Inevitably, I suppose, I’ve run in to a major problem in writing rules for the classical period, by which I mean roughly speaking Greece from Marathon to the Successors. The problem is with generalship, and so I’m putting it here in the hope that someone can have a good idea to solve it. I’ve been reading a paper by Meissner (Journal of Military and Strategic Studies (2010) 13, 1, 4-27) and it has rather thrown the issue into stark relief.
Basically speaking, early Greek generals did not do very much. At Marathon in 490 BC there were ten generals and a Polemarch. So there was no central command, and the Athenian forces were commanded on a ‘tribal’ basis. This system itself only dated from 510 BC, and the generals, or ‘army commanders’ came along a bit later to supplement the polemarch (‘war leader’), which was an aristocratic post. Anyway, as you probably know, the strategoi were divided and Militades waited until it was his day in command to attack the Persians.
The invasion of Greece in 480 BC forced further changes. Cities entered into alliance, set up a council to debate decisions and had an overall commander, a Spartan on land and an Athenian by sea. The Greeks actually did not agree on strategy very closely – the Spartans preferring to defend the Isthmus of Corinth and the Athenians wanting to be further forward, largely because Athens would be undefended. After Salamis, in the winter of 480 – 479, this nearly broke the alliance.
Incidentally, Herodotus’ description of Thermopylae indicates that the Greeks varied their hoplite tactics, by introducing feigned retreats to draw the Persians on. Try finding that in any set of wargame rules on the period…
Anyway, control of the army was exerted directly by the Spartan general Leonidas. He, despite his own doubts and preferences, carried out the orders he had been given. There was no local council to decide on the battle – the strategic plan, of defending the pass, had been drawn up and Leonidas was to execute it. There was a supreme command and a council of war making the decisions, and no actual argument on the battlefield, a significant change from Marathon.
As the century evolved, so did command structures. In Athens the democratic government kept control over military operations by popular assembly and the personal accountability of post holding commanders. Accountability for the vast cost of military adventures was, in particular, kept by the assembly. The commanders of expeditions were given their orders and resources, although obviously, the local commanders in theatre were able to make some sorts of decisions. They could not, however, simply go somewhere else.
Obviously, this sort of control could occasionally go awry, particularly after the Peloponnesian war when mercenaries were attracted into Persian service. Xenophon gives an account of his adventures after the battle of Cunaxa, which sees to Ten Thousand reorganise itself (on a democratic basis) after the main commanders had been killed, and march to the Black Sea.
With Xenophon we arrive at a period when there started to be theorizing about warfare, strategy and tactics. Xenophon himself was at the fore of these developments, although his writings about them are mainly part of his attacks on the Sophists. Xenophon argues that the Sophists teach tactics, but not logistics or judgement, and certainly not strategy. Nevertheless, there was clearly a debate to be had, and we have now come a long way from Marathon in just one hundred years.
Alexander, of course, bought his own particular (and possibly peculiar) personality to the whole question of strategy and tactics. Due to his victories the world, and the requirements of the military situation, changed. While the campaigning was fairly straightforward and the aim of the battle was the destruction of the enemy army, the control of the general, Alexander himself, could be clear, direct and personal. It was part of the mystique of Alexander that he intervened at the critical point, when the battle was in the balance. In short, he did the hero thing.
When, however, Alexander was having problems in, for example, the Hundu Kush against, essentially, an insurgency, his charisma and control started to slip. The Macedonians had to operate in smaller groups under lesser commanders. Overall direction had to be decentralised; there were, simply insufficient Alexanders to go around. This lead to dissention in the high command and, ultimately, violence as Alexander felt he had to act against some of his commanders. Perhaps they really were plotting against him. Or maybe he was just getting paranoid.
Nevertheless, we now have a more or less complete change in the mode of command of an army. From a diverse group of ‘democratically’ elected representative, through a supreme command with a council, to a charismatic leader with a group of companions to a diffused anti-insurgency campaign, we see a major alteration in the method of command.
The problem is that all of these, if we are going to have a single set of rules to cover the period, have to be assimilated in one command system. It will not be good enough, I think, just to assume that Militades is simply an earlier version of Alexander. On the other hand, the other generals at Marathon may have had more influence than we think; who else ordered the Greek wings to turn in, after all, but the tribal generals?
I’m not sure I can really think of another period of history where the structure of command changed so radically in one ‘era’. Granted things did change during, for example, the English Civil War, but not quite so significantly, and Roman command structures remained pretty well as they were during the early Empire.
So, short of having something really complex, how can this be accommodated in a rule set? Or am I worrying to no sense?