Monday, November 30, 2009

A Lull

Alas, life is interferring with hobbies again so not much time for gathering, plotting or painting.

I've been mulling how wrong it would be to scan in an image from Blandford's Warrior's and Weapons or Funcken's Arms & Uniforms since neither book is in print and I have had trouble finding web images of Phrygians to point people to, but someone else has already done it! So here we are see: particularly the Near East page with images 74,75,76.

I like the Funcken intreptation better, esp the helmet but they obviously use the same source, at least one of which I have seen a teeny picture of in a scan of an archeological article.
Not surprisngly, they look alot like the Garrison Phrygian spearmen from their Persian list......

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hordes of poor quality infantry

A commonly held view of the army that conquered most of the known world.

Rospak 25mm hard plastic Thracian peltasts and mercenary Scythian archers,
hurriedly paint-converted to late Persians during the 80's.

Well, 120 figures isn't really much of a horde and I don't consider the figures to be poor quality either though, the Thracian peltast pose is classic "early 25mm ancient" and I will admit to a certain vagueness of details, but they have a certain charm and the Rospak 25mm plastics were a god-send to me 30 years ago during tough economic times. The hoplites, were especially valuable and for years King Rosius depended on them to hold off the Spartans.

No, the problem is that unit of "Persian" peltast/archers I hurriedly paint-converted 1 night 25 years ago for a game. No time for proper conversions and or shading or considering colours and patterns, I just slapped some paint on some leftover Thracian peltasts and Scythian archers and the little blighters have been serving ever since. Now I'm not big on repainting and refitting so do I let them serve on in shame? repaint? or callously discard them after such stout service?

They are "Ros" packs, and they are here and they are a near perfect match for the Rose miniatures in terms of size and bulk if not in detail, but they don't look much like early Persians. Actually they don't look much like modern intrepretations of Thracians or Scythians either but then neither do the Garrison and Benassi figures. What they do look alot like, are some old Greek vase paintings, but those were probably based on Phyrgians....uhhh wait a minute, like those allied or subject to the Lydians? ...ok maybe a repaint is in order, I have a few more Rose archers without a home so perhaps a nice colourful unit of Phrygian archers?

After all, at the end of the day, a unit of colourful archers in pointy hats is a unit of colourful archers in pointy hats, Phrygians, Scythians, Saka, Bactrians?

Two units of Scythian foot archers, a mix of Garrison, Benassi, Rose and Rospak miniatures.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

To ride, to shoot and to tell the truth

The 3 essential qualities of a Persian nobleman.

Late 5thC cavalry. RAFM conversions done 20 odd years ago

Cavalry was an important arm of the Mede and Persian armies even if not the most numerous part. I've decided on 5 regiments, now to select which ones and how to arm and equip them. There are 3 main considerations, historical plausibility, how I intend to employ them on the table and what figures I have or want to have.

Evidence on arms and armour is ambiguous but based largely on Herodotus and some vase paintings, early Mede cavalry seems to have been lightly armoured and relied on harassing the enemy with arrows and javelins but also seem to have been prepared to fight hand to hand when called upon. Herodotus describes them at Platea as coming forward by squadron to shower the Greeks with missiles before wheeling away, not surprising since Cyaxeres became King by leading the Medes to freedom after 25 years of subjugation to the Skythians.

The cavalry of Rosius would also have contained Saka or Scythian horsemen, whether allies, mercenaries or subjects and it is possible, though unlikely, that some of these might already have been armoured nobles on horses protected by partial fabric or metal bards. I would also expect some Cappadocian cavalry, probably lightly equipped with javelin.

4thC Persian Cavalry, RAFM conversions. I have about 30 of these, some with armour showing, some without.
On the table, the cavalry can be used to envelop the enemy's flanks or to pin and harass his spearmen. The bow armed ones are best for direct attacks as they can do so from a safe range. Since I'm deploying my troops in 1,000 man regiments not 100 man squadrons, I'll have to imagine the squadrons taking turns to ride forward to shoot at point blank range before wheeling back to the main body. They will also have to contain the enemy cavalry. Against an army like the Lydians, with a reputation for hard charging shock cavalry, this may be a challange (queue the camel corps!). The large units also have to be taken into consideration, they require a lot of room to maneuvre ao are not easily interspersed with infantry or used as a mobile reserve. It appears to be best to use them as a seperate force, oddly enough this seems to be how the Persians operated.

A unit or two of lighter skirmish cavalry, Sythians or Cappadocians would be useful on the extreme flank since they should have the agility to get around behind the enemy. It is tempting to add a unit of Guard cavalry or Saka nobles for the potential shock value but this might be a false temptation away from the army's strengths.

Comparing the 90 or so Persian and Skythian cavalry in 10 units that I have now vs how I want the army to look and act, I will be able to field the following in short order:
  • The Medes. Unarmoured with bow, shield and javelin (Garrison and RAFM mixed). The 6 RAFM figures ought to be given bow & shield or be replaced. The Garrison spears look a little substantial for javelins but I am willing to live with that, especially as I am not fully convinced that spears are unreasonable.

  • An 18 man unit doesn't look so big on 20mmx40mm bases and formed deep!

  • The Capadocians. Lightly armoured with javelin. This unit will be formed from the rest of my 4thC Persians, concentrating on those with tunics over their armour.
  • The Armenians. A full regiment of 18 armoured cavalry with javelin converted from Minifig Seleucid Cataphracts. (all except the officer). All I need to do is rehorse a few who still ride 1/2 barded horses and put them all on some decent bases. This unit wasn't raised as Armenians and the story of how they camed to be named so, is shrouded in the mists of memory lost.

  • The "Armenians". Full points to anyone who can identify the origin of the officer in the middle.

  • The Scythians: Light cavalry with bow, javelin and shield. I have about 30 nomad horse archers mostly various Scythians but also including figures like Garrison Tauron archers. I'll sort out 18 of the most Scythian types including a few armoured leaders.

    RAFM Skythian nobles.

    That will leave me with 1 unit to compose. Ideally I would like a unit of unarmoured Persians in long robes and head band , armed with bow & spear like the picture in funcken. It will also leave me with about 24 stray cavalry, some of which may be able to be reconfigures as Lydians, some of which may be incorporated into an alternate army unit.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ghosts from Pre-history

Completely irrelevent but having mentioned Queen Johanna I thought I'd post a picture of her in her wild improper days as well as a picture of my first metal unit.

She usually rode to war in armour on a white horse as in the B&W picture in the 2nd post but here she is in her chariot, dressed to kill. Johanna by McEwen Miniatures, Garrison Persian Chariot, converted Garrison driver (part saxon? part.....?)

And here is ....? Who would have thought I'd ever forget the name of one of the most sucessful generals that I have ever fielded? Definitely after the invasion of Dale which brought surcoats and heavy armour to Valdur. My first commander was a complex plastic conversion, he is pretty much an invalid these days, the 2nd was a Minifig Cassivlaunus iir, one of my least sucessful generals ever. At his horses' feet is the remaining fragment of the original Royal Standard with its twin motto's "Verite Devoir Valliance" and "Ouest" surrounding a setting sun. No points for originality I'm afraid sighhh. The infantry are 3 of my very first minifigs, 10 PB range Scots Irish from the spring of '74. I suspect they have been repainted at some point but the scheme is the broadly the same. Needless to say my plastic infantry were not impressed by the arrival of such heavy light troops!

Tomorrow back to the Medes

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rosius The Forgotten, King of the Medes

There more than a few blurry spots in our knowledge of the 6thC BC, there could be a lost king whose name has not survived and perhaps whose deeds have been assigned to another, in any event, I dislike pretending to be a dead fellow. (Rosius is presumably sleeping somewhere in a cave until the call comes...)

Rosius the Forgotten, showing the effects of 30 years in the field. Oddly his personal standard appears to be nearly identical to that once carried behind Queen Johanna of Valdur. (Hinchliff Sassinid and Minifig Seleucid figures)

A few more things need to be considered before we get to a list of units, how big is the army going to be and how is the army theoretically raised and maintained so that if and when a major campaign is launched, there'll be a basis for replacing casualties (Please note that I make no reference to paying for said army, I find financial matters tedius enough in this world).

In reverse order, lets look at how the army is raised and please do not confuse this with the historical Persian army. The core of the army, both native Medes and subject regiments are raised by district. Young men are selected each year to serve for 4 years, should they live so long. Each winter an order is sent home as to how many recruits are required to bring the unit up to strength once the full timers have been dismissed. Assuming that there are enough young men to replace not only the released men but also any sick. wounded and dead soldiers, the units are thus brought up to full strength by the start of the campaign season. The soldiers who have served their time, return to their homes but remain liable for call up with each district being resposible to furnish a 2nd full strength unit, normally for home defence. Most districts supply what we may call line infantry, equipped according to their native fashion, but some districts supply cavalry.

In addition to the district regiments, the pick of the young noblemen of the kingdom are drawn off to serve in the King's guards, both horse and foot. Once they have served their 4 years, most return home but some are picked for long time service as senior oficers in the district regiments or as members of the palace guard which does not normally take the field. Casualties to the guards are immediately made good by other regiments in the army. There are also some small technical units which are maintained directly by the king on a full time basis, the Corps of Charioteers, the Department of the Quartermaster, and the Engineers.

There remain two other sources to be considered, on occasion, contingents from allied kingdoms may be found fighting alongside the Medes or even under their command and, when needed, mercenaries may be hired. This is normally done as a way of obtaining specialist troop types not available in the district regiments or during times of political unrest. Mercenary units do not have a regular system for replacing casualties and may be brought up to strength periodically or left to dwindle away and be repalced by a fresh unit as expedient.

Apulian mercenaries in Persian service? Who knew?

Now we know how the units are raised, how many should there be? I'm certainly not going to paint even 120,000 Medes at 1:50 which leaves me various options but the one I am going to choose is to fight the campaign with those units that I can field even though they will never all be on the table at once and even though this means I will be fighting a major war of with an army of almost certainly less than 20,000 men.

The army, following its reorganizaation, and omitting any Greek or Bythnian units, currently has 4 regiments of cavalry, 9 of infantry plus a small contingent of chariots and camelry. The Immortals are actually a double sized unit which is fielded as wings and some of the light infantry regiments are currently understrength and currently take the field in combined units. The cavalry has never been properly reorganized and are also currently fielded as composite regiments. This is probably as big an army as I would ever want to put on the table at once but there are some more units that I want to build, like Persian infantry in long robes, and of course, the composite regiments need to be split and filled out or 1 of the units scrapped. Its a rare table top teaser that has as many as 16 units and of course, in a 'proper' campaign, the size of a force will be determined by the events leading up to a battle. So if I plan on 6 cavalry units, counting the chariots and cavalry as one, and 14 infantry units, then I should be all set.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

" It was he who first organized the Asiatic armies by dividing them into separate units - spearmen, archers, and cavalry"

Cyaxeres that is, according to Herodotus.

When designing a wargame army, it can add to the experience if one takes the time to consider its underlying structure as well as its character or story. Where do the troops come from, how are they raised, organized and paid and so forth. This is especially true if a long term campaign is being contemplated. Conceptually, this can be done without respect to rules and basing but eventually, such practicalities need to be addressed.

I have long been a proponent of fixed width multi-figure basing. For the last 25 years, my standard has been a 60mm frontage with 6-8 infantry or light infantry in 2 ranks, 4 skirmishers or 2-3 cavalry in a single rank. A system which I adopted from Comitatus. This gave me some grief when trying DBA since my depth was so far out but worked well with Armati and with the help of casualty caps has worked with WAB as well. I have also used these bases to try out Warmaster and FOG. Even if the bases work ok, some rules dictate particular unit sizes which can play havoc with named regiments with a long history. Now its hard to predict what your friends might want to play 10 years from now so prudence dictates picking an organization that suits me but which is flexible enough to allow troops to be drawn off for pick up games even if sabots have to be used.

A mass of Persian infantry, 6 bases each with 6 figures. Is that 1 WAB unit? 3 Armati units formed deep? or 2 Warmaster units one behind the other? The usual mix of Garrison and RAFM figures with spara from Garrison.

I've played more than 12 sets of ancient rules during the last 36 years (counting WRG 3-6 as 1 but WRG7th as different) and played everything from competition games to historical refights, campaigns and table top teasers. Most of those rules had something to offer but I think something old school-ish is most likely to have the flexibility to handle the variety of skirmishes, battles and sieges that I hope to encounter and for now, strange though it may seem to those who aren't familiar with them, Warhammer Ancient Battles (WAB) fits that bill better than most and is popular here to boot. If that changes, well, I recently downloaded the free WRG 3rd edition pdf.

When I revived my Persian army for use with WAB a few years ago, I decided on big infantry blocks supported by smaller, flexible cavalry and light infantry units so, given my basing style, I went with units of 36 infantry, 12 man light infantry or cavalry or 6 skirmishers. Now the books tell us that the Persians were organized in decimal fashion in 10's, 100's and 1,000's though these were not all up kept up to strength (hence the Immortals). No mention of cavalry or light troops being fielded in smaller detachments though one could always make the case. I decided instead to aim at standard 1,000 man units and to heck with optimum wargame effect. After some thought, I settled on a 1:50 ratio but assumed that 100 men per unit were off sick or on baggage guard duties which gives me standard 18 man units. Too big for easy maneuver for cavalry and light infantry and too small to give the heavy/medium infantry punch and staying power in melee. In other words, just right.

But what about basing? The multi-figure bases work ok but most people use single figures which the rules appear to encourage. It certainly enhances flexibility, especially of light troops who can skirmish or form up. My 18 man units also mean that I can't form my infantry 4 deep so either I stick with a 2 deep formation or I need to split some bases. Oh dear. Well, I may leave some of the multi-figure bases but since I need to rebase so many figures anyway, I am leaning to putting all figures on a 20mm wide individual base with unit sized movement trays. If I want to play something else, I will quickly be able to make sabots and field wrg/dba standard elements.

The new model army: RAFM Seleucid arab archers given spears and hired by Cyaxeres for his upcoming campaign in Lydia. 18 figures with officer, musician and standard bearer on individual bases ready to form up or skirmish. Bases by Litko.

What about the Lydians? That's going to take a bit more thought. Eventually I hope to post a complete illustrated OB for each side. Make take a while so a planned list will appear first.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Calling a Spade a Shovel

It may seem odd to start with looking at what stand-in armies I may be able to field before tackling the organization of the armies themselves but it will be useful to have the possibilities in mind when designing the main armies. I should also mention that not only will the stand-in versions be at most 1/2 the size of the main armies, but, I am willing to harbour a few stray units for army conversion. Cheating? Perhaps.

Alas the trials and tribulations of an army during a long peace, Worn out. obsolete or broken bases and equipment, no money from the government, no public support. Well, there are wargames and rumours of wargames so time to get these lads into shape, Who is in? Who is out? How shall I base and organize them?

There is a appreciable amount of pressure these days to make sure that each unit fielded matches the latest published reference book as far as possible. I object to this on 3 counts.

The 1st and least valid is that the latest information is often based on re-interpreting old data and often draws sweeping assertions from very thin evidence. Take the Alexander Mosaic which is a major source of information on Macedonian and Late Achaemenid troops. The professional consensus seems to be that it was created about 200 years after the battle but was based on a now lost painting commissioned by one of Alexander's generals. This makes it comparable to a mosaic by a 20thC artist based on Morier's painting of Culloden. Useful? Sure. Infallible? Hardly.

The 2nd is that unless one resorts to fictional armies or plays a limited number of historical battles over and over again, the need for every unit to be spot on in every detail requires a huge and never ending investment of time and money without enhancing the actual games.

Lastly and most important for me is that it means beloved old units become obsolete when interpretations change or perhaps sit on the shelf for decades waiting until the next refight of Pteria.

Corvus Thracians. Thracian mercenaries served in many armies but can the 4thC figures in helmet with thureos fit in with a 6thC army? Will the javelins ever be straight again?

I'm not completely immune to this madness, I've found myself contemplating such drastic actions as taking a razor saw to a painted miniature to remove an offending bowcase but luckily, sanity usually returns before action is taken (usually). By and large my feeling is that we shouldn't sweat the details as long as the miniatures look more or less right and the army broadly represents a reasonable interpretation of its historical prototype. So use your Skythian horse archers as Parthians by all means but not as Cataphracts and don't load your Parthian army with elephants because you like them and think all the books are wrong, at least not without warning your opponent .

Unarmoured Persian cavalry converted from RAFM Successor figures
or are they Capadocians fighting for Mithradites of Pontus?

In this light, lets start with the Medes and Persians. If I substitute mercenary hoplites for the bow & spear armed Persian infantry, it's not hard to turn an early into a late Achaemenid army. The Seleucids took over much of the Persian empire's territory and people and so, many levy and mercenary units can continue to serve. Good thing I left the scythes on the chariots, even with only 2 horses, it should be clear what they are. But what Selucid army is complete without elephants, cataphracts and pikemen? Well, elephants I have, cataphracts are really only needed for a late Seleucid army but they are a useful troop type and I wouldn't mind having a unit, and one could do without pikemen if playing an advance guard or ambush sort of scenarios. They really are needed in considerable numbers for anything like a pitched battle though so best look at other options for now.

If I do add some cataphracts, as well as my Saka nobles on partially armoured horses, then by making use of various Anatolian & Skythian levies and Greek mercenaries, a small Cappadocian, Armenian or Pontic army might be possible to face Romans or Successors. Again pikemen would be useful for big battles or imitation legionaries but not really needed for skirmishes. Might be a good excuse to paint a few Romans though so I'll file that thought.

None of these are of much use against Carthaginians unless one postulates that they turn East rather than North but there might be enough Greeks in the Lydian army to make a small Syracusian force.
OK that takes us up to the Roman Empire, what about after that? About the only troops who won't look out of place by then, are the Scythian sorts and some of the Persian infantry. If I do get some cataphracts and just a few more horse archers, a small Parthian or Armenian force might be possible. That darned latest research has come in handy for once and it seems that the Sassinids may have used more and better infantry than previously thought and it seems that not all of the heavy cavalry had armoured horses after all so by reusing infantry and light cavlry, making use of Saka nobles and that "I've been everywhere man" cataphract unit I'm contmplating, the elephants in the closet and then perhaps treat myself to a real unit of Clibinari, with the tasseled 1/2 barded horses then a small Sassinid army could be managed. That'll let me present something approaching an historical opponant for many of the most popular armies and if someone shows up with Ancient British, then they'll be Galatians to me!,

I think the next chore is to settle on rules, basing and some basic organizational rules.

Sorry about the photo quality today, too little light, too little time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

We have found the enemy and they are...

A bit of a dog's breakfast frankly.

In this 2006 shot mostly Ral Partha & RAFM with a few Garrison, & Rospak figure. The petasos hatted cavalry in the back are RAFM. (Pays to know which heads and bodies are available from them)

Its worse than this picture would suggest, 1/2 have been rebased, several heads have rolled off multi-part bodies ( I have since learned that a few seconds with a dremel to deepen the socket and a dab or greenstuff to get the neck just right, works wonders. The various mis-matched spear thickness, lengths and styles looks ratty and many are missing altogether. For the rivet counting sorts, the mix of 6th C bell cuirasses on the Benassi figures with classic 4th/5thC linothorakes and spolas and 4th/3rd C muscles cuirasses not to mention completely unarmoured hoplites, must be distracting at least. I figure the enemy only sees the shields anyway, well except for those hoplites who insist on exposing themselves. In any event, even if I salvage them all, broken ones included, there are still only about 120 of them. There are about the same number of peltasts, 1/2 early Thracians the rest mostly Hellenistic Thracians and Thureophorai, scads of psiloi, and slightly too many Greek and Thracian cavalry for any self respecting Greek army. I would certainly need to at least double the number of hoplites for a reasonable Persian Wars Greek army, but how often can you refight Platea? ok and the others, from a point of view of playing Table Top teasers, without peltasts, the army is problematical. I did consider doing the Anabasis of the Hundred (literally) but that calls for several "native" armies which each appear for 1 or 2 encounters. So what else?

The brave Medes and Persians stand up to the Assyrian Bully, and send him homewards, "to think again". An out-take from a play-through of a Battlegames Tabletop Teaser. You'll have to buy a copy from Henry to learn more about the game but the Persians are a mix of RAFM and Garrison. Here's another shot, Garrison Mede cavalry riding down some Assyrian archers, almost.

So, since the Medes helped burn Nineveh and then passed off to the Persians to take down Babylonia, Assyrians, Babylonians or Egyptians might be interesting but aside from the Assyrians and Egyptians being 'bespoke', none of these armies translate outside of the period at all. Who else?

RAFM, Ral Partha & Minifg horse archers skirmishing.
Saka come to mind, a major enemy for the Persians as Cyrus found out, they seem to have had substantial infantry forces able to go toe to toe with the Persians, they translate easilt into Parthians or Alans to face later armies and if I withdraw the Scythians from my Persian army, I have a start. They even hired Greeks and Thracians, in small quantities, at leaast once. BUT, here are two open plain armies relying on cavalry and missile fire and that still leaves me needing to buy most of the new army and having to dispose of a lot of figures. Well lets look at the figures again: mostly Greeks and Thracians with a few Anatolian levies. What about favorite old uniform books for inspiration, always liked the Phrygians in both Saxetorph adn Funcken. Ahhhhh, looky here, a 5 year war between Cyaxeres, King of the Medes and organizer of the Mede Army (aha) and Alyattes, King of Lydia. A war in which they each took turns "discomfiting" the other. Not the last war as it was nearly 40 years later when King Croessus was misled by the Oracle of Delphi and was conqured by Cyrus the Great. So what do we know about the Lydians? Not much apparently, a few pictures or scultures from a century or so later, a few snippets from Herodotus, Xenephon and Nabonitis (and who can tell which of these was the least accurate?) and some speculation and extrapolation. Enough? Yeah I think so. Vaguely Greek looking shock cavalry, Greek & Carian mercenary or allied hoplites and various light infantry based on pictures and descriptions of the same troops in later Persian service. Next post: Alternate versions of these armies for later opponants and hopefully some brand new pictures.