Wednesday 18 August 2010

Holiday Reading

So, why no post last week?

I was away from the keyboard.

'Why did you not stay away?' I hear you cry. Yes, well, good question, let's move on.

Last week was spent, partially at least, reading essays in 'Hoplites: classical Greek battle experience', edited by V.D. Hansen (Routledge 1993).

What did I learn?

Hoplites used big shields, sharp spears and wore armour. They also looked after their dead - hence the mounds at Marathon and the fairly certain number of 192 Athenian casualties at that battle. I also found out that the spears had a spike on the butt, probably for the friendly purpose of stabbing those unfortunate enough to fall over in the battle press.

Exactly how useful is this stuff for writing rules, though? Aside from the ongoing discussion as to whether the rear 4 (of 8) ranks of the phalanx did shoving after contact or stood there stabbing at targets of opportunity, the overall message is that hoplite clashes were decided by slight factors - morale, what passed for training, esprit de corps, that sort of thing. All other factors being equal, a hoplite clash will go on for some time.

This raises interesting questions. Modern assessments suggest that a few minutes in hoplite armour with a big shield is quite enough, even without people trying to stab you. There must thus have been a system of relieving the front fighters, therefore. Which implies a structure and leadership within the phalanx.

So, ruleswise, a hoplite base will contain within itself the capability to continuse a fight for some time, rotating its men. As long as it doesn't fall into confusion, in which case it is in trouble, but while fighting an equal enemy to the front, it seems a little unlikely that this would happen.

Hoplite vs hoplite contests, therefore, have to be fairly even, and with a smallish chance of either side losing quickly.

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