Articles

Battle of Olpae, 426 BC

Battle of Olpae, 426 BC


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Battle of Olpae, 426 BC

The battle of Olpae (426 BC) was an Athenian victory that ended a Spartan campaign aimed at the conquest of Acarnania and Amphilochia (Great Peloponnesian War). In the autumn of 426 BC the Spartans had sent an army of 3,000 allied hoplites to support the Aetolians in an attack on the important Athenian naval base at Naupactus on the northern shore of the Gulf of Corinth. This attack had ended in failure (siege of Naupactus) after the Athenian commander Demosthenes had moved 1,000 reinforcements into the city by sea, but instead of abandoning the campaign the Spartan commander Eurylochus had accepted a plan for an invasion of Acarnania and Amphilochia. Acarnania was the area along the coast between the Gulf of Corinth and the Gulf of Ambracia, while Amphilochia was the area around Amphilochian Argos, a city at the south-eastern end of the Gulf of Ambracia. The campaign was suggested by the Ambraciots, the inhabitants of the Corinthian colony of Ambracia, a city located seven miles to the north of the Gulf of Ambracia. The Ambraciots promised to mobilise and attack Amphilochian Argos early in the winter, and so the Spartans dismissed their Aetolian allies and took up a position at Proschium, in the south-west of Aetolia.

As promised the Ambraciots made their move in the winter of 426 BC, advancing around the eastern end of the Gulf of Ambracia with 3,000 hoplites. They occupied a position at Olpae, just under three miles to the north of Amphilochian Argos, at the eastern end of the Gulf. The Acarnanians responded to this move by moving most of their army to Amphilochian Argos. One division of the army went straight to the city, while the rest took up a position at Crenae, guarding the south-eastern approaches and the route along which the Spartans were expected to move. They also called for Demosthenes, asking him to take command of their army, and for help from the twenty Athenian triremes then cruising around the Peloponnese.

Eurylochus and his Peloponnesian army took an unexpected route to Orpae. From Proschium they advanced north into Acarnania, and advanced to the west of Stratus, the largest town in the area. They then marched to Mount Thyamus, in Agraean territory (to the south of Crenae), and from there slipped through the gap between Amphilochian Argos and Crenae and joined up with the Ambraciots at Olpae.

Soon after this Demosthenes arrived with the twenty triremes, 200 Messenian hoplites and sixty Athenian archers. He was placed in command of the combined Athenian/ Acarnanian and Amphilochian army and advanced towards Olpae, where he camped on the opposite side of a ravine from the Peloponnesian army. The two sides then remained in their camps for five days, before on the sixth day both armies came out of their camps and prepared for battle.

The Peloponnesian army was the larger of the two. It was arrayed with Eurylochus and his own troops on the far left, a Mantinean contingent next in line and then mixed contingents of Peloponnesians and Ambraciots along the rest of the line.

Demosthenes realised that his shorter line would probably be outflanked, and so set a trap for the Peloponnesians. A force of 400 hoplites and light troops (mainly Acarnanians) was hidden in bushes on an overgrown path. Demosthenes, the Messenians and Athenians formed the right of the line, facing Eurylochus. The rest of the line was made up of Acarnanians and Amphilochian javelin-throwers.

At first all went well for Eurylochus. On his right the Ambraciots defeated their opponents and drove them off the battlefield, but instead of turning back to help in the centre they pursued the defeated troops back towards Argos. On his left the Peloponnesian troops soon outflanked Demosthenes on the Acarnanian right, and began to encircle them. At this point Demosthenes sprang his ambush. The 400 hidden troops plunged into the back of the Peloponnesian left which dissolved in chaos. The panic spread along the line, and soon the entire left and centre of the Peloponnesian army was retreating in disorder (apart from the Mantineans, who managed to stay together and retreat in good order). Eurylochus was killed during the collapse of his army. At this point the victorious Ambraciot right wing returned to the battlefield to find the rest of their army fleeing in defeat. The Acarnanians attacked them as they attempted to retreat back along the coast to Olpae, and inflicted heavy casualties on the retreating troops.

The battle lasted until the evening, although we don't know how early in the day it began. On the day after the battle the new Peloponnesian commander, Menedaius, approached Demosthenes to ask to recover their dead and to ask for a truce which would allow the defeated army to retreat to safety. Demosthenes agreed to the first request, but refused to agree to a truce for the entire defeated army. Instead he made a secret agreement in which Menedaius, the Mantineans and the more important Peloponnesians were given permission to leave. He had two motives for this move - first to weaken the Ambraciot army and second to discredit the Spartans by showing that they would abandon their allies after a defeat. On the day after the battle the Peloponnesians took advantage of the secret agreement to retreat. Their Ambraciot allies attempted to join them, and in the resulting fighting another 200 were killed before most escaped east to safety into Agraea.

Two days after the victory at Olpae Demosthenes won a second major victory a short distance to the north, at Idomene. These two victories helped to restore his reputation back at Athens, and he was able to safely return to the city, taking 300 sets of enemy armour with him as a trophy. The Acarnanians and Amphilochians were unwilling to let the Athenians occupy Ambracia, and instead agreed a peace treaty in which each side promised to support the other against any invasion unless the Athenians or Peloponnesians were involved.


Great Battles of the Classical Greek World

If you have read this book, please rate it from 1 (low) to 10 (high).

Areas of Interest

Featured Hobby News Article

New Games, Books & More at Caliver This Week

Featured Link

Heretical Gaming

Top-Rated Ruleset

Triumph!

Featured Showcase Article

28mm Babylonian Spearmen from Castaway Arts

We look at spearmen from Castaway Arts' new Babylonian line.

Featured Profile Article

Dung Gate

For the time being, the last in our series of articles on the gates of Old Jerusalem.

Current Poll

Favorite Charlton Heston Movie (Round 2)

Featured Book Review

Warriors and Wenches

This entry created 7 September�. Last revised on 7 September�.

1,778 hits since 7 Sep 2017
�-2021 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

284 pages. Many small battle maps in text. Index, glossary, footnotes, bibliography, and primary sources listed for each battle.

Owen Rees, a first-time author who is also working on his PhD, tells us that his goal with this book is to create in the reader a desire to learn more about Greek warfare. He therefore presents 18 battles from Classical Greek history, selected for their historical importance, limited to battles which the sources allow useful reconstructions and which illustrate Greek warfare. (For instance, the Battle of Spartolus was rejected for lacking enough information for a reconstruction, while Thermopylae was rejected for being tactically 'boring'.)

The book begins with two pages of acknowledgements, two pages of preface, six pages of introduction (which explain the basics of Greek history and warfare), a two-page glossary, and a one-page key to the battle maps.

The main portion of the book is divided into four sections, each with a brief introduction:

  1. The Peloponnesian War
    • The Battle of Olpae (426/5 BC)
    • The Battle of Delium (424 BC)
    • The Battle of Amphipolis (422 BC)
    • The First Battle of Mantinea (418 BC)
  2. The Spartan Hegemony
    • Battle of Nemea (394 BC)
    • Battle of Coronea (394 BC)
    • The Battle of the Long Walls of Corinth (392 BC)
    • The Battle of Lechaeum (390 BC)
    • The Battle of Leuctra (371 BC)
    • The Second Battle of Mantinea (362 BC)
  3. Siege Warfare
    • The Siege of Plataea (429-427 BC)
    • The Sieges of Pylos and Sphacteria (425 BC)
    • The Siege of Syracuse (415-413 BC)
    • The Siege of the Drilae (400 BC)
  4. Greco-Persian Conflicts
    • The Battle of Marathon (490 BC)
    • The Battle of Plataea (479 BC)
    • The Battle of Cunaxa (401 BC)

The primary sources are listed at the start of the background and battle sections. For example, the background for the Battle of Delium is based on Thucydides, IV.53-57, 666-77 Diodorus XII.65.1-67.1 the battle description is from Thucydides, IV.90-101.4 Diodorus XII.69.1-70.6. For this battle, additional material is provided in two-plus pages of footnotes. The author's approach is to focus on a single source, using other sources to supplement that source, and also seeking out the latest academic research.

Each battle is illustrated with two or more black-and-white maps, showing significant terrain features and the position of the armies.

Continuing with the example of the Battle of Delium, this chapter gives us five pages of background (basically, everything that happened in the Peloponnesian War this year), one paragraph describing the battlefield, three paragraphs describing the armies, two-and-a-half pages describing the battle (including three battle maps), and two pages of aftermath (including the resulting siege of Delium).

The book ends with a four-page Conclusions chapter, in which the author critiques the traditional model of Greek warfare as being phalanx versus phalanx &ndash he emphasizes the role of cavalry and light troops, and the flexibility throughout the period under discussion.

While I am sure this book will make a useful reference, I thought that it failed in its mission to make Greek warfare interesting and exciting.

For a book about battles, there is both too much and too little background material &ndash too much, because the author too often explains the entire war when the focus should be on the battle too little, because the background often becomes a blur of places and names (with no regional maps provided).

The battle maps are plentiful and functional, but not inspirational. The armies are shown divided into units, but there are few labels, and the text often does not explain what the units are.

The author uses many action words to make his narrative interesting, though his word choice can be odd. (At one point, an army is noted as failing to take "affirmative action" &ndash I think he means "offensive action.")

The author also fails to use the aftermath section in each chapter to emphasize why that battle is significant in Greek warfare. (Sometimes, this information is given in the section introduction, but not in the battle chapter.)

Taking Delium again as our example, the aftermath section says literally nothing about the significance of the tactics the much earlier section introduction at least gives a paragraph on Theban massed formations, use of reserves, and redirection of troops. However, the author seems uncertain as to whether these were standard tactics or new developments in Greek warfare. Is the Theban formation used for the first time (section intro), or already Theban tradition (armies section)? Is the intervention of the cavalry an example of prior planning (section intro), an example of how commanders routinely could order changes in the middle of battle (battle section), or (as some other historians suggest) the first example of Greeks making tactical changes in mid-battle?

The author failed to make the subject matter interesting, and failed to adequately summarize the significance of each battle. Therefore, I cannot recommend this book.


War Council

Acarnanian Army (use Barbarian/Greek blocks)
Leader: Demosthenes, Athenian General
6 Command Cards

Ambraciot Army (use Carthaginian/Roman blocks)
Leader: Eurylochus, Spartan General
5* Command Cards
Move First

Special Rules
Ambush: at the beginning of any turn, before playing a card, the Acarnanian player can place the ambush units on any forest hex, where they will be able to receive orders (and be attacked) starting from that turn. When these units arrive on the board, the Ambraciot player must discard 1 card, reducing his hand to 4 cards for the rest of the battle. Before that, treat the forest hexes as impassable terrain.


War Council

Athenian Army
(Use Greek light blue blocks)
• Leader: Demosthenes
• 6 Command Cards
• Move First

Spartan Army
(Use Spartan orange and
bronze Hoplite blocks)
• Leader: Eurylochus
• 5 Command Cards

Special Rules
• The Athenian ambush force may be deployed onto the battlefield when the Athenian player plays an Inspired Leadership Center or Right Command card in the section noted on the card. When playing a Leadership Any Section, the force may be deployed in either the Center or Right section (Athenian player’s choice). Place the units adjacent to or on a vacant forest hex. Place the leader with one of the units. These units may not move but may battle, and may Momentum Advance after a successful Close Combat and Bonus Close Combat if eligible.


Battle of Olpae, 426 BC - History

People - Ancient Greece : Demosthenes (general)

Demosthenes (general) in Wikipedia Demosthenes (Greek: Δημοσθένης, died 413 BC), son of Alcisthenes, was an Athenian general during the Peloponnesian War. Early Military Actions The military activities of Demosthenes are first recorded from 426 BC when he led an Athenian invasion of Aetolia. This was a failure. Demosthenes lost about 120 Athenians along with his second in command, Procles. Demosthenes' allies also suffered heavy losses.[1] As a result of this loss, Demosthenes did not return to Athens, fearing for his life. However, later that year, Ambracia invaded Acarnania. The Acarnanians sought help from Demosthenes, who was now patrolling the coast of the Ionian Sea with twenty Athenian ships. He landed at Olpae and defeated a Spartan army under Eurylochus, which had come to assist the Ambraciots. Eurylochus was killed in the Battle of Olpae and the Acarnanians and Ambraciots signed a peace treaty. Success in the Peloponnese In 425 BC, while still with his fleet in the Ionian Sea, he was ordered by Cleon to join a fleet sent from Athens to put down a revolt in Sicily. Due to a storm, Demosthenes instead landed at Pylos in the Peloponnese. In order to keep his soldiers busy, he had them fortify the port, giving Athens a strong base close to Sparta. Sparta, meanwhile, landed an army on the nearby island of Sphacteria, and Demosthenes moved his men to the beach to prevent the Spartans, commanded by Thrasymelidas and Brasidas, from landing there. The Spartan landing was repulsed, and the main Athenian fleet (having turned back from its journey to Sicily) arrived in time to chase off the Spartan ships. Back in Athens, the Spartans tried to negotiate a peace. This failed, and Cleon went to assist Demosthenes, who was planning an invasion of Sphacteria. The Athenian forces successfully attacked Sphacteria, forcing the Spartans to surrender - a very unusual event. See Battle of Pylos and Battle of Sphacteria. Further action during the Peloponnesian War In 424 BC, Demosthenes and Hippocrates attempted to capture Megara, but were defeated by Brasidas. Demosthenes then went to Naupactus to support the democratic revolution there and to gather troops for an invasion of Boeotia. Demosthenes and Hippocrates were unable to coordinate their attacks and Hippocrates was defeated at the Battle of Delium. Demosthenes instead attacked Sicyon and was defeated as well. Demosthenes was one of the signatories of the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC, which ended the first half of the Peloponnesian War. (A different Demosthenes was also a signatory for Sparta.) In 417 BC, Demosthenes was responsible for evacuating the Athenian troops from Epidaurus following the Battle of Mantinea. He is said to have organized athletic games and the Athenian troops escaped while the Epidaurans were distracted by the games. The Sicilian Expendition After Athens invaded invaded Sicily in 415 BC, a Spartan fleet arrived to reinforce their allies in Syracuse, with a stalemate ensuing. In 414 BC, Demosthenes and Eurymedon were sent with a new fleet of seventy-three ships and 5000 hoplites. Demosthenes landed his troops and led a bold night attack on Syracusan forces. After initial success, the Athenians became disorganized in what became a chaotic night operation, and were thoroughly routed by Gylippus, the Spartan commander. After the defeat, and upon seeing the disease-ridden Athenian camp, Demosthenes suggested that they immediately give up the siege and return to Athens, where they were needed to defend the city against a Spartan invasion of Attica. Nicias, the Athenian commander in charge, at first refused, until still more Spartans arrived. However, while preparing to leave, there was a lunar eclipse, which delayed the departure as this was considered a bad omen. The delay allowed the Syracusans and Spartans to trap the Athenian forces in the harbour and Eurymedon was killed in the ensuing battle. The Spartans forced the Athenians to return their forces to the land. Demosthenes thought they could still flee by ship, but Nicias wanted to find refuge on land. After a few days of marching, Demosthenes and Nicias became separated Demosthenes was ambushed by the Syracusans and was forced to surrender. Nicias was soon captured as well, and both were executed despite the contrary orders of Gylippus, who had hoped Demosthenes and Nicias could be brought back to Sparta as prisoners. A character in an Aristophanes play Demosthenes was also a character in The Knights by Aristophanes. Along with Nicias, he is a slave who overthrows "the Paphlagonian," a character representing Cleon. The characters in the play were based on the real people, who were contemporaries of Aristophanes.


Images of War — Battle of Midway — America’s Decisive Strike in the Pacific in WWII – Review

Anyone with an interest in military history or history generally will know the Battle of Midway. Following Japan’s attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the US Pacific aircraft carriers were undamaged, leaving the US with three effective carriers in the Pacific.

The Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942 saw one US carrier lost so effectively only two carriers remained. The Japanese Combined Fleet commander, Yamamoto, decided then to lure the remaining carriers into a battle where they could be destroyed. This would give Japan a free hand with its expansion plans across Asia and the Pacific.

Location of Midway Atoll (image from Google Maps)

Yamamoto targeted the Hawaiian Island chain again with the target this time being the Naval Air Station on Midway Atoll. The Japanese then launched an attack on Midway on 4 June 1942. Unfortunately for the Japanese:

  1. The Americans had deciphered Japanese signals so knew exactly where the Japanese attack would fall
  2. Admiral Nimitz had three aircraft carriers in his command, not just the two that the Japanese expected
  3. The americans had more aircraft available than the Japanese, although about one third of those aircraft were land-based

The battle ran over the period 4 to 7 June 1942 and at the end the Japanese had lost all four of their aircraft carriers engaged to one US carrier lost. As a result of those losses, Japan was forced onto the back foot and never recovered its previous naval dominance through the rest of the war. The Battle of Midway is considered by most to be the turning point in the war with Japan.

There are many images and photos from the Battle of Midway, many of them on the Internet illustrating web pages or in museum collections. Frontline Books has published a book of these photographs in their Images of War series. The Battle of Midway — America’s Decisive Strike in the Pacific in WWII was written (compiled?) by John Grehan and is published as a paperback. It is 164 pages long and contains 150 illustrations and photographs. ISBN: 9781526758347 it was published on 23 September 2019.

The photographs in the book are ordered into the following chapters:

  • Map List
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: The Build-up to Battle
  • 3 June 1943
    1. First Contact
  • 4 June 1942
    1. Bombs Fall on Midway
    2. Attacking the Japanese Fleet
    3. The Japanese Hit Yorktown
    4. The Torpedo Bombers Strike
  • 5 June 1942
    1. Operation MI Cancelled
  • 6 June 1942
    1. Last Shots
  • 7 June 1942
    1. The End of the USS Yorktown
    2. After the Battle
  • References and Notes

I have no hesitation recommending this book to any naval or military historian, modeller or wargamer. I have spent quite a few hours looking at the photographs in this work. In addition to the photographs there is a reasonable interpretation and map how the battle played out.

Share this:

Like this:


Battle of Olpae, 426 BC - History

Сканированное изображение
Эти товары созданы при помощи сканирования оригинального печатного издания. Старые издания доступны в основном в сканированном виде, поскольку их электронные версии никогда не существовали или не могли быть предоставлены издателем.

Загружаемые файлы PDF таких книг были обработаны распознающими тект программами (OCR), с целью превращения картинки в текст. Результаты распознавания размещаются в невидимом виде под картинкой каждой сканированной страницы, что позволяет вести поиск по тексту. Однако художественно оформленный или "рукописынй" текст, как правило, остаётся не распознанным такими программаи - и, как следствие, остаётся недоступен для поиска.

These PDF files are digitally watermarked to signify that you are the owner. A small message is added to the bottom of each page of the PDF containing your name and the order number of your purchase.

Warning: If any files bearing your information are found being distributed illegally, then your account will be suspended and legal action may be taken against you.


Athenian Hoplite vs Spartan Hoplite

The Peloponnesian War, fought between Athens, Sparta and their respective allies during 431-404 BC, continues to be a fascinating and rewarding conflict for the military historian. Researching this conflict for Athenian Hoplite vs Spartan Hoplite, I found so many tidbits of information and insights into ancient warfare which I had not noticed before, and so many avenues of for research that it was a struggle to fit them all in. (In fact, we couldn&rsquot, and I have a long list of topics to explore which have arisen from researching this Combat title.) It never fails to surprise me that studying ancient conflicts (in this case one fought 2,450 years ago) you can find new things to consider time and time again. Every re-reading of the sources uncovers some new topic of study. Often, each and every one of these topics is an intriguing wormhole of their own. I thought I would touch on a few of these here to whet your appetite for Athenian Hoplite vs Spartan Hoplite.

The strength of the Athenian lochos.

We know that the Athenian army was commanded by strategoi (generals, sing. strategos) ten were elected every year. Below that, an expedition of Athenian hoplites would be selected (usually by age groups &ndash Athenians were eligible to be called up as hoplites from the age of 18 to 60 &ndash 42 years of service). Athenian armies were divided into tribal taxeis &ndash there were ten tribes (or phylai) at Athens, so each army would have ten taxesis. These could be of different strengths &ndash we have expeditions of 1,000 hoplites, 2,000 all the way to 7,000, and in each one there would be ten tribal divisions. Each taxis would be commanded by a taxiarch. Below the taxis was a certain number of lochoi (sing. lochos) (and each commanded by a lochagos) we do not know how many there were nor do we know how many men were in each one. There are different arguments for their strength. For the Spartans, however, we have very precise details &ndash ironically from Athenian authors (who don&rsquot provide such detail for their own armies!). The (Athenian) historians Thucydides and Xenophon provide us with very precise breakdowns of the Spartan army &ndash commanded by the king or the polemarch, they had five lochoi (the same term as in Athenian armies but a larger division of men). Below that were pentekostyes (it may have meant &lsquofiftieth&rsquo), and each lochos had four pentekostyes. Each pentekostyes had four enomotiai (sing. enomotia). With an enomotia strength of 32 men, each pentekostyes had 128 men, and so each lochos had 512. These divisions (based on Thucydides account of the battle of Mantinea in 418 BC) allow for a very precise breakdown of Spartan manpower (something we cannot do for the corresponding Athenian armies). There are some complications &ndash Xenophon uses the term morae (sing. mora) later in the war so there seems to have been a change at Sparta, perhaps brought on by the losses the Spartans suffered at Sphacteria in 425 BC. And in this Xenophon and Thucydides do not entirely agree (although it is possible to reconcile their accounts).

Socrates

Another surprising thing about the Peloponnesian War is that we find the most remarkable detail about an individual hoplite, the Athenian philosopher Socrates. In ancient wars we are used to getting details of commanders it was their conduct that was recorded in ancient historical and biographical accounts. In the Peloponnesian War, however, every Athenian was expected to serve in the armed forces and the philosopher Socrates did his civic duty better than most. We know he was relatively poor but served as a hoplite. What is more, we know that he served in three campaigns during the war (Potidaea in 432/431 BC, Delium in 424, and Amphipolis in 422). Because Socrates was so important to philosophy, its patron saint, we have an abundance of sources for his life and philosophy from Plato and Xenophon and a multitude of other sources outside of traditional historical accounts. Many have a military context, and these combine to make Socrates the Greek hoplite about whom we know the most detail. Socrates never held a position of command and he is absent from the historical records of the battles he was involved in, but we can use the additional detail we have to reconstruct the most remarkable military biography of the most famous Greek philosopher, courageous in battle and admired by his colleagues on campaign.

Battles you should know better

There are battles in the Peloponnesian War which are well known (Pylos and Sphacteria, the Sicilian Expedition) but there are others which should be better known two of those I got to explore (along with Sphacteria) &ndash the battles of Amphipolis and Mantinea. And study of them rewards the researcher again and again. There are others too. The battle of Olpae (a small town in Acarnania), fought in 426 BC, showed the Athenian general Demosthenes (who would win on Sphacteria later die in Sicily) at the height of his powers. Demosthenes had suffered a setback earlier that year and so refused to return to Athens where he was sure he would be prosecuted (one of the great weaknesses of the Athenian system &ndash they punished their best generals for failures, many of which were beyond the individual commander&rsquos control). Demosthenes took a force of 200 Messenians and 1,000 Acarnanians (along with only 60 Athenian archers) and defeated a far superior force of 3,000 Spartans and their allies. Demosthenes did this by stationing a force of 400 hoplites and lightly armed troops in a ravine behind where the Spartans would attack him. At the right moment, this force emerged and attacked the rear of the Spartans, killing both commanders. The remainder of the Spartan force saw the Spartans themselves defeated and they fled. This battle deserves to be better known &ndash the perfect use of an ambush, the cutting down of the Spartans (and their leadership) which caused the remainder of their allies to flee, and a defeat of a numerically superior foe (the Spartans outnumbered Demosthenes&rsquo forces by more than 2:1). There were lessons to be learned from this battle which would not be put into proper effect until the following century.

Amphipolis is a remarkable battle, fought far away from the cities of Sparta and Athens but between Spartan and Athenian forces. We see in this battle the use by the Spartan commander, Brasidas, of a force of only 150 selected hoplites ordered to charge a much larger force &ndash probably one of 600 Athenians. Brasidas&rsquo charge was unexpected but caused havoc &ndash he lost only seven men (including his own life) but inflicted more than 600 on the Athenians. Mantinea too deserves to be better known &ndash it is from this battle we get all the detail of Spartan divisions as well as the idea that Greek armies shuffled to the right as they advanced, as each man sought the protection of his neighbour&rsquos shield on his exposed right side. This is likely to have been a factor in many battles but it is explicitly mentioned in accounts of Mantinea.

Elites

The battles of the Peloponnesian War also reveal the use of several elite forces &ndash not only the 150 of Brasidas but also the more famous hippeis bodyguard of the Spartan kings, who fought at Mantinea. There are many others in evidence men especially selected for a particular mission or to fight in the front ranks. We have the Boeotian &lsquocharioteers and footmen&rsquo who formed the front rank at the battle of Delium in 424 BC (another battle which deserves to be better known), and 1,000 picked Argives at Mantinea. We also have a perplexing case of a unit of 300 Athenian hoplites who may have been a longstanding elite (stretching back to the battle of Plataea in 479 BC). Other cities had elite units too.

There is a seemingly endless amount of information and insight to be found in accounts of the battles of the Peloponnesian War. Almost every battle and factor involved contains a historical conundrum or discrepancy between sources. Some of these can be worked out, others provide yet more fuel to further thought and analysis, but all are fascinating and worth exploring again and again.

Athenian Hoplite vs Spartan Hoplite publishes 21 January. Preorder your copy now!


Battle of Olpae, 426 BC - History

By Fred Eugene Ray

The wars fought by Sparta and Athens in the fifth century bc pitted one city-state with ancient Greece’s greatest army against one boasting her most powerful fleet. Yet the Spartan and Athenian soldier followed ways of war that differed in far more than a simple preference for fighting on land rather than sea. In fact, the distinctive approaches that a Spartan hoplite and Athenian soldier took to combat embraced a wide range of tactics, only a few of which were tied to their traditional divide at the shoreline.

Military historians have tended to focus on the severe boyhood training regimen in Sparta (the agoge) and the potent combination of hardy physique and iron-willed martial philosophy it promoted. But the Spartan way of war was not simply a matter of outstanding individual toughness, strength, or even weaponry skills. Superior tactics played key roles as well—discretion was often the better part of valor for Spartans. They were adept at assessing battle odds and, should these not be to their liking, heading home without a fight.

Despite its fierce image, Sparta had a more extensive record of dodging armed confrontations than any other Greek city-state. It was not unusual for Spartan commanders to turn back before crossing a hostile border if the omens were bad. And even on the brink of combat, they might still choose to avoid action. Spartan King Agis II (427-400 bc) once claimed that “Spartans do not ask how many the enemy are, only where they are,” but on at least four occasions he personally refused engagement with the enemy.

Advantages in the Spartan Hoplite Approach to Warfare

Classical Greeks fought in a dense linear formation or phalanx as armored spearmen known as hoplites. These hoplites were protected from their ankles up by greaves, cuirass, shield, and helmet as they stood close alongside each other in ranks that could be many hundreds of men wide. This allowed them to present a broad front that was hard to overlap or

Spartan hoplite (c.500 BC), dressed
with a Corinthian helmet, armour and
greaves, armed with spear, sword and
shield.

outflank. But there was a limit to how thin a formation could be without falling into disorder. Thus, most Greeks tried to form a file at least eight men deep to accept battle. Spartans, however, could advance and maneuver effectively in files as slim as four men. Those in the first three ranks struck overhand with their spears at the enemy front, and the fourth rank joined rows two and three in pressing shields into the backs of their fellows in a concerted effort to shove through the opposition, a tactic called othismos. This ability to maneuver when short-handed yielded success several times, most famously against a much larger Arcadian army at Dipaea in 464 bc.

Most Greek armies advanced with men shouting encouragement and issuing distinctive battle cries. They would then rush the last few yards into close action. In contrast, Spartans moved forward slowly in measured steps to the sound of pipes and the rhythmic chanting of battle poetry. This allowed them to keep excellent order all the way into engagement. Moreover, the Spartans saw their opponents’ noisy rush as amateurish, signaling false bravado to suppress fear. Their own deliberate and disciplined pace was meant to set a tone of both overwhelming confidence and deadly menace. So unnerving was this approach that many foes broke and ran before first contact.

Spartan hoplites followed a natural urge when marching into battle to edge closer to the man on their right. They did this to gain better cover from the shield held on his left arm. This tendency caused phalanxes to fade toward the right as they advanced and often resulted in a mutual overlap of formation flanks on opposite ends of the field. The Spartans exploited this by deliberately exaggerating their own rightward movements. They would combine the movement with well-practiced wheeling by elite troops on their far right to curl around a foe’s left flank. Once enveloped, the encircled wing would break and run, causing the enemy phalanx to collapse.

Besides exploiting the common phenomenon of rightward drift, Spartans also used more unique schemes on the battlefield. King Agis once shifted units in his formation during an advance. To attempt this in the very face of the enemy suggests that Spartans considered such risky moves to be well within their capabilities. Athenian general Cleandridas defeated Italian tribesmen in 433 bc by hiding a contingent of hoplites behind his phalanx. This disguised his true strength and, once engaged, let him wheel his men against the enemy flank to trigger a rout.

The most daring Spartan battle maneuver was to break off in the midst of combat and withdraw. All other Greek armies shunned this for fear of inviting disaster. The Spartans, however, could not only pull out of hopeless spots at minimal loss, but could also fake the maneuver and trick foes into breaking formation to give chase. Herodotus cited such false retreats at Thermopylae in 480 bc. The Spartans then wheeled about each time and obliterated the overly eager Persians, who had fallen into premature and disordered pursuits. Plato claimed the Persians also suffered this same Spartan ploy at Plataea one year later.

While Spartans heavily punished those breaking ranks to follow their feigned retreats, they themselves refrained from any sort of pursuit. First, they saw no profit in risking precious lives to chase an already defeated enemy. Furthermore, staying on the battleground allowed them to possess the field at day’s end. This was the universally accepted definition of formal victory in Greek warfare. Finally, by maintaining formation, the Spartans could rapidly reform on a different front, giving them the opportunity of mounting a second attack against any opponents that were still intact.

The Spartans were well aware that success on the battlefield could carry a special danger in the form of friendly fire. Helmets limited vision and the din of battle was deafening, causing hoplites to easily mistake friend for foe in the mixed-up ranks. Thucydides cited just such a tragic incident within the encircling Athenian right wing at Delium in 424 bc. One way the Spartans reduced this hazard was by adopting uniform gear so as to more easily identify each other in the heat of a confused melee. To this purpose, they wore highly visible tunics that were dyed crimson. Their cloaks might have been red as well however, they rarely, if ever, took these cumbersome garments into combat. The Spartans also painted large devices on their shields for identification, the most famous being the Greek letter lambda. Looking like an inverted “V,” this was the first letter in “Lacedaemon,” which was the ancient Greeks’ name for Sparta.

Sneak attacks were not a staple of the Spartan army, but one did yield a victory at Sepeia in 494 bc. There, Sparta’s famously wily King Cleomenes was facing a slightly larger host from Argos. Arranging a temporary truce and camping opposite the Argives, Cleomenes set up a routine that included signaling meals with a horn. When the enemy stood down at the same time for their own food, he had his men charge and put the unprepared Argives to a horrific rout. Another Spartan commander who used a sneak attack to good effect was Brasidas at Amphipolis in 422 bc, where he was under siege from Cleon of Athens. Cleon had lined up for a return to his base after a scouting expedition when the Spartans surprised him by rushing out of the city in two detachments, cutting the Athenian column in half and defeating each segment in detail. Brasidas brought the opening phase of the Peloponnesian War to an end with the victory, although he himself died in battle.

Even the best armies sometimes find retreat unavoidable. The Spartans, having lost 300 picked men and a king in a rearguard action in 480 bc at Thermopylae, came up with a less costly way to withdraw—the marching box. First used successfully under Brasidas in 423 bc, this formation consisted of forming most of the hoplite infantry into a hollow rectangle, placing the lightly armed soldiers and noncombatants inside the formation, and then deploying the remaining hoplites fore and aft to meet any enemy threats. The marching box could retreat and defend itself from all forms of attack. Xenophon of Athens claimed credit for creating the arrangement during the famed “Retreat of the Ten Thousand” after the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 bc. However, it is more likely that Xenophon simply modestly modified existing Spartan protocol.

Athens as a Military Power

Regard for classical Athenians as fighters in general has lagged behind their fame as creators of democracy and masters of aesthetic culture. From antiquity to the present, the Spartans have had far greater martial repute. Yet Athens in its fifth century bc heyday not only fought more than three times as many battles as Sparta, but actually enjoyed a slightly higher overall rate of combat success. In fact, Athenians developed the largest and most sophisticated war machine in all of Greece and applied tactics as creatively as they pursued the fine arts.

Athens followed adoption of democracy in 510 bc with a period of rapid expansion. The Athenians kept pace with rising territorial commitments by greatly increasing the size of their military. Athens’ army went from a late sixth-century bc count of 3,600 armored spearmen to 13,000 citizen regulars on the rolls by 431 bc. Likewise, the Athenian fleet grew from 60 to 300 ships over the same period. Sparta could answer with only about half as many Spartan hoplites of its own and had no navy at all.

Short on cash and having severely limited citizenship, the Spartans relied upon a system of alliances. The Peloponnesian League gave them access to tremendous manpower, but had serious handicaps. Sparta often had to coerce or cajole reluctant allies into action. There was also danger that a balking ally might spark an unwanted and costly conflict. Indeed, Thucydides suggested that Corinth set off the great Peloponnesian War in just such a way. In contrast, Athens had full control over its own larger military, as well as those of other states that were much closer to being subjects than true partners.

Hoplite spearmen confront cavalry forces in this fragment of an Attic scroll, circa 510 BC.

As Athenian soldiers grew in number and strength, the Greek city-state also greatly boosted its number of horsemen. Their cavalry force grew from fewer than 100 riders to some 2,200 during the fifth century bc. This was the only contingent of its kind among southern Greeks and was quite large even by the standards of horse-rich central and northern Greece. Moreover, Athenians held an edge over other cavalry in mounted archers. Originally imported from Scythia, these deadly riders rose to 200-strong. Horses made easy targets for the javelins of opposing skirmishers. By using an alternative screen of swift horse-archers with longer ranging composite bows, Athens transformed its cavalry into one of the most dangerous and versatile in all of Greece.

The cavalry experience inspired Athenians to develop further skills to guard their flanks. These could be either natural or man-made barriers, the latter of which saw use at Marathon in 490 bc. Frontinus described the Athenians building a crude wooden barricade, or abatis, to stretch their front against a hillside and discourage a mounted enemy attack. Likewise, they exploited existing structures outside Syracuse in 414 bc to repel horsemen, and they did so again inside Athens at the Battle of Munychia in 403 bc. All the same, reliance on natural barriers was the more common tack. At Plataea and Mycale (479 bc), Eurymedon (466 bc), and Anapus (415 bc), the Athenians won victories with their flanks resting on seashore, streambed, or uplands.

Use of the bow was even more particular to Athens than expertise at either cavalry warfare or flank barriers. Along with their singular deployment of mounted archers, the Athenians were alone among Greeks in sending out large numbers of bowmen on foot. Their army included 800 foot archers who fought in tandem with 300 specially trained hoplites. The latter arrayed three-deep at the front, kneeling while shafts flew overhead and standing to repel any attempt to get at the bowmen behind them. Such specialized troops played a major role at Plataea, where they turned back Persian cavalry.

In addition, 400 to 500 archers also served aboard the Athenian fleet. Unlike other Greeks, who piled up to 40 hoplites onto each ship for hand-to-hand combat with other vessels, the Athenians used just 14 marines (10 hoplites and four bowmen) and pioneered the art of combat seamanship. This called for maneuvering their ships into position to strike opposing vessels with an armored prow while pelting them with arrows. Whether on land or sea, Athens made better use of the bow than any other city-state.

Athens’ superior fleet came into play for surprise operations. By taking advantage of its great amphibious capacity, Athens launched more unexpected offenses than any other Greek city-state. Seaborne landings had been common as far back as the Persian Wars. But combining them with a strong element of surprise arose in mid-fifth century bc as a tactic of the Athenian commander Tolmides, who sailed around the Peloponnese to descend for unexpected strikes against out-matched opponents. The Athenians refined the scheme over time with the use of troop transports, replacing the upper banks of oarsmen on war galleys with a mix of Athenian soldiers, light infantry, and horsemen. A commander could then land to enormous advantage with a large and diverse armament at a time and place of his choosing. Moreover, in the unlikely event that effective resistance did arise, he could simply put back to sea at very little risk to himself or his men.

When it came to stealthy operations, the Athenians did not always depend on their naval strength. In 458 bc, a year before Tolmides made his first surprise attack from the sea, Myronides of Athens won two battles as a result of unanticipated overland marches. These came at Cimolia, east of Corinth, where he twice bested the latter’s regulars with forces thrown together from reserves, resident aliens, and local allies. This would not be the last time Tolmides won an engagement with an unexpected march. One year later, he led an army north to catch forces of the Boeotian League unprepared. In the wake of the subsequent victory at Oenophyta, Athens was able to dominate all Boeotia except Thebes for the next decade.

Masters of surprise operations, Athenians also excelled at stealth and deception on the tactical level. Their gambits included ambushes, sneak attacks, diversions, and disinformation. As early as Salamis in 480 bc, Themistocles tricked the Persians into a foolish naval offensive by leaking false plans. Such tactics saw their greatest use during the Peloponnesian War, when Demosthenes sprang an ambush that routed a larger phalanx at Olpae in 426 bc and carried out three separate nighttime assaults, winning the first two before suffering a ruinous defeat in the last.

Demosthenes was a daring leader, but more cautious men also used tricky tactics on Athens’ behalf. Although notoriously conservative, Nicias used trickery twice to safely land armies on hostile soil, the first time with a diversionary attack and the second by feeding false information to the enemy. And a team of Athenian generals employed several deceptions at Byzantium in 408 bc. Xenophon and Diodorus detailed how they withdrew at night from a siege, only to sneak back and assault the docks with lightly armed troops. They then took the city by means of a surprise entry by their hoplites through an inland gate. Athenian commanders were not above deceiving their own men.

A Savage hoplite flourishes a shield decorated improbably with the drawing of a dog.

Myronides at Oenophyta fooled the hoplites on his right wing into thinking that their stalled left was already victorious. This inspired them to renewed effort that carried their side of the field and turned Myronides’s phantom success into the real thing.

Perhaps the least known aspect of Athens’ military prowess was its record of successful combat experience. One great truth of war is that victory often comes less from destroying a foe than from breaking his will to fight. This was glaringly apparent on the battlefields of ancient Greece, where comparatively few soldiers fell face-to-face, but many died after one side wavered and tried to run away. Being confident in their leadership, comrades, and personal ability gave hoplites the morale needed to impose their will on an enemy. Over a third of all the significant land engagements waged by Greek hoplites during the fifth century bc were Athenian victories. In fact, Athens’ victory total over this period more than tripled that of any other city-state and exceeded Sparta’s by a factor of better than four. Thus, when Athenians went into action, they fully expected to win—and more often than not they did.

All of the unique aspects of Athenian warfare came together in service of a fresh strategic concept developed by Pericles at the start of the Peloponnesian War to deal with the huge armies that Sparta and its allies could field. Athens hoped to avoid apocalyptic phalanx battle in favor of small actions and inflicting long-term economic pain. Exploiting its signature tactical skills and setting up fortified outposts (epiteichismoi) on enemy soil, Athens nearly brought down Sparta. It was only after the Spartans adopted key elements of the Athenian approach that they finally claimed victory after nearly three decades of war. Still, they could not suppress Athens for long and gave up a hotly contested occupation of the city after a single year. The Athenians soon had a fully restored democracy and went on to rebuild their overseas empire, rising up early in the next century to again challenge Sparta for supremacy.

It was rare for Spartans and Athenians to actually contest the same ground. This happened fewer than a dozen times during the entire fifth century bc. When these meetings took the form of grand, set-piece battles, Sparta always came away with the victory. Smaller engagements were more frequent and resulted in an unbroken string of Athenian successes. These seemingly contradictory trends were direct reflections of the states’ differing tactical approaches.

First Battle of Tanagra

Only three large battles in the fifth century bc saw Spartans and Athenians on opposing sides. The first occurred in 457 bc, when Sparta’s Nicomedes led an army of his countrymen and allies into Boeotia in a powerful demonstration meant to discourage Athenian aggression against Thebes, a Spartan ally. Athens responded in kind, and an engagement

Trained from boyhood for battle, Greek hoplites face off at spear point.

(Tanagra I) took place that involved over 25,000 Spartan hoplites. As the battle unfolded, Spartan spearmen carried the day on their right with the help of traitorous Thessalian horsemen who deserted the Athenians just as the fighting began. Athenian hoplites, standing on their right, were equally successful however, they abandoned the field to go after their beaten foes. As a result, the Athenians ultimately lost to a more disciplined Spartan phalanx that held on to the battleground.

First Battle of Mantinea

It would be nearly two generations before Sparta and Athens would again meet in a grand clash. This came about in 418 bc at Mantinea I, where Argos sought to contest local Spartan dominance with help from the Athenians and other allies. After several false starts, the two sides finally came to blows with over 17,000 hoplites. Spartan King Agis opened the action with a bungled maneuver that allowed Argos’s men to pierce and rout his left wing. However, when the Argives made the mistake of chasing the defeated men, Agis enveloped the Athenian soldiers on the opposite flank. As he did, Argive troops at center and next to Athens’ contingent lost their nerve and ran away at first contact with the Spartans. Their flight left the Athenians with enemy spearmen closing from both sides, compelling them to retreat at heavy cost. The battle ended with the Spartans reforming in place to rout the Argive right wing as it came back from its ill-advised pursuit.

Battle of Halae Marsh

The last large engagement between the two dominant city-states came when the Spartans ousted the democratic regime at Athens after the Peloponnesian War and set up an oligarchy to run the city, supporting it with mercenaries and a few of their own hoplites. In 403 bc, Spartan King Pausanius reacted to growing Athenian opposition by leading a surge of fresh troops into the city. He then inadvertently stumbled into battle on a narrow stretch above Halae Marsh, a small coastal swamp south of the main harbor at Athens. Some 7,500 Spartan hoplites engaged 3,000 Athenian spearmen across the restricted space. Many of the Athenians had only makeshift gear, but with their flanks anchored next to the wetlands and a rising slope, they made a spirited fight of it.

In the end, Pausanius’s deeper files finally pushed their way to victory. As usual, the Spartans did not give chase. This time, their restraint not only limited casualties but also garnered good will that allowed Pausanius to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal. This left his old enemies at Athens free to regroup yet also secured his main goal of ending the physical and fiscal drains that the occupation had been inflicting on Sparta.

Making good use of well-drilled tactics, Sparta’s superb hoplites had intimidated their foes, maneuvered around formation flanks, and held onto conquered ground to whip the Athenians in every grand-scale meeting over the course of better than half a century. However, they were not able to duplicate this feat in lesser engagements, whereas Athens could better employ its own signature martial skills.

Trained from boyhood for battle, Greek hoplites face off at spear point.

Still, even smaller successes could have significant impact, such as the first three that Athens gained over Sparta earlier in the Peloponnesian War. These began in 425 bc on Spaectaria, a narrow island off southwestern Greece, where the Athenians bested a stranded Spartan garrison. They accomplished this with a landing near dawn that put perhaps 1,000 heavy spearmen and over 1,500 light-armed troops ashore against only 420 hoplites. Holding back from hand-to-hand fighting, this huge landing party drove the Spartans to the northern tip of the island under a rain of javelins and arrows and finally forced their surrender.

Within a year, Athenian soldiers were decisive in two more modest victories over Sparta. The first was on Cythera, just off the Spartan mainland. Nicias of Athens launched a sudden assault from the sea against this island’s port to divert attention from a landing with perhaps 2,000 hoplites. Heading inland, he then met a Spartan phalanx half his strength near Cythera’s capital. As had occurred so often, the Spartans advanced to put up a good fight despite being thinly filed. But the Athenians, veterans of many past victories, were not awed. Keeping their poise, they pushed back with files twice as deep until they drove their foes into retreat.

Nicias sent the surviving Spartans home under truce and turned Cythera into a base for amphibious raids all along Sparta’s coast. His foes had little chance to intercept the swift and unannounced attacks, and when they did, they met overwhelming opposition. Thucydides reported that a small Spartan garrison near a couple of coastal villages came to blows in contesting one such landing. Having perhaps no more than 300 hoplites, the defenders met quick defeat against what was very likely three times as many Athenian spearmen. The stinging reverse, added to those on Spaectaria and Cythera, dampened the Spartans’ ardor for war and induced them to offer peace, only to meet rejection from an increasingly confident Athens.

Theban general Epaminondas saves the life of fellow general Pelopidas during the victory over the Spartans at Leuctra in 371 bc.

The Athenians wrested three more small victories from Sparta later in the Peloponnesian War. The first occurred in 411 bc, when the Spartan monarch Agis led a large column toward Athens in hope of exploiting political turmoil there. Some 600 hoplites of Sparta’s Sciritae regiment composed the king’s vanguard and, when this unit got too far out in front, came under attack. The Athenians pounced on the Sciritae with a mixed force of hoplites, light infantry, and cavalry. Unable to fend off an assault on every front, the Spartan spearmen made a fighting retreat, taking heavy losses in the process. By the time help reached the scene, the Athenians had already swept the field and returned home with the bodies of the fallen.

Thoroughly discouraged, Agis called off his offensive and arranged a truce to recover the remains of his lost men. He tried again, this time managing to reach Athens. There, however, he came up against a phalanx that kept close beneath the city wall, where it had excellent support from archers lining the ramparts above. Judging that he would take unacceptable casualties before even coming to grips with the opposing hoplites, the king simply turned about. As he marched off, his rear ranks fell behind and drew an attack from Athenian soldiers and horsemen.

The Spartans’ last setback of the war against Athenian troops came in 407 bc on the Aegean island of Andros. There, a landing force under Alcibiades of Athens surprised and beat a garrison half its size. The Spartans, who stood center and right in a thinly filed array, lost when local allies gave way on the left.

Two Unique City-States, Two Unique Ways of War

Accounts of actual combat between Sparta and Athens at their height make it clear that each had a fair share of success against the other. The Athenians used their expertise at surprise mobilization, amphibious operations, and light-armed warfare (both mounted and afoot) to achieve a greater number of victories. But Sparta’s hoplites plied their own deadly skills to win every large action. Any advantage in tactics that either could claim was fleeting, the temporary product of unique circumstances holding sway on a given battlefield. The century closed after long decades of bloody fighting very much as it had begun, with both Sparta and Athens still fiercely independent and equally powerful in their different approaches to war.


The Original Thucydides Trap: Sparta vs. Athens

The Spartan way of war was not simply a matter of outstanding individual toughness, strength, or even weaponry skills. Superior tactics played key roles as well.

Short on cash and having severely limited citizenship, the Spartans relied upon a system of alliances. The Peloponnesian League gave them access to tremendous manpower, but had serious handicaps. Sparta often had to coerce or cajole reluctant allies into action. There was also danger that a balking ally might spark an unwanted and costly conflict. Indeed, Thucydides suggested that Corinth set off the great Peloponnesian War in just such a way. In contrast, Athens had full control over its own larger military, as well as those of other states that were much closer to being subjects than true partners.

As the Athenians expanded hoplite strength, they also greatly boosted their number of horsemen. Their cavalry force grew from fewer than 100 riders to some 2,200 during the fifth century bc. This was the only contingent of its kind among southern Greeks and was quite large even by the standards of horse-rich central and northern Greece. Moreover, Athenians held an edge over other cavalry in mounted archers. Originally imported from Scythia, these deadly riders rose to 200-strong. Horses made easy targets for the javelins of opposing skirmishers. By using an alternative screen of swift horse-archers with longer ranging composite bows, Athens transformed its cavalry into one of the most dangerous and versatile in all of Greece.

The cavalry experience inspired Athenians to develop further skills to guard their flanks. These could be either natural or man-made barriers, the latter of which saw use at Marathon in 490 bc. Frontinus described the Athenians building a crude wooden barricade, or abatis, to stretch their front against a hillside and discourage a mounted enemy attack. Likewise, they exploited existing structures outside Syracuse in 414 bc to repel horsemen, and they did so again inside Athens at the Battle of Munychia in 403 bc. All the same, reliance on natural barriers was the more common tack. At Plataea and Mycale (479 bc), Eurymedon (466 bc), and Anapus (415 bc), the Athenians won victories with their flanks resting on seashore, streambed, or uplands.

Use of the bow was even more particular to Athens than expertise at either cavalry warfare or flank barriers. Along with their singular deployment of mounted archers, the Athenians were alone among Greeks in sending out large numbers of bowmen on foot. Their army included 800 foot archers who fought in tandem with 300 specially trained hoplites. The latter arrayed three-deep at the front, kneeling while shafts flew overhead and standing to repel any attempt to get at the bowmen behind them. Such specialized troops played a major role at Plataea, where they turned back Persian cavalry.

In addition, 400 to 500 archers also served aboard the Athenian fleet. Unlike other Greeks, who piled up to 40 hoplites onto each ship for hand-to-hand combat with other vessels, the Athenians used just 14 marines (10 hoplites and four bowmen) and pioneered the art of combat seamanship. This called for maneuvering their ships into position to strike opposing vessels with an armored prow while pelting them with arrows. Whether on land or sea, Athens made better use of the bow than any other city-state.

Athens’ superior fleet came into play for surprise operations. By taking advantage of its great amphibious capacity, Athens launched more unexpected offenses than any other Greek city-state. Seaborne landings had been common as far back as the Persian Wars. But combining them with a strong element of surprise arose in mid-fifth century bc as a tactic of the Athenian commander Tolmides, who sailed around the Peloponnese to descend for unexpected strikes against out-matched opponents. The Athenians refined the scheme over time with the use of troop transports, replacing the upper banks of oarsmen on war galleys with a mix of hoplites, light infantry, and horsemen. A commander could then land to enormous advantage with a large and diverse armament at a time and place of his choosing. Moreover, in the unlikely event that effective resistance did arise, he could simply put back to sea at very little risk to himself or his men.

When it came to stealthy operations, the Athenians did not always depend on their naval strength. In 458 bc, a year before Tolmides made his first surprise attack from the sea, Myronides of Athens won two battles as a result of unanticipated overland marches. These came at Cimolia, east of Corinth, where he twice bested the latter’s regulars with forces thrown together from reserves, resident aliens, and local allies. This would not be the last time Tolmides won an engagement with an unexpected march. One year later, he led an army north to catch forces of the Boeotian League unprepared. In the wake of the subsequent victory at Oenophyta, Athens was able to dominate all Boeotia except Thebes for the next decade.

Masters of surprise operations, Athenians also excelled at stealth and deception on the tactical level. Their gambits included ambushes, sneak attacks, diversions, and disinformation. As early as Salamis in 480 bc, Themistocles tricked the Persians into a foolish naval offensive by leaking false plans. Such tactics saw their greatest use during the Peloponnesian War, when Demosthenes sprang an ambush that routed a larger phalanx at Olpae in 426 bc and carried out three separate nighttime assaults, winning the first two before suffering a ruinous defeat in the last.

Demosthenes was a daring leader, but more cautious men also used tricky tactics on Athens’ behalf. Although notoriously conservative, Nicias used trickery twice to safely land armies on hostile soil, the first time with a diversionary attack and the second by feeding false information to the enemy. And a team of Athenian generals employed several deceptions at Byzantium in 408 bc. Xenophon and Diodorus detailed how they withdrew at night from a siege, only to sneak back and assault the docks with lightly armed troops. They then took the city by means of a surprise entry by their hoplites through an inland gate. Athenian commanders were not above deceiving their own men.

Myronides at Oenophyta fooled the hoplites on his right wing into thinking that their stalled left was already victorious. This inspired them to renewed effort that carried their side of the field and turned Myronides’s phantom success into the real thing.

Perhaps the least known aspect of Athens’ military prowess was its record of successful combat experience. One great truth of war is that victory often comes less from destroying a foe than from breaking his will to fight. This was glaringly apparent on the battlefields of ancient Greece, where comparatively few soldiers fell face-to-face, but many died after one side wavered and tried to run away. Being confident in their leadership, comrades, and personal ability gave hoplites the morale needed to impose their will on an enemy. Over a third of all the significant land engagements waged by Greek hoplites during the fifth century bc were Athenian victories. In fact, Athens’ victory total over this period more than tripled that of any other city-state and exceeded Sparta’s by a factor of better than four. Thus, when Athenians went into action, they fully expected to win—and more often than not they did.

All of the unique aspects of Athenian warfare came together in service of a fresh strategic concept developed by Pericles at the start of the Peloponnesian War to deal with the huge armies that Sparta and its allies could field. Athens hoped to avoid apocalyptic phalanx battle in favor of small actions and inflicting long-term economic pain. Exploiting its signature tactical skills and setting up fortified outposts (epiteichismoi) on enemy soil, Athens nearly brought down Sparta. It was only after the Spartans adopted key elements of the Athenian approach that they finally claimed victory after nearly three decades of war. Still, they could not suppress Athens for long and gave up a hotly contested occupation of the city after a single year. The Athenians soon had a fully restored democracy and went on to rebuild their overseas empire, rising up early in the next century to again challenge Sparta for supremacy.

It was rare for Spartans and Athenians to actually contest the same ground. This happened fewer than a dozen times during the entire fifth century bc. When these meetings took the form of grand, set-piece battles, Sparta always came away with the victory. Smaller engagements were more frequent and resulted in an unbroken string of Athenian successes. These seemingly contradictory trends were direct reflections of the states’ differing tactical approaches.

First Battle of Tanagra

Only three large battles in the fifth century bc saw Spartans and Athenians on opposing sides. The first occurred in 457 bc, when Sparta’s Nicomedes led an army of his countrymen and allies into Boeotia in a powerful demonstration meant to discourage Athenian aggression against Thebes, a Spartan ally. Athens responded in kind, and an engagement

(Tanagra I) took place that involved over 25,000 hoplites. As the battle unfolded, Spartan spearmen carried the day on their right with the help of traitorous Thessalian horsemen who deserted the Athenians just as the fighting began. Athenian hoplites, standing on their right, were equally successful however, they abandoned the field to go after their beaten foes. As a result, the Athenians ultimately lost to a more disciplined Spartan phalanx that held on to the battleground.


Watch the video: Mr Bean in Room 426. Episode 8. Widescreen Version. Classic Mr Bean (July 2022).


Comments:

  1. Eferhard

    It you have correctly told :)

  2. Townsend

    I do not trust you

  3. Sutter

    I think you will allow the mistake. I can defend my position. Write to me in PM, we will discuss.

  4. Corvin

    Eh: What can I say? The author, as always, is on top. Respect! I liked everything, especially the beginning. Smiled. Of course, there are now critics who will say that this does not happen, that this is all invented, and so on. But I read it with pleasure, and my friends read it - everyone is delighted.

  5. Burcet

    I versed in this matter. Ready to help.

  6. Dean

    I apologise, but, in my opinion, you are not right. Let's discuss it.



Write a message