Thursday 27 July 2023

Introducing ProjectSeleukid

When Andrew came to me and suggested a joint project building a 28mm Seleukid army, I admit I was seriously tempted. Then he went on to say that he'd like to do it properly. How could I say no to that!? Now I suspect that he might regret the proposition, because he's unleased the monster I like to keep inside me!

I have done Seleukid armies in the past - first in 15mm for DBA (sadly that army was among the fallen after the big move), and then to a massive extent in 6mm. This will be my first foray into 28mm for the period. In my other life, both my honour thesis and PhD focused on the Seleukids, and I have worked on Hellenistic sites in the Middle East and Central Asia. Oh my, oh my, but this will be a project to get my teeth into!

Thirteen years ago now I posted a few passages I was working on for my PhD on this blog looking at the ethnic break down of the Seleukid army. The gist of it still stands up to scrutiny and remains a useful resource. The summary strongly indicates that the phalanx element of Seleukid armies, always at their centre, was not a large part of the army. In reality a Seleukid army was diverse and polyglot. There are various other earlier posts - mostly from the 6mm army building process - that I will come back to as well for their exploration of different troops types.

The starting principles of ProjectSeleukid
  • 28mm armies, multibased on 60x60mm bases - this will enable use across different rule sets, specifically Hail Caesar, L'Art de la Guerre, and Fantastic Battles.
  • Working from a fixed point of reference - of the three orders of battle recorded for the Seleukids, Andrew chose Magnesia (190 BC) as the army to build.
  • Rationalising units - playing with a ration of between 1:200 and 1:250, we can break down the Seleukid army into gaming units with relative ease (and only a little fudging).
  • Research - where possible, lets go back to the ancient sources to find out how different units may have looked and functioned.
The army list

Having decided on Magnesia, we then set about working out the army and how to allocate units to both Andrew and I, hoping that neither of us would be landed with anything more onerous than the other.

By splitting the amy into a centre (shared) and two wings (taking one each), we end up with a fairly even distribution which allows us each to field all the minimum bases required for an ADLG. With Andrew taking the right (the most honourable flank, commanded by Antiochos the Great himself) and the better part of the centre, he ends up with c.38 mounted models, two elephants and 114 infantry, plus commanders. Taking the remainder of the centre and the left flank commanded by the future Seleukos IV, I will be assigned 36 mounted, 1 elephant, both scythed chariots and somewhere between 113 and 131 infantry - depending on how I end up running the Arab contingent.

Of course Magnesia is only the starting point and we hope to be able to develop this into a larger army still if the momentum continues - aiming at a fully fledged 2nd century BC Seleukid civil war.

So with that in mind, keep an eye out for sporadic future posts as Andrew and I get our toys painted!


  1. Mark from Thailand28 July 2023 at 14:27

    Of course with 60mm wide bases you’ll be able to play DBA too.

  2. Oooh boy... While I am usually enthusiastic about all things Seleucid, especially my boy Antiochus Megas, I have to say I'm really struggling not to start questioning a lot of these choices... I mean, 10 000 Arabs at Magnesia? Surely you meant Raphia?
    Btw, are you familiar with the book "The Seleucid army of Antiochus the Great" by Jean Charl Du Plessis? If not, I highly recommend it. I do not agree with 100% points made by the author, but it's still very good and useful resource.

    1. Absolutely the number of Arabs at Magnesia could potentially be up to 10,000. As discussed in the earlier post (linked above) looking at the ethnicity of the Seleukid army, at Magnesia the total Seleukid forces are said to be 70,000, yet only 56,100 are listed in breakdown provided by Livy and Appian. The Arab contingent is mentioned, but no numbers are given. As Polybius gives the figure of 10,000 Arabs at Raphia, it is plausible to suggest that such a number may also have been present at Magnesia (where a general levy from across the empire was mustered).

      I'd be interested to know which other suggestions you'd question. Obviously the collective evidence for most of this is scant at best, and discussion is always worthwhile.

      Yes, I've got du Plessis' volume. While is has a few interesting points, I find his discussion of the different ethnic or 'national' contingents in the Seleukid army to be very unsatisfactory with some rather wild claims (the Dahai serving as phalangites for example). I don't feel the volume adds anything that wasn't already covered in a much more rigorous way by Bar-Kochva.

    2. First, let me take on Arabs.
      You have to account for geopolitical situation. Right before Raphia, Arabs were "liberated" from ptolemaic rule by Antiochus, who presented himself as their saviour. Naturally, he asked for help in fighting their former oppressor Ptolemy, so they more than happily obliged. Now, the distance they had to travel was relatively short - a little up north, and in familiar terrain. So the 10 000 doesn't seem that ubelievable.
      At Magnesia, this circumstances wouldn't apply. The road from upper nile up north to Anatolia is significantly longer, and tribal Arabs were not a well organized force in terms of logistics. So the travel of 10 000 warriors, in late fall/early winter, doesn't seem like an easy undertaking. Also, those Arabs most likely remembered who they'd be up against (at Raphia they probably faced Galatians and professional thureophoroi mercenaries), so they'd be less enthusiastic about the whole ordeal. Therefore I do believe that the common view of Arabs at Magnesia being few hundred specialised camel riders is pretty solid.
      Now, as for the rest of the points I'd question - there's too much. Since writing my first comment, I read the following post on this project and also the previous breakdown of ethnic components of Seleukid army you wrote, and unfortunately I disagree with so many things that we'd most likely end up in neverending discussion on our personal interpretations of what little is know about the subject. Like the phalanx having the native component (there is one known example of such thing - Ptolemaic phalanx at Raphia, and the outcome of letting natives into it I believe you are aware of). Or "silver shields cavalry" (btw, it's "argyraspides", árgyros = silver).
      So we'll have to agree to disagree.
      Have I read all your posts beforehand, I'd most probably not tackle the subject, as it's obvious you've spent enough time on the subject so you have your own conclusions. It's just that those are different from mine ;)
      Anyways, sorry to bother you, and good luck with the project. Whatever the historical background, I'm sure the army will present itself most formidably (as Seleukid armies usually do ;) ). Cheers.

    3. Yes, I suspect you are right and that we must agree to differ. I don't recall anything in the ancient sources that suggest Zabdibelos' contingent of Arabs at Raphia had been recently liberated from Ptolemaic control, nor any reason why you should mention the Upper Nile. In Greek and Roman sources, the term Arab could be (and was) applied very widely for peoples from the Persian Gulf across to the Red Sea, up to include Nabataeans, Idumaeans, Ituraeans, Emesenes etc, not to mention the Skenitai. The distance from the north Syrian steppe (or indeed from Koile Syria) to Magnesia is no great obstacle when you consider the Elimaiots, Dahai and other eastern contingents present at the battle.

      Regarding Seleukid phalanxes - my suggestion has less to do with letting in 'natives' and more to do with what constituted being 'Greek' in Seleukid Syria. We don't have the same written evidence that we have for Egypt (where it was clearly a complex system of idenity), but the Syrian archaeological evidence presents a really fluid an nuanced picture. Even in military settlements like Jebel Khalid, the population living in frescoed insulae ate what looks to be an indigenous diet (no fish for example) and worshipped publically in a temple with a Greek facade, but internally conforming to eastern traditions.

      However, at the end of the day, this is all just an excuse to push painted toys around a table, so hopefully you are right, and the army will perform formidably!