Greeks vs. Carthage- The Sicilian Wars 480 BCE to 306 BCE
Sicily proved to be the battleground between two of the premiere civilizations in the Mediterranean. The Doric Greeks and the Phoenician Carthaginians battled for control over the island as a vital crossing point and stronghold for trade. Whoever controlled the island could control North/South and East/West sea lanes. Therefore, the competition between the Greek allied city-states often led by Syracuse and the North African city of Carthage raged for decades.
The Osprey Wargames Series book number 24; Men ofBronze details the battles between the Greek city-states on the mainland. However, it fails to touch on the battles in Sicily between the Carthaginians and the Greeks. Here, we are going to take a closer look at this conflict and how to use the Men ofBronze rules to play out these conflicts. In addition, many of the campaigns were land and sea affairs offering the chance to link games of Osprey’s Posiedon’sWarriors and Men of Bronze.
The Sicilian Wars
The conflict for Sicily was a series of seven individual wars between various Greek city-states and Carthaginian troops. To control Sicily was to have control over vital trade routes. It has been suggested that Carthage was primarily interested in keeping the trade routes to Sardinia open, and hence needed a secure western Sicily to accomplish that goal. However, the Doric Greeks were aggressive in expanding their sphere of influence by ejecting the Ionians, removing Carthage, and dominating that trade for themselves. Thus, the seven Sicilian Wars. To put it in perspective, the famous failed siege of Syracuse by Athens took place during the second Sicilian War.
The specific details of the Sicilian Wars are not relevant, except that they are a fertile backdrop for battles between Greek City-State armies and those of Carthage. Suffice to say that various Greek Tyrants of Doric and Ionian origin allied or quarreled and that often led to intervention by Carthage. Various cities were sacked, armies defeated, and booty taken. Sometimes the Greeks lost, and sometimes the Carthaginians lost. In the end, neither side ever really gained control over Sicily until Rome eventually ended the squabbling decisively.
For further reading, I recommend you take a look at the following battles of note during the seven Sicilian Wars:
· Battle of Himera 480 B.C. E.
· Second Battle of Himera
· Battle of Selinus
· Battle of Catana (Naval)
· Battle of Cronium
· Battle of Crimissus
· Battle of the Himera River
· Battle of White Tunis
You can use your preferred rule sets for campaigns in this era. However, I will be focusing on Osprey’s Men of Bronze rules. I like these rules as they are scale and model agnostic by using base widths and focal points for movement. In addition, they are Unit-versus-Unit rules with no casualty removal. I find the mechanics straight forward and the method to build armies simple and easy. Plus, you do not need a huge number of units per side, about 5-8. Of course, I am biased since I wrote them!
With a little tweaking these army lists and scenarios can be used with any Ancients rule systems.
The Carthaginian Army
Details about the early Carthaginian Army are scarce. Diodorus of Sicily (Siculus) is our main written source. There are snippets in Polybius, Herodotus and Livius, but as always with the Ancients; written sources go only so far and you need to turn to archaeology. Even then, the details for this period can easily become intermixed and confused with the details of the later Pyrrhic and Punic Wars.
The Carthaginian army re-organized and reformed along Hellenic lines into a Hoplite phalanx somewhere during the 4th century. It is believed that this may have occurred after the First Sicilian War ended with a Greek victory at the Battle of Himera. Legend has it that the Carthaginians were impressed by the valor of Greek hoplite troops during Himera that they decided to adopt the Greek formation. Of course, this is probably Greek propaganda. For simplicity, our army lists will consider that the Carthaginians were using the Hoplite Phalanx through-out the Sicilian Wars.
At this early stage of the Carthaginian military power, much of the manpower for the army was still citizen militia and levy troops. Much of the core infantry was from the cities of North African and Libyan coasts. The heavy use of mercenaries and subject people occurred after the losses suffered in Sicily fighting the Greeks.
The citizen militia appears to have been a typical Hoplite force. Linen breastplates with large round shields and spears were the common equipment. Carthaginian citizen forces would fight in the typical phalanx formation of the Greeks. In addition, light infantry forces supplemented the citizen phalanx. These were armed like the Peltasts common on mainland Greece and came from various sources.
There are references to a “Sacred Band” that has obvious roots with the Sacred Bands from the Greek mainland. These were the sons of well-bred Carthaginian nobles. These troops had the best wargear and personalized shield emblems. They were trained from a young age to fight in the Phalanx. However, their service record is not as illustrious; as they were wiped out on three separate occasions during the Sicilian Wars. They took the field as an elite phalanx formation, often at the center of the battle line.
As the Sicilian Wars dragged on, more and more mercenaries were integrated into the army. These were drawn from sources across the western Mediterranean including Gauls, Iberians, Sicels, Sardinians, Corsicans, and of course the famous Balearic slingers. Cavalry forces were frequently drawn from the subject peoples and focused more on impact than typical Greek or Persian forces.
The early Carthaginian forces in Sicily also made use of the Chariot. They were typically the four horse variety and supplied by Libyan subjects. There is evidence of these Chariots being used through out the conflicts in Sicily despite them going out of favor elsewhere. These appear to be in operation within the army until the 3rd century BCE. These can be represented by the Heavy Cavalry options in the Men of Bronze list.
Elephants are considered a well known feature of Carthaginian armies. However, there is no evidence that they were in use during the Sicilian Wars. The war elephant first came to Europe with Pyrrhus of Epirus. The Pyrrhic Wars post-date these conflicts. Therefore, there are no War Elephants in this list.
Below is the Army List for Carthaginians during the Sicilian Wars:
· 0-1Elite Hoplites
· 1+ Militia Phalanx
· 0+ Peltasts
· 0+ Drilled Infantry
· 0-4 Warband Infantry
· 0-4 Archers/Slingers
· 0-2 Light Cavalry
· 0-1 Heavy Cavalry
· 0-2 Psiloi
In the Men of Bronze rules, there are a number of sample army lists presented to allow you to quickly sort out and play a game. They are built for a standard size game of 38 points. Below will be a sample army for the Carthaginians in Sicily.
Carthaginian- Sample Army List- 38 Points
· Elite Infantry- Sacred Band
· Militia Phalanx - Citizens
· Heavy Cavalry- Chariots
· Slingers- Balearic Slingers
· Psiloi- Mercenaries
This list includes all of the “signature” Carthaginian Units in one army. It may not be well rounded or versatile, but it is distinctively Carthaginian. A more balanced list looks like the following:
Carthaginian- Sample Army List- 38 points
· Militia Phalanx- Citizens
· Militia Phalanx- Citizens
· Warband Infantry- Mercenaries
· Slingers- Balearic
· Heavy Cavalry- Chariots
This still has Carthaginian flavor, but is a well-rounded force better fit for dealing with those pesky Sicilian Greeks.
|From the Victrix Limited Website- Warriors of Carthage Box|
Syracuse and the Sicilian Greeks
The island of Sicily was colonized by two factions of Greeks: the Ionians and the Doric Greeks. Both had established themselves and developed the standard Polis city-state common on the Greek mainland. These cities often displaced natives such as the Sicel tribe. The city-states soon fell under the control of various tyrants who ran them. In addition, factional in-fighting between the Ionian and Doric Greeks often inflamed tension between the various city-states. Like their mainland neighbors, the Sicilian Greeks were often divided by factionalism and politics.
The largest Greek city-state on Sicily was the city of Syracuse. It was on the eastern shores and was founded by Corinth. During this time period, it could be argued that Syracuse had the largest army in Greece. The city was expansionist in nature and would eventually control much of Sicily and southern Italy. However, Syracuse was not the only Greek founded city-state on Sicily. They all generally followed the military model of mainland Greece as well. These various city-states were frequently feuding or at war with each other.
For Syracuse or the Sicilian Greek City-States you could use the army list found in the main Men of Bronze rules. After all, the bulk of the armies were hoplite phalanxes. However, the city of Syracuse probably had larger access to cavalry than those of mainland Greece. For example, Athens was well known for having a large cavalry force of up to 1,000 horseman. Supposedly, Gelon the Tyrant of Syracuse was able to field 5,000 cavalry before the battle of Himera! In addition, Syracuse may have had a larger access to Archers/Slingers than most mainland Greek city-states. One of the descriptions of the Battle of Himera makes specific mention to the commander of Archers for the Greeks.
If players prefer, they can choose to use the following Syracusan/Sicilian Greek City-State list instead of the Greek City-State list found in the core rulebook for Men ofBronze.
Syracuse/Sicilian Greek City-State
· 0-2 Drilled Hoplites
· 1+ Militia Hoplites
· 0-3 Peltasts/Psiloi
· 0-4 Archers/Slingers
· 0-4 Cavalry
This could provide a sample army for 38 points as follows:
· 2 Militia Hoplites
· 1 Cavalry
· 2 Archer
· 1 Peltast
Historical Scenario- Battle of Himera 480 B.C.E.- The First Sicilian War
Greek legend has it that there was a vast world-wide conspiracy hatched by their enemies to destroy all of Greece and subjugate it to barbarian rule. The Persian invasions of Xerxes was one front in this conspiracy. The second flank was in Sicily, as the barbarian Carthaginians closed in on Greek Sicily.
Herodotus and Diodorus Sicilus both describe the campaign and the battle. However, the numbers involved are suspect and some of the details are questionable. Despite this, having the details from two sources helps us understand the battle more than other ancient battles. The outcome has been corroborated by recent archeological finds in the area of mass soldier graves for the period.
We know that prior to the battle, Carthage mobilized a large force including chariots, cavalry and much of their citizen soldiers to the campaign. Many mercenaries were also recruit from Gaul, Spain, and Italy. They sailed to Sicily, but some of the ships with the cavalry and horses were lost. This would prove to be a challenge for the Carthaginians and their allied city-states.
On the Greek side, the Tyrant Gelon of Syracuse and Theron of Arkagas aligned their forces together. The force supposedly had a wealth of cavalry compared to their Carthaginian foes. In addition, the Greeks main body was their hoplite soldiers. The Greeks claimed that the performance of their citizen-soldiers in Sicily is what influenced the Carthaginians to use the same model. These hoplites were undoubtedly supported by Sicilian Peltasts and light troops.
After the difficulty in crossing, the Carthaginians had some early success on land against Theron’s forces. However, Gelon soon came to his aid. The Cavalry advantage of the Greeks paid off as they were able to rout various Carthaginian ravagers.
At this point, there are three different stories of how the battle unfolded. Heordotus gives us little detail about the battlefield, so our main source is Diodorus Siculus. He claims that Greek cavalry infiltrated the Carthaginian naval camp and killed Hamilcar. The Carthaginian and Greek army then met on the field of battle. Eventually, the arrival of the Greek cavalry and the news of Hamilcar’s death caused the Carthaginian troops to retreat to a hillside. As the Greeks began to loot the camp, Iberian troops attacked and almost scattered the Greek’s until Theron’s troops from Himera flanked the Iberian troops. This led to the end of the battle.
All versions of the tale had the Carthaginian commander, Hamilcar die away from the main battle. Then the rest of his troops broke and fled. Some stories have the Greeks fighting uphill, while others have the Carthaginians fall back to a hill before eventually surrendering. No matter which version of the story you read, the Carthaginians lose decisively. The entire expedition is lost. How much we can believe from the histories that remain is up for debate, but we do know that Carthaginian influence and power waned on Sicily for the next 70 some years.
Like most ancient battles, we have very little detail about what each army consisted of. We have a few hints. The first is that the Carthaginians had lost their cavalry and Chariot forces in transit. We also know they were using Citizen Militia and Mercenaries. On the Greek side, we know that the Cavalry played a large role in the battle. One of the versions of the Carthaginian defeat calls out the role of Greek archers. From these hints, we can put together some ancient lines of battle for our game.
Drilled Phalanx- Sacred Band
Militia Phalanx- Citizens
Drilled Infantry- Mercenaries
The Carthaginians will have no Strategoi to lead their force, and therefore will not generate an extra Arete Point from his unit. However, the Sacred Band will be considered the command unit for purposes of Collapse tests. For this scenario, I have rated the Sacred Band of Carthage as only Drilled Infantry instead of elite.
In one version of the story, Iberian mercenaries counter-attack the Greeks looting the Carthaginian camp and almost break them. However, Theron’s forces leave the city of Himera and reinforce the Greeks and defeat the Iberians. In the list above, these Iberian troops are represented by Peltasts. Alternatively, the Carthaginian commander could replace them with Warband Infnatry.
Militia Phalanx- Theron
Gelon will be the Strategoi of the Greek forces. The Greeks have a points advantage in this scenario. In this force, the Psiloi could be mixed missile troops such as archers and javelin men. In one of the reports of the battle, archers play a key role in killing Hamilcar. Alternatively, the Greek player could replace the 2 Psiloi units with 1 Archer unit.
We know the battle took place in site of the coast near the city of Himera, but the exact details are unclear. Recently, mass graves were discovered in the area of the old city of Himera where some of the bodies were dated back to the 5th century. However the location of the graves does not help us truly nail down the details of the topography of the Battle of Himera.
We know that a hill took part in the battle. In one story, the Greeks fought uphill against the Carthaginians. In another, the Carthaginians retreated to a waterless hill before surrendering.
Therefore, our scenario will posit the following based on Diodorus’ account. The battlefield itself will be 72 base widths by 48 base widths wide. The table should be bisected length-wise by a hill. This can be books under the cloth, actual hills across the board, or some other technique to provide one side of the board as a raised area. Other scatter terrain can be placed as the players wish. However, transitioning from the low side to the high side of the board should count as difficult terrain.
The Carthaginian forces control the “top of the hill” and can deploy anywhere between their long board edge and the center line. The Greeks deploy on the long side of the opposite “low” board edge. They can be up to 4 base widths in from their edge.
The Greek player must deploy 1 cavalry unit in reserve, and Theron’s Militia Phalanx in reserve. The Cavalry will make a discipline check beginning in Turn 2 and the beginning of Turn 3 for Theron’s men. If passed, the Greek units can deploy on a table edge specified below. The cavalry (without Gelon) can deploy touching the Carthaginian long board edge. Theron’s men can deploy touching the short board edge on the Greek right.
The scenario rules have outline two complications all ready. The first is the lack of Strategoi in the Carthaginian force. The second is the reserve deployments of the Greek forces.
The final complication is, during the End Phase of turn 3 each unit in the Carthaginian army must make a complication test for being Hungry and Thirsty. The details can be found in the Men of Bronze rulebook. However, it is essentially a discipline check. If failed, the unit has more difficult target numbers for future rout tests.
The Greeks have a literal “uphill battle” while the Carthaginians have their own challenges in this battle. Each force must overcome the frictions they are faced with. The winner of the battle is the force that manages to rout or collapse the other force. There are no other complicated victory conditions.
You can see the beginning outlines for a fun campaign between the Carthaginians and Greeks in Sicily. There are a number of fun battles and scenarios between these two antagonists for a plucky wargamer to draw inspiration. A war games club or small group of gamers could easily put together a fun Con game, a themed night or two at the club, or a more involved campaign using a map of Sicily! You can even integrate it with other game systems for a land and sea effort. Overall, the Sicilian Wars could form a fun, unique, and interesting opportunity to have a lot of fun as a gamer. I encourage you to give it a try.
You can get all of the updated materials including a FAQ, Campaign rules, and Lines-of-Battle in the Men of Bronze Supplement: Hercules Abroad.