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    Chapter Master Karak Norn Clansman's Avatar
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    Vermin Swarm of Fallen Avras (T9A Byzantine Ratmen)


    The Vermin Swarm of the Ninth Age is based on the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as Byzantines or Rūm, the surviving Roman state in the east which centered on the nigh-impregnable crossroads city of Constantinople and which survived century upon century of battering attacks from foes assailing it from every direction, in a mind-boggling display of grand strategy clawing the city-state empire back from the brink to great power again and again. While still a formidable foe for much of its history, the mediaeval Romans were no longer the unstoppable force that had once steamrolled the entire Mediterranean after conquering its only true lethal rival in ancient times: Carthage. The well-organized Byzantine military in its heyday won renown with its Theme system (local garrison troops of farmer-soldiers), mounted Thagmata elite regiments (mobile field army), use of mercenaries, Greek fire, siege engineering, strong navy, Varangian Guard and network of fortified cities to fend off often superior foes at more fronts than the empire could usually handle. Yet ultimately, treachery from within would undermine the army in battle again and again (for Byzantium was rife with vicious power struggles), and cowardice would rear its ugly head all too often: It was not easy to be a soft and rich urban realm confronted by a wide range of hardier and less sophisticated enemies who were out for your lands and riches, in a cutthroat world that was a pale shadow of the Roman Empire at its absolute height, centuries before.


    Sounds like an interesting historical basis for the dastardly ratmen? Hungry for retaking Avras? Fancy a different aesthetic to your Skaven models?


    By Eldan

    Here is a random idea for some Vermin Swarm symbol: The last human Emperor of Avras quartered by four Vermin Hulks:



    Here are some conversions for the heck of it. Attacking cloth and leather surfaces with a needle can help give a frayed look, and is quick work:





    We all know that Skaven was an original invention by Games Workshop, one which gained a lasting popular life unlike their Zoats and Fimir. Before Warhammer, there were no elaborately developed fantasy ratmen to speak of. After Warhammer, they are a new archetype.

    The Ninth Age, being the spiritual successor of Warhammer Fantasy with its historically based model, did manage to find a real life historical culture to base their Vermin Swarm upon, one which sports flamethrowers, treachery, cowardice, cunning and brutality alike: The mediaeval (Eastern) Roman Empire, known as Byzantium after its fall. In case anyone is interested in getting their hands on more knowledge about this nigh-forgotten Roman realm, to get more resonance out of their reading of future Vermin Swarm background, you will get some tips below. Mainly documentaries, lectures and podcasts, since rat players can be expected to have their hands and eyes busy with painting hordes of Vermin miniatures.

    Please share your own, whatever finds you can recommend!

    Intro 1: The Rise & Fall of the Byzantine Empire (5 minutes)

    Intro 2: Engineering an Empire - Byzantium

    If one truly wants to start from the beginning, then Mike Duncans podcast, the History of Rome, can be recommended. It ends with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, which is to say roughly around the start of what is usually coined Byzantine history. (Youtube videos which compile the many episodes.)

    John Romer did great documentaries, and his production on the Byzantine Empire is warmly recommended.

    As to reading, the blog Byzantine Military is a nice one. Jumps between various topics.

    Lecture series on the Byzantines.

    Video series on Byzantine Emperors & Varangian Guard



    Concept art of guard unit for the Vermin Swarm of Avras in Vetia. Heavily inspired by the artwork of Simulayton, who mix in extra elements of ancient styles (inspired by the Macedonian renaissance) to aesthetically underline that Byzantium is nothing but Rome.

    Guesswork: These Ratmen overthrew the strongest Human empire to ever emerge in temperate Vetia during ancient times, and then proceeded to lord over a shrinking realm where they tried to maintain the captive high culture and material achievements (such as architecture and engineering) of ancient Avras through a bitter cycle of ruination, repair, setbacks and decay. Through ages of struggle this mighty people lost their dominion bit by bit as they had to battle against foes beyond counting on more fronts simultaneously than could be managed. As such their history beat to a pulse of slow, drawn-out yet inexorable decline, where dips into dark ages may be followed be resurgent might and reconquest, and even brief golden ages of blossoming population, wealth and culture, only to see corruption, decadence, disease, treachery and fell fortune topple their restored ascendancy and cast the Vermin Swarm anew into a maelstrom of struggles against overwhelming odds. Diplomatic sowing of divisions abroad, choice assassinations of enemy leaders, and baffling grand strategy (centered upon their capital of Avras) all allowed the Ratmen to carry their beset empire through ages of chaos and destruction. For it was cunning, more so than raw strength, which saw them win through to survive for yet more ages of war and disasters.

    Yet nothing lasts forever. Avras of the Vermin Swarm is fallen, for the fabled crossroad city is once again in Human hands for the first time in many millennia. Yet the Ratmen will never accept this loss, for theirs is the power and glory...

    The overarching story of Avras in the Ninth Age is a parody of a parody. For it taps into the commonplace way in which the long history of the Roman realm, ever since the Enlightenment and Gibbons in particular, is unthinkingly wrought into a parody of the past, with half of Roman history (the mediaeval half) being artificially separated from its own antiquity by the label of Byzantine - a name which still has a good ring to it. These Byzantines then have their scandalous parts and failings highlighted, while skipping over the fact that this declining realm managed to hold on for an astounding number of centuries in the face of way too many enemies beating down upon it from too many fronts at once. The reality of the mediaeval Roman Empire is a fascinating and bitter story of a realm and culture that had long since passed its peak, yet still refused to lie down and die where greater powers of its era went under the bus. The parody version casts the Byzantine Empire as little more than a tiresome parade of monks, eunuchs, craven defeats, stupendous titles, and incessant palace murders and civil wars: And so what can be more fitting than to take hold of the parody, and run it to the hilt in fantasy fiction through Byzantine Ratmen?

    After all, both Warhammer Fantasy's Skaven (the most original of Games Workshop's major WHFB armies, and one not based upon any historical culture) and the historical Romans/Byzantines do have mediaeval flamethrowers and treachery in common.

    Enter, the Vermin Swarm of the Ninth Age.

    Please share feedback and ideas of your own!

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