The Sumerians

This is a discussion of one of my wargame armies, namely, the Sumerians. This paper is divided into a number of sections. First there is a history of the Sumerians (albeit a brief one). Then there are details of the wargame armies I have followed by painting details for the Sumerians. There are a number of links in the article as well to books about the Sumerians as well as wargame figures that can be used (note that the figure manufacturers will be linked in the Review section of Thomo’s Hole).

So, these are the notes about the DBM army I finished working on in Norway (which, interestingly enough, produces 9 DBA armies as well). It was completed in late 1998. As at May 1999 it had still not marched in anger on the tabletop, although I expected to remedy that soon. By June 1999 the Sumerians had had three outings on the table against moderately historical opponents and as expected, they have performed miserably (well, rather I have performed miserably, the Sumerians have simply reflected this). I will include more details later. Suffice it to say that their record at the moment is 0-10, 3-7, 0-10. The one high spot so far was the commander of a broken command engaging an element of the command that broke his command, then breaking their command!

The Sumerians were probably the first of the civilised nations of the Middle East. Their civilisation flourished around the area of Mesopotamia. By 3500 B.C. they had achieved a high level of culture and civilisation. This is reflected, to some extent, in their armed forces of the time. These forces were split into three main areas, There were the aristocracy riding battle cars (an early forerunner of chariots). These battle cars were pulled by Onagers rather than horses. The second main area was the phalanx. These were spearmen who appear to have been organised into formal phalanxes. The third main area was a collection of skirmishers, made up from the poor and the Semitic peoples who populated the area before the Sumerians moved in and took control.

Allied to the Sumerians as well as causing headaches for the Sumerians at various times were the inhabitants of the Zagros Highlands (Lullubi, Guti, Kassites, Hurrians and such), a range of mountains to the east of the areas settled by the Sumerians. These highlanders included the Lullubi, Guti, Kassites and Hurrians. Their dress tended to be simple ranging from naked to simple tunics. They appear to have been mostly irregular mountain type troops, fighting in loose or open formations or relying on bows. There were also a number of Semitic peoples to the south fond of invading Sumeria.

The History

Many peoples from diverse backgrounds had settled around the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This area was particularly fertile, especially in the south in the areas occupied by modern Kuwait and parts of Saudi Arabia. The Sumerians appeared to have started a civilisation in this area around 3000 B.C. The Sumerians had a separate language group to the other inhabitants of the area. The Sumerians built cities and ruled these with a monarch like figure. They also began to write.

So, around 3000 B.C. large city states existed in southern Mesopotamia, cities such as Ur, Uruk, Kish, Lagash, Eridu, Umma and Nippur. Some of these cities had populations of between 10,000 and 25,000 people. Given the nature of the area, there was frequent warfare over the scarce resources of water and fertile land.

After some time, the Semitic peoples of the Arabian Peninsula migrated in a couple of waves into Mesopotamia, bringing them into conflict with the Sumerians. Eventually these Semitic immigrants settled in the city of Akkad and the Akkadians eventually took over. Akkad is known to us in later history as Babylon. The settlers of Akkad spoke a Semitic language similar to Hebrew or Arabic. Interestingly, the Akkadians were more absorbed into Sumerian culture than absorbers of Sumerians into their culture. The Akkadians picked up:

  • Religion
  • Writing
  • Government Structures
  • Literature and
  • the Law

from the Sumerians.

In 2125 B.C., Ur rose up against Akkadian control. This was successful and resulted in the Sumerians being in control again over southern Mesopotamia. This revival was short-lived, however, lasting a little less than a century. A new wave of Semitic migration saw an end to this revival. However, Sumerian practices and institutions lived on in rule of their conquerors. In particular, the conquerors took up:

the Sumerians had adopted a king, or rather priest-king as the ruler of a city. His duties included:

  • leading the military
  • administering trade
  • judging disputes
  • heading up most religious celebrations
Underneath the King was a collection of bureaucrats, mainly priests, to handle a lot of the day-to-day administration of the city.
Monarchical Divinity
Sounds a great title doesn’t it. Basically, the Sumerians had developed the concept from the divine beings selecting the king to rule and had, in fact, moved to the point where the monarch was divine (and could trace a family tree back to different deities). This sort of became normal around that part of world (with the exception of the Hebrews).
Initially writing in Sumeria was developed to keep track of inventories. It was a pictogram style. However, as it was written using reeds in wet clay tablets that were eventually allowed to dry, it developed into cuneiform (as a result of only having to press the reed into the clay tablet and move one end of the reed).
Science and Mathematics
Sumerians invented calendars to keep track of various things. They also developed a calendar of 12 months (based around the moon). Unlike to Romans later, the Sumerians recognised that the calendar was imperfect and so had the concept of a “leap month” that turned up every three years to keep the calendar in pace with the seasons. The also did a lot of mathematical work around the number 60, giving us 60 minute hours, 60 second minutes and 360 degree circles. All the calculations and mathematics also led to a study of abstract mathematics.
The Sumerians were polytheistic. Their gods were powerful and anthropomorphic (before you reach for the dictionary, it means that they displayed human form or human characteristics).
The Sumerians apparently had a well developed code of law. This was recorded later by a Babylonian ruler. It is the Code of Hammurabi. Sumerian Law was based around revenge (as indeed, is most law). The eye for an eye argument. I believe the legal Latin term for this is lex talionis.

The Akkadians

These guys were around in the area from 2340 B.C. to 2125 B.C. and as mentioned, tended to adopt the Sumerian culture in most things. Sargon was the most famous of the Akkadians, having conquered the Sumerians in 2340 B.C.

Sumerian Myth and Legend

Sumer had a flood myth (similar to the Noah and the Ark one present in the Christian and Jewish faiths (possible also in Islam although I am not certain about that). The Sumerian one works along the lines of a king, by the name of Ziusudra, commands a boat to preserve the vegetion and the seed of humankind from the rising waters. Check in the reviews section of Thomo’s Hole for the review of a book called Noah’s Flood which postulates a location for a great flood and provides a convincing series of arguments for the flood.

There is also a fall from paradise story from Sumer as well. In this one, the story is based around the king of Uruk and the distant town of Arrata, where life is wonderful, and there are no spiders and snakes and creepy crawly bitey things (hey, I’m from Australia, I know more about creepy crawly bitey things than most of the rest of the population of the world). Tantalisingly, the tablet with the story on it is broken just as the tale starts to get interesting so we don’t really know how the fall occurs.

Books about the Sumerians

Check the Figure and Book Reviews in Thomo’s Hole for further reading about the Sumerians.

The Army List

The army list below was generated by using the CaseList(DBMw) Army List Program. The Case List Program can be loaded down from the Society of Ancients Home Page. Note that it shows the maximum number of elements that I have, not how I would necessarily organise them in a game.

Early Sumerian 3000 BC – 2334 BC
Army List Book: 1
Army List Number: 1
Home Climate: Dry Aggression Factor: 2
Terrain: WW, Rv, H(G), O, E, RGo, M, Rd, BUA

Type Training No. Description Points
Commander in Chief Command
Kn(I) Reg G C 1 Commander in Chief 29
Kn(I) Reg C 8 4 Wheel Battle Cars 72
Bg(O) Irr 2 Baggage 0
Cmd Elts: 9 EEs: 9.0 Dem.Lvl: 3.0
Ally General’s Command
Kn(I) Reg G C 1 Ally General 19
Bw(I) Reg 3 Household Archers 12
Ps(I) Irr 12 Javelinmen, settled or nomadic levy 12
Ps(O) Irr 24 Slingers, settled or nomadic levy 48
Bg(O) Irr 2 Baggage 0
Cmd Elts: 42 EEs: 22.0 Dem.Lvl: 7.5
Sub General Command
Kn(I) Reg G C 1 Sub General 29
Pk(X) Reg 18 Household and Militia Spearmen 72
Pk(I) Reg 36 Household and Militia Spearmen 108
Bg(O) Irr 2 Baggage 0
Cmd Elts: 57 EEs:55.0 Dem.Lvl:18.5
Zagros Highlander Ally Command
Bw(S) Irr G I 1 Zagros Highlander Ally 10
Bw(S) Irr 1 Bodyguard 5
Ax(I) Irr 22 Warriors 66
Ps(I) Irr 10 Skirmishers with javelin or throwstick 10
Bw(I) Irr 23 Archers 69
Ps(O) Irr 10 Slingers 20
Bg(O) Irr 2 Baggage 0
Cmd Elts: 80 EEs: 68.0 Dem.Lvl: 23.0
Total APs: 581
Generals: 4
Army Elts: 190 EEs: 154.0 Defeat Lvl: 77.0

Note: G = General, A = Ally, C = Chariots, M = Mounted Infantry.

The figures I used for this army were Chariot Miniatures 15mm figures, available direct from Chariot6 Miniatures with the exception of the battle cars. These were a mix of Essex Figures for the battle cars and Onagers and Chariot Miniatures for the crews. Links for Chariot and Essex can be found in the Web Links Section of Thomo’s Hole.

If you are interested in further information about the Sumerians, then you can track a lot of information down on the Internet about them. An enquiry in the Argos search engine below will reveal a wealth of sites containing information about the language, culture and beer of the Sumerians. Try doing a Google Search for the Argos Search Engine and put “Sumerians” into that engine

Painting Details

What follows is a fairly general painting guide for the Sumerians. I’ve combed through a number of reference works to come up with this painting guide. They include the relevant Osprey books as well as the Wargames Research Group publications. What follows is my interpretation of the details. I have divided the painting guide, not by troop types but by clothing.

Where capes existed, they were generally of wither thick felt or leather. If they were felt, they would normally be a neutral buff or off-white colour. The leather capes were either in natural leather colours or dyed in red or green. The capes also had copper studs or disks sewn into them.
There are a number of tunic styles present, ranging from the simple covering worn by the light troops to a fuller skirt. The light types were in a short tunic of wither woven wool or fleece. These tended to be undyed in colour and most likely (but not guaranteed) white in colour. The pikes and officers tended to where a longer skirt, sometimes with a strap over a shoulder. The skirt would be either fleece or woven wool. The strap over the shoulder was either in the material of the skirt, or leather. Therefore, white (again) for the skirt or fleece and either white for the over the shoulder strap or leather (again, either natural or dyed red or green). A leather belt was also sometimes worn.
Hats, Helmets and Head Coverings
There are a couple of different helmets described for the Sumerians. All of them were made from either copper of electrum. Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. Long bits hanging from the rear of helmets were most likely hair and could, therefore, be painted black.
I have not found out anything much about the construction of Sumerian standards. I have assumed that as they were present, they had some significance (religious or otherwise). As such, they were likely to have been constructed from a precious metal. I have assumed a standard then in either silver or gold on a wooden staff. Items dangling from the standard I have assumed as coloured ribbons.
A number of different types of weapons have been shown in archaeological evidence. They are:
Sickle Sword
This is a Sickle like weapon with a wooden or leather covered handle. It is kind of like a bent sword or sabre. The blade was most likely bronze. The handle, wood or leather covered.
Many axes were used and appear to be used by officers and kings. They had a head reminiscent of an ice pick and most likely in Bronze or Copper. I would think that a ceremonial axe may also have a head that had been gilded. The handle was a wooden shaft and this was sometimes decorated with bands of gold or silver.
Daggers were a simple arrangement of blade and handle. The
blade as most likely copper, although ceremonial daggers with blades of gold
are known. The handle was either wood or lapis lazuli.
There were three parts to the spear. The head, the shaft and
the butt spike. The head was normally bronze. The shaft was wood and the butt
spike most likely copper.

Sumerians in DBA

This DBA army is present purely because of the DBM army I built for this. I must admit that the Sumerian option under DBA is a lot more fun to play with than the DBM option, although I will also admit that due to the inferior nature
of the DBM Sumerians, the games are always exciting with lots casualties.

Since I originally put this list together, DBA has been upgraded through another couple of releases. This has led finally to the version 2 release 1 release of the DBA rules. These have, amongst other changes to the rules themselves, been accompanied by a revision of the army lists. Fortunately, having built this army for DBM, there are enough spare elements to do everything except the earliest Sumerians (unless I use archers from the Zagros Highlander allies).

The list under DBA is:

  • 3 elements of Heavy Chariots or 3 elements of 3 Auxiliary
  • 1 element of Light Chariots or 2 Psiloi
  • 6 elements of 4 Pike
  • 2 elements of 2 Psiloi
Now, given that I have a DBM army of these, I can make many options. I can make, for example, the following:
  • 3 elements of Heavy Chariots
  • 3 elements of 2 Psiloi
  • 6 elements of 4 Pike
3 forces of this size can be prepared. At the same time, 2 of the following organisation are possible with the 3 forces described above:
  • 1 element of Heavy Chariots
  • 2 elements of 3 Auxiliary
  • 3 elements of 2 Psiloi
  • 6 elements of 4 Pike
and, 4 forces of the following can be prepared:
  • 3 elements of 3 Auxiliary
  • 3 elements of 2 Psiloi
  • 6 elements of 4 Pike
This means that at the same time, I can put 9 DBA armies in the field, representing different areas of Sumer and Akkad. This has set me to thinking about a display/participation game for the wargames show circuit. Sort of an on the table campaign for the conquest of Sumeria.

Sumerians in Hordes of the Things

This is a result of having some of the figures needed to do some Sumerian Myth Armies. There are five Mythical Sumerian Armies listed in the Hordes of the Things rulebook. An Heroic Sumerian army, Evil Demonic and Good Demonic forces, Hosts of the Dead and Asag and the Stone Allies.

The Asag Hordes of the Things army is possibly one of the easiest armies to make and convert for play – either in 15mm or 25/28mm. The main character, Asag, is an Aerial Hero General. This is the hardest figure to do for the army, consisting as it does of Asag the lion-dragon. The rest of the army is made up of rocks and boulders as Asag was ugly, really ugly. Take your favourite ugly joke and it applies to Asag. He was so ugly that he was reduced to mating with the mountains, hence the followers of rock and stone.

If nothing else, the Sumerians are colourful, with lots of interesting and cheap troops. Well worth considering.

9 thoughts on “The Sumerians

  1. TWR 30 November 2014 / 10:54 am

    An interesting read, thank you. I have considered building Sumerians for DBA as the battlecarts look so great. I see that in DBA 3.0 a few pike in the later army can be 3Pk providing a little variation.


    • Thomo the Lost 30 November 2014 / 2:23 pm

      I built the battle cars from Essex figures and the infantry were the chariot range as the chariot battlecars were a bit rough but i reckoned their figures looked the business.

      In DBMM scale they look very impressive. Loads of pike, loads of near naked and naked Zagros Highlands and a brace of battlecars 🙂


      • TWR 30 November 2014 / 4:16 pm

        I’ve not seen the Chariot battle carts, but a couple of weekends back one of the locals used his Essex Sumerians which reminded me I do need to build a DBA army…


      • Thomo the Lost 1 December 2014 / 10:53 am

        The Essex infantry are nice as well but I really liked the Chariot ones.

        I’ve not seen any straddle cars … does Essex do them?


      • TWR 1 December 2014 / 12:03 pm

        I thought Essex did but I can’t see any in their online catalogue. We discussed straddle cars and I believe my opponent said he hadn’t got around to painting them yet. Perhaps they are Chariot saddle cars. He bought the army second hand but the figures on table were Essex.


      • TWR 1 December 2014 / 1:39 pm

        Ahh, they do exist. Hopefully we will see some photos of your armies on your blog at some point.


      • Thomo the Lost 1 December 2014 / 2:27 pm

        I’ll maybe try and take some over the Christmas break. Hmmm, might sell some of them off as well 🙂


  2. peter holland 16 August 2018 / 2:25 am

    I’ve followed your blog of and on for a year or three.
    Most accounts of Akkad and Babylon place them on different rivers. So I am wondering where you got the idea they were the same place?




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