I mentioned a week or so ago that I had spent a lot of time sitting in traffic jams. This is an unfortunate aspect of modern living, even in relatively sparsely populated parts of the country, especially while the world is working up to the frenzy of capitalist materialism we know as ‘Christmas’. To be honest, I think that Christians should ask the materialists for their festival back, please, but that is probably another post.
Anyway, having had a fair bit of time sitting in the car listening to classical music, feeling my nerves fraying and so on, I did recall an interesting paper I once read about the dynamics of traffic flows. The hypothesis was, as I recall, that a stream of traffic was modelled as a liquid which was compressible, but only up to a limit. Working out the mathematics of this (I do not think I ever understood the details) it turned out that there could be phase transitions in the flow, so that the previously flowing liquid became a solid, even though elements of the liquid were still entering and leaving the block. So it was, sort of, a dynamic solid, in equilibrium with the surroundings, but there for no readily apparent reason.
In my slightly fraught state, I also remembered my current struggles in painting classical Indian chariots. As you probably know, these are fairly large vehicles, with four or six crew per chariot. The Baccus chariots, for it is they with which I am struggling, for all the niceness of the model and cleanness of casting, I have really found difficult to assemble and paint. I am getting there, but having nearly attached myself to the chariot body with superglue, glued a chariot to my tweezers and then having to rebase the first batch because at four horses per chariot two chariots will not fit on a single base, these are never going to be my favourites.
Be that as it may, I also, while sitting in the dark on a flyover, with only a load of brake lights to admire, I recalled an article from many moons ago by Charles Grant in Military Modeller (just after ‘Battle’ had been forcibly amalgamated, and before MM reverted to being about military modelling, without wargaming). I think it was a regular column called ‘On Military Matters…’ or something like that, and it was about the tactics of using chariots.
The main point I think grant was trying to make was that chariots could not be lined up hub to hub and charge. Even over a short distance there would be sufficient roughness to the ground such that they would have to move around a little bit, and if they were deployed very close, that would inevitably lead to road traffic accidents. A pile up of chariots would be very messy even in peacetime. In a battle it would be disastrous.
Another point Grant made was in manoeuvring. Chariots need some room to turn. In a ninety degree turn, the ‘outer’ chariot in the formation has to move a lot further than the ‘inner chariot’, but even the inner chariot needs some room to move forward so it can turn. Again, the result of having a load of chariots deployed hub to hub, and then trying to turn the lot at once would be fairly disastrous.
Again, the model of the vehicles being a liquid which is compressible, but only to a point, comes to mind. If the chariots are deployed too close together, they can neither turn nor, in any sensible manner, advance. They chariot, more or less by its very nature, has do deploy in a fairly loose formation.
So, then, what was the use of a chariot? Three possibilities occur. The first is that they were used as a sort of heavy cavalry and charged the enemy headlong. As noted above, this seems a little unlikely if they were deployed in close formation, and would presumably be rather ineffective if a loose formation was adopted.
The second possibility is that of the chariot as battle transport. This does seem to have happened, as the Iliad is full of the heroes being driven to the fight, and sometimes their drivers (as well as the Homeric heroes) meet sticky ends. Homer does like his rather gruesome deaths of heroic figures. He is, in fact, a rather anti-heroic fighter. So the chariot as personnel carrier does seem to be a viable model.
The final possibility is that of the chariot as weapon platform. That is, as with the Indian chariots I am struggling to paint, the crew are armed with javelins and bows, and use the relative speed of the chariot to harass the enemy. I suppose the nearest analogy to this would be light cavalry and, as with the light cavalry, the chariot can have been rarely decisive. Indeed, I seem to recall that after the British had decided not to fight the Romans in pitched battles, they dispensed with everyone except slingers and chariots, and carried out what we might call guerrilla warfare instead.
The first model is the least likely to have occurred, of course, except, perhaps in the use of scythed chariots in the East. So far as I can tell, these were only once really successful, but I suppose that the commanders were ever hopeful that the circumstances may recur for their use. This leaves us with the other two models (which are not, of course, exclusive). The chariot as battlefield transport does seem to have happened, as both Homer and the Ancient Britons attest. The chariot as weapons platform is a bit more controversial, the question being whether it was stable enough to be so used. The answer seems to be that it was. So there are two possible modes of chariot use.
I guess that what this amounts to is that the reality of ancient warfare was rather different to our expectations. I suppose that is almost inevitable. But the point is that ancient warfare was probably a fairly slow and desultory affair, at least until hand to hand range was met. Chariots probably could trot around the battlefield loosing off bows and javelins, and perhaps occasionally stopping for the noble occupant to have a punch up with one of his opposite numbers.
But the thing is, how do we model this in our rules. I fear the answer is not terribly well.