310 - The Battle of Chaeronea and the Sicilian defence: an identical mental schemata

N. Lygeros

In 338 BC, one of the most famous battle of Greek Antiquity occurred in Chaeronea located on the Cephissus near Thebes. It brought into conflict the Macedonian army and a Thebo-Athenian coalition. The progress of the battle and the victory of Philip II and Alexander have represented a classical example of strategy supremacy since that time. The latter was constructed from the analysis of the means of the present forces and their military features, not forgetting the selection of the battlefield required by the sea supremacy of Athenians. The strong points of the Macedonian army were the following ones: superiority of spears (weapon of the Macedonian phalanx); important mobility and velocity of the phalanx; high-experienced cavalry led by Alexander. The weak points: number inferiority; battle against an experienced and recognized army. But the adversaries had a weak point. The left wing of their army was protected by lightly-equipped local hoplites, set near the Acropolis of Chaeronea with heavily-equipped Athenian soldiers beside them and at last, on the right wing the famous sacred military corps of Thebes. Philip II first attacked the weak point with the most efficient troop of his infantry. Under its pressure, the Athenian centre moved to the left to defend the weakened wing. Then, Philip II began to beat a retreat. His adversaries broke their lines to pursue the Macedonian army. Except the left wing, the Athenian centre also moved forward to keep in touch with the Macedonians, thus leaving the army of Thebes alone, suffering the attack of the cavalry of Alexander. Once decimated, Alexander found himself behind the Athenians. Carrying on their strategy, Philip II counter attacked and the Athenian hoplites were caught in the crossfire. That sealed their fate. In 1972, one of the most famous battle of the chess world occurred in Reykjavik. It brought together the American Bobby Fischer and the Soviet Boris Spassky. During this match having 21 games, the two opponents opted for the Sicilian defence 7 times. As the second game was a forfeit and that the declined queen’s gambit has been played 4 times, we can notice that the Sicilian defence has been by far the most played of all the openings of this match. More precisely, it was chosen 4 times by Fischer and 3 times by Spassky. As regards the variants, the most often played one was Najdorf ‘s one (3 times including a victory of Spassky) then the attack of Rauzer (twice), then the Sozine variant (once ) and at last, the Paulsen defence (a victory of Fischer) that was the last game of the match. To make it easier, even if it will appear simplistic for specialists, the essence of Sicilian defence whose option depends on the blacks, consists in leaving the control of the center by the whites, suffer their attack on the king’s wing and counter attack on the queen’s wing. We find this idea in all the classical variants of the Sicilian that is to say: closed, classical, Scheveningen, dragon, contemporary and modern. Thus, we also find the same logic of conduct we observed in the Macedonian strategy and that we can introduce according to the following mental schema : splitting up of the structure in three parts : left wing – king’s wing – weak wing ( local hoplites ), powerful center (Athenian soldiers), right wing – queen’s wing- strong wing (band of Thebes), apparent breaking through of the weak wing, incitation to central move, tactical separation, isolation of the strong wing, counter attack, cross fight, central conclusion. Underlining the same deep structure, that is to say the strategic mental schema, shows the relevance of the characterization of firms strategy by Porter: strategy consists in doing things different from the opposition ones or in doing the same thing in a different way. Anyway, it basically remains incomparable. It is not a question of doing better but doing otherwise. For once again, it is difference (of strategy) that makes difference (of achievement). But it is only possible within the context of non-uniform reasoning for the mental schema comes from creative abduction.