Firstly, of course, there was the desire to be different. The term warband had passed into wargaming language and would be freighted with certain expectations which I was by no means certain the rules would deliver. So some change in the language seemed to be required.
Secondly, my reading suggested that the expression warband should, perhaps, be reserved for the immediately available following of a chief or leader. These would be the ‘comitatus’ or noble’s retinue. According to Tacitus, the power of a noble would be displayed by the size of his comitatus, at least for the Germans, and these would be the men who rode out on raids and so on, so would be better trained and equipped.
However, the bulk of the foot for big battles would not be formed from the comitatus of the noble elite. Firstly, many of those men may have been equipped as cavalry within an army, and secondly, even if they were not, they would be likely to be the leaders of the rest of the foot. The rest of the foot would, of course, consist of agricultural labourers, peasant farmers and the like.
As Polemos: SPQR was designed to be a big battle rule set, I decided that the term warband would be unhelpful, and renamed by foot of the northern barbarians ‘tribal’.
Recently, I have read a very interesting paper, entitled ‘Detribalizing the later prehistoric past: Concepts of tribes in Iron Age and Roman studies’ (T. Moore, Journal of Social Achaeology 11(3) 334-360 (2011)), which I happened on by accident. In this paper Moore examines the idea of tribes in late pre-Roman Britain. The conclusions do not bode well for my nomenclature.
Essentially, as I understand it, Moore argues that the first sighting we have of tribes in Britain is during the second century AD. That is both Tacitus and Ptolemy note certain tribes and locations within Britain which they describe as ethnic and geographical entities. Thus, we get maps based on Ptolemy of the tribal areas of Britain, with such stars as the Votadini in the Scottish Borders and the Brigantines in the north.
The issue is, of course, that there is precious little evidence for these tribes existing before the invasion by the Romans. While Caesar encountered native forces, he does not really describe them as a distinct tribe. Indeed, at one point he observes that there were four kings in Kent (Conquest of Gaul V.22), an area usually described as belonging to the Cantiaci alone.
There are also issues of translation hidden in these depths. The texts of the authors of note here were often translated into English by men during the nineteenth century. As such, they imported into the texts a number of imperial and colonial concepts, such as tribe and state and nation. These terms are interpretations of such words as ‘civitas’ and ‘gens’ and may not have a one to one relationship with our concepts of their translations as ‘tribe’ or ‘people’. Confusion thus can abound.
Moore then goes on to suggest that, before contact with the Romans, there was no such thing as a tribe in Britain, and that the tribes described in the second century were formed by reaction to the invasion of the country.
The narrative goes something like this: The first contact was via long distance trade and gave the elite extra clout, as they were the people obtaining the valuable trade goods. Thus the elite became more so. Then, when the invasion happened, war leaders emerged who either were already the elite, or became so. As the Romans occupied the country, they would deal with the native elite only on terms that the Romans understood, that is, only by dealing with a select few of native nobles who were held responsible for the behaviour of the rest of those that the Romans defined as their responsibility.
The upshot of this, of course, is to argue that the tribes of Britain were, effectively, Roman constructs, together with the cities which are attributed to them. These were the places where the Roman administration decided to administrate from, and the conquered peoples had to conform. Even in a hostile colonial situation, there has to be some sort of contact between conquered people and conquering forces, and this contact is conducted on the terms of the conqueror.
This has a number of consequences for some of the ideas that are around of the continuity of these tribes from pre-history through the Roman era to post-Roman kingdoms and even, as has been claimed, to the English county boundaries. The fact is that, even if continuity can be traced from the Roman imposed ‘tribal’ system, the geographical boundaries cannot be traced through a stable tribal system pre-dating the Romans. Such a thing simply did not exist, and it is doubtful that the aboriginal Britons thought in those terms anyway.
So, what does this have to do with wargaming?
Well, as I mentioned above, I renamed warbands as tribal foot. Perhaps that term too is freighted with ignorance, and I should find some other description. It has to be said, though, that ‘political entity imposed by the Romans foot’ lacks a little as a snappy term for wargame rule use.
Aside from that, I think what this shows is that we need to be very careful in terms of our assumptions about the political entities from which our toy soldiers spring. Mostly, we have assumptions which, as the above shows, are based on nineteenth century concepts such as ‘tribe’ and ‘nation’ which may not fit the originals entities which they were designed for. History, for those who care to look into it, is fraught with these sorts of difficulties.