Guest Article: Oblique Order

Absolute Wargames is a new blog about military tactics and their applications in strategy games, which is a brilliant topic. It’s also done in both French and English. Luc was kind enough to send us this article, the first half of his analysis of the Oblique Order and how it’s used in Rome: Total War and various games. For more, be sure to check out his blog. But in the meantime,

1 – What is this battle?

The battle of Leuctra takes place in a post-peloponnesian war Greece. Sparta has a great influence and nearly rule all of Greece. Thebes is one of the few Greek city who managed to get through the Peloponnesian war without suffering to much, and taking the whole Beotia under her influence. Due to diplomatic issues during a peace treaty meeting, Sparta and Thebes enters in war.

The battle of Leuctra is the battle who ended this war by a Thebian crushing victory over Sparta. Witch was quite a surprise at this time. Sparta was reputed to be invincible on the battlefield, and had superior number. This victory was mad by Epaminondas, who broke all the hoplite war rules during the battle. Instead of putting all his troops in a line deep of 12 men and his elites troops at the right, he put a 50 rows deep phalanx and his elite troops on his left (in traditional hoplite war, the left is supposed to be the weakest post, were you put your worst troops or disloyal allies you don’t care to see die), the rest of his troops in refused position (they had the order not to engage the Spartans).

The battle was fought in a few parts:

1. The theban cavalry crushed the Spartan cavalry

2. The two armies march

3. The super-phalange and elites theban troops enter in contact with the ennemi right wing, the super-phalange literally crush the Spartans elites warriors, killing their king (Cléombrotus I), his elite bodyguards, his top officers and more than the two third of the Spartan “Homoï” (a spartan social cast composed only of elite warriors, trained since their childhood, they were about 2 – 3 thousands at that time, around 700 participated to the battle and around 400 – 500 died).

4.The rest of the spartan army, seeing the destruction of their right wing, flee.

Picture from: Wikipédia


Theban: dead: 47 to 300 (of around 7000 soldiers, including cavalry)

Spartan: dead: 1000 to 4000 (including 400 to 500 hundreds elite warrior + king + top officer of about 11000 soldiers, including cavalry)

2 – Oblique order in XVIII century warfare

The XVIII mark the definitive superiority of rifles and canons over melee weapons. During the XVII century, the great question was: I put my men in lines and have them fire or I put them in tight pack and have them charge? In the XVIII century, this question is done, armies are able to stop almost any charge with firepower. The basic strategy was to put all his men in line and have them using all possible firepower. The oblique order, invented by Frederick II of Prussia consist in outflanking enemy wings with a swift maneuver, this way his whole army could fire but the enemy could just fire with a very few men.

This strategy has proven herself on many occasion during Frederick campaigns, but almost disappeared withe him, to get a second youth with Napoleon. The limit of this technique is the experience and training level required from the soldiers that use it, explaining why only the Prussians, and later the the french “Grande Armée” used it. At the time, to meet the necessary numbers, armies recruited in masses from the lower social orders, and those recruits were recalcitrant to training. Only Prussian army had the necessary training, and later the french troops, who got their experience from the numerous Napoleonian campaigns, to put this technique on a battlefield. If any other army had try this strategy, the battle were very likely to turn to a disaster for them.

Rome Total War Test:

The Siege of sparta:

The battle takes place at the start of a Macedonian campaigne. There have been a few battles before this one, but each times, my army wasn’t numerous enough in infantry to use it (each time I had only a handfull of militia hoplites and a big number of light lancers). This battle, I had only infantry except for my general. And I faced spartan hoplites. Here are the few pictures from the battle I took:

1 The besieged sally out! (Computer doesn’t give me a single chance for the battle: ratio about 4:1 against me)

2 The time they come, I organize my armie:

As you can see, I have two units of levy pikemans and two units of militia hoplites+ my general.

In front of me two units of hoplites and one of spartan hoplites.

I put my levy on the left telling me that they will break my ennemy’s left wing, turn and put in pieces his center and right wing. I still couldn’t know witch of my enemies where the spartans.

3 First choc

My levy meet the enemy’s left wing, which was composed of simple hoplites. The problem is that the enemy doesn’t break. And my levy right wing is exposed to the spartans. I didn’t wanted at first, but I send my miltia to block the spartans.

4 Second choc

The levies face the hoplites, the spartans are stuck with my militia, and there were still no one to break. At the speed it was going, it could have last for 2 hours without anything new appening, so I used y general to flank the hoplites+ my second militia to flank the Spartans

5 Starting to get messy

A few charges later from my general, and the battle start to look like that, the flank by my my militia is a complete fail but, thince one of my levies engaged the spartans, their enormous flank is exposed to both my first militia and general.

6- Smelling bad for greeks

Due to over exposed flanks and repeated charges, the spartans have broken and have been literally exterminated, and so for one of the hoplites.

You can guess the end, the last hoplite unit broke, and I send what’s left of my general unit to eliminate them definitely, and my general manages to get himself killed by some defense tower (probably one the stupidest general death I ever get)…

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