King of Kings:
A First Look
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Rome at War: King of Kings is a supplement for Rome at War: Fading Legions (you only need Fading Legions to play all the scenarios in King of Kings). Fading Legions covers 11 battles of the late Roman Empire, ranging from the Battle of Strasbourg in 357, when a Roman Army led by the Caesar (Vice Emperor) Julian crushed an army of Germans, to the disastrous Battle of Adrianople 21 years later, when rampaging Goths destroyed the Eastern Roman Empire’s army, an event which many historians believe fatally damaged the Roman Empire.
When I set out to write King of Kings, I knew very little about the period. So it’s been a long journey, as I educated myself on the Late Roman Empire, its armies and its enemies. Unlike some folks I once knew, I can’t read three Wikipedia articles and then declare to the world that I’m “deeply read” on a subject. There’s been a lot of study involved, and it’s been enjoyable to tackle something new and different.
Fading Legions was originally submitted under the title "Julian the Apostate," and though it does cover all of the major battles fought by Rome’s last pagan emperor, it might be more accurately titled "Great Battles of Ammianus Marcellinus." Ammianus served as a Roman officer at the siege of Amida in 359, and provides a good degree of detail for all of the battles covered in Fading Legions.
The game follows the battles Ammianus describes in detail, which means that Fading Legions is broken into four segments: Julian’s campaign in Gaul (one scenario), Julian’s campaign against Shapur II of Persia (five scenarios), Procopius’ attempted usurpation (one scenario) and Valens’ campaign against the Goths (four scenarios).
What Ammianus doesn’t cover (or did cover, and has been lost – the first thirteen books of his tale are missing), neither does the game. That’s understandable given the richness of Ammianus as a source when compared to other surviving accounts (and the size limitations imposed on the original game). But that approach does leave out a lot of battles and interrupts the flow of the story.
King of Kings fills in those gaps. There are plenty of other primary sources for the period, like Libanius, Festus or Eutropius, though none are as detailed as Ammianus, and a wealth of recent scholarship in English and German (plus some Farsi-language work now starting to appear in translation). That still requires a fair amount of conjecture, but that’s true even with Ammianus at hand.
So what do we have in King of Kings?
The book focuses on the King of Kings himself, Shapur II of Sassanid Persia. We look at Shapur II’s war with Constantius, the Roman Emperor who preceded Julian the Apostate (and whose call for reinforcements from the Army of Gaul precipitated Julian’s revolt and Constantius’ fall). This includes the night battle at Singara, which took place in 348 (or maybe a few years earlier – the chronicles disagree). Fighting in the darkness makes for a very different game: much less impact of ranged fire, all sorts of command confusion.
As well as battles before Julian’s campaign, we have those that came afterwards. Julian’s improbable successor, Jovian, made a hasty treaty with Shapur II to extract his army from Persian territory, and though the details aren’t clear today (both sides, of course, accused the other of cheating) it appears they did allow the Persians a fairly free hand in Armenia. When the Armenians resisted, a Roman army went to their aid in 371, and we have these battles as well.
Meanwhile, trouble was brewing north of the Black Sea. The Huns were on the march, and struck the Goths sometime in the mid 370’s. A furious battle was fought on the lower Dneister; details here are obscure in the sources (battles between barbarians helped little interest for the Romans) but it involved a daring river crossing and the obligatory mountains of the slain.
A few years later, the Huns also pressed their way through the Caucasus mountain passes, plundering and pillaging through both Roman and Persian lands. One Hunnish column ran into a Persian army and met its doom, another was trapped against the banks of the Euphrates by a Roman force and wiped out. Whether the latter battle even happened is disputed by some historians; the inscriptions celebrating the great victory may be the pure invention of the supposed Roman commander, the eunuch Eutropius (the consul, not the historian). But if Eutropius never fought the Huns then we wouldn’t have a legions-versus-Huns scenario, so it’s in our interest take him at his word. We have scenarios for the Huns against the Persians and the Huns against the Goths, too and move a little past the reign of Shapur II to sneak in the daring raid led Bahram the Wild Ass against the Huns encamped at Merv.
There are Arabs, already present in Fading Legions fighting for both Rome and Persia. We take a look at the campaigns by both of the great empires against the desert peoples. And we examine the deadly Roman-Persian rivalry over Armenia, also with scenarios and new pieces.
I started work on King of Kings without much idea of what would be included, and ended up with a tightly-focused theme. The book changes Fading Legions from a series of more-or-less connected battles to a much clearer narrative of Roman-Persian military rivalry. Rome at War deserves a lot more attention than it’s received from us over the years, and I’d like King of Kings to start the game series on a steady expansion much like that of Rome herself.
Don’t wait to put King of Kings on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold is afraid of bicycles.