Ram or Die! - The Battle of Salamis (480 BC)
Fast and Easy Rules for Students

< Home >

By Matt Fritz

Historical Background: The Persian invasion of Greece launched by Darius in 490 BC failed when the Athenians won a great victory at Marathon. After Darius died his son Xerxes resolved to succeed where his father had failed. In 480 BC he bridged the Hellespont and invaded Greece with an enormous army. Despite the heroics of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae the Persian army seized Athens, forcing the inhabitants to flee. Victorious on land, Xerxes concentrated on defeating the Greek navy. His fleet outnumbered the Greeks by about 3:1, but the Greeks drew him into a trap. His fleet was soundly beaten. The defeat of the Persian navy forced Xerxes and his army to retreat back across the Hellespont bridges, ending the invasion.

Battle 1: The Greek navy hung back, trying to lure the Persians into the narrow channel. The Persians obliged them, charging in with a dense concentration of ships that made maneuvering impossible. They were met at the narrowest part of the channel by a brave advance guard of Greek Triremes. The Greeks bottlenecked the Persians with effective ramming and boarding attacks. The frustrated Persians struggled to find a way to get through the Greeks and deploy their full force. After many frustrating moments they broke through on the right flank and poured through the opening. Finally able to deploy freely they turned the flank and attacked ferociously. The Greeks put up the best defense they could, and held the line for a time, but were worn down by the larger Persian fleet. The battle ended in a victory for the Persians.

The Fleets: Right now there aren't any cheap plastic trireme models available in a small enough scale for this battle. Here are some paper ships you can print and use. Ships should be mounted on 2" x 1" bases.

The Board: The Greeks lured the large Persian fleet into a narrow waterway. The Persians were unable to comfortably deploy their entire fleet and this tipped the odds in favor of the Greeks. The coastline should be clearly marked on the battlefield.

Deployment: The fleets should begin at least 12" inches apart as shown on the map.

Greek Fleet

25 Triremes

Persian Fleet

50 Triremes


Sequence of Play:
1. Persian Move
2. Ramming & Boarding
3. Greek Move
4. Ramming & Boarding

Movement: Ships can move 6" per turn. It costs 2" of movement to turn 90 degrees or less. Ships can move backwards at half speed.

Ramming: In order to attempt a ram a ship must move 3" straight ahead and contact an enemy ship. The ship can maneuver into position before moving 3" straight ahead, but the 3" ramming run cannot include any turns. The most effective tactic was to ram the enemy in the side. Determine whether the ram was a side ram or front/rear ram. A ship that has rammed an enemy ship rolls one die and checks the Ramming Table for the results. A ship that is sunk by ramming is removed from play.

Ramming Table
Attacking Ship

Die Roll to Sink Enemy Ship

Side Ram

Front/Rear Ram
Greek 3 - 6

 5 - 6
Persian 4 - 6


Boarding: If two ships end the move in contact because of a failed ramming attack, or regular movement that didn't meet the requirements for a ram attempt, the crews of the ship will fight. Each player rolls one die. The player that rolls higher wins the fight. Greek ships win ties. The crew of the losing ship is eliminated. The losing ship should be marked as captured but it remains on the board. Captured ships cannot move or fight. The winning ship can move normally during it's next movement phase.

Optional - Hex Map: The rules could be easily adapted to be played on a hex map. Hexes should be small, 3" or less. Ships would be required to face one of the sides of the hex. Change the inches of movement to hexes - ships can move 6 hexes. A ship can turn one hex side (60-degrees) at a cost of 2 hexes of movement. A ship must enter the enemy's hex to ram, otherwise two ships cannot occupy the same hex. Boarding and grappling is allowed against ships that are one hex away. Side rams are defined by the two hexes on each side of the ship.

< Home >