Sunday, March 22, 2020

Maltese Militia, 1565

The 1565 siege of Malta is often seen as a contest purely between the Turkish Ottomans and the Knights of St. John. Nonetheless, the realities of the campaign were much more complex and interesting. 

The 40,000 man Ottoman host was not only composed of Turks, but also drew upon the many ethnicities from its sprawling empire. Greeks, Bulgarians, Algerians, Libyans, all along with a smattering of coastal corsairs and assorted religious fanatics were allied with the Turks laying siege to the island. This provides a veritable feast of character and colour for hobbyists to represent on the gaming table. 

Also surprising (well, to me anyway), was that of the 6,000 defenders, the Knights themselves only made up about 500 of their number. Another 2000 were composed of marooned Spanish sailors, along with various companies of 'Gentlemen Adventurers' from Italy, Spain and Greece. The largest contingent of defenders (at least half of the total number) was made up of the humble Maltese themselves. 

A small number of the Maltese would have been previously trained as militia, whereas the vast majority were simple island folk, rising in defense of their island. A few of them would have had the means to possess a studded shirt and a morion helmet, but a large proportion would have fought in their civilian dress, bare limbed, indifferently armed and reduced to mere rags by the end of the siege.

The histories indicate that the Maltese were often organized into large units with a Knight or soldier of fortune acting as their leader. Several accounts depict their local priests and women sharing the risks with them.

Gaming wise, one can find many suitable figures for the Knights and gentleman adventurers, but no one that I know of that has a range of figures which specifically depict the Maltese militia. Nonetheless, like the brave Maltese themselves, there are good proxies out there that can be pressed into service. The best figures that I've come across are the Portuguese Conquistador range from Eureka Miniatures. They are wonderfully sculpted and hit the highlights of what I think a Maltese fighter would look like: bare legged, lightly armed, scruffy and most importantly: scrappy.

Eureka Conquistadores
Common weapons amongst the Maltese would have been half pikes, short swords, long knives with maybe a smattering of firearms, bows and crossbows.

A couple other figures I pressed into service (a Foundry German barbarian (left) looked just fine for a slightly hirsute Maltese)
Undoubtedly the most powerful weapons in their arsenal would have been the incendiary devices which they created in an attempt to fend off the large masses of Ottoman infantry. 

One of these were the use of pimkins, basically earthenware jars filled with an incendiary concoction (some sources say Greek Fire) with a simple fabric fuse. A rudimentary grenadoe, these pimkins would be thrown into the Ottoman ranks in the hope that they would shatter and catch fire upon impact. 

Another weapon, quite ingenious in its brutal but effective design, was the use of reed hoops that were coated with an incendiary paste. The hoops would be lit and then, using long tongs, would be thrown, or rolled towards the Ottoman formations. This weapon was  particularly nasty as it would entangle the legs and long robes of the Ottomans during their advance, causing havoc in the ranks.

I made a rendition of the burning hoops by coating a circle of florist wire with texture gel and teasing it to look, well, sorta flame-like. I made a set of them laying flat on the ground and another set with them rolling along like demonic hula-hoops, which while neat looking is probably a bit fanciful. 

Finally,  the Maltese also employed what was called the 'Trump' (I know, really...). Not much detail is recorded regarding these weapons, but it is understood that they were hollow tubes filled with incendiary fluid mounted on half pikes. 

When lit, they would gout out flames for 2-3 meters, like a crude, short-burn flamethrower. Unreliable and incredibly dangerous to friend and foe alike (and so quite appropriately named), these would be used to block off weak points in the fortifications, or in point defence to help turn back Ottoman assaults. 

Flame effect made from a 3D print.
I also picked up a few wall sections from Vatican Enterprises to represent the walls of the various Maltese strongpoints. 

Though they are not a perfect match to the Hospitalier designs (which were more blunt and angular) I think they do a good job in conveying the overall sense of the fortifications of the island, and could be used for gaming other historical periods as well (Constantinople, Vienna, Badajoz, etc.).

I especially like the damaged sections as I think they will provide great set-dressing for a a wide assortment of breaching/sally scenarios.

So there you have the beginnings of my Maltese militia, along with a bit of terrain for them to defend.

Thanks for dropping by!