Lets try to do some serious thinking about rules and mechanics for the Greeks and Persians.
We’ve not got much to go on, but lets try with Marathon. I’ve just got Peter Krentz’ new book on the battle; I’ve not read it, but having it is nearly as good, isn’t it?
We know a few things about the action.
Firstly, the Athenians and Plateans were hoplites – spear, shield, body armour and greaves. Secondly, the Persians were infantry – bow, short spear, sword, quilted armour. We’ll leave aside the mystery of the Persian horse for the moment (at least until I’ve read the book).
We also know that the Greeks had a thin centre and normal depth wings (Herodotus Histories 6:111). The best Persian troops were in the centre. The Greeks broke the Persian wings and the Persians the Greek centre. The Greek wings then turned in and broke the Persian centre. The fighting was lengthy – this was no walk over.
So, how do we develop some rule mechanics for this?
Let’s start with the Greeks. Let a normal (8 rank) hoplite base have a baseline fighting value of 3, assuming we are using a D6 based rule set. This is actually quite an important decision, because it means that everything else is going to be based on the perceived fighting value of hoplites.
Now, it is clear that, in hand-to-hand combat, the hoplites had the upper hand against the Persian infantry (bow, spear, kitchen sink etc – what Phil Sabin calls in Lost Battles “the elusive heavy infantry archer”). So let us give the Persian infantry a basic 2. After all, Marathon is said to be lengthy.
Well, the Greeks in the centre were thin, so lets give that a –1, and the Persians in the centre were said to be the best, so lets give the best a +1. So that makes the centre clash a 2 (Greeks) against a 3 (Persians). The wings will be 3 (Greeks) against 2 (Persians). It is also possible that the wing Persians were worse than average, so they could be an additional –1. But this sort of balance looks about right. On average, the Greeks should win on the wings and lose in the centre.
There is also the issue of the Persian shields. Now, the rumour has it that the Persians fought in depth with arrows, with the front bloke with spear and big shield thing, possibly stuck in the ground in front of him. What do we do about this option?
Rather than invent a new troop type, I think a +1 to the Persians with this, in the first round of close combat only, would cover it. Again, I’d guess that the best Persians would have this, so the centre battle becomes 2 against 3 + 1 on the first round.
Now, the other thing is about the shooting. The Persians were archers, and we know that the Greeks advanced rapidly to cross the ‘beaten zone’. There are significant arguments in the literature as to whether this was possible or not. Additionally, I presume that this means that the hoplites hit the Persian lines at a run, as the result of a ‘charge’ in all but name. Persian archery seems, in this instance, to have been fairly ineffective, possibly because the Greeks were armoured with metal.
So, the archery should have maybe a baseline 1. I suspect that as an English person, I have in mind the Hundred Year War archer with his machine gun. Persian bows were a long way from that (unless anyone has any evidence to the contrary?), so lets make them fairly feeble. The Greeks defensive armour would give them say a 3 or 4 against archery, and we can fix the combat results table so that they do not get ‘halt’ outcomes unless it gets really bad. Furthermore, the defensive factor against shooting would not depend significantly on the depth of the formation.
Hitting the Persians at a run should give a positive factor; say +2 in the first round of combat. So now, in the centre, we have the Greeks at 2 + 2, possibly –1 for being shaken, giving 3, while the Persians are at 2 +1 for being ‘the best’ + 1 for the initial shield wall, giving 4. In the second round, the Greeks will be at 2 while the Persians are 2+1. The Persian centre should be able to stand against the Greeks and ultimately, beat them.
On the wings, the Greeks are 3 + 2 for charging, maybe –1 for being shaken, while the Persians are at 2, assuming they have no front shields and are ‘average’ as opposed to ‘poor’. At 2 vs 4 or 5, the Persian wings should crumble quite nicely to the Greeks.
The only other questions are about command and control. The Greek wings were controlled and turned in by their commanders. I wonder how they managed that, and how we are going to make a stab at reproducing it. But that is, I think, for another week.