|Byzantine Kataphractoi cavalry in 28mm - castings from Gripping Beast|
Apologies for the blogging blackout of the past couple of weeks. Work has been a real bear - and dealing with Google and their stupid products has been even worse. Hopefully I can get Blogger working again for a bit...anyway, the 8th Edition of the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge has wrapped up. It's a sign that so-called "spring" is supposed to be here. You wouldn't know that looking outside in Winnipeg today...but anyway, I digress. I did manage to submit a couple more rounds of figures prior to the conclusion of Curt's painting Challenge last week. Here is part one of the final submissions, and it is one that has a bit of personal significance for me.
This is a unit of Byzantine Kataphractoi heavy cavalry (like, really
heavy) in 28mm. There are 16 models in the unit, all from Gripping Beast. The shield decals and banner are from LBMS. What is the personal significance? As I said, it's silly, so I hope you will laugh at me, or maybe with me! Allow me to elaborate...but I apologize in advance for a lengthy post. Feel free to skip and go back whatever Dallas recently posted - it will be cool AND more to the point.
|View of the full unit - 16 models, in two ranks of eight models each - two models per base, on 50mm square bases|
I think we all have a gaming period or setting we wish we could/would try, but just can't seem to get to, for whatever reason. Often those reasons are practical - after all, it's a hobby, time is limited, real life gets in the way etc. The subjects are too complex (anything Samurai) or nobody has sculpted the figures you need (Patagonian Tree Lizards with AK-47s in 15mm - where's the Kickstarter for that?)
But sometimes it's all in your friggin' head - and so it has been with my head and the idea of collecting and painting a force of Byzantines.
|Unit command figure and standard bearer..I tried to pimp the ride for the commander a bit, as he would be fairly high ranking and/or bad-ass (or both) to lead a group like this in the Byzantine military|
I have always been absolutely fascinated with the Byzantine period of history. Its roots (the reforms of Diocletian, the rise of the separate "east" of the Roman Empire...these things are compelling when you are a student of, and work in, politics and government as I was and I do). The sheer duration of the Byzantine empire throughout history. The military successes - and pretty spectacular catastrophes. The endless conflicts, the political maneuvering, scheming, plotting, assassinating etc. that defined their politics and gave rise to the use of the word "Byzantine" as an adjective. The look, feel and sense of Orthodox Christian art, design and structures. The sheer variety of enemies they struggled against - Persians, Bulgars, Rus, Avars, Normans, Germanic tribes, assorted Islamic caliphates, Turks etc...not to mention each other. They would fight them, bribe them, then fight them again, then bribe them to fight each other, on and on. The number of times the Empire recovered from the brink of disaster and survived - and often go on to thrive for a time - is really incredible (disclaimer: I'm just a civilian of history, but still seems amazing).
|Long spears - kontarion (I think) - and note the maces hitched to their belts for "follow up" work...|
And also..."Iconoclasms"!! WTF is with iconoclasms? That's wild! I chuckle when people use the word "iconoclast" today to describe some bold and/or purposely provocative or offensive public figure. I don't they they truly understand the root of that word...such people might be loud-mouthed douche bags, but those folks don't even begin to reach "iconoclast" status...
|Archers were integral parts of the Kataprhactoi formations|
|Much less armoured than the fellows up front, but those horses still say "we're ready for real trouble" and they have some barding to back it up...|
The look of the Byzantine armies captivates me too (yes, I'm a big dork), as you can kind of instinctively make out so many aspects that might be said to be connected to Roman heritage, yet are so affected by the circumstances of Byzantium they take on a look and feel I find to be rather exotic and fascinating. They also had cavalry - a LOT of it. And heavy cavalry. Really, really, really heavy cavalry - SO
cool. I love heavy cavalry in games - they either charge home and leave tears, dust and broken units in their wake. Or, the charge fails, their momentum is shattered and they fade out, along with your chance of success in that particular game...super fun, and never
And painting stuff that looks cool is a primary motivator of the wargaming hobby/affliction, right??
|Musician is the only one with his face exposed...can't blow that horn through the chain mail!|
So ever since I really started to get into gaming, and realized that gaming ancients was real thing you could do (i.e. raised my awareness beyond Warhammer), I have wanted to collect and paint a Byzantine force. This goes back to around 1998-99...around the time I met Dallas and Curt for the first time, and got to know the Fawcett Avenue Conscripts. In fact, Dallas and Curt have been listening to me say I wanted to paint Byzantines pretty much as long as I've known them...
|Kontarion lowered for action at the front rank, while a fellow rider brandishes a siderorabdion in preparation to whack someone who really has it coming...|
So with all that in mind, and given that I am the sort of miniature gaming nerd that will, on slimly-provoked-yet-fully-animated inspiration, just suddenly decide to attack a new project out of the blue (recent example: Franco-Prussian War), you would think by now I would have some Byzantines painted, nearly 20 years later, right? Well, before today, you would have been wrong! Hah!
Why the hang up? Well, the reasons are pointlessly complicated and really only valid in my own rat-maze brain. You might say they are a touch...Byzantine.
|The shield decals and banner are from LBMS. I can confidently report that I hope this will be the only LBMS banner I will ever fiddle with again, but as always the shield decals are top-shelf...|
Some periods are intimidating to contemplate as a wargaming project, maybe too intimidating. For me, the prospect of painting Byzantines was just that. Something always held me up. I couldn't figure out the shields. I couldn't figure out the weapons. I couldn't decide what rules to use. I couldn't land on a basing scheme, or decide on a scale. The more I researched, the more confused I would become...did I want to do "early" Byzantines? Thematic Byzantines? Tagmatic Byzantines? WTF was the difference between those last two again anyway? So much thinking...easier to just paint other stuff...and so the years go by. Over time the prospect of painting Byzantines evolved from a serious plan to just another potential life prospect, like learning Spanish or meeting actress Robin Tunney
- sure it would be fun in theory, but I'm not going to focus any available energy on it.
Fast forward to Painting Challenge VII in 2016-17, and MartinN's submission of many beautiful Roman figures, in particular his "West" Theme entry that year of Roman heavy cavalry
. Not only was his brushwork incredible (no surprise there, of course!) but it immediately brought to mind the Byzantine Kataphractoi I have obsessed about for years. So exotic, menacing, devastating and cool looking, they echo the Persian clibinarii of ancient times. Nick's submission brought all of my interest in Byzantines right back! I resolved the day I saw that post to finally get off my @ss and get painting some Byzantines.
Yet even with that resolve, it took a lot of time to get going...lining up the figures, the banners, some shield decals etc...and the many other projects and passions like 30k, Team Yankee and other things popping up of course devoured brush time, energy and passion...but finally, finally, FINALLY...my first unit Byzantine in now completed! These heavy duty bad-boys are COVERED head-to-toe in armour, and so are their poor horses. It all looks a bit alien and a bit familiar all at once. The chain-mail face covering in particular seems like a 7th century version of NBC gear
. If you see people wearing the stuff, it projects extreme authority, order and power, without any actual reassurance those things might normally confer - their mere presence indicates your immediate surroundings are likely in some manner of dire peril...
Kataprhactoi would have been the central core of a Byzantine force, probably from the mid 7th century through to the 11th century (and maybe later?), particularly in the eastern theatres. I'm not sure these chaps would be much use tramping through the mountains in pursuit of Bulgars. But kicking ass in the middle east? Oh yes. Bring. It. On.
|Kontarion lowered to sort out some contrarian issues of the Byzantine era...|
The Kataphractoi formations are believed to have combined ranks of heavy horsemen and archers - with the archers found towards the rear/middle. The horsemen up front would be armed with very long spears (kontarion
, 10 to 12 feet long or so), and some pretty hard-assed-looking maces for up-close-and-personal face-smashing work (siderorabdion
- no idea how to pronounce that, but I bet it sounds menacing-as-hell). As if all of this wasn't enough, they also carried swords - spatha
(I think). Talk about heavily armed!
The overall formation would charge to contact, skewer their opponents with the long spears and fill them with arrows. Meanwhile, up front, the maces came out for smashing purposes, and once the enemy wavered and broke, the whole group would ride them down and smash them to particles under the hooves of the heavily armoured horses, with further mace-and-sword-work applied on an as-needed basis. Thanks for coming out...
|Another view of the command group, backed up by the mounted archers|
Representing this assortment in a miniature wargame unit called for some variety in the armaments. The realities of the limits on 28mm figures precluded using three ranks, so I opted for a slightly larger overall unit (16 models as opposed to 12) in two ranks, with the mid-rear-rank made up of archers, the flanking riders armed with lances and the chaps in the front sporting those scary maces.
For colours I
meticulously researched ancient scrolls at an archive in Instanbul regarding the military regalia preferences of the Heraclian period
just made my best guess and hoped for the best. I wanted to use a strong religious image for the shields, as it just screamed "Byzantine" to me. The shield decal with the image of Jesus seems to make them look extra-ominous, and adds a final dash of character to the unit.
|Another profile view...this post is so long and boring, at least I'm trying to compensate with a bunch of photos...|
No doubt I have screwed stuff up in the portrayal...for example, the chaps with the long spears maybe should have smaller "buckler" shields instead of the teardrop shaped ones, as those spears would be tricky/impossible to use with one hand...oh well...but you have to start somewhere.
The castings from Gripping Beast were not the easiest to work with in terms of assembly ("fit" to the horse was not well-achieved), but they are so fun
to paint! The shield decals were OK to work with. As for the banner, I loved the graphics, but in terms of process I would rather get a root canal than use LBMS stuff for another banner. It would be so much better if it was just printed out on nice paper, instead of the runaround of sticking it to paper, then cutting that out etc. But overall I'm thrilled to have these fellows finished! As they sit on the shelf, I will imagine them riding down at the forefront of some assault as part of Nikephoras Phokas' run of re-conquests in the 10th century
while I prepare to add further units to this collection down the road.
|One more photo of the whole lot for kicks|
Special thanks go to Challenge participants MartinN for inspiration and for answering many, many dumb questions, and to PeterD for pointing me to many books that were helpful in bringing a wargamer's perspective to the period. The Painting Challenge is a lot of fun, and all of your work and your comments are inspiring - even if it takes a while to get around to the work! And I hope Curt and Dallas mock me mercilessly for finally
painting some of these things. After years and years of being all-talk on the subject, I've got it coming...
If you have read this far and are not yet asleep, I salute you - you have great patience, a heroic attention span, or possibly a procrastination problem. Maybe a blend of all three! With 16 mounted castings, this notched another 160 points toward my 1,000-point painting goal.