Saturday, April 14, 2018

Wargaming the Barbarian Kingdoms (6th and 7th century) - Part 3, Franks under Merovingian Rule

The Franks, of course, are those Germanic tribes that were in the area previously called Gaul, and soon to become called France.  In the period we are looking at, for wargaming, they are ruled by the Merovingians, and the style of warfare during this time and for these peoples is definitely a telltale version of the tribal type infantry army, replacing the remnants of anything the Romans left during the last stages of antiquity - but starting to get a little more organized as the political units of the day get larger and more sophisticated.

Brief history of the people and period:
The Merovingian dynasty properly started towards the end of the 5th century, in 481.  That year is significant because Childeric, who had ruled the Merovingian tribe, among several tribes of the Franks, was succeeded in 481 by his son, Clovis I - and it was Clovis (Chlodowig) who united all of Gaul under Merovingian rule.   This will last until the year 751 (just outside our period, in the middle of the 8th century), when Pepin deposed the last Merovingian king, and established the Carolingian dynasty.

During the reign of Clovis, the original territory he recieved from his father (Austrasia), was added to by his military victories at battles such as Soisson (the Gauls of Neustria, defeated in 486), and Vouille (the Visigoths of Aquitaine, north of the Iberian peninsula, in 507).  By the end of his reign, the kingdom of France was pretty large, indeed.

From Wikipedia article on Merovingian dynasty
Clovis left the kingdom to his four sons, who defeated Burgundy in 532 at the battle of Autun, then captured the defeated Burgundian king (Godomar) in 534, and annexed Burgundy.  At this point, the only lands that could be called Frankish (German) that were outside the control of the Merovingian monarchs were Saxony and Frisia in the north, the Spanish Marches, Gascony, and Septimania (and Provence) in the south, the holdout german kingdoms of Bavaria, Carinthia and Lombardy in the southeast.  All those territories would come under Frankish rule, but not until the Carolingians began their expansion.

A couple of interesting cultural and historical factors from this period.  The Muslim conquest would reach southern Europe for some time (end of the 6th century, roughly), so the tribes in the south and west that the Merovingians had troubles with were other German, Gothic and related successors to the failed Roman period.  The Lombards, distinctively, retained their paganism in this period.  Clovis himself (first king of the Merovingians) is considered to be the last of the Pagan kings of the Franks, because after his victories over the Alemani (in 496 and 506), he converted to Christianity, and his people (who hadn't already) followed suit.

One of the aspects of Clovis' conversion is that he (under influence of his wife) adopted Catholicism, rather than the Arianism that was prevalent among the Goths, Vandals and Burgundians. This gave him (after the Alemani) something of a religious reason for subjugating his enemies. In addition it made the remaining Roman population loyal to him.

Around the period of 540 or so, for a few years, there was a bad outbreak of Bubonic Plague, although this wouldn't be as devastating as the later Medieval outbreak in the 14th century would be (because of fewer large population concentrations) it would be bad enough, and since it hit the agricultural areas hardest, it would have had a huge impact on this post-antiquity economy - which would have kept military forces necessarily small for almost all the belligerents we are talking about.
Wargaming the Merovingians

Merovingian Re-enactor
Let's start out by taking a look at the DBA army list for the Merovingians.  If we are talking about the period from 481 to 751, this covers a couple of DBA lists.

First,Early Franks, up until roughly 496 (corresponding, roughly, to the major unification under Clovis I with his defeat of the Alemani, and eventually setting up his capital at Paris) and then the Middle Franks.

The Early Franks (II/72d) in DBA really reflect the post antiquity tribal quality of the warfare.  The army consists of one element of cavalry, and ten elements of warband, and one element of psiloi.  The cavalry element is the general - representing a Frankish leader and his comitatus.  The warbands are the tribal warriors (round shields, and spear and ax - or the), and the psiloi would be maybe slingers or throwers of the angon javelin.

Their Alemani (II/72b) enemies (fought Clovis in 496 and 506) were similar - one cavalry element, seven warband elements, one psiloi - and the difference is that the Alemani had much better quality archery, so they receive three elements of bow, in addition to the psiloi element that might represent slingers or angon throwers.

In both cases, the general and his comitatus can choose to fight dismounted (especially useful in the many forested areas of the region), in which case the cavalry element becomes another warband.

The Middle Frankish list (III/5) covers the Merovingian Franks from the war with the Alemani up until the dominance of the Carolingian Mayers of the Palace (639).  This list (III/5) has two variants, corresponding roughly to the North and East, or Austrasian and Burgundian area (III/5a), and the South and West, or Neustria, Provence, and Aquitaine areas (III/5b).
The first of these (III/5a) contains:  the general is either a Cavalry or Knight element, and there is an additional mounted element which can also be Cavalry or Knight.  There are  six elements of warband, and then three elements which may choose to be warband, or may be upgraded to spear, and finally one element of psiloi.

The second of these (III/5b) contains: the same mounted elements as above (the general, and an additional element, each of which can be cavalry or knights), six elements of spear, again three additional elements which may be spear, or warband, and one element of psiloi.

Here we see the growing sophistication of the armies, as the mounted troops become much more effective as knights (introduction of new equipment such as the stirrup, and better armor).  As the region gives way from dense forests to more and more agricultural land, the troops can find more uses to fight in a tighter formation - hence the spear elements (also representing the greater training available under rulers of larger armed forces).  In the south, more spears than warbands represents the terrain, as well as exposure to the Goths and other enemies.

For miniatures - Baueda makes some excellent figures for the Carolingians, and they are promising Merovingian figures any day now.

The Essex figures are quite gorgeous, but their "Early Franks" seem to be from a much earlier period (the era of the Roman Frankish Federates).  However, their Saxon, Frisian, Suevi and Bavarian line is just about perfect.  Here are some pictures of the figures from that line.

Essex SXA1

Essex SXA4
Essex SXA2
Old Glory 15s makes a very nice range of Carolingians - and the infantry, at least (and truly, most of the cavalry) is useable for at 15mm Merovingian army.

In 28mm, one of the companies that is supporting a lot of Dark Ages gaming in recent years, is of course Gripping Beast.  As usually, they have a great offering for this period, and they would make a great army for a wargamer.

Okay, so what is the compelling reason to wargame the Franks under Clovis (and his successors)?  Three reasons, immediately that I can think of.  First - if you are a fan of late antiquity/early medieval wargaming, and want to explore the earliest history of what would become Medieval France.  Second, because of the interesting foes that the Merovingians fought against.  And Third, the most practical reason - you can represent a Merovingian army pretty easily with a a reasonable collection of Dark Ages infantry and some cavalry.  Mounted Saxons work well.  You could use Normans in a pinch, although your opponent is likely to call foul on the shields...  Still, this gives you a new set of armies, history, and foes to explore with your dark ages infantry figures (hairy men, round shields, chainmail, and a variety of fierce weapons).


Phil said...

What a wonderful period to play! Beautiful figures...

Charles Turnitsa said...

Thanks Phil - I hope to do some battles of the Merovingians and do a play-by-play of the action.