Hoplite: Marathon – Attica, Greece – September 490 BCE

Well, here we are. The second of Hoplite’s scenarios and it’s the most famous battle of Antiquity.

Of course, the reason that it is so famous is because we still run a race named after the battle place, thanks to the inventions of the Greeks and Robert Browning. Ask anyone what actually happened at Marathon and you probably will get the answer “the Greeks won”, but more details aren’t well known. In fact, what actually did happen is pretty much unknown. Herodotus, who was born only six years after the battle, wrote three paragraphs describing it in his Histories. Berg and Herman thoughtfully include a translation in their description of the battle. Basically, the Greeks won by using a double envelopment: the centre of their line didn’t hold well, so the Persian infantry rushed in, only to have the stronger Greek wings crush them between them.

How would this go in this play? Here’s the set-up of the battle, with the Persians in blue and the Athenians and their allies in purple:

Most of the Persian force, save four units in its centre, is composite bow-armed light infantry. The middle of their line is medium and heavy infantry. The Greek force is primarily hoplite phalanxes, with a few javelin-armed skirmishers on the ends, which did about nothing in the battle, being far inferior to the Persian bowmen.

One of the changes in this release of the GBoH line is that most missile ranges have been reduced – javelins in particular are only useful when adjacent. The Greek skirmishers thus have something of a problem here.

The Persians have one problem in this scenario: their cavalry is absent. If they could hold on long enough, it might come to reinforce them – a 10% chance in the fourth turn, with a +5% chance per round thereafter. It seemed to me that the best plan for the Persians was to hold the line until the Greeks arrived. This worked for one turn, but the Greeks have a counterstrategy: the ability to charge about a mile. The notes here are very interesting: Herodotus insists that the Greek charged for a mile, probably in full armour. This isn’t really very likely, but they can do a superior charge of up to double-speed (though taking cohesion hits in the process). The biggest advantage of the charge is that the Persians can’t use Orderly Withdrawal to avoid it.

So, after the Greeks moved in the second turn, the Persians let loose their light infantry, moving it up and inflicting some damage on the wings of the Greeks. Not all that much, unfortunately. You can also see the problems the Greeks had in keeping an unbroken line – each of the phalanxes is moving at a different speed!

At the beginning of the third turn, the Persians moved up their heavier infantry, and the Greeks finally charged. The phalanxes on the right side of the Greek line took the brunt of the arrow fire, but the left flank was relatively untouched.

A few of the Persian bowmen turned and fled in the aftermath of the shock combat, but the Greeks had taken very heavy damage to their phalanxes. It was a real question whether they could hold together long enough to rout the Persians.

Bow-fire killed the Greek leader Kallimachus, but the light infantry was ill-suited to fighting phalanxes. Now that they were engaged, the bowmen were unable to fire and began to rout. The Persian commander, finding the centre of the Greek line collapsing before him, began to rally his troops as well as disengaging the remaining light infantry from the melee. His rally attempts were surprisingly successful, with only a few units being irretrievable. At the end of the fourth turn – with the cavalry still nowhere nearby – the position still wasn’t good for the Persians. They’d lost 26 Rout Points to the Athenian losses of 13 Rout Points. The Athenian commander had managed to rally one of the routing phalanxes, although the other had disbanded.

At this stage, the Athenians were well-placed to perform the double-envelopment that actually occurred in the battle, although the rallied archers attempted to disrupt the attack.

Archers aren’t particularly good against the hoplites, though, and the Greeks had taken advantage of the collapse of the Persian wings to catch their breath and recover some cohesion. The end of the battle was not pretty for the Persians, although they did manage to rout (and eliminate) one more Greek phalanx in the process.

The final rout point scores were Athenians 28 (of 40) to Persians 46 (of 35). The battle went a little better for the Persians than it has been reported to us, but was still a smashing Greek win.

How many soldiers were there on both sides? Again, the historical sources aren’t to be trusted that much. This scenario posits 12,000 Greeks against 24,000 Persians, but the superiority of the Greek hoplite phalanxes is definite. Each infantry counter on the Persian side is about 1,000 men, while each Greek phalanx is about 1,500-2,000 men with the half-depth counters in the centre being about half that.

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