ANCIENTS by Ivan Withers.
1. What's "Ancients" ?
"Ancients" is the name given by wargamers (and others) to the entire period of history before the invention of gunpowder. If one considers recorded history to have started about 3,000 BC, it spans some four thousand years. Wargamers who call themselves "Ancients" therefore have a very wide choice of periods, peoples and cultures.
The earliest known organised warriors are those of the Sumerians, originating in the so-called Fertile Crescent of the
As time rolled by, such peoples as the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Greeks,
the Trojans, the Han, the Romans, the Mayans, the Saxons, the Vikings and many
others appeared. The list of possible
armies and weapons to discover is huge.
2. Where Do I Start ?
Choosing a period to start may therefore seem a bit daunting. However, somewhere you may have seen some friends playing a game, or perhaps you already have an idea about which particular army interests you enough to start. If you are still a bit doubtful, how about the Romans? Mind you, even having narrowed your choice down to this one particular people, there is still a pretty wide choice. The Romans started out as an obscure Latin village ruled by a foreign king and they provided troops for an imitation-early-Greek-type phalanx. After they kicked out their Etruscan overlords, they evolved into a Republic, which lasted for some hundreds of years before they put a king (sorry, Caesar) back in charge. During this span of time they had at least three quite different organisations and armies. Not quite at random, let's settle on the Romans at the time of Tiberius; that's say roughly 10 AD to about 35 AD. This period of Roman history is the best documented. The information for the Roman Army a this time can therefore be found quite easily.
3. Starting With Romans.
4.Playing With the "Toy Soldiers".
Playing with "Ancients" need not just involve the figure you buy straight out of the packet, either. When you feel confident you can try conversions; i.e., making changes to the figures to look quite different. Again there are many books and magazines which can help you. Some of your fellow club-mates even make their own moulds to cast their own figures.
5.By What Rules Shall I Play?
However you play, whatever you play, there must always be Rules. Rules for fighting Ancient Wargames come in many different varieties, simple or complex, cheap or expensive. Again your choice will be governed by local conditions. What rules do your prospective opponents use? What is available locally in shops?
The WRG (short for Wargames Research Group) in
provide rules for Ancients (among others) which are used in many parts of the
world. All rules have their advantages
and drawbacks. The WRG set (currently in its 7th Edition) makes a game seem to
take a long time, and the complexity can be a bit daunting to a beginner.
However, the choice is entirely up to you. WRG Rules are used not only in small
clubs, but in competitions between Clubs. England
THE GREEK HOPLITE
Greek cities in the ancient world were very often at war with some other city or cities, due to a bewildering number of causes. One particular "polis" might be at war because of traditional alliances and enemies, and that war could be as short as a week, or as long as a generation. In the longer wars, the friends and enemies could change many times.
The typical Greek warrior was most often a small farmer. There was no standing army. His city would in effect call out a levy, and our warrior would leave his livelihood for weeks or even months, leaving his family to fend for themselves. He provided his own war-gear, or panoply. Since metal was relatively scarce and hence expensive, his panoply would be as expensive to him as buying a car is to us - and with a similar wide choice of results and efficiency.
|Greek Hoplite Phalanx|
The hoplite's principal weapon was a spear, varying in length and type over the centuries. At the time of the wars with
would have been between say 1.5 and 2 metres long, with a large leaf-shaped
blade. Quite a number also had a
butt-spike, which could prove handy if the spear was broken in use. Most
hoplites wore a short sword or dagger for in-fighting, and this was carried
hanging from a sash across the opposite shoulder, later to become the baldric.
One favoured style of short sword at the type of Alexander and probably for
some time previously was the kopis.
This heavy sword has been described as "capable of shearing off a man's
It appears that, at least in the earlier periods, hoplites often went into battle naked, or wearing only a loin cloth, perhaps. At least this would help them run more fleetly than pursuers after they'd dropped their shields and spears! For below-the-waist security, the well-dressed hoplite often wore a frontal protection made up of leather strips. This idea was the forerunner of the Later Roman Pteruges. Greaves were like light-weight bronze shin-pads. The existing contemporary art isn't clear whether they were thin bronze shapes which sprung over the shin, or heavier protection more like today's cricketers' pads.
With all this aggressive individuality, how was it that the Greek fighting machine was so successful? Against all probability, these aggressive individualists had developed into the most effective team-players the world had seen up until that time. Provided they set up their formation in time (which later turned out to be a BIG proviso), then the only formation of anywhere near the same numbers which could defeat them was a similar phalanx. As long as the phalanx kept its formation, it could only be beaten by a similar formation unless greatly outnumbered. Alexander simply gave his virtually unstoppable phalanx longer spears which out-reached even the Greeks spears, at the price of even further rigidity. But Alex realised the weakness and supported the flanks with more flexible bodies of troops. Nevertheless, the Romans beat the phalanx because of the inherent flexibility of the legion. They effectively trimmed away the cohesion and exposed the vulnerable flanks.
This same idea of the pike-armed phalanx came to light briefly centuries later, when the Swiss army had its day in the limelight during the Renaissance. It failed eventually because of its rigidity, and the new weapon of gunpowder.
The GREEK PELTAST
The peltasts principal armament was two, possibly three javelins, varying in length and type over the centuries. At the time of the wars with
, it was
between 1 and 1.5 metres long, with a relatively small blade. The javelin would
be launched at the enemy, and the last one would be kept for close contact
fighting. There has been some dispute about how the javelin was actually
thrown. It seems possible that two cords were wound around the shaft; when the
javelin was thrown, the cords caused the javelin to spin, giving a sort of
gyroscopic stability and hence, presumably, increased accuracy and possibly
even a slight increase in range. Aside from javelin and light shield, the rest was pretty much up to the
individual. Most peltasts wore a short sword or dagger for in-fighting, and
this was carried thrust through or hanging from their belt. Persia
The hoplites rather naturally looked down upon the poorly equipped peltasts as inferiors both socially and in battle usefullness. It came as a horrible shock during the wars between
and the Hellenic League when a group of peltasts slaughtered a unit of
so-called invincible Spartan hoplites.
The hoplites had become rigid and very stylised in their movement; the
Spartans found to their horror that, on the right sort of terrain, the peltast
was far superior in manoeuvrability and could dodge the heavier hoplite's
superior weaponry and training. Sparta