As I was working on Men of Bronze, I was researching like crazy on Ancient Greek warfare. I was looking at Herodotus, Xenophone, Thucydides and many, many more. In addition, there were a ton of secondary sources such as Warry, Hanson, Gaebel and many more. Through all of this research I ended up focusing on the classic City-States of Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth, and Argo. I also tried to capture their main enemies the Persians. However, there was a much larger Greek world to consider.
Nic at the Irregular Wars blog rightly called me out. My book was missing details for such places as Pre-Reform Macedonia, Thrace, Magna Graecia, Syracuse, and more. One of the big call-outs was not including an army list for Thessaly, the home of the best horseman in Greece.
Since then, I have done research into two areas to create lists for Men of Bronze. Since then, I have taken a much closer look at Sicily and the war between the Carthaginians and the Greeks there. It was a fascinating learning curve and I have since been shopping the army lists and Historical scenarios for that period around to various wargames magazines. The second area I looked at was related to Thessaly, the land of horses.
Thessaly was an area to the north of what many people refer to as Ancient Greece. It is often considered to be an outsider of the Greek world. However, it rose to prominence later in the classical period and became especially important during the early years of the rise of Philip of Macedon and the Sacred Wars. After Philip's death, they were also key allies of his son Alexander. However, they were still well known horseman and cavalry troopers before these times. The earliest reference I could find of Thessaly was in Herodotus before even the Greco-Persian wars.
A Brief History
Herodotus tells us a bit about Thessaly through the voice of Xerxes. It is a broad plain surrounded by mountains in east-central Greece north of the major city-states of classical times. It is bordered by a broad river called the Pineios River. Indeed, Xerxes observes that if the river was damned, it would flood all of Thessaly. This natural basin is a broad and fertile plain and one of the few good places in Greece for raising cows and horses.
It was the natural landscape for powerful land owning aristocrats to develop. These land-owners would come to control the regional politics. This even included the small cities that began to develop in the late 5th century BCE. In this regions, the horse became a status symbol for the aristocracy. Under these conditions, horsemanship thrived. Most athletes in the Olympic games from Thessaly were involved with horse races.
|The famous Thessalian Headwear|
The region was divided into 4 Tetrarchies, which were nominally part of the Thessalian League. These were loosely aligned politically, but in wartime would come together under the military leadership of a single archon or tagos. Not much is recorded about Thessalian military history until 375 and the rise of Jason of Pharea. However, we do have some snippets from Herodotus, Xenophon, and Thucydides.
For example, Herodotus records two engagements between the Thessalians and Spartans. The first was a Sparta landing force on the beaches near Phalerum. In this encounter, the Thessalian cavalry managed to route the Spartans before they could form a proper line of battle. The second engagement between the mercenary Thessalians and the Spartans was a land engagement where the Spartans managed to see the horseman off with little effort.
Xenophon also offers insight into non-horseman units in the Thessalian armed forces. During the Persian Expedition under Cyrus, mercenaries are recruited from Thessaly. Meno commands 1,500 hoplites and 500 peltasts during the campaign. In addition, Xenophon later tells us in a different text that Thessaly had hoplites, peltasts, and other light troops in addition to the cavalry units.
Some sources also reference an unknown and ill-described light infantry trooper that was supposed to accompany the cavalry into combat. It is unclear exactly what this force was, and seem reminiscent of chariot-runners from earlier bronze age battles. It does not specify what the role of these troops were or their status within Thessaly. They can be assumed to be a very light and mobile support force, similar to Psiloi.
Diodorus Siculus and Xenophon also discussed the make-up of the Thessalian military under Jason of Pherae. It consisted of the noble Thessalian cavalry and mercenary forces for the ground troops. Again, Xenophon believes that the Thessalians could field up to 20,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry. 6,000 of these were mercenary troops of the highest quality.
|Jason of Pherae?|
Most of our information about Thessaly comes from the later period as Macedonian influence became more relevant to Thessalian politics. Phillip was elected Archon of the Thessalian league and was reorganized to support the growing military needs of the Macedonian army. At this point, the Thessalian cavalry became a regular formation in their order of battle and became more of a heavy cavalry formation.
The Thessaly Army List
As stated, the army of Thessaly was focused around cavalry forces. Early Thessaly was focused on light cavalry, however later iterations transitioned into a Heavy Cavalry role. However, as Xenophon tells us other forces were also present in their army.
One of the defining features of the later Thessalian cavalry was a special formation known as the Rhomboid formation. Essentially, the cavalry formation was a diamond with a point at each direction. A leader was place at each point, this formation allowed the cavalry to move quickly in different directions. In addition, this formation was tasked with protecting the left wing of Alexander's army during his Persian campaign. There, they held the line in a variety of defensive battles using the Rhomboid formation.
The Thessalian Cavalry can use the Rhomboid formation as a Special Rule. The Rhomboid Formation uses the following rules:
The Rhombus was a special cavalry formation used by Hellenistic cavalry forces to help increase their maneuverability on the battlefield. The unit could quickly change direction and move based on switching the leader of the formation at the tip of any edge.
• Units in the Rhombus formation have the following rules apply: Unit may start the game in Rhombus
• A Rhombus can move straight forward, straight left, straight right, or straight back up to its full move
• If a Rhombus touches difficult terrain it will revert to Open Order
• To change from Open Order to Rhombus requires a Arete Point and can only be done in a Unit’s Activation.
• A Rhombus can change to Open Order at any point during an Activation
• A Rhombus formation provides +1 Armor and +1 Attack Dice
Units in Rhombus can be aligned this way. The center line is 4 models. On both sides of the center, there is a row of two. Finally, the tip of both ends is a single model. The Leader model should be at the forward tip of the Rhombus.
Thessaly Line of Battle
Use the following lists to build your historical forces for Thessaly. The Lines of Battle help to choose the appropriate units for your historical forces. These are sample lists and there to provide a flavor of potential forces. Players can always modify these lists as they see fit
Each Line of Battle will have an entry with a number. The number indicates the limit of that Unit you can take in the army. If an entry says 1+ your army must have at least one of these units in it. If it is 0+ any number of that unit may be taken. If a Unit is not on the list, it can not be chosen.
Early Thessaly List
0-3 Militia Hoplites
Jason of Pharea List
0-2 Heavy Cavalry*
0-1 Elite Hoplites
0-4 Light Hoplites
• This unit maybe given the Rhombus Special Rule for +2 Points
Late Thessaly List
0-2 Heavy Cavalry*
0-4 Light Hoplites
• This unit maybe given the Rhombus Special Rule for +2 Points
Below you can see Sample Armies built from the Lines of Battle provided. They give you an idea of what your force could look like. They are all built to a 38 point force. They range from 5 to 10 Units each.
1 Militia Hoplite
Jason of Pharea/Late Thessaly
1 Cavalry with Rhomboid
1 Heavy Cavalry with Rhomboid
1 Light Hoplite
Battle of Phalerum
Herodotus tells us a story prior to the Persian-Greek War about a mercenary Thessalian cavalry force meeting a Spartan army on the plains of Phalerum. During the reign of Cleomenes the “Mad” Spartan king, he and the Tyrant of Athens had a falling out. The Athenian Tyrant was named Hippias, and in addition to the military forces of Athens, had hired a group of Thessalian mercenaries to help maintain his rule.
Cleomenes wished to over throw Hippias. Therefore, he had a force of Spartan soldiers land on the beach near Phalerum. The plan was to march to Athens and overthrow Hippias. The Tyrant must have gotten wind of this plan and sent his mercenary horseman to intercept them. Apparently, the plain of Phalerum had to be specially prepared for cavalry operations so the Thessalians must have know the Spartans were coming. Herodotus’ account lacks almost any detail, except for one crucial element, the Spartan opponents were attacked and over run before they could form into a proper battle line.
Despite the set back, the Spartans tried again the following year. This time, they took an overland route. They again faced the Thessalian horsemen, but this time the mercenaries were swept aside by a larger and well prepared Spartan force. The Spartans were well prepared, and probably more numerous than their first encounter with the Thassalian cavalry.
The following is to help recreate the initial battle of Phalerum vs. the Spartans. Modern scholars know nothing about the battle and some great liberties must be taken with the force compositions, lay-out, etc. in order to make this into a viable scenario.
Herodotus only tells us that the Thessalians were a cavalry force, while the Spartans were foot soldiers.
Elite Hoplites- Spartiates
2 Militia Phalanx- Allies
2 Psiloi- Helots
Records of the Thessalian forces indicate a number of ill-defined and light troops that were sent to fight amongst and with the cavalry forces. It is not clear how these troops were armed or equipped. However, they sound similar to Psiloi. They had no recorded arms or armor and were recorded as more of an afterthought. Therefore, I have included Psiloi in the Thessalian mercenary list for the Battle of Phalerum to add some flavor and variety.
This scenario is played on a 72 base widths long by 48 base widths across board. The Spartan side is one of the long board edges and is considered impassable terrain. It is the sea where the Spartans are deploying from their ships. The other side is open into the plains of Phalerum. Instead of the normal 6 grid spaces for terrain placement, this battle only uses 3, all on the Thessalian side of the table. However, place terrain randomly in these three with the Thessalian deploying first. This represents the preparation that supposedly occurred before the battle.
The Thessalians can be placed on the board edge with all the terrain elements anywhere within 12 base widths of their long board edge.
The Spartans are not placed on the table. They begin the game in reserve. They deploy as if subject to the Delayed Units complication found in the Men of Bronze rules. In addition, when deployed on the board, a Spartan unit may not be within 12 base widths of another Spartan Unit. If a Unit can not deploy anywhere outside of 12 base widths of a Spartan Unit, then it is placed in reserve again. It may try to enter on a different turn.
When entering the board from reserve the unit must be placed touching the deployment board edge. This counts as their action for the turn.
See the section on deployment to see the special rules for this scenario. Other than what is listed in the Deployment section, no other special rules exist.
The Spartan mission is to move 1+ unit off the Thessalian board edge. Alternatively, they can completely rout or destroy the Thessalian forces opposing them. The Thessalians win if they rout the Spartan forces from the board. All other outcomes are a draw.
The game will last 8 turns or until one side is destroyed/collapses.
Now, we can add one of the Northern territories of Greece to your games of Men of Bronze. I think the Victrix, Wargames Foundry, Warlord, or any Greek Light Cavalry models will be great for such a force. They will look very impressive in squads of ten 28 mm models on the table. Their foot print on the table alone will be a sight to behold!
Keep your eyes on the Blog as I intend to add some more army lists for Men of Bronze such as Pre-Reform Macedon, Syracuse and the Sicilian Greeks, and early Sicilian Wars Carthaginians. I am having a blast researching these forces.
Thanks to Ingtaer, Grey Templar, and Duracellrabbit from the Dakka Dakka forums for help with the research. Also, thanks to Nic at the Irregular Wars for his help with the topic. These fine folks pointed me to some good resources online and in the primary sources. Thank you!