Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Battle of Callinicum, 531 AD

Following the Persian defeat at the Battle of Dara (530 AD), King Kavadh I continued his campaign the following spring by sending another force to probe deeper into Byzantine territory (Commagene) with intent to capture a number of Syrian cities. This force, led by Azarethes, consisted of 15,000 cavalry had an additional 5,000 Lakhmid allies. Trailing the Persian force, Belisarius had insufficient troops to bring Azarethes to battle, but reinforcements arrived on Easter Friday giving Belisarius a slight advantage in numbers.

Map: By Cplakidas 

Having defeated the Persians on two occasions, Byzantine commanders were naturally eager for battle, but rather than risk battle, Belisarius preferred to drive the Persians back across the frontier. Further, the Easter weekend would be an inauspicious moment to fight as many troops would be fasting. The general consensus wanted battle, so relenting, Belisarius drew up his forces the following day. 

The battlefield.
The battle is described as having taken place on the south bank of the Euphrates River and for the most part this offered level ground for half the battlefield rising gently for the remainder of the field. No further description of the terrain is given, but gathering from the disposition of the Byzantine infantry we might conclude there was suitable cover for infantry to operate against cavalry. 

The game board.
1 x Waterway (Euphrates River), 3 x rocky ground, and rising ground stretching across the depth of the board (starting 12BW from the board edge and gradually rising every 4BW).

The Byzantine forces.     

Left Wing
1 x Ascan, subordinate general (Cv), 5 x Kavallarioi (Cv), 4 x skutatoi (Bd), 2 x archers (Ps).

1 x Belisarius (Cv), 5 x Kavallarioi (Cv), 2 x archers (Ps), 2 x Lycaonian javelinmen (3Ax), 2 x Hunnic horse archer (LH).

Right Wing (Ghassanid allies)
1 x Al-Harith (LH), 1 x light horse (LH), 1 x scout (LCm), 4 x camel riders (Cm), 2 x swordsmen (4Bd), 1 x archers (3Bw), 2 x archers and slingers (Ps).

Byzantine infantry on the left secured the south bank of the Euphrates and on the right, the Lycaonian infantry formed on the rising ground with all the Byzantine cavalry positioned in centre. The Ghassanid Arabs under Al-Harith were deployed further up on the rising slope.

Sassanid Persian force.

Right Wing
1 x subordinate general (Cv), 8 x Asavaran (Cv), 3 x vassal horse archer (LH).

1 x Azarethes (Cv), 8 x Asavaran (Cv), 3 x vassal horse archer (LH).

Left Wing (Lakhmid Allies)
1 x Al-Mundhir (LH), 1 x light horse (LH), 1 x scout (LCm), 4 x camel riders (Cm), 2 x swordsmen (4Bd), 1 x archers (3Bw), 2 x archers and slingers (Ps).

Sources describe the Sassanid as an all cavalry force, so an adjustment to the DBA Sassanid Persian list II/69c should be made for this battle. No elephants, levy or Dailami are mentioned as being present, so Asavaran cavalry and vassal horse archers are substituted for these. The Persian Azarethes placed the Lakhmid Arabs under Al-Mundhir to face the Ghassanid and the Sassanid Asavaran faced the Byzantine troops. 

Both Arab allies are described as mounted and for this re-fight we may conclude that those foot troops present have left their mounts (mules, camels) to the rear of their deployment. 

Tomorrow, the battle.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Battle of the Zab, 750 AD - to the game board.

The Umayyad, encamped south of the Zab River, deployed its force into two wings of equal strength. The long line of spearmen was flanked by archers and small units of heavy cavalry protected their flanks. The remaining mounted units formed a reserve behind each of the infantry wings.

The Abbasid, as the attacker, positioned all their infantry to face the Umayyad left wing and held a large cavalry group to face the Umayyad right. Both commands were of equal strength with one exception, all the light horse were deployed on the right wing.

The opening moves.
The infantry lines of both sides moved forward and took up positions on either side of the river. The resulting sporadic archery had little effect but did offer both sides a moments respite to consider some new options. On the extreme right flank, the crossing of the river by the Abbasid light horse was contested by Umayyad light horse and Jund cavalry.

By good fortune, the Umayyad light horse had been beaten offering the Abbasid an opportunity to counter which they did with good effect (2 – 0).

Despite the setback, the commander of the left wing held the river bank with his spearmen and re positioned his remaining infantry in echelon and Jund cavalry still further back. This offered the Abbasid an unopposed crossing but it was no means a coordinated one; this opened a possible opportunity.

The middle game.
That opportunity presented itself on turn five when the Umayyad struck a small group of infantry with their Jund cavalry. The success of having eliminated one infantry unit was offset by the loss of their own bringing the score to a desperate 3 – 1.

The Abbasid infantry of the left wing were now engaged with the Umayyad on the opposite bank.

After two hours of battle (turn 8) the Umayyad left became demoralised as another unit of Jund fell to Abbasid javelins but the effort had cost the Abbasid dear (4 – 2).

On the Umayyad right, the infantry were holding the river line sending every Abbasid recoiling back for their effort.

With the infantry of the Umayyad right hotly engaged, the Jund cavalry, five units strong, reached the bank of the Zab intent on forcing the battle to a conclusion. On the left flank, the slaughter continued as Abbasid caught isolated units, yet the spearmen of the left wing held their position at the river bank with their general directly behind them.

After two and a half hours of battle (turn 10), the Abbasid archers demonstrated how well their condition had not slackened one bit.

The end game.
The drama that developed for the Umayyad now moved to the right flank as isolated infantry and cavalry units quickly moved forward to defend the river bank. The battle took an unexpected turn as each of the four combats fell in quick succession against the Umayyad bringing the battle to an end; 10g – 2 on the Umayyad left, 4 – 2 on the Umayyad right.

Order of Battle 

Right Wing Umayyad Army
1 x Marwan II (Cv), 3 x jund cavalry (Cv), 3 x spearmen (Sp), 2 x archers (3Bw), 1 x Bedouin (LH), 1 x Dailami (4Ax), 1 x archer (Ps).
Left Wing Umayyad Army
1 x General (Cv), 3 x jund cavalry (Cv), 3 x spearmen (Sp), 2 x archers (3Bw), 1 x Bedouin (LH), 1 x Dailami (4Ax), 1 x archer (Ps).

Right Wing Abbasid Army
1 x Abul Abbas as-Saffah Cv), 2 x lancers (Cv), 3 x spearmen (Sp), 2 x archers (4Bw), 2 x Bedouin (LH), 1 x Mutatawwi√° (3Wb), 1 x archers (Ps).
Left Wing Abbasid Army
1 x General (Cv), 4 x lancers (Cv), 3 x spearmen (Sp), 2 x archers (4Bw), 2 x Zanj (3Bd)

Each command consists of 12 elements, therefore four casualties are needed for a command to reach demoralisation. Umayyad commands are identical while the Abbasid have redeployed their light horse and Zanj infantry.

Optional scenarios.
The historical strengths for both sides varied great, but most set the Abbasid force at around 35,000 troops with the Umayyad fielding two or three times that number. Despite the odds, the Abbasid had a string of victories the previous year and were eager for battle, more so as their leader, Abdallah ibn Ali had been proclaimed the rightful Caliph.

In contrast, the frequency of rebellion over the past four years had eroded the confidence the troops had with Marwan II’s capacity to lead; this was demonstrated by the reluctance of some units to obey orders during battle.

There are a few ways to reflect this in the game, one, by increasing the number of Umayyad troops and/or two, adjusting the total needed to demoralize an Umayyad command.

Option 1, the Abbasid retain their two commands totaling 24 elements while the Umayyad are increased to 36 elements but still form two commands. This would prompt an Umayyad player to maintain larger groups or maneuver part of a command while the rest remained inert which would demonstrate to a degree a level of disunity within the command.

Option 2, the 36 elements are distributed among three commands and not two. The total needed to reach demoralisation however, should be lowered by one for the two commands subordinate to Marwan II. Both sides must demoralise two commands to reach victory and despite the Umayyad having a superiority of numbers, their confidence can be shaken when the casualties mount.  

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Battle of the Zab, 750 AD.

 Marwan II (744–50), the grandson of Marwan I, led an army into Damascus in December 744, where he was proclaimed caliph. Moving the capital to Harran a rebellion soon broke out in Syria resulting in retaliatory action against the cities of Homs and Damascus (745). Further opposition broke out in Iraq and Iran from the Kharijites (746) who brought forward their claimants to the caliph. No sooner was the revolt suppressed when a time a more serious threat had arisen in Khorasan.

Around 746, Abu Muslim assumed leadership of the Hashimiyya in Khurasan. In 747, Abu Muslim successfully initiated an open revolt in Khurasan against Umayyad rule. With an army he gained control over the province of Khurasan and in 749 captured Kufa, the last Umayyad stronghold in Iraq. In November of the same year Abul Abbas as-Saffah was recognized as the new caliph.

From his capital in Harran, Marwan II mobilized his troops and advanced toward Iraq. In January 750 the two forces met along the banks of the Zab River.

The battlefield and troop strength
One source {1} sets the date of the battle at January 25, 750 AD, but little else is known about its location other than it was fought along its banks. If this is so, then the river might be considered paltry allowing troops to freely cross at any point, alternatively, despite a low water level, its banks could still pose a problem forcing a constricted passage. Some sources make reference to the construction of a pontoon bridge to help speed the crossing by Umayyad troops {2}, nonetheless, troops were able to cross at other points of the river

The photos seen here are sourced from Wiki Commons and are placed merely to give a general impression of the river and nearby terrain. 

Troop strengths vary from modest to exaggerated, but all sources give the Umayyad a numerical advantage. However, that advantage was offset with some Umayyad troops having questionable morale brought about through past uprisings and defeats plus the relocation of the capital. For this game we shall dispense with the calculation of numbers and give both sides two commands each (24 elements).

Tomorrow, the battle.

{1} The Battle of Zab, Cohn and Russell.

{2} The Armies of the Caliphs, Hugh Kennedy.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

DBA Terrain By Type

Since the publication of DBA 3.0, I have devoted much time and attention to the construction of new terrain pieces. During the early stages of 3.0 testing, the terrain we used came from the gunpowder collection which was, on the whole, quite large in quantity and size. Through our game experience we quickly saw a need to create new items and preferably these should be of medium or small size. Further, we swapped the standard board for one of a larger format, 80cm x 80cm. This seemed paradoxical, but enlarging the game board did diminish the chance of discarding terrain pieces resulting in some quadrants containing three pieces. This generate some interesting battles and certainly changed our perspective with regard to certain terrain features, such as BUA and rivers.  

As the collecting of ancient and medieval armies proceeded this was done on a project basis focusing on a central theme army and a host of enemies. The first of these, the Severan Dynasty (3rd century AD), focused on Rome and the enemies it faced across its frontiers. Hilly terrain was quickly needed to engage the Picts,  forest regions were needed to fight most of the barbarians, the nomadic horsemen had steppe as home terrain, and the Parthians needed dry landscape to call home. 

Generally, the construction of terrain features began after the completion of a new army. As time progressed and the number of armies grew, the terrain pieces varied in quality and colour. This was due to either new materials used or new ideas were implemented for their construction.

The Historical Match Ups series posted here gave me an opportunity to use the armies, experiment with terrain placement, the deployment of the armies, and simulate their tactics, but a closer inspection of the photos did reveal much that needed to be done with the terrain. It was then I decided to take a rigorous step and standardise the terrain pieces for all seven DBA categories. 

The project took a few months to complete, but I am satisfied with the end result. The templates used for the majority of bad and rough going were produced in standard size and shape which greatly reduced the storage space by 60%. Bad and rough going terrain pieces now consisted of one large feature (6BW x 3BW), three mid-size (4BW x 3BW) and one or two small pieces (3BW x 2BW); the latter are useful as terrain can be intersected by a road or river.

Duplicate templates were made so they could be used in European landscape or dry arid regions; an arable region located in Mesopotamia should look somewhat different than one located in France. Templates could also serve multiple functions depending on the scatter material placed on top; this could represent rocky, scrub, marsh, enclosures or even BUA (hamlet) and all this is covered on the final page.

Where applicable, I have noted the dimensions and quantity of certain pieces under the photos.

Below is an overview of the armies having a particular terrain by type listed in each book. Do not overlook the fact that the first book blankets a longer period of time with each successive book a five century period. Some sub-lists may have two terrain types as this reflects a period of migration or conquest.

Book I  (64 lists, 137 sub-lists)
Arable                  64                        
Forest                  0
Hilly                     28                        
Steppe                  7                          
Dry                       7                          
Tropical                2
Littoral                29                        

Book II  (84 lists, 291 sub-lists)
Arable                  89         
Forest                  14          
Hilly                     33         
Steppe                 16          
Dry                      14          
Tropical               10          
Littoral                25         

Book III  (80 lists, 127 sub-lists)
Arable                  39         
Forest                   8            
Hilly                      21          
Steppe                  17          
Dry                       18          
Tropical                12          
Littoral                 12          

Book IV  (85 lists, 149 sub-lists)
Arable                  63         
Forest                  10          
Hilly                     26         
Steppe                 10          
Dry                       6            
Tropical                4            
Littoral                 21          

313 lists, 794 sub-lists

DBA Terrain Type - Arable

Compulsory: BUA, plough,
Option: river, difficult hill, gentle hill, wood, enclosure, road, waterway, scrub, boggy.

Gentle Hill
These are a single thickness (2mm) of floor cover material, painted and flocked with electrostatic grass. I prefer the grass over the use of turf to cover my terrain as this has proven resistant to constant usage. Regarding the size of hills, I found it convenient to have one large (3BW x 6BW) and several smaller hills (3BW x 4BW) available for games. 

Difficult Hill
These are made from the same material as described above, but with two pieces glued together. If the upper piece reduced by a ½ BW this will keep figures from toppling over and function as the area from which bow may shoot from, see p. 10, paragraph 3, Distant Shooting. Apply glue along the outer edge of the underside as this will avoid shrinkage and your hill curling. 

Difficult hill .

I have constructed a duplicate and painted these for use in European and dryer climes; the latter have electrostatic grass sprinkled over them, then painted an earth colour and later dry-brushed. I find this technique enhances the ‘arid’ look. The large rock formations (sculpted from pink foam) help identify these as difficult hills rather than raised gentle hills.

Difficult hill for arid landscapes

I made two sets of templates so wood can be used in for European or arid climates. From our game experience we found the smaller wood far more effective than a large one; during the placement of terrain there is less chance of discarding a wood.

Wood in dry locations can have their templates treated in the same manner as described in the section Difficult Hills. The trees (2 or 3) are mounted on triangular or oval shaped bases made of 1.2mm thick triplex. I found it expedient to paint the bases dark brown so fir trees may be used for both climate regions. 

Wood (trees fixed three to a base)

Enclosures have fencing, hedges or ditches to mark its boundaries. These are considered rough going and mine have hedges which can be removed. The same template can serve as scrubmarshboggy ground by simple placement of the appropriate scatter on top. See page – Scatter Material. 

Enclosure with hedges and gate

If you prefer stones mounted on thin strips, then I recommend these have measurements of ½ BW x 2BW which can easily conform to any curvature of your template.

Road and Rivers
These are constructed from the same material as used for hills; 2mm thick floor covering. The pieces are 1BW wide as per specification, so the actual road and water surface will be slightly less. I prefer a length of 5BW for both as this will allow roads to meet BUA if placed away from a board edge and with the use of small curved sections (2BW) you can simulate a river meandering around hills and wood. The small curved sections are useful, so you may want to produce enough to use a full length of river. As our boards are 80cm square this would allow the placement of 120cm of either road or river.

Road and river

This feature is covered in detail under Littoral features. 


These plough are the result of several variations. The field is produced by Busch and is packaged as one large sheet roughly 20cm x 21cm. This is enough to cut into small pieces and glue to the standard template after it has been painted an earth colour. Pictured here are two versions of grain fields. BUA (built up areas)


BUA (built up areas)
Of the four types listed in the rule book, City, Fort, Hamlet and Edifice, we prefer to use the hamlet option. A hamlet does not require a garrison but is considered rough going and would reduce movement for troops other than 'fast' types. The construction of the buildings can be followed here.

BUA (hamlet)
Pictured above in the section 'road and river' you will note the advantage of basing structures apart from its template; these can be swapped with others of another architectural style or era. 

Next: Forest

DBA Terrain Type - Forest

Compulsory: Wood,
Option: river, marsh, gentle hill, wood, BUA.

The collection of wood progressed through three different modifications. The original set were HO scale with four or five trees fixed to a base. With more experience using 3.0, we decided to construct smaller templates to serve as terrain features including those used for wood. All the HO scale trees were replaced with trees half their height with two or three trees fixed per base. The reduction in size resulted in less storage space; from three boxes to half of one.

In addition to the fir trees I have also purchased deciduous types to have the game board reflect other geographical locations. The extra trees fixed to bases could also serve as scatter to place along BUA, rivers or road. Their placement will enhance the photos taken during a game.

Bases are 1.2 mm thick and cut to either an oval or triangular shape. The edges are sanded and after gluing the trees, the base is painted dark brown. The trees are usually dark green and have a shine to them. To change this, white glue is brushed on to the trees which are then flocked with mid-green turf (Woodland Scenics or Busch). 


Construction of rivers can be found at the page titled Arable. I will mention that rivers can cross features except hills, dunes, oasis and BUA; therefore, you can produce a few more smaller wood templates to as to have a river coursing its way through it.

River coursing through two wood.

For a marsh, I use the same template sizes and shape. What colour should these be painted is a matter of taste, but I have prefer and earth – near mud colour. The grass scatter material I place on top are fixed to clear acetate bases, 1mm thick. The grass (12mm) is self-adhesive manufactured by Leadbear of Australia. 

Marsh intersected by a river. 

Gentle Hill
Although we use an 80cm x 80cm board it is very rare that we must discard a piece due to a quadrant lacking enough space for its placement. As a rule we have constructed enough small features that also include a gentle hill.

Most of the armies having forest as home terrain are barbarian; Early German, Burgundian (5th c. AD), Prussian and Lithuanian are a few examples. It would therefore be reasonable to see either an edifice (sacred grove) or a hamlet as a BUA. I do have a stone circle which has a generic look to it, though circular thatched roof huts would not look out of place either. These can be constructed from pink foam and shaped with a modelling knife. Walls and roof would be covered with Milliput, scored and later painted. These should be based with enough space to place a bit of wattle fencing. 

Hamlet structures showing an early medieval architecture. 

Next: Hilly

DBA Terrain Type - Hilly

Compulsory: Difficult hill
Option: river, wood, BUA, road.

Difficult Hill
Difficult hills, like a few other terrain features, progressed through a series of modifications before reaching a final result. My initial hills were 40mm thick pink foam material, painted and flocked with electrostatic grass; ideal for the gunpowder era, these quickly demonstrated their impractical side for ancients. To improve on the layer-cake look, I scored the hills to create slopes so elements could freely be placed without their tipping over. This worked relatively well, but had the consequence of reducing the upper area to one base width.

The final model is the result comes from gluing two ‘gentle’ hill pieces together, painted an earth colour and finally covered with grass. I modelled some rock outcroppings to define them as difficult hills. Without the outcroppings, these could serve as gentle hills to vary the height, but what is more important are the different sets of rock formations and colour of the hills. These have been duplicated this set to serve for green or arid climate zones. 

Difficult hill.

Construction of river sections can be found at the page labelled arable terrain. If plans are to use both a road and river, it may prove useful to construct a section with a bridge or ford. These need not be elaborate, but even a simple construction can convey the general idea of an unobstructed passage of a river.    

Two wood intersected by a river. 

These are covered in detail under arable terrain, but I would add a preference for fir trees for dry climates over conifer trees. Having both in your terrain collection will prove useful as the number of armies and their location grows. 


These may be constructed on top of a hill for which I have one in the collection; this is modelled after a well known village located in the Caucasus. I have classed this as a ‘fort’ as historically, the inhabitants formed their own defence force to beat off nomadic tribesmen that forced the Caspian Gates. 

BUA - Armenian or Georgian village.

Apart from Roman roads which would be strait, ancient tracks should have a number or bends to avoid terrain features. The construction of roads therefore, follows a similar pattern as the construction of river sections. The finished pieces should also match BUA templates as these may be joined together for a game. 

Next: Steppe