Sunday, 5 June 2011

Beasts of Burden

I have a bit of a weakness for getting baggage animals for my armies, especially when I see ones I haven't seen before. Here is a bit of background for some of the beasts used in ancient armies.
(Rather irrelevantly, the word 'donkey' wasn't used in English until a couple of hundred years ago and is one of those which seems to have appeared from nowhere to become the common name.  (Another is 'dog' which appears in late medieval times...) The older name, which is still used for a range of related animals is the 'Ass').
Several different species of ass are found in Asia and Africa (and a species in Europe may have survived into historical times). Studies show that the likely ancestors of modern domesticated asses lived in North Africa - probably the ancestor of the Nubian and Somali asses. The Asiatic asses seem to have been hard to domesticate though they may have been used to pull Sumerian chariots. These were known by the Romans as onagers, hence the name they gave to some catapults because of their kick. The Greek name - which in English is hemione - literally means 'half-ass'...
 There are various references to asses in Ancient texts and it isn't always clear which species is meant. Biblical references include dometicated asses. Pliny refers to Cappadocian mules which can bear young  - these are likely Asiatic (probably Syrian) Wild Asses.
Donkeys were commonly used as beasts of burden, especially where horses were in short supply for the breeding of mules. Other than the Egyptian painting at the start of this ramble, there are some Greek images of baggage donkeys such as here .

Despite their common use in Ancient times the number of 15mm donkeys available is very limited. I used some from Tin Soldier.  There is a single pose and no variation in load, though the heads and legs are fairly easy to bend as can be seen from my photo. If I hadn't been in a hurry to get these painted I might have put some green stuff baggage on some for variety. Tin Soldier figures can have a slight cartoony feel to them and these remind me a little of those in Disney's Pinocchio. I rather like them though :)  The drivers are from Xyston. Other bases use women and children from the Thracian range.


Mules are of course a cross between a horse and a donkey - to be specific a female horse and male donkey. They are almost always infertile - so much so that the rare instances of a female mule bearing a foal was considered portentous. Mule use requires a decent number of breeding mares and some societies have not had the horses to spare. Egypt, for instance, seems to have used mules fairly rarely. (See here page 60) . The chariot pulling animals of Sumeria mentioned above may have been a similar hybrid though of domesticated donkeys and wild (Asiatic) asses.
  Mules have various advantages over donkeys and horses. They tend to be larger than donkeys though often not by much. The shape combines features of horse and donkey - in terms of figures the tail is like a horse's and the mane may not stick up as much.
Since I had no suitable figures at the time, I painted some of Essex's mules to look more like donkeys. These are much smaller than the Tin Soldier donkeys, and to me would be far too small against Xyston figures. [EDIT - Since posting this, Forged in Battle have released some Roman mules. I hope that Corvus Belli's mules are re-released as they looked good. I may end up getting some of AB's mules which are really nice but I fear they and the accompanying figures may be rather large].


Apadana Tribute - the BM
The Bactrian camel and the dromedary are both found being used as baggage animals in ancient times. Hybrids also found their place (see here). The most famous uses of baggage camels are when Cyrus the Great is supposed to have used his to scare Lydian horses and when the Surena carried plenty of spare arrows for shooting down Crassus's Romans. Plutarch says that Mithradates used them - he berates Sallust for saying that it was Lucullus's soldiers who first saw them and that they had previously been seen during the Pontic invasion of Greece (as well as a century earlier being used by Antiochus). These could have been either type of camel since,as in modern English, ancient usage can often refer to either form. Persian carvings show both types being brought in tribute.
Note, camels seems to have been known about in Egypt long before the Romans, since various terracotta and other images have been found there. However, these are likely to represent animals used by traders from the East rather than indicating wide use of the animal with Egypt proper. Camel drivers are mentioned in Ptolemaic documents and these do seem to have operated in the country itself rather than in Syria.

There is a nice image of a dromedary being used by Assyrians here. For my Persians, I have Bactrian camels. These are figures by Essex and have a lot of character. I think there are three variants in pose. The drivers are Xyston - various levy troops I had spare.
My pictures don't really do them justice  - there is a clearer one on Madaxeman - you'll also find some nicely done Essex dromedaries too

Alain Touller does some nice Bactrian camels with Mongol 'civilians'. They are quite a lot smaller
than other companies' offerings though I shall eventually paint them. If and when I do, I'll add them here. (EDIT - Here they are. Now OOP, unfortunately).

For my Islamic armies, I have a choice. I originally use Peter Pig's camels and drivers. Like most of their figures the drivers are small compared to other ranges. The camels are similar in size to other companies, including ones by Irregular and Tin Soldier which I haven't shown.

Though the Peter Pig beasts are decent enough figures, I got carried away and bought some of the
fairly new camels from Donnington. These have the baggage separate from the camels allowing a great deal of variety. They are the biggest of the camels I have though they don't dwarf other ranges.

Finally, here is a comparison shot of the three manufacturers:

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