Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Battle of Actium 31 BC

The history leading up to Actium, the institution of the triumvirate, Antony’s wife, the general political situation in Greece, and all that, is a complicated subject and I hope those familiar with the facts will forgive my superficial historical background notes.

The order of battle I have for Actium is sketchy. Agrippa had few big ships with fives in the front line and smaller vessels in the second. Agrippa believed that it was an economy of force to have two lines, with smaller ships in the second rank to prevent an enemy diekplous manoeuvre. Antony chose to fight an all ‘big ship’ battle to overawe an enemy superior in numbers. I might have over egged the number of Antony’s big ships but I think the feel is right, especially under Fleet of Battle rules. I have taken a liberty with the ratio of ships present; at 1:10 there should be 23 warships for Antony and 40 warships for Octavian; I have given 25 to Antony and 39 to Octavian. This was done to balance the size of squadrons and to allow Antony to have his own flagship – as I understand it, he alighted onto a light vessel at the outset to better oversee the battle - and it might also improve game balance.

The map below shows the gap between Leucas and the mainland as salt marsh. The Osprey shows it as the passage taken by Antony to Actium. 

Note that, quinqueremes pictured with corvus are standing in for vessels without a corvus - I only have 30 quinqueremes without one and this scenario calls for 36.

Anyway, here is the scenario, I hope you like it and it proves useful to some of you.

Historical Background

As with many wars in history Actium was the culmination of a simple (but relatively hard to explain) dynastic struggle. In this case the dispute arose over the ultimate inheritance of Julius Caesar and his legacy of an accepted dictatorship. This was a war to become, or at least control, a hereditary dictator – the winner would become the first Emperor of Rome. On one side was Julius Caesar’s adopted son and official heir Octavian and the majority of the Senate with a power base in Italy, on the other side was Mark Antony, Cleopatra and her son Caesarian (professed to be the true offspring of Julius Caesar) and a minority of the senate with a power base in the east.

In 32 BC Anthony concentrated his fleet in the Gulf of Ambracia on the west coast of Greece whilst his army was stationed at Patrae and in other outposts. In 31 BC Octavian moved to confront him by launching a surprise campaign against his fleet. Antony became aware of the threat only just in time to get the soldiers he had immediately available to his fleet ahead of his rival. 

When Antony arrived he found his fleet had wintered badly. He had lost a third of his fleet's crew to disease, malnutrition or desertion. When Octavian's fleet offered battle Antony was forced to decline. Octavian was unwilling to risk his ships entering the narrows of the gulf so a stalemate occurred.

As the campaign season progressed, both sides built up the strength of their land armies and the stalemate continued. However, at sea, Octavians fleet was going from strength to strength; slowly but surely his admiral, Agrippa tightened the noose around Antony's position. Suffering from disease brought on by a badly placed camp, and unable to run supplies past Agrippa’s blockade, Antony’s forces were being rapidly starved, depleted and demoralised. 

Antony and Cleopatra were at crisis point, their army and fleet could not survive long, given its predicament, and they risked losing the war by default. At a council of war they decided to forcibly recruit enough men locally to man the oars of the fleet and burn any ships that were unable to be crewed. The fleet would be risked in a breakout to Egypt; here, the escaping army would form the nucleus of a new attempt on power. The legions left behind in Greece were to hold out as long as possible. Providing that the vast Ptolemy treasure which had accompanied Cleopatra and Antony could be saved the plan was strategically sound - Octavian’s forces were in better shape, and his fleet was undoubtedly superior, but Octavian had cashed in everything for his cause. He was desperately short of money and his war effort was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy; if Antony, Cleopatra and their treasure made it back to Egypt Octavian would be forced to sue for terms due to lack of funds. 

On 2nd September 31 BC, Antony and Cleopatra’s fleet of 230 warships and some transports emerged from the Gulf of Ambracia to give battle with Octavian’s fleet of almost 400 warships. 

Octavian’s Order of Battle

Fleet Commander: Agrippa. D12 fleet die. Seasoned fleet sequence deck.

All ships have trained crews for ramming and raking. All ships count as seasoned for boarding actions and seamanship. All ships are fast (see notes on enemy fleet).

All quinqueremes and triremes are heavy. 

All quinqueremes have catapults and one tower; all may shoot harpago. 

All liburnians are aphract. Liburnians suffering a ‘hole’ and ‘fire’ due to a single missilery hit are immediately sunk.

Left Wing:

Front line (A): Agrippa: Squadron die D12
·         7 Quinqueremes

Second Line (B): Drasus: Squadron die D10
·         3 Liburnians
·         3 Cataphracted Triremes

Front Line (C): Aruntius: Squadron die D12 
·         7 Quinqueremes

Second Line (D): Agricola: Squadron die D10
·         3 Liburnian
·         3 Cataphracted Triremes
Right Wing:

Front Line (E): Lurius: Squadron die D10
·         7 Quinqueremes

Second Line (F): Octavian: Squadron die D10
·         2 Liburnian
·         4 Cataphracted Triremes

 Antony and Cleopatra’s Order of Battle

Fleet Commander: Antony. D10 fleet dice. Poor fleet sequence deck.

One ship in Acco's squadron must be secretly noted as carrying Cleopatra. 

One ship in Acco's squadron, or a cargo ship, must be secretly noted as carrying the Ptolemy treasure - it may be Cleopatra's ship.

All ships have poor crews for ramming, raking and seamanship. All ships count as seasoned for boarding actions.

All quinqueremes and triremes are heavy. Antony’s trireme is fast.

All quinqueremes have catapults and one tower. 

All septeremes have catapults and two towers. 

All decares have catapults and three towers.

All quinqueremes, hepteremes and decares have strengthened hulls which reduce the effect of enemy ramming – the enemy are down 1 for ramming. This strengthening reduced the speed of Antony’s ships - in game terms this makes Octavian’s ships fast.

Left Wing (G):

Sosius: Squadron die D10
·         2 Septeremes
·         4 Quinqueremes
Centre (H):

Insteius: Squadron die D10
·         1 Decares
·         2 Septeremes
·         3 Quinqueremes
Antony (X):

Independent fleet flagship initially deployed on the right: Squadron die D10
·         1 Cataphracted Trireme

     Right Wing (I):

Publicola: Squadron die D10
·         1 Decares
·         2 Septeremes
·         3 Quinqueremes

Reserve (J):

Acco & Cleopatra: Squadron die D10
·         1 Septereme
·         5 Quinquiremes

Transports (K):

Squadron die D8
·         4 Cargo ships (under sail only)
 Victory Conditions

This scenario is, as yet, untested. Victory points have been set on a 'best guess' and may change in future. I don't think it is possible for Antony to win a straight up fight, but I've never played such an unbalanced battle (big ships Vs little ships) before, so I'm assuming his best chance of victory is to claim the bonuses for escaping.

As a basic rule of thumb it is Antony's objective to fight his way through Octavian's fleet and escape with as many ships as possible, especially including his own, Cleopatra's and the treasure ship. Octavian's objective is to sink and capture as many enemy vessels as possible and acquire the treasure ship. Antony's ships only count the western and southern table edges as safety - ships escaping via the northern table edge are deemed to be captured later.

At the end of the game, each side awards itself one point per 'oar' of enemy vessels sunk, surrendered and captured (E.g. five points for a Qunquereme, seven points for a septereme. Liburnians and cargo ships count as two points each). 

The Antonian fleet is awarded fifteen bonus points each for reaching the safety of the open sea (western and southern table edge) with Antony and Cleopatra. Reaching safety with the treasure ship is worth thirty points. Each ship reaching safety adds two more points to the total.

The Octavian fleet is awarded a bonus of fourty points if it captures the treasure ship - if it sinks it is lost to both sides. 

The player with the highest points total wins.

Fleet Of Battle Rule Amendments

Ships may not board ships MORE than two brackets larger or vice versa: E.g. Triremes cannot board decares (tens), liburnians cannot board sevens.

One Fleet Missilery card has been added to the standard sequence deck. It allows all ships, with catapults, to shoot. Each deck now has 25 cards.

Tactical Advantage cards no longer allow missilery by the whole fleet. They allow one vessel to shoot with an Up 1 modifier immediately the card is turned.

Liburnians and other smaller vessels suffering a ‘hole’ and ‘fire’ due to a single missilery hit (more, evens and Vs natural 1) are immediately sunk.

To keep things simple, Cargo sailing vessels cannot move into the wind at angles of 45 degrees or less. They can move with the wind on the bow at greater angles at a rate of 3". With the wind from other angles they move 6". They can only make forward progression twice on a cruise card, though they can use a third move to turn, and they cannot move backwards. They turn in increments of 45 degrees. They count as sevens (due to heavy construction) if rammed and they cannot be raked. They cannot ram and count as an aphract bireme in all other circumstances.

Fleet Of Battle Rules

Fleet of Battle rules, along with some playing counter art for those without ships, are available to download, free of charge, from the Wargames Illustrated website. Links: 


Gonsalvo said...

Looks gorgeous; it will be interesting to see it played out!

Paul O'G said...

Any idea where I can find the Fleet of Battle Rules?
It seems that the WI link is dead :-(

Paul O'G said...

Found them available here if you care to update your link: