Wednesday, 14 April 2021

The World of the Galloglass

 Next up (or down) in my book pile is this one:

Duffy, S. (Ed.) (2007). The World of the Galloglass: Kings, Warlords and Warriors in Ireland and Scotland 1200 - 1600. Dublin: Four Courts.

This is an edited book of conference proceedings, the first conference of the series of which The English Isles was the second. This conference perhaps had a bit of a narrower scope than the later one, encompassing mostly Ireland and Scotland; England and Wales only get walk-on parts.

Still, it is a worthwhile text for those of us interested in the outer reaches of the (aspirational) first English Empire. The editor, Sean Duffy kicks off the book by examining the ‘prehistory’ of the galloglass – the first mention of the word in an Irish annal is from 1290, where it means ‘warrior from Innse Gall’, the place being the Hebrides. More usually, the term means ‘foreign warrior’, or at least it is interpreted as such. They were almost certainly around before 1290.

The point Duffy makes is that there were strong political and military links between Ireland and the Hebrides and West Highlands at least a century before 1290. Often these were sea-bourne raids, using ships from the west of Scotland, Dublin or the Isle of Man. The often fragmentary and confusing (if not downright contradictory) reports in annals and the like give a few glimpses of the military aid, raids and alliances (often with marriages to boot) between various war-lords, kings, and families of the north-western seaboard of the British Isles.

Another fascinating wargamer-related article is on the Manx navy between 1079 and 1265. The Manx fleet was a substantial navy and could (and did) dominate the Irish Sea coasts and the rulers held a substantial far-flung maritime empire across Ireland (at times), the Isle of Man and the Scottish Isles. This is a rather neglected area of medieval history, often falling between the cracks of British, Irish and Scandinavian history. For that matter, it is a highly neglected wargaming era; so far as I know no manufacturer, in any scale makes a Manx or West Highland galley, which were fairly idiosyncratic, so far as can be inferred from the rather thin evidence.

Nevertheless, Manx naval activity spread from Anglesey to Caithness, and military aid could flow along the sea lanes to the allies and kinsmen of the Manx kings. The size of the navy is also fairly impressive – 80 ships and 53 ships are fairly reliably attested. There are, of course, plenty of unanswered (and, given the sources, probably unanswerable) questions, along the lines of the construction and manning of the vessels. The Isle of Man was fairly well populated and wealthy, but even so, a fleet of 100 – 200 vessels would drain a considerable chunk of manpower from any medieval polity, at least of a moderate size.

Still, the Manx navy was a force to be reckoned with. English kings negotiated with the Kings of Man and the Isles, at least from 1205, presumably to gain access to the naval resources of the kingdom, and they were used for coastguard activities. It should be noted that the English were heavily involved in Ireland by this time, and so would need at least the acquiescence of the Manx king to move troops and supplies from Pembroke and Chester to Ireland.

Two other essays are of note to me. The first is about James V of Scotland and Ireland. As is well known, Henry VIII of England led an early form of Brexit from the Roman Catholic world in the 1530s. The reasons for this are complicated, but James V, his nephew, remained a loyal son of the Church, and conditions on the Anglo-Scottish border deteriorated. As the Scots looked to France for aid, the relations between the two countries fluctuated as European war and diplomacy varied.

In the meantime, James started to improve relations with the Scottish lords (at least nominally) in the Western Isles and hence in the northern part of Ireland. Scots started to settle there, a move which was not welcomed by the English King, who was trying to reach a compromise with the native Irish rather than conquer them (a probably impossible task). Manipulations and attempts to curb the power of semi-autonomous Irish lords led to rebellion; pleas for aid from Scotland and Europe did not produce any result and the revolt was crushed. The complications of Irish affairs, the links with Scotland, England and Europe should give any wargame with an imagination plenty of scope for mini-campaigns and general skulduggery.

There are other interesting essays in the collection, ranging from bardic poetry to the arms and armour of West Highland warriors, but the last one I want to mention is the final essay, which focuses on the succession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne. Mostly we think, I suspect, that it was pretty well a done deal ahead of schedule and that, if not, Elizabeth stated before her death that her successor should be James. This, indeed, seems to be something of a fabrication by the Jacobite party at the English court. Indeed, Edwards suggests that the ailing queen was basically left alone to die while her councilors sorted out the succession.

Looking behind the propaganda of the ‘Happy Union’ of the crowns, however, a different tale emerges. There were around a dozen potential claimants to the throne, four of whom were possibly genuine contenders. Lady Arabella Stuart had as good a claim as James (although she was female), and was English born and bred. An alternative was Archduchess Isabella, co-ruler of the Low Countries who was descended from a John of Gaunt. If Phillip II of Spain had pushed her case and united with the hard-line English Catholics things could have been different. Isabella was personally disinterested in the cause, but when did that stop international politics?

There were a number of English noble contenders as well. Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, son and heir of the Earl of Hertford and Katharine Grey, sister of Lady Jane. According to Henry VIII’s will he should have succeeded, although the English government had declared him illegitimate in 1561.

The list of possible contenders goes on. The Earl of Derby was another possibility but had a poorer claim than Arabella Stuart or Beauchamp. Finally, there was the de la Pole claim. The Earl of Huntingdon, George Hastings, had arranged the marriage of his grandson and heir to a daughter of the Derby family. There were plenty of possibilities.

As Elizabeth lay dying, James assembled forces on the frontier. He received assurances from London and pleas not to invade as it would provoke resistance. The English council supported his claims and, along with 26000 trained bands, were able to eliminate any resistance themselves. The other issue, of course, was the English army in Ireland, recently victorious. This remained loyal to the crown (and was being disbanded in part), but could have been a problem. As it was, the succession evolved as planned. But it was not quite as straightforward as history would have us believe, and could be an interesting set of scenarios for a campaign.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

From Marathon to Marathon

Clearly, your author is suffering from a problem with titles. I have never really managed titles very well. Polemos: SPQR was not my name for the rules; I think they were PM: Ancients until I noticed that they were for Romans. Even my latest project, some simplified ancients rules have the stunning title ‘Ancients Rules’. I confess that their naval companion, ‘Are you sure they should be black?’ is a little more original, but that arose while painting the fleets. The question is rhetorical; the answer is ‘yes’.

The reason for the title is, of course, the new rules, which are roughed out and, obviously need testing. Now naturally I am breaking most of my rule-writing rules here. Aside from a degree of self-plagiarism from both SPQR and the Age of Alexander rules, I am aiming for a set of rules which will be fairly comprehensive across both Greeks and Romans. I have had harsh things to say in the past about such rules, and so I suppose I will need to justify myself.

I think the justification is in the fact that the new rules have troop types such as ‘Persian Foot’ and ‘Hoplite’, not just some sort of ‘spearmen’ or ‘swordsmen like legionaries’. That may not, of course, last, but we shall have to see. The core mechanisms are recognisably Polemos, as filtered through my ‘Wars of the Counter-Reformation’ rules and SPQR, updated with some new ideas and with more of a concentration on game flow.

As I said, I need a playtest subject and, having just read a bit on Marathon, I went for that. I confess, it is a favourite battle and has been the subject of endless speculation. As Whatley argued many years ago, actually working out what happened at Marathon or any ancient battle is impossible:

Whatley, N. (1964). On the Possibility of Reconstructing Marathon and Other Ancient Battles. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 84, 119-139.

Still, I did my research, and re-read the relevant bit of Herodotus, which admittedly did not take long (6.111-4, if you are interested). There are some points for confusion, however – the numbers and location of the Persian cavalry, the orientation of the armies with respect to the sea, Persian surprise at the lack of Athenian cavalry and light troops (archers), and so on. All of which adds to the speculation, of course.

One of the first wargame articles I ever read was by Charles Grant and about Marathon. A lot later I realised that he had simplified it rather, but he went for the deployment at right angles to the sea. He also added two units of Greek skirmishers and had two units of Persian horse deployed to their left rear, near the sea. I sort of followed suit.

The Greeks consist of 20 hoplite bases, arranged with 4 bases in the centre and 8 each on the wings. I actually determined that they would all already have ‘advance’ orders under the rules, or they would never get going. The Athenians seem to have had a rather diffuse command structure, so perhaps I should have given each section a general. The Persians consist of 19 bases of Persian Infantry, 3 hoplite bases (Ionian Greeks) 1 light horse and 1 cavalry base. My idea for them was to stand off and blast the Greeks with archery fire, and bring the cavalry into action to hit the weaker Greek centre.

Herodotus says (possibly his most reliable statement of the whole narrative) ‘They fought in the battle at Marathon a long time’. It is usually a tough fight (Marathon is one of the battles I keep coming back to) and this was no exception.

In the picture Persian archery has stalled the Greek centre and much of the left-wing. The extreme Greek left however has got into contact and routed their opposite numbers (seen fleeing, extreme left). On the Greek right the Persians are being pushed back and are starting to collapse, while the Persian cavalry is being ineffective and the Persian general is deploying the reserve Ionians to shore up the right.

It did not last much longer than that. The Persian left fled and with that the army collapsed. The Greeks were not without damage, however, as one of the centre bases also routed which, on a bad army morale roll, caused the Greeks to waver.

I think that the rules stood up reasonably well. Of course, I have a lot of notes to add, most significantly a turn sequence, which I kept forgetting, a few more combat modifiers and clarification to the pursuit rules. In real life, of course, the Greeks defeated the Persian wings and then turned on the centre, leading to confused fighting by the Persian ships and camp. The upshot above would probably be something similar, as the Greek left was rallying to turn on the rest of the Persian right-wing, and the Greek right could assault the Persian centre. The army morale rules at least saved me from fighting out the blood-bath.

The Persian cavalry was satisfyingly useless – there are arguments as to whether they should be there at all. Also, I suspect that the orientations of the armies with respect to the sea are fairly irrelevant, except insofar as to assume that the Persians were not so incompetent as to fight with their backs to it. The other thing about Marathon is that because it is a fairly short battle, it can be re-fought with variations, as Phil Sabin suggests. Evans’ suggestion that the Athenians had both light troops and cavalry might be one such experiment to try, although I doubt it would change a lot. Once the hoplites are in contact, the Persian foot does not have, on average, much of a chance. In the rules, the hoplites get 3, plus one for advancing and one for rear support, and a few overlaps, against the Persian Infantry 2 plus one for rear support. I have not even included here the effect of the Athenians advancing ‘at the double’; they do not seem to need to really. If the Greeks had had a few more tempo points, the centre could have closed as well.

Still, Marathon does provide endless interest. As I recall in Grant’s re-fight the Greeks won as well. In fact, I cannot recall a Marathon when the Persians have won. Sabin reckons that the key issue is the number of Persian infantry, and I confess that that would seem likely. I will have to try, but I think I would need to paint more Persians first.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

The English Isles

Inevitably, I have been reading again, and the current set of blog posts are an attempt to catch up. This one should be skipped by wargamers with no interest in the history behind the games, particularly pertaining to the British Isles. Nevertheless, I found it interesting, so much so that I have brought (but not read) the previous book in the conference series.

The book in question is this:

Duffy, S., & Foran, S. (Eds.). (2013). The English Isles: Cultural Transmission and Political Conflict in Britain and Ireland 1100-1500. Dublin: Four Courts.

I can feel the interest plummeting already, of course. This is an edited book of papers from a conference about what happened to the British Isles after the Norman Conquest of England. That is, how did the Anglo-Normans push out into Wales, Scotland and Ireland?

As any wargamer knows, I suspect, the Anglo-Normans did invade Wales and Ireland, albeit at different times and with different results. One of the interesting arguments in the book is that while we might expect some cultural imperialism from the Normans, lording it over their Celtic foes when defeated, in fact there is evidence that the flow was two way. Instead of the Norman overlords replacing local Celtic saints in Wales, for example (J. R. Davies’ article, the second chapter), the dedications of the churches remained more or less the same. Granted new foundations might be named after acceptable Roman saints (those accredited by Rome, I mean) as might new settlements, but the Celtic saints, or those deriving from Anglo-Saxon influence were kept on. Cultural transmission was two way.

Again, on the transmission front, Anglo-Norman lords could and did marry the daughters of local worthies. This seems to have been the case in Wales but rather less in Ireland. This process, essentially producing Anglo-Norman-Walsh children led to a ‘both and’ sort of culture rather than the replacement of one by the other. In Ireland the Anglo-Normans tended to remain within their own system and not take local for wives, but there were some who did and there were also Irish lords who became ‘anglicized’, that is, they adopted some aspects of Anglo-Norman culture. This was not done just because the Anglo-Normans were the winners – they were not.

What seems to have happened is that the Irish took what seemed to be useful to them and used it. Thus they could pick up ‘Norman’ weaponry and use it. F. V. Veach notes that just using a Norman sword does not make you Anglo-Irish. There is a slightly amusing (serious history does not go in for many jokes) where three daughters of an Irish lord who sued in 1260 for possession of their father’s land under English law, because Irish law did not allow for an inheritance to be passed through the female line. Firstly, they must have obtained the right to use English law (which was not a given). Secondly, another interesting point arises, in that English law only recognised the rights of the youngest daughter because the other two were born before the parents were betrothed. Neither Canon nor Irish law recognised a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children, it seems, but English law did.

Scotland, of course, followed a different path. While there were a lot of invasions, arguments and a few battles between the Anglo-Norman state (later England) and Scotland, the Scots did their own bit of acculturation by importing a few bits of Norman culture – such as abbeys, which did a great deal to anglicise or, perhaps more strictly, Europeanise, the Scottish polity and nobility. While the north and west were still Gaelic, the south and east became more like England, as did the reach of the writ of the king. Of course, the kings of Scotland could still cause trouble for the English and, for the matter of that, the Irish as well. In some senses the Scots traded cultural assimilation of an increase in royal power.

There are some interesting suggestions in the book David Broun suggests that, perhaps, for a brief moment the English monarch could have established a sort of ‘high-kingship’ over the whole set of British Isles. This foundered, it seems, on the issue of the Scottish monarch’s homage for Scotland. Often Scottish kings held land in England for which homage was, of course, required, but that was not the issue. Henry III was wise enough not to press the issue, but Edward I of course did, to the extremes. Scottish social, legal and cultural convergence with England, due to the influence of the church and kings, did not make Scotland a second England, nor did it unite the two realms, at least until the accession of James VI and I in 1603. Scotland had a core area in the south-east, as did England. While England had much greater resources, they were never sufficient to conquer Scotland. Scotland stayed different, if only in the existence of the Celtic fringes which gave shelter to fugitives and freedom fighters from English conquest of the core areas.

One of the things to emerge from the book, and a few other bits of reading I have done, is the fluidity of movement between the west of Scotland and Ireland. The final chapter of the book discusses the Lordship of the Isles, which was suppressed in 1493. Was the Lord of the Isles practically an independent monarch? Did some of them aspire to be so, and did they intervene in Ireland to gain the resources to keep the Isles independent? Furthermore, they had a good go at becoming Earls of Ross, which landed them in the centre of a lot of Scottish politics and conflict. The answers are unproven; there is too little contemporary evidence around, it seems to be able to tell. Most of what was written about the rituals of the Lordship of the Isles (which would allow a determination of these sorts of aspirations) is early modern, and thus seems to be based on a little fact, and a lot of wishful thinking.

So, a fascinating book for those among us who read history, as opposed to campaign and battle reports. But even so, there are a few hints and interesting wargame campaigns: the Lordship of the Isles, the invasions of Ireland, multiple Welsh revolts and so on. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Fields of Battle

Every once in a while I pick up a book that makes me think ‘Oh, I should wargame that.’


Evans, R. (2015). Fields of Battle: Retracing Ancient Battlefields. Barnsley: Pen and Sword.

as one such book. On the face of it, it is rather unprepossessing. The rear cover states that it discusses the Ionian Revolt, Marathon, Thermopylae, Ilerda, and the battles of Bedriacum and so it does. What, you might well ask, do we need another book on these battles for? And, perhaps, a bit more pointedly, Why did I buy it?

My loyal reader will know that I read a lot and that I am a cheapskate. I bought it because it was in last year’s Naval and Military Press sale, for only a very few pounds, and I got it along with Oman’s Medieval Warfare books. It has sat on my shelf (to be fair I did read the introduction) for a year or so before I got around to it, perhaps slightly provoked by a general level of dissatisfaction with the flow of my ancients rules, as noted before.

It is an interesting book and a fairly easy read. It is sort of along the lines of an academic work, but the details are hidden in the endnotes and the bibliography is not that long. It is a bit ‘back to the sources’ sort of thing, based on re-reading Herodotus, Caesar , and Tacitus. That, of course, is never a bad thing, but it does not really suggest anything new or groundbreaking is about to emerge.

Evans’ focus is, in fact, on logistics. The first two chapters focus on the expansion of the Persian Empire first into Asia Minor, the revolt of the Ionian cities being a response, perhaps, to the smack of firm government and, even more so, to the demands of the Empire for resources in men, money and material for Darius’ adventures further north. Next, of course, the Persians advanced into the Greek islands, culminating with landing on Euboea and on mainland Greece itself. The defeat at Marathon, Evans suggests, was not severe for the Persians, more a temporary check for a force that was at the edge of its supply chain across the sea.

Evans does assume that the reader has something of a grasp of the detail of the wars, the battles of which he discusses. The account of the Persian invasion of Greece stops before Plataea and Salamis, and it is assumed that you know what happened. Of course, there are plenty of books out there that tell you, but perhaps, given the interest of the book, supplying the remaining Persian army in Greece post-Salamis would have been an interesting theme.

There are some interesting items along the way. Evans, despite what he says about the endless speculation and theories relating to how Marathon was fought, adds his own, relating to the presence of Greek cavalry and light troops. He has an ingenious (or it sounds like one to me) solution to the explicit statement in Herodotus to the effect that the Athenians did not have either present. There is also an interesting discussion of why the Spartans, who did know about the possibility of being outflanked stayed at Thermopylae. It is also pleasing to me to see how much weight Evans gives to naval matters, discussing the battle of Lade (494 BC) and the action at Artemesium (480 BC) as well as activities on land.

There is a bit of sea work in the account of Ilerda and Massila as well. Now actually, in my dim and distant past as a globe-trotting scientist, I have sat at a cafe in Marseilles harbour, and very nice it was too. So I do know that it is by the sea and, in order to besiege it, the Caesarians had to blockade the port as well, which they duly did. Caesar himself was busy winning in Spain, the important point that Evans wants to make is that he beat the Pompeians without fighting a major action. He did this by exploiting their mistakes (they left their forces too far apart) and by attacking their logistics. Eventually, the Pompeians were forced to attempt to leave Ilerda and march for safety. As they were outnumbered in cavalry, they failed and were forced to negotiate a surrender. The capture of Hispania and of Massila freed Caesar to concentrate on Pompey himself in the east, with consequences we all know about.

Finally, Evans has a go at the Year of the Four Emperors, and the clashes between the assorted sides along the Po valley. Again, he assumes a degree of familiarity with the events, of which I have a vague grasp but no more than that. The first battle of Bedriacum was more of a skirmish, although it persuaded Emperor Otho to commit suicide. The second battle was a lot more interesting, fought at night between the Flavian army and that of Vitellius. The latter had omitted to create a chain of command, which led to a degree of confusion and, quite likely, to them losing the battle. Again, the activities of the fleet, at Ravenna, and declared for Vespasian was important, although the Vitellian fleet raiding southern Gaul had little impact. The field at Bedriacum was very cut up and rather exposed, which would make it an interesting one to model, with lots of drainage ditches.

So, a good book, but not without some grumbles. The maps are (as usual) inadequate and do not list all the places discussed in the text. There are quite a few typos, suggesting inadequate proofreading and the references to the plates (black and white photos) are often confusing or incorrect, again suggesting that no-one really checked before printing. Still, these are only grumbles.

Fields of Battle is, in fact, a companion volume to Fields of Death. I confess I do not like the title of the first work but, on the strength of the second volume, it is on order. In the meantime, I think I might need to paint some Greek cavalry for Marathon.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

The Ancient Economy

One of the things about modern life with added internet is that you can certainly buy books much faster than you can read them or, in my case, write about them. For reading, I do recommend speed reading courses, as long as they are not pop-psychology US-based extract money from credulous people by making them read books in reduced light (no, really) so their pupils open wider so they can see more of the page at a time (no, really). Mind you, I do teach a bit of speed reading from time to time, so I might be biased, although I do not charge a knight’s fee for the privilege.

Anyway, I have a bit of a book pile to write my way through before I forget about the contents, so here goes with the first one. As I am already a month or two ahead with the weekly blog posts, I shall do a few extras along the way, which no-one in their right mind will read but I shall feel better about having committed my thoughts about them to paper / word processor / blog.

The first book to write about is the eponymous one in the title:

Finley, M. I. (1979). The Ancient Economy. London: Book Club Associates.

I confess, for all my denial above, this one was not actually purchased off the internet. I was having a chat with a colleague (who happens to be a classical Greek archaeologist by training) and mentioned that I was reading this object, and had got to volume two:

Rostovtzeff, M. (1941). Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World. Oxford: Clarendon.

My colleague fixed me with a beady eye and inquired if I had read Finley. I had to confess that I had not, whereupon she rose and, having just had a major operation on her ankle, rolled herself off on a neat trolley thing to the other room, rolled back, and presented me with the said tome. ‘You can keep it,’ she said. ‘I’m trying to reduce the number of books I’ve got and I don’t need it.’

Hence Professor Finley came into my life. I confess (again) that he sat on my shelf for a while, rather neglected, but, as is the way of things, when I was looking for something a bit more ancients related to read, I took him down and proceeded.

Now, I am not a classicist scholar, I just have an interest in ancients things, often related to wargaming. I do recognise, however, that there is a lot more to life than fighting battles, it is just that accessing said things, such as the life of a peasant, can be a bit difficult. The other thing, as I realised as I read on, is that the ancients had a very different view of the world than we do.

The book covers, roughly, ancient Greece, particularly Athens, as you would expect, and the Roman Empire. The sources are those you would expect, with the very occasional reference to economic matters mined from the standard sources, and the few bits which refer to something economic or productive given a bit more space.

The fact is that there was very little concept of ‘the economy’ in the ancient world. People grew stuff to survive, and if they had any left over, sold it to buy other stuff from local people who were, roughly speaking, doing the same thing. Governments taxed people and took what they could. Landowners obtained rent which they used to buy more land, or to live in happy excess (or miserable excess; as the modern Western world shows, more is not necessarily better) or, if they really had an awful lot, to buy political favours. This was often done by offering large loans. If the candidate then did not do what you wanted, you could call it in and bankrupt them.

A few, of course, rose to the top. Noted Greek politicians, despite democracy, were, on the whole, loaded, and could usually garner the required votes unless they really upset the people and were ostracised. The Romans, of course, played for keeps. Caesar, Pompey and Crassus were all seriously wealthy people, but they had to keep going or someone, possibly one of the others, would stick a sword into them. Once they had a loyal army at their backs, conquest was required: the veterans needed land and there was not enough in Italy to satisfy the retirees who had given them so much political clout. Hence the expansion of Rome in the first century BC.

Things only marginally improved under the Empire. There was no idea about the investment of capital to improve returns, or of investment in industry and commerce to make things easier and/or more profitable. The slave economy, whereby if you need something you made someone else do it for you no matter how slowly or ineptly they managed it, rather stifled the requirement to innovate. There was not a lot of new technology and innovation around – the odd water mill and glass blowing excepted, the world was pretty well the way it was in the fourth century BC as in the fourth century AD.

You could argue that the Roman roads had an impact, and you would be right, but the roads were military installations, going where the army wanted them. Towns relied on their own hinterland for food and the quantity of inter-town, let alone provincial trade was very limited, except for the large cities like Athens and Rome which needed to import grain.

The footnotes in the book are rather (academically) hilarious, possibly indicating the origins of the book in lectures. Finley swipes other authors, often swingingly: ‘unpersuasive special pleading’ is just one example chosen at random.

Finally, of course, it all fell apart. The Roman Empire, at least in the west, did fall apart. The wargaming interest in this, I suppose, is the reason Finley puts forward: the Romans simply ran out of manpower and of money to pay an army of the size they needed to defend the frontiers. Perhaps that is an economist’s viewpoint; there might have been a few other factors around, but I suspect that it is, at heart, an unavoidable truth.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

The Battle of Temeshvekovar

 ‘So, let me get this right. You want me to fight the Romans.’

‘Yes, my friend.’

‘Without any help from you and your men.’

‘This is a matter of deep regret, my friend, but we are otherwise occupied.’

‘By fighting your brother?’

‘Well, he is sort of my brother. But I have to fight him.’

‘Why? I mean, he is your brother, so you should be on the same side.’

‘Well, there is the matter of the money, my friend.’

‘What money?’

‘The money the Romans gave him for fighting us. Which I gave to you. He wants it back.’

‘But he gave it to you.’

‘Well, yes. The Romans want it back too, and somehow they found out you have it. Perhaps they asked him and he told them that I’d given it to you for beating them up last time. But they always come for revenge, anyway, the Romans.’

‘I told you before you invaded that they’d never lose ultimately.’

‘Well, we just have to continue beating them. You have a fine opportunity, my friend.’


Doubolwhiskos, leader of the Dacians, now has to face the might of Rome on his own. The Romans are staging a punitive expedition to his capital, Temeshvekovar, to teach the Dacians a lesson and to recover the money they gave to the other Sarmatian tribe which changed sides in the last battle (but has now changed back). According to the Romans, of course, they are now owed the money from both the Dacians and the second Sarmatian tribe. This is how you take over the world – the Romans could be compared with contemporary global internet companies….

Doubloswhiskos has had time to prepare and has decided on ambush in depth. I suspect that ambushing the Romans is really the only way that tribal foot are ever going to beat them, so it seemed like a fair idea. The set up is below.

In the far distant right-hand corner of the table, you can see Temeshvekovar, with three bases of crates full of Roman gold in it. On the near hill, Dubolwhiskos has deployed his light cavalry and a base of skirmishers, with archers and four bases of tribal foot in ambush. Further back, on the hill behind the stream, there are another four bases of tribal foot with four more in column in ambush behind the hill. Finally, there are two bases of tribal foot in from of Temsehvekovar itself.

The Romans deployed from march column, very slowly, and attempted to sweep the hill of its defenders with the cavalry while the auxilia deployed. This attempt was not wholly successful as the Dacian light horse resisted manfully, bringing the Roman cavalry to a partial halt, while the rest refused to charge up the hill. Dubloswhiskos moved the archers onto the top of the hill as to fill any attacking Romans full of shafts, and brought the ambushing tribesmen out of cover to peer down the hill at the Roman axuilia and look threatening.

It all went pear-shaped for the Romans. The auxilia were hit by the tribesmen from the top of the hill and the left was swept away, followed by the supporting Roman archers. Dubloswhiskos was even able to recall his tribal foot and reorganise them before the next wave of Romans appeared while the legionaries deployed. He also called up the rest of his foot from across the stream as it seemed that the main fight was going to be on the hill.

The picture shows the scene a few moves later. The auxilia have more or less vaporised and the remains are being shot to pieces by some good dice rolling by the Dacian archers. The rest of the Dacians are starting to appear at the stream. The Roman’s best chance seemed to be, again, the cavalry. The left wing (nearest the camera) are about to try their luck again up the hill at the Dacian lights, while the right cavalry is aiming to outflank the hill (and has nearly made it). The legion is also nearly in position to attack up the hill Dubloswhiskos’ men are coming under pressure.

The climax of the battle was, like the rest of it, a bit flaky. The Roman left-wing attacked up the hill and routed one of the Dacian light horse while damaging the other. The Dacian archers disposed of one of their opposing auxilia. The legionaries advanced on the Dacian tribal foot on the hill and started to force them back. Alas, on the Roman right the outflanking Roman cavalry incautiously strayed into charge range (albeit across the stream) of the Dacian foot. Charged they were, and, even across the stream, fluky Dacian dice rolling (and being taken in flank) led to them fleeing. At this point, Roman morale was at 1, the cumulative effects of the casualties among the auxiliaries. They were, therefore, forced to withdraw.

The figures, incidentally, are Baccus, the buildings Leven and old Baccus. The rules were Polemos: SPQR. I confess to having rather ambivalent feelings about these rules, which is OK because I wrote them. I had to look at the date of publication before I realised that I wrote them over a decade ago, and it would seem that my thinking has moved on a lot since then. While I still think that they model the Romans versus tribal armies interaction very well, I do admit that they do not flow quite as well as I would like. I don’t know why I felt that this time, as opposed to the last outing. I fancy an informal fast play version might be on the cards.


‘I told you you could beat them, my friend.’

‘Well, of course, we could beat them. I’d just rather not have had to try. Can’t they just go away and leave us in peace?’

‘That would not be the Roman way, my friend. Now, I must go and instruct my brother in the ways of modern warfare.’

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Trench Fever

As my loyal reader will be painfully aware, this blog is always well ahead of the curve in wargaming fashion. As a trendsetter, of course, I have been banging on about the importance of sieges and siege warfare in the pre-rifled artillery era for years, largely to the indifference, amusement or occasional argument from anyone who was misguided enough to listen (or read) what I was saying.

Battles, therefore, are at the forefront of many, if not most wargamers minds. However, as with the Western Front in the First World War, things might be changing a little. The two, that is siege warfare and trench warfare, might, in fact, be part of the same phenomenon. You can regard the period from, say, 1915 to early 1918 as an extended siege, on a very large scale.

That is not quite the point here. What I am failing to say very clearly is that early modern sieges and First World War trench warfare have both been regarded as being fairly unwargamable in the not too distant past. This is not due to a lack of information – Duffy’s books are excellent and the quantity of stuff on the First World War is huge. WWI figures were a little in short supply, but the recent centenary has fixed that in toto, although I do recall Airfix had a load of figures decades ago.

I think the problem with both eras was simply the scale of the operations. A Marlborough age siege was big, particularly if you have the full set of outworks, lines of circumvallation and so on. Similarly, First World War battles were huge and an individual soldier’s contribution, or even his unit’s efforts, were a little marginal to the overall result. As noted, the time scales were also lengthy – months, in both cases, and the outcome was often decided by boring bits which wargamers tend to ignore, like disease, logistics and the weather. All in all, the decision to avoid sieges and trenches seems entirely rational.

Things change, however. The advent of 2014 heralded some wargame rules which could cope with the large scale, full-blooded slaughter of the Western Front. I am not sure that the period is for me, but the rules do seem to work and to give a reasonable account of the action along the way. And now the internet is alive, or at least one or two blogs I follow have mentioned it, with the advent of the Vauban Piquet based rules for siege wargames in the Age of Reason.

It is not my intention here to review the rules, largely because I do not possess them, or any others in the Piquet series. This is mostly due to parsimony rather than dislike, although the demonstrations of Piquet rules I have seen do seem to have rather a large quantity of clutter and ‘gismos’ on and around the table, which I dislike (I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, I speak from ignorance). The cost is a bit prohibitive, and I take my hat off to those who have invested in the said rules.

Anyway, I am resisting the temptation to say ‘I told you so’ to all those wargamers who doubted the importance of sieges, and want to bang on about the importance thereof again, which I will do in a moment. In the meantime, to show my own commitment to the siege cause, I have been working on some trenches and gun emplacements.

What you can see here are five old resin Baccus trenches, which I finally got around to painting, five handmade trenches, made with plastic card and gabions from Perfect Six with four corners, and four gun emplacements, manned by four Baccus WSS siege guns. I could have plastered the front of the trenches and corners with polyfiller to represent piled-up earth, but a quick assessment of my modelling skills decided me against any such effort. Painting and glueing eighty gabions was quite enough for me.

I also know that the angles of the corners increased as the saps approached the outworks, to prevent the trenches being flanked. I decided that was a refinement that could wait until I had some experience with sieges, and when I had more gabions. You might also have noted that something is missing in the picture above, to whit, the target fortification. Have patience. I already have a castle and a set of town walls, and a star fort is in procurement.

I have also realised that a star fort, and the besiegers thereof, will need a large artillery park. I have therefore been reviewing my assets (Ooh, err, missus). I appear to have seven Heroics and Ros guns, with two gallopers, and thirteen naval guns from Langton (with some crew), and two guns, I suspect from Baccus, although crew might be a bit lacking. A star fort seems to need at least two guns per bastion, so I think I have sufficient artillery. Just.

That does raise interesting questions, of course, about the cost of the fortifications. Ships of the line were a large investment for the early modern state, at least in part because of the quantity of artillery they had on board. If you think about some of the early modern ships of 40 – 100 guns, it means that quantity of cannon per ship, which is a lot in the age before industrial standardisation. And the British and Dutch fleets had hundreds of vessels at some points.

It cannot have been that different with forts. Some of the material would have been local, and the labour to build the fort might have been procurable, but the number of man-hours was significant, I should think. Even forced labourers require feeding. Then magazines need filling and artillery mounting – naval gun mounts are more popular on forts because the cannon do not need moving about as much and the recoil can be absorbed by the fort structure itself, as it is on a fighting ship.

So, there you go. My contribution to wargaming sieges is underway. I might have to think of some rules soon, so I might have to reread Duffy. But that is a pleasure rather than a labour.