King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Monday, January 11, 2010

Books and a Pocket Geography of Syldavia

Greetings to all, and before it is quite too late, my very best wishes for 2010. Winter has descended on the highlands of Syldavia, whose people (on the Orthodox calendar) are still in the festive season. They are a happy lot, making merry while we are at work! Come to think of it, maybe all the Syldavians do is make merry, plot and fight! A permanent wargamer's holiday.

While I haven't too active on this blog the last two months, I have finally managed to finish a post to submit today. I have also been reading quite a bit as I have had some time with little else to do but sit in a chair and hold the baby as she hasn't been sleeping too well lately and because my uninvited H1N1 guest decided to outstay its welcome. I managed to read for the first time Savory's wonderful history of the Hannover campaign, which I found to be a very lively and informative narrative. Savory wrote very well and he managed to a take an instructive critical perspective on the campaign and retain a great deal of sympathy for the participants as real and fallible people facing great problems with limited means and information. I am pretty new to the SYW and while I realized that command, intelligence, strategic maneuver and supply were all big problems for the era (as in any), I hadn't realized just how serious they were. Savory's descriptions of how almost all the offensives begun by Brunswick and the various French commanders finally ended in dead ends shows just how often commanders in the SYW were essentially groping in the dark when looking to engage with the enemy. Also worth noting, as has been often pointed out by Bill Protz and Der Alte Fritz, the French army proved highly capable in this campaign when well lead and were several times poised on the brink of complete success. Likewize, it seems to me that the Prussian-Hannover-British contingent largely deserved their good reputations and were for the most part well-lead, but they nearly lost this arduous campaign on several occasions, frequently exhausted, out of supply, and often used overly aggressively at key moments. A final comment is to note Savory's demonstration that the campaign was drawn out again and again, not because of static tactics but because decisive results in key maneuvers and battles were foiled repeatedly because of command factors, such as the occasional inaction of certain sub-commanders at inopportune moments, incomprehensible now, poor or misinterpreted orders (a regular event it seems), and governmental interference.

À propos of the Syldavian campaign, I also read Ottoman Warfare by Rhoads Murphey and Ottoman Wars 1700-1870: An Empire Besieged by Virginia Aksan in order to learn a little about how the Ottomans and Bordurians should play out in this campaign. Murphey's book, an academic volume, doesn't deal much with things of immediate use to the wargamer such as the structure of the Ottoman army, troop types or tactics, but he does discuss at length the financial and infrastructural support for the Ottoman's very effective military machine. He argues that much of the Ottomans tremendous successes into the 18th century were due with highly effective bureaucratic structures that amassed and transported immense quantities of matériel for campaigning and patient tactics (disdaining winter campaigns) that ensured that the Ottoman forces were always in supply. The Ottomans were thus regularly fighting at a considerable advantage relative to their opponents, more capable of exploiting victories and of recovering from reverses.

Aksan's book, also academic in orientation, seems the more interesting work for a wargamer. She sketches out the course of several campaigns and has a chapter dealing with the structure of army and grand strategy, also stressing the importance of supply therein. She also examines the wars of the 17th and 18th with Austria and Venice along the Danube and in Crete and Morea, and with Russia in the Ukraine and the Crimea. This book is of particular interest here as a guide to how the Ottomans and Bordurians should function as Syldavia's opponents.

I also obtained a copy of L'esercito Ottomano di Candia a Passarowitz ( 2 vols) by Bruno Mugnai (published by Filippi Editore Venezia). The books are in Italian so I can't actually read them, and this is a pity as they are clearly highly useful for anyone interested in the period and the Ottomans. There are precious few good sources of detailed information on the various troop types of the 17th-18th century Ottoman army or of their dress and other details such as flags, tents and personal arms. These books are well-illustrated with black and white drawings and colour plates based on contemporary descriptions. One plate features troops raised in or based in the Balkans, very useful for me. There are english resumés of the plates as well. The appendices of Vol. 2 also contain useful information such as the size of feudal sipahi cavalry contributions from different regions, summary details of army structure for different campaigns and brief orders of battle for some major battles between 1683 and 1716. With the judicious use of some translation software, I suspect that there is a wealth of useful information to be wrung from these excellent books.

Last but not least, easily the best reading treat I had over the holidays was to purchase a pdf copy of AJ's Hetzenberg Chronicles. It was great fun to read it again all in a few goes, I was no doubt wearing a silly grin despite the ornery infant in my arms. I am eagerly awaiting vol. 2. AJ no doubt put a lot of work into this project but I sincerely hope that one day there will be a new story at some point, or something along the same lines.


Without further digression, on to Syldavia. I have edited my campaign map, adding in provinces, some place names and some geographical features. I took great liberties with David Linienblatt's NBA map icons, reworking them in Abobe Illustrator to create individualized city sketches. I also drew some new ones; minaret-like towers, watch towers, houses and a Vauban-esuqe fortress. Like David's drawings, these are available to anyone who wants a copy, just drop me a line in the comments. Thanks again to David for his original work.

A Pocket Geography of Syldavia
The historical integrity and bare survival of Syldavia probably has much to due with its position nestled within a crook in the protective arm of the Dinaric Alps. The topography of Syldavia consists of a network of mountain ranges and valleys, some fertile, others dry or forested. The bulk of these valleys run very roughly northwest to southeast, although some rivers and passes escape the valleys of the central highlands though spur valleys, draining away to the south and so connecting the central highlands to the coastal region and the Adriatic, or to the north, connecting eventually to the Danube.
Most of the territory along the Adriatic Sea is hilly or mountainous, with lowlands found at the embouchures of the Wladir River and adjacent to Lake Skadar. The coastal region is hot in summer, cool in winter and generally dry, except for valley bottoms and the south and west facing flanks of mountain ranges, which catch rain. The rivers of the region tend to fall quickly and do not permit boat traffic (excepting the smallest of craft) far inland. The coastal region produces fruit, olives, salt, sheep, a modest quantity of wine, wood and some metals mining. On the coast itself, there are innumerable small natural harbours sheltering fishermen (and smugglers) but few developed ports that are connected to population centres by rivers or valleys. The notable ports include Douma (a poor harbour on the sandy outlet of the Wladir River), Dbrnouk (an excellent and easily defended port and important trade centre, linked to the interior by a long mountain pass), Cataro (another excellent harbour located in a mountain-ringed fjord) and Budva (a small port vulnerable to raids from the south). The coast is culturally and economically heavily influenced by Italy, particularly by Venice.
The central highland valleys are much more moderate in climate, warm in summer to cold in winter and relatively moist, as high mountains to the north and east create consistent precipitation. Winters here are quite snowy. The broad Wladir and Moltus river valleys and to a lesser extent the Trebjesa valley have broad and well-watered valley bottoms and the climate supports the cultivation of cereals, cattle-rearing, as well as relatively dense human settlement. Three of the country’s largest towns cluster in the middle of these valleys. Klow, the capital, was founded adjacent to a marshy lake at the confluence of the Wladir and Moltus rivers, a region which supports the richest agricultural land in Syldavia. Horses are raised in modest numbers on the grassy foothills of these valleys. It was in these lands that King Ivan II settled German (Austrian) colonists in order to reinvigorate the depopulated region, after its reconquest from the Ottoman-backed Bordurians in 1683. These settlers reinforce the notable traditional German character of the Wladruja and Moltuja regions and especially of Istow town. Woodcutting and mining are also significant economic activities.
The northern valleys (of the Bejsu Reka and Djrinje Rivers) are surrounded by high mountains, forested and relatively dry. These valleys are less densely populated than those of the central highlands, except for the area around the major town of Bellicosow, which has abundant farmlands in river valley lowlands. Mining is an important activity in these regions, especially at Sbrodj, where a number of important materials are mined, including iron and saltpetre, there found in an uncommon natural mineral form, linked to geothermal activity. Several hot springs dot this region, the largest of which is located at the frontier town of Kragoniedin, on the shore of Lake Polishov. The Romans established a bath there, the preserved ruins of which are the central part of a new spa constructed by King Vladimir III in 1720, who, enchanted by the beautiful setting, established a huge hunting preserve nearby and sought to attract the grand and the good of Syldavia to his little pleasure dome.
Syldavia, with its borders of 1739, is composed of six administrative districts whose boundaries are largely based on the ancient duchies conquered long ago by Muskar I. These include on, the Adriatic coast, Hum, Travunia Zeta and Ragusia, the latter having been split off from the Duchy of Travunia by the Venetians in the 13th century. The central highlands comprise Wladruja (the Wladir river and the Klow district) and Moltuja (the Moltus river valley). Zympathia is the northwest frontier of Syldavia, representing the western slopes of the Zympathia mountains and the Bejsu Reka river valley. Finally, Polishov represents the eastern slopes of the Zympathian Mountains and the northerneastern frontier of Syldavia.
Major topographic features and products

Wladir River Valley, port of Douma, farming, fruit, wine, fishing, sea salt. Well populated, prosperous.

Sheep herding, wood cutting, iron mine and smelter, wool and weaving. Modest population, relatively poor.

Port of Dbrnouk, trade, finance, fishing. Densely populated, quite prosperous.

Port of Cataro, fruit, vineyards, sheep herding, agriculture, weaving. A silver mine is the source metal for much of the Syldavian currency. Relatively well populated and relatively prosperous.

Wladir River valley, iron mine and smelter, cereal agriculture, livestock, wood cutting, Royal Court, trade, control of strategic transport routes. Well populated, quite prosperous.

Moltus River Valley, cereal agriculture and livestock, wood cutting, copper mine, weaving. Well populated, relatively prosperous.

Bejsu Reka River, Forestry, mines of strategic materials at Sbrodj, potential for new mines. Sparsely populated, poor.

Djrinje River valley, agriculture, wood cutting, hunting, major route to Borduria. Well populated valley bottom, underpopulated margins, relatively poor.


  1. Wonderfully detailed map, and in-depth overview. May I inquire what you used for making your map?

  2. Hi DaA,

    Thanks very much. I have been following your postings on your site, nice looking armies you have on review there!
    The map was made in Adobe Illustrator. It is a top notch program with far more bells and whistles than I will ever learn to use or need, but it does a great job with my tasks.



  3. Jim,

    An excellent and informative post. And a very fine map too.

    I, for one, would certainly appreciate it if you could send me your new map icons. My email address is . . .

    By the way, you do realize, don't you, that you don't have to wait until you have such a long post before posting something? This post could have been split up and spread over several days so that we could have had a number of visits to Syldavia instead of just one.

    Finally, it is our sincere hope that your lovely young Princess regains her health and soon takes to sleeping soundly (and at convenient times).

    -- Jeff

  4. Hi Jeff,

    I will get the map icons to you asap. What format do you need? Can you use Adobe Illustrator vector files, will a jpeg do?

    As for length, you are completely correct, this should have been two posts anyway. I was a bit taken aback when I saw the length of the thing. I have been called Prof. Blah Blah by some students... one can guess why. In this case, I added the book info more or less spontaneously to the post. I will take your advice for my forthcoming posts however.

    Her Majesty seems fine the last few days (and sleeping deeply as I type! Phew, lordie!).


  5. A marvelous work of love and dedication!

  6. Good to see your splendid map and what you've done to develop and change my icons. Yes, please, I'd like a copy of the icons too. Can you send in PDF format, please?




  7. P.S. I think you should have my email address from when I sent you my map icons a while ago.


  8. Hi David!

    Yes, I believe I still have your message in the in box. My icons are not so nicely shaded as yours I must say. I was a bit less meticulous when I realised that the icons would be quite small. As well, I got a bit more mileage out of your buildings by scaling and distorting them and by reflecting them.


  9. Jim,

    Send in whatever format you like . . . or in multiple formats.

    -- Jeff