Thursday, 10 January 2013

Rebuilding suburban Antioch

As part of my new project, I need to put together an ancient streetscape. Not being one to shrink from an interesting challenge, I spent much of today starting the construction work; the aim, to build a suburb of Late Hellenistic Antioch. I seldom have days when I can indulge so much but I'm still off work until next week, today Hotspur the Younger started at his new preschool and I happened to have a birthday which meant that Mrs Hotspur was happy enough to let me skulk around the house and play with sharp knives.

I have spent several happy weeks in and around Antakya (modern Antioch) as part of mid-season breaks while digging in Syria so I have a real enthusiasm for this project. However modern Antioch, for all of its charms, is more than 10 metres above the ancient city due to successive earthquakes, floods and a couple of thousand years of continuous occupation. That means that while I have some great source photos to base my   streetscape on, none of it is reflective of the city that I want on the table top.

Indeed, while several Roman period structures have been excavated - and have produced some great mosaics - there is very little known about the physical Hellenistic city. About the only visible presence is the Charonian, a monumental head carved into Mount Silpios which was at one time identified as Charon, ferryman of the dead, was probably meant to represent Atargatis, the Syrian Mother Goddess, and is now erroneously refereed to as Miriam (Mary the Virgin) by the locals.

The Charonian

Roman mosaic

So where does that leave me and my project I hear you ask? The answer of course, is at great liberty to construct Hellenistic Antioch as it may have been, or as someone who once passed through there as a boy remembered it in his old age. There will be a mix of generic Middle Eastern style flat roofed buildings, with any public structures (a stoa, a shrine, a nymphaion perhaps) and larger houses having more of a Greek influence with pitched roofs and tiles. I am going to avoid famous structures which might get me into difficulties and concentrate of reconstructing a suburb.

The table will be 2"x2" or there abouts with a paved street running down the centre and free standing structures which can be moved around to create different steet/alley/lane layouts. I sat down the other evening and did some sums and I believe that the key will be creating all of my structures to have a standard footprint which they may not fill, but mustn't exceed. To start with I'll plan on making:

Two structures to fill 20x20cm foot prints - these will certainly be a stoa with a royal equestrian statue and a small temple - probably to Apollo.

Four structures to fill 20x10cm footprints - perhaps a nymphaion, larger houses, multi story insulae.

Six structures to fill a 10x10cm footprint - smaller houses, workshops, taverns etc.

I don't think I'll manage to do a continuous work-in-progress as I imagine that this project will take me well through the Summer (at least) to make and paint. Here are just a few shots of the first two structures being made. I started with a couple of simple 10x10s, a house and a small tavern... I wasn't so good at keeping to my 10x10cm rule. The house measures 10.3x10cm, and the tavern is 10.3x7cm. Still, pretty good for a first go.

The small balsa pile - I'm using 3mm thick panels to create the walls and roofs of my structures

Pinning (literally) and gluing the house's annex - 15mm civilians for scale

The annex completed with the main building undergoing the same treatment; thin strips of balsa were applied to create door frames

The two rooms are glued and pegged and a courtyard wall added

The house next to the small tavern which received a wider, open door and some framed windows

The buildings with 15mm miniatures for scale
I'm really pleased with how these came together. I'm not sure how quickly the rest will be constructed, I imagine each structure from now on will be built over several days. When all are done they will be painted up and hopefully made characterful and 'lived in'. Where is Weta Workshop when you need them?


  1. Very excited by this. I think it's going to be cool.


  2. Great post and a brilliant project. This has inspired me to at least start thinking of something similar... I really need more terrain and buildings. Thanks and I look forward to seeing more.

  3. What a glorious project.I can't wait to see it finished!
    best wishes

  4. Good start to an interesting project. 15mm makes it more managable, i wouldn't fancy doing it in 28mm!

  5. Great idea. Looking forward to seeing how this goes. Good luck!