Sparta in Peril (365BC)

Campaigns using DBA can be as simple or as complex as required. To provide an illustration of one I will outline a small fictional Ancient Greek campaign involving Athens, Thebes, Sparta and Syracuse set loosely in Greece around 365BC which we ran recently.

The DBA 2.2 rule book comes complete with a simple set of campaign rules. To this we added a map and mixed it with a little history. The DBA campaign rules, when combined with the DBA rules themselves, meant that campaign turns were quickly calculated and battles resolved. Indeed, the entire campaign played out over a couple of evenings between three players. The battles were first class with each being placed in a strategic context, where alliances and state politics all played their part.


For our campaign there were three human players with Sparta being a non-player nation whose foreign policy determined by die roll using the rules for non-player nations. It could easily have supported four players, of course, or even two.

The campaign map illustrated below can be used to reference the unfolding campaign. Provinces underlined indicate the location of a city state capital.

At the start of the campaign the areas under control were as follows:

  • Thebes: Boeotia, Thessaly, Aetolia
  • Athens: East Attica, North Attica, Megara
  • Sparta: Laconia, Corinth, Achaea
  • Syracuse: East Sicily, North Sicily, Western Sicily
  • Independent: Southern Italy

Each player state starts with a 12 element army, drawn from the DBA army lists. The Southern Italians do not have a field army so can not offer open battle or invade another province.

On Campaign:

What follows is a very potted history of the campaign complete with a certain artistic license associated with your average classical historian…

War Begins (365BC):

By the spring of 365BC the Athenian plans to attack Sparta were almost complete. Assembled in Megara were some 9000 hoplites supported by 1000 cavalry and 500 light troops who now prepared to march on Corinth. Despite Athenian diplomatic efforts Thebes was unwilling to provide a contingent to assist. Instead she preferred to await developments in the south while protecting herself by assembling her own army in Aetolia. An Athenian attack was expected after all with Athens likely to use Sparta as a neutral buffer to the south. The Syracusans, always looking for opportunities of expansion, also eyed mainland Greece. While willing to assist the Athenians they were however unable to send a contingent. If they wished to attack Sparta they would need to conducted an invasion of Achaea independently. A risky affair in spring when storms could decimate the Syracusan army while at sea.

Therefore Athens, without support, invaded in mid spring and lay siege to several cities in Corinth. In the summer the incompetent Spartan commander Agthon, under pressure from the Spartan war party, determined to offer battle. With an army of similar size he marched out to confront the Athenians in a valley south east of Corinth. In the first battle of the campaign he hesitated frequently (-1 on all PIP rolls). As a result his army was defeated by the more aggressive Athenian commander. Meanwhile Thebes, with the Athenian army now clearly campaigning against Sparta, mounted her own invasion of southern Italy, with the expedition under command by the veteran Pelopidas. No doubt an attempt to earn prestige and a small colony without too great a risk to her own army. However, the Italian Greeks withstood the invasion and the Theban expedition, unable to gain a foothold, retired to Greece in late Autumn of 365BC.

Decision in Sparta (364BC):

The following year, 364BC, the Thebans dispatched another expedition to southern Italy which this time was successful in capturing Tarentum. At the same time the Syracusans, also ignoring the risk of storms, invaded southern Greece and achieved a foothold in Attica, no doubt by a ruse or some other cunning ploy. The Spartan King, Agthon, decided to strike into Attica. Clearly with the aim of destroying at least one of his enemies. The Syracusan army, now supported by a small Athenian detachment, prepared for open battle against the Spartans.

Agthon could not risk a long battle as he was clearly outnumber, especially in cavalry. Therefore he elected to reinforce his right flank and refuse his left which was partly protected by an area of hilly terrain. While clearly more aggresive this year he still suffered moments of hesitation before and during the battle (still a -1 on PIP rolls). The Syracusan commander was also keen to get his own hoplites engaged and the two lines of hoplites soon clashed along the front. While each strove for advantage the Athenian light cavalry advanced in a wide flanking movement with the aim of attacking the Spartan camp. They were however driven off eventually by the brave Spartan helots. Interestingly elsewhere the Athenians contingent seemed content to watch the battle and contributing little, some say they were more interested to see the Syracusans and Spartans suffer greater casualties. Agthon continued his massed attack on the right with his hoplites line extended ever more weakly and echoloned to the left. Victory looked to be within his grasp as portions of the Syracusan line broke. Then fate cast him a brutal blow and the fickle gods turned their support to the Syracusans. The Spartan King was cut down and with his death the Spartan army collapsed the survivors retiring into Laconia.

All was not peaceful elsewhere. While the army of Athens was engaged in operations against Sparta, Thebes recalled her expedition form Tarentum and Pelopidas attacked and then captured northern Attica. Epaminondas clearly hoped the Spartans would rebuild their army if they could only survive the autumn campaigning season and keep the Athenians distracted. However, with the second year drawing to a conclusion the Athenian commander advanced into Laconia and conducted a brutal campaign against the demoralised Spartans. In a series of short local sieges the Spartans were defeated. Athens and Syracusan forces were now supreme in the south. Sparta had been reduced in less than two years to being but a tributary to the resurgent Athenian Empire. The military situation had changed significantly, what was not clear was what the new campaign season would hold.

The War in Attica (363BC):

The winter of 364BC was one of intense diplomatic activity, but by the spring of 363BC it was clear the war in the Peloponnese was about to enter a new phase. With Sparta subject to Athens it was likely that Athens would now switch her attention north against Thebes. Obviously they would move to retake northern Attica but first needed to protect their capital. By the spring of 363BC the Athenians had massed their army in Athens while Thebes gathered her own army in northern Attica. Meanwhile in the south Sparta attempted to slowly rebuild her army, but was hampered by limited resources. By the spring only 2000 hoplites were available for service. The new King of Sparta, Telys, can best be described as a feeble coward. He would content himself to what indulgences he could afford for 363BC and would undertake no military action in the coming years, except when called upon by Athens.

However, not all was peaceful. The Syracusan tyrant, Dionysius the Younger, now readied his fleet to transport of his army from Achaea in an unprovoked attack on Thebe’s cities in Southern Italy. Avoiding the early storms his army landed and began to conduct siege operations against Tarentum, However, with lack luster planning his assault were repulsed with heavy casualties.

In north Attica Epaminondas completed his own plans and in early spring, seizing the initiative, marched his small army through Attica and towards the very gates of Athens. He was now determined to risk all with Athens before the Dionysius could secure Tarentum and Southern Italy. Much clamor was raised in Athens and the citizen hoplites were deployed to face Epaminondas’ Boeotians in open battle. Athens deployed some 8000 hoplites, 1500 light troops and 1500 cavalry while the Theban coalition deployed slightly fewer light troops but more heavy cavalry. Epaminondas deployed his cavalry and half of his light infantry on his right wing where he hoped to gain an early advantage against the Athenian light cavalry and infantry. Assuming success on the right his own hoplites, deployed in depth, would smash the enemy centre whose left flank would be exposed. On his own left he would extend his hoplite line to protect against envelopment. His attacks initially went well and soon the Athenians began to crumble. Victory now looked within his grasp. However, the Athenians rallied and counter attacked. The senior Athenian strategoi pushed forward and broke a section of the Boeotian line. Eventually with casualties mounting and dusk approaching Epaminondas was forced to quit the field.

The summer found the Athenian army advancing into northern Attica. Epaminondas now outnumbered fell back hoping that the cities of northern Attica would resist. Such resistance would cause Athenian losses and therefore narrow the Athenian neumeric advantage. Unfortunately Epaminondas was mistaken and by autumn the Athenians were advancing into Aetolia, which also succumbed to Athens! The loss of Aetolia was not the only disaster to befall Thebes in the autumn of 363BC however. As the weather closed in on the campaign season Tarentum fell to the Syracusans after a long and bloody siege.

Dionysius and the Laconian Campaign (362BC):

By the spring of 362BC Thebes and Athens had determined a path of peace. Thebes, was more focused on regaining Southern Italy. Athens meanwhile was becoming concerned by rumours that Dionysius was planning a move against Sparta in the south. Sparta was of course a tributary of Athens. These rumours were confirmed when the Syracusan army moved back to Achaea and was further reinforced by more hoplites raised in Sicily.

In the Spring of 362 the treacherous Dionysius advanced from Achaea into Laconia. He hoped to secure the province with all haste. However, the Athenian army of the strategos Peisistratos was on hand and the two armies soon deployed in open battle in the rolling valleys of Laconia. Peisistratos however deployed poorly his army split in two. Peisistratos then pushed boldly, and somewhat foolishly, forward through constricted terrain. He now struggled to deploy his 6000 hoplites of his right and centre while the rest of his army, bolstered by 2000 Spartan hoplites advanced on the left. Soon the hoplites collided, the future of southern Peloponnese rested in the outcome of this battle and both commanders knew it. In time however the numerical advantage of the Allied army, despite its poor deployment began to tell. Dionysius, his army shattered, abandoned the field.

Athens however, was not prepared to rest. In a further lightening campaign Peisistratos pushed forward into Achaea where towns threw off the yoke of Syracusan rule. Dionysius, with what remained of his army, sailed for the safety of Sicily. In pursuit was an Athenian fleet. Dionysius’ woes were however complete when he received news that Tarentum had fallen to another Theban expedition. While Dionysius contemplated rebuilding his army an Athenian army landed in Northern Sicily. Instead of rallying to Dionysius and delaying the Athenians the Sicilian Greeks took the opportunity of seeking freedom and soon northern Sicily had declared for Athens. With little option Dionysius sought peace and with it the wars of the Peloponnese drew to an end with Athens having established a new empire.

As way of comparison the states, and the provinces they control at this point, can be summarised as follows:

  • Thebes: Boeotia, Thessaly, Southern Italy,
  • Athens: Aetolia, East Attica, Megara, Corinth, Achaea, North Sicily
  • Sparta: Laconia
  • Syracuse: East Sicily, Western Sicily

Clearly the Athens was ascendant and Sparta in peril!

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