Battle of the Trebbia, Northern Italia – December 218BC
As Marcianus led his century through the battle line, they barely caused a stir in the ranks of the centuries they passed through, such was the discipline of the surviving centuries; he mused on what he and his men would face ahead of them.How could his men take on a herd of Elephants? What on earth was his best tactic; he had only seen an Elephant in a triumphal march once, he had never had the chance to get close to one before today.As the men got closer to the enemy, his eyes locked onto the grey beasts lurking on the flank of the Roman Army, Marcianus tried desperately to think of a way to counter the great hulking walls of flesh that would soon be coming at speed towards them; should he get his men to release their Pila and then form a Testudo? No that would never work.
Lucius could see the worry lines on his friend’s normally stress-free face deepen, Lucius however had not been idle while Marcianus had spoken to Longus; he had sought out Africanus, and with a mixture of coarse Latin and signs the little Numidian had explained how to counter the towering animals. Lucius walked away from his position on the flank of the century and came over to his Centurion, matching him stride for stride; Marcianus uncharacteristically barked at him, ’what now Optio, can’t you see I’m busy Get back in position!?’
Lucius saluted his friend and kept his sentence brief and to the point ‘Yes sir, it’s just that I know how to counter the elephants’ sir.’
Marcianus attention was immediately grabbed ‘you know how to counter the elephants…how did you…never mind how you found out, what do we have to do!’
‘According to young Africanus, he says volleys of darts will unsettle them and if we can get close under the tail and stab them there, the beasts will run amok and they won’t care whose ranks they crash into, if we can do that we can force the Carthaginians to drive them from the field. It’s best if we attack as a barbarian rabble too, if we go out there lined up, they will knock us over file by file.’ Lucius could tell by his friend’s demeanour that he believed him, but he still had reservations about Africanus.
‘Do you trust the little horse jockey? I’ve still got my doubts; he could be a Numidian spy after all.’ Marcianus pointed at the little soldier who was marching alongside Andronicus.
‘Well considering he bumped off Manugas in front of a horde of Numidian horsemen, I would think him being a spy would be most unlikely. Beside what other plans have you got?’ Lucius struggled to suppress the grin that wanted to burst out onto his face.
‘All right, all right, you make sense, there’s no need to get all sarcastic on me Optio, remember who’s in charge here young Lucius! We march until we are in a reasonable position to order the splitting of the files, then we shall split into tent teams taking a beast on each, then we throw our darts and try to geld the big buggers. There, that’s my plan. If it goes right you can buy me a few drinks, if it goes wrong you can blame Africanus when were all sitting in Hades together. Right, get the senior men from each Contubernia here and we will sketch out the plan.’
Lucius bellowed the order for the senior men to fall out and they quickly jogged over to Marcianus and his Optio, the centurion wasted no time on quickly outlining his plan to the senior men for taking on the Elephants.
‘Right now get back to your positions, you too Optio.’ When the men had jogged back into their positions, Marcianus had more time to dwell on his decision, was he doing the right thing? He couldn’t fault the argument put forward by Lucius, that Africanus was no spy, but still the Numidian was only a boy, he could be wrong! But then what real choice did the Centurion have? No man in the current generation of the Roman army had any knowledge of fighting Elephants after all.He made his mind up, ‘Forward, double time lads, lets stick it to those long nosed monsters!!’The century picked up speed quickly, Marcianus could see the men on the Elephants turning their beasts to meet the mad unit of Roman Hastati that was rushing to meet them, and he would have to time this to perfection, ‘Right lads, standard formation, four ranks deep – now!!’
The century moved as a smoothly oiled machine, quickly taking their positions – the normal defensive formation that was adopted to meet charging cavalry, and then Marcianus waited. Half a dozen of the great grey beasts came hurtling towards his men, their great ears flapping like the sails of a galley in a strong wind, the trumpets of the elephants rippling through the ears of his men, the very ground under them shaking like it would have done during a summer earthquake, for such monstrously huge animals they moved at incredible speed….closer and closer they charged, until they were almost upon the front rank of his men.Still he waited…a nervous faces glanced at their Centurion willing him to give the order.
‘Split formation - now!!’ Marcianus virtually screamed out the order, hoping to pierce the noise made by the charging elephants and the noise of battle that wound all around his little century.His men split into their Contubernia’s, little groups of men scattered and split the ranks, leaving gaps for the rampaging beasts to charge through, the men began to turn and throw their ‘darts’ at the enemy, virtually all found their mark, how could they miss targets so massive after all?!Many of the javelins hit, but then bounced off the tough hides of the animals, but others of the javelins struck home; a man here or there taken from the back of the beasts, a rider, a bowman or a slinger, but mostly the animals themselves were hit, bellowing in irritation at the insect like stings that afflicted them.
Marcianus charged into to assist his men, taking a javelin out of a young legionary’s hands he would lead by example, as he entered the fray, he saw a man swept by the long trunk of an elephant and flung yards away landing with an audible crack that could be heard above all the cacophony of battle.He reached the nearest knot of men that surrounded a beast, and found himself staring into the eyes of the biggest thing he had ever seen, the elephant gave a trumpet and seem to head directly for him, Marcianus waited until the animal was near and then rolled to its left coming up behind it, remembering the advice of Lucius he jabbed up under the animals tail…the beast reared on its hind legs and for a moment Marcianus thought the animal would sit back and squash him with its vast behind – what a way for a veteran to meet his doom! - But the animal roared its distress and plucked its own rider off its back and dashed away back to the ranks of the Carthaginians. Marcianus breathed a heavy sigh of relief and watched as his young Optio did the craziest thing he had ever seen…
Lucius and the men around him could not get near the big beast, it must have been a male, far larger than the other animals around it, it had already squashed one man under its mighty right front leg and turned the man into a bloodied unrecognisable pulp; it had then gored a man with its white tusks, it had picked the man up and speared him neatly through the stomach, the man was still wriggling and crying in mortal agony as the beast shook its head from side to side to lose its annoying noisy burden.
‘Andronicus now! Over here man!’ Lucius roared impatiently waving at his big friend, he had a idea, a crazy one, but it might just work.
Andronicus forced his way through the men trying to inflict some damage on the impenetrable skin of the massive monster they were fighting, finally he found himself at the side of Lucius. ‘Yes Optio, what do you need?’
Lucius looked at his friend with a hopeful expression, ‘I want you to throw me onto the back of the elephant, can you do it!’
Andronicus looked at his friend as if he had lost his senses, ‘are you serious!?’ Lucius nodded at the Greek, ‘well in that case, yes, I think I can, loose the shield, helmet and darts and yes I think I might be able too!’
Both friends worked their way behind the animal, relying on it being distracted by the other men all around it, praying too that the three men on its back were similarly distracted. With Lucius dropping all the extra weight he could, Andronicus cupped his hand for a boost, such as you would give to help a friend over a wall, and Lucius ran at him, landing his right foot in his friends meaty hands, who then with a massive effort from legs, back and shoulders sent his young Optio hurtling through the air to land sprawling and trying to find a purchase on the back of the elephant.
Marcianus jaw almost dropped to the floor.
Before the Carthaginians on the elephant could react, Lucius got to his feet and drew his gladius; the sensation of standing on the beast was not dissimilar to being on a ship, Lucius even felt a little queasy. The animal turned its head and flicked it trunk towards him, but Lucius had ducked beneath the flailing appendage and with a crouching movement approached the men, who now realised that there was a fourth unwelcome passenger aboard their transport. One of the men rose up from his position in the small box that was upon the back of the elephant, he had a spear which he held before him with the assured hands of a warrior who knew his trade, he worked his way nimbly to Lucius and aimed a vicious low stab at the ankles of the roman.
As the spear aimed low, Lucius rocked back and to his right and finally dropped low and clutched the spear with his free left hand, he then pulled as hard as he could, and with the man holding onto the spear, Lucius let go an instant later, to send the man sliding off the back of the elephant to land on the grass beneath its feet, only to be instantly stabbed through the neck by a gladius wielded by Andronicus.Lucius rose from his knees and with a swift movement jumped into the box landing in front of a man who had been watching in amazement as his comrade had been thrown from the back of the elephant still clutching his own spear.
With a feral snarl the man drew a curved sword from his waistband and aimed a cut a Lucius head, the young Optio feinted to block with his gladius but then with a flick of his wrist and a duck of his head, he slid beneath the outstretched sword arm of his adversary and with a single punched movement drove his gladius into the exposed armpit of his adversary and deep into the man’s heart, with a swift movement he withdrew his gladius and then turned to the final man. The man sat behind the beast’s ears, his rider, he hesitated. He knew he would have to face the crazy roman, but he also had to direct his beast, while the man hesitated Lucius drew near, finally the man with a desperate lunge threw himself at Lucius who caught unawares landed on his back, his gladius sent flying from his hand and lying on the floor of the box, out of his reach, the rider meanwhile aimed his dagger at Lucius right eye, a mad struggle ensued, punching, kicking, and elbows flying, all the while Lucius was trying to keep the dagger from claiming his sight.
Suddenly the man above him ceased struggling, and a puddle of blood came from his mouth, landing on the face of Lucius; what the hell!?The man was pulled off of him and Lucius could see the smiling toothy features of young Africanus above him, the legionary beamed at him and spoke ‘Andronicus throw me too.’
Lucius scrambled to his feet, and retrieved his gladius, ’How do I kill this thing?!’
‘You take weapon and stab down head between ears, you see?’ Africanus Latin might be atrocious but Lucius understood as the young man mimed his actions.
‘Yes, I understand’, with that the Optio, clambered to the front of the box, and muttered to himself ‘I hope this works, I’m sorry beast but its either you are us!’ as he thrust down into the animal’s brain. A furious roaring and bucking shook both men as they hung on grimly to the box, with the mighty animal sinking to its knees, and then as it finally slumped onto its side, the two men jumped clear rolling on the hard earth as they landed.The sound of a trumpet could be heard in the distance, gradually the surviving elephants were driven away by their riders, back to the lines of the Punics, the century had beaten them and they had finally retreated.
Heavy rain now began to fall on the battlefield, Marcianus knew he had to reassemble his men and get back to their own army quickly, he could already see that Longus had taken the decision to try to punch through the centre of the attacking Carthaginian infantry, presumably in the hope of breaking out and away before they became encircled.
‘Form up column of twos – move now!’ the men swiftly came together, Marcianus could tell from a swift head count that they had lost around twenty men to the Elephants, a heavy butcher’s bill, but he knew it could have been far worse. ‘Right, double time lets get back to Longus Boys!’
Lucius drew in his breath and began the run back to their lines, he could see that already the surviving legions had pushed back hard against the attacking Celts and Carthaginians, the century would soon be in the relative safety of their own army; he cast a glance over to his left, he could see that already the Punics seemed to be pulling away from the carnage inflicted by the men still fighting under the Consul, and had opted instead for the easy slaughter of the fleeing men pinned against the river instead; perhaps if Longus could break the men in front of him, he would turn and help their comrades by the river? No, his gut instinct told him he would not, he would march to Placentia and garrison its ramparts, taking the chance to re-supply and gather his wits.
The Optio was snapped from his reverie by the welcome sight of their own lines, a small gap on the right flank opened and let the century in, perhaps now if they had to fight once more this day, at least it would be against men and not beasts.
Then the buccina sounded….
Last edited by Rex Anglorvm; December 19, 2012 at 06:27 AM.
Reason: new format
Battle of the Trebbia, Northern Italia – December 218BC
At the sound of the Buccina, the movement of the large square block of legionary troops seemed to double as they increased their efforts to break through the combination of Celts and Africans that was before them.
Marcianus urged his men to make one more surge of supreme effort, they needed desperately to make it into the gap in the ranks of the fast-moving legionaries; with a shouted exhortation he gave his men fresh legs, ‘come on you lazy mules move yourselves! Unless you want to become some sweaty Gaul’s special friend!!’The century sped along until the first men spilled into the gap in the legionary ranks, the other men swiftly following suit, until they had all piled into the middle of the legionary square and collapsed on the frosty ground in a sweat sodden bloody heap. The men who had opened the gap in the line quickly closing the breach before any enterprising Punics could make a grab for it.
Lucius stood staring at his brothers in arms lying or sitting on the grass beneath them, chests heaving with effort and their right arms reddened to the elbow with the dried blood of fallen Gauls from the first clash of the day. These men were good, he could think of no other century of Hastati who could have beaten a horde of savage Gauls and then taken on a herd of war elephants and won, incredible.
His thoughts were interrupted by Andronicus who had managed to hang onto Lucius’s war gear for him, the big Greek proffered the helmet, shield and greave to his friend, ‘nice work with the beast Optio, would have been nice if Quintus had been here to see it, I could imagine seeing you play the acrobat on top of the elephant would have made the little man’s day,’ Lucius could see the look of fresh anguish flash over his friend’s features as he reequipped himself; the emotional wound was still fresh for the both of them, Quintus, only gone since August, somehow it had seemed far longer.
‘I know, I can imagine the look on his face now; he would have been up there on the elephant with me though, and that’s for certain.’ Lucius and Andronicus conversation was interrupted with a harsh bark from their Centurion.
‘Right now you ladies have had a rest get on your feet, now!!’ Marcianus was keen to get his lads upright again, before they were left prone on the ground as the rest of the army fought its way clear of the enemy.
Marcianus heard a sharp authoritative voice behind him and turned, it was Consul Longus. The centurion quickly saluted the Consul and waited for him to speak again, as a good junior officer should.
‘That was a job well done Centurion Marcianus; I can see why Scipio was keen to hang onto you. Very impressive indeed; I would recommend that you move your troops on however; you may place them in the third line, as after all they are due a rest I think!’With a regal wave of his hand the Consul dismissed Marcianus from his presence then turned on his heel and left the centurion to issue his orders to the century.
‘Right you heard the consul lads, get yourselves up and ready, we are to form the third line; it’s a nice cushy job for us so let’s get on with it.’The men already on their feet, pulled their comrades up and ribbed them about not falling asleep ‘on the job’, which raised a chorus of childish giggles, that Marcianus silenced with one cold hard stare.‘Right you know the drill, form up, four lines deep, move it!’ Marcianus smiled inwardly these men, who had had a rough day so far, still had the spirit to laugh like a bunch of vestal virgins catching sight of a well hung slave’s member.
Still he wouldn’t let them know he was pleased, not yet, that could wait until they made it off the battlefield….if they made it off the battlefield that was.With the men all in line they matched the speed of the centuries in front of them, as the block of heavy infantry moved forward. The men in the foremost century were Triarii, who were mercilessly cutting their way through the Gauls arrayed against them like a farmer would scythe wheat.With his men keeping pace and bracing the century of Principes behind the Triarii, Marcianus had the luxury of observing the battle from a non-combatant’s perspective. As he peered over the top of the men in front of him, he could see that the Triarii had almost broken through the enemy lines in front, and that the flanking centuries had also had no difficulty in smashing through the encircling Celtic and African infantry.
They would soon be free of the enemy altogether, as he looked at the rear of the square, he could see that the rear centuries were being left alone, as the Punics that had been fighting there had followed the lead of their earlier comrades and were now busy heading away and behind the heavy infantry to join in the slaughter of the green legionaries at the river. Marcianus looked over to the consul; to give the man some credit, he had managed to extricate his best men, and he had blooded the nose of the Carthaginians. But would he turn about and rescue the men by the river? Marcianus watched as Longus stood for what seemed like a full minute, the Consul watching as the lines of the enemy disintegrated in front of his troops, and then fled away from the impenetrable mass of iron and steel. Some of the enemy ran completely, whilst the braver souls peeled away to the flanks to go around them and head for the easier killing that remained by the riverbank.
In front of them stood an empty frozen plain, devoid of life, and clear of the enemy. They had broken through.The centurion saw Longus bite his lower lip deep in thought; he glanced once back over his shoulder and then stared intently at the ever bloodier massacre by the riverbank, Marcianus guessed that he was mentally weighing up his choices. In the end the consul shook his head and looked to the front once more. ‘We head to Placentia; to rearm and fight for another day.’
Marcianus looked to were his young Optio would be standing in the ranks, sure enough Lucius turned and nodded to his superior; they were sharing the same thoughts; was the Consul showing courage to preserve what was left of his men? Or was it a simple case of cowardice, now that there was a way off the battlefield, was the Consul too scared to risk his skin?
The centurion did not think the consul was a coward, he may have been rash, he had after all made a mistake in not listening to Scipio, but at the end of the day, he had done well to rescue the men now marching around him, but would Rome judge the man the same?
Last edited by Rex Anglorvm; December 19, 2012 at 06:45 AM.
Reason: new format
Very good update! I'm can't wait for the next one. I was a bit confused as I thought the Romans had lost this battle but a quick look at Wikipedia solved cleared that up :thumbup2
As you will have picked up from wikipedia, Trebia was a mixed bag in the strategic sense, the romans did take heavy casualties, but the saving of the veteran legions was at least one plus for them, for Hannibal the oncoming winter and the Gaulish levies melting away at least for a couple of months, meant that he could take no real offensive action of note.
Originally Posted by Shankbot de Bodemloze
An interesting end... which I'm sure will lead to some interesting consequences...
Great to have another update to chew my way through and I am looking forward to the next stage.
I'm glad too that I have finally got around to updating, hopefully my 'block' that was preventing updates to my three serials will now cease to exist, I hope
Last edited by Rex Anglorvm; September 26, 2012 at 03:14 PM.