Category Archives: Ancient

Ancients in Retrospect

Of course with the year coming to an end it’s time for reflections. Ancient and Medieval gaming is something of staple for me with games played mostly in our Tuesday gaming slot. I use the De Bellis Antiquitatis, more commonly known as DBA. Over the year all manner of games have been played utilising a range of armies,. Yes, I’m fortunate to live in New Zealand where COVID-19 is currently eradicated in the community, but for a couple of months earlier in the year games had to be played remotely.

That said these days I don’t generally post long reports of games, time being something of a premium. Instead they tend to be summarised by a few photos on Twitter. However, last Tuesday’s game involved a couple of armies which haven’t been out for a while. In particular a couple couple of games using chariots. As a result I felt it required a little more focus. If you are interested a short summary of last week’s games can be found here.

The rest of this year’s DBA games have utilised a range of armies. A good number have been Punic Wars engagements interspersed with various battles between Rome and the Seleucids. One of my favourites however was a series between Rome and the Gauls, played remotely, which covered the campaigns of Gracchus, Flaccus & Maximus in Cisalpine Gaul.

In addition there have been a good number of Medieval engagements. While most have involved European armies we have also looked to the east. These include regular encounters in the Sengoku Jidai Period and even some campaigning in Sumatra. Finally, in a far flung corner of the world, and certainly far from Europe, we have managed some Maori inter-iwi clashes including as Te Kawau Strikes North.

All up a most enjoyable year of Ancient and Medieval gaming, despite the year being defined by the pandemic. While I’m sure I will manage some additional DBA games before New Year’s Eve – assuming their isn’t another breach of our border quarantine systems. Either way I find myself contemplating further classical texts to be read, future games to be played and of course additional armies to be built. I think that’s a good measure of success.

An Ancient Interlude

It has been an embarrassingly long time since I have posted here. The last few months have been extremely busy and as a result I made a conscious decision to focus my limited gaming time on pushing miniatures around the table and painting miniatures. For those of you that follow me on Twitter then I’m sure you will have seen a selection of the games played in recent months.

One of the regular game systems played has been DBA. These fast play Ancient & Medieval rules provide a balance between playability and simulation. Equally, they provide a great opportunity for an enjoyable game on a weeknight when the complexity of life could otherwise severely restrict my gaming.

Aware that it has been so long since I have posted I have finally made an effort to document a small selection of these DBA games. In particular three games played over the last week. Firstly there is a short summary of two encounters between one of Alexander the Great’s Successor generals (Lysimichus) and the rulers of Kappadokia. You will find the report here. Then, more recently, the Romans have been campaigning against the Celtiberians, a selection of photos and a brief description of the encounter can be found here.

A small selection of the many games played over recent months and something of an interlude from a busy period which hopefully is of some interest to readers.

Empire: 280 BC to 271 BC

Our Ancients campaign continues with another turn complete, this time covering the period 280 BC to 271 BC. I’m pleased with the changes to the mechanics and the support a number of locals are providing. This turn for example we have had five people involved in the games with a bit of a lottery on which armies you end up commanding. Everyone seems to be enjoying the context of the games than any focus on world conquest.

All the playing states are suffering a mix of success and setback which is adding to overall interest. Pyrrhus, who is currently King of Macedonian, is under particular pressure. Despite this after two desperate battles he still controls his Macedonian throne, just. Meanwhile while Rome and Carthage are locked in combat Seleucus was last seen campaigning somewhere in Bactria.

If you are interested you can find a full summary here.

Punic Clashes

Having arrived home after my European sojourn it was good to breakout my miniatures for a couple of evenings of gaming this week. As it worked out it was a bit of a Punic Wars theme.

First up were a couple of DBA games against Jim early in the week, while I was still very much in another time zone. Jim’s Carthaginians are, like my own, from the excellent Corvus Belli range. Opting for a pachyderm heavy army these beasts required some focus by the Romans to neutralise them before they broke up the Roman lines. Due to some interesting Punic tactics in the second game the Roman tactics were not completely successful.

Above, Carthaginian light infantry, originally deployed in front of the elephants, nervously watch the elephants retire from the Roman infantry. The elephants soon surged forward again disrupting but not breaking the Roman lines.

Later in the week Colin made a long overdue appearance from the deep south and provided Andrew and I the opportunity for a couple of DBA games. Colin took command of my own Carthaginians in a two games where the battles formed part of our on-going Empire Campaign.

Colin also opted for the pachyderm heavy Later Carthaginians, but supported them with auxiliary infantry (4Ax) rather than my own preference for some more aggressive Gauls. My own PIP dice, I commanded the Romans in the first game, were horrifically variable tending to the extremes causing consternation, joy and embarrassment in equal measure. By good control Colin slowly but surely defeated the Roman upstarts.

A new Consul was sought (Andrew) and in due course another Roman army was dispatched to lower Italy in an attempt to defeat the Punic invader. The Carthaginians selected a field of battle near a large city though their deployment was somewhat constrained by nearby hills.

Now Punic command and control became hesitant and for some time the Carthaginian army refused to advance allowing the Romans to fully deploy. Good use of Roman light infantry slowly countered, if not destroyed the Punic elephants, while Roman and Italian heavy infantry slowly gained an advantage.

A great series of games over the week and an enjoyable start to normality following my travels. I will of course provide some additional context to the games here that formed part of our Empire Campaign when some other games are resolved, stay tuned…

In the Footsteps of Demetrius of Pharos

Recently I spent a few days at the Ancient city of Pharos, today known as Stari Grad, which is located on the modern island of Hvar, in the Adriatic. Pharos was founded by the Greeks in 385 BC and today a few interesting remains exist that provided, for me, an interesting couple of days while resting from my travels.

East of the old part of Stari Grad, which is built on the Greek city of Pharos, is the Stari Glad Plain. Here the land is divided into parcels of 180m by 900m bounded by dry stone walls. Today, the field system remains generally as it was when laid out by the Greeks and is the largest and most well preserved example in existence. Some sections of the dry stone walls are, even today, 1.5m high and some upwards of a metre in width. 

Above and below, examples of the walls. In the one above you can see clearly the internal space filled with smaller stones.

Apparently the field system included a rain water recovery system, though I found no evidence of this, but of course I wasn’t sure what to look for.

During my visit I walked out to the remains of a Greek watch tower, part of a system to provide warning of attack. The information I received from the Stari Grad Information Office indicated an hour return. I took around two hours return.

The plain is protected by UNESCO, and is one of seven such sites in Croatia. A plot marker, as well as tablets from the polis, can be found in Dominican Monastery museum. Unfortunately no photos were allowed.

Stari Grad itself is a beautiful town with many old buildings clustered together. The old town is Medieval but is built on the Roman and Greek towns. Recent archeological investigation has uncovered portions of a Greek road and sections of the old Greek walls. Below, the area around the church of Saint Ivan’s where the most recent archeological excavations have been completed. On the left part of the Greek road while in the distance a section of wall.

Today, selected buildings within the town, including the lower levels of two imposing bell towers, are built using stones from the Greek city walls.

The exhibits in the small Stari Grad Museum, separate from the Dominican Museum, were very interesting. One of my favourites was this terracotta fragment with mould above, and the seal below.

Of course a good range of pottery was on display. Examples included, Greek, Southern Italian and less refined Illyrian.

The museum also displays numerous amphorae from a wrecked 4th or 5th century Roman merchant ship discovered and displayed convincingly as they were found. A smaller display is in the Hvar citadel.

So what of the history, here are a few snippets. The colony was established in 385 BC, but the colony was almost destroyed in 384 BC by the local Illyrians and only saved by Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse. Diodorus (15.14) records the following:

This year the Parians who had settled on Pharos allowed the previous barbarian inhabitants to remain unharmed in a well fortified place, while they themselves built their city by the sea and enclosed it with a wall. Later the earlier inhabitants took offence at the presence of the Greeks and called in the Illyrians dwelling on the mainland opposite. These crossed to Pharos in a large number of small boats and, more than ten thousand strong, killed many Greeks and did much damage. However Dionysius’ commander at Lissus sailed up with a large number of Triremes against the Illyrian light craft and, having sunk some and captured others, killed more than five thousand of the barbarians and took around two thousand prisoners.”

Later, of course the Romans turned up. In 219 BC Demetrius of Pharos makes some bad decisions and Pharos comes under Roman rule following a battle around Phoros. Again we have some excellent artefacts from this Roman period including pottery, coins and mosaics which have been discovered underneath the towns narrow streets.

Today in the squares of Saint Stephens is Roman 2nd Century winged Eros is visible, though I managed to work past it twice! Within the bell tower, though I couldn’t see it, is an engraving of a Roman merchant vessel.

Now, as to the name of this post. Well one of the paths I took across the Stari Grad Plain was called “The Path of Demetrius of Pharos”. It seemed fitting to use this as the name, converging Greek and Roman. If you are in the area you may find a day or two in Stari Grad of interest.