Medieval Syrian 1100AD - 1286AD

by Tony De Lyall

Tony De Lyall's Medieval Syrian DBA Army

Medieval Syrian - DBA Army #139 - The Options

  • 5 x 3Cv
  • 3 x 2LH
  • 1 x 4Sp
  • 1 x 3Aux
  • 2 x 2Ps

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.

Background (courtesy of Stephen Monatgue)

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 Sir 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 are subject to a different DBA army list. However the Medieval 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."


Enemies are ->

Seljuq Turkish (124), Cilcian Armenian (132), Comnenan Byzantine, (133), Early Crusader (138), Later Crusader (141), Khwarizmian (146), Mamluk Egyptian (158), Ilkhanid (159a)

You would have to add to this list Medieval Syrian (139) to cover the disputes between the rival Syrian cities.

Notes on the Figures

The army is made up from -

  • Italeri Saracen Warriors.

    • This pack provides a nice mixture of both mounted and foot figures which closely resemble Medieval 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.

  • 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.

Light Horse

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

These light cavalry horse archers come from straight from the Italeri Saracens set. You can see a conversion for a different style of Turkoman horse archer here.

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 plastic figure sources will allow you to model Bedouins cavalry easily.

Syrian Cavalry

Syrian CavalryThe 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 call 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. 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 originally wielded a mace and have undergone a small conversion whereby the mace was cut off and replaced with a lance made from 0.8mm brass rod. They are mounted on converted HAT Prussian Uhlan horses.

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 neckguard.


Syrian SpearThe Spear here represent the Syrian city militia called the Ahdath. They were formed from the local Arab population, usually weren't well armed and served in the vicinity of their city. 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.

DBM army lists classify the Ahdath as a Horde, 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. My paint job and figures may be a little too uniform looking. However, there are several spear and pole armed figures in the Italeri set that together could be used to create a multi-coloured motley looking Ahdath.


AuxiliaSyrian armies (indeed most Moslem armies of the period) could be supplemented by various foreign auxiliaries and mercenaries 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.


PsiloiDBM 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. Instead of creating Al-Ashair I've used the dismounted horse archers from Italeri set for my Psiloi although the figure waving a sword and carrying a bow could be easily converted to an Al-Ashair.

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 in 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.

(To contact the author, click here.)

Back to the Picture Gallery

[Home] [Plastic Figures] [Buy] [Bulletin Board] [Battles] [Gallery] [Guestbook] [History] [NZ Wargaming] [Painting] [Rules]

This page hosted by Get your own Free Homepage