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    Post The Last Stand of the Spartan League

    The Last Stand of the Spartan League

    La Hormiga
    As usual, the spring of 278 BCE was cool where the fog off the Aegean Sea met the mountain air of Dacia, along the southern Athenian coast. As a Spartan, Piera was unused to the cool, but he knew the heat of the coming battle would wash his shivers away.
    The force assembled south of Athens was the greatest Greece had seen since Alexander. Six thousand Greeks, mainly Laconians, marched under the circled lightning bolt banner of the Spartan League. The reason such an army had been assembled lay to the north, where over two thousand Macedonian soldiers lined Axparato’s Ridge.
    Piera shivered -this time, not from the cold- as he recalled the failures that had allowed the enemy to entrench there. Most of Greece blamed the Athenians, who of course blamed the Corinthians, who in turn blamed the Spartans. Over two long months ago, in an unexpected thrust to the south, the very same Macedonian army had slipped past Greek lines to besiege Athens itself. The League’s immediate response was to recall the Corinthians from western Greece and marshal King Kleomenes of Sparta’s army north in aid. However, before Kleomenes could arrive to take command, a headstrong Demosthenes of Athens and an impulsive Timoleon of Corinth made plans to perform a joint attack on the Macedonians. The Greeks would be outnumbered, but their commanders believed that courage and speed would carry the day. Besides, a cooperative Corinthian and Athenian victory would shift the balance of power in the League against Sparta and her protectorates.
    At dawn, the Corinthian army glided into position in the Macedonian rear. However, the Macedonian general, Eunus, had expected this and formed up his men on a hill overlooking Athens. As first light broke, the Macedonians could clearly see the Athenians issuing from the gates. Inter-Greek collaboration would be crucial for a League’s victory; however, Macedonian light cavalry had cut their communication lines.
    The Corinthian plan was to march briskly up the hill and sweep the Macedonians off the heights into the Athenians with one good charge. Their hopes were shattered by a late arrival from the Athenians. Eunus was able to turn his men against first the men of Corinth, and then the Athenians, crushing each outnumbered party separately. The Athenians died to the last man in a fierce engagement that took several hundred Macedonian lives. Timoleon, on the other hand, fled with his cavalry realizing there was no hope, escaping to the west. After their crushing victory at Erpus Hill, the Macedonians moved south, occupying the defenseless Athens before the Spartan Army could arrive.
    The sun bursting out from behind the clouds topping Axparato’s Ridge recalled Piera to his duty as captain of the infantry.
    “To Athens!” yelled Piera, and his men took up the cry.

    *****

    Antiochus tugged his battered Corinthian helm off his head in order to get a better view of Axparato’s Ridge. The crested helm, of the ancient style, was emblazoned on the sides with the sigil of Antiochus’ house, a golden eagle in flight, and had guarded the heads of his family’s eldest sons in dozens of battles, stretching back to Marathon. Antiochus’ grandfather had worn it while commanding his Spartan mercenaries against Alexander at Chaeronea. The helm had accompanied him in his flight to Syracuse, only one step ahead of Macedonian assassins. It had returned to Greece with Antiochus’ father a year after Alexander’s death, and was worn while he united the Spartan League to reclaim Greek independence. And now, fifty years later, Antiochus strapped the helm back on in preparation for battle that history would remember as one that determined the fate of unborn millions.
    Antiochus turned around on his horse, Hespara, to bark orders to his second-in-command, Captain Piera.
    “Ready the Phalanx, Captain, you know your orders.” Antiochus glanced at the man next to him, and paused, “Argos is ill today, Hemocrates, so you will command the skirmishers and light infantry.”
    “As you command Strategos” they both solemnly intoned together.
    Antiochus wheeled Hespara around and began to ride up the slope, his bodyguards close behind. His hands still reeked of the blood of the bull he had personally sacrificed that morning. Perhaps Zeus would grant the League victory today; gods alone knew they would need divine favor, despite their numbers.
    Recalling his thoughts to the business at hand, Antiochus reviewed his battle plans. When all was ready, he would send a screen of light infantry and skirmishers forward in the hope that the superior Macedonian cavalry would take the bait and charge them. When they did, the concealed Timoleon and his Corinthian cavalry - curse the man! Where was he? If he ran away from another battle Kleomenes would have his head for sure! - would strike the Macedonians from both flanks. With their cavalry destroyed, the Macedonians would be crushed, if only by the weight of numbers. The slope worried Antiochus still; if only he had been able to arrive sooner he would have…
    A horn blast from the enemy’s lines made Antiochus look up. Further up the mount, the Macedonian Strategos, Eunus, was leading most of his heavy cavalry and bodyguards north, toward Athens, with the Vergina Sun Banner flying at their head. The over-confident fool! Well, whether or not Eunus stood and fought honorably, the time for battle had come. Antiochus’ sword cleared its sheath with a Shinng. He waved it above his head and cried,
    “Forward the phalanx, for Sparta and honor!” The massive Greek army rumbled forward.

    *****

    The eagle glided high above the earth, which was beginning to warm now that the fog and clouds had fled the sun’s full brilliance. The noble bird still struggled with the half-dead serpent grasped in its talons, shaking the snake and even rolling over in flight. Miscalculating, the eagle shifted its claws for a better grip as the snake’s violent struggles waxed. As its prey plummeted to earth, the eagle entered a steep dive, feathers plastered to its sides, talons outstretched to catch the snake. As the ground reared to meet them, the eagle’s keen eyes spotted men wearing suits of golden scales, thousands of them. The eagle screamed in frustration as its prey fell among a group of men, pulled out of its freefall to swoop over helmeted heads.
    A screech of a bird of prey made Baias look up. The eagle from which the cry had emanated from circled the Greeks once, and turned south to disappear among the scant cloud cover. Baias shook his head and glanced at a knot of peltasts who were shaking with excitement.
    “An omen from Zeus!” exclaimed their young officer, holding up a dead serpent. “This can only mean one thing, glorious victory!”
    Baias turned away, a flicker of motion catching his eye. General Antiochus rode up on his white stallion, golden eagles on his helm glinting in the sunlight.
    “Baias,” spoke Antiochus, “You are to take command of the Royal Guard, and keep them as a reserve when the phalanx engages.” Antiochus hesitated. “I must ask you a favor, Baias,” he sighed. “I need you to keep my son, Alexandros, with you during the battle. He is a fine warrior and a true Spartan, but he is the last of my house, and the League will need him in the days to come.”
    “It shall be as you command, Strategos,” Baias formally replied. Antiochus turned his horse and galloped to rejoin his bodyguard and marshal the troops. Baias gathered his gear and marched the short distance to the slight hill were the Royal Guards were camped. The Royal Guards were an elite, one hundred man unit, trained as traditional hoplites and the Spartan King’s personal bodyguard. King Kleomenes was in Sparta raising a navy, but for victory in this war, every spear would be needed.
    By the time Baias arrived at the camp, the screen of light infantry and skirmishers was already struggling up the slope. Dismounted Thessalian cavalry followed, leading their horses by their halters. Since Timoleon of Corinth had deigned not to show up, Antiochus himself would lead them. Because the Macedonians could not see the cavalry, they would be tempted to rush the vulnerable light infantry with horsemen. When they did, the Greeks would remount, rush behind the charging cavalry, and crush them from behind. This task would only be easier due to the absence of Eunus and his heavy cavalry.
    Predictably, Alexandros did not take the news of his father’s orders well. After quelling his protests about his slighted honor, Baias settled back to watch the battle and dictate a letter to his scribe.

    *****
    The carved bone dice made a distinct clattering sound as they bounced across the wood board. A few moments after they settled, Antaeus allowed himself a rare smile, the other Greeks around him groaned. Still grumbling, they proffered his winnings, three talents of gold in all. Antaeus was a naturally lucky gambler, and an excellent cavalry commander, a rarity among southern Greek. However, not being a Spartan by blood, Antaeus was not given the respect he deserved. Until Alexander, Antaeus’ ancestors had been the most prominent family in Thebes. In the years leading up to 337 BCE, the city-state was the most powerful in Greece, when Alexander had razed it to the ground. Antaeus’ grandfather, one of the few survivors, drifted around Greece in the following years, until being adopted into a Spartan house. Though Greece’s glory had faded, the memory of the sack of Thebes and the thirst for vengeance had not.
    Antaeus glanced up; the sun was almost directly overhead. The time had come. Antaeus signaled to his officers to assemble the men. He entered his large, decorous tent to don his gear. While Antaeus was strapping on his hardened leather cuirass, a young peltast officer burst into his tent, puffing with excitement.
    “Eunus and his heavy cavalry are retreating, victory is certain!”
    Antaeus seized his helm and short sword and brushed pass the man. His junior officer, Kratos, met him outside, already in full battle gear.
    “The Hippikon are ready for the address, sir.”
    Antaeus rode his bay gelding, Telephoros, over to where his 600 Thessalian cavalrymen waited, Kratos close behind.
    Antaeus did not bother to dismount, starting his speech as soon as he arrived.
    “Great men of Sparta, there is not much time for exhortation, but to the brave, a few words are as good as many!” The men cheered. “Soldiers, fighting a battle is like tossing dice, you never know what pips will show until they land. May the gods smile on you all today. Forward to victory! For Kleomenes and Thebes!” The men roared.
    Within minutes the line of skirmishers and light infantry, followed by Antaeus’ dismounted cavalrymen marched up the slope. Antaeus surveyed the enemy lines, made a quick calculation, and to turned the man besides him, Kratos.
    “One hundred talents on total victory.”
    “Done.” They grasped forearms and shook.
    Soon arrows began to fall like rain among the men, some of whom cried out and lay still. Antaeus’ luck still held. The Macedonian cavalry took Antiochus’ bait, charging into the infantry screen. Antaeus and his men remounted, then swung around the flanks, into the Macedonian rear. The trapped Macedonians fought valiantly, but could not break through. Suddenly, a single, piercing horn blast shattered the sounds of battle and chaos. The encircled Macedonians cheered, and fought with redoubled fury. In the midst of battle, Antaeus’ head snapped around to locate the horn blower. Eunus and his heavy cavalry were charging full tilt from the northwest, to fall upon the hideously exposed Greeks like a tempest.
    “Looks like I owe you one hundred talents, Kratos,” Antaeus observed. In the moment before the clash, Antaeus’ last conscious thought was to curse the gods for his luck.

    *****
    The two peltasts, half supporting, half dragging the disheveled cavalryman with the sigil of Corinth on his cuirass approached Alexandros. He launched right into the interrogation.
    “Where is that fool –Timoleon?”
    “We were marching along the Araspina, when…” The injured soldier choked and coughed up blood. “…We were ambushed by the Macedonians…horsemen came out of the woods… surrounded on all sides...” The soldier paused, his breath now coming in rapid gasps. “…Last I saw of Timoleon, he was galloping away…south…” He groaned and vomited up more blood.
    But Alexandros was already turning away, issuing orders to his junior officers.
    “Duty is heavier than a mountain, death lighter than a feather,” murmured Alexandros, walking south. He wanted to fall on his sword rather than live another hour because of the magnitude of the disaster. His father, Antiochus, and the entire Spartan light infantry and cavalry corps, dead. Not to mention the rout of Timoleon’s Corinthians. There would be no reinforcements. In all, 2,000 Greeks had died in Eunus’ trap. After their glorious victory, the Macedonian cavalry had retreated back to where the phalanx waited, forming up in a long line before it to cover Eunus’ movements. Now, the entire Macedonian war machine advanced down the slope, toward Greek lines.
    In desperation, the remaining League officers hailed Alexandros as Strategos on the field, without the usual ceremony. At his wit’s end, Alexandros wracked his brains for a way to salvage an honorable draw from the still invincible Macedonians. His intuition told him to withdraw, but common honor and the lightning speed of the enemy’s advance prevented it.
    Alexandros was still avoiding the inevitable conclusion, when he arrived at his tent and signaled to his slave, Arausio, to outfit him in his war gear. It was made of a strong, flexible fusion of bronze and gold, its worth adding up to 6,000 talents. Alexandros adjusted a last strap on his greaves, hefted his shield and short spear, and walked outside. A quick glance at the sky revealed circling buzzards and an encroaching cloud cover. Alexandros’ study of the field before him was far less satisfactory. The Macedonian army was more than halfway to the Greeks, whose lines formed a slight crescent, flanks curving to the south. The phalanx was deployed in the traditional Theban formation, with the strongest units concentrated on the right. Alexandros mounted his horse, Midis, and rode north to briefly address the troops.
    “…Men, empires rise and fall, but heroes live forever. Soldiers of Sparta stand and fight! For the glory of Greece!” The joyless roar that emanated from the Spartan lines caused even the sturdiest Macedonian heart to skip a beat. And now to our Homeric ends, thought Alexandros. The battle was already lost.
    As the two phalanxes engaged, Macedonian cavalry swept around to the League’s rear, cutting off the last chance of escape. Within minutes, the men of Sparta were entirely surrounded. The ends of the Greek crescent joined, forming a circle, with Alexandros and the Royal Guard in the center. The Macedonians advanced, sounds of death and carnage rising on every side. Twice the enemy infantry pressed the Greeks into an unyielding knot of valor, twice the Royal Guard counter-charged, driving them back. On the third charge the exhausted Royal Guard was forced back with heavy, heavy losses. The stout Greeks began to despair. The end had come.
    “Rally to me men, rally one last time!” Alexandros called. His fellow soldiers answered,
    “Remember Thermopylae!” A lone Macedonian swordsman managed to break through the last few hundred Greeks. Alexandros speared him in the neck. The man staggered back, throat erupting in red ruin. A trickle of enemies became a flood. The remnants of the Royal Guard stood back to back, fighting as the land became a charnel house. Alexandros killed again and again and again, when at last something suddenly struck him in the back. He stumbled and fell, gaping wound fountaining crimson. Alexandros could feel death roar through his body, a dark tide extinguishing, overwhelming life. The Fates howled out their funeral dirge in his ears. Death offered his hand, unsmiling eyes never wavering. Alexandros grasped forearms. Blackness rolled over everything.
    The Spartan League lay in ruins. The Second Rise of Macedon had begun…

    Credits: The Greeks, RTW, and XGM for inspiration. Author of the Wheel of Time series for creative writing techniques. Countless books for background and research. Mr. Cawthon and Mr. McClanahan for encouragement. And of course my love of history.

  2. #2
    Arrogant Ashigaru Moderator Ludens's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Re: The Last Stand of the Spartan League

    Very good storytelling, !
    Looking for a good read? Visit the Library!

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    The Scourge of Rome Member Spartan198's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Last Stand of the Spartan League

    Awesome tale,La Hormiga. Fantasic read.
    My Greek Cavalry submod for RS 1.6a: http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?t=368881

    For Calvin and TosaInu, in a better place together, modding TW without the hassle of hardcoded limits. We miss you.

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