The Battle of Telamon

The Battle of Telamon

Roman Empire

The Roman Consul Regulus set his legions in battle order and swiftly advanced to a hill on the Campo Regio at Telamon (Talamone) to block the retreat of the Gallic army. The Celts were unaware that Regulus had landed from Sardinia, and assumed that his co-Consul Papus had merely sent ahead some of his cavalry and light infantry to context the hill before the rest of his force arrived. Soon it dawned on them that they were facing a whole new Roman army, and swiftly deployed their infantry to face the forces now on each side of them. The Geasatae and Insubures faced Papus at the rear, while the Boii and Taurisci faced Regulus at the front, with wagons and chariots guarding their flanks. The booty was placed in the charge of a small force atop another nearby hill.

The battle over Regulus’ hill was ferocious.

Papus sent cavalry to assist, but Regulus himself was killed by the gleeful Celts, who took his head back to their leaders as a trophy. Eventually the Roman cavalry were able to cement their position on the hill, and as the legions advanced from both directions their thrown pilum (javelins) wrought a devastating toll on the berserker Gaesatae, who fought naked with just small bucklers for protection. Many of them rushed wildly at the Romans and were wiped out, given artificial courage from concoctions of drugs their druid leaders gave them to dull their fear. Others withdrew into the body of the army, but their retreat caused disorder among the tightly packed ranks of Gauls. 

The Insubres advanced to take position at the rear, and the Roman velites (javelin throwers) now withdrew, allowing the hastati (first rank of infantry) to advance in maniples.

The Insubres, Boii and Taurisci all held their ground tenaciously, and the hastati could not break them.

The Roman maniple system came into play, with the experienced principes advancing as the hastati filtered back to fight the Celts with renewed vigour. This refreshment of Roman manpower began to grind the Gauls to dust, but still they refused to break. The Roman cavalry now charged down the hill and smashed into the flank of the beleaguered Celts, with many dying where they stood. The Gallic infantry was slaughtered where they stood, those who surrendered were enslaved, and as the legions now advanced on the enemy cavalry, they too fled the field.

The result of the The Battle of Telamon was a decisive Roman victory, though at a heavy cost. Some 6,000 legionaries of the huge, combined army some 101,600 strong had fallen, along with one of the Consuls. Of the 50,000 Celts and 20,000 cavalry, some 40,000 were killed and 10,000 taken prisoner, including Concolitanus. Aneroëstes escaped with a small group of followers, who committed suicide with him. Papus marched into Liguria and the territory of the Boii to crush any remnants of resistance, and was awarded a triumph. Victory had ended any threat the Gauls posed to Rome itself. However a seed of hatred had been planted in the Gauls of northern Italia, who would seize at any chance to defy their Roman oppressors. 

223 BC saw the Consuls Publius Furius Philus and Gaius Flaminius march against the remaining Insubres.

And carry out horrific punitive campaigns against the Celts. The Insubres sent emissaries to the Roman Senate begging for peace, but the Consuls of 222 BC, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, vehemently opposed this. The Insubres decided to fight once more, hiring a force of 30,000 Caesatae mercenaries. The Consuls invaded Insubre territory with their legions, besieging Acerrae (moder Pizzighettone, between Cremona and Lodi, south of Milan). Unable to break the siege, the Insubres crossed the Po and invaded Anares territory, besieging Clastidium. Marcellus thus set off with around 3,200 cavalry and some of his fittest infantry to lift the siege. While leaving the remainder of his force to keep up the siege of Acerrae.

As soon as they learnt of the legions’ arrival, the Celts raised the siege and advanced to meet them.

Marcellus tried to outflank them. Extending his wings in a thin line, though his horse were panicked and turned away from the Celts. He turned this ill omen into a dedication, saying he would consecrate his best suit of armour to Jupiter Feretrius following his victory. The Celtic leader Viridomarus rode out in front of his men and challenged the Consul to single combat – Marcellus accepted. Marcellus promptly galloped forward and unhorsed his opponent with his lance on his first charge, then skewered him through with two more lance thrusts, before dismounting to strip the Celtic leader of his fabulous, bejewelled armour. 

Encouraged by the sight of the victorious commander, the Roman cavalry charged en masse as the now demoralised Celts.

The Gauls initially stood firm, but having been attacked in both the front and rear, were soon put to rout. Thousands of them were hacked down as they fled in panic, and many more drowned as they tried to cross the Po. The Battle of Clastidium had seen most of the 10,000-strong Celtic force killed by a third their number of Roman cavalry. Marcellus gained the most prestigious award a Roman general could earn, the spolia opima, for killing the Gallic military leader and king Viridomarus in hand-to-hand combat.

Encouraged by this victory, the remaining Romans took Acerrae soon after. The demoralised Gauls retreated to Mediolanum (Milan), the largest city of the Insubres. The co-Consul Scipio appeared outside the city to gloat, and while initially the Gauls ignored him, they made a sortie out of the city when he left to attack his rear. This attack were repulsed with difficulty, and Scipio then laid waste to the country as he pursued them back, and then stormed the city. The Insubres chieftains now forfeit all hope and surrendered unconditionally. Within the space of a few years, Rome had conquered the largest independent Celtic tribe in Italy, and firmly established its hegemony over the Po Valley, the most productive and agricultural region in the peninsula. Rome’s dominance of Italy was now assured, though Carthage was still not content to let Rome assume the title of the dominant power in the Mediterranean. 

Roman Empire

Written by Jack Tappin

The Battle of Telamon