The Battle of Marathon
Fast Play Rules For Students

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By Matt Fritz

Version 2: This is the second version of the Battle of Marathon Rules. The original version can be found here. The rules have not been changed. New battle reports and pictures were added, and the order of battle was revised.

Historical Background: The mighty Persian Empire was more than a little annoyed when the Greeks encouraged the Ionians to revolt. After crushing the revolt King Darius decided to punish the upstarts. In 490 BC he led an army of over 40,000 soldiers into Greece. There they faced a force of 10,000 Athenians on the plains of Marathon. The Athenians surprised the Persians by charging them. The strategy worked, and they routed the much larger force, driving them into the sea. This battle was recreated twice for my students in grades 6 - 8. It was a good choice for the first battle of the school year since it was strictly an infantry fight.

Battle 1: As the Greek hoplites rapidly approached the Persian lines they were targeted by accurate and effective fire from the Persian skirmishers. On the Persian left flank King Darius personally directed the fire, to devastating effect. Finally the Greeks reached the enemy and charged, turning the tide of battle. The Persian skirmishers were quickly scattered. Darius ordered some of his elite Immortals to reinforce the center. They stemmed the tide, but suffered terrible casualties. A small group of Greek archers took up a position near the center of the battlefield where they became a real nuisance, harassing the Persian heavy infantry at every opportunity. A frustrated Persian commander ordered his infantry to turn their bows on the Greek skirmishers, and the Greeks were buried under an avalanche of arrows. On the Greek right flank a small group of infantry were cut off and surrounded by the Persians. The Persian commander demanded their surrender, but they vowed to "die like Spartans." Big talk coming from a bunch of Athenians. But they were true to their word, and the Persians were forced to detach a large infantry force to finish off the stubborn Greeks. As the battle neared its end the Persians sent in the last of their Immortals. They drove into enemy with ferocity before being cut down by the Greeks. In the end the Persians sent in the last of their fresh reserves, and this proved decisive. The Persian had won the battle, but at terrible cost. Darius had lost the heart of his army. He issued orders for his men to withdrawal to their ships. The invasion of Greece was ended, and Athens was saved.

Battle 2: The second battle was an interesting contrast in strategies. The Greek commanders wanted to close with the enemy as quickly as possible so they could take advantage of their superior infantry in close combat. The Persians wanted to delay this confrontation so could exploit their edge in archery. The Greeks rushed forward behind a screen of skirmishers, and the Persian skirmishers kept up a deadly barrage while retreating. Finally the frustrated Greek commanders sent their infantry ahead of their own skirmishers to drive off the Persian archers. Their depleted battalions forced their way past the Persian screen and came to grips with the enemy infantry. Savage fighting broke out all across the battlefield as the combatants settled their grudge with spears and shields. On the Persian left an astute commander made quick work of his Greek adversary. On the Persian right the tables were turned, and the Greeks gained the advantage. Slowly the Greek attack lost steam, and the Persians pushed them back. The Persians won a close fought but decisive victory and succeeded in changing history. A triumphant Darius ordered his men to get some rest and be ready to march on Athens in the morning.


The Armies: The Greek and Persian armies were built from the Italieri sets of 1/72 scale plastic figures (5 boxes of each) mounted two per base (1.5" X 1"). Skirmishers were in single rank lines (3-6 stands), and formed infantry were in double rank lines (6-10 stands). There were five Generals on each side. Some of the Greek javelin skirmishers were used on the Persian side. All Persians except the javelin and sling skirmishers are assumed to have bows. Persians with large rectangular shields were classified as heavy infantry, and ten stands of these were Immortals. Persians holding bows, slings, or javelins were treated as skirmishers, all the rest were regular infantry. All Greek infantry were treated the same except for their skirmishers (figures with slings, javelins, or bows). Here are some paper soldiers you can print and use.

5 Commanders
13 units Infantry (6 bases each)
2 units Javelin Skirmishers (3 bases each)
4 Archer Skirmishers (3 bases each)
2 Sling Skirmishers (3 bases each)
5 Commanders
2 units Immortals (5 bases each)
4 units Heavy Infantry (6 bases each)
4 units Regular Infantry (6 bases each)
8 units Javelin Skirmishers (3 bases each)
8 units Archer Skirmishers (3 bases each)

The Board: The battle was played on a flat 7.5 X 5 table. The armies were deployed about 18" apart.

Sequence of Play:
1. Greeks Move
2. Greeks Shoot
3. Persians Move
4. Persians Shoot
5. Charge into Melee
6. Melee

Movement: All units move 6". On turn one any Greek unit may make a double move. Skirmish units may move in any direction. Formed units are limited to wheels and obliques of 45 degrees.

Shooting: Skirmishers and formed Persian infantry are allowed to shoot. Roll 1D6 for each stand in range. Every 6 is a hit and one enemy stand is removed. If any part of a unit is in range the entire unit may fire. Units that are engaged in melee may not fire, and may not be targeted.

Charge into Melee: Both sides may charge into melee. This is the only way to get into hand-to-hand fighting. Units may charge up to 6", but may only move if they can reach an enemy unit.

Melee: Each side rolls 1D6 for each stand in the fight. The Close Combat table shows the number needed to score hits. Remove one enemy stand for every hit. Both sides roll simultaneously. If both units still have stands left they remain engaged and fight again next turn.

Last Stand: If a unit is reduced to one stand this last stand is removed immediately.

Generals: Generals may not be targeted individually. If they are attached to a unit they count as an extra stand in melee (but not shooting). If the unit they are attached to loses stands in melee roll 1D6. If the roll is a 6 then the General is eliminated.

Close Combat
Weapon Hit #
Greek Infantry 5-6
Persian Heavies 5-6
Persians Regulars

Skirmishers 6

Any vs. Skirmishers 4-6
Shooting Table
Weapon Range
Bow 12"
Sling/Javelin 6"
Infantry 6"

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