Sunday, May 30, 2021

Conference Special: The Sword of God - Khalid ibn al-Walid (part one)


(slides from my SoAC talk)

My fascination with Khalid started some years ago, with the arrival of some new recruits to my ancients collection. 


(The Phil Barker flats unpacked)

Phil Barker had joined in one of the Tony Bath sessions I had put on using the 'Derryck Guyler' flats*, and, appreciating my interest in the origins of the ancients wargame, offered to add his 1960s flats to the collection (they were, by then, just stacked away in shoe boxes, and he was aware that I would get them onto the wargames table).

In addition to a large number of Tony Bath originals**, the bulk of Phil's donation was, as we see in the picture, an Early Imperial Roman army.

(the Romans, on show in Reading)

But in amongst them were a fair number of what I would consider (what today we would probably identify as) Byzantines, Sassanids and Arabs.

(refurbished - the Arabs and Byzantines)
I would configure the Romans and related figures into a Bath rules wargame - but it was obvious to me that I had a second project here: a Dark Age/Flowering of Islam collection ... maybe another DBA spin off (just as the Guyler flats spawned both the Plataea game and Lords of the Nile, this new addition would give me a classic Bath rules Roman game and a clash between the Byzantines and Arabs.
(Lords of the Nile: a DBA V3 sample game at Vapnartak)
The Lords of the Nile was a game we took to shows as a participation game while V3 was being playtested (I had declined to be a playtester but had told Phil that I would be happy to receive development versions and use them at shows so that people could see how things were going).  
It went very well, so I was looking for a Byzantine-Arab battle that would make a suitable scenario which could replicate the LotN effect for the later period.  Ideally a battle a flat open battlefield from the Rise of Islam featuring Arabs, Byzantines, Sassanids etc. Well, something like Byzantines, Armenians, Persians and Arabs on both sides - that would be Yarmouk, perhaps.
(the DBA V3 Yarmuk game in the hands of Society luminaries Paul Stein, Duncan Head and LVP Matt Bennett)

To understand Yarmuk, you need to know more about Khalid, and that is where my journey began. Yarmuk is conventionally described as a collossal battle fought over 4 or 5 days in which a vastly outnumbered Khalid manages to rescue his army from the brink of deteat - repeatedly - until finally being able to pull off a stunning victory (appearing behind the enemy's lines and swallowing the whole army up).  It is a lot to get your head around.

(cavalry action at Yarmuk from SoaC 16: the Arabs are driven back onto the line of their encampments)

An  analysis, though of Khalid's career and previous battles can make sense of this.  Mobility and use of concealing terrain were signatures of Khalid's generalship, and he would regularly find himself outnumbered.  Using what you might call an army-level version of traditional Arab raiding tactics, he would often attempt to pin the enemy into position without fully engaging ... in order to outmanoeuvre and envelop the enemy - compensating for numerical weaknesses with local advantages.  We see this in the Arab civil wars, and in the wars against Persia.  It should come as no surprise that this is what we see at Yarmuk.

KHALID IBN AL-WALID  خالد بن الوليد بن المغيرة المخزومي

Khalid was born in Mecca of the leading clan of the Quraysh.  He opposed the preaching of the prophet, and had lost many relatives in the struggle.  However, in around 629, Khalid and Amr ibn al-As convert to Islam and join the Prophet.  Khalid took control of the army in Jordan and was rewarded by the Prophet with the title Sayf Allah - the sword of God.

Khalid led the Arab armies for 9 years on all fronts and was undefeated in over 50 battles.  A career warrior, he died in his bed in Medina in 642. 

The following slide shows how his life and times fit within the context of the Middle East:

His major victories were .. 625, Uhud;   629: Mu’tah;   630: Hunayn;  632: Buzakha, Yamama;  633: the battle of the chains, the battle of the river, Aqraba, Ullais, Walaja;   634: Marj Rahit, Bosra, Ajnadayn, Fahi;   636: Yarmuk,  637: Quanasrin.

In the second part, we will look at what we can learn from these battles.

(the battle of Uhud from a later Ottoman manuscript volume)

* the first collection of flats, coutesy of Steve and the Salford friends (Gentlemen Pensioners), which had originally been bought from TV star (and former SoA President) Derryck Guyler.

** i.e. unlicenced copies Tony had made for himself in plaster moulds.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Ancients Stuck at Home #n: 22-23 May, Virtual SoAC 02

(Surely one of the most flipped Ospreys of our period: Nick Sekunda on the army of Alexander) 

14 Months on, we have the prospect of lockdown being fully eased within a few months ... but for now, our 13 year journey following the Shows North team on the move is still stuck at home.

Last year's Virtual SoAC I was, of course, a response to this - the annual Conference I have supported from the start back on 1986 (and co organised in the 90s with Ian Russell Lowell) had to be cancelled, and that year's content (including my presentation on Khalid ibn al-Waleed) was delivered online.

You will be able to see the 'Sword of God' material in a forthcoming issue of Slingshot - but I should probably put a few slides up here to keep the information out there.

So, this year, we hope there will be 2 conferences ... in addition to our second online event over this last weekend, the 'face-to-face' conference, now at Madingley Hall, should be back in the Autumn.

And, assuming the feedback is positive, I imagine the plan is to go forward with 2 conferences a year: an online one in the Spring, and a residential one in the Autumn.


Saturday 22nd May, 4 til 6: 

Prof Michael Fredholm: The Early History of the Goths, from Berig to the Battle of Adrianople 378AD.

Dr Gareth C Sampson: Never Mind Mithridates - Lucullus, Pompey and the Armenian Empire.

Sunday 23rd May, 4 til 6:

Mark Fry: Sassanid Infantry - a re-evaluation 

Prof Nicholas Sekunda: The Army of Alexander - then and now (where “then" relates to the publication by Professor Sekunda in 1984 of the Osprey Men-at-arms book “The Army of Alexander the Great”)

The hot news from the conference is that Adrianople will be the BattleDay in 2022, so this all hangs together rather nicely.  Michael's talk on the Goths follows Simon MacDowall at SoAC 2019 and further enriches our understanding.

Gareth Sampson's talk took us East, to the last gasps of the Republic, and to Tigranes the Great, one of Rome's most resilient opponents.  It nicely set up Mark Fry's Sunday session on the successors to the Armenians and Parthians, the Sassanid Persians.

I was fascinated by this talk, as Mark attempted to understand, to reconstruct - and to some extent rehabilitate - the Sassanian heavy infantry ... regular, armoured archers ... heavy, mail-shirted swordsmen etc.



Some of the suggestions were quite convincing, and go some way to explain one of the points I had made in the Khalid talk last Autumn: the Arab sources are quite clear that Khalid's advantage against the Persians came from exploiting the mobility his cavalry gave him over a relatively ponderous and static enemy. 

This doesn't hang well with the traditional wargamerly perception of the Sassanids as a cavalry army.  However it falls out, large numbers of solid infantry were certainly employed against the Arabs - and Khalid's cavalry were able to defeat their wings and envelope the centre.  

So Mark's ideas certainly have some credibility with regard to the Arab wars. 

I was particularly fascinated by Nick Sekunda's thoughts on methodology.
Nick reflected on his training in history and archaeology and how he was taught to give equal value to the archaeological evidence as to the textual record - bemoaning how frequently the textual is given precedence, even if the result is nonsense.  As many of you know, with me, that's preaching to the converted (in my academic days, I switched from History to The History of Art for a similar reason ... to be able to give proper value to the material evidence - and so as to gain a stronger understanding of that specialised source material) ... 

And I think Sekunda's work, along with Duncan Head's, was part of a shift which took our impressions of the ancient world (then mostly understood through the texts of ancient writers) closer to the visual and archaeological record.  I think that still informs how we see the military cultures of the past today.
What was particularly interesting (arguably controversial) was Nick's assertion that evidence from monuments - in this case, particularly, say, the Alexander sarcophagus - was archaeological evidence ... pretty much the same way an excavated helmet was archaeological evidence.

I'm not sure this is the case (well I'm sure it isn't) - recovered sculptures, paintings, monuments etc. are very interesting, particularly where they are contemporary, or near contemporary, to the events/people they depict.  But they are still artist's impressions, they aren't the real thing.  In some ways they may be better (a Macedonian helmet on a sculpted figure is quite likely to be what the sculptor though most of the soldiers would wear - but an actual helmet that's been dug up might be any old random variant or 'one off' that just happens to have survived) ..

So artistic evidence isn't the same as archaeological evidence, however close to the events depicted (unless there are other reasons to explain that) ... 

Anyway, fascinating and a privelege to be taken through the steps used to reconstruct helmets, pikes, shield blazons and the like.  A classic work.
(slides from Nick's online talk)

The conference was 4 talks of an hour's duration including Q & A run over the 2 days, 4pm to 6pm.

It worked very smoothly and was easy going for the participants (say compared with the medieval warfare one I just ran for the Battlefields Trust, which was 5 sessions run on the same day - more rewarding, perhaps, in a number of ways, but you did have to commit to being with us all day*)

I'm looking forward to Shaw House for the BattleDay and to the next 'live' conference at Madingley Hall.

Great stuff.
*the again, we did get it done on the one day - so it's swings and roundabouts to some extent ... discuss *wink*

Friday, April 30, 2021

Conference latest

I have some new progress to log with the DBA armies projects - and hopefully a few dates to share as we finalise the 2021 plan ('post-Covid' or 'Covid window', whichever it turns out to be - hopefully the former, but the news from other parts of the world isn't reassuring) ... but a lot of time recently has gone into smoothing out the Battlefields Trust Online Conference for which I am organiser.

The latest update sees me creating a lunch time slot to have a chat with author Dan Moorhouse ..

Dan has a number of interesting projects under his belt and does a lot of education work.  He has also done a lot of work on Towton, and I hope to get some insights on that.

It'll be an informal 20 minutes or so.

What a line-up!  As well as Dan (and me!), we've got Professor Anne Curry, plus Dan Spencer, Sophie Ambler, Thom Richardson, Matt Bennett, and my regular associates, Graham Evans and Mike Ingram.

Of course, many of you will know Thom, Matt and Graham through the Society of Ancients and the enthusiasm they share for wargaming.  Thom, of course, is best know for his senior role with the Royal Armouries, and Matt for his teaching career notably with the Royal Military Acdemy, Sandhurst.

Graham and Mike you know from their work with Northamptonshire Battlefields society and their books on local battlefields - 2 of which, Northampton 1460 and Edgcote 1469, feature in the programme.

(the NBS bookshelf)

Professor Curry is one of Britain's best know medieval military specialists, and was lead on the Agincourt 600 project, Chair of the Battlefields Trust charity etc.

Anne and Mike, of course, have both recently written about Bosworth.  Graham you probably know from his blog Wargaming For Grownups.

Dan Spencer is a specialist in early gunpowder weapons and warfare and has recently published a well-received volume on castles ...

Dr Sophie Ambler teaches at Lancaster University, and specialises on Simon de Montfort and the Barons War.

This line up is everything I had hoped it would be when we first suggested the idea to The Battlefield Trust.

Everyone is welcome (you don't need to be a member), and you can still sign up (£25, proceeds go towards battlefield interpretation and  protection) until midnight tonight (30th April) via the link on the Trust Events page.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Online Conference 1st May - The Medieval Battlefield


Just sharing the great news of the Battlefields Trust's reconfigured Annual Conference: now online at a fraction of the original, residential, cost - and one day, 10 til 4:30 (£25, any procees from which will go directly towards protecting Britain's endangered battlefields).

Regulars here will be delighted to hear that the high profile speaker list includes several Society of Ancients luminaries ... Thom (Royal Armouries) Richardson, Graham (wargaming4grownups) Evans and Matthew (Sandhurst) Bennett, these days, of course, one of the Society's Life Vice Presidents.

The Conference will be chaired by Professor Anne Curry, and is being organised by me.                         

Click here for Conference Details


  • Thom Richardson: mail and plate armour
  • Graham Evans: Edgcote - the Source of the Problems


  • panel discussion on battlefield numbers (Anne Curry; Matt Bennett; Sophie Ambler; Graham Evans)
  • Dan Spencer: Gunpowder Weapons in the Wars of the Roses
  • Mike Ingram: Northampton 1460 
It is going to be a fascinating day, and I am sure some new stuff is going to emerge.

Monday, March 22, 2021

DBA Special: infernal machines (Leonardo)


So this is an alternative baggage element for my Condotta Italians (specifically, it would be Milanese) and represents one of Leonardo's military devices.  There is, of course, no evidence that the machine was ever built*.

The plans show what look like cranks driving gears which directly turn the wheels.  Clearly it would have needed an engine of some sort to be viable.  I have shown a prototype machine being towed to the battlefield by horsepower.

(Leonardo warmachines ... a scythed chariot and a mobile gun battery complete with drive arrangement)

The model itself is resin, by Alternative Armies - and I got one for Christmas.  You could argue that it is 'Artillery' although it is a bit big for a DB Art base (it is 50mm across, so overhangs the standard base used with 15mm figures) ... so I have magnabased it, and provided alternative bases: a camp, which I would imagine would be its normal use; and a square sabot, which could see it as Art or, conceivably, WWg (as Leonardo clearly meant it to 'move and shoot').

(the warmachine's options: camp base or Art/WWg base)
Clearly, the idea is that the camp shows part of the army rear area - injured soldiers are retreating from the battle, the great inventor is bringing up his wonder weapon to save the day.  Perhaps.  Or maybe this is all just made up.
The model also incorporates trial #2 of using flats scenery (in this case the fir trees) to create a bit of extra background without using up much in the way of depth.  The trees are from Berliner Zinnfiguren.
(Milanese DBA camp: in the rear, with the gear!)
Although it overhangs more than a little, crammed in with some contemporary soldiers (from my Yorksts) it does almost fit ...
(15mm DBA: featuring Leonardo's warmachine by Alternative Armies)
Flat scenery experiment #1 was, of course, the 'Hunting in the Delta' Egyptian baggage. 

(Hunting in the Delta: mixed flats and 15mm 3D figures)

I recently added the 2D swan to the mix of birds, populating the scene.

(with the Camp Follower removed: a view of the flora and fauna)
Also receiving its finishing touches, the Sea People's Ship has been tidied up and photographed for the Camps and Baggage page.
(Shows North's 15mm Sea Peoples Ship camp for DBA: ship (adapted) by Essex, figures Essex and Chariot) 

(details of the Sea Peoples Ship DBA camp)
(Unloading: figures by Essex and Falcon)
(Wading ashore)

All three camps are newly added to the Camps and Baggage page.  There are now over 30 camp vignettes featured, with some 70 photos - hopefully to both entertain and inspire.  Feedback always appreciated!

* of course, that is us being sensible: in some earlier periods or sphere's, evidence in this sort of detail would seem quite compelling (and things have ended up on army lists with much less to support them!)

Sunday, February 28, 2021

DBA Special: Book I List 53 Saitic Egyptian

 Book I, List 53 ... Saitic Egyptian, 664 BC to 335 BC

Another army from the rich Nile region, this time Egyptians from the Assyrian and Persian periods.

A splendid little army, built around spearmen rather than the chariotry that so characterises the New Kingdom.  The army is a mix of Chariot (Magister Militum) and Essex miniatures, with the odd Falcon and Peter Pig figure for good measure.

(Saitic Egyptian General ... either HCh or Cav) 

For this army, I am providing both options.  Cav is much more the sensible option but I will probably mainly use the chariot for its destructive power (which, unfortunately can be a two-way thing!) ...
1 x LH
(15mm Saitic Egyptians: Guard, Levy and Greek mercenary hoplite spearmen) 

6 x Sp
2 x 4Bw
1 x 4Ax 
Army Camp
(Egyptian littoral camp) 
Hunting water fowl in the delta .. or 'foraging for food' ... the birds departing from papyrus plants are traditional German flats - I think they do a good job of enabling me to make a (relatively) convincing scene within the shallow space of a DBA camp base.
(CF: Museum Miniatures canoe and paddler, Essex archer)

Sunday, January 31, 2021

DBA Special: Book 1, list 58 - Meroitic Kushite 592BC to 350AD

DBA I 58 Meroitic Kushite
I planned this army some time back.  I was inspired by the note by Herodotus that the African  Aethiopian warriors painted half their bodies vermillion, half white.  Now, most commentators place these Aethiopians in Sudan, in what we might otherwise term the Kingdom of Kush.  Maybe.

This army is generally seen as a sub-Egyptian styled army (and indeed, the rock sketches of the king/general on an elephant show him with a pharaoh's crowns) but I wanted to follow Herodotus and show a more tribal force.  Perhaps these are non-Egyptising rebels, then?  Likewise, I have dated the army to 500 (so, more or less, the Persian period).

The trigger for getting on with it was spotting the tribal head I have used in the camp vignette whilst browsing the Acheson Creations website (whilst looking for something else in one of their sale windows).  I immediately got this entirely fictional image in my head, more H Rider Haggard, I suppose, which just seemd right for the then dormant 'Tribal Kushite' project ... so I hope you like it.

(DBA Meroitic 'tribal' Kushites)
The spearmen are mostly the Feudal Castings figures now sold by QRF/Freikorp, otherwise it's a mix of Essex and Chariot with the odd Falcon and Peter Pig figure thrown in.

The general rides a repurposed toy elephant that came in a Christmas cracker.  It's what I had.  It's a bit small, but I think they would have been.

The general could also be an archer - but if you are going to do this army, I think it has to be the elephant general.   That, and the fact that you don't get the general's plus in shooting (which would make him a very vulnerable element if you went that route*.
(Meroitic Kushite:15mm figures by Essex and Chariot)

(DBA Book I/list 58 Meroitic Kushite: tribal infantry by Feudal Castings/QRF et al)
These simple figures are somehow very appealing.  They are a mix of spears and various bladed weapons, but I chose to use a variety of them for the spearmen, and to use 'sub-Egyptian' style infantry (Chariot, Essex and Falcon) for the tribal axemen and swordsmen ... again, this was pretty much and intinct + aesthetics decision (going with what seems to work!).


(Meroitic Kushite infantry: various)
The Camp 

As already admitted, more H. Rider Haggard/Darkest Africa than culturally Meroitic .. a train of porters brings in supplies.  The line of march takes them past a tribal rock image, guarded by warriors.  As usual, there is a detachable Camp Follower.

(Tribal Kushite DBA camp element)
(Kushite camp: details)
For these bases, I tried to go for a deeper, less bleached African soil, more Sudanese than Saharan.

Maybe it works.

This army can fight Egyptians, Persians, Nobades, Axumites etc. (so fits well with my collection)

*he should at least get it when shot at - but, given Bw aren't supertroops, I'd just let the generals have their plusses in all combats.  Keep it simple.