One of the reasons that Alexander became “the Great” at such a young age was that he was able to build upon the achievements of his father, Philip.
Philip II of Macedon came to the throne in 359BC. After murdering his immediate rivals to power, he immediately secured Macedonia’s borders and economy by a combination of political chicanery and military might. The wild tribesmen to the north were bought off, the invading Illyrians repelled, and the routes to the gold mines of Mount Pangaeus seized.
Philip then completely reformed the Macedonian army: introducing a combined arms structure of professional (as opposed to citizen militia) infantry, heavy cavalry and light troops. His foot soldiers were trained to use a phalanx system that was based on the Theban model, but that incorporated the sarissa: an extra-long spear, or pike, that gave them greater punching power at the moment of impact. He also set up a corps of hypaspistai, or hypaspists: elite foot guardsmen able to move more quickly than a normal phalanx. Finally, he gave his cavalry the xyston: a lance-like spear longer than those of their contemporaries.
Philip then continued to expand his empire: tricking the Athenians out of the valuable port of Pydna in 356BC and, in 349BC, crushing the Chalcidic Confederacy led by the city-state of Olynthus. Next it was the turn of the Phocians, who Philip first attacked as an ally of the city of Thebes and finally defeated in 346BC, taking their place on the politically important Amphictyonic Council.
A partially successful war to the north-east against Perinthus and Byzantium was next, followed by more successful operations against the Scythians and other Balkan tribes. Finally, in 339BC, he was able to manoeuvre a war against the combined forces of Athens, Thebes and their Allies: a war that would terminate at Chaeronea.
Before the Battle
Once news of Philip’s invasion had reached the Allies, they rushed mercenaries forward to block the passes that led from northern to central Greece. Unfortunately Philip destroyed this guarding force at Amphissa, leaving the Allies to muster what remained of their troops at Chaeronea.
I have included roster sheets for Vis Bellica at two different scales.
Firstly, for gamers who like a big battle or game using 2mm or 6mm scales, there are roster sheets at true game scale e.g. one close order base equals around 900 men.
Secondly, for those who want to replay Chaeronea in an evening, there are roster sheets scaled down to about 600-650 points a side.
In both cases, the Allies slightly outnumber the Macedonians, but have big command and control problems built into their army.
For those who want to use other systems, approximate numbers present were:
- 3,000 Hypaspists
- 24,000 Phalangites
- 5,000 Mercenary Light Troops
- 1,800 Heavy Cavalry
- 400 Light Cavalry
- 10,000 from Athens/Euboea/Corinth
- 8,000 from Megara/Leucas/Corcyra
- 12,000 from Thebes
- 5,000 Mercenary Peltasts
Click on the army name to download a PDF of the Vis Bellica play sheet.
The Allied force held a strong position between the Chaeronea Acropolis and the river Cephissus. On the left of the line, closest to the low hill on which stood the Acropolis, were the Athenian hoplites. Next to them, in the centre, were the smaller contingents from Euboea, Corinth, Megara, Leucas, and Corcyra. To the right were the Thebans: the line ending with the elite Theban Sacred Band. Mercenary light troops, mostly peltasts, flanked each end of the main hoplite line.
Philip, on the other hand, formed the Macedonians into an oblique line: a tactic learnt from the time he spent in Thebes as a boy as a hostage, presumably from the great Theban general Epaminondas himself (c.f. Battle of Leuctra 371 BC). Opposite the Athenians, and closest to the enemy line, he placed himself and his guard Hypaspists. The rest of his phalangites stretched to the left and backwards, ending with Alexander’s heavy cavalry and the light cavalry. The Macedonian line was also flanked by light troops.
The Macedonian oblique formation meant that the Hypaspists were nearest to the enemy but, as they were about to be engaged by the Athenians, the well-trained guardsmen fell back in good order, feigning retreat.
The less experienced Athenians surged forward after them, opening up a gap in the centre of the Allied line through which thundered the Macedonian heavy cavalry led by Alexander. These then turned, still in their wedge formation, and drove into the flanks and rear of the Theban phalanx.
Now the rest of the Macedonian line advanced, falling on the now disordered Athenians as the Hypaspists neatly changed direction and also attacked. Within minutes the Athenians and the Allied centre had broken and was in full retreat.
Meanwhile, the Thebans were surrounded by Macedonian cavalry, the heavies on their left and the lights now attacking the Sacred Band on the right. They were cut down where they stood.
The Allies lost about 2,000 hoplites killed and 4,000 taken prisoner, with the Theban Sacred Band doing a “Thermopylae” and losing 254 out of 300.
Philip’s professional army had comprehensively defeated the citizen militia facing him: and Greece was at the mercy of Macedon!
After the Battle
Philip really showed his political genius in the aftermath of the battle.
Athens, far from the main action but still capable of causing problems if war continued, was treated leniently: effectively agreeing to become an ally of Macedon and not stand in the way of Philip’s expansionist plans.
Thebes, on the other hand, in its more central position, was stripped of its nascent empire, the Boeotian League. Those cities that had been forced to join were given back their independence and now effectively owed the Macedonians their freedom. This slap in the face for Theban pride was, however, balanced by the praise heaped by Philip on the performance of the Sacred Band, along with his permission that a monument to their valour be raised on the battlefield.
The accompanying map gives the terrain on which the battle was fought. The table should be mostly flat: but bounded by hills and the rivers/marshes. Players should have plenty of encouragement to deploy their heavy infantry in the centre!
Using the attached rosters with Vis Bellica’s command and control structure should allow the Macedonians to attempt to repeat Philip’s echelon formation and the advance/retreat/attack manoeuvre of the Hypaspists. It should also lead to the Allies rapidly running out of command points each turn. Players using other systems may want to artificially augment the Macedonians’ command abilities and penalise those of the Allies.
This article reproduced from Wargames Journal (issue dated July 2003)