Friday, February 2, 2007

Tanagra – 457 BC

Spartans vs. Athenians scenario for Warhammer Ancient Battles

Strategic situation

During the ‘First’ Peloponnesian War between 460 and 446 B.C., Athens and Sparta pursued a series of alliances and petty squabbles, enhancing their dislike and rivalry towards each other. In 457 B.C. Sparta marched an army into Boeotia to intervene in a dispute between the Dorians and Phocians. This imposing army of Spartans and their allies understandably compelled the Phocians to back down. Athens took this opportunity to block the return trip of their rival city-states army.

The Athenians were blocking the Gulf of Corinth with their superior navy so the Spartans were left with trying to march through the Megarid (the area surrounding the city-state of Megara near the Isthmus of Corinth). As Athens had made a treaty with (and helped fortify) Megara, this would be a dangerous expedition. The Spartan allied army was now stuck in Boeotia and decided to stay there and plan their return. Thucydides gives another reason for the Spartan army to remain near Athens “Secret encouragement had been given them by a party in Athens, who hoped to put an end to the reign of democracy and the building of the Long Walls.”

The Spartans, while feared warriors, had not yet completely proven their dominance in hoplite battle that would have them dominate the land during the later stages of the Peloponnesian war. The Spartans were also weakened from a great earthquake and the helot revolt that resulted from it. Athens, along with allies sent out an army to meet the Spartans and they came together for battle outside Tanagra. The Athenians most likely feared the possibility of the enemy army ravaging their countryside (and the loss of face that would result) and there could also be truth in Thucydides mention of a possible plot.

The forces

The Athenians brought a large contingent of hoplites that was supplemented by a number of allies including the Argives (who sent 1,000 heavy infantry). The total number given by Thucydides is 14,000 not including cavalry of which there would be a very small amount. This was a large army from a city state at the time considering only 5,100 were sent on the Syracuse expedition originally, and estimates for Mantinea (418 B.C.) was only around 8-9,000 a side.

The allied Spartan army, led by Nicomedes, consisted of 1,500 Spartans and 10,000 allied soldiers. A group of Thessalian cavalry joined the Spartan side (from the Athenian army) during the battle according to Thucydides.

Athenian Allied Forces

2,200 pts (or bigger if you’ve got the models) picked from the AOA Ancient Greek army list (excluding an army general which you get for free).

May upgrade 1 unit of hoplites to Argive hoplites. They gain LD 8 and I 4 and cost 11 pts (same as veteran hoplites from AtG.)

Restrictions – Cannot take, Spartan hoplites, Sacred Band, Peltasts, Thracians, Theban or Thessalian cavalry. Cannot take more than 1 unit of cavalry.

Spartan Allied Forces

2,000 pts (or bigger if you’ve got the figures) picked from the AOA Ancient Greek army list (excluding an army general which you get for free).


Cannot take Sacred Band, Peltasts, Thracians.

Cannot take more than 2 units of cavalry.

1 unit of cavalry should be Theban/Thessalian (even if you only take 1 unit, it should the Thessalian, ignore that restriction).

Must take 1 and only 1 unit of Spartan hoplites. They must not be the largest hoplite unit in the army (and there must be more than one hoplite unit).

The battle as a game

Use the pitched battle scenario on a 4’x6’ table and dice off for who goes first. Can be played to army break point or 6-7 turns, whichever you decide (it is a game after all).


The map shows completely theoretical terrain. The battlefield should be mostly flat (as they sought out featureless plains to fight on) with any rolling hills or rough ground kept to the side.

The Historical Battle

The battle was fought at Tanagra in Boeotia. After heavy loss on both sides, victory declared for the Lacedaemonians and their allies.


So the Spartans and their allies (with the help of some turncoat Thessalians) eventually wore down and broke the Athenians. They suffered heavy losses, but had won the battle and opened the way back to their home. The Spartan army marched through the Megarid ravaging the countryside, getting a little bit of payback for the part Megara played in forcing them into such a bloody battle.

This was the first major land battle of the Peloponnesian War and started a pattern of Spartan dominance in that theatre. Athens however struck back almost immediately attacking the Boeotians at Oenophyta but that will have to be saved for another post. All in all, a worthy start to the decades of conflict these two Greek superpowers would carry on.

As always, comments or questions are welcomed.

P.S. I know my maps could be prettier, but I’m not an artist, nor to I pretend to play one on TV. I’m trying, but I apologize for the eye sore.

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