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Army Notes

Segou horsemen

The Armies of Western Sahel Africa
DBA Army Lists & Support Data

By Rudy Scott Nelson
Reprinted from Time Portal Passages (Summer 2002)

This article contains optional armies for use with the popular ancient rules "De Bellis Antiquitatis" published by Barker and Scott ((WRG). The published list for Western Sudanese (III/68) covers 1000AD-1591AD. It allows 1 x 3Kn or 3Bld (Gen), 2 x 3Cv or 2LH, 2 x 3Bw, 5 x 3Bw or 5 x 3Ax, 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 3Ax or 3Bd or 4Sp. This can be considered a flexible list and as such will come closer to representing several of the region's countries.

In many cases I attempted to use the authorized list as a guideline but I have also included my version if the numbers and my research can not agree. First I will review the troop types according to the rules.

LH Light Horse who used skirmishing tactics
Cavalry Most horsemen who used javelins, bows with a sword or lance.
Knights Armed with mainly lance and primarily charged without the initial use of organic missile fire to soften the target.
Camelry Troops mounted on camels who fought at close quarters while still mounted.
Spears Troops armed with spears and fighting in a coordinated shield wall.
Blades Troops armed with heavy cutting weapons or impact weapons often equipped with better armor and shields.
Bows Close or large bodies of archers who relied on effective bow fire but could also defend with light spears and swords.
Auxilia Large bodies of troops who were flexible enough to fight in rough terrain but vulnerable in open terrain. May also be doubled armed with a close combat weapon and a distance weapon (DBM)
Warband Large formation of troops who were not trained in regular drill and relied on Mass and initial impact to win.
Hordes Untrained and forced levies of troops who were poorly equipped.
Psiloi Small groups of warriors armed with distance weapons who fought in open order.

GHANA. The Army list covers only its years of decline and should cover from 500-1076AD. (Arable) DBA version: 1 x 3KN (G), 2 x 3Cv, 1 x Ps, 2 x 3Bw, 5 x 3Bw, 1 x 3Ax. My version requires an Early and an Imperial list:

Early Ghana 500-800AD: 1 x 3Cv (G), (Inferior horses) 2 x 2LH, 2 x 3Bw, 2 x Ps,(Subject tribes) 3 x 4Wb or 3Ax, (Lower class) 1 x 3/4Bld or 3Ax or 3Bw, (Allies) 1 x 2Ps or 2LH or 3Cv

Imperial Ghana 800-1076: 1 x 3Cv (G), (Regular Core) 3 x 3Cv, (Regular core) 3 x 3Bw, 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 3Bld, (local Allies) 1 x 3Bld or 2LH or 3Cv, (Feudal levy) 2 x 3Ax or 2Ps or 3/4Wb or 7Wb

Note: SUSO and MALINKE/Pre-empire Mali Armies can use this list.

MALI (littorial) Ag4. DBA version: 1 x 3Kn, 2 x 3Cv, 2 x 3Bw, 5 x 3Bw (Imp) or 3Ax (Later), 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 4Sp or 3Bld. My version requires an Early (see Ghana list), an Imperial and a Later list:

Imperial Mali 1230-1400: 1 x 3Kn (G), 3 x 3Kn, 3 x 3Bw, (Well armored spear) 2 x 3Bld or 4Sp, 1 x 2Ps, (Levies) 2 x 2Ps or 3Cv or 3Ax or 3/4Wb

Later Mali 1400-1600 represents the state in decline: 1 x 3Kn (G), 1 x 3Kn, 2 x 4Sp or 3Bw, 2 x 2Ps, 4 x 3Ax, 2 x 2Cv or 2LH or 4Wb or 2Ps

SONGHAI 1450-1581 (Littoral) Ag 4. DBA version: 1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Cv, 7 x 3Bw, 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 3Bld. My version: 1 x 3KN (G), 3 x 3Kn, 1 x 2LH, 2 x 2Ps or 4Sp , 4 x 3BW, 1 x 2LH or 3Kn or 3Bld or 3Ax

MOSSI, DOGON, THE EARLY FULANI AND OTHER MINOR TRIBES. DBA version: 1 x 3Bld (G), 2 x 2LH, 2 x 3BW, 5 x 3Ax, 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 3Ax or 3Bld. My Versions:

Dogon (Noted for fortified mountain strongholds). (Hilly), Ag 1 : 1 x 3Bld (G), (Elites) 1 x 3Bld or 2LH, 2 x 3Bw, 3 x 2Ps, 3 x 3Ax, 2 x 2Ps or 3Ax

Mossi Confederation (Woods) , Ag 2 : 1 x 3Bld or 3Cv (G), 1 x 3Bld or 3Cv, 3 x 3Bw, 3 x 3Ax or 3Wb, 2 x 2Ps, 2 x 4Sp or 3Wb or 2LH or 2Ps. Blades and Cavalry can not be used together.

Early Fulani and other independent river tribes who were often the targets of slave raids. (Steppe or Woods), Ag 1: 1 x 3Bld or 3Wb (G), 4 x 2Ps, 2 x 3Bw, 4 x 3Ax or 3Wb, 1 x 2Ps or 3Ax or 3Wb or 2LH

Takur or Wolof: (Littorial Senegal River valley) Ag 1 : 1 x 3Cv (G), 2 x 4Sp, 2 x 3Bw, 4 x 3Wb or 3Ax, (Elites) 1 x 3Bld or 3Cv, 2 x 2Ps

KANEM-BORNU. DBA version: 1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Cv, 7 x 3Bw, 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 3Ax or 3Bld My army lists are based on four eras. Early Sayfawa covers the still nomadic Kanembu and Bulala, Kanem is the early era when they lost many battles. Early Bornu is when they were at the height of their power. Later Bornu is after the 1571 reorganization. (Littoral = Lake Chad), Ag 4.

Early Sayfawa 800-1100AD (Steppe or Littorial) Ag 2 : 1 x 2LH or 3Bld (G), 4 x 3Ax or 3Wb, 3 x 2Ps, 1 x 3Bw, 1 x 3Bld or 2LH, 2 x 4Sp or 3Bw or 3Wb (Must chose either LH or Bld, not one each. Spear can only be used if the enemy can have Cv or Kn troop types)

Kanem 1100-1350 : 1 x 3Cv or 3Bld (G), 2 x 4Sp or 3Ax, 2 x 3Bw, 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 2LH or 2Ps, 2 x 3Cv or 3Bld, 3 x 3Ax or 3Wb

Early Bornu 1350-1570: 1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Kn, 2 x 3Cv or 2LH or 3Cm (noted alliance/training to fight desert tribes), 3 x 3Bw, 2 x 4Sp or 3Bld, (Feudal levies) 2 x 2Ps or 7Horde or 3Wb or 3Ax

Later Bornu Post-1571 : 1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Kn, (Chainmail elites) 2 x 3Bld, Feudal Levies/ subjects) 2 x 2Ps, 2 x 3Ax or 3Wb, (I am not sure how to rate the firearm trained troops of this period. Maybe treat them as bow in all respects except for the combat effect results section which would be Artillery.) 3 x 2/4Bw (guns).

BULALA. DBA version : 1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Cv, 7 x 3Bw, 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 3Bld My Version: (Littorial) Ag 3.

Migratory Bulala 800-1100AD See Early Sayfawa list.

Early Bulala 1100-1300: 1 x 3Cv or 3Bld (G), 2 x 3Bld or 4Sp, 2 x 2Ps, 2 x 3Bw, 3 x 3Wb or 3Ax , (Desert Allies) 2 x 3Cv or 3Cm or 2LH or 3Ax.

Later Bulala 1300-1600: 1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Cv, 3 x 3Bw, 1 x 2Ps, 1 x 3Bld, 2 x 3Bld or 4Sp, ( Local Allies) 2 x 2LH or 3Ax or 3Wb OR (Desert Allies) 1 x 2LH + 1 x 3Cv or 3Cm

HAUSA CITY STATES 900-1500. DBA version :1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Bw, 5 x 3Ax, 2 x 3Cv, 1 x 4Sp or 3Bd, 1 x 2Ps My Version. (Arable) Ag 3:

Early Hausa 900-1400: 1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Cv, 2 x 4Sp, 1 x 2Ps, 2 x 3Bw, 2 x 3Wb or 3Ax, 2 x 3Bw or 2LH or 3Ax or 2Ps

Later Hausa 1400-1600: 1 x 3Kn (G), 2 x 3Kn, (Armored) 2 x 3Bld, 2 x 4Sp, 1 x 2Ps, 2 x 3Bw, (Raiders North 2 x 3Cv or 2LH OR South 2 x 3Ax or 2Ps)


While the DBA list are flexible enough to create or come close to creating realistic armies, the DBM Army List III/68 is more rigid and produces a less realistic army. The requirement for at least 50 stands of bow indicates a majority of archers and directly contradicts passages which revels in being able to employ only 1/5 of the army with bows.

Also the sources indicate a high percentage of mailed horsemen armed with long spear (lance?) and sword with no mention of a bow. These horsemen attacked in the manner described for knights and not cavalry (O) in the rules.

The aggression rating of ONE does not reflect the attitudes needed for imperial dreams.

Finally with their reliance of the various river systems in the region, I have difficulty rating them as DRY rather than ARABLE or LITTORIAL. They did conduct campaigns into Dry areas but they also invaded jungles and river valley areas.

Since most players use the DBM rules for tournament play, there seems little need to publish the twelve armies or so needed to simulate a campaign in the region. Which I have done for my own use. However not everyone plays DBM or DBA so some basic description of troops types may prove useful to those players.

GHANA. 500-1076AD. Early Ghana 500-800AD: Early Cavalry was mounted on inferior horses and fought less aggressively so should be an Inferior rating) , Light Horsemen armed with javelins and not bow were common among migrating tribes and pre-empire nations. Effective archers were uncommon and highly prized. Lower class were often grouped into spear formations. Armored foot were rare.

Imperial Ghana 800-1076: Cavalry was better than its local neighbors but still inferior to its Berber enemies. The Cavalry was a full time regularly trained force. Archers were still prized and amounted to 1/5 of the army. Feudal native levies from the city were armed with long spears and some elite troops wore chain mail. Rural levies fought in formations of mixed weapons. Subject tribes still fought in local fashion, so should be light infantry or irregular loose or mass formations of mixed weapons.

MALI and SONGHAI armies were very similar with a high percentage of horsemen wearing mail and fighting with a long spear and sword. The cavalry relied on impact to break the dense formations of foot used by many of their enemies. Archers percentages may have been as high as 1/4 or 1/3. Native foot became more heavily armored as the empires grew. The forces used in campaigns were often custom designed for whether the target was Berbers in the Steppes or a Mossi tribe located in a heavily wooded region.

Feudal levies and subject tribes still fought in local fashion, so should be light infantry or irregular loose or mass formations of mixed weapons. They were intentionally poorly trained and equipped to prevent revolts. The Songhai ghulams were a well -trained and equipped regular force. The long spear for both the cavalry and foot had a very wide blade and was considered very deadly. Therefore a player may want to rate his better infantry as either long spear or blade.

Mossi, Dogon, the early Fulani and other minor tribes had poorer quality equipment but could inflict defeats on their neighbor empires.

DOGON troops were adept at fighting in rough terrain so the army should contain various types of loose order formation troops. Similarly the Mossi Confederation was based in a more wooded area and so their armies would also contain loose order formations. Armored troops would be rare as would expert archers. If forced to fight in open areas the irregular troops would be massed together in mixed weapon formations. Only a few nobles would be mounted on horses.

Other semi-permanent tribes would use formations of spears supported by bows and some horsemen or light infantry on the flanks. The nobles would form a reserve and may be mounted or fight as armored foot.

Migratory tribes would have more light or medium cavalry armed with a spear and javelins. Very few troops would be armored. Archers were used but most troops fought in dense formations of mixed sword and spear weapons.

KANEM-BORNU: The contemporary term Horsemen of Bornu almost says it all for the Kaneum-Bornu Empire. As with most empires the troop types employed became better equipped and trained as the nation turned into an empire. Foot troops with mixed weapons supporting mounted nobility characterized early forces. Later the number of 'mounted lancers' increased with the foot now supported by formations of archers. Allies and subject troops continued to be poorly equipped and trained. During one northern campaign in the 1500s, they hired Bedouin mercenaries to train a formation of lancers mounted on camels.

Bulala forces were a majority of spears in mass formations supported by archers and cavalry. I am not sure what percentage were armored but since they inflicted numerous defeats on the Kanembu, it may have been significant.

Hausa City States 900-1500 Some of these rulers made an effort to provide chain mail to their citizen foot and horse troops. Like most urban armies, most citizen troops were armed with spears. Rural subject troops fought in loose formations and a few used unarmored horsemen.

Note:  The preceding article is excerpted from the Summer 2002 issue of Time Portal Passages, which features related articles on the Medieval Empires of Africa's Sahel.

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Thanks to Rudy Scott Nelson for sharing his research
Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page
can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: Jan. 26, 2004