Sunday, 30 August 2009

Spear Comparison updated

I've added some photos of some more spearmen to my earlier entry.

Awake the Iron! - the Almughavars

A notable feature of the Aragonese and, to some extent, the other Iberian armies was their use of the almughavars (or almogavars). These were infantry who, despite a lack of armour, soon gained a reputation for their fighting ability. They formed part of the armies used in the conquest of Valencia and were a major component of the Aragonese forces in Sicily. After the treaty of Caltabellota, a large number left Sicily and became the Catalan Company, working for various employers in and around Greece. Eventually they carved out their own state. Not all almughavars joined the Company though - some, for example, seem to have been part of della Ratta's mercenaries in Florence. These were paid for by their old enemy, the Angevin king in Naples.
 The 13th century chronicles have a great deal of detail about the Almughavars, especially Muntaner's Chronicle.
A pretty modern good summary of their career is here, with many sources listed. There is also a more general review of Spanish tactics which includes the almughavars here.

In wargaming terms they are difficult to portray since their lack of armour would make them very vunerable in many sets of rules. Sometimes they are categorised as if they were more protected to give them a chance of standing up to knights as they did on occasion such as the Battle of Falconaria. The circumstances in which they fought may also have helped, so it makes for much discussion.
As I write this, the DBMM lists which covers the Sicilians and the Catalan Company are being looked at before the publication later this year.. In the armies with Almughavars which have been published they have been categorised as superior auxilia. There has been discussion about them being fast blades in the new list, which may mean a change to the Book 3 almughavars.
In 15mm, the companies which make almughavars that I know of are Essex, Eureka, Irregular and Touller. I only have the first two - there are various pics of the Touller ones around such as here.
This is a comparison shot of my Essex (on the left) and Eureka figures. There are, I think, 3 variations in the Essex range and an impressive 18 or so in the Eureka range. The Essex ones are perfectly decent but are a bit two-dimensional. Some of my figures have had arms bent so that the upright spears in particular are at more varied angles.
Some of the Eureka figures are a bit taller than the others but nothing which can't be explained by normal height differences.
Both ranges have the cap as the dominant headgear, as in the Heath books. This is mentioned in a description by Desclot as being leather, possibly red despite my painting. Other descriptions mention a sort of net for the hair which may have been metal. Some of the Eureka figures have this.

 The flags carried by the Catalan Company are described in Muntaner (p.409 in the edition linked to above). He mentions that the foot carried 'pennons' of the King of Aragon and King Fadrique - i.e. the King of Sicily. I haven't looked to see what the original Catalan word translated as pennons was, but it is likely pendon which had a pretty broad meaning rather than just the small triangular flags.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

A Siege and Relief game

I've posted a few pics of this game before, but here are some more.
You'll need to click on them to see the whole view.

The rationale behind the game was that Henry VII didn't die but received the Sicilian reinforcements (which were actually on their way when he died) and returned to besiege Florence.

Florentine forces protected the city while the Pope led Roman and Tuscan relief forces. In reality, by this point the Pope was based in Avignon, but we took some artistic licence.

The total size was around 800 AP per side, bigger than a normal DBMM battle.

This is a scratch built siege tower - WWg(S) in DBMM terms. The perrier on the tower is also scratch built. (Click on the photo to see it). I'll have to add some figures to these sometime.

Angevin paid French and Almughavar mercenaries take on the Emperor and Veronese supporters.

The figure with the ladder arms is based on Cangrande della Scala, ruler of Verona. The figure to the right of him bears the Montecchi coat of arms. This may have been the family on which the Montagues of 'Romeo and Juliet' was based.

The Pope under pressure from Aragonese Sicilian knights. Most of his guard crumbled rather quickly (despite being Sp(S)) and, with the Roman knights already eliminated, his command broke and fled soon after this picture was taken..

Luckily for the Guelphs, the Emperor was also in trouble - this was his final turn.

The battle was close all the way through and in the end a Florentine general who had sallied forth managed to survive two flanked combats while a Sicilian general survived one flanked combat but lost the second, breaking his command and the rest of the Ghibbeliine forces.

We intend doing something similar again. I'm currently trying to make some resin towers which look more Italian, though it has been quite a learning curve.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Just a quick post today.

I went to Caliver a couple of days ago and picked up some books from the period. Two of them I hadn't seen before, though I have some others in the same series. These have both been published in the last 12 months.

One was about the Almughavars:

And the other covers the conquest of Valencia by James I of Aragon.

Both are in Spanish with some nice Osprey style plates. There are a fair few black and white photos of original sources although, as with Osprey, there are also several pictures from later periods (e.g. 19th century) which aren't so useful. Most of the primary source pictures are ones I've seen online but some are new to me and it saves looking for them if you haven't already found them.
I can't read Spanish, but as with other non-English books I've bought the specialist vocabulary can be picked up quite quickly, making captions reasonably straightforward to translate. Online translators also help, as long as you take the translation with a sizeable handful of salt.
The publisher's website is here.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Figure Comparisons: 15mm Spearmen and Donnington Review

Yesterday I bought some of the 'New Era' figures from Donnington. I'd looked at them before but had assumed that they wouldn't be suitable for the period I wanted. The cavalry are certainly designed for the mid to late 14th century and beyond bit there turned out to be quite a few figures which would be suitable for my period.

The website is pretty good and representative figures are shown although I think there are a couple of misplaced pictures. The useful thing to know for many of us is how well they mix with other brands, particularly if, like me, you are going to get other troop types from different manufacturers.

From the left - Black Hat, Donnington, Mirliton, Touller. I've already based all my Essex and Legio Heroica figures, so they'll have to wait until I do some photos of based figures. The LH figures are a bit taller than the others (as with the crossbowmen). They'll look fine next to other makes but I don't think they'd look right in the same base. I shall keep mine as separate 'units'.

This Touller figure is a bit taller than the others - it isn't just the way his base isn't quite lined up. The other Feudal spearmen I have from Touller are just a bit shorter and are about the same size as Black Hat. I've put a few of these taller figures in with Black Hat figures and they don't stand out. All four companies could mix well although the ones with cast on shields may not look right next to the ones with separate shields.
The Donnington and Mirliton figures are very similar in size and style. Even the bases are similar shapes.

The figures are generally designed with the mid 14th century in mind. This does mean that not all are suitable for the late 13th century - leg armour and helmets in particular. The range includes some plancon bearers for the Low Countries, and these are the best I have seen so far. They are in kettle hat, which is fine for Courtrai/Kortrijk, or in bascinet which is better for the mid 14th century. However, a bit of filing should make a nice cervelliere as worn by the figures in the Kortrijk chest. The shields are separate on these which is useful - depite Heath's illustartion in Armies of the Middle ages, the three primary source pictures I know of which show this weapon show the wielders without shields.

In some cases the only noticeable bit of the leg armour just looks to be knee protectors - poleyns. These could probably be filed off or painted over. This gives then gives a nice range of polearms wielding figures in active poses.
LCF 8, LCF 10 and HYF 20 and probably some others will be particularly useful for 'Auxillia' types - there aren't many figures around which are suitable for these.

I like these figures and will be getting some more. It might even tempt me to do a DBA Low Countries army although this tends to start me on the slippery slope of a full DBMM army. At least Rune has already done the flags!

Here are some Alain Touller Spanish spearmen:
Only the ones with the mail coif are sold as Spanish and have the distinctive round bottomed shield. The others have a more pointed shield. Since I wanted a bit of variety of headgear but all with the same shield, I used a file to round off the points. It was pretty quick to do this.

Here is a comparison of, from the left, Mirliton, Alain Touller and Legio Heroica:
The Touller figures are more simiar in height to Mirliton than the unpainted example above. The Legio Heroica figures are a bit taller than the others but don't look out of place. 

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Spain: Royalty and Flags

This is my 15mm King of Aragon. The figures are Alain Touller with two Mirliton horses.

James I - the Conqueror, was king of Aragon through most of the 13th century. Much of his fighting was against various Muslim states, including the conquest of Mallorca and campaigning in Murcia. His life is covered by a chronicle which he authored (no doubt with the aid of a ghost writer). This is an excellent read. It is available on-line here.

He was succeeded by Peter III - the Great. He fought against rebellions at home and then led an expedition to reinstate Aragonese suzerainty over Tunis. From there, he led his army to Sicily to fight against Charles of Anjou. Peter was given a large sum of money by the Byzantine Emperor to assist this endeavour - Charles had set his sights on taking Constantinople to re-establish the Latin Empire.

At one point the two kings agreed to end the war by a duel in Bordeaux, though only Peter turned up.

The Pope excommunicated Peter for his invasion of Sicily and, declaring him deposed, a Crusade was called. This involved a huge French invasion of Peter's territory. Initially successful, the Crusade collapsed into a rout due to disease and the defeat of the French fleet.

On Peter's death, he left his Spanish possessions to his son Alfonso III and Sicily to another son, James.

Peter and Charles of Anjou are both placed by Dante outside Purgatory, singing in harmony.

Alfonso conquered Mallorca from his uncle (another James) and then Minorca from its Muslim ruler. His six year reign ended with his death at the age of 27. Dante placed him at the foot of the mountain of Purgatory with the inefficient rulers.

James of Sicily inherited the Kingdom of Aragon. In order to achieve peace with the Angevin Charles II, James agreed to give Sicily to Charles. The Sicilians disagreed and made James' brother, Frederick, king. James briefly made war on his brother which largely took the form of naval actions - James was even appointed Captain-General of the Papacy. As a further inducement, James was given Corsica and Sardinia - even though these were not in the Pope's control.

Dante is not complimentary about the Aragonese kings of Sicily

That book will show the greed and cowardice
of him who oversees the Isle of Fire,
on which Anchises ended his long life;

and to make plain his paltriness, the letters
that register his deeds will be contracted,
to note much pettiness in little space.

And all shall see the filthiness of both 
his uncle and his brother, who dishonored
a family so famous—and two crowns.
Paradiso, 19
Ferdinand IV is also criticised in the book of bad deeds, for his "life of treachery and ease."

Various chronicles cover the reigns of Peter and James. The most complete one available in English online was by Muntaner, available here. It is also a valuable source for the Catalan Company which campaigned in Byzantine lands. Others include ones by Desclot and San Juan de la Pena, though I don't know of any complete English versions of these online.

This is my representation of Don Enrique of Castile. Figures are Alain Touller.

He was a younger son of Fernando III of Castile. He fought against his brother, Alfonso X, and although initially successful he was forced into exile in England. After three years he had to leave and went to Aragon. He conquered the small Moorish Kingdom of Niebla but was again induced to leave Spain. He worked as a mercenary for the King of Tunis and then went to Italy.

There seems some disagreement as to whether he joined Charles of Anjou in time for the battle of Benevento. He certainly received the post of Senator of Rome. He considered this insufficient repayment for his support of Charles and joined Conradin's invasion, providing Spanish and Roman forces. He was in the successful van at Tagliocozzo but fled when the apparently victorious army was defeated.

He spent the next 23 years in prison and may have written the poem 'Amadis'.

For wargaming he is a most useful figure, being suitable for Castillian, Aragonese, Hafsid Berber, Medieval German and possibly Charles of Anjou's French armies.

I found his arms using Wikipedia, so I hope they are accurate! I used the same style of arranging the quarters as on this picture of Alfonso X

(Picture from here)
Note the purplish hue to the lions and the cross on Enrique's flag. Even the modern Spanish arms should have a lion in purpure but they are often shown in red. The actual original colour of purpure is debateable and even the above picture probably shows a change due to time. A pruplish red is probably the safest bet, though I've used a more (probably inaccurate) lilac colour on Enrique's flag
I have also painted a Castilian king but the photo is too blurred to use. Another time perhaps!

The following pictures show a variety of types of flags in use by Spanish forces. All are 13th century.

Fresco from here

From a fresco depicting the conquest of Mallorca. The senyera - the Catalan flag - is fairly unusual in that the bars are horizontal on the flag but vertical on shields. This shape is also unusual. A similarly shaped flag from the period still exists in Valencia. The description says that the yellowing is due to age, which seems odd when so many flags are depicted with a yellow field. The conquest pennon has probaly lost a longer tail as on the above picture.
The most common, and traditional, portrayal of the flag is with 4 red pales but as can be seen this was not always adhered to.

A nice picture which not only shows flags and bards of Castilian knights but also some early jinetes. I'm planning to get some suitable figures by Essex at the weekend.

(EDIT: Seems these are actually Muslims who are fighting alongside the Christians - the two were allied at the battle depicted. They may still be a guide to how early jinetes looked if raised from e.g. mozarabs).

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


The Iberian peninsula was divided between various kingdoms and other states, some Christian and some Muslim. Through this period there was conflict between most of the states at some time or other.

My initial interest in the Spanish armies was because of the involvement of the King of Aragon in Sicily, a conflict known as the War of the Sicilian Vespers. In brief, once Charles of Anjou defeated Manfred he gained control of the Kingdom of Sicily which included the island and the southern part of Italy as far as the Papal states. He had his eyes set on building a Mediterranean empire - I'll post something about this another time.

Peter III of Aragon had invaded the lands of Tunis to re-establish the suzerainty over Tunis that his father had imposed. While he was there, he was visited by emissaires from Sicily, inviting him to take over the kingdom from Charles. Peter had a claim on the Kingdom of Sicily through his wife and in his own right, and accepted the invitation. There is speculation that the journey to Tunis was actually a smokescreen and that it was only ever intended as a stepping stone to Sicily. The best book I've read on the background is Runciman's "The Sicilian Vespers" though I've included a link to an even older free download book in the sidebar.

The actual number of land battles in this war suitable for a wargame is small - most of the major actions were naval. The final land battle of the war, Falconaria, is perhaps the best for playing.

These are Alain Touller figures (with two Mirliton horses). As far as I know only Touller and Essex do specific Spanish figures. (Edit: Spanish are now also available from Donnington in the New Era range). The features which are particular to Iberian knights are - many of them wear a bowl shaped helmet, often with a face veil of mail; the surcoats have a sort of short sleeve; horse barding often leaves the head and neck bare and the shield has a far more rounded base than the more widely used heater shield. Touller has since redesigned the horses, which I haven't seen. The ones I have are pretty good although there aren't many poses. The great helms of the figures sold as Leonese knight look a bit rounded in places such as the vision slits. This initially put me off them but a very quick bit of work with a knife made them look how I wanted them.
Touller also does some Military Order knights wearing a hooded surcoat - I'll get some pictures of these eventually.

The Spanish nobility seem to have liked showing off their heraldry. Unlike the illustration in the Manesse Codex where most caparisons have a sprinkling of small heraldic devices, Spanish illustrations tend to show the barding with a single large form of the arms in each quarter of the housing. Sometimes the arms are split across front and back, as on the seal of the Kings of Castile and Leon.
These are not figures to paint if you don't want to do the heraldry. Some of these have the arms repeated on - the shield, four quarters of the caparison, each of the sleeves and often on the helmet.

Usually the heraldry aren't on the main body of the surcoat but there are exceptions.

Interestingly, in many of the early pictures showing surcoats from across Europe they don't show the coats of arms, so that probably isn't the original reason for surcoats being adopted.

More Spanish another time, including some of the personalities.

Monday, 3 August 2009

The Pope and the Papacy

The history of the Popes in this period is far too complex for me to go into detail here. In short, the period began with struggles against the Hohenstaufens which led to the Pope selling the claim to the Kingdom of Sicily. Henry III of Engand bought it for his son but this resulted only in Henry getting severely into debt, helping to create the circumstances for the Barons' War.

Charles of Anjou then obtained Papal backing for a claim to Sicily and finished off the Hohenstaufens.

With Ghibelline influence on the wane, the Papacy was able to extend its power further north, gaining lands which it then held fairly continously until the 19th century. Bologna was a major acquisition.

Relations with the Angevins and the French monarchy varied over the period. The populace of Rome were not always welcoming to the Pope and the danger of riots was used as a reason for the papacy moving to Avignon, although it also allowed the French monarchy to have more control over Papal policy. Rule of Rome itself was actually in the hands of the Senator. Sometime this was the Pope, at other times a native Roman of one of the great families but for some time the post was held by Charles of Anjou. Henry of Castile was a notable Senator - more of him another time.

Various Popes are mentioned by Dante. He finds Nicholas III in the 8th circle of the Inferno, buried head down with his feet on fire as a punishment for simony. This pope forsees the arrival in hell of Boniface VIII and Clement V - both of whom being political enemies of Dante.

In DBMM, the Pope is represented by a Bge(S) element. One of the benefits of this is that it gives room for a vignette and this is my attempt. The Pope is probably the most ambitious conversion I've made - he started as a mounted Hungaraian archer from Mirliton. The figure had a fur lined cap which was easy to make into a mozetta. The rest of the papal garb was made from Milliput. The litter and bearers are fantasy figures from Black Raven Foundry. They are moulded with nothing but a loin cloth so I used Milliput to give them a tunic. The throne is plastic card.
The two guardsmen at the front are from Mirliton as are the figures carrying the flabella fans and the umbraculum. The various monks are from Donnington. My original plan was to use these and their nice priest figure with the papal litter placed on the ground.

The Papal armies were, in this period, more often controlled by the Captain General of the Church (not the Gonfaloniere, apparently). This was, at times, an allied king but I have painted mine as Guillaume Durand, Captain General and governor of various Papal territories in the last two decades of the 13th century. His arms are copied from his tomb.
The figure is Mirliton, modified with a bishop's mitre of Milliput.
The figures in the background are Papal guards. I think the DBMM list is quite generous in classifying these as Sp(S) since the picture on which they are based seems to be pretty similar to other pavise carrying spearmen of the 14th century.

The DBA list for the Papacy doesn't, in my opinion, work well for this army. Normally, allies are added to the normal 12 elements but for this particular army the allies are a far more integral part of the army so should be represented as part of the normal army.

If you have access to JSTOR articles, you can download D. Waley's "Papal Armies in the Thirteenth Century". This has a lot of detail about the way in which the tributary cities owed service.
The 19th century "History of the City of Rome" by F. Gregorovius is available as a partial preview on Google books or as a pay download from here . There isn't very much military detail but it puts a lot of the events in context.