THE BATTLE OF CORINTH (Part 3 of 6)
IAXS Project # 08
By lrdnlson@capital.net
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
2993 words


Note: The following is Part 3 of THE BATTLE OF CORINTH. We recommend that you read Part 1 and Part 2 first.
--The Editors


STRATEGY FOR OFFENSE
STRATEGY FOR DEFENSE
THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS
THE BATTLE OF MEGARA



STRATEGY FOR OFFENSE

[65] The copper scrolls read:

"Since Athens remained the single most important threat to Thrace and to Amphipolis, I resolved to destroy Athens as a military power. But, Athens is a very large city, built on very rough terrain on a peninsula and the city has built the largest navy the world has known. However, I possessed the Island of Euboea partially surrounding the Attic peninsula. Therefore I intended to either: 1. draw out the Athenian army onto ground of my choosing and crush it, or 2. surround and cut off the city by land which would give me control of the sea surrounding the Attic peninsula and starve Athens into submission. So, I tried by intrigue to induce the Athenian Army to leave the city and seek me out. This failed for the Athenian council was, like all politicians, prone to dithering. Since a land battle west of Thebes was possible, but not probable, I ordered my army to prepare for an invasion of the Peloponnese for the purpose of taking Corinth, which would close the noose around Athens. If Athens falls as well as Corinth, I should have been able to cow both Argos-Mycenea and Sparta into submission."

[66] Thus began the planning for the first known combined arms offensive in history. The terrain of Greece, as was said earlier is very rough and it is often indented with deep bays akin to Norwegian fjords. The terrain of the Isthmus, Attica and the Peloponnesian Peninsula are no different. The Isthmus is very narrow and mountainous with only one decent area for a road bed along its southeast coast. Athens, the strategic objective of the campaign, lies on the south coast of the Attic peninsula in the midst of some very high mountains. The entire peninsula is partially guarded from the northwest by a line of mountains called Ohiakori and Ptoon Oros that runs roughly southwest to northeast from coast to coast. This line, about 5 miles west of Thebes is the jumping off point of the offensive against Athens via Corinth. Behind that line Xena gathered approximately 52,000 troops, 40,000 infantryman and 12,000 cavalry. The immediate campaign objective was to drive south to take the town of Megara on the south coast of the Isthmus. (See Figure 1) The cow track on the northern coast of the Isthmus was to be taken by a flank guard of about 7,200 troops of all arms while the majority of Xena's forces took the well paved road that ran from Megara to Corinth.



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[67] This circumspect path was taken out of fear of one man---Hercules. The fear of the greatest hero of history's repute was so great that Xena felt that one defeat by him would cause her entire army to rise against her and go home. Therefore Xena considered that extreme caution was necessary. At the opening of the offensive, the Son of Zeus's whereabouts were not known. Thebes, while a considerable size town, was thoroughly cowed by the size of Xena's forces. Nevertheless, Xena, out of respect for Hercules' home town did not enter or try to recruit there. Indeed with some deft negotiations, she had even received permission to cross Boetia without interference, a status which changed drastically after the Battle of Corinth.

[68] What takes this offensive out of the ordinary of ancient troop movements are its sea borne components. Two, large seaborne strikes were to be coordinated with the land offensive. Xena's most senior subordinate, Draco, lay with two thousand men in two hundred ships in Andkerion Bay. Two days after the time of the jumpoff of the land attack, Draco was to begin rowing the thirty miles across the Corinthian Gulf to strike at four points along the southern coast of the Gulf including the port of Aristonautes. At Aristonautes Draco was to strike with the bulk of his forces, approximately One thousand infantrymen and one hundred horsemen. The remaining eight hundred infantrymen and one hundred horses were distributed throughout the remaining thrusts. The closest attack to the approach march of Xena was at Vrachati. There Draco sent his remaining one hundred cavalrymen with orders to make contact with Xena's main body as soon as possible.

[69] It was expected that the port of Aristonautes would be defended, but because of the small size of the port, the garrison was expected to be small. Xena sent a reconnaissance party to the port by small boat to assess the situation and they reported facilities for no more than five hundred warriors. Approximately two hundred troops were found, but to Xena's shock they turned out to be Centaurs. The fight was expected to be short but bloody.

[70] The most daring part of the plan was the amphibious assault on the left flank of the offensive. Coordination for this assault was very difficult for the force's base on the island of Euboea was some eighty miles away from the landing beach north of Epiduros. The distance is long and the sailing would be against prevailing headwinds. The commander of the Immortal Regiment, Estragon, was ordered to sail a full week prior to the date of the main attack's jump off, and to keep the force of one hundred and fifty ships out of sight of the Peloponnese if it arrived early. It is twenty miles overland over rough terrain from the beach to Corinth, but Xena couldn't afford to leave her left flank exposed from the land while her forces gathered in front of Corinth. The elite status of the force for this landing compensated for the distance, for the Immortals were used to making very long forced marches without support.

[71] The main body of Xena's army was not the end of her resources. She had carefully prepared ground in the Peloponnese by undertaking contacts with large bands of roving brigands that were scattered throughout the mountainous Peninsula. None of the various leaders of these bands had any interest in politics but they were VERY interested in riches, which Xena was only too happy to provide. From fragmentary segments of the copper scrolls it could be determined that these brigands were bought off with huge sums provided that they do two things for her. Block the roads from Sparta and Argos, and provide information about the movement of Spartan and Argos troops. For this purpose these criminals proved to be surprisingly reliable. They provided the information that allowed her to salvage a draw from a position near Corinth that could have proven disastrous.


STRATEGY FOR DEFENSE

[72] Both Sisyphus and Tyldus realized that Xena must be forced onto the defensive if either of their forces were to survive. The garrison at Corinth was very small. Most of Sisyphus' manpower was tied up in the large Corinthian Navy. The King of Corinth also realized that it would be impossible to reduce the number of troops assigned to the Navy because of the threat posed Athens against him. Even if Sisyphus stripped his naval vessels of crew the total amount of men he could expect to add to Corinth's walls would have been less than 10,000 men. So Sisyphus had to keep what troops he had available behind the city's walls. The Key to the defense of Corinth depended upon Tyldus' Centaurs. Unfortunately for both of the Kings, the geography of Greece was not helpful. Greece's rough terrain badly affected the effectiveness of Centaur troops.

[73] Centaurs, while very mobile on flat or rolling terrain have a great problem climbing steep hills or mountains quickly. A human can much more easily climb such obstacles. The area in which Xena had chosen to strike left Tyldus' forces at a grave disadvantage. The sweeping formation attacks that are the signature of Centaur tactics were denied them. Tyldus had little choice but to hide small bands of his best troops in small valleys and canyons in order to harass the flanks of Xena's forces as she moved south to Megara, while the bulk of Tyldus' forces retired as best it could to the southwest. Additionally, Sisyphus stationed the bulk of his land forces in the Megara area in hopes of holding that town. Tyldus did the same keeping large numbers of centaur troops close to the passes over the Oros Patera north of Megara. There was better terrain available but it was much nearer to Corinth. Tyldus hoped that he would be able to gather a majority of his army in the plain that lies to the north of the present city of Isthmia in order to fight a delaying action. But the greatest hope the King of the Centaurs had lay much farther to the south in the two mountain passes that lay immediately south of the Corinthian plain.

[74] With the help of some engineers Sisyphus was to spare from Corinth, Tyldus built obstructions across those passes including abatis and artificial landslides. He also had wooden stockades and redoubts built on the hillsides and summits of the hills east of Aghiononori, Tretos Mountain, Polypheg Mountain, and Megalovouni Mountain. These were both offensive and defensive sites. Tyldus planned that after the retirement of his forces to these rude fortifications a defensive battle could be fought followed by an immediate offensive that would force Xena back down into the Plain of Corinth where the mobility of the Centaurs could be used to his best advantage. All of these plans were predicated upon Tyldus's army surviving to reach his works. He was outnumbered three to one.


THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS

[75] "After receiving intelligence reports from my men in the Megara area stating that there was a large force of Centaurs north of that town and that they were beginning to fortify I resolved that the moment to strike had arrived."


[76] Xena did exactly that. At midnight of the morning of the attack, large cavalry forces embarked on Xena's left and right flanks to cover the coming assault. Additionally a large screen of mixed cavalry and light infantry moved out in open order to screen Xena's movements and hunt out possible centers of resistance. An hour before dawn the main body of Xena's army, close to fifty thousand troops of all arms moved out. The weather was on Xena's side. The offensive stepped off during a howling winter storm.



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[77] Tyldus had indeed stationed troops in the most likely routes through the Attic mountains but Xena had deliberately chosen to move the bulk of her forces off the road towards a high pass across the Orkitharion Mountain. This pass was considered to be too narrow for a significant number of troops and very difficult to approach. None of the scouting centaurs had believed that a large army would attempt any movements in such inclement weather and many of the small parties were surprised and eliminated by the flank screens and the forward detachments. Xena had achieved complete tactical surprise. By the end of the first day, the forward cavalry screens had reached the edge of the Megara plain and had reconnoitered the positions that they had found there. They found nearly 22,000 Centaurs bivouacked and some minor preparations for defense under way.

[78] Tyldus' Centaurs had only just arrived and they were tired and demoralized after they had been brutally chased out of Thessaly. Tyldus had no way of knowing that a huge blow was again headed in his direction. Not only had Xena eliminated nearly all of the forces that Tyldus had picketed to his north, but also she had sent several hundred of her troops disguised as refugees to go to Megara and report that the Warrior Princess had stopped and was heavily fortifying her Attic line. Tyldus thought he had been afforded an opportunity to rest and reorganize. He hadn't been.


THE BATTLE OF MEGARA

[79] After ordering her army to bivouac without fires just south of the Okitharion pass, Xena herself rode to her forward lines and reconnoitered. She assessed the reports and determined that the bulk of Tyldus' force lay in a single large camp to the northeast of Megara and that a smaller camp of Sisyphus's troops lay to the northwest of the town. The possibilities seemed endless. Both camps could be surrounded and annihilated. A thrust between the camps would separate them from support. The entire force could be bagged or pushed into the Saronic gulf. Xena immediately ordered the troops awakened (after about 2 hours sleep) and the cavalry screens withdrawn. She ordered the bulk of her cavalry to join the flank guards and they assembled in the mountains northeast and northwest of town. The main body of the army was to assemble in dead ground in the mountains due north of Megara. Deeming that deploying into formations was a waste of time under these circumstances Xena determined that four columns would jump off at first light. The main body would debauch from the pass down the main road and along the edge of the mountains. The cavalry on both flanks would strike overland towards the Athens-Corinth road. There were two objectives to the attack. Divide and surround the two camps and block the Athens-Corinth road to prevent a retreat.



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[80] Ordering that anything that could rattle be left behind, Xena took the main body from its assembly area and marched it down the road to the town. The signal for the cavalry to jump off was a roll of kettledrums from the Army band playing a set rhythm, as well as a flight of fire arrows from archers with Xena's headquarters company. The jumpoff went without a hitch. The Centaurs were further fooled for the signals happened during a thunderstorm, so the lights and the drumming were lost in the lightning and thunder. When the army was well down into the plain and the light beginning to rise Xena commanded the charge and another flight of fire arrows was launched, starting the battle. The stratagem worked for Tyldus and his forces were caught totally flatfooted.

[81] The primary objective of the assault was the town of Megara itself . If the town was taken and held there would have been no possible retreat for the Centaurs who would then have found themselves surrounded on three sides by Xena's army and on the fourth by the sea. However, not everyone was asleep in Tyldus' camp. When the yelling of Xena's men was heard those troops who were awake shook their shock off quickly and tried to counteract the threat as quickly as they could.

[82] The shock in toto was monumental. Most of the troops in the two pockets, both Centaur and human when confronted with 50 plus thousand screaming troops broke and ran towards Megara. However, the small garrison of Sisyphus' men in Megara kept their heads and fought like madmen to keep the road open. Here the great speed of the Centaur trooper manifested itself. Despite the fact that the camps by now had been thoroughly penetrated by Xena's men, thousands were able to outrun Xena's infantry to the road. Xena had lost control of her forces to an extent in the poor visibility and many of her men went into the camps to kill Centaurs and loot rather than take the town. This allowed tens of thousands of centaurs to pass through the town and go westwards into the Isthmus. Sisyphus camp was far less lucky. The cavalry coming from the mountains to their east swept the sleeping men into Xena's main infantry army where most were cut down by either missile fire or the sword.

[83] The battle would have been a disaster for Tyldus were it not for the two thousand or so troops of Megara's garrison. Skillfully the commander of the garrison (who's name is not yet been discovered) had built a hasty wooden stockade around the town and had barricaded all the houses. The woman and children had been evacuated to Corinth when Xena's army had been discovered holding its start line in Boetia. There this man, his two thousand men and about one thousand Centaurs in one of the most valiant actions in military history, fought like lunatics to keep the road open for the fleeing Centaurs although they were outnumbered over ten to one. The house to house fighting was the some of the most vicious that had been seen up to that time. For nearly 3 hours Megara did not fall allowing close to eighteen thousand Centaur troops to pass through the town and strike at Xena's cavalry force that blocked the western road. Outnumbered close to five to one, the cavalry retired to the north to reorganize. Finally the town was taken with Xena herself leading the final assault to the beach.

[84] The battle did not turn out to be the easy victory that Xena had thought it would be initially. The extreme mobility of the Centaurs and the courage of the defenders of the town had prevented it from becoming a battle of annihilation. Nevertheless, Nearly all seven thousand of Sisyphus's forces including the town garrison had been eliminated. Five thousand Centaurs had been killed. Xena's casualties were comparatively light coming to less than two thousand. But Tyldus had escaped to fight again. As for the commander of Megara, on the evening of the day of the battle Xena threw him a banquet from the food liberated from the town and she feted him as a great warrior. The next morning she challenged him to single combat and slew him rather than have him somehow return to Sisyphus' command and aid the King in the organization of further defenses.



Continued next month in Part 4



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