My army of escaped slavesAnother one of my all time favorite childhood movies was Spartacus, so I guess it was inevitable that there would be a Spartacus wargame in my basement. The main obstacle to creating a slave revolt army was the lack of appropriate figures. Of course, there is very little information on the appearance of the escaped slaves so I guess my problem was there were no figures to fit what I thought they should look like.
Ah, the Romans. Everyone agrees what they looked like
Old Glory came out with Spartacus figures in 28mm a few years ago and they came complete with various bits of gladiator equipment. I've seen a number of other wargame armies for this period with gladiator figures arrayed in close order. Sadly the one thing we do know about Spartacus and the lads is they did not use gladiator equipment except for a very brief period right after the original 70 gladiators escaped and captured a wagon carrying equipment for the arena. Soon after that they captured real Roman equipment and also appearantly fabricated as much of their own as possible. They discarded the arena stuff ASAP.
Escaped slaves partially armed with Roman gear
In spite of capturing equipment from the various contingents of raw troops the Romans initially sent against them and fabricating some of their own, the number of slaves outgrew the equipment available to them. Some of them would be fairly well equipped, as in the picture above. Other elements of the army would have little equipment available to them, as in the picture below.
A horde of poorly armed ex-slaves
When the new plastic figures from manufacturers like Wargames Factory came out it seemed like the perfect opportunity to build a Spartacus army. The heads, bodies, weapons and shields are interchangable between sets of figures. My escaped slaves are made primarily from the Wargames Factory Roman set and the Numidian Infantry set with a light sprinkling from various other sets. The parts are swapped around so one man may have a Roman mail shirt, another a Roman helmet and a third a Roman shield, and so on. The Numidians make a great foundation because they are dressed in a simple sleeveless tunic that looks like something a slave might wear.
Roman general with his exotic German bodyguard
The sources tell us that the German and Gallic slaves formed a seperate contingent of the army that sometimes travelled with the rest and sometimes operated alone. I believe they probably looked pretty much like all the others. Any time they had to spend fabricating things they needed would have been spent making weapons rather than trying to reproduce their native costumes. Painting a large number of them with fair hair is the only distinction I allow for appearance.
A Roman cohort
Wargaming the period - I like the DBx series of rules. DBA has the virtue of simplicity and I am a lazy fellow, so my first effort to do Spartacus was to make 12 element armies of Romans and Ex-slaves. I don't care for the look of a DBA army (not enough toys) so I made a Roman cohort or a similar element of slaves from twelve 28mm figures mounted on a 6"x2" base. After a few games I thought that the slave army didn't 'feel' right. It was composed of roughly equal numbers of blades and warbands. I took a look at the DBM rules and army lists, and they seemed to make more sense. The DBM Spartacus army has more than half of its close fighting infantry classed as 'Superior Horde', with the rest as 'Inferior Blades'. I think Inferior Blades are a good classification for that part of the army that had been prisoners of war or or showed some military aptitude. Superior Hordes is a good classification for the swarms of desperate people who attached themselves to the army as it moved up and down the Italian penninsula. They may not have known anything about weapon handling or acting as a unit, but they knew what fate awaited them if they were recaptured, and it must have made them subborn in battle. The list allows a few German/Gallic warbands and a few cavalry and skirmishers. The warbands are optional to allow for those occasions when they were away operating on their own. My Spartacus army has 1 Cavalry element to represent Spartacus himself, 12 elements of Inferior blades to represent the more skilled and better equipped part of the army, 16 double depth (24 figures) elements of Superior Horde to represent the masses. There are also 4 elements of Inferior Psiloi. They are opposed by one of the earlier, less capable Roman forces consisting of 1 Cavalry General, 10 elements (cohorts) of Inferior Blades, 2 elements of Numidian Light Horse, and 4 elements of Psiloi. The first game is scheduled for 2 weeks from tonight. I'll post a battle report and some pics when it happens.
Shepherds skirmishing in front of the Slave Army