Saturday, October 2, 2021

Blemmyes: An Early Dollar Store Army

 I started these guys in the early 90’s.

I saw the listing in the WRG book “Armies and Enemies of Rome” and it listed Blemyes as having elephants and cataphtact cavalry. Most of their forces were skirmishing archers.

I saw other lists for them, Irregular Miniatures offered an army in their 25mm lists (now rebranded as 28mm to stay relevant with the trend to larger figures) with elephants, archers, cavalry and camels.

So I was hooked.

Modern spellings have changed to “Blemmyes” or “Blemmae”

As for their battles, the Wikipedia entry is enticing:

 The cultural and military power of the Blemmyes started to grow to such a level that in 193, Pescennius Niger asked a Blemmye king of Thebesto help him in the battle against the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus.[citation needed] In 250, the Roman Emperor Decius put in much effort to defeat an invading army of Blemmyes.[13] A few years later, in 253, they attacked Upper Egypt (Thebaid) again but were quickly defeated. In 265, they were defeated again by the Roman Prefect Firmus, who later in 273 would rebel against the Empire and the Queen of the Palmyrene Empire, Zenobia, with the help of the Blemmyes themselves. The Blemmyes were said to have joined forces with the Palmyrans against the Romans in the battle of Palmyra in 273[13]

The Roman general Marcus Aurelius Probus took some time to defeat the usurpers with his allies but could not prevent the occupation of Thebais by the Blemmyes. That meant another war and almost an entire destruction of the Blemmyes army (279-280).[13][14][15]

During the reign of Diocletian, the province of Upper Aegyptus, Thebaid, was again occupied by the Blemmyes. In 298, Diocletian made peace with the Nobatae and Blemmyes tribes, agreeing that Rome would move its borders north to Philae (South Egypt, south of Aswan) and pay the two tribes an annual gold stipend.[16][13]

I decided to use the dollar store generic WW2 toys that were in abundance and add in toy elephants, camels and use Giant Indians for cavalry.

My first lot of soldiers were the “follow me” GI.

The problem was the bow.

Shields were easy, hole punch rounds, and the quivers were clipped round toothpicks.

But the bows were tough.

Metal didn’t bond well with plastic and fell off if bumped or picked up.

So I tried using dried pine needles of an appropriate size.

They were also slightly curved. But they eventually snapped off leaving me in the same fix.

So I ditched them and went with a running figure, rifle painted as a spear.

The cavalry turned out really nice, I think anyway.

The cataphracts have plasticine armour and a slung spear, no kontos were used.

I recently added a few armoured officers, from the Zvezda Alexander Nevsky box.


  1. Some these are rather brilliant conversions. Well done!

    1. Thank you Ross. Originally I had used the Hong Kong GI “follow me” figure as an archer but I had to change them out. I think a couple made it into the mass of light infantry (2 figs per base). It’s funny how much perceptions have changed in the last few decades, from the old WRG style of figure representations (as used by Hinchliffe), to more contemporary interpretations as seen in some of the Osprey books. As an example, the Palmyrans went from lightly armed bow and spear men to what looks more like the heavily armed and armoured Zvezda Alexander Nevsky figures. Illustrations on the web of Blemmyes or Nobades show really heavy cavalry, like Sassanian Clibinarii. A change from the mule riding hordes of WRG.

  2. Those look d@mned fine! Inspirational conversions. I am particularly impressed with how good you have made those hollow horses look. Just goes to show what a bit of paint and basing can do. Top stuff.
    Regards, James

    1. Thank you James, I always had a soft spot in my heart for these type of western figures, and using them in other periods.