Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bow & Spear

If you are putting together any flavour of Achamenid Persian army, then sooner or later, you have to deal with the question of how the infantry were armed. The confusion is due to the old conundrum of a little knowledge, in this case, conflicting knowledge. There is no question that spears, bows and shields were used by the Persians, Medes and various subject nations in addition to various hand weapons. The question is in what combinations? The evidence of a small amount of comtemporary artwork seems to imply that different units carried different combinations: bow & spear, spear and shield or bow and shield. Herodotus says that Cyrus divided the archers from the spearmen but describes the units in Xerxes' army as being armed with all three. A popular theory today is that the front rank had spear and shield while rear ranks carried bows.

Here we see the advantagce of element or unit based combat capability. Assign a missile factor to the unit and a close combat factor, fill the bases with figures to taste, and off you go. Simple and effective! Obviously I'm not going to go there. No, I've been increasingly seduced back into the world of toy soldiers and thus, individually  based wargame figures and while one can still give a unit combat and missile factors even if the figures taht constituute it aren't lued to bases and it is not absolutely essential that the figures are treated in WYSIWYG manner, it is part of the charm to do so.

Since WAB caters to this and is popular with most of my most likely opponants, its worth looking at how they treat the Persians. Right away we see both the strength and weakness of the system. The official lists give suggestions but let you make your own mind up as to what you think is the best intreptation of the history. Not that this isn't possible with other rules if you have a mind to, but I like to see it encouraged. The problem is that when dealing with individual figures in a scaled down unit with varied weapons, there is rarely a good solution. Their proposed one is to field 1 rank of spearmen and 3 of archers. Fair enough but the gamesman in me immediately says "wait a minute, a single rank of spearmen fights exactly the same as a rank of guys with just handweapons so why should I pay extra?". The historian says "well even if I buy into the front rank of spearmen intreptation, that theory says 1 spearmen and 9 archers make up a file, that's 90% archers,  not 75%".  Finally, and most importantly, I say "but the figures I want to use come from the days when we believed that Herodotus meant what he said and was right, so my spearmen all carry bow and shield as well!"

Lucky for me not only is it "MY army" but the rules allow for what I have without having to resort to house rules or modifications. My Immortals will be well armed with every man having bow, spear and wicker shield. The Medes and Persians will have 2 ranks of bow, spear & shield  armed troops and 2 ranks of bow only troops in the rear.   All of the above will be able to form the shield barrier depending on the rules being used.

The subject nations will be more varied and will be fielded as the figures are, some just spear or javelin and shield, some just bow, some mixed bow & spear, oh yes and 1 unit of slingers. I haven't decided yet which bow armed levies will be able to do the shield barrier thing.

The cost of reorganization. My 36 Immortals merged with 12 Medes to make two 24 man units. Since this was the size originally envisaged, I have enough leftovers to end up with 1 Immortal and 2 Mede/Persian infantry regiments all 24 strong. Somewhere down the road, I will add a palace guard in long robes but there are 12 guardsmen that will have to turn in the yellow caps and red over tunics that mark my Immortals and don the white caps and varied tunis of mortal soldiers. I have 12 castings ready for priming to deal with first though.

Next entry, selecting a campign army list without including nations not yet conquered.


  1. It is strange isn't it that you were the person who convinced me to move away from individual bases and now you are going back to them while I have become a confirmed 'elementist'!
    I am now moving to the point where each base is a mini-diorama

  2. Yes, I'm not sure if its sheer contrariness, early onset senility or some for of sentimentality combined with a desire for increased tactile sensation as my eyes dim. Certainly the latter has been one factor in my move towards simpler painting styles and heavy smooth gloss finishes and away from mini-dioramas. I should really do a post discussing element vs figure based rules and organizations since I do still use and appreciate both. But, multi-figure bases apart, seems to me that you were the one that introduced me to the element as unit with Deus Vault !

  3. I did indeed. But I remeber the very first games we played and I had all my figs individually based. It took a lot of convincing on your part to get me to base them on multiple bases even though the 'element' had yet to be invented!
    All my figs were airfix then and I also needed a lot of convincing to move into metal figs!
    And then, much later, you got me onto acylics!
    On all points I have never looked back and am eternally grateful

  4. Well you know it was a 2nd year's duty to coach a first year :) but these are minor points really, what I am grateful for then and later was the mutual firing of imagination, and nurturing of the spirit to delve and question and innovate, and the friendship.