Monday, January 14, 2013

The land of Canaan, part I

The idea to start a biblical project came from a discussion with Laurie, my girlfriend. In one of those moment that proves she really loves me, I was discussing with her my desire to start a new project. As I was listing the eras that could interest me, she kinda challenged me and said 'you know, you've always done similar projects, eras dominated by European conflicts and Europeans, why don't you try something really different?' This got me thinking. Leaving Europe...started thinking about Ancients, which was my first Historical wargaming love. Back to the world of the Greeks? Romans? Not exotic enough I thought. Everyone does the Greeks, Seleucids and Romans. I wanted something completely different. And then while thinking about New Kingdom Egyptians and browsing Foundry's ancients ranges, it hit me; Canaanites! Not only is this a really original and rarely seen army, but at the same time it's a little wink to Laurie, who's jewish. After all while not exactly the same, Canaanites were of semitic origins and lived in the Levant (of which modern day Israel was part). It seemed perfect. The fact that the Foundry range was fantastic of course helped...

The opposing army would of course be the New Kingdom Egyptians, and my original goal was to recreate the battle of Megiddo. However after discussing the project with my wargaming entourage (i.e. John and Nicolas) both of them decided to join the fun, thus changing my plans. Nicolas will paint a Sea People army and while by no means definitive, John is currently thinking of doing the Egyptians. Which means for once I will be able to concentrate on doing one army. Yipee.

Now before I go any further, it might be good to describe a bit the Canaan region and the Canaanites :

From Wikipedia :

Canaan is a historical Semitic-speaking region roughly corresponding to the Levant (modern-day Israel, Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan and Syria). Canaan was of geopolitical importance in the Late Bronze Age Amarna period as the area where the spheres of interest of the Egyptian, Hittite Empire and Assyrian Empires converged. Canaan is historically attested throughout the 4th millennium BC; the later Amarna Letters use Kinaḫḫu, while sources of the Egyptian New Kingdom mention numerous military campaigns conducted in Ka-na-na.

The etymology is uncertain. One explanation is that it has an original meaning of "lowlands", from a Semitic root knʿ "to be low, humble, depressed", in contrast with Aram, "highlands".[9] An alternative suggestion derives the term from Hurrian Kinahhu, purportedly referring to the colour purple, so that Canaan and Phoenicia would be synonyms ("Land of Purple").

From 1800 to approx. 1500 BC, Canaan land bridge and cultural development flourished, permitting the people of Canaan to build their cities into powerful and fortified urban centers. The military influence of the Hyksos and especially the Mitanni brought to the Canaanites the composite bow and the horse drawn chariot. The coat of mail used as body armour for Charioteers also came into use at this time. 

A Maryannu warrior, elite of the Canaan army
The entire region was one of fortified city-states, each ruled by a king or chief.  Although there was no High King or such, the countrywide Canaanite fortification design were so well integrated as to at least suggest some degree of cooperation amongst the princes. The purpose of these fortifications was to protect the lucrative trade routes of the region, liking it to Syrian and Egypt. Operating either independently or in concert, depending on the size and nature of the threat, the Canaanite princes were able to mount a mobile and fierce defense of their territories from these strategically located urban fortifications. From a military point of view, the city-states of Canaan represented a formidable defensive array against invading foes. A necessity, as the region was constantly disputed by the main powers of the times.

The 'underdog' status of the region, and it's organization into city-states are two things that appeal to me.

Ok, so the history lesson is finished for today. I'll try to include more of it in subsequent posts.

Back to wargaming...This project brings it's own challenges. For example, following a strict OOB is impossible, and there is very little information readily available on the army's appearance and composition.

I find planning is very important when starting a new project. This is just a resume, many of these points will be discussed further in future posts. :

The goal? To play. My first goal is to be able to put together in a respectable amount of time a fighting force. While I do think biblical armies look good, this is not a project to show-off in my cabinet. I love playing ancients, and I can't wait to try to play Chariot wars.

Size? Having to paint only one army makes this easier. However both Nico and John are aiming at a somewhat limited size army, so at the moment I'm thinking an army of about 12 chariots, 3-4 units of 20-24 figures and a couple of skirmishers units.

OOB? Very generic. I'll just try to have a good selection of the limited unit choices of the Canaanite army of the time.

Figures? The Foundry biblical range is one of the reason I got into this era, and I believe it is one of the best range the Perrys ever did. So easy choice. However all chariots will be from Cutting Edge Miniatures. They are just one notch above the competition (more on this in a later post). I will probaly use some Cutting Edge here and there to add some variety. 

The rules? War & Conquest, Hail Caesar, Basic Impetus (for the moment). I have them all and they all look interesting, although at first glance War & Conquest seems to have the upper hand. But as usual I will create a collection based on how I want it to look and the ruleset will have to adjust.

The basing? The bane of wargamers everywhere, the damn basing. I think I spend more time thinking about this issue than I do planning the rest of the project! And then you will probably second guess yourself, etc. Over the years however I did learn some things 
(your mileage may vary on these) :
  • Single basing is not an option when playing with units and large battle. It takes longer to base, it's a pain to move on the battlefield, it takes longer to transport. And I just think units look much better on multi-bases than on movement trays. 
  • Put more figures than less on bases; it's better imho to have 4 bases of 6 figures than 6 bases of 4. See the moving and transporting issues above. 
  • There is a delicate balance between too much frontage and not enough, no matter the period.
  • As long as you and your opponents have the same basing, it's all good and you should be able to adapt any ruleset to your collection.
I thought about it for a while, and then came up with a proposition. I discussed it with Nicolas to see if we were thinking the same way (he was). We settled on 50mm square bases for everything but the chariots. I would like to use that basing for future ancient projects too, so it was in part decided by the looks of close order troops: 20mm frontage looks too sparse to me, but 15mm looks too tight, and can be difficult to achieve with some poses. So 50mm per 3 figures gives us a good compromise. The breakdown looks like :
  • Infantry close order : 6 in 2 ranks on 50mm squares
  • Infantry open order : 4-5 on 50mm squares
  • Infantry skirmishers : 3 on 50mm square bases
  • Cavalry : 2 on 50mm square bases
  • Chariots : one chariot on a 50x80mm or 50x100mm bases (not sure yet).
 Next post, we will look into the army composition, colour scheme and more on basing.


  1. will follow with great interest, love this era and painted all three armies as 15mm DBA for my Dad in the late 90s
    Peace James

  2. The Foundry Biblical range is indeed VERY nice and makes the period tempting despite being low on my list of historical interests.

    Having a couple of partners in crime makes all the deference though. About this time last year I was looking at going it alone on a SYW Prussian and Russian project only to have my friend Eric become interested in doing Napoleonics. Now, I think we've found a solid 3rd player, and the project become exponentially less daunting and more exciting! :-)

    Good luck Iannick, I'm looking forward to seeing this project play out.

    1. Thanks Jason! Having wargaming friends certainly changes your way of doing things. Can't remember the last time I had only one army to paint to be able to play!

  3. Great article Iannick, that will serve as a reference for this project. I look forward for an article about basing for this project.


  4. Thanks Nico. I detailed the project and the base size in part for you and John ;-)

  5. Sounds interesting. I'd probably go with HC for rules... Will watch with interest.

  6. Two posts in two days! I missed the first one, but I am here now. Excellent explanation of the plan as well as very interesting background information.


  7. Wonderful ! and a great fun army, look forward to seeing more.