Tuesday 30 November 2021

Al-Andalus 714 – 741

The Frankish civil war of 714 to 719 was a golden opportunity for Muslim forces to plunder lands south of the Garonne River. In 714, Muslim columns ravaged the last vestige of the kingdom of the Visigoths, Septimania, finally capturing its capital, Narbonne in 720. With Septimania in Muslim hands, Aquitania and Provence were now vulnerable. Hugh Kennedy, in his book “Muslim Spain and Portugal, A Political History of Al-Andalus” presents a well written account of the invasion, the collapse of the Visigothic kingdom, and the political obstacles affecting Muslim control of Iberia and the invasion of Francia. All exciting elements that beg their implementation into a campaign, below are a few significant details that might play a role its design. 

The invasion of Hispania.

A force of 7,000 to 12,000 crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in April 711 and at its head, Tariq ibn Ziyad, Berber commander, met the Visigothic forces of King Roderick at a location southeast of Medina Sidonia. The Battle of Guadalete, as it came to be known, was a decisive defeat leaving much of the Visigothic leadership dead on the field including King Roderick. Their loss removed the possibility to raise a second army, leaving the defence of such towns as Cordova and Toledo, to their small garrisons. Lacking such means, other towns opened their gates on promises of generous terms of surrender. The duc of Murcia, Theodemir, eventually surrendered and given generous terms, retained his citadel and several settlements on the condition he not encourage others to resist Muslim forces and pay an annual tax. 

The operation in Iberia was controlled from Qayrawan, the Umayyad capital of Ifriqiya, leaving much of the daily operation to the Arab commanders. To broaden and sustain the Muslim advance, the Umayyad governor, Musa ibn Nusayr al-Lakhmi joined the invasion with 5,000 Syrian troops, enabling the Arab and Berber forces to reach Galicia in the north and as far east as the Ebro River by 713. The regions of the Basque and Cantabria soon followed. 

The Muslim forces.

“Muslim Spain and Portugal” is one of the few books I have read that touch on the social divide between Berber and Arab peoples comprising the invading army. Most of the Arabs of the early invasion, apart from the Quarshis, belonged to the Yemeni group, well familiar with town and agrarian life. Their settlements preferred to be centered around garrison towns, such as Kufa, Basra or Qayrawan in Ifriqiya, however, implementing such settlements in al-Andalus was hard as Arab communities tended to be smaller and scattered throughout peninsula. 

Since the Umayyad conquest of North Africa, Arabs were less inclined to integrate into Berber society, leaving the Berber to continue practising their pastoral way of life, even to bring their flocks with them to Hispania. Kennedy suggests this way of life may have played a role in the later land distribution, the Arabs receiving better land leaving the lesser quality to the Berber, despite being Muslim and contributing a large part to the conquest. The differences between the two peoples was not only seen in the distribution of land, but their taxation; Berbers were taxed disproportionally to their Arab brethren. This division would eventually play a factor fuelling rebellion in 741. 

The House of War

Dr al-Harb or the “House of War” describes all non-Muslim territory as open to plunder and though land distribution fostered the expansion of settlements, plundering would bring wealth. Control of the Iberian Peninsula in such a brief period (3 – 4 years) left the only non-Muslim territory across the Pyrenees in Francia. 

To this end, Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani invaded Septimania to defeat the last vestige of Visigothic resistance by capturing Narbonne in 720. Reinforced, Malik conquered what remained of Visigothic Septimania making Narbonne his capital. From Septimania, Arab columns would raid Provence with impunity and to the north, Aquitaine and Poitiers.   

History would not record many raids and it was perhaps fortunate for the West, that old rivalries and jealousies undermined effective governance of al-Andalus and control of incursions into non-Muslim lands. During the period as mayor of the palace, Charles Martel (714 – 741) would see al-Andalus with seventeen governors.    

Map: La Gestion de la Memoria/E.S.M. Salas

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Composition of the Armies

The civil war of 714-719 is described by Contamine, in War in the Middle Ages, as a dispute between two houses, the Pippinid and Arnulfing families. Both forces were reliant on loyal supporters to close ranks and help the Neustrian or Austrasian cause, nonetheless, using the Carolingian list of III/28 to refight Compiègne, Cologne, Amblève and Vincy, will need some modification. 

Firstly, the Frisians, who fought alongside Neustria are not mentioned as allies and secondly, the armies were not as multi-racial as the army list indicates; Swabia, Bavaria, Thuringia and Gascony had yet to be subdued by Charles Martel. This left both forces to levy troops from the cities within their respective realms of Neustria and Austrasia. 

Refining the list

Looking at the two realms, Austrasia encompassed the original tribal territories of the Salian and Ripuarian Franks, which left the former Gallo-Roman territories, including Burgundy, under Neustrian control. Despite the large territories, both armies fielded relatively small forces due to the limited number of magnates supporting either side, with many viewing the conflict as a dispute between two aristocratic houses. Contamine estimates a possible troop strength nearing 1000 or 2000 men with 5,000 being an exception. These numbers would eventually increase during the reign of the Charlemagne, as military obligation would become universal for all levels of society, to include the Church. 

With a reduction in the number of supporters, we would also see a reduced number of noble cavalry, but as Contamine adds, Frankish cavalry were not averse to dismount and fight on foot. Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West 450 – 900, also suggests the armies at the time were mounted to increase their mobility, but fought mostly on foot, a point neither DBA3 or DBMM cater for, but may be useful for a campaign. What is allowed, knights may dismount as spearmen (DBMM). 

DBMM does list Frisians as allies of Neustria, but have them using the II/78, Old Saxon, Frisian, Bavarian, Thuringian and Early Anglo-Saxon Army list. This gives Radbod a massive warband host to meet Charles before the walls of Cologne and not a mirror image of the Carolingian army. 

A modified Carolingian list for the civil war of 714 – 719 might look like this:

The Carolingian Franks 714 – 719 AD

1 x General (3Kn//Sp), 2 x caballari (3Kn), 2 x caballari (3Kn//Sp), 4 x select levies (4Bd), 1 x archers (3Bw or Ps), 1 x archers (Ps), 1 x lesser levies (7Hd). Allies of Neustria, Frisian II/78.

Using the historical scale on page 14 and reduce this by half, will produces a total of 2,375 men, not far off the suggested troop strength of Philippe Contamine. 

Recommended reading

Philippe Contamine, War in the Middle Ages.

Charles Oman, The Dark Ages, 476 – 918,

Timothy Reuter, Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800 – 1056.

Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450 – 751.

Hugh Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal.

Slingshot 273, 274, 276, 279, 280

Sources often quoted in the above reading list.

Chronique de Frédégaire.

Liber Historiae Francorum.

Annales Alamannici (en).

Annales de Metz.

Tuesday 16 November 2021

The Civil War of 715 AD

Pepin of Herstal, Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, united the Frankish realms of Neustria and Burgundy in 687 and subjugated the Alemanni, Frisians and Franconians firmly setting the Pippinid family as the strongest in Francia. His death, in December 714, signalled an open conflict between his heirs and the Neustrian nobles seeking independence from Austrasian control.

Dagobert III remained the Merovingian king of the Franks, but real power lay with the Mayor of the Palace and before Pepin’s death, Plectrude, his wife, had him disinherit his sons by his mistress Alpaida and appoint Theudoald as his successor. Friction soon escalated when Dagobert III named Ragenfrid as Mayor of the Palace, essentially declaring Neustrian independence and setting the stage for a civil war.

September 715

The Neustrian army went up to meet Theudoald on September 26, 715 at Compiègne, in Neustria, in the forest of Cuise located between Saint Jean de Cuise and Cuise-la-Motte. The battle was brisk and a defeated Theudoald fled to his grandmother Plectrude in Cologne.

Events took a peculiar turn as the 16-year-old Dagobert III dies of an illness, opening an opportunity for Ragenfrid to exercise his position as Mayor of the Palace by appointing a new king of Francia, Chilperic II. In turn, Chilperic II confirms Ragenfrid’s position as Mayor of the Palace.

Not wishing to remain idle, Plectrude, the widow of Pepin of Herstal, gathers the support of Austrasian partisans to name her grandson the true mayor, and to ensure her choice she imprisons Charles Martel, son of Alpaida, in Cologne. Escaping from prison, Charles is supported by Austrasian magnates generating the war between three parties.

Meanwhile, King Chilperic II of Francia and Raganfrid lead a Neustrian army to take Cologne and subdue Plectrude and Charles Martel.

Spring 716

Subduing Plectrude and Charles Martel was not the sole objective of Chilperic II and Raganfrid, as the great wealth of the Pippinid family was held in Cologne. To increase their success, Raganfrid secured an alliance with Radbod, bringing his Frisians upriver to Cologne. While Chilperic II and Raganfrid besieged Plectrude in Cologne, Radbod engaged the forces of Charles outside its walls. The Frisians held Charles at bay, while Plectrude bought off Chilperic II and Raganfrid with a substantial portion of Pepin’s treasure.

Recovering from the setback at Cologne, Charles regrouped his forces to pursue and reach the Neustrians near Malmedy. The Battle of Amblève was a turning point for Charles as his reputation not only grew, but he had regained his father’s wealth.

In joining Chilperic II and Raganfrid, Radbod of Frisia seized the moment to sack Utrecht, burning churches and killing missionaries. This aggressive act brought Charles the needed support of Willibrord and his monks, improving Charles’s standing while gathering troops for his army. During the period of training, Charles sent envoys with a proposal to end hostilities on the condition his rights as mayor of Austrasia were recognised by Chilperic II. The refusal was not unexpected and preparations continued for a spring campaign.

Spring 717

The Battle of Vincy, near Cambrai, was a major victory for Charles Martel, who pursued Chilperic II and Raganfrid to Paris. However, not prepared to hold the city, Charles returned to Cologne to deal with Plectrude. In taking the city and dispersing her adherents, Charles allowed Plectrude to retire to a convent.

Able to consolidate his power, Charles proclaimed Chlothar IV king of Austrasia in opposition to Chilperic II. The political climate reached a boiling point as Chilperic would make an alliance with Odo (Eudes), the duke of Aquitaine, expanding the conflict further to include southern Francia. But that is another story.

A possible campaign

The Battles of Compiègne, Cologne, Amblève and Vincy form an ideal basis for a campaign and several options will be tested, results will appear here later. In the meantime, researching the individual battles continues and the first two have produce some interesting results.

map: Francia at the death of Pepin of Herstal. (Wiki common)

Sunday 14 November 2021

Something New

Since 2020, the viral spread coupled with Brexit have curtailed the purchase of new figures. In its place, time was spent revitalising the collection, either by refurbishing painted figures or consolidating smaller collections to create larger and different armies.

In the vanguard of the great project were the Muslim armies, regrouped from ten small armies to five larger ones (see link). Additional armies were cobbled from Colonial Sudanese figures to build an Andalusian, Zanj, Tuareg and Islamic Berber

Next in the queue came the late medieval collection, taking the remainder of the year to complete. The effort paid dividends as the ancient and medieval armies were better organised offering a view of what was lacking.

This brings me to a position where I can order new armies. Not wishing the hassle of VAT, customs tariff and high postage costs, I have decided to look to manufacturers within the EU.

The Carolingian Franks are my first purchase from Baueda of Italy. I am very pleased with the quality of casting as the figures require little cleaning. As a former horse owner, I am very pleased with the poses and proportions of all the mounts. The two DBA3 army packs were ordered, one pack is painted, bases need finishing and the second pack is well on its way. This should take another week to complete and plans are being made for their first campaign.     


First pack ready for base texturing.

Second pack, on their plinths to be painted.

Updated 18-11-2021

The two army packs of Carolingian Franks are painted, based and flocked. Four banners will be painted tomorrow to polish off the collection. With extra figures supplied in the army packs, I ended with more than the 14 element advertised. Four mounted Frankish archers were mounted on Essex horses giving each army an extra mounted element. Very pleased with the results.  

Thursday 11 November 2021

Rebellion in Armenia

Armenia had always strived to maintain friendly relations with Rome and Valarsh of Armenia, despite his brother being the ruler of Parthia, was no exception. That changed when Caracalla, who succeeded his father Septimius Severus, invited Valarsh and his sons to Rome in 214 AD. Upon their arrival in Rome, there followed a similar result as did the King of Osrhoene, all were imprisoned. This brought about a revolt in Armenia prompting Caracalla to undertake a brutal reprisal.   

Recommended reading

Vahan M. Kurkjian, A History of Armenia


Standard list for both Middle Imperial Roman (II/64b) and the Armenian (II/28b) were used for both battles. The initial encounter brought the vanguard of each army in combat, involving eight elements each. This escalated to e second battle expanding the single command to 24 elements each.   

II/64b Middle Imperial Roman

1 x General (Cv), 1 x cavalry (Cv), 1 x horse archer (LH), 4 x legionnaires (4Bd), 3 x auxiliaries (4Ax), 1 x auxiliaries (4Ax) or archers (4Bw or Ps), 1 x cataphract (3Kn) or legionnaires (4Bd) or lanciarii (3Bd) or bolt-shooters (Art). 

II/28b Armenia 300 BC – 244 AD

1 x General (4Kn), 1 x cataphracts (4Kn), 4 x horse archers (LH), 4 x javelinmen (3Ax), 2 x archers (Ps). 


A Brief Encounter

Both armies sent advance guards to probe the presence and strength of each other’s force and before sunset dust clouds could be seen marking the other’s approach. Noting the dispersal of the Armenian, the Roman commander pushed his columns forward to attack the horse archers. Hillmen could be seen scampering along the crest of the adjacent hills, but this did little to impede the rapid advance by the Roman cavalry. The cavalry action was brief and brutal, sending the Armenian force in full flight. From the captured prisoners, the location and strength of the Armenian rebels was known.

Game notes

As an alternative to bludgeoning one another to reach the 1/3 casualties, another method was devised to determine a successful reconnaissance; casualties (prisoners) and the approach of nightfall. The first side to reach a total pip score of 24 would break off the confrontation, leaving both sides returning to the main body. Success is guaranteed to either side inflicting more casualties than the enemy, thereby increasing the likely hood of gathering prisoners to reveal information. 


The Decisive Battle

Caracalla deployed the legions and auxiliary in two lines, placing all the cavalry in a third; the spacing between the legions would allow the supporting cavalry to charge through while the auxilia protected the flanks. The enemy, making use of their mobility, extended their line beyond that of the Roman left.  

At the onset of battle, the rebels dominated the action on the hill eventually forcing the auxilia back. Nonetheless, the auxilia were relentless in defending their tiny portion resulting in the rebel right wing struggling to capture the ground at the end of the battle.

The centre quickly developed into a whirlpool of death, legionnaires surrounded beat back enemy cavalry and on the initiative of the subordinate commander, the reserve cavalry threw their weight into the battle.

Roman casualties steadily mounted bringing it close to a breaking point, then the course of battle changed when the rebel commander succumb to severe wounds. Fortunately for the rebels, the subordinate commander counter charged the Roman equites to recover the army standard. The cauldron was heating up in centre.

Late to the battle, few would notice Caracalla, escorted by the Praetorian cavalry and guard, shuffling forward. 

As though a veil were lifted from the scene, the rebel centre was no more. Victory however, had come at a high cost, nearly half the auxilia and the First Parthica were destroyed, but the rebels had been beaten (8-7) losing both commanders and a host of lesser nobles.

Historical note.

Having suppressed the revolt in Armenia, 215/216, Caracalla would continue his war and campaign against the Parthian, limiting the operation to Northern Mesopotamia and the pro-Parthian Kingdom of Adiabene, 217. However, caught with his pants down, he was assassinated on 8 April 217 and shortly thereafter, the Parthian would fight Rome in a three-day battle near Nisibis forcing Rome’s new emperor Macrinus to bring the war to an end.

Saturday 6 November 2021

The Frisians of King Radbod

The region of Frisia, during the time of Charles Martel, covered a wider area than it does today. The coast line stretches from the Scheldt River in the south to the islands enclosing the South Sea and at its heart was the major trading centre, Dorestad, which also served as a mint for a number of Frankish rulers of the 7th century. 

As a crossroad for trade between London, Cologne and Paris also saw the appearance of missionaries at this time. Like their Saxon neighbours, the Frisians resisted spiritual conversion and remained pagan until the bitter end. 

Pepin of Herstal, Mayor of the Palace, would attempt to bring Frisia into the domain of the Frankish kingdom and gain control of the lower region of the Rhine and Meuse rivers. In 689, the Continuations of Fredegar records, an army led by Pepin fought the Frisian forces of Radbod near Dorestad, the result of which put the Frisians to flight leaving a repentant Radbod to sue for peace. 

The southwestern portion of Frisia under control of Francia, Utrecht was lifted in status as a bishopric for the region. Under the leadership of Willibrord, his missionaries would continue their work to the northern and eastern regions of Frisia. 

Pepin of Herstal had unified the kingdoms of Neustria, Burgundy and Austrasia by the time of his death in 690.  Now considered part of Austrasia, Frisia remained defiantly independent and pagan, as recorded by Church documents. Their leader, Radbod, who ruled from 680 to 719, seized the opportunity in 714 to resume the offensive and retake Utrecht, sending Church leaders and monks fleeing south. Making Utrecht the new capital of Frisia, Radbod marched to Cologne and assist his new ally, Raganfrid, mayor of the palace of Neustria, in his struggle against Charles Martel. 

The Frisian Army lists.

To refight the Frisian-Frankish wars, one might first think to use the Carolingian list (III/28 639 AD – 888 AD). Eric Ter Keurs in Slingshot 241, ‘Met Spere ande Skeld, Building a Medieval Frisian Army for DBM touches on this issue and recommends using the Frisian list of II/73 and extend the date for the Battle at Cologne. 

Eric Ter Keurs further points out, Frisian nobles, who could afford horses preferred to fight dismounted. To reach Cologne however, Radbod made use of his fleet thereby limiting the number of horses, if any, to accompany the army. 

The absence of Frisia as ally of the Neustrian in DBA3 is correctly noted in DBMM with the caveat, only for 714. A future scenario for the siege and battle at Cologne will see the Frisian host as warriors (4Wb) with skirmishers (Ps). The extension of end date for Frisia might also include the pacification by Charlemagne ending in 793.    


Map from Frisia Coast Trail  

Tuesday 2 November 2021

Rome and the Aquitani

The end of the First Celtiberian War allowed a return to life as usual for the provinces of Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. Supplies and new levies continued to move overland through the thin corridor between Provence and Hispania as the use of ship transport was not always a possible, seasonal winds and rough seas would make such a journey hazardous.

Along the route from Massilia to Tarraco lived the Aquitania and Vasci tribes, not unduly hostile toward Rome, but were not averse to resolving their disputes with neighbouring Celtic or Iberian tribes by force of arms. Yet periodically, a new warlord or a warband of young-bloods would find a Roman convoy heavily laden with booty from Hispania or fresh levies of Roman and Latin allies too irresistible to let pass. Unfortunately for history, Livy found such events unworthy to pen, so here are a few episodes which history deigned to ignore.

Rome and the Aquitani

Young warriors of the Aquitani were eager to skirmish with Roman troops. Wood covered hills on either flank would funnel an Aquitaine assault and it was decided to clear the hills of its Latin defenders before attacking the Roman centre.

The Latin auxiliaries offered stiffer resistance which stalled the anticipated assault on the main Roman line. Seeing this, the consul ordered the hastati and principes forward.

The battle lines thinned as casualties mounted on both sides (3 – 3). Gaining the upper hand against the Aquitani fighting on the slope, the consul ordered the triarii forward to turn the close fought battle for Rome, 5 – 4.

The Roman convoy

Consuls were chosen to serve for one-year and in extreme circumstances this could be extended, accompanying the consul were fresh levies to fill the legions and its Latin allies. Troops that fulfilled their term of service would return to Italy laden with plunder and their victorious consul.

Anxious to return home, the consul had set off before dawn leading his under-strength legion and wagons, one more hour and they would set camp for the night, away from the marshland.

Behind the crest of low hills, the Aquitani awaited the signal to attack the unsuspecting column.

As seasoned veterans, the column broke out into line formation to face the expected onslaught allowing the drovers to chivvy their animals further.

The battle developed into small pockets with Aquitani cavalry attacking the principes and warriors the remaining Roman and Latin troops.

The battle was brisk leaving the consul and equites to take flight as the first wagons were being plundered, (4+Wg – 1).   

Game note.

Each baggage wagon replaces a foot element and there are three for this scenario. To plunder a baggage wagon, treat this as a camp accompanied with handlers (camp followers +2/0), each wagon sacked counts as one element lost.