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Ancients wargaming, verse 3

Record of a unique event - with nary a uniform reenactor anywhere

The following is likely an altogether familiar problem if you're a reenactor or wargamer, a historical illustrator, or a publisher of a magazine like Ancient Warfare for that matter. It's the problem of translating fragmented narrative and archaeological sources into a concrete, complete re-creation of a person from antiquity. At some point, you're going to have to make decisions about dress, equipment, colors, and everything else. You can't reenact, say, a third-century Roman triarius without deciding whether you're going to wear the traditional Apulo-Corinthian helmet or not. The tunic of your Macedonian minis will have to be painted some color (yes, I'm in the school that minis should always be painted to see the table), and we can't leave something out of an illustration just because we don't have evidence for that particular [fill in the blank]. You get the point.

It's hard enough to do so for one soldier, but what about an entire unit? As wargamers, we kinda have to paint more than a single figure to get a phalanx/maniple/cohort on the table. I'm entirely willing to admit I'm overthinking things, but I can't avoid considering whether all soldiers in such a unit would look the same. Do you worry about such things? Obviously, it's much faster to paint all miniatures exactly the same; just setup an assembly line and go. Does the result look right to you though? Does it feel historical, knowing what we know about the production of the original items? Even if there was some kind of standardization, the equipment and dress of ancient armies was probably not as consistent as what we see on modern soldiers.

Sometimes these questions distract me from painting, but maybe I'm slightly too involved in all this Ancient Warfare stuff, and I should just lighten up. After all, Spring is finally here!

4 thoughts on “Ancients wargaming, verse 3”

  • Stephen Ede-Borrett
    Stephen Ede-Borrett May 9, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    A problem that affects wargaming in more than Ancients. English Civil War and Thirty Years War periods have excatly the same problems - the problem with the former being massively exaggerated by the Fredician uniformity of many reenactment units which gets reflected on the wargame table...

    • Rob Goodyer

      I like to paint figures with a mixture of tones, textures and shades as it builds realism into the unit. As a professional Miniatures painter I've had a lot of practice painting civilian clothing, and I feel this gives the biggest challenge to creating a natural look. Over the years I've developed a process, which I find works really well with Ancients too. It's a fun and simple mix of Art, Maths and a bit of colour theory!

      Before you start painting, choose the main colours you want for the figures. It's always best to avoid choosing the basing colour, but apart from that it can be any colour from your reference material. Once you have that colour, say 'blue', then use the colour wheel to choose colours next to it. This may be green-blue and purple-blue. You can then add tone with black and white, so you may have light blue and dark blue. This collection of colours are your 'main' colours.

      Get all your figures in a row, and work out a few ratios for each 'main' colour. Also choose what you would like to paint first. For example, 'I'll paint one jacket in three purple-blue'. Once you've reached the end of the line, start again with a different colour, different ratio, and paint the jackets. Once all the jackets are done, mix the line of figures around, choose a different main colour and repeat with a different item of clothing.

      Its also worth mentioning you may have some rules before you start painting. These may be 'I will never paint a figure wholly in one colour, even if the ratios create that combination'. For example, you may paint a jacket green-blue, then when doing the trousers, you fall on the same figure for green-blue.

      I've learnt that with every rule you make there should be some exception, to keep it as realistic as possible. Yes, people wearing one tone of clothes is really rare and looks a little strange, but if you 'people watch' with a coffee in your local cafe I bet you'll spot a handful! Sometimes keeping to rules creates an overall unnatural look, especially if you are talking of 100+ figures.

      I would always recommend keeping a few items the same colour in each unit, like the leathers, wood or metals. This makes it more pleasing to the eye and brings the unit together. It can be tempting to make everything different and everything weathered, but in my experience it makes the figures way too 'busy'.

      I find this topic really interesting and exciting so I'm glad there is debate and uncertainty, it keeps it all alive!

    • Jasper Oorthuys
      Jasper Oorthuys May 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      Good point Stephen, though considering how few members most reenactment groups generally have, one wonders how much 'uniformity' should be expected.

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