DBA Resource Page

Ancient Armies

Mauryan General w/Elephant
Mauryan General from Tom Ryan's Collection

Early Indian (900 BC - 545 AD)
(DBA 21a)

By Tom Ryan

The Early Indian army represents the Later Vedic or Brahmanic culture until 320BC, the Mauryan Empire, the post-Mauryan period during which the northwestern territories were invaded and ruled in turn by the Sakae, Bactrian Greeks, Parthians and Kushans, and finally the Gupta Period.

The Vedic and Brahmanic periods began when the Aryans, a light skinned, warlike race invaded the northwest of India and subjugated the previous inhabitants of the area, the Harappans. They neither built cities nor employed writing until much later when they began assimilating with their subjects. This period ends with Alexander the Great's invasion and conquest of much of northwest and central India and climaxes in his victory over King Porus at the Hydaspes River.

The Mauryans, under Chandragupta Maurya (ruled 321 BC ­ 298 BC) established the first Indian Empire when they conquered the Republican states and the territory vacated by Alexander and concluded a treaty with the Seleucids, securing peace on their western borders. This allowed them to conquer territories further to the east and in central India. One of this period's greatest leaders, Asoka, expanded the empire to its greatest extent. While subjugating the kingdom of Kalinga in 265 BC, he became so appalled at the slaughter and human suffering which he had caused that he converted to Buddhism, became a vegetarian, renounced war, and gradually established a code of laws in which no crimes carried the death penalty. While this was a noble and just action on Asoka's part, it means that this period offers very little of value to our hobby. Asoka was the last of the great kings of the Mauryan dynasty. His successors were less energetic and capable; in 184 BC, the last of the Mauryan kings was assassinated and the first empire of India was extinguished.

The next 500 years were marked by a number of external invasions. The Sakae (Scythians), the Bactrian Greeks, the Parthians and the Kushans, each conquered and ruled parts of the northwest of India. The remainder of India was made up of a number of unfederated kingdoms. The most powerful kingdoms were not in the north but in the Deccan in the south and in the west; kingdoms such as Cholas, Pandyas, Satiyaputras and Kerelaputras.

In 320 AD, under Chandragupta I, empire was revived in the north. Like Chandragupta Maurya, he first conquered Magadha, set up his capital where the Mauryan capital had stood (Patna), and from this base consolidated a kingdom over the eastern portion of northern India. In the west he carried out a successful campaign against the Sakae from 338 ­ 409. This period is regarded as the golden age of Indian culture. The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent and creative architecture, sculpture, and painting. It was a time of profound peace and therefore, again, not of great interest to a wargamer. This peace was shattered, however, around 480 AD when the Huns invaded from the north. By 550 AD the Gupta Empire had ceased to exist.

This army list might better be called Classical Indian, however, as it bears little resemblance to the Vedic, Mountain or Tamil Indian armies that are included in this time period. Variant lists for these armies can be found at the end of this essay. A Republican army might be fielded using this list, provided that the 3Lb option is taken in place of the El or 3Ax.

Enemies

Enemies in the DBA list include Early Shang Chinese (6), Early Indian (21a), Kushan (21b), Scythian or Saka (25), Early Achaemenid Persian (28a), Alexandrian Imperial (37), Early Seleucid (41a), and Bactrian and Indo-Greek (50).

Two historical enemies overlooked are the Parthians (51) (the Suren family conquered and ruled much of the Northwest from 95BC to AD75) and the Huns (79) who conquered the Gupta Empire From 480 ­ 550.

Army Composition

2xLCh or HCh These represent the heroic charioteers. The option to upgrade to HCh reflects the addition of two extra crewmen (totaling 6) of the pre-Mauryan armies and those of the Republican states, which lacked elephants. They would traditionally operate on the wings of the army. Note: HCh should not be used after the Brahmanic Period.
2x3Cv These represent javelin armed cavalry of questionable quality whose main purpose, historically, was to protect the elephants and support the chariots.
3xEl, or 3x3Ax, or 3x3/4Lb The elephants were the main offensive arm after the Vedic Age and would be crewed by 2 archers and/or javelinmen in addition to a mahout who may or may not be armed. The auxilia represent Mountain Indian spearmen armed with long spears and flimsy or no shield and are only applicable to a Mauryan army. The longbows are described below.
5x3/4Lb The majority of Indian foot were armed with a large bamboo bow as well as a massive two handed sword. The option to add the fourth figure is in the event that Mauryan armies were, in fact, regular. After the fall of the Mauryan Empire, the archers do not appear to have carried the two-handed sword.

Other Notes

The 4Lb option is only available during the Mauryan period.

A Republican state may use HCh and must use the 3Lb option in place of El (they presumably could not afford elephants, so chariot crews were often increased in order to compensate)

Old Glory Early Indian Bow
Early Indian Bowmen (Old Glory 25mm)

Tactics

Historical tactics would have seen elephants, protected by the cavalry and supported by massed archery, as the main offensive arm and stationed in the centre. The chariots would protect the wings of the army and provide some mobility and offensive potential there.

On the wargames table, a similar deployment (El in the centre, flanked by Lb, then by Ch, with Cv on the wings) might work, but I have found that placing El anywhere except together on the end of the line, can cause problems on a PIP roll of one. With El in the middle, a roll of one allows you to move only units on one side of them forward, splitting your army into two small groups. With El on one flank you can move the whole army forward except the El, who can catch up later. A drawback is that your general will probably be mounted on one of the El elements and the other flank can move out of 12" range fairly effortlessly making this a very expensive army to move. (+1 PIP for El, +1 PIP for out of command range)

The ideal enemy for Early Indians would be a mounted army ­ I have not tried Parthians vs Early Indian, but I plan to play a few games to see if there is a chance. Trouble can arise against a Bd heavy army as there are no quick-kills and the Lb won¹t stand a chance. Leaving the Lb in the rear and away from trouble and delaying with the El and Ch while the Cv goes for the camp might be an option in this circumstance.

A glaring weakness of this army is the almost complete lack of light troops.

Camp

I have yet to find a detailed reference to an Indian military camp or to camp life. I use DBM baggage elements such as mule- or ox-drawn carts. Baggage laden elephants with handlers might make an interesting alternative and a small project for figure converters. For the more risqué, a group of tents with noblemen and women a la Kama Sutra might turn some heads.

Painting

This may be one of the easiest armies to paint. All common wear only a white kilt and carry a scabbard made of hide. Shields are hide and hair is black. Generals/nobles will wear more colourful clothing and possibly armour. In addition, nobles would occasionally dye their beards bright colours, such as green or blue. One can have a lot of fun painting a general¹s elephant or chariot, using gaudy colours, some gold trim and perhaps some tiger-skins.

Other Resources

Here are pictures of my Early Indian army.

For early Indian history on-line, see The History of India page.

The following title is available through the De Bellis Bookstore: Ancient Indian Warfare With Special Reference to the Vedic Period, by S.D. Singh (Brill Academic Pub., Aug. 1997). Hardcover. Also available in Softcover, 1990 Edition.


Variants

The following are variants based on DBM lists, using the conversion method found on page 22 of the DBA rulebook.

Later Vedic Indian 900 BC ­ 512 BC (21c)

These are the Aryans, who invaded Northwest India around 1500 BC. They were a warlike people who displaced the native Harappans and eventually assimilated to form the beginnings of the true Indian culture.

2xHCh
1xHCh or El
8x3Bw
1x3Cv or 3Bw

Republican Indian 500 BC ­ 321 BC (21d)

This represents the republican states of the Indus and Ganges basins until their incorporation into the Mauryan Empire. These states were too poor to afford elephants so compensated with heavy, 6 man chariots, although some states may have used lighter ones.

2xHCh or LCh 3x3Cv 6x3Lb 1x3Bd or 3Lb

Mountain Indian 500 BC ­ 170 BC (21e)

The mountain tribesmen of northwestern India were best known for their high quality cavalry. This list covers these tribes until their incorporation into Greek Bactria. Their infantry used long spears and bows with ineffective shields or none at all.

1x2LH
5x3Ax
5x3Bw or 2Ps
1xEl or 2LH

Tamil Indian 175 BC ­ AD 1336 (21f)

This list represents the Southern kingdoms of Cholas, Pandyas, Satiyaputras and Kerelaputras. These states constantly vied with each other for supremacy.

The prosperity in the southern parts of the country was based upon the long-established trade links of India with other civilizations. The Egyptians and Romans had trade relations with southern India through sea routes and later, links were also established with Southeast Asia. Other outside influences in the south included the arrival of Saint Thomas in Kerala in 52 AD, who brought Christianity to India.

1xEl
1x3Cv
6x3Bw
2x2Ps
2x3Bd or 3Bw


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Last Updated: April 6, 1999

My thanks to Tom Ryan for contributing these notes. Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.