Category Archives: Ancient

Diocletian’s Palace

Yesterday I had the good fortune to spend the day in Split and in particular Diocletian’s Palace. I won’t go into the background history, suffice to say the palace was built between 295 AD and 305 AD by, and for, Diocletian. Today the palace is still very much in everyday use, by citizens of Split and by the tourists that visit but is protected as UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of seven protected sites in Croatia.

Above, a the palace as it was originally built as drawn by archaeologist Ernest Hébrard in 1912.

During the Medieval period a significant portion of the palace was replaced or absorbed by Medieval buildings. However, much remains from Diocletian’s period. With a careful observations, and the services of a guide, many interesting Roman period structures and architecture are visible, even to the untrained eye.

Below, a portion of the Peristyle leading to Diocletian’s living areas. His mausoleum is on the left and the Temple of Jupiter to the right. The sandstone is from the island of Brac, which I’ve since passed, while the columns are of granite and imported from Egypt by Diocletian.

You may have noticed a sphinx in the top left. There are three in the palace today and each are 3500 years old. Here is another view.

The palace is rectangular approximately 160m by 190m and is divided into a garrison and administrative area, perhaps half the area. The remaining area is divided between a religious area and Diocletian’s living and sleeping areas, which face the sea.

Above, is a section of Diocletian’s living area which originally provided excellent views of the Adriatic and today faces the port of Split. Below, a view across the remains of Diocletian’s dining area and in the distance the octagonal mausoleum of Diocletian.

Diocletian’s mausoleum has been occupied by the Christians and as such was converted into a church. Despite this the mausoleum, inside and out, remains impressive. A section of the floor has been exposed to show the original floor 17cm below the current. In the detailing in the photo below that running around the top, broken by a window, is Roman and depicts, among other things, a hunting scene.

Likewise, the Temple of Jupiter has found a new Christian role.

Excavations under the palace since the 1950s, and more recently, have exposed the basement areas. These areas mimic the original structures above and have provided archaeologists excellent information on the structures. Some, such as this one are massive.

There are several walking tours of the area palace and I recommend you taking one. They are extremely inexpensive. Mine was around 100 Croatian Kuna, which is around twenty or so New Zealand dollars. A ticket to the underground areas was from memory around half this but unfortunately had poor signage. Some tours include this area and I wish I had found one. Either way don’t miss it! Entry to the cathedral, mausoleum and Temple of Jupiter cost was 50 Croatian Kuna and is also excellent.

There is a small museum in the palace area. Significant exhibits include Diocletian’s marble dining table, which you must see. In addition are many examples of edged weapons and firearms of Medieval, Venetian and Turkish origin. Useful maps here include the late baroque layout of the defences of Split from around 1660. Unfortunately, when I visited the English translations supposedly available through wifi access, were unreliable.

If you are in Croatia make sure Diocletian’s Palace is on your list.

Empire Campaign

Campaigns are something I always have a inkling to run but past experience has made me nervous of too much complication. Regular readers of my blog may recall that early last year I posted my thoughts on the Empire boardgame, developed by Phil Sabin. After some tinkering with the basic rules I converted the mechanics to a system that would allow it to be used with DBA.

Now, those who follow my Ancient & Medieval blog will have seen that we have recently completed the fourth campaign turn. Trying to simplify things further I recently moved away from dedicated players controlling states to a system where the decision process is automated. A basic decision tree is used to determine campaign offensives which is supplemented by a die roll where multiple options of equal weight exist. Games are now resolved by a group of volunteers subject to availability. The most recent series of six battles have now been resolved by a group of five players.

I’m rather pleased how this has all worked out. The revised format seems to be providing a better balance between my time investment and the value created by linking a background to an individual tabletop game. Further, it allows me to play in a few games while others are able use different armies, rather than being restricted to that of their player state. Placing the campaign in context, and despite only four campaign turns, the system has generated around 24 battles all of which have been resolved on the table using DBA. Given there are many more campaign turns ahead it will be interesting to see the campaign history develop.

If you are interested in the most recent campaign turn, covering the period 290 BC to 281 BC, you can find it here. If you are interested in additional background, visit the Empire Campaign Page.

A Numidian Outing

Each year one of the locals organises the DBA Open over a couple of weekends. Now after a very busy few months I was really looking forward to a competition which I wasn’t organising. As part of my strategy of doing “something different” I opted for an army that was a little out of my regular selection. In particular I opted to use my Numidians.

The Numidians were originally formed as an ally for my old DBM Polybian Romans. But of course I long ago moved away the DBM and never adopted FOG – don’t get me started! Instead they were organised for DBA where they occasionally received an outing. With the DBA 3.0 army lists bringing in some minor changes a couple of additional stands needed to be painted. Recently, with the DBA Open coming up, I finally organised myself and a paint brush…

A couple of test games before the “Open” of course went terribly wrong so it was with a degree of trepidation that I headed to the local club on Sunday. If you are interested in reading of their stumbling performance I’ve posted a short summary of the Numidians at the DBA Open on my Ancients blog.

BBDBA Comparisons

Last night we managed another Big Battle DBA game. As I mentioned previously I was particularly interested as it came just two days after a 300 point game of DBMM creating an opportunity to compare the two rule sets. In addition, as we used similar armies, both based on Hellenic Successor states, comparing the two games was even easier.

As to the specific armies, for this latest encounter I deployed a Lysimachid Successor army while my opponent deployed Graeco-Indians. Both armies of course had a core of phalangites and similar mix of supporting troops to our MM game. That said there were some differences as the DBMM lists allow more army composition while DBA armies are generally more restrictive.

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For BBDBA we used a table that was 1.2m wide by 0.6m in depth, which was of a similar width, though narrower, to that we used for DBMM. The most obvious difference was the deployment width of our troops. My phalanx for example while being only five stands wide in MM, though four deep, was now nine stands wide but only two deep. It’s worth noting that the figure scale had changed. While DBMM has a nominal troop scale of 250 men per stand DBA suggests a scale of around 500-600 men per stand. As a result my pike phalanx alone had grown from 5000 men to around 10,000 men. Now to the battle…

The Lysimachus was determined to be the invader, and invading Bactria. We used a slightly modified deployment system with the players recording the relationship of commands to each other after camps were placed but before any troops were placed. The armies deployed symmetrically with heavy foot in the centre and cavalry on each wing, but the Bactrians maintained an advantage in cavalry and elephants, the Lysimachid in heavy foot.

The battle started with the Bactrians, not surprisingly, sweeping forward against the Lysimachid right flank with their Iranian lancers destroying all before them. However, before they could exploit the success the centre and other wings were engaged.

On the Lysimachid left the advancing Thracians and Greek hoplites overcome the Bactrian foot and mounted breaking the Bactrian right flank. A factor here was the smaller Bactrian wing and the higher PIP allocation to the Lysimachid left flank.

Meanwhile the clash continued in the centre. Here, Graeco-Bactrian elephants caused much disorder to friends and foe alike while phalangites pressed forward, each army ebbing and flowing. It was in the centre that the second Graeco-Bactrian general fell, a casualty to the Lysimachid silver shields who surged forward. Yet it was too much, while both armies were nearing exhaustion the Lysimachid centre finally buckled. With it the Lysimachid army broke.

So how did the two games compare. DBMM, without doubt has much greater detail, but this detail comes at a cost of increased complexity. I feel the same aspects are modelled adequtely in DBA. Let’s consider some examples. The Graeco-Bactrian thureophoroi were still superior in combat to the Thracian auxilia and the Bactrian horse still outnumbered the Lysimachids with deadly results. Psiloi played an important part in front of the main phalanx. They disrupted enemy main line or attempted to counter elephants. Yet, they eventually retired through the lines as the phalangites pressed their attacks, just as in DBMM. Then there is the phalangites who swirled back and forth for some time each gaining an advantage, but nothing massive, with the possible exception of the loss of a Graeco-Bactrian general and on the flank of the Lysimachid phalanx which was eventually turned. As casualties mounted command break and demoralisation set in, just as with DBMM. As commands broke commanders struggled to find troops to exploiting success.

From my perspective it was an outstanding game. From turn one I was on the edge of my seat. Clearly out deployed, my army seemed doomed but the game evened out and soon the Graeco-Bactrian commander, who had victory in his grasp one moment was starting to consider defeat as a real possibility.

DBMM has some real strengths, certainly it has significant detail which can be ideal for players seeking this. I will occasionally play DBMM, but the rules are more complex. In contrast the larger DBA 3.0 games capture enough extra challenges and provide further visual spectacle for those players seeking that. I think BBDBA will work well in historical settings which is my main interest, but less well in a competition.

I don’t see BBDBA replacing standard DBA which remains my preferred Ancients game. However, I can see it supplementing it. Of course your requirements or preferences may be different. Either way, we are spoilt for choice.

Empire – A Macedonian & Punic War Campaign

Over the years I’ve run a number of campaigns with the intent of proving tabletop games a strategic backdrop. Some have been very successful, while others have unfortunately been far from optimal. Generally the greater the campaign detail the poorer the tabletop games. Not surprisingly large campaigns, involving a number of players, are the hardest to run.

Perhaps the most frustrating situation is one where a very successful strategic campaign can result in less than optimal table top battles due to unequal forces. For this reason the strategic elements of a campaign can be interesting with the battles resolved by a simple series of die rolls.

In 2009 the Society of Ancients published a boardgame by Phil Sabin called “Empire”. It was released again a few years later with much enhanced graphics as part of the Lost Battles board game package. The maps in this article are from the enhanced boardgame version. During the week I finally managed to play the game. With our game all battles were resolved as part of the game without placing any figures on the table.

So how does the system work? Firstly the board stretches from Spain to India and comprises 22 provinces. The games starts with the rise of Macedonia in 350BC and runs to 150 BC. Each turn, of which there are twenty, represents ten years. There are four player countries. Persia and Carthage which comprise several provinces, while Macedonia and Rome consist of only one province each. The combat mechanics are extremely simple. Each country conducts an attack per turn in random order. The exception is three great commanders who for a short period may conduct five attacks in specified turns. The first is of course Alexander, who in time is followed by Hannibal and finally Scipio Africanus. All attacks are resolved with one or two die rolls modified by a few simple modifiers.

Very briefly in our game Phillip, and then Alexander, were slow to expand Macedonia with multiple attempts to subdue Greece before embarking east in a campaign of conquest. Indeed, Alexander failed to secure Egypt and Bactria never mind advancing to India before his death. His Successors however, despite a number of revolts, did secure Bactria and Egypt over the following decades.

In the east Carthage also struggled to expand into Sicily and Southern Italy, as can be seen below at the end of turn five, around 300BC.

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Revolts in Numidia slowing things further. However Rome was itself slow to grow its influence. This changed around 220BC when first Hannibal the Scipio Africanus appeared on the scene. Yet revolts continued to play their part causing delays at various times. Carthage eventually fell, but recovered and rebuilt its empire. Rome, was now torn between destroying Carthage again, or crossing into Greece to attack the Macedonian Successors who had for 150 years spent most of their military effort subduing revolts, by other Successors, or by the Persian/Parthian rump.

Above, a section of the campaign map in 150BC showing the Carthaginian Empire and the slowly expanding Roman Republic. Rome has recently secured Greece and Macedonia while the Successor States hold Thrace and Illyria. Sicily is independent, again.

From a victory point perspective the Macedonians were a clear winner, in second place was Carthage, who while smaller had grown, lost and regained their empire. Rome was clearly on the rise, but its position in 150BC, was far from where it was historically. An interesting trip through 200 years of history from the conquests of Alexander, the 1st and 2nd Punic Wars and to the Macedonian Wars. and all within two hours.

The Society of Ancients have recently released the original Empire boardgame, which has very basic graphics, unlike the deluxe version I have. Should you be interested in a copy you can find the basic game at the  Society of Ancients website.