Peloponnesian Wars
(Introducing the 'Aegean' variant)

By Jean-François Georget
(Translated from French by Claude Lacassagne)

1. Introduction

'Hellenes, ye must guard the pass by Olympos, in order that both Thessaly and the whole of Hellas may be sheltered from the war. We are prepared to join with you in guarding it, but ye must send a large force as well as we; for if ye shall not send, be assured that we shall make an agreement with the Persian; since it is not right that we, standing as outposts so far in advance of the rest of Hellas, should perish alone in your defense: and not being willing to come to our help, ye cannot apply to us any force to compel inability; but we shall endeavor to devise some means of safety for ourselves.'

Is this a final and desperate PRESS FROM THESSALIA TO BOEOTIA, ATHENS AND SPARTA?  A BROADCAST GREY made by the Persian, intended to confuse people? No. These are Thessalians representatives' words delivered to Greek cities' delegations, called together on Corinth's Isthmus in 480 BC to face up to Persian threat. (Reported by Herodotus in his History, VII, CLXXII, translated by G. C. Macaulay)

Another example:

'And be assured of this, if by any chance ye were not assured of it before, that so long as one of the Athenians remains alive, we will never make an agreement with Xerxes. […] Now therefore, with full conviction this is so, send out an army as speedily as ye may: for, as we conjecture, the Barbarian will be here invading our land at no far distant time but so soon as he shall be informed of the message sent, namely that we shall do none of those things which he desired of us. Therefore before he arrives here in Attica, it is fitting that ye come to our rescue quickly in Bœotia.' (Herodotus, ibid., VIII, CXLIV)

We would like to know the contents of the PRESS FROM ATHENS TO PERSIA that preceded this one!

Such is the reason why I have devised Aegean - because on reading Thucydides or Herodotus one feels as though one were engaged in an exceptional game of Diplomacy, a game in which the players are not only cunning strategists, but gifted writers and talented diplomats.

The story begins with a minor fight between the Ionian League and its powerful neighbor the Persian Empire. It ends some two centuries later with the breathtaking solo performance of Alexander, king of Macedonia.

2. "La Géographie, ça sert d'abord à faire la guerre."
('The main use of geography is in warfare' - to borrow the title of French geographer Yves Lacoste's book)

A few minutes exploring The Diplomatic Pouch will be enough to see the enormous number of variants of the game. It came as a surprise to me that among more than a hundred of them only very few were devoted to Ancient Greece, whereas several important ones are about Rome.

I personally side with Allan B. Calhamer in thinking that a "game should be as simple as possible, so long as the game is of indeterminate length and reasonably rich in strategic choices." According to this opinion, my purpose was to devise the simplest variant, the one closest to the Standard game, at once avoiding over-specific rules and yet remaining true to the historical and geographical reality of Ancient Greece.

The first condition was not to locate the game at any precise date: at no time in Greek history before Alexander can one find forces numerous enough and geographically balanced to justify an interesting adaptation of Diplomacy. Either the powers were too small (archaic cities, for example) or there were too few of them (Sparta, Athens, and Persia in the fifth century B.C.). My solution was to situate the game not at a given date, but within the limits of a well-defined period - the so-called 'classical age,' from the early Medean Wars to the crowning of Alexander the Great, covering the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.

Five nations were prominent then: Athens, Sparta, Thebes (the Boeotian Confederacy), Macedonia, and Persia. The necessities of the game called for two more:

  • Ionia: though it never materialized into a state, it was nevertheless an important cultural and artistic center in archaic times, and boasted several naval cities, such as Chios and Samos, later to be integrated into the Athenian Empire. Its rebellion against Persia was the starting point of the Medean Wars.

  • Thessaly: famous for its cavalry, whose misfortune it was to coalesce into a federation precisely when Philip of Macedonia started building in its vicinity an overpowering irresistible kingdom.
Therefore, the date at which the game begins is totally arbitrary (475 B.C., just after the Medean Wars). But as the Ken Lowe Judge works with positive dates only [Ed.: The Pouch's judge, the DPjudge, does handle "negative" dates], and since the Greeks computed time from the first Olympic Games (776 B.C.), 475 B.C . becomes 301 after the first Olympiad (S301M).

Aegean Map

As to territories. I have tried my best to keep to the known borders of the various cities, countries, kingdoms, federations or Persian satrapies. The smallest territories, though, have been suppressed or reorganized, hopefully without damage to cultural or historical integrity. Thus I have had to downsize Athenian possessions, allowing the city only one dominion in the Aegean Sea, the Delos Sanctuary facing alone the Ionian navy. If Athens is bent on a maritime empire, it will have to build it up in the course of the game. I have also included Naupactus, which in reality was a loyal ally of Athens, in the Boeotian Confederacy, which otherwise would have been too weak. The location of supply centers was defined more in accordance with the requirements of the game than on a historical basis, although they are all cities or sanctuaries which were actually or symbolically important. Ithaca or Troy, for example, had no major role in the classical age, but it would have been frustrating to leave them out and not to revisit the Iliad (the Trojan War) and the Odyssey (Ulysses' return to Ithaca).

Similarly, the maritime provinces have retained, if not their complete historical reality, at least a sort of geographical relevance. The intricate outline of the Aegean space, with its peninsulas, isthmuses, islands and archipelagos, on top of the economic and strategic importance of the maritime space and of insular territories, absolutely required a few specific rules listed and explained below:
  • Six Athenian, Ionian, and neutral territories are 'insular centers,' that is sea-bound countries, conceived as both sea and land. There are none in the standard rules, but they exist in some variants. A fleet in such a district can convoy an army. Conversely, no army can go there unless it is first convoyed, or unless a 'bridge' connects the territory to the mainland, or again unless part of the territory is on the mainland (such is the case for Ithaca). These six centers are Ithaca, Aegina, Delos, Lesbos, Chios, and Samos. Obviously, it is more profitable to control these centers with a fleet rather than an army, but one cannot be sure. Delos might serve as a convenient relay station for troops on the way from Europe to Asia....

  • In contrast to the Standard game, there are no distinctions between coasts in the three territories which have two seafronts (Corinth, Megara and Thebes). Although it seems to us unlikely that a fleet arriving in Thebes via the Corinth gulf would next leave it via the Euboic gulf, yet it is true to historical reality and to the very plain fact that boats and crews carried so little weight as to make transfer by land easy and frequent. The isthmus of Corinth, moreover, offered early in Antiquity a canal which made the crossing of this strategic obstacle even easier.

  • Similarly, armies would have had no problems in negotiating the Straights (sailing coastwise). Hence the presence on the map of thirteen 'bridges' between neighboring inland provinces or between one of them and a few islands off the coast. These bridges help in making the game less constricted (they solve such questions as how to enter Peloponnesus or to cross Propontis). The specific rules concerning these bridges are explained in the help file of the 'Classical' variant, to which I refer the reader. Just remember that the crossing of a bridge by an army in no way affects the movements of fleets 'under' the bridge.

  • When Athens eventually built up its maritime empire, the cities it conquered were immediately required to sustain its military power: Samos and Lesbos provided a number of ships yearly, other cities paid tribute, all to the same end. Similarly, the allies of the Peloponnesian League provided Sparta with troops, in the same way as the provinces under Persian dominion. So it would have been irrational to allow constructions only to national centers: the powers may launch constructions, as in the 'Aberration' variant, in any of the free centers they rule over so long as they hold on to at least one of their original centers.
One last point: to prevent isolation and the subsequent excess of tranquillity enjoyable by corner powers such as Sparta, Macedonia, or Persia, I have deliberately tried to 'bring together' neighboring countries. Distances from East to West in particular are considerably shortened by the greater extension of land and sea provinces (Thrace or Cretan Sea, for example), so as to increase the relations between Europe and Asia. For the same reason, extensive territories to the periphery allow for quicker movement around. Basically, the map should be seen as circular, with Delos, the 'navel' or 'omphalos,' at the center, two maritime inner powers (Athens and Ionia) and five inland powers adjacent two by two.

Aegean Map

Aegean Map

Yet one should not make too much of this apparent circularity: it covers a strong dissymmetry between ancient Greece, with its numerous provinces and centers, and the more sheltered territories on the periphery to the North and in Asia Minor, with their looser structure and their fewer centers. A quick survey of the available centers (38 of them altogether, which means that victory is obtained when 20 have been secured) and of their location on the map shows two main structures, of vital importance to those that crave hegemony:
  • a binary structure: 19 centers are in European Greece, if one includes Thessaly and leaves out Delos and Dodona; the other 19 are elsewhere on the map, to the North, in the Aegean sea and in Asia.

  • a ternary structure: 12 centers are in central and southern Greece: Boeotia (except Lamia and Chalcis), Athens (except Delos) and the Peloponnesus; 13 in northern Greece, Macedonia and Thrace; 13 in Asia Minor and the Aegean sea.
All this is true to the facts of the age; whilst the old cities, enclosed in restricted areas, fought over trivial questions, new powers that had for long been looked down upon as barbarians in spite of their Greek culture took a broader and more prospective view of things, settled on the margins of the Greek world and rang the knell of their preeminence (Macedonia, later on the Hellenistic kingdoms that superseded the Persian Empire, finally Rome).

3. 'For I dread our own mistakes more than our enemies' designs.'
(Pericles, reported by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War, I, CXLIV)

The 'Aegean' variant aims to simulate with a fair amount of realism, and chiefly maximum playability, the wars between seven hegemonic nations of similar force in the Aegean world in the classical age. Those seven powers are fairly balanced, yet far from identical. One of the great pleasures afforded by Diplomacy rests on the particular nature of each of the nations concerned, its assets and its flaws. On this point too I have tried to stick as much as possible to historical and geographical truthfulness, at the same time as I preserved the balance of forces. Here is the description of each of the seven participants.

(If the reader wants to know more about openings in Aegean, I refer him to the excellent article of François Laude - that will be soon, hopefully, translated and published on the web).
A. Old Greek Cities: Athens, Boeotia and Sparta

This threesome is a recurrent feature in the classical age; Athens, Sparta and T hebes (The Confederacy of Boeotia) had enjoyed prestigious status from archaic times; they had never ceased fighting for supremacy until they were eventually vanquished by Philip of Macedonia. Of course, there was too little space in central Greece and Peloponnesus to give free scope to all three ambitious cities. These three countries together can control at the beginning of the game as many as fifteen centers or more. The problem for them is to share dominion equitably and to avoid wasting their strength in trivial fights, thus allowing free play, especially on sea, to the countries on the periphery. Alliances between two of them against the third are thus to be expected, while each has to keep an eye on its rearguard both on land and at sea.


Athens is central in Aegean. Early in 301 it is in a position to control two places of major strategic value: Delos, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, and the Isthmus of Corinth, the nodal point of ancient Greece. Standing thus at the crossroads potentially attracts greed, therefore the Athenian 'strategos' has to be more watchful than anyone else of everybody. It is not a really maritime power, at least in its early days. The neutral centers in its vicinity (Megara, Corinth) are on the isthmus. What Athens has to fear is the cities inland (its long-standing rivals Sparta and Thebes), the borders off which need fortifying, before it can contemplate to go to sea - supposing Ionia does not interfere. Thus Delos at the beginning is more of a liability than a strategic asset. One can imagine that Athens would be ready to give it up to Ionia so as to concentrate on its enemies to the West.

The Athenian leader might first think of these possibilities:

  1. 'The Aegean opening,' with Ionia as a target and maritime development as a long term aim: that is clearly very risky and implies at least strong alliances with Sparta or Boeotia and Persian connivance.

  2. 'The Isthmus opening,' which implies that Ionian neutrality has been obtained (Ionia is probably quite willing to fight against Persia). Two alternatives open up at this stage:
    • 'The Peloponnesian variant,' resting on help from Boeotia; this is probably the most natural move, or at any rate the easiest initially. It aims at the elimination of Sparta.

    • 'The Theban variant,' resting on alliance against Boeotia with Sparta. Its aim is the sharing out of central Greece with Lacedemonia and Thessalia before going out to sea.

Landlocked as it is, with a scanty maritime involvement (initially restricted to the Ionian sea), Boeotia may seem vulnerable. Yet it has a few assets; Boeotia is the only country that can easily rely on an additional three centers within the first year (Lamia, Chalcis, Olympia or Ithaca are eligible). There is no doubt that diplomacy plays a vital role in such a country with many neighbors; more particularly, the Theban 'boeotarch' will have to negotiate the distribution of neutral centers with Thessaly and to convince the latter to look northward. An unplanned war with Thessaly always proves lethal to Boeotia. It is of primary importance to Boeotia to control the gulfs of Corinth, Patrae, and possibly at a later time the Euboic gulf as well; the sea means a defensive barrier rather than an opportunity for development.

At least three options are available to Thebes:
  1. 'The Sacred Union' with Athens, which is probably the safest and allows the quickest growth at first. It entails collaboration with the Athenian fleet to resist Spartan expansion and the sharing of the neutral centers with Thessaly. If this alliance holds, another two possibilities open up:

  2. 'The Lamian War,' in which the Boeotian league fights against Thessaly (an interesting possibility if the Thessalian opens up northward) while Athens fights against Sparta. 'The sharing out of Peloponnesus' with Athens after ensuring the neutrality of Thessalia, or at least trying to contain Thessalian ambitions to the North.

  3. 'Attica's Invasion,' a dangerous radical move which is likely to be more profitable to the neighboring countries unless a strong bond with Sparta and/or Thessaly has been established and the complicity of Ionia secured.


Sparta is probably most privileged of all as far as defense goes; it is protected by its corner position, the presence of neutral spaces to the north and vast expanses of sea to the east, where Ionians and Persians are fairly distant. An inland nation Sparta at first controls only a few maritime outlets; challenging Crete might trigger off an untimely war with Asian countries. Besides, it can rely on only one or two neutral centers: Argos and/or Olympia. With this in mind, the occupation of Arcadia, the nodal point of Peloponnesus, becomes vital, and its loss fatal to the Spartan power.

The Lacedemonian leader must first consolidate his prominence in Peloponnesus; then - a hard task indeed - devise his release from its limits. The king of Sparta will have to choose between alliance with Boeotia and alliance with Athens, at the same time keeping at a distance intruders from Ionia and Persia in the Cretan sea, provided his northern neighbors do not enter into an alliance against him. 'The Theban Alliance' may serve to free the fleet from its defensive role and make for a quicker maritime expansion to the East, while 'The Athenian Alliance,' although it is rougher to handle, would open up interesting possibilities in the Ionian sea and later in northern Greece when Athens takes to the sea. Last but not least, Sparta must preserve its relations with more distant powers; it would have to support Thessaly against Thebes, Ionia against Athens and Persia, all the while keeping Peloponnesus from turning into the epicenter of the turmoil.

B. North Greece: Thessaly and Macedonia.

Although Thessaly, contrary to Macedonia, plays an early part in Greek history, it is a minor one as provider of horses and horsemen when necessary in a major war. Those two vast territories, on the margins of the Greek world, are regarded as backward or barbaric by the older southern cities; they became organized and unified quite late, in the course of the 4th century, the former as a confederacy of cities ruled by an elected 'tyrant,' the latter as a kingdom firmly held by an ambitious dynasty. Unlike their southern neighbors, those two powers may evade involvement in warfare at the beginning of the game; both must consolidate their borders by ensuring domination over the strategic centers or territories close to them. Are they to be firm allies or inimical brothers? Which option they choose is a determining factor for the rest of the game.


Like Sparta, Thessaly initially enjoys a rather privileged position, insofar as its neighbors can derive no profit from a hasty challenge: Macedonia has an eye on Thrace, Lemnos and the Straights (but also on Dodona) and Thessaly is sheltered by a line of neutral centers from the Boeotians. The task of the T yrant of Pherae is to try to reassure the Boeotarch so as to come to an agreement on a fair distribution of these neutral centers (possibly to be ignored if convenient...). For Thessaly grows rather slowly, has only few easy potential extensions, and limited maritime openings, at least at the beginning. The Pherae fleet cannot sail far, and shipbuilding facilities in Ambracia and Dodona come up late (Winter 302). The Thessalian Confederacy therefore has only two strategic possibilities, but as has already been mentioned its choice is all-important for the rest of the game; one can expect its leader to be courted by Boeotia and Macedonia as well as by Persia or even Ionia and Athens. It is up to him to make the best of these alternatives.

There remain two options:
  1. The so-called 'Sacred War' (on account of the Delos sanctuary), based on a strong alliance between Thessaly and Macedonia, one of the two countries rushing southwards and the other eastwards. Although it seems an obvious natural choice, it might prove risky for Thessaly, inasmuch as an uncontrolled Macedonia could be dangerous. The Thessalian leader must at least make sure that Boeotia, for a start, turns southward (an alliance with Sparta or Athens against Thebes would be useful), so as not to mark time in the shadow of a budding Alexander.

  2. 'The Stab in the Back' of Macedonia; properly handled, it might be less risky than it seems, provided diplomats do their job carefully with Boeotia. Only a slight push is needed to launch the Macedonians into an Eastern campaign. Consequently, the occupation of the Thermaic gulf by a Thessalian fleet in Spring 301 means serious problems for Macedonia.


Macedonia enjoys a privileged position in an angle but its growth may prove slow and difficult. The Macedonian leader's priority, whatever his strategic choices at the start, must be an alliance at all costs (or at least his neutrality) with the tyrant of Pherae, so as to avoid a Thessalian version of Trafalgar in the Thermaic gulf. He must also try to prevent a possible alliance between Persia and Ionia which he would be sure to suffer from. Finally, control over the two seas serving as borders to his territory is vital to the Macedonian king, as hostile presence off his coasts would bring about his defeat. His is a difficult choice in early 301: should he look South or East? Both options raise serious problems and imply a very carefully devised preparation.

  1. 'The Byzantine Venture' is tempting and promising, provided he has achieved an alliance with Thessaly and obtained the help of Miletus; crossing the Straights is risky, and he must be careful not to allow Ionia the biggest piece of the Persian cake.

  2. 'The Conquest of Greece' is no easier, but it can be achieved if Macedonia has lulled Thessaly off its guard by fine promises and can take it by surprise. This opening is in the long term more productive, but an initial failure might bring to an end the hegemonic ambitions of the Macedonian.

C. Asia Minor: Ionia and Persia.

Ionia, the initiator of the Medean wars, was the thorn in the side of the Great Barbarian, and the force that triggered off the fall one hundred years later of one of the most powerful and extensive empires recorded in history. These two powers are radically different. Ionia is genuinely Greek in its culture, its restricted territory opening out on to the sea, its internal wars, its democratic tyrants. Persia is typically oriental, mostly a huge expanse of land, vigorously ruled by a godlike monarch who delegates his functions to powerful satraps (governors), such as the Satrap of Sardis in Asia Minor. Persia is obviously a super-power, but its size is at the same time its weakness, insomuch as it entails considerable delay in putting its resources to use and managing them. The Aegean Sea to Persia is little more than a distant backwater far away from Persepolis. Everything contributes to making these two countries radically inimical, which is most profitable to their Western neighbors; all the same, an improbable alliance between them could be most dangerous, should one control the Aegean sea and the other invade Thrace.


The Ionian territory, bound as it is between the sea and the Persian Empire, seems very vulnerable. Yet, Ionia is fairly safe from the inroads of the Barbarians thanks to the insularity of two of its centers as well as to the deficiencies of the Persian navy. Ranking as a major naval power, Ionia must extend its domination in the Aegean Sea and as the same time protect its rearguard from Persian assaults. Its first efforts will have to go westward, where it is likely to conquer its first centers: Lesbos is sure to be conquered, Delos, Rhodes and Cnossos are also within its reach.

The 'Tyrant' in Miletus can consider two possibilities:
  1. 'The Aegean opening' needs a strong alliance with Persia, which might consist of a pre-arranged distribution of the insular centers to the South (Rhodes and Cnossos), unless the Great King agrees to break up his south fleet and to lose Halicarnassus, counterbalanced by Lesbos for instance. Once the Persian and the Ionian have settled their neighborly quarrels, an alliance between them is apt to be a lasting powerful arrangement (an Aegean juggernaut?). Ionia's first target will then be Delos, and the second to eliminate Athens for good, so as to establish a thalassocracy that no one will challenge.

  2. 'The Persian opening' seems more natural, but how is one to go at a landlocked giant with three fleets? Sardis, where the Lydian Satrap dwells in summer, at the heart of Aegean Persia, is initially out of the reach of Ionia. An alliance with Macedonia and the neutrality of Athens are necessary, and probably easy to achieve but equally easy to lose...


The most privileged country at the beginning on account of its four centers, Persia nevertheless is a vulnerable colossus; its position on the margins is a handicap more than an asset: Ionia stands in its way to Greece, and its two separate fleets will find it difficult to reach the Aegean Sea. Moreover, Persia has only one available neutral center, Troy; the Halicarnassian fleet alone cannot hope to get Rhodes or Cnossos without proper negotiation; as to Byzantium, it might be claimed by Macedonia.

The Great King has a choice of two options:

  1. 'The Ionian war' until Ionia is completely destroyed, is tempting yet difficult, since Macedonia may run the risk of a Byzantine venture and cross the Straights. Such a move goes with an alliance with Thessaly, provided one has made sure that the Tyrant of Pherae will rush in from the North. Ideally, an alliance with Athens is then to be achieved, for Ionia cannot afford to fight on two fronts.

  2. 'The War of the Straits:' The conquest of Byzantium may be followed up by an extensive assault in Thrace against Macedonia. Here again, cooperation with Thessaly would help, but even more helpful would be an alliance with Ionia or a least its neutrality, which can be made up for, although at a high price, by the negotiated total defeat of Halicarnassus. If the great King can control the Thracian Sea, he can have high hopes indeed, including that of reenacting the second Medean war.
4. Conclusion

'For in dealing with neighbors, it is always equality of force that guarantees liberty; and when the contest is against men like these, who are trying to enslave not only those nearby but those far away, is it not necessary to fight to the very last?' (From the exhortation of Pagondas - Theban boeotarch - to Boeotians, before Tanagra's battle against Athens, during the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, IV, XCII, translated by Charles Forster Smith.)

How admirably serene is this statement, which declares that it is the usual practice to enslave one's neighbors, provided one does not aim at hegemony! It is a beautiful rendering of the unwritten law of Diplomacy, a law which is for ever being debated and never clearly defined, according to which any attempt at solo action must be countered by the unconditional alliance of the survivors, and that in any case success in a solo is merely the consequence of the enemy's errors.

Just imagine the situation if all the cities had stifled their disagreements and fought together against Macedonia: would Alexander then have succeeded in his solo?

This lengthy presentation, hopefully, will not detract the reader from trying 'Aegean;' he will perhaps be tempted to explore the subtle ways of Aegean geostrategy. I shall be only too happy if even a few are attracted and play the game spontaneously.

Here is a list of useful hints:

  • Where can you play Aegean? On the Judge USTV ( and, hopefully, on other Judges soon… The maps of games in progress are at

  • Where can you find information, files and maps? On the website of the French Judge FROG, at You can find there maps, files, a short history of Ancient Greece, and all files you need for installing the variant on Realpolitik, with beautiful icons designed by François Laude.
My very special thanks to Millis Miller, Judgekeeper of USTV, who has spent a lot of time and attention installing and testing several versions of the variant; to Philippe Lalande, Judgekeeper of FROG, who gives a home to my files; to François Laude and Pierre Fedon, who have had a hand in the final adjustments and in the first tests of Aegean on the Judge; and to many others who have helped, encouraged, criticised, and advised me, and played with me the first test games.

Jean-François Georget

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