Notes on DBM Troop classifications

This page last modified: 8 July, 2002


These notes will hopefully explain why in some of my army lists and battles scenarios I have graded various troops they way I have when they are different from what is currently the "official" gradings and types listed in the DBM army list books.

Bactrian light horse

Currently LH (S), I grade these as Cv (O). Firstly, there is no evidence that they fought in the skirmishing manner demanded of light horse - for instance at Gaugamela the Bactrian horse without distinction engaged the Greeks in close combat without at first standing off and showering them with missiles, or even attempting to do so; and even LH (S) are only supposed to charge enemy who are already disordered - as the the Greeks and Macedonians manifestly were not. Secondly, it cannot be shown that Bactrians all were armed with bows, as required by the definition of LH (S). They may have been a mixture of bow and javelin-armed men, or perhaps they prefreed the javelin to the bow, like Lithuanians or Sarmatians, despite carrying bows; Arrian for instance describing Alexander's forces at Hydaspes talks about horse archers AND Bactrian horse, implying that they were not horse archers. Thirdly, LH (S) doesn't give the right results on the table-top - a Persian commander's most effective troop type against a Kn (F) general like Alexander would be LH (S) if they had them; it is all to easy to nobble Alexander with LH (S); much harder if there are no LH (S) on the table.

Thessalian heavy cavalry

Currently graded as Cv (O), I grade them as Kn (F). As far as I can see, there is no evidence that they fought any differently from the Companions, or indeed, other Greek cavalry in Alexander's army, for which see below; indeed, the Thessalian cavalry is praised in several histories as being BETTER than the Macedonian Companions - and indeed when the two did fight each other, in the Lamian war, it was the Macedonians who tended to be defeated. Of course with Thessalians being Cv (O) and Macedonians Kn (F) this won't happen too often in DBM.

Kn (F) classification demands the men charge in immediately with weight; Cv (O) demands that they either 'fence' or shoot missiles beforehand. Of course Kn also fence too with their swords - the accounts of Alexander's Companions are full of such references; while there are no references whatsoever to his (or any other contemporary) Thessalians even possessing a missile weapon such as a javelin. Admittedly there are no literary references to them using spears/lances either, so we must look to other evidence, such as behaviour. Against their Persian opponents, we know that they always were able to stand up to greater numbers of opponents, implying they should be graded at least as well as the enemy - but in DBM Persian cavalry can be Cv (S) backed up by Cv (O), which is better than the Thessalians... this difficulty disappears if they are Kn (F). At Issus, we are told that the Thessalians charged in once again after being pushed back by the Persians, which Duncan Head once argued implied Cv behaviour, but under DBM, if it was Thessalians recoiling from Persian attack, charging back in is behaviour equally applicable to Kn as Cv, and if it was not 'recoiling', it can't be a 'break-off' since it is just as impossible for Cv to 'break off' from enemy Cv as it is for Kn to do. As for visual evidence, most depictions of 4th century BC Greek horsemen show a single spear, about 9 foot long rather than the pair of javelins used by most cavlr in the 5th century, and still recomemned by Xenophon, which brings me to...

Other Greek heavy cavalry of the 4th century BC

Currently these are graded as Cv (I), or for the good ones, Cv (O) - in my opinion, most should be Kn (I). In the 5th century BC, most greek cavalry were equipped with a pair of javelins, for which classification as Cv seems perfectly valid, and this applies for many Cv for the 4th century too, at least the first half of it. We do not know the armament of the Spartan cavlry at Corinth in 390 BC, but they certainly did not charge with the weight demanded of Kn, but rather davanced and fell back with their infantry. However, as the 4th century progressed increasing numbers of Greek (and indeed, to judge from the artistic sources, neighbouring non-Greek, such as Thracian) cavalry instead relied on a single longer spear and seemingly had no missile capability at all - such as the Ionian cavalry described by Xenophon in the Hellenica (longe spears may have been the preference in the region for a long time, if the example of the Lydians in Herodotos is anything to go by).

Xenophon himself was unimpressed by such long spears, deeming them too brittle, and recommended his readers stick to two javelins, one for throwing, one for thrusting (admittedley he seems to favour spears in the Cyropaedia though). It is not clear however whether this was confirming contemporary prcactice, or rather trying to advocate a practice now out of fashion. I believe the latter. When Agesilaos' horsemen returned to Greece in the 390s, they were able to defeat their Thessalian rivals. Part of the reason may well have been their keeness to engage in close combat if they were equipped with a single long spear. Gaebel in his recent (2002) work on Greek cavalry certainly makes the most of this psychological motive in reference to Greek cavalry being able to beat Persian cavlary. When we come to look at accounts of Greek cavlry fighting for Alexander, we see the Mercenaries under Menidas at Gaugamela charging in the same way as the Macedonian cavalry; and against the Skythians, the mercenaries were unable to inflict any damage on the Skythians, because their charge could not catch their nimble opponents; they had to wait until they were supported by light infantry - missile armed troops that is, before a successful conclusion could be reached. Such characteristics much better suit the interaction of Kn, Kn (I) in this case, with LH than does Cv and LH - since Cv (by virtue of their own, more dense missile barrage) are what you use to engage LH with.

A classification of Ionian and other later Greek cavalry as Kn (I) does have one drawback - Kn (I) in DBM move only 150p rather than 200p like Kn (F) does, but this is a reasonably minor point. (I don't think they should be Kn (F), since the Thessalians in the 330s and 320s were so much obviously better than the other Greek cavalry). Another point is that one could argue that the incident Xenophon describes in which the Persians fight the Ionians, and win, would be hard to enact if the Greeks were Kn. However, Kn (I) must follow up after winning a combat, and Kn (I) that follow up can be in serious danger due to overlaps. However in this situation, the Persians were in 12-wide column, so no overlaps possible (indeed, each side might well be modelled as a single element). Consider that the fight was on a hill though - both sides met near the crest, stopped for a while assessing each other, and then charged. In DBM, one side or the other will get an uphill advantage (I do not believe mounted troops should be eligible for this by the way, only infantry). If the Persians get the bonus, they will have the edge; if the Greeks get it, they will win. Another issue to consider is hamippoi support for such 'cavalry' - under DBM only cavalry classified as Cv can recieve such support (despite plenty of evidence for the support of troops normally graded as LH such as Numdians and Spaniards...!).

Classification as Kn (I) also has important ramifications when fighting against other contemporary troops types such as hoplites. Greek cavalry regularly intervened in hoplite fights at the end of the battle; DBM doesn't handle this very well but it is just about doable - Cv charging impetuously advancing Sp etc. This is much better handled as Kn (I) charging Sp - Kn (I) fear formed Sp (where Cv have little to worry about); unformed Sp - those with no rear ranks or overlap support such as those broken up by impetuos pursuit howevre fear Kn much more than Cv. This would still leave 5th century Cv unable to perform one of their main functions, but at least 4th century cavalry would be more accurately modelled!

Iphikrates' new-style troops

As men with a shield, a long spear, and light body protection, fighting in a phalanx, these would seem to call for a classification as Sp, and that is what I prefer; Sp (I) so that they are more vulnerable than the more heavily armoured traditional hoplites (who are Sp (O) on the whole); however, in some refight situations classification as Ax (X), as originally propounded by Michael Anastasiadis (and incorporated as such into the army lists) might be more appropriate. I originally didn't like the Ax (X) classification - since these troops were not loose order troops, and after all most certainly do have effective shields, the famous pelta, but if you fight an army with lots of LH and Cv and no Kn, such as Persians, the most effective table top tactic for Sp (I) is to adopt a very thin wide formation - the exact opposite of what Alexander used. Making them Ax (X) forces them to at least deploy deeply or risk being destroyed. But this is really a fault of the LH and Cv classes rathe than a fault of the Sp (I) class - DBM Sp are just too invulnerable to the missiles of Cv and LH.


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