Wednesday, 4 August 2010

"From Marathon to Waterloo, in Order Categorical..."

Good old Gilbert and Sullivan, eh?

So, what have I learnt so far, a week into the project.

Firstly, there is a heck of a lot of literature out there.

Secondly, there is very little agreement between scholars over, well, anything, really.

Take the battle of Marathon (490 BC). In spite of the battlefield being located, subject to archaeological investigation and there being an account of the battle in the classical sources, practically everything about it is disputed. Even the facing of the armies.

Why would a professional Persian army fight with their backs to the sea? Yet that is the main weight of scholarly opinion. OK, maybe they didn't expect to lose, but we should give the Persians a bit of credit for some common sense. It also doesn't explain that if the Persian centre was turned in upon by the victorious Greek wings, how the next bit of the fighting took place by the Persian fleet, which was beyond the Persian right. It seems to work better if the Persians arranged themselves between the sea and the foothills - as in Grant's article in Military Modelling. Then they can run away to the fleet, not have to fight their way past victorious Greeks in order to have another fight when boarding their ships.

So in spite of all the literature I've uncovered, there is no real agreement on exactly how Marathon was fought. What, for example, was the Persian cavalry doing? Was it not there? Had it already embarked for the descent on Athens? Had it taken the coast road to Athens to force the Greeks to fight? Was it there but just milled around uselessly while the infantry slugged it out? All of these seem to have been suggested. In wargame rule writer's terms, its is a mess.

And then there is archery. The Persian arrow storm and the Greeks doubling through the 'beaten zone'. All sorts of explanations abound - weak bows, good armour, heavily armed infantrymen who rely on their formation for effect (or at least, keeping safe from those elusive Persian cavalry) running 200 meters to minimise the number of arrows hitting, and so on. Oh dear. Too little evidence and too many overactive imaginations to really make a decision as to what happened.

And yet, as wargamers, we demand modelling of this. Is it any wonder that rules writing is a somewhat thankless task?

Mind you, all this is nothing compared to the controversy over exactly how hoplites fought, but that is for another post.

1 comment:

  1. Keep on going. I have complete and utter faith in your ability to make sense of this create a functional, practical, enjoyable and accurate set of wargames rules at the end of the process.

    Every faith in you. Remember that...