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The Battle of Delium

424 BC, Peloponesian War
A 2000 point scenario for Warhammer Ancient Battles
The Athenian wing collapses as the Boeotian cavalry rides around the hill.

Athenian Occupation Force

Athenian Motivitation

At this point during the Peloponesian War, Athens and Sparta were at a stalemate. Sparta would invade Attica & ravage the countryside at will while the Athenians happily retreated behind thier walls and waited it out. Major engagements with Sparta had been mostly avoided, and many minor tussles had ended advancing the Athenian position. The most notable was a recent success at Sphactera Island ending with the unheard-of catpure of nearly 500 spartiates. Spurred on by this success, and a desire to break the ongoing stalemate, Athens set her eyes on the Boeotian plains. The prize of Boeotia were additional numbers and especially superior cavalry. If Athens could combine both the Boeotian cavalry forces with aid from the friendly Thesslians then certainly the Peloponese would fall. Not to mention the idea of roughing up their long time foe Thebes had a little appeal. The Athenians set out on a daring plan - a two pronged attack into Boeotia. Demosthenes would capture Siphae through the betrayal of some democratic factions inside the city. At the same time Hippocrates would march into Boeotia and build a fort at Delium. These two strongholds would provide a more than adequate foothold to conqueror Boeotia, and invading both at once would divide any Boeotian army raised in into two parts. Both armies left Athens according to plan. But the conspirators in Siphae were discovered prematurely and the plot was foiled. However word didn't reach Hippocrates soon enough and he found himself facing the entire Boeotian army as a unified force.

Athenian Army

Using the Hoplite army list in Armies of Antiquity:
1 General - Hippocrates
Up to 2/3 point allowance in hoplite phalanxes
Up to 1/2 point allowance in skirmishers
Up to 1/10 point allowance in cavalry
Spartans, peltasts, sacred band, thracians, thesslians, and cretans are not allowed.

Historical OOB

Hoplite Musician Hippocrates' consisted of roughly 7000 hoplites, more light infantry than the Boeotians (although of lesser quality) and fewer cavalry. That is not much to work with. It is unlikely that, when he left Athens, Hippocrates thought he would face any sizable opposition enough to threaten his force.

I gave the Athenians four armored phalanxes, thus giving them an even yet tough line of battle. Their phalanxes will not stand up for too long in a straight up fight against the superior sizes of the Boeotian phalanxes, especially the Thebans. But they will stand just fine for a few turns, and the extra phalanx will give the Athenian player a little more room to be tricky.

Both sides have proportionately too much cavalry but to keep the Boeotian horse superior I gave the Athenians slightly less and made one light cavalry. The cavalry was placed on the wings with the light infantry, and thus (due to the terrain below) really did not have much of an impact on the battle. The athenian heavy cavalry got heavy armor (obviously no real evidence it was either way) simply to counter the Thebans, who were simply eating points. But then I also feel that in simple game terms, greek cavalry without armor is pretty hamstrung. The 4+ save afforded from the armor actually gives them a use by making the horse as resiliant as a hoplite, but the small number keeps them fragile. Be wary of missile casualties.

Likewise with the light infantry, Thucydides does not have a high opinion of the non-hoplite force that accompanied Hipporcates. In fact he even mentions that many of them were unarmed, probably just locals and tag-alongs hoping to pick up some extra booty as the army passed through. Thus I gave Athens mostly javelin skirmishers - probably far exceeding their real worth in the battle.

Hippocrates
General                         150
                                        150
24 Hoplites - lt armor ld mus   298
24 Hoplites - lt armor ld mus   298
24 Hoplites - lt armor ld mus   298
24 Hoplites - lt armor ld mus   298
                                        1192
6 light cavalry                 66
6 heavy cavalry - hvy arm ld mu 112
                                        178
15 javelins                     60
15 javelins                     60
15 javelins                     60
15 javelins                     60
15 javelins                     60
15 javelins                     60
10 javelins                     40
10 slings                       40
10 short bows                   40
                                        480
                                        ----
                                        2000

Athenian Historical Deployment

The Athenians nearly mimiced the deployment of the Boeotians - hoplites in the center, the cavalry and light infantry were on the wings. The athenian hoplites all deployed into their usual eight deep phalanxes.

Boeotian Alliance

Boeotian Motivation

The Boeotians, led by Thebes, were responding to a force from Athens that was transgressing into Boeotia. At this point in time Thebes had been a more or less faithful ally of Sparta, and a constant thorn in the side of the Delium league. Thebes had no love for Athens and Athens certainly didn't lose sleep over the fate of Thebes. Thus when Athens invaded Boeotia, Thebes was ready to lead the countercharge.

Boeotian Army

Using the Hoplite army list from Armies of Antiquity:
1 General - Pagondas
Up to 2/3 phalanxes
Up to 1/3 light infantry
Up to 1/3 cavalry
As this was a makeshift defence no spartans, thracians, or cretans should be allowed. Note that although the Sacred Band was not mentioned to have a significant role, it is easy to conceive they were present. Just try to keep them in scale. (In my 2000 point OOB below the Sacred Band would only be five models.)

Historical OOB

Hoplite in full kit Thucydides was relatively kind (for us wargamers) with his treatment of the Boeoatian army. He claimed they had seven thousand hoplites, a thousand Boeotian cavalry, and around ten thousand light troops.

I gave the Boeotians three phalanxes. A large well equiped Theban phalanx, mostly because I think the 6x6 phalanxes look too cool. But they are also much more apt to survive the battle of attrition against the 24 man phalanxes I gave to Athens. For the other two phalanxes I gave them 25 hoplites. The Boeotian phalanxes are faced with a tough decision - form nice squares so they easily have the upper hand when it comes to attrition, or opt to a wider frontage to negate the extra phalanx of Athens from flanking, or go with some mixed concoction (my preference).

The Boeotians obviously had a fair amount of quality cavalry, although I still had to exagerate their numbers to keep them to a minimum tolerance of playable and have a superior hand to their Athenian counterparts. I gave the cavalry armor & spears for the same reasons as Athens - mostly to spend points without increasing their number even MORE but also to instil a practical minimum utility to have an effect on the game.

Thuydides also mentions that the Boeotian light infantry were of a caliber higher than the rabble that traveled with the Athenian army. They were better armed and more worthy of mention. Thus I gave the Boeotians quality light infantry (peltasts and plenty of ranged missile support). Proper use of their light troops will also keep that extra Athenian phalanx from running rampant.

Pagondas
General                         150
                                        150
Thebans
36 phalanx - lt armor ld mus    442
Haliartians, Coronaeans, Copaeans
25 phalanx - lt armor ld mus    310
Thespians, Tanagraeans, Orchomenians
25 phalanx - ld mus             260
                                        1012

8 heavy cav - spear hvy armor   154
8 theban cav - spear hvy armor  194
                                        348
15 peltasts - ld mus            115
                        
15 javelins                     60
15 javelins                     60
15 javelins                     60
15 slings                       60
15 slings                       60
15 bows                         75
                                        490
                                        ----
                                        1998

Historical Boeotian Delpoyment

Thucydides describes it best:
"The Boeootians placed a detachment to deal with these, and when everything was arranged to their satisfaction appeared over the hill, and halted in the order which they had determined on, to the number of seven thousand heavy infantry, more than ten thousand light troops, one thousand horse, and five hundred targeteers. [4] On their right were the Thebans and those of their province, in the center the Haliartians, Coronaeans, Copaeans, and the other people around the lake, and on the left the Thespians, Tanagraeans, and Orchomenians, the cavalry and the light troops being at the extremity of each wing. The Thebans formed twenty-five shields deep, the rest as they pleased. [5] Such was the strength and disposition of the Boeootian army. "

Tabletop

Map of the battlefield

There is no exact description of the local terrain for the battle. We do know that the Boeotians emerged from behind a sizeable hill, and that the wings of both armies were kept apart by what Thucydides terms "water works". Thus this is mostly conjecture. Put a sizeable hill behind the Boeotian deployment area, and 'watery areas' such as a small creek, swamp, or even a mini lake on the sides. Be sure to leave the center of the table open, at least wide enough for the two battlelines to meet. Some areas of scrub, light woods, or other general rough ground on the extremes might also look nice.

Historical Outcome

And again, as my fingers tire of typing, I'll let Thucydides relate the outcome:

"Hippocrates had got half through the army with his exhortation, when the Boeootians, after a few more hasty words from Pagondas, struck up the paean, and came against them from the hill; the Athenians advancing to meet them, and closing at a run. [2] The extreme wing of neither army came into action, one like the other being stopped by the water-courses in the way; the rest engaged with the utmost obstinacy, shield against shield. [3] The Boeootian left, as far as the center, was worsted by the Athenians. The Thespians in that part of the field suffered most severely. The troops alongside them having given way, they were surrounded in a narrow space and cut down fighting hand to hand; some of the Athenians also fell into confusion in surrounding the enemy and mistook and so killed each other. [4] In this part of the field the Boeootians were beaten, and retreated upon the troops still fighting; but the right, where the Thebans were, got the better of the Athenians and shoved them further and further back, though gradually at first. [5] It so happened also that Pagondas, seeing the distress of his left, had sent two squadrons of horse, where they could not be seen, round the hill, and their sudden appearance struck a panic into the victorious wing of the Athenians, who thought that it was another army coming against them. [6] At length in both parts of the field, disturbed by this panic, and with their line broken by the advancing Thebans, the whole Athenian army took to flight. [7] Some made for Delium and the sea, some for Oropus, others for Mount Parnes, or wherever they had hopes of safety, [8] pursued and cut down by the Boeootians, and in particular by the cavalry, composed partly of Boeootians and partly of Locrians, who had come up just as the rout began. Night however coming on to interrupt the pursuit, the mass of the fugitives escaped more easily than they would otherwise have done. [9] The next day the troops at Oropus and Delium returned home by sea, after leaving a garrison in the latter place, which they continued to hold notwithstanding the defeat."

Needless to say, the tide of the Peloponesian War was starting to turn against Athens.

Playing Tips

  • There are over 200 skirmishers on the table, as the lists stand now. The standard WAB skirmisher rules will be overbearing. Try these suggestions: all skirmisher units have a 360 LOS, all models can shoot (if within range), skirmisher units block LOS of other skimisher units, and when moving only measure the lead model's movement - just let the others fall in behind.