martedì 11 settembre 2012

Ancient armies: Achemenid Persians

The education of many young italians is often full of classical teachings: during your long years at school they keep on teaching how great and noble were the classical cultures, that is the roman and greek ones, and how much we owe to them as for mathematics, laws, architecture, philosophy. They almost make you think modern society is just a bad imitation of those greater times.
Of course all other civilizations, except maybe Egypt and Babylon, are despised as primitive and brutal. Truth is, that's just propaganda. As soon as you leave that all behind, you find that many other great civilizations existed, some left us an heritage as important as that of Greece or Rome.
The most underrated of all is, in my humble opinion, Persian civilization. Persia was, and still is, one of the great beacons of indo-european civilization, and was related to west-european cultures closer than we may think.
As for modelling and wargaming, persian achemenid armies are possibily the most colourful and complex armies you can collect, so no wonder they're the ancient army I like most.
Not only you get exotic and colourful clothes, but you get a very complex organization, which included a "regular" part that had a system of uniforms, a levied part which was very motley, and a "regional" part, which was as diverse as possible: units from eastern provinces/satrapies were totally different from those raised in the west.


Here is the whole army. You'll notice that some photos are a bit blurry, but that has nothing to do with the bottle of alcohol in the background, really (hic!)


Here we have the archers, which made up the biggest part of persian armies at the time of the campaign in Greece. In these units for each ten men you had eight archers, a "nco" who kept order in the back and a shield-bearer in the front line, who was called "sparabara" and provided protection to his comrades. This tactic was quite effective against armies who relied upon missile weapons, but performed poorly against heavy armoured oplites, who always charged in and preferred hand-to-hand combat. At the time of Alexander's invasion this kind of formation was superseded.
Notice that each unit has a peculiar uniform; I'm not sure if uniforms were really implemented apart from elite units, but this add flavour to the army so I decided to dress each unit in the same colour. Most men wear yellow headgear, which is supposed to be the mark of persian nationals, which together with the medes had a sort of citizenship right. Those in white caps stand for another iranic tribe which didn't have persian citizenship.
The famed Immortals were equipped this way, indeed the two units on the left are painted as immortal regiments.


Then we have the levies, they come from different satrapies but all have bows or slings. This kind of light infantry made up a big part in every middle-eastern army; this men usually didn't perform well in battle, but proved useful for ambushes or during sieges.


Now we have the cavalry, regular cavalry on the left and center, the heavies on the right. 
Persian armies were always quite horse-heavy. Again each unit here has its own uniform. 
While medium cavalry was very common, heavy cavalry was a small part of the army, but paved the way to the catafracts of the following centuries.


Here on the left we have the skirmishers, on the right the light cavalry.
These troop most likely came from the eastern satrapies. Each nation inside the empire had its own way of fighting, and most of them provided light troops. For example parthians provided horse archers; back then parthians were just one of the many iranic nations of the empire, but later took control of the entire empire, and defeated many enemies thanks to their combination of catafracts and mounted archers.


After the defeats against the greeks the persians developed their own heavy infantry, equipped as oplites.
The achemenid empire had plenty of oplites even before, especially from the western satrapies, so these persian heavies were probably meant as elite units.
In the background we have a couple of command stands.


At the time of the macedonian invasion the persians disbanded many of their "archers+sparabara" regiments; these were substituted, as it seems, by medium infantry, equipped in the same manner as greek peltasts. These men could fight both as heavy skirmishers or as light oplites, and probably had also bows. We still don't know much about these reforms though, we don't even know for sure if these men were the kardakes mentioned into the sources, or what else. 


Many oplites fought for the persians, many of them were greeks. Their role was quite controversial, some considered them traitors of the greek cause, but they often fought bravely alongside their persian allies.
In fact a good part of Xerses' army was made up of greeks, and when Alexander invaded Asia many greeks joined Darius' army. Some were mercenaries, some were levies from the western sarapies, but some may have been allies. In fact, some of them were amongst the last to defend the already defeated Darius, so it seems they had good reasons for their loyalty. My own idea is that many greeks fled Greece after the macedonians invaded of their motherland, and joined the persian hoping they could help freeing their country. So those "mercenaries" were probably greek patriots which pro-Alexander historians later marked as betrayers . Truth is, back then macedonians weren't less stranger to greek eyes than persians, and moreover many greek cities had long-lasting alliances to the persian empire, Sparta and Thebes amongst the others.


All the figures in this page are either from Hat or Zvezda. Those have slightly different styles, but match really well together! I'm planning to enlarge this army, especially by adding some satrapy levies.
Other figures from different armies may be added to persian forces, especially Scythians, which may have been mercenaries or levies from eastern satrapies. Scythians will soon be shown in another post.
Indian forces took part in some campaigns together with persians. Western indian kingdoms weren't part of the empire, but were allied to it and sometimes sent troops, even elephants.
Assyrians were defeated by the medes, and vanished as an organized nation, but assyrians and assyrian-styled forces often were part of achemenid armies. The phoenicians made up a big part of the persian navy, and they provided also "marines". They were equipped in the assyrian style.
Anatolian satrapies provided mostly oplites, usually dressed in the greek style, but different local styles existed. Egypt too was part of the empire, and provided some peculiar troops. 
As for the eastern satrapies, they had mostly light cavalry, but also skirmishers. Many tribes had different styles of fighting, some chose the bow, other the spear, other the javelins or even a combination of the former.
So, the achemenid persian armies were as diverse as you may think, and are a great opportunity for building great wargame forces. Never forget that most of the nations of middle east some time or the other either fought against or fought alongside persian forces, so plenty of opportunities here!

PS vista la lunghezza del post, la versione italiana sarà presto pubblicata in un post a parte. 

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