Luke Ueda-Sarson's Historical Battle Scenarios for DBM:

The Battle of Gela - 405 BC


The inclusion of naval elements in DBM allows the possibility of recreating combined land-sea actions. There has been some criticism that their inclusion is extraneous to DBM's subject matter of field battles, being in mind the old saw about a rule allowing a wargamer to cover a rare event will inevitably end up being used 95% of the time...

The battle of Gela fought between the Dionysios' Syracusans and Himilikon's Carthaginians is one of the very few actual examples of a 'primarily land battle' (as the DBM phrase would have it) that also features naval elements, complete with marines disembarking and reembarking, plus naval shooting in support of the on-shore struggles, and as such DBM is particularly well suited for replaying it.

This scenario was inspired by the article by James G. DeVoto covering the battle in the 'The Ancient History Bulletin' recently.

Map of Sicily

The large Carthaginian force under Hannibal that had invaded Sicily a few years before was successful in subsequently destroying several large Greek cities on the Sicilian south coast. Hannibal was in poor health when given his commission, and managed to have his younger cousin Himilikon, son of Hanno, named as co-general. This was fortunate, for Hannibal died in 406 BC, leaving Himilkon in sole command. By then, Gela was the only large city left in Greek hands on the Sicilian south coast.

Himilkon's large army started besieging Gela in the summer of 405 BC. Dionysios I, the newly elected autokrat of Syracuse, raised a substantial army in an effort to break the seige. After several weeks of stalemate outside the walls of Gela, Dionysios decided to take the fight to the Carthaginians. His forces, split into 3 divsions, assaulted the Carthaginian camp, achieving tactical surprise. However, his own division, having had to negotiate the streets of the city to reach the battlefield, was delayed, leaving the other two unsupported in their attack.

The Carthaginians consequently were able to beat off the initial attacks, regroup, and expel the Greeks from their camp. With the walls of Gela already breached in several places, Dionysios decided his position was untenable, and evacuated his forces, so that the city was abandoned, a decision for which he was heavily criticised.

The young Donysios however survived the debacle, and the elimination of the rival southern Sicilian cities by the Carthaginians meant that once the Carthagnians were eventually defeated, Syracusan influence was thereafter paramount in Sicilian affairs.


Diodoros, the main source for the battle, records (13.109.2) that Dionysios' army was comprised of 50000 men according to Timaios, and according to the (possibly less partisan) account of Ephoros, 30000 infantry, 1000 cavalry and 50 (fully-decked) warships. In addition, the Geloans had already shown an ability to cut down Carthaginian foraging expeditions, and could be counted on to add their numbers, albeit constrained by the neccessity to man the city walls (13.10.4) - walls that were by now in a bad condition indeed (13.108.9).

His army included Italiots as well as other allies in addition to mercenaries and most of the Syracusan military levy (13.109.1). Campanians are mentioned (13.80.4), as is the presence of light troops aiding the cavalry (109.4). The army was split into 3 commands (13.109.4). The southern command, marching along the beach, comprised the allies (including the Italiots), supported by the Syracusan naval force. The northern command, detailed to overrun the plain, consisted of the Siciliots and the Syracusan horse. The central command, under Dionysios, consisted of the mercenaries, and presumably the Syracusan levy.

At the usual scale of 250 men per element, I conjecture the Greek forces as the following:

The Syracusan side

4 x Reg Cv (O) - Syracusan cavalry
4 x Reg Ps (I) - Syracusan hamippoi supporting above Cv
8 x Reg Ps (O) - Syracusan and Geloan slingers and archers
1 x Reg Sp (I) Siciliot ally-general - name unrecorded
23 x Reg Sp (I) - Siciliot hoplites
8 x Irr Ps (I) - Siciliot javelinmen and armed hypaspists, etc

1 x Reg Sp (S) CinC - Dionysios I
3 x Reg Sp (S) - Mercenary bodyguard epilektoi
12 x Reg Sp (O) - other Mercenary hoplites
20 x Reg Sp (I) - Syracusan hoplites
6 x Irr Ps (I) - Syracusan javelinmen and armed hypaspists, etc
8 x Reg Sp (I) - Geloan hoplites
4 x Irr Ps (I) - Geloan javelinmen and armed hypaspists, etc

6 x Reg Gal (O) - Syracusan trieres [marines]
4 x Reg Ps (O) - Syracusan marine archers
2 x Reg Sp (0) - Syracusan marine hoplites
1 x Reg Sp (I) Italiot ally-general - name unrecorded
17 x Reg Sp (I) - Italiot hoplites
6 x Irr Ps (I) - Italiot javelinmen and armed hypaspists, etc
4 x Irr Ax (O) - Sikels
6 x Reg Sp (I) - Geloan hoplites
6 x Reg Ax (O) - Campanian and Bruttian allied javelinmen
2 x Reg Sp (I) - Campanian allied hoplites

The Syracusan side comes to 596 AP, while the Siciliot command breaks on 13, Dionyisios' on 16.5, the Italiots on 14.5, and the army breaks on 65.

I have graded the generals as allied for several reasons. The most obvious is that the Italiots et al. are described as allies. The other Siciliots were at this early date also unlikely to be under-the-thumb enough to be classified as subordinates - indeed, after the battle, some of the (aristocratic) Syracusan cavalry actually attacked (populist) Dionysiois' men, so even the Syracusans were not exactly reliable elements, let alone the other Sicilian Greeks. Being regular, they will not desert the Greek cause however.

The second, and more important reason is that allied generals will better simulate the lack of coordination of the three Greek commands, who after all could not see each other for most of the march to the field, on account of the Gela acropolis being in the way, and thus did not know that Dionysios' command had been delayed in its march.

I have split some of the Geloans away from the central command, since some are recorded as attempting to aid the Italiots (13.110.4), and also ranging over the plain cutting off Carthaginian foragers (13.108.5-7). I assume some Campanians are amongst the 'other allies' rather than the mercenaries (although some Campanian mercenaries can be assumed amongst Dionysios' troops), this also helps balance the commands out somewhat. It is hard to imagine what the 'other allies' could be if not Italiot or Siciliot Greeks, other than either Campanians, Bruttians or native Sikels.


Diodoros (13.80.5-7) records Ephoros claiming the Carthaginian invaders initially had an impossible 300 000 men, with Timaios claiming 120 000, a figure repeated by Xenophon (Hellenic, 1.4.21). Even a figure of 120 000 is hard to believe, even it if included every non-combatant in the force. Since the expedition had taken casualties fighting, and recently suffered from the plague, the number of effectives present at Gela would have been considerably less. Dinysios must have had some confidence in his ability to defeat them despite attacking a fortified camp, so their number was likely not much more than his own, if that - the Carthaginians didn't attack him after all. For the purposes of this refight, I will assume the Carthaginians have only slightly greater number of men than Dioysios - 35000. The expedition had included warships, but these had apparently departed, as there was no challenge to Dionysios' fleet, either during the battle, or in the several weeks of skirmishing prior to it.

Iberian and Baleric mercenaries are recorded as being recruited for the exedition (13.80.2) along with Libyans (ie. subject Africans) and Phoenicians, as well as the 'stoutest' of their own citizens (13.80.3) - possibly a reference to the Carthaginian Sacred Band (recorded as 2500 strong when next encountered in Sicly - over 60 years later) - it may just refer to the best of the citizen militia. Allied Moorish troops along with others from the region towards Cyrene (ie 'native' Libyans) and nomads are recorded as well, in additon to mercenaries from Campania (13.80.4).

The Iberians and Campanians ended up fighting the Italiots (13.110.5), while the Libyans fought the Siciliots (and were lated aided by the Iberians and Campanians, plus the Carthaginians - possibly a reserve camped on the hill overlooking the rest of the camp as they are not mentioned in the initial assault, 13.110.6). No chariots or horse are mentioned in the beseiging force - the Greek cavalry, 1000 strong, had the plain to themselves.

At the usual scale of 250 men per element, I conjecture the Carthaginian forces as the following:

The Carthaginian side

1 x Reg Ax (S) Carthaginian sub-general - name unrecorded
23 x Irr Ax (S) - Iberian mercenary scutarii
12 x Irr Ps (S) - Iberian mercenary caetrati
6 x Irr Ps (0) - Balaeric mercenary slingers
2 x Reg Sp (O) - Campanian mercenary hoplites
4 x Reg Ax (O) - Campanian mercenary javelinmen
4 x Bg - stores, etc.

1 x Reg Sp (S) CinC - Himilkon
9 x Reg Sp (S) - Carthaginian Sacred band
8 x Reg Ax (O) - Carthaginian marines landed for the siege
4 x Irr Ps (0) - Balaeric mercenary slingers
10 x Reg Sp (I) - Libo-Phoenician spearmen
2 x Reg Cv (I) - Carthaginian cavalry
4 x Bg - stores, etc.

1 x Reg Sp (I) Carthaginian sub-general - name unrecorded
23 x Reg Sp (I) - Libo-Phoenician spearmen
12 x Irr Ps (S) - Moorish javelinmen
4 x Irr Ps (0) - Nomadic and Moorish archers
12 x Irr Ps (S) - Better-armed Libyan javelinmen and Nomads
12 x Irr Ps (I) - Ill-armed Libyan javelinmen and Nomads
4 x Bg - stores, etc.

The Carthaginian side comes to 591 AP, while the Iberian command breaks on 13, Himilkon's on 11, the Africans on 15, and the army breaks on 57.5.

Al though Carthaginian cavalry are not mentioned in the battle, according to Diodoros, some were included when the campaign started (13.80.5). As they couldn't even protect their foraging parties from the Geloans and Syracusans, their numbers must have been small (if any at all were even present) - possiby as a result of losing mounts to the plague and other causes over te last 5 years. The Carthaginian rams and other engines I have ignored - I have assumed Dionysios' force have overrun these off table (the city walls would have been some 2 km from the Carthaginia camp) - yet another casue for Greek delay.

The battlefield

The battlefield is scaled in 15mm scale on a standard 6' x 4' (1.8m x 1.2m) table.

Fighting the battle:

The Carthaginians seem to have been caught by surprise by Dionysios' attack. De Voto suggests that this is because Dionysiois attacked at dawn, so that his approach was masked by night, and that he therefore had the advantage of the sun behind him when his forces attacked the Carthaginian camp.

Accordingly, the Greeks will take the first move. The season is summer, and the game should start at 4 o'clock in the morning - an hour (4 bounds) before sunrise. The first 4 bounds will therefore be fought under dawn conditions (visibility reduced to 600p). The Carthaginians are camped for the night. Until sunrise, Carthaginian command may not dice for PiPs unless it has any enemy visible to it. For the first two hours (8 bounds) from sunrise, there will be dazzle condtions. Any troops either shooting or in close combat (but not if shot at unless also shoting) and facing within 45 degree of due east will take a -1 tactical factor penalty. the skies are clear, and there are no strog winds blowing.

The Carthaginians are recorded as camping by the Gela river. It appears the river has been confused with the stream to the north of the city (the river is to the south), since the stream runs by the hill the Carthaginains are know to have taken possession off (it had a statue of Apollo on it which they shipped off to Tyre). This stream should count as paltry and be depicted as narrow as possible. The road running from Gela north-westwards probably crossed it by a small sone bridge. The hill should be rated as gentle.

The Iberian command must be deployed entirely within 1200p of the sea. No more than half of each element type (and not the general) may be deployed across the stream. No more than 6 elements may be deployed within 200p of the palisades (not everyone can be on watch). Note that the palisades do not extend across the beach.

Himilkon's command must be deployed entirely within 300p of the Carthaginian table edge, and over 1200p from the sea. The cavalry must start dismounted (as Ax (I)).

The African command must be deployed entirely more than 1200p from the sea. No more than half of each element type (and not the general) may be deployed across the stream. No more than 6 elements may be deployed within 200p of the palisades.

No Carthaginians may be deployed outside their TF.

The Italiot command must be deployed within 300p of the sea (or, in the case of the galleys, on it), and within 300p of the Greek table edge. Troops may be left off table and brought on in the second bound, except that Geloans may not be deployed in the first and second bounds. They (and any troops still not deployed after the second bound) may only be brought on as if straggling from a flank march - ie when the command scores a 6 for its PiP dice score. They will arrive on the Greek table edge, anywhere within 1200p of the sea.

The Siciliot command must be deployed within 300p of the Greek table edge to the right of the road. Troops (but not the general) may be left off table and brought on subsequent bounds as if they were conductng a regular flank march - ie when the command scores a 6 for its PiP dice score, on the Carthaginian side of the table.

Dionysios' command counts as if 'flank' marching, but its place of arrival is the Greek table edge, within 600p of the road. If the Greeks are lucky, he will have negotiated the streets of Gela successfully. If not, he will be delayed, and they will have to decide whether to assault the Carthaginians while they have the advantage of the dazzle, or to wait for him...

Fight the battle until one side is broken. If the Carthaginian side is broken, the Greeks win an overwhelming victory, unless they themselves break that same bound in which case they win a marginal victory. The Carthaginians will win an overwhelming victory if they break the Greeks and eiter destroy any of the Greek generals' elements, or have no commands broken themselves, and win a marginal victory if they otherwise break the Greeks. Any other result is a draw.


This page last modified: 5 May, 2001.

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