The first recorded Vote Chess?

Mar 14, 2010, 5:41 AM |

Well, it was the year 321BC - an easy date to remember. The Romans were half way through round two of a three round series ... this one the second Samnite war (which lasted about 30 years). They had fielded a force of 20,000 plus umpteen officers and two Consuls-in-charge against a smaller force of Samnites. The 'Chess' part comes from the Samnite arrangement of troops in squares like a chessboard with the 'Black' squares being their troops and the 'White' squares the areas left to kill the enemy in !

What happened in 321BC was the 'Battle of the Caudine Forks.' Sounds a bit like a  western starring John Wayne and it was just about as exciting.

The Romans had whipped the Samnites quite hard just beforehand and rushed off for the kill ... followed them up a steeply sided valley which the cunning Samnites had made into a cul de sac with boulders and trees and stuff. After the last Roman soldier had gone into the valley the Samnites blocked it off and there they were - 20,000 ... who couldn't go forward and couldn't go back.

Now here's the vote part. The Samnites could have killed off the Romans to the last man (that's a gain of some 20,000 pawns), also the two Consuls and several hundred Officers plus all their gear, supplies and, for the Samnites, new technology.

At that time the Roman Army was made up of the 'Landed Gentry' and were all volunteers (well sort of) and they did have the slight disadvantage of two gaffers each with their own vote.

The Samnite bosses had a discussion and voted to offer to let the Romans off the hook if they gave up their weapons, walked individually and ignominiously through a low arch made of roman spears (a special disgrace), formally surrendered, left 600 Officers as hostages, signed a peace pact valid for half a dozen years and went off home. The Roman volunteers voted to accept and, in effect, resigned the game.

The eventual winners were the Romans because they won the return match (the Third Samnite War) having learned about guerilla warfare and appropriate counter measures, improved their cavalry so they were a bit more mobile, adopted the chess board (maniple) system of men placement and picked up a couple of new ideas on weaponry from their experience with the Samnites. Later still, the Romans changed their army into a paid force with no voting allowed and one man in charge - thus, deciding not to play vote chess again ... the rest is (yet more) history.