Monday, February 3, 2020

Men of Bronze: Thracian Army List

Thrace was a large section of territory to the Northeast of Greece.  It controlled an area  that was bordered by the Balkan mountains on the North side, the Aegean Sea to the South, and the Black Sea on the Eastern side.  This territory was only semi-organized under a variety of tribal groups and loosely aligned politically. 

During the Persian Invasion, the Thracians joined with the Persians and the territory was put under a Persian Satrapy.  They were also part of the Invasion force the Persians sent against Greece in 480 BC.  They also contributed to Darius’ forces in the Persian-Greco Wars. 

It is interesting to note that the term Thrace is a Greek invention and was not used to self-identify in the region.  Instead, there were a number of kingdoms and tribes that populated the area.  At some points in history it was more unified than other points.  Political disunity was a common theme for the tribes in Thrace.  The mountainous regions tended to maintain a stable war-like tradition, while lowlanders could be considered a bit more peaceable.  Thracians were not well know as city-builders and tended to be a rural culture.   

Herodotus and Thucydides did write of a more aligned Thracian kingdom called the Odrysian Kingdom around the end of the 5th Century.  This was a semi-unified group of 40 tribes and 22 kingdoms.  Coins and inscriptions seem to have this political unit last until the 1st Century AD, although how centralized it was is unclear.  Many theorize that its political power and identity declined as it was often broken up or not recorded.  However, this kingdom seems to have existed with Persian control, Athenian alliances, Macedonia control, and eventually Roman control. 

Thracian Army
Of Course, Thrace was famous for the peltast unit, and was the considered the originator of this combat arm of Greek warfare.  In addition, Thucydides reports that one of the Odrysian Kings, Sitalces; was able to field a large army of up to 150,000 troopers.  This army was allied to the Athenians against Macedonia.  However, logistics failed the army and they were forced to withdraw.  The Thracian army was supplied wholly on loot and plunder. 
Thracian armies were mostly made up of light armed infantry men armed in the Peltast fashion.  This was the bulk of their troops.  Missile weapons were favored.  However, they used a wide variety of close combat weapons such as clubs, axes, knives, spears, and curved swords.  The most famous weapon was the dreaded Rhompaia.  The Rhompaia was a two-handed weapon that had a long curved blade attached to a short wooden haft.  It was often considered the national weapon of Thrace. 
Infantry forces preferred to fight in loose formation.  They rarely had armor, and were known for their speed and dexterity in combat.  They did not use organized spear blocks like the Greeks and fighting was individual in nature.  There are also references to non-peltast infantry such as Thracian swordsmen being hired as mercenaries.     

In addition to Infantry, the Thracians made use of Cavalry.  These were typically lighter armed and fought in a loose formation.  They lacked armor for the most part.  Only Noble cavalry could have leather or metal armor, and they had a reputation for fighting fiercely. However, metal armor was a later adaption. 

Thracian Army List
The Thracian Army list differs a bit from the normal Barbarian Tribe list as it has access to Heavy Cavalry, but this availability is for later period Thracian lists.  Earlier Thracian lists would have Nobles on Foot.  Therefore, you can either have Heavy Cavalry or Elite Infantry but not both in an army. It also limits access to archers and slingers as the Javelin was the preferred Thracian weapon. 
0-1   Heavy Cavalry*
0-1   Elite Infantry*
0-2 Cavalry
1+ Peltasts
0-2 Drilled Infantry
0+ Warband Infantry
0-2   Psiloi
*- Limited to either 1 Heavy Cavalry OR 1 Elite Infantry.  The same army cannot have both units. 

The first army represents the Thracians as faced by the Persians in the 6th Century BC.  Ultimately, the Thracians were defeated and integrated into the Persian Empire. 
Early Thracians- 38 Points
·         Elite Infantry      
·         4 Peltasts             
·         2 Warband Infantry

The next list represents a later Thracian army as might fight have been fielded by Sitalces, who was allied with the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War 

Later Thracians- 38 Points
·         Heavy Cavalry
·         Cavalry
·         Drilled Infantry
·         3 Peltasts

Historical Scenario- Clearchus Defeats the Thracians- 411 BCE

The Thracians were composed of various tribes and political forces.  They were seldom unified, and they were not above raiding and other war like pursuits.  Greek colonists had settled into colonies on the Thracian coast, and would often become the targets of such local raids.  Naturally, they would appeal to their fellow Greek city-states for help.    

This brought the Thracians into conflict with Clearchus of Sparta.  Clearchus is the famous Mercenary commander from Xenophon’s Anabasis.  Prior to becoming a mercenary, he was the Tyrant of Byzantium.  He was given command of a force to help relieve the area of Thracian attacks.  However, when the Spartan ephors learned of Clearchus’ tyrannical impulses, they moved to recall his command.  Clearchus ignored the messages to return to Sparta and continued on to face the Thracians.  He was hoping victory would bring him mercy form the Spartan leaders.  However, it is unclear if he achieved that victory.      

Clearchus did not regain favor with the Spartan elders.  Eventually, Clearchus and his army operating in Thrace came to the attention of Cyrus of Persia who then hired him to join his expedition into Persia.  The rest was made famous by Xenophon.       

Since we know very little about the actions Clearchus undertook in Thrace to help restore order around Byzantium, we will be forced to speculate heavily on the forces involved, and the scenario.  All we know about the conflict is that it occurred.  The details are left to us to imagine. 

Most armies of the period were composed less of citizen soldiers and more of mercenary forces.  Therefore, the Elite Spartan phalanxes may not have been part of Clearchus’ force.  The fact that his army later was a mercenary force for a Persian satrap would indicate his army was more mercenary than citizen soldier.  Therefore, we can use the Mercenary list in Men of Bronze as the basis for the army.

Clearchus’ Mercenaries
Drilled Hoplite- Clearchus
Drilled Hoplite
Light Hoplite

The Thracian raiders are given no details.  However, we can assume that they are more of the Later Thracian variety since this occurred after the Peloponnesian War and before Xenophon’s Anabasis.  Therefore, if we want, we could use the Heavy Cavalry option here, but I get the feeling that the Thracian menace was more common marauding than noble led invasion.  Therefore, we will list the Thracians as follows:

Thracian Raiders
Drilled Infantry- Thracian Chieftain
Drilled Infantry
Warband Infantry

For the battle between these two forces, we can use the standard terrain placement and deployment process found in the Men of Bronze rule book.  I also recommend using the Ambush scenario to represent the Thracians raiding style of warfare.  The Thracians should be the attackers with Clearchus’ forces as the defenders.  In addition, this battle should use the Dusk Approaches complication to again represent the raiding nature of the Thracians. 

If you wish, since Clearchus is a “famous” Greek mercenary commander you could choose to allow Clearchus to provide 1 additional Arete Point beyond the normal Commanders’ bonus.  Alternatively, you could also make him immune to being killed like a normal unit leader.  I recommend using one but not both of these options. 

Use the normal victory conditions for an Ambush scenario. 

The history is not 100% clear about what happened to Clearchus and his engagement with the Thracian raiders.  However, Clearchus lives to fight another day and earns the respect and goodwill of the nearby Greek cities.  Therefore, it seems likely that he was successful in his attempt to pacify the area and reduce the risk of Thracian attacks. 

Final Thoughts
Thracians have a very different fighting style than their Greek counter-parts.  This can lead to an interesting game beyond the regular clash of Phalanxes.  The Thracians will be forced to rely on their speed, numbers, and firepower to keep their opponents from gaining the upper hand.  Terrain will also play a role in breaking up Greek phalanx formations, and allowing the Thracian infantry to get stuck-in on a more equal footing.  A Thracian commander must fight like a Thracian, where speed and ranged combat is the key to victory and not the strength of their armor. 

Thracians were also a common raider and foe for Greek city-states.  Therefore, a Thracian army always makes a thematically appropriate battle.  The asymmetrical nature of Thracian combat compared to the Greeks will provide a good change of pace and a different way to approach the game.  I hope you enjoy this additional army to Men of Bronze.   

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.

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  1. Excellent post Eric and nice lists to go with it. Combined with the Thessalian list it nicely starts to round out the core lists in the rules for the 'Greek world'.

    In your experience how big can the units in Men of Bronze be represented and still work comfortably in the rules? Also, how many units can the system take before it starts to buckle. I guess I'm asking how big can the game get to and still be playable.

    Any ideas you have on 'up scaling' the game for larger units and/or forces would be appreciated. I'd like to try the game with bigger forces. A post on such ideas and thoughts woudl be a good idea IMO.

    Keep up the great work. Your efforts supporting Hoplite Warfare are much appreciated even though lots of people don't respond to your posts - I'm sure they are well received.


    Happy Wanderer

    1. Good thoughts Happy! Welcome!

      As far as a maximum unit size, it really depends on the size of your board and your figure scale. In playtesting I went up to 15 man 28mm model units no issues. I also have seen 15mm models with 4 40mm bases per part of the unit work fine. I would say, you probably would not want to go over something like 1 measurement unit/base width of unit for every 1.2 BW of your table size. That would make a tight board. However, I have played 5 unit games of 28mm models on 48 BW boards (or 4x4 feet) with no issue. That is theoretically 1 unit BW to less than 1 board BW.

      Now, the second question was how many units can the system take before it buckles. I have played it up to 8 units per side at 28mm. The limiting factor is more table space than system issues. Most armies are between 4-8 units, but there is no reason you could not go higher in theory with no issues. I have not hit the upper limit rules wise, only space/model wise.

      Honestly, I haven’t thought about it much! I have been wargaming so long that some of this just comes intuitively to me. That is a mistake as a game designer.

      Now, as far as getting more units on the table in your force….. that’s a little secret I have brewing for Wars of the Republic as an Advanced Rule. However, I will link you to a hint…..

  2. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for your thoughts on big game/unit MoB...those suggestions sound sensible.

    I’ve posted a tweaked play sheet on my blog turning the aosprey one into a two pager for easier use (at least for me).

    Have a peak here. Cheers👍🏻

    1. Great looking Spartans! I loved the guy with the long hair and mohawk/receding hairline. It drives home that not all hoplites were young folks!

      Great work on the play sheet. If you have any other questions, please let me know! I will be more than happy to help out.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks Eric

    We've played a couple of games and love 'em! We have been at hoplite warfare and gaming a while and made a few tweaks to your otherwise excellent rules...we can't help ourselves!

    Question - why is the Warband trait only discipline 1? We think they should be a bir more resilient than that - discipline 3 perhaps...the equal of Peltasts and certainly better than Psiloi..your thoughts?

    1. I am glad you are enjoying them.

      The Warband infantry are to represent the dregs, hangers-on, looters, militia, and marauders that were more interested in plundering more than fighting. They were designed to be somewhat disposable, a bit quicker moving, and best at attacks of opportunity. Think of all the hit-and-run barbarians with melee weapons that Xenophon had to fight in the March of the 10,000.

      The pricing ended up being a bit higher than Peltasts, because in play tests they tended to stay active longer, hit mission objectives, and turn the tide in decisive combats via flank/rear attacks. Meanwhile, Peltasts were getting run over and routed all the time.

      In retrospect the Warband Infantry should be 4 Points. I could also see the case for moving them up to Discipline 2 or 3, but that will only help them not waver. Typically, they are dead far sooner than they waver. :)

      If you are thinking of a more war like barbarian tribe like Thracians, then their armies would be made up of more Drilled Infantry as the core fighting force, Peltasts as the skirmishers, with Warbands just bulking out the numbers and adding some flankers.

      Of course, per the House Rules section on page 5 (IIRC?) you can do what works best for your table. :)

  5. HI Eric,

    Thanks for those details. I had 'reimagined' your warband as exactly the type you describe above...that 1 discipline still makes them a bit 'flighty'.

    ..following your guide of 'House Rules' we very much take that to heart...

    We have for a very long time used the Hoplomachia rules system as the basis for most of our hoplite gaming. We tend to adapt other game systems to incorporate a number of aspects of the Hoplomachia rules we like, particularly troop classification and scenarios.

    Playing Hoplomachia is a commitment beyond most players. So we use the 'best bits' and just other game systems. This works very well for us as Hop gives us a the detail level focus we like but rules such as MoB, provides the ease of play we are looking for.

    As you've noticed on my blog there are a few rules tweaks we also have made and we're not quite happy with the 'support unit moves behind' - at least not for hoplite units. At the lower scale and with light troops it seems OK to us but we're restricting flank support heavy infantry to remain in place and provide support from the side...much like a 2 vs 1 contact. We'll see how that goes.

    A friend has Italiote armies, and whilst I know you are working on a specific rules set, I've added a few specific special these align with your current thinking on Roman and Celtic warband types? Any idea you have on those troop types woudl be welcome if nothing else we could try them out.

    Warband – count +3 dice when charging. Player must use an Arete to prevent charging when enemy within 12”, else auto charge.

    Legion - same as phalanx but unit may move as if in open order to its front.

    Pila – unit may fire at an enemy who moves into contact for 1 Arete.


    1. Good ideas there. You and I seem to have some similar yet not identical ideas about Italian forces.

      Hoplomachia is a great detailed game. It was a great resource for me.