Shadows Of Rome: Building a Saga Byzantine Warband

Having been a geek of history and an avid figure collector and painter as a kid, it was only a matter of time upon reaching adulthood that I would discover Saga. Growing up in York immersed me in the Viking and Roman history of the place and after a childhood spent collecting dwarves and undead, the discovery that I could collect and paint the very warriors who had lived and fought in and around my city was a revelation – and Saga was the game for me. I began with good old Vikings – a forgiving battle board that gave me a great starting point in the game to get to grips with the system and after many tries, eek out my first elusive victory. From starting though my attention had been drawn to the Byzantines – I had seen the Footsore range of Late Romans and always loved them and the chance to use them in my favourite gaming system was too good to pass up. So, my trusty Vikings were consigned to the figure cabinet, and a new warband was mustered from the mercenary bands and city levies of the successors of Rome…..


The Footsore range ticked all the boxes in terms of matching the models up to the army list and the Late Roman theme really resonates with me. One of my favourite book series as a teenager was the Warlord series by Bernard Cornwell, and the figures remind be of those Romano-British warriors fighting a long, brave defeat against the invading Saxons. Those stories have remained favourites all through my life and it’s an area of history that has always fascinated me as a result……. But Byzantines….. Saxons I will come back to!


The Byzantine battle board is a deep one as most of the Saga army rulesets are, and despite their obvious strengths I found them a challenge to balance into an effective force. Looking at the army list (and with a very important eye on which models from the range were my favourites!) I plumped for a balanced mix of Warriors, Levy and Heathguard. Two units of spear armed Kontaratoi and two of javelin-weildng Psiloi were a great starting point and gave me the opportunity to pick up a good number of the Armoured and Unarmoured spearmen to represent them. Byzantine Warrior units can also be armed with bows (Toxatoi) so I grabbed a unit of Archers to represent those too. The Hearthguard units are always mounted and come with swords or bows – I already had units to represent these Kavallaroi but will soon be adding a mix of the Heavy, Light and Cavalry archers to match them up with my beloved infantry.


So how do they play? Balance is the key with Byzantines and unlike many other forces in Saga they have no main strength, and the key to success for me has been hitting upon a blend that utilises their shooting, melee combat and cavalry speed to the greatest effect. The warriors form the backbone of the force and as much as a bristling shieldwall always had its appeal for me, a mix of bows and spears has always given me the necessary flexibility. Byzantines have a unique ability to be able to shoot into combat without hitting your own troops, meaning that your missile troops can give effective support to your combat troops without thinning their ranks out too.


While the Warriors are the mainstay of the army, my Levy units have been key to several victories due to their Scout ability. Using just one dice can activate up to three Levy units at once and as they generate no fatigue, that hail of javelins pelting down on your opponent suddenly starts to look quite formidable. The Massed Archery and Support Archery abilities help you maximise the effectiveness of your missile troops and found them invaluable in supporting your infantry units against superior warriors or numbers.


Hearthguard units have been the key for me, their mounted movement always a key in managing the battlefield effectively and being able to get these guys in the right place when needed is always a challenge! Byzantine cavalry can be a bit squishy (I have never had any success with Kavallaroi archers) but the support that the Lancers can give and in turn receive makes them the key to victory. I’ve found gaming with these guys to be fun, but challenging – at times they can be mediocre and ineffective, their numbers quickly dwindling as units get isolated and destroyed, however with practice and learning how to get the right synergy out of your army it can bring you some spectacular – and very personally rewarding victories.


So, back to the Saxons……. February sees the release of the Saga Aetuis and Arthur supplement and I could not be more excited. This will bring together my favourite time period, my favourite skirmish game and a great opportunity to begin a new project with my favourite figures, so what’s not to love?!? I’ve decided to mark the occasion with a brand new force, one that can challenge my existing army as it transitions from representing the forces of Byzantium to defending the shores of Britain against the waves of howling invaders breaking upon its shores. I’ll be unboxing one of the superb Early Saxon Skirmish Warbands next month and exploring how it will fit into the new ruleset, along with (hopefully, kids allowing!) getting some of these Seax-Wielding warriors painted and out on the battlefield.



Author: Carl Marsden

I'm a writer based in York, UK and have been painting and wargaming for the last 25 years.

My main project currently is Saga, fuelled by an (un)healthy history obsession and the occasional drift into Malifaux and Guildball. 


Andy Hobday

Enjoyed your article very much!

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