Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sub Roman British Army in Wargaming (Early Dark Ages part 2)

Continuing the discussion on Early Dark Ages Britain, and wargaming in the earlier part of that period.

The above is a simple statement, but it begs the question as to how one decides to define what the Dark Ages are . . . but presumably that period between the end of Antiquity, and the beginning of the proper Middle Ages, or Medieval Period.  Of course any definition that is itself based on non-specific terms opens up further labeling cans-of-worms, but it generally works out to about 400AD until about 1000AD, more or less.  Rather than putting a year on it, I think it is more useful (both here in wargaming, and also in my history studies) to consider identifiable periods.  It is still an abstract way to define a time period in history, but it gives some definition to the reader.  So, for the Gaming with Chuck discussion, the Dark Ages in Britain is roughly from the end of the Roman presence in the Isles, until the coming of the Normans.  And further dividing that, into an early Dark Ages, which runs from the end of the Romans, until the time of Alfred the Great, and the later period, from Alfred until the Normans (including the majority of the Viking age). - Gaming with Chuck HQ
Looking at this period, as we saw in the prior article, a major military force to consider are the various British kingdoms that inherited from the Roman traditions, and fought against (and absorbed, in some cases) a variety of invading peoples.  This article will take a look at the army list representations of the Sub-Roman British in a variety of different "generic" rulesets.  By that, I mean the rules that cater for a broad variety of ancient and/or medieval history, but that provide for specific army lists for military organizations within that period of history.

These are referred to as the Sub-Roman British, or sometimes (more rarely) the Post-Roman British.  Taking a look at the WRG Army List, Book 2, listing from 1982, we see that army number 82 is:

Sub-Roman British
425 AD to 945 AD

  • C-in-C mounted on horse equipped as heaviest cavalry type present (or on foot as Light-Heavy Infantry, with Javelin or Long Thrusting Spear and Shield). 1 per army.
  • Personal/Army Standard to accompany C-in-C. Up to 1.
  • (a variety of different Ally-Generals, both British and others - Saxon, Irish, Visigoth, Franks)
  • Religious Group of Massed Praying Monks. Up to 1.
  • Cavalry, (Heavy Cavalry) Regular D, or Irregular B, Javelin and Shield. 14-44.
  • Upgrade Cavalry to Regular A. Up to 4.
  • Upgrade Regular A or Irregular B Cavalry to Extra Heavy Cavalry.  Up to 4.
  • Light Cavalry, (Light Cavalry) Irregular C, Javelin and Shield. Up to 10.
  • Spearmen, (Light-Medium Infantry) Regular D or Irregular C, all Javelin or all Long Thrusting Spear. 48-150.
  • Archers, (Light-Medium Infantry, or Light Infantry) Regular D or Irregular C, Bow. Up to 36.
  • Saxon Mercenary Warriors, (Medium Infantry) Irregular B, Javelin and Shield. 9 to 99.
  • Irish Mercenary Warriors, (Light Medium Infantry) Irregular C, Javelin and Shield. 6 to 34.
  • Upgrade Irish Mercenaries to Irregular B. All or none.
  • Visigoth Nobles, (Heavy Infantry) Irregular B, Javelin and Shield. 4 to 10.
  • Visigoth Spearmen, (Medium Infantry) Irregular C, Javelin and Shield. 5 to 20.
  • Visigoth Archers, (Medium Infantry, or Light Infantry) Irregular C, Bow. 5 to 10.
  • Frankish Cavalry, (Medium Cavalry), Irregular B, Javelin and Shield. Up to 19.
  • Upgrade Frankish Cavalry to Heavy Cavalry. Up to 9.
  • Frankish Spearmen, (Medium Infantry) Irregular C, Javelin and Shield. Up to 49.
  • Upgrade Frankish Spearmen to Irregular B Heavy Infantry. Up to 9.
The army is interesting, and of course the minimums of the various Mercenary groups and Allied groups (Saxons, Irish, Visigoths and Franks) only apply if any of that nationality are used..


Ignoring the Mercenary and Allied troops for a minute, the core of the army are the actual Britons -
Cavalry (light and heavy), Spearmen, and Archers.  This will be followed throughout the other army lists, and while it is probably true (enough) it also seems somewhat generic for an army of this time period and place.  With what historical evidence that exists, this is probably enough.

The text that goes along with the list is interesting.  It reads as follows:
This list covers British and Breton armies from the rise to power of Vortigern until the absorption of the last remaining British lowland kingdom, Strathclyde.  I assume that earlier armies still follow the Late Imperial Roman pattern, that the Welsh diverge early on because of their mountain environment, and that the Bretons assimilate close to the French military system after the mid-9th century.  All these points are of course susceptible of being questioned.  I have relied mainly on near-contemporary literary evidence, and reluctantly discarded the reconstructions of historical fiction from Geoffrey of Monmouth onwards.  1,000 praying monks appeared at a battle in 614 AD, and were attacked first by a pagan opponent who decided that those who invoked the gods against him could not fairly claim the privileges of non-combatants.  Saxons were hired by Vortigern in the 5th century, Irish and a homeless Visigothic fleet in the 6th, and Franks possibly in the 9th.  The option to use 4 "Regular A" cavalry in attendance on the C-in-C represents a 100-strong "round table" for an Arthur or similar personality.  They cannot be used together with praying monks.  Surviving literature proves conclusively that cavalry were armed with javelins and usually wore mail.  Horse armour was used throughout the period by some of the Bretons of Armorica, so its use in Britain during the 6th century cannot be ruled out.  "Regular D" cavalry represents surviving units of the Dux's northern border army, and "Regular D" infantry other of his units and militia raised by the southern lowland cities.  No regulars can be used after the 6th century.  LTS (long thrusting spear) had probably replaced JLS (javelin/light spear) as the standard British infantry weapon by the end of the 5th century, and was to remain that of the north Welsh and southern Scotland throughout the medieval period.  The use of LB (longbow) by south Welsh archers was a later development.
Some interesting comments here.

First, referring Geoffrey of Monmouth as 'historical fiction'.  I am still chewing on that comment, 30 years after first reading it.  I get that some of Geoffrey is fantastic, but then again so is Livy and Polybius - not to mention Herodotus, the father of lies.  Geoffrey is propaganda, trying to create a history that exemplifies a British, but not English, origin - and he is prone to the fantastic, but he at least attempts to stay with known sequences of events and sources.  And if you accept Geoffrey's sources as history for some things, why not others?  Especially where he agrees with Gildas, Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, William of Malmesbury, Wace, and others? So, I am willing to think of him as non-rigorous history, but not quite historical fiction.

Second, within little statements, huge history is hiding - such as the statement about using the Saxons in the 5th century, because 'Saxons were hired by Vortigern'.  Of course, Big V hired the two Saxon leaders, Horsa and Hengist, and from them we get the militarized arrival of the Saxons coming to establish lands and kingdoms for themselves, eventually creating the Anglo Saxon people.  But, at least for a while, the Romanized Britons held out against the Saxons, first Vortigern against the mutinying Saxon mercenaries, then Arthur against the encroaching Saxon immigrants/invasion.

Moving on to another view by WRG, we see in DBA (looking at my original 1990 copy), army number 82 (retaining the numbering system from the earlier army list books) is in residence.  Using the DBA element system, for a 12-element army, we see the following.

3x 3CV (Cavalry)
1x 3Kn or 2LH (Knights, or Light Horse)
4x 3Ax (Auxilia)
2x 3Ax, or 2x 3/4Wb (Auxilia or Warband)
2x 2Ps (Psiloi).

The general of the army would be one of the CV stands (unless the knight is used?).  The 3 CV stands represent the British cavalry, of course.  The option of 3Kn, or 2LH is either Knights (Visigoth or Scottish mounted), or Light Horse (the British light cavalry).  The Knights option is also for players who envision an Arthur, and his knights or comitatus, as heavier armed (or simply elite) cavalry compared to other specimens of the period.
Moving ahead to other interpretations, we can look at the army as presented in Bob Bryant's excellent Might of Arms rules.  They have armies based on the earlier WRG army books, and other sources, but rather than giving figure counts, they give numbers of stands per unit type.  They give (again, stretching the point up to 945AD, to include the last remaining British kingdom at Strathclyde - in practical terms. the British were done as a force roughly around 580AD or so) the army's details as the following:
Medium Cavalry (C morale) 6-24 stands
Light Cavalry, Javelin (C morale) 0-12 stands
Subheavy Infantry (C morale) 0-12 stands
Medium Infantry (C morale) 24-102 stands
Skirmish Infantry, Javelin (C morale) 0-12 stands
Skirmish Infantry, Bow (C morale) 0-6 stands

The Subheavy Infantry here represent either Frankish or Saxon allies (Horsa and Hengist again?).  Options exist to convert up to two units (using the recommended unit size of 3 cav or 6 foot stands) of Medium Cavalry to Heavy Cavalry, also the option to convert up to two units of cavalry (either Medium, or the upgraded Heavy) to B morale.  Again, the Knights of Arthur, or some Dux' comitatus is the inspiration here, it seems.

Terry Gore's most excellent rules, Medieval Warfare, offer up an Arthurian Britons army (mid 5th to mid 6th century).  This does not go on to cover the surviving Britons, but focuses on the main event.  It is interesting, and of course the units are different here from some of the other rulesets, but here is the army list:

8-24 stands Cambrogi (Heavy Cav, Warriors, Jav or Spear and Shield)
4-16 stands Light Cavalry (Skirmishing Cav, Warriors, Jav and Shield)
24-72 stands Spearmen (Lightly Armored Infantry, Poor, Jav or Spear and Shield)
6-24 stands Archers (Lightly Armored Infantry, Poor, Bow)
0-16 stands Saxon Ally (Unarmored Infantry, Warrior or Warband, Spear and Shield)
6-18 stands Skirmishers (Skirmishing Infantry, Warriors, Javelin or Bow and Shield)
0-6 ships

  • These rules give some more tactical details - for instance, they allow the Spearmen and the Archers to form mixed units.
  • Once again, the Cambrogi can upgrade to Veterans if they like.
  • Equally, the Cambrogi can upgrade to Full Mail Cavalry, Elite Morale, Lance and Shield (Arthurian cavalry according to just about everyone from Geoffrey on down the line to John Boorman).
  • Options to upgrade the training and morale of the spearmen and archers exist.
 The writer of the list (it appears in the rulebook, as published by Foundry) refers to the Heavy Cavalry as Cambrogi - which he defines as "Literally, fellow countryment.  British warriors who supported the remnants of the Roman leaders.  Well armed and armoured as well as loyal followers and trusted fighters, they often served as personal bodyguards."

Taking a look at a recent element based (in the same vein as DBA and Armati, where you can either move elements singly or as groups) ruleset, L'Art De La Guerre comes to us from Herve Caille in France.  A very nice English translation is available, and it is a lovely book with lots of data, rules, and ideas for games in it.  The Sub Roman British are available here, as army number #101 - Romano-British.  Again, the army stretches from early 5th century (407AD, in this case) on up to the year 945AD.  The army list gives the option for doing an Arthurian list, with the de rigeur option of upgrading the cavalry, in that case.
  • Britons Horsemen (may be medium or heavy cavalry) 4-8 units
  • Scouts on Pony (light cavalry with javelin, mediocre) 0-2 units
  • Spearmen (medium or heavy spearmen, may be mediocre) 8-24 units
  • Saxon Mercenaries before 442AD (heavy swordsmen, impetuous; may be elite) 0-2 units
  • Irish Mercenaries before 580AD (medium swordsmen) 0-4 units
  • Bowmen (light infantry with bow) 0-2 units
  • Light Infantry with Javelin 0-2 units
  • Christian Martyrs before 664AD (levy, mediocre, expendable) 0-1 units
  • Fortifications 0-8 units
  • Arthurian Elite Cavalry 475 to 539AD (Replace Horsemen with heavy cavalry, impact, elite) 0-4 units

An interesting army, carrying on much of a muchness with the others (spearmen, archers, light and heavy horse, allies), but this one introduces the idea of fortifications.  Camelot?  The Christian Martyrs represent great flavor, but little tactical usefulness that I can think of.  If they were a religious standard, that might be more useful.  A player can choose allies from Western Romans, Saxons, Welsh or Vikings in different periods.  If sticking to the strictly Arthurian slice as defined here (475-539) then only the Welsh are available, the others being either earlier or later historical allies.

Some interest creeps in with the Shock of Impact army list, written for the Romano-British Successor (Army 48, page 27 in the army list book), for the Shock of Impact rules from Tabletop Games.  These army lists give you two ways to construct an army.  First, the typical method, where you employ a set of points with unit types, minimums and maximums.  The second is by means of a set of percentage dice, to determine an army of so-many units.  That is interesting for our study here. 
  • Automatic, Army General (Heavy Cavalry)
  • 01-17 Heavy Cavalry (HC, spear javelin, shield)
  • 18-34 Retainer Cavalry (MC, spear, javelin, shield)
  • 35-37 Pict/Scot Cavalry (MC, spear shield)
  • 28-40 Pict/Scot Cavalry (LC, javelin, shield)
  • 41-52 Pict Javelinmen (LI, javelin, shield)
  • 53-58 Pict Archers (LI, bow)
  • 59-76 Pict/Scot/Saxon Infantry (MI, spear, shield)
  • 77-100 British Spearman (MI, spear shield)
The interesting thing here, of course, is the commonality of Picts.  The Saxons are present, of course.  The army list allows you to upgrade (of course) the army general and the Heavy Cavalry to regular troops.  The British Spearman are, in the army list, of higher morale than the Picts/Scots/Saxons.  Considering that the Saxons are professional mercenaries, I find that encouraging for the depiction of the British from these authors.
Another interesting thing about these rules, compared to the others covered already, is that these really focus on the period of the 5th and 6th century.  It makes no pretense to cover the periods that stretch up into the 10th century with the dubious hangers-on at Strathclyde, etc.

Returning back to an army list that covers the gamut from 410AD to 945AD, the excellent rules by Neil Thomas (Ancient and Medieval Wargaming, 2007) cover the Romano-British Army.  Here we see four troop types, with a variation in number of units the player chooses
  • Cavalry (HC, medium armor, elite) 2-4 units
  • Roman Remnants (DAI, medium armor, average) 0-2 units
  • Militia (DAI, light armour, levy) 2-4 units
  • Archers (LI, bow, light armour, average) 0-2 units
As usual, the option to upgrade the cavalry (again, as Knights of the Round Table, Comitatus, descendants of Sarmatians, etc - it isn't clear, but bows to the scant history and rich legend) exists, making up to one unit of Cavalry into Knight Cavalry (HC, heavy armour, elite), with some extra hand-to-hand combat capabilities on turns that they charge.  The army does not permit the Roman Remnant past the end of the 6th century, but they are allowed to fight using a shield wall technique.


I have long been a fan of Neil Thomas' simple rules, and the Dark Ages variant that this list supports is no exception.  Easy to teach, easy to play, and it gives appropriate results - great for a newcomer.  With this army list, someone interested in either the historical period, or a plausible historical Arthur could get playing very quickly.  Mr. Thomas again disparages the excellent (but, sadly, not-so-very-exacting in the historicity department) Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Finally, a look at an army list that provides for some more options than most of the lists (the most options, so far, being on the original 5th/6th edition WRG army lists, but most of the variation there came from listing different allied armies separately - Saxons, Irish, Visigoths and Franks.  But this last ruleset I am covering here is De Bellis Multitudinis.  In Book 2 (500BC to 476AD) of the army list collection, using the June 1993 version here as reference, we see the following Sub-Roman British army (407AD to 945AD), which is army number 81 on page 71:
  • C-in-C, Regular Cavalry or Irregular Cavalry
  • British ally general, Reg Cavalry or Irregular Cavalry; 0-3
  • Cavalry Reg Cavalry or Irregular Cavalry; 8-15
  • Light Cavalry on Hill Ponies - Irregular Light Horse; 0-5
  • Pedyts - Regular Auxilia or Irregular Spear; 36-120
  • Archers - Regular Bow, or Irregular Psiloi; 0-8

And that is it, for the basic army.  As with Shock of Impact, the option exists for the General(s) and the Cavalry to be either regular or irregular, depending on the player view of the situation.  But, there is a long list of other elements that can be added in for various sub-periods and special cases of the army. 



Before 425 AD, Late Imperial Roman allies are available
429 AD, Saxon mercenaries and longboats are available (Horse and Hengist ride again)
430-441 AD, Saxon Allies
475-539 AD, Arthur properly done, with Cavalry and General upgraded to Regular Knights
507-550 AD, Visigothic fleet and crew, shipwrecked and part of the army
Mainland Britain before 580 AD, Irish Mercenary (or Votadini foot)
Armorica before 580 AD, Alan Mercenaries (from Alan army list in Book 2)
Prior to 664 AD, Praying Monks (irregular horde)
After 790 AD, Viking Allies (from Norse army list in Book 3)

This is, at it's heart, very much apace with the other armies listed here, but the historical detail given with the list options, and in the book text, make for a very nice snapshot of the history of the British from the 5th century until their disappearance.  The Praying Monks are back, which is a good thing.  How a single stand of them could make a difference, I don't know, but they would be a fun addition to the army.
Not the Arthur being discussed here

This is the wrap up of this article on the general representation of the army. The agreement is on fair (mediocre) quality infantry, and better quality cavalry.  Under a cavalry commander, such as an Arthur like figure, the cavalry can be improved.  This is a pretty good representation, but there are some rulesets that go a little deeper, especially for this time period. The next article will take a look at some Arthur specific rulesets (and modules) including:
  • Song of Arthur and Merlin
  • Dux Bellorum
  • The Age of Arthur (for Warhammer Ancient Battles)
I could include the SAGA supplement on the Sub-Roman British, and also the excellent Glutter of Ravens.  The former, I will leave off, because I have an article just on SAGA planned for the next period after this - the age of Vikings.  The latter, I will leave off, because the author (Dan Mersey) is already covered in two other rulesets by him (Song of Arthur and Merlin, and Dux Bellorum), which are currently much more accessible to gamers than the former (but still excellent) Glutter of Ravens.

For grins and giggles, see the BBC documentary on "historical" Arthur from Francis Pryor.  I enjoy Francis, but he certainly does seem to be attracted to out-of-the-mainstream theories about pre-Roman, Roman, and Post-Roman Britain.  Here is the first part of a three part video on facebook that presents his documentary on the Arthur topic.


There are two more parts of this video, also.
Part 2 - https://youtu.be/N_tMiA1KBPM
Part 3 - https://youtu.be/8iksrDIQWUA

There are of course many other "documentaries" on Arthur to be found on Youtube and elsewhere, some are more or less dreadful, and others might be useful, but as in the first article in this series, nothing (for narrative) beats John Morris. Although even he (rightfully so) has his critics.
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