Monday, July 19, 2021

Men of Bronze- Late Period Egyptians


The Egyptians have a long and vibrant history as an Empire.  It is crazy to think that Cleopatra is closer in time to the moon landing, then she is to the foundation of Egypt as a civilization in the Nile Delta!  That is a long span of time!  It honestly boggles the mind.  

The Egyptians were still active in the Mediterranean when the Greeks were expanding outward from Greece.  Indeed, the Egyptians had a long history of hiring Greek mercenaries to help fight their wars all the way back to the Mycenaes and the Greek Dark Age.  However, during the hey-day of Greek Hoplite battles, the Greco-Persian Wars, and all the way to the conquests of Alexander the Egyptians remained a player in the Mediterranean region.  

In 525 BCE, the Persian King Cambyses came to Egypt and tried to conquer them.  The war culminated in a battle called the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE.  This is a rather colorful battle, but no real details are know.  Herodotus claims to have visited the battlefield and seen the skulls of the fallen, but gives no real detail about the troops, deployments, or the final victory.  

Another source, Polyaenus attributes a strange stratagem to the Persians in this battle that allowed them to beat their foes.  He claims that the Persians either strapped cats to their shields ( or alternatively, herded cats before his army) so that the Egyptian troops would not shoot them.  The Egyptians favored cats as a sacred animal.  So protected, the Persians managed to storm the city and defeat the Pharaoh.  Despite this colorful account, it seems less than likely to have occurred as written.    

This began a long period where Egypt was a vassal kingdom of the Persian Empire.  We have conflicting accounts of King Cambyses' rule of the new territory.  Herodotus claims that he was cruel to the Egyptians and was blasphemous against their gods.  Others claim that King Cambyses had an affinity to Egyptian culture?  Who knows for sure.  We do know that the region was allowed great autonomy as many Persian territories were often given.  The Pharaoh was given free reign to rules, raise monuments, command armies, and trade as he wished. 

However, it was still a Persian province.  legend has it that Cambyses raised an army to invade Libya from Egypt.  The Army marched out but never returned.  Today, scholars believe this to be another myth.  However, Cambyses also raised an army and marched it to Nubia as well.  However, he seemed content to simple show his power and return home before entering too deeply into Nubian lands.  These armies were not led by the Pharaoh but by Persian commanders.       

However, despite this light hand the Egyptians had a tendency to revolt and try to free themselves from Persian rule.  This occurred many times, and the Persians were forces to comeback and re-assert their authority over the region.  Even the Athenian and other Delian League Greeks would become involved in these revolts.  This led to battle such as the Battle of Papremis (460 BCE), the Siege of the White Castle, Prosopitis, and the Battle of Mendesium.  

The light hand of  the Persians was an ineffective method of rule in Egypt, the Egyptians continued to revolt.  It is thought that many of these revolts were instigated by "native" Egyptians with power and influence being excluded from the Persian hierarchy.  Therefore, the native Egyptians, Libyans, and Nubians were cat's paws for agitators to the west, and the Greeks as well.   

Each time, the Persians came back to re-claim the land.  The Nile basin was too great a source of wealth, trade, grain and more.  The Persians could not let it slip away.  The Persians re-took Egypt for the final time in 343 BCE, putting down more rebel Pharaohs along the way.  Egypt remained under Persian rule until the Persians themselves were defeated by Alexander the Great.  In 332 BCE, they joined the Macedonian Empire.  The long, independent rulership of Egypt was over.  

The Late Egyptian Military

Despite an active military record, we know almost nothing about the Late Period Egyptian army.  Despite that, there are a few clues and ideas we can gather from the sources.  In addition, we also know that historically Egypt was not a military innovator or an early adopter of new technologies and methods.  Therefore, there military in the Later Period may not have been substantially different from previous Dynasties or periods.  

An Egyptian Soldier per Wikipedia

Herodotus claims to have visited the battlefield of Papremis and seen the skulls of the dead.  In his writings, he claims that you could tell the Egyptians from the Persians due to the thickness of their skulls.  Egyptians tended to shave their heads, while Persians wore linens and caps.  Therefore, Egyptian skulls were thicker.  Of course, to modern ears this sounds like incredibly racist psuedo-science and it is.  However, it may suggest that many Egyptian soldiers were not well-equipped with helmets at the time, instead earing other, more traditional head gear or none at all.  

The Persians are also suppose to have inflicted more deaths on the losing Egyptians than the Persians received by a 10 to 1 margin.  This is not uncommon as the losing side flees, and the Persians possessed a strong cavalry component to maximize these numbers.  In addition, we can assume exageration by the sources.  We can make two potential assumptions from this information.  First, that the Egyptians themselves may not have had much of a cavalry presence to help hold back the Persian Cavalry during the rout.  

Second, we could assume that Egyptian armor and personal protection was not widespread in the ranks.  This is also supported by the Bas-relief on the Persian King Artaxerxes I tomb of a supposed Egyptian soldier with a helmet, long robe, and a sheathed short sword.  There is no great shield, cuirass, greaves, etc to act as protection.      

In addition, Polyaenus colorful story about the Persian use of Cats to protect themselves also gives us a useful clue.  If the Egyptians did not have a formidable archer corps, you would not need the cats to protect from their arrow volleys.  The Persians themselves were no slouches when it came to archery units, so if the Persian Archers were not numerous enough to thwart or neutralize the Egyptian Archers, we can only assume archer was the bulk of their army.  In addition, archery was a core component of the traditional Egyptian way of war.

The soldiers themselves were probably a mix of professionals, conscripts, and mercenaries.  The New Kingdom and transformed much of the military into "professional" soldiers not tied to the land.  however, at this point much of the fighting was actually rebellions.  Therefore, conscripted soldiers and mercenaries were probably much more common.  In earlier periods, troops seemed to be armed as either spearmen, archers, or infantry with personal or hand weapons.  Officers were men of standing or status in Egyptian society often with some sort of formal education behind them.  I see no reason to think this would change into this Late Period.     

The sources also seem to indicate that the Egyptians made extensive use of Greek mercenaries.  Indeed, there is Greek "graffiti" found carved on the Sphinx!  Later, the Athenians came to support the Egyptian Revolt of 486 BCE with troops that had previously been active on Cypress.  However, we have little indication what role these Greek troops had in the army?  It is unclear if they used Hoplites as Heavy Infantry, or Peltasts and light troops as skirmishers and in the line.  The sources are unclear on what and how these Mercenaries were equipped and deployed.  

Ramses II in his war chariot.  Much earlier than the period we are looking at now

Finally, we also know that historically the main fighting arm of the Egyptian army was the Chariot.  This was used primarily as a mobile archery platform.  However, fighting men in chariots also used the spear as a back-up weapon.  There was never a strong emphasis on infantry beyond the archery forces.  At this date, it is difficult to determine if the Chariot was still an instrument of war.  The Persians, their overlords; and moved largely to cavalry at this point.  In addition, most of the battles of the period were revolts against the Persians and therefore probably more infantry oriented affairs.  I find it "unlikely" that the Chariot was still a large factor in Egyptian warfare during the Late Period, except as a "command" car for officers and leaders of status.

Weapons were typically Bronze by this point, with a mixture of iron for officers and men of wealth.  However, shields and other protective equipment did not appear to be a common feature.  Arrow heads could still be stone, bone, or wood.  However, the bronze still seems the most common.  Line archer units may not have used the Composite Bow by this period either; giving them a distinct disadvantage against the Persians.    

From the MET's collection of the Late Period

Late Period Egyptian Line of Battle

Now, as a designer I must take all the relevant information into consideration and try to figure out how the Late Period Egyptians can be represented in the Men of Bronze unit types.  It seems clear to me that we need a few different lists; one for the Battle of Pelusium (26th Dynasty or Saite Dynasty) period, one for the later Egyptian Revolts (27th Dynasty) and then then possibly the last days of the Egyptian independence in the 28th- 0th Dynasty using the capital of Mendes prior to the Persians re-taking direct control of the region.

Saite Dynasty

The bulk of the troops in the Saite Dynasty will have a core of Drilled Infantry and Archers.  These will be backed by Mercenary Peltasts and Warband infantry of conscripts.  Finally, I think the Saite Dynasty list will probably still contain a Light Chariot force. 

Saite Dynasty Line of Battle

0-1 Light Chariots*

0-2 Drilled Infantry

1+ Archers

0-2 Mercenary Peltasts

0+ Warband Infantry

0-2 Psiloi


The Saite Dynasty Light Chariot will use the same profile as the Light Cavalry with the following special rules.  They must have the Bow upgrade in the Saite Dynasty list  

Later Egyptian Revolt

This list is intended to represent the Egyptian forces versus the Persian troops during the revolt of 460 BCE.  In this list, there is a stronger Greek component to it as the Athenians came to support the Egyptians in an attempt to weaken the Persians power around the Mediterranean Sea.  The Athenians engaged in this "empire- building" just prior to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.  

There intervention in the area proved to be ineffective as the Persians crushed the revolt and send the Athenians packing.  Two different sources cover the results, with one saying few Athenians survived and the other claiming they left relatively intact.  Most historians believe that Thucydides version with heavy Athenian losses is much more accurate.  

The Athenian intervention in the Egyptian Revolt could be the basis for a great short campaign as there were a few notable battles, sieges, and even naval battles involved.  Plus, there is great scope for "fleshing out" some of the smaller skirmishes or unrecorded battles as well.  

Troops wise, the Egyptians will mostly be Drilled Infantry, Warband Infantry, and Archers.  This list will have no chariots or cavalry.  However, it will have a stronger component of Greek mercenaries, including some Hoplites to represent an Athenian contingent.    

This list does have an interesting modelling opportunity depending on the "commander" you wish to use.  The command element could be an Athenian commander.  However, if you choose an Egyptian commander, this would be a great chance to model an officer in a chariot to integrate into a unit as the "leader" of an infantry or other unit.    

Egyptian Revolt Line of Battle

0-1 Drilled Hoplite OR Light Hoplites

0-2 Drilled Infantry

0+ Warband Infantry

1+ Archers

0-2 Mercenary Peltasts

0-2 Psiloi

Mendes Dynasties

The final Dynasty's of an independent Egypt used the city of Mendes as their capital.  Therefore, I refer to this last few Dynasties as the Mendes Dynasties.  "Free" Egypt was contained to a relatively small area in the Nile Delta.  However, despite this smaller footprint, it still contained many of the most important sites in Egypt.  The Persians continued to control the rest of the Nile valley down to Nubia.  

The armies of the Mendes Dynasties had a two fold purpose; defend the homeland and to claw back the rest of Egypt.  They were predominantly an infantry and archery force.  Much of their time was spent garrisoning cities and defending from Persian attempt to re-occupy the area.  

However, these later Pharaohs still had designs abroad as well.  Nectanebo I and II both cast their gaze on launching campaigns into Palestine and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.  This was a traditional "sphere of influence" for Egypt and the Dynasties wished to rest control of the regions trade from the region.  However, these plans never really were able to get off the ground.  

These later Dynasty armies were mostly garrison forces and therefore relied heavily on Infantry and Archers.  The Greek mercenaries were less prominent and probably had a lesser heavy infantry role again.  The role of chariotry and cavalry is much less clear during this time, and I tend to think they were a non-entity during this period.  However, the Leaders probably still used chariots as their status symbol/command platforms.  

Mendes Egyptian Dynasty

0-4 Drilled Infantry

1+ Archers                              

0+ Warband

0-2 Mercenary Peltasts

0-2 Psiloi

Sample Lines of Battle

Below you can see some sample armies built from the Lines of Battle provided.  These give you an idea about what your force could look like.  They are built to a 38 point force.  They range from 5-8 Units per army.  

Saite Dynasty

  • 1 Light Chariot-  Commander
    • Bows
  • 1 Drilled Infantry
  • 3 Archers
  • 1 Warband Infantry
  • 1 Psiloi      
Egyptian Revolt
  • 1 Drilled Hoplites- Commander
  • 1 Drilled Infantry
  • 2 Mercenary Peltasts
  • 3 Archers
Mendes Dynasty
  • 3 Archers
  • 2 Drilled Infantry- 1 w/Commander
  • 1 Warband Infantry 
  • 2 Psiloi
Battle of Papremis (460 BCE)
During the Egyptian revolt, the Athenians re-routed a force near Cyprus to the region.  It was commanded by an Athenian admiral named Charitimides.  It is unclear if the Athenian assistance in Egypt was his full force, or just a detachment.  Initially, this force was intended to harass and reduce Persian influence in the Med.  The re-route to Egypt seems like pure opportunism by the Athenians to cause a head ache to the Persians.  

Diodorus, Herodotus, and Thucydides all reference this battle.  However, despite the three sources there is very little detail about the battle itself.  We know next to nothing about the force composition.  All we know is that the Persians outnumbered the Athenians and their Egyptian allies when it comes to the two forces.  

Papremis was one of many cities in the Nile Delta.  The Persians were camped near the city along the Niles banks.  Once the Athenian forces arrived, they accepted battle with the Persians.  The Persians had an initial advantage as they had the greater numbers.  However, the tables were turned when the Athenian forces broke through the Persian line.  This caused the Persians to fall back to the "White Castle" which was a citadel in Memphis.  The Athenians won the battle, but the Persians were able to successfully withdraw and remained a threat in being. 

As usual, we know little of the forces involved.  These are some "best guess" lists based on the army lists provided above and the Men of Bronze rules.       

Egyptian Revolt
  • 1 Drilled Hoplites- Commander
  • 1 Drilled Infantry
  • 2 Mercenary Peltasts
  • 3 Archers
  • 3 Archers
  • 3 Drilled Infantry
  • 1 Psiloi
This Scenario could be either the Decisive Battle scenario from the Men of Bronze rulebook.  However, I could also see using the any o the scenarios if you wished.  We know little of the actual battle so any scenario can work.  Persians could be trying to ravage the countryside around Papremis or the Persians could be fleeing back to the gates of Memphis to represent the end of the battle as well.  

This battle is played on a 48mu x 48mu board at a minimum.  This battle takes place near the banks of the Nile.  Therefore, I recommend placing a bit of river terrain on one of the flanks of the battlefield.  This should be impassable terrain as the Nile was pretty tough to cross.  The rest of the board you can deploy terrain per the normal rules found in the Men of Bronze rules.  

Special Rules
You can choose to play this scenario with no complications, or choose them as you and your opponent wish.  This scenario does not use any special complications.  

Use the normal victory conditions for the scenario as found in the Men of Bronze rules.  

We now have another interesting corner of the Greek world that we can use and highlight with Men of Bronze.  Interestingly the main antagonist for this list if probably NOT a Greek foe, but the Persian list in the rules.  The Greeks are more of the "Special Guest Stars" in this theatre and the Persians are more of the stars! 

There are a surprising number of primary sources, but they have scant detail.  Secondary sources are also very light for this timeframe.  That can be a blessing for wargamers as it gives us space to fill in what we need/want from our games.  This period has great fodder for linked battles, campaigns, and unique scenarios.  

In comments, please let me know of any model ranges in 28mm that would be good for these rules.    

You can get all of the updated materials including a FAQ, Campaign rules, and Lines-of-Battle in the Men of Bronze Supplement: Hercules Abroad.

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