Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Thermopylae – 480 BC

Thermopylae – 480 BC

Spartans and allies vs. Persians

A Warhammer Ancient Battles Scenario

Strategic situation

In 480 B.C. Xerxes, mighty king of the Persian Empire was marching south into Greece attempting to conquer the city states that had caused his father trouble in the past. While some cities did submit and give the token of earth and water to the Persian king, there were those that determined to fight the vast army invading their land. The two most powerful city states of the era, Athens and Sparta refused the great kings demands and chose to fight.

Plans were made, but like on most issues, the city states were divided on which course of action to pursue. Many of the southern cities preferred to defend the Isthmus of Corinth while cities farther north felt that they were being abandoned. The gifted Athenian Themistocles felt the war would be won at sea and did his best to keep a concentrated fleet together to defeat the Persians there. More and more Greek cities were thinking of joining the Persian Empire in order to avoid ruin at the hands of the vast conquering army.

Leonidas of Sparta led a small force of Spartans to the hot gates at Thermopylae where the terrain made a strong defensive position where few could hold many. His intentions cannot be known for sure, but many believe he went there to martyr himself in order to prompt the rest of the Greek city states into action. Whatever his final goals where, his immediate desire was to hold the Persian army at the pass and therefore give the rest of the Greek mainland time to prepare. The fabled 300 Spartans were joined by about 7,000 other hoplites from city states around Greece determined to hold the pass for as long as possible.

The forces

I’ve attempted to represent the battle in about 1 figure = 10 soldiers scale. This is not an exact number but more of a general feeling.


24 Spartan Hoplites w/ light armor

This is Leonidas and his elite bodyguard of Spartan hoplites. I’ve only used 24 both for game balance and because they would have suffered some casualties by this point in the battle.

24 Allied Hoplites w/ light armor

These are the Thebans and Thespians who stayed with Leonidas to hold the pass. The Thebans were less willing participants and Herodotus reports they might have defected to the Persians during the battle.

20 Allied Hoplites w/ light armor

These represent the Phocians holding the mountain trail that the Immortals took to outflank the Greeks. These hoplites gain +1 leadership as they are defending their homes.

And a smattering of skirmishers

Also include a few extra hoplites from your collection to represent the withdrawing Greek army.


Just grab every Persian figure you’ve got and it should work fine.

I used…

24 Immortals with large shield, light armor, spears and bows.

5x 24 Persian infantry

Front rank – Spara, Shield, Bow

Back 3 ranks – Bow

A smattering of skirmishers

The battle as a game

This scenario takes place on the third day of the battle with the majority of the Greek force withdrawing. I’ve played around with time and history a little to allow the Phocians a chance at defending the mountain pass the Immortals take to flank the Greek position.

Special Rules

Greeks start the game with no Oracles.

An event card is drawn at the beginning of each turn after the second.

There are 3 groups of retreating Greek hoplites, they represent the withdrawing Greek army. At the beginning of each Greek turn during compulsory moves, the withdrawing Greek hoplites move d6”s towards there table edge. Roll separately for each group. These troops should start no closer than 36”s to the friendly board edge at the beginning. They move as a loose mob and are not required to hold formation or wheel. Once they reach their friendly board edge they are removed. If contacted by an enemy unit they are destroyed.

Any Persian unit on the mountain trail, who reaches the Greek board edge, is removed from the table and placed on the Greek board edge in the pass in the following turn.

Any Persian unit (except the immortals) destroyed or routed off a table edge can be placed on the friendly Persian players board edge starting next turn.


Terrain should represent a narrow pass between a cliff and the sea. This is the setup I used.

The Historical Battle

The Greeks held the Persian troops for two days causing heavy casualties to Xerxes men. During the night after the second day, a local led the Persian immortals around the Greek position on a mountain trail. The Phocians who were guarding the trail could not stop the immortals (depending on the source, they retreated to a good position or fled) and the Greeks in the pass were now surrounded. Leonidas sent most of the Greek army away and made his final stand with a small force of allied Thespians and Thebans. The Spartans and allied Greeks fought the Persians to the death and killed a great number of them before eventually being overrun.

This heroic sacrifice helped galvanize the other city states into defending their homeland. After Themistocles brilliant defeat of the Persian fleet at Salamis, the Greek city states got their revenge at the battle of Plataea and the Persian Empire never again contested mainland Greece.

No comments: