Warfare in the Ancient World

Warfare in the Ancient World

I’ve just finished reading this concise volume and thought I’d note down a few observations about it.

It’s markedly different from other books I’ve read on ancient warfare in that it takes an instrumental, stripped-down view of the development of warfare in the ancient world. It looks at weapons systems as they were applied on the battlefield and in campaigns, with a focus on developments in combined arms, ‘articulation’ and logistics.

The concept of combined arms is one we’re probably all familiar with, and speaks for itself. Likewise logistics. Articulation though was a relatively new term to me, and denotes the capacity of battlefield units and formations to respond flexibly to different challenges. This is how the  glossary at the end of the book puts it:

“A military term defining the offensive capability of troops. Unarticulated troops usually lacked the drill and discipline to march and fight in close order, and usually fought in static, defensive formations. Well-articulated troops were capable of offensive action in close-order combat.”

The Roman legion, with its system of maniples, is portrayed as the supreme development of the articulated battle formation in the ancient world.

Instead of getting bogged down in the minutiae of the period, the book concentrates on key developments. One example of this is the metamorphosis of Greek and Macedonian warfare as a result of contact with the Persian Empire. The Greek phalanx was replaced by the combined arms approach of Philip of Macedon, who added cavalry and light troops to the traditional heavy infantry formations. Following the closely studied experiences of Xenophon, whose Anabasis was read extensively, the Macedonians recognised the importance of proper logistical support, which had previously been neglected in the Greek world.

The book covers an impressive sweep of history, from the Bronze and early Iron Age eras to the later Roman empire. Carey illustrates his points with detailed analyses of key battles, complete with maps. These include Megiddo, Kadesh, Marathon, Plataea, Sphacteria, Leuctra, Granicus River, Issus, Gaugamela, Hydaspes, Raphia, Cannae, Zama, Cynosephalae, Carrhae, Pharsalus and Teutoburg Forest.

The most useful and refreshing aspect of the book for me though isn’t the description of individual battles – many of which have been covered exhaustively elsewhere – but the author’s overview of the way in which each region or nation’s system of warfare developed over time.

For instance, Carey traces the transformation of the Roman military machine, describing its emergence from Etruscan methods of warfare and its subsequent development via the Camillan reforms into the early legion. He looks at the impact of the subsequent wars, and of the Marian and Augustan reforms, ending with an analysis of the decline of legionary warfare with the defeats of Carrhae and the Teutoburg.

It’s when he’s looking at the ‘big picture’ that this author is at his best.

The only criticism I would make of the book is that, for this ageing reader at least, the strategic and battlefield maps are rather on the small side. But this is a minor gripe about what is in general a well-written, rewarding and thought-provoking read. I’m not qualified to judge whether Carey’s conclusions are ones with which other military historians might take issue, but as presented here his arguments are both cogent and forceful.

In short, Warfare in the Ancient World is a worthy addition to the wargamer’s bookshelf.

Warfare in the Ancient World, Brian Todd Carey, publ. Pen & Sword 2005.


China My China

Chinese Zhou Dynasty Chariot

In the haze of the morning, China sits on eternity… 

Christmas really has come early this year…

When I powered up Field of Glory II this morning and saw the ‘new user content’ icon flashing, I assumed someone had added a custom battle or a small campaign. Instead I found a major add-on put together by Jomni, the guy responsible for the Sengoku Jidai expansion to Pike & Shot.

This time Jomni has added the Chinese theatre of war to the primarily Western and Near Eastern areas covered by FoG II and its first official expansion.

And what a splendid job he’s made of it. Options include five variants of the Chinese, covering the period from 1046 BC to 23 AD. Their opponents include a number of ‘barbarian’ tribes  – the Di, Donghu, Beidi, Qiang and Xirong.

The Chinese can also, as part of the Silk Road theme, go up against armies already covered in the main FoG II game and its Immortal Fire expansion – including the Indians, the Macedonians, the Graeco-Bactrians, the Skythians/Saka, and others.

Jomni has modded the graphics to produce some fine new troops. Here my Chinese take the field to face the Qiang, in a small/medium sized ‘sandbox’ battle from the later Zhou period:


I’ve stacked my left flank with chariots and cavalry to overwhelm the enemy and envelop his right and centre, while hoping to hold him off with my infantry elsewhere.

Here my chariots and horse prepare to engage the foe:


Meanwhile, over on my right, raw recruits are tasked with holding the line for as long as possible against the approaching barbarians:


My simple plan works, but the outcome hangs in the balance for a while, even though I’m fighting this battle at a pretty low difficulty level.

It’s clearly going to take time for me to learn exactly how to handle these Chinese troops!

Here, my left flank mounted – cavalry and chariots – see off the enemy:


They’re only just in time to save the day, as my right flank has all but collapsed and my centre is starting to buckle as my infantry begin to break and run:


All in all it’s a very satisfying first game. The new armies look good, and add a whole new theatre of war to the existing options.

And that’s just the skirmish/sandbox side of Jomni’s mod.

In addition, he’s added a full-fledged ‘Silk Road’ campaign:


This enables you to pit any of the nations mentioned above against any other, in a series of conflicts spanning nearly a thousand years.

Not bad for a free add-on to an already excellent game!

I’ve got a pretty shrewd idea of how I’ll be spending much of the holiday period…


A Cunning Plan

“Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words ‘I have a cunning plan’ marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?”


How do you introduce a newbie to the wargaming hobby?

Or, more to the point, how do you get them started in a way that won’t put them off for life?

This question came up for me recently, as I settled into married life with a partner who – coming from a more traditional gay milieu/sensibility – had no particular interest in the world of military history or wargaming. On the other other hand, we had already spent many hours playing cards and the occasional (non-military) board game together, so I thought that there might be a glimmer of hope after all on the wargaming front. Maybe I could get him involved in this wonderful hobby of ours…

But how to go about it?

After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to see how he’d fare with Richard Borg’s game Battle Cry, which I reviewed on here a few years ago (you can find the review by clicking here).

Why Battle Cry? Well, one of the things I believe newbies find very difficult to grasp – I know I did back in the day – is the whole business of measured movement, turning, facing and formation change as dealt with in the conventional table-top wargame. For people brought up on grid-based games like draughts (checkers) and chess, the complexity of the movement on the table-top can be disconcerting and counter-intuitive.

Battle Cry, on the other hand, uses a simple system of hex-based movement. It doesn’t bother with facing, formation or zones of control. And it only presents the newbie with three troop types to get his or her head around – infantry, cavalry and artillery (plus generals, to add a fourth). The effects of terrain are pretty straightforward, and the liberal use of cards to determine the player’s options each turn ensures that the game is fun and throws up continual surprises.

At the same time, Battle Cry acclimatises the new player to the notion that re-fighting old battles can be fun, and gets you both over that awkward moment when you have to explain that you’re going to be playing with toy soldiers. It’s a sort of wargaming lite, introducing many of the key elements of ‘the real thing’ without frightening off your potential new recruit.

So how did it work out?

Even better than expected. Battle Cry has become a favourite shared pastime, and I’ve just introduced my partner to a new set of rules I’m working on for hex-based ancients/medieval warfare. These new rules use Battle Cry as a starting point, but as they develop and grow the aim is to gradually incorporate a roster of different troop types, zones of control, unit facing, morale etc. etc. I will probably include and build on ideas culled from a number of sources, including Richard Borg’s own ancients games, the old Ancients hex game published by 3W, and other ideas gleaned from the internet and elsewhere.

But I’m planning to introduce these things gradually, step by step. The idea is to start simple, and build on an initial shared knowledge base in such a way that the games remain fun and above all stress free.

I’m hoping to share these stripped-down hex rules on here as they develop.

So there you have it. It’s never too late to gently ease someone into the wonderful world of wargaming. All you need is a cunning plan…!


Private Baldrick

Publish And Be Damned?

The Scream

This blog post is going to be a bit of a rant…

Nowadays anyone can be a publisher. The inexorable rise of print-on-demand and budget printing outlets, combined with the dominance of internet sales in the retail sector, has broken down the barriers that once made publishing the preserve of a privileged few. Fundamentally this has to be a good thing. As with self-publishing and blogging, the new media give us all a chance to find an audience.

But every silver lining has a cloud. The downside of the publishing revolution is that anyone, regardless of whether or not they have the requisite skill and patience, can throw together a book and put it on the market. We’re probably all familiar with cheap paperbacks whose contents have been word-processed rather than competently laid out, whose typos run into double or triple figures, and whose photos are a muddy blur.

Within a small community like the wargaming world, customers may be unwilling to complain about the quality of the product they receive. Even constructive critical observations can be construed as a personal attack, and the resulting fallout can turn into a vendetta that lasts for years.

Equally, criticism may be seen as an unwarranted breach of the ‘clubby’ atmosphere that pervades much of our hobby. There can be a great reluctance to call out poor practice, even when someone has paid good money for shoddy goods that should never really see the light of day.

Probably the worst example of this sort of product that I’ve ever personally come across is a paperback reprint of a ‘wargaming classic’ that I picked up recently on Amazon. Despite boasting two editors, and despite being billed as an attempt to bring the work of an important wargaming pioneer to a new audience, the poor production values on show made reading the book an ordeal rather than a pleasure.

I have rarely, if ever, seen so many typos crammed into a single slim volume – a particularly egregious oversight when detailed wargaming rules make up a significant part of the text, and accuracy is an essential (if basic) requirement. Apparently  neither editor thought it worth his while to proof-read the final draft prior to publication. Maybe neither editor is conversant with the spell-check and grammar-check functions included in every modern word-processing package, though that frankly beggars belief. A simple one-click solution would have eradicated most of the mistakes. One of the repeated typos is the (original) author’s own name – an unforgiveable error, in my opinion.

This haphazard approach to editing is reflected in the book’s amateurish layout and almost indecipherable photographs. The text appears to have been run through a word-processor and simply squeezed out the other side, with no time being spent on proper page layout or design. There are plenty of photos, but they are so poor as to be of little if any use. Still, at least they help to bulk out this very slim volume – maybe that’s the reason they’ve been included.

If this book was a one-off, perhaps the lack of skill and care would be more understandable. But it is just one of a series of re-prints, put together by someone who clearly cares passionately about the hobby and its history. Which, as far as I’m concerned, makes this slapdash approach to publishing even more of a mystery. Maybe the other books in the series are better produced, but frankly I don’t have any desire to pour good money after bad in order to find out.

The point is pretty simple, really. If you can’t take the time and effort to proof-read the text, if you lack the patience or the skill to lay the book out properly, if you can’t tell a muddy blur from a decent photo – then for heaven’s sake don’t impose on the rest of us by masquerading as a publisher.

Here endeth the rant!

Exploding Brain Clip Art



Oh Those Persians!



Field of Glory II has been running almost constantly on my computer since its release a few months ago. It’s an excellent implementation of tabletop ancients wargaming, combining nice graphics with a tough AI, sandbox skirmish mode, and a built-in campaign system.

The base module released with the original game – Rise Of Rome – covered the period from 280 BC to 25 BC, featuring 75 army lists spread across 48 nations.

Now the first of what I expect will be many expansions has arrived.

Immortal Fire covers the armies of the Persian Empire, the Greek city states, Alexander the Great, the Diadochi, and a few neat extras like the Lydians, the Latins and the Etruscans. Not bad for the princely sum of just £11.99!

The Achaemenid Persians are my favourites so far. They come in five different period flavours, reflecting the changes in their army composition as their empire expanded and then eventually contracted in the face of Macedonian aggression. The Persian Immortals and Sparabara – both new units in the game – give the player the opportunity to pit ‘medium’ infantry armed with bow, spear and shield against the redoubtable Greeks and Macedonians. They’re a lot of fun to use. Here they are defending a hill against a determined assault by Greek hoplites:


Persians03 Infantry


The Iranian Armoured Cavalry provides the Persians with another powerful option, giving them more mobility than the Greeks can muster. These bow-armed heavy cavalry, supported by light horse archers, can run the Greeks ragged while the Immortals and the Sparabara provide a solid infantry line for them to fall back on as needed. Here my Iranians surround a couple of isolated hoplite units, and prepare to pick them off:


Persians02 Cavalry


In addition to the new nations and armies, Immortal Fire also adds some ready-made campaigns to the existing roster.  There are four historical campaigns: Xenophon, Philip of Macedon, Seleukos I Nikator, and Seven Hills of Rome. Xenophon and Seven Hills of Rome (which covers the rise of the young Roman Republic) are particularly intriguing. So too is the additional ‘What If’ campaign that’s included in the package – this allows us to explore what might have happened if Alexander had not died at the tender age of 32, but had instead gone on to continue his conquests.

Along with the ready-made campaigns, the new army lists can also be used in sandbox mode to create new campaigns on the fly. Doubtless more community-produced campaigns built using these lists will also emerge in due course.

But for now I’m going to stick with my sandbox campaign, pitting my beautiful Persians against the brutish Greek barbarians.

Thanks to Richard Bodley Scott and his team for providing us with another excellent, immersive computer game!



Odd Horten, the eponymous hero of the wonderful Norwegian film O’Horten, fully lives up to his name. Perhaps my empathy for him is down to the fact that I’ve always been a bit of an oddball myself.

This has been brought home to me over the past week as I’ve dipped a toe into the seductive waters of online multiplayer wargaming, only to withdraw that toe in short order and thoroughly towel it off.

Here’s what happened. I was taking part in a discussion on the Field Of Glory II forum about whether a prospective buyer should invest in the game, and up popped the question of using Slitherine’s PBEM (Play By Email) facility to play against other ‘real’ players – rather than just the AI. I pointed out that the AI provides a challenging opponent already, and that ‘multiplayer’ (‘MP’) is really not for everyone. As a result, I was invited to give MP another try. Not one to shirk a challenge, I’ve now played around a dozen MP games, and the results have been interesting.

I’ve discovered, or re-discovered, the simple fact that I don’t much like the competitive side of myself that is brought out by taking on a real live opponent. It actually spoils my enjoyment of the game. Maybe that’s why, in recent years, my tabletop gaming – when it isn’t solo – has been restricted to amicable games with close friends and (more recently) with my partner.

In the rush to gain a competitive edge, my focus on (a) having fun, and (b) immersing myself in history, both get lost. The experience is very different, and actually feels a little bit unhealthy. A simple game, and a trip into the past, become something else. Something less enjoyable. Something that has more of an edge.

And there’s the rub. I suppose that edge is what other wargamers enjoy. It seems, somewhat to my own astonishment, that I don’t.

Odd? Certainly. But I daresay it’s another reason why solo wargaming has been my ‘go to’ mode for so many years.

Now this is a purely personal thing. And I’m not, for one moment, suggesting that it’s necessarily a good thing either. It is what it is. But I wonder if maybe it’s another reason why some people prefer the less competitive, more immersive experience of solo gaming to the rigours of facing a human opponent across the battlefield?