Author Topic: Pondering Pontics  (Read 136 times)

Chris

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Pondering Pontics
« on: July 06, 2019, 03:15:33 PM »

A recent failed experiment using Tactica II, Marian Romans, and an Early Pontic force, led me to look further into the armies of Mithridates. (This unplanned study also gave me a chance to reread the excellent articles authored by Richard Andrews.) It was interesting to note how different rule sets addressed and modeled a miniature Pontic force. Some rule books have imitation legions working with phalangites (both Brazen shields and ex-slave types), while others have these units separated. Some rule books allow for a contingent of  Galatians, while others lump these warrior types in with the pretend legionaries. Curiously enough, I ran across a couple of sets that did not include scythed chariots on the Pontic army list. Anyway. Have gone back to the drawing board, as it were, and am going to set up another experiment using To The Strongest!

  • Chris Hahn

aligern

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2019, 03:37:04 PM »
Pontic is one of those armies that can be over strong as it benefits from a wide variety of troop types and has cataphracts, pikes, cheap legionaries, scythed chariot , plenty of lights, good shock cavalry, horse archers.  They run Alexandrian Macedonians close. 
Given that wargames armies tend to reward those nationalities that can put together an all arms kampfgruppe rather than have a solid base of say powerful infantry such as Romans, the Mithradatic army is a favoured choice.  One wonders why Pontics were not such stars in reality. A suggestion that has been made is that the problem with the army is the heterogeneity of its troops.  When contingents come from several nations maybe they are just not as motivated and as used to cooperating as when they come from one nation. Also, when the units are highly specialised it makes deploying them rather more rigid. A Roman commander can pick out five cohorts and put them with the cavalry, but its a bit more difficult to extract units of Celts , Thracians and imitation legionaries and expect them to work together. It must also be difficult to align motivations , do your Sarmatian lancers or Armenian cataphracts have quite the same relationship to the leader as the companions of a Macedonian king?
I know Hannibal will be cited as a contra to any theory  that a multicultural army is worse than that of a unitary state, but then he had his army together for years and has the advantage of being a military genius. Other Carthaginian armies with multiple recruitment sources fared less well.
Roy
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2019, 06:16:21 PM »
One wonders why Pontics were not such stars in reality.

One gets the impression they were fairly stellar until they came up against generals of the calibre of Sulla, Lucullus of Caesar.  Mithridates even had a couple of defeated Roman armies to his name, as did his son Pharnaces.  Granted the defeated 'Roman' armies often suffered from the multicultural angle, yet the Pontic record is still quite impressive if you take Sulla, Lucullus and Caesar out of the equation.  Finding anyone who beat any of those three is difficult.
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Mark G

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2019, 06:21:07 PM »
I think the trick with Pontics is to recognise a split between the Hellenistic influence successor version, the imitation legion version, and the scrabbling around the Black Sea for anything version.

Once you move from a “Pontic” list, and treat them as separate it makes a lot more sense.

Also agree on homogeneous armies with Roy, but do note that they need a massive population base to work, and think mercenary armies get badly treated in modern lists because the cheap and expendable aspect is ignored in favour of equal coatings for National troops.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2019, 08:32:52 AM »
... the cheap and expendable aspect is ignored in favour of equal coatings for National troops.

Costings?

Quote
I think the trick with Pontics is to recognise a split between the Hellenistic influence successor version, the imitation legion version, and the scrabbling around the Black Sea for anything version.

Something in that, although Mithridates was successful with the first (until he met Sulla) and the second (until he met Lucullus), as was Pharnaces (until he met Caesar).  I would guess that if the Black-Sea-scrabble version ever becomes really popular we shall see a new list for it.
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"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

Andreas Johansson

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2019, 10:58:27 PM »
The WRG lists effectively split the Pontic list into two, an early one where the heavy infantry basically consists of pikemen and a late where they're imitation legionaries ("Blades" in DBX jargon). The ADLG and Triumph! lists (to take the other sets of lists I've got within convenient reach) do more or less the same, although the former allows quite lot of imitation legions already in the early period. Triumph! also has a separate list for Pharnaces in 47 BC (and, uniquely among the sets, also an "Early Pontic" list for the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC).

(It's vaguely interesting, BTW, that each of these sets use a different name for this army: WRG uses "Pontic", ADLG goes for "Mithridatic", whereas Triumph! prefers "Mithradatic".)
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Bought: 127 infantry, 25 cavalry, 0 chariots, 36 other
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Chris

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2019, 03:02:30 PM »
Perhaps there is an article in here somewhere . . . In looking over the rule books and lists that I have - memory will have to serve, as they are not within reach at the moment - the DBA list included scythed chariots (1 base) while  players had an option of deploying 4 pike or 4 blades - I think. The DBM list allowed for  better pike and poorer pike, along with imitation legions, Galatians, and so forth. It seems that later rule books and lists adopted or adapted these earlier ideas. The Might of Arms list, however, and interestingly, did not have pikemen and there were no scythed chariots on the list.

Perhaps there is another thread or topic here . . . I wonder if there is a specific or distinguishing troop type for each particular ancient army. Obviously, most Roman armies would have legionaries as their type. Would scythed chariots be the "identifier" for Pontic or Mithridatic? Warbands would  fit for a few, I think.

In his articles, Richard Andrews (I believe I have the name correct) cited three wars with Mithridates. Was there a great difference between the Pontic troops in each conflict? I gather that the pikemen were mostly exhausted by the end of the first war?

Cheers,
Chris
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Mark G

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2019, 04:19:43 PM »
Not sure anyone would build an army around expendable one shot weapons.

They seem to be more of a thing to throw out to disrupt the enemy before you engage, sort of thing.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2019, 06:58:09 PM »
Perhaps there is another thread or topic here . . . I wonder if there is a specific or distinguishing troop type for each particular ancient army. Obviously, most Roman armies would have legionaries as their type. Would scythed chariots be the "identifier" for Pontic or Mithridatic?

No more than for Achaemenid or Seleucid; Pontic armies were not noted for a singular 'signature' troop type; they were considered to have good cavalry, plentiful infantry and - under Mithridates and Pharnaces - above-average leadership*.  Scythed chariots helped, but were not the main arm.

Arguably, if they did have a 'signature' troop type, it may have been the multi-armed heavy archer (bow, shield, sword).  There was an inconclusive discussion on this a few years ago.

*Against Sulla, Lucullus or Pompey, let alone Caesar, 'above average' was not quite good enough. Against Fimbria, Murena or Calvinus it did just fine.

Quote
In his articles, Richard Andrews (I believe I have the name correct) cited three wars with Mithridates. Was there a great difference between the Pontic troops in each conflict? I gather that the pikemen were mostly exhausted by the end of the first war?

The three wars with Mithridates were 88-84 BC (Sulla), 83-81 BC (Murena) and 73-63 BC (Lucullus, then Pompey).  Mithridates appears to have first fielded imitation legionaries at Cabira in 72 BC.  Given that Mithridates defeated Murena at the Halys in 82 BC I would not consider the pikemen 'exhausted', rather than in the interventing years (80-76 BC) Mithridates seems to have decided to reconfigure his heavy infantry Roman-style.  This helped less than he thought it would because his infantry still remained inferior to their Roman counterparts, and at least with pikes they had a superior battlefield weapons system.
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"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

Andreas Johansson

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2019, 07:48:11 PM »
the DBA list included scythed chariots (1 base) while  players had an option of deploying 4 pike or 4 blades - I think.
In DBA 3.0 you get 4x pike before 84 BC and 4x Bd from then on. Scythed chariots are independently optional. In 2.2 you got to chose between (4x Pk + 1x scythed chariot) or 5x Bd with no date restrictions.

If there was a characteristic Pontic troop-type, it may have been the native heavy cavalry, about which there was a Ss article not too long (a couple years?) ago. While a small part of the army numerically, they may have been more distinctly Pontic where the pikemen, imitation legionaries, or scythed chariots were much like their Hellenistic and Roman models.
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Chris

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2019, 10:27:50 PM »
Thanks, Gents.  :) Interesting food for thought here . . .

Chris
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rodge

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #11 on: July 14, 2019, 07:25:55 AM »
I think both Plutarch and Memnon mention Scythed Chariots (100 and 120 respectively) in the forces that Mithridates assembled before the outbreak of the 3rd War in 73 BC; they are not mentioned after 72 BC in relation to any of the subsequent armies Mithridates commanded.
However in 47 BC Pharnaces uses them against Caesar, which possibly suggests continuity of belief in their battlefield use
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Pondering Pontics
« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2019, 09:02:59 AM »
I think both Plutarch and Memnon mention Scythed Chariots (100 and 120 respectively) in the forces that Mithridates assembled before the outbreak of the 3rd War in 73 BC; they are not mentioned after 72 BC in relation to any of the subsequent armies Mithridates commanded.
However in 47 BC Pharnaces uses them against Caesar, which possibly suggests continuity of belief in their battlefield use

And quite possibly continuity in their actual battlefield use: Pharnaces boasted that his army had won 'forty-two victories' (before he met Caesar) and I would think he did not leave his scythed chariots at home for all forty-two of those.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper