Sunday, April 16, 2017

Medieval Periods - Middle Dark Ages (6th and 7th centuries)

Following on my first article about wargaming in the various sub periods of the Medieval Age, I would like to address what I am here referring to as the middle Dark Ages.  For me, this is roughly the 6th and 7th centuries, so definitely in a Post (Western) Roman setting, but one where the rise of new entities and the rise of Byzantium provide rich war gaming possibilities. As with the first article, I remain focused on Europe.
As far as I know, there is no common reference to this period, at least as a period distinct from either the earlier dark ages, or the later dark ages.  If anything, the earlier dark ages, and this period (I am thinking of approximately the 6th and 7th centuries) are part of what is usually referred to as Late Antiquity, although that really stretches back further than I wanted to (Late Antiquity is usually 300-700 AD).

But here I am talking about the 6th and 7th centuries.  In the early period (5th century, into the Age of Arthur.  To me that is the interesting activity going on in that period (from a European perspective) for wargaming.  In this period, there are really three things going on that provide for good wargaming.  As I see them these are:
beginning of the 6th), I covered the
  1. Consolidation of the Barbarian/Germanic Kingdoms
  2. Muslim Conquest (starting in the 7th century, but lasting into the 8th)
  3. Byzantium Ascendency, starting with Justinian in the 6th century 
As with the other Medieval periods, although infantry is still a very common component of armies of this period, the strength of cavalry is one of the hallmarks of many Medieval military systems (at least for me). That was the reason why I thought of the Romano-British as an example of a very early Medieval army (even though, it is extremely Roman, and infantry heavy, in flavor).

So, from a wargaming perspective (although just the history of this period, leaving aside gaming for an instant, is itself completely fascinating) here is what I see for the three periods.  I think I might list things like miniatures rules, board games, and army lists for each in separate posts.

Barbarian Kingdoms
These are large groups of (mostly) Germanic people's, or confederacies of people's, that were occupying lands in or on the border of the (former) Western Roman territories. They either had been invited to settle and become feoderates by the Romans, or else migrated in on their own, or (as in the case of Theoderic) would be contracted to come in by the Eastern Emperors. Because there are lots of clashes, both with remnants of the Western empire, and with other barbarian kingdoms, there is a lot of wargaming potential here.  Some of the people's I am thinking of (although there are many, many others):
  • Ostrogoths - the Eastern Goths, mostly in and around Italy
  • Visigoths - the Western (or Bright) Goths, mostly in and around the Iberian lands, filling the space previously occupied by Vandals and Suevi
  • Franks - Extremely successful on both sides of the Danube, and against other tribes/confederacies, this period includes the Merovingians.
  • Saxons - As in the earlier period, this may also include related peoples such as the Jutes and Angles, both in Britain (which is now becoming, finally, Angle-land, or England) and back in Europe.  On the British Isles, the series of struggling Kingdoms form the Heptarchy, although rarely is it exactly seven kingdoms.
  • And non-Germanics from the East - Alans, Avars, Huns, etc. 
There are a lot of miniature wargaming possibilities here, but also some board gaming titles as well.  Right away, I am reminded of Barbarian, Kingdom and Empire, as well as Catan: Struggle for Rome (a great game, but maybe not a wargame?).  Possibly Rise and Fall  but possibly not (and it is very similar to the already mentioned BKE).  A game I used to play quite a bit is the area control game, Attila.

Muslim Conquest
Starting in the early part of the seventh century, the armies of the Prophet and his successors provide a history that is ripe with opportunities for Wargamers who want to recreate the battles of this period.  This is divided up into an early expansion period, starting with the battle of Bedr, in 624 (two years after the flight of the Prophet to Medina) and ending in 661 when Muawiya Uthman had the Prophet's son in law (Ali) killed in the civil war for succession.  Muawiya then formed the first Caliphate.  

The armies of Islam, with roots in a popular religious undertaking, necessarily had a lot of simple (but effective) foot elements, but also (and increasingly as time went on) both a professional infantry core and large amounts of mounted troops developed.  The Arab cavalry favored the Lance, although there are some Persian elements that use the bow.  This is, tactically, a very interesting army.

It clashed, of course, with many of the other armies described in this article, so a Wargamer seeking to develop a collection for this period, would have a lot of scenario possibilities if he were to include the elements that make up this army. A very useful collection of essential troops, that would serve for representing this army over many centuries, would be a decent sized collection of Arab spear, Arab archers, and Lance armed Arab horse. As the conquest settles into an imperial mode in the later part of this period (starting with the establishment of the caliphate) other troops can be added in, representing absorbed people's. This includes horse archers among other things, and even extends to elephants.

One of the more interesting enemies of the Arab Conquest, of course, is the Sassanid Persians.  This fantastic army will be described in a later article on the Arab Conquest.

Board wargames about this period are rare, and I am only aware of a few. There was a Canadian Papercut games.  More recently, there was, in Freng from Griffon Games, a good looking design called Au Nom d'ALLAH that covers the expansion period from 632-732 AD.  Finally, and this is the one most accessible I think (from the preview material), is the title Apocalypse in the East  from Against the Odds magazine, to be published in 2017. It is about the ten year struggle between the first Caliphate and the Byzantines. Victory Point Games is working up an excellent solitaire, called The First Jihad which should be published soon.
Simulations game back in the early 1980s called Jihad, but I don't think it has a following any longer. More recently, three titles come to mind. There was a game in 2007 called Caliphate, that was never quite finished, but is available as a free print and play download from 

As the surviving successor to Rome, the empire in the east begins this period with an army very much in the tradition of the old Legion system of the Western army.  However, starting under Justinian, and coming full circle under Maurice, the army transforms into something different - the Byzantine army, which is very much more reliant on cavalry.  This will last throughout the period covered by this article, but will eventually give way to the feudal Thematic system (still cavalry dominant, but structured and supplied very differently).

A nice overview and description of the army under Maurice (the Maurikian Byzantine Army) is provided on this DBA page - it talks about DBA army elements for this army, but also gives a nice short history about the various components.  Some very interesting fighting by the Byzantines, in this period, takes place in the Balkan peninsula, as well as else where, and against some of the other armies described in this article.  Other enemies for the Byzantines exist as well.

Options for boardgame Wargamers might include a number of titles, such as Justinian from GMT or Byzantium from Martin Wallace. There are some other traditional wargames that touch on Byzantine warfare, but I'll mention them in a later article, as they cover later Byzantine history.  In addition to board wargames, there are even a number of other strategy games in this theme, that may or may not warrant the name "wargame".  Some examples might be Justinian from Mayfair (a Byzantine politics game) or Constantinopolis (Trade in Byzantium in the 7th century).

That is is for this topic, but I think I will develop some information about army lists, and tactics, and possible scenarios/campaigns for each of these separately.  Each of these three focus areas has lots of great personalities, will have strong links to the previous and the succeeding historical periods (and armies), and present loads of interesting wargaming possibilities.

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