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Cumans (1054-1394 AD)
DBA 130

By Keith Venables

The Cumans appeared in the Ukraine in the mid 11th century. Their origins are unclear, but they were probably related to the Seljuqs. Also known as Kumans and Kipchaks, they are probably best known by their Russian name of Polovtsi, under which name they appear in Borodin's opera "Prince Igor".

The Cumans spread westwards, many of them settling along the Danube in what is now Bulgaria and Rumania. Initially friendly to the Pechenegs, plundering Thrace together in 1087, they allied to Byzantium, and shattered the Pechenegs at the battle of Levunium (1091AD). The Pecheneg remnants were absorbed into the Cumans, as were various other Ghuzz and Turkoman tribes.

The Cumans fought most of the peoples who surrounded them, but their most regular opponents were Byzantium and the southern Russian princedoms. They sacked Kiev in 1202AD. They made regular raids into the Byzantine Empire, an attack in 1148 preventing Emperor Manuel Comnenus from launching an invasion of Italy. Despite this many Cumans served as mercenaries in the Byzantine army. Many Cumans settled in Bulgaria, fighting both against the Bulgars, and alongside them as allies or mercenaries. Other armies who used Cuman mercenaries include Poles and Serbs.

The Mongol invasions effectively finished the Cumans as an independent people. Heavily defeated near the mouth of the Volga in 1238, large numbers fled west, settling in Hungary, Russia and in the Byzantine Empire. The largest group settled in Hungary, where they formed a major element of the army. There were numerous struggles between native Hungarians and Cumans, and at one point they were driven out of Hungary, joining other Cumans in Bulgaria. After they were invited back into Hungary, a Cuman chieftain led the revolt that established the independence of Wallachia in 1330. The Hungarian Cumans had been absorbed into the native population by the 15th century.

The few small independent groups remaining on the steppes after the Mongol invasions were finished off by Timur at the end of the 14th century.

There are few Cuman leaders who left much of a mark, but there was a chap by name of Bonyak the Scabby - perfect if the paint starts flaking off your general!

Enemies

The Cumans historical opponents are Pechenegs (#109), Early Hungarians (#119), Seljuqs (#124), Early Russian (#129), Comnenan Byzantine (#133), Khwarizmian (#146), Later Bulgar (#147) and Mongol (#154).

To these "official" enemies could be added Ghuzz (#94), Romanian Frankish (#152), Later Byzantine (#153), Timurid (#159b), and Later Hungarian (#166), all of whom had contact with the Cumans at some stage. The Hungarians invited the Teutonic Knights (151) to establish a colony in Transylvania as protection against the Cumans in 1211. This was so successful that the Hungarians got scared and drove the Knights out in 1225!

To be honest, any army that visited the Balkans or south-eastern Russia between about 1100-1400 AD could have met up with the Cumans, so there are plenty of plausible (if slightly unhistorical) opponents. How about a detachment of crusaders getting lost while marching to Constantinople? The Cumans remained pagan until almost the end of the period, so the crusaders should have no problem finding a reason to fight! Most of these armies are reasonably strong in cavalry, which could be a problem for the Cuman LH, as could Russian or Byzantine infantry.

The Cuman Army

The DBA list is:

1 x 3Cv The Cv element represents the nobility, and should be the general's element if you want to be historically accurate.
8 x 2LH The LH are the bulk of the warriors, probably including some Pechenegs and Turkomen as well as Cumans.
2 x 3Aux In early Cuman armies the infantry would be the poorest members of the tribe. In later, Hungarian-based, armies they are likely to represent Vlach javelinmen.
1 x 2Ps or
2LH or Art
Artillery should only be used after 1180 AD, and should be either wagon-mounted bolt shooters or mangonels.

Note that the list in the rules contains a misprint. In the optional elements it should read "2LH" not "2LC".

Tactics

Tactically the Cumans were a fairly typical steppe nomad army, relying on hit and run tactics by horse archers to wear down and disorder the enemy. In my view, DBA does not simulate these tactics very well, as there is no way to "wear down" or "tire out" opponents.

The best bet is likely to be to use some of the LH to go after the opponents camp, use the infantry to protect your camp, and use the rest of the LH to disorder and harass your opponent. Tempt him to break up his formation by chasing after your LH and eventually you should get some overlaps or flank attacks. The Cv will be most useful at this stage.

Camp Ideas

Cuman camps should be a wagon laager, with tents either on the wagons or inside the laager. Even after they had settled in Bulgaria and Hungary, the Cumans continued to live in nomad style.

Painting Tips

The bulk of Cuman armies would have worn a calf-length topcoat, sometimes with short sleeves, over a knee length tunic and trousers. Either boots or shoes could be worn. A wide range of materials were used, with fur, wool and sheepskin perhaps being commoner in the early part of the period, and linen and brocade replacing them as time went on. Colours varied, yellow, white, brown, blue, red, gold and grey are all recorded. Clothes could be highly patterned and embroidered. Richer or noble Cumans would naturally wear more decorative clothing.

Those fighting as Cv, should probably be armoured, in a mix of Russian, Turkish, and Mongol styles. Pointed helmets with mail aventails and a metal mask moulded to look like a face are recorded as popular.

The most distinctive item of Cuman clothing was a pointed cap. Unfortunately, contemporary sources show a wide range of these, possibly reflecting various ethnic sub-groups. Most have an upturned brim, often in a contrasting colour. Some versions resemble a "Robin Hood" style, others are more like old-fashioned nightcaps with upturned brims. Many have an unfortunate tendency to look like they belong to one of Santa's elves!

The Cumans themselves were fair-skinned, blue-eyed and often described as handsome. They wore their hair long, and often had long moustaches, although beards were rare.

Weapons were mainly recurved composite bows, together with sabres, maces, javelins, and possibly lances, at least for some nobles. Shields, when used, would be small and usually round, or occasionally almond-shaped.

Miniatures

The only manufacturer I know of who produces Cumans is Gladiator Miniatures (catalogue courtesy of Wargames Forum UK) but there must be others.

At a pinch you could use a mix of other similar figures - Hungarians with a few Bulgar and Pecheneg cavalry, with Wallachians for the infantry would be best.

Rick S.: Minifigs Crusader line includes Cumans (intended as Byzantine mercenaries). Also, I've found that with most steppe nomads, you can largely mix and match (there are a few execptions, such as Pechenegs with their long hair & beards). I think Nasmith has a casting, as well.

David Howard: Essex offers the following Cumans in their Crusader range: CRU30 (Cuman Horse archer), CRU31 (Cuman Horse archer with javelins), CRU32 (Cuman foot archer), and CRU33 (Cuman javelinman).

Other Resources

Most of the information in this piece came from the Wargames Research Group books - Armies of Feudal Europe, and Armies of the Middle Ages (vol 2), both by Ian Heath.

There's not much on the Web, but if you use a decent search engine you find odd references on pages about Balkan history and culture.


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Last Updated: Jan. 3, 2000

My thanks to Keith Venables for contributing these notes. Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.