On they went with loud shouts...

Society of Ancients Battle Day 2012: Plataea 479 BC

Richard Lockwood & Daivid Barnsdale


When he had so spoken, he crossed the Asopus, and led the Persians forward at a run directly upon the track of the Greeks, whom he believed to be in actual flight. He could not see the Athenians; for, as they had taken the way of the plain, they were hidden from his sight by the hills; he therefore led on his troops against the Lacedaemonians and the Tegeans only. When the commanders of the other divisions of the barbarians saw the Persians pursuing the Greeks so hastily, they all forthwith seized their standards, and hurried after at their best speed in great disorder and disarray. On they went with loud shouts and in a wild rout, thinking to swallow up the runaways.

Mardonius the Persian general begins the battle by pursuing the retreating Greek alliance. From Book IX of The History of Herodotus, this translation by George Rawlinson and found online at: http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.9.ix.html



Welcome to the Battle Pack for the 2012 Society of Ancients Battle Day. I am delighted to have Daivid Barnsdale on board to help prepare this, following in the footsteps of Nik Gaukroger and John Hills who have done so in some previous years. Daivid has written the notes on the terrain, as well as acting as a sounding board for the rest of the pack.


Sources for the battle

The main source is Herodotus, plus Plutarch’s Life of Aristides, along with the many interpretations by various academics over the years. I would like to give a special mention for a seminal text of my youth – “The Ancient Wargame” by Society legend Charles Grant, which contains an account of his refight of Plataea. To be honest, it was the re-reading of this book last year that coloured the final choice to make Plataea this year’s battle.


Although I have a hardback copy of the new translation of Herodotus published by Landmark, I have used the online version noted above for the analysis below. I have to say that I find the new Landmark translation a joy to read and much more informative, although I cannot vouch for its accuracy relative to the online translation. I have also turned to “Lost Battles” by another Society stalwart, Philip Sabin – and I am delighted to add that Phil will be giving the customary “introduction to the battle” talk at the start of Battle Day 2012. To my mind one of the advantages of Sabin’s work is he references many other views, so the reader can follow this up themselves. Having used this book as a basis for my consideration of the Zama Battle pack a few years ago, I must once again recommend it as a great starting point here.


Find Plutarch online at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Aristides*.html


My commentary below folllows Herodotus, and most of the italics are quotes from the online translation referred to above. Plutarch is remarkably similar until one crucial moment, as detailed in the commentary below.



The Battle

The two armies were deployed opposite each other for 10 days or so, but there had been no battle. The Greeks did not want to come down out of the foothills and so become more vulnerable to the Persian cavalry, and the Persians did not want to attack them there. What the Persians did do was continually send out their cavalry to skirmish and harry the Greeks. Then the Greek’s water supply choked. This plus the continued strain of the Persian cavalry attacks and the lack of provisions (Persian cavalry had cut off their supply route), forced to them to make a move to the rear. They chose their new position, and agreed to set off in the night.


However, and as ever, night manoevres can be beset with chaos, confusion and sometimes can lead to disaster. The element of the army making up the centre, ie not the Athenians nor the Spartans who were on the wings, made a rather unseemly dash to the rear, went past the agreed new deployment point, and stopped some further distance away near Plataea itself. Meanwhile, on the Greek right, Amompharetus, one of the Spartan “officers” who led a “unit”, came over all “classic Spartan” – he essentially said there was no way he was going to retreat from a bunch of barbarians! So the Spartan general Pausanias then spent the rest of the night trying to persuade him to move, and meanwhile the whole Spartan force remained where it was.


The Athenians, perhaps knowing the Spartans all too well, also did not move, waiting to see whether the Spartans really would retreat. When they saw nothing was happening, they sent a herald to find out what was going on. Pausanias explained the issue and asked the Athenians to move closer to the Spartans, and be ready to retreat with them or stand.


Eventually Pausanias gave up the attempt to persuade his reluctant retreater, and marched off the main Spartan force among the hilly ground. The Athenians followed, but moved along a different route through the plain. Amompharetus thought this was a bluff and hung on, then fianlly realised it wasn’t and hurriedly followed the rest of the Spartans. Herodotus says:


Now the army was waiting for them at a distance of about ten furlongs, having halted upon the river Moloeis at a place called Argiopius, where stands a temple dedicated to Eleusinian Ceres. They had stopped here, that, in case Amompharetus and his band should refuse to quit the spot where they were drawn up, and should really not stir from it, they might have it in their power to move back and lend them assistance. Amompharetus, however, and his companions rejoined the main body; and at the same time the whole mass of the barbarian cavalry arrived and began to press hard upon them. The horsemen had followed their usual practice and ridden up to the Greek camp, when they discovered that the place where the Greeks had been posted hitherto was deserted. Hereupon they pushed forward without stopping, and, as soon as they overtook the enemy, pressed heavily on them.


So this is to my mind one moment to begin our wargames refight: the Spartans are reunited, and now under attack by the massed Persian cavalry.


Mardonius, having discovered that the Greeks have retreated in the night, pursues with what is generally assumed to be the Persian infantry (the Persian cavalry already being engaged with the Spartans), and is quickly followed by the rest of the army. Herodotus says:


When he had so spoken, he crossed the Asopus, and led the Persians forward at a run directly upon the track of the Greeks, whom he believed to be in actual flight. He could not see the Athenians; for, as they had taken the way of the plain, they were hidden from his sight by the hills; he therefore led on his troops against the Lacedaemonians and the Tegeans only. When the commanders of the other divisions of the barbarians saw the Persians pursuing the Greeks so hastily, they all forthwith seized their standards, and hurried after at their best speed in great disorder and disarray. On they went with loud shouts and in a wild rout, thinking to swallow up the runaways.


When attacked by the cavalry, Pausanias sent a horseman to the Athenians asking for help, but on the way the Athenians were attacked by the medizing Greeks.


The Athenians, as soon as they received this message, were anxious to go to the aid of the Spartans, and to help them to the uttermost of their power; but, as they were upon the march, the Greeks on the king's side, whose place in the line had been opposite theirs, fell upon them, and so harassed them by their attacks that it was not possible for them to give the succour they desired.


We now see a strange situation – the Persian infantry arrives, sets up its wicker shield barrier, and begins shooting at the Spartans and Tegeans from behind it, but the Spartans will not attack until the omens are favourable, which at first they are not. Herodotus says:


Now, therefore, as they were about to engage with Mardonius and the troops under him, they made ready to offer sacrifice. The victims, however, for some time were not favourable; and, during the delay, many fell on the Spartan side, and a still greater number were wounded. For the Persians had made a rampart of their wicker shields, and shot from behind them stich clouds of arrows, that the Spartans were sorely distressed. The victims continued unpropitious; till at last Pausanias raised his eyes to the Heraeum of the Plataeans, and calling the goddess to his aid, besought her not to disappoint the hopes of the Greeks.


It seems that the Tegeans got fed up with waiting, and advanced to attack the Persian archers, and miraculously the omens change for the better and the Spartans can immediately follow them.


As he offered his prayer, the Tegeans, advancing before the rest, rushed forward against the enemy; and the Lacedaemonians, who had obtained favourable omens the moment that Pausanias prayed, at length, after their long delay, advanced to the attack; while the Persians, on their side, left shooting, and prepared to meet them.


There now appears to have been a desperate struggle at the wicker shield barrier. Herodotus says:


And first the combat was at the wicker shields. Afterwards, when these were swept down, a fierce contest took place by the side of the temple of Ceres, which lasted long, and ended in a hand-to-hand struggle. The barbarians many times seized hold of the Greek spears and brake them; for in boldness and warlike spirit the Persians were not a whit inferior to the Greeks; but they were without bucklers, untrained, and far below the enemy in respect of skill in arms. Sometimes singly, sometimes in bodies of ten, now fewer and now more in number, they dashed upon the Spartan ranks, and so perished.


I would strongly recommend you go to the ancmed Yahoo group to read some detailed comments from Patrick Waterson on this section of Herodotus, which can be found here:



There is also a discussion on TMP here that may be worth reading:



So we are seeing a close and depserate struggle. Mardonius is fighting mounted with his thousand strong persian bodyguard – we must assume also mounted. Herodotus says that the Spartans and Tegeans are even losing at the point where is fighting! But then Mardonius is killed and this clearly breaks the will of the Persians.


The fight went most against the Greeks, where Mardonius, mounted upon a white horse, and surrounded by the bravest of all the Persians, the thousand picked men, fought in person. So long as Mardonius was alive, this body resisted all attacks, and, while they defended their own lives, struck down no small number of Spartans; but after Mardonius fell, and the troops with him, which were the main strength of the army, perished, the remainder yielded to the Lacedaemonians, and took to flight. Their light clothing, and want of bucklers, were of the greatest hurt to them: for they had to contend against men heavily armed, while they themselves were without any such defence.


I find these comments interesting. One might intepret this as saying the Spartans and Tegeans only won once Persian morale was broken by the death of Mardonius, despite the difference in armour for close fighting. This then is a very close struggle that perhaps could have gone either way.


Let’s turn back to the Athenians, who have been caught by the medizing Greeks. However, most of them manage to avoid fighting, perhaps showing that they were very reluctant allies. The Boeotian,s however, are perfectly happy to fight, indeed we see another tough battle between them and the Athenians - Herodotus says:


As for the Greeks upon the king's side, while most of them played the coward purposely, the Boeotians, on the contrary, had a long struggle with the Athenians. Those of the Thebans who were attached to the Medes, displayed especially no little zeal; far from playing the coward, they fought with such fury that three hundred of the best and bravest among them were slain by the Athenians in this passage of arms. But at last they too were routed, and fled away- not, however, in the same direction as the Persians and the crowd of allies, who, having taken no part in the battle, ran off without striking a blow- but to the city of Thebes.


Note from this that the rest of the Persian army has not taken part in the battle – they have just run off once they see everything else going against them. In fact Herodotus goes on to say:


To me it shows very clearly how completely the rest of the barbarians were dependent upon the Persian troops, that here they all fled at once, without ever coming to blows with the enemy, merely because they saw the Persians running away. And so it came to pass that the whole army took to flight, except only the horse, both Persian and Boeotian. These did good service to the flying foot-men, by advancing close to the enemy, and separating between the Greeks and their own fugitives.


But what of the rest of the Greek army, which we last saw in an unseemly and hasty retreat to Plataea, going well past the agreed point? It seems that they heard about the battle only once it was clear that the Spartans were winning. What followed was an equally unseemly dash back to claim part of the victory, which ended badly for the Megarians and Phliasians. Herodotus says:


Meantime, while the flight continued, tidings reached the Greeks who were drawn up round the Heraeum, and so were absent from the battle, that the fight was begun, and that Pausanias was gaining the victory. Hearing this, they rushed forward without any order, the Corinthians taking the upper road across the skirts of Cithaeron and the hills, which led straight to the temple of Ceres; while the Megarians and Phliasians followed the level route through the plain. These last had almost reached the enemy, when the Theban horse espied them, and, observing their disarray, despatched against them the squadron of which Asopodorus, the son of Timander, was captain. Asopodorus charged them with such effect that the left six hundred of their number dead upon the plain, and, pursuing the rest, compelled them to seek shelter in Cithaeron. So these men perished without honour.


However, for the first time Plutarch diverges from Herodotus significantly here. He says the Greeks don’t come immediately because Pausanias does not summon them:


At this point day overtook them, and Mardonius, who did not fail to notice that the Hellenes had abandoned their encampment, with his force in full array, bore down upon the Lacedaemonians, with great shouting and clamour on the part of the Barbarians, who felt that there would be no real battle, but that the Hellenes had only to be snatched off as they fled. And this lacked but little of coming to pass. 5 For Pausanias, on seeing the situation, though he did check his march and order every man to take post for battle, forgot, either in his rage at Amompharetus or his confusion at the speed of the enemy, to give the signal for battle to the confederate Hellenes. For this reason they did not come to his aid at once, nor in a body, but in small detachments and straggling, after the battle was already joined.


Interesting – the effect is the same in that the rest of the Greeks arrive late and in small and separate groups, but he is certainly implying they do some fighting. Later he asserts that he believes they mist have taken part in the battle proper – see below. This will be an important issue for Game Organisers to consider.


Meanwhile, the fleeing Persians took refuge in their fortified camp. The pursuing Spartans arrived first as you might expect, but failed to breach the wooden walls. Only when the Athenians arrived and took part of the wall, allowing a breach to be made, did the Greeks capture the camp and apparently slaughter many, many thousands (if you believe the size of the Persian army).


The Persians, and the multitude with them, who fled to the wooden fortress, were able to ascend into the towers before the Lacedaemonians came up. Thus placed, they proceeded to strengthen the defences as well as they could; and when the Lacedaemonians arrived, a sharp fight took place at the rampart. So long as the Athenians were away, the barbarians kept off their assailants, and had much the best of the combat, since the Lacedaemonians were unskilled in the attack of walled places: but on the arrival of the Athenians, a more violent assault was made, and the wall was for a long time attacked with fury. In the end the valour of the Athenians and their perseverance prevailed- they gained the top of the wall, and, breaking a breach through it, enabled the Greeks to pour in. The first to enter here were the Tegeans, and they it was who plundered the tent of Mardonius; where among other booty the found the manger from which his horses ate, all made of solid brass, and well worth looking at. This manger was given by the Tegeans to the temple of Minerva Alea, while the remainder of their booty was brought into the common stock of the Greeks. As soon as the wall was broken down, the barbarians no longer kept together in any array, nor was there one among them who thought of making further resistance- in good truth, they were all half dead with fright, huddled as so many thousands were into so narrow and confined a space. With such tameness did they submit to be slaughtered by the Greeks, that of the 300,000 men who composed the army- omitting the 40,000 by whom Artabazus was accompanied in his flight- no more than 3000 outlived the battle. Of the Lacedaemonians from Sparta there perished in this combat ninety-one; of the Tegeans, sixteen; of the Athenians, fifty-two.


Now we return to the “big controversy”, because at this point of the narrative Plutarch again diverges from having followed the account of Herodotus with the words:

Astonishing, therefore, is the statement of Herodotus,where he says that these one hundred and fifty-nine represented the only Hellenes who engaged the enemy, and that not one of the rest did so. Surely the total number of those who fell, as well as the monuments erected over them, testifies that the success was a common one. Besides, had the men of three cities only made the contest, while the rest sat idly by, the altar would not have been inscribed as it was:—

"Here did the Hellenes, flushed with a victory granted by Ares

Over the routed Persians, together, for Hellas delivered,

Build them an altar of Zeus, Zeus as Deliverer known."



Hmmm. So Plutarch is saying he simply can’t believe Herodotus, but does not offer any evidence based on a source, nor suggest what part the rest of the Greeks actually did play in the battle. It seems to me he does not have an alternative source (as he sometimes mentions for other alternative stories in his Lives) but is basing this only on his comments above. For me personally, I find Herodotus the more convincing. But I know that others favour the Plutarch account, and as ever with ancient battles you must follow whichever interpretation you prefer.



Points to consider in the refight

I think there are a number of issues to be resolved when setting up your refight.


Firstly there is Herodotus or Plutarch ie do the rest of the Greeks fight or not, and if so how do you activate them.


The omens – it seems the Spartans did not attack for quite some time, despite taking casualties that “sorely distressed” them, while waiting for favourable omens. It seems they kept on sacrificing until eventually they got the right result. You may want to include a mechanism to reflect how long it is before either the omens change or the Tegeans get fed up waiting.


What should we represent on the battlefield? Clearly there needs to be room to have both the Spartan and Athenian fights, but beyond that? Do you want to have the Persian fortified camp, so that potential victorious Greeks can assault it? Or will you call the battle over once one side or the other flees? Will you place the rest of the Greek army on the battlefield so that it can intervene, perhaps only if and when the Spartans begin to win their contest? Or will you keep them off table to march on, or will you ignore these Greeks as irrelevant?


What of the rest of the Persian army? Do you represent the whole army, or just the Persians and the the medizing Greeks which Herodotus says actually did the fighting? If you do put the whole Persian army on the table, how many of them, and how do they get “activated” to join the battle?


How far should the Athenians be from the Spartans? Far enough away to completely prevent one coming to the other’s aid after defeating their own enemy? There is an argument that this should be the case. Or if not, then how long will you say it will tkae to get there? You don’t necessarily have to move them there by normal wargames moves – you can have an abstract movement system to delay them appropriately.


Will you allow outflanking of the Athenian and Spartan lines? Herodotus makes no mention of this – yet potentially there are plenty of Persians to do this. If you allow this too easily then most wargames rules will condemn the Greeks to defeat. On the other hand, this could be where you bring in the slowly-arriving “other Greeks” – to keep on adding to the line to prevent outflanking. However, I have to say I see zero evidence for this interpretation. Another explanation could be that the Greek light troops – all those Spartan helots! – are busy protecting the flanks. Perhaps the best explanation is that the hilly terrain is such that serious outflanking was not really possible.




The Greek Army

The classic description comes from Herodotus:

...the Greek army, which was in part composed of those who came at the first, in part of such as had flocked in from day to day, drew up in the following order:- Ten thousand Lacedaemonian troops held the right wing, five thousand of whom were Spartans; and these five thousand were attended by a body of thirty-five thousand Helots, who were only lightly armed- seven Helots to each Spartan. The place next to themselves the Spartans gave to the Tegeans, on account of their courage and of the esteem in which they held them. They were all fully armed, and numbered fifteen hundred men. Next in order came the Corinthians, five thousand strong; and with them Pausanias had placed, at their request, the band of three hundred which had come from Potidaea in Pallene. The Arcadians of Orchomenus, in number six hundred, came next; then the Sicyonians, three thousand; then the Epidaurians, eight hundred; then the Troezenians, one thousand; then the Lepreats, two hundred; the Mycenaeans and Tirynthians, four hundred; the Phliasians, one thousand; the Hermionians, three hundred; the Eretrians and Styreans, six hundred; the Chalcideans, four hundred; and the Ambraciots, five hundred. After these came the Leucadians and Anactorians, who numbered eight hundred; the Paleans of Cephallenia, two hundred; the Eginetans, five hundred; the Megarians, three thousand; and the Plataeans, six hundred. Last of all, but first at their extremity of the line, were the Athenians, who, to the number of eight thousand, occupied the left wing, under the command of Aristides, the son of Lysimachus.


All these, except the Helots- seven of whom, as I said, attended each Spartan- were heavy-armed troops; and they amounted to thirty-eight thousand seven hundred men. This was the number of Hoplites, or heavy-armed soldiers, which was together against the barbarian. The light-armed troops consisted of the thirty-five thousand ranged with the Spartans, seven in attendance upon each, who were all well equipped for war; and of thirty-four thousand five hundred others, belonging to the Lacedaemonians and the rest of the Greeks, at the rate (nearly) of one light to one heavy armed. Thus the entire number of the light-armed was sixty-nine thousand five hundred.


The Greek army, therefore, which mustered at Plataea, counting light-armed as well as heavy-armed, was but eighteen hundred men short of one hundred and ten thousand; and this amount was exactly made up by the Thespians who were present in the camp; for eighteen hundred Thespians, being the whole number left, were likewise with the army; but these men were without arms. Such was the array of the Greek troops when they took post on the Asopus.


So dpending on your decision whether to include the rest of the Greeks, our minimum army consiss of 5,000 Spartans, 5,000 other Lacedaemonians, and 1,500 Tegeans in one group, and the 8,000 Athenians in the other.


What should we do about the hordes of light troops – in particular the 7 helots per Spartan? I hesitate to say “ignore them”, but it is tempting to do so. I can just about imagine a night march of 10,000 Spartans, but adding 35,000 helots seems highly unlikely. So I would assume even if they were there they probably retreated earlier, and so may well have gone all the way to the rear with the rest of the Greeks. I will admit, beyond the suggestion of adding a few token skirmishers, it’s over to you again to make your choice on how to deal with this!



The Persian Army

This is much more tricky. Naturally the Greek sources say the Persian army was simply enourmous. As Phil Sabin says in his section in “Lost Battles”, Herodotus’s numbers are “universally rejected” by all scholars – but for completeness here is what he says:


On their arrival Mardonius marshalled them against the Greeks in the following order:- Against the Lacedaemonians he posted his Persians; and as the Persians were far more numerous he drew them up with their ranks deeper than common, and also extended their front so that part faced the Tegeans; and here he took care to choose out the best troops to face the Lacedaemonians, whilst against the Tegeans he arrayed those on whom he could not so much depend. This was done at the suggestion and by the advice of the Thebans. Next to the Persians he placed the Medes, facing the Corinthians, Potidaeans, Orchomenians, and Sicyonians; then the Bactrians, facing the Epidaurians, Troezenians, Lepreats, Tirynthians, Mycenaeans, and Phliasians; after them the Indians, facing the Hermionians, Eretrians, Styreans, and Chalcidians; then the Sacans, facing the Ambraciots, Anactorians, Leucadians, Paleans, and Eginetans; last of all, facing the Athenians, the Plataeans, and the Megarians, he placed the troops of the Boeotians, Locrians, Malians, and Thessalians, and also the thousand Phocians. The whole nation of the Phocians had not joined the Medes; on the contrary, there were some who had gathered themselves into bands about Parnassus, and made expeditions from thence, whereby they distressed Mardonius and the Greeks who sided with him, and so did good service to the Grecian cause. Besides those mentioned above, Mardonius likewise arrayed against the Athenians the Macedonians and the tribes dwelling about Thessaly.

I have named here the greatest of the nations which were marshalled by Mardonius on this occasion, to wit, all those of most renown and account. Mixed with these, however, were men of divers other peoples, as Phrygians, Thracians, Mysians, Paeonians, and the like; Ethiopians again, and Egyptians, both of the Hermotybian and Calascirian races, whose weapon is the sword, and who are the only fighting men in that country. These persons had formerly served on board the fleet of Xerxes, but Mardonius disembarked them before he left Phalerum; in the land force which Xerxes brought to Athens there were no Egyptians. The number of the barbarians, as I have already mentioned, was three hundred thousand; that of the Greeks who had made alliance with Mardonius is known to none, for they were never counted: I should guess that they mustered near fifty thousand strong. The troops thus marshalled were all foot soldiers. As for the horse, it was drawn up by itself.


One could perhaps estimate the broad numbers by assuming a certain depth and looking at “match ups” with the Greek line. However one chooses to go about it, it is clear that you should not be representing the Persian army as being quite so large. Sabin summarises the various estimates of numbers as ranging “from Green’s 40,000 foot and 10,000 horse, through Head’s 45,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry to Burn’s and Lazenby’s 80-90,000 troops, Santosuosso’s 100,000 and Connolly’s 120,000 men”. The multitude of nations that you choose to represent again depends on how you choose to involve the non-Persian part of the army. The pragmatist in me says choose a number for the persians and Boeotians that will give a close fight against both the Spartans/Tegeans and Athenians respectively, and then decide the extent to which you will allow possible intervention from other elements of each army.


While we can surmise that the Greek foot are hoplites, how should we represent the Persian foot? The last 20 years or so has seen the rise of the “sparabara” interpretation, which I first saw in the books on the Achaemenid army by Duncan Head (Montvert) and Nick Sekunda (Osprey) in 1992. This then is a large wicker shield with ranks of archers behind. While this should apply to the Persian foot who fought the Spartans/Tegeans, there is an argument that for much of the rest of the army, such as the Bactrians, Indians and Saka, simple unshielded bowmen would be a better interpretation.


Herodotus does not give specific numbers for the cavalry, but we should remember to add some Theban horse. How should we represent the Persian cavalry? Mardonius’s 1,000 “guard” cavalry had clearly sufficient close-fighting skills to give the Spartan hoplites a hard time. This is the cream of the Persian horse.. However, the bulk of the Persian cavalry in the days leading up to the battle seemed to have spent most of their time skirmishing from a distance – though again they were not afraid to come to close quarters on occasion. “Light” or “heavy” cavalry? Or a mix of both? I think you need to consider how they will perform using your chosen rule set and classify them accordingly.



The Terrain


Terrain for the battle of Plataea was especially crucial, and Herodotus does go into some detail about it. Unfortunately, he relies on some landmarks that no longer exist and so there has been plenty of space for academics to disagree.


The first serious study of the area of the Plataea campaign was that of George Grundy. His "The Topography of the Battle of Plataea" was published in 1894 but remains the best starting point.  This book includes a detailed map which was the outcome of a visit to the area during which he personally conducted a survey, and is printed on a detailed fold out section.  This book has been reprinted and provided it includes the map with the original large scale I would recommend it as a “must have” (NB there was no map in my reprint – Richard L). Later academics have tended to adopt the names of the terrain features that Grundy gave them – although they have not always been so ready to adopt all his conclusions. Grundy believed that the Greek army was deployed only along the Asopus ridge. Many since have concluded that the Greek line extended further to the west so that the Athenians were deployed not on the west end of the Asopus ridge but on the Pyrgos hill which is quite a bit further west.  Philip Sabin in Lost Battles has questioned whether it is likely that the Greek line really extended so far, as this would have produced an exceptionally wide frontage given the Greek numbers compared with other ancient battles.  But for the fighting itself it isn't too important where the Athenians were initially deployed.  What matters is where the Athenians ended up at the end of their night retreat.  If they started on the Pyrgos hill then the Athenians must have descended from the hill heading south.  Then when they got the appeal from the Spartans for help they would have then turned east.  If they began on the Asopus ridge they would have initially descended from the ridge heading South West before again heading east to aid the Spartans.  Either way, when they were attacked by the Medeizing Greeks, the Athenians would have ended up in the same place - heading east in the plain but approaching the hilly area south of the Asopus ridge.


The dispute over the location of the Grove of Demeter, by contrast, is crucial for a refight as its location pretty much fixes the location of the Spartans. It was here that the Persian cavalry caught up with them. Grundy surmised that the Church of St Demetrion had been built on the site of the shrine.  The church is on top of a conical hillock.  Grundy argued that if the Persians had drawn up in a line south of the Grove of Demeter/Church of St Demetrion then when the Persians broke in the face of the Spartan attack they would most likely have fled along the line of least resistance and avoid going up over the hillock.  This would explain Herodotus' account that all around the Shrine of Demeter there were bodies of dead Persians but not within the grounds of the shrine itself.  This would place the Spartans, just across the stream that Grundy labeled A5 (ie Asopus 5), on the "plateau".  Many academics have favored a site further south for the Grove of Demeter and to be honest what tips the scales in favor of Grundy is that choosing his site makes it easier to fit both the Athenians and the Spartans on a wargames table.


I haven't gone into other issues such as the location of the "island" which was the intended destination of the night retreat or of the Persian palisade and other sites much debated by academics.  This is because I want to encourage people to focus narrowly on the area from where the Athenians were attacked to the where the Spartans were fighting the Persians.  We know that the Athenians and the Spartans were out of sight from each other.  Thus only by concentrating on this area will we have a enough space so that we can have enough troops on the table without making the Spartans and Athenians crowded together.  This will leave the Greek center, which ended up outside Plataea, off table. You will therefore need to give some thought on how to decide when such troops as the Megarans and the Corinthians should turn up to join the fighting as Herodotus says they did.


Grundy describes the sharp divide between the rolling hills on which the battle was fought and the virtually mountainous Kithaeron  ridge to the south. Clearly, these hills did not present as great a problem as Kithaeron ridge itself.  Nonetheless, Herodotus describes both the Spartans and the Corinthians sticking to the hills as protection from the cavalry.  Given the time of year, the streams would have been dry or at best a trickle, though they may have made a small contribution to making the hills difficult for cavalry.  In addition, they do mark the low point of the slope between the hills.


Finally a warning.  Quite a few villages in the area have been renamed since Ottoman times with the names of ancient settlements.  Hence, the names these villages bear today is no evidence in itself for where the ancient settlements actually were.



The Game Start Point

To my mind there are two main options here: just as the Spartans are re-united and the Persian cavalry arrive, or else a little later in the action when the Persian foot arrive to start shooting while the Greeks are testing the omens. But you could start the game from the beginning of the retreat. As ever, I invite Game organisers to impose their own ideas on their own refight!



And Finally...

There may be a number of blogs on the go discussing their plans for Battle Day – do watch out for them. For example, Phil Steele at Ancients on the Move has some interesting points and is reporting on his plans to use Society founder Tony Bath’s historic collection of flats figures:




Download the Battle Pack as a Word Document