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"The Battle of Plataea 479 BC" Topic

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Yesthatphil04 Dec 2011 8:56 a.m. PST

In preparation for the Society of Ancients Battleday.

I've just posted update No. 2 on the shows blog: the forces invloved and some key issues for reconstructing the battle.
How seriously to take the Persian arrow storm, and how best to represent the fight for the barricade of shields?


(Persian shield-bearer adapted from the Brygos cup)

Are we looking ar a fair fight until the Greeks can breach this barrier?

I am interested in people's views …

Phil Steele

Caliban Supporting Member of TMP04 Dec 2011 10:41 a.m. PST

Hi Phil, I've been thinking about the same things. Basically, in our rules, missile fire is reduced against armoured targets. However, I was thinking that if a close formation massed Persian unit specifies that it has planted its shields, it gains extra firepower which should more than compensate against the hoplites' armour. Also, in the first round of combat, the Persians are somewhat harder to hit. After that, it's normal.

In other words, I'm going to abstract it somewhat. It would be nice to be able to place a line of mantlet shields held up by spears in front of the Persian units, but I'll need to see if I get enough time to do that. In our time-honoured fashion, I'll probably get touches like this done for Claymore in August, but not in time for the Battle Day itself.


Yesthatphil04 Dec 2011 11:53 a.m. PST

> It would be nice to be able to place a line of mantlet shields held up by spears in front of the Persian units, but I'll need to see if I get enough time to do that.

Yep … my thinking too. I see 1st Corps do Spara shields, 10 for 4 ( link )amongst many others, I guess. I wonder if a flat shield is flat enough to work with flats …

Who asked this joker04 Dec 2011 6:54 p.m. PST

Not so sure that the arrow storm was widely used at Platea. The debacle at Marathon surely changed the Persian way of thinking. Consider that the average Greek Soldier has a bronze helmet that provides face protection to a pretty high degree. He also has the aspis/hoplon that is something like 1 meter wide. That will cover the body from the throat to the knee. Many but not all will have at least 1 greeve. So, in being attacked frontally by arrows, you would have the effect of an armored juggernaut with the arrows bouncing off.

Likely they used a much higher proportion of melee troops. They also probably had a considerably larger force of cavalry.

Consider looking at the OOB from Lost Battles by Phil Sabin.


Caliban Supporting Member of TMP05 Dec 2011 3:42 a.m. PST

Hi John, that's a good observation. It might make sense to allow the Medes/Persians the ability to "arrowstorm" only on the left centre of the Persian army, and maybe the Immortals as well. If memory serves, this is where the Persians had the most time to harry the Spartans and Tegeans opposite them, at least until the other Greek commands belatedly came up in support. So much so, that the Tegans eventually charged rather than sit and take it.

I can envisage a scenario rule that states that massed archer formations can produce an enhanced "arrowstorm" effect but only once they have planted their mantlet shields. If they decide to move, they don't get the bonus to firing and in melee. In a sense, though, this is a tactical level ruling, which is rather too local in scope for Lost Battles. I do like the Order of Battle Phil Sabin gives, though – time to get out the Sakae and Bactrian foot archers as well. It should be a colourful game…

1ngram05 Dec 2011 3:46 a.m. PST

We know from HYW etc that well armoured foot were practically untouchable by any amount of arrows aimed at them (compared with the much more vulnerable cavalry) so Greek Hoplites should waltz through any "arrow storm".

Caliban Supporting Member of TMP05 Dec 2011 5:27 a.m. PST

I agree that the Hoplites should waltz through the arrows – if they move towards the opposition. But at Plataea it would seem that the exposed rightmost Greek command did suffer from the arrows while they remained stationary. I suppose I'd be looking for a balanced scenario in which the Spartans and Tegeans can be hurt by the arrows, but not so much so that their melee capability degrades significantly. Unless they choose to stay still for a bit too long.

The rules we use make it very difficult for even massed archery to inflict massive damage on armoured foot except over a prolonged period. Archery is best used (in normal circumstances) to soften up the opposition prior to combat, or to finish off already weakened, mounted or lighter foes. I like this myself – subjectively, it "feels" right. Having said that, I still would like to see some extra flavour available to the Persians in this battle. Phil's idea of the mantlets appeals because it will enhance the spectacle too.

Yesthatphil05 Dec 2011 5:55 a.m. PST

The 'arrow storm' comment comes direct from Herodotus and particularly Plutarch who has Pausanias order the Spartans to sit behind their shield with their feet tucked in.

See Lazenby ('The Defence of Greece') … 'This conjures a marvellous picture of the disciplined Spartans, stolidly sitting as they endured the arrow-storm, perhaps crouched under their shields'
Herodotus says … 'many of them fall at this time, and more by far were wounded ..'

Of course, the final figures we have for Spartan and Tegean losses are about 1%. A light figure though one would imgine the temporary effects, as always, would be much more severe.

The truth is probably that the real losses seem modest because a/. Herodotus exagerates the arrow-storm for the colour of the story, b/. the tactic of tortoising in behind the shields works and because c/. a good deal of the 'hard-pressed' in the text are back up for the fight by the end of the battle.

My key point is, of course, that this is the Persian's primary battle winning tactic (a point Lazenby makes) – just it doesn't work. I'm trying to include it and find the right balance for it.

A note on 1ngram's entirely valid generalsiation … it is a characteristic of Hoplite panoply that the feet are unprotected, and there is good eveidence that this generation of soldiers, in future campaigns against easterners, attached fabric screens to their shields to gain a little more protection. This does give some extra credibility to the crouching behind the shields and tucking your feet in story.

I don't propose the odds of success should favour the archers … but it is the best suit the Persians have. Making it a waltz for the Greeks is not true to ancient accounts of the battle.


Yesthatphil05 Dec 2011 6:25 a.m. PST

On using Phil Sabin's OOB: as Phil himself says, 'the model presented is far too generic and broad brush …' to answer a number of the questions we might like to address. I have played the Lost Battles Plataea scenario, and have no doubt Phil will be presenting it at the BattleDay.

As usual, the Lost Battles account was my starting point.

As an alternative, I gave Rusch's listing on the blog because he cleverly sidesteps several of the numerical problems by presenting the battle as a series of contingent contests between known numbers of Greeks and the Persians and allies who fought them. He ignores most of the cavalry and light troops (where some great uncertainty lies) by having them cancel out on the flanks leaving the battle proper to the infantry list. This is a less of a cop out than it might seem, as it rings true to the battle Herodotus goes on to narrate.

Sabin includes all these in the principal forces and thus, as ever, gives the players plenty of scope for less historical approaches. I am likely to include the flank forces and servant masses but will probably accord them the indecisive role Rusch assumes.

Both approaches are valid, I think.

Thanks for the discussion so far … :) the panel isn't giving the Persians much of a chance, thus far …

My second question was how fair was the fight around the shield barricade? I'm getting the impression that question may as well be rhetorical … but I'm still intesrested. I am asking questions on ancmed, too, and there, Patrick Waterson has drawn to my attention that Herodotus describes a 'doratismos' spear fight around the barricade, and an 'othismos' close fight thereafter. If the barricade kept the Greeks back at a stand-off distance for a while, this might have helped …



adster05 Dec 2011 6:53 a.m. PST

Letting the Persians have a superior armour class in the initial clash of melee which they lose if they are broken into/ pushed back might be a simple way to represent doratismos/ othismos change. I cannot remember how Piquet deals with Spara type shields off the top of my head but I would hope the game is not a forgone conclusion, especially if the allies don't manage to fight their way past the Medizing Greeks to assist the Spartans. We will see in April…

Caliban Supporting Member of TMP05 Dec 2011 9:31 a.m. PST

The way I picture the layout in my mind, the Tegeans in particular will be rather exposed, at least until some other Greeks turn up to their left. I know it's not historical, but I think that if I were the Persians I would risk a melee attack on the Tegeans while still shooting up the Spartans. I would also try to throw a horse unit or two thrown wide to keep the Spartans honest by threatening their extreme right flank. If the Persians get lucky and break the Tegeans before more Hoplites arrive, there will be a nice big gap in the Greek front line.

In other words, a reasonably historical deployment, but not necessarily a straight replay. I really should draw up a proper deployment map some time soon…

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