Now, I am sure you would agree that I am not one to grumble. I am, as I may have mentioned a few times, slowly getting to the end of painting Classical Indians. You know, the chaps who fought Alexander to more or less a standstill, so he took to floating down rivers rather than annihilating everyone on sight.
The thing that I have struggled with is, as I may have also mentioned (I am sure I was not grumbling), are the chariots. Now, I have nothing against the odd chariot, except that they are somewhat fiddly wargame models with lots of bits, but superglue and tweezers can help with that. Nor am I moaning about the large quantity of horses to Indian chariots. After all, the Romans raced four horse chariots, and the fact that I can only fit one model and its horses onto a base has, in fact, just doubled the number of chariot bases available for the army.
No, the thing that does slightly perplex me is the number of figures on the chariot. I am sure this is not the manufactures fault, but a wargame tradition. The thing is, for a four man chariot, you get for men on the chariot.
Now, I am fairly sure that the response from the majority of the world is ‘so what?’ but I will attempt to explain. A fighting man in close order takes up a width of three feet, or thereabouts. At least, I think that is what the manuals say, at a minimum. I believe that using ranged weapons needs a bit more room. Now four men at a minimum of three feet each is, if I am not far mistaken, twelve feet. And then you would need a bit more for the wheels, hubs, body of the chariot and so on. But let me suggest that the width of the chariot is, at a minimum, twelve feet.
Now, I don’t know about you, and I am willing to sit corrected, but that seems a little wide for a chariot. For one thing, the manoeuvrability of the vehicle would be a little unwieldy. For another, the weight of it would cause some problems surely. It would not take much for our four man crew to start to feel a bit of a sinking feeling. Furthermore, have a look at the nearest twelve foot wide piece of real estate you can see. How flat is it? What are the chances that, when proceeding at speed across it, a twelve foot wide vehicle will ground on something, even if the wheels are, say, eighteen inches above the ground.
I know that the sources say ‘four man chariot’, but do we really think that is what they mean? After all, one of King David’s sons is reported as having fifty chariot runners, but only the Prince and his driver were in the vehicle itself.
I have a similar sort of issue with some Burmese elephants that I have. They are, so far as I can judge, nice models of elephants. But I do question the twelve man crew. They are all sitting on, or dangling off, the elephant. Now I now that elephants are large animals and capable of carrying great burdens. But when you look at it from the elephant’s point of view: people dangling off me are, simply, going to annoy me, and they will impair my ability to move. I suppose the only advantage I might have is that they will get hit by the arrows first, so they might form a sort of ablative armour coating, but that is probably offset by mobility problems.
I have, of course, no evidence that these things are wrong, specifically. But they do seem a little unlikely, even if such a thing as a four man chariot or a twelve crew elephant are mentioned in the literature, or even depicted in art. The practicalities mentioned must make them less than useful weapon platforms in those forms.
What I suspect is going on is another instance of a bit of wargamer’s naivety with texts (where, in this case, text includes art). A twelve man elephant is an elephant with twelve crew. I think we can grant that. What that does not necessarily mean is that all twelve men crewed the elephant, in any direct sort of sense, such as riding upon it into battle. It is more likely, it seems to me, that there were, perhaps, four men actually riding the elephant, providing missile fire, a good view of events and the possibility of their steed treading on some enemies. The rest were probably deployed as light infantry to see off other skirmishers and to increase the harassing fire from their colleagues.
And my guess is that the same sort of thing applies to the chariots. All four men fighting at the same time seems a tad unlikely. Two or three on the chariot and the rest on foot seems much more reasonable (and seems to be how the Celts did it anyway). Most manufacturers, after all, do give skirmish foot figures for the six man Indian chariot. An eighteen feet wide vehicle does seem innately unlikely.
So we seem, here, to be a bit in the wargame myth world. I might find, of course, that I am inundated with evidence of elephants going into battle carrying battalions of Sepoys, or of chariots carrying a dozen men, but somehow I doubt it. I suspect that this is an instance of an understandable but distinct misreading of the text.
On the other hand, a four man chariot, or a twelve man elephant is probably what we, as wargamers expect. We cannot, in that case, simply blame the manufacturers for producing what we demand. I shall, of course, finish painting my chariots, and enjoy deploying them against to dastardly Macedonians. My Burmese elephants are currently pensioned off in the cupboard, but even they might, um, ride again, as it were.
But I think I shall have to admit that they are real beasts with mythical numbers of riders.