|Byzantine Horse - Tagmatic and Thematic kavallarioi of the|
Seeing what 'Jacko' of Painting Little soldiers is doing with his 'Ancients' has... incited, I think, rather than inspired ... me to look to my own 'Ancients' Armies, something I have not done for years. And more years. Certainly not since beginning this blog. So I thought I'd make an examination of my 15mm 'scale' inventory the subject of this and one, or maybe two, follow up articles.
|Patzinak (Pecheneg) horse in the service of Byzantium. These|
originated as basic horse archer figures, but some
have acquired shields and javelins. More later...
During the late 1970s I developed an interest in the Byzantine Empire, particularly the time of Justinian the Great, and his general, Belisarius. Upon my expressing this interest to the 'TOY Soldier' outfit in Sydney, Australia (whilst placing an order for some Napoleonics, I think), they sent me a sample figure - an 11th Century skutatos. Not my preferred choice, but I liked the figure enough to look into the history of 10th and 11th Century Byzantium, and think - yeah I could go for that. From about 800 to 1050 was a period during which the Byzantine Empire was far from declining. Basil II Bulgaroctonos became something of a hero figure, for mine. And, for the second quarter of the 11th century, who could resist a commander with the name of George Maniakes?
|Patzinak nobles based as Heavy Cavalry.|
DBA (De Bellum Antiquitatis), and more especially, DBM (De Bellis Multitudinis), were a godsend. Before DBM hove over the horizon, my Byzantines had been sitting in their boxes neglected already for several years. It did mean some reorganisation - especially the skutatos units and the 'super-heavy' kataphraktoi. The double basing and shape of these formations had been based on the nearest approximation that could be reached to those described in the Praecepta Militaria attributed to Nikephoros (II) Phokas, c.960.
|The leading light horse are hyperkerastai horse archers|
drawn from the cavalry regiments. Often used as a flank guard.
You would think two elements wouldn't have a prayer facing
horse archer armies, but they did OK.
But DBM very soon ran into the same major difficulty I have always had with 'Ancients' in general, and WRG in particular: they will mess about with the rule set. Sure, problems will slip through the play testing and development, but before making the mad dash to 'fix' the thing one must, I feel, ask oneself: 1. what the thinking was behind the existing rule (I'm not talking "What were you thinking??!!" here); and 2. to what extent is this a problem?
|Trapezetoi - Byzantine lance and javelin armed|
light horse. Probably fairly unhistorical by the end
of the tenth century. But I used the one allowed
element anyway. I have far too many of these!
Eventually becoming disenchanted with DBM (and frankly bored with stereotypical pick-up games), I slipped out of playing Ancients altogether. I won quite a few more than I lost, especially with my Byzantines (over a period of nine or ten years following a narrow defeat one Easter weekend in the early '90s, I never lost to a Roman army). But wanting a historical opponent army (as is my habit), I lit on the Bulgars of c.1000. They have to have been the unluckiest army I ever fielded. Their win-draw-loss record of 2-2-14 sounds bad enough, but looks way worse when you learn that their career began with a draw then a win.
|Let's have another look at the Varangian Guard, eh?|
Flank marches failed to turn up; the spearmen would collapse in a heap at the very mention of a knight; the 'superior' light horse, getting tore into a bunch of scraggy 'fast' enemy light horse, got simply torn apart... have you ever seen a completely fresh command get dismembered and collapse in half a bound?! I have, more than once with this army,and it ain't pretty. It happened to my Byzantines once, but I forgave them...
|A part-finished skutatos unit badly in want of repair!|
Then there was the occasion my left-hand Bulgar command, threading its way through a maze of small hills, got stuck there. My fault: I had them in line instead of columns. Not that should have mattered too much. But half way through, my command dice went: 1,1,1,3,1,1,2,1. A sequence like that haunts you: you just don't forget. So, by the time this lot cleared the hills, the battle was over: lost.
|Group shot of my skutatoi/toxotai units. Two of them have|
menavlatoi elements added.
Mind you, the rest of the army fought magnificently. That it took at least those eight bounds to defeat them at odds of two to three argues a fine performance in adversity. That occasion was not the only that happened, neither...
|Blue 'Regiment' (don't know what other name to give it).|
As it so happens, a lot of the figures I used for Bulgars were reasonably suitable for using as Abasgians - Georgians. Another 'irregular' army, I think the presence of archers, especially in worthwhile numbers, made a difference. Perhaps surprisingly, the horse classed as 'fast knights' seemed to do better than 'superior cavalry' when irregular. Although my Georgians suffered the odd defeat, it performed far better than the Bulgars did. And that is a pity, because I kinda prefer my first choice.
|I think these guys are Akritoi (I stand to be corrected on this).|
DBM treated them as 'Auxilia', the historicity of which type
I have my doubts (not so much the loose rough-terrain type,
as whom they placed in that category).
Having said all that, I still regard DBM (and DBR, too, though with more hesitation) as conceptually as fine a rule set for 'Ancients' as one is likely to run across. But it was ruined by too much 'rules lawyering', too many amendments (many ill-considered), a couple of serious, but easily fixed design flaws, and a large section of the 'playing public' who, I think, didn't really understand what the designers were getting at. The element based system as distinct from unit based had in the early days the effect of developing long battle lines of considerable robustness. But you will get the type of war gamer who will 'play the loopholes'. As it happened, I kept the units you see in these pictures, as part of these battle lines quite often, and they worked well enough for me.
|Heavy and light foot. The General behind the nearest unit|
looks like my Gheoghios Maniakes. In the distance,
Dmitrios Psychopathes... Sorry, can't resist this sort
|Sphendonistai - slingers. Had I already read when I painted them|
the Praecepta Militaria, I would have placed them in pale shades
of the heavy regiment colours.
|Slingers and staff slingers.|
(To be continued)