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Feb 22, 2004
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An Empire in the West: A Syracuse AAR


'...the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all...'
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Second Oration against Verres"

Greetings all! Having played a little with this game I've decided to succumb to the AAR bug and try my hand at some writing.

Some of you are probably wondering why I picked Syracuse. Well, for one it struck me as a nice compromise between playing a minnow waiting to be squashed and playing an existing major power. Syracuse is not so big as to immediately give me headaches trying to control everything in a still unfamiliar game but at the same time she offers a lot of possibility for expansion and danger. In some ways she's not that different from Rome - a scrappy up and comer.

Of course I could have actually gone with Rome herself and nearly did, but I liked trying to see how a Greek approach to empire building might function and, to be honest, @Bullfilter's superb Roman AAR for the original EU: Rome left me feeling like I'd have a lot to live up to!

Finally I've always had an interest in Ancient Greek culture, religion and warfare. Syracuse seemed to be a nice blend of the Diadochi states and the old Greek city states. It is a cosmopolitan blend of peoples and ideas like the former while still being very centred on one particular polis like the later.

Anyway, enough rambling. I hope you'll join me as I attempt to build an alternate great power in the Mediterranean Sea via trial and error...

Good luck @RossN , and I am so glad you finally made an AAR! Your stories are always a marvel to read!
Thank you very much for that kind shout out :). I’m sure this will be excellent and I look forward to learning about the new game with you. I will get it eventually, but want to finish the aforementioned Rome AAR first. Best of luck in this Brave Ancient World!
Early start. Early read. Will undeniably fall behind. But at least I'm here! :p

Good luck Ross. Though you hardly need it. ;)
Greetings all! Having played a little with this game I've decided to succumb to the AAR bug...
Once you're infected with this bug, there's no cure :eek:
I have really enjoyed your History Book style of AAR and I have been really curious about Imperator so this is a definite follow for me (I honestly want to get I:R when it goes on sale and maybe do an AAR of becoming a big Celtic/Gallic empire).
Introduction: The Greeks of Sicily
Athena vs Enkelados.jpg

Athena battles Enceladus.

Introduction: The Greeks of Sicily

Deep beneath Mount Etna a shattered monster lies imprisoned by the gods. The streams of lava that belch from the mouth of the volcano are his rage, the shaking of the earth his twisting and turnings in his futile attempts to get free.

Greeks being Greeks they know there is a monster but they disagree which monster. Some say it is the hideous spawn of Gaia and Tartarus the hundred headed Typhon struck down by Zeus when he sought to overthrow the cosmos. Others believe him to be ill-fated Enceladus, the giant who so unwisely battled Athena and the grey-eyed goddess hurl the whole of Sicily upon his head conclusively ending the battle.

That is the riddle of Sicily. Born in violence, dominated by a volcano that ever threatens to erupt yet the soil from that same volcano is some of the richest anywhere and draws men from across the known world. As Typhon battled Zeus and Enceladus fought Athena so their struggles are mirrored in the wars of mortals. Certain Greeks, generally those living far from Sicily's shores have philosophical or theological thoughts about that. Their more pragmatic brothers are too busy fighting to reply.

The Greeks were not the first people to leave their mark on the large rich island beyond the Ionian Sea. 'Trinacria' as the Greeks once called Sicily from its 'three points' was home to the warlike Sicanians who dwelt there since time immemorial, later joined by another Italian people known as the Elymians with the groups collectively called by the Greeks the 'Siculians'. These native Sicilians would in time be joined by foreigners, colonists from the distant cities of Phoenecia who peppered the coast of the island with their settlements long before the rise to dominance of Carthage and her sway over the Punic peoples.

Finally in the middle of the 8th Century BC came the Greeks. The same wave of colonists that lapped against Italy, the Black Sea and Asia Minor left its stamp on Sicily as Dorians and Ionians founded cities. The poleis quickly grew in size and wealth and traded and fought with each other and their cousins in the Greek colonies of mainland Italy. Fabulously wealthy for grain, wine and olives Sicily became a centre of the Greek world and some of the cities grew very strong indeed. By the late 5th Century Syracuse, a city founded by Corinthians was rivaling Athens herself in scale and prosperity. It was the thought of such a prize that prompted the disastorous Athenian expedition that did so much to break the back of Athens power during her long war against the Spartans.

The early rulers of Syracuse had ambitions of their own. It was not enough to possess to grandest Hellenic city outside Greece. The Syracusans wished to dominate Sicily. During the 4th Century the Syracusans ruled alternately by democratic assemblies and unelected tyrants would wage many wars for control of the island. Most of the other Greek cities were willing to submit to Syracusan dominance but the native Sicilians and the Phoenician colonies of the west had other ideas. They were prepared to resist and at times to assert their own authority over the aggressive sons of Syracuse.

While Syracuse had gained ascendancy over the Greeks of Sicily a still stronger power was rising to her west. The mighty city of Carthage in North Africa had gained independence as the old Phoenician state of Tyre had faded. The Carthaginians had carved out a substantial base of power in Africa, restored and repopulated old Tyrian colonies across the Mediterranean Sea and created a vast commercial empire. No seaport in the West and few in the East went unvisited by the trading galleys of Carthage and beyond those canny merchants lay the greatest navy in the known world. If any one power could lay claim to Poseidon's realm it was Carthage the magnificent.

The Greco-Carthaginian clash was not one of opposing cultures determined to obliterate each other. Both Greek and Phoenician traded with each other, hired each other as sellswords and signed treaties. They were ambitious and territorial commercial rivals. Of course there was a certain amount of cultural posturing. To the Greeks the Carthaginians, like all non-Greeks, were barbarians with their foreign gods, outlandish clothing, peculiar manners and strange language. However only the willfully blind would overlook Carthaginian brilliance at sea, or their cleverness as traders or even (though this was admitted grudgingly) their talented generals. Carthage, though an impressive
polis did not wage war with her own soldiers. Instead with their near bottomless purse they could call upon the resources of thousands of mercenaries from Libya and the Baleric Islands and far off Spain. It was a potent combination as the Greeks had found their cost.

From the late 6th Century on the Greeks and Phoenicians had repeatedly clashed in Sicily and over time the other Phoenician colonies had become Carthaginian satellites. The Greeks did themselves no favours by their own feuds between polis and polis and Ionian and Dorian. For two centuries Sicily was a battleground, a fabulous prize worth any amount of bloodshed.

While all this was going on the native Sicilians (Siculians) remained mostly passive observers, controlling their own territory in the centre of the island. Some of their number had instead settled in the Greek and Phoencian cities, adding a strain of their own culture to the heady brew that gripped most of the quarreling towns scattered across Sicily.

In 317 BC a man named Agathocles seized power in Syracuse. Agathocles was a Sicilian Greek from the minor city of Himera on the North coast, scene of great Greek victory over the Carthaginians more than a century before Agathocles had been born. As a youth his family had moved to Syracuse and here the young Agathocles, tough and shrewd had proved himself a thorn in the side of the oligarchs who ruled the city. Twice the would be ruler was banished for his involvement in attempts to overthrow the government. When he returned it was with an army of mercenaries and a sworn oath that he would obey the new democratic constitution of Syracuse. Scarcely had he made it than he broke it making himself Tyrant of Syracuse and banishing his rivals. From there he made himself master of the Sicilian Greeks. Even then he was not a young man, for he had been born five years before Alexander the Great. As both his friends and foes knew he had the energy and appetites of a man half his age.

Unfortunately for Agathocles and his followers the war against Carthage did not go well. On land his forces were defeated and Syracuse itself was besieged though the Carthaginians proved incapable of taking the heavily defended city. Agathocles with a band of desperate and loyal (and desperately loyal) followers took ship for the African coast, evading the sleek Carthaginian war galleys. In Cyrenacia he ingratiated himself with the Macedonian governor of Cyrenacia, a soldier named Ophellas. Ophellas was an adventurer in his own right who had led a fleet for Alexander in the distant Indus and married a descendant of Miltiades. Now a loyal governor to Ptolemy and his control of Egypt Ophellas still retained the old flame of ambition and at the urging of Agathocles joined forces with the wily Sicilian to fight Carthage.

In 308 BC Ophellas joined his army of Athenian mercenaries with Agathocles's band of Syracusians at the borders of Carthage's African territory. The Macedonian was welcomed grandly - and briefly. Agathocles attacked and killed his erstwhile ally, took over his roops and commenced his own war on Carthage.

The Tyrant of Syracuse proved a shrewd general and for a time he inflicted a string of defeats on Carthage. However in the end numbers told and he was defeated, being forced to flee back to Sicily. His great plans had ended in failure. Fortunately however he had given the Carthaginians the fright of their lives and in 306 BC Syracuse and Carthage had signed a peace treaty leaving Agathocles roughly a third of Sicily...

Syracuse and neighbours, 304 BC.png

Syracuse and her neighbours, October 304 BC.
Nikolai: Thanks, that's so nice of you to say! :)

Bullfilter: Thanks! While this AAR won't be gameplay I probably will try and include notes about game features, especially since I am puzzling them out myself!

volksmarschall: Thank you and a great pleasure to have you here! :D

LWE: Very, very true! Get out of my head LWE! ;)

GoukaRyuu: Thank you so much! :) I'm still trying to figure exactly which direction to take this AAR but that is really appreciated. :)
A very informative post, I learned a lot. :)
Ah, to read the first post of a @RossN is like getting the first sniff of a fine whisky, potent, pungunt, peaty - with the promise of adding much punch to proceedings.

I also just loved this line:
Greeks being Greeks they know there is a monster but they disagree which monster.
I mean, this is just brilliant, and perfectly encapsulates my view of Greeks of this time. It is just a deft use of words.
Chapter One: The King of Sicily (304 BC)
Agathocles 304 BC.jpg

Agathocles, Tyrant of Syracuse in 304 BC.

Chapter One: The King of Sicily (304 BC)

Syracuse was truly two cities. That of the civilians on the Sicilian mainland, a great and thriving polis in the Greek fashion and the fortified acropolis on the island of Ortygia, home to mercenaries and sailors and all the business of warfare. Between simmering Syracuse with its bustling agora and relentlessly noisy streets lay a narrow isthmus. On that spot the great Tyrant Dionysus had built his palace, though castle is perhaps a better word for this most warlike of rulers. Dionysus was the best and worst of Syracuse, making the city the strongest in Sicily, then the greatest in the Greek world. His rivals trembled at the approach of his armies and he brought wealth and culture to Syracuse. He built the great walls that had time and again protected the city from invasion. Dionysus had invited poets and philosophers to his court and dabbled in the arts himself. He was also a despot so despised by the citizens that when he died after drinking himself to death, in an unintended blasphemy to his divine namesake the Syracusans demolished his palace.

Fifty three years after the death of Dionysus another Tyrant had built his own home on the isthmus between Syracuse and Ortygia. Agathocles was no Dionysus when it came to artistic pretensions but he was still a strong ruler - cruel, prominent and shrewd. Any brashness that had formed part of his youth had vanished in the fortunes and misfortunes that had led him to this point. At the age of fifty eight the former mercenary leader had grown no less ambitious but perhaps a little cagier.

On 1 October 304 BC Agathocles issued a proclamation to be read out in every public space in Syracuse and her domains. The Tyrant of Syracuse dew an example from the squabbling Macedonian warlords of the East and declared himself 'Basileus' ('King'). Shrewdly the self proclaimed monarch made references to his peace treaty with the Carthaginians that had seen them recognise Syracusan authority on the Halycus River. It certainly wasn't the Carthaginian intention to legitamise their great foe as the rightful ruler of the Sicilian Greeks but if such a claim ran against the spirit of the peace it did not run against the words.

'I claim no more than that which your own proclaimed mine,' Agathocles informed the Carthagian envoys who visited his palace and were lavishly entertained in his gardens with wine, and the company of beautiful maidens and handsome youths. He held aloft a white ribbon - the diadem - and said: 'This not the spear and sword shall bring peace and order to our island.' [1]

Agathocles Basileus.jpg

Agathocles proclaims himself King of Sicily, October 306 BC.
The new King sealed his proclamation with a sacrifice to the gods. Surprisingly the deity most honoured was not Zeus or Athena, though both were addressed in the proclamation. Instead Agathocles sacrificed a dozen black bulls at the altar of Hades in Syracuse.

To some it might seem strange to so honour the shadowy lord of the dead, but Hades was not simply a god for the shades of the departed. Known by another name - Plouton - The very wealth of the earth, of gold and silver and every other treasure pulled from the bones of the Earth was his domain. With the blessings of Hades the inhabitants of Syracuse could look forward to a time of plenty. The King had been both a harried exile and a mercenary captain and he knew more than most that a full treasury was a stronger protection for an embattled state than the stoutest walls or the fiercest hoplites.

There was another reason Agathocles chose dark bearded Hades as his divine patron. According to some later accounts the night before he proclaimed himself king Agathocles dreamed of a shadowy three headed dog running through the deserted streets of Carthage and laying down its fearsome heads to sleep in the house of the Council of Elders. At dawn instead of cockcrow all the dogs in Syracuse were said to have let out a howl as one, awakening the citizens. As ever the gods hid their meaning behind symbol but Agathocles knew that he had seen an omen straight from Hades.

Blessing of Hades.jpg

The blessings of Hades.
For most in Syracuse the proclamation of the King was met with celebration. Few citizens longed for war but having suffered so much in recent years there was a pride that the city could still claim mastery of Sicily without mockery. Agathocles might not have been born in Syracuse but this adopted son shared with his people a headstrong confidence than would have made even an Athenian gasp. If they had failed to conquer Sicily before it was only against a great constellation of enemies and even in failure Syracuse remained unbowed.

That last point is vital to understanding the Syracusans. The Athenians had controlled a great empire and won a prestige grander than any in the Greek world but they had suffered crushing defeat in their wars of the 5th Century. At the end of the Peloponnesian War the Corinthians and the Thebans had called for the destruction of Athens and the enslavement of her people. Sparta in the hour of her victory had shown mercy to the city that had saved Greece in the time of her gravest peril. Even so Athens saw her walls tumbled down, her empire swept away and oligarchs in power over citizens. Though she had recovered a little since she had never regained her old glory and even now her 'independence' depended on the armies of King Antgonus One-Eye and his quarrel with his fellow Macedonians.

Sparta too was a broken reed, the sad remanant of once great power. Her much vaunted armies had faded away, her helots revolted and though she clung to a bitter and barren independence it was more that of an isolationist backwater than their old supremacy over the Greek world. Her magnificence was behind her.

Syracuse had lost wars before. She had been besieged before. Her government had swung wildly from oligarchy to democracy and back again and more than one Syracusan leader had more to fear from his own country men than foreign enemies. Yet she had never been broken. More than any other Greek polis Syracuse retained control of her own destinies and the will to keep it that way.

Naturally enforcing such a will required soldiers and here the wars had left their mark even as populous and rich a city as Syracuse. Agathocles could call upon seven thousand men to take to war, but none of them were heavy soldiers. The standing army of Syracuse consisted of psiloi, a catch all term for skirmishers and missile troops armed with javelins, bows and slings. The backbone of the battlefield - the phalanx of hoplites or sarissa armed pikemen or cavalry of any sort were absent and there were few resources to arm and train them. Sicily produced little iron and horse, certainly little enough to make equipping thousands of men a challenge.

Agathocles was determined to rebuild his army and if he had to do it without phalangites well his rivals would likely be forced to do the same. Rather than raise more companies of psiloi the King ordered the arming and training of four thousand hypasists. Technically these were still light troops and against Macedonia heavy infantry or the Spartans in their prime they would have suffered but the hypasists were more than ill-trained militia. Armed with spear, shield, helmet and cuirass they resembled a lighter form of the classic hoplites. They could fight as bravely as anyone and were in their way more flexible than their distant cousins across the Ionian Sea so beloved by the Diadochi.

Throughout October and November of 304 BC these young men trained and readied themselves to serve in battle.

tomb fresco.jpg

A Macedonian tomb fresco of the 4th Century BC. The soldiers depicted are equipped much like hypasists.
Agathocles had expected his pretensions towards monarchy to cut little ice with the Carthaginians or the Siculians, even if for forms sake he plied their representatives with the fruits of both Dionysus and Aphrodite. He was not disappointed. Neither the Punic superpower nor the native Sicilians made any aggressive moves towards Syracuse but they hurled insults like Zeus's thunderbolts upon his head. These the Sicilian fox could largely ignore

The Syracusans fellow Greeks were a very different matter and had to be handled more delicately.

Across the Strait of Messina on the 'toe' of mainland Italy lay the Greek cities of Rhegion and Locri. Both prosperous poleis their proxity and shared culture with the Sicilian Greeks had kept them keenly interested in events of the neighbouring island. Sometimes interest had meant ambition and Rhegion especially, one of the richest cities in Italy had once harboured a sharp rivalry with Syracuse. Those imperial ambitions had long past and now both were plutocratic republics of friendly disposition towards Syracuse. Their envoys arrived at Agathocles's court with gifts and congratulations.

The word from the envoys of Akragas was sharp:

'We shall never bow to you and should the waters of Ocean close over heads we shall call curses upon you with our last breaths Agathocles the Betrayer'
Akragas was a rich city along the south western coast of Sicily between the domain of Carthage and of Syracuse. A century before the Akragans had remained aloof while the Athenian fleet besieged Syracuse and the armies of Attica tried to conquer Sicily. Some grudges were engraved on granite and the two cities had never forgotten and never forgiven.

Akragas was Syracuse as she might have been had the gods withheld their favour. Once ruled by tyrants of her own like the famed Phalaris and Theron the Akragans had grown rich off trade and be a great power in Sicily. Then they had been defeated in war with Carthage and their great city sacked. In the years since Akragas had regained a spectre of her old wealth but had been unable to match the power of her neighbour to the East.

'They have made their last mistake,' Agathocles told his son Archagathus. The two men had sat at the grim dinner party where the Akragan envoy had all but beat his chest in outrage before leaving. 'They could have been our partner and prospered. Watch our true friends my boy.' The King gestured to the other reclining couch were the envoys of Rhegion and Locri spoke in hushed tones over full cups of wine. 'They know who shall grow fat on Akragan trade when their walls fall.'
Rhegion and Locri would stand by their loyalties to Syracuse come what may and the lingering rivalry between Syracuse and Akragas ended any possibility of anti-Agathocles sentiment in Syracuse herself. The Akragans grimly prepared themselves for a siege.

As Winter settled across Sicily and frosts invaded the hills Agathocles appeared to be keeping behind his fine walls, enjoying the pleasures of a new title and a new wife. The Greeks of Akragas relaxed. Perhaps the Fox of Sicily had grown too old after all. Whispers danced from lip to lip in the agora of Akragas that the King of Sicily had grown senile and others truly ruled in Syracuse. A shepherd from near Messana swore blind that Agathocles had taken to believing himself the goddess Athena and insisted upon being addressed as a divinity. A grain merchant of Gela scorned this nonsense and brightly told his listeners that Agathocles had taken to training for the Olympic Games and rode through the streets of Syracuse in a chariot.

As December drew to a close and there was still no declaration of war from Syracuse the Assembly of Akragas began to relax. Even those who had been skeptical of the strange rumours swirling about felt that Agathocles would have struck as fast as possible. They knew him of old and it was not in his nature to tolerate a slight with patience. So confident were they that war would now not come that the city authorised the construction of a splendid new marketplace, funded with the silver put away to hire mercenaries or perhaps bribe the Carthaginians.

And on the first day of the new year, in the crisp and clear morning envoys arrived from the King of Sicily bearing a message of war - and promising that Agathocles and his army were not far behind...

Syracusan Akragas war.jpg

The start of Syracusan-Akragan War, 1 January 303 BC.

[1] A note on sources:

For this period of Syracusan history we have been left with three main sources. The earliest was Philip of Rhegion who was born around 310 BC and died sometime after 263 BC. Philip was from a wealthy family high and is known to have spent time at the Syracusan court representing his family and his city. While it is considered unlikely that he knew Agathocles personally he was in a position to speak with many who did and his Life of Agathocles probably reflects contemporary views of the complex Sicilian leader. Unfortunately Philip's original text has not survived antiquity but he was quoted and summarised in many later works so we have a good picture of what he was trying to say.

Batrachos lived three generations after Philip in the early 2nd Century BC. Traditionally he was believed to come from Athens but an alternative theory locates him as a son of Halicarnassus. Batrachos, a philosopher and professional busybody (he seems to have personally irritated half the rulers of the Hellenic world) wrote a gargantuan History of Sicily that has survived largely intact. Batrachos had his biases, among them a deep dislike of the Agathoclid dynasty so his views must be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless he is the most complete source for Sicily as a whole for this time.

Finally Nikostratos whose birth date is unknown but who died in 32 BC was a native of Syracuse. Traditionally he has been held in low regard by later historians given his love of court gossip and readiness to blame or praise everything on the intervention of the Olympians but he also provides a unique look into popular lore about the Syracusan ruling clan and he appears to have access to other writers now so obscure even their names are forgotten.

This history represents a composite picture of the views of three intensely different men.
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This isn't going to a gameplay based AAR but I'll try and include some thoughts on the game as I go through it - Imperator Rome is as new to me as it is to you. :)

First of all if you have played EU: Rome this game feels very familiar and I mean this as a compliment. While there are differences it does feel like a recognisable update of the older title in things like trade and traditions. Its early days but I like it.

Syracuse begins as an Aristocratic Monarchy. This is the government tag:


As you can see Syracuse is a reasonably big power with 122 pops who are mostly 'Siceliote' (Sicilian Greeks) with a minority of 'Siculians' (native Sicilians). Everyone follows the Hellenic religion and despite Agatholes's rough methods the country is reasonably content.

As I said this isn't gameplay but I wanted to give an idea what is going on without interrupting the AAR flow. I'll post details like these when needed.


Specialist290: Thank you my friend, always delighted to see you. I hope you enjoy this! :)

Nikolai: Thank you, I wanted to give a little background! :)

Assos: Thanks, that is the plan! :)

stnylan: Wow, thank you - no pressure then! ;) And thanks I did try and make the writing a little less dry were possible!
Greeks are also known for being somewhat stubborn
For better or for worse, Agathocles has ensured that his name will go down in history. Whether his royal pretensions succeed or fail, he has caused such a stir that no one can afford to ignore him, and Sicily will never be the same.

I also want to take a moment to highlight these:

'I claim no more than that which your own proclaimed mine,' Agathocles informed the Carthagian envoys who visited his palace and were lavishly entertained in his gardens with wine, and the company of beautiful maidens and handsome youths. He held aloft a white ribbon - the diadem - and said: 'This not the spear and sword shall bring peace and order to our island.' [1]

'They have made their last mistake,' Agathocles told his son Archagathus. The two men had sat at the grim dinner party where the Akragan envoy had all but beat his chest in outrage before leaving. 'They could have been our partner and prospered. Watch our true friends my boy.' The King gestured to the other reclining couch were the envoys of Rhegion and Locri spoke in hushed tones over full cups of wine. 'They know who shall grow fat on Akragan trade when their walls fall.'

These little anecdotal asides are a very nice touch. They have the flavor of something that might actually have been written by a classical historian like Plutarch, Thucydides, or Livy, which increases my enjoyment of this tale immensely :)
Interesting choice of country.I'll be following.

Also,I have a feeling Agathocles won't settle with just Akragas.He wants to be King of all Sicily...
Also,I have a feeling Agathocles won't settle with just Akragas.He wants to be King of all Sicily...
Most definitely. :) He will march on.
Ah, glad to see the beginning of a RossN AAR! I'll be following this keenly! :)
King of Sicily and invoking Hades: Agothocles does not believe in half measures! The gameplay asides are a nice way of doing it without interrupting your narrative flow and I certainly appreciate them as well. :)