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Variant Armies

Achaean - 10b (1250-1150 BC)

by Paul Dobbins

Chris Brantley posted an excellent Trojan army list, Trojan 10a, to the DBA Army Variants page, which certainly stands on its merits, the trenchent comments of erstwhile experts Tom McMillan and Paul Dobbins notwithstanding. Those comments, however, indicated some dissatisfaction with the use of the vanilla-flavored Mycenaean and Minoan list 10 for the Trojan's mortal enemies, the Achaeans. A more appropriate Achaean list is here proposed, which follows the logic of the WRG 7th Achaean list presented by me in the same Spring 1994 Courier article as Tom's initial Trojan list.

Who Were the Achaeans?

The Bronze Age history of Greece is complex, probably more for reasons of lack of material than inherent complexity. Regardless, a long-lived concensus view holds that the archaeological evidence points to several discrete stages in the history of "Mycenaean" Greece. For our limited purposes here, only a few salient characteristics are interesting.

First, the so-called "palace culture" that arose in Greece over the course of time, 1600 - 1400 B.C., was militarily very similar to the chariot-based societies of Anatolia and the Levant, sharing a common Indo-European origin. The aristocratic chariot warrior, called a maryannu in the Levant, and an eqeta in Greece, was at the center of the military system. Whether subsidized by land grants, or provided arms directly by the state, the Mycenaean eqeta corps was akin to its eastern counterparts, featuring swift, light two-horse chariots, each presenting a heavily armoured warrior and (possibly armed) driver. The famed Dendra panoply of this period is little different in kind or function from the full-length, scaled cuirass of a contemporaneous Mitannian or Syrian maryannu. A warrior in such full armour would be proof, save for a rare lucky shot, against enemy missiles, but no doubt would be unable to survive long if his ride crashed amoung his foes, leaving him, bearing so much deadweight, to hump back to his comrades.

There is some controversy regarding the weapontry of the eqeta. Robert Drews (see sources below) has convinced me that the Mycenaean eqeta was primarily an archer. The conventional view hands him a lance, and imagines he somehow, miraculously fought as a lancer, a practise that has spilled over into DBM in its designation of him as a "fast knight"; this seems inherently illogical and wrong. Fortunately, it matters not in either case as regards DBA, since all light chariotry are there classified as cavalry (score one for DBA over DBM).

Supporting the chariot corps was a militia of relatively static spearmen, armed with long spears and oversize shields, but otherwise precious little protection. In support of these, missile troops, such that it may be true that the rear rankers in blocks of spearmen were actually bowmen. Other than providing the eqeta a safe harbor behind their ranks when things went badly for the former, the militia kept out of harm's way while the charioteers decided the issue. The large number of light chariots and pike in DBA list 10 is a good representation of this model of the early Mycenaean army, although for our purposes the Pk(X) in DBM is more accurate than the Pk of DBA .

Sometime before our period ( 1250 - 1150), changes in Greece altered this system. I argued elsewhere (the Spring 1994 Courier article) that a new ruling class supplanted the charioteers; these new rulers were the Achaeans, the rugged "North Greek" speakers of the northeast frontier: Thessaly and Phthiotis. The basics of that argument are too involved to repeat here, and frankly I suspect I got many of the details wrong (since it is true, as Tom McMillan pointed out then, that much of what I concluded was based on reasonable deduction rather than accepted fact). What is known to be true is that amoung the many changes observed in the physical evidence is an apparent (and major) change in the military system: effective, aggressive infantry, utilizing the slashing sword; body armour, including the precursor of the hoplite's bell cuirass; smaller shields; and light spears, javelins and darts, largely replaced the chariot fighters and their plodding militias. Since the chariot lord's political ascendancy was based on his prowess fighting a chariot, the demise of chariot warfare precipitated his political eclipse.

The deadly slashing sword of these new warriors was to have a profound effect on the survivability of the city states of the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas. This weapon is likely to have originated north (Yugoslavia) and /or west (northern Italy) of Greece, but was "transfered" to the rough hewn northern Achaean Greeks of Thessaly (Phthiotis), who used it to hack their way to the overlordship of much of central and Peloponnesian Greece.

Taking our cue from the Iliad, the political geography of Greece at the time of the Trojan war appears to have conformed to the following broad outline. The Achaean coalition may be split into three main components: (i) a northern contingent of Phthians, Thessalians, etc, whose ties to Mycenae seem distant and may depend on payments or spoils; (ii) the core group of Mycenae and its client city states, related by kinship or overlordship, including Sparta, Argos and Ithaka; and (iii), a southern group, comprising the independent but allied states of Pylos, Crete, Rhodes, etc. Although the Achaean surge may have started in the northeast, its political and military locus had shifted to Mycenae. Thus, the northerners seem as likely to be mercenaries and/or estranged kinfolk as loyal followers of the Mycenaean overlord. The southerners also seem slightly out of step. I will repeat here the speculation that the Pylians and Cretans represent the partially assimilated remnants of the older eqeta culture, which I think may be equated with the term Danaan (this may be unprovable). Nestor of Pylos and Idomeneus of Crete are held in singularly high esteem by Agamemnon, despite the obvious fact the weight of the fighting falls on other shoulders -- the ultimate Achaean bullyboys, the youthful Achilles of Phthia and Diomedes of Argos. In the text of the Iliad, Nestor often urges the use of the old tactics of massed chariots and densely packed spearmen to stem the Trojan onslaught, whereas the winning tactics of the youngbloods feature speed of foot to isolate and kill the enemy leaders and champions.

Enemies

The Achaean army of this list lives to battle any of the Trojan lists: either the original DBA list 10, or the 10a variants offered by Chris Brantley, Tom McMillan or me. In addition, the Achaeans would likely have fought, in order of declining probability, the Sea Peoples (14a), the Hittites (9), the New Kingdom Egyptians (11), the later Libyans (14b), the later Canaanites, Ugarites or Syrians (13b), and finally, the Philistines (13a).

It is interesting to note that it has been debated for many years whether the Achaeans were an integral part of the Sea People's coaliton, which appears in this particular instance to have been an invasion of Egypt by the king of Libya, Merye, who employed bands of mercenaries from throughout the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, but was defeated by the pharoah Merneptah in 1208 B.C. If this is true, then Egyptians knew them as the "Ekwesh", and may in fact have employed some Ekwesh, a la the Shardana, in the Egyptian army. The final collapse of the Mycenaean city states -- and practically all known Mycenaean cities were destroyed at this time -- is part of the overall catastrophic fall of many of the late Bronze Age kingdoms, including Hatti (Hittites), Ugarit, Troy, Boeotian Thebes, Knossos; Egypt narrowly escaped, and its power was severely curtailed despite its survival.

Composition

The DBA Achaean variant army list, 10b, is composed as follows:

North
1x 3Bd Myrmidones (including Achilles)
2x 3Wb Thessalian, Phthian, and Abantean rank and file
1x 2Ps Skirmishers, including Thracians
Mycenae
1x 3Bd or LCh Achaean nobles
1x 3Bd Mycenaean warriors
2x 3Aux Mycenaean rank and file
Southwest & Islands
1x LCh Pylian eqeta (chariot warriors)
2x 4Pk Pylian and Island close order infantry
1x 2Ps Pylian and Island bowmen

Or (as they say in algebra) collecting like terms gives us: 2 x 3Bd, 1 x 3Bd or LCh, 1 x LCh, 2 x 3Aux, 2 x Pk, 2 x 3Wb, and 2 x Ps

Tactics

Representing on the tabletop what is believed to be true about the historical tactics of the Achaeans is problematical within the given DBA framework. The list above entails some compromises. The hypothesized superiority of the Achaean swordsmen over the chariot warriors is based on several aspects not easily modeled in the rules.

First, it is assumed the elite warriors of the Achaeans prefered to fight on foot, and that they outmatched most of the non-Achaean infantries they encountered in Greece or elsewhere. Only DBA's blades give an appropriate punch to these bad boys. Positing that as many as 25% of the army were swordsmen in an age when such slashing weapons were only just appearing in quantity may be a stretch, but the actual army fighting to sack Troy would have embodied an unusually dense concentration of the fighting aristocracy of Greece (not unlike an all-star team!).

Second, the Achaean "blades" were runners. Most of the Achaean champions in the Iliad move quickly afoot; their greatest champion, Achilles, is a blazing speedster of unequaled power. This duality of fast movement afoot and unrelenting power is a contradiction of the DBA system (veteran WRG7th players are catching a whiff of irregular A LHI). Robert Drews (see below) has argued that groups of these warriors formed packs of chariot hunters for which the chariot warriors had no counter, since the latter were outnumbered and couldn't cope with the former's aggressive tactics. To represent these fighters as primarily auxilia plus a warband (Myrmidones), as both the original list 10 and Bernd Lehnhoff's DBM to DBA list 42 (Later Mycenaean) list do, is to seriously lowball their qualitative superiority. Indeed, the latter is a poor match for Lehnhoff's DBM to DBA list 30 (Early Mycenaean, whose combination of HCh "knights" and Pks would eviscerate Alexander's Macedonians) or any of the proposed Trojan lists.

The solution offered here is to represent the Achaeans as a mixed arms force, whose main strike force is a combination of steady blades, dangerous warband, and fast moving auxilia. And, in a pinch, the (overrated) Danaan pikemen are there for back-up.

Against the Trojans, whether Chris' or Tom's or mine, the Achaean army must watch its flanks, where the Trojans can exert their (potentially) superior chariotry. However, the Achaean foot (Bd, Pk, and Wb) is generally superior to the Trojan foot (Sp), so if it doesn't succomb to Tom's Lykian toughs (Bd and 2 x Wb), it can grind the Trojans down. The Trojan chariots are a good match for the Achaean blades, however, making any fight a toss-up, which is just what we want.

Camp

Here is an exercise in making the obvious more complex than it need be. There is a wonderful recent book by Luce (see sources below) that places the Achaean camp on a narrow peninsula on the west side of the long since silted up "Bay of Troy", known as the Sigean ridge, wherein multiple rows of Achaean ships were drawn up onto the land mass of the natural amphitheater of the western shoreline. The only land approach to this site was through a relatively narrow bottleneck on the southern end of the peninsula. Thus, it was this bottleneck that the Achaeans walled and ditched, since any potential Trojan land attack would take the Achaeans on their extreme flank in the narrows. It was just beyond this point that the ship of Great Ajax was beached; such place was the high point of Hector's mighty assault on the Achaean ships. Achilles ship was on the opposite extreme, beached on the outmost point of the peninsula, farthest from the land threat, but the best place for either launching seaborne sorties against outlying targets (apparently Achilles' specialty), or intercepting any seaward threats.

A beached ship with the fornlorn figure of Ajax, great pike in hand, is an excellent choice for a dioramic Achaean camp. Extra touches may include firebearing Trojans, and perhaps a whisp of fire-smoke issuing from the stern of the ship.

Painting

The best advice one can give on painting Achaeans is to refer to the wonderful picture book by Peter Connolly, "The Legend of Odysseus"; it is a unique source book on the Trojan war posing as (aargh!) a children's book. Redoubt's exquisite line of 25mm Trojan war figures is based almost entirely on the Connelly illustrations in this book.

Figures

For Trojan War gaming, 25mm figures rule. Redoubt, Old Glory, Wargames Foundry, Bull Dancer, QT, Essex and Ral Partha make wonderful figures, including chariots and horses, ships, etc.

The Foundry line has not yet been "officially" released, but several packs of infantry are now available, and they intend to produce personality figures; meanwhile, several of their northern European Bronze Age figures are suitable for Achaeans (and it seems WF will repackage them as such).

The personality figures of the Redoubt line, including beautiful dioramas of Menelaus dragging Paris by the helmet, Odysseus and Ajax tending to the body of Achilles, and Hector gloating over a fallen Achaean warrior, are sublime.

Very good 15mm Essex and Chariot figures are also available.

Sources

Connelly, Peter, The Legend of Odysseus, Oxford University Press. Available as a large format trade paperback for ca. $10 from Amazon.com. Maps, drawings, elan.

Drews, Robert , The End of the Bronze Age, Princeton University Press, 1993. Excellent overview of the military aspects of "the great catastrophe."

Luce, J.V., Celebrating Homer's Landscapes, Yale University Press, 1998. The text of the Iliad is tied to the actual (reconstructed) geography of the Troad. Many maps and beautiful photographs.

Sandars, Nancy K., The Sea Peoples, Thames and Hudson, 1978. Venerable and venerated book on the subject, with pictures of Achaeans, Lykians, etc.

Variants

These special rules give some spice to a friendly, non-tournament game:

  1. (Wild) Achilles rule. The blade element representing Achilles and his Myrmidones lacks pizzazz. It should be an element that scares the Trojan player. Try this: the Achilles/Myrmidone blade element becomes a 1 x 3Bd or LCh or 3WB (nothing scary about this). Now for the trick -- the Achaean player may arbitrarily decide which of the three forms this element takes at any time (at no cost) during either his own or the Trojan player's turn. The element simply morphs from LCh to 3Bd to 3Wb as the Achaean player wishes, in order to optimize the performance of this element in the game. Now "Achilles" can move quickly in the clear, quickly in bad going, and try for QK's against the Trojan spears. However, in order to provide some structure, the following constraints apply:

  2. Iliad Rule (optional kicker to the Achilles rule): "Achilles" the LCh/3Bd/3Wb doesn't start the game deployed on table, rather he is pouting in his cups off map (way out there at the end of the Sigean ridge). If one of the other two Achaean blade elements dies, or the Trojans touch the Achaean camp, "Achilles" is immediately deployed on the Achaean map edge at the point of choice of the Achaean player.

  3. Danaan Pike Rule: Danaan/Pylian pikes are not allowed any rear support. This brings them closer to the DBM concept of Pk(X). As things stand now, the pikes in the Achaean list are probably too powerful.

If anyone tries these rules, please let me know how they work by e-mail to psdobbins@msn.com.


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Last Updated: October 3, 1998

My thanks to Paul Dobbins for this great variant army list. Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.