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updated 06/132020

Ancient Miniatures and Historical Gaming

Cretan Archers: Common mercenaries

"Crete, as a whole, is not a level country like Thessaly: consequently, whereas the Thessalians mostly go on horseback, we Cretans are runners, since this land of ours is rugged and more
suitable for the practice of foot-running. Under these conditions we are obliged to have light armor for running and to avoid heavy equipment;
so bows and arrows are adopted as suitable because of their lightness. Thus all these customs of ours are adapted for war.   ~ Plato, Laws 625

"Toxotai" is the term for archer in a Greek army. As stated on the previous page, Cretan Archers can be used with Greeks,
Macedonians, Macedonian Successors, Syracusan, Roman Republic, Marian (or Caesar's) Rome, Carthage, to name some but not all possibilities.
Cretan archers are one of the most hired mercenary unit types for the periods of the Greek, Macedonian,  Punic Wars, Roman Conquest, and Roman Civil Wars.

See more of the Crossover Armies articles at:

The photos on the Early Successors page had my Cretans with blank bronze pelta shields. I've wanted to upgrade them for awhile,
so that seemed like a good excuse to create a little source and resources page. The following photos are of Relic and Wargames Foundry 28mm Cretan archers meta
l models.
I have some new plastic ones from Victrix that I will add in the future.
These shields represent the process of setting about to find and execute a wargames unit when there is little concise reference available. The first thing is to decide if transfers or painting is how one wants to work. Since the design area of these pelta shields is very small I decided I would wreck my eyes painting designs.
The first step is a little research online. Of course all sorts of great artwork exists online at the stroke of a Google. Sadly much of it is ripped off from publications, but such is the way of the internet.
Places to search for ancient shield designs often start with the above mentioned illustrations, but if you search coins and pottery art you often find more (and often you find the source for the illustrations!).
Search for : crete coin symbol shield, and you will find plenty of inspiring ideas.

I put together a sheet of common Cretan shield illustrations, Game art, and coin art. As you can see Cretan symbols have a mix of geometric and animal patterns mixed in with other
common Greek shield devices like Bull's heads and Pegasi. Other coins suggest city origin is worthy of a moniker. Patterns representing the labyrinth of the Minotaur are obvious Cretan symbols. Once I created this reference sheet I started deciding which were too complex and which to give a try.

I painted some colored backgrounds (I stuck to earth tones) on the centers of the shields and then went to work. I decided I wanted individual designs. Since these are mercenaries they would expect to have their own gear, not provided by the state. The area of the designs were very small - some are an eighth of an inch in width. These designs are probably smaller than painting a 15mm hoplite shield (which is just crazy IMO :) So some of the line work will be a but wobbly, but at arms reach they look ok.

Left to right: Symbol of the city of Aptera, common snake, bull's or Minotaur's  head, common sun disc solar symbol.

Left to right: Labyrinth stylized, labyrinth detailed, stylized labyrinth gate, amphora vase, common geometric circles.

Left to right: Common geometric circles, Knossos labyrinth symbol, Stylized Labrys ax, common geometric pattern.

"The Persian bows are also large, and consequently the Cretans could make good use of all the arrows that fell into their hands; in fact, they were continually using the enemy's arrows, and practiced themselves in long-range work by shooting them into the air." ~ Xenophon

 Cretan Archers 28mm by Wargames Foundry left, Relic Miniatures center, and Wargames Foundry again on the right.

I've chosen these Foundry and Relic miniatures for this project. I have had many Cretan archer models over the years. You can see the old 25mm figures here:

Those old Foundry and Essex figures have done yeoman service over the years.
Newer and better (and larger 28mm) figures abound now. I decided to combine some of the "World of the Greeks" Wargames Foundry line with the Relic miniatures Cretans. They are a good match size wise and the poses work well together. They wear the head fillet which is a very common style for Greeks. Helmets are possible too, and the small shields are bronze faced peltas.

Greek youth with fillet.

The Cretans seem to be brawlers and unlike many archers would also close in with their swords and bucklers. There is a story during the  Third Macedonian War where Cretan archers were left on their own to defend a pass against Roman Legionaries. The Cretans struck back with their swords and used bundles of arrows in hand to hand. They were defeated when no heavy support came. But it speaks volumes that these light armed archers were willing to try to stand up to the heavy legions.
Cretan archers became part of the elite troops in Alexander the Great's army. Their willingness to do any task asked made them indispensable in the constant sieges and battles across all sorts of rugged terrain from Thrace to India. They became part of the Royal Army that always accompanied Alexander. In India they faced the difficult task of stopping the last desperate charge of king Porus at the head of forty war elephants as he attempted to crush the bloodied and worn down phalanx. Alexander personally ordered the Cretans to stand firm and shoot down the mahouts. This needed some steel nerves, as they would literally have to wait until the could see the whites of the enemy rider's eyes to have any chance of hitting them as the terrifying elephants thundered close.

I intend to update the Essex figures at some point, and I as I stated when I finish the plastic Victrix archers they will show up here.
Oh yes, I also have an officer to lead the Cretans. In Alexander the Great's army it was Eurybotas of Crete was the toxarch of the Cretan archers.
After Eurybotas was killed at Thebes, he was replaced by Ombrion of Crete.

More to come... watch this space. Thanks to Marcia for the very fine photos.

Miniatures on this page:

Relic Miniatures     Wargames Foundry

Old Glory

Newline Designs

1st Corps Miniatures

Essex Miniatures

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