Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Relative Size of Things

Several times each week on wargaming forums or blogs the question gets asked about the sizing and proportions of various manufacturer's models by those building armies. You see, one of the nice "quirks" of this hobby is that each manufacturer sculpts their figures based on their own idea of what 28mm means and how they can get the human form molded to fit that vision. Really, all 28mm means these days is that the miniature is bigger than the 15mm models.

Since I am using three manufacturers for my Punic War project, I thought I would do a quick comparison that might prove useful to others looking to go down this same road with their own projects. To me, there are four important factors when comparing models:
  • Height: How tall is the figure, especially compared to other figures?
  • Weight: Is the figure chunky, bulky or thin?
  • Proportions: Is the sizing of things like feet, head, arms, and hands well balanced and natural?
  • Detail: Is the figure well detailed not only in equipment but also in the body?
The clickable image below is a photo comparison of Aventine, Gripping Beast and Relic miniatures. I have also charted the four criteria listed above for each manufacturer based on my judgement and experience.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Roman Hastati Completed

After what seemed far too long due to a summer vacation I have completed a unit of the Republican Roman hastati. All of the figures are by Aventine and were a real pleasure to paint with great detail and dynamic poses. This unit will be fielded as a small unit for games of Hail Caesar. The hastati, which were the younger (and poorer) front-line soldiers of the Republican army, have been given the Drilled special rule which allows them to make a free move even on a failed order as well as moving through friendly units without risk of disorder. Both will be exceptionally useful.

This base, for the time being, represents a single maniple. The maniples of the Republican army were comprised of two centuria, each led by a centurion and assisted by an optio, the signifer (standard-bearer) and the cornicen (horn-blower). I chose only to represent the centurion and signifer with actual figures since I wanted to keep the number of "fighting soldiers" higher for aesthetic reasons. Once I have completed enough of these units, a single base can then represent the smaller centuria.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Roman Signifer

This figure is a Roman signifer for my nearly completed unit of Republican hastati. The signifer was a critical component of the military command structure and carried the important signa of his centuria into battle. The centuria of the Roman army was the smallest disciplinary unit of the legion (the smallest non-disciplinary unit within the legion was the tent group or contubernium, composed of eight men who shared a tent, a mule, and eating equipment) with two centuriae comprising a single maniple. The most ancient standards employed by the Romans is said to have been a handful (manipulus) of straw fixed to the top of a spear or pole. Hence the company of soldiers belonging to it was called a maniple.

The signa served the very practical military purpose as a recognition signal and a rallying point within the chaos of a battle field. The importance of the signa is shown by the numerous phrases and commands which express the movements of the legion: signa convellere, efferre, tollere is 'to strike camp'; signa proferre, when the whole line advances; signa constituere, 'to halt'; signa convertere, 'to wheel round'; a signis discedere, signa deserere, 'to take flight'; signa referre, 'to retreat'; signa conferre, 'to engage in hand-to-hand combat' and also 'to rally'; ad signa convenire, 'to re-assemble'.

But the standard had a second, and I would argue an even more significant, purpose that found its roots deeply planted in military ideological, symbolic and religious meanings. Affixed to the staff of the signa were the military decorations that the fighting unit had won in battle for acts of courage, military successes and martial prowess. This prominent and permanent display of these awards strengthened the pride, unity and brotherhood of the unit. The standard of the centuria became so critical to the ideology and adoration of the soldiers that a cult of the signa would later appear. This military cult ascribed sacredness to the signa and introduced worshiping the standard as a deity. Soldiers decorated, anointed and even made sacrifices to the signa during certain military ceremonial events.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: Rubicon, The Last Years of the Roman Republic

Nearly anybody with even the smallest bit of interest in the Roman Republic, when asked for a book recommendation, will surely mention Tom Holland's Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic near the top of their list. And so when this book was recommended to me by several people I snatched it up, eager to get a glimpse into the world of the dying Republic that I honestly didn't know all that much about.

From the opening stage that set the scene with Caesar perched on the bank of the river Rubicon with his 13th Legion massed and waiting for the order to cross, this book was gripping and forceful. I had difficulty setting it down as some of history's most recognizable names were paraded across the stage: Caesar, Cicero, Cato, Pompey, Antony, Cleopatra. The primary focus of the narrative was the political and cultural currents that lead to the fall of the Roman Republic, with only a nod to the famous military campaigns that were taking place at the time. Because of this focus, the mighty men of the Republic are laid bare and made to look slanderous, whining, plotting and weak as they jockey for position, prestige and wealth within the political arena. These were not the Great Men that I had learned about through a basic understanding of their stunning military accomplishments. While this new perspective was certainly entertaining, it left me wanting to go in search of additional material that could restore some of the greatness of the Republic.

And that is one of the things I enjoy most about my wargaming projects - the chance to read, research and learn about topics and histories that I didn't know before I started. This hobby not only entertains me, but it allows me to grow. I highly recommend Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic to anybody interested in this era of history. Rubicon is well written and passionate, but I suggest having a follow-up book ready to clear the palette when you are done.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Visit to the Culloden Battlefield

I stood on the grassy, wind-swept field and closed my eyes trying to hear the sounds of that day in April of 1746 when the patch of earth on which I was standing became a torrent of chaos, fear and killing. Blowing viciously in the wind and stretching out to my left and right stood a long line of large red flags marking the battle-line of the loyalists; across the field, and much more distant than I would have ever imagined, was a line of waving blue flags indicating the position of the Jacobite forces. I closed my eyes again, my hair blowing in the windy morning. I imagined standing nervously with the highlanders in the Jacobite line, finally receiving the order to charge, and then attempting to dash across that vast and open space while cannon and shot tore apart all of those around me in our desperate run through wind and rain. The distance was too far and all that waited on the other side of the boggy chasm was muskets and bayonets. It seemed an impossible task. This was Culloden and I wept as I stood in the Scottish wind.

Getting to the Culloden Battlefield is a short and simple drive from Inverness through neighborhoods and sheep pastures. The first thing one notices on the approach is a giant red flag planted not far off the road, and then others, and then finally the visitors center itself. The new visitors center that was built in 2007 is remarkable. The entry fee is £10.50 plus another £5.00 for a very nice guide book of the exhibits on display and the battlefield itself. If you are planning on visiting, I recommend arriving early in the morning as Holly and I did to avoid the crowds and to enjoy the scene with some quiet. It did become quite busy (but not uncomfortably so) later in the day. The exhibits inside the center are laid out in a linear fashion with the very nice design touch of having the loyalists story always presented on the walls to the left and the Jacobite story presented on the walls on the right. It was very enjoyable crossing back and forth across the halls to "see the other side" as the events unfolded leading up to the battle of Culloden.

Two exhibits are stamped in my memory as something that I will never forget. The first was a stark, white room. This was the immersion theater. The walls were empty and we waited anxiously for something to happen. The lights dimmed and we head noises - men talking, flags waving, the clanging of weapons. Video images of a reenactment began to show on the walls - on one wall the battle-line of the Jacobites and on the opposite wall the loyalists. You could see individual men, their dress, their beards and the expressions on their faces. Soon all four walls were filled with images of battle preparation and we stood there in that room surrounded on all sides by the movement and sounds of battle. The cannons began to fire and we watched as men standing in line were suddenly gone, blown away by the cannon balls. The highlanders charged and died as they ran through the muck. This was a very personal and very powerful experience that was very moving.

The second exhibit that I thoroughly enjoyed, especially as a wargamer, was a gigantic video table that animated the entire battle using icons on the map of the battlefield. You could walk around the table and watch as units tore down stone walls to allow the cavalry to gain a flank. On the charge you could see sections of the battle-line slowed dramatically by the wet ground. You could watch as the highlanders finally reach the loyalist line, their numbers staggeringly low, but still nearly break through until the loyalist reserves were brought up. It was a brilliant birds-eye view of the battle and I watched it several times.

Out on the battlefield, I closed my eyes again. This was the true exhibit and I breathed it all in, overwhelmed by what happened that day. It became very clear and very real to me as I stood there that morning that the battle at Culloden, the final of the Jacobite uprising, was fought at a transitional time of warfare between the very personal combat of men fighting face-to-face when one could look the enemy in the eye and smell his body-odor and the very distant and very impersonal nature of killing from a distance. My modern mind has extreme difficulty in making sense of the act of running through a wet, grassy field toward cannons and muskets armed with a sword and targe. And yet, it was done and at a terrible price.

I highly recommend a visit to this historic site if you get the chance. I know I will never forget it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Hastatus of the Roman Republic

This is a completed Hastatus for my Republican Roman army. I have been carrying this color scheme in my head for quite a long time now, and I thought I had better finish up a single figure before getting too much further on the rest of the units to be certain that the colors would work well together. I really like how it turned out, especially the way the gold contrasts beautifully with the darker colors.

The photos were taken with a brand new Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro lens that I picked up earlier today. I should be able to get some very nice photos of my painted models and games with this lens. I'm still learning it, but so far I love it!

Colors used:
  Vallejo: Flat Flesh
  Vallejo: Dark Red
  Vallejo: Burnt Cadmium Red
  Vallejo: Vermillion
  Vallejo: Old Gold
  Vallejo: Bronze
  Vallejo: Burnt Umber
  Citadel: Lich Purple
  Citadel: Chainmail
  Citadel: Abaddon Black

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Return from Scotland!

I'm back from a most excellent trip to Scotland - it was absolutely fantastic with so much to take in and so many amazing thing to see and do. My internal clock is still a bit off, so I have been wide awake since 5:00 a.m. today unpacking, sorting photos and even sitting at my worktable preparing the Roman Hastati for painting!

We flew into London, had a fun night at a great restaurant even though we felt like zombies. The next morning we caught our Virgin train to Glasgow where we rented a car and drove (nervously) to Edinburgh. Our journey over the next ten amazing days took us to Bonnyrigg, Perth, Newtonmore, Inverness and then back down to Glasgow for the last few days. My highlights of the trip included staying in a magnificent 13th century castle, visiting the Clan Macpherson museum, drinking many delicious ciders, spending time at the Culloden battlefield, the absolutely breathtaking drive down the A82 through the Lochs of the highlands, and the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis

I'll will be making a separate post with photos in the near future about my time at the Culloden battlefield since that will be of the most interest to the readers of this blog -- and it was an amazing place.

I did miss painting while I was away, and the short break from the hobby has me excited to really get back into it full-swing. I will be priming and getting started on painting the two units of Hastati today.

I'm glad to be back and I look forward to catching up on everybody's blogs!

Here are a few photos from my trip:

Somewhere near Loch Lochy on a rainy day.

A drive through the highlands.

Ballathie House near Perth.

Bunchrew House near Inverness.

Dalhousie Castle, Midlothian.

The highlands at last!

A memorial within the Glasgow Cathedral.

The magnificent Glasgow Cathedral.

The Scottish highlands near Newtonmore.