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When is a Peltast not a Peltast?

Many, many, years ago when the world was young, 28mm had not yet been invented, and wargames shops still existed.

Back then, browsing through such a shop, I came across this Hinchliffe figure. It was labelled as a Late Byzantine Peltast. I loved the figure for its mixed classical/medieval look and the fact that the casting was many times better that what was available back then. So bought a unit. Then I needed an army to go with them and so I set about building a 10th-11th C Byzantine Army.

Previously my wargames armies had fought out battles on a mythical continent. This time (aided by WRG army lists) I was determined to build a truly historical Byzantine army. Imagine my despair when my further research revealed that the Byzantine peltast was a myth. Troops referred to as peltasts (by Anna Comnena for example). were almost certainly archers or the term was used simply to describe light infantry. So I sold off my peltast unit in the interests of “historical accuracy.”

The problem with the Hinchliffe peltast figure was not the model itself but its interpretation as a a sort of an Ancient Greek peltast revival serving as a half-way house between heavy infantry and true skirmishers (LMI in old money). In truth the men modelled by the Hinchliffe figure are well attested and were simply close order spearmen without full armour. Given that 10th-11th Byzantine infantry were levied from the Themes, the amount of armour and training would have varied considerably.

Now that I am re-visiting my 10th- 11th C Byzantine Army I decided to order a unit of Hinchliffe ‘peltasts’ from Lancashire Games. They will serve as infantry levied from the Anatolian Themes. I gave each base a different colour scheme as I have done with all my Byzantine units. This lets me mix and match in formations of varying size whilst retaining a coherent look. I decided to give them plain shields with decorated borders. Not only is this easier to paint but it is well attested to in Byzantine art.

Although designed half a century ago I think these figures can still hold their own alongside more modern castings. The standard bearer with cloak is a (now sadly defunct) Corvus Welsh spearman with Hinchliffe peltast head. The officer in front (best seen in the previous pic) is a modern Perry Armenian with the addition of a helmet crest.

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