Dan Becker's Dark Ages Celtic 28mm Figures

This article describes Dark Ages Celtic figures used for displays, figure painting, and table top wargaming.

The Celts were people who spread across Europe in the Iron Age and by 275 BC were all over Europe and Great Britain. The Celts thrived during the time from the clashes with Early Imperial Romans (200 BC), to post-Roman times (~400 AD) up until the expansion of Saxon, Viking, and Norman cultures. The three cultures shown here, the Dark Ages Welsh, Picts, and Irish, all had extensive contact and conflicts in Great Britain after the Romans left.

These figures are from Gripping Beast and can be used with table top rulesets such as Warhammer Ancient Battles, Swordpoint or Ravenfeast.

Scroll to read the story and see smaller photos. Click on the photos for a larger gallery of all the images.

A Dark Ages Battle in Northern Britain

First we introduce the figures via a short story.

A Welsh war band
A welsh war band
On the west coast of Britannia, the Welsh thrived on the shores of the Irish sea. However at the beginning of the Dark Ages there were many incursions from Romans, seafaring settlers, and raiders from the north. At this time, the Welsh formed armed warbands of infantry, archers, and cavalry to deal with the others.
A Pict war band
A Pict war band
In the north of Britannia, far beyond Hadrian's Wall, in what is known today as Scotland, the Picts were the dominant culture. At the beginning of the Dark Ages, they too received many hostile visits from Romans, Danes, and other belligerent seafarers. They also formed warbands of infantry, archers, and cavalry to protect their homeland.
An Irish war band
An Irish war band
West of the Irish Sea on the island of Hibernia, the Celtic Irish culture dominated for centuries. As their wealth grew during the Dark Ages, they formed war bands to protect their culture. They also sailed to Scotland and Wales to settle there. They formed warbands of archers, infantry, and cavalry to protect Ireland.
The fertile cross roads
The fertile cross roads
As these three cultures expanded in Great Britain, eventually they came in close proximity. Here the three war bands meet in a fertile, green farmland, with beautiful forests, a nice river, and a trade roadway crossing the white stone bridge.
The Picts advance
The Picts advance
Sensing danger, the Picts advance close to the bridge. The infantry are protected by some modest livestock fences. The archers stay on the hill, ready to open with a volley of arrows. Two leaders move forward to guide the infantry defensive position. Two leaders stay on the hill ready to shore up any sagging units.
The Welsh advance
The Welsh advance
The Welsh band moves into firing range, but the river poses a problem. Do they stay put and do ranged combat with arrows and javelins? Or do they ford the river, possibly being at a disadvantage? Both sides look for weaknesses in the other, but they are evenly matched!
The Irish advance
The Irish advance
At this time, an unexpected event! The Irish advance from their settlement. They too are armed, well arrayed, and ready for battle.
The Welsh and Picts battle
The Wlesh and Picts battle
Seeing the advancing third army at the cross roads, the Welsh decide to attack across the river. The leader decides fording the river will be a disadvantage, but the defending Picts cannot devote all units to one flank. The full Welsh war band moves in for the attack!
The Irish and Picts battle
The Irish and Picts battle
With one half of Picts battling the Welsh, the Irish move their full force against the Picts as well. With no river but a simple well packed road, there is no slowing down. Both the Irish and the Picts meet in the middle.

What will happen? Will the Picts be smashed by two enemies at once? If so, what will happen between the surviving Welsh and Irish? Will the Picts win all by some superior hardiness and positioning? Will they all sustain casualties, become demoralized, and run away? Will there be some kind of rare act of divine providence or luck? We will only know by playing the game and simulating the event.

A Closer Look and Description of the Minis

The first photo gallery gives an impression of a table top battle with the Welsh, Pict, and Irish 28mm miniatures. This second photo gallery shows detailed photos of the miniatures and gives more information on the models, how they were painted, and how they were selected for gaming.

I am a lover of history, particularly anything from the Roman Republic (~500 BC), to the Imperial Romans (27 BC), to the Late Romans (400 to 1453 AD). Even more particularly, I love the enemies of Rome in these periods and beyond. Earlier I made miniatures of Carthaginians, Germanic Celts, Saxons, and Vikings. Now it is time to do Dark Age enemies, the Welsh, Picts, and Irish.

Dark Ages Archers unit 1 left
Dark Ages Archers unit 1 left
Here are the first unit of Gripping Beast archer models shown from the left. These archers come in a box of 30 soldiers, so here I display 3 units of 10 archers with two photos each.

Why 30 soldiers in a box? I think that is an odd number for battle games. It would be nice to have 1, 2, or 3 ranks of archers, but 1 by 10 is odd, 2 by 5 wide is kind of odd, and 3 ranks is not evenly divisible. Most manufacturers use multiples of 12. With 12 you can get 2 rows by 6 wide, 3 by 4, etc. Twelve seems to work better.

Nevertheless, 30 archers is good enough for 10 each to the Welsh, Picts, and Irish. You get three body styles all wearing tunics, multiple heads, and one positionable arm.

Dark Ages Archers unit 1 right
Dark Ages Archers unit 1 right
This is the first unit of 10 archers from the right.
Dark Ages Archers unit 2 left
Dark Ages Archers unit 2 left
Here is the second group of 10 archers. I read an article (that I have lost) that stated the modern Welsh have the highest percentage of brown and black hair colors in Great Britain. So these 10 archers have exclusively that color. The modern Irish have the highest red/ginger hair color. So that is the previous group of 10. The Scots have the highest blonde hair color, and that is shown in the next group of 10.

I don't know how true this is for the Dark Ages, but it helps to have visual clues to organize your minis, even if those clues are not entirely accurate or stereotypical myths. Also, the underside of the bases are marked with W, P, or I to help organize the archers.

Dark Ages Archers unit 2 right
Dark Ages Archers unit 2 right
Here is the second unit of 10 archers from the right.
Dark Ages Archers unit 3 left
Dark Ages Archers unit 3 left
Here is the third group of archers from the left. This more blonde group are the Pict archers.

As you might notice, the models and the paint jobs are generic. You can easily use these folks as Saxons, Vikings, European Celts, or any lightly armored archers.

Dark Ages Archers unit 3 right
Dark Ages Archers unit 3 right
The third unit of 10 archers from the left. So there you have it, a total of 30 Dark Ages archers. Simple tunics, no armor, and pretty easy to paint and get on the game table.
Welsh Spear Infantry left
Welsh Spear Infantry left
Now we move onto the infantry for our Dark Ages war bands, this group comes from Gripping Beast in a box of 25 Dark Age Welsh.

Again, 25 soldiers is a strange number for me. I would have preferred 24 or 36 so you can get more choices for ranks or groups.

The five sprues give you 5 body poses, about 7 heads, and 3 capes. You also get enough shields, spears, and axes for all, and enough swords for five warriors. I decided to make the Welsh and the others each have 10 spears, 10 axes, and 5 swords for their infantry.

Here is a unit of 10 spear warriors. Like the archers, they are all in simple tunics. The body poses are energetic. They all seem to be advancing or charging.

Welsh Spear Infantry right
Welsh Spear Infantry right
Here are the Welsh spearmen from the right. I attempted to make the shield image from shield designs I scoured from the internet. However, the paper prints of the shields absorbed the final spray matte varnish in a weird way causing a foggy dusty look. I learned later to first coat the shield with a clear varnish which protects them from absorbing the spray. You will see the later shields are much clearer.
Welsh Axe Infantry left
Welsh Axe Infantry left
Here are ten Welsh Axe infantry. All of these warriors are painted in a new style for me. First I prime them white with a spray primer. The major blocks of color are made with Army Painter Speedpaints which is an acrylic ink that gives the fabric a nice variation in shade and highlights. Then I use Vallejo acrylics on to to paint details such as handles, belts, hair, and weapon metallics. After making the base, I spray matte varnish to protect the paint and give a coating that strengthens the miniature.

The Speedpaints are a joy to use, and that is why you see so many figures painted here. Other companies too are coming out with acrylic inks. Citadel has their Contrast Paint line. Vallejo is coming out with XPress Color. And looking into my paint collection, I have a nice range of 24 Dr. Ph Marten Bombay India Inks.

These new inks are great and much quicker than the old tri-color method of "paint a dark shade", "paint some medium mid-tones", "dry brush on some light high-lights." They won't win any contests, but they look fine to my aging eyes from an arm's length away.

Welsh Axe Infantry right
Welsh Axe Infantry right
Here are the Welsh Axe infantry from the right. You can see a few of them have stripes on the tunic or the capes. These lines were drawn with acrylic paint pens. I used to do this with a fine brush, but the paint pens (which don't use ink, they use acrylic paint) are much faster.
Welsh Sword Infantry left
Welsh Sword Infantry left
Here are the Welsh swordsmen from the left. The box of models only comes with 5 sword arms, so you see them all here.
Welsh Sword Infantry left
Welsh Sword Infantry right
And here are swords from the right. You can see the Welsh capes pretty well here, two of them with plaid striping.
Pict Spear Infantry left
Pict Spear Infantry left
Now on to the Gripping Beast Dark Age Pict Infantry with the first group of spearmen.

The Picts come 25 to a box with the same 5 body types as the Welsh and the Irish. The Picts have different shields, capes, and heads, some of the heads wearing hoods. Additionally I have raided the plastic parts box to add the large rectangular shields here so there are a total of 5 different shields.

The Picts also have one crossbow per sprue, and I throw that guy in with the bladed weapons.

Pict Spear Infantry right
Pict Spear Infantry right
This photo shows the variety of Pict shields. The designs are a mix of graphics from the internet and simple hand painting with acrylic markers.
Pict Axe Infantry left
Pict Axe Infantry left
Here are the Pict Axe warriors. I love the hooded capes on these guys.
Pict Axe Infantry right
Pict Axe Infantry right
More axe warriors with a few more plaid stripes on the capes.
Pict Sword Infantry left
Pict Sword Infantry left
Here are the final group of Picts, carrying their swords.

I base my warriors on 20mm steel washers (about 7/8 inch). Most of my bases have brown mud and green grass, but I decided to do the Picts with icy white and dry looking grass tufts. Having metallic washers allow you to put them on a larger base with magnetic vinyl. The magnetic sheet grabs the figures and allows you to move 6 or 8 or more all at once. It still allows you to remove casualties, but it allows big groups to move more easily. (See the earlier battle photos for my magnetic bases.)

Pict Sword Infantry right
Pict Sword Infantry right
Here are the Pict swords from the left. I didn't intend to make a "Z" on that center shield, but that warrior is now called "Z Man".
Irish Spear Infantry left
Irish Spear Infantry left
And now onto the Gripping Beast Dark Age Irish warriors.

Like the Picts and the Welsh, the Irish come 25 to a box with 5 body poses.

The Irish are unique in that they have different heads, a buckler small shield, a large two-handed axe, and very ornate capes with various fur patterns.

Irish Spear Infantry right
Irish Spear Infantry right
Here are the Irish Spear warriors from the other side. As you can see the paper shield patterns come out much clearer with a coat of varnish before applying the final matte spray.
Irish Axe Infantry left
Irish Axe Infantry left
Here are the Irish Axe warriors.

Most of the acrylic colors I use for the tunics are muted browns, greens, blues, red, and yellow ochres. I think many acrlic paint lines are geared towards fantasy armies, but for historical miniatures you have to tone down the saturation with whites and grays and acrylic mediums. I look forward to expanded color ranges from all manufacturers in the future.

These paints are quite colorful compared to my older style.

Irish Axe Infantry right
Irish Axe Infantry right
Here are the Irish Axe warriors from the right.
Irish Sword Infantry left
Irish Sword Infantry left
Here are the Irish sword warriors.

The one gentleman with white hair is a unique head for the Irish. It is tough to see, but this head has short braided hair. Most of my Irish heads have red or black hair.

Irish Sword Infantry right
Irish Sword Infantry right
And now the Irish swords from the left.

That finishes our three sets of Welsh, Pict, and Irish infantry warriors. Now time to introduce the cavalry.

Welsh Cavalry left
Welsh Cavalry left
Here are four Welsh cavalry soldiers which come from the Gripping Beast Dark Age Cavalry box. You get 12 horses and riders per box, and so my Celts get 4 cavalry per war band. There are plenty of weapons, but I selected two spears, one axe, and one sword per quartet.

The horses and riders come in four poses each. I have painted my horses with speed paints, and the four colors shown here are (left to right) are chestnut, dun, gray, and roan. I love painting horses, and I consulted many online image collections on horse coloring.

Welsh Cavalry right
Welsh Cavalry right
Here are the Welsh cavalry from the right.

The horses are pretty heroic size for Dark Ages in Great Britain. I suspect the Celts in Britain had smaller horses, more similar to ponies. These horses are huge specimens for the time and geography.

Pict Cavalry left
Pict Cavalry left
Here are the Pict cavalry, again with horses in dun, gray, chestnut, and roan.

I kit-bashed the shields from Oathmark humany infantry. I don't think they are historical, but I liked the larger heater shields for the Picts.

Pict Cavalry right
Pict Cavalry right
And here are the Pict cavalry from the left.

The bases are 40 by 20 mm "capsule" shaped bases from Litko. Litko makes all sorts of bases of different materials and all sorts of parts for wargaming.

Irish Cavalry left
Irish Cavalry left
And now finally the Irish cavalry, again with two spears, one axe, and one sword. Four horse poses, four body types, and multiple heads.
Irish Cavalry right
Irish Cavalry right
And the final photo, the Irish cavalry from the right.

Thanks for reading about my latest miniature figures. I hope you enjoyed seeing the details and some of the methods used to create these figures. Why so many?

I wanted to represent some Dark Ages Celts in Great Britain, and luckily there were some good choices for figures in this era. Gripping Beast have a lot of very good miniatures. And the idea of a three way fight seems like fun to me.

I also like games that are bigger than a skirmish (where you move individual soldiers), but smaller than a big battle (where two lines tend to move forward into each other). The game rules I like tend to have group movements, but then have individual casualties.

What's next? There are many good miniatures for Late Romano British, earlier Euro Celts, Celtic Germans, and all sorts of Romans. I will likely head forward in this direction.

Once again, thanks for visiting!