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.


  1. Interesting stuff Ross. I agree entirely with your thoughts regarding the fascism of the 'latest research'. This is something that's become more of an issue in my favourite period (AWI) in recent years. Personally i refuse to lose sleep over details - i use the figures i find most appealing and that's that. After all the only thing a 25mm figure really faithfully portrays is a 25mm figure....and we are playing with toy soldiers. Cheers.

  2. Xaltotun of PythonNovember 5, 2009 at 2:32 PM

    There was an interesting one on TMP (I think)a while back where someone was saying it seemed that modern research was indicating that among the most accurate Sassanids on the market today were some of the Garrison Achaemenid Persians! I liked that one.