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"THE ATLANTEAN WARGAME": "ATLANA CREHELEITHA"

[A first-hand contemporary account of the Wargame, one of the great leisure activities of the Second Empire. This was written around 515, that is, in the reign of Carel Atlanicerex I, and was sent by the writer to his young nephew who lived in Phonaria, a long way from the centre of the Empire, at the latter's request. Comments in the light of modern knowledge are in brackets. Note that in the original the whole letter is written in the third person, according to the strict literary standards of the classical era.]

"I understand from your father how fascinated you are by the great wargames which are played out here in Atlantis, and hope that these words will be of interest to you. You think that you are missing a great deal because you have never seen a real wargame, and that is true - I hope one day you will get the chance over here. What you will have seen in Phonaria are feeble imitations, probably just a few prisoners or Atlantean soldiers pretending they are enacting some heroic battle from the past, which would have had a hundred times as many fighters and would have extended across miles of countryside instead of a few hundred yards.

"I also gather from what you write that you think our wargames are like real battles, with many dead and injured, at least on the losing side! You are a little out of date, dear Siphon - although that is probably all you have seen yourself.

"Historians say that in the past, back in the good old times of the First Empire, prisoners-of-war were divided into two groups and forced to re-enact battles by fighting each other. [ These began about 220-230, and became national spectacles, as time passed, with much pomp and ceremony. They were originally put on only by the government, but later they were increasingly paid for by rich noblemen.] They were guarded and observed by Atlantean soldiers, and forced to fight to the death - as you believe still happens! These spectacles certainly grew bigger and bigger as time passed.

"At the start they were fought in arenas, with the fighting space only a few hundred yards in each direction - but in the later days of the First Empire, during and after the time of Emperor Ruthoyon II, the battlefields used for these spectacles were tracts of real countryside. The spectators sat on the side of a nearby hill, and the little "armies" fought imitations in miniature of real battles of the past. Sometimes they were not so much of the past, either, for great Emperors like Ruthoyon II were engaged in war at this very time, and his great victories might be copied in the wargame only a few months later!

"By the time of the first great Emperors of our era [ i.e. Atlaniphon I - III in the Second Empire] these Emperors, and indeed other rich noblemen would lay out landscaped battlefields on their property - in Atlantis and Atlantidïeh and Chalcrïeh -, complete with hills, woods and streams. Battles fought in wargames now were huge affairs, and might last hours or even days, just as the real battles they imitated did too. These were still real battles, with prisoners-of-war suffering real casualties. But after this time, the "real" wargame, as we cultivated people consider it, grew up as an art-form, and this involves no killing at all. It is only the lower classes nowadays that watch actual fighting like this, though I realise that this distinction is still not made in the outer parts of the Empire - such as Phonaria, I regret to say. [ Simulations of sieges and naval battles, where control over prisoners-of-war was much easier, still involved real fighting with enemy prisoners, but these tended to be watched increasingly by the lower classes. In the sixth century, these fights were sometimes organised by town councils for the masses, as were other sporting activities.]

"So how does this modern wargame work? As I say it is not a war game any more, rather a sport or, better, an art-form. I think it very comparable to the Total Works of Art which are now so popular, and which are watched in the countryside by many of the same people who watch our wargames. Our wargame demands in particular the full art of a landscape artist, because now these games can cover several days and many acres of landscape, all of which has to be carefully prepared in advance - not least to allow room for the spectators to watch in comfort and with a good view.

So, you ask, what does happen in this modern wargame? There are still two armies, but neither side attempts to actually kill or injure its enemies - rather all the participants have blunt crossbows, with a bag of dye on the end of it. If this hits an opponent, he is counted wounded or dead, and has to retire from the battle, covered as he is, not with blood, but with red dye! The battles simulated are usually real ones from history, but they may not be. Obviously as no-one gets killed now, there is no need to use prisoners-of-war, who anyway do not have, or would not use the military skills of our Atlantean soldiers. So instead both sides are fought by Atlantean troops, one side in the uniforms of the enemy, of course. Great manoeuvres, tactical master-strokes, feats of endurance, all are copied for us by the wonderful soldiers of our Army, trained as they are by the greatest military minds of our Empire. Thus it is that for the cognoscenti who go to see these games - and we are all of the better classes - this wargame has become a true art form. [ Spectators had to pay quite a lot to come to these games, which in itself limited attendance to the better-off - really the upper classes. Note that these wargames were taken seriously by the Army, and leading generals would willingly advise and help train the wargame armies for the simulation of great battles of the past].

"Well I must end now. I hope you now have a true idea about our modern wargame. I hope you will one day be able to see it, and perhaps we can persuade your father to let you travel over here one day for that purpose.

"My very best wishes to you..."

 

THE LATER DEVELOPMENT OF THE WARGAME

After about 500, sports and games in general split apart along class lines. The bloodless wargame became the preserve of the upper classes, along with a form of Race Game, a sort of survival course in the countryside, involving two teams, each of which had to prevent the other getting a baton from one side to the other. Crossbows with marking dyes were again used, to be fired at the opposite team. The lower classes went to popular games, often organised by local Councils. These could be ball games or fights, or imitations of battles or sieges, which could quite often involve bloodshed.

After 590, all elitist games were abolished in areas controlled by the Republic, although even before this, some of the more "left-wing" Class 1 and 2s had deserted the wargame, and begun attending "fashionable" lower-class games. These now became the "officially sponsored" games of the Republic. At times, all bloodshed in them was banned, while in other periods, especially when the war with the Imperialists became particularly virulent, the Republic reverted to the old First Empire practice of including real Imperialist prisoners in the games, who could be fought and killed. In Imperialist parts of the Empire, the old elitist wargame gradually died out – real warfare and fighting took its place, and it soon seemed tame and outmoded. After the 620s Ruthopheax and the Squires took over control of more and more of the Empire, and different leisure activities were adopted by the new upper classes – hunts, horse sports, and country pursuits.

During the Third Empire, from 650 to 749, the upper classes continued with these pursuits, while town-dwellers and members of the lower Classes indulged in sports of various sorts. One particular form of countryside activity of the Squires was a sort of adaption of the old race game, in which criminals, who had been sentenced to death, could be chased across country by the upper classes on horseback. If caught before they reached "safety", they would be put at the mercy of the ferocious dogs, who accompanied the Squires, rather as in present-day fox-hunting. If the prisoners "escaped", they would still be executed, but in a rather more "civilised" way – by beheading! After 700, this form of "execution" gradually died out.

After 750, and the establishment of the Fourth Empire, all upper-class pursuits became unfashionable, and the whole Empire supported "normal" sports and ball-games again. After about 770, the old wargames were reintroduced at a more popular and crude level. These, though wholly bloodless at first, involved simplified versions of the Second Empire style race and war games, now with betting allowed, and other mass entertainment features intervening, such as music, spectacular displays and entertainments. Later on, all these games and sports grew coarser still with much violence taking place, and frequent deaths.

It was only a step from this to the even worse debasements perpetrated on games and sports by the Tyrants after 805. This led to a return to all the bloodthirsty practices of the past – and much worse too. To impose terror and docility on the population, the Tyrants reverted first to public executions of criminals and opponents, then to reenactments in public wargames of battles fought against enemies abroad. These involved again the fighting and killing of enemy prisoners, or Atlantean criminals. After 812, an increasing cruelty and coarseness of taste led to public displays of gladiator-fights, and torture and execution of prisoners. The last two Tyrants mounted spectacles of mass killings and torture, accompanied by art and music.

After 828, during the Fifth Empire, all this was abolished, and sport and games returned to the situation of the 750s and 760s.

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