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Battle scenes, part 1.2: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, the soldiers

Dress up that line.

Hoplites standing at rest. One of the troubles with using computer game screen captures is that all of the hoplites look identical.

When writing the battle for Kel Fimmaril, I used Ancient Greek technology and tactics similar to those used during the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars. As with armies of the time, the infantry makes up the largest percentage—often as much as 80% of the army. These infantry are generally supported by cavalry and lighter, ranged soldiers. For this battle, Queen Viarraluca’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 comes from the city-state of Andivel and its client cities. The invaders have over 4,000 soldiers total, but have a similar breakdown of light versus heavy troops—albeit sans cavalry.

As in most Ancient Greek warfare, both sides in my conflict use hoplites for their mainline infantry. A hoplite was a heavy foot-soldier who fought using a large, round shield known as an aspis or  hoplon and a 7′–9′ spear called the dory. They also carried a short sword as a backup weapon: generally a xiphos (a short, stabbing sword) or kopis (a curved, slashing sword similar to the Spanish falcata). Contrary to what we see in movies like 300, hoplites of the time period did not fight bare-chested, but wore leather, linen, or bronze armor. (I mean helmets, capes, and leather briefs? How the hell will that protect from enough Persian arrows to blot out the sun?) Other than some of the poorer, yeomen hoplites, it was rare for them not to have at least a simple set of leather armor. (Trust me that Leonidas and his company were not poor, yeoman hoplites.) Both sides fight in a phalanx, the attackers stacking their formation eight men deep, while the defenders have to stack 5–6 men deep to match the enemy’s length.

Both sides also have access to ranged infantry such as archers, skirmishers, and slingers. Most archers during Ancient Greece used fairly rudimentary short bows, more effective for hunting than combat. Their range and armor penetration was fairly mediocre, something I try to play upon throughout the battle scene. As it was, arrows were more likely to cause injuries than fatalities even against unarmored opponents. Thus both sides of the conflict tend to prefer skirmishers, or light infantry armed with javelins and either a short spear or sword. Like hoplites, skirmishers came in different weights depending on how much gear they carried. Lighter ones like Kel Fimmaril uses bore just a small shield and maybe a helmet for protection. Heavier ones like those used by the attackers from Andivel might have a larger shield and armor of leather or linen and might be used to reinforce the hoplite formation once they’d expended all their javelins. In addition, the defenders of Kel Fimmaril employ slingers against the soldiers of Andivel. As use of slings was more common among the island city-states of the ancient Mediterranean than of the mainland, it seemed fitting to have Queen Viarra’s army employ slingers in the field. Slings are something of an underrated weapon in historical studies. True, they were a simple weapon that could be difficult to master, but they were often employed to devastating effect against heavy infantry. A skilled slinger could propel a small rock at speeds which man-propelled projectiles would not surpass until the invention of the crossbow. The attackers from the city of Andivel learn this the hard way during the beach storming.

One of the other benefits the defenders of Kel Fimmaril have over the attackers is access to cavalry. As cavalry was particularly difficult to transport over water, most city-states just opted not to bring horses along when attacking an island nation. Bear in mind, however, that cavalry during the time period—especially Greek cavalry—wasn’t especially heavy. A tightly packed formation of heavy infantry was more than sufficient to stop a cavalry charge, even if the charge came against their flanks or rear. Horse was instead used against archers and light infantry in loose formation, or for keeping the opponent’s cavalry off of friendly archers and light infantry. It wasn’t uncommon in ancient battles for the cavalry not to see any action until one side routed the other. If their side won, they’d be employed in running down fleeing enemy soldiers. If their side lost, they’d be employed in covering the retreat by hitting the enemy flanks if they broke ranks to pursue.

The following excerpt is from the defenders’ cavalry charge part way through the battle. Captain Vola, the cavalry commander, divides her horsemen into two units and hides them in the trees on opposite sides of the battlefield. At her signal, each cavalry unit charges from the trees to attack the enemy’s skirmishers.

Cavalryman Atten spurred his horse out from the tree line at Captain Vola’s trumpeted signal. He followed his captain as they and the forty-six other heavy and medium horsemen charged toward the formation of enemy skirmishers. The skirmishers turned and ran as they saw the oncoming horsemen. You’ll just die tired, Atten told his foes silently as his unit thundered toward the battlefield.

As always, Vola led the cavalry charge. Atten rode behind and to her right, lowering his lance as they approached the enemy skirmishers. He aimed the weapon at a retreating back as he closed on a doomed skirmisher. When the spearhead was just inches from the man’s back, Atten gave it a quick push for extra momentum, piercing the skirmisher’s linen armor and breaking the weapon off as the man collapsed. The cavalryman whipped the spear back around, pointing the bronze spike on the lower end forward.

Ahead of him, he could see that Captain Vola had kept her spear intact, slaying one running soldier and knocking down another. Atten threw his broken spear into another skirmisher, then drew his sword, swinging it at retreating heads as he pressed deeper into the disintegrating enemy formation. As he was at the front of the cavalry squadron, his horse was more likely to knock men out of the way than to trample them, but this tended to knock them off balance to be run down by other horsemen.

Moments later the horsemen emerged out the other side of the retreating formation. Atten followed his captain as she veered left, circling out and away from the battle. He looked back at the routing skirmishers, estimating that they’d killed or wounded close to half of the sorry bastards.

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


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