“They stood where they stood by the right of the sword.” – Thucydides, 4.98
How to Translate a Battle to the Table
Now, we come to the math part. How do you squeeze a battle involving around 25,000 individuals onto a table? How do you know what kind of troops were involved? How were they armed? What was the terrain? Are there any other considerations need to be made? That’s more than enough questions. Let’s answer some of them.
First appearing in the seventh century B.C., the mainstay troop type in Greek armies was the hoplite, an armored heavy infantryman with a spear and a large round shield. Hoplites were present on battlefields through the third century B.C. The hoplite was so important that when ancient writers wrote about battles, they only gave the number of hoplites involved in the battle and ignored all of the other troop types. This began to change during the Peloponnesian war when light troops began winning battles.
While I like the Rally Round the King Armies and Campaigns – 3000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. supplement, there is a small problem with the army lists for the Athenians and Spartans. The Athenian and Spartan armies never faced one another in battle. I know, I know, you aren’t alone. Everyone in the ancient world was waiting for the “mother of all battles” between Athens and Sparta. But it never happened, just like the last half of the 20th century when the world was waiting for the big throw down between the United States and the Soviet Union.
I believe I mentioned in my last post that Thucydides is required reading at our military academies and that his work is still relevant in today’s world. It turns out that the Peloponnesian War may have been the world’s first “cold war.” Athens and Sparta belonged to several alliances: the Delian League, the Peloponnesian League, the Argive Alliance, NATO, and the Warsaw Pact. — well, not the last two, but you get the idea. Athens and Sparta waged war against one another through their allies and surrogates. More often than not, the two super powers supplied expeditionary forces and military advisors and rarely did they actually field their armies.
Athens sent an army to “liberate” Sicily from Syracuse. Syracuse begged Sparta to send an army, but Sparta sent a few military advisors under Gylippus. Glyippus put on his green beret, err… put on his transverse crested helmet and sailed for Southeast Asia — I mean, sailed for Southeast Sicily.
The battle chosen for this project is much the same. Sparta was in danger of being cut off by the Argive Alliance, so King Agis mustered the entire Spartan army and marched on Mantinea. Athens and Sparta had a truce, so Athens only sent a small contingent to fulfill their obligations to the Argive Alliance.
The two super powers never slugged it out in huge battles between their armies. So how did Sparta win the Peloponnesian War? Athens ran out of money. Exactly the same way the United States won the cold war, the Soviets ran out of money. (Note: Sparta was in danger of running out of money first, but they got a huge loan from – guess who? Persia.)
“…war is a matter not so much of arms as of money,” – Thucydides, 1.83
Argive Alliance Army
Well, let’s get back on topic. The Athenian army list can be a useful guide in building any non-Spartan Greek army. You just have to be aware of what troop types the army you are wanting to build had access to. For our project, let’s start with the army fielded by the Argive Alliance. The bulk of the army was composed of hoplites. They are Rep 4 with an AC 3. There are some elite hoplites. Not Athenian elites, but the Argive 1,000 at Rep 5. There were an estimated 8,000 hoplites in the allied army. The estimated breakdown of the allied phalanx from right to left is as follows:
- Mantineans – 2,000
- Arcadian allies – 1,000
- 1,000 Argives – 1,000 (elite force)
- Argives – 2,000
- Cleonaeans, Orneans, & Aeginetans – 1,000
- Athenians – 1,000
For a convention game, I would like to have 6 players at a session, 3 on each side. I would like each player to manage around 12 units, maybe 8 units of hoplites and 4 units of other troop types. So as a starting point, I would like each figure on the table top to represent 100 warriors. The 2,000 man Mantinean contingent would be 20 figures and with 4 figures per base, that would mean 5 bases of Mantineans. The entire number of hoplites would be 80 figures or 20 bases. Not bad, but the tables at Texicon are a bit on the small side. If I choose each figure to represent 125 warriors, I come up with 64 hoplites on 16 bases. It may not sound like a lot, but my figures are based on 3″ wide bases. The 16 base solution frees up an entire foot on the game table. That means there will be more maneuver room and that the table will look less like a Warhammer game. (Note: If you’ve never played Warhammer or Warhammer 40K, most games are wall to wall figures on the table edges with a single small piece of terrain in the middle only because the rules call for at least one piece of terrain.)
Going down the Athenian list, the next troop type is cavalry. One problem I have with the cavalry is that it is given an armor class of AC4. At the time of this battle (418 BC), the cavalry had progressed to where it was melee cavalry and not skirmish cavalry. However, much of the cavalry was unarmored and the troopers that were armored wore only helmet and breastplate. They did not carry a shield. In fact, they did not even have saddles. Without saddles, the Greeks did not have large numbers of well-trained horsemen who could fight from horseback. The Greeks were beginning to realize the importance of cavalry. The Athenians sent a force of cavalry with every army or detachment. In our battle, the only allied cavalry were 300 Athenians. This works out to a single base of cavalry with 3 figures.
There were no peltasts on either side. This is confusing in some texts. The Greeks tended to refer to troop types by the shield they carried. The “pelte” was a small, often crescent shaped, shield carried by javelinmen, cavalrymen, slingers, and peltasts. The peltast and the javelin man both carried javelins, but the peltast was also armed with a sword. At this time, the peltasts of the Greek world were Thracians. It is interesting to note that often, peltasts are referred to as “swordsmen” and javelinmen as “darters.”
Javelinmen, slingers, and archers are all lumped together and are foot skirmish and not missile troops. As stated earlier, ancient writers seldom gave the number of skirmishers in a battle. We do know that the Athenians would routinely deploy a number of skirmishers equal to 20% of the number of hoplites and many city-states followed their example. With a force of 8,000 hoplites, there would be about 1,600 light troops. If we round up, that would be 14 figures on 7 bases. Since we are dealing with an estimated number, I’ve decided to go with 8 bases, simply because it looks better.
To recap our Argive Alliance army, we have 16 bases (units) of hoplites, 1 base of cavalry, and 8 bases of light troops.
Peloponnesian League Army
Sparta strived to keep their military strength secret. No one ever knew exactly how many Spartiates (Spartan Citizens) were in a Spartan army. The Perioikoi, the people who lived around Sparta often filled the ranks of the Spartan army as well as fielding their own regiments. Later, as the number of Spartiates dwindled, Helots were forced to fill the ranks. For this battle, I’m treating all of the Spartan hoplites as Rep 5 Spartiates. The known allies, the Sciritae, Arcadians of Heraea, Maenalians and Tegeans are Rep 4 hoplites. The Brasidasians, the veterans who had served with Brasidas, are also Rep 4. The Spartans fielded 1,000 Neodamodes. These were Helots who had been freed so they could serve in the army. Because the texts use words like “newly freed”, I’ve decided that these hoplites do not have much experience and rate them as Rep 3 hoplites. The breakdown of the Spartan phalanx from right to left is as follows:
- Tegeans, Maenalians, and Arcadians of Heraea – 3,000
- Spartans – 3,600
- Neodamodes – 1,000
- Brasidasians – 1,000
- Sciritae – 600
This gives us an estimated 9,200 hoplites. With one figure representing 125 hoplites, we come to 18 bases of hoplites with a bit of rounding.
Normally, cavalry in a Spartan army would be provided by allies, usually Corinth or one of the Boeotian city-states such as Thebes or Thessaly. These were some of the best cavalry in Greece. Unfortunately, in this battle, the Spartans only had access to their own cavalry. They had created the cavalry only two years earlier. They were the worse cavalry (due to inexperience) in the Greek world. Because of their poor quality, I’m rating them as Rep 3. There were only 400 horsemen. The Spartan cavalry was deployed on each flank. For this reason, I’m using 2 bases of cavalry.
I’m using the same 20% guideline from above to calculate the light troops. This gives me an estimate of 1,840 archers, slingers and javelinmen. This gives me 8 bases, but since the Spartan army is larger, I’m choosing to go with 9 bases.
The army list then lists Helots as undisciplined foot melee. In this battle, the only Helots that would fit that description would have been the Helots guarding the Spartan camp. For this game, I won’t have the Spartan camp on the table due to the table size. That means I will not include a base of Helots.
To recap the Spartan or Peloponnesian League army, we have 18 bases (units) of hoplites, 2 bases of cavalry, and 9 bases of light troops.
In his estimate of the number of Spartans, Thucydides’ source counted the number Spartans in the front rank, the file leaders. Thucydides then multiplied that number by eight which was the normal depth of a phalanx at that time. It’s important to note that in the vast majority of ancient battles we really do not have exact numbers. We have over time learned enough about these ancient armies that we can give a decent estimation of what happened at the first battle of Mantinea.
You might ask, “but Floozy, I’m not going to put on a convention game, I just want to play one on one or solo – and I don’t have a big table, what do I do?” I would keep the number of cavalry bases the same and reduce the number of light troop bases by 4 in each army. Remove 4 Rep 4 hoplite units from the Alliance army and remove 2 Rep 5 Spartan units & 2 Rep 4 Tegean units from the Peloponnesian army. It’s not a direct proportion to the actual number of troops, but it should give a good feel for the battle.
I’ve decided to double rank the number of figures on each base just so the phalanx will look more like a phalanx at the convention. This won’t affect game play at all. In addition, I will also do a casualty figure for each unit or base. I’m hoping that at the end of the game, the table littered with casualty figures will be a small reminder to us gamers the cost in human life of war.
Well, I’ve got a lot of figures to paint and rebase. Texicon is in June of next year. So what I’m planning to do is to do at least one post each month on the progress of this project. Please feel free to add comments on your own approach to playing ancients. I’m really no expert, I just like the colorful shield designs!
And one last bit of trivia to tie the classical world to ours… In 420 BC, two years before the battle of Mantinea, Sparta was banned from the Olympic games. Not for doping, but for breaking the religious truce prior to the games.