Tuesday 22 November 2022

Battle of Brunanburh 937 AD


Æthelstan’s invasion of Alba in 934 fell short of the desired objective to bring Constantine II to heel. Events would redirect Aethelstan northward as the throne of Jorvik (York) became vacant. With no direct heir, Olaf Guthfrithson, King of the Dublin Norse laid claim to the throne and to ensure his claim, Olaf gained support from Constantine II of Alba and Owain I of Strathclyde. Sailing from Dublin, Olaf would meet Constantine II and Owain I on the march south.


Described by chroniclers and poets as the ‘great battle’, Brunanburh lasted the better part of a day leaving thousands of dead on the field. To simulate this, the single command is doubled in size bringing the total of elements to twenty-four. How this variant works can be found by following the link 

Aethelstan set off from Winchester with core units filling the ranks on his march through Mercia. Most likely, this would include the greater fyrd and two 7Hd must be included in the Saxon army.

Posing a different problem, no strengths are known of the Norse, Scots and Strathclyde forming the coalition. Therefore, two lists are proposed with either Olaf supplying the greater force (12 elements) or Constantine II. To bolster their ranks, any mounted selected will deploy as their equivalent dismounted type, this would have spearmen for Strathclyde and Constantine II fighting on foot with his thegns.


Aethelstan, III/25b (must include Mercian levy of 2 x 7Hd)

Norse, Scots and Strathclyde

Option I

Olaf King of Dublin, II/40b (12 elements)

Owain, King of Strathclyde, II/81d (6 elements)

Constantine II, III/45 (6 elements)


Option II

Constantine II, III/45 (12 elements)

Olaf King of Dublin, II/40b (6 elements)

Owain, King of Strathclyde, II/81d (6 elements)


Where the battle took place remains unsolved as there are four locations named as likely candidates. The Wirral Peninsula offers an ideal landing for the Dublin Norse longships and for this test, terrain pieces were limited to gentle hills, scrub, and wood.  


The Brunanburh Campaign; A Reappraisal, Kevin Halloran, Edinburgh University.

The Battleof Brunanburh, University of Nottingham (the podcasts are particularly interesting).

Great Battle of History for DBA3, ed. Joe Collins


Test one

Both armies deployed in extended line covering the breadth of their deployment area, leaving extra elements to be positioned in a second line. The battle commenced with the Norse Vikings striking the Mercian division, suffering casualties for their effort.

Capitalising on an early success, Wessex struck the Scots and Strathclyde. Strathclyde proved tenacious not yielding ground, the Scots however, managed to pierce the Saxon line creating chaos among the Saxons.

The carnage among the Saxons escalated forcing them to leave the field; presenting the coalition a victory, 8-3.

Test two

This time, the Saxon thegns (4Bd) were positioned together to hopefully improve their chances for a breakthrough.

Battle swayed to-and-fro, with casualties relatively even on both sides.

Nearly an hour passed (4 turns) before the unexpected happened, Olaf was slain in combat. Constantine II, assumed command of the coalition, unfortunately, lacking sufficient runners to bring new orders, many Norse troops remained leaderless.

Despite their small numbers, the Scots again pierced the Saxon line and avenging their fallen warlord, the Norse put to flight their opposition to deliver a second victory; 8-4 + general. 

List coalition one was used for both tests resulting in two defeats for the Saxon army. Of the two, the second came closest to matching actual events. Olaf’s demise would prompt the Norse to leave Britain ceasing any claim to the throne of Jorvik, therefore a strategic victory for Aethelstan.  

Testing will continue next month and use the second list for the coalition.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Aethelstan Invades Alba, 934


Guthfrith, the Norse king of Dublin,  briefly ruled Northumbria passing away in 934. King Athelstan of Wessex, seized the moment to solidify his authority on the north and assembled an army at Winchester. Marching north he would meet allies, a few of which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles list the Welsh kings Hywel Dda of Deheubarth, Idwal Foel of Gwynedd, Morgan ap Owain of Gwent, and Tewdwr ap Griffri of Brycheiniog and thirteen earls, six of whom were Danes from eastern England.

 “Aethelstan’s invasion of Scotland” found at Wiki offers the following:

“The invasion was launched by land and sea. According to the twelfth-century chronicler Simeon of Durham, his land forces ravaged as far as Dunnottar and Fortriu in northern Scotland, while the fleet raided Caithness by which a much larger area, including Sutherland, is probably intended. Caithness was then probably part of the Norse kingdom of Orkney. Owain was defeated and it is unlikely that Constantine's personal authority extended so far north, so Æthelstan's attacks were probably directed at Constantine's allies, comprising simple looting expeditions.

In contrast, the Annals of Clonmacnoise presents the invasion in a different manner; "the Scottish men compelled [Æthelstan] to return without any great victory", Lacking archaeological evidence, we cannot know for sure if an engagement did take place, nonetheless, this does offer an opportunity for a battle, pre-dating Brunanburh.


This fictional encounter, Constantine II is defending, placing two difficult hills and two wood on the game board. No road, therefore Athelstan may choose any one of four sides.  


Constantine II, Pre-Feudal Scots III/45.

Athelstan, Middle Anglo-Saxon III/25 with Welsh allies III/19a.


The Invasion of Scotland, 934, Medievalists Net


Annals of Clonmacnoise, Internet Archive


Anderson, Early Sources, Scottish Annals, pp. 67–69; Woolf, Pictland to Alba, pp. 166–168; Miller, Sean



Refighting a battle.

In schiltron formation, Constantine’s’ battle line was dwarfed by the Saxon array at the opposite end of the field. Constantine II and thegns positioned themselves in centre between schiltron formations. Athelstan’s banner could be seen in centre with Mercian earls on the right and Welsh allies on the left.

The Scots advanced in two groups, the right under the direct command of Constantine quickened their pace to meet the enemy while the left wing moved cautiously forward. To confront the Mercian and Saxon centre. As the lines met, the Welsh fell before the long spears of the Schiltrons opening the Saxon left.

Reinforcements were sent to bolster the left flank, but seeing unopposed Scots moving toward the centre, Athelstan called for a general retreat, extricating his troops from an impending encirclement. A convincing victory for the Scots, 5 – 0.


A second battle.

The result was not quite as I expected, taking less than four turns, therefore a second battle was played, both sides deploying as before, but swapping sides.

The Welsh seemed not to have their heart in the game and were again mauled, this time the aide of the Scottish light horse.  of the Scots joined in on the drill. To their right, the Mercians were next to fall collapsing the Saxon line, creating a second victory for the Scots, 5 – 0.