Sunday 5 August 2012

The Great Clown Army of Ancient Persia

"I must stop going off at a tangent and get back to the Orcs and Zulus..." And almost a month later I am, of course, still off on that tangent. July was pretty much a bust hobby wise (the only painting I have done of late is my Mother's storage room) and I need to re-focus my efforts in August.

I have stuck together one unit of the Wargames Factory Persians and with a little effort they can be made to look really nice, I undercoated them last week and have been pondering painting them. I picked up the Osprey Elite Persian Army book on the cheap and must say I'm really disappointed. Not only is the bulk of the book descriptive text of the colour plates (rather than just the last few pages as normal), the plates are almost exclusively Immortal regiments not the full army.

Persian Infantry on campaign in Greece according to Osprey...
The text is also unconvincing, the author states that Persian units quite probably wore uniforms but the only source evidence he gives is of troops being given cloaks of the same colour. On top of this the plates are ridiculously colourful. I know the Greeks said the Persians were colourful but not only do most of the troops wear yellow and purple (two of the rarest colours in the ancient world) they are so bright, colourful and wearing intricately patterned clothing they look more like clowns than pre-industrial troops on campaign with elongated supply chains.

By dint of some Google-fu I have found copies of all the Richard Scollins plates from Duncan Head's out of print The Achaemenid Persian Army which show  much more realistic colour look to the Persian infantry, even of some of the patterned cloth is pretty daunting from a painting point of view (and I am still slightly dubious that this would be common for run of the mill infantry if a uniform look was the case).
Persian Infantry on campaign in Greece according to Scollins...
Quite where this leaves me I'm not 100% sure. I think I will pretty much ignore the Osprey book and use the Scollins illustrations plus some pages on the Achamenid Persians I have found on the internet, especially this page by the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies which includes some interesting information on colour dyes from the time. Overall I think I need to follow the same basic principles with the hoplites and make sure I tone down the brightness so I don't end up with an army of clowns...


  1. Persians definitely need colour - and I think like the Gauls just about anything goes. Bear in mind that we have virtually no idea what colours predominated in many ancient armies (the Spanish scutari is a case in point - many people say that they were clad in white but there is vitually no historical record on this subject - most is speculation).

    So if anyone challenges your colour schemes just ask the person if they were there during the Persian Wars.

  2. Helpful. One of the reasons I have never painted Persians is the amount of work each appear to need...and then you need to paint loads of them!