Thursday, 8 March 2018

From GregB: 28mm Byzantine Kataphractoi Cavalry (161 points)

Byzantine Kataphractoi cavalry in 28mm - castings from Gripping Beast
Phew! Good to be back with another submission this week - and one which has a lot of silly personal significance for me at that!

This is a unit of Byzantine Kataphractoi heavy cavalry (like, really heavy) in 28mm.  There are 16 models in the unit, all from Gripping Beast.  The shield decals and banner are from LBMS. What is the personal significance? As I said, it's silly, so I hope you will laugh at me, or maybe with me! Allow me to elaborate...but I apologize in advance for a lengthy post.  Feel free to skip and go back to whatever Ken submitted today, I bet it is awesome and explained with more brevity...

View of the full unit - 16 models, in two ranks of eight models each - two models per base, on 50mm square bases

I think we all have a gaming period or setting we wish we could/would try, but just can't seem to get to, for whatever reason. Often those reasons are practical - after all, it's a hobby, time is limited, real life gets in the way etc.  The subjects are too complex (anything Samurai) or nobody has sculpted the figures you need (Patagonian Tree Lizards with AK-47s in 15mm - where's the Kickstarter for that?)

But sometimes it's all in your friggin' head - and so it has been with my head and the idea of collecting and painting a force of Byzantines.

Unit command figure and standard bearer..I tried to pimp the ride for the commander a bit, as he would be fairly high ranking and/or bad-ass (or both) to lead a group like this in the Byzantine military
I have always been absolutely fascinated with the Byzantine period of history.  Its roots (the reforms of Diocletian, the rise of the separate "east" of the Roman Empire...these things are compelling when you are a student of, and work in, politics and government as I was and I do). The sheer duration of the  Byzantine empire throughout history. The military successes - and pretty spectacular catastrophes. The endless conflicts, the political maneuvering, scheming, plotting, assassinating etc. that defined their politics and gave rise to the use of the word "Byzantine" as an adjective. The look, feel and sense of Orthodox Christian art, design and structures. The sheer variety of enemies they struggled against - Persians, Bulgars, Rus, Avars, Normans, Germanic tribes, assorted Islamic caliphates, Turks etc...not to mention each other.  They would fight them, bribe them, then fight them again, then bribe them to fight each other, on and on. The number of times the Empire recovered from the brink of disaster and survived - and often go on to thrive for a time - is really incredible (disclaimer: I'm just a civilian of history, but still seems amazing).

Long spears - kontarion (I think) - and note the maces hitched to their belts for "follow up" work...

And also..."Iconoclasms"!! WTF is with iconoclasms? That's wild! I chuckle when people use the word "iconoclast" today to describe some bold and/or purposely provocative or offensive public figure. I don't they they truly understand the root of that word...such people might be loud-mouthed douche bags, but they don't even begin to reach "iconoclast" status...

Archers were integral parts of the Kataprhactoi formations

Much less armoured than the fellows up front, but those horses still say "we're ready for real trouble" and they have some barding to back it up...

The look of the Byzantine armies captivates me too (yes, I'm a big dork), as you can kind of instinctively make out so many aspects that might be said to be connected to Roman heritage, yet are so affected by the circumstances of Byzantium they take on a look and feel I find to be rather exotic and fascinating. They also had cavalry - a LOT of it. And heavy cavalry. Really, really, really heavy cavalry - SO cool.  I love heavy cavalry in games - they either charge home and leave tears, dust and broken units in their wake. Or, the charge fails, their momentum is shattered and they fade out, along with your chance of success in that particular game...super fun, and never boring!

And painting stuff that looks cool is a primary motivator of the wargaming hobby/affliction, right??

Musician is the only one with his face exposed...can't blow that horn through the chain mail!

So ever since I really started to get into gaming, and realized that gaming ancients was real thing you could do (i.e. raised my awareness beyond Warhammer), I have wanted to collect and paint a Byzantine force.  This goes back to around 1998-99...around the time I met Curt for the first time, and got to know the Fawcett Avenue Conscripts. In fact, Curt has been listening to me say I wanted to paint Byzantines pretty much as long as I've known him...

Kontarion lowered for action at the front rank, while a fellow rider brandishes a siderorabdion in preparation to whack someone who really has it coming...

So with all that in mind, and given that I am the sort of miniature gaming nerd that will, on slimly-provoked-yet-fully-animated inspiration, just suddenly decide to attack a new project out of the blue (recent example: Franco-Prussian War), you would think by now I would have some Byzantines painted, nearly 20 years later, right? Well, before today, you would have been wrong! Hah!

Why the hang up? Well, the reasons are pointlessly complicated and really only valid in my own rat-maze brain.  You might say they are a touch...Byzantine.

The shield decals and banner are from LBMS.  I can confidently report that I hope this will be the only LBMS banner I will ever fiddle with again, but as always the shield decals are top-shelf...
Some periods are intimidating to contemplate as a wargaming project, maybe too intimidating. For me, the prospect of painting Byzantines was just that.  Something always held me up.  I couldn't figure out the shields. I couldn't figure out the weapons. I couldn't decide what rules to use.  I couldn't land on a basing scheme, or decide on a scale. The more I researched, the more confused I would become...did I want to do "early" Byzantines? Thematic Byzantines? Tagmatic Byzantines? WTF was the difference between those last two again anyway? So much thinking...easier to just paint other stuff...and so the years go by. Over time the prospect of painting Byzantines evolved from a serious plan to just another potential life prospect, like learning Spanish or meeting actress Robin Tunney - sure it would be fun in theory, but I'm not going to focus any available energy on it.

Fast forward to Painting Challenge VII in 2016-17, and MartinN's submission of many beautiful Roman figures, in particular his "West" Theme entry that year of Roman heavy cavalry.  Not only was his brushwork incredible (no surprise there, of course!) but it immediately brought to mind the Byzantine Kataphractoi I have obsessed about for years. So exotic, menacing, devastating and cool looking, they echo the Persian clibinarii of ancient times. Nick's submission brought all of my interest in Byzantines right back! I resolved the day I saw that post to finally get off my @ss and get painting some Byzantines.

Yet even with that resolve, it took a lot of time to get going...lining up the figures, the banners, some shield decals etc...and the many other projects and passions like 30k, Team Yankee and other things popping up of course devoured brush time, energy and passion...but finally, finally, first unit Byzantine in now completed! These heavy duty bad-boys are COVERED head-to-toe in armour, and so are their poor horses.  It all looks a bit alien and a bit familiar all at once. The chain-mail face covering in particular seems like a 7th century version of NBC gear. If you see people wearing the stuff, it projects extreme authority, order and power, without any actual reassurance those things might normally confer - their mere presence indicates your immediate surroundings are likely in some manner of dire peril...

Kataprhactoi would have been the central core of a Byzantine force, probably from the mid 7th century through to the 11th century (and maybe later?), particularly in the eastern theatres. I'm not sure these chaps would be much use tramping through the mountains in pursuit of Bulgars. But kicking ass in the middle east? Oh yes. Bring. It. On. 

Kontarion lowered to sort out some contrarian issues of the Byzantine era...

The Kataphractoi formations are believed to have combined ranks of heavy horsemen and archers - with the archers found towards the rear/middle. The horsemen up front would be armed with very long spears (kontarion, 10 to 12 feet long or so), and some pretty hard-assed-looking maces for up-close-and-personal face-smashing work (siderorabdion - no idea how to pronounce that, but I bet it sounds menacing-as-hell).  As if all of this wasn't enough, they also carried swords - spatha (I think).  Talk about heavily armed!

The overall formation would charge to contact, skewer their opponents with the long spears and fill them with arrows. Meanwhile, up front, the maces came out for smashing purposes, and once the enemy wavered and broke, the whole group would ride them down and smash them to particles under the hooves of the heavily armoured horses, with further mace-and-sword-work applied on an as-needed basis.  Thanks for coming out...

Another view of the command group, backed up by the mounted archers

Representing this assortment in a miniature wargame unit called for some variety in the armaments.  The realities of the limits on 28mm figures precluded using three ranks, so I opted for a slightly larger overall unit (16 models as opposed to 12) in two ranks, with the mid-rear-rank made up of archers, the flanking riders armed with lances and the chaps in the front sporting those scary maces. 

For colours I meticulously researched ancient scrolls at an archive in Instanbul regarding the military regalia preferences of the Heraclian period just made my best guess and hoped for the best.  I wanted to use a strong religious image for the shields, as it just screamed "Byzantine" to me.  The shield decal with the image of Jesus seems to make them look extra-ominous, and adds a final dash of character to the unit.

Another profile view...this post is so long and boring, at least I'm trying to compensate with a bunch of photos...

No doubt I have screwed stuff up in the portrayal...for example, the chaps with the long spears maybe should have smaller "buckler" shields instead of the teardrop shaped ones, as those spears would be tricky/impossible to use with one hand...oh well...but you have to start somewhere. 

The castings from Gripping Beast were not the easiest to work with in terms of assembly ("fit" to the horse was not well-achieved), but they are so fun to paint!  The shield decals were OK to work with. As for the banner, I loved the graphics, but in terms of process I would rather get a root canal than use LBMS stuff for another banner. It would be so much better if it was just printed out on nice paper, instead of the runaround of sticking it to paper, then cutting that out etc. But overall I'm thrilled to have these fellows finished! As they sit on the shelf, I will imagine them riding down at the forefront of some assault as part of Nikephoras Phokas' run of re-conquests in the 10th century while I prepare to add further units to this collection down the road.

One more photo of the whole lot for kicks

Special thanks go to MartinN for inspiration and for answering many, many dumb questions, and to PeterD for pointing me to many books that were helpful in bringing a wargamer's perspective to the period.  The Painting Challenge is a lot of fun, and all of your work and your comments are inspiring - even if it takes a while to get around to the work!  And I hope Curt mocks me mercilessly for finally painting some of these things. After years and years of being all-talk on the subject, I've got it coming...

If you have read this far and are not yet asleep, I salute you - you have great patience, a heroic attention span, or possibly a procrastination problem. Maybe a blend of all three!  With 16 mounted castings, I believe that might be worth 160 points, and put me striking distance of my points goal for this edition of the Anallogue Hobbies Painting Challenge...over to you Jamie!

Artist: Loreena McKennitt
Song: Kecharitomene

One of the things I do enjoy in the Challenge is opening a submission and seeing something totally surprising.  After seeing plenty of 30k, Cold War and even some Black Powder stuff, this was a massive surprise! (although I must admit to disappointment you missed out on the recent Patagonian Tree Lizards with AK-47s in 15mm Kickstarter - perhaps keep an eye out for when they run the 28mm one?!?!)

I think those who do read your script will spend their time nodding their heads and stealing guilty glances at their own projects that they always wanted to do, perhaps bought some figures for and then..... just never got around to it.  Your reasons are certainly very familiar to me at least!

And these boys are absolute beauties.  I dread to think how strong those horses must have been to even carry all the armour, man and his armour too.  One imagines that it was more a slow unstoppable rumble forward, much like a tank, rather than a lightning charge.  lord only knows how you'd stop them though!

Lovely painting as always with the red really standing out - 161 points it is with the pip for the banner and all the trouble it caused!


  1. Fantastic post, gorgeous super heavy cavalry! I entirely sympathise with your procrastination about a Byzantine army my first Osprey book was the Byzantine army book with Angus Mcbrides illustrations back in the 1970s and I still haven't started,oh well maybe after the napoleonics are all painted? Lovely colours as always!
    Best Iain

  2. Wow Greg, what a terrific submission in respect to both the raison d'être and the execution. Fascinating read. I was being drawn toward the Milites Cristi as my next SAGA warband, now who knows!

  3. First class painting Greg! You‘ve done an amazing job with all the blue and red. A highly thought provoking post too. I think there are not many out there who could say they didn‘t have a dream-project like you.
    I for one definitely do have such a project in the form of Early WW1 French and Germans.
    I definitely feel honoured to have been kind of inspiration for you to finally get going. Even more so seeing how gorgeous your Byzantines have turned out. I‘m looking forward to see many, many more for this force.

  4. One unit down, plenty more to go. Splendid work Greg and congrats on grasping the nettle :)

  5. What an awesome unit, looks fantastic 👍 I feel like I've cheated getting 30 more points for my plain looking WW1 Sikhs than you have for these superb warriors.

  6. Holy crap that's amazing Greg. Both the painting and the fact that you finally got off your backside and started the Byzantines. Thanks for the plus at the end, I assume you put your plugs there to see if people read all the way through. You just needed a prod to get out of your own way.

  7. Can I get a resume in point form? ;-)

    Just kidding, I love the insights into the disturbed minds of my fellow wargaming buddies! Great stuff Greg.

    Great painting too, 16 figures cavalry units are always a huge accomplishment, and one I almost never succeeed, so big thumbs up for quality and quantity!

  8. Great looking unit and great writup. I think we all have those units and armies we want to do, but put off due to time or skill. I know i have left many projects aside because i either didnt think i could do it credit, or because i didnt have time. Its awesome to see you tackle your big project so well.

  9. Truly inspiring painting and write up. I have faltered on the Trojans again this year however post challenge will have to pick these up again.

    Cheers, Ross

    1. Now, Trojans are quite an interesting topic indeed 🤔

  10. I love Byzantium and have done so ever since I picked up a copy of Time-Life's 'Great Ages of Man' from our local library at the age of 11. The Byzantine army with its flame throwers and its Cataphracts, the list of Emperors who came to a sticky end, all fired my youthful imagination. Sadly, Airfix didn't make Byzantines, so it was WW2 for my early wargaming efforts!

    This is a terrific post, Greg, and the Cataphracts are simply splendid. The LBMS decals are a little fiddly, and the method of application is a bit counter-intuitive, but the end results are worth it, trust me!

    You can share as many pics of these guys as you like! Great post, well done that man!

  11. Awesome and Amen to your sermon on 'round to it' projects! They look freaking awesome! Excellent post and being the procrastinator I am I read the whole thing. Cheers

  12. Impressive work Greg! It's always nice to have that dream project start to come true!

  13. Awesomeness greg, what a story. Really gladdens my heart that you’ve started this project and I look forward to lots more in AHPCIX (or sooner!)

  14. What everyone said: absolutely stunning Greg!

  15. I can cast no stones Greg. As you well know I am also plagued with many of these 'long-simmering secret projects'.

    I had the pleasure to see these lads close-up last weekend and they are absolutely superb. Terrific work dude, I can't wait to see your upcoming efforts in this new period.

  16. That’s a lovely unit! It’s intimidating me away from doing some!