The Battle of
Sphacteria
425 BC

Athens vs. Sparta

By Stefanos Skarmintzos

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When Sparta learned that Athens had taken Pylos they removed their army from Attica. They marched to Pylos and had a fleet of sixty ships meet them there. Demosthenes had the forty Athenian ships return when he learned of this fleet. The Spartans planned to blockade the port of Pylos and land an army on the nearby island of Sphacteria, so that the Athenians would have no base to supply their troops. The Spartan commander Epitadas and a force of 440 hoplites were landed on Sphacteria. Demosthenes had fewer hoplites, and most of the rest of his troops were unarmed sailors from the remaining triremes. He took sixty of his hoplites to the unfortified beach so there would be some defense against a Spartan landing. After a desperate struggle the Spartans were forced to withdraw, and the Athenians celebrated their victory by erecting a trophy of their spoils, placing, where every eye could see it, the shield of Brasidas.

Demosthenes and Cleon then landed about 800 men on the island, taking the Spartans by surprise. The next morning the rest of the Athenians landed as well, consisting of the crews of the ships, as well as more than 1600 other men, completely surrounding the Spartans. The Athenians pushed the Spartans across the island into the small fort located on the beach at one end, which the Spartans were able to defend for most of the day. The Spartan commander Epitadas was killed in the fighting, and Styphon took command. At the end of the day a force of archers found a way around the fort and began attacking the Spartans from behind.

Cleon and Demosthenes called back their forces, wanting to take the remaining Spartans alive. Surprisingly, the Spartans surrendered, something they were not accustomed to doing. Of the 440 Spartan hoplites, 148 had been killed. After seventy-two days of siege and battle at Pylos and Sphacteria, both sides withdrew, and Cleon returned to Athens having fulfilled his promise to capture the island in twenty days.

SCENARIO A:  THE INTRUDERS

Athenian Notes:  You are Demosthenes elected General. of Athens. You have sized Sfaktiria at the gulf of Pylos. Great trouble you can cause to the Lakedemonians with the aid of Messinian rebels. It was good that you created a stockade as you see that the Spartan flotilla is approaching. The island is rocky and only one small beach is accessible. If you deny a foothold to the Spartans, their hoplite tactics will be useless. Your forces:  1xPs(Gen)(armed Athenian sailors), 1xAux (Athenian hoplites with Messenian rebels), 2xHd (badly armed Athenian sailors)

Spartan Notes:  You are Brasidas, a captain of Sparta. You have to kill or eject the accursed Athenians from the island. You must gain a foothold on the beach and then show them Spartan superiority. The timid Corinthians and Megareans are scared of the reefs and give bad support.  Your forces:  1xSp(Gen), 1x Sp(S), 1xSp or Ps (I), 2x Ps(I) (Corinthian or Megarean sailors).

Spartan Baseline

Special Rules:

  • Game Period: 8 bounds.
  • Spartan attacks with only one Sp element in water at a time.
  • Spartan Spears in water fight as Wb(S). They must push the enemy two successive times so in the third contact fight as Sp(S).
  • Spartan General can attack only at 3rd round. If beaten back two times Spartans lose.
  • Troops classed as (I) are inferior and fight at -1. Troops classed as (S) are superior, and fight at +1.
  • If Ps(I) are beaten back they must attack only after one round.
  • Athenian Hd on bad going are fighting from uphill (+1)
  • Any side whose General is killed loses.
  • Athenian possessing his starting line at the end of the 8th round wins.

Thukidides says the Spartans were exceptionally brave but ships were approaching one by one and they could not form phalanx in the rocky cost so I feel heavily armed hoplites fighting aggressively deserve Wb (S) classifications. Plus they suffered from slings and spears so psiloii must support the Aux. compose by a mix of hoplites and well armed Messenians.

SCENARIO B:  HONOR

A cooking fire ravaged the forest, which concealed the Spartan dispositions. The Athenians have landed reinforcements.

Spartan Notes:  You are Epitadas general of Sparta. If you kill enough of this rabble they will leave the island (you hope!).  Your forces:  1xSp(S)(Gen), 3xSp(S) (Spartans), 4xPs(I) (Helots)

Athenian Notes:  You are Cleon. Your big mouth promised that you capture the Spartans. You hope that your numerical superiority will help and that you will not get killed in the proccess (hopefully!).  Your forces:  1x Ps(Gen), 1xBw (Skythians), 1xBw(F)(Cretans), 2xBw(I)(Messenian targeteers), 1x Sp, 3x Ax (Athenian Marines), 5xPs(I) (Hastily armed Athenian sailors).

Special Rules:

  • Athenians have no camp.
  • Any side whose General is killed loses.
  • Troops classed as (I) are inferior and fight at -1. Troops classed as (S) are superior, and fight at +1.
  • Spartan may not move the 1st round to upgrade any 2 helots to Ps(O) by promising freedom and exchange 1 Sp element with Aux (Ekdromoi).
  • Ps(O) cannot guard the camp-they MUST fight!
  • After 3rd round both sides suffer -1 to dice because of heat and ash-dust.
  • Athenians attacking Spartan camp from the surrounding hill don't suffer -1 penalty

I do not give the Athenians a sub-general as in reality because Spartans wouldn´t have a chance. Helots start as Ps(I) because they do not like their masters, but the Ephors promised freedom to those who are blockade running so I give the upgrade option to (O)


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Last Update:  26 April 2005

Thanks to SS for contributing this scenario.
Comments and feedback welcome and can be sent to Chris Brantley.