Sinhalese and Tamil (1494-1700) army list for New World DBA, my New World variant of DBA. The list covers the Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms of Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka). Admittedly most of my information is about the Sinhalese and I assume the Tamil were similar. The New World DBA list is my equivalent to DBA II/42d, DBR III/21 and FoGR Hindu Indian, but differs from these in significant ways.
Bit of history
At the start of the 16th century Ceylon was divided into several polities: Kingdom of Jaffna, Vanni Chieftains, Kingdom of Kotte, and the Kingdom of Kandy. Jaffna, located on the Jaffna peninsular in the north of the island, was ruled by Hindu Tamil kings. The Vanni chieftains were Hindu Tamil feudal chiefs based south of the Jaffna Peninsula. Previously the Vanni area had been part of the Kingdom of Jaffna but by the 16th century only the half closest to the Kingdom of Jaffna continued to pay tribute with the rest being independent.
The two Sinhalese kingdoms to the south – Kingdom of Kotte, Kingdom of Kandy – were buddhist. The Kingdom of Kotte dominated the western coast line from its centre at the palace at Kotte, a place surrounded by swampy lagoons and a little inland from Colombo. The Kingdom of Kandy was in the hilly centre of the island and although the extent of the Kingdom varied over time, it managed to remain independent through to British times.
In 1505 Portuguese ships anchored off Colombo. Initially the Portuguese traded, but then built a fort to support their trading activities, and subsequently start encroaching on the Sinhalese territory. In the Spoiling of Vijayabhu (1521) the sons of King Vijayabahu VI mutinied against their father, killing him, and splitting the Kingdom of Sitawaka and Principality of Raigama off from the Kingdom of Kotte. The Portuguese took advantage of the resulting conflict and intruded into the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, placing client rulers on the thrones of several kingdoms and directly ruling other areas. By 1551 the Portuguese controlled the Kingdom of Kotte. The Kingdom of Sitawaka was the main Sinhalese beneficiary of this confusion and in 1521–87 expanded to cover most of Sri Lanka. Rajasinha I of Sitawaka tried, and failed, to expel the Portuguese from the island at the Siege of Colombo in 1587–8. Following this failure the people of the newly conquered territories saw their opportunity and rebelled against Sitawaka. This in turn gave the Portuguese a new opportunity to expand at the expense of the divided and disorganised rival kingdoms. The Portuguese extended to their control over the kingdoms of Jaffna (1591), Raigama (1593), and Sitawaka (1593).
Kandy was the last remaining independent Kingdom. The Portuguese placed a client ruler on the throne of the Kingdom of Kandy, but he died soon after and the Portuguese were forced to withdraw. In 1594 the Portuguese launched a full military invasion of Kandy where their their entire army wiped out by Kandyan guerrilla warfare. Further Portuguese attempts to conquer Kandy were repulsed, but the Kandyans were restricted to their mountains. The stalemate lead to a truce in 1621 and subsequently Kandy formally becoming a vassal state of Portugal, although in reality it remained independent. The Portuguese also conquered the Vanni chieftains in 1621.
In 1638 Dutch East India Company entered the scene and sought to exploit the situation to take over Portuguese possessions. In 1658 an alliance between the Dutch and the Kingdom of Kandy saw the Portuguese evicted. Kandy ruled half the island and the Dutch the rest.
Throughout this time the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kandy remained independent, protected by the impenetrable jungle clad mountains and the tropical climate. On occasion both Portuguese and Dutch forces reached Kandy but neither were able to hold it. It would take British intervention, after our period of interest, to subdue them.
- Kandy: Hilly Terrain. 1-2 Compulsory: Steep Hills. 2-3 Optional: River, Woods, BUA, and/or Road.
- Others: Tropical Terrain. 1-2 Compulsory: Woods. 2-3 Optional: River, Marsh, Rough, BUA, and/or Road.
Camp/Stronghold: Huts surrounded by jungle or palms, stockade in a narrow mountain pass (Kandy), statue of Buddha (Sinhalese), or statue of a Hindu god (Tamil).
|Number||Description||Troop Type||Cost||Example Army|
|0-4||Guards, foreign mercenaries, better quality militia, or veterans||Warriors||BdS||5||–||–|
|Archers and/or musketeers2||ShS||5||–||–|
|4-15||Conscript archers and/or musketeers2||Massed||ShO||3||8||24|
|0-8||Conscript warriors with sword and target, spear, javelins or mixed weaponry||BdO||3||2||6|
|0-3||Skirmishers with javelin, bow, arquebus1 or musket2||Sk||2||2||4|
|Only from 1540|
|Only Kingdom of Kandy|
|1||General and guard||Warriors||BdS (Gen)||5||–||–|
|Archers and/or musketeers2||ShS (Gen)||5||–||–|
|Only other Kingdoms (not Kingdom of Kandy)|
|2-4||General and elephants||El (Gen)||20||2||40|
(1) Arquebuses are only allowed from 1515-1539. This does not change the troop type.
(2) Muskets and gingal are only allowed from 1540. This does not change the troop type.
Traditional weapons were bow and arrows, spears and swords. Generally Sinhalese armies avoided close combat, relying on missile weapons, and only charged if they had overwhelming numbers. Archers were used throughout the period. Arquebuses become available from 1515, and were used in small numbers by skirmishers, and muskets began to be used from 1540, but neither replaced the bow entirely. The weapon held makes no difference to the categorisation, it only affects the figures used.
Sinhalese shooters could form up as a mass for battles in the open but were more commonly seen dispersed in the jungle. I allow for both masses shooters and skirmishers. You also have the option of taking massed shooters and deploying them in the jungle to represent “dispersed” deployment.
The gingal or kodituwakku or ‘grasshopper gun’ was unique to Ceylon. They were like heavy muskets or very light artillery. Cruder versions were a tube on a tripod. It was the iron legs that inspired the grasshopper comparison. The gunner sat down to aim and fire. Heavier versions required two men to operate but lighter versions could be handled by a single man. They were inaccurate but could fire out to 1000 yards. An army might have hundreds of gingal. They were effective enough that the Portuguese commissioned their manufacture and Dutch lascarin were also armed with them. Given early heavy muskets from western Europe, requiring two men to fire, are treated like any muskets in DBx, I also treat the gingal like muskets i.e. ShO or ShS. This is partly because nobody makes a gingal and crew so I just use musketeers instead.
The Sinhalese favoured a short, heavy, slight curved sword called a calachur, and which probably evolved into the kastane sword. The sword was paired with a small shield (target), either round, heart shaped or rectangular. Some men used javelins and others a long bamboo spear. I have assumed all of this reflects a group of warriors who favoured more close quarters fighting, which I lump together as BdO (or Guard BdS). However, the Dutch called the long spears “pikes” so I offer the option to distinguish the long spear guys from the rest (Sp).
Sinhalese armies do not seem overly martial in comparison to their contemporaries. Malays in Kandayan service considered the Sinhalese to be “timid” compared to their own compatriots. Countering this view are the many accounts of gruesome sword work, although these accounts tend to be from the end of a battle once the victory was secure. Europeans considered Sinhalese musketeers superior to mainland caliver-men, however, they also noted that the the weapons were poor and not well kept. For me these contradictory accounts justifies the rating as ordinary for the majority of troops (ShO, BdO).
Certain troops were regarded as better quality than others. Kings were often surrounded by a guard, which could be quite large if native or small if foreign. Kings favoured foreign mercenaries (Africans, Canarese Malay depending on the period) for their guards or the mercenaries could be deployed separately. The militia were semi-professional and considered superior to the mass of the levy, although I assume not all of them were of equal quality. And finally the long wars produced veterans with considerable experience of combat, whether originally from the militia or levy. I lump all of these together are superior (ShS, BdS) .
Ceylon lacked the horses of some of the mainland armies but compensated with an increased reliance on elephants. The exception was the Kingdom of Kandy where the mountainous nature of the kingdom meant they only rarely used elephants in battle, even when attacking into the lowlands.
Generally the native cannon were a light calibre, not much heavier than the gingal. Occasionally the locals would capture and use heavier European cannon but not often and not in numbers.
The Kingdom of Kandy had access to a large number of the Veddah people from the forests of the eastern part of the island. They are mentioned separately in the accounts, but generally seem to have fought with the archers so I don’t distinguish them in the list.
From 1631 the Portuguese used significant numbers of African, Canarese (from south-west India), and Malay troops, and some of these deserted to the Sinhalese armies. I don’t believe they appeared in sufficient numbers to be a different troop type and include them in the superior option. They provide a bit of colour but would contribute at most one element of the superiors.
Perera, C, G. (2007). “Kandy fights the Portuguese: A military history of the Kandyan resistance”. Sri Lanka: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Wickremesekera, C. (2004). “Kandy at War: Indigenous Military Resistance to European Expansion in Sri Lanka 1594-1818”. Manohar.
1 thought on “Sinhalese and Tamil New World DBA Army List”
Another great article! Am I up to adding moustaches to classical Indians?