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The Popularity of Hellenistic Armies

By Jonathan Lim

Seriously though, how many Hellenistic armies are there? I count 12 in my DBM Hellenistic army list alone - and these lists often deal with many different armies, such as Eumenid, which is grouped under Macedonian Early Successor. So many pike-and-shock-cavalry based armies! And some are so similar! Why, then, are Hellenistic armies so popular?

First, there is the historical interest. Before Alexander the Great decided to conquer the world, the Greeks were a numerically and geographically tiny civilisation. True, they achieved brilliant things, but ultimately they were tiny compared to the rest of the world.

When Alexander conquered the known world, he opened an immeasurably wider world for the Greeks, who began to form great empires as far afield as western India and Pakistan. The Greek city-states were dwarfed by the new, geographically huge and populous kingdoms, warring on each other for hundreds of years. The history of the period is therefore of great interest, and thus goes part way to explaining its popularity.

Second, there are the celebrities. Forget the austerity of Democratic Greece - now fascinating and powerful autocrats began to arise. We get, for the first time, the "cult of the personality", where individual characters become celebrities, whose habits became very famous. A good example is Demetrios Poliorketes, one of the most colourful characters in Ancient History. Or Pyrrhos of Epiros, the cunning civil servant Eumenes, and the paranoid Lysimachos. And who could forget Alexander the Great, who, even after he died, kept appearing in the visions and dreams of Greek conquerors who followed him. Even Pyrrhos, who never saw him in real life, had a vision of Alexander on his campaign.

Hellenistic kings often acted with a degree of chivalrousness towards their opponents; when Demetrios Poliorketes was defeated in his first battle, Ptolemy his enemy returned his prisoners because he was only a beginner. They also largely lacked the corruption and insanity of the early Roman emperors, for some weird reason.

Of course, we wargamers are also interested in the many brilliant commanders in the Successor wars. Their service under the Big Daddy of generals, Alexander himself, had a great influence on them as commanders. Who could fail to be gobsmacked by Seleukos' tactics at Ipsos?

Third, there is the "Napoleonic" aspect of the kingdoms and armies. Unlike the Roman empire's enemies, the Hellenistic kingdoms were basically equal in strength and "civilisation", making them a forerunner of the European empires of the 18th and 19th centuries, with large empires sharing a largely common culture and a largely equal strength and size. They shared many of the other characteristics of Napoleonic empires too, with their armies being rather similar, with good generals and possibly national uniform - for instance, the Antigonids wore a particular type of helmet.

Fourth, there is the great innovation in tactics. Pre-Alexandrian tactics were largely simple affairs; but after Alexander Greek armies became combined arms forces, whose various troop-types had to be carefully integrated in order to be effective.

Which bring me on to the fifth reason for the popularity of Hellenistic armies, namely, the armies themselves. Basically they look good, fight well, and are a challenge to any player. In some ways they are the Ancient army that provides a challenge closest to that of chess. Unlike Roman or Hoplite armies, the armies of the Hellenistic age are by their very nature combined arms forces. There is no one backbone to the armies, as it is necessary to use all the arms together to win - which further adds to the Napoleonic flavour, I suppose.

These five reasons are why I think Hellenistic armies are so popular.

Hellenistic Armies in DBA

Beginning with Phillip of Macedon and Alexander the Great's army of conquest, here are the "Hellenistic" DBA army lists:

Armies of the Hellenistic period can be relatively easily morphed from one list to the next. See Martin Schmidt's tips on Getting More for Less (Armies that Is) for an illustration.


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Last Updated: Dec. 21, 1999

Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques welcome. Direct them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.