Sunday, 5 December 2010

Plutarch's Wars: Skythians and lots of Green Stuff

...or Scythians if you prefer!

I've never really fancied a Skythian army, but I seem to have always had a few figures for using in a variety of armies as far back as when I was using Peter Laing figures. I have a mixture of various sources although they are mostly stored away now that I have some Xyston figures.

For sources, I didn't go much further than the Osprey on these chaps. However, be careful! Virtually all of the figures in the plates are armoured and only one shows the typical Skythian cap which is worn by many of  the figures in Skythian art as well as depictions made by other nations. The Falcon figures range, which has some nice figures, follows the Osprey and as a result few of the range wear the caps.
One source which is worth a look is the Persian depiction of a fight between them and some Skythians. You can find it here - do a search for 'Scythian'.

For my Persians, I wanted to have some Massagetae armoured cavalry. There is a lot of discussion about how and whether they were linked to the western Skythians and what differences there would be in armour. Roman  Army Talk has a discussion with loads of links - many are in Russian but if you don't read the lingo then you can still look at the pictures! I did a lot of searching for suitable figures. There are various ones available for 'Scythian Heavy Cavalry'. Here are some I looked at.
Falcon: a good variety, based on the Osprey book. The figures are quite nice but perhaps a bit lacking in animation compared to more modern figures. Also quite small and reportedly difficult to get hold of.
Alain Touller: I was quite tempted. I've been told that the figures are small compared to other Touller figures.
Essex: Only seems to be one pose and lacked the full armour I wanted. Their Later Saka figures have potential, though perhaps more for the period after the one I'm doing. The horse armour lacks a certain something too.
Khurasan: I think they have some Massagetae on the way.
Old Glory: Quite nice figures but again the armour wasn't what I wanted.
Donnington: One of the older ranges. Paint up quite nicely I believe.
I got very interested by the Tin Soldier figures on Madaxeman's very useful site - but they are actually 28mm!
Xyston: Used to list a Massagetae heavy in their range as being for future release, but no sign after many years. However, I had some spare figures so thought I would turn my hand to some conversions, aided by Green Stuff and snippers.

I had some Xyston 'Satrapal Guard' figures and a few 'Northern Thracian Cavalry' which I thought would fit the bill. Ideally, I would like all of them to have armoured horses but may end up mixing them. The main textual source for their appearance is Herodotus:
[1.215] In their dress and mode of living the Massagetae resemble the Scythians. They fight both on horseback and on foot, neither method is strange to them: they use bows and lances, but their favourite weapon is the battle-axe. Their arms are all either of gold or brass. For their spear-points, and arrow-heads, and for their battle-axes, they make use of brass; for head-gear, belts, and girdles, of gold. So too with the caparison of their horses, they give them breastplates of brass, but employ gold about the reins, the bit, and the cheek-plates. They use neither iron nor silver, having none in their country; but they have brass and gold in abundance.

I would like all of them to have armoured horses but may end up mixing them. I referred to the sources available in the Roman Army Talk discussion, the Osprey, Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars, the Montvert Persian book and Gorelik's book on the Eurasian nomads.
With much chopping and Green Stuffing, this is what I got.
I had many goes with the caps unti I had something which I think I'm happy with.
The first ones I did were trying to look the same as those shown in Persian carvings, but they looked a bit too much like garden gnomes.
The next I was happier with, and weren't too different to the Xyston caps. However, I decided to go with something between the two, trying to look like those worn by some of the figures on Skythian gold artefacts.
They also needed to have bow cases added. These were pretty straightforward. I cut them more or less to shape before adding to the figure. Before it cured, I added it to the figure which allowed it to adapt to the shape of the figure. The bow was made as part of this and carved to shape when the case had hardened. If I did them again I would probably shape the bow with at least a core of brass wire (probably flattened) first. Hopefully they will be robust enough.
The bit which took the most time was making the shields. I did think of using Xyston peltas but the shapes weren't quite what I wanted. I had read a while ago about using Green Stuff to make push moulds and thought this would be an opportunity to try it out.
Firstly, I made some blanks out of plastic card. I mixed up some Green Stuff (apparently, a higher proportion of blue helps to retain detail). This needs to be coated with a release agent. Various things would work - I used something as high tech as olive oil from the kitchen. 
I left it overnight to cure.
The blanks can be removed fairly easily as the Green Stuff is still slightly flexible. I could have put some detail on the shields to begin with, but thought it might be easier to carve it into the Green Stuff. It worked reasonably well, but for the second attempt I put a think layer of the material in the bottom of each mould and worked the detail onto that. It also made the moulds shallower as the first shields came out a little thick.
To use the moulds, oil first then take a small blob of Green Stuff. This is squished and pushed into the mould, trying to make sure it gets right into all the detail. Leave overnight. These are the final results.
The excess trims off easily enough. The shields are slightly flexible but should be fine - I hope.
A couple of figures have had a wrap around shield added onto their backs as shown in some reconstructions.
Now I need to paint them which may well be a Christmas holiday job as I'm rounded off various other bits and pieces first. I also have to decide what length spear to give them - it'll probably be a longish spear but nowhere near as long as a Macedonian xyston as longer lance use on the steppes seems to have been later than the 4th century BC.