Home Forums Ancients the Phalangites of Ur

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  • #33802
    Lagartija Mike
    Spectator

    For reasons that seem to me to be not wholly sensible, rule designers seem squeamish to give Mesopotamian generalissimos the same full complement of brain matter that they accord to any number of empurpled Macedonian thugs. Why shouldn’t the Sumerian spear formations have essentially the same value as the phalanx? They faced similar tactical problems and had the opportunity to develop over a far greater expanse of time against an ample portfolio of enemies.

    #33843
    A Lot of Gaul
    Participant

    I was going to post a reply, but in the end I decided against it. Best of luck in designing your own rule set.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by A Lot of Gaul.

    "Ventosa viri restabit." ~ Harry Field

    #33846
    Lagartija Mike
    Spectator

    Would you have preferred the Einsatzgrupenkommando of Azcapotzalco?

    #33862
    Lagartija Mike
    Spectator

    My argument is that we look on certain military technologies as proprietary to a given group even when a nearly identical technique is deployed by others. How radically different in application is the Roman pilum from the Frankish angon? I think it’s for entirely irrational reasons: as if some pack of Euphratic mugwumps could ever ascend to that special suburb of the ionosphere where the Noble Greek Foreheads cogitate in the clean, pure bluity.

    #33900
    A Lot of Gaul
    Participant

    Okay, I will offer a reply. Just this one time, and against my better judgment.

    In this thread, to which rules designers are you referring? My favourite commercially-produced rulebook for ancients does represent Bronze Age Mesopotamian spearmen as being in a phalanx. It also treats units armed with angons (or soliferra, spicula, plumbatae, etc.) as if they were employing pila. I also don’t believe that my favourite rule set is particularly unique in that regard. So I can only assume that your stated critique is either misinformed, deliberately selective, or simply typical hyperbole intended to drum up interest in a ‘new and different’ rule set.

    Speaking of which, on the one hand you have said that you are striving for “fifty types of armor meticulously graded against weapon types in a coma-inducing detonation of 1000kt granularity,” while on the other you apparently wish to collapse all types of heavy throwing weapons into a single category, and make no distinction between ‘phalangites’ armed with bronze-pointed spears and much later ones bearing pikes with iron/steel points. Those two sets of goals don’t seem very compatible to me, but YMMV.

    I apologize if my comments seem overly harsh. I don’t intend them to be, and that is why I initially chose not to post them at all. As I said previously, I wish you luck in your rules-designing endeavours, and I mean that sincerely. But now I think I am done with these particular conversations – brevior est vita.

    Cheers,
    Scott

    "Ventosa viri restabit." ~ Harry Field

    #33916
    Lagartija Mike
    Spectator

    I can’t address your favorite rule system since, for reasons best known to you, you’ve chosen to retain an air of mystery about them. My argument was less about the degrees of effectiveness between bronze and the generally poor ironwork of the age of the Diadochi (it’s hardly the stuff of Damascus or Toledo, much less in its mass produced product) and more about ethnic and cultural biases lurking in our hobby.

    While my tastes and my rules certainly do run to the granular I wasn’t pimping my rules (which in any case are at least several months from publication), neither was I arguing from them. It was an observation based on as informed a knowledge of Mesopotamian military technology and practices as can be reasonably obtained.

    I’m a little pressed for time but here are a few volumes with relevant information :

    A Political History of Eshnunna, Mari and Assyria during the Early Old Babylonian Period by Yuhong Wu

    The Uruk World System: Dynamics of Expansion by G. Algae

    The Amorites of the Ur III Period by Giorgio Buccellati

    Umma in the Sargonic Period by Benjamin Foster

    Letters to the King of Mari by Wolfgang Heimpel

    …..no one’s idea of comprehensive but a good start.

    #33917
    A Lot of Gaul
    Participant

    Thanks for the references, Mike. Best of luck in your high-minded crusade to root out cultural and ethnic biases from wargaming. 
    As for me, I’ll just get back to painting miniatures and playing games.

    "Ventosa viri restabit." ~ Harry Field

    #33918
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Participant

    Bit passive-aggressive today, aren’t we ALoG?

    Mike, I think your question has merit, but ALoG is also right in that most popularmsule systems I can think of do treat Summerians as pikemen.

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    #33925
    Lagartija Mike
    Spectator

    Thaddeus, you’re right. My op was the result of some bleary, insomniac blog-staring. I do stand behind my statement that there’s a surprising amount of cultural bias in determining the potency of this or that army, tho’. In many ways wargaming, especially in its US iteration, is a kind of cryogenics vault for reactionary personalities.

    #33982
    Steve Burt
    Participant

    There’s lots of cultural bias in wargame rules.

    The ‘Celtic Warband’ is one example; many of the Roman/Celt battles featured the Celts holding out for hours in dense formations, not wildly charging.

    The ‘impetuous knight’ is another; while knights could sometimes charge off without orders (Nicopolis I guess is the canonical example), mostly they didn’t.

    But as others have pointed out, many rules treat a Sumerian phalanx just like any other phalanx, so I’m not quite sure what the basis of the original complaint is.

    #34058
    Lagartija Mike
    Spectator

    Indeed, Steve! Every Nilotic-mud-to-his-crotch Ptolemaic klerouch is automatically a stalwart member of the phalanx, while his Chinese loess-humping brother in military indenture is a quivering gob of testosterone-free Pekinese unmanliness.

    #34227
    chirine ba kal
    Participant

    And people wonder why I got out of historicals and sold everything off.

    http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/

    #34228
    Alvin Molethrottler
    Participant

    I don’t know about cultural bias in wargaming, but what I see (at least as far as Ancients is concerned) are the echoes of the received wisdom handed down by Phil Barker and WRG – the proverbial giant upon who shoulders many dwarfs have stood. Writing rules is easy, writing historical army lists is hard, a short cut around establishing a knowledge base is to use someone else’s lists. Take Impetus for example, some of their lists are, unit for unit, direct copies of lists that can be found in the DBx series of rules. So maybe not so much a cultural thing perhaps more a case of plagiarism?

    #34239
    Noel
    Participant

    There’s lots of cultural bias in wargame rules.

    It all begins with the source material.

    #34253
    Lagartija Mike
    Spectator

    @AMolethrottler: True. And the original 6 and 7th edition WRG lists (and their Warrior descendants) are themselves pretty shaky, especially once you leave Europe behind (though Warrior’s attempt at Mesoamerican lists at least tries, as far as they go, for some depth). Gush’s old Renaissance lists are essentially useless for anything other than Europe, and his Ming list is a triumph of received bias and sloppy scholarship. I’m in the (long) process of compiling lists for my rules and I know how difficult it is, especially when information is rare, incomplete or contradictory (or all three), but if you’re going to take the game seriously (and give a minimum amount of respect to a hill of old, dead people) you need to put in the work.

    @Noel: Also true. But if you’re willing to put some effort into it worthwhile sources are out there for many of even the obscurist peoples.

    #34255
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Wrote a lot of stuff – then binned it and thought… hang on –

    a) (someone else has already asked this) – do any rules unfairly differentiate Ur Phalangites and Macedonian ones?

    and then

    b) Shouldn’t they differentiate them if they don’t?

    I mean – if your (anyone’s – not per se LM) rules are reflecting the historical thing with all its cultural and social input rather than arbitrarily reducing all pikemen to the bit of wood with pointy metal at the end – they should take into account the effects of the soldier’s culture and that of the actual opposition faced, on tactics and general approach to war. If you just say – long pointy sticks in a mob always beat a mob with short pointy sticks it misses quite a lot of the interesting bits of wargaming.

    The problem with most ‘Ancients’ rules is not that they unfairly discriminate against particular weapons types in the ‘wrong’ hands but that they lump all weapons of certain types together over ridiculously long periods of time and use the weapon and not the man(and occasional woman) as the deciding factor.

    Yep, Ur phalangites were probably brill (do we know?) but around a long time before Alex and his boys started being heavily propagandised as paragons of Western virtue. Can we compare them? Bit difficult really – were Sumerian Pike/long spear responsible for Sumerian supremacy? Or was it effective agriculture allowing spare capacity to build a group of warriors not committed to full time food production? I dunno – do you? Not being sarcastic, its not my period so I really don’t know.

    Lots of good stuff in a simple question but not really about what the question asked up front I think.

    As for Greek vs the Land between two rivers cultures – of course the former gets a bizarrely positive spin and the latter a grossly unfair negative spin – but that’s European hegemony in historical writing for at least a couple of hundred years. Revisionism obviously not helped by current geopolitical events but worth looking at.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 3 months ago by Guy Farrish.
    #34283
    Lagartija Mike
    Spectator

    Guy, part of the problem with dissecting Mesopotamian military practices is the illusion that the word “Mesopotamian” means anything exact, and the immense gulf of time these cultures occupy. The terminal Babylonian and Assyrian dynasties retain terms and forms from the earliest periods but, in most cases, this signifies as little as, say, the mock Georgian architectural monstrosities of Washington DC does about the US relationship to the age of the Principiate.

    #34304
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Mike

    Absolutely.

    I used the term ‘Mesopotamian’ principally because you did, and I needed a quick catch-all term. I am under no illusion that the military experience of Ur of 2,700BC was the same as that of Nineveh of 700BC.

    I avoided ‘Ancient’ gaming for years, principally because I had little real idea of what went on (and, various ‘expert’ speculation notwithstanding, I believed nobody else did either). Thought experiments suggested a lot of ‘Ancient’ battles were basically ‘wind em up and let em go’ and I didn’t see much tabletop ‘gaming’ interest in that. Other types of ‘ancient’ wargaming offered more interest, but I am not sure how much historical veracity they offered either. How much insight does a group of 20th century (as was when I tried this) middle class white western Europeans in a committee format or a role playing scenario, offer into the activities of 1st Century BC Gauls or 3rd Millennium BC Akkadians.

    The further back in time you go the less certain we are of the important influences on how and when to give battle and what happened when different groups of armed men met. People have extrapolated back from modern military dicta and some have even used psychological and anthropological profiling to attempt an insight into the universal human condition of men in close combat.* Fascinating though the deliberations have been, I remain to be convinced that they offer much to improve the accurate gaming experience on a tabletop.

    Is that a counsel of despair regarding ancient wargaming? Personally I suspect it is. Anything before the Early Medieval/Late Roman Empire period feels pretty much like an absolute straight game of toy soldiers with a paper scissor stone (possibly Lizard, Spock for aficionados) approach to battle. You can stretch the period back for some Roman battles where there is more written evidence but then there is only one side writing the propaganda.

    In a period that encompasses Ur to Nineveh in terms of time and geography how do you successfully transpose the fighting qualities of different peoples, states and cultures to another time and place (Macedonian Alexandrian) and compare the two? There is so much in terms of societal expectation and organisation that we can only speculate about which influenced military affairs. How do we compare performance against different enemies?

    There is a desire, probably born of the early days of ‘Ancient’ wargaming to allow imaginary battles between non-contemporaneous opponents. Many rules do this but what does that give us? A universal accurate rule set? Or an abstraction to the nth degree that provides a prettier version of chess that tells us nothing of the actual wars of either period?

    Of course people may want simply a prettier version of chess. That is okay, but then the rules are not really open to criticism that they diminish Sumerian generals/phalangites. Such rules diminish all cultures by reducing their forces to interchangeable colourless ciphers.

    Perhaps all wargames do this, but the longer the period purportedly represented the more likely they are to be guilty of it.

    Guy

    * Off the top of my head:

    Hanson: ‘The Western Way of War’ and Grossman:’On Killing’.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 3 months ago by Guy Farrish.
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