Tuesday 30 June 2015

The Roman Army (West) -the Legion

The Legions (West).

As part of the Sevrean Dynasty project, I will build a big battle size Middle Imperial Roman for the Western Empire. Again, these would be primarily Old Glory 15s; legionary figures would be the same, but the auxiliaries would have the earlier body armour to make them distinct from the Eastern Auxilia. This would make identification easier when fighting battles during the civil war period.

Researching this further, the collection would be modelled after the units gathered by Septimius Severus for his campaigns against his rivals. These were taken from those serving the provinces of Pannonia and Moesia.and were the vexillations of Legions and elite Auxilia units that served with Septimius Severus.

In addition to the standard heavy cavalry units, there are two units of Contarii or Cataphract which are an option.

Other than their outward appearance, the two lists (Western and Eastern) are nearly identical. Campaigning the civil wars are an option of course, but of greater interest are the battles between Rome and the Sassanid. After completion, the Roman collection will number six commands each.

Although “Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome” depict shield patterns for Romans of this period, I actually found a number of websites that offered good colour representations. Inspired by these, I played with different shades of red and painted wings of either yellow, near orange or white.

The two elements in the foreground are the I and II Adiutrix (Marines) and behind are two elements each of X and XIV Gemina (Martia Victrix). The tridents turned out passible, but the Dolphins, so-so. I am pleased with the wings.

Part of the reforms set by Severus was a re-constituted Praetorian Guart and the II Parthica garrisoned outside of Rome. These two units are also represented here.


Tuesday 23 June 2015

Palmyra - late 2nd, early 3rd century.

Delving into late 2nd/ early 3rd century history has generated a lot of un-answered questions regarding developments in and outside the Eastern Roman Empire. This curiosity prompted me to explore the three mountain kingdoms of the Caucasus which have been posted earlier. They may not warrant an army list according to the parameters set by the DBA rule book, however, for our campaign needs, yes.

Following that same direction I wanted to explore the 100 year period leading up to Palmyra’s move toward independence in AD 260; a free city-state to breakaway empire.

A quick summary of facts found during my searches.

From the Seleucid period to the end of the Roman Republic, Palmyra is a trade centre along the caravan route which remained independent like the cities of Emesa, Hatra, Edessa, Adiabene to name a few.

The early political organization of the city was based on four tribes, each settled in a different part of the city. These were: the Bene Komare (Kohenite); an Arab tribe, the Bene Maazin or Ma'zyân; the Bene Mattabol, also of western origin; and a fourth whose name is uncertain (Attar?). Each had its own cult temple, but that of the god Bel represented all of Palmyra (Schlumberger 1971).

During the reign of Tiberius (AD 14 – 37), Palmyra became part of the Roman province of Syria.

Hadrian, during his visit in AD 129 proclaimed Palmyra a “civitas libera or free-city”, exempt from taxation. To what degree was Palmyra self-autonomous, there are differing views.

The Antonine plague, brought back by returning soldiers from the Near East, spread through the Roman Empire from AD 165 – 180. Mortality rate estimates vary from 15 to 30%.

By AD 212, unrest within the Parthian Empire diminishes Palmyra’s trade through overland routes. Anticipating this, Palmyra steps up the use of sea routes to the Indus.

Palmyra was named Colonia in AD 231, but retained its own forms of government.

The reference to the military title of strategos is a reminder that Palmyra was able to field archers, mounted on camels and horses, who protected the caravans against the marauding desert nomads (Ingholt 1976).

AD 260, Septimius Odaenathus, a Prince of Palmyra, was appointed by Gallienus as the corrector totius Orientis (“governor of all the East”). This frees Gallienus to deal with the breakaway Gallic Empire under Postumus.

After the fall of Zenobia (AD 273), a legionary fortress was established at Palmyra and remained an important junction to the reign of Diocletian. This was garrisoned by the reconstituted III Gallica.

Now a look at the army lists.

Before the incorporation of Palmyra to Roman Syria (Tiberius), I believe Palmyra may have deployed forces similar to other caravan city states as the sources mention mounted and foot archers (not Roman).

I use the Hatrene list solely as a point of reference.

II/22c Army of Hatra 126 BC-240 AD:
1 x General (Kn),
1 x horse archers (LH),
1 x swordsman (Bd),
2 x javelinmen (Ax or Ps) or horse archers (LH),
6 x archers (Bw),
1 x cataphract camels (Cm) or archers (Bw)

When Emperor Gallienus appoints Septimius Odaenathus as the corrector totius Orientis (“governor of all the East”) the following list is found under Book II, list 74a.

II/74a Palmyran Army 260-271 AD (Odenathus’ army):
1 x General (Kn),
2 x cataphract (Kn),
1 x light horse (LH),
3 x archers (Bw),
2 x archers (Bw or Ps),
either Romans
[1 x Roman cavalry (Cv) + 1 x legionaries (Bd) + 1 x auxilia (Ax)]
or Palmyran
[1 x cataphract (Kn) + 1 x archers (Bw) + 1 x light horse (LH) or skirmishers (Ps)]

Regarding the Roman units, we find these present at various times:

Ala Herculiana (AD 117), Ala I Ulpia Singularium: (AD 127), Ala I Ulpia Dromedariorum Palmyrenorum: (150 AD)

Cohort I Sebastena (AD 17), Cohort I Ulpia Petraeorum (AD 108), Cohort Augusta Thracum: (AD 150),

Vexillations of Legion XVI Flavia Firma: (AD 128), Legion 111 Cyrenaicae, (AD ?), Legion Severiana (after AD 273).

These units listed are taken from tiles and grave stones found in the area. We know that during the reign of Septimius Severus, a system of defence in depth was set in place for the Eastern frontier so the units listed above may have been briefly posted to Palmyra, but were normally elsewhere.

This Project

Although this project focuses on the period of the Severan Dynasty, in some cases a step back may produce a better perspective, such as the advance state of Palmyra's list (II/74a) during the reign of Septimius Odaenathus.

Palmyra had enough wealth to support the raising of cataphract, but where did the troops come from? Were these disaffected Parthian nobles who fled west and not to Armenia in AD 225? Could these have been nobles who fled west during the earlier Parthian civil wars of AD 197?

Excepting the extra cataphract, an early Palmyran list (+/- AD 190) for our use would be comparable to an Arabo-Aramean one; 3 - 4 cataphract cavalry, 2 - 3 light horse, 4 - 6 archers and 1 - 2 skirmishers.

I have a few more sources to gleaned, but in the meantime I can busy myself with another building project.


The Palmyrene Prosopography, by Palmira Piersimoni, University College London.
Palmyra as a Caravan City, Albert E. Dean, Stanford University
Caravan Cities: The Roman Near East and Long-Distance Trade by Land, Fergus Millar.
Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tadmor, in the Desert, Robert Wood. (London 1753)
Roman Economy and Trade in the Near East, Darell J. Rohl 

Wednesday 17 June 2015

The Alani.

The Alan list spans a remarkable long period of time, from 50 to 1500 AD. Within the time frame of this project, the Alans are enemies to many but are allies to the Bosporan, Armenia and a 6th c. Sassan. Aside from the core of nobles (Kn) the remainder of the army is filled with light horse skirmishers. Yet, primarily a nomadic nation, the Alan may field units of blade and infantry skirmishers.

Not particularly an aggressive nation and coming from the steppe, you can expect a battlefield with low hills, but the rocky or scrub areas and a meandering river will prove useful to pin your opponents against. Steppe is also one of the few DBA geographical categories that lists a gully (another project).

The figures come from Old Glory’s Asiatic Horse list. The nobles are the Heavy Cavalry from that list and the LH are Alans both bow and javelin armed.

The collection has no general designated as I had been debating which type of standard to make; a banner or a dragon standard. Since then, I have constructed dragon standards using Milliput for the Sarmatians and Carpi. As these turned out very well I shall make more for the Alan and any other nomad army that may follow. 


Saturday 13 June 2015


These older Old Glory Sarmatian cavalry were refurbished and detailed which brightened the collection up. Not quite enough for a DBA command, I ordered enough packs to fill out two commands.

These will eventually fight alongside my Early Germans, Carpi or with the Alani. I have also enjoyed battles using two commands a side. These games are marginally longer, but still take less than an hour to play.

The additional cavalry and foot took about a week to paint. Quite an imposing force to run havoc among the Romans.

There is a lot on the Internet about Sarmatians but no one site can present a clear picture detailing their history. Greek historians refer to them as Scythian, others find the term Sarmatian to include the Rhoxolani, Iazyges or Jazyges, and Alani.

My search focused on the later 2nd and 3rd centuries. This was a period of migration and Sarmatian settlements covered an area stretching from the Caucasus to the Danube basin.

The following links are an interesting read on the subject as the author presents a lot of information.

The Sarmatians

I am not sure if you found this, but scroll down half a page to the section "The Alani Kingdom in the Crimea". The relief showing the son of Andromenos is interesting.


Tuesday 9 June 2015

Sassanid in battle array.

I had an opportunity today to do a photo session. Here are the Sassanid marching to meet Rome.

The advance guard.

The left wing cavalry

The central command

The right wing cavalry

The Immortals

The elephant corps

The levy.

The foot archers

The remainder were based during the army list “draft” phase as six elements of 3Bw. This will mean re-basing two elements as Ps, but the remainder will be used to fill in the archer compliment for a future collection for which I have three in mind.  

The grass scatter pieces are from Leadbear of Australia. These are dried grass of 12mm length, perfect for scrub of arid regions. I have added "Acacia" trees to the scatter collection. These were older Woodland Scenic trees reshaped to fit the proper profile.   

More photos.

Sunday 7 June 2015

On the periphery – the Caucasian kingdoms (Albania)

These three armies were the result of a bulk purchase of Essex figures. For the most part these were Cappadocian and clothing styles were well suited for what I had in mind.

The 18 packs of figures were sorted into three commands giving the tribesmen of Iberia stronger number of foot (Ax), Albania more mounted and Colchis/Lazika, with their longer history of contact with Rome, more spear armed infantry (militia) and a few knights.

The collection now consists of 42 elements which gives me options for particular scenarios.

Kingdom of Albania
1 x 3Cv (General and bodyguard)
3 x 2LH
5 x 3Ax tribesmen
3 x 2Ps

The infantry are nearly done, these lack only some highlighting and of course shield designs. Cavalry are in the background and after lunch I will work on lining and highlights for them.

While painting, I am searching about the net for nuggets of information. In general, Albania tended toward a pastoral economy which brought many tribes in conflict with their Iberian neighbors.

On a number of occassions during the 2nd and 3rd century, Rome interceeded on behalf of Iberia to settle disputes.

For further reading covering the geography I would suggest Strabo. Although, written in the 1st century AD, he does give some interesting tidbits of information. Iberia is amply handled.


Saturday 6 June 2015

On the periphery – the Caucasian kingdoms (Iberia)

Bordering Lazika is the mountain kingdom of Iberia. Strabo describes the region with its important passes in his work Geographica. Not all of the Iberian passes create a bottleneck for north – south traffic, but others border on the western kingdom of Lazika/Colchis.

The plains offer ample space for an agrarian based economy. Of the three kingdoms, information is readily found covering the history of Iberia. I did find extracts of from Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562” by D. Braund and this is definitely on my book list.

The many descriptions of Iberian troops mention them covered with animal skins. Whether these are headdress, cloaks or coats are not mentioned, but I will put the Milliput to use tomorrow and create a mix.

 Every figure has an animal skin headdress with the exception of the General and guard; the leader has a fur trimmed cloak.

As these figures all have cloaks giving them fur jackets or trim is rather pointless as it would be difficult to see.

The Iberians field auxilia and skirmishers suitable for mountain warfare backed by armoured cavalry and light horse.

Kingdom of Iberia
1 x Cv general
1 x Cv/Kn
2 x LH
5 x Warriors (3Ax)
3 x Skirmishers (Ps)

As with all my milliput tasks I have much left over, so the excess went to adorn spearheads (horse tails and skulls) which will be used as standards.


Friday 5 June 2015

On the periphery – the Caucasian kingdoms (Colchis)

The kingdom of Colchis was to a certain degree a Roman province. However, the “Roman-loving Iberians”, enjoyed Roman protection throughout the 2nd century while remaining semi-independent.

Both Parthia and Rome had a mutual goal of maintaining a barrier against the nomadic tribes north of the Caucasus Mountains and during the 2nd and 3rd century at times helped one another toward that goal.

This changed when the Sassanid came to power.

As the armies for the three Kingdoms have similar composition it was rather fun to devise a theme that would make each distinct from the other. During the period of interest, Colchis was administered as a Roman province with forts in the Roman style found along the coast and the interior. Whether these were garrisoned by Roman auxilia or local militia I am still researching this. I do know of Roman garrisons during the Later Imperial period.

In either case, I decided to give these a slightly Roman influence in clothing colour, so I selected a style similar to Roman Auxilia.

This command have an infantry core of either militia spear or auxilia augmented with hill tribesmen as mercenaries (Ax) or skirmishers (Ps). The mounted are evenly divided between cavalry (Cv/Kn) and light horse.

In some respects, the composition of the command is not unlike the Bosporan army of the same era.

1 x Cv/Kn general
1 x Cv/Kn
4 x LH
4 x 4Sp or 4Ax
2 x 2Ps.

Not shown are additional figures to add mercenary hill tribes (3Ax) and more skirmishers (Ps).

All figures are Essex which make converting or changing positions easy. In this case, spears and shields were clipped free so they could be re-positioned. The spear militia have a lively look about them.

These will have a uniform appearance and I may add the “pill-box” cap later to give them a western look.

While cleaning and re-positioning the arms and shields, I thought these would make great African troops; all have cloaks and a javelin in addition to a spear. Technically, these should have an oval shield for the 3rd century, but this is a minor quibble considering the price I paid for them. 


Thursday 4 June 2015

On the periphery – the Caucasian kingdoms

My primary goal in collecting these kingdoms was to expand scenario options outside the standard Rome vs Parthia, or later Sassan themes.

During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the major powers were busy securing one of the most important barriers keeping the nomadic hordes at bay, the Caucasus. Both Rome, Armenia and later Sassan would in turn would set their preferred ruler on the throne of the kingdoms and send military assistance to keep that barrier secured.

Creating an army list
We know Iberian and Albanian troops serving Armenia are listed (DBM) as javelin armed auxiliaries or bow armed fighting in open order (Ps) with smaller numbers fighting in loose order (Bw).

Like their predecessors that remained in the mountainous region (Scythian) we can add a mounted force to our list. The nomadic armies are substantially small numbers of armoured nobles with the majority being bow or javelin armed.

There are Iberian archaeological finds depicting hunting scenes of javelin and bow armed figures killing deer and wild boar. Riders are bare-headed and wear typical Persian style of clothing; loose trousers and hip length shirt or coat.

Iberian and Albanian lists might follow an Armenian one, however reviewing related lists (Scythian to Georgian) I would incline to downgrade cataphracts to cavalry and have total number mounted vary from 1/3 to 1/2 of the army.

A speculative list for our game purposes might look like this:

Iberia and Albania
1 x 3Cv or 3Kn General and bodyguard {1}
1 x 3Cv or 3Kn {1}
2 x 2LH
4 x 3Ax javelin armed tribesmen
2 x 2Ps or 3Bw
1 x 3Ax or 2LH
1 x 2Ps or 2LH

{1} The selection of Cv or Kn class would reflect which major power is extending influence in the kingdom at the time; Rome and Armenia (Cv) or Persia (Kn). Although Parthia and Sassan placed members of the royal family on the throne, Sassan would offer greater military support. Nonetheless, more research is need in this area.

On the subject of economics, one of the useful references listed by H. Sidebottom in the Warrior of Rome, The Caspian Gates is "Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562” by D. Braund. At a list price of £116.00, this is a serious investment. I will see what can be sourced first around the net before taking the plunge.

Next, the individual kingdoms.