Hoplites!!

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As mentioned in my previous post, a long enduring interest for me has been warfare in Ancient Greece. For wargamers it has a definite allure though at a glance it may appear to be bland…hoplites, hoplites, hoplites. If one is prepared to dig into the period however, and look at it as its ‘own era’, then it becomes much more interesting and nuanced in many ways.

The very big hoplite battles were few, but the lesser engagements and those lost to history were many. The incessant raiding of enemy towns, villages, crops and outposts further expands the variety of actions fought. Hoplite warfare occurred on many scales of operations and the full gamut of gaming opportunities and exploration of history involves all levels of action…it becomes much more interesting then.

The theme, Ancient Greece, is at the heart of many of the ideals which we hold dear in modern days, so the era is timeless in many ways, being easy to research, and approachable through many gaming mediums. There is the possibility of massed battles, skirmishes, naval games, along with tactical as well as strategic boardgames. We live in a golden age of literature on the topic.

We are also blessed by the father of histories, Thucydides, the Athenian general who was defeated, and then set about writing his masterful work on the Peloponnesian War. It is a rich and compelling narrative and can easily be digested in chunks with good detail for the wargamer. Its pages overflow with wargaming possibilities and scenarios along with rich, meaningful history.  From these pages we draw inspiration for hoplite warfare, including eras before and after the late 5th century of his Peloponnesian narrative. The period itself runs from the aftermath of the Persian wars (post 480BC) through to the rise of Phillip of Macedonian (360BC)…the age of the hoplite.

Though the great conflict involved the Athenian empire and Sparta along with her Peloponnesian League, war raged throughout the mediterranean from Sicily in the boot of Italy, across the Greek mainland and Peloponnese, through Macedonia to the Aegean Sea, to the shores of Ionia and on into the fringes of the Persian Empire. A great stage for a huge cast of characters.

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Classic hoplite battles were fought, skirmishes were constant common occurrences, raids and battles by trireme naval forces and huge expeditions such as the invasion of Sicily were undertaken – for the most part the commonly regular ravaging of Athenian cropland before the great city’s walls itself invites confrontation only a short march from the Peloponnese.

There are many types of hoplites that populate this theatre, from poor citizenry forces who man-the-post when a threat to their community arises, to the state sanctioned war fighters of Sparta whose reputation needs little introduction. There are many shades of hoplite in between.

On the Greek plains there are the horseman of Thessaly and effective mounted classes of Boeotia and Thebes. Tarantine cavalry reign supreme in Italy and Sicily. A multitude of light troops using sling, bow and spear who fought everywhere and for every one, whilst at the regions extremities the wild Thracian warriors and Macedonian troops that would ultimately send forth Philip and his son Alexander to conquer and unite Greece as a whole.

But our story is not one of the Macedonians, no, it is a time set when the hoplite was the most powerful force on the battlefield and it is this era that we shall draw inspiration. Principally centering on the great Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta, but taking in the conflicts before and after as well.

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What forces to build?

To explore all that the period has to offer I want to be able to engage in all the small actions so common of the period so will therefore need a mass-skirmish game approach. This will involve actions with as few as 20-30 figures up to 100+. However, to engage in the ‘big battle’ I want to go big…hoplites writ large! So, to that end I plan to field large forces to recreate the battles of Ancient Greece in the ‘grand manner’. Big units, with a solid phalanx to really capture the period…hundreds of hoplites…

 

…that’s the plan

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Building a hoplite army

To build big hoplite armies is no small task. Many a plan like this has succumbed to ‘painters death’ of hundreds of hoplites and shields. It is my intention to not wilt from the challenge…

The ‘look’ one wishes to create in such a force will also determine how successful such a project can be and indeed wether it can realistically be achieved at all. The bigger the units the harder it will be to create that look with the high demand of figures to paint. Many an enthusiastic gamer has acquired hoplites to represent the clash of spear and shield but fallen short once the first 100 or more hoplites have been painted….only to realise they need three, four or more times as many to achieve the game they seek to represent for the ‘decisive’ hoplite encounter.

This problem of realistically achieving the goal of building a large hoplite army, that has the look and feel of serried ranks of armed spearmen, is the aim of this project and the challenge that must be met. It will bring along all the supporting cast of characters which will by its nature allow for the big and small actions to be fought. Such an army will also need an opponent, so it will not be one, but two armies that will need to made…yes, two!

Back in December 2016 I posted a picture saying that we here at agrabbagofgames were going to go BIG – for ancient warfare, and hoplite warfare in particular, big it must be…along with the petite guerre.

 

 

Well, that was no idle boast. Now it’s time to deliver on just such a commitment.

But how can achieving large hoplite armies be completed and planned for?…always easier said than done. Needless to say, this will be no two week or two month project…but it must not be two years or it will never happen….and here we are in 2020.

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How?

This series of posts will provide my solution to achieving large scale 28mm, unit based ancient era armies on the table, and how to do it. It is a system that does not require a club or multiple people to achieve but rather can be completed by the committed gamer alone. It is however fair to say, it is not for the faint hearted. You’ll want to be committed to your subject to undertake a large ancient army building plan.

My system however, will IMO, provide a means to do it and get it done. It aims to achieve the goal of getting together armies that can be played in the ‘grand manner’, evoking images on the tabletop of mighty battles between hoplite armies of antiquity.

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What figures to use?

The picture of that big box gives you some indication of just how getting big hoplite units to the table will be achieved….but it’s not as simple as just plastics, plastics, plastics.

The seed for such a project was planted when Victrix released their first hoplite plastic boxed set. Over time this range has grown and now provides the gamer with all the boxes needed to put together hoplite armies. Since the first acquisition of figures many additional boxes have been added to the Victrix line – happily, they have delivered many more plastic forces to encompass the wars of Greece and Rome. Whilst keeping each figure cost down quite a bit – one of the benefits of the ‘plastics revolution’, the practicality of assembling hundreds of figures alone is a Herculean task.

In addition, and this is personal taste, but many metal figures add variation and uniqueness that the Victrix boxed sets don’t. For all their advantages, the Victrix figure use essentially the same bodies and vary the heads and some equipment to achieve their different hoplite types. I want some more variation.

Further to that, Wargames Foundry ‘World of the Greeks’ range has a huge number of unique and lovely sculpted figure that I want to use to create character in the force. Surprisingly, mixing Foundry and Victrix works quite well. The Spartan range is particularly unique and has a distinct style, that in my opinion, is the look I’m after rather than the one Victrix do in the Spartan Warriors boxed set. Other figure ranges will proves useful such as the superb Aventine Miniatures range and some extras from the likes of Gorgon Studios.

Taking a punt I also decided to use some figures from the Black Tree Design range. Whilst these figures have a certain style that does not lend itself to mixing with the Foundry and Victrix figures, in individual units using some of these figures will add a bit more variation to depict different warriors. In my case I’m going to use them as Skiritai or Neodamidais in a Peloponnesian force. At this time the Ancient Greeks from BTD aren’t available – hopefully that will change in the future.

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Getting the ‘look’

I’ve mentioned the ‘look’ a few times in this post. What I mean by this is creating units that have a certain look and feel across the army that binds it all together. To achieve this I’m going to have to use some binding ‘trick’ to bring the entire force together so it looks like a homogenous whole.

The method I’m going to use to do this is twofold. First of all hoplite armies are generally all about the shield. The other striking element within hoplites armies is the hedgehog of spears. Even when using different figures, if these two elements are the same across different figure types, then this will achieve the affect of making figures from different manufacturers mix well together and ‘bind’ the unit as a whole.

To do this I’m going to have to find a way to re-shield and re-spear all my figures. This will result in a bit of wastage but ‘the look’ to me is worthwhile. Fortunately the two elements come into play here. First, I really like the Foundry World of the Greeks range figures but I’m not particularly enamoured by the small shields those figures use. They will be used for other things but I don’t like them for my main Spartan core units. So even though I want to include these figures in my project it will come at some convenience to replace the shield and the spears, as they are little more than wire. Both these elements of the Foundry figures are not what I particularly like and will need to be replaced….enter Victrix.

One of the really nice elements of the Victrix plastic figure range is the shield and spear on those figures. Both these parts of the figure capture the look and feel of the hoplite panoply. Fortunately one of the great advantages of plastic figures is that the unit cost on each figure is significantly less than the equivalent metal. So what I’m going to do is replace the shield and spear on the metal Wargames Foundry figures with plastic shield and spear from the Victrix range. It will also enable theuse of the excellent Victrix/LBM Studios shield transfers for the shields.

Unfortunately Victrix do not sell in their range a weapons sprue which would’ve been extremely convenient for this particular project. They have however released a shield pack which will be useful.

For my project however, I’m going to have to buy boxes of the Victrix hoplites and use the shield and spear from those boxes to reequip my metal figures. Whilst this is not ideal in the overall scheme of things it is a slightly inefficient cost I’m prepared to wear to achieve the homogenous look I’m after for the entire army. If you are not fussy about the spear then you can just buy the shield packs from Victrix which will reduce costs further.

*edit – Since commencing this project Victrix have now made a ‘shield sprue’ which would’ve alleviated much pain to get the shield I was after. It was a missed opportunity that they didn’t put a spear on the same sprue.

With the overall cost of the project being significantly reduced with discounted plastic figures this slight inefficiency is acceptable for the return I get by not using Foundry shields and spears.

By adopting this approach we do of course end up with a whole bunch of surplus shields from the Foundry figures.These in fact can be quite useful as they are smallish and are appropriate for equipping mounted forces and some light troops as well…I’ll use the spartan shields for my Black Tree Design Skiritai figures. as BTD shields leave a lot to be desired. The surplus shields can also make excellent battlefield markers that can be used to mark unit status or something along those lines during gameplay. There are in fact a number of uses for the surplus shields so all is not lost.

 

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Wargame Foundry Spartan horse with left over shields added.

 

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How big is the army?

So just how big is big? Well, to try and get the ‘epic’ look the table 9’x5′ (or bigger) will need to see some serious lead/plastic added to the fray. I am making this army with a compatriot who is building the same force so combined, our armies will be genuinely…epic!

Working of what I think will deliver a good gaming experience and feel for the subject the army needs to be at least 8 units and up to about 12 or more. That doesn’t sound like a alot, but at 32 figures a unit, all arrayed enmasse in a row, that is a serious hoplite force…close to 500 figures per side!

 

To that end, here is my planned force for the Spartans as a basic force.

So in that lot there will be 320 figures but I think it’ll be closer to 400 figures when all is said and done….particularly adding in skirmishers and cavalry…maybe 450-500 at the top end with extra units added. We haven’t even included the skirmishers yet!

The force above will give me the basis for all the Peloponnesian armies built around a Spartiate/Lakonian hoplite force. The idea is to have enough to not always rely on using Spartan figures as many times Peloponnesian forces squabbled amongst themselves or nearby neighbors…so the Spartan lambda shield won’t be present in every battle.

 

The Athenian force will be similarly put together like so.

..so this is the plan…I hope you are interested to see how it all spins out…there will be posts on all aspects of the period and lots of eye candy and hopefully a bit of inspiration for Classical Warfare in Ancient Greece. We’ll look at all aspect sof the period including boardgames and naval warfare as well along with reading suggestions.

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In the next post we will look at what how we want to base our figures, what rules to use and planning to build up a Delian League and Peloponnesian League army.

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A ‘kit bashed’ leader base. Figures from Victrix Miniatures with a Eureka hoplite in rear.

2 thoughts on “Hoplites!!

  1. Hi Richard,

    Maybe not…but who knows? My light cav have them regardless. No one knows 100% who had what way back then…one of the attractions of ancients 😉

    Like

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