Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spanish Caballeros

The Caballero Hidalgos and Caballero Villanos were the core of the Christian armies of Spain in the tenth through twelfth centuries. In fact, the prevalence of cavalry in Spanish armies meant that it did not become an exclusive role for the wealthy elite, and frontier landowners capable of affording a horse were expected to ride in war.

Heavier cavalry was a bit lighter than in northern Europe, because the realities of frontier warfare on a variety of terrain demanded quick moving men and mounts.  Spears were used overarm and downward, with the couched style introduced in the late eleventh century.  Shields were generally round, and tasseled in imitation of Muslim Andalusian styles.

Model Sources:

The two best sources for El Cid era miniatures are Crusader and Gripping Beast.  Both are of fairly high quality and mix well together, although there are features inherent to each range.  Crusader models tend to be a little bulkier and heftier than Gripping Beasts, which is not a criticism of either, but a point worth noting.  The sculpting on both lines is of high quality, although on average, the Crusader tends to be sharper, especially on the faces.  Gripping Beast earns points for variety.  There is a "sameness" to many of the Crusader figures, even across several of their lines.  Additionally, the Crusaders' only include round shields, even though historically, a mix of round and kite shields would characterize the period.

The models with green and yellow shields are in El Cid's party, and the red and yellow are primarily Castillians.

In plastic, there is no dedicated range, but Conquest Games' Normans, especially the unarmored figures, can make very good caballero villanos with the included round shields.

Conquest Games, Gripping Beast and Crusader Miniatures

YouTube Recommendation

La Spada del Cid a 1962 Spanish movie that is dubbed in German on YouTube. Good costuming and location shooting. Even though I could only understand one out of five words, it was good background noise for the painting table. Of course, Heston's El Cid is hard to beat, but it's interesting to see other takes.

Next week, a look at leaders of the Spanish armies in the eleventh centuries, along with some homebrew Saga cards.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Spanish Military Service, 1000-1200 AD

My blog posting as been very sparse in 2013 to date.  Hopefully, that should change in the coming weeks, as I have been furiously painting Spanish, Andalusian, Berber and Sudanese armies for a series of posts and write ups in the coming weeks.

Forced into the mountainous north by the Umayyad invasion in 711 AD, the Christian nobility clung to the kingdom of Asturia.  In the ninth and tenth centuries, the Christian kingdoms restrengthened and gradually expanded south.  On the Spanish plains the Asturian kings needed to develop a strong cavalry force, capable of defending the frontier and operating with some degree of self sufficiency.

To encourage settlement on the frontier, small landowners were granted commissions of land in exchange for military service.  This was not a feudal relationship per se, the small farmers were not of high enough status to become royal vassals and there was no ritual performed on either party's behalf.  Rather, it was a contractual relation.  Into the eleventh century, settlement became more numerous and organized.  Towns were created by royal charters, called fueros, and land was granted on the basis of cavalry service (caballerias) and infantry service (peonias).

Caballero Hidalgos or later just Hidalgos - greater and lesser knights who did have a feudal relationship with the king or a count (comes in Spain).

Caballero Villanos - most important class in the towns of central Spain.  Along with a small number of hidalgos, they formed a urban military aristocracy that gave Spanish towns of the eleventh and twelfth centuries a different character than Italy, with its merchant elite. They functioned as light horsemen and the jinete, referring more to a style than a type of soldier, involved fast moving and maneuvering cavalry equipped with javelins.

Above, a group of hidalgo villanos. Though not as well armored as knights, their horses, shields and clothing indicate wealthier status. Below, several groups of foot soldiers. Figures are from Crusader Miniatures.

Below, a group of fairly well equipped spearmen, perhaps some urban militia. The two on the right are from Gripping Beast.

Peones -small landowners and tenants not able to afford a horse and the requisite equipment gave their service as a peones, or foot soldier. Better equipped and trained foot soldiers bore a shield, spear and sword.  Skirmishers, drawn from the shepherds or Basque hill people, were proficient with bow, sling or javelin.  

Below, Spanish archers in fairly colorful garb, probably from trade with Arabic merchants to the south. All figures from Crusader Miniatures

Duties of the Spanish soldiers were to guard the towns and frontier, especially the herds of livestock. Far from just defenders, Caballeros and Peones were expected to go on the offensive and raid enemy territory, be it Muslim or Christian.  Raiding was also an opportunity for advancement, with soldiers at all levels enriching themselves through plunder and ransom.

Military service was essential to the reconquest of the Iberian penninsula, but Spanish kings were well aware that overly burdensome terms of service would not attract the necessary populations to the frontiers.  Age exemptions only applied to those over 70 years, which speaks to relative health of older people in  pre-modern times.  As always, one could purchase their way out of service, and the fee was twice as much for a caballero as a peony.  Family situations were also considered, with the newly married or those caring for sick relatives capable of receiving temporary exemptions.

Wargaming the Period

There are several good options for wargaming the early Reconquista period.  I do not own a copy of the Warhammer Ancient Battles El Cid supplement, but it was quite popular.  Reconquista army lists for Field of Glory were found in both the Wolves from the Sea and Oath of Fealty supplements.

My current preferred large battle historical system game is Clash of Empires, and my eventual goal is to build a 2500 to 3000 point Spanish army.

SAGA is my other favorite game currently.  While a Spanish supplement is highly likely in the next year or two, adapting a current battleboard is the best option.  The three classes of men, Hidalgos, Caballero Villanos and Peones fit into SAGA's divisions, and the best analog is probably the Norman or Breton battleboard.


Lourie, Elena. "A Society Organized for War," Past and Present, No. 36, December 1966, pp. 54-66.

Powers, James ."Frontier Military Service and Exemption in Municipalities of Aragon and Castile, vol. 45. Military Affairs.