Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Russians are Coming!

With two Rus factions for SAGA forthcoming, I thought it would be a good idea to run through some of my Rus figures.  Most of them were purchased as a way to give an eastern focus to my Viking army, without the intention of building a separate Russian army.  As it turns out, I have a few figures from most of the manufacturers currently.

Below are some Magister Militum Rus. These are metal figures of average to good casting quality. The sculpts are well detailed, but not as good as the Gripping Beast figures. Shields are separate, and soft metal spears are included, which I chose not to use.

Gripping Beast's Jomsvikings are obviously modeled on early Rus from the Osprey books. These rank with the best of Gripping Beast's dark age line, and would do well for the early Pagan Rus. Additionally, shields are cast on and spears are not included. 

I am always looking for ways to convert figures from my second box of Conquest Normans.  Here's one that's been given a fur cloak and a higher peaked helmet.  He could work well as an eleventh century Rus from the Kievan princes era.  

WIP pictures

Below, a comparison shot of figures from each of the four manufacturers.  The Essex is obviously the smaller of the figures, but not so much that it is out of place.  It also has the least sharp features, and the square shield shows little texture compared to Gripping Beast and Magister.  

As far as I know, the only other manufacturer of Dark Age Rus is Old Glory.  I would expect their figs to be more in line with the Essex in terms of size and quality.  There website does not help very much with pictures. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spanish History and Historical Fiction for Wargamers

As I continue on with my Spanish projects, I thought I would share my reading material since January.


Barton, Simon and Richard Fletcher. The World of El Cid: Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquista. Manchester University Press, 2001.

For the student of Spanish history who wants to read primary sources in English, this is the best work.  While not modestly priced, it is not as expensive as learning Latin, Arabic or medieval Spanish. Works best after reading a more general history such as Fletcher's The Quest for El Cid.

Fletcher, Richard. The Quest for El Cid. Oxford University Press: 1991.

Not so much a biography of El Cid as it is a survey or what we know and do not know about the legendary Castilian warrior.  Fletcher spends almost the first half of the book on an overview of Spain from Visgothic times until the eleventh century, but it is time well spent. When he arrives at the Cid's story, the reader understands the political and social forces that turned the tide on Islamic Spain in the eleventh century.  

Lowney, Chris. A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age Christians, Muslims and Jews

As a general rule, I tend to be suspicious of popular histories that announce their thesis in the title (i.e. how so and so changed the world), and this does not prove to be an exception to that rule. Written looking backwards with 9/11 and the Madrid bombings as a starting point, wistfully (or is that wishfully?) recalls a golden age of cooperation and coexistance in medieval Iberia. On the positive side, the chapters are thematically organized around a series of unique individuals or events that are barely covered in the more general chronological histories of the Reconquista. 
Nicolle, David. El Cid and the Reconquista 1050 - 1492. Osprey: 1988.
Nicolle, David. The Moors: The Islamic West 7th - 15th Centuries AD. Osprey: 2001.

Both of Osprey's two entries on the subject of Medieval Spain were written by David Nicolle and illustrated by the superb Angus McBride. Unfortunately, both books cover such a vast expanse of time that the amount of material, literary and artistic, devoted to the El Cid era is less than I hoped for.  Essential for the wargamer, nonetheless. 

Reilly, Bernard. The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla Under King Alfonso VI 1065-1109. University of Pennsylvania Press: 1988.  Available online at

Essential reading for the important transitional rule of Alfonso VI.  After King Ferdinand I engineered the unification of most of the Christian lands of the north, he left them divided among his sons at his death.  The middle son, Alfonso, reunified the lands at the cost of his own brother's lives.  While deeply appreciative of Andalusian culture, Alfonso VI was also closely associated with deeply pious and Cluniac clergy.  The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla Under King Alfonso VI 1065-1109 details how Alfonso built upon his father's political and military institutions and decisively turned the tide of the Spanish Reconquista in favor of the Christians.  This is academic reading, but accessible, both in terms of writing and price - it is freely available online as a pdf. 

The Poem of the Cid: Dual Language Edition. Penguin Classics: 1985.
Anyone familiar with the Viking sagas will recognize the epic qualities of The Poem of the Cid, or the Lay of the Cid as it is also known.  There is history here, to be sure, but also a healthy dose of myth making...not that there is anything wrong with that.  


Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Lions of al-Rassan. Harper: 1995.

Beautiful, tragic and evocative of a beautiful time and place that might have been.  Read all of Kay's books. Now. 

Reilly, Bernard. Journey to Compostela: A Novel of Medieval Pilgrimage and Peril. Combined Publishing: 2001.
Set in an unspecified year during the reign of Alfonso VI, a contest of wills develops between the two protagonists, one a peasant and the other a noble.  While very brief and quickly read, it is a good description of the class divide in the early feudal era.  For wargamers, it has a few action set pieces that could easily be turned into skirmishing scenarios.    

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Andalusian Noble Cavalry

The invasion of Spain in 711 AD by the Umayyad Caliphate was accomplished by a small number of high ranking Arabs, supported by large numbers of Berber tribesmen. Over the next centuries, they built a prosperous and successful society on the Iberian peninsula.  The city of Cordoba had a half million inhabitants (making it the largest city in western Europe) and boasted 3,000 mosques.  

Seemingly on the fringe of Europe, Muslim Spain was nonetheless an important point for the diffusion of new ideas and goods into early medieval Europe.   From Muslim Spain, Europe was introduced to chess, the lute and reintroduced to the writings of ancient Greeks. Besides scholars, warriors from Europe came to Andalusia for a variety of reasons. Some went to fight against the Muslims.  Others went there in exile and to serve as mercenaries in wars between rival emirs.  When they left, the French, Spanish and Normans took back polo, jousting and a love for poetry that would fuel the romantic ideals of chivalry well into the Renaissance.  

Andalusian Cavalry from Artizan

Elite cavalry in Andalusia was initially based on the Syrian junds of the Umayyad Caliphate, but these Arabs were a numerical minority in al-Andalus. The Berbers were initially the bulk of the infantry forces, though Berber and African cavalry were more common by the eleventh century. The noble cavalry of Andalusia's great cities were well equipped and colorful. They often wore chain or scale armor, with surcoats over the armor, a style that was later picked up by western knights. Tactically, their role was to support infantry with light weapons and quick maneuvers. Shields born personal designs or emblems. Again, it was a style that would later be imitated by Christians.   

Influences ran both ways, however.  From Christian warriors, Andalusians picked up an appreciation for Frankish swords and the couched lance charging style.  

Mounted archers were rare, but not unheard of, especially if recruited from Turkish sources. More common would have been crossbowmen, mounted and on foot. Andalusian city militias were equipped with crossbows, and a number of better off among the citizenry could have wielded their crossbows from the expedient position upon a horse.

Mounted Arab archers from Gripping Beast

Mounted Crossbowmen, from Artizan

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Conquest Normans into Andalusians

After a number of posts on my Castilians and El Cid armies, it is time to move to the other end of the peninsula, the Moors of Spain, or Al-Andalus.

Warriors of Al-Andalus

The peoples who made up the fighting forces of Muslim Spain were drawn from many places.  As many historians have noted,the Arab invasion of Spain by the Umayaad Caliphate in 711 AD was not entirely Arab or Muslim.  The initial invasion force was led by the Arabs, but the bulk of the troops were Berbers, who had in recent years been conquered by the Umayaad Arabs, and not completely converted in the early eighth century.   Tensions between Arabs and Berbers characterized the Spanish emirate throughout its existance, with open warfare first breaking out in the 740s.

The Arabs were disproportionately a urban population in Spain, with the countryside dominated by Berbers and native Christians, who slowly converted to Islam over the next two hundred years.  These Spanish Christians served in Andalusian armies, for reasons of both compulsion and loot, along with slave troops purchased from Christian lands, Africa and the Middle East.

Here is a group of four Conquest Normans beginning their conversion into Andalusian troops.  Tunics were extended into robes, and adding turbans and headgear.  The set's round shields were also used, as the heart shaped Arab shields did not come into popular usage until the twelfth century.

Finished and painted, the shield patterns on the two below were lifted from some Andalusian pottery designs of the time. 

Here are the conversions in the ranks with some Artizan Moors.  They fit in very well in terms of scale and heft.

Troops of Arab descent in Spain were most likely from the cities of Spain (which were some of the largest in Europe at the time), and functioned as an urban militia.  As such, these are depicted as wearing finer clothing in bright colors.

Overall, the conversion process was useful practice for my poor (but hopefully improving) sculpting skills.  For time reasons, I would not want to convert a whole box of Normans into Arabs, unless one needed a few extra Moors for a low cost.

Next time, Andalusian cavalry and commanders.