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Battle of Coronea (394 BC)

By Bill Sumruld

This is a double DBA scenario designed for Greek Armies of 24 elements each on a double width board.

Background

Informed of the beginning of the Corinthian War by Epicydidas and commanded by the Spartan ephors to come aid his homeland, King Agesilaus reluctantly abandoned his successful series of campaigns against the Persians and prepared to return to Greece.

For the expedition to Asia, originally he and Lysander had fielded an army of 30 Spartiate officers, 2000 Neodamodeis (emancipated helots serving in return for the promise of citizenship), and 6000 allies. We don't know how many he wound up having to leave behind in Greece, but Xenophon clearly indicates that the whole force raised did not go. Once Agesilaus was in Asia, he gathered an unspecified number of troops from Ionia, Aeolis, and the Hellespont and recruited a mercenary cavalry force. In the early spring of 395 BC he had encouraged strict military training and top physical conditioning by placing the Spartiates in charge and offering prizes for excellence in physical conditioning, weapons use, and military drill. Among the troops recruited for his force were the veterans of Xenophon's 10,000 who had served as mercenaries for Cyrus and then had to fight their way out of Persia when Cyrus was killed. This well trained army was then seasoned by a series of successful campaigns against the Persians in 395 and early 394 BC.

Being recalled to Greece, Agesilaus felt the need for both replacements and reinforcements. To make sure that he got top quality troops, he offered prizes to the Asian Greek cities and mercenary captains that could produce the best equipped and trained forces. He purposely recruited archers, peltasts, and cavalry as well as hoplites. He also insisted that the cavalry be on the best mounts available. He offered gold and expensive armor (most of it plunder from his earlier campaign) as prizes.

Leaving a garrison of 4000 at Euxenus with a promise that he would return, he followed the old invasion route taken by Xerxes' Persians almost a hundred years before. As his army crossed through Thessaly, the Thessalians, who had joined the Theban alliance, sent a cavalry force to harrass and slow down his march. To protect his foot soldiers from the enemy cavalry, Agesilaus used tactics like those of Xenophon during the march of the 10,000. He formed his foot into a hollow square with the baggage in the center.

Unlike the 10,000, Agesilaus also had a large (in Greek terms) cavalry force. He used this force to catch the Thessalian cavalry by surprise. Xenophon, in Book 4, chapter 3, paragraph 9 of his Hellenica, says that Agesilaus was "particularly pleased that a cavalry force he had chosen defeated the people who, more than any others, pride themselves on their horsemanship."

In Boetia, he joined forces with a Spartan Mora (approximately 576 men) that had come from watching Corinth, a half Mora that had been helping to protect Orchomenos (the only Boeotian city to side with Sparta and Phocis in this war), and a force of Orchomenian and Phocian Hoplites. They found the enemy gathered in the plain of Coronea, near the base of mount Helicon and a small river that runs Northeastward to eventually flow into Lake Copais. Unfortunately for us, Xenophon gives no estimates of the forces from Orchomenos or Phocis.

Facing him on the plain, near the foot of mount Helicon, was an army made up of Boeotians, Athenians, Argives, Corinthians, Euboeans, Aenianones, and Locrians. Xenophon, our main source for this battle, offers no estimates of any of these forces. He does, however, mention that, although the forces were roughly equal in cavalry, Agesilaus had a clear and "very great superiority in peltasts".

Many of Agesilaus troops were Asian in outlook and were deeply disturbed when one day the sun appeared in the shape of a crescent ( a partial eclipse?). On the heels of their murmurings about this, two bits of news had come. The first was the victory at Nemea. The second was the news that the Spartan admiral Peisander had died in battle. While the troops had learned of Peisander's death, they did not know its circumstances. Agesilaus concealed the news of the defeat of the Spartan fleet and deceived them into believing that Peisander had died victorious over the Persian/Greek fleet under Pharnabazus and Conon, near Cnidus. The morale of his men, now certain of the gods' favor, was sky high.

On the other side of the field the feelings were more mixed. The defeat at Nemea weighed heavily on the Argives and Corinthians. The Athenians were too familiar with the naval ups and downs of their previous long and disastrous war against Sparta, and the willingness of the Persians to switch support from one side to the other, to be overly encouraged. Only the Boeotians seemed irrepressible, they seemed to view it as a sure sign that the gods would give them the ultimate victory.

As the two armies approached each other, Agesilaus personally commanded Spartans on the extreme right flank of his large army, the veterans of the 10,000 were next to the Spartans, the Asian Greeks were next to them, then came the Phocians, with the Orchomenians on the extreme left flank. The Thebans faced the Orchomenians and the Argives faced the Spartans. Both armies advanced in total silence. At about 200 yards, the Thebans shouted their war cry and charged at the run. At about 100 yards, the veterans of the 10,000 (under the Spartiate Herippidas) and the Asian Greeks charged the troops opposite them at the run. The veterans and the Asians quickly routed the troops opposite them. The Argives routed, before the Spartans under Agesilaus could even make contact, and fled to Mount Helicon.

The mercenaries near Agesilaus assumed the battle was over and offered him a garland to commemorate his victory. Just then news came that on the other flank, the Thebans had broken through the Orchomenians and were now trying to raid the baggage. Agesilaus immediately wheeled his phalanx around and headed for the Thebans. At that moment, the Thebans noticed that their erstwhile allies had fled to Mount Helicon. They formed up with the desperate design of breaking through Agesilaus lines to rejoin the rest of their army.

Agesilaus had a decision to make. He could allow the Thebans to escape and still claim a victory or he could try to prevent them and fight what would seem to be a second battle. He decided to oppose their desperate attempt to break through by putting his phalanx directly in their path. What followed was evidently one of the worst blood baths in the history of Hoplite battles. As Xenophon described it, "So shield pressed upon shield they struggled, killed and were killed in turn". In the end a few Thebans broke through to Mount Helicon but, in the words of Xenophon, "many others were killed on their way there."

Agesilaus had himself been wounded in the battle and had to be carried back to the phalanx. There some cavalry rode up, informing him that about 80 of the enemy had taken refuge in a nearby temple. Agesilaus ordered that they be spared and allowed to go wherever they wished. The long day finally and mercifully drew to a close. The next morning, Agesilaus ordered the polemarch Gylis to put the army in battle formation and gave out awards for valor, received a delegation from the Thebans and allowed them to collect their dead. The army then retired to Phocis and invaded Locris.

Armies

To come up with the lists for these armies it was necessary to temper the army lists with the comments of Xenophon, since no one really knows the numbers involved.

Army of Agesilaus:

Theban Alliance:

Terrain and Deployment

Each wing has its own baggage (ie. camp). The whole baseline table edge of the Theban Alliance is the lower slopes of Mount Helicon (1748 meters in elevation). There must be at least 3 patches of bad going on the table and a river down one side of it. You must double the width of the table.

Hoplites must be deployed as described above.

Special Rules

Each wing gets its own pip dice and camp and can suffer defeat independently of its other wing.

Impulsive troops: The Theban Hoplites (Sp) when they get within two and one half times the distance of a normal move must charge at the run and impetuously engage any enemy to their immediate front, regardless of terrain. For this move they get to move double their normal move. The Veterans (of the 10,000) and the Asian Greeks do the same when they get within one and one half times the distance of a normal move.

Deep Formation: The Theban Hoplites, and them only, can form a doubled line (rear support) and thereby get a +1 to their combat factor.

Spartan Intimidation Factor: When any other unit faces the Spartans (who had made quite a name for themselves at Nemea and in Asia) it must subtract 1 from its combat factor.

Argive Panic: If a friendly Hoplite unit is destroyed in proximity, within 400 paces, of the Argives on a D6 roll of 1-3 they must panic and flee to Mount Helicon.

Victory Conditions

For each wing they are normal DBA but, if there is a different victor on each wing, the players can use one of two methods to determine the winner. They can either add up losses. Greatest number of lost elements determines the overall loser. Or, like Agesilaus, they can continue the battle until the other side is completely defeated. For victory in this second phase of the battle, no elements lost in the first phase are counted. The magic number is now 5.

Background Resources

I consulted many of the same sources as I did for the Nemea scenario. For the terrain and geographic information, I consulted Sattelite maps available on the internet.


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Last Update: July 3, 2000

My thanks to Bill Sumruld for submitting this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.