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  • Martin Boulter

Clash of Empires The Battle of Marathon

Updated: Apr 12

As a prelude to the release of the Clash of Empires Hellenistic game I have decided to do a recreation of the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) using the Hellenistic Battle System rules.

The Battle of Marathon 490 BC

The Battle of Marathon came about because of an Achaemenid Persian expedition to subjugate Greece and punish Athens for giving aid to an Ionian revolt in Asia Minor. As soon as the Athenians learned of the arrival of a seaborne Persian invasion force, they requested aid from Sparta and prepared themselves for battle. The Spartans were willing to send reinforcements, but they were delayed by a religious festival. Under the command of Callimachus and with Miltiades as chief strategist the Athenians and their allies the Plataeans mustered an army about 10,000 strong and took up a defensive position on a narrow plain at the bay of Marathon where the Persians had just disembarked from their ships. The Greek army was made up of heavy infantry only and was at a serious disadvantage against the superior Persian cavalry force. This advantage, however, was thrown away when the Persian commander Datis decided to re-embark a large part of the Persian army including most, if not all, the Persian cavalry. It was his intention to leave a sizeable holding force of about 20,000 troops at Marathon to keep the Greek army pinned down while the rest of the Persian host sailed down the coast to attack Athens. However, Miltiades guessed the Persian plan and counselled that only by an immediate attack and quick victory would the Greeks be able to save Athens. Without delay the Greek army advanced towards the Persians in a long phalanx formation the centre of which was weaker than the flanks and thus by such an arrangement would be able to promote an encircling movement. Such was the speed of the Greek advance that the Persian archers who were the mainstay of their army were given very little time to shoot their arrows. As soon as the two lines met and the melee commenced the Greek centre, as expected, began to give ground while the powerful striking force on each flank pushed back the lightly equipped Persians. Thus, the Persians became outflanked in a double pincer movement and as their line compressed, they lost all cohesion and broke. Panic stricken the Persians ran towards the shore to get to their ships and in the chaos that followed they are reputed to have lost 6,400 killed and many captured. In contrast the Greeks only lost a fraction of their force and crucially they still had time to double back for the defence of Athens. When they saw that their plan had disastrously failed the Persians decided upon a strategic withdrawal back to Asia.   

Clash of Empires

The Clash Battle System may look a bit daunting at first glance but as with any strategy game there is a set procedure to follow. In the case of Clash of Empires the main principles are set out below.

Battle System Procedure

After rolling for Initiative the Battle Roll for each side consists of the following:-

Battle Dice (highest scoring die only).

Plus Combat Rating to Fighting Bonus (dependent upon number of units).

Plus Special Bonus (activated by odds or evens Battle Dice).

Plus Advantage Dice (representing numerical, tactical or any other special advantages).

The highest score wins and the difference between the two scores determines the number of casualties.

With the supporting information in the rule book this procedure can be used to recreate any historical ancient battle or any variation thereof.

What follows is an interpretation of the Battle of Marathon using the Clash of Empires: The Hellenistic Game rules. Please note that the Battle Log can be as basic or as detailed as the players want. The following lengthy interpretation is intended to show how the Clash Battle System can be used to recreate what is essentially a large and complex battle. The Greek army is made up of Citizen Hoplite Phalanx units which has an initial 2D6 Battle Dice and a Combat Rating (CR) of which depending upon the number of army units converts into a Fighting Bonus (FB). In contrast the Persian army has an initial 2D6 Battle Dice and a Combat Rating of ❶. Only the highest scoring Battle Die is used and an odds or evens score is required to activate an army’s Battle Bonus. This being Hoplite Phalanx for the Greeks and Arrow Storm for the Persians. If Initiative is won as well then this special bonus is doubled.

  Ancients Battle Log

Domain = Athens


Battle = Marathon             Date:  Year 20 Turn 8  


Battle Dice

No. of Units

CR to Fighting Bonus/ Battle Bonus if applicable

Battle Advantage Dice

Total Score

2D6 -1 


= 5

2D6 = 4 and 2

(Highest die only)




(10,000 troops)

 +4 FB Battle Bonus

1D8 (x2) = 5 x2 =10              

Tactical Advantage +1D6

                                (1D6 = 3)

4 + 4 + 10 +3 = 21

Player A: - Twenty years after the end of the Athenian ‘tyranny’ Athens is forced to defend itself against Persia. As the chief strategist of the Greek force Miltiades is ranked as a Great Commander 2D6 for Initiative (Highest scoring die only). The Greeks have a Citizen Hoplite Phalanx Army with 2D6 Battle Dice and a Combat Rating of . However, they have no Cavalry upgrade and a -1 penalty to Initiative due to the unwieldy nature of a phalanx and its vulnerability to flank attack. Nevertheless, the Greeks still win Initiative by rolling a 6 which is downgraded to a 5. After winning Initiative and gaining a +1D6 Tactical Advantage the Greeks advance rapidly towards the Persian host and successfully activate their Hoplite Phalanx Battle Bonus of 1D8 (odds or evens Battle Dice) the score of which is multiplied by 2 because they won Initiative as well. They roll a 5 which multiplied by 2 equals 10. This together with their highest scoring Battle Die, Fighting Bonus and Tactical Advantage gives them a Battle Roll (Total Score) of 21. This gives a battle winning difference of 6 which on the Casualty Table equates to 50% losses for the Persians and 15% for the Greeks. This means that the Greeks lose 1 unit of troops killed and wounded.     

Domain = Achaemenid Persia


Battle Dice

No. of Units

CR to Fighting Bonus/ Battle Bonus if applicable

Battle Advantage Dice

Total Score


  = 3          

2D6 = 6 and 5

(Highest die only)




(20,000 troops)

  +5 FB                Battle Bonus    1D6 (x2) = N/A

Opponent outnumbered +1D6

                           (1D6 = 4)              

6 + 5 + 4 = 15

Player B: - The Persian holding force at Marathon is commanded by Artaphernes who is ranked as an ordinary commander 1D6 for Initiative. The Persians have a Feudal Sparabara Army with 2D6 Battle Dice and a Combat Rating of . Due to a tactical error the Persians have deprived themselves of their Cavalry upgrade along with its +1 to Initiative and skirmishing bonus for Deadly Shots. Things get worse for the Persians when they lose Initiative and fail to activate their Battle Bonus which is Arrow Storm (odds or evens Battle Dice). Instead, they roll one odd and one even number so there is no bonus. Nor does their slightly higher Fighting Bonus and numerical advantage save them. The Persians score 15 and suffer a major defeat losing 8 units.

The Battle of Marathon provokes a number of "What if" questions that might be answered by the game. For instance, "what if a sizeable force of Persian cavalry was present with its +1 to Initiative (those vulnerable flanks) and a potential of up to 10 extra points on their score? Or, "what if the Spartans had arrived on time for the battle with their Combat Rating of and a higher Battle Die? The variations are almost endless and they can all be quickly investigated with the Clash of Empires rules.

The Athenians and their allies clash with the Persian diversionary force at the bay of Marathon where they win a great victory. To their utter disappointment the Spartans arrive too late to take part in the battle. Figures by Irregular Miniatures from their 25mm Greek & Persian range. Painted by Silurian and from the author’s own collection. The numerical strength of each army is denoted by blank coloured poker chips. Game board from the Clash of Empires: The Hellenistic World Game.

The Greek hoplite phalanx closes with the Persian sparabara at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Miniatures a mixture from Essex and Magister Militum from their 15mm Classical ranges. Painted by Silurian and from the authors own collection. Army composition produced by the Clash Conversion Table for Wargaming.

Clash of Empires also provides the complete campaign system for wargaming incorporating map, campaign setting, quick battle rules and the facility to convert Clash army units into wargames bases for any size battle with wargames figures.


Dupuy, R. E. and Dupuy, T. N. 1993: The Collins Encyclopaedia of Military History. Harper Collins Publishers. 

Mellersh, H.E.L. 1995: Chronology of the Ancient World, 10,000 BC – AD 799. Helicon Publishing Ltd.

Scott, J.C.1977: The Greek and Persian Wars 500-323 BC. Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Article Front Page Picture

The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece, fought between Athens, aided by Plataea, and the Persian Empire. After the painting by Allan Stewart, (1865-1951). From Hutchinson’s History of Nations, published 1915. After Alamy (IY04212203).

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