Wednesday, 15 July 2009

6mm Romans: Some Musings

A quick post now to introduce some musings on a possible new project, namely Romans of the Early Imperial variety in 6mm. This has been one of those 'back burner' subjects for quite a while, and in the spirit of my last prevaricating post, also contains some indecision as to how it will eventually shape up.

Now when the words 'Romans' and '6mm' are uttered in the same sentence, you would quite rightly think of one company: Baccus, helmed by Peter Berry. Excellent service, Wargamer friendly, reasonable prices, good, developing ranges and minis that paint up easily with great detail, what more could you want from a manufacturer? Well, in typically contrary fashion, I had some issues when looking in to approaching this project.

I did not wish to let venturing into this new arena distract me from my main projects and interests, but my butterfly mind alighted on it more and more often to the extent that I did a deal with my conscience, to whit: "Don't invest heavily, just do a few test stands, see if you like them".
Seems reasonable enough, but as ever, these promises tend to morph into something much greater before you know it. I therefore decided to impose some discipline by being ruthless on cost, and this is what led me away from Baccus. Now given their quality, 96 minis at £4.90 is not a lot, and compares well with Heroics & Ros at say 2x £2.50 packs for 100 minis, or the Rapier Ancients line at 4x £1.25 packs for 96. However, my wide experience with the Irregular Minis catalogues meant that in the back of my mind, 16 x their 6 man bases would give 96 men at a cost of £4, being .25 pence per base.
So if I was merely testing the water at the cheapest price, these would seem to be the ones to buy, at least to find out if I actually liked painting up those little legionaries. Then I came upon the E1 24 man block depicted in 4 ranks, at a price of .80 pence each, which would mean only £3.20 for the above mentioned 96. Given my experience, as you will see elsewhere in this Blog, with painting up cast 'blocks' of 2mm men rather than individual figures, this meant I could do a lot for very little, and salve my conscience at the same time, so the die was cast...

The use of these blocks, moreover, would enable me to avoid one of my particular bugbears when it comes to depicting military formations on the table top; Mass and in particular Depth.
How often do you see Roman Centuries or even Cohorts depicted in small groups of 2 or at most three ranks depth? This is not to say, of course, that the Romans did not or could not deploy in this manner, makes sense if you need to cover a long front line with few troops, but to me the Century was given its potency by its depth, and the practice of replacing losses at the front by a conveyor belt from the rear. Besides, a few ranks look a bit wimpy when the might of Rome is best represented by great bloomin' big machine-like blocks tramping forward (Sinister, Dexter, Sinister, Dexter....!).

A website which has done some excellent research on this subject, and depicts well what I would like to try and deploy is the following:

(Beware, there are some rather annoying pop-ups on these pages, but if you can see past them, and the rather detailed examinations in the text, it's well worth it.)

The whole site is well worth wading through, although some of the images can take a long time to load, but the insight included, I think is invaluable when approaching this period.

So I had my miniatures of choice and a good idea of how the Legion Centuries themselves might be depicted, but then came the choice of exactly what armies to invest in. Censoring myself once more, I decided that an excellent period would be the Year of the Four Emperors in AD69, where Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian all vied for the top job in a widespread civil war - this had the advantage of needing no 'enemy' troops, merely Romans themselves!

There are some cracking battles from this time, with Otho at Bedriacum employing Praetorian Cohorts as well as a formation of 2,000 gladiators, and the armies of Vitellius using Batavian Auxiliaries, with even guest appearances of vexilia detachments from the Legions in Britain, including the notorious IX Hispana.

With a view then to looking into the feasibility of the project, I purchased 12 of Irregular's E1 24 man blocks, intending initially to portray a Cohort at 1:2 man to figure ratio on deep bases, (40x30mm turned side-on for 30x40mm) with two blocks forming a Century with 48 figures. 6 Centuries therefore forming the Cohort, as you can see in the pictures throughout this post.

Again, in typically contrary mood, I decided to paint the shields in a rather un-legionary blue, (All Wargames legionaries always seem to have red shields :-) ! ) to depict the Legio I Adiutrix, which had been formed from Marines under Galba. I guess the naval background meant the blue seemed appropriate.

I think in all likelihood, if this project progresses, the figure ratio will have to increase, to the point where probably two bases of 48 will represent a Cohort, so I might be repainting some of the shields seen here. My whole idea was to speed paint these guys, blocking in some detail over the undercoat, taking advantage of the cast together blocks, and I think they have turned out alright; the Irregular blocks do not contain any command figures, and vexilia/banners are available only as separate standards to be glued on, so these do suffer somewhat when compared with other manufacturers, but will do nicely to represent the bread and butter figures of the Legion.
The basing at the moment is also temporary, so please forgive the unfinished nature of the bases in the photos.

It may be that Command, Cavalry and speciality figures, such as CarriBallistae, Scorpio etc, would be better depicted using Baccus or another company, but for the moment these little tykes from Irregular will form the backbone at least until I see how things develop. Of course, in the wake of this experiment, orders for various figures are already speeding their way from SteelonSand Towers as we speak, so we'll have to see how things progress....

Ave atque vale!


  1. They look really nice.
    How long did they take to paint?

  2. Hi Michael, just the two days over a weekend, Panzer Grey undercoat, blocked in the white of the tunics, silver mixed with a hint of light grey on the armour, the base shield colour, the pilum in light brown, flesh splodged on as normal, touch up on the helmets, and some darker brown for sword belts etc...then greens an browns on the block bases.

    So for me, pretty fast! I think they would reward more careful attention, but in terms of getting feet on the table top quickly, these 'block' legionaries really do the job.

    Looking back, I realised I forgot to pop on a silver point to each pilum; looks rather as if they are armed with bread sticks at the moment, what is it the Italians call them? Oh, yes, Grissini!

  3. Great work. Those blocks of legionaries look suitably menacing.
    Bacchus do make delicious figures. I have some of their HYW figures for my 6mm fantasy project that are absolutely superb.

  4. Thanks Mad, as always, for the comment, yes, couldn't agree more about Baccus, didn't mean to suggest I had a down on them (I've got a lot of his Goblin figs, and they're just great), merely that for this tester, I persuaded myself to go as cheaply as possible, and was pleasantly surprised at how they turned out!

  5. Couldn't agree more - I have so many projects on the go now that cheapness is becoming a priority!