DBA Resource Page

Army Essays

Ruins of Delphi

Phokians (DBA I/52h & II/5f)
668-275 BC

Ancient Phokis, the land of the Phokians (a.k.a. Phokaeans, Phocians), lay north of Boeotia and Thebes and was bounded by Locris and Aetolia to the west and Thessalia to the north. According to Greek legend, Phokia derived its name from Phocus of Corinth, who settled near Tithorea and Delphi in mythical times and became a great leader in the region. In his Description of Greece, Pausanias notes that "opposite the Peloponnesus, and in the direction of Boeotia, Phocis stretches to the sea, and touches it on one side at Cirrha, the port of Delphi, and on the other at the city of Anticyra. In the direction of the Lamian Gulf there are between Phocis and the sea only the Hypocnemidian Locrians. By these is Phocis bounded in this direction, by Scarpheia on the other side of Elateia, and by Opus and its port Cynus beyond Hyampolis and Abae." According to Homer, the Phokians "held Kyparissos, and rocky Pytho, and Krisa the sancrosanct together with Daulis and Panopeus; they who lived about Hyampolis and Anamoreia, they who dwelt about Kephisos, the river immortal, they who held Lilaia beside the well springs of Kephisos." Essentially, Phokia was a federation of 20 townships centered in the upper valley of the Cephisus river with Krisa as its capital. Because of its location in central Greece, Phokia was a cross-roads to much of Greek history, being proximate to the strategic pass at Thermopylae, the ancient oracle at Delphi (originally a Phokian dependancy), Mount Parnassos, and Doria (the first city of the Dorians in Greece).

According to Homer, during the Trojan War, the Phokians under Skhedios and Epistrophos provided 40 black ships to the Achaean host and fought as the left wing of the army. And in approximately 600 BC, Phokia founded a colony at Massalia (modern Marseille, France).

During the First Sacred War (595-586 BC), Phokis fell under the control of Thessaly, their traditional rival. During this period, Delphi was liberated from Phokian control by Kleistehenes of Sikyon (585 BC) and the famous Oracle and surroundings were established as an independent city.

Two obscure battles fought prior to 480 BC helped Phokis throw off the Thessalian yoke. In a battle in the pass at Hyampolis, they defeated the Thessalian cavalry by strategem, which involved digging a ditch, filling it with empty water jars, and then leveling it over with dirt. The jars broke beneath the weight of the charging Thessalian horse, dismounting riders and crippling the legs of their steads.

The Thessalians retaliated with a massive invasion of Phokia. A reconnaisance force of 300 Phokians under Gelon was destroyed to the man, prompting a panic among the Phokians. All their women, children and goods were collected and placed under the charge of 30 men with orders to kill them and burn the goods if the Thessalians should prevail in the coming battle (a.k.a. "The Phocian Despair"). The Phokians then mustered their forces with Daiphantes of Hyampolis commanding the horse and Rhoeus of Ambrossus leading the foot under the overall direction of Tellias, a seer of Elias, who brought a favorable oracle from Delphi. In the subsequent battle, the Phokians fought desperately and wrenched victory against long odds against the Thessalians who were compelled to retire.

Subsequently, Tellias the Eleian hand-picked six hundred Phokians and had them and their armor and shields covered in white chalk. They attacked the Thessalians at night in their encampment, causing a panic and slaying over 4000. Defeated and demoralized, the Thessalians withdrew.

In 481 AD, the Spartan King Leonidas set a Phokian contingent of 1000 to guard the Anoplaia, a path through the mountains that flanked the Greek position at Thermopylae. Guided by a local shepard, Hydarnes and his Persian Immortals surprised the Phokians, driving them to the safety of a nearby mountain under hail of arrows, and descended into the rear of the Greek army, thus sealing the fate of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. Herodotus (Histories, Book VII) describes the fateful role of the Phokians as follows:

While the Persians were ascending they were concealed from these, since all the mountain was covered with oak-trees; and the Phokians became aware of them after they had made the ascent as follows: the day was calm, and not a little noise was made by the Persians, as was likely when leaves were lying spread upon the ground under their feet; upon which the Phokians started up and began to put on their arms, and by this time the Barbarians were close upon them. These, when they saw men arming themselves, fell into wonder, for they were expecting that no one would appear to oppose them, and instead of that they had met with an armed force. Then Hydarnes, seized with fear lest the Phokians should be Lacedemonians, asked Epialtes of what people the force was; and being accurately informed he set the Persians in order for battle. The Phokians however, when they were hit by the arrows of the enemy, which flew thickly, fled and got away at once to the topmost peak of the mountain, fully assured that it was against them that the enemy had designed to come, and here they were ready to meet death. These, I say, were in this mind; but the Persians meanwhile with Epialtes and Hydarnes made no account of the Phokians, but descended the mountain with all speed.

Following the disaster at Thermoplae, Phokia was occupied by the Persians under Mardonius who impressed 1000 Phokian hoplites under Harmokydes into service to support their campaign against Thebes. Considering the Phokians to be unreliable based on the reports of his Thessalian allies, Mardonius sent a force of Persian cavalry to shoot down the Phokians. Harmokydes exhorted his countrymen to die fighting for their honor, and the Phokians closed ranks and resisted the Persian on-slaught. According to Herodotus, Mardonius was impressed by their display and sent a herald who announced: "Be of good courage, Phokians, for ye proved yourselves good men, and not as I was informed. Now therefore carry on this way with zeal, for ye will not surpass in benefits either myself or the king."

Sometime between 451 and 447 BC, a Lacedaemonian expedition seized Delphi from the Phokians; but as soon as they departed, an Athenian force restored Delphi to Phokian control.

During the "Archidamos War" (431-421 AD), the Phokians provided cavalry to support the Spartan King Archidamos and his Lacedeamonian allies in his war with Athens.

In 395 BC, the Thebans prompted Locris to lay taxes on territory disputed by Phokia, prompting Phokian raids into Locris and a Theban raid on Phokia in response. The Phokians appealed to Sparta, who sent forth Lysander with a contingent of Lacedaemonians followed by Pausanias with the main Spartan army. Lysander took charge of the Phokian army and invaded Boeotia, scoring initial victories until he reached Haliartus, which refused to renounce its alliance with Thebes. The Haliartians had been secretly reinforced by a band of Thebans and Athenians who issued forth and gave battle before the city walls, killing Lysander and many of his Lacedaemonian contingent. Pausanias then withdraw under truce; a set-back to Spartan power which emboldened Athens, Boetia, Corinth and Argos to form an anti-Spartan alliance leading to the Corinthian War.

In 414 BC, Theban raids into Phokia prompted another appeal for Spartan help, and after a Spartan force under Cleombrotus arrived to help garrison Phokis, the Thebans withdrew to the south.

By 370 BC, however, Phokia had fallen under the Theban Hegemony and provided an allied contingent to support Epaminondas against the Spartans. Facing a strong Theban army, the Spartans under Agesilaus withdrew from the region to Laconia.

In 356 BC, the Theban-dominated Amphictionic League imposed a large fine on Phokia for cultivating the Delphic territory of Cirrha. The Phokians refused to pay the fine and raised an army under Philomelos with Spartan gold, which they used first to capture Delphi and then to defeat a Locrian army near Phaedriadae. Thebes and Boetia, Thessaly and Locris made alliance against Phokia, launching the Third Sacred War. The Phokians were heavily defeated by a Boetian army at Neon, at which the wounded Philomelos threw himself off a cliff. Onomarchos rallied the army and was subsequently elected autocrat of Phokis.

During the winter of 355 BC, Onomarchos drew on the Delphic treasury to recruit mercenaries and to bribe the Thessalians into withdrawing. The subsequent year, Onomarchos raided the territory of Locris, Doris and Boeotia, and lent support to the faction of the Tyrant Lycophron in Thessalia against internal foes. A Phokian army of 7000 under Onomarchus' brother Phayllus was sent to Thessaly in 353 BC to support Lycophron, but was defeated by Philip II of Macedon who intervened in support of the opposing faction. Onomarchos lead the Phokian army into Thessaly, defeating Philip in two pitched battles in which the Macedonians suffered heavy losses, forcing them to withdraw to Macedon.

In the first of those engagements, the Phokians made the first documented use of stone-throwing catapults (Lithobolos) in an ancient battle. Onomarchus deployed his hoplites in a cresent position between two steep Hills, and then feigned a withdrawal to draw the Macedonian phalanx into the confines of the ravine. At that key juncture, batteries of Phocian artillery deployed on the two hilltops were unmasked and opened fire, raining stones down on the packed Macedonian ranks. The Phokians then charged, and the Macedonian army broke, suffering heavy casualties, although Philip pledged that he would be back "like a Ram to butt harder."

In 352 BC, Onomarchos again invaded Boeotia, defeating a Boeotian army and seizing Coroneia. Meanwhile, Philip had regrouped and marched on the Thessalian capitol at Pherae to overthrow Lycophron. Onomarchos again marched to aid the Thessalian tyrant, however, Philip had recruited large numbers of Thessalian allies and defeated Onomarchos and his Phokian army of 500 horse and 20,000 foot at the battle of the "Crocus Field" (354 BC) near the Paghasitikos gulf. To appease the Gods who were angered by the Phokian looting of Delphi, Philip crucified Onomarchos and had the mercenary prisoners ritually drowned.

While Athens intervened at Thermoplyae to block any further Macedonian incursion, Phayllus assumed command of the Phokian army and set about recruiting his strength, including a Thessalian contingent headed by the displaced Lycophron. Under Phayllus the Phokians continued to raid Boeotia and Locris. After the death of Phayllus in 347 BC, the Phokian command evolved to Phalaecus, the son of Onomarchus. He proved unpopular and was replaced by a triad of generals -- Deinocrates, Callias and Sophanes -- elected in 346 BC. Fearing a Macedonian invasion, the Phokians made unsuccessful entreaties to Athens, complicated by the reemergence of Phalaecus with a mercenary army of 8000. Without Athenian support, Phalaecus surrendered the Phokian fort at Nicaea to Philip of Macedon and withdrew with his army to the Peloponnese, leaving Phokia to its own devices. Subsequently, Philip and his allies in the Amphictyonic Council imposed a fine of 10,000 talents on Phokia (to be paid in annual installments of 60 talents), and Phokians were denied the right to own weapons or horses, or to live in villages of larger than 50 households until the debt was repaid, thus ending the Third Sacred War.

A Phokian contingent subsequently fought with the Greeks unsuccessfully against Phillip at Chaeronea in 338 BC.

With the death of Philip, the Greeks again rose in rebellion. Alexander of Macedonian lead a campaign southward against Thebes in 335 BC, this time drawing support from the Phokians, Plataeans and other Boeotians who seized the opportunity for retribution against the Thebans for their support of Persia and for a previous Theban massacre of the Plataeans. Having destroyed the city and establishing Macedonian dominance in the region, Alexander then turned his eyes eastward toward Asia Minor.

Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, Phokia joined an Athenian-lead alliance which sought to free the Hellenes from Macedonian rule. The alliance proved successful at first, blockading Antipater at Lammon in Thessaly. But reinforced, Antipater defeated the Greeks at Crannon and marched quickly to occupy Athens, after which the Greek resistance quickly collapsed.

In 280 BC, the Phokians aided the Aitolian League and the Boiotians in repelling an invasion by the Galatians under Brennos, who reached as far south as Delphi in hopes of plunder before being driven back into Macedonia.

Army List

668-451 BC 450-275 BC Description
1x 4Sp (Gen) 1x 4Sp (Gen) Hoplite General
3x 4Sp 1x 4Sp Hoplites
8x 2Ps 3x 2Ps Javelinmen
4x 4Ax Peltasts
1x 3Cv Phokian cavalry
2x Art or 2Ps 10 mina stone throwers (in use after 379 BC) or additional skirmishers.

Phokian hoplites were not known to carry any specific shield device such as the Spartan lamba, the Argive hydra, or the Theban club. However, the bull's head was a very common symbol in Phokian coinage. Given the large number of mercenaries who fought in the Later Phokian army, it is likely that their shields depicted a wide variety of symbols.

Enemies and Allies

The early Phokians (I52f) are foes of the Thessalians (I/52c), the Thebans (I/52d) and other small Aitolian Greek states (I/52h), but find themselves allied with other Greeks as an enemy of the Early Achaemenid Persians (I/60a). The enmity with Thessalia and the Thebans continues in the later list (II5f), with the addition of Athens (II//5b), Philip of Macedon (II/12) and Galatian raiders (II/30). Missing from the list of Phokian enemies is Antipater (Antipatros) leading the Macedonian army (II/18a) that defeated the Athenian-led rebellion following the death of Alexander the Great.

Camps and BUAs

The oracle at Delphi (picture of ruins at top of page) would be an appropriate camp subject. On numerous occasions, the Phokians took refuge on Mount Parnassos in times of foreign invasion. A camp depicting women and children defending a slope would make an approppo camp subject. The early Phokians also built stone walls and fortifications in key mountain passes and at Thermoplyae. These are often referred to as Gates, just as the pass at Thermoplyae was known to the Phokians as the Hot Gates.

For BUAs, the cities of the Phokians, such as their capitol at Krisa would be appropriate subjects. These would have been walled in the later period. Or again a depiction of Delphi on Mount Olympus, including the great treasuries of the Greek states that lined the path to the Oracle.


The earlier Phokian list comes with hilly terrain and an aggression of 2, while the later list is classified arable and less aggressive (1). The low aggression factor of the Later Phokian list does not seem to match the exploits of Onomaros and his successors who frequently invaded neighboring Locris and Boetia. The Phokians lack the Hoplite spear to stand head to head against the other Hoplite armies of Greece. Effective use of terrain to support their multitudinus bad going troops and effective use of Artillery in the later Phokian army are the keys to victory. Psiloi supported Phokian Spear or Auxilia are solid against Thessalian cavalry and will give Macedonian Companions pause.


Depending on the list chosen, a Phokian Greek army can be easily pieced together using miniatures from the classical Greek and Hellenistic ranges. Popular 15mm options include Xyston, Essex, Alphacast, Museum, Old Glory, Tumbling Dice, Xth Legion, AB Miniatures and others. Xyston, Essex and others offer Phokian army packs for both periods.

Other Resources

There is not much specifically in print on the Phokians. For classical references, see Herodotus (Histories) and Pausanias. The The Hoplite Association celebrates the world of the Greek hoplite soldier. From the Fanaticus bookstore, you can learn more about Greek military history with:

The following Osprey titles provide a general introduction to the world of Greek warfare including color plates for the wargamer:

Fanatici Feedback


| Top of Page | Armies | DBA Resources |

Last Updated: July 12, 2003