Thursday, 12 September 2013


Using Hotz ships scaled down to 66% of their 1/300 size and a ground scale of 1/500.
Figures 6mm with one paper element standing for c. 5 men or 1:1 if desired.



86 ships in 3 divisions as follows:

16 ships from previous summer
Mindarus' squadron of 55 including some Syracusans
One division of faster ships

left (Mindarus) 25 fast ships

right (Syracusans) 25 ships : can either be with reinforced bows or not

centre 36 ships


76 ships in 3 divisions as follows

Thrasylus' left wing – 25 ships

Thrasybulus right wing – 26 ships

Centre – 25 ships


The battle is fought as three separate engagements which influence each other.

The number of ships required is just about 1/3 of the original number but the game is actually played with a 1 for 1 representation of ships.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013



The Athenian view as they approach Cynossema

160 is a lot of ship models on the table.

Scaling down somewhat is a solution but not too wildly or it loses the character of a battle.

I count on triremes for the most part.  This is how Thucydides usually reckons fleet strength. There would have been additional smaller vessels for scouting, communication and support.


Assuming the fleets had to prepare, and then row at 5 knots to get to Cynossema they should have sighted each other mid to late morning. If we make it 10 o'clock then there are 10 hours of light for battle.
SE side of Cynossema : cliff-beach


The board should have one edge representing the shore of Cynossema: the southern side and point at least.
The shore is rocky in places with occasional narrow sandy beaches which a trireme could drive up on. 
Headland of Cynossema : was rocky, now fortified
Behind the shore is a cliff line in most places which is not sheer and is vegetated but 20 to 30m high. The point must have been rocky in 411bc before harbours or fortification changed it.
View NE along south side of Cynossema: top of cliff above beach
No peculiarities of the waters are mentioned by Thucydides but it is well known the area has a strong surface current flowing to the Aegean. These can be up to 7 knots. However, there are occasional small counter-currents which, close to the shore, in places flow towards the Sea of Marmora. Later Roman writers mention the current but their accounts of the battle are  confused. It is relatively easy to see where currents run from sattelite photos.

Prevailing winds in the sailing season are north easterlies.
In addition, an afternoon wind blows from the north west across the strait.
View NW over Dardanus

Thucydides does not mention any unusual weather conditions.


The battle can be divided into 3 actions. This gives a manageable number of ships.
The three actions can be linked with some rules as per multi-table games.


Now the Athenians saw the moment to use their superior seamanship when and where it could count.

The Peleponnesian left  were following the Athenian right but unable to catch them. When they had enough sea room and perhapss saw their pursuers tiring or falling into disorder, the Athenians turned on them.

The Athenian centre squadron had beacked onto shore and abandoned their ships. They were followed up onto land by the crews of the Peleponnesian centre and some sort of scrappy land battle developed.

The Athenian left held their own against the Syracusans - maybe seeking some revenge for the Sicilian debacle.

Now it was the Athenians who delivered the periplous on the Peleponnesians! They turned to port and came round onto the rear of the enemy fleet. The Peleponnesian left and centre were disordered and caught at a disadvantage, the perfect situation for effective ram attacks.

It may be significant that this manouvre was executed by the Athenian commander, Thrasybulus, maybe with his best ships against the Peleponnesian commander with his fastest ships. Putting the enemy commander out of the fight - Alexander style - may have contributed a lot to the loss of heart by the Peleponnesian fleet who had already had success in routing the Athenian centre.

Many of the Peleponnesian fleet simply fled before the Athenians as their battle line was rolled-up. They fled north to Abydos or to take refuge in the mouth of the river Midius. The Athenians lost 15 ships and the Peleponnesian fleet, 21 ships. Being outnumbered, and having their centre so severely mauled did not allow the Athenians to take best advantage of their victory but a demonstration that Athens was still supreme at sea was more significant than the casualty list.


The battle proper started with the Peleponnesians attempting a periplous with their left.
This was a crucial part of their tactics and for this purpose they had a picked squadron of fast ships to outrun the Athenians who wers till reckoned to be dangerous opponents ship for ship despite the losses of the Sicilian expedition.

The Peleponnesian centre and right just had to drive into their outnumbered opponents and trap them against the coast.

The Athenian left managed to stay off the coast and, though pressed fought on north of Cynossema.

The Athenian centre was driven into shore and severely handled by the Peleponnesian centre.

The Athenian right saved the whole battle for their side. They beat the Peleponnesian's fastest ships off the blocks and outran them to evade the periplous, running before them to avoid their pursuers and keep the whole Athenian fleet from being hemmed into the Hellespont.


The fleets formed lines to face up to each other at some point. Hard to say where exactly.Probably they never really formed up to face before phase 3 was under way. However, the map shows approximation of the two fleets facing up to each other and shows they stretched over some way.

Thucydides comment that the Peleponnesians reached from Abydos to Dardanus actually fits, more or less.

Both sides hugged their own shore to have one secure flank as they approached. The Athenians had the most hazardous shore with rocks and shallow water.


CYNOSSEMA : ATHENS AT BAY : (Thucydides Book 8, 99ff.)

Having suffered the ignominious disaster of the Sicilian adventure, Athens now had the problem a Peleponnesian fleet operating in the Hellespont which could interfere with supplies from the Black Sea.

An Athenian fleet sailed into the Hellespont to meet the Peleponnesians who were based at Abydos.

The two fleets met at the narrowest area of the Hellespont, near the promontory of Cynossema - headland of the Bitch's  Tomb, where Hecuba, wife of Priam had been buried after she was metamorphosed into a dog and drowned.

The fleets approached in column and when it was obvious they must clash in the narrow waters they both formed their battle line.

(THE FLEETS APPROACH : should be Peleponnesian LEFT  :))

According to Thucydides it was only during the course of the battle that the Athenian left sailed past the promontory, becoming detached from the rest of their fleet as they did so. This means that the two sides initially faced each other some distance to the west.Therefore the Peleponnesians  must have been able to sail past Cynossema with their left (leading) squadron to form a battle line.

The Peleponnesian strategy was to execute a periplous to their left and thus cut the Athenians off from the open sea and trap them in the Hellespont. Thus the 86 Peleponnesians may hope to defeat the 76 Athenians. Simultaneously, a forceful attack in the centre across the narrow waters should lead to the Athenian centre running out of sea-room and going aground or at least falling into confusion on the shores of Cynossema.

The Athenian centre was driven into the coast but the Peleponnesian periplous failed and the Athenian right turned the tables to execute their own periplous on the over-extended  Peleponnesian left.

The Athenian left and Peleponnesian right were engaged north of Cynossema in an equal struggle.

The Athenian right was now able to sweep north and take the Peleponnesians in the flank and rear, especially the centre which had lost order as it rushed to send some troops on land and tried to finish off the disorganised Athenians facing them.

The Peleponnesians broke and fled northward where they could easily find refuge in Abydos and the mouth of the River Midius.

Athens had won a victory against a larger fleet at a crucial time when they desperately needed a filip to counter the Sicilian tragedy.

This battle has many elements which lend themselves to an interesting wargame.
  • Not too many ships involved
  • Confined waters
  • Combat onshore is possible
  • The underdogs win

Back at the steering oar..

Working on the rules again after summer sailing with viking galleys.

Time to develop a scenario from an historical engagement. After much searching settled on Cynossoma from the later Peleponnesian war.