Category Archives: Miniatures Wargaming

The Battle of Flaxen Fields

Being an account of a DBA3 battle between two novice players, using armies I/52c Thessalian Hoplites and I/52f Later Athenian Hoplites

The Horse Lords of Thessaly test the Resolve of the Brave Athenian Free Men

Davgraios Ravages Greek Villages

The horse-loving people of the Thessalian Plains were angry. Or maybe hungry. Whatever the unspecified complaint or motivation, an army of horsemen and hoplites and the general’s handpicked heavy cavalry ravaged southward from their homeland towards the plains and villages of Noble Athens, ransacking farms and villages along the way. Their leader General Davgraios was finally brought to battle at the entrance to the Flaxen Fields north of Athens, by the shore of the gulf of Evvoia.

The good citizens of Athens had voted Artificos the Brazen – so named for his splendid bronze cuirass and helm, and not in any way his penchant for grandiose speechifying – as their field commander in this defence of their realm. He assembled a traditional army of well-bred citizen spearmen with their characteristic large circular ‘hoplon’ shield and shining linen body armour, supported by enthusiastic bands of young men skirmishing with little more than slings and throwing javelins. Unable to field as many skirmish bands as he needed, Artificos resorted to employing a band of mercenary cavalry to provide increased mobility.

Armies Assemble

The Athenian hoplite array deployed traditionally in line abreast, across the width of the Flaxen Fields, their right flank protected by the shores of the gulf of Evvoia, and their left flank protected by lines of skirmishing youth. Knowing the Thessalians to be prone to looting and raids on helpless baggage trains, Artificos had cunningly sent three units of his troops offshore in ships from the famous Athenian ‘Wooden Wall’, to allow a seaborne attack on the Thessalian rear if the horsemen failed to protect their own baggage.

And thus indeed did it occur.  Davgraios deployed his small hoplite line in array between two thick woods, with skirmishers on both flanks. His three light horse elements he placed in a column further to his right, ready to charge down outside the woods and fall on the Athenian left flank, or, more likely, avoid the battle altogether and sack the Athenian baggage train in search of loot and food and slaves.

The general’s own cavalry unit he placed behind his main hoplite line, within sight of all his troops, but unable to attack or be attacked. And, despite messages from his spies warning of troop-laden Athenian ships offshore, he placed his baggage train in a narrow space behind one of the woods and beside the sandy beach.

Taking advantage of the placement of the Thessalian baggage train, Artificos sent his ships to disembark the mercenary cavalry and two staunch hoplite bands on the beach next to the enemy baggage. This was a risky decision,  since these units would be unsupported for quite some time before the slow-moving Athenian hoplite lines could hope to reach them.

First Blood

The battle began with the charge of the Athenian cavalry into the Thessalian baggage train. Amid much shouting and, reportedly, singing of obscure folk songs by the good women of the encampment, the Athenian cavalry lost all cohesion and raced off northwards, apparently with willing passengers.

(Athenian cavalry destroyed.  Athens=0 : Thessaly=1)

After-battle interviews with the hoplites who observed this suggest that in their urgent need to replace unavailable skirmishers, Artificos’ recruiters had hired a band of mercenary Thessalian cavalry. Already homesick and seasick from the time spent waiting offshore on the Athenian triremes, they were then sent to sack the baggage train of their own people! They were torn between their mercenary love of loot if they pressed the attack, and the promise of home cooking, firm ground beneath their horses’ feet and less chance of being stabbed if they deserted. Lacking the honour and discipline of staunch Athenian free citizens, they chose to select brides and head home to Thessaly.

While the marine landing was occurring at the Thessalian rear, the Athenian skirmishers on the left of the Athenian line raced forwards to take up positions within the woods overlooking the Thessalians. From here they could threaten, insult and annoy the Thessalian main line, while being protected from the enemy light horse column, which would not enjoy fighting in the trees.

Thessalians run about a lot

The Thessalian light horse column predictably ignored the main battle line and the nearby Athenian skirmishers, and galloped around the forest. Aiming to outflank the now-unsupported Athenian hoplites, they galloped so far and so fiercely that they lacked the energy to charge to contact. They rested, still in column formation, beyond the range of any Athenian countercharge.

The skirmishers on the Thessalian left flank saw their own baggage train in peril. Spurred on by the furious bellowing of their leader Davgraios, two units of skirmishers sprinted through the forest to try to support their food supplies and camp followers.

General Davgraios also charged towards the baggage train, only to realise that there was not enough space to get his cavalry past the baggage train without sending some of the horsemen through the woods. Unwilling to risk his own unit being charged by the fearsome Athenian hoplites while bogged down in the woods, he halted his horsemen behind the baggage train. Here, again, he could neither attack nor be attacked.

Athenians skilfully manoeuvre

With the hairy Thessalian light horse threatening the left flank of the Athenian hoplite line, the three nearest hoplite units turned to face the horsemen. Although too slow to form a proper hoplite line at right angles to their original deployment, they split up and managed to cover each other’s flanks so the horsemen would not be able to surround any one hoplite unit.

The right side of the Athenian line wheeled slightly to line general Artificos up with the Thessalian main hoplite line, which was still standing motionless between its protective forests.

Up at the Thessalian baggage train debacle, the disciplined Athenian hoplites moved from column formation to proper line abreast, while shouting imprecations at the traitorous departing cavalry. Their calmness began to put fear in the hearts of the skirmishers, and even, it seems, the general Davgraios himself.

Thessalians avoid battle

On the Athenian left flank, the Thessalian light horse had rested from their impetuous gallop. Seeing no easy prey in the hoplite spears before them, they shouted unintelligible insults and charged instead toward the Athenian baggage train. Once again, they galloped so fast that they lacked the breath to carry the attack. They stopped just outside the baggage train, well out of range of the hoplites they had just contemptuously ridden around.

At the other end of the battlefield, Davgraios’ skirmishers near the baggage train moved further through the woods in an attempt to protect their camp. Like the light horse, they were unwilling to risk themselves against the hoplites, and they stayed hidden in the woods, taunting their enemies, rather than getting between their camp and the ranks of shining spears.

The Athenian Hoplites dance

The hoplites of the Athenian left flank had now been thoroughly outmanoeuvred. They each turned to the rear in pursuit of the Thessalian cavalry, which had almost reached the Athenian baggage train. It would be a long chase, but the horsemen’s concentration on loot might distract them long enough for the hoplites to pin them against the camp itself.

At the other end of the field, the two Athenian hoplite units moved purposefully toward the Thessalian camp, and the Thessalian skirmishers in the woods realised that they were about to face the massed spears of the elite free citizen-soldiers of Athens.

Thessalians attack and retreat

Finally the three Thessalian light horse units had reached an enemy that didn’t make them quake in their boots. All three attacked the Athenian baggage train, thoroughly surrounding it. The Athenian camp followers, cooks and baggage handlers gave a good account of themselves – they had been watching the light horse avoid all combat, so they didn’t feel very threatened! – and the battle was inconclusive.

Davgraios had seen the Athenian hoplites form up and march towards his baggage train. The thought occurred to him that being captured or killed by the hoplites would put a kink in his dinner engagement plans, so he tactically repositioned himself back towards his main hoplite line, giving a no-doubt rousing speech to motivate the nervous skirmishers he left to protect the baggage.

Athenians get aggressive

Time was running out as night approached. The Athenians needed to repel this unwarranted attack quickly or the Thessalians would escape to continue sacking the Athenian countryside.

The Athenian skirmishers in the woods on the Athenian left charged out to attack their opposite numbers.  Disorganisation ensued as some of the Thessalian skirmishers were pushed back out of their line, but no units were destroyed.

The hoplites in pursuit of the light horse moved towards them at all speed, but were still too far away to make contact.

The seaborne Athenian hoplite line attacked the Thessalian baggage train and the nearest skirmishers, who happened to be perfectly lined up. The mighty spears overpowered the camp followers – leaving the camp undefended – and forced the skirmishers to recoil further into the woods.

(Thessalian camp followers destroyed. Athens=1 : Thessaly=1)

Loot-obsessed Thessalian Light Horse

The three light horse units overpowered and destroyed the Athenian camp followers on their second attempt, still with their backs to the approaching Athenian hoplites.

(Athenian camp followers destroyed. Athens=1 : Thessaly=2)

In the chaotic melee of skirmishers on the Athenian left flank, one of the Thessalian hoplite units managed to flank one of the brave Athenian skirmishers who was engaged with his opposite number. Forced to recoil while flanked by the hoplites, the Athenian skirmishers were destroyed.

(Athenian skirmisher destroyed. Athens=1:Thessaly:3)

They can’t run forever

The Athenian hoplites chasing the Thessalian light horse finally caught them while the horsemen were busy attacking the Athenian camp. Although the light horse turned about face to receive the hoplite charge, they were overwhelmed and forced backwards into the chaos of the camp. All unit cohesion disintegrated as the horses became tangled in the tent guy ropes and burnt by cooking fires.

(Thessalian Light Horse destroyed. Athens=2 : Thessaly=3)

With no-one opposing them, the hoplites who previously destroyed the Thessalian camp followers then sacked the baggage train.

(Thessalian baggage train sacked. Athens=3 : Thessaly=3)

Also in the forest near the sacked Thessalian camp, one of the Athenian hoplite units managed to force a Thessalian skirmisher to recoil while outflanked, destroying it.

(Thessalian Skirmishers destroyed. Athens=4:Thessaly=3)

Peace is Restored and Honour Satisfied

Now that the Thessalians had lost all their baggage, their camp followers, and their most enthusiastic loot-obsessed light horse and most energetic skirmishers, the main Thessalian battle line chose to leave the field, most of them without even getting their cloaks rumpled.