More on Allan Massie

3 September, 2016

I’ve now finished the Robert Harris trilogy on Cicero. It was very good, but it pales in comparison to Allan Massie’s books. I read his Augustus next, and loved it. Augustus is the narrator, and it is in two halves. The first he narrates to his grandsons Gaius and Lucius. It is optimistic; the second is narrated towards the end of his life and is much more gloomy. Massie paints a picture of somebody who is keen to present his legacy as a service to Rome; he has Augustus’ Res Gestae for this. He presents somebody who is perhaps not so self-aware as he thinks, as comes out when his dynastic plans go awry. Comments from Maecenas and Livia are particularly revealing.

I’d have to read Robert Graves’ I Claudius again (I read it as a teenager), but I think Massie’s portrayal of Livia is probably more believable. She’s a proud Claudian, not shy of reminding Augustus that she deigned to marry down to him!

One of the strengths of Massie’s books is that you very much get the perspective of the narrator, and it is biased. The scene he describes of the forging of the second triumvirate is similar in Augustus to in Mark Antony, which I’m reading now, but the differences are revealing. Augustus justifies himself, while Antony won’t talk of it, and it’s described by his secretary, Critias. I’ve not put the two scenes alongside each other, but the description of discussion of the proscription is modified.

Massie describes Mark Antony very favourably. His biggest failing is his sense of honour (something Ronald Syme suggests too). He would have been best to have crushed Octavian while he had the upper hand, but is described as having given his word, and therefore was not willing to do this. Massie’s description of Antony’s relationship with Marcus Brutus is fascinating; he gives a context for why Antony described Brutus as the noblest Roman at his funeral.

The varied takes on Brutus in the three books I’ve read by Massie so far are a nice illustration of how well he gets into the persona of his narrators. Mark Antony’s sympathy for Brutus contrasts with the antipathy, for different reasons, of Augustus and Decimus Brutus in the two earlier books.

Meanwhile, I have all the figures for the Thapsus BBDBA army. They are all primed and waiting to be painted. The Numidians are close to being done, and the Xyston Gauls and Spanish will mix nicely with the CB ones. It helps that I’m using CB shields. Plans to go to Conquest are also advancing. I had a couple of games of DBA with Nick a couple of weeks ago. We had a Marian Roman civil war, where his Romans with an elephant were undone by my use of Armenian cataphracts (and some good dice). My Seleucids against his Ptolemaics was the reverse, where my PIP dice were cripplingly low; the elephant and the scythed chariot are not forgiving of such dice. It was only that Nick had average combat dice that allowed me to hang around for as long as I did.

What got me thinking of fielding a Marian Roman army for BBDBA was reading Allan Massie’s novel Caesar. It’s narrated by Decimus Brutus, one of Caesar’s lieutenants and one of the conspirators. It examines the motives of the aristocracy in that period sensitively and intelligently. I particularly liked the way Massie described Decimus Brutus’ changing opinion of the choices Labienus made. Initially he’s derided as an overprincipalled clown, but later as the necessity for assassination grows in Brutus’ mind he is sympathetic to Labienus; there is also a fictional letter to Brutus from Labienus explaining why he supported Pompey, recognising him as the lesser of two evils and one that he thought he might be able to control better.

I’d like to read the rest of Massie’s novels on the figures of this period — Mark Antony, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero’s Heirs, but I can’t get the books from Google Play to my Nook; until I can I won’t buy more. Instead I’ve been finishing Robert Harris’ series narrated by Cicero’s slave then freedman, Tiro. I’ve finished the first two books, Imperium and Lustrum (or Conspirata) and am just starting on the last Dictator. The portrayal of Cicero is believable, and his take on Caesar is one that I agree with.

Anyway, it was while reading Massie that I thought that I could happily field an army led by either the Republican resistance to Caesar, or the Liberators who delivered extrajudicial justice to the tyrant. The Thapsus army has the advantage of allowing a Numidian ally and lots of elephants to bolster the Roman blade against opponents with knights. I’ve had the Numidians waiting to be painted for a while, and I had a Freikorps Carthaginian elephant that has a Numidian mahout; I’ll get two more for the maximum pachydermal goodness. I was pleased to read in the continuation of Caesar’s Civil War commentaries that Labienus had Gallic cavalry with him at Thapsus, so that’s an incentive to get more of my Gallic cavalry painted to enable Labienus to restore the Republic to its former virtue, guided by the moral vision of Cato the Younger.


6 August, 2016

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on this blog. Recently I was reminded that Conquest was coming up at the end of this year; Keith’s planning a new format with some BBDBA for the last day. It’s got me motivated to see what I could field if I were to attend. I don’t have enough figures for any army to be made up of 36 elements from one list. I’d need to field 24 elements from one list and take an ally. This precludes taking a successor army, which is a pity, as pike are better with solid wings, something they struggle to get in normal DBA. At this stage I’ve got a few armies I’m looking at:

The Republican army at Thapsus led by Scipio and Labienus and aided by their ally the Numidian Juba. I’m painting the Numidians now, and I’m looking at rebasing Spanish to make enough 4Ax. Otherwise, I’m pretty much able to field this army. I would look to get a few more elephants, though. I’m not normally a big fan of Roman armies, but the any that resisted the tyrant Caesar is OK, especially with honourable leaders such as Labienus and Cato the Younger.

Another army is a Mithridatic one with an Armenian ally. I’d need to paint a bit more to get this one ready. It’d have two solid wings of light horse and auxilia, a centre of blade or pike and enough knights to be a threat.

I could also put together a Syracusan army with a Carthaginian ally.

Anyway, along with getting these armies ready, I’m reluctantly planning to rebase my Gauls as 4Wb; I’m hoping I can get some rather nice looking Xyston Gallic foot nobles to mix in with the Corvus Belli ones to add some further presence to each element. I also have plenty of Gallic cavalry to look at painting. Perhaps they could be another BBDBA army!

DBA in Auckland

19 January, 2014

  • Auckland City Guard
  • Last Sunday I caught up with Joel and John at the Auckland City Guard for some DBA. We used DBA 2.2. In the first game I got my Syracusans out against Joel’s new Carthaginians. It was a close game, but Joel pipped me 4-3. The second game we combined armies for a Big Battle DBA game: John and I led Gauls against Joel’s Marian Romans with Spanish allies. As defenders we deployed first. Our choice of open terrain in the centre with massed cavalry didn’t work. Our die-rolling was pretty shocking too – a humiliating defeat. The massed effect looked great, though, and attracted notice. I hope to get to that club regularly this year.

  • Painting
  • Those games inspired me to get my paints out again. I’ve got four camps that are nearly done out to finish, and seven stands of Successor  pike.

  • DBA 3.0
  • On Thursday Joel came over for a couple of games of DBA 3.0. He’s played that version a lot recently. I’ve not looked at it in ages. We tried my Seleucids (ll/19d) against his Marians for the Kn-Bd dynamics. It was close, as I lost my right wing to his cavalry. My general destroyed some legionaries, but I clinched the game by flanking his foot general with my imitation legionaries. The general had pursued beyond the support of a unit on his flank.

    I enjoyed the pursuing blades and pikes, though I wonder about blades against knights.

    The second game was my Prefeudal Scots against Joel’s Vikings. This was fun as the Scots now have Fast Pike. It was a game I lost on the flanks, as my light horse failed to sack the camp. However, I’m inspired to paint a Wb general for this army pike-supported double-ranked Wb could be very nasty,  though a LH and a Ps for the wings is a bit light!

    I liked the fast pike designation for the Scots. I’m keen to rebase my Welsh now. The 1066 period has become interesting again. Overall, I liked the way DBA 3.0 played.

  • SBH
  • While searching out the figures for my Wb general, I got out some Normans for a SBH warband. These are Essex foot and Khurasan mounted. The painting table is getting crowded!

    P.S. my 200th post!

    Marians Romans ready to go

    9 December, 2011

    Marian Romans ready for a campaign in the east.

    I’m very pleased to get a Marian Roman army finished in under a week. It was one that I bought painted in the middle of this year. However, I had to rebase it and reorganize the foot, as there were too many command figures for my liking. I suspect it was the start of an army for a larger set of rules that didn’t get finished and was turned into a fairly rough and ready DBA army. I had to get some more figures for it and some standards. I decided to use some Gladiator Hellenistics for the auxiliary troops. When I first got these I was really unimpressed with the mounted figures, but on closer inspection and after painting them, I really like them, and I think they go with the Freikorp figures very well. In fact, I want to get some of their unshielded Hellenistic cavalry for my Early Successor armies.

    The foot commander flanked by two of his centurions.

    To finish off the legionaries, I had to paint four more figures. Only one of these was a legionary, the others were a commander and two centurions. I was able to space out the excess command figures by using two musicians on the command element and then having a standard bearer on three of the other elements. There were also four centurions spread amongst the legions, so only one element didn’t have a command figure of some sort!

    From the rear.

    The legionaries have two shield patterns. I only had to paint two more to bring the army up to the right number.

    The four elements of the first pattern. Spot the two shields I painted!

    The other four elements.

    The auxiliaries are all recruited from the same area. The foot are Hellenistic slingers, archers and thureophoroi. They seem appropriate for an army off to face Mithridates!

    The auxilary foot, slingers, archers and thureophoroi.

    The mounted are Illyrians and Macedonians; the command element are more Roman looking; and I think that general is the personality figure Julius Caesar. I guess he can have a go at my Gauls some time!

    Mounted options, Illyrians, command and Macedonians.

    I painted the shield designs by hand to match the rest of the army; they’re fairly rough, but look OK from a distance. I particularly like the Illyrian shields, as they are salvaged from other figures; one is an Essex hoplon, the other was a Gallic shield, I think, but I cut it down.

    Another angle.

    I used a variant on the wreath pattern of the legionary shields for the command element. I figured attempts to tidy them would only make them worse, so they were done fairly fast.

    From the rear.

    I’m quite pleased with colours for the cloaks, though I’m not sure how accurately the correction for contrast by Picasa renders them.

    There is also an Army Page for this army now.

    I almost forgot! I did a camp for this army! It’s a OG15 tent; once I hacksawed off the base it’s rather good.

    Roman camp with space for a garrison. No evidence of guards or a palisade!

    The figures and equipment are OG15s, while the mule is Essex. This has got me started on doing a few more camps (leaving three elements of Imitation Legionaries and six of pike waiting longer!).

    From the rear.

    Pontic Imitation Legionaries and the first of the Marians.

    The Mithridatics are a bit closer now with the first of their imitation legionaries done. The blue shields are imitation legionaries, the red shields are Marians. These are Freikorp figures; For the imitation legionaries two on each element are Marians, one of an older vintage, and one each of the newer ones. The other two are Hellenistic thorakitai with scuta instead of thurioi and pila from the old vintage Marians. As mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve used VVV transfers, which I think look pretty effective.

    The Marians have a centurion, two of the new vintage figures, and one of the old ones. I plan to have a centurion on each element, for colour, but also as they were so significant to the functioning of the legions. I’ll probably do pairs of shield designs for them, so that there will be some four ‘legions’ in the DBA army.

    I think the figures look pretty neat, though I missed some major flash on some of the new figures; it’s very prominent on one of their faces!

    From the side.

    Now I’ve got these figures done, I just need to do the three elements of Ptolemaic and Seleucid imitation legionaries, who have thurioi. Then I can field later versions of these armies, as well as the Mithridatic option of five 4Bd.

    The other side.

    The Marians should be pretty quick to do now that I’ve established that these transfers work, though whether they’re next on the to do is another question.

    From the rear.

    After the Ptolemaic and Seleucid imitation legionaries, I could do some more pike; they’re all prepped; it’s just I’ve scuttled off onto other projects. And I could still be tempted to do Bruttians, again prepped, or Numidians instead of these pike. There are also some camps to be done when the mood takes me!

    A couple of shields

    26 November, 2011

    I decided to put shields on my Pontic light horse, as by this period most cavalry used them. Following the good advice of the Teenage Visigoth, ‘use what you’ve got, rather than dreaming about what you could have’, I gave them a pair of bucklers that were the best size for them I had. As I didn’t want to draw attention to the shields especially, I gave them fairly ordinary colours. These were also extra quick, as I didn’t clean or undercoat them. They got one colour and the boss was bare metal; then I gave them a wash and glued them.

    A pair of shields for the Pontic cavalry.

    I’ve also started painting the shields of the Pontic imitation legionaries and the Marian Romans. These are VVV Early Imperial Roman designs. Both the designs needed a little trimming to fit. Some of the shields are on older Freikorp figures and noticeably cruder in terms of their bosses, but this shouldn’t show up too much.

    Marian Romans (red shields) and Pontic imitation legionaries (blue shields).