SYRIAN (1092-1286 AD)

By Tony De Lyall & Stephen Montague

> Armies > Resources > Fanaticus

The list covers the Muslim armies of the various Turkish and Arab Syrian cities and the Abbasid Khalifate of Baghdad after the break-up of the Seljuq Empire, and the Syrian Ayybids provinces after the death of Saladin

After the Seljuk Empire fell apart with Malik Shah's death in 1092 the Syrian cities became independent autonomous states. The cities were ruled by rival dynasties that were often openly hostile to one another. This lack of co-operation is cited by Charles Oman as the reason for the First Crusade's success.

According to WRG's DBM list Vol. 4 the cities were divided as follows:

  • Turkish rulers - Aleppo, Antioch, Damascus, Jerusalem

  • Arab rulers - Hama, Homs, Tripoli, Shaizar

Oman confirms Aleppo and Damascus. He also mentions Mosul and gives a list of the rulers. The most important city was undoubtedly Damascus; Aleppo was also of importance. All of the cities owed their secular allegiance to Baghdad though this was largely ignored. The spiritual allegiance was also to Baghdad.

This state of affairs came to an end with the rise of Zengi (or Zangi). Zengi was a general of the Seljuk Sultan Mahmud. He was appointed ruler of Mosul in 1127. He took Aleppo in 1128 and by 1130 controlled Syria as far south as Homs. However a resurgent Byzantine Empire under John Comnenus held Zengi in check. The Byzantines had extended their control to include Cilicia and northern Syria. It was only after John's death in 1143 that Zengi was free to move again. In 1144 he successfully besieged Edessa. Zengi was murdered by a servant in 1146 and was succeeded by his son Nur ed-din. Zengi is credited with stopping the Crusaders in their tracks and creating the conditions for the eventual destruction of the Crusader states.

Nur ed-din's conquests extended to Egypt. Upon his death his Egyptian agent Saladin set up on his own and soon absorbed the Zangid lands into his own Ayyubid sultanate. The Ayyubids Egyptians are subject to a different DBA army list. However the Syrian list covers the provincial Ayyubid dynasties of Syria after Saladin's death.

The Moslem cities not only fought each other but at times would ally themselves with the Crusaders. The following quote from Oman gives an interesting example of the confusing politics of the early Crusades -

"The strange battle of Tel-Basher in 1108 is worth notice. Trancred of Antioch and Joscelin lord of Tel-Basher, had quarrelled. So had Ridwan of Aleppo and Javaly of Mosul. Each allied himself with a stranger against his co-religionist, and in the fight Frank fought with Frank, Turk with Turk. Tancred and Ridwan were victorious."


The Syrian enemies are Fatimid Egyptian (III/65), Georgian (III/70), Seljuq Turk (III/73), Komnenan Byzantine (IV/1), Cilcian Armenian (IV/2), Syrian (IV/6), Early Crusader (IV/7), Later Crusader (IV/17), Ayyibid Egyptian (IV/20), Khwarizmian (IV/24), Mongol Conquest (IV/35), Mamluk Egyptian (IV/45) and Ilkhanid (IV/46).

The Army

Light Horse:  Syrian light horse can either be Bedouin Arabs armed with a light cane lance and shield or Turkoman horse archers armed with a composite bow.

These light cavalry horse archers come from straight from the Italeri Saracens set and represent Turkomen. Horse archers might carry up to 100 arrows in quivers, bow case and even in boots. Typical garb was a topcoat with a right over left flap. A variety of caps and turbans were worn.

Bedouin wore a long wide sleave tunic (the Gubba), which covered the whole body down to the ground. They wore a turban warped around the head with one strip under the chin. Tunics were a variety of bright colours mainly shades of red and blue and could be striped. I can't think of any current (as of 2007) plastic figure sources will allow you to model Bedouins cavalry easily.

Syrian Cavalry:  The Syrian cities provided provincial regiments called askars usually under the command of the local autonomous governor or prince (called variously a atabeg, malik or amir). Amirs might also have a personal retinues. Soldiers could be slave soldier called ghulams, or freemen. The ghulams were raised from a young age to be soldiers and were give wages or property.

Syrian cavalry seemed to have been armed with lance, sword and shield but usually not with a bow unless coming from one of the Seljuk successor states. Armour might consist of quilted al-Qutun garment and/or lamellar or mail or scale corsets.

Several of the Italeri Mounted figures are suitable for Syrian cavalry needing little or no conversion.. The figures shown here have been given a lance made from 0.8mm brass rod. The figures are painted wearing a waist length lamellar corset called a Djawshan. They are mounted on converted HAT Prussian Uhlan horses.

The element in the centre is the Generalís element. The figures of this element originally wielded a mace and have undergone a small conversion whereby the mace was cut off and replaced with a lance of brass rod. The figures themself closely resemble a drawing of a Ayyubid cavalryman from Mosul in Health's Armies and Enemies of the Crusades. Heath identifies the armour being worn as a Kuzaghand - a mail corset covered in quilted cloth and silk, with mail sleaves. Colours could be red, yellow brocade or embroided. I have painted the figure wearing metallic amour but a Kuzaghand would be colourful alternative. The helmet is common type being iron with a solid iron neck-guard.

Auxilia:  Syrian armies (indeed most Moslem armies of the period) could be supplemented by various foreign auxiliary and mercenary foot provided by Bedouin, Kurds, Armenians or tribal Turks. There are several figures in the Italeri Saracens box will fit the bill here (although none resemble Bedouin or Kurds wearing Gubba and turban). These should typically be armed with javelins, so some small conversions may be required. These figures used represent Turkish auxiliaries.

Psiloi:  The DBM army lists identify the Psiloi as the Al-Ashair. The Al-Ashair were semi-nomadic Syro-Palestinian or Lebanese Druse who were armed with bow or sling. Dress would a 3/4 length coat and a turban. The figures in the Saracen set which best fit the bill for Al-Ashair are those waving a sword and carrying a bow. Iíve undertaken a small conversion by replacing the sword with a javelin although that may be overdoing it.

Horde:  The Horde represent the Syrian city militia called the Ahdath who served in the vicinity of their city. They were formed from the local Arab population, usually weren't well armed. although sometimes their ranks could be made up of ex-military men, and in Aleppo and Damascus they were the official maintainers of public order.

DBM army lists describes the Ahdath as armed with spears, glaives and bows. There are several spear and pole armed figures in the Italeri set that together can be used to create a multi-coloured motley looking Ahdath.

For colours Heath in The Armies of the Dark Ages describes Arab clothing, all be it from an earlier period, as being brightly coloured - scarlet, red, blue, yellow, green and white, sometimes stripped, with turbans most commonly white.

Having said that, I wanted my Horde to look well, a little more horde-like. So at the risk of some anachronism Iíve used a few figures from the Esci Muslim Warrior to get the horde look I wanted.

Warband:  The warband represent Ghazis volunteers - warriors of the faith - fighting for religion. The warband classification represents their fighting style not their dress so many of the figures in the Saracen set can be used. You might want to arm the Ghazis with javelins as this was a typical weapon.

Camp and Camp Followers

Camels accompanied most armies Middle East as baggage transport. So my camp is a camel caravan using the otherwise unusable camels from the Italeri Saracen set. The camp followers are the musician figures from the Esci Muslim Warriors.

Figure Reviews

The army which illustrates this essay is made up from the following sets of 1/72 plastic figures:

Italeri Saracen Warriors:  This pack provides a nice mixture of both mounted and foot figures which closely resemble Syrians. Two or three packets will give ample figures for a complete DBA army. The figures also have a wide currency for use as Middle Eastern medieval types.  There are only a few real problems with this set. Firstly the set includes camels as mounts. While camels were used for transport they were not used in battle. I use the camels to form my camp element. Secondly a number of the horses in the set have poses that make them difficult for use in wargames armies. So you will have to find alternative horses for most of the mounted figures.

Esci Muslim Warriors / Italeri Arab Warriors:  Originally produced by Esci now re-released by Italeri. These figure represent Middle Eastern types from the nineteenth century AD. Many figures are armed with guns. However several figures have a medieval look and offer potential for use in this period.

HAT Prussian Uhlans:  The horses provided the much needed additional mounts. These HAT horses are made from a harder plastic which provides a very stable and non-paint shedding platform for cavalry figures. Some conversion with a sharp knife is required to remove the Napoleonic look. I cut one set of reins off. I also cut most, but not all, of the rear blanket off leaving the impression of a higher back saddle. That's my preference but many cavalry sets from the various plastic manufactures can be adapted.

Notes on Painting

You can go wild with the paints - brocade or bright silks being common with colours of dark or light blue, turquoise, brown, tan, red, green or black or indeed nearly any colour. Coats could also be highly decorated with geometric, floral or arabesque patterns but this is a bit beyond my painting ability.

Shields are also colourful, typical colours being white, yellow, red, blue, green, brown or black.


  • Barker, Phil. and Scott, Richard Bodley. DBM Army Lists, Book 3 & Book 4, 1994.

  • Duckworth, P. "Wargaming the Crusades", Miniature Wargames, Nos 3 - 4.

  • Heath, Ian. Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096 - 1291, WRG, 1978.

  • Heath, Ian. Armies of the Dark Ages, WRG, 1980.

  • Heath, Ian. A Wargamers' Guide to the Crusades, Patrick Stephens, 1980.

  • MacCrae, Fitzhugh, "The Cross and the Crescent", The Courier, Vol. IV, No 5, 1983.

  • Oman, Charles, The Art of War in the Middle Ages, Vol. 1, 1924, Methuen. Reproduction of 1924 Edition, Greenhill Books, 1991.

  • Strategy and Tactics, No 70, September - October 1978.

  • Holy Warrior. Christian and Muslim Armies in the Era of the Crusades. Army Lists. Four Horsemen Enterprises, 2002.

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My thanks to Tony and Stephen for this essay.

Comments, questions or suggested additions are welcome.
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Last Updated: 10 Jan. 2008