Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Grandpa's Set-Up

I painted the two pub signs above for my grandpa's "set-up." He's been working on a town diorama for the past 10 years or so. He doesn't stick to any one scale, but on the average I'd say it's about 1/32. It used to take up the entire wall of his living room. Now at 94 he lives in an assisted living home, so he only has room on his window sill. His newest addition is a scratch-built pub. My mom thought it would be a good Christmas gift for me to make signs. The balsa wood swan sign is 3 inches tall. I also sent little color print-outs of old Guinness posters to decorate the model pub's walls.

These two small photos are from his 2002 spring/summer "set-up," as he calls it. He changed the buildings and terrain by season. The lighthouse is a Quaker Oats container. The church has a plexiglass roof so you can see inside.

I took the liberty of naming his pub the Black Swan. This is the pub in Bristol, UK where his Army unit was working during WWII. I have been interviewing him about his service during the war. He was part of the transportation corp, moving supplies in England, Normandy and later, Antwerp. I'm amused at all the stories centering around food and drink. For instance, there were no pubs in Utah Beach, so the officers couldn't figure out how the men were all getting drink. The French family that owned the apple orchard were they were camped were giving the troops hard cavlados (apple brandy). The still was constructed of old airplane parts!

Having a drink in the photo above are men from my grandfather's unit, the 304th Port Co., 519th Port Bn. This is not the Black Swan. It's a bar in Antwerp, Belgium. This photo was provided to me by Dave Weaver (the guy 2nd from left in glasses).

Grandpa Corty in Antwerp.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dwarf Archers - Vendel and Grenadier miniatures

Here's a little scale comparison of Vendel's dwarf archers (on the left and right), and a Grenadier Fantasy Warriors dwarf (in the middle). This Grenadier archer is actually bending at the waist, so he looks shorter than his mates in this shot. He was an eBay find. Mirliton has the full Grenadier FW Dwarf range in production. Before committing to a big dwarf order from Italy I wanted to buy just one to see how Grenadier mixes with my Vendel collection. I think they mix pretty well!

The Grenadier FW dwarfs were sculpted by Nick Lund. The Vendel Miniatures dwarves were sculpted by one of the Patten brothers, Duncan I think. More miniatures companies ought to credit their sculptors! The Vendel fantasy miniatures line is now sold by SGMM.

P.S. The Grenadier dwarf's bow was a shapeless lump. I had to spend a lot of time bending and filing it into a proper bow.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Upcoming projects for 2009

God Jul! You can expect posts on these projects in 2009.

1/72 Romano-British vs. Saxons 
Song of Blades and heroes just released its Song of Arthur and Merlin supplement. Included in the rules is a section on the historic King Arthur. These skirmish-sized warbands will be made of 1/72 plastics. Hat has a nice selection of Late Romans and Saxons.

1/72 Saxons vs. Vikings
I've been reading Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom. It's inspired me to paint up a force of 9th century Saxons and Vikings. Emhar and Strelets have a good assortment of Saxons. Zvezda offers a brilliant box of Vikings, as well as Emhar. Hat's Gothic cavalry will make perfect mounted Saxons or Vikings. You can check out all these sets on Plastic Soldier Review.

Pulp Scenario! 1/32 Boy Scouts vs. Wild Animals
I live at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, so real-life stories of prowling bears and mountain lions have affected my hobby mind. Using Song of Blades of Heroes rules again, I'm composing a force of Boy Scouts to fend off hungry Bears, Mountain Lions, wolves, and walking plants of Poison Ivy. Marx Toys made a set of plastic 1/32 scale Boy Scouts. They are dressed in the Scouts' 1940s uniform. There is a variety of amusing poses: a Scout saluting, a kid knotting a piece of rope, a kid with a paddle, a couple Scout leaders, even a Boy Scout with a bow and arrow. I happen to have a bunch of odd 1/32 animals to ravage their campsite.

28mm Cavemen vs. Prehistoric Animals
Vendel Miniatures' Hillmen will make excellent cavemen in winter dress. There are other 28mm cavemen sets out there, but I really wanted archers—not a common site outside of Vendel's stock. I already own several plastic mammoths. I have one saber tooth cat, and plan on ordering more.

1/72 WAB British Celts vs. Romans
I've been meaning to play a game of WAB forever. No one close by is interested in the game, so I'm building two opposing armies for a solo game. The Celts are 1/4 done, but I haven't even started on the Romans! Warhammer Ancient Battles armies are huge, so it takes a long time to assemble your men. This is one of the reasons I have been so interested in the SBH skirmish rules—you only need a handful of models!

28mm Ultima - fantasy
I've been adding more and more to my collection of models representing the monsters and characters from the 1990s series of PC games. Dupré is painted and needs basing. Caesar's 1/72 plastic Goblins are becoming gremlins for the wilds of Britannia. These little guys are mounted on pennies and will soon be painted.

28mm Celtic Folk
Peppered throughout the year will be photographs of Iron Age farm life vignettes: cattle, sheep, chicken fights, boar hunts, etc.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wattle fence enclosure

Having spent most of my hobby years painting (rather than gaming), I have been lacking in terrain pieces. My troops need a defensive barrier, so I designed a wattle fence enclosure. The base is a piece of hardboard. The vertical posts are toothpicks. For stability I drilled a hole for each post. I then spent over an hour weaving wire through the posts to represent the wattles. Grass grows on the outside. Naturally, none appears on the inside, as the animals would eat it! Wattle as a building material was common from the Bronze Age (or earlier) to Medieval times.

I had intended to model the fence for 28mm figures only... but I messed up the height. The result is a fence that looks great with my 1/72 models and is just barely high enough for 28mm. See the 1/72 archers and 28mm farmer for scale.

Related Reading
Wattle and Daub, by Paula Sunshine.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Muster the Minis! - Snow and Ice

I don't always have the time to work on my hobby projects, so it's been nice to see what others are doing. The past couple of months I've discovered a good number of blogs and websites on a variety of wargaming subjects. I thought it would be cool if we all completed a small project on a single theme.

So! Please join me this month in creating a piece following the theme, "Snow and Ice." Your entry can be a single painted mini, a small terrain piece, or even a photo of your old models newly arranged in a winter display. It can be any genre and any scale: historic, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. See my Marx Mammoth post as an example. By the end of January 16th post a photo and write-up on your blog, photo sharing site, website, etc. Put a link to my blog in your post. You may also include my Muster the Minis banner if you like. Email me the link, then shortly after I will crate my own post linking to all the submissions.

This is not a competition, so there are no prizes. However, this little event could be a nice way to grow our hobby's online community and bring extra traffic to your website or blog.

Email notice of your submission to: andrew [insert at symbol] redrampant [dot] com. I will post the roundup shortly thereafter!

P.S. I have to say this isn't all my idea. My wife and a bunch of other cooking bloggers have this thing going where each month everybody cooks a dish on the same theme. I thought this kind of cooperative project would work well for my hobby too!

Messing with your blog

I recently combined my two hobby blogs into one, and I shelled out the 10 bucks for a domain name. If you have a Blogger blog, and are thinking about doing the same, then here are a few tips: 

1) Deleting one blog does not delete all the images stored for that blog. So, you can go in, copy the html, and paste those posts into your new blog without having to re-upload all those images.

2) For some reason applying the domain name to by blog erased all the blogs in my Blog List. I don't remember how to get to some of them, so the list looks shorter than it did last week. So, if you're going to do that, make sure you have a back up to all the other blogs you follow.

3) After applying the new domain name to the blog, I noticed that the blog lists on other people's blogs stopped updating with my most recent posts. They still linked ok, but they ignored the new posts since before the name change. I think this was because the RSS reader was checking for updates to the old site feed. The issue resolved itself after a few days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marx Mammoth

This plastic mammoth was originally part of a prehistoric playset produced by Marx Toys in the 1950s or 60s. My model is new production, recast from the original molds. Marx went out of business in '78, but a number of toy companies bought their molds and have been reissuing the toys. 

I bought my mammoth from the Toy Soldier HQ. Their website is atrocious—it looks like it was designed by a kid back in the early '90s—BUT they have alot of old Marx models unavailable elsewhere. The Mammoth is the perfect size for mixing with 28mm cavemen. The Marx Megatherium also works well.

I love this pose, but I must say the tusks were sculpted way too high on the face. Tusks are teeth and should be coming out of the mouth! I mounted the mammoth on a 60mm plastic base. To paint the tusks I followed a GamesWorkshop tutorial on painting their LOTR Mumakil model. Interesting note: The words, "Wolly Mammoth, 23' Long" are moulded on his belly. 

I am now looking to buy some cavemen. I think the Vendel Miniatures Hillmen will make excellent cavemen (if I remove the shields). Copplestone Castings, Dazed Miniatures, and Jeff Valient Studios offer very nice cavemen too. It's the archer models that draw me to Vendel. The others don't offer cavemen archers.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Food in Roman Britain, by Joan Alcock

I'm not especially interested in reproducing recipes from the Roman era, but I am fascinated by ancient food culture. Food in Roman Britain is an excellent way to discover the foods, drinks, trade, cooking methods, and customs that surrounded Romano-British meals.

The book is well written, and a comfortable read. One can be confident that Alcock's assertions are backed up with good research, there is a bibliography, yet it is not easy to check her specific references. At the time the publisher's unfortunate policy was to do without citations. I can only assume that the marketing people at Tempus Publishing were concerned that casual readers would be scared off by any scholarly looking footnotes.

I was especially interested in the author's chapter on the Roman military diet. Decades ago history books stated that Roman soldiers survived on a vegetarian diet. Alcock easily toasts that myth. We learn about the great variety of food available to the troops, how it was acquired, how it was transported on the march, and stored in camp. The Romans knack for organization expressed itself in the food supply. Alcock explains arious officers' duties in food management, and goes on to describe how individual soldiers prepared and ate their meals.

1. Background evidence
2. Cereal products
3. Meat, game and poultry
4. Fish, shellfish and other crustaceans
5. Dairy products
6. Vegetables, fruits and nuts
7. Herbs, spices, salt and honey
8. Olive oil and liquamen
9. Wine, beer and water
10. The kitchen
11. The dining room
12. Shops and markets
13. Army diet
14. Diet and nutrition

A good companion to Alcock's book is Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain, by H.E.M. Cool. This title is also a good read, but has the academic benefit of being well-cited. I always like to read books by at least two different authors. It's interesting to see the contrasting approaches and conclusions on the same subject.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Copplestone Halflings

(sorry. I don't have larger versions of these photos)

Here are some photos of my halfling army. I have a few GW and Mithril hobbits, but these are all pictures of halflings sculpted by Mark Copplestone. The 3 on top are from the out of production Copplestone Castings 28mm fantasy range (thank goodness I got them all before he stopped making them!). I think these poses make a good Sam, Frodo and Merry. I haven't painted a Pippin yet. The rest of these models are from Mirliton. These sculpts were originally sold by the now out-of-business Grenadier. These mix really well with my Vendel models.

The above pose originally held a sword. Using brass rod and green stuff I created these farm tools to represent a hobbit militia. I also modified the archer models to create a greater variety of poses.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Forest boards

Every good miniatures game needs interesting terrain. As an alternative to simple green felt, I created these forest boards. (a 28mm model is pictured for a sense of scale) These are sheets of hardboard on which I painted a bird's eye view of trees. There are no model trees present, so I can move models freely across the surface.

I like how these turned out, but I am also interested in making forest boards that look more realistic. I have some Woodland Scenics model trees that can be separated from the stump. I'm going to glue the stumps to the board, and the player can pluck out the trees as he moves his models through the forest.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Female Avatar

This is an old Grenadier sculpt by Julie Guthrie (I think). It is actually the first Ultima-inspired model I started painting. I began about a year ago, put it away, and brought it out again yesterday to finish it.

I picked this model because it has a surcoat to paint the ankh design. Without that, what would distinguish it as being the Avatar? I painted the silver serpent on the shield—another symbol from the Ultima PC game series. The shield color is silver, with the snake in a mix of silver and blue. I used Citadel acrylics, and varnished with Windsor & Newton Matt acrylic varnish.

I like the pose, but have decided to offer it up for sale. The model is a true 25mm, which does not mix well with my taller, hefty 28mm characters. Let me know if you're interested. It's available for $5, with $2.00 for shipping US First Class mail. I can ship to Europe too. I can take Paypal or a check. I plan on painting some villager models to sell on eBay, so this model may appear there in a few weeks time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Terrain Cloth

What does the mule have in his pack? A new wargame mat. Over the weekend I went to the hobby center (the big kind with everything from models to fake flowers to cloth). I had intended to buy the most inexpensive cloth to cover my table for wargames. Then I saw the fabric pictured above. It's similar to velvet in that it has a slight fuzzy texture—like grass! So, on an impulse I bought 3 yards of it. I immediately had buyers remorse. The material has a number of negative. a) At $8.50/yard it's relatively expensive. b) It's not a natural fiber, so it can look a bit shiny, especially in the folds. c) The synthetic fibers + the dry climate of Colorado = static shocks! I feel guilty at the price, but I am happy with the cloth. Maybe if I brush on a wash of paint it will cut down on the shine and the electric shocks! 

What other expensive goodies is that mule carrying? A new can of GamesWorkshop spray primer. I have been avoiding the stuff for years. Maybe 3 years ago I had one incident where the spray paint mixed with the humid atmosphere and created a gritty texture on my models. Since then I have been using brush-on primer, Humbrol's matt black enamel. I have been very happy with that, but I need to prime a terrain piece I just finished modeling. Yesterday I popped in my local hobby shop (the wargame kind), and grabbed a can of primer. $16.5o with tax! Has it been so long that I forgot the price, or has it gone up since I lost bought a can?

These were rather pricey purchases for my small hobby budget, but maybe I should rationalize the expense. This summer I found a huge blue sheet of builder's insulation in a dumpster at a construction site. It's maybe 3 x 8 feet for free! This foam retails at $20 something, so if I average all three together the total cost doesn't look so bad!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Painted 1/72 Imperial Roman Auxiliary Cavalry

For a couple years now I have had a box of Hat Industrie's #8066 Imperial Roman Auxiliary Cavalry. I finally painted them in preparation for my Song of Blades and Heroes scenario. The photo above includes one of each pose. This is a great little set. The detail is quite high, especially in the helmets. The shields fit so snugly on their hands' that you don't need to use glue! The standard can be trimmed down to be a spear, but everyone else carries a sword. While painting the horseman in scale armor (to the right of the standard bearer) I noticed that he had a sword in his sheath. Obviously, this model was meant to carry a spear. The sprue does not come with any spears, but one could easily use wire or a trimmed piece of paperclip. I ended up keeping a sword in hand, while trimming the hilt away from the 2nd sword on his belt.

My only criticism of this set is the saddle. The back is one solid piece, rather than the individual horns typical of Celtic and Roman saddles. Their saddles had four projections, which cradled the thighs of the rider. I was annoyed at the models' inaccuracy, but after reading the review on PSR I learned this was probably due to limitations of the mold. In any case, the problem is easy to fix. I just carved out a piece to form individual horns.

The tear-drop standard featured in this set is from the funerary monument of Quintus Carminius Ingenuus, 1st century AD.

The Cavalryman, by Peter Connolly.
The Roman Cavalry, by Karen Dixon.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Roman vs. Dacians, first battle

I finished painting my Roman auxiliary cavalrymen, so tonight I played a solo game of Song of Blades and Heroes. It has been a while since my last game, and I am still learning. So, I decided to line up the troops and slug it out. I used the forces detailed in my previous post.

I learned that if you are playing with a leader, it's important to keep him protected. I had two ranks of troops—warriors in the front and the archers and leader in the back. Yet, halfway through my game the only man in front of the Dacian leader was killed, leaving the leader open to attack. The cavalry man rushed forward, knocked him down in one turn, and finished him off in the next turn. The panicked Dacians ran for it, getting slashed as they fled. They still out numbered the Romans, but were scatered and leaderless. They were too spread out to gang up on the cavalrymen, and their leaderless dice rolls could not activate them as easily as before. With their longer movement the Roman cavalry were able to reach the individual enemies, pairing up to reduce the lone Dacian's combat score. 

I'm going to play another game with these same forces. Next time I'll try to keep the Dacian leader out of harms way, but within the maximum distance for him to command the other men. As the Roman forces have only 6 men, that leader does not have the luxury of hiding behind the lines. He'll have some protection by placing a model on either side, so only his front is exposed. I'll add a forest area and obstacles, so the Dacians have some cover. And the next battle report will be in depth, with pictures.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

HeroQuest dungeon furniture

My parents are in the process of moving. While cleaning their basement my mom found my old board game, HeroQuest. The last time I played it was about 14 yeas ago! It was a 28mm miniature-based game produced by Games Workshop with Milton Bradley. Amazingly, all the pieces were still in the box! My daughter loves "spooky" things like goblins and monsters, so she is interested in playing. To add interest to the board, the game incorporates furniture. The two of us made some beds. My three are pictured above. She has yet to paint hers.

Each bed is 1 inch long and .75 in. wide. I made them from two layers of 1/4 in. foam board (the kind with paper on each side), scrap wood, and paper. To make the blankets I soaked card stock paper in water, then draped it over the foam board. It dries to that shape. The pillows are also little pieces of foam board. It seems these beds are too nice to appear in a dank dungeon. It looks like some monster carefully made his bed before starting a busy day of eating adventurers. I'll have to try making rougher, unkept beds.

The Song of Blades and Heroes Yahoo Group offers fan-made character stats for HeroQuest, allowing you to play the game resolving combat with the SBH rules. Indeed, HeroQuest's dungeon board, furniture and doors would be nice terrain to play the SBH supplement, Song of Gold and Dungeons.

Mega Miniatures sold a wide range of some very charming 28mm Medieval/fantasy furniture. They are out of production now, but you can sometimes find them on eBay.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Painted Hat 1/72 Dacians

This week I finished painting eleven 1/72 plastic models from Hat Industrie's #8069 Dacians. I have photographed each of the eight unique poses. The standard bearer and spearmen in the above photo carry an oval shield as depicted on Trajan's Column. These models are holding their shields with a vertical hand-grip. This is an inaccurate, yet minor detail. Apart from one example from Doncaster, England, all the archaeological examples of Iron Age Celtic, German, and Roman shields have horizontal hand-grips.

Most of the models wear caps which appear on the reliefs of Trajan's Column (Rome) and the Tropaeum Traiani (Adamclisi, Romania). Both Roman monuments were built to celebrate Trajan's victory over the Dacians and their allies. The plaids and stripes common to Celtic clothing were probably also worn by the neighboring Dacians. However, I painted the tunics and trousers in solid colors. This is to set them apart from my Celtic models and to save time painting! I did paint a blue plaid design on the cloak of one spearman. That particular pose could work equally well as a Celt or German, although in terms of production quality it's a rather flat sculpt.

The set offers two archer poses. These are versatile models, as they could also be used as any number of Iron Age to Dark Age European archers. Very specific to the Dacian army are two men wielding the two-handed falx (falx is the Latin for any scythe-like blade). These would be the Bastarnae allies. The cutting edge was on the inside of the curve, so the fellow in the blue trousers is not holding his weapon correctly.

Here is a photo showing my spearmen's shield blazons. I used Trajan's Column as a reference. The ovals and cross design held by my standard bearer appears on the base and several times on the column. The remaining designs appear to be rather generic Roman motifs. Indeed, many of the Dacian shields on the column are nearly identical to the shield blazons held by the Roman auxiliaries. So, these may not be authentic Dacian designs, but they are the only evidence we have.

Lacking in this set is an armored commander. Esci's old barbarian set offers one pose in a Phrygian style helmet. Hat's Thracian set has two helmeted poses which could be shoe-horned into my Dacian army. A Hat or Italeri Celtic commander model might also be substitutes, but there really isn't an appropriate Dacian noble available in 1/72. A musician would also be nice, but again I will have to make do with a celtic model. In general, Dacians are not too common as wargaming miniatures. Old Glory Miniatures and the Foundry offer 28mm metal Dacians, but it's the better-known Celts and Germans that dominate the selection of barbarian models. Strelets will be releasing their own 1/72 Dacian sets, but for now Hat is the only manufacturer producing 1/72 Dacians. And what a nice set it is!

Peter Connolly wrote two excellent well-illustrated books on the subject of Rome's conflict with Dacia: The Legionary and The Cavalryman.

The Emperor Trajan wrote an account of his campaigns against the Dacians. Sadly, this has not survived. Cassius Dio also wrote of the Dacian Wars in his Roman History, passages 68, 6.1 to 68, 15. This may be read online on

A lively debate about who fought with the falx on the Roman Army Talk forum.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Huzzah for 1/72!

I'm liking 1/72 plastic more and more. My hobby interests run in cycles, so we'll see how long this lasts...BUT! Right now I'm really into this scale. I've been thinking about all the benefits:

I love 28mm metals. My closet is full of them. They're a joy to paint, but they're pricey! Supplying a 200+ model army will set you back quite a bit. A well-sculpted metal 28mm foot model costs in the neighborhood of US$2.00 - 3+ each. A couple 28mm plastic manufacturers have popped up recently, yet their models still come in at around $1 each. In contrast, a box of 40 or 50 plastic 1/72 soldiers costs anywhere from $7.50 - $11.oo. At the high end that averages to about 25 cents each. In this current economic climate the low price should appeal to everybody! 

Relating again to the low price, 1/72 sets are easily within the budget of kids. They offer an expensive introduction to the hobby. I doubt that any kid old enough to paint and game with miniatures would try munching on them, but it's also nice that 1/72 soldiers aren't made of lead. I'm planning a game with my friend and his kids. It's reassuring to know that if some models are dropped, the plastic minis won't be as easily damaged as their larger lead fellows!

1/72 sets are widely available at local hobby shops (which often don't carry 28mm metals). The range of time-periods and the variety within these eras has really blossomed in the past 10 years. You can find well-researched, well-made 1/72 historic miniatures for nearly any subject these days. 
Although not common in the US, 00 gauge model railroad supplies match up nicely with 1/72. I had been looking for plastic livestock to use in a Dark Age village raid scenario, and was pleased to find inexpensive cows, pigs, sheep, etc. from UK suppliers (eBay). This train scale is popular in England, so there is also a nice range of European model buildings appropriate for medieval to modern times.

So there ya go! Go out and buy some plastic! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Just in time for Halloween, I've painted three spooky ghosts. On the left is a ghost and banshee from Citadel's 1989 Night Horrors. These were eBay finds. As these are slotta models, I mounted them on round plastic bases to go along with the rest of my GW LOTR models. On the right is a ghost from Mega Miniatures. It was originaly produced by the German company, Metal Magic. I got it for a dollar, but prices have been raised by 50 cents since then. I mounted it on a metal washer to put it at the same height as the other two ghosts. I figure ghosts are likely to haunt desolate places, so these bases have sparse vegetation, as one would find near a bog.

Ghosts were a standard monsters from the Ultima PC series.
"Ghosts are generally found in cemeteries and other places of the dead, though their movements are all but unlimited. These ethereal spirits pass easily through solid walls and other obstacles, making them difficult to chase and difficult to elude. Though they do not possess great strength, their mobility and ability to use magic make them a force to be reckoned with." —Ultima VI bestiary

Spirits also inhabit Tolkein's Middle Earth. Phantoms haunt the Dead Marshes and wights creep in the Barrow Downs. GameWorkshop's The Ruin of Arnor supplement offers a "Spectre" to the list of evil warriors in their LOTR game.

10 years ago I stayed in a supposedly haunted house for about a week. On the train ride up to Hospital Field in Arbroath, Scotland we discussed ghost stories. A classmate insisted there was no such thing as a spirits of the dead. A fervently religious fellow, he went on to say that if there were "ghosts" they were more likely to be demons! (I thought that sounded much worse)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Painted Revell Celts

I bought this box of Revell Celts at a hobby shop when I was in university. It was the first set of toy soldiers that I had bought since I was a little kid. I did a not-so-great paint job and left them to languish in their box for a number of years. About a year ago I pulled them out again based them on 20mm squares for WAB, and re-painted. The original paint was enamel. Much had flaked off,  the new coat of acrylic krackled in some areas, but now I think they're looking pretty good.

The box was labeled with the generic term, Celts. From their shields it seems these are meant to represent the celts of Britain. I'm impressed the sculptor did his research. The energetic  fellow in the top photo is carrying a blue shield which based on the "Chertsey Shield" found Surrey, England. In the lower photo the swordsman at the left carries a green shield based on the "Witham Shield." In the middle we see a distinctive shield boss modled after a find from Wales, now in the Cardiff Museum. On the right the figure holds a duplicate of the "Battersea Shield" found in the Thames. )See my article describing the major archaeological finds of Celtic shields.) The rest of the set features other historic shield boss finds, and a Celt-Iberian shield depicted on pottery.

The shields are great in this set, but helmets are overly represented. Archaeological finds of Iron Age helmets in Britain are not at all common (I think only 2 have been found), and Tacitus stated that the British did not wear helmets (Agricola). Apart from a few poses, the clothing and weapons are appropriate to the period. All in all, it's a great set. It's OOP now. However, Revell has been bringing other old sets back into production, so there's hope the Celts will be bavailable again. For a full review of this Revell set see: Plastic Soldier Review

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Song of Blades and Heroes, Roman vs. Dacians

I've been enjoying the skirmish wargame, Song of Blades and Heroes. This is meant to be a  fantasy ruleset, but the human warrior list has all the stats one would need to play in a historic setting. 

I'm setting up a little Roman cavalry vs. Dacian raiding party scenario. The premise is a unit of auxiliary cavalrymen have caught up with a Dacian raiding party. The basic army in SBH calls for 300 pts worth of troops. You can easily field two opposing armies with only two boxes of 1/72 plastic soldiers. I moved the army points up to about 420 in order to get a suitable amount of variety in troop types. I am using Hat's sets, #8069 Dacians, #8066 Imperial Roman Auxiliary Cavalry, and two models from #8074 Imperial Roman Auxiliaries.

I'm painting the models now. The infantry are mounted on 20x20 mm. square bases. The cavalry are on 20 x 40 mm. I thought about using circular bases, but these rectangles allow me to also use the models for Warhammer Ancient Battles. I can really sympathize with those that think 28m WAB models should be played on 25 x 25 mm bases. I can barely fit some of these smaller 20mm models on their squares!

6 Romans - a unit of auxiliaries
Cavalry Leader, 92 pts x 1 (standard bearer)
Medium Cavalry, 62 pts x 3 
Archer, 44 pts x1 (auxiliary archer on foot)
Light Infantryman, 28pts x 1 (slinger on foot)
Total points: 422

11 Dacians
Leader, 60pts x 1 (standard bearer model)
Barbarians, 36pts x 3 (falx-wielding models)
Warriors, 30pts x 4 - (spearmen and swordsman)
Archers, 44pts x 3
Total points: 420

Friday, October 17, 2008

1/72 Plastic Roman Artillery by Hat

I just finished a new DBA element. Hat has a very nice 1/72 scale Roman artillery set, #8035 - Roman Catapults. It's meant to go with the rest of their Punic Wars range (the box also includes velites and hastati). The sculptor was very wise in not including helmets. This allows the artillery men to be used in any Roman army up to about the 3rd century AD. This style of chain mail armor was long in use.

These small and mobile catapults used here are the Roman scorpio. They were perhaps the most common artillery pieces used in the Roman army. Hat's models leave the face of the scorpion exposed. I thought it would be nice to add a protective front plate. A 1st century AD bronze front plate was found at Cremona, Italy. These are also depicted in sculpture. To create front plates for my models I glued on a small rectangle of paper, painted gold/bronze. The models had strange handle-shapes to the rear. There is no historic basis for those, so I just snipped them off.

The base is 60 x 80 mm to be played in DBA (this is the size suggested for 25mm models). The rules call for only one artillery model per base, but I think it looks much nicer to have a pair of scorpions and a team of artillery men. This unit can also serve in my forthcoming 1/72 WAB army.

Check out a review of the full set on Plastic Soldier Review

References:Two excellent Roman artillery books were coincidentally published in 2003. They are both available inexpensively as used books:
Greek and Roman Artillery, By Duncan Campbell and Roman Artillery, By Alan Wilkins.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

DBA II/49 Marian Roman army

I'm very fond of 1/72 scale plastic toy soldiers. 15mm miniatures are the standard for playing De Bellis Antiqitatus. I do have a 15mm Dacian DBA army in the works, but I much prefer painting the larger 20mm tall 1/72 guys. 

So far I have two armies in this scale. Featured in this post is my II/49 Marian army. It's intended to be the army of Caesar. I painted it in the year 2000. I'm afraid the painting isn't to my current standards, so I touched it up a bit. This army is half Hat and half Italeri. The units: 4Bd General, one x 3CV (with the option of a 2LH), eight x 4Bd, one 4Ax, and one 2Ps. The bases are sized for 25mm models.

Here's my general element. The aquilifer on the left is from Hat's #8051 Roman Command. This is a Punic War era model. To bring him up to the 50s BC I shaved off the model's greaves. I sculpted a bear pelt with green stuff and glued the shield to his back. Next to him is a Italeri centurion. Oddly enough, this model comes in the #6028 Roman Cavalry box. His scabard is on the wrong side for a centurion, but I liked the dramatic sword pose. He wasn't sculpted with greaves appropriate to a centurion, so I just painted silver over his shins. His helmet is painted the same way to represent the tin-plated or silvered bronze helmet common with the upper ranks. The cornicen and vexilifer also come from Hat's #8035 Roman Catapults set. I think the practice of knotting the lower paws of the bear pelt was specific to the early Republic, but that doesn't bother me at all.

The eight blade elements are a mix of Italeri #6021 Roman Infantry with Hat #8017 Republican Romans Princeps and Triari. The Hat models arrive with feather crests on their helmets. I trimmed these off and sculpted horse hair crests. The Itlaeri shields have a wing design sculpted on. I painted wings on the blank Hat shields to match. Four of the blade units are painted with white tunics and red shields. The other four are painted with red tunics and blue shields.

My one auxiliary element is a group of Caesar's Numidians. The three on the right come from Hat's #8020 Carthaginian African Infantry. For variety I added the javelin man on the left. He comes from Hat's #8044 Alexander's Light Infantry.

Pictured in the full army photo at the top: My 2LH element is made up of Hat's Numidian Cavalry. The 3Cv are Hat Celtic cavalry. The 2Ps are Balearic slingers from Hat's Carthaginian Spanish Infantry.

A note on painting plastic:
When I painted these 8 years ago I was still in my dad's tradition of using enamels. After washing the plastic I gave them a base-coat of matt black, then painted with Humbrol enamels. To prevent the paint from chipping I brushed white glue on the outside as if it were varnish. This has done the job quite well, but it gives the models a glossy finish. 

My new technique does away with oil paints. I know some use white glue as the base-coat. I have tried this, but have found coating the model in black acrylic works just as well. Acrylic paint naturally has a bit of flexibility to it, preventing chipping. My plastic models are painted in acrylics, and varnished with Windsor & Newton Acrylic Mediums Matt Varnish. These models are so small I usually forgo painting shadows and highlights.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Caesar's Elephant

For the current Ancient Warfare magazine (Vol. II, Issue 4) I was asked to illustrate one of Polyaenus' strategems discussed in Murray Dahm's article, "Command by Example." The campaigns of Julius Caesar is the theme of this issue, so Murray picked out strategem 8.23.5, which describes Caesar's use of an elephant in fighting the Britains. This is especially intriguing since Caesar makes no mention of the event in his own writings. The illustration and highlights several points supporting the validity of Polyaenus' account, Murray's text provides points against. 

I think this is just a fascinating debate, so I'd like to provide further background on the subject. First of all, my illustration of the Pompeii elephant figurine is after a painting of the object found in Peter Connolly's Greece and Rome at War. Initially Murray and I thought we should feature a speculative illustration of Caesar's elephant crashing through the Thames. Polyaenus states that the animal was armored and with a tower, yet there is very little evidence to suggest the specific Roman method for equipping their elephants. This Pompeii figure could have been made to represent an elephant from any number of ancient armies, but still I thought it was safest for the illustration to reference a depiction of a war elephant found in an early imperial Roman context. Connolly's book doesn't provide any detail on the find, but I imagine its provenance doesn't extend beyond "found at Pompeii."

The coin and the Polyaenus strategem about Caesar were discussed in a 1959 article, C.E. Stevens. "Julius Caesar's Elephant," History Today, Vol IX. Coincidentally, the dating of this coin was being discussed on Forum Ancient Coins just as we were working on this article in July. You can access the Stevens article through JSTOR. Most university libraries in the US have a subscription to this service. Or, if you contact me I'll be happy to email a jpg of the article. (It's only 2 pages).

John Kistler's 2007 book, War Elephants also takes on this little controversy. My local branch didn't carry this book, but I got a hold of it though interlibrary loan. It's an easy book to find, but you can also view the pages on Ramon Jiménez's 1996 book, Caesar Against The Celts speaks of the elephant issue, but the scholarship of that book has been criticized.

I do recommend reading War Elephants. I borrowed it to research for this illustration, and kept it to read afterwards. The book includes the use of war elephants into the modern era, but I didn't read past his account of ancient times. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Beekeeping in Iron Age Israel

I love honey and I love bees. I don't have my own hive (the yard is too small), but I sometimes help my neighbor with her honey-harvest. I find ancient beekeeping to be a fascinating subject. The Egyptians left record of their beekeeping in wall paintings and reliefs. The Greeks' warm Mediterranean climate allowed for ceramic bee hives—pottery is poor insulation for cold winters (Crane, The Archaeology of Beekeeping). In a siege, the Greek hives could be dropped on the enemy below, exploding in a swarm of pot sherds and angry bees! Pliny's writing describes the pros and cons of wide variety of bee hive types (Natural History, Book 11). A wicker skep and log-hive have been discovered in a late Iron Age German context (Crane). 

There is quite a bit of evidence suggesting how an Iron Age individual might keep a hive of bees. Yet, it wasn't until 2005 that an archaeological discovery revealed beekeeping on a large, commercial-scale. "It is the Land of Honey: Beekeeping at Tel Rehov," by Amihai Mazar and Navar Panitz-Cohen describes the large apiary situated within the ancient city of Tel Rehov, Israel. The article is in Near Eastern Archaeology Vol. 70, No. 4, December 2007. pp. 202-219.

The hives are un-baked clay cylinders stacked on their sides in at least 3 tiers. They are all about 80 cm long and 40cm in diameter. One end of the cylinder is closed off, except for a small hole—the entrance for the bees. The rear of the cylinder has a clay lid. Chemical analysis has shown the presence of beeswax. The are 3 rows of stacked hives, with two aisles between them. The bee entrances face away from the aisle, so the beekeepers could walk along opening the lids without bees flying a them. implying as many at least 100 hives. Each hive could have held 10-15,000 bees. There could have been as many as 1 million bees flying in and out of town! Such a huge operation must have been maintained by a centralized government.

The article begins with an introduction to the setting. Tel Rehov is situated on great mound west of the Jordan river, and some miles south of the Sea of Galilee. Excavations at Tel Rehov started in 1989. Since 1997 the work has been funded by an individual, a guy from Minnesota! The authors then get very specific with the location of the apiary, noting the area in relation to the rest of the city, it's strata (depth in the ground) accompanied by maps of the city as a whole and its position among local buildings. In general, the piece is well-illustrated with color photographs, and B&W illustrations.

A detailed description of the beehive construction is given, along with the layout of the apiary. The authors explain the great economic value of the apiary, providing the reader with the many ancient uses of bee products. Figures for this apiary's honey and wax production are estimated, and speculation is made over who operated this industry. A description of altars and other cultic objects lead to thoughts on the religious rites practiced in association with the beekeeping. Mention is made to the pottery finds, although it does not seem that these common containers were to the particular to work at the apiary. Various dating techniques arrive at different time-frames, but the most likely date for the apiary is somewhere in 960-870 BCE (BC). 

I was very interested to read the section, "Honey and Bee-Keeping in the Bible and the Ancient Near East" Until this article my familiarity with ancient beekeeping extended only to the Iron Age Greeks, Romans and Germans. The article notes the Bronze Age bee, honey, and beekeeping writings of the Egyptians, Israelites, Hittites, Assyrians, and people of Ugarit. 

An ethnographic approach was taken by the authors—studying modern-day beekeepers to inform the interpretation of the ancient apiary.  Traditional Arab villages throughout the Mediterranean continue this style of beekeeping.  The hives they build are similar to those found at Tel Rehov! Mazar and Panitz-Cohen visited a Galilean town where they were surprised to see stacks of clay hives nearly identical to their excavation.
Mention is given to the continuing scientific analysis of the hives' organic matter, and the article ends with their summarized assessments of the find. 

You can tell my the length of this review I have a passion for ancient beekeeping. The discovery first came to my attention in December 2007. included a short story in its news of the day. I used that article to find out the name of the archaeologist. I contacted him through his university email, and he directed me to this more in-depth article. I was excited by a number of things. The age impressed me—the hives are nearly 3000 years old! I was intrigued by the location and the fact that the find included a large apiary, rather than an isolated single hive. Although published in a scholarly journal, the article was very readable and approachable to a general audience. In addition to providing details of the find at Tel Rehov, the authors' multi-dimensional approach sets the hives within the larger context of ancient Near East economics and religion.

A free PDF of "It is the Land of Honey: Beekeeping at Tel Rehov" is available from The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I found this only after buying the printed issue and writing this review!

Crane, Eva. The Archaeology of Beekeeping. Cornell University Press, 1983. ISBN: 0-8014-1609-4. An excellent book, this is out of print and rather pricey on the second-hand market. However, it is available at university libraries or through interlibrary loan.

The same authors have published an article on this beehive find in the journal Antiquity, Volume 82 Number 317 September 2008. "Iron Age Beehives at Tel Reḥov in the Jordan Valley" p 629-639. For £15.00 you can order and download a PDF of the article.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy Michaelmas

Michaelmas, September, 29th, the Feast of St, Michael, was an important day in the Medieval calendar. It marked a close to the harvest season. With the end of autumn farm work, it was a time of feasting and going to market. Like other early Christian holidays, it masked a Pagan celebration of the same time—the autumnal equinox.

Appropriately to this feasting holiday, I received two books in the mail today—Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink, by Ann Hagen and Food in Roman Britain, by Joan P. Alcock. I'll review these fully after I read them. I haven't seen any online reviews of Food in Roman Britain, so I'll be especially sure to discuss that book. I quick skim shows that book to be a very accessible to the general audience. There is an extensive bibliography, but chapters are lacking citations. Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink is much more voluminous and scholarly, but just as readable. It's assertions are well cited with footnotes on every page.

(Did Medieval people wish each other, "Happy Michaelmas"? Probably not, but it makes for a nice blog post title.)

For more on Michaelmas and the Medieval farming seasons see:
Life in a Medieval Village, by Frances and Joseph Gies. This is book is an enjoyable read. My local library had a copy, and on it is available used for less than $2.00! 


The oop Ral Partha ettin model I bought on eBay arrived this weekend. I had expected to strip it and re-paint, but the paint job is actually not bad. So, the photo above was not painted by me. If at some time I do decide to re-paint, I'll replace this photo and correct this text so you'll never know someone else's painting work was pictured here. Muuuwaaahaaahaaahaaa (evil laughter).

"Travelers in the forests of our land have oft been fooled into thinking they have drawn near to a group of fellow explorers when they encounter an Ettin, for these two-headed monstrosities have been known to carry on heated discussions with themselves. An Ettin invariably abandons its dialogue when it hath the chance to attack an adventurer."
—Ultima I Bestiary

Multiple-headed trolls receive frequent mention in Scandinavian stories, yet the two-headed monster with the name, "ettin" is not common in European folklore. There is a traditional Scottish tale of the Red Etin (spelled with one "t"). This monster had 3 heads and does not seem to appear outside of this one specific story. Two-headed ettins have long been a staple of the Dungeons & Dragons world. Doubtless, this monster is another example of the writers of the Utima series looking to D&D for inspiration.

The reader does not directly encounter an ettin in Tolkein's books. However, reference is made to the existence of multi-headed trolls.
"Yes, I am afraid trolls do talk like that, even those with only one head each." —The Hobbit, Chater II, Roast Mutton
There is another probable allusion to ettins in the place-name, "The Ettenmoors," a mountainous region north of Rivendell. This is an area known to be populated by trolls.

Mirliton makes a very nice two-headed orc that could very well be an ettin. I'm not sure how big it is. I'm getting one the next time I make an order.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ancient Farming by Peter J. Reynolds

Shire is a wonderful archaeology and history publisher in Oxford, England. Initially an independent publisher, they are now owned by Osprey Publishing. Just as Osprey Publishing's books are gateway to military history, Shire introduces readers to daily life with titles such as Celtic Coinage, Roman Dress Accessories, Villages in Roman Britain, etc. The offerings in the Shire Archaeology series are only 5.75 x 8.25 in., and less than 100 pages. Although small, these books are authored by leading scholars in their fields.

The expert in Iron Age farming was the late Peter Reynolds. His recently reprinted, Ancient Farming, is the perfect place to start your research into the life of the pre-Roman Celts. His experimental archaeology at Butser Ancient Farm lead to insights not found in traditional archaeology. For example, digging up bones tells us what kind of animals lived on an Iron Age British farm, but Dr. Reynold's observations of actually raising the descendants of these animals informs us as to how the livestock were kept and how that could affect choices made by the ancient farmer.

Chapter Contents:
1. Introduction
2. Nature of Evidence - an explanation of the sources for our knowledge
3 The Sequence of Development - the history of ancient peoples' transition from hunter/gatherers to farmer society
4 Farming - Growing, storing and using plants. Raising and making use of animals
5 The Farming Year - typical farm work by season
6 Conclusion

A compliment to Ancient Farming, is another book by Dr. Reynolds, Iron-Age Farm: The Butser Experiment, published by Colonade Books, British Museum Publications, Ltd. 1979.6x9 in., 112 pages. It covers the same information, with the addition of chapters on Iron Age buildings and structures. The text deals specifically with the experimental archaeology done at the Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire, England, with general implications for farming in Iron Age Britain as a whole.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

1/72 Plastic Barbarian WAB Army

I have always had a special fondness for 1/72 plastic toy soldiers. My dad collected them which is how I was introduced to the hobby. They're great for building large, yet inexpensive armies.

One of my many unfinished wargame projects is an army of Iron Age British to play WAB. I'm following the sample Barbarian army given in the WAB rulebook, using 1/72 scale plastic models from a mix of manufactures. I started with an old box of Revell Celts. In real-life horned helmets were not as common as these models make it seem, so I simply trimmed off most of them. In fact, helmets in general were quite rare in Iron Age Britain. On Oct 20th I posted some close-up photos of these guys.

I am also using Celt models from Airfix, ESCIHaT and Italeri Gauls. Most of the dated Airfix figures are unusable, but the standard bearer and archers are quite nice (see above). The Airfix chariots are in need of some converting. The solid wood wheels are definitely no good, but they were easily be replaced with spoked wheels from the Egyptian chariot set made by the old company, Atlantic. I will have to post a photo of the conversion made. Hat make much better chariots, based on more recent archaeology. doesn't give the best review of Hat's Gallic warband, but I like them.

I have yet to actually play a game of Warhammer Ancient Battles, so I am looking forward to completing this army (if that ever happens!). Most wargamers prefer 28mm or 15mm metal, so I'll have to make another 1/72 scale Roman army to fight these Celts. I actually met a guy who was working on his own 1/72 plastic barbarian WAB army, but I don't think he is any closer than me to finishing.

DBA Dacian Army - work in progress

Last Fall I started my first 15mm metal army to play the wargame, De Bellis Antiquitatis. I ordered a bunch of Dacian figures from Essex Miniatures. To add variety in the poses I also bought some of their Celts. The Celtic and Dacian warriors were equipped similar enough for these models to mix well. The shipment from England took forever, so I started building my camp element, a Dacian farmstead.
I started work on November 16, 2007. I choose a camp base size of 70 x 100mm. The rules offer alot of leeway with camp sizes, so I looked around the web to find a common size. The base itself is sheet styrene from Evergreen Models. This is cool stuff. You can score the sheet with a blade and snap off a piece.
The walls are made of balsa wood. I made the mistake of setting the grain of one of these walls vertical (perpendicular to the length of the wall). This caused the piece to warp, but with the roof on it is not too noticeable. Always cut wood with the grain! The roof is cardboard from a box of gluten-free cereal!
Coming up with thatch for the roof was an interesting problem. If I were making a 28mm scale building I would use fake fur. This scale is way too small for that, so I went with putty. I squished the green stuff down on the the roof and etched it with a sculpting tool. I think it looks pretty convincing! The wattle fence posts consist of a pink paperclip clipped into short lengths. The wattles are thin wire, woven around the uprights. I brushed PVA glue (Elmers Glue) over the wire to prevent it from popping out of place.
I wanted to add some 15mm scale animals to complete the farm look. I had already ordered my Dacians from Essex, which doesn't have a very good animal selection. All the animal sets I could find are from English companies. Ordering a single pack from the UK is a problem because of the high shipping charge. With the low dollar, and international shipping this would have cost me almost $20 - just so I could use 2 goats and a cow. Luckily, a friend told me about a local manufacturer. MiniFigs is a pretty well known range sold by Game Figures, Inc. - right here in Colorado, USA. I have return to this project sporadically. I'll post new photos as I progress.

Diorama Shelf

It's Diorama-rama! As a child I was captivated by the toy soldier dioramas found in the museums my dad brought me. Fort Ticonderoga, NY has some nice ones. Many have a little button, when pushed activates a sound recording to describe the scene. My diorama lacks the audio, but it's equally charming.

Since I am primarily a collector/painter, my models are more likely to be found in diorama shelf, rather than the game table. The base is a 1/2 in. thick piece of hardboard cut to fit the shelf. The background is a piece of canvas held in place by that blue or white sticky putty stuff you can buy to hang posters on the wall. The background starts on the surface of the base, extending up to the top of the shelf. It curls a bit on the bottom, so what I should have done is extend the canvas down to the bottom of the shelf, behind the base.

(You can see a Roman guard tower in progress at left)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My new historic hobby blog

My interest in ancient history has extended into a hobby: collecting, painting and wargaming with miniatures (toy soldiers). The past couple years I have been preoccupied with fantasy figures (LOTR), but the historic ranges are calling...

28mm Celtic Folk

I've been working on an Iron Age Celtic farmstead diorama for about a year now. Black Tree Design offers several very nice "Celtic Folk" sets. I have painted 6 characters so far. The models have distinctive Celtic details such as the mustaches, the anthropomorphic-hilt dagger held by the old man, the bronze mirror held by the woman, and the torque held by the smith. They are all mounted on 20 x 20 mm sheet styrene. I like to bevel the edges with a blade, rather than leaving them perfectly square.

I have a keen interest in Iron Age agriculture, so I expect to post alot of photos of painted, sheep, cows, scratch-built farm houses, etc. 

Peter Connolly's Greece and Rome at War features a chapter on Iron Age celtic arms and equipment.

Miranda Green's Celtic World is an excellent reference for all aspects of Iron Age Celtic society: military, daily life, technology, etc.

An illustrated article on Iron Age Celtic shields on

Friday, September 12, 2008

28mm Vendel Miniatures Orcs

"The result of ancient magical experimentation (poorly conducted experimentation, I am sure) goblins [ orcs ] only vaguely resemble the men from whom their forebears sprang. Although some attempt has been made to civilize them, surliness still dominates their nature."
—Ultima VII, Part Two Bestiary

"Orcs are more annoying than dangerous to the seasoned adventurer, but they can be a grave threat to the novice, especially when they travel in large groups or accompanied by a giant or two. Generally, they are fairly easy to defeat, do a modicum of damage if they hit, and carry meager belongings." —Ultima V Bestiary

The six orcs above come from Vendel Miniatures (now sold by SGMM). I used my window sill studio to take this shot, augmented with a desk light. Usually, I paint the eyes, but for these I just used a black wash (watered-down acrylic) to fill in the recesses in the face.
Goblins, of course, have been a part of European folk lore for hundreds of years. J.R.R. Tolkein was the one who first popularized the term, "orc." It is thought that the word was ultimately derived from, orcus, Latin for "hell." Here's a well cited article discussing the etymology of the word on Wikipedia.