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The Battle of Dara – 530AD   Leave a comment

The only known image of Belisarius from the period

In the late 5th and early 6th centuries, there began a general ambition by the Byzantine hierarchy to restore the Empire’s territory back to the height of the Roman Empire from where it had evolved. Consequently a series of campaigns began across Italy, North Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East, to rebuild the former glory.  It should be noted that at this point in history, the enemies faced by the Byzantines were far more numerous and better organised than those that Rome had first faced centuries earlier. These were now the evolved enemies that had defeated Rome just 100-150 years earlier.

Through the military commanders there began to appear one who seemed more able and gifted at strategy than some others, that being Flavius Belisarius.  He had been born around 500 AD in modern day Bulgaria, then part of the Byzantine Empire, and after joining the army as a young man, had risen through the ranks and performed sufficiently to be noticed first by Emperor Justin and then by Emperor Justinian, to be asked to create a new unit of elite Royal bodyguard cavalry. This developed into a force of over 7,000 men, and soon Belisarius was given field command of entire armies and the title Magister Militum.

However, long before Belisiarius and even before the Byzantine Empire, the Sassanid Persians had been a regular thorn in the side of the Romans on their eastern frontier. The Sassanids had attempted to relive the art, culture and territorial grandness of their ancestors, the Achaemenid Persians. Centuries of conflict between Rome and the Sassanids had worn down both the financial and material ability to keep up hostilities. By the time the Byzantines faced the Sassanids it was common for both sides to pay off the other for periods of peace, as well as raid each other to “collect” needed funds in the way of booty. It was during one such period of raiding then peace that the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius took the advice of his generals to build a forward base in Persian territory at Dara (sometimes called Daras). By the time the Persians were in the position to intervene the fortification had been constructed and garrisoned.

A few years later, a dispute between Byzantine Emperor Justin and the ageing Persian Emperor Kavadh caused a declaration of war by the Sassanids and they invaded Byzantine territories that buffered up to the Caucasus Mountains such as Iberia and Lazica. The Byzantines responded by invading Sassanid territory further south, but with mixed results., although things were looking better until Emperor Justin died.  The new Emperor Justinian looked to shore up the frontier and sent Belisarius with reinforcements to secure and hold the fortress at Dara.

The Sassanids, although considered by many wargamers as a mainly cavalry army, had learnt from Rome and the Byzantines, the art of siege warfare and the use of siege engines. This made them a dangerous enemy, more than most cavalry based armies of the period, so as they approached Dara in 530AD, Belisarius knew he had to defeat them in the field before they could deploy a siege line around the fortress.

Despite being outnumbered hugely; 40,000 Sassanids to 25,000 Byzantines and allies, Belisarius rode out his army to meet the Persians in the field outside the city.

Suggested initial set up for the Battle of Dara

ORDERS OF BATTLE – using a figure ratio approx 1:100 and suggested base numbers for MeG/ADLG/DBM style rules

Sassanid Persian Army

Perozes – Commander-in-Chief – Veteran, experienced, competent leader

Front rank left to right

Clibanarii (5,000 men) – 50 figures – 5 bases – heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, bow

Light cavalry (1,000 men) – 10 figures – 2 bases – skirmish order light cavalry, no armour, trained., veteran, bow

Levy infantry (6,000 men) – 60 figures – 10 bases – close order infantry, light armour, trained, “levy” morale, 1/2 spear & shield, 1/2 bow

Clibanarii (5,000 men) – 50 figures – 5 bases – heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, bow

Light cavalry (1,000 men) – 10 figures – 2 bases – skirmish order light cavalry, no armour, trained., veteran, bow

Second rank left to right

Clibanarii (5,000 men) – 50 figures – 5 bases – heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, bow

Levy infantry (6,000 men) – 60 figures – 10 bases – close order infantry, light armour, trained, “levy” morale,  spear & shield

Clibanarii (5,000 men) – 50 figures – 5 bases – heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, bow

Rear rank

Guard Cataphracts (6,000 men) – 60 figures – 6 bases – heavy cavalry, armoured, elite, veteran, lance, impact cavalry

 

Byzantine Army

Belisarius – Commander-in-Chief – Veteran, excellent tactician, strategist, inspirational leader

From left to right

Herul Cavalry (300 men) – 3 figures – 1 base – Medium cavalry, experienced. veteran, light armour, spear, shield

Hunnic Light Cavalry (3,500 men) – 35 figures – 4 bases – Light cavalry, open order, experienced, veteran, light armour, bow

Kavallarioi Cavalry (2,500 men) – 25 figures – 3 bases – Heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, armour, bow

Skoutatoi Infantry (10,000 men) – 100 figures – 10 bases – Heavy infantry, experienced, average morale, medium armour 3/4 spear, shield, sword, 1/4 bow (or depending on rules, all with spear but with a “support” factor to represent the archers)

Sunicas Boukellerioi (600 men) – 6 figures – 1 base – Heavy cavalry, experienced , veteran, armour, lance, bow

Belisarius Guard Boukellerioi (1000 men) – 10 figures – 2 base – Heavy cavalry, experienced , elite, armour, lance, bow

Simmas Kavallarioi Cavalry (600 men) – 6 figures – 1 bases – Heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, armour, bow

Kavallarioi Cavalry (5,000 men) – 50 figures – 5 bases – Heavy cavalry, experienced, veteran, armour, bow

 

WARGAMING NOTES

The battlefield is open and flat with the exception of a hill on the left side of the Byzantine lines, the hill is “low” and passable. The Byzantines also dug a long ditch in front of their lines as shown on the map, with the centre protruding. This can be represented by a wall or fence if needs be. It is passable, but should leave troops crossing it “disorganised” or “disrupted” for one game turn after passing it.

LURKIO 15mm Sassanid commander, Perozes, readies for battle

THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Dara was a big battle, and a long one. The two armies formed up and faced each other for three days before fighting properly started. The first two days saw  “champions” challenge each other in single combat and a few skirmishers exchange arrows with little results, but on day three (which our suggested set up map represents) the combat began.

It is also a prime example of Belisarius’s military skill, fighting as he preferred, from a defensive position. Over the previous century the Byzantines had dominated their battles with the use of highly effective and mobile cavalry, who were used to overrun, overwhelm, ambush and ride down the enemy. The Byzantine’s response to this tactic was to increase their own cavalry arm, but even still the Sassanids had the definite advantage. So to help counter this unpredictable mobile threat, Belisarius ordered the construction of a long ditch in front of his lines, designed to extend forward in the centre for a tactical reason and in anticipation of how the Sassanids would attack. The ditch was not impassable, but designed to slow down and disorganise troops as they crossed it.

On day three, both armies formed up ready for battle once again, but the Sassanids did not begin an immediate attack. They sat and waited, knowing that the Byzantines normally ate before noon. They hoped by denying them the ability to eat because of being in battle lines would make them weaker if attacked by the Persians, who normally ate much later in the day. So it was in the afternoon when the Persians began their attack, and fortunately for Belisarius it was as he had predicted and hoped for when he had the ditches constructed and his army deployed.

As the afternoon began, the Persians made a general advance along their entire front to within bow shot distance and both armies exchanged volleys of arrows, but he numerical superiority of the Persians was countered by the fact they were firing into the wind, which dulled the effect of their shooting. Once the supply of arrows was exhausted the Persian right wing advanced to contact. Their tactic, as Belisarius had predicted, was going to be to defeat the Byzantine cavalry first, then once they had fled the field, surround and destroy the unsupported infantry in the centre.  As the Sassanid cavalry closed on the Byzantines they were slowed by having to cross the defensive ditch, but even so they were soon pushing back the Byzantine left wing. But just before the Byzantine and Hun cavalry broke, the Heruls who had been concealed by the hill, galloped over the top and charged down the side into the Sassanid flank. At the same time the cavalry Sunicas, who had been concealed from the Sassanids by the massed infantry in front of them, suddenly launched a charge into the other Sassanid flank. Pityaxes men, now surrounded on three sides, began to falter and then broke and fled back to the safety of their own infantry. leaving 3,000 dead behind them.

Frustrated, Perozes brought his Guard Cataphracts over to his left flank to support the two Clibanarii units of Baresmanas and then ordered an attack on that wing. Belisarius and his officers spotted the move, and brought the remnants Sunicas’s cavalry and the Heruls along the back of their lines in readiness to bolster the defence. Once again the Sassanid charge was slowed by having to cross the ditch, but as they recovered on the other side they began to push back the Byzantine cavalry of John and Cyril. Belisarius employed a similar tactic as before, allowing the Persians to pass his centre troops before unleashing his hidden cavalry reserve in their flank, with Simmas and Sunicas getting behind the Persian lines while he personally led his Guard cavalry into the side of the formation. Once again the Sassanids were being attacked on three sides simultaneously and began to waver. Sunicas personally killed Baresmanas in the melee, and 5,000 other Persians were killed in the fighting too.  After witnessing the Persian right wing defeated and retreat, and now the left wing almost destroyed too, the levy infantry in the centre threw down their weapons and ran for their lives. The Byzantines made a full advance and pursued the fleeing Persians, cutting down all they could catch before Belisarius called a halt. The Persians had a reputation of being able to rally and recover in defeat and he didn’t want his victorious army suddenly caught in the disarray of a pursuit and defeated in a battle they had just won.

The war would continue, but for now Belisarius had saved the fortress city of Dara.

Although not used at Dara, a Sassanid elephant, one of their favourite troop types. (LURKIO 15mm)

 

WARGAMING OPTIONS

Due to the large numbers of men fighting at Dara, we would suggest a “bases” set of rules where you can scale things down as far as you want if you don’t have mountains of figures.  So the likes of Mortem et Gloriam, ADLG, DBM, etc would be our suggested choice.

For figures, several suppliers make figures in various scales for these two armies, though bizarrely, quite a few only produce either one of the other. One of the exceptions to this, and in our opinion the best range for these forces is LURKIO FIGURINES who produce a full range of Sassanid Persians, Early Byzantines, Huns and figures suitable for Heruls too! They can also be bulked up with plastic figures made by The Plastic Soldier Company, who use the Lurkio sculptures to create plastic box sets of Sassanids and Huns. All of these can be found on our website, as well as 10mm Sassanids by Pendraken.

On a personal note, both these armies are great fun to play, either in an historical context as in this battle, or in the club/competition circuits against random opponents. My second ever wargames army was a Sassanid Persian army, and even as an inexperienced 14 year old gamer, it never let me down against all sorts of enemies. Early Byzantines are often overlooked by gamers, who tend to go for later Byzantine armies with the Varangian Guard and other elite units to play with, but it was the early Byzantines, the armies of Belisarius and Justinian etc that brought the Byzantine Empire to its height, and the closest it would ever come to the ancestral glory of Rome.

Happy gaming.

The Byzantine Empire at it’s greatest in 555AD

 

 

 

Posted 13/01/2022 by The Little Corporal in Ancients, The Dark Ages

The Battle of Taginae – July 552AD   Leave a comment

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I

Justinian I, later known as Justinian the Great, had ideas and plans throughout his extremely long reign to capture territory in what had been the Western Roman Empire and to recreate the glory of Rome as it had been.

In the mid 6th century he decided on a campaign to try and retake the Italian peninsular, the centre of the old empire, and with this in mind he assembled an army some 25,000 men strong to invade Italy and remove the Ostrogoths who had settled there and established their own Kingdom of Italy fifty years earlier. As was typical of Byzantine armies of the time, as it had been in the late Roman era, the army was bulked up with large numbers of foreign allied troops, in this case Lombards, Huns, Heruls and Gepids. Command of this mixing pot of soldiers was given to the Empire’s Imperial Chancellor, the Armenian eunuch called Narses, who after assembling his forces in modern day Croatia, opted to march them north and around the land route into northern Italy before then turning to march directly on Rome.

Defending the Kingdom of Italy was Ostrogoth King Totila. He was veteran of fighting the Byzantines and had defeated a previous attempt to invade Italy by Justinian, even though he had been greatly outnumbered. This time he had the same problem; his main army numbered only 12,000 as he marched north to intercept the invaders, but he hoped that an extra 2,000 cavalry would meet up with him before he had to do battle.

The two armies met on the morning of July 1st on the great plain west of Taino near a small village called Taginae, and before Totila’s reinforcements had arrived. As the two armies deployed Totila could see he was vastly outnumbered and decided to play for time. He started by sending an envoy to supposedly discuss terms with Narses, but Narses knew this was a ploy, after-all Totila had not responded to any previous requests by the Byzantines to have talks before the invasion and had even now deployed for battle, so the envoy was sent back to his army without discussions. Totila’s next ploy was to send out a “champion” from his ranks and request a one to one contest. A soldier volunteered from the Byzantine ranks and the two rode out to meet each other, as the huge Goth warrior charged for the kill, it was recorded the smaller, lighter armed Byzantine was able to turn his horse at the last minute and sidestep the Goth before thrusting his own spear into his body and killing him, with huge cheers coming from the Byzantine ranks. Still not deterred, Totila put on a suit of ceremonial armour, covered in gold and decorated with purple cloth and feathers (the colour of Emperors), he rode out onto the plain and began by all accounts, give a display of his horsemanship, performing jumps and rearing up, while at the same time throwing his spear up into the air and catching it like a cheerleader’s baton. He did this for some time, while making sure he kept out of archery range from his enemy, then when seeing a signal from his officers that the reinforcements were arriving he rejoined his army and changed to less conspicuous armour so not be picked out in battle. It was now around midday and the two armies prepared for battle.

 

Suggested initial set up for the Battle of Taginae

ORDERS OF BATTLE

BYZANTINE ARMY

Narses – Commander-in-Chief – Experienced, veteran, skilled tactician, respected leader

Right Flank

Dismounted Horse Archers (4,000 men) 4 to 6 bases – Medium Infantry, experienced, veteran, good shots, bow with stake to front

Hun Cavalry (1,000 men) 2-3 bases – Light Cavalry, open order, experienced, veteran, good shots, bow

Centre

Dismounted Allied Cavalry (Lombards, Gepids, Heruli) (10,000 men) 10-14 bases – Heavy Infantry, close order, experienced, veteran, spears, swordsmen, shields.

Left Flank

Dismounted Horse Archers (4,000 men) 4 to 6 bases – Medium Infantry, experienced, veteran, good shots, bow with stake to front

Lombard Cavalry (1,000 men) 2-3 bases – Medium Cavalry, experienced, veteran, spear, shield.

Extreme Left Flank

Dismounted Horse Archers (1,500 men) 2 to 3 bases – Medium Infantry, experienced, veteran, good shots, bow

Kavallaroi (1,000 men) 2-3 bases – Medium Cavalry, experienced, veteran, bow.

OSTROGOTH ARMY

King Totila – Commander-in-Chief – Experienced, veteran, excellent tactician, inspirational leader

Front Rank

Medium Cavalry (1,200 men) 3-4 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Heavy Cavalry (1,200 men) 3 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Heavy Cavalry Totila’s Guard (1,200 men) 3 bases – Experienced, veteran, elite, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Heavy Cavalry (1,200 men) 3 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Medium Cavalry (1,200 men) 3-4 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Rear Rank

Goth Warriors (8,000 men) 8-10 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Totila, reinforced, but still outnumbered had limited options. He had attempted to capture the high ground to his right as he first arrived on the plain but had beaten to it by the Byzantines.

He had beaten the Byzantines before against these odds, so must have felt there was a good fighting chance of success. He opted fr a full force and full frontal cavalry charge, hoping to punch a hole through the Byzantine infantry which were notoriously the weakest element of their army, but he was ignorant to the fact that the Byzantine “infantry” were in fact predominantly dismounted warrior and noble cavalry, with much better fighting skills and morale.

To inspire his men, Totila took up position in the centre unit with his personal guard and the army’s champion warriors. He ordered his men to only fight with the lance and probably in true Gothic fighting style they moved forward with their lances at shoulder height, their heads down and their shields held high over them. Starting a trot to cantor they gradually crossed the plain and launched into a full speed galloping charge. At this point the Byzantine archers opened fire, their position allowing them to shoot into the flanks of the charging Goths. Totila’s men began falling in significant numbers but still they pressed on, but when they reached the “infantry” they found a solid wall of shields bristling with spears that their horses refused to ride into. Despite this, the Goth lances were longer and Totila’s men jabbed at any gap they could find or make in the wall, while in response the Byzantine’s tried to jab at the horses and men as they whirled around in front of them.

The Goths tried several times to pull back slightly to regroup and recharge, but as once they stayed too far from the Byzantine infantry they would come under a renewed barrage of arrows from the flanks. It was approaching dusk when during one of these regrouping manoeuvres that Totila was struck by an arrow not fatally, but certainly seriously, to the extent that a bodyguard of men had to escort him to the rear. Rumours rapidly spread through the ranks, some that he was wounded and others that he was dead. He was lucid enough to order his infantry forward to finish off the job of breaking the centre, but at around the same time the cavalry decided that the rumours were worth retreating for and turned to flee.

Goth and Byzantine cavalry clash at Taginae

The sight of the fleeing cavalry approaching persuaded the Goth infantry to stop their advance and retreat as well. It was also a green light for the Byzantine army to make a full assault in pursuit, with all their mounted units charging forward to engage the fleeing soldiers.

As always in these cases, it was in the rout that the greatest casualties occurred, and over 6,000 Goths were killed, including at some point King Totila himself.

Narses advanced and took Rome with little resistance, although a successor to Totila emerged, Teia, the Ostrogoths suffered another and final defeat at the Battle of Mons Lactarius later that year. The Byzantines would establish some control over Italy again which they held, in part for nearly another 600 years, and the Lombards would also carve out their own domain in the country; the destruction of both these holdings within Italy would come to an end thanks to the request for military assistance and the employment of mercenaries who then decided “why fight for others, when we can fight and make our own kingdom” – the Normans.

WARGAMING NOTES

This battlefield is extremely easy to recreate with a virtually flat plain with the exception of a one hill on the flank (see map).

Figures wise, we would say unless you are a 28mm fan with the resources to kit out the forces then we would suggest 15mm. The Plastic Soldier Company make and excellent range of plastic Goths, which can be found in our online store https://www.thelittlecorporal.co.uk/product-page/15mm-goth-army-pack-mortem-et-gloriam or can be purchased directly from The Plastic Soldier Company. For the Byzantines, we would recommend the Early Byzantine range from Lurkio Miniatures at http://lurkio.co.uk/lurk10live/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=146_79

Rules are always a personal choice, but Mortem Et Gloriam or L’Art De La Guerre seem the most popular two rule sets right now for bigger and fast play battles.

Posted 13/09/2021 by The Little Corporal in The Dark Ages

The Battle of the River Idle – 616AD   Leave a comment

King Raedwald of East Anglia circa 620AD

The Battle of the River Idle was an engagement between the armies of two early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Bernicia and East Anglia, the latter kingdom being led by King Raedwald, the most likely contender to be the noble buried at Sutton Hoo and owner of the now world famous helmet.

The cause of the battle begins a number of years earlier, from when Aethelfrith became the King of Bernicia (the northern part of Northumbria) and began to exert his authority in neighboring regions. His ascent to power is a bit of a mystery, however one consequence of his kingship appears to be the exile of Edwin of Deira (a kingdom at the southern part of Northumbria). Aethelfrith soon styled himself as King of Northumbria in total, and began to threaten the kingdoms bordering his. Meanwhile Edwin found himself seeking refuge wherever he could find it. Edwin first found sanctuary in Gwynedd in Wales, but after several attacks by Aethelfrith’s Northumbrian army on the Kingdom of Gwynedd he decided to move on, Mercia being his next refuge. When that ended he moved further east to East Anglia and the court of King Raedwald.

Replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet

Aethelfrith initially tried to bribe Raedwald to either kill or hand over Edwin, but the newly converted christian Raedwald refused, and after allegedly being lectured to by his wife on his moral duties he instead decided to raise an army and march on Aethelfrith in an attempt to restore Edwin to his kingdom.

Gathering together as many men as he could, he, his son, and Edwin marched north towards the southern Northumbrian border in modern day Yorkshire, taking the old Roman Road running from Lincoln to Doncaster. Hearing of the advance, Aethelfrith also mustered his forces, but with the pressure of time was unable to match the numbers of men advancing towards him. Despite this, his men were largely experienced veterans and they decided to make a defensive stand at the River Idle where the Roman Road crossed it via a gravelly causeway, prone to flooding in bad weather.

Taking position on the west side of the river, they waited for Raedwald approaching from the east.

Suggested initial set up for The Battle of the River Idle 616 AD

Historical Note

The Battle of the River Idle took place at the height of the Dark Ages, and many accounts of events and the people involved were later destroyed by Viking raids on religious buildings where most documents of the time were written and stored. We have put this account together having studied and cross referenced over fifty books and articles relating to this engagement, to create what we feel is a very probable summation of events and the forces fighting. It is though, as with so much early history, subject to different opinions and interpretations of the evidence available.

Wargaming Note

We have again listed forces both by the numbers of actual men involved, for those who wish to scale down accordingly for their own preferred rules, and we have also suggested numbers of bases to use for those playing the more modern rules such as MeG or ADLG.

The battlefield should be completely flat, as the whole area was a flood plain. The battle appears to have been fought in summer months, so in addition to the causeway road, an area either side (denoted on the map by black dots), which was gravel used to build the road on is also passable for soldiers. The rest of the river should be impassible.

ORDERS OF BATTLE

Northumbrian Army

King Aethelfrith – Commander-in-Chief – Experienced, veteran, warlord, feared leader

Noble Warriors (1000 men) 2 or 3 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, elite, swordsmen, “shieldwall”

Warriors (1000 men) 2 or 3 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, swordsmen. “shieldwall”

Atheling Eanfrith – Sub-Commander – Modest experience, respected leader, impetuous

Noble Warriors – (500 men) 1 or 2 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, elite, swordsmen, “shieldwall”

Warriors (1000 men) 2 or 3 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, swordsmen. “shieldwall”

Allied British Cavalry (300 men) 1 or 2 bases – Medium cavalry, experienced, good morale, spear, shield

Skirmishers (400 men) 6 to 8 bases – light infantry, open order, experienced, good morale, half bows, half javelins

East Anglian Army

King Raedwald – Commander-in-Chief – Experienced, veteran, warlord, inspirational leader

Noble Warriors – (500 men) 1 or 2 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, elite, swordsmen, “shieldwall”

Warriors (1500 men) 3 or 4 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, swordsmen. “shieldwall”

Atheling Raegenhere – Sub-Commander – Experienced, veteran, warlord, inspirational leader

Noble Warriors – (500 men) 1 or 2 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, elite, swordsmen, “shieldwall”

Warriors (1000 men) 2 or 3 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, swordsmen. “shieldwall”

Levy (500 men) 1 or 2 bases – medium infantry, basic training, levy/militia morale, spear, shield

Lord Edwin – Sub-Commander – Experienced, veteran, inspirational leader

Noble Warriors – (500 men) 1 or 2 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, veteran, elite, swordsmen, “shieldwall”

Levy (1500 men) 3 or 4 bases – medium infantry, basic training, levy/militia morale, spear, shield

Skirmishers (400 men) 6 to 8 bases – light infantry, open order, experienced, good morale, half bows, half javelins

THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

As King Raedwald approached the River Idle he divided his army into three battle groups, Edwin on his left flank with largely Levy infantry who had been hastily mustered to make up numbers, himself in the centre with his best men, and his son and heir on the right flank with more warriors and a small amount of Levy. He sent his skirmishers forward first to capture the crossing, but they were met by Aethelfrith’s skirmishers on the opposite bank and they faced each other off exchanging arrows and javelins while the main army units came forward on both sides.

Aethelfrith decided his best tactic would be to kill Edwin, he was after-all the reason that Raedwald had attacked, and maybe if Edwin was dead a truce could be made. With that in mind he charged his battle group across the causeway supported by the British cavalry, as he reached the opposite bank he veered off to his side to attack Edwin’s battle group while his son Eanfrith, followed his father and hit into Raedwald’s group. However a grave mistake had been made, Aethelfrith had veered off in the wrong direction, towards Raegenhere rather than Edwin. He and his men fought like like demons to break into the opposing shieldwall and kill the commander, thinking it was Edwin. The British cavalry made a flank charge and between the two attacks Raegenhere’s group began to break up formation, allowing the enemy to cause mayhem in a killing spree.

Several sources claim that the blood chilling roar of Raedwald when he heard his son had been slain, momentarily brought everyone to a silent halt in the fighting. More than likely a Saxon legend rather than fact, but roar or not, the news his son had been killed made Raedwald into a berserk killer. His men crushed down Eanfrith’s shieldwall and scattered them, cutting down anyone who stood to fight. The real Edwin and his men chased them over the causeway in pursuit while Raedwald turned to take on the now trapped and isolated men of Aethelfrith. Sensing disaster the British horsemen fled, leaving the two veteran warlords with their best men to slug it out.

Splintered Light Miniature “King Raedwald”

The two sides reformed and faced each other before they both launched themselves into a charge, neither shieldwall holding. As the melee tuned into a brutal hacking and stabbing of men, the more experienced Northumbrians began to take the advantage, but before they could seize victory Raedwald pushed through to Aethelfrith and with his heart full of vengeance for his son’s death he cut him down, before decapitating him and holding his head aloft to show his victory. Aethelfrith’s men ran for their lives and Raedwald had won the day.

THE AFTERMATH

In killing Aethelfrith, Raedwald had effectively taken the Kingdom of Northumbria, and could at this point have declared himself king, but true to his promise to Edwin, he escorted him north and ensured he was installed as King Edwin of Bernicia, Deira, and Northumbria.

Eanfrith, Aethlfrith’s son, went into exile with the Picts in Scotland, where he married a Pictish princess. Years later in 633, after King Edwin was killed battle at the Battle of Hatfield Chase by King Penda of Mercia and King Cadwallon of Gwynedd, Eanfrith crossed the border and seized the crown of Bernicia, a title that lasted only a few months. After travelling with a small bodyguard to Wales to make an alliance with Cadwallon, Cadwallon had him and his men murdered. Eanfrith’s brother Oswald then became king and would go on to become one of the better known Saxon kings in history as well as Saint.

King Raedwald would continue his reign until 624, during which time he was granted the title of Imperium by the Church of Rome for defending the faith in England. He was, more than likely, buried at Sutton Hoo, laid out with weapons, jewels and armour in a 90 foot long Saxon longboat, before it was covered by a giant mound of earth where he lay undisturbed until 1939.

 

Posted 13/09/2021 by The Little Corporal in The Dark Ages

The Battle of Civitate – 18th June 1053   Leave a comment

The Battle of Civitate – 1053

The Normans had begun to arrive in Italy around 1015, initially as pilgrims visiting the shrine of Saint Michael, “the warrior saint”, at Monte Gargano in Apulia, Southern Italy. Their warlike nature was soon acknowledged by various local warlords and soon they found themselves in demand as mercenaries for the patchwork of Italo-Lombard kingdoms and dukedoms that sprawled across the centre of the Italian peninsular. As well as their internal rivalry, these small kingdoms also feared attack from their two more powerful neighbours, the Holy Roman Empire to the north and the Byzantine Empire to the south, not to mention raids by pirates and Muslim forces who occupied Sicily. In short, the need for good quality, hard fighting mercenaries was never in so much demand and the Normans were only too happy to help anyone with sufficient payment, with more and more arriving from France as each year passed. When some of their employers began to run low on money they opted for gifts of territory instead and by the 1040’s they had established three distinct dukedoms of their own; Aversa, south of Naples was held by Richard Drengot who had arrived in 1046 with 40 knights, Melfi on the Apulian border on the east coast was held by Humphrey D’Hauteville, and finally Robert Guiscard held territory in Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot.

In 1049 a new pope was anointed, Pope Leo IX and the following year he went on a tour of southern Italy to assess the political situation throughout the land. He was shocked to find that almost everywhere he heard bad things about the Normans, their brutality in local governance and constant use of strong arm tactics against innocent people. They were after all, masters of the feudal system, but the pope found it abhorrent and the following year when he went to visit the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III, he requested military assistance to bring the Norman nuisance to an end. This almost happened in 1052, when Henry agreed and sent an army south, only for it to be recalled before crossing the Alps after his advisors persuaded him not to intervene, albeit for their personal reasons of not particularly liking the pope. Undeterred, the pope asked the Duke of Lorraine for help and he sent 700 Swabians, fierce Germanic infantry famed for their two handed swords. In addition to these various other regions from Germany and around Italy sent men; Apulia, Gaeta, Campania, and many more – basically everyone that the Normans had ever rubbed up the wrong way. By 1053 Pope Leo had around 6,000 men and in addition to that he then agreed an alliance with the Byzantines. A plan was conceived that the Papal army would march south east and the Byzantines north to surround and defeat the largest Norman territory of Melfi on the east coast. Hearing of these plans, Humphrey requested all available help from the two other Norman territories and both Richard and Robert force marched cross country to join him in what was going to be possibly the end of the Normans in Italy. Despite these two joining Humphrey, the Normans could still only muster 3,500 men, it was therefore vital to stop the pope and the Byzantines from joining forces and with that in mind the Normans advanced north to face Pope Leo’s army near Civitate.

Suggested initial set up for the Battle of Civitate 1053

ORDERS OF BATTLE using figure/men ratio of 1:25

NORMAN ARMY

Humphrey D’Hauteville Duke of Apulia – Commander in Chief – Veteran, Elite, Fierce Warrior, Inspirational Leader

Norman Knights (1000 men) – 40 figures – Heavy cavalry, close order, armoured, veteran, fierce warriors, lance, shield

Richard of Aversa – Sub Commander – Veteran, Elite, Fierce Warrior, Inspirational Leader

Norman Knights (1000 men) – 40 figures – Heavy cavalry, close order, armoured, veteran, fierce warriors, lance, shield

Robert Guiscard -Sub Commander – Veteran, Elite, Fierce Warrior, Inspirational Leader

Norman Knights (1000 men) – 40 figures – Heavy cavalry, close order, armoured, veteran, fierce warriors, lance, shield

Slavic Infantry (500 men) – 20 figures – Open Order infantry, light armour, trained, steady, spear, shield

PAPAL ARMY

Rudolf, Prince of Benevento – Commander in Chief – Veteran, Experienced, Average Leader

2 units of Crossbowmen ( 2 x 300 men) 2 x 12 figures – Trained, inexperienced, militia, crossbow

2 units of Infantry (2 x 700 men) 2 x 28 figures – Trained, inexperienced, militia, spear, shield

2 units of Knights (2 x 1000 men) 2 x 40 figures – Heavy cavalry, close order, armoured, trained, experienced, lance, shield

Werner Von Maden – Sub Commander – Veteran, Elite, Fierce Warrior, Good Leader

Swabian Infantry (700 men) 28 figures – Close Order, Heavy infantry, veteran, elite, armour, 2 handed swords, shield

Albert Von Winterthur – Sub Commander – Veteran, Experienced, Average Leader

German Archers – (300 men) 12 figures – Open Order infantry, light armour, trained, steady, bow

German Infantry – (700 men) 28 figures – Close Order infantry, medium armour, trained, steady, spear, shield

THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

Pope Leo had opted not to been seen fighting a battle so had taken refuge in the town of Civitate with his Papal Guard, appointing Rudolf of Benevento as his field commander. There were in fact quite a lot of Dukes and Lords in the Papal army due to it’s multi-dukedom make up, each with their own group of troops. This led to a rather disorganised deployment, with the infantry especially appearing more like a rabble than organised soldiers.

The battle opened with Richard of Aversa leading a powerful charge of his knights across the open ground towards Rudolf’s men. Despite being hugely outnumbered, these Normans thundered through the poorly formed infantry, scattering them before then crashing into the cavalry. The ferocity of the charge sent the entire left wing of the Papal army into flight back to Civitate with Richard and his knights in hot pursuit.

In the centre, Humphrey charged the Swabians to his front who held a good position on the crest of a ridge that ran across the battlefield. Unlike their Italian comrades they stood their ground and wielding their two handed swords repulsed the charge. Humphrey regrouped and charged again, and again, and again, each time the Swabians stood firm, causing increasing casualties to the Norman knights. One witness reportedly said he saw “bodies of knights cut in two with dismembered horses laying along the line of battle”. Robert Guiscard, initially holding back as a reserve, now charged forward too, smashing into the German infantry to his front and with his Slavic infantry sent them into a rout. Unlike Richard who chased after the Papal soldiers, Robert rallied his men and turned to smash the flank of the Swabians to support Humphrey’s next full frontal charge. Even being attacked on two sides did not weaken the Swabian’s resolve, who now formed a tight square of swordsmen and continued to hold back the Norman charges, inflicting heavy losses on the mounted knights. Just as Humphrey was beginning to think further attacks looked futile against such stubborn resistance, Richard of Aversa returned with his knights and charged the Swabians in the other flank and rear. Now totally surrounded and vastly outnumbered with no means of escape, the Swabians began to lose men, gradually forming a smaller and tighter formation, they opted to keep fighting to the last man.

After hours of bloody, savage fighting, the Normans had won the battle. As they advanced to Civitate the citizens of the town overwhelmed the pope and his guard and threw them out of the city walls to the Normans, who promptly took Leo as hostage. He was held prisoner for the next nine months until written assurances were granted by all their enemies that the Norman lands would be recognised as legitimate hereditary territories. They expanded on these over future generations and notably Robert Guiscard with his brother Roger captured Sicily from the Muslims, creating the Norman Kingdom of Sicily in 1130.

WARGAMING THE BATTLE

This is an excellent engagement to fight in miniature, and a fantastic change to the usual Norman v Saxon “hastings” style wargames. The Papal army would look very much like their Norman opponents in armour and dress, but with generally round shields instead of kite ones, so it should be easy to form up both sides.

If you’re inspired to re-fight this battle then we suggest two looks at our online store.

The fabulous 15mm Dark Age range form Splintered Light Miniatures (USA) and available exclusively in the UK and Europe from ourselves.

Or for those who prefer boardgames, the brilliant Cry Havoc hexmap game called GUISCARD lets you re-fight Robert Guiscard’s battles across southern Italy and Sicily. The artwork of the counters is out of this world which helps make this range of games still hugely popular over 40 years after being first created.

Posted 13/09/2021 by The Little Corporal in The Dark Ages