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Author Topic: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army? Edit - new info  (Read 561 times)

Offline olicana

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I'm preparing an order sheet for the figures I'd like to add to my existing collection to be able to field a Fatimid army c.1100 AD. I'd like some Abyssinian swordsmen for exotic flavour but, I can't find any pictures of what they look like. Given where they came from (Ethiopia), could they have looked like late 19th century period Beja swordsmen?



If you didn't know about the British colonial adventures in the Sudan, they might be from a much earlier period, don't you think?
« Last Edit: October 28, 2020, 09:38:12 AM by olicana »

Offline Atheling

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2020, 11:15:23 AM »
I can't say as I don't know but...... there is a differential of approximately 785 years so there would certainly be a lot of scope for cultural change?


Offline aphillathehun

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2020, 11:24:34 AM »

You might see if you can find drawings of Axumite (? spelling) warriors.  I think there are images from coins, but don't really know that much about them.

Offline Plynkes

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2020, 11:46:18 AM »
One thing I do know is that trousers weren't a fashion in Ethiopia until the 19th Century, so unfortunately using melee-armed Ethiopian colonial figures isn't really viable.

Dunno about using Beja. The Beni-Amer people of Eritrea are Beja and shared the so-called "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" stylings of their northern kinsmen in Victorian times, so you aren't a million miles away, but I have no idea how they dressed back in medieval times.
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Offline OB

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2020, 12:45:01 PM »
They were probably Christians many Fatimid soldiers were. 

You could try googling images from the illustrated Gospels of the monastery of Abba Garima. 

The images Iíve seen of medieval Ethiopians donít look like Beja in either skin tone or clothing.  However they may not be from the time of the Crusades.  I have seen a print of an Ethiopian horseman in pretty standard Askar armour.  He looks right for the period.

By the time of the Crusades the Ethiopians had been Christians for a very long time.  Fatimid Christian soldiers built their own churches in Egypt so it might be a bit of religious imagery made it onto shields or embroidery on clothes.  Group identity seems to have been pretty strong in Fatimid units.

Offline olicana

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2020, 05:31:35 PM »
I did wonder if they might look more like some of the 'wilder' Sudanese, there being a wide variance of garb description (as pictured in WRG publications below). I know the Sudanese I want as archers will look like the one in Arabic garb, because they are to represent the regular Fatimid regiments of African slave soldiers, as will my slave soldier spearmen. I'm going to order 264 minis from Footsore for them.





It's the fact that the swordsmen are distinctively referred to as Abyssinian and not lumped in with the other black African slave soldiers, perhaps indicating a strong tradition of sword fighting by the tribes from that region and a different look (it was the 'swordsman' tradition that made me think of the Beja). I don't know if afro hairstyles were popular in the early 12th century but, the North African Blemmye of earlier times had them. Take away his bow and give him a sword and he could easily be a Beja warrior.



Perhaps I should go for what footsore describe as 'Moorish' tribal warriors, but give them all swords instead of javelins. These would be safer and blend in more with the other troops.



Without definite information about what they looked like, perhaps I should simply leave them off the list - I only want a single unit of them.
« Last Edit: October 27, 2020, 05:48:49 PM by olicana »

Offline Atheling

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2020, 05:42:15 PM »
246?  ???  :o

Offline olicana

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2020, 06:01:03 PM »
246 being twelve units of 22 figs. The Fatimids fielded thousands of them. One of the four regiments was said to be 10,000 strong though this might be a bit of poetic Arab license.

I pretty much have the rest of the army because I have lots of Arab Syrians.

For cavalry, I only need a unit barded cavalry for the Royal Mamluks, another unit of 'Arab Askar', and three more units of Bedouin.

This will pretty much bring Fatimid numbers to about 150 cavalry (42 light) and 350 infantry (the bulk being 246 Sudanese Ghulam slave soldiers).

That should give the King of Jerusalem something to think about!


Offline Atheling

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2020, 06:39:01 PM »
246 being twelve units of 22 figs. The Fatimids fielded thousands of them. One of the four regiments was said to be 10,000 strong though this might be a bit of poetic Arab license.

I pretty much have the rest of the army because I have lots of Arab Syrians.

For cavalry, I only need a unit barded cavalry for the Royal Mamluks, another unit of 'Arab Askar', and three more units of Bedouin.

This will pretty much bring Fatimid numbers to about 150 cavalry (42 light) and 350 infantry (the bulk being 246 Sudanese Ghulam slave soldiers).

That should give the King of Jerusalem something to think about!

I imagine it will!  lol So are you thinking of moving on up to the Second Crusade?

Offline OB

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2020, 06:57:58 PM »
These maybe of interest.

Offline olicana

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army?
« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2020, 09:37:34 AM »
Thanks all.

Last night I did some spade work, using the web to research what Abyssinian swordsmen might have looked like, and I found some interestingly good stuff. I'm going to tell you now, to avoid confusion, that I can't definitively say that sword armed Beja warriors (by Perry) can be used as Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen but, my conclusion is that they can.

Because time is such a valuable commodity, I'm going to share the fruits of my labours so you don't have to spend your time doing the same.

What I found out.

1. Regionally: Abyssinia, Axumite Kingdom (nice clue that, thanks aphillathehun), Blemye and Beja all crop up in exactly the same part of the world - Eritrea, Sudan, Northern Ethiopia - at about the same time. The Beja and the Blemye were both inhabitants of the Axumite Kingdom.

2. Culturally: I was rather taken with the Osprey picture of the Blemye archer I pictured earlier because he looks so much like a Beja warrior of colonial times. It turns out that this shouldn't be surprising because they are quite possibly from the same tribal grouping. I didn't find any direct information that said they were one and the same people but, pound to a penny, they are very, very closely related. Both came from exactly the same region; both were nomadic people living in the same way; both wore their hair long, styled in the same way; both were warlike people. A further note on the hairstyle is that the nomadic people of this region wore their hair in the 'Beja style' from 2000BC (captured in ancient Egyptian artwork, apparently) until the 20th century when it started to go out of fashion. BTW, the 'afro' hairstyle of the 60s was directly related to the Beja hairstyle and was an anti-colonial political statement by members of the Black Power movement - I didn't know it linked directly to the Beja.

3. Swords: Swords were specifically noted as being among the Axumite Kingdom's chief imports. This reminded me of something I had forgotten. Iron deposits are rare in the middle east and most sword blades were imported throughout the ancient and medieval periods (lots from India); incidentally it's why a lot of pommels and quillons were locally produced from 'yellow metal' rather than more robust steel. This is a good piece of info because it probably means, though they are described in WRG terms as 2 handed cutting weapons (2HCW), the swords were probably not especially large, or special of design, and would most likely look like the swords found in the wider region.

Conclusion: If you want to use sword armed Perry Beja warriors to represent Abyssinian swordsmen, in Fatimid service during the Crusader period, I think you can. It seems that the look of Abyssinian nomads didn't change for 4000 years. I'm definitely very happy to go this route because there is more than enough evidence to back it up, IMHO. The only questions are, were Abyssinian swordsmen nomads? Is there evidence they were not?
« Last Edit: October 28, 2020, 10:10:40 AM by olicana »

Offline Plynkes

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army? Edit - new info
« Reply #11 on: October 28, 2020, 10:04:27 AM »
I wonder if they used a different style of shield back then? The only reason I am thinking about that is that I think that different shields to the ones we are used to would set those figures off nicely (and take away the impression that they are simply Mahdist figures doing double duty).


Gripping Beast used to do some rather nice lozenge(ish)-shaped North African ancient shields that you could buy separately (based on a colour plate of a 2nd Century Sudanese tribal warrior from the same Osprey book your Blemye fellow comes from). No idea if they would be anywhere near correct, but they would look very cool.

Just went to GB. I couldn't find their desert frontier range for some reason, but they still sell those shield packs.



Offline Plynkes

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army? Edit - new info
« Reply #12 on: October 28, 2020, 10:24:15 AM »
Just had a quick look in that Osprey and it actually has a colour plate of a 6th Century (getting closer) Ethiopian, based on a description by a Byzantine ambassador. He's a governor, so a bit posher than your average warrior. His clothes are a bit more swanky, but his hair is quite similar to the Beja style. Interestingly, his shield ressembles the Persian/Indian type: Smallish, circular and with four large rivets in a square pattern in the centre. He is a bigwig, though. Maybe not everybody had shields like that.


Offline olicana

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army? Edit - new info
« Reply #13 on: October 28, 2020, 02:02:57 PM »
I did wonder about changing shields. Do the Perry metal Beja warriors come with shields cast on?

It wouldn't be too difficult to remove them as I only want a unit of 22 - 24 figures.

Footsore also do some 'tribal' shields in their Armies of the Caliphates range, as well as Arab round shields. A mix of these would certainly take away the double duty Beja 'stand in' look. As I'm going to have to buy 170 of the round shields for the Sudanese slave soldier archers, a couple more packs will not make much difference, price wise, for the Abyssinians.




Offline Plynkes

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Re: Crusader period Abyssinian swordsmen for Fatimid army? Edit - new info
« Reply #14 on: October 28, 2020, 02:41:34 PM »
The metal ones come with shields cast on (at least the ones I have do - not sure if there any packs I don't have) , but they also do a multi-part plastic set that have separate shields.




 

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