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Battle of tragia. a samian war aar

Last week we played the battle of Tragia between Athens and Samos, as usual using "He Hemetera Talassa" with our modifications to make it more specifically adapt to V century b.c. Hellas (and also a little less bloody!).

It is a pre-Peloponnesian war smaller battle. We do not have many details about it. The wider context is as follows. In 440 b.c., a group of exiled Samian oligarchs returned home – bringing 7000 mercenaries with them. They had been banned because Samos, under their leadership, waged war against fellow Delos League member Miletos for a territorial dispute. Pericles felt, for political considerations, that Athens had to back Miletos, because it had previously forced the Milesians to disarm while promising to guarantee their security. It could not let them be trampled by Samos. Therefore Pericles personally led a swift military action against Samos, executed a regime change and exiled the oligarchs. When these guys came back, armed with mercenaries paid by the Great King's gold, they overturned the democratic Athenian puppet regime and declared Samos free from the Delos League. That was a direct and dangerous challenge to Athens, coming from the second most powerful polis of the League and the only one still possessing a sizable naval force besides Athens. So again Pericles went with a fleet of 60 ships, 16 of which were sent around Ionia to show the flag in other League poleis. The remaining 44 met a Samian fleet of some 50 warships and 20 cargo ships off the island of Tragia.

Thucidides tells us that the first thing the Samian exiles did after regaining power was to “prepare for an expedition against Miletos”. And he also says that, when the Athenians met the Samians off Tragia, the Samian “were sailing from Miletos". Plutarch provides an additional detail: at Tragia, he writes, the Samians had seventy vessels “twenty of which were carrying soldiers". I cannot find anything else on the battle of Tragia, nor in ancient sources nor in modern writers, not even in Kagan, but I think the situation is fairly clear: the Athenians caught at sea a Samian army returning from Miletos, riding on freighters and escorted by the Samian war fleet.

Therefore, I decided to make this a “hunt for the cargo ships” scenario. This was the Athenian player’s goal, while the Samian player (myself) had to safely escort the civilian ships out. Since I figure it was a meeting engagement, I had both sides decide beforehand a cruising formation for their fleets, to be then placed on the table almost randomly. Then I arranged some house rules for civilian ships in combat (hint: they’re not too great!) and we were ready to go.

The Athenian player formed his squadrons in two columns, sailing on a parallel course. His plan was to use them for a pincer movement. I had arranged my fleet in three columns, one of each side of the cargo groups and one ahead. I figured this way I could always use at least one column to shield the cargos and let them pass by. When the Athenians opened their pincer, I decided to try to throw them off balance and made a run in the middle with most of the cargo led the middle trireme column, while using the other two to keep the damn League ships away.

Yes, that's Pericles.

Almost immediately my brilliant plan turned into a near disaster. Four out of five squadrons became out of formation while trying to form into line, immediately before contact with the enemy.

Focion's column just before its pathetic attempt to deploy...

In fact, one admiral was so dispirited by the mess that decided to cut and run with his ships even before contact!

And that's the infamous Cnemo running away. These freighters had more fight in them that he did!

Luckily the others, while being definitely bested by the Athenians in the ensuing melees, were at least able to hang on for a while despite suffering increasingly horrifying lossess.

Their resistance however gave me the time to push my little convoy through. One cargo group was able to safely sneak out around the enemy’s right flank, thanks to the heroic resistance of Erasinide’s squadron, which shielded them fighting to the last ship. The other freighters passed in the middle. Half of them were caught by the Athenians. To everyone surprise, managed to give them a bloody nose in close combat: when we called the night these guys, hopelessly surrounded, were still fighting it out!

The middle group of freighter passing throught, covered by Samian trierei. In the back, cargos exchanging blow to blow with warships. The Athenians could not believe it!

In the end, in perfect Hellenic style, both players erected a victory trophy. Four out of five Samian trireme squadrons were routed, but two thirds of the cargoes carried home our precious hoplites, ensuring we could withstand the ensuing Athenian siege, so we called this a victory. Pericles, having lost only one squadron, claimed he was the winner – that's just Athenian propaganda!!

This was a very fun game, and our mods to HHT finally works exactly as I meant them, making melees a little more attritional in nature and with formation changes more in line with how I personally see them. Unfortunately, we still had no chance to fully try the diekplous and periplous rules - my crews were too lousy to try, and the Athenians preferred old school butchery.

Beside this, I also realized that this Ionian “splendid little war” is actually a perfect set for a mini campaign, or rather for three intertwined scenarios. There were in fact two other naval battles besides Tragia during the war, one of which never actually happened but might very well have been. So the size of the campaign would be perfect, small but not too much, and easy to manage: the player who wins 2 out of 3 wins the campaign.

Furthermore, each battle of the Samian war is distinctive is some way. Tragia is the first and is an “hunt the cargo" scenario. The other two are a surprise Samian sally against the beached Athenian ships supporting the siege of Samos, which started immediately after Tragia, and a “what if”, an open sea clash which should include a sizeable number of Phoenician ships, paid for by Pissutne, the satrap of Ionia and the guy who helped the oligarchs to regain power at Samos (he wouldn’t miss the opportunity to mess up with the Athenians and the Delos league, would he?). These last two battle would have developed independently from one another, as the Samian sallied while Pericles was away with most of the fleet to engage the incoming Persian fleet as far away as possible from the location of the siege. Campaign-wise, the two scenarios should not therefore influence each other.

So I am planning to have Tragia as the first scenario of three, and I need to define if I want its results to have an impact on the Samian sally scenario (the more cargo escape at Tragia, the stronger is the sally force?) or to impact the overall campaign in some other way. Maybe, for example, it could influence the length of the Athenian siege, to be taken as a measure of the Athenian player's success in case he wins? Or, it could have no impact at all? Got to think this through...

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Feb 22, 2022

HHT is really a small gem of ruleset. I feel the legagy of Fire and Fury rules from which is derived. I have to say that, in the end, the linear tactics of ancient ships are not so far form the infantry linear tactics of XIX century (fireaems taken away).

I fully gives the nuances of manouvering the fleet, without losing yorself in the details 😁

So I'm looking forward for a new battle. I'm quite sure those pesky Samian hoplites that survived will soon find a way to make a nuisance of themselves 😂


Feb 22, 2022


The cunning plan of Pericles was clear in its simplicity: form up in two columns, the left with the 3 elite squadrons of the fleet and the right with the remaining 2 of average quality (don’t be mistaken, average only for the very high standards of the Athenian Navy ) and then proceed to crush the puny Samians between the hammer of the elite division and the anvil of their just slightly less skilled compatriots. "After destroying the escorts we could mop up the transports!".

Well, as they say, even the best laid out plan doesn’t survive meeting the enemy .

On the left we enjoyed a local numerical superiority and we capitalized on that. While…

Feb 22, 2022
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Ahah you effeminate Athenian imperialists! Samos will be free!

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