This late 15th-century picture of the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 shows fallen warhorses. Despite their power, horses proved vulnerable to English archers, especially when using hunting broadhead arrows with wide cutting surfaces.

This late 15th-century depiction from Jean Froissart’s Chroniques of the battle of Crécy on 26 August 1346 shows many elements of medieval armies, including archers, crossbowmen, foot soldiers and mounted knights.


Flags took several forms. The pennon or pennoncelle was a small triangular flag nailed to the lance behind the head, and was painted with the owner’s arms. Bannerets had a banner, in the 13th century usually a slim rectangular flag with the longest side against the staff, where it was nailed or tied in place. Banners bore their owner’s arms and were carried by banner bearers whose duty was to stay close to their lord. The lord’s arms during the 13th century could also be carried by all of his followers. In 1218 a robber is recorded buying 100 marks’ worth of cloth for his band as though he were a baron or an earl, suggesting that followers could be equipped in coats of the same colour at least. Barons and knights had the right to have their knights and squires wear a badge or uniform.

In battle men looked to their lord’s banner, which was usually carried furled and only broken out when fighting was expected. Its symbolism was of high import: if it fell or was captured there was a risk of panic, and it would be protected by several tough men. Signals were given by trumpet or by hand, especially if the noise made shouting ineffective. Trumpets were also used to call the troops to arms before battle. War cries were used to frighten the enemy and bolster courage.

When fighting on foot the knight relied in part on his following – his squires, household and retained men – to watch his back. In the 14th century he might wear a jupon with his coat-of-arms displayed on front and rear, but equally some were plain and a warrior with his visor down was then difficult to recognize. As well as the banner, for his followers, a man of rank might, by the end of the century, also have a standard, a long flag perhaps carrying the red cross of St George next to the fly, then elements of his heraldic coat, such as main charges and colours, and perhaps his motto, the war-cry shouted to rally and encourage his men.

By the 15th century, surcoats were increasingly discarded and, with a lack of shields, it was essential that the banner-bearer remain close to his master, following his horse’s tail, as it was said. A lord might give the order not to move more than 10 feet (or a similar measurement) from the standards, but if the line slightly shifted it would not be too difficult in the confusion of battle to strike out accidentally at an ally.

In order to carry out heraldic identification and to deliver messages, important nobles employed their own heralds wearing tabards of their master’s arms, and trumpeters with the arms on hangings below the instruments.


The outcome of a war in the medieval age hung not merely upon skill at arms; in fact, this could actually be a secondary factor. John made an abortive attempt to invade Wales in 1211 that failed because of a lack of supplies; Llywelyn and the Welsh collected their belongings and cattle and withdrew into the mountains. In 1265 Simon de Montfort’s troops were unable to get their normal food and suffered from having to live off the land in Wales. Edward I fought no major battles in Wales – the ground was wrong for cavalry and the Welsh fought more as guerrillas. Knights were often hampered by the mountainous terrain but the English were nevertheless victorious in two engagements. Edward instead used attrition. He launched his first campaign against Wales both by land and sea, using labourers and woodcutters to make a road through the forests, building castles and cutting off the grain supply from Anglesey. In 1282 a bridge of boats was built to cross to Anglesey.

The king used similar tactics against the Scots. The first campaign in 1296 was completed in just over five months, with Scotland annexed to England. After his victory at Falkirk in 1298 he was able to provision his garrisons. He was in Scotland again in 1300, besieging Caerlaverock Castle and leading his armies across the country, but the Scots withdrew and refused battle. English armies would always be hampered by problems of supply in Scotland: the further they ventured, the longer the lifeline to England became. Moreover, many English-held castles were scattered and remote, making it difficult to march swiftly from one to another, or to relieve a fortress if besieged.

Scouts were used to locate enemy forces, after which the commanders tried to work out the best way to proceed. Armies made use of terrain where possible, and were careful to protect a flank if feasible. William Marshal, in a speech to his troops before the second battle of Lincoln in 1217, pointed out how the enemy’s division of his force meant that Marshal could lead all his men against one part alone. Other commanders were less prudent or simply hotheaded. The decision by the Earl of Surrey in 1297 to cross Stirling Bridge with the Scots in near proximity was foolhardy, since there was a wide ford 2 miles upstream that would have allowed a flank attack, and indeed Sir Richard Lundy had suggested this move. As it turned out, William Wallace and Andrew Murray attacked before even half the English force was across the bridge and the majority of those caught on the wrong bank were crushed.

When Edward was in direct control he proved a good tactician, as he showed at Evesham in 1265. He advanced to stop Simon de Montfort reaching Kenilworth, and divided his army into three battles to block his escape. Caught in a loop of the River Avon, Simon’s vain hope of killing Edward was dashed when the second battle swung into his flank while the third blocked any escape back south.

In his Scottish campaign of 1298, Edward brought 2,500 heavy cavalry and probably about 15,000 infantry. At Falkirk he faced the Scots arrayed in their schiltrons, tightly packed formations presenting a hedge of spears towards any attacker. They may have additionally fortified the position with wooden stakes. Again, disagreement was found among the division leaders: having skirted to the right of wet ground, the Bishop of Durham sensibly wanted to wait for the earls of the left-hand division to come level, and for the king who was bringing up the centre. But the impetuous young Ralph Bassett urged the cavalry on. Swinging out round the flanks, the two English divisions rode down the Scottish archers stationed between the schiltrons, and the Scottish cavalry broke and fled. However, the horsemen could not break the determined Scottish ranks of spears and it was the move by the king to bring up his archers and crossbowmen that helped prevent his knights dashing themselves to pieces. English cavalry deterred the Scots from breaking their ranks, and they were then forced to stand their ground until the archers withdrew, allowing the cavalry finally to break through. Even so, over 100 horses were killed. It should be noted that there appear to have been more cavalrymen in the battle than archers, and that crossbowmen were also used. Edward does not seem as yet to have developed his tactic of using massed longbows to decimate enemy ranks.

Knights at this time still often fought from horseback, changing to their destriers or coursers from the palfreys they used for riding. There is no evidence that cavalry routinely dismounted during the Welsh wars.

When delivered correctly the charge of the heavy horse was a formidable weapon that could smash a hole in enemy ranks. The charge began as a walk, increasing speed when within suitable range so that the horses would not be blown or the formation disorganized when the final push came. The mounted charge could still be highly effective, the knights riding almost knee to knee with lowered lances in the hope of steam-rollering over the opposition. The lance usually shattered during the first charge, the stump being dropped and, if need be, the sword was drawn, or perhaps a mace or horseman’s axe. Inventories from the 13th century show that horses killed in battle largely belong to knights and those with mounts of quality; in other words, the knights formed the front line.

Another problem with a mounted charge was discipline. As happened at Lewes, the charge by Prince Edward’s cavalry was successful but the elated horsemen kept going, pursuing their opponents so far as to put themselves out of the battle as well. The threat of the front line being completely penetrated was one reason commanders sometimes used a reserve, as did Simon de Montfort at Lewes. The knights who burst through might turn and strike the rear of the enemy line. The reserve was also quite often the position of the commander, with subordinates controlling the forward battles.

During the 14th century war was conducted in a number of ways. The chevauchée was one method. Like the well-tried feudal tactics that preceded it, the aim was to disrupt the economy of the area by swift movement, seizing food for the soldiers and destroying crops, villages and peasants (thereby insulting the lord of the place into the bargain) while evading danger to oneself by avoiding castles unless they were easy to capture.

Successful battles for the English required the use of cavalry to smash a hole in the enemy ranks, and the matchless skills of the English archers. However, as in the previous century, there were times when the cavalry shock manoeuvre could not be used effectively, for example in the bogs and mountains of Wales or against the Scottish schiltrons.

The young Edward III composed his forces so that the bulk of infantry were bowmen, and were mostly mounted to assist swift movement on the march. His men-at-arms were much more likely now to dismount on the battlefield to form the front divisions (called ‘battles’). Where possible, they stood in a naturally defended position with their archers, thus forcing the enemy to wear themselves out attacking them, a style of warfare first tested in battle against the Scots. Froissart describes how, in 1327, when Edward’s troops encountered the Scots, they were ordered to dismount and take off their spurs before forming themselves into three battles. In 1332 a force of the ‘disinherited Scots’ under the pretender Balliol (in fact pretty much an English force) invaded Scotland and after an abortive attack on the Scottish camp on the River Earn, formed a single block of dismounted men-at-arms at Dupplin Muir, with wings of archers and a small mounted reserve. The Scots, under the Regent, Donald, Earl of Mar, withered under the archery, and many of Balliol’s men-at-arms remounted to chase the routed enemy.

When Edward launched his main campaign against France, the English took their new double-pronged strategy with them. The first encounter in France was in 1342 when the English, driven back from the siege of Morlaix, formed up with a wood at their backs, a stream on one flank and dug a ditch to protect the front. Despite being pushed back to the woods, the English held their enemies off. At Crécy in 1346, dismounted men-at-arms and archers beat off repeated attacks by French cavalry, whose horses were a prime target for arrows. That same year this combination defeated a Scottish invasion at Neville’s Cross near the city of Durham, but there was heavy pressure on the English centre and right until a mounted English reserve was brought up and caught the Scots by surprise, the victory made complete by the arrival of reinforcements. At Poitiers in 1356 a mounted reserve swung the battle for the English, who were hard pressed in their defensive array by dismounted Frenchmen. The reserves turned the battle round and King John himself was captured.

In 1351 at Saintes the French retained mounted wings of horse to try to break up the archers on the flanks, and retained this formation for the rest of the century. At Nogent-sur-Seine in 1359 they succeeded in breaking into the English formation of archers in this way, whereas the men-at-arms kept tightly packed.

The significance of English archers in the French theatre is shown by the defeat at Ardres in 1351, where Sir John Beauchamp, caught by a dismounted French force as he returned from a raid, lined a ditch and held them off until they came to close quarters and another force broke up the archers.

In 1345 an English relieving force under the Earl of Derby charged into a French siege camp before Auberoche, the archers and men-at-arms doing much damage, while a sortie from the garrison finally broke the French forces. This form of surprise attack would occur again at La Roche Derien in 1347 during the Breton War of Succession, when an English relieving force fell on the French siege camp at night.

After Poitiers there were no further major battles between England and France until Agincourt in 1415. It was not battles that won a country as much as hard sieges: the French generally refused to fight in the open, instead shutting themselves up in castles and fortified towns, and forcing the English to besiege them, or else wander the countryside.

With the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360 garrisons emptied, and groups of soldiers formed free companies under captains such as Sir Robert Knollys (perhaps the earliest) and Sir John Hawkwood. These ‘rutters’, as the English called them, or routiers, actually consisted of men from many nationalities, though the French often referred to them all as ‘English’. Each company often consisted of only a few hundred men, archers, infantry and men-at-arms. A typical ploy was to seize one or two strong castles and use them as bases from which to terrorize an area. They hired their services out to rulers, and according to Froissart, the Black Prince used 12,000 of them in Castile. At the end of the 14th century they tended to disappear until their rebirth on a smaller scale after the renewal of war by Henry V.

English forces were also involved in Spain. At Najera in 1367 the army of the Black Prince formed three entirely dismounted lines, the main battle in the centre, to face a Castilian force including many French soldiers, also in three lines but with many cavalry. The men-at-arms again fought well, ably supported by archers who out-ranged the Spanish javelin-wielding mounted jinetes. They also out-shot crossbowmen and slingers, who drew back, allowing the English men-at-arms to overlap the enemy division. When the English rearguard swung in on the flank, the Spanish and French lines shattered.

By the 15th century, the knight often fought on foot. He had been trained to fight mounted, with a lance, but it was often more effective to dismount most of the men-at-arms and to keep only a small mounted reserve. This was partly due to the increasing threat from missiles. In France during the early 15th century, the English forces used tactics learned the previous century. If the armoured fighting men were kept near the blocks of archers and all waited for the enemy to advance, it meant the latter arrived in a more tired state, all the while harassed by the arrows from the archers and compressed by a natural tendency to shy away from them. This bunching could then work to the advantage of the English who used their archers to strike at the press of French soldiers, now aggravated by those behind pushing forward, as happened at Agincourt. The groups of mounted men-at-arms who tried to outflank the archers at the start of the battle were foiled by the woods which protected each end of the English line, and found to their cost the price of facing archers when mounted.

When archers were in a strong position, ideally defended by stakes, hedges or ditches, a cavalry charge was extremely dangerous. Even when the horses were protected by armour, there was always some exposed part that an arrow could strike, and arrows went deep. Shafts fitted with broad hunting heads made short work of flesh, and the horses became unmanageable even when not mortally wounded. The mounted knight then became useless as he fought for control or was thrown to the ground as the animal collapsed. It is worth noting that only a few hundred at each end of the French line attacked, and of these a few still reached the stakes despite the volleys of presumably thousands of arrows launched at them. Yet it was the dismounted men-at-arms who did most of the fighting in this battle, and it was they who, according to one chronicler, pushed the English line back a spear’s length before everything became jammed up:

But when the French nobility, who at first approached in full front, had nearly joined battle, either from fear of the arrows, which by their impetuosity pierced through the sides and bevors of their basinets, or that they might more speedily penetrate our ranks to the banners, they divided themselves into three troops, charging our line in three places where the banners were: and intermingling their spears closely, they assaulted our men with so ferocious an impetuosity, that they compelled them to retreat almost at spear’s length.

Since plate armour obviated the need for a shield, and fighting dismounted meant the rein hand was free, it became common for knights on foot to carry a two-handed staff weapon in addition to the sword hanging at their side. At first this was often a lance cut down to a length of around 6–7ft (1.8–2.1m). Increasingly, other staff weapons were carried, which could deal more effectively with plate armour. One of the most popular was the pollaxe, designed to dent or crush the plates, either to wound the wearer or so damage the plates that they ceased to function properly.

Mounted men were very useful in a rout, for they could catch up a fleeing enemy and cut him down with minimum risk to themselves, especially if he was lightly armoured. Indeed, catching archers out of position was the best way for cavalry to scatter them before they got a chance to deploy. In the Hundred Years’ War this was not too much of a problem for English knights, since the French did not use archers on a large scale. During the Wars of the Roses, archers fought on both sides in Yorkist and Lancastrian armies and, for the most part, the men-at-arms found it best to stick with the tried-and-trusted methods and fight on foot.


Knights who were injured or sick faced two obstacles on any road to recovery. First, dependent on their rank, they might or might not get the chance to see a surgeon. Second, if they did get medical attention, a great deal depended on the quality of the physician and the nature of the wound. The king and the great nobles would have surgeons in their pay and such men would travel with their master when they were on the move. Thomas Morestede is styled as the King’s Surgeon in his agreement with Henry V for the invasion of France in 1415, where he is also to provide three archers and 12 ‘hommes de son mestier’ (men of his service). In addition, William Bradwardyn is listed as a surgeon and both he and Morestede came with nine more surgeons each, making a total of 20 for the army. Some surgeons were retained by indenture in the same way as the soldiers. John Paston, who was hit below the right elbow by an arrow during the battle of Barnet in 1471, managed to escape with other fleeing Yorkists but lost his baggage. His brother sent a surgeon who stayed with him and used his ‘leechcraft’ and ‘physic’ until the wound was on the mend, though John complained it cost £5 in a fortnight and he was broke.

The medical care itself was a mixture of skill and luck, since astrology and the doctrine of humours played a large part in medical care. Surgeons of repute were taught at the school of Montpellier in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, but even these men would have had limited skills. Many could treat broken legs or dislocations successfully, even hernias, and carried out amputations, though a lack of knowledge of bacteria made it a risky business for the patient. Some used alcohol, opium or mandragora to dull the pain. Neither instruments nor hands were necessarily washed. Open wounds could be treated by stitching, and egg yolks were recognized as a soothing balm. However, blood flow was staunched by the use of a hot iron.

Arrows might go deep, though by the 15th century it was less common to be hit by one with a head bearing barbs, especially when wearing armour. Yet arrows were often stuck in the ground for swift reloading, and conveyed on their tips a lethal dose of dirt which, together with cloth fragments, would be carried into the wound. Abdominal wounds were usually fatal, and surgery in this area was fairly lethal, since any tear in the gut would allow material into the abdominal cavity (not to mention dirt from the weapon used), resulting in peritonitis and death. However, skeletons from the battle of Towton in 1461 show that men did survive quite horrendous wounds. Bones show evidence of slashing blows which bit through muscle into the bone itself, in some cases shearing off pieces. One individual in particular had been in battle before, having been struck across the jaw with such force that the blade cut across to the other side of the mouth. He also had wounds to the skull, but survived all of these, with some disfigurement, to face action once more at Towton, knowing what that might entail – in this instance his own death. Although knights might wear better armour, it was (theoretically) their job to lead from the front. Some unfortunate knights neither escaped nor perished, but were left for dead, robbed and left half-naked in the open unless by chance they were discovered and succoured.

Much of the Towton evidence comes from men who were infantry. Compression of the left arm bones strongly suggests that some were almost certainly longbowmen. They appear to have been killed during the rout or after capture, and some have several wounds, especially to the head, suggesting that once cut down, further blows were delivered to finish them off. Presumably they had no helmet, or had discarded or lost it while being pursued. The victims were then placed in grave pits. Knights and men of rank might escape such a fate. After Agincourt, the Duke of York’s body was boiled and the bones brought back to England for burial. Similarly those of lords would be found either by their retainers or else by heralds, whose job it was to wander the field and book the dead (meaning those with coats-of-arms), which gave the victor a good indication of how he had fared. The families would then transport the body back to be buried on home ground, in the case of the nobility next to their ancestors. Otherwise they were buried locally, usually in a churchyard.

During the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses, with men supporting rivals to the throne, treason was an easy and swift charge to bring. For example, after the battle of Wakefield in 1460, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, was captured and executed next day. Men of rank killed while in revolt might also undergo the degradation of public humiliation. This was not common during the first part of the 15th century, since much of the time knights fought in France, where they were usually treated as honourable opponents. Warwick the Kingmaker, however, having been slain at Barnet in 1471, was brought to London and displayed for all to see, before his body was allowed to rest at Bisham Abbey with other family members. Richard III was exposed for two days in the Church of St Mary in the Newarke in Leicester, naked except for a piece of cloth, and then buried in a plain tomb in the house of the Grey Friars nearby. Salisbury’s head, with those of the Duke of York and his young son, the Earl of Rutland, both killed at Wakefield, was stuck on a spike on the walls of York, the Duke’s complete with a paper crown.

Being treated to the indignity of having one’s head spiked on London Bridge or on other town gates served as a warning to all those passing beneath. However, a number of attainders (loss of civil rights following a sentence for treason) were reversed, such as that of Sir Richard Tunstall who, despite being placed in the Tower, managed to persuade Edward IV that he was more use alive and gained his favour. Children of those who died accused of treason did not usually suffer because of it, though their father’s lands might pass to the crown until they inherited them.

In contrast to this brutality, there is evidence that humanity and regret did exist. Chantry chapels were set up on various battlefields to pray for the souls of those who died, for example at Barnet, some half a mile (800m) from the town, where the corpses were buried. Richard III endowed Queen’s College, Cambridge, for prayers to be said for those of his retinue who perished at Barnet and Tewkesbury. Nobles might make provision for men of their retinues to be cared for if wounded; Henry of Northumberland told his executors to carry out such wishes if he should be killed at Bosworth.

Arrows Versus Armour: The Minefield of Opinions

Archers carried specialist arrows, bodkins with needle-pointed heads to punch through mail links, or armour-piercing heads perhaps tipped with steel to penetrate steel plates. Tests have shown that the spin of the arrow in flight enables the head, striking at right angles, to drill a hole into armour plate. The range at which an arrow was shot, as well as whether iron- or steel-tipped heads were used, would determine its potency. Most surviving oxidized red bodkins seem to be of iron, which tests suggest curl up when they strike plate. If they struck mail they would burst the rings apart as they went through, a serious threat to anyone in plate armour, exposing a mail gusset, for example, at the armpit. Crossbows were equally powerful although they did not employ bodkins. Handguns were also appearing in armies in the 15th century, though not in any great number at this period.

Field of Glory 2: Medieval

The review – my kingdom, for a longsword

Hack and Slash Day has come: FOG2 Medieval is finally here in full, and spoilers: they’ve absolutely nailed it

Happy Hack and Slash Day! Never heard of this holiday? Well, it’s February 4, 2021 and celebrates the release of Matrix-Slitherine Games’ latest edition to the Field of Glory II franchise – Field of Glory II Medieval (or FOG2M).

For those unaware, this product line is a direct port to the computer of the highly successful ancients (plus) miniature wargame rules of the same name, by Richard Bodley Scott. Indeed, Scott is also the developer behind Byzantine Games, so if you think the electrons are going to be pretty faithful to the pewter tabletop battles, then you would be right. Let’s take a look.

Unlike its tabletop counterpart Oath of Fealty, FOG2M is not an add-on DLC pack. It’s a new standalone game covering medieval warfare in northern Europe in 1040-1270 AD. However, like its tabletop cousin, it works identically to the base game, and the PC experience pretty much mimics what happens on a miniatures table. The difference is that the computer AI reduces to beginner-accessibility what is really one of the most sophisticated miniature wargames ever. While pewter-pushers deal with pages of diagrams depicting exactly how all the stands of your miniature army move and manoeuvre, in FOG2M, the computer works all that out transparently. Instead of calculating multitudes of Points of Advantage to determine combat DRMs, the software performs the job.

And, while we have covered the details in previous articles, generally, all a player need do is click on a square containing a single unit – or a single command consisting of several squares. When that happens, the computer will highlight all the squares within movement range.

Pick a destination, the unit will move to it, then the computer pops up tactical options to consider at the end. These include shooting bows, melee combat, wheel movements, and so on.

There is no PhD in mathematics required, so players just need to think: “heavy Teutonic Order Brother Knights versus undrilled Muscovite rabble with pole arms… yup, I’ll charge.”

Happy Hack and Slash Day! Never heard of this holiday? Well, it’s February 4, 2021 and celebrates the release of Matrix-Slitherine Games’ latest edition to the Field of Glory II franchise – Field of Glory II Medieval (or FOG2M).

For those unaware, this product line is a direct port to the computer of the highly successful ancients (plus) miniature wargame rules of the same name, by Richard Bodley Scott. Indeed, Scott is also the developer behind Byzantine Games, so if you think the electrons are going to be pretty faithful to the pewter tabletop battles, then you would be right. Let’s take a look.

Unlike its tabletop counterpart Oath of Fealty, FOG2M is not an add-on DLC pack. It’s a new standalone game covering medieval warfare in northern Europe in 1040-1270 AD. However, like its tabletop cousin, it works identically to the base game, and the PC experience pretty much mimics what happens on a miniatures table. The difference is that the computer AI reduces to beginner-accessibility what is really one of the most sophisticated miniature wargames ever. While pewter-pushers deal with pages of diagrams depicting exactly how all the stands of your miniature army move and manoeuvre, in FOG2M, the computer works all that out transparently. Instead of calculating multitudes of Points of Advantage to determine combat DRMs, the software performs the job.

And, while we have covered the details in previous articles, generally, all a player need do is click on a square containing a single unit – or a single command consisting of several squares. When that happens, the computer will highlight all the squares within movement range.

Pick a destination, the unit will move to it, then the computer pops up tactical options to consider at the end. These include shooting bows, melee combat, wheel movements, and so on.

There is no PhD in mathematics required, so players just need to think: “heavy Teutonic Order Brother Knights versus undrilled Muscovite rabble with pole arms… yup, I’ll charge.”

Under the Helm

So why a new game as opposed to a DLC? Well, Scott is meticulous research personified, and new information surfaced. He discovered that using the same ancients combat charts, manoeuvre tables and unit point system didn’t capture the historical reality of medieval combat, especially armored knights. No, these lads were not, after all, Byzantine Katafraktoi clad in some updated threads, but something altogether different. So, knights now cost more, while other troop types have seen their point values decrease

Further, there is a modified game engine under the hood reflecting this, and, after a good 40 hours-plus of gameplay, I can safely say they nailed it. There are other changes and modifications as well. The UI has a more period-specific look, with army rout percentages now represented in two green sliding bars, with red info icons. There is also a convenient button on-screen for top-down view, and a new pull-out menu on the right of the screen with icons for line of sight, next unmoved unit, command radius and so on.

The integrated campaign system (featuring sections entitled Alexandr Nevskii, Angevin Empire, Mongol Invasion and Northern Crusades), is really more of a tactical battle generator, and now has more options, with 36 different decision pairs, representing 61 distinct choices for your games.

Finally, there are now four new scenarios for custom battles in AI or play-by-email (PBEM) multiplayer. These include – with castles no less – Defending, Enemy Defending, Relieving Besieged Fortress and Enemy Relieving Besieged Fortress.

This really resonates as, back in the Dark Ages (see what I did there), at university, I remember a history professor teaching the two most common types of medieval combat were raids and sieges. Yes, meticulous research.

Then, finally, there are the visuals, which have undergone a complete overhaul. Instead of the mosaic-themed intro screen of the past, we now have a stylized version of the Bayeux Tapestry, with two armies bashing kneecaps and cleaving heads. It’s drop-dead gorgeous, to the point I have it as my PC desktop and cellphone wallpaper. Likewise, the game’s entire terrain tile suite (yes, dwarf trees and hobbit hovels are still with us) has moved from the Middle-east and Mediterranean/southern Europe to a more northern European look.

This also includes a completely new terrain type called “Frozen” (Elsa was a Boyer, who knew?) so players can tackle Lake Piepus, or any of the other stand-out battles fought in the snow.

Typically, combat units are St Petersburg Miniatures levels of stunning, displayed in exactly the same numbers and positioning as their equivalent tabletop bases. And the history is there, with clothing variations, historical standards (which can be replaced if too similar to the enemy’s) and spiffy animations.

Mounted knights charge with lance, for example, but in round two, they sling them and draw swords. And they all parade in various hues of red, yellow, blue and green within the same unit – none of this “let’s put the entire French army in different shades of blue” Hollywood history that you find in Total War. Given that you have 29 nations across 57 army lists with 100 3D troop types, 12 historical battles and more, that’s a lot of toy soldiers you’ll never have to paint.

While gameplay in FOG2M is pretty much the same as the rest of the series, playing the game is most decidedly not. Unless you are leading Mongols, this game has nothing to do with manoeuvre, and everything to do with straight-ahead brute force.

Crossbows, due to the weapon’s ability to penetrate just about any armor, are also highly effective, but otherwise, hacking limbs off your enemy face-to-face is the order of the day. I found this out in hours’ worth of play as part of the game’s Beta test pool, and, when the final reviewer’s code came out, I decided to revisit this perspective by playing a couple of games on the only historical engagement I had not done. This was the 1217 battle of Otepaa.

The third game’s the charm, but the Brother Knights have yet to win, all because of what I’ve seen before. Obviously, they are outnumbered, and although the knights are rated Superior and Highly Superior in quality, they are pitifully slow and encumbered by an “Unmanoeuvrable” classification. This makes turning painful, with no free wheel at the end of the turn, as is normal. Most medieval heavy foot is in the same boat, labeled “Undrilled.”

Thus, medieval knights charging across two turns can be devastating, but only if you can somehow pin your foe into not moving, and manage to charge straight ahead yourself. Against similar armies of equal size, that’s a pretty even contest, but against armies from the east, things get dicey.

These armies have a lot of bow-armed light cavalry that simply evade if you advance on them, and a lot of light infantry with ranged weapons that do likewise. Neither carry the dreaded “Unmanoeuvrable” penalty, either. So the situation becomes… well, pretty historical. Can the knights close and trample everyone before they get shot to pieces? Can they save Castle Otepaa?

So far, nope. And then you have Mongols, who enjoy all the advantages noted above, but also have some solid, heavy, knightly-class cavalry of their own, triple-armed and unencumbered in the manoeuvrability department. If you would like a very painful blow-by-blow description of my efforts against these cheating, lowlife, ass-kicking churls, check out my previous “first look” article.

It threw the Mongols against the forces of the Holy Roman Empire and der Kaiser was anything but pleased. Fortunately, that was only the preliminary bout, because for my next match we’ll assume the Asian hordes make it across the Rhine and meet flower of French chivalry. Christian honor demands it! Sorta. But, on a serious note, if you want to know why the Mongols caused heart attacks back then, get this game.

Deus Vult!

FOG2M seems like the start of something grand. I see in its future a sparkly, Little Big Men Studios-centric super-mod, not to mention DLC galore.

These should include the tabletop Supplements Eternal Empire (the Ottomans at War), Swords and Scimitars(the Crusades), Storm of Arrows (late medieval) and Blood and Gold (Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs).

And, while I don’t yet know the dollar cost (florins, livres and ducats also accepted) FOG2M will finally run. If you have any interest in this period, find the cash. FOG2M may not have the uber-animation of Total War Medieval, but it is easy to learn, easy to play, plays realistically and conveys historical results. It looks spectacular and very historical, even if you are trashed by the Mongols. A lot.

But perhaps the biggest recommendation is this: my first love is miniatures, but right now I have at least half a dozen ancient and medieval armies on the shelf, still in the plastic bags they filled on the day I bought them. Because of this game and product line, not one of them will ever see a paintbrush. Any questions?

Don’t be afraid to join the fray! Be part of the conversation by heading over to our Facebook page, Discord, or forum. To stay informed on all the latest wargaming and tabletop games guides, news, and reviews, follow Wargamer on Twitter and Steam News Hub.



15 August 778

The events that took place in a high gorge in the western Pyrenees one August day in 778 were turned three centuries later into one of the most famous European epic poems, the Chanson de Roland, the ‘Song of Roland’. The author of the poem is not known, and indeed the historical circumstances to which the poem alludes are sketchy in the extreme. The poem has Roland as a brave Christian hero, betrayed by his jealous step-father Ganelon during a campaign in Spain by the Frankish king Charlemagne. As the Frankish army returns through the mountains to France, Roland and the rearguard are ambushed by thousands of pagans (Muslims) and the nobles are slaughtered. Roland dies, sword in hand, and his soul is taken to heaven by angels. Ganelon is later caught by Charlemagne, tortured, and finally, still alive, torn to pieces by four horses.

There is enough truth in the epic to indicate that over 300 years an oral tradition passed down an embellished Christian version of the death of Roland, prefect of the Breton March, during the withdrawal of Charlemagne’s army from an unsuccessful campaign against the Muslim state of al-Andalus that dominated most of Spain. The poem itself is a fantasy, for little is known of the circumstances of the defeat of Charlemagne’s rearguard at or near the town of Roncesvalles in the present-day Basque country, though it was certainly not a showdown between Islam and Christianity, as the Chanson suggests. The first medieval accounts of Charlemagne’s reign passed over the defeat. Only the ninth-century biography of Charlemagne, the Vita Karoli, written by the monk Einhard, has a few hundred words about the ambush. There remains considerable uncertainty about the site of the battle, who organized the ambush, and even if the ‘Hruodlandus’ mentioned in the text really is ‘Roland’. For the details of the ambush itself, this is the only real record. The one thing that seems reasonably certain is that the Franks caught by the men concealed on the forested mountainsides were massacred.

The background to the Roncesvalles ambush gives at least some clues as to what might have happened. In 777, the rulers of small Muslim states in eastern Spain, led by Suleiman al-Arabi, governor of Barcelona and Girona, sent an embassy to Charlemagne in Paderborn asking him to help them in their struggle against the Muslim ruler of al-Andalus, Abd al-Rahman. There were hints that Charlemagne might gain territory or vassals if he helped them. Since the Frankish kings had spent decades slowly pushing back the Muslim control of southwestern France, Charlemagne was probably attracted to the idea of establishing a Spanish March in the areas of the Pyrenees. He mustered a major army from across his dominions and marched in two columns, one west, and one east of the mountain chain. They met up and moved on Zaragoza, whose ruler, Al-Husein, went back on his promise to co-operate with the Franks. Charlemagne spent a fruitless few weeks trying to besiege the city but abandoned the attempt when he was warned that the troublesome Saxons were again threatening the eastern part of his kingdom. He took Suleiman al-Arabi as a hostage and set off with his army through the passes that linked the Basque territories of northeastern Spain with Gascony, in southwest France.

According to the surviving annals, Charlemagne had a difficult retreat. Some sources suggest that a Muslim attack was made to free Suleiman and other hostages. When Charlemagne reached Pamplona, he found the Basque and Muslim inhabitants no longer willing to submit to him, so he captured and sacked the city. By the time his army began to wind its way through the pass across the Pyrenees, the local Basques and probably some Arab allies had plenty of reason to want revenge on the Franks. The rearguard was their target as it contained the baggage train and treasure taken from Charlemagne’s temporary Spanish allies. Einhard’s account describes a country where ambushes were everyday affairs, easy to mount ‘by reason of the thick forests’. As the rearguard entered the pass (the exact one is not certain), they were suddenly assailed by a more mobile and lightly armoured enemy. They were hurled down ‘to the very bottom of the valley’, where they were slaughtered as they struggled in heavy armour and unhelpful terrain against an enemy evidently familiar with the advantages of deception. Before any help could come from the rest of the army, the ambushers melted away in the dusk, bearing all the booty with them. Einhard confirms that pursuit was useless: ‘not the least clue could be had to their whereabouts’.

The story consists of little more than a classic opportunistic ambush that reversed the odds against what was certainly a large and powerful army. Charlemagne did not return to Spain for another twenty years, but the Carolingian Empire did eventually construct a Hispanic March to end any further encroachment from Muslim Spain. The death of Roland, if indeed it was he, is supposed to have weighed heavily upon Charlemagne. A chronicle in 829, the first time the defeat at Roncesvalles was admitted, claimed that ‘this wound that the King received in Spain almost totally erased from his heart the memory of his success there’. The ambush has since become the famous climax in the Chanson de Roland, the founding work of French literature, enjoying an unexpected afterlife long after any of its details could be recalled. In the poem, Charlemagne takes his revenge on the pagans, but in reality the ambush remained unavenged, a brief moment of triumph for the unruly Basques against the main power of Christian Europe.



Bernard Doumerc

In Venice, ‘the sea was all that mattered’. Truly, this was the founding principle that marked the history of this celebrated city.1 For a very long time historians made the Serenissima a model of success, wealth, and opulence, sometimes asserting that the Venetians ‘had a monopoly of the transit trade in spices from the Orient’ and ‘that they were the masters of the Mediterranean’.2 Such accounts, flattering to the pride of the inhabitants of the lagoons, emphasised the prestige of Venetian navies and the patriotism of its noble lovers of liberty, united to defend the city against the adversities of nature and of men. All this is entirely misleading.

The Venetians were not the only ones who used the maritime routes of the Mediterranean Sea, an area that they were forced to share with great rivals.3 Beginning in the eleventh century, the Venetian government, determined to take a place in international affairs, intervened vigorously against the Normans who had recently installed themselves in southern Italy and Sicily. At that time all of the Christian West, not only the Venetians, was excited by the success of the crusaders, and tried to find advantage in these unsettled commercial conditions. So it was that the drive to establish a trading presence on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, from Ceuta in Morocco to Lajazzo in Cilicia, began with violence. The Middle Ages were a time of war in which periods of peace were extremely brief. Governments knew how to manage unpredictable economies that were continually buffeted by the repeated conflicts of the age. The Venetians were not the masters in the western basin of the Mediterranean. There the Genoese and the Catalans reigned. In the East they were forced to share the wealth of the Byzantine Empire, the Armenian kingdom and caliphates with their competitors, the Pisans, the Amalfitans, and the Genoese. Though faced with fierce opposition from the other Italian cities, little by little, the tenacity and the communal spirit of the Venetians succeeded in lifting the Serenissima to dominance. They knew how to build the foundations of their maritime power.

From the eleventh century onward, the successive governments of the city wanted above all to take control of navigation in the narrow Adriatic Sea, from the Po Valley with its populous and prosperous cities, and reaching out toward distant lands. It is the Adriatic problem that gave the first impetus to Venetian imperialism. Later, the peace that Venice concluded in 1177 with the emperor Frederick I established the Republic’s ‘Lordship of the Gulf’, which it alone would dominate until the middle of the sixteenth century.4 For some Italian maritime cities the first Crusades in the Near East provided an opportunity for conquest, but the Venetians would wait until the Fourth Crusade when, in 1204, they finally dismembered the Byzantine Empire for their own gain. Their naval power rested upon constantly growing trade, closely following a considerable growth in the demand for maritime transport between the two shores of the Mediterranean. These conditions allowed the creation of an overseas colonial empire, the stato da mar. Radiating outward from major islands such as Euboea and Crete, and from bases at strategic points along the coast, such as Coron and Modon in the Peloponnese or, in the Aegean Sea, from the many islets of the Duchy of Naxos, the enterprise of Venetian colonists and tradesmen grew unceasingly. Great successes, as much in battle as in the marketplace, are the mark of a powerful state. Without a doubt these successes rested on three critical and all-important determining elements. First was the creation of that unique institution, the Arsenal, by the communal authorities. Second was the implementation of vigorous oversight of the Republic’s naval potential as is clearly demonstrated in the establishment of convoys of merchant galleys. Finally, there was the continuing concern for associating the defence of economic interests with preoccupations of territorial expansion aimed at the founding of a colonial empire. These, it seems, were the reasons why Venice became a great maritime power.

There was a technological solution to the new equation that determined the relation between time and distance. This ‘world economy’, as defined by Fernand Braudel, saw new kinds of sailing craft brought into use. In Venice, even as the traditional role of sailors was called into question, the galley remained the preferred vessel. Venetians saw no reason to force cargo ships to evolve in a different way from warships when the galley could fill both these functions that were intimately bound together in medieval deep-sea navigation.5 If the numerous crew of a galley was expensive, it was much less so than the loss of the vessel and its cargo. The galley was the favourite weapon of the Venetians and all means were employed to optimise its capabilities within the parameters dictated by necessity. From a very early time Venice had several shipyards, the well-known squeri, within the city itself. Perhaps from the beginning of the twelfth century – some have suggested that it was as early as 1104 – the ruling elite decided to provide the city with a shipbuilding establishment controlled by the government.6 Archival documentation from 1206 confirms the existence of such a state-controlled naval shipyard and also attests that the construction of ships for the Commune was to be confined to this facility. In 1223, the first evidence appears for the existence of the patroni arsenatus, directors of the Arsenal, elected from among the nobles of the Great Council and salaried by the Commune. Their task was clearly defined: to provide necessary raw materials to the craftsmen, especially wood for ships’ frames, hemp for sails, and cordage, and to see to the timely delivery of sound and robust ships. The details of Doge Enrico Dandolo’s direct intervention in the preparation for the attack on the capital of the Byzantine Empire during the Fourth Crusade of 1204 are well known. This intrusion of the public authority into the management of naval construction would continue until the end of the Republic. In 1258, the capitulares illorum de arsena defined the role of the directors. From 1277, after some hesitation, the state attempted to retain its skilled labour force by forbidding craftsmen from emigrating. Within two years, between 1269 and 1271, the government decided to codify the regulations that governed the craft guilds in the Arsenal. The statutes of the caulkers’, shipwrights’, and rope-makers’ guilds also date from this period. By 1265, the districts that produced wood and hemp for the Arsenal were managed by public administrators. Then, in 1276, the government required that at least one squadron should always be prepared to put to sea at a moment’s notice, which required the continual presence of craftsmen at the Arsenal. Finally, in 1278, an arms manufactory completed the complement of activities sheltered within the protecting walls of the shipyard.7

1 F. C. Lane, Venise, une république maritime (Paris, 1985), 96, and in ‘Venetian Shipping during the Commercial Revolution’, in The Collected Papers of F. C. Lane (Baltimore, 1966), 3–24.

2 F. Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II , 2 vols(Paris, 1982), I, 493.

3 J. H. Pryor, ‘The Naval Battles of Roger of Lauria’, Journal of Medieval History, 9 (1983), 179–216, and also in his Geography, Technology, and War. Studies in the Maritime History of the Mediterranean (649–1571) (Cambridge, 1988).

4 G. Cracco, Un altro mondo, Venezia nel medioevo dal secolo XI al secolo XIV (Turin, 1986), 52.

5 F. Melis, I trasporti e le comunicazioni nel medioevo, ed. L. Frangioni (Florence, 1984), 111.

6 E. Concina, La casa dell’Arsenale, in Storia di Venezia, Temi, Il Mare (Rome, 1991), 147–210.

7 G. Luzzato, Studi di storia economica veneziana (Padua, 1954), 6.


Venetian Galley

Bernard Doumerc

In 1302, the Venetian government implemented a revision of ‘the corrections and additions’ to the Arsenal regulations.8 This action was necessary to encourage the full development of the technological revolution that would maximise the Republic’s naval potential. A short time later, between 1304 and 1307, the Arsenale Novo was created.9 By 1325 every sector of maritime activity had been reformed. The speed with which the authorities decided, the promotion of utilitas favourable to the public good, and a real will to innovate gave expression to a powerful movement toward a goal of dominating the sea. In 1301, the Senate declared that it was necessary to arm a permanent squadron for the protection of ‘the Gulf’ (the Adriatic Sea). The cramped port facilities in the lagoon led to a natural expansion with new basins in the Arsenale Novo.10 This expansion of facilities was completed by the creation of naval bases at Pola and Pore? in Istria. Until the final phase of renovation at the end of the fifteenth century, this naval establishment was the pride of Venice’s oligarchy. In 1435, the Senate declared, ‘our Arsenal is the best in the world’ and encouraged visits by the famous and powerful as they journeyed toward Jerusalem. This evocation of the labour, ingenuity, and efficiency of the seamen of Venice resounded all across Europe and flattered the pride of the subjects of the Serenissima. The myth of Venice, forged by the political powers around the Arsenal, helped to elicit respect, fear, and effective administration.11

It is necessary to pause for a moment to consider this assertion of a clever political will that quickly adapted to circumstances. In looking at the overall situation in the Mediterranean basin it is clear that by the late thirteenth century the Venetian position had weakened. In 1261, a Byzantine–Genoese coalition took control of Constantinople and a part of Romania that, up until that time, had been controlled by the Franks and Venetians. Meanwhile, the Republic relentlessly defended Crete, the coastal bases of the Peloponnese, and the important islands of the Aegean Sea.12 In 1291 the fall of Acre marked the final defeat of the Crusaders in the Latin States of the Levant. It appears that the Venetians had already begun a withdrawal toward the west when, in 1274, Doge Lorenzo Tiepolo prohibited investment in agricultural estates on Terra Ferma ‘to oblige the Venetians to take an interest in naval affairs’. A little later, in 1298, their perpetual rivals, the Genoese, entered the Adriatic to support the Hungarians with an attack on Venetian possessions in Dalmatia.13 Naval war within the confined spaces of the Adriatic forced the government to undertake a major reform effort to confront this threat from the enemies of the Republic. This was more than a territorial conflict. It was also an economic war that engulfed the entire Mediterranean basin. The desire to capture commerce and to dominate distribution networks for goods placed great importance on the ability to keep fleets at sea. The last phase in the creation of Venice’s magnificent Arsenal took place between about 1473 and 1475. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, fear seized the Venetians who dreaded a naval assault on their colonial possessions. The defence of the stato da mar was undertaken by reinforcing the defences of the system of naval bases. First, Negroponte and Nauplia, and then, the Arsenal of Candia, an important strong point on Crete, were completely renovated between 1467 and 1470. At home, in Venice, momentous changes in circumstances created a need to augment the Republic’s naval forces. Henceforth, fierce naval war against admirals in the pay of the Ottomans brought unaccustomed reverses. In this context, the senate asked Giacomo Morosini (called el zio, ‘Uncle’) to prepare plans for an extension of the Arsenal in 1473. With an additional eight hectares added to its area, it became the greatest shipyard in Europe and ‘the essential foundation of the state’.14

By demonstrating its undeniable concern for optimising the financial and technical resources devoted to naval construction, the government showed the way for the whole people. The authorities obtained indispensable support from all those social groups whose destiny was tied to the vigour of the city’s maritime activity. At the same time, the desires of those groups corresponded to the announced public policy of giving priority to the naval forces. It is not true that a permanent and effective naval force did not appear until the sixteenth century.15 A navy existed in Venice from the fourteenth century. As described above, the patrol squadron charged with policing the Adriatic was at the heart of that force, but there were other available units. First among them were the galleys armed by the port cities that had gradually come to be included in the stato da mar. In the event of conflict these Dalmatian, Albanian, Greek, and Cretan cities were required, by the terms of their submission to Venice, to provide one or more galleys for the naval draft due to the metropolis. There are many instances of these drafts. One example is sufficient to indicate their nature.16 During the conflict against the Turks during the 1470s, the Arsenal could not quickly provide the thirty galleys demanded by the Senate. All the subject cities of the Empire were required to contribute to the fleet. Crete provided eleven galleys, four came from the occupied ports of Puglia, two from Corfu, eleven from Dalmatia (three from Zara, two from Sebenico, one each from Cattaro, Lesina, Split, Pago, Arba, and Trau). Cadres of loyal ‘patriots’ known to Venetian administrators leavened the crews gathered from these various ports. Neither the ardour of these fighters from ‘overseas’ nor their fidelity to St Mark was taken for granted. The Senate did reward loyal commanders such as Alessandro de Gotti of Corfu, Francesco Chachuni of Brindisi, and Jacopo Barsi of Lesina.

The second Venetian trump card was the initiation of an unprecedented system for the administration of sea-borne trade. This system provided a formidable tool, designed to respond to the needs of la ventura, of commerce, laying a foundation for a dominating and expansionist people. These innovative procedures put in place by the ruling oligarchy were developed to take advantage of an exceptional organisation that would raise Venice into the first rank of Mediterranean naval powers. During the first twenty years of the Trecento, there was a period of maturation punctuated by different attempts to develop a system of navigation that eventually evolved into the galley convoys known as mude. Having achieved this objective with the consensus of all the participants in the financial and business world, it was then necessary to create an efficient system of management. Even if maritime trade was prosperous, it remained fragile and subject to unforeseeable risks. It was always possible that a major conflict with the Genoese or the Catalans, or even a brief outbreak of extreme violence due to piracy, might place the whole economic structure of the Republic at risk.17 Meanwhile, in the city of Venice as well as in the small island market towns of the lagoon, in the warehouses and in the tradesmen’s shops or the craftsmen’s booths, men pursued gain, but they did so without an overall plan and without looking for any really consistent method in their approach. Around the middle of the fourteenth century Venetian patricians came to realise the necessity of undertaking ambitious measures to surmount the major obstacles to a rational exploitation of the merchant fleets by making major changes in their organisation. Perhaps the terrifying War of Chioggia (1379–81) accelerated the rapid development of this concept. The patriciate instituted regulations providing for general communal equipping of merchant fleets to offset the disadvantages of the privately outfitted trading expeditions that had been paralysed during this long conflict. It is clear that the implementation of this new system affected all of the Republic’s economic and social structures. Progress toward fully implementing this model for the unique and exemplary management of Venetian maritime potential took place only slowly, but it was to dominate the Republic’s actions at sea up to the middle of the sixteenth century.18

The founding act of this state-controlled regulation was the Ordo galearum armatarum, decreed on 8 December 1321. It concerned both the galleys and sailing cargo ships. The experimental phase lasted until the end of the Venetian– Genoese war of 1379. The cooperation of several outfitters was needed for a merchant convoy so the galleys received collective financing. This innovative policy originated after the fall of Acre in 1291. The entrepreneurial merchants, far from pulling back from risky undertakings, soon became involved in the conquest of the Atlantic routes to Flanders and England. This rapid expansion encouraged new initiatives, sometimes hesitant and disorganised during the first half of the Trecento, then coordinated by the public authorities under the careful supervision of the city’s aristocratic patriciate. Opening navigation routes toward the west, along with intensification of maritime relations with the Levant, placed the keys to international trade in Venetian hands after 1350. They also profited from a remarkably favourable position in relation to the Alpine passes leading to northern Europe. By this time the system of auctioning the charters of galleys belonging to the Commune had been definitively established. To avoid a destructive confrontation between the authorities and the merchants (even though at Venice it is sometimes difficult to discern a difference between the two groups) the state asked that the Black Sea convoy be managed according to this new principle. After some years it was adopted for all navigation routes, to the general satisfaction of both groups. Besides the galley convoys, there was also a whole sector of maritime endeavour involving sailing round ships with high freeboard (naves). Sometimes their operation is described as free outfitting, because it was subject to fewer regulatory constraints. These naves transported necessary bulk products such as grain, all kinds of raw materials of high volume, construction materials, salt, ashes, and so forth. The primary purpose of the more strongly defended galleys was to transport costly cargoes of spices, silks and precious cloths, metals, and weapons. In the middle of the fourteenth century, when the Church lifted its prohibition of trade with the Muslims, the Venetians had a fleet ready to open trade once again with the Syrian and Egyptian ports of the Levant. In 1366, a sailing route involving both galleys and naves established connections from the lagoons to Alexandria and Beirut, beginning a promising trade. In the 1440s, nearly ninety naves and fifty-five galleys sailed for the Near East, and about thirty for Constantinople. The volume of the goods continued to increase, as did the pattern of massive investment and fiscal returns for the treasury. The reform of maritime statutes that had become obsolete, the creation of new work contracts that imposed a minimum wage, improvements in living conditions on board ships and a mariners’ residence in the city attracted a skilled labour force, mostly from Dalmatia, Albania, and Greece. These immigrants, originating from its overseas colonies, allowed the Republic to raise the banner of St Mark throughout the Mediterranean.19 The Senate, the real architect of this system, far from putting the system of private management in opposition to the one controlled by the Commune, took the best of each of the two systems and combined them. For that reason, some historians speak disparagingly about bureaucracy or state control to describe the Venetian system of trade.

8 F. Melis, I mercanti italiani nell’Europa medievale e rinascimentale , ed. L. Frangioni

(Florence, 1990), 9.

9 E. Concina, L’Arsenale della Repubblica di Venezia (Venice, 1984), 26 ff.

10 Ibid., 28, and E. Concina, ‘Dal tempio del mercante al piazzale dell’Impero: l’Arsenale di Venezia’, in Progetto Venezia (Venice, n.d.), 57–106. Originally the ‘gulf ’ or ‘Gulf of Venice’ referred to that part of the Adriatic north of a line between Pola and Ravenna. As Venetian control of the Adriatic expanded, so did their definition of ‘the Gulf’. See F. C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic (Baltimore, 1973), 24.

11 E. Crouzet-Pavan, Venise triomphante, les horizons d’un mythe (Paris, 1999), 122.

12 B. Doumerc, La difesa dell’impero, in Storia di Venezia, dalle origini alla caduta della Serenissima, vol. II, La formazione dello stato patrizio , ed. G. Arnaldi, G. Cracco and A. Tenenti (Rome, 1997), 237–50.

13 B. Krekic, Venezia e l’Adriatico, in Storia di Venezia, III, 51–81 and P. Cabanes, Histoire de l’Adriatique (Paris, 2000), 191.

14 Archivio di Stato, Venice, senato, mar, reg. 15, fol. 14 for example, and S. Karpov, La navigazione veneziana nel mar Nero (XIII–XV sec.) (Ravenna, 2000), 12.

15 J. Meyer, ‘Des liens de causalité en histoire: politiques maritimes et société’, Revue historique, 614 (2000), 12.

16 A. Ducellier and B. Doumerc, ‘Les Chemins de l’exil, bouleversements de l’Est européen et migrations vers l’Ouest à la fin du Moyen Âge’ (Paris, 1992), 163; Archivio di Stato, Venice, senato, mar, reg. 15, fol. 161.

17 B. Doumerc, Il dominio del mare, in Storia di Venezia, IV, 11; A. Tenenti and U. Tucci, eds, Rinascimento (Rome, 1996), 113–80.

18 D. Stöckly, Le Système des galées du marché à Venise (fin XIIIe–milieu XVe) (Leiden and New York, 1995), 158; F. C. Lane, Navires et constructeurs à Venise pendant la Renaissance (Paris, 1965).

19 E. Ashtor, Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton, 1981), 381; J. C. Hocquet, Voiliers et commerce en Méditerranée, 1200–1650 (Lille, 1976), 442; B. Doumerc, Venise et l’émirat hafside de Tunis (Paris, 1999), 172.


The End of Roman Britain II


Yet Saxon raids continued. The Yorkshire signal stations came under attack at least twice, Huntcliff and Goldborough being savagely destroyed. Hadrian’s Wall ceased to function as an effective barrier. Forts remained in use but each may have organized its own defence. The soldiers had always been paid in coinage sent from Rome that then filtered through the population as goods were bought outside the forts. Coins from Roman mints began to cease after about AD 402. This cessation of money being sent from Rome or from the mints may have been because transporting coinage may have become too difficult and risky when crossing Gaul. Cash was also required elsewhere in the empire and Stilicho may just have stopped payments, believing it was a waste to send coinage to Britain. Local mints did not supply coins either because of the lack of good metal or because of difficulties in production. Whatever the reason the lack of coins particularly affected the civilian settlements round the forts. These had an artificial economy kept going by the pay of the troops. When monetary contact ceased the inhabitants drifted away, leaving only a handful of people to occupy the forts for defence or shelter, hence the lack of settled communities round the forts. After AD 407 Britain existed on coins already in existence or on barter. Military groups would probably seize supplies where they could. Army units would hold together for security and companionship but any military force under direct Roman military control was disintegrating.

The situation may have resembled that described in Noricum by Eugippius in The Life of St Severinus during the AD 470s. When coinage ceased to arrive, military units disbanded and left their posts. A neighbouring king then crossed the Danube and took over military control of the Romanized towns and the population, organizing them into defensive groups. If the same thing happened in Britain when coinage did not arrive, soldiers would leave their posts. Towns and villa owners in Britain may then have hired soldiers for protection as happened in other parts of the now disintegrating empire. These may not have been regular Roman troops. Instead troops in legions and auxiliary forces were being increasingly replaced by barbarians or by mercenaries, who were employed as foederati (warriors from barbarian tribes who fought in exchange for a subsidy). These may not have been paid but have received grants of land in return for military service.

Some form of town life probably continued in most cities. London and the former coloniae – York, Gloucester, Lincoln, Colchester – have remained as towns, while some forts such as Chester and Exeter were now civilian towns. Even smaller towns such as Dorchester-on-Thames and Catterick survived. Some did not. Wroxeter and Silchester were abandoned and Verulamium moved its site to centre on the shrine of St Alban. What form of town life remained is uncertain. Deposits of dark earth in towns such as Canterbury, Gloucester, Lincoln and Winchester have been suggested to be evidence of farming in the centre of what was once a thriving urban area. These patches may, however, be evidence of collapsed buildings as they are full of pottery, bone and charcoal. Refugees fleeing into the towns would have made camp in any abandoned buildings, moving on when conditions became too disgusting, a feature noted in towns that have been partially destroyed in recent centuries. In Cirencester, debris analysed in the amphitheatre suggested that people had once gathered there for shelter. In London the great basilica had been abandoned; the quays, not maintained, had crumbled. The city, once the largest north of the Alps, had gradually contracted and, although some people lived in its ruins, excavations have proved that the Saxons preferred to live to the west of the city in what is now the Aldwych and Covent Garden areas.

Gildas suggested that it was not only town life that had disintegrated. Potential conflict of interest was based on the defence of food supplies, for large-scale agriculture had been abandoned: ‘So the Britons began to attack each other and in their efforts to seize some food dipped their hands into the blood of their fellow countrymen. Domestic turmoil worsened, foreign disasters resulting in no food except that which could be obtained by hunting.’

Villa owners continued to work their land as and where they could. Some owners probably moved to what they thought was the safety of the towns. Others continued to live in crumbling buildings. Rooms, which once were highly decorated to the pride of their owners, were now used for other purposes – a corn drier was put in a bath wing at Atworth (Wiltshire), fires were lit on the floors of the living rooms at Ditchley (Oxfordshire). At Lufton (Somerset) a hearth was built on a fine mosaic and an oven was carved into a floor in another room. The collapse of the Witcombe villa can be noted by roof tiles used as a floor and fires being lit on mosaic floors. There was now no satisfaction in keeping up a Roman lifestyle. Either their owners had given up the effort or squatters had taken what shelter they could. Life was now a struggle for existence.

Central administration had broken down. Local landowners were reluctant to take high office because of the cost. There was no longer a pride in being part of the governing structure. The expelling of Roman administrators during Constantine’s reign in Gaul meant that the network of central authority had been rejected and men with experience of high office were lacking. Few men wished to take up office because of the cost and the responsibility. This meant that local arrangements had to be made, differing from place to place. The fact that Honorius sent letters to the cities of Britain, ordering them to take measures on their own behalf, was merely a form of words; he assumed the cities were still in existence and well-managed but he had no knowledge that was the case.

It might be argued that Britain, lacking official contact with central Roman authority, began to break into its tribal areas. Tribal disputes may explain the appearance of linear earthwork defences. The Wansdyke could be explained as a frontier between the Durotriges and the Dobunni. Bokerley Dyke would have separated the Durotriges from an advance by the Belgae or vice versa. The Fleam Dyke, with a probable date of AD 350–510, marked the boundary of the borders of the Catuvellauni and the Iceni, and Beecham Dyke and the Foss Dyke also protected the Iceni in the fen area. Grim’s Dyke, north of London, would have protected the capital from attacks from the north. These might be expected to protect areas from attacks by the Saxons.

There were, however, other problems. Raids by the Picts and the Scots were becoming far more frequent. They came first as raiders and then as settlers. The Britons were forced to seek help from the Saxons against the Picts and the Irish, and the earliest Saxon settlements may have been at the invitation of the Britons to give protection. Traditionally the date of the arrival of the first Saxons, as given by Bede, basing his work on Gildas, is AD 449. Archaeological evidence has proved that settlement had occurred well before that date. A group of Saxon settlements south of London may have been linked with a group placed there to guard the city.

Possibly these raids and settlements forced the Britons to make one last attempt to get the central Roman power to supply aid. Gildas said that a message was sent to Agitius, consul for the third time, ‘in the following terms, “to Agitius come the groans of the Britons … the barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea drives us back to the barbarians; between these two we are either slaughtered or drowned.” Yet for all these pleas no help was forthcoming.’ This can be dated to AD 446 and refers to Aetius, who was then the leading military man in the army of Rome. He was credited with defeating Attila and his Huns in AD 451, only to be stupidly murdered by the Emperor Valentinian in AD 454, who thus lost control over his army.

Britain also had new rulers. Gildas mentioned a proud tyrant, whom Bede identified as Vortigern, a Celtic name meaning ‘High King’. Nennius, in his History of the Britons, also mentioned him and he may have been born about AD 360 and died in the late AD 430s. Nennius said that the Saxons, under their leader Hengist, came to Britain as exiles and that they were welcomed by Vortigern, who allowed them to settle on the Island of Thanet in return for military assistance. Unfortunately an agreement that they should be paid and fed broke down. In addition, Vortigern fell in love with Hengist’s daughter, married her and gave the district of Kent to Hengist as a bride price. Whatever the truth, Vortigern seems to have been unable to prevent the Saxons from landing. Forty boatloads were mentioned and more arrivals meant that the Saxons soon spread across the land.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle confirms this story, stating that Vortigern (Wurtgern) invited Hengist and Horsa and their warrior bands to Britain to provide protection again warrior bands roaming the country. It may be argued that Hengist and Horsa are not the actual names; as nicknames they both indicate ‘horse’. Whatever the case, the Chronicle said that they accepted this invitation but then set up their own kingdom in Kent holding the area by defeating the Britons at battles at Aylesford (AD 455), where Horsa was killed, and at Crayford (AD 456). They apparently came as foederati, indicating that they had obligations with subsequent rewards to guard Britain. Gildas said that they were given generous amounts of food but complained that these rations were not enough, saying that if they were not increased they would break the treaty. Soon they took up their threats with actions.

From then on Saxon penetration of the island seemed inevitable. Gildas mentioned the arrival of Aelle in AD 477, who founded the kingdom of Sussex, defeating the Britons at the Battle of Anderida (Pevensey) in AD 491. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that in AD 495 Cerdic and Cynric landed in the West Country and founded the kingdom of Wessex. These accounts of the invasions are very speculative, especially as the Chronicle stated that landings were in two or three ships. It would have been impossible for such few men in these ships to win decisive battles. Nevertheless, they indicate some folk memory and it would be futile to deny that the country soon succumbed to Saxon invasion and settlement. Some Saxon settlements have been found as far inland as Dorchester-on-Thames. Possibly these were founded by men hired as foederati.

One name that emerges from the history of this time is Ambrosius Aurelianus, also called Arthus. Little is known of this man and his history has become irrecoverably entwined with medieval legend and romance so that it is difficult to untangle fact from fiction. As King Arthur, he was immortalized by Sir Thomas Malory in the fifteenth century in his work Le Morte d’Arthur, with an elaborate account of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, thus intermingling fact and fiction. The historical Ambrosius was a warrior, probably trained in Roman military tactics, who led mounted bands of Britons against the Saxons. The Historia Brittonium called Arthus Dux Bellorum, reminiscent of a Roman military title. He was associated with twelve battles and probably led mounted horsemen, well trained, who could easily rout a force of foot soldiers. Eight of these battles took place at fords where foot soldiers would be at a disadvantage. These victories culminated in a last great battle, about AD 500, at Mount Badon (Mons Badonicus), an unidentified site but probably somewhere in the south-west. Gildas said that ‘after this there was peace’ and about AD 540 spoke of ‘our present security’.

This, however, was merely a respite because soon the Saxon conquest was renewed. By AD 600 most of Britain had been divided into Saxon kingdoms. The Saxons did not attempt to emulate Roman customs and institutions, and it would appear that the Britons had not so assimilated Roman institutions that they wished them to continue. The Anglo-Saxons imposed their own law, language, political systems and material values on Britain. Roman Britain, whose official contact with the Roman Empire had ended about AD 410, merged irrecoverably into Saxon England.

The Hebrides: Scotland and Norway

By the aggressive enforcement of his feudal rights as overlord over the Scottish mainland, Alexander II had imposed the acceptance of the monarchy beyond the limits achieved by any of his predecessors. However, the lands in the northwest had continued to remain outside the perimeter of Scottish dominion and in 1230 the ruling council began to direct its initiatives toward securing the autonomous region. The western isles centered in the Hebrides had been under the marginal authority of the crown of Norway but, under the energetic and aggressive King Hakon IV, a new campaign had been mounted to reestablish Scandinavian sovereignty. The Norwegian offensive was focused on the Hebrides, successfully reasserting the power of Hakon IV as suzerain. To counter the growing influence of the Scandinavians over a region where the Scottish court had ambitions, Alexander II empowered the deposed Alan of Galloway to thwart the efforts of the Northmen. The lord of Galloway attacked and plundered the western isles, succeeding in limiting the effective- ness of the Norwegian subjugation incursion at little expense to the Canmore throne.

By 1242 the policies of Alexander II had secured his border with England and his active intervention in Arygll and the northern earldoms had effectively established Scottish supremacy over the magnates, clerics and population. However, the region to the northwest, centered on the Hebrides Islands, remained largely autonomous with feudal obligations to Norway and in 1244 the Scots began negotiations to acquire the Isles. The Norwegians had partially reasserted their overlordship in the Western Isles in 1230 but in recent years the local warlords had regained much of their authority. Envoys were dispatched to the Norwegian king, Hakon IV, offering to purchase the disputed area. The proposals were repeatedly rejected and, finding no peaceful resolution, Alexander II began to prepare for war. In Arygll several castles and burghs were fortified while their garrisons were strengthened to be used as a base of operations for the planned invasion. The royal council initiated a series of alliances with the nobles, assuring their loyalty and support against Hakon IV. As the Scots mobilized for war the Norwegians responded to the growing militancy by forging a counter-coalition with the powerful and ambitious warrior, Ewan Macdougall of Argyll, to strengthen his coastal defenses. In the spring of 1249 Alexander II assembled a formidable army and fleet, launching his naval expedition to conquer the Western Isles. Under the court’s battle plan the first objective was to eliminate the Macdougall faction in Argyll and impose its sovereignty over the rebellious area. With the major base of Hakon IV’s military power subdued with the seizure of Argyll, the naval force was to sail north, capturing the Hebrides. However, as his ships lay in anchor in Kerrera Sound, Alexander II became seriously ill with a fever, dying on July 8, 1249, before the campaign could be initiated. The ninth Canmore sovereign was nearly fifty-one and had ruled Scotland for thirty-five years. At his death he was succeeded by his seven-year-old son, Alexander III.

Scotland under Alexander III experienced its first golden era, characterized by a growing prosperity, stable and responsive government and an expanding international presence. Alexander III’s first two years of kingship had resulted in an accommodation with his magnates, ending the years of political strife, and had reestablished amiable relations with England, which enabled Scotland to pursue an aggressive foreign policy in the north.

The Scottish kings had steadily advanced their sovereignty into the Highlands and had begun to contend for control of the Western Isles as early as the late eleventh century during the reign of Edgar I. The maritime fiefdoms consisted of a chain of islands and the northern- most coastline of the Sea of the Hebrides and formed a part of the seaborne empire of Nor- way. In 1261 Alexander III revived his father’s plan for northern expansion, dispatching envoys to the Scandinavian court of Hakon IV in an attempt to purchase the Isles. While the ongoing negotiations evolved the Scottish regime began to make arrangements for war by buttressing its defenses along the maritime coast. The royal castles were strengthened and the garrisons reinforced with additional troops. As Alexander III traveled through the kingdom to rally the warlords to his cause, he ordered the regional earls to mobilize their local military forces while war provisions were stockpiled and a small number of mercenary soldiers hired.

In the spring of 1262 the Scottish negotiators returned home with Hakin IV’s formal rejection of the proposed fiefdom purchase. As relations between the two realms deteriorated, Alexander III renewed his claims to the Isles, ordering the earl of Ross to mount a pillaging raid against the Norwegian-held island of Skye. With hostilities intensifying the Norwegian court began to assemble its navy and military forces, preparing to depart for the Western Isles to defend its demesne. In July the Norse squadron of over forty vessels sailed for the Shetlands and down the Scottish coast where they were joined by ships from their allies in the Isles and the Isle of Man, which swelled the fleet to over two hundred. In September Hakon IV sent emissaries to Alexander III with an offer of peace if the Scots would agree to respect Norwegian sovereignty over the Western Isles. The negotiations dragged on into late September while the Highlanders rallied to Alexander III in defense of their kingdom against a foreign incursion. While the Canmore throne massed its militia, the Norse navy was anchored off Largs in the Firth of Clyde on September 30, where during the night a strong gale blew many of the ships against the shore. In the morning the Norwegian king personally led a landing party of over one thousand soldiers ashore to rescue the stranded troops when the Scots mounted their attack. The Norsemen were steadily driven back while Hakon IV managed to escape with a small band of his army. The combined losses from the battle and storm compelled the Norwegians to abandon their invasion campaign, sailing north to Orkney. Due to the lateness of the season, with the increased risk of severe storms, Hakon IV was forced to spend the winter on the island. With much of the Norse fleet still intact, Scotland continued to face the danger of an encroachment but the balance of power shifted in Alexander III’s favor in December when Hakin IV died.

The Scandinavian navy remained a serious threat to Scotland, but the new king, Mag- nus VI, was beset with unrest in his realm, sending envoys to Alexander III to mediate a settlement. Delaying the talks the Scots seized the initiative by invading the Hebrides, occupying much of the Norse fiefdom. When negotiations began anew in 1265 Magnus VI had lost the military advantage and was forced to agree to the harsh terms of the Treaty of Perth dictated by Alexander III. Under the accord the Inner and Outer Hebrides were annexed to Scotland along with the Isle of Man for a cash payment. While the battle of Largs had been inconclusive, its aftermath was decisive for the Scottish kingdom, securing the regime’s power base in the northwestern territories.


The largest part of any Scottish force during this era was provided by me ‘common army’ or exeriticus Scoticanus (me ‘Scottish army’), composed mainly of poorly equipped farmers and neyfs (or nativi, actually called by the Scandinavian term bondi in Caithness, Fife and Stirlingshire, heavily-settled by Norsemen during the Viking era and, in the case of Caithness, still pan of Norway until the 13m century). The neyfs were- or, rather, became during this period – unfree men (but not slaves) tied to the land where they had been born, who could be sold or given away with the land. Such military service as they owed, referred to variously as common, Scottish or forinsec service, was assessed by me ploughshare or on me davach, carucate arachor or (all of which were units of arable land), the number of men required varying but most commonly involving one man per unit, though in exceptional circumstances (such as a proposed expedition into England in 1264 in support of Henry III against Simon de Montfort) up to 3 men could be demanded. On occasion such military service could even involve every able-bodied freeman of 16-60 years; certainly in Robert the Bruce’s wars it was required of every man ‘owning a cow’. At shire level the ‘common army’ was led by local, non-feudal officials called thanes (often displaced by feudal barons in the 13th-14th centuries), the muster of a whole earldom being led by its earl or, north of me Tweed, its mornaer-(King David I, 1124-53, began the transformation of the latter, hereditary Gaelic chieftains, into feudal earls). Such contingents constituted the bulk of the Scottish forces at Northallerton (1138), Largs(1263), Stirling Bridge (1297), Falkirk (1298) and most other large-scale engagements. By the 13th century Scottish service can sometimes be found being convened to a feudal obligation.

A small number of Norman knights had been introduced into the Scottish court as early as 1052-54, in the reign of Macbeth (1040-57), and there was even an attempt to introduce Anglo-Norman feudalism under Duncan II before the end of the 11th century, though this and the employment of further Anglo-Norman knights resulted in a rebellion against him. Feudalism was only successfully introduced on a widespread basis in southern Scotland by David I and in northern Scotland by his successors Malcolm IV (1153-65) and William the Lion (1165-1214), but it never became established in me Highlands and me far north. King David had spent much of his youth at the court of Henry I of England and when he succeeded to the throne a large number of Anglo-Norman knights accompanied him to Scotland, soon coming to hold most of the highest offices in the royal household; indeed, English mercenary knights remained apparent in the Icing’s household throughout the late-11th and 12th centuries. Even in the half-century of William the Lion’s reign, evidence exists for only 37 enfeoffments, of which one was for 20 knights, two were for 10 knights, one for4 knights, two for 2 knights, one for 11h knights and 18 for the service of a single knight each, the remaining 12 all being for fractions (a half-fief being the most common). From the evidence of 13th century enfeoffments it is apparent that even in the 12th century holdings of a half or quarter-fief usually owed the service of a sergeant, or an archer, in a light mail corselet (a haubergel), usually mounted but sometimes serving on foot. In part at least these probably represent the ‘common army’ feudalised. Feudal military service was due for the usual 40-day period, but there are also many references to 20 days. Principal military officers in Scotland’s feudal hierarchy were the Steward (which post gave its name to its hereditary holders, the Stuarts), Constable and Marischal.

Church lands seem to have been liable only for ‘common army’ service, not for knight service, and even this could be satisfied under certain circumstances by payments in kind. Scutage itself does not seem to have been levied in Scotland until the 13th century.