We’ve all seen that completely accurate historical documentary known as ‘300’, right? Well, there’s the article – that movie has everything you could ever need to know about Spartan warfare; just go and watch it!
Clear sarcasm aside, for all that it’s functionally a work of fiction based on a comic book, ‘300’ does a good job of introducing people to the very basic concept of the Spartan army of the Greco-Persian wars of the 5th Century BC, as well as the (heavily-mythologised) Battle of Thermopylae, and showing them off as complete badasses – always a good incentive when you’re looking for a new army to collect! Let’s step away from fiction, and have a look at what the Spartan military was actually like, as well as how you can use them on the tabletop!
Sparta, one of the pre-eminent city-states of Aegean Greece, has been the source of enormous fascination, even since its own era. A hyper-militarised society, built on a foundation of iron discipline and utter intolerance of weakness, the Spartans have been revered, reviled, and fetishised in equal measure, but even without fiction they’re a fascinating society and a rewarding army to put on the tabletop.
The product of an incredibly harsh schooling system (the agoge), the Spartan soldier’s military service was inseparable from his citizenship, and lifelong military service was in fact the defining condition of a Spartan citizen, who could expect to spend his life between the ages of 20 and 60 in a state of constant training or active campaigning. Naturally, this produced an incredibly well-disciplined, fit, and brave force of men who held bravery as the supreme virtue, and this proved to be a massive advantage in the hoplite warfare of the period (which we’ve covered in more detail HERE). Other aspects of Spartan society, particularly farming, were handled by the helots, a class of state-owned slaves, or by the Perioeci, who were free but not considered true citizens, being merchants, tradesmen, and the like. In war, both of these ‘lower’ classes might be expected to serve as light infantry and skirmishers, but the real weight of a Spartan force was made up of the citizen-soldier hoplites.
For all their society was almost entirely subordinated to the business of warfare, the Spartans were not particularly innovative in terms of tactics or strategy, and fought much like any other hoplite-based army… just better! Using the same equipment as their peers, the distinguishing marks of a Spartan were his red tunic and cloak, and his long hair (considered unfashionable elsewhere in Greece), and the fact that he was likely to be far fitter and more determined than his counterpart from another city-state. While Greek shield decorations are well-documented, there is little evidence to suggest conclusively to what level this is uniform – however, the use of the Lambda symbol by the Spartans has entered into popular consciousness, and is absolutely the one I’d choose to put on the shields of a Hail Caesar force!
So we’ve talked a little bit about the background of the Spartan army – but what are they like on the tabletop in Hail Caesar? For that, we reach for our trusty copy of Hail Caesar Army Lists – Biblical to Early Medieval! On page 34, we find the Hoplite Greek army list, which includes the Spartans – naturally, these heavy hoplites are the cream of the crop, with a great stat block and Drilled, Stubborn, and Elite to go with it. While they’re not cheap at 41 points per unit, Spartans fight better when they’re outnumbered – just look at Thermopylae! What’s also really cool is the option to upgrade your general to a Spartan, giving him a leadership of 9 and doubling the attacks he adds to his unit in hand-to-hand combat to a whopping 12! It’s not mandatory for him to look a bit like Gerard Butler, but it does help! In addition to the hard-as-nails hoplites, the list includes plenty of light infantry and skirmisher options – after all, those helots may as well be good for something!
When assembling your Spartans, there’s a couple of really easy ways to get started – the Spartan Starter Army does exactly what it says on the box, netting you a massive 160(!) hoplites, plus a unit of slingers and an exclusive metal command team (resemblance to Butler, G, included) at an amazing discount, allowing you to get a force on the tabletop in one convenient package, while the Army Muster bundle is the perfect way to add a new division to an existing army or start a brand new one, with 120 hoplites and a free pair of Spartan generals. Either of these are great ‘plug and play’ solutions, while the rest of the Aegean Greek range gives you loads of options for filling out the rest of your troops. It honestly couldn’t be simpler!
Don your red cloak, take up your spear, and come back with your shield or on it.
“SPARTANS… WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION?”