Periods are the “Eras” or “Level of Technology” present for wargaming. Having a Greek Army of 300 BC facing a Russian Army of 1944 AD is obviously quite a mismatch and both armies need quite different sets of rules to control how they perform. Hence we have “Periods” in which armies all operated in similar ways, or with similar weapons, and can be ‘played’ using a common set of rules.
This is possibly the most popular period world wide – it covers about 3500 years, from the earliest Armies of Sumer, Crete and such like, through the ages of Greece, Alexander the Great, The Roman Empire, to Mohammed and the rise of Islam. It is sub-divided into the following chronological sub-periods:
The period from Ancient Sumer (3000 BC), through the states of the ‘Old Testament’ (Babylonians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Minoans, Hittites, Egyptians, etc, to name but a few) until around 1000 BC to 500 BC. It ends around the time that is called the “Greek Dark Age”, as the Classical World as we commonly know it is beginning to form.
The period of the Greeks, from the great figures such as Aristotle and Homer, through the Greek-Persian Wars, and the subsequent rise of the Macedonians culminating in the creation of the Empire of Alexander the Great. Alongside Greece the slow rise of Rome as a power, the Punic Wars with Carthage and Hannibal, and as Alexander’s Empire fragments under rival leaders, the rise of Rome to become the dominant controlling nation of the entire Mediterranean.
The Roman Empire
Covers the age that was Rome, and her wars of expansion, and later of survival. This covers from about 100 BC to 500 AD – 600 years or so where Rome controlled the Mediterranean, and about 80% of Western & Central Europe. The last 300 years are marked mostly by the gradual, but almost imperceptible decline of the Empire, until the total collapse of the Western half and the beginning of the “Dark Ages”.
The Dark Ages
They were called this because all learning (supposedly) effectively stopped, 99% of people were illiterate and most of the known world was controlled by “Barbarians” (in reality this wasn’t quite the case). In the east however, many “Arabic” countries had preserved the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans and continued to learn and add to that knowledge. However the Barbarians tended to become “Romanised” as they conquered the old Roman Empire and less warlike, leaving them vulnerable to the next wave of Barbarians, and so forth… This is the era of Arthur (and Camelot and the round table) too, he is believed to have lived in Britain around 400 AD where after the collapse of the Roman Empire, it still endured (in name) for some time locally and Britain was a mix of mostly Roman descendants (and Romanised Britons) and Saxons. In the East part of the Roman Empire remained, Byzantium, and continued as the Eastern Roman Empire for many centuries. As we near the end of this time period (800 AD) Islam emerged and began to expand through the Mediterranean.
The medieval period is a continuation of the Ancient’s period above, running from sometime after 750 AD through to 1500 AD. It includes part of the Dark Ages already mentioned, but really starts with the Norman Invasion of Britain (e.g. Battle of Hastings 1066 AD), the subsequent Crusades to the Middle East, the 100 Year Wars, Italian Wars, and the War of the Roses. The period then merges into the Renaissance period below, as gunpowder and firearms become more predominant.
So named because it was the time when art, learning, and science had re-established itself in Europe it also saw the Thirty Years Wars, The ongoing English Civil Wars (all 7 of them), the rise of Russia as a power, and the presence of the Ottoman Empire as the Mediterranean “powerhouse”. The Spanish “Tercios” (huge blocks of pikemen flanked by small teams of musketeers) ruled the Battlefield for much of the period. Military manoeuvres and theory became incredibly complex and cumbersome – simply because they could – but in practice they were, as always, rationalised down to the more sensible and essential components! Many wars came down simply to Protestant (or Puritan) versus Catholic as many Nations had gravitated towards one religion or another, or to Monarchy versus Self Determination (the English Civil Wars were a mix of both although ostensibly only the latter). Throughout the period (1500 AD to 1700 AD) is the exploration of the “New World” – The Spanish and Portuguese in Central & South America, the English, Dutch, French and Germans in North America (U.S. & Canada). The end of the period is often considered to be marked by the establishment of permanent professional armies, and the combination of effective bayonets and flintlock muskets – which meant Infantry could hold their own against Cavalry without needing Pikes nearby for protection. Perhaps most famous of all, this is the time of Alexandre Dumas’ Cardinal Richelieu, d’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis!
Horse & Musket
This sees the rise of Regular, well disciplined armies. Regular Infantry units manoeuvre in “lines” 3 or 4 men deep, and can easily stand against and drive off cavalry without resorting to “the square”, as The Musket and Bayonet have become the standard arm, and artillery is now mobile and fairly long ranged – it is now a decisive battlefield arm. Cavalry have abandoned armour, Heavy Cavalry rely on size and weight (of horses and riders) to effect break throughs, rather than heavy armour and lances. Pistols and Carbines are also regularly used by the mounted arm. Major events in the period (which basically encompasses the entire 18th Century – 1700-1795 approximately) are the Seven Years War and the related French & Indian War, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution. There were also several smaller wars between individual European states – This is the time of John Churchill (the Duke of Marlborough), and later Frederick the Great of Prussia.
As the French Revolution continued new tactics arose. The French Republic raised “popular” armies of volunteers and conscripts. Because they were less well trained they resorted to simpler tactics than their professional adversaries! The column was a lot easier to manoeuvre and maintain than the line, and it could advance more rapidly on the attack – reducing the time exposed to enemy fire. Columns were easier targets for the massed but inaccurate fire of the musket, so large numbers of skirmishers were employed to screen these columns and keep enemy lines far enough away to prevent them firing volleys into the vulnerable columns. Finally, because the training and professionalism was less than previous, when threatened by cavalry the troops needed to “form square” to provide a sense of all-round defence, which in turn provided the confidence to stand against charging cavalry. Strangely these tactics worked and the Revolutionary French defeated their ‘Professional’ Austrian and Prussian adversaries, who were using the tactics of the previous century.
Once Napoleon became Emperor the wars continued and eventually all nations, except the British, were reduced to conscript type armies, and were also using these tactics. The British actually adopted the opposite tactic, instead stretching their lines by reducing the depth to 2 men (which meant everyone could fire) and adopting an aggressive counter-attack technique of counter-charging the enemy once they had loosed off a volley at very close range. However even the British troops quality was not quite the same as before, and they too resorted to squares against cavalry, and occasionally even used columns. The French may have had ‘Élan’, the Russians ‘Tenacity’, and the Austrians ‘Determination’, but on the whole the British had ‘Discipline’, even the French acknowledged them as the “Best Infantry in Europe”. The Cavalry are another story altogether of course, the British Cavalry being the most undisciplined in Europe at the time! Check out The Napoleonic Guide for wargaming this period. As this era (1795-1850) closes new technology arises, breech loading rifles with greater accuracy and rate of fire, the first crude machine guns, vastly superior artillery, and the first steel armoured battleships are being deigned.
Also often referred to as the “Colonial Era” this sees the rise of rapid fire weapons, the gradual move away from close formations, with more emphasis on open order and skirmishing. From around 1850 to 1914 the period opens with the ill-fated Crimean War (Florence Nightingale, the charge of the Light Brigade, and the invention of the Balaclava hat), several European powers also fight wars, with each Power being successively victorious over the next; the Austrians defeat the Prussians, the French then defeat the Austrians, and then the Prussians defeat the French. These wars are typified by being relatively quick, and decisive – even if the individual battles are not. Meanwhile in America the Civil War breaks out – this is most notable for the unwillingness to adopt new weapons and tactics initially and the volunteer nature of the armies, the bulk of the war is fought the same as the Napoleonic Wars 50-60 years earlier. However during the later part of the war the newer weapons start of be adopted, and the American armies on both sides learn the new tactics the hard way. It’s also the first war to see trench warfare arise in significant form and its an omen for things to come. Many European nations build colonial empires, and fight wars to secure them – including the British against the Zulus, Afghans, Sudanese, Indians, and Boers, Just about everyone against the Boxers (in China), and Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the USA against various African nationalities. The French also dabble in Mexico. The period culminates in the prelude to World War I, the Balkan Wars of the early Twentieth Century.
Twentieth & Twenty-First Centuries
The most well known conflicts are World War I, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the Korean War. These conflicts are more well known by students of history, as their recent nature means they are better documented. There were major advances in technology in all these wars, World War I saw the rise of Machine Guns, Artillery, and Aircraft. Tanks also made an appearance but were not the decisive force many writers would have us believe. World War I rolled on into the Russian Civil War, and then there were some (more) Balkan wars in the 1920’s. There was also some other unusual wars in South America and other areas. The 1930’s saw the expansion of the “fascist or dictator” states – Italy, Germany, and Russia (although Communist, Russia at this time was governed no differently to the other ‘Right Wing’ countries of the time). This expansion included the invasion of Abyssinia, the Soviet take over of the Baltic States, and the bloodless German invasions of Austria and Czechoslovakia. This culminated in the Spanish Civil War, a period when Aerial Ground Attacks and Mass Bombing were first seen in decisive form. Tanks were also used effectively, but were too light and few in numbers to be decisive. As the Spanish Civil War came to its end (with the collapse of the republican government), the Second World War began, with Russia attacking Finland in the Winter War, and Germany and Russia invading Poland. The Nations were split pretty similarly to what they had been 25 years earlier, except Italy joined the Axis (primarily because of her fascist government rather than any ‘national’ desire to do so), and Japan did too (probably mostly because she had been on the Allied side in the previous conflict and had been given no recognition or rewards for her efforts). World War II saw the rise of tanks, air power (Heavy Bombing, Jet Fighters, Ground Attack), and many other new weapons and tactics. However, in the end it was the old combination of Infantry and Artillery, and lots of supplies (delivered via decisive sea power) that really decided the war. Tanks and Mechanised units provided dramatic breakthroughs and impressive drives deep into enemy territory, but they still needed the foot sloggers there to hold those gains.
Even as World War II closed the first noises of trouble in Asian and the Middle-East began. The United Nations walked away from the Middle-East and left the Jews and the Arabs to slug it out and decide the issue of Israel by force. In Asia Communist forces who had fought the Japanese now wanted recognition, and the old Imperial regimes that were restored after the war opposed this. This period closes with the Korean War, a war fought much as World War II had been, but with the rise of new weapons and tactics, including Jets, Helicopters, and improvements in communications and medical services. Korea was the last significant war before the rise of the modern ‘missile’ era…
Modern (1950 – Today)
There have been many wars and conflicts in the last 60 years, there have also been many advances in weapons, technology, and tactics. The rise of missiles, helicopters, and ground support air power as the 3 most significant weapon systems does not overshadow the fact that, as 1000 years ago, the Infantryman (who might just as easily be a woman in modern armies) must go in there on the ground and take and hold the objective, supported by artillery. Some weapons, such as capital ships (i.e. Battleships) are now redundant. Conflicts in Indo-China (Vietnam), the Middle-East, Africa, South-America, and the Pacific provide lots of scenarios for wargamers, different types of forces, different levels of technology, and different types of terrain.
In conclusion, wargaming provides another way to study and learn from these experiences, a way to remember the people who actually were involved in those conflicts… And a reminder of what war really is…
You can also read more about figure and model scales for wargaming in the related Scales Article.