Home Forums Ancients Massed archers in ancients…

This topic contains 13 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by Sane Max Sane Max 3 days, 10 hours ago.

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  • #114591
    Autodidact-O-Saurus
    Autodidact-O-Saurus
    Participant

    So in an addled state of mind I ordered some Gallic and Cretan archers to round out my Gauls and Romans. For some reason I was thinking the rules I’m likely going to use (Impetus/Age of Hannibal/ maybe others) used units of massed archers for these armies. I was wrong. Both pretty much treat archers as skirmishers with some minor differences.

    But then I got to thinking… why was I assuming these armies would use masses of archers? Sure, in Persian and other eastern armies, probably. But I don’t recall ever reading of dedicated massed archer units in Gallic, Carthaginian or early Roman armies. Maybe in some of the eastern Diodochi armies, but I’m not too sure about that even. Maybe I’ve read about it somewhere and forgotten the source? (That happens more often than I care to admit.)

    Do other ancients players (as opposed to ancient players) incorporate archers in anything other than slightly altered skirmishers?

     

    Self taught, persistently behind the times, never up to date. AKA ~ jeff
    More verbosity: http://petiteguerre.blogspot.com/

    #114595

    zippyfusenet
    Participant

    ‘Ancients’ is a pretty broad label. I think your classical armies are too late for massed archery. My ANE Bronze Age/Iron I armies are perfect for it. I recently staged a Nubian/Egyptian game, set c. 1650 BC, where more than half the Egyptian army was bow-armed, and nearly the entire Kushite host were medium or light archers. That was a very shooty game.

    The bow was the capital weapon of the neolithic. Every hunter/warrior could make a set for himself out of found materials, and develop great skill from childhood by shooting arrows at dinner. The basic combat tactic was to slow your foe down by sticking him with an arrow or two, then beat his skull in with a wooden club and dance home with his scalp, or his whole head.

    The simple bow with stone-tipped arrows persisted long into the Bronze Age as the weapon of tribesmen and peasant militias, fighting in mass formations. Bronze was scarce and expensive. Noble lords and professional soldiers could wield a great bronze-headed spear and protect themselves with bronze armor. The common herd usually made do with wooden and stone weapons.

    Iron is heavier than bronze, volume for volume. Iron rusts, dulls and bends more easily than bronze, unless it’s tempered into expensive high-grade steel. The big advantage of iron over bronze is that iron ore is common nearly everywhere, so once the smiths learn to smelt iron ore and forge the metal, it’s possible to mass-produce cheap, inferior but still effective weapons.

    The Assyrians could equip a whole army with cheap, heavy, high-maintenance iron spear-heads, swords, armor and helmets. Stone arrow points are mostly ineffective against iron armor, so massed archery went out of style. And that’s the state of your Gauls and Romans.

    If you want massed bows, you need to pick armies that comprise mainly naked guys in diapers.

    You'll shoot your eye out, kid!

    #114597
    Rod Robertson
    Rod Robertson
    Participant

    AOSaurus:

    I play with three ancient armies that have massed bow units in significant numbers. The first is my New Kingdom Egyptian army which has 14 stands of massed archers (as well as archer skirmishers and chariot runners). They are a real,pain for the Hittites who have virtually no bow capacity. They also do a number on my Middle Kingdom Assyrians.

    Next is my Neo-Elamite army which fights my Neo-Assyrian Empire and Skythian armies. This army has 66 stands of massed bowmen including 36 stands of poor quality bowmen, 6 stands of excellent bowmen and 24 stands of flat-top cart mounted (kallapani) bow. They can do a number on mounted armies but must always be very careful about close-order infantry attacks.

    The final massed bow army is my Neo-Babylonian army which has 24 stands (double mounted) of mixed spear and bow units and can stand up to mounted attacks and to all but the most powerful foot attacks.

    My Skythians have 12 stands of massed but inferior foot archers, I only remembered that now.  Crap, I also just remembered that my Neo-Assyrian Empire army has an allied contingent with 12 stands of inferior Midianites massed foot bowmen. So it is really five and not three armies with massed archers.

    Cheers.

    Rod Robertson.

     

    #114604
    Ochoin
    Ochoin
    Participant

    Like Rod, my NKE have several units of medium infantry archers. Their opponents (the Mycenaeans & Hittites) have 1 or 2 smaller units of MI archers.

    But, in FoG, missile weapons are not that effective. You’d be surprised how often the NKE fire at their charging opponents with little or no effect. Then, when the armoured spearmen or swordsmen close for assault, there are dead Egyptian archers everywhere. Or they run away first. Either way, it makes the NKE the ‘easy beats’ of my troika.

    However, if there’s sufficient room for manoeuvre, the light chariots with bow armed crew can cause problems. The Hittites have a small, skirmish archer unit that always seems to punch above its weight & cause problems for their foes. And my Mycs have two Defensive Spear units (9 bases each!) with a third rank of archers. These add dice when an enemy, foolishly, tries to charge into them.

    Archery is really a mixed bag. Never a game winner but it has some potential.

     

    donald

     

     

     

    #114617
    Sane Max
    Sane Max
    Participant

    If your Romans are anything earlier than the Dominate, your archers would indeed be a fairly minor presence. I have no memory of Gauls using specifically Bow-armed fighting units either.

    In some rules, a lot of archers can really mess stuff up. in WAB for example, we made the terrible mistake of pointing out to the chap who used classical indians that his archers were both ‘cheap’ and effective. He bought hundreds of the things and no-one would play him 🙂 That was not a function of the period, but of a poorly thought out army list. There was also a (moderately famous at the time) case of a chap who, raised as a Warhammer Fantasy Player, designed his army list by max-minning it, and turned up to a 2000 point tournament with a (iirc) Norman Army containing 160 skirmishing Crossbows. He was about as popular as nits.

    In common with Ochoin, my only ‘massed archer’ armies are Biblical – Egyptians, Assyrians etc This makes sense for the NKE – the standard Egyptian hand to hand fighter in most lists is a very basic fighter, and an archer can stand to go toe-to-toe with him if he has to, with some chance of success. Once the Greeks worked out how to deal with hordes of archers things changed fast i guess. Oh, and if you stretch ancients – I have WotR armies with a lot or Longbows, and they are interesting.

    The other thing that changes a lot is the rules. In WAB or similar, archery is far more powerful than in games like Warmaster Ancients, or Hail Caesar, which I play a lot now.

    *Edit* I forgot my Almoravids for the El Cid period. They have quite a lot of archers, mostly as the rear-rank of spear units, which gives them some hope of surviving at the cost of reduced bow-fire. When I used archer-only units they got chopped up pretty fast.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 3 days ago by Sane Max Sane Max.
    #114625

    OB
    Participant

    Vercingetorix put out a call across Gaul for archers to report for duty.  They duly did so.  We know this because Julius Caesar mentions it.  The archers were there but hadn’t previously mustered so you might guess they were not the cream of the Gallic army.  That said there is no reason to suppose that other Gallic leaders didn’t use units of archers when it suited them.  Skirmishers or formed troops?  No one knows.

    OB
    http://withob.blogspot.co.uk/

    #114632
    willb
    willb
    Participant

    As mentioned Indian armies used a lot of massed archers.  The Achaemenid Persian armies that fought the Greek city states also used a lot of close order archers prior to the time of Alexander the Great.  The Seleucids at Raphia had massed units of Arabs and Asiatic light infantry, though these may have been mixed units of archers, slingers, and men armed with javelins.  At Magnesia they had about 25,000 light infantry as a skirmish screen.  Again many of them were mixed units of slingers and archers.   In the western Mediterranean and Gaul archers were used as skirmishers in limited numbers.  Hannibal had 8000 light infantry, almost all of them armed with javelins.  Republican Roman armies relied on their legions and Latin Ala (which were probably similar to Roman legions by the time they fought Hannibal).  They did have local allied forces with them in Spain, North Africa, Greece, and Asia Minor during their conquest of the Mediterranean, but very few of them were archers.   There were also a few elephants with them in Greece and Asia Minor.  Julius Caesar did use Gallic cavalry and light infantry skirmishers, but most of his men were in the legions.

    #114657
    Steve Burt
    Steve Burt
    Participant

    Early Achemenid Persian armies feature massed archers, and of course so do Parthian and Sassanid ones, just the archers are on horseback.

    If you want a Western European example the Picts use crossbows quite a bit.

    In fact most Middle-Eastern and Asian armies made extensive use of the bow. Possibly the European climate played a part in the lack of composite bows, at least until the late Medieval period and all those Welsh and English longbows.

    #114680
    MartinR
    MartinR
    Participant

    When I think of massed archers I think of Persians or Indian Armies. My imperial Romans do have some auxiliary Eastern archer units, partly because HaT  do the figure:)

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #114707
    Sane Max
    Sane Max
    Participant

    Now we can talk about slings 🙂

    #114732
    Ochoin
    Ochoin
    Participant

    Now we can talk about slings 🙂

     

    Not quite yet…..

    My Punic War armies (again, using FoG) reflect the OP’s comments on archers.

    I’ve always thought this reflected the better armour of the period (contrasted with the Bronze Age) and the relatively poor bows available.

    No?

     

    donald

    #114751
    Autodidact-O-Saurus
    Autodidact-O-Saurus
    Participant

    Interesting discussion.

    So, from a meta-history standpoint, would it be a fair assessment to say that the widespread adoption of iron technology gave an edge to defence which made bronze age massed archery obsolete? Consequently, what I’m thinking is that in middle-eastern and Indian armies–which I picture with lots of unarmored infantry–massed archery remained an effective offensive tactic. In Asian steppe armies–comprised of a lot of cavalry with unarmored horses and infantry–archery also remained effective. It’s not really until the development of the crossbow and the longbow–with increased penetrative power–that archery regains an offensive advantage in the west. Though that’s relatively short lived due to development of firearms.

    On second thought, maybe that’s giving too much credit to iron. Classical and Hellenistic Greece would seem to prove differently. I don’t think most of their armor was iron. Mostly layered linen and bronze–technology that would (theoretically) have been available during the bronze age. Hmmm…. Maybe just defensive technology in general with iron being the more common material outside Hellenistic culture.

    Self taught, persistently behind the times, never up to date. AKA ~ jeff
    More verbosity: http://petiteguerre.blogspot.com/

    #114764

    zippyfusenet
    Participant

    The first two sentences of your second paragraph is the argument I posted. Of course I was painting with broad brush-strokes, and there are nuances and exceptions, shmaybe even contradictions to my argument.

    The hoplite heavy infantryman, fighting in a deep shieldwall (phalanx), was well-protected against archery. Even though his armor and helmet were bronze, this style of soldier didn’t develop until Iron I. I can’t explain why. Earlier Bronze Age spearmen, less well armored, but helmeted and using tower shields, should also have been able to fend off archery. I don’t know why that phalanx style of fighting wasn’t more widespread and effective…maybe it required more drill and training than tribal or peasant militias possessed. The Sumerian cities fielded pikemen in phalanx, but that tactical system went out of use with the rise of the light chariot. Egyptian spearmen may have fought in phalanx, although bearing small shields and lightly armored. Minoans and early Mycenaeans fielded spearmen with tower shields, but it isn’t clear to me if they fought in phalanx, and the tower shield seems to have fallen out of use in the Late Bronze Age.

    The compound bow was a game-changer, especially when paired with metal, armor-piercing arrow-heads; these could defeat armor and kill armored warriors. Maryannu charioteers used this weapon from an early date; some experts think it was the principle offensive weapon of the chariot arm. However, in the ANE the compound bow and armor-piercing arrows were rare, expensive and only available to elite warriors. What is interesting is that the use of the compound bow later becomes very widespread among the horse-archers of central Asia. Such compound bow armed cavalry could be effective in combat until the era of gunpowder weapons.

    You'll shoot your eye out, kid!

    #115102
    Sane Max
    Sane Max
    Participant

    The hoplite heavy infantryman, fighting in a deep shieldwall (phalanx), was well-protected against archery. Even though his armor and helmet were bronze, this style of soldier didn’t develop until Iron I. I can’t explain why. Earlier Bronze Age spearmen, less well armored, but helmeted and using tower shields, should also have been able to fend off archery.

    I always assumed that armour, while important, was less significant than method. The Hoplites RAN into battle at Marathon. That may be Hyperbole, but it suggests a greater level of aggression. The Persian archers expected the enemy to give them the chance to hurt them with their massed bowfire, maybe because as you say, mostly peasant milita would have been hesitant to close to combat.

    The Wars of the Roses era interests me in this regard. I am coming to suspect the real strength of Ye Olde English Longbow was less its over-mythologised wondrousness as a weapon, and more that the man using it was happy to get stuck into combat when the enemy closed (and would have had the muscular power to cause some serious harm when he did, pulling those bows all day!)

    I think you are right about Sumerians and Minoans… but I would hesitate to call them phalanxes. The enormous shields scream ‘Pavise’ to me, so a static, defensive style of warfare. The Phalanx’s winning point was it was an aggressive form. The little shield, the sketchy armour – you can’t hang around getting shot at by massed bows (i have always been dubious that the vertical pikes would be THAT good against arrows). You get stuck in, and once you have done it to the enemy a few times, they start to learn, and either recruit hoplite mercenaries or try to create their own.

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