Friday, 15 June 2018

Dark Age Scenarios

Upon completion of the DBA Middle Anglo-Saxons and Vikings I had reached a crossroad offering a number of directions I could take with the collection. Two possibilities came immediately to mind; do more historical matches or a campaign. After some thought I ruled out the former as this would require many new enemies that would need to be bought and painted and the second idea had less appeal as a Merovingian period campaign had recently been  played out. That left a possible third option.  

Researching information for conflicts of the 9th and 10th century, I did come across many battles that would make interesting historical scenarios for a standard size DBA game. These held my interest for their unique location of the battlefield and others because they are seldom found on the game board; the Rus, Early Polish, Slavs, Welsh and Abbasid to name a few. 

There is a downside to taking this direction, as with all the Dark Age conflicts, they lack the essential information to construct a well crafted scenario, such as the number of combatants involved or the location of the battlefield. We should deem ourselves fortunate if a chronicler gives a date or mentions a nearby town or waterway.

During the past week I have bookmarked about forty battles which for the most part took place in Western Europe and that include Britain, some in Eastern Europe and some in the Middle East. All took place during the years 880 to 950 AD. At the moment I am gleaning through them all and will select six or eight battles that can be reasonably constructed to give a game for both sides.

Each of the scenarios will be tested with the best example appearing at the blog. However, readers should be aware that those presented should be viewed as ‘Works in Progress and not a finished product. They are meant to stimulate debate or prompt further research to offer an alternative direction. The preliminary selection of forty battles came from two books; ‘Dark Ages’ by Sir Charles Oman, which offers a great overview from the Fall of Rome to the rise of the East Frankish Empire under Otto I and ‘Germany in the Middle Ages 800 – 1056’ by Timothy Reuter.  Also invaluable are a number of translations of medieval chroniclers which are available as e-books from online libraries or Project Gutenberg. 


Map: Central Europe at the time of the Carolingians, Putzger Historischer Weltatlas, Leipzig 1877 (from: Internet Archive). 

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Historical Match up - Later Visigoths vs. the Middle Franks

Religious differences between the ruling Visigoths and the general population of Hispania came to a head in the early 6th century. The conflict soon escalated forcing the Merovingians to intercede on the behalf of the orthodox Christians. Not all the Visigothic nobility supported their monarch on religious issues and later dissatisfaction would later lead to civil unrest. 

In 531, Childebert marched with his army to confront King Amalaric of the Visigoths in Hispania. This was the first of a number of expeditions eventually leading to the possession of Pamplona (542) and the siege of Zaragoza. The majority of these campaigns took place in the fertile region of the Ebro valley. 

In this series, the Visigoths make use of their city militia (4Ax) which reduces the number of mounted elements. Further, the Franks are Austrasian which gives them a different ratio of spear and warband and they are assisted by Visigothic allies. This open demonstration of disloyalty would lead to the coming civil war between the Visigothic royal houses. 

Game 1
The Visigothic city militia and tribal warriors are positioned in centre with skirmishers on the right holding a gentle hill. Visigothic gardingi cover the open flank while in reserve we find the Visigothic noble cavalry. Across the field, Childebert placement of troops mirrored that of the Visigoths.

Both sides commit their infantry to open the battle.

Frankish warriors quickly disperse Visigothic skirmishers exposing the flank of their city militia leading to their subsequent destruction.

The Frankish cavalry and allies charge home to inflict more casualties on the opposite flank. Through a mix up in signals (low pip score), the Visigothic cavalry remained inert eventually fleeing the battlefield as all was lost. Score 4 – 2 for the Franks.

Game 2
The difficult hills, wood and village offered little area for the Visigoths to deploy in. If the Visigoths were to make use of their cavalry they would need to advance quickly to create room to maneuver. The Franks (to the left in photo) were of equal mind as they intended to restrict those Visigothic plans. 

The opening moves were spent adjusting the alignment of the two lines.

As the forces met, combat degenerated into much pushing and shoving with most units holding their ground. Only a unit of Visigothic skirmishers broke ranks to flee for cover.

The gap left by the skirmishers opened an opportunity for which the Frankish tribal infantry quickly seized on. Moments later new gaps in the Visigothic line soon appeared giving Frankish cavalry held in reserve an opportunity to deliver a decisive blow. Score 5 – 2 for the Franks.

Game 3
The final battle, both sides faced one another over ideal cavalry terrain. Despite the equal numbers of mounted troops, the Franks placed their horse in a reserve position behind their infantry line. The Visigoths gambled on an all out confrontation and so positioned their cavalry in front.   

The rough ground proved an inconvenience for the Franks as their battle line moved slowly forward to allow the tribal infantry to keep pace with the infantry on their right.

Visigothic militia held the Frankish tribal infantry in check opening a gap which the Visigoths were able to reciprocate and cripple the Frankish spearmen. By now all the Frankish cavalry were committed to battle, leaving no further option to Childebert but to join the battle.

Unfortunately, the losses incurred by the Frankish infantry became severe that a general retreat was called for. Score 4 – 2 for the Later Visigoths.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Historical Match up - Later Visigoths vs. the Byzantine

In 549 the usurper Athanagild requested assistance of the East Romans with their rebellion against the Visigothic king . Justinian I did send an army, but after securing Athanagild’s placement on the throne the Byzantine had no intention of leaving all the cities captured during their campaign. This meant the majority of the coastal region of southern Hispania remained in East Roman control. 

For game purposes, all these actions take place in regions of Iberia and Baetica therefore terrain selection is from the 'arable' or 'hilly' homeland.

Game 1
Both armies formed up in the available space between the difficult hills. The Visigoths deployed in their usual two divisions, infantry on the left and cavalry on the right. The majority of the Byzantine army were cavalry and these formed the first line with the heavy infantry, light horse and Herul forming a second line.

Moving off at brisk trot, the Visigothic cavalry advanced toward the Byzantine line while their infantry would secure the hills on both flanks.

The Byzantine demonstrated tactical skill by breaking up the Visigothic line. In subsequent bounds, the Visigoths lost all semblance of a cohesive line with individual units becoming vulnerable to flank attacks; this brought the score even (2 – 2).   

By this time, the Visigothic infantry had negotiated the difficult ground on the left to find themselves facing the Byzantine heavy infantry. At this moment, the Byzantine cavalry counter charged killing their general to bring the battle to an end. Score 4g – 2 for the Byzantine.

Game 2
The Byzantine were able to secure two gentle hills for their deployment; placing all their infantry on the left leaving the cavalry ample room to extend their line to the second hill. The Visigoths deployed in front of a lake and made use of a hamlet to position their infantry.

The Visigothic cavalry moved forward but kept pace with their infantry as they advanced. The Byzantine infantry held their current position leaving the cavalry to start the battle.

The clash of both armies developed into a series of small combats losing all semblances of well drilled formations. The noble Visigothic cavalry easily drove back their opposition while Byzantine cavalry contained the Visigothic gardingi. On both flanks however, the Byzantine suffered severe casualties.

The decisive stroke came with the death of the Byzantine general ending the battle. Score 5g – 1 for the Later Visigoths.

Game 3
The final battle found the Visigothic army securing all the defensible terrain in the area (rough ground and a hamlet) leaving the Byzantine to deploy in an open plain. The Byzantine deployed all their infantry on the right to seize the rough ground in front leaving the cavalry ample room to deploy in an extended line.

Precipitating the main assault, the Byzantine left struck the Visigothic right flank while the army moved at the pace of the infantry. During the opening phase, the Byzantine psiloi had seized the rough ground as planned.

With the help of the psiloi, the Byzantine heavy infantry overpowered their opposition to roll up the Visigothic left. In the centre and left the battle raged to and fro.

With the Visigothic left flank gone and the right collapsing, their general called for a retreat. Score 4 – 0 for the Byzantine.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Historical Match up - Later Visigoths vs. the Suevi

Leaving Roman Gaul in 409, the great migration of Vandals, Suevi and Alani crossed the Pyrenees and entered Hispania. They met little resistance as troops were busy fighting in external conflicts leaving the Germanic tribes free to find locations to settle in. A century later, the Suevi had firm control over the northwest part of Hispania that would later become Galicia. It was here that the Visigoths would meet stiff resistance.

According to the DBA rule book, the Suevi count 'forest' and later 'arable' terrain as homeland geography. That would be changed to 'hilly' to reflect the landscape characteristic of Galicia. The Suevi may have the Greuthingi as allies, but it is doubted such interaction last into the 6th century however, not all the Alani joined the Vandals in crossing into Africa; some did settle in Lusitania and for this series of test games, the Alani substitute for the Greuthingi as allies. 

Game 1
The Suevi, seen on the left of the photo, have both flanks resting on woods. Suevi two wings with the infantry on the right and the cavalry and allies forming the left. The left wing are supported by Suevi archers. Opposite them the Visigoths have deployed their troops to mirror the Suevi deployment with their formidable cavalry making up half their number.

Both armies keep pace with their infantry keeping the appearance of an unbroken line. Suevi archers have deployed at the edge of the wood.

The shock of the two lines meeting reverberates across the battlefield and it is not long before Visigothic cavalry are sent recoiling from archery fire. The effect of the archers and Suevi cavalry is immediately felt, (2 – 0).

The crucial moment came when the Suevi general caught his counterpart in the flank bringing their commander down. Seeing the Draco standard fall, the Visigoths lost heart and fled the field. Score 4g – 0 for the Suevi.

Game 2
The Suevi now had the advantage of ground and so placed their infantry to secure both hills leaving the cavalry to deploy on the valley floor. The Visigoths deployed in a similar manner as in their previous battle; two wings, one of cavalry and the other of infantry.

To counter the Suevic archers positioned on the hill, the Visigoths sent their skirmishers to deal with them. This manoeuvre required some time forcing the Visigothic battle line to move slowly forward. The Suevi viewed this as timidity on the part of the Visigoths and so moved off their defensive position.

As the battle lines came together, the Visigothic skirmishers were countered by Suevic skirmishers leaving the Suevic archers free to find other targets.

In the ensuing battle, lines broke as both sides forced their opponents to recoil. Here, the Suevic infantry bested their opposition earning them a narrow victory. Score 4 – 3 for the Suevi.

Game 3
The battlefield for the final engagement offered both sides the protection of each army’s left flank; however, the Visigoths would be wary of the hill opposite their right as this would become an ideal position for Suevic archers.

To counter that threat, Visigothic skirmishers were sent to clear the hill of the archers. During this time, the Visigothic cavalry would need to wait patiently before moving forward. The Suevi noticing the delay moved their infantry forward to seize the occupied hill nearest the lake.

The attempt by the Visigothic skirmishers to clear the hill failed leaving the Visigothic commander no option but to risk an all out assault before the Suevic archers could regroup. Visigothic infantry moved off their hill position to support their cavalry assault.

The situation heated up as both of the Suevic allied cavalry fell bringing the score even. Suevic infantry were able to form a line in front of the Visigothic cavalry.

Visigothic cavalry however, were able to break up the Suevic battleline and together with the Visigothic infantry created enough casualties to earn a victory. The final blow came when the Suevic commander fell making this into a decisive victory for the Visigoths. Score 7g – 3 for the Later Visigoths. 

For the selection of terrain pieces we used the Random Terrain Generator which can be found at the Fanaticus Forum. 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Merovingian Campaign, 550 – 559 AD

550 AD
The Breton conclude a treaty with the Saxon community of Bayeux to stave off any further aggression by Neustria. Taking advantage of the period of peace with Reims, the Frisians also expand their community surrounding Boulogne. 

551 AD
Bavaria is still in a state of flux as no acceptable leader is chosen by the various tribes. This comes as welcome news for Theudebert as he moves forward plans to annex Burgundy as its inclusion would ensure the safety of its southern border and join that isolated part of Lower Austrasia bordering Aquitaine. Many of the Burgundian elite resistant to the idea are more than satisfied to resolve the issue on the battlefield and so plans are made for the following year.

552 AD
In late spring of the new year, Theudebert led his army into Burgundian territory and both armies deployed for battle near Lyon close to the river Dubis. The battle was a decisive victory for Theudebert and before terms could be finalised news arrived of a Visigothic invasion of Lower Austrasia, included in their force are disaffected Neustrian nobles. Gathering additional forces, Theudebert marches his army from Vienne toward Toulouse.  
The battle near Albi as it was later to be known was desperate, but Theudebert prevailed and won a victory against the Visigoths. The Visigoths retired to Aquitaine leaving Theudebert to ample time to recover his lost territory. Returning to Vienne (Burgundy) he sets into motion the necessary changes to bring Burgundy on par with the Austrasian kingdom and these included reforms for the military {1}.

After strengthening the garrisons in Lower Austrasia, Theudebert stopped in Orleans and Paris to have their civic and military leaders make preparations for a spring campaign. Theudebert then departs to Soissons to see his uncle, Chlothar as he was in ill health.

553 AD
The Austrasian army gathers near Orleans to begin their campaign against the Visigoths. Marching south, Theudebert encounters the Visigothic host encamped near Poitiers. The battle that followed turned disastrous for the Franks losing nearly half the army and their king, Theudebert. This brought an abrupt end to the campaign in Aquitaine.

The question of succession was left to the inner council, Frankish nobles and church leaders and most agreed that the son of Theudebert, Theudebald would logically ascend the throne; however, there was one better qualified, the sole surviving son of Clovis, Chlothar of Soissons {2}. 

In the summer of 553, the four fiefdoms became united under the rule of Chlothar I. The kingdom of Frankia would experience a number of external conflicts during his reign, conflicts with the Bretons, the continued feuding between Bavaria and Thuringia but these were minor compared to events happening in Aquitaine. Recalcitrant nobles in Hispania invited the Byzantine to aide them with their struggle against the Visigoths. With increased activity by Eastern Rome and a civil war spreading throughout Hispania, the Visigoths reduced their presence north of the Pyrennees. This presented Frankia with a golden opportunity; unfortunately, Chlothar would die in 561 leaving the kingdom to his four sons {3}. And so the game begins again.      

{1}. DBA players will note the end and start dates of Burgundi (II/70) to Burgundy (III/5a) are changed to coincide with campaign events. 
{2}. According to Gregory of Tours, Theudebert I has employed the office of ‘maior palatii’ or mayor of the palace to administer the kingdom while he was on campaign.  
{3}. Chlothar actually died of pneumonia nine years later, but this seems an ideal moment to mention he was not loved by the church. He taxed the churches and exiled one bishop for his inflexibility with canon law and no doubt there were many among the clergy praying for his soul to be spirited away to heaven. 

Significant Battles, 550 – 559 AD (turn 5):

Battle near Lyon, 552. Austrasian victory over Burgundy.
Austrasia fight the Visigoths, 552 giving Frankia her first victory over the Visigoths.
Battle of Poitiers, 553.

Battle near Lyon in Burgundy, 552 AD
Pursuing his ambition to annex Burgundy Theudebert and the king of Burgundy agreed the question should be resolved by a force of arms. The deployed armies revealed that both Austrasian and Burgundian forces to have equal number of foot and mounted. Both infantry compliment formed the first line which was supported by cavalry. The blaring of horns marked the signal for both lines to move forward.

The Austrasian line marked a slower pace to allow the militia to extend the right flank. During this phase, Frankish skirmishers moved out to harass their Bavarian counterpart.

Within 40 paces both sides charged crashing shield against shield with the Austrasian proving more resilient in the combat that followed. This forced the Bavarian line back 40 paces. On the Austrasian left, Frankish infantry opened their ranks to allow the reserve cavalry to engage their opposite number.

The casualties inflicted by the Bavarian infantry created a gap in the Frankish shieldwall. Without hesitation Theudebert and his guard charged the enemy pouring through and with the help of his militia these sealed the fate of the warband column. More casualties fell on the Bavarian side sending their army into full flight handing Theudebert a decisive victory and a kingdom (5 – 1).

 Theudebert engages the Visigoths, 552 AD.
Continuing his campaign in the south, Theudebert received news of a Visigothic invasion of Lower Austrasia. Gathering his forces he reached Albi, just north of Toulouse and there met the Visigoths. Frankish cavalry were augmented by Gothic allies and the battlefield provided good ground for mounted troops. A single hill and small village offered the only possible defensive locations and here Theudebert used the hill to anchor his right flank.  

Wheeling to meet the Visigothic line provided Theudebert an opportunity to clear the village of any enemy. From there, Frankish infantry could attack the Visigothic flank. The Visigoths were of like mind as they sent their skirmishers to seize the hill and from there support the general attack of their cavalry.

Switching tempo, the Visigoths pushed forward their infantry against the Frankish militia. This move offered the Franks time to reposition their troops. Nonetheless, in the ensuing fight the Visigothic infantry crushed the Frankish militia break leaving Theudebert’s right flank seriously exposed. The sudden loss of the entire militia forced Theudebert to commit all his cavalry (3 – 0).

The situation was very desperate, but seeing their leader fighting in the front line raised the spirits of the Frankish troops to retake the initiative and slowly turn a nearly lost battle to gain a narrow victory  over the Visigoths (4 – 3).   

Battle of Poitiers, 553 AD.
The battle actually was near Poitiers took place on an open plain. The field was sparse and notable for a small village, a lake and a few gentle hills. The Visigothic position formed in front of the village and here the infantry deployed in deep columns with the majority of the Visigothic mounted positioned on their right. Across the field, Theudebert placed his own infantry facing the enemy foot and all his cavalry to face their mounted with his Gothic allies forming the left flank.

The Visigothic cavalry walked slowly forward giving the infantry time to close the distance to the Frankish position on the hill.  

Formations quickly degenerated into a disjointed series of small combats with the Franks inflicting more casualties (2 – 1).

The Visigoths however, redoubled their effort killing more Frankish infantry to add to a quickly increasing death toll. Then disaster struck when the Visigothic king and bucellarii wheeled and struck down Theudebert sending the Franks into a panic, fleeing the battlefield (5g – 1).