles of Roman oppression, had welcomed Dumnorix and purely of their own free will offered him the kingship to lead them against the Romans. Caesar, deciding that quick action was required to stop this revolt spreading, hurried south in a series of forced marches. Dumnorix had already made common cause with the Senones and brought an army up to Agedincum, modern Sens, on the Seine to meet Caesar. He was met here by Nennius and his small band of followers. Nennius’ display of ‘yellow death’, along with descriptions of Caesar’s defeat, gave great heart to the Gallic army.

In contrast to most of the major encounters of the earlier part of the war, both sides seemed eager to come to blows. There was little in the way of pre-battle manoeuvres. It is possible that Caesar lacked reliable scouting as a result of the dubious loyalty of much of his cavalry. Caesar encountered Dumnorix’s army a little north of Agedincum in an area of steep hills and woods. Dumnorix had drawn up the mass of his foot behind a wood, with a smaller warband on a hill to guard the left flank and the camp. He was with the cavalry on the right wing along with some adolescent skirmishers.

Caesar drew up his legions in a line with psiloi support facing the Gallic left flank. His left flank was drawn up in depth as a reserve and his cavalry were also in reserve to the rear.

Initial Deployment: Dumnorix on left and Caesar on the right.

On the first turn Caesar advanced his main body and his cavalry reserve. Dumnorix used 3 PIPs of his 4 PIPs to advance his skirmishers all the way to the opposing hill. With his final PIP, he advanced his cavalry.

Turn 1: Dumnorix's skirmishers use the special first turn multiple turn of psiloi to reach the cover of the BGo hill.

Caesar starts to divide his battle line, planning, perhaps to deal with the three Gallic forces separately. The force on the hill defending the camp starts to feel a little exposed. Dumnorix has only 1 PIP and uses it to advance his cavalry.

Turn 2: Dumnorix's cavalry heads for the gap between the woods and the hill.

The next turn both have one PIP, and Caesar wheels the middle of his line face the Gallic cavalry, and Dumnorix advances his middle warband.

Turn 3: Dumnorix's warband heads for the wood.

Caesar now lengthens his left flank and continues to advance on the right flank, while Dumnorix, with only 2 PIPs, starts to enter the wood.

Turn 4: The camera angle shortens the battlefield, and the trees add to this; also the 6 second exposure has some blurring—I noticed that the camera was still wobbling even with a timer delay after I clicked it. The picture when I nudged the table slightly was even better!

It’s Caesar’s turn to have one PIP, and all he can do is continue to extend the left flank. Dumnorix with 4 PIPs continues his advance into the woods (the furthest warband was out of command range).

Turn 5: The Gallic warband all make it into the woods.

Caesar has 5 PIPs and uses them to advance on the right flank, and wheel to face the Gauls in the woods. Dumnorix, with 3 PIPs advances into the gap, stopping just short of the Roman line. He supported on the right flank by his skirmishers.

Turn 6: The Gallic cavalry advance close to the Roman line, one displaying a head captured in an earlier skirmish.

Caesar has 6 PIPs and opts to attack the cavalry. His plans to isolate Dumnorix come to little when his legionaries are forced back in bad going by the skirmishers (who, perhaps generously, Joel had attributed with the uphill advantage). Both elements are forced to retire. With only one PIP Dumnorix decides to align his warband.

Turn 7: First contact; the Gallic cavalry are recoiled.

Another 1 PIP, this time to Caesar, means he can only attack the skirmishers on the hill again. By contrast Dumnorix has 6 PIPs, and piles into the gap again, this time supported by Nennius and his warband of Britons, who attempt to remove the overlap advantage on the left of the cavalry. Seeing little likelihood of action, the rear cavalry starts to move back around behind the wood. The combat goes in Dumnorix’s favour, as recoils leave one unit of legionaries overlapped on both sides. The odds are 3-1 to the cavalry, and when Caesar rolls a 1, he sealed its doom, even though Dumnorix only managed a 1 too (this was the first round of combat for which my daughter Anna asked to do my dice-rolling).

Turn 8: Success for the mounted headhunters, the final combat dice displayed prominently.

Caesar now has 4 PIPs, and decides to commit his cavalry to support the psiloi against Nennius, who had pursued in the previous combat. Despite the unfavourable odds, Nennius is only recoiled.

Turn 9 (Caesar): Nennius gives ground grudgingly before impudent skirmishers.

Dumnorix also has 4 PIPs and returning to the fray succeeds again in isolating another element of legionaries who go down to Dumnorix himself this time. Caesar’s fabled luck is not with him in this battle, as he rolls two more 1’s, one against the skirmishers, who set up one of the overlaps, and the other against Dumnorix.

Turn 9 (Dumnorix): More success to the Gallic cavalry, as Caesar's luck deserts him.

Caesar, seeing his left flank crumble, decides he has to risk entering the woods. However, the combat on the left of the woods, where he has an overlap, gets a stick. The other combat goes sour with yet another 1, his fourth! Psiloi-supported blade in BGo against a double-ranked warband are at 4-4 odds. When you throw a 1, you have to hope the warband does too; no luck and the Romans are now close to breaking.

Turn 10 (Caesar): Fortuna continues to scorn Caesar, as more bad luck stalks the Romans. More success for headhunters, this time the clothed variety!

Dumnorix has 3 PIPs, and sends the headhunters, fresh from despatching legionaries, to attack cavalry that are close to the woods. These are only recoiled (they really don’t like being attacked by foot in BGo), and Nennius puts the wind up the psiloi, who scarper (after rolling, … wait for it, another 1!). This sets the other mounted headhunters up with double overlaps against the Roman cavalry. These are clearly disturbed at the sight of the severed heads of their compatriots (was that Dumnorix’s turn-coat brother Divitiacus spied in their ranks?) and bringing up the sixth combat 1 for Caesar they are destroyed. Such should be the fate of all collaborators! However, in the last combat Fortuna at last relents, and Caesar rolls a 6 to Dumnorix’s 1, seeing a double-ranked warband routed.

Turn 10 (Dumnorix): Success for Caesar comes too late, as a hole in his left flank forces him to quit the field.

  • Aftermath:

Well clearly this uprising had more success than any of the genuine ones. However, lasting independence would be harder to achieve. Beating Romans tended only to get them annoyed and they’d stop at nothing to wipe away the perceived stain on their honour, as Hannibal and the Carthaginians discovered. And defeating the Romans would only justify Caesar’s decision to annex them; after all they’re a threat! All very depressing! On the positive side, it justifies plenty more encounters between Gauls and Romans (though I think Joel’s starting to get keen to try out some armies).

  • What’s next:

I’m off NatCon in Wellington next Thursday for two days of DBA; it’s a series of demonstration games in which I’ll be Marcus Brutus, one of the Liberators facing the 2nd Triumvirate after the Ides of March. It promises to be a lot of fun.

  • Review:

This is the first time the defender has won in the 6 encounters to date between Joel and me. It’s definitely a victory for the coolness factor, as headhunters took out three of the Roman elements (and the other element fell to the command element, which though lacking severed heads, is rather cool, complete as it is with a carnyx-blowing musician!). And who knows, perhaps Caesar’s legionaries were in a sulk at not having had their bases finished! Those 1’s weren’t the doing of Lady Luck, but mutinous veterans! Another theory to explain a battle that turned on dice-rolls was the influence of my daughter, who rolled all my dice from Turn 8. This theory is popular with Anna, but doesn’t really explain all Joel’s low rolls, unless his dice suffered from an excess of chivalry!

Speaking of luck in connection to Caesar, his comments on the power of Fortuna at the end of Book 6 of the Gallic Wars is very apposite. As a deity she lasted into the Christian era, and figures prominently in Machiavelli’s The Prince. She was replaced, apparently, by Statistics, a deity popular with many, especially politicians!


11 Responses to “Caesar in Gaul: the Dumnorix uprising”

  1. TWR Says:

    Another great report Mark. I look forward to hearing of future encounters.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks, I’m looking forward to seeing the Gauls in action again too, but I really need to get some more opponents for them painted.

      • TWR Says:

        Joel may need to sort out his Macedonians, I think he was planning to repaint them. Then you can use them as Galatians.

      • Mark Davies Says:

        Yes, Galatians against Macedonians would be an interesting match-up. I’d like to get my Macedonians painted too.

  2. Anarchangel Says:

    Another great report!

    In turn 2 you say “Dumnorix has only 1 PIP and uses it to advance his cavalry” but the picture shows that the cavalry have advanced and contracted their frontage, 2 PIPs. What am I missing?

    • Mark Davies Says:

      My understanding is that groups can reduce frontage to avoid obstacles at no extra PIP cost. It’s possible that they should have done this in the next move, but I don’t think it made any difference.

      • Anarchangel Says:

        Oh, I’ll have to look for that rule, you wouldn’t happen to know which section it’s in would you? I’m always discovering little differences between DBA and DBM that surprise me.

      • Mark Davies Says:

        It’s in the movement rules on page 8. I probably should have reduced when I entered the terrain, however.

  3. Neldoreth Says:

    Good stuff! An enjoyable read for sure.


  4. Stephen Says:

    Nicely done Mark – good use of terrain to disrupt that wall of blades.

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