Friday, March 30, 2012

Impetus-based Pontic project!

During my Mid Roman Republic project, I kept stumbling across the fascinating story of King Mithridates of Pontus.  The kingdom of Pontus was situated in what is now northern Turkey.  The map below shows the Pontic kingdom before the first  Mithridatic campaign (in purple) and Pontic kingdom after the early conquests (in pink). A reading of all the provinces and city-states in pink illustrates why the Pontic army was such a cornucopia of exotic troops and fighting styles

As King of Pontus,  Mithridates styled himself after Alexander the Great and even acquired a cloak reportedly worn by Alexander.  His expansionist policies put him on a collision course with Rome.  The little bit I learned about the man left me wanting more so I went hunting for books on this subject. Oddly, there are only 2 current books on Mithridates but the lack of quantity is made up for by the quality of the reads below.

The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithridates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy.  This is a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read on the life and campaigns of Mithridates. You don't have to be a military history buff to enjoy the story of Mithridates.  The author supplements what is known about the man with historical research and archaeological discoveries to reconstruct what his life was probably like.  I had no problem with the use of  reasoned speculation to fill in the gaps of history.  On the contrary, this kind of writing helped put me in the period and the author clearly flags her speculation.  Frankly, this would not be much of a book without it as there isn't much known of Mithridates outside of Roman accounts.  In this book you'll learn that:
  • Mithridates led three campaigns against Rome.
  • In his first campaign, he seized much of what is now modern-day Turkey and Greece.
  • He orchestrated the massacre of 80,000 Roman citizens throughout Asia minor in a single day.  
  • The wealth of his kingdom was so well known in Rome that the Republic was split asunder when Marius and Sulla each vied for the opportunity to lead legions to conquer and plunder Pontus.
  • Mithridates dosed himself with small amounts of poison throughout his life to build up his tolerance. He also invented a complex universal antidote which the Romans reportedly copied after his death called Mithridadicum.  
  • Spoiler Alert!  While Mithridates ultimately failed, it wasn't for a lack of effort or imagination.  In his first campaign, he reintroduced scythed chariots to the battlefield, something not seen for a generation or two.  In his second campaign, he employed  Roman ex-pats to reform and retrain his army to fight in the Romans style. He also started leading from the front.  In his third campaign, he utilized asymmetrical hit and run guerrilla warfare.  
  • For a man who was repeatedly a thorn in the side of Rome, he managed to live long enough to die old.  

Mithridates the Great: Rome's Indomitable Enemy.  While described as a biography, this book is more of a military history and account of the campaigns.  If you want to learn about the man, the era, the customs and his empire, The Poison King is a better read. If you want battle maps and accounts of the troops, tactics and styles of fighting, this book adds the military detail that's lacking from The Poison King.  Together, these books make a great pair.

With the hook firmly set, I turned to the Impetus website and pulled the Pontic army list.
It's a broad and varied list that gives you the building blocks for other ancient armies. With a little work, my Pontic army can become a Pyrrhic army.  A little  more painting and its a Gallic army. A few units here and there and I have a Macedonian or Seleucid army. Portability? Check. Varied troop types for playing and painting?  Check and check. The Pontic project is a go!

Because the Pontic army was a blending of East and West, you have many options for modeling it.   I'll emphasize the "Hellenistic" side.  For example, I'll use Xystophoroi Cavalry to represent the heavy cavalry that Mithridates rode with in this list.  You could easily choose Persian heavy cavalry though. One of the benefits of painting and gaming ancients is that you get to choose your own path in painting and modelling your armies within the limits of what's known.  Try pulling THAT with Napoleonics!

I'm utilizing Xyston  figures for most of this army, which is a huge plus because I love their figures.  Also, I'm utilizing 3D basing for the first time to vary the level of the base/terrain. Props to Der Figurenschiber and his tutorial for basing in 3D! I should also mention he has the finest  15mm Thracian army I've ever seen as well.

Before I call it a post, here's a preview of my first crack at 3D basing with Balearic Slingers. Not too shabby!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Murmillo and Crupellarius

Murmillo: The murmillo  entered combat with a manica on his sword arm, a short grieve on his left leg only and a large, legionnaire style shield (scutum) and legionnaire style sword (gladius).  The murmillo also had an elaborate helmet with broad rims, a visor and a crest shaped like a the dorsal fin of a fish.  The helmet was typically decorated with feathers or horsehair and generally made of bronze.  Murmillos were never paired against each other. Instead, they were typically paired against the thraex or hoplomachus.  The murmillo's shield was large enough to protect him from his grieve to his chin. The downside is that if the match wore on, the murmillo's shoulder and arm would tire, thus offering his lighter and faster opponent an opportunity to land a wounding or killing blow.

Crupellarius:  This gladiator type is mentioned only by Tacitus, who wrote that the "crupellarius were clad after the national fashion in a complete covering of steel." During a Gallic insurrection by the Aedui tribe, the Romans describe some of the Celts as dressed in iron plates that did not yield to javelins or stones.  A small figurine in France appears to fit the description of the crupellarius, with a helmet shaped like a perforated bucket and the body clad from head to toe in steel.  Wherever the truth lies on this class of gladiator, he looks like a prototype knight to me and I would not want to face him in the arena.

Statuette of a crupellarius from Versigny, France
These Crusader miniatures were a blast to paint and I hope to get plenty of use out of them.  These were the first 28mm I've painted since I quit Warhammer years ago.  So, why don't I paint 28mm?  When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton  replied "that's where the money is." 15mm is where the action is locally and no member of our club is painting or fielding 28mm armies.  On the other hand, Brent and the St. Paul Irregulars use 28mm exclusively for their Impetus games.  I may circle back to 28mm before 2012 is out.

To write the back story on gladiator types for this project, I supplemented my gladiator books with on line reading.  While doing so, I discovered that quite a few bloggers have already been down the gladiator path.  On that theme, we'll exit the gladiator project with the Barenaked Ladies "It's All Been Done!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Thraex and Hoplomachus

Thraex: The thraex (or Thracian) gladiator appears to have been introduced to the arena around the time of the Mithridates Wars, during which a great many Thracians were taken prisoner. The thraex was armored with manica on his sword arm, protective leg wrappings, high greaves on both legs, a small rectangular shield and a large rimmed helmet with a feathered crest.  His weapon was a short curved dagger, which meant he had to get very close to his opponent in order to attack him.  The thraex was usually paired against the myrmillo, a gladiator type who was armored with a gladius infantry sword and protected with a legionary type scutum shield.  In this way, the gladiator match between the thraex and myrmillo might have mimicked a fight between a legionary and one of the enemies of Rome.  Comparing the arms and armor of the two gladiators, it appears this was a match-up the thraex was meant to lose!

Hoplomachus:  While the thraex was meant to represent Thracians in combat, the hoplomachus was meant to represent a Greek hoplite. He was armored with manica on his primary arm, quilted trousers, high greaves on both legs, a small round shield and a large rimmed helmet adorned with feathers.  His weapon was a spear and a dagger.   The  hoplomachus was usually paired against the myrmillo but some mosaics portray this gladiator type fighting a thraex.  If I've learned anything from hours of playing Demons Souls and Dark Souls on my PS3, it's that a spear armed opponent has a substantial advantage over an opponent armed only with a curved dagger.

One more week of gladiators and then the big reveal for my next Impetus army project.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Secutor and Scissor

Secutor:  The secutor was commonly paired up in combat with the retiarius.  The secutor was equipped with a helmet, a large rectangular shield, a grieve on one leg, a manica on his sword arm and a gladius sword.  His helmet's streamlined shape, small eyeholes, and fin-like crest served two purposes. First, it gave the impression of the head of the fish as part of the fisherman-fish aspect of the retiarius-secutor match. Second and more importantly, the eyeholes were very small to prevent the trident from piercing them and the helmet lacked a brim or ornamentation to prevent the retiarius' trident or weighted net from catching on it.

In combat, the secutor attempted to close with the retiarius and engage in close combat using his large shield for protection. The retiarius would try to avoid close combat.  The secutor could not match the retiarius' speed or mobility due to his much heavier armor.  Furthermore, his tight helmet with small eyeholes limited his vision and hearing.  Even worse, with no hole for breathing, the secutor would become winded and tire much sooner than his opponent.

The first figure below projects a murderous attitude, which is probably typical for gladiators.  And I was happy with the way the shield turned out for the gentleman with his sword raised in the air.  Enjoy the small successes!

Scissor:  When I first saw this miniature, I assumed it was an invention of someone's imagination because it looked so odd.  In fact, this gladiator type appears in reliefs from the Eastern Roman empire. The images reflect that a scissor was equipped with a helmet, scale armor or mail covering his body almost to the knees, a manica arm-guard on his sword arm and grieves on both legs.  The oddest feature is the armored forearm that ended in a wicked crescent shaped blade.  Since this gladiator had no shield, he relied on his blade to cut through a net or ward off a trident.  This gladiator type was one of the most heavily armored of all gladiators.
If I was paired up with this guy, I'd first pinch myself to wake up from a nightmare and if that didn't work, I'd run around and around the arena till he collapsed from heatstroke.

And in case you haven't tripped over one of my many listings, I have my Gallic army up for sale under the "For Sale" tab at the top of the home page.   

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Retiarius and Laquerarius

Retiarius: Retiarius gladiators were styled after a fisherman and their "fish," so to speak, was the Secutor gladiator. The retiarius-secutor pairing was one of the best loved matchups in the arena. The retiarius went into combat armed with a trident, a dagger and a weighted net. They were the most lightly armored of the gladiators, typically wearing only an arm guard (manica), a shoulder guard of bronze (galerus) and a loincloth. The galerus protected the neck and most of the head from lateral blows. The retiarius made up for his lack of armor with speed and agility to avoid attacks and wait for the opportunity to strike. The retiarius first tried to throw his net over his opponent to ensnare him or his weapon. If successful, he'd move in for the kill. Mostly, the net would miss and the retiarius would switch to using the trident with two hands. The trident permitted the gladiator to jab and keep his opponent at a distance. The retiarius would also try to to catch his adversaries blade between the points of his weapon or press the edges of his opponent's shield. With it's long reach, the retiarius often targeted his opponent's legs with the trident.

The first figure up is my favorite. Romans loved the foreign and exotic.  Amongst the hundreds of thousands of prisoners in the Empire, there were bound to be tattooed Celts. I'm certain the crowd would have gone mad seeing a tattooed gladiator in the area.

Laquerarius: Little is known about this gladiator type except that he was equipped with a lasso and spear.  They appeared late in the gladiator games and there is speculation that the use of the lasso was reflective of a barbarian tribe that used the lasso in combat. Perhaps he was the prototype cowboy!  We'll call him "The Gladiator with No Name" and exit with 
Ennio Morricone's theme from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."