Monday, 2 November 2020

Late Roman Heavy Cavalry: Equites Honoriani Taifali Iuniores

My last unit with hand painted elaborate shields. I have the figures for two more bases so I will have the option of a 4 or 6 base unit but first I'm concentrating on getting all the Cavalry units with 4 bases and all the infantry with 6. I will bother about the extras and alternatives once I have a usable army.

Again this unit is mix of Minifigs and Asgard figures originally bought in the 80s with a few more recent extras to make the numbers up. By mixing up the two Asgard and one Minifigs cavalryman figures (plus command figures, with a bit of head swapping and modification) and alternating Asgard and Minifigs horses, I wanted to break up the 1980s monotony of mono-posed figures. Of course the down side of that is having to accept figures with very different kit: Minifigs with spangenhelm helmets, scale armour and no cloak with Asgard figures with an Attic-style eastern or spangnhelm helmet, mail and cloaks. The Asgard officer and cavalryman with spangenhelm helmet had rather large shield bosses so I filed those off and replaced them with Milliput to match the size of the others. As usual, I drilled out the figures hands and replaced the cast spears and javelins (and in the case of the office, his mace) with brass wire spears so these were all the same.

I've rationalised the remaining lack of uniformity with a story. This unit has a mix of veterans from the Danube frontier (hence the spangenhelm) and more recent recruits from the wars against Persia and now serving back in the North. Those soft Southerners are feeling the cold a bit and wearing their cloaks whilst the veterans are already too warm, so have stowed their cloaks behind them (from packs of Skytrex WW2 vehicle stowage) and are wishing they could take off their armour and head down to the quayside where a short-sleeved tunic is more than enough insulation against the refreshing Northern breeze. I'm choosing to ignore that scale armour is supposedly more characteristic of Eastern troops.

Another thing that has bothered me about those old figures is that, whilst all the army lists gave them javelins and spears, they are cast with one or the other. For my Illyrian unit, I got round this by having them hold spears in their right hand and a few javelins in their left, behind their shields but that seemed unsatisfactory so, for this unit, I made javelin quivers with two or three javelins from 0.5 mm brass rod (my spears are an over-scale 0.8mm) glued to a paper back with aluminium foil flaps and Milliput to represent the "bag". I held then in a pin vice to apply the Milliput, as in the photo, then again after the Milliput had cured to clean it all up. The rather short conical points are meant to represent the counterweight / non-sharp end of the javelin as shown in Osprey's 'Late Roman Cavalryman AD 236-565'.

I chose the shield pattern partly based on colour and partly because I felt I should have some shields with animals (albeit mythical ones). I only realised later that this is one of the handful of Late Roman shield patterns offered in the excellent Little Big Men range and so my hand painting efforts to get something unique are, yet again, going to be upstaged by every Late Roman army with Legio Heroica or Khurasan figures having a much superior representation of the same unit.

I made a new vexillum from brass rod with the cross-piece soldered and aluminium foil to replace the thick cast one on a bendy and fragile pole. Its bearer also got a new head from a spare infantry figure to replace the classical looking helmet of the original figure. I wish now that I had done a few more head swaps for ridged helmets to tie their appearance in  better with the infantry.

I have a unit of cataphracts in the painting tray now then another general and figures for the camp.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Romans on parade

With all four of the heavy infantry units (plus a unit of skirmishing archers) using my old 1980s Minifigs figures complete, as well as an Illyrian cavalry unit and general complete, I thought it was a good time to take stock of what I have completed so far and look forward to what remainins to be done.

So far I have painted 104 infantry and 19 cavalry. 

I have a unit of heavy cavalry on the painting tray at the moment. I'm going to do 12 figures (4 bases) initially then add another 2 bases later. Like the Illyrian cavalry, these will be a mix of Minifigs and Asgard.

After that is a unit of cataphracts with mostly Asgard riders on Minifigs horses. I have enough of these for 4 bases of 4 figures each. I also have some clibanarii - again a Minifigs / Asgard mix plus a couple of Gladiator Miniatures figures. At the moment I'm thinking of doing these as two bases of 4 to give the option of fielding a combined cataphract / clibanarii or I could do a full 4 base unit if I accepted only 3 figures per base (MeG recommends 4 for these).

The last cavalry unit to consider is a unit of horse archers. I have a few old Asgard figures for these but I'm not sure whether to use these or buy some of the much nicer and more varied ones from Legio Heroica. Either way, at least 8 and maybe 12 more cavalry to paint.

I also have some old figures for a sub-general and make some alternate bases for the legionaries to depict integral archers and expand a couple of legionary units and the archers to 8 bases but those are really at the back of the painting queue. 

The rest of the army will be modern Legio Heroica figures: two units of Auxillia Palatina, two more sub-generals and three Ballista. I'm scratch building a watch tower for the camp, with a Baueda hog roast on the side - I do like roast pork!

That adds up to atleast (ignoring the extras to expand units or give options) 55 infantry and 59 cavalry

Looking back it has taken 18 months to get to this half-way stage, albeit with some 1/1250 diversions, so unless I can pick up the pace, I can look forward to completion around the end of 2021!

Monday, 14 September 2020

Late Roman skirmishing bowmen - Sagittarii Venatores, Auxilium Palatinum

This is definitely my last unit of old 1980s figures: a dozen auxiliary archers, based as skirmishers.

The archers are Minifigs, a mix of Z22 and Z23 and the draconarius is from Gladiator. It would have been nice to have more variety of pose in the archers but the Asgard archers don't match in very well so I went with just mixing the two Minifigs variants and filing the crests off some of the helmets.

Given that the figures only have tiny round shields, I wasn't going to bother with a historic shield pattern or assign a name to them but whilst browsing through Luke Ueda-Sarson's excellent website of Notitia Dignitatum shield designs, I saw that there were a number of Auxilia Palatina titled as Sagittarii, suggesting that they were archers or at least had some special association or excellence in that field. Unfortunately, the shield designs all looked a nightmare to paint, especially on such a small canvas. 

Happily all was not lost. Luke had identified a discrepancy in the document, suggesting some shields were mis-attributed. In particular, the rather complicated design for the Sagittarii Venatores was wrong and perhaps the shield attributed to the Sequani was the correct one. Whilst he makes a good case for this conclusion, the point that convinced me most was that the shield attributed to the Sequani was a lot simpler and would look OK on these tiny round shields: Sagittarii Venatores it must be!

As mentioned above, this is my last full unit of old Minifigs, Asgard and Gladiator Miniatures infantry figures. On to the cavalry now.

As mentioned in my first post on this Roman army, I originally misattributed the Gladiator Miniatures command figures as Museum Miniatures - I've gone through all the posts and corrected that now, I hope catching all such instances. My apologies for any confusion caused by this.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Secundani Italiciani, Legio Comitatensis

Light at the end of the tunnel: my fourth and last large infantry unit of old 1980s Minifigs figures and the last one for which I have to hand paint the shields. My remaining two Auxillia Palatina units will be Legio Heroica figures and use Little Big Men transfers for the shields: oh happy day!

One thing I questioned before completing this unit was what standard bearer to choose. The old Asgard and Gladiator ranges have an aquila for legionaries whilst the Minifigs command group has a trumpeter and draconarius, unarmoured and dressed as their auxiliaries. Modern figure ranges seem to just have dracos for all infantry, with no distinction in dress or equipment for legions or auxilia. After reading around a bit, asking for advice and buying the relatively new Osprey "Roman Standards and Standard Bearers (2) AD 192 - 500" my understanding is that dracos were increasingly used for legionary sub-units but the emblem for the whole legion remained the Aquila. The book includes an illustration of a mid 4th C legion aquilifer from one of Julian's legions with a black bear pelt headdress, square base (perch?) for the eagle and gold coloured staff. Interestingly (or surprisingly) he wear leather armour. I based my Aquilifer on that illustration.

As previously, the trumpeter is a modified Minifigs Byzantine figure with a headswap. The Aquilifer and officer are Gladiator Miniatures - the latter with a new, larger shield made from brass and Milliput to match the Minifigs legionaries. As with the earlier units, I removed the helmet crests from some figures to get more variety, filed down some of the details of the legionaries sandals and disguised the rest with thick paint to depict them all in trousers.

The key thing with Late Roman armies is, of course, the glorious choice of shield designs. With the Lanciarii Gallienci Honoriani, Secunda Britannica and Petulantes Seniores already complete, the primary consideration was finding a shield design that would be significantly different but easy to paint. I settled on the Secundani Italiciani because it appeared to meet both of these criteria and I liked the idea of trying to make an interesting design from a white cross on a white background. I must admit though that I prefer the shields on the three earlier units

If you are tempted to hand paint the shields for this unit, my advice is to think again. I hadn't taken account of how hard it would be to reconcile making the inner circle (and hence the width of the crosses) big enough to paint with distinct colour graduations but leave enough length on the horizontal crosses for the three red dots - especially as the Minifigs shields aren't quite symetrical and there is less space on the figures left than the right. It took me several goes on some figures to get an acceptable result and even then I’m not really happy with most of them. If despite that, you do want to give it a go, here is the sequence I followed to get the basic features - the ‘white’ areas of the shields are my standard Vallejo triad of Khaki Grey, Iraqi Sand and Ivory. To give a different white, the helmet crests are London Grey, Light Grey and Foundation White.

I posted some photos and some of the text from my last unit on TMP and one of the comments was that these old 1980s Minifigs figures were a bit of a blank canvas. I hadn't really thought about it before myself but I think that hits the nail on the head and is a lot of what I like about these models. The overall proportions are quite good but the smooth surfaces give some space for the painter to create interest without being over constrained by exaggerated sculpted detail. This is especially so on the unarmoured figures with relatively large areas on the tunics where you can add or ignore shadows more or less as you like.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Late Roman Command Group - started 1980s, finished 2020


I had painted the Asgard (Table Top Games, by the time I got them and Alternative Armies today) Late Roman Army Command group of a general and standard bearer some time in the early 1980s but then they languished in a box with the rest of this incomplete army. On digging them out again, on close inspection, the general figure was far below the standard I try to achieve today so it went into the paint stripper jar but I really wanted to use the standard (the Labarum of Constantine I from page 82 of WRG Armies and Enemies if Imperial Rome0 that I had so painstakingly painted all those years ago, even if such a massive standard seems an unlikely candidate to be carried by a cavalryman and now belongs in the same WRG rejects pile as all my leather cuirassed Legionaries. For the standard bearer, I limited myself to a bit fo tidying up and repainting his cloak. With a repainted general and Minifigs heavy cavalryman as bodyguard, I'm quite pleased with this little group. The cavalryman's shield is the WRG interpretation of the Notitia Dignitatum for the Scola Scutariorum Secunda. I might use this design for all the general's bodyguards; as though this unit of guard cavalry had been split up to protect all of the senior leaders.

I've always struggled a bit with painting grey horses - and horses in general to be honest - but I was quite pleased with this one in the end, acknowledging the limitations of scale and that I was aiming for a nice effect and popping colours rather than real equine accuracy. I think I might do a few more for other officers.

I'm building this army for Mortem et Gloriam rules which categorises generals as Legendary, Talented, Competent or Mediocre and suggests identifying them with red, yellow, green or white (respectively) base edges or declining numbers of figures from 5 to 2 per 40 x 40 mm base. Neither of these options seem satisfactory to me, either aesthetically or for practical flexibility - what if I want to play around with army composition and need a different mix of generals? 

I wanted something that would be obvious, unambiguous but subtle and flexible. I considered different coloured standards or dracos but, apart from not having enough spare dracos, I'd painted my army standard almost 40 years ago and wasn't about to recolour it and make a spare. In the end, I decided to try adding an interchangeable shield in the appropriate colour, held in place by a magnet.

After digging around in the garage, I found a couple of steel washers, of 9 and 10 mm diameter and turned them into shields with the aid of some Miliput. I wanted to create some visual interest and make them look like the sort of thing that might be carried by barbarian enemies or Rome whilst sticking to the colour theme - for these test cases red and yellow. The overall effect worked well but the 3 mm rare earth magnet that I used is far too strong. For the other generals, I'll use offcuts of magnetic basing tape so I can swap the shields round without damaging them.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Petulantes Seniores, Auxilium Palatinum

The the use of armour in battle - or lack of it - for auxilia is another area where WRG Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome book, the reference for my 1980s nostalgia figures, differs from current thinking. The book has them un-armoured apart from helmets and shields.

An obstacle to making a unit of these was that I didn't actually have enough infantryman figures - only two packs of 8 when I needed 20 (plus the 3 command.) I did however have a pack of what the book (and therefore Minifigs) labelled as Lanciarius 4th C with a smaller shield than the legionaries and auxiliaries and slightly more dynamic pose than the auxiliaries - on the right in the photo below.

I made larger shields for these and re-purposed them as auxiliaries. Several figures had lost their rather fragile spears so I replaced them all with brass rod at slightly different angles adding more variation. I also trimmed the crests off some figures and reshaped them with a small file to leave an unadorned ridge helmet.

The trumpeter's trumpet was mis-cast so I replaced it with brass rod and miliput. My understanding is that infantry in this period used the almost circular cornu or buccina whilst the cavalry used the straight tuba. However Minifigs went for the straight tuba for everybody and, in the spirit of 80s nostalgia, as well as the spirit of re-modelling some figures to cary a cornu being beyond my abilities, I've stuck with that. The officer (also with a new, larger, shield) and draconarius are from Gladiator Miniatures.

Some fantastic late Roman shield transfers are available now from Little Big Men but unfortunately these are specifically sized and shaped for Khurasan or Legio Heroica and considerably bigger than the Minifigs shields so I would have to hand paint the shields again. I chose the Petulantes Seniores on the basis of being a simple design, using blue - so clearly different to my earlier two units and having a lot of yellow. 1980s 'rules' for late Roman crests were very simple - red for legionaries and yellow for auxiliaries. More recently I've read it wasn't so clear and, if there was any logic at all, maybe it was that crests matched or picked out a colour from the shield design. Choosing the Petulantes Seniories keeps both theories happy.

I wanted to get some variety of appearance despite using 1980s mono-posed figures (OK, 16 identical plus 4 in a marginally different pose). In addition to the previously mentioned crest / no crest mix and variation in spear angle, I used three slightly  different triads for the off-white tunics as well as varying the blue pattern shapes on the tunics and the colour of the leggings.

That's three infantry units complete now - so half way through the legions and auxilia. I have another unit's worth of old Minifigs Legionaries, which I have already started, then the other two will be modern Legio Heroica armoured infantry. Also loads of cavalry, generals, ballista and some infantry archers. Lots still to go but I feel I'm making progress.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Classical ruins

One of my biggest impressions from holidays in Italy is that physical reminders of the past, especially Ancient Rome, are everywhere so I thought my Italian Wars scenery should include some classical ruins. My idea was to do these, like most of my other scenery, as marker pieces to be placed on an area, in this case to be classed as broken ground.

I looked out for a suitable model - ideally not very big or expensive - for quite a while. There seemed to be a lot in 28mm, and some brilliant but large and expensive complete models but nothing small and cheap for 15mm. By chance, I then stumbled across some resin cast pillars at a Wargames show. I think they were on the Magnetic Displays stand, though I can't now find them on their website. With 2 x 55mm high fluted columns for a pound, they were perfect for my purposes and I bought a couple of packs. 

The pillars were sculpted as though made from three pieces and without plinths and capitals. To avoid having all four identical heights and appearances and make them go further, I cut up two of them - the top tier off one and the top and middle of the other then cut two of these pieces lengthways at an angle so I could place them to give the appearance of half-buried pieces. I made the plinths and capitals from card, foam-board and 2mm mdf. After sanding the sawn ends flat, I distressed them and the exposed mdf of the plinths and capitals to give a worn and weathered effect - probably more than is realistic but sometimes wrong looks right.

The foam-board for the plinths was a bad idea as it is a weak point that I can easily imagine breaking at the slightest rough handling. I'm not sure whether to reinforce them now with a screw from the base (and risk damaging them) or see if they do actually break.

The base boards are 2mm mdf and I marked it out in 10mm squares to get the thin card paving slabs (9.5mm squares) and column plinths spaced evenly.

The next step was to cover the bare mdf parts of the boards with filler to represent the build up of debris over and around the ruins in the thousand years or so between the end of the Roman Empire and the Italian Wars. At this stage, I also attached a few small rectangles of foam-board to represent fallen blocks of masonry.

I left a couple of areas of bare mdf on top of the high points to give a good surface to attach the cypress trees.

I then covered around the roots and textured the filler with sharp sand and small stones. The whole thing (apart from the trees!) was given a coat of brown emulsion, decanted from a big pot I bought as and end of line item some years ago.

For the temple stonework, I used a wash of Humbrol black enamel paint in white spirit. When that was completely dry, I gave it a heavy dry brush of Vallejo 987 Medium Stone. Dulux Bleached Lichen 1, which I have in my scenery paints box and use for roads,  looks virtually the same and would have been cheaper.

When that was fully dry - overnight - I applied a thin wash of a medium green in the cracks, recesses and around the base before dry brushing again with Dulux Bleached Lichen 2 and a final light dry brush of Dulux Bleached Lichen 2 mixed with about white. 

The 'earth' areas are my usual basing / scenery ground recipe: dry brush yellow ochre then yellow ochre + white with static grass and tufts applied with PVA. I also added some dark green clump foliage and a bit of foliage net to represent a climbing plant growing up one of the columns. 

Friday, 12 June 2020

More Italian Wars French Crossbowmen - Aventuriers

Although I started my French Crossbowmen / Aventuriers in early 2016 and finished the first group of 12 in June 2016, for some reason the second group of 12 stuck. I got distracted into other areas and every time I looked at them languishing in the incomplete painting tray of shame, there seemed to be something more urgent or at least more interesting to do.

With the extra leisure time at home enforced by the Covid-19 restrictions, after spending a lot of time on a 1/1250 model of HMS Queen Elizabeth, I finally got round to completing them. This gives me an early and late option of either 12 bases of crossbowmen in skirmish order or 12 bases of arquebus is loose order.

The new group is at the front. 
I still have plans for some more units for my French Italian Wars army: at least one unit of archers (the heavy cavalry type), a full 6 of Landsknetch skirmishing arquebus and some more clearly French artillery now the new range from Khurasan is available. 

I have the figures for two more pike keils - one Swiss, one Landsketch and more Gendarmes (with Venexia figures) but these will have to wait until I've completed my Romans and a load of WW2 figures. Even then, I'm not sure I can face another two 14 base pike keils!