A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC – Marc G DeSantis – Review

Apart from reading Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees, at the same time I was also reading A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC published by Pen & Sword Maritime in 2017, ISBN 978 1 47386 158 9.

The book is the result of DeSantis’s research for his previous book, Rome Seizes the Trident, where he looked at Rome’s eventual defeat of Carthage at sea by the application of simple tactics against a more skillful opponent along with steadfast resolve. The Athenian fleet (skillful mariners) were brought low by Syracusan blunt force, prow-to-prow tactics.

The Peloponnesian War was largely decided by battles and a strategy at sea. When Athens’ control of the sea crumbled, so did its empire. The classical sources used for the book are Thucydides, Plutarch, Diodorus and Xenophon.

The Naval History of the Peloponnesian War commences with a number of maps of the area of operations as well as a map of the Battle of Arginusae. The book is then divided into 5 main parts parts 3 to 5 consisting of the usual split of the war:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Trireme
  3. The Archidamian War
  4. The Sicilian Expedition
  5. The Ionian War

There are also a Preface, Conclusions, Notes, Bibliography and Index. The itself book covers the naval history of the 27 years of conflict that was the Peloponnesian War.

DeSantis outlines the struggle in the Introduction, noting that Sparta supported by Persian gold eventually overcame Athens although it was the loss of the Athenian fleet at Syracuse that signaled the end for Athens rather than any action of Sparta.

DeSantis traces the war from the sources, first looking at the causes of the war presented by Thucydides as he saw it and he mostly relies on Thucydides’s narrative to 411 BC. Xenophon picks up the tale from then along with Diodorus of Siculus. Plutarch of Chaeronea writing some 500 years or so later in his Parallel Lives looks at the biographies of the Athenians Themistocles, Cimon, Pericles, and Alcibiades along with the Spartan Lysander. Lastly the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia also mentions wartime events including the Athenian seaborne campaign in Asia Minor in 409 BC and the Battle of Notium in 406 BC. These then are the classical references used by DeSantis.

DeSantis covers the economics of the naval build-up of Athens, noting that the 100 talents (600,000 drachmae) in silver extracted from the Laurium silver mines was sufficient to build 200 triremes. He then notes that Pericles estimated the same cost for each year of war against Sparta.

In the second section the author examines the trireme (triers in Greek) with Thucydides identifying Corinth as the first to construct a trireme although there is a competing theory that the trireme may have actually originated in the east with the Sidonian of Phoenicia (trikrotis naus) or the Phoenicans themselves constructing the first such vessels.

The construction of the triremes of Athens is covered including details of where the wood and pitch was sourced from along with the number of men required to move a trireme up the 1 in 10 ramp into its shed (140) as well as take it back into the water (110). One thing that had not occurred to me before but perhaps should of is that there were different quality triremes. The best were known as exairetoi (selects) while others were identified as first, seconds or thirds. Old vessels were converted for troop transport – with a converted trireme able to transport 85 soldiers.

Tactics are covered with discussions of sailing with the wind and under the power of oars. Masts and sails were generally taken down before battle and preferably left on shore to lighten the load in the trireme prior to battle. The main battle manoeuvres are described, being the diekplous and the periplous. Less skillful fleets relied on coming alongside and boarding the enemy.

Rounding out his review of the trireme, DeSantis covers shipboard fighting, funding a fleet, the officers on board, payment on campaign, and propulsion.

DeSantis then moves on the Archidamian War which started when Corcyra and Corinth came to blows over Epidamnus. He looks at:

  • The Battle of Sybota
  • Potidaea
  • The Athenian empire and rival coalitions
  • The Battle of Chalcis
  • The Battle of Naupachus
  • The Attack on Piraeus
  • The Revolt at Lesbos
  • The Second Battle of Sybota
  • Pylos and Sphacteria
  • Strait of Messana engagements
  • Expeditions to Corinth and Corcyra
  • Attack on Nisaea
  • Delium
  • Brasidas’s campaign
  • Amphipolis
  • Meude
  • The Peace of Nicias
  • The Fate of Melos

The next part covers the whole hubristic disaster for Athens that was the Sicilian Expedition.

Lastly the Ionian War is examined. After the defeat in Sicily, the Athenians were spurred on to lock down their Ionian allies, and ensure Euboea in particular remained within the empire. The author looks at:

  • Alcibiades’s seduction of Timaea, the wife of King Agis
  • Alcibiades’s undermining Persian efforts to assist the Peloponnesians
  • The Battle of Cynossema
  • The Battle of Abydos
  • The Battle of Cyzicus
  • Alcibiades and the Athenian plundering expeditions
  • Action off Mytilene
  • The Battle of Arginusae
  • The Battle of Aegospotami

DeSantis concludes with the eventual defeat of the Athenian Empire.

While there were many land battles throughout the Peloponnesian War, it was at sea that Athens was at first strong, then later faltered.

I very much enjoyed this book, especially as I was reading it at the same time as Great Battles of the Classical Greek World. There was some overlap between the two books so taking an alternate view on some matters was a benefit.

If you are a naval tragic like me, and an ancient history addict as well, this book will serve well as an overview of the Peloponnesian War from the naval perspective. Thucydides and Xenophon are still the main sources to read but DeSantis’s book is both easy to read and factual.

This is a good book providing a good amount of detail and covering one the more exciting stories from Ancient Greece. I am now looking for my copy of Thucydides to read further into this conflict again, one that I have not looked at for about 30 years. Recommended.

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Great Battles of the Classical Greek World – Review

A book I received some time ago and have been slowly reading is Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees, published by Pen & Sword Military in 2016, ISBN 978 1 47382 729 5. The book is divided into four familiar main subject areas and a conclusion. Each of the parts are then split into between three and six Chapters covering various significant battles:

  1. The Peloponnesian War
    • The Battle of Olpae (426/5 BC)
    • The Battle of Delium (424 BC)
    • The Battle of Amphipolis (422 BC)
    • The First Battle of Mantinea (418 BC)
  2. The Spartan Hegemony
    • Battle of the Nemea (394 BC)
    • Battle of Coronea (394 BC)
    • The Battle of the Long Walls of Corinth (392 BC)
    • The Battle of Lechaeum (390 BC)
    • The Battle of Leuctra (371 BC)
    • The Second Battle of Mantinea (362 BC)
  3. Siege Warfare
    • The Siege of Plataea (429-427 BC)
    • The Sieges of Pylos and Sphacteria (425 BC)
    • The Siege of Syracuse (415-413 BC)
    • The Siege of Drilae (400 BC)
  4. Greco-Persian conflicts
    • The Battle of Marathon (490 BC)
    • The Battle of Plataea (479 BC)
    • The Battle of Cunaxa (401 BC)
  5. Conclusions

I have run across some of Owen Rees’s writing before in the Ancient Warfare magazine. Rees’s narrative style makes this book easy to read with discrete footnoting at key points through each chapter. The footnotes are presented as endnotes and so do not distract from the narrative but still enable the reader to check source material or other references at leisure.

The first two parts of the book examine battles in two key areas of Classical Greek military history – the Peloponnesian War and the Rise and Fall of Sparta. The third part examines Greek Siege Warfare whilst the fourth section deals with the Greco-Persian conflicts. Including this the fourth section was a decision by Rees because it is clear that “the Greeks did not fight the Persians in the same manner in which they fought one another, but placing this conflict at the beginning allows a false image to arise concerning Greek battle, and Greek tactics in turn” (Rees, 2016, p. xvi). Rees therefore covers the internal conflicts of the Greeks first to develop an image of Greek warfare before dealing with their interaction with the Persians.

The structure of each of the chapters is consistent with the first section being the background and identifying the classical sources used for that battle. This is then followed by a description and location (where possible) of the battlefield. The armies are then examined followed by a description of the battle itself, with specific references to the sources as well as maps outlining the probably deployment of the forces present. The last section is the aftermath of the battle.

For example, chapter 3 deals with the Battle of Amphipolis (422 BC). The Background identifies the sources for this battle as Thucydides, (IV.70, 78-88, 102-V.3) and Diodorus (XII.67.3-68.6, 72-3). The Battlefield is identified as outside the walls of Amphipolis and Amphipolis is located by Rees in a U-Bend of the River Strymon. The armies are discussed and any assumptions about troops presented. So for the Battle of Amphipolis, Brasidas’s army is noted as a conglomerate force of allies under his command, some 6,500 men strong. The size of Cleon’s army is not known but it appears that his force was roughly the same size, or a little larger.

The battle itself is then described with the references for that being Thucydides V.6-11 and Diodorus XII-74. The battle description includes three maps representing the three phases of the battle. The Aftermath of the battle is then discussed:

After Brasidas fell in battle, he was dragged back into the walls of Amphipolis where he held on to life, waiting to hear news from the battlefield. A messenger was sent to inform the city of the Athenian rout and, with victory ringing in his ears, Brasidas was able to release his final breath in the knowledge that his legend had been cemented in the history of his beloved Sparta.

Clearidas brought the army back into Amphipolis and, in full armaments, they buried their commander in a tomb at the front of the agora. This spot became the focus of a hero-cult dedicated to the man the Amphipolitans appointed their new founder of the city – replacing the true founder, Hagnon the Athenian.

For Athens, the defeat, alongside the defeat at Delium, was too much for them to consider continuing the war. Similarly the Spartans were still trying to recover from their embarrassing defeat at Pylos and no amount of success in Chalcidice was enough to compensate for this. A ten-year peace was finally agreed and, although in fact it only lasted seven years, this gave both sides time to recover from their tragic losses (Rees, 2016, p. 40).

Apart from the five parts mentioned above, the book also contains a glossary covering technical words from the book, a section of Notes (endnotes) from each chapter, a bibliography, an index and six useful URLs for further research.

Overall, Rees’s book is well supported with tactical diagrams through each chapter. Rees is also willing to challenge popularly held beliefs, such as the invincibility of the Spartans.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book to those interested in Classical Greek Warfare or the development of Hoplite tactics. The short chapters make the book the perfect companion with a fine coffee and a spare 20 minutes. The book itself has inspired me to look further into Greek warfare again and to start a collection of Ancient Greek armies to wargame these battles.

Shiny Things, or Rather the Perils of Being a Wargamer and Reading a New Book

Actually, two books. I received a copy of A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC written by Marc G DeSantis, ISBN: 9781473861589, published on 29 November 2017.

When reading that I thought it would be a good idea to read Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees, ISBN: 9781473827295, published on 15 August 2016 at the same time as there was a degree of overlap between the two.

Both books are published by Pen & Sword and both look at one area of particular interest to me. I will review both books separately in other blog posts.

So, what is the risk to the Wargamer? Well, it is simple. My favourite periods of interest are Ancient Wargaming and Naval Wargaming. The Peloponnesian War has both. The 25 years of the Peloponnesian War covered a bitter period of classical Greek history and warfare. By this time the Greeks were well settled into the hoplite style of warfare with armoured man, large shields and a long spear standing in a long line with other men similarly armed.

To my pile of uncompleted projects I have added two Greek projects. One is the Greek world circa 670 BCE to 450 BCE – the period when hoplite panoply and warfare was developed to its peak. This was also the period where the Persians were defeated at Marathon and Plataea. The second is the Greek world circa 450 BCE to around 225 BCE which includes the Peloponnesian War.

Fortunately the core troops from the earlier period will also double up for the later period. Currently I am planning the hoplite forces. This little project will be in 6mm for reasons of:

  • space
  • cost
  • speed of painting

Rules will either be DBA or Basic Impetus. The armies should be easy enough to build to be useful for both rule sets. For example, the early Athenian army in Basic Impetus consists of a maximum of 8 bases of Hoplites, and one base each of Slingers, Javelinmen, Thessalian Light Cavalry and Thessalian Medium Cavalry. The DBA equivalent is 10 elements of Hoplites and two elements of skirmishers.

The only real question I have to consider from the rule perspective is whether to use 60mm or 40mm wide bases. DBA would normally be a 40mm element frontage while Dadi and Piombo recommend a 60mm frontage for Basic Impetus in 6mm. 60mm frontage is also the base frontage for Baccus’ SPQR rules.

The base size will set the area that is needed to play and 40mm has the attraction of probably only needed a 2-foot square area (DBA) or 3-foot square (Basic Impetus) while 60mm would set a 4-foot by 3-foot area (Basic Impetus).

More updates later as I start to plan further.

Paint or Sell — Minoan and Mycenaean Greeks

Chariot Miniatures this time. I’m starting to lean towards the Classical and Dark Ages periods for ancient wargaming rather than Biblicals so I am now looking closely at these fellows. As with the others, there should be around about 400AP (plus or minus) in DBMM terms although the army probably needs another chariot. The Chariot Miniatures are really very lovely but I think I have fallen out of love with the Biblical Period.

Chariot Miniatures
No Code Description Infantry Cavalry Chariot
2 MYG1 Spearmen tower shield 16
2 MYG2 Spearmen figure 8 shield 16
1 MYG3 Javelinmen with plume 8
8 MYG4 Archer 64
3 MYG5 Naked spearmen tower shield 24
2 MYG6 Naked spearmen figure 8 shield 16
2 MYG7 Javelinmen with helmet 16
1 MYG8 Naked slinger 8
1 MYG11 Javelinmen pelta shield 8
2 ENK22 Libyan psiloi javelin/spear 16
4 MTG13 Square 2-horse chariot 4
7 MYG14 Square 2-horse chariot 7
4 MYG15 Round 2-horse chariot 4
6 MYG16 Round 2-horse chariot 6
Total 192 21
Mycenaean and Minoan in 15mm from Chariot Miniatures
Mycenaean and Minoan in 15mm from Chariot Miniatures

The red stain on the packets is not Thomo’s blood (although a late night accident with a carton cutter last night almost had me bleeding over my figures) but rather a bottle of red glaze that leaked on a move from somewhere to somewhere else with the figures.

An Interlude

Figures bases are soaked n water which generally weakens the bond with the glue
Figures bases are soaked n water which generally weakens the bond with the glue

Before settling into the next painting project I thought I’d take the opportunity to rebase some 15mm ancient Greeks I had purchased some time ago from eBay. They were all on different bases and some were based incorrectly. In addition I had had some Greeks painted to basic standard and they needed basing as well.

A good soak, a quick bit of finger work and most of them were separated from their basis – all except the Psiloi that had been based on solid plastic bases. They took a little skilful knife work.

The rare earth magnet under the hoplite base
The rare earth magnet under the hoplite base

I also have a lot of hoplites based on a plastic base with a rare earth magnet underneath that allows them to stick to a metal surface. Unfortunately, the rare earth magnet was not really strong enough for the job. I was therefore looking at ripping these off the bases, repairing any spears damaged as a result and then re-gluing them to new bases.

The lady came up with a suggestion however. “Why don’t you stick them to the new bases as they are?”

“They’d be too tall”, says I.

“Try one”, says she.

The "too high" hoplites
The “too high” hoplites

I did. Now I can’t decide either way. I guess it’s OK. See how I feel in a week!

New Toys

2012-10-17 21.30.26Jessica called me to the front desk today. When I arrived she handed me a box. It was from the nice folks at Miniature Lanka and should contain the rest of my Union ACW forces in 15mm. This should be another couple of regiments of infantry, a lot of figures for command stands, an ambulance, 10 or so artillery pieces and crew as well as a supply wagon or two and a brace of limbers.

Also in the box will be some 15mm Ancient Greeks. For the life of me I cannot remember buying these little buggers let alone giving them to Priyantha to paint but apparently I did. Looking forward to unpacking the box but I fear I do not have time tonight so you’ll need to wait until tomorrow night to see what was in there.

A 15mm Diversion – Ancient Greeks

DSC01434A little while back Anthony and I decided that we needed a little 15mm DBA action here in Singapore. Whilst I am building 6mm DBA armies, Anthony is being a bit conservative with the old “too small, can’t see them” arguments. We shall see on that note.

So, 15mm DBA. What was it going to be? Beer was produced and a planning session started. After some discussion, we decided that Ancient Greeks offered a good possibility. We had not really decided on Early or Late Hoplite Greek, just Ancient Greek.

Anthony had an interest in Spartans, so, as it looked like the Peloponnesian War was going to erupt in Singapore, the Delian League seemed appropriate for me.

I knew Anthony wasn’t planning on painting figures but rather would buy painted. I wondered how I was going to find time to paint and so thought “nah, let’s have a look for painted figures!”

Off to eBay I went and found some light infantry and hoplites (both armoured and unarmoured). I needed about 12 elements of Hoplites but over achieved and ended up buying 32 elements (it was a good deal). Oh well, some big battle DBA coming up.

I also needed some peltasts so some more hunting and I found some 15mm Thracians. Add some Thessalian Light Horse and four elements of Greek Cavalry and I have enough for two or three Greek DBA armies now. I also ended up buying some new Old Glory 15mm Greek cavalry as a plan B when I could not find any painted ones so I may just paint those up as well.

In the typical model of megalomania found in most true wargamers, I am also considering the odd purchase of more painted hoplites to take the army up to DBMM size. I was also thinking that as the Persian War was the lead in to the Peloponnesian War that perhaps I should look for the odd Persian as well.

Look out KL, I may actually get to your annual DBA competition this year!