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Battle scenes, part 1.1: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, the politics, setting, and lead-in


Hoplites versus hoplites. Not precisely what the battle of Kel Fimmaril looks like in my head, but it’s a fair enough representation of what hoplite combat may have looked like. Click for larger.

Chapters 2 & 3 of First Empress features the first in-depth battle scene I’ve ever written. Originally it was far briefer and only shown in chapter 2, but I sent a draft to a friend of mine who knows more about military history than anyone I’ve met and… let’s just say his enthusiasm was contagious. He had so many ideas for the beach storming and the field battle that I just couldn’t keep everything confined to one chapter.

The technology level within the story is somewhere equivalent to Ancient Greece during the mid-Iron Age—so figure some time around the Persian Wars or Peloponnesian War, if it helps to have a real-world comparison. Indeed, I based the battle and tactics as closely as I could on my past research on Ancient Greece, even going so far as to call the infantry hoplites and the warships triremes. Like most open-field battles of the time period, the battle is fought between two phalanxes of hoplite spearmen, with archers, skirmishers, and cavalry as support. I drew heavily upon descriptions from Herodotus and Thucydides, as well as various modern historians.

The battle comes about after Queen Viarraluca declines an extortionary treaty from the larger, stronger city-state of Andivel, which basically amounts to threatening to invade if the queen doesn’t pay a tribute. This playground-bully mentality was pretty much the norm throughout Ancient Greek history, when the only pretext for invading one’s neighbors might be a perceived weakness on the part of the other city-state. By refusing to be bullied, the young queen finds her island city-state of Kel Fimmaril under attack from a larger, better trained, better equipped army—one intent on sacking and looting her city, likely planning to capture and sell her subjects into slavery.

The queen’s army has around 2,500 soldiers: 1,800 hoplites, less than 200 archers, 400 skirmishers and slingers, and less than 100 assorted cavalry. The attacking army from Andivel has over 4,000 soldiers, and while I don’t give exact numbers, I have the defenders estimate the enemy breakdown to be three-quarters hoplites with the rest being a mix of archers and skirmishers (no cavalry, however, as it is a pain in the ass to move horses by boat, and the attackers won’t need them for the siege anyway). Regardless, the army and officers of Kel Fimmaril know that they can’t beat the attackers in open field and have to depend on the city’s walls for defense.

More hoplites

In terms of brilliant ideas, charging headlong into a hoplite phalanx was akin to picking up a hedgehog bare-handed.

The following is an excerpt from the opening scene from Chapter 2:

Ronnius had to keep his hand near his chin to hide the occasional smirk as he watched the drama unfold before him. Still in her archer’s armor, Queen Viarraluca sat across the table from the sniveling emissary from Andivel, fixing the poor idiot with an unblinking look of calm disgust. Apparently used to dealing with people afraid of his leaders, the sweating moron had lost his poise over a quarter-hour ago. He’d smugly sat down at the table, looking to dominate the conversation. Within minutes, Viarra had him reduced to stuttering and trailing off. He was even starting to flinch each time the queen moved or spoke.

“You aren’t going to weasel your way out of this,” Viarra told the emissary. “If you haven’t figured that out yet, you’re denser than I thought—and trust me that I believe you quite dense. Tell your tetrarchs and council that the terms of this alliance are completely unacceptable. It is an attempt at bald-faced extortion and my people will not be harassed in this manner.”

“The only missing piece of rhetoric was, ‘nice little island you have here; it’d be a shame if something happened to it,’” Captain Kellor commented from where he sat.

“When your tetrarchs are ready to offer an agreement that doesn’t amount to us paying them to not invade, I’ll be happy to discuss terms,” her majesty continued, folding her hands in front of her.

“Y-your majesty,” the sweating emissary replied, “I urge you to see reason. Your army—”

The queen cut him off with a cold glare. She stared the sniveling emissary down until Ronnius was fairly certain the dumb bastard wet himself. “You’ve tried this line of reasoning already. When you start repeating your arguments, it means you’ve run out of them.” Viarra stood up and pushed the emissary’s stack of letters and contracts back to him. “I think we are done here. Go back to your tetrarchs and tell them what I’ve told you. I recommend not coming back until they have a less one-sided proposal to offer.”

The emissary gathered his documents as he stood. “Very well,” the moron answered, “I shall leave with the next tide and inform my superiors of your uncivilized refusal of their treaty.”

“My apologies if I seemed discourteous, ambassador,” the queen said, bowing. For a moment the emissary looked like he thought he’d won that round. “Perhaps I should send them the head of their messenger in a basket,” she continued. “Would that be considered more civilized?”

The emissary’s face sank at her suggestion. He grabbed the last of his parchments and beat a less-than-dignified retreat across the garrison courtyard.

Further reading:
The Histories, by Herodotus
The Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides
Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece, by Philip Matyszak
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Thomas Cahill


Um… ouch…

Screen captures courtesy Europa Barbarorum, a total-conversion mod for Rome: Total War.


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One thought on “Battle scenes, part 1.1: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, the politics, setting, and lead-in

  1. That was an excellent post today. Thanks so much for sharing it. I
    really enjoyed reading it very much. I’ll be sure to pass it along to others.

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