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.