The Ballbusch Review: Splinter Light Miniatures Old Saxons

 This time were going to take a look at some actual miniatures. Unlike the rules reviews I’m going to sprinkle my opinion throughout the review. The reason for this is simple: a miniature’s merit is a matter of aesthetics. Beyond stating its size and the fact that it exists there is little I can say without rendering judgement of some kind.

Honey, come and meet the new neighbors.

Manufacturer:            SplinteredLight Miniatures
Sculptor:                     Rodrick Campbell
Price (in 2015):         $8.00 (for a pack of 12)
Price per Figure:       $0.67

The Character pack is full of…character

Mr. Campbell’s style is reminiscent of Antony Barton’s, being clean, detailed, and naturalistic. The sculpting is clean and details clearly recognizable. However, style is rather low relief (drybrushing and inking not really recommended), so it takes careful shading to add ‘weight’ to the figure and bring out the folds of clothing and equipment. Faces were surprisingly good and well portioned with eye-lids in evidence on some of the figures.

These are ‘thin’ 18mm miniatures. Tall, but the anatomy is not exaggerated or chunky. Flash and mold lines were present, but fairly minor and the figures cleaned up quickly. The metal is good quality and there were no miscasts. One figure’s spear was bent to near breaking, and I felt obliged to replace the weapon with a length of brass rod. Otherwise there was no damage.

The Saxons come in packs of 12 models in 6 different poses. These poses are based on a smaller number of dollies, so many figures are similar with details changed. Thus you have man stabbing overarm with cloak, man stabbing overarm with fur garters, helmet, etc. Still there is a lot of diversity and even with a limited pallet you can ensure that no two wild barbarians look exactly alike.
Saxon

Splintered Light divides their Saxons into medium (Geoguth and Duguth) and heavy infantry (Gedriht), which seems to serve as a short hand for common warriors and nobles. Both types can be purchased with swords, axes, or spears. The Old Saxons were not a wealthy society, so true swords would have been rare; therefore I opted for spearmen. Dark Age spears were formidable weapons and rather than a simple jabbing weapon, spears could be used to cut, thrust, and parry. In general, a far more effective and extravert weapon than wargamers (and role-players) commonly imagine. More of a sword-on-a-stick than a short pike. Every figure appears to wear the ubiquitous seax at this hip, but none have them drawn.

The medium and heavy infantry come supplied with large, round shields. Early Saxon shields are a matter of some scholarly debate. There is evidence that the Saxons did not adopt large shields (and with them shieldwall tactics) until the early 7th Century, and that ‘Arthurian’ Saxons used bucklers. This is, of course, by no means a consensus opinion.

Personally, I find that both sides make good arguments. Shields found in graves do tend to get bigger over time. On the other hand, there is no reason to assume that Saxon grave goods were used by the deceased and there is some evidence that the items and symbolic or ritual value. The presence of weaponry in the graves of women and children lends credence to the idea that the items interred with the deceased were not the personal property of the dead. However, it does not necessary follow that those items were non-functional. Then again different tribes or types of warrior may have utilized different war gear, or selected items based on the nature of the mission. Likely, we’ll never know.

Since the evidence is inconclusive, I stuck with the provided shields. If nothing else it makes the models useful for a longer period. Also, since other—presumably related—Germano-gothic groups fought in close formation with big shields, I find it more likely that the Saxons did likewise. However, Splintered Light does supply bucklers with its Saxon Javelinmen, so they will undoubtedly be able to supply you with smaller shields if that is your want.

Never forget: The Seven Nutmegs are Evil!

Otherwise, the figures are suitable for Saxons in England from AD 400 to AD 655 (the death of Penda of Mercia). And for their cousins on the continent from the same rough start date until sometime after Widukind’s baptism in AD 785.  Although sold as ‘Saxons’ there isn’t much to stop you from using these figure for any Gothic-Germanic tribe of the 5th to 7th Century. Material culture did vary, but only specialized historians would likely
notice the difference.  The bigger problem is the lack of cavalry.  Common to most other nations, but for opaque reasons seemingly never utilized by the Saxons who, it is implied, had some deep-seated aversion to ridding horses.

Saxons of both genders habitually layered their clothing with a thick and durable over-tunic (or over-dress) worn on top of potentially several sets of softer, thinner underwear. While some tunics were short-sleeved I’m not convinced of the universality of the garment. Surely this was an economic decision on the part of Splintered Light, but some long-sleeved tunics would have been nice, though maybe it is just a warm day. Yes, that is the pettiest complaint possible, and yes, I am slightly embarrassed to have made it.

In addition to rank and file warriors, Splintered Light also makes a charming personality pack complete with a pair of (crazed) priests, and a separate set with Beowulf confronting Grendel. Although not specifically billed as ‘Saxons’ there is a ‘Dark Age Villagers’ set if you want some civilians. However, be warned that this set contains a mix of pagan and Christian women, so select your camp followers with care.

This is a nice range that gives a little more cultural character than the generic migration era Germanic warrior figures widely available in all scales. I highly recommend them to anyone with any interest in the period, and to fantasy gamers looking for Dark Age-ish troops.

 

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  • Captain Kellen

    I rate your article a ‘Saxon’ on the ‘Germanic’ to ‘Roman’ scale… It would have been a ‘Celt’ but I had to be politically correct these days and they didn’t pay me… enough…

    I’ll be in a Kentucky corner till Thursday. – CK

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      Don’t get me started on the identification of the Cimbri and Teutones as trans-Danube Celts.

      • Captain Kellen

        Funny you should mention it that way… My mother in-law purchased a disc on ‘Celts’ last Christmas for me to listen to on the computer, while I paint, as background noise. I seem to remember something along those lines as in ‘Teutones’.

        *Runs back to the corner to watch the disc*

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          Honestly I suspect that ‘Celt’ is a Greco-Roman catchall for ‘jerks who live north of us’. A geographical, rather than ethic or cultural concept.

          • Thuloid

            Lots of terms work that way. Think of this: we have a rather significant body of literature handed down to us from an ancient people who were in the habit of wearing the term “Israel” in some fashion. Even granting that, as well as evidence from their neighbors, it’s still hard to tell exactly what the term indicated.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            There are very modern examples of wildly inaccurate lumping of peoples and places. ‘Indian’ is applied to the population of the New World and the Subcontinent. Even if we limit it to people actually from India, India itself is largely a colonial geo-policial concept with no basis in historical or cultural reality.

            The Qing identified Victoria as ‘the Queen of the Southern Barbarians’ (which says a lot about their grasp on geography) and struggled to understand that Europeans were organized into mutually hostile nation-states.

            Undoubtedly, the man on the ground had a much better sense if these things. But, what comes down to us is from the top down prospective. The people writing these histories probably didn’t care about the difference between tribe A and tribe B anymore than a reader of a London newspaper cared about the difference between Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu

          • Thuloid

            To an American, everyone from south of us is Mexican. And to a New Yorker, everything between themselves and Los Angeles (aside, perhaps, from Chicago) is sheer wilderness.

            I remember an old conversation, had in high school Latin class, with a friend of Chinese descent. She would object to the term “oriental” as hopelessly Eurocentric. Then she asserted the proper term is “Asian”–how an old Greek term for Anatolia and the Persian Empire would be less Eurocentric, I have no idea.

            But then, it’s striking how often a people’s name for themselves means something roughly like “the people” or “human”, and their term for their land identifies it as the center of the known world. It seems we can’t have names for things that are both sensitive and accurate.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Precisely. A have a fair amount of relatives south of the border. Which has given me some insight into how laughable simplistic the American concept of a Hispanic super culture to the south is. Many of the countries in Latin American have nothing in common and utterly loathe each other, and if you’ve got the time they’ll tell you all about it. Then there is a whole a whole complex ethic caste system on top of that.

            But, yes. Most people cal themselves people. Indeed, the official name for or planet is ‘dirt’

  • MerryVulture

    I like this article, I wish I had some use for these so I could get some.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      Since when has added to the lead pile ever required ‘use’?

      • MerryVulture

        Fair statement. I’ll order some straight away. Unless I forget before payday. How are you with reminders? 😉

      • Captain Kellen

        I rate this comment a ‘True-ism’ on the Reality to WFT scale!

  • Thuloid

    Thanks for this. I am at home with the baby for the next month, so I need all the interesting, quick reads I can get. Side note: I may go insane. The doing-anything-while-caring for a baby thing is a lot like trying to read a book, but being kicked in the side of the head every eight seconds.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      I tried not to go too far off in the weeds. The finer points of Germano-Gothic cultural groupings is a subject that one could spend a huge amount of time on.

      My experience with babies has been very limited. I was once accused of failing appreciate the difference between a girl’s dormitory and a barracks, but that’s beside the point…

      Best of luck with the insanity.

      • Thuloid

        My experience with babies is the last two months. Incidentally, from my angle I’d love to see a straight-up historical post. Call it background for gamers, if you like, or something to get people excited about the time period.

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          That might be worthwhile. Way, way bad in one of my history seminars I transformed into something of a doubting Thomas. Historians have every reason to lie, and probably lacked much first hand information in most cases. Without multiple sources it is hard for me to trust the facts presented. I particularly think we misunderstand ancient ethnography.

          This has left me with the annoying habit of peppering any discussion of historical events with ‘maybe’.

          In spite of that I suppose I could attempt an overview of some period. Any requests?

          • Captain Kellen

            Interesting…

            If I may derail this conversation into another corner.

            When I took a Philosophy course, the professor commented on ‘history’ being a problem simply from the fact of ‘revisionists’ re-writing about events. She often said that multiple sources, peer reviewed sources, were needed to get a firm grasp on subjects of all kinds due to revisionists, sloppy research, and lack of peer review on the internet.

            Just today I looked at two articles about Iran from presumably two credible sites but both were ‘spinning’ (revision-ing) facts about the subject, each in opposition to each other, to sway the readers opinion. It’s tough looking at the internet and knowing what is or is not peer reviewed.

            Please continue…

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            Revisionists and lack of peer review is really the tip of the iceberg. Most of our primary sources are highly suspect.

            Our primary source for Pre-Imperial Roman history is Ab Urbe Condita. At the time of its publication the Julio-Claudians had just narrowly won a multi-decade civil war, abolished democracy, eradicated the pesky upper class, banished artists dared complain, and was in the process of cementing a highly conservative dictatorship.

            Livy dwells often and long on the importance of good old fashioned middle-class Roman values. Is the whole text Augustine propaganda? Probably not. But we do know that it was clearly pleasing to the regime. How much of it is true? What’s been left out? We don’t and can’t know.

            There is the rub, we don’t know the history of Rome. We know the history of Rome as Gaius Octavius wants us to understand it.

            Similar discussions can be had with other historical sources. Multiple sources for the same events are rare until after AD 1000 and much later in many areas.

          • Thuloid

            Whatever floats your boat. If you like migration period Germanic-Gothic, go to town.

            As to skepticism regarding sources and assumptions, I’m right with you. I read a book review essay yesterday that was, in a very backhanded way, attacking the appetite for the sensational and speculative in New Testament research (not my field, but close enough that I read the book reviews). Historical reconstructions are a string of “maybes”.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            I might do that. Though I’m very torn between the position that the Goths are simply later Germans with allies from the Indo-Eurpoean plain, or some new population that moved into Germany during the period of relative darkness from the Roman withdrawal in the first century to outbreak of sustained warfare along the Rhine frontier.

    • In my almost four years of experience it doesn’t get any easier. Be prepared to do everything half-arsed from now on, unless you’re at work and thus in blissful peace.

    • Captain Kellen

      My youngest, a dwarf-hobbit hybrid, doesn’t kick me in the head every eight seconds but requires lots of ‘hands-on’. Trnaslation – Hold me so I am happy and you, you get to do nothing but hold me. Unless the Irish-Princess will hold me. I think he’s going to make a great dictator some day!

      • Thuloid

        Not a literal kicking, mind you. Just some exhausting and distracting form of continual interruption. Right now I’m simply getting my ass kicked by the stay at home dad gig. Kid is either asleep (for short stretches) or screaming in full voice the entire time I have him. Takes me hours after the wife gets home just to get my body relaxed and start thinking again. I’m worn out. Managing rage and full body muscle tension for six to eight hours on end just isn’t my thing.

    • Bush Craft

      Just wait until they can move around under their own power 😐

  • That’s true about the spears. Most pre-modern sword manuals (eastern and western) concede that the spear is a far superior weapon to the sword. Some even claim that the quarterstaff is the ultimate weapon, beating even the spear.

    They all admit that swords are classier though.

    • Thuloid

      The Romans did figure out how to beat well-disciplined spear blocks with swords, but that was a bit rare. I’m not sure I buy it about the quarterstaff–what’s the downside of having a blade on one end? If both our armies march to war with sticks but mine have sharp points, I know who I’m betting on.

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        A sword is clearly an effective weapon against pikemen (and perhaps Hoplites) in phalanx. The Spanish used swordsmen to much the same end as the Romans 1300 years earlier.

        Despite copying Greek art, by the early Imperial period the Romans were generally adopting Northern or Western European military techniques for their infantry (due in no small part to the fact that most of their troops were most likely of Gaulic or Iberian origin.)

        Personally, I’m inclined to the position that Roman success was due more to effective low level leadership more than equipment. What is always striking is how quickly Roman formations react and move, which if we dare make a modern parallel, points to highly capable junior officers.

        • Thuloid

          I think that parallel works. The mature Roman army is more like a modern military (not least in that it is a professional military, and not a warrior caste) than anything else within more than a thousand years of it.

          Some of the difference from Greece (not so much in weaponry) comes from native Italic techniques. E.g., the phalanx is supposedly dropped during the Samnite wars. The aura of prestige around things Greek and Etruscan fades a bit. But it sure looks like they’re adopting the gladius hispaniensis even during the Punic wars, so quite a bit before early Imperial.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            The process certainly began early. I suppose my tense was incorrect. What I meant was that by the Early Imperial Period the process of abandoning Greek military methods for more Western European (and Persian) influenced ones was complete. But, this clearly took several centuries, and we don’t know how uniform legions actually were.

            Of course, the gladius further evolved into the more Germanic(debatable) spatha. But, the various tribes occupying what is now Spain, France, and Western Germany were more than likely drastically more sophisticated than we realize. So, I think we understate ‘barbarian’ influence on the Roman approach to warfare.

          • Thuloid

            I think most of us have trouble imagining people without written language as anything other than kind of a blob, either passive or aggressive, but either way not having much structure. I mean, we’ve known for a long time now that early medieval Scandinavians weren’t technologically or socially backwards (which, of course, is why they were busy colonizing half the known world). But in the imagination, they’re still bearded giants smeared in the blood of their enemies.

            I think a little bit as well about the Native American tribes in northern Mexico and the American Southwest. I grew up some there–the pre-Columbian tribes built great, walled cliff villages and towns. If they were discovered in Europe, we’d call them fortresses. But the standard accounts of these people said that no, they were just simple farmers who happened to live in highly fortified dwellings just far enough away from one another that a fire lit on the top of one settlement could be seen by the next one down the line. And then you realize some of the known empires that existed not that far to the south and it suddenly clicks–these were organized kingdoms.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliff_Palace#/media/File:Mesaverde_cliffpalace_20030914.752.jpg

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            What makes this bias so interesting is that for those of us of North, West, or Central European extraction were the unlettered barbarians until rather recently. I’m sure the poor bastards who died on the walls of Granada and Florance perceived the flower of the Ballbusch clan as murderous savages.

            We forget that at the end of the day the Germans beat the Romans both halting the conquest of Germania and then going on to overthrow the empire (if the identification of the early ‘Germans’ with the later ‘Germans’ and ‘Goths’ is correct). Clearly they were sophisticated enough to put armies in the field that matched what the Roman Empire could do

        • Yes, as I understand it the Roman defeat of the Successors was less to do with the fact that they had swords, and more that they were able to break up the ridiculously huge Macedonian-style phalanxes by making them turn to try to face multiple small units. Then when cracks appeared they flanked them. Pikes are not amenable to being flanked.

          A spearman is most likely going to defeat a swordsman in open ground one on one, or in formation, as long as the formation doesn’t break. Where they fall down is when they panic, but that’s true of everyone.

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            One does wonder how a Macedonian phalanx even functioned, it seems…impractically huge.

          • Thuloid

            Likewise a Spanish tercio. But then, Philip and Alexander used a lot of combined arms. That phalanx had skirmisher, archer, light and heavy cavalry support…Hmm, kind of like a tercio…

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            The tercio is an evolution of the same concept.

            From a military standpoint these formations don’t make any sense. Battles are won by maximizing force at a single point this underpins all offensive tactical considerations. Once you’ve reached the maximum number of men who can attack a single opponent and one time further ranks are useless; indeed they’re counter productive as the rob you of men you count use to extend your frontage or to create a mobile reserve.

            Both Philip of Macedon and the Duke of Parma were excellent commanders and there is no question they knew what they were doing. So, there is some advantage to these heavy dense formations, but I’ve never heard anything conclusive. I suspect it has to do with cycling ranks in order to constantly feed fresh men into melee; however, I have no evidence of this.

          • There is the psychological aspect I guess. Pretty much every ancient description of a phalanx mentions how absolutely terrifying they were to behold. Maybe it was a case of them getting bigger and bigger so they would be more and more scary?

            But the Romans seemed adept at dealing with psychological warfare. The way they ignored the hurled spells and creepy smoke and just butchered the druids at Anglesey comes to mind.

          • Thuloid

            Sure–but Epaminondas used an especially deep phalanx at Leuctra against the Spartan elite. They weren’t going to buckle because something looked scary. They broke because he beat them at the thing they were best at, which means something about the deeper phalanx was hard to deal with. But potentially more complicated to execute? Otherwise lesser commanders would have done it routinely.

      • I think there are a few reasons for the claim, which I read in the English fencing manuals of John Silver, and also heard from a friend who has a teaching license from a traditional Japanese sword school.

        A spear seems like a staff with a pointy end, but that pointy end actually changes the balance significantly and makes the weapon work in a whole different way. A staff is horrifically fast and has a threat at both ends.

        Also, a traditional quarterstaff is around eight feet long, and made from the trunk of a young tree split lengthwise into quarters. It has reach, weight, is comparatively light and fast for its size, and being hit on the head by one is going to kill you.

        • Thuloid

          All plausible, and yet nobody who knew how to make a hard point ever took the field with a group of men thusly armed. It may well be that, in the hands of a highly skilled individual combatant, a quarterstaff is awesome. But that isn’t war.

          • Yes, comparisons of weapons need context. A spear is a fantastic team weapon, but also generally beats a sword one-on-one, given equal skill.

            I’m not sure and I don’t have time to look it up, but I think soldiers did sometimes go to war in formation with staves, at least in Europe and they were very effective. They require greater skill to learn though. I’m about to run out, but I’ll look it up later (or you can, if you’re so inclined).

          • Cedric Ballbusch

            No question a staff or club would hurt. But, as always where and when is going to determine how effective such a weapon would be.

            War clubs and fails were popular among the Poles and Volga Bulgars long after such weapons were abandoned in Western Europe.

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      Swords were (and maybe still are) status symbols. If you look at yearly iron and steel production prior to 1500 it is clear that metal is rare. A warrior is already a man of substantial wealth and status. One with a sword is a cut above that. The comparison of a war sword wit ha Porsche is probably fairly reasonable.

      Of course, this makes the sword ideal for heroic combat since anyone who has one is by definition a worthy opponent.

      • I think that’s gotta be true any one who rocks up wielding a two handed broad sword gets my instant attention and not a small amount of respect 🙂

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          See? Still works.

      • They’ve been the sidearm of aristocracy for a long time, from European knights, samurai, right through to Napoleonic lancers.

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          And they retain a certain cachet. I’ve seen a few ancient and rusted swords still hanging in pride of place over the mantle.

          • Thuloid

            Saw a beautiful display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY of Japanese swords, from the same line of swordsmiths, one after another, medieval to modern day. 13th-20th century weapons that were in perfect shape.

  • MerryVulture

    Having just read through the comments again, I am struck by how fun and informative the HoP is. I now have good jumping off points for topics that have long interested me, with some context to make it more likely I will continue my educational readings. Well done, HoP-ians! or is it HoP-ites?

    • Captain Kellen

      Corner Dwellers…

    • Bush Craft

      HOP-lites