Tuesday, 22 April 2014


A long while back I said I'd put some comparisons of various Normans on here. Now that painting for Montaperti is out of the way, here are the Normans.

Two Dragons and Khurasan versions of Duke William
One of my favourite figures - Two Dragons' William Rufus figure.
He comes with a rearing horse being (barely) held by a serf.
I have used figures from three companies - from the left: Two Dragons, Donnington and Khurasan. 
They mix pretty well sizewise but the style is different enough that I would not mix them on a base. This has the advantage as well that I can tell which command each element is from. Two Dragons are the most idiosyncratic with a good variety of pose and lots of movement though there is a touch more caricature about them. The shields are rather thick but this doesn't stand out too much.
Donnington have a good range of poses though the sculpting isn't quite as sharp as the others.
Khurasan have a  bit more limited range of poses but these are designed to give the impression of a galloping mass. I'm slightly wary about the chance of some of the horses coming off their stands though. The figures are probably the easiest to pain of the three as the mail definition is very clear - this does of course mean it is exaggerated compared to real life but it helps the effect. It is also handy that the hands are ready to take the separate weapons - no drilling required.

This shows Two Dragons dismounted knights and Khurasan infantry. Again there is a difference in style but the size matches pretty well.

Lots of variety in the Two Dragons range

Two Dragons Scouts
Some more of my favourite figures from any range.

In DBMM, the Normans are allowed to dismount so it is handy to have the mounts ready.
More characterful figures from Two Dragons.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Way of the Horse and Bow

...or the Early Samurai in DBMM.

It has been rather too long since my last blog post, though much of that time was spent with this project.

One of the first armies I ever painted was a Samurai period Japanese army but that was for a friend to use with WRG 6th edition a long time ago. Since then, I haven't been particularly interested in them. When I started researching the Mongols, I used the Invasion Scroll for some ideas and that put the germ of an idea for doing a Samurai army into my head.

I was put off by the thought of doing the lacing for the Mongol invasion period and eventually started to do an early 16th century army, the lacing being less prominent. A few of the Old Glory figures had a look which lent themselves to be painted wearing the older style armour and after doing them I thought it might be manageable after all.

Sometimes, an idle thought like this can lead to a lot of work...

Anyway, I'd already researched the available 15mm ranges and there aren't many which are intended for the 12th and 13th centuries, the time of the Gempei war, the Mongol invasion and the beginning of the shogunate.

This shows the two ranges I chose. Those on the left are Eureka, available in the UK from Fighting 15s.
Those to the right are Essex. I liked each range for different reasons and so had one command's cavalry from Eureka with the remainder by Essex.

During the writing of the DBMM lists for the Samurai, the evidence was interpreted as there being very close co-operation between the mounted and foot. This has been reproduced by having a compulsory double base of cavalry and auxillia (representing the followers). This gives a number of disadvantages - slower movement, less able to exploit gaps, less easy to interpenetrate as many other troop types - but gives some advantages - a bonus in combat being the most important.

When it came down to it, the main reason I decided to do them was that the big base allowed more of a diorama look than a normal size.

These are more of the Eureka figures. Some of the cavalry are supported by monks, just for variety.
The banner is made from wire and paper.

Below are some of the Eureka foot. There is a nice degree of variety with the dismounted Samurai but only two rather similar poses for the followers. The banners - hata-jirushi - are moulded on the figures.

They are a bit pricier than most ranges but the mounted archers in particular are fine figures, with a 'breakwaist' allowing multiple positions. A couple of other poses would have been nice, such as the distinctive position as the bow is about to be drawn. There are also some cavalry carrying swords and naginata though these poses are less impressive.

Eureka also do this command scene. They provide screens though I actually used some from Peter Pig. They are painted with the Hojo kamon.

More Eureka figures.
I started doing the binding on a the bows in red but switched to a light buff as it was more noticeable.

These are Essex figures. I don't often use Essex but these have a much broader ranger of poses and are pretty accurate. The banners are more paper and wire creations. Neither Eureka nor Essex do a mounted banner bearer even though they are shown in the original scrolls - in fact one of the bearers on foot is only unmounted because his horse was killed.

These are some of the hata-jirushi shown on the invasion scroll. Going by the numbers from some contingents, there were a lot of these banners carried in an army. To make things a little easier, the generals have two banners per base, one carried by a foot soldier.

You can also see the quivers. Some of them have a separate quiver which needs to be glued on, as does the sword scabbard. The quivers which are moulded on are probably a bit high but they don't spoil the figure.

The DBMM list allows one command of cavalry to be single based, which gives a bit of flexibility. The figure brandishing a sword has this to replace the naginata he came with. It is, though, extremely unusual to see a cavalryman in scrolls from this period with anything other than a bow in his hand. In the histories, the sword tends to get used once the arrows are expended - I wasn't about the carve them off this figure though. The sword is simply a spare tachi  as supplied by Essex for gluing on in its scabbard. They are thin enough for this and I rather wish I'd replaced them on the Eureka figures as well.

A mix of infantry from Essex. It is possible to have archers (psiloi in DBMM) supporting some of the naginata armed foot (auxillia in 'MM) which mostly helps against mounted attacks. However, these are unusually a compulsory double base. This makes them a bit cheaper but gives less flexibility. The pavises to the rear are simply plastic card with a brass wire support.

There is a good range of variation in the Essex foot.

Here are some more, with the odd head from Peter Pig.

And more, with the peasants carrying sharpened bamboo in the background.

For inspiration and info:
Online - 
The Heiji Scroll
The Invasion Scroll
Going by the scrolls, most samurai had single colour lacing (other than the top couple of rows which were often pale), Some, especially in the Heiji scroll, appear to have leather covering each row. However, for the showier forms of lacing see Lacing patterns. Also see this for the range of colours used.

Books -
 In Little Need of Divine Intervention, Takezaki Suenaga's Scrolls of the Mongol Invasion of Japan (Conlan) (includes line drawings, a translation of the text and a discussion of the invasions).
Warriors of Japan as portrayed in the War Tales (Varley) - mostly about behaviour rather than appearance
Samurai, Warfare and State in Early Medieval Japan (Friday)
There is a handy thread on TMP with more suggested reading matter for the Samurai era, including this early period, here.
Various Turnbull books are handy but most of his stuff covers the Sengoku.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Two Dragons Normans

I seem to have acquired a Norman army!
I started off buying a few Normans for using alongside some Byzantines and before I knew it I had enough to field a Norman or early Anglo-Norman army - or various others from the same period.

I bought some 15mm Two Dragons Normans originally because I liked the look of the various scout figures. I thought I'd buy a couple of packs of knights to see how they looked and then ended up getting some more. The scout figures have a lot of character and I will post some pics soon. In the meantime, a couple of people have asked what the knights look like so I thought I would put up some photos. Once they are based I'll do a longer post and put up some comparisons between Two Dragons, Donnington, Essex and Khurasan.

I like most of the poses of these figures - the energy and variety works well. The shields are fairly thick and this is most noticeable in ANCAV2. However, this is far more noticeable when unpainted and in larger pictures like these.  They are loose in most cases and have a variety of cast detail including the various rivet styles shown on the Bayeux Tapestry. Some have the crosses engraved on which is okay but I'd have preferred them without. Some of the shields may have come with infantry figures as I mixed and matched.

VIKCOM5 Standard Bearer
The figures come with moulded on lances. I normally remove them and replace with steel but in some cases this would have meant damaging the horses, especially where pennons are cast on. The pennons are a bit long but paint up well. The standard bearer from VIKCOM5 is a partner to their William I figure. He comes with a large moulded flag to use if you require. Incidentally, the personality figures for this period have a 'VIK' prefix so to find them in the catalogue go to the Vikings page.

The range was fairly recently acquired by Caliver and is sold on their Minifigs page. They have just started selling the Dark Age range as individual figures which allows the most to be made of the variety available, especially for DBA players. It is also handy for getting the range of different figures available for the unarmoured scouts - the DBMM list allows up to three of these. I ended up with lots spare as I bought mine just before the individual figures went on sale. They have  gone to a good home though.



Monday, 25 February 2013

Plutarch's Wars: He's Spartacus

 Spartacus is one of the most well known figures of antiquity, perhaps as familiar to many as Julius Caesar. The Kubrick film is largely to blame although his story had entered the general public perception even before that through at least two novels and also via Karl Marx into the sphere of revolutionary politics. Within the last few years, the doubtlessly highly historical drama based on Spartacus has hit television screens and there has been a burgeoning industry in both fiction and factual books on the gladiator.

 His whole career is covered in a variety of ancient sources but even then there are really very few words written about him in those books. Even adding in the other two major slave revolts, the information would cover a handful of pages. I'll put a list of the sources and some links at the end. Modern writers have expanded on this and tried to reconcile the sometimes contradictory statements with a greater or lesser degree of success.

I won't try to write a resume of the wars - there is enough online. I'll concentrate on what I did to build a 15mm wargames army for DBMM.

 There are times where the purchase of a new army creeps up on you in a number of insidious ways until, before you know it, you find yourself immersed in lead.
Most of the DBA army. I can handle it.
 The first step would have been easy to stop at. On a visit to Oxford, I looked in the window of a novelty tee-shirt shop and saw 'I'm Spartacus'. That's for me, I thought.
 The next step was that my interest in the late Republic grew. I thought the slave revolts sounded interesting, but not very practical to get an army.
 Soon after, we had a DBA competition at my club based around the late Republic. I had time, so I thought I'd give the slaves a go. After all, its only twelve elements - less than sixty figures. No problem.

 Then, I kept coming across discounted packs of Xyston figures. Some from ebay, some from a bring and buy and others from people selling off stock. Before I knew it I had well over 100 figures, mostly psiloi.
 I made a start on adding to the DBA army to get ready for a DBMM100 game although that was cancelled. Then I thought I'd get them done to play DBMM200. Before I knew it, I was suggesting to my doubles partner that we took a 500 AP army to the Burton doubles.
 That was in October I think. I already had a lot of the lead and added more to it, some of it due to Xyston bringing out more packs which I thought would mix well and partly to replace stuff I bought at Derby and promptly lost. Christmas should have seen plenting of painting time but I was struck low by various ailments so I was still basing and painting the week before the competition. It didn't help that on the final night, I checked the list and found I was a cavalry general short. I had suitable figures and managed to get him done, finishing the base at 6.30 in the morning before setting out for Burton!

The DBMM slave revolt list is split by period to represent the three major revolts, each being seen as having its distinctive features. Mine has been built for Spartacus's rebellion but I used some sources for the earlier periods for a but of inspiration.

The army is composed of, in DBMM terms, ex-slaves (horde superior), ex-slaves in Roman gear (blade inferior), gladiators and veterans (blade ordinary), shepherds (psiloi inferior), Gallic and German veterans (warband ordinary and superior) and cavalry (cavalry ordinary).

The Gladiators

1st century BC gladiators from the Glyptothek in Munich
I steered clear of using gladiator figures for these for two reasons. One is that Plutarch says the escaping gladiators abandoned their gladiatorial equipment very quickly. Another is that the equipment of the early 1st century BC had probably not stabilised into the types which became the norm in the Imperial era. At this time they seem to have been basically the Samnite, the Thracian and the Gaul. There is even a suggestion that Spartacus was a 'Thracian' gladiator rather than being a native of the place, with the name being a pseudonym. However, most of the sources do give his origin as being Thrace.  The one bit of kit I've used which may have been gladiatorial is the Samnite shield. This is shown in various sculptures and described by Livy. Whether he is right about their origin, this shape of shield does seem to have been used by gladiators of the 1st century BC.
For those who still want to use gladiator figures, there are some useful comparison figures of various manufacturers at Irregular Wars . He also has shots of various period civilians.

 For Spartacus and one of his sub-generals I used Xyston Gallic nobles. These are very animated figures though a little smaller than the Romans and some of their other figures and have been mounted on a bit of plastic cardto even out the heights. There may be differences in the build of different men but you can hardly have Spartacus being towered over by his men. I've thinned the swords somewhat and made Spartacus's curved to represent a sica. This may well be (literally) poetic licence - Sidonius's poem written half a millenium later describes the use of such a sword. The figure is also carrying the small squarish shield of a Thraex - I cut it down from a Xyston Gallic oval shield. Florus (2.8.12) describes him as a murmillo though this could also be a literary fluorish especially as the name seems to have been used for the type known as the Gaul once that province had been pacified.

 The fighters accompanying them are Principes and Triarii from the Republican Roman range. I've taken off the feathers from the helmets. There are also one or two of the Carthaginian veterans in Roman armour. I've also used some lictors - "his men brought to their leader the insignia and fasces captured from the praetors" (Florus). It helps to identify the generals from afar. One of the standard bearers has lost his hand in a previous fight (also known as a miscast).

 The rest of the ex-slaves with Roman gear are a mishmash of Xyston types. From the Roman range their are a few hastati (mostly with the armour painted out), accensi, rorarii and penal legionaries. There are some Greek hamippoi and a few peltasts in pilos. One or two are Gauls with the trousers carved off and the tunic slightly lengthened but I found this took too long to be worth the results.

 The shields are mostly a mix of the Xyston Roman shields, Italian scuta, Samnite shields and a few Gallic ovals. Some have been hacked about to give that 'one unlucky previous owner' look. There are pila holes in some though these can't really be seen and wasn't worth the effort. A few have been painted to look as if the leather outer layer has begun to fall off. Exactly what Republican Roman shield designs were is the source of much debate. I've used some patterns from the early Empire, a few inspired by a later painting of gladiators and some from a Republican monument. In some cases I have painted the same design but different colours. This may have been a way of distinguishing cohortes. Some are plain red with a yellow strip across the top or either side of the boss. I've imagined these as being local troops with a shield giving the name of their city. I have no evidence for this!

 I wanted the warband to look different enough to be identifed easily but still like recently freed slaves. There is a picture in the Osprey Spartacus book showing an attack by Crixus's Germans who look as if they have recently trotted over the Alps. I doubt that many would have had the time, the resources or the inclination to get themselves trousers made.
The first way I distinguished them was to use different shields. The superior warband carry a long shield which appear to be "rude shields of wicker work and the skins of animals" (Florus)
These are from Xyston's Skythian range. They look very similar to the 'ancile' - the shield of Mars. There are shields of this type shown on the Munatius Plancus mausoleum which _may_ be Gallic going by some of the other equipment also shown. The best photos I've seen are in D'Amato and Sumner.
 To increase the ease of identifying the elements and also for effect, I used quite a few velites wearing animal skins and put some dogs on the stands. More on this later...
 The ordinary warband carry round shields which again look as if covered in animal hides. "...small circular shields for themselves like those used by cavalrymen." (Sallust, Historia). They may not be rolling burning logs at the enemy but some are carrying torches to burn the property of the slave-owners or interfere with Roman fortifications. Most of these figures are either of the types of hamippoi from Xyston with a few others including some peltasts in pilos. While the felt or fur cap may be suitable for freed slaves (albeit these had freed themselves!) I had a go at converting a few by using greenstuff to give them helmets. Some are bit bulky but overall not too bad. There are also some scratchbuilt swords. My first go was to carve some out of plastic strip. These looked pretty good but it seems the superglue weakened them and they all snapped off. Instead, I squashed some wire and shaped the point.

 The horde and shepherds are mostly Xyston psiloi with the odd figure from OG15s and Mirliton which I had lying around. There are also some of Xyston's more recent releases such as Numidians and Judaeans. A few have shields and I might get around to adding some more - I have lots spare. Many of the javelins have been left with a black point - Sallust says that initially the slaves used fire to hardened the wooden points of the javelins. Later on, stocks of metal allowed new weapons to be made to supplement those captured. Some of this iron may even have been the ex-slaves' chains.

The dead Romans are some from Freikorp. I bought these when they first came out so must be aaround 25 years old.

 I tried to use a variety of skin tones to represent the varied origins. After working in fields for years I daresay the differences would have been less noticeable but it adds to the effect. There are various works on the origin of slaves at this point. It is likely that the majority of slaves captured by the Romans in warfare would at this time have come from the Mithridatic Wars and the related campaigns into Thrace etc. Perhaps some were taken in the early years of the Sertorian War. Those captured when young from the Teutonic invasions and the Jugurthine War may also have been capable of fighting though I suspect they would be in the minority. There was also a steady supply of slaves from outside the empire and many of these could have been captives from inter-tribal wars as well as those who were deemed surplus population. Many would have been second or later generation slaves. Pirate raids in especially the Eastern Mediterranean would have been another source.

 The shepherds were a group of slaves whose lives were rather different from those who worked the latifundia by day and were locked in barracks at night. Instead, the shepherds roamed with their sheep and were often armed to protect their flocks. More unscrupulous owners used them as a private army, raiding neighbours' property, or expected the slaves to provide themselves with food and clothing by force of arms. I feel their grading as Ps(I) in DBMM may be a bit harsh but this is part of the result of the way psiloi are counted.
 There is a description of them in one of the early wars as wearing wolf and boar skins, and being accompanied by fierce dogs. I decided that most of the more aggressive types could represent the warband - especially as Gallic slaves were favoured as shepherds. I had enough left over to mix a few into the psiloi though. My doubles partner also did a psiloi element with one shepherd and four sheep :).

Spartacus had a cavalry force, much of which was mounted on horses which they had captured and broken. These wouldn't have been truly wild but some of the herds may have been effectively feral. Strauss puts quite a lot of emphasis on the effectiveness of these cavalry although the sources don't say a great deal. The figures are a mixture of Xyston Greeks and Judaean horsemen. Their Numidians would also mix pretty well.


The camp is protected by a palisade. One of the Stratagems describes how the slaves evaded one Roman force by propping up bodies with the camp, giving enough time to escape. This is Baueda's palisade.

This is the first camp I've done with a bit of a story. It also helped to use up most of the female and child figures which I'd managed to acquire.

 Spartacus's wife made some prophecies. Here she is bringing down the wrath of the goddess or of Dionysus on one of the slave-owning capitalists.

So far, the army has been used in five games, all at 500AP and against opponents that are moderately close in history. I really prefer historical match-ups but in competition you can't be so choosy. The strength of the army is its size. In some games we tried to be too clever which just ended up with commands being defeated in detail. Our best results were when we massed the troops, spreading the losses. The horde are quite effective against light troops - they are probably better against light horse and cavalry than the mass of blades since they don't recoil and if they are lost the effect is less damaging. One has to be careful not to end up putting them behind other troops who then die, so the wings need protecting with something else.
Also from Attalus, the fragments from Sallust which aren't all included above


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Plutarch's Wars:north of the Danube

I've covered some of the later forces of the various trans-Danubian people so here are some from an earlier period.
The people who occupied modern Rumania are known in various sources as the Getae and the Dacians with others such as the Basternae mentioned. The whole business is complex and since the ancient sources dont agree about who was who it is difficult for modern historians to be sure. The Dacians and Getae may have been one and the same or neighbours or some other combination. The Bastarnae are described both as Celts and as Germans.
A variety of ancient sources the interaction between Rome and this group of peoples. The first major conflict began just before the Third Mithridatic War and merged into it, the Bastarnae providing troops for Mithridates.
For the various wars leading up to Trajan's conquest in the early 2nd century AD there are a number of sources including Strabo, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Dio.
One source for the appearance of the Getae (and the 'barbarised' Greeks of the Black Sea coast) is Ovid, a poet who was exiled to Tomis by Augustus - possibly for getting over-friendly with the emperor's grand-daughter. He describes the Getae having untrimmed hair and beards and that they kept off the cold with pelts and loose trousers (Among the Getae). This fits pretty well with the images we have of the Dacians and possibly their allies. Considering how few pictures we have of some peoples, we are rather spoilt to have both Trajan's Column and the Adamklissi monument. One always has to be careful about taking everything at face value, but they are still rather useful.
I have a few of Old Glory 15s Dacians. The normal packs include a mix of shielded figures with javelins and those carrying a falx. They are also either bare chested or wearing a tunic.
These are some I painted:

So far, I have only finished the bare chested variants. I shall be using these as Bastarnae to make identification easier.

One possibly helpful painting source is St Jerome who describes the Getae as being yellow haired. He may have been describing the Goths so it isn't that certain. Translations disagree about the whole description - some say the Getae are ruddy (presumably complexion) and yellow haired whereas others take it as being red and yellow haired.

A note of caution about red hair. Obviously there are people today who we describe as red-haired and there    will have been people with the same colouration in ancient times. However, I have seen a theory that in many cases the word translated as 'red' - purros in Greek - could mean a lightish brown or reddish blond in many cases. I find the development of colour words interesting - brown is commonly a late word to enter a language.

I've also done a few Old Glory 15s Sarmatians. These are pretty much as on the Tryphon tombstone though with some armoured horses. Armour may have been rawhide as in this amazing survival now at the NY Met - Strabo describes the Roxolani using this material. Pausanias describes a suit of armour made from horse hoof. If not lacquered, this may not have been too different in colour to rawhide although perhaps more shiny and it can have a slight greenish hue.