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Saxon Skald Tales

Old Saxon, Frisian, Bavarian, Thuringian, and Early Anglo-Saxon

(250-804 AD) -DBA II/73

By Jim Fasnacht
(aka Attila the Hungry)

The Germanic peoples living along the north coast of Germany, the Netherlands and the western shores of Denmark are today referred to as the Anglo-Saxons. This name is derived from two of the largest and most successful tribal groups; the Angles and the Saxons. Other tribes represented in this amalgam are the Jutes and /or Frisians, Bavarians and Thuringers.

These Germanic peoples first came to Roman Briton as auxiliaries in the Roman Army. These auxilia were, in general terms, non-Roman soldiers hired into the legions to act especially as a light infantry adjunct to the Roman legionnaires. There responsibility was mainly to protect the flanks of the rigid cohorts, and root out the pesky barbarians from their forest or mountain hideaways. The auxilia provided these services with great effect. As the legions settled down into garrison duty more auxilia were needed to fill out the ranks of the legions. Hence more foreigners were recruited. Many of these new recruits were Germans.

Roman Briton (from Hadrianıs Wall to the English Channel, but excluding Wales) was under continuous attack from neighboring barbaric tribes. The Picts mounted lightning fast raids from the north. Often they piled in their curraghs (sailing vessels made from animal hidesŠwe hope) and bypassed the fortifications of Hadrianıs Wall by sea to raid the Roman settlements to the south. The Welsh would sally from their mountain and forest enclaves in the west and wreak havoc. The Irish too used curraghs and raided both Wales and Roman Briton. The Saxons from northern Germany crossed the North Sea and English Channel to raid the Kentish coast. The Romans fortified this area against these sea borne invaders. This area came to be known as the Saxon Shore after the invaders that afflicted it.

Around 400 AD the Roman garrisons were recalled from Briton to help try to stem the tide of invaders from the east. The Huns, Goths and other steppe peoples were putting extreme pressure on both the east and west empires. The Roman emperor dispatched a messenger to the Romans/Romanized Britons to look to their own defense. One wonders if they believed this to be a short term task. The Romano-British landholders assembled their followers and prepared to face the raiders, from whatever direction they came. These posse comitatus included infantry and a small, but effective mounted force. The mounted force was successful in responding to the raids. The infantry provided the static defense. We know that there were Germans in these forces. During this time there is little doubt that these Saxons were telling their families and compatriots back in Germany of the "easy" pickings in Briton with the absence of the Roman legion garrisons. The Saxons assembled their warriors, built more long rowing vessels and stepped up their raids. By c. 430 AD these raids had escalated to full-scale invasions.

There was little central authority at this time, and localized resistance proved to be more flexible in responding to the raids. All seemed to go reasonably well until c. 440 AD when the Saxon units in the Romano-British forces in Kent revolted. This revolt was either preceded by, or caused, a devastating plague in the area. This caused a collapse of the local authority and allowed the Saxons to land more warriors on the Kentish coast without hindrance. Other Germanic tribes joined in the invasions. The Angles from northern Denmark and the Jutes/Frisians from south western Denmark assembled under strong and able chieftains. They landed on the west and southwest coast of Briton. The Saxons pushed inward from the English Channel. The Roman-British defence was strenuous. There were some short-lived successes (the Battle of Mons Badonicus c. 516 AD) but the invaders kept coming and overwhelmed the defenders. These Romanized Celts retreated to the western parts of Briton, Strathclyde and Cumbria in the north. The Anglo-Saxons (as they came to be known) eventually settled down to occupy the land and set up the small kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria.

Back in Europe the Saxons and the Thuringians resisted the "new" Roman Empire that was being forged by the iron fist of the Franks, Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. Charlemagne organized an effective army with heavy cavalry and an excellent supply train. The Saxons lived in what was still a wilderness. They continued the tradition of raiding their more prosperous and settled Carolingian neighbors, only to return to their wilderness before an effective resistance could be organized. Charlemagne mounted a series of campaigns against these "barbarians" and eventually subdued them (after beheading 4000 prisoners). Saxony was pulled into the empire.

The Thurigers or Thuringians were a Germanic people who lived in the area of the Elbe river and who traced their origin to a confederation of Hermundurian, Varini and Angle tribes. In 430 AD, they fell under the sway of the Huns, but after the death of Atilla in 453 AD, the Thuringians were able to form their own kingdom. At its greatest extent, Thuringia stretched from the Elbe in the east to the Weser river in the west and southward to the Danube. A combined Frankish and Saxon army inflicted an overwhelming defeating on the Thuringians at Scheidungen (531 AD), and divided the kingdom between them.

Enemies

When you leave your home and go looking for trouble you will find it. There are a lot of enemies for such a small group of tribes. The foes are as follows: II/64a Middle Imperial Roman, II/68ab Picts (fighting over the spoils), II/72bd Franks/Suevi, etc., II/73 themselves (there no fight like a family scrap), II/78 Late Imperial Roman, II/81 abcd Sub-Roman British, III/1a Slavs, III/2 Early Lombard, III/5a Middle Franks, III/13b Avars, III/19a Welsh ), III/21ab Italian Lombard, III/28 Carolingian Franks.

Army Composition

1 x 4Wb General - Represents the chieftain and his personal bodyguard. These are the better armed and equipped warriors with high quality round shields, some armor, spears to throw and swords for the close-in work.
10 x 4Wb Represents the various bands of warriors. Many would be armed with a simple scramaseax (the typical Saxon long knife carried by everyone), javelins, spear, hand axe, club and simple shield.
1 x 2Ps I am guessing that these would be various young warriors skirmishing with javelins, bows, and/or slings. Or regular warriors running out front to discharge their javelins before closing.

Tactics

Rule #1 charge the enemy and be damned! Rule #2 well, maybe not always.

These armies are arable if Saxon/Anglo-Saxon, littoral if Frisian/Jutes, and forest for the southern Bavarian and Thuringers. Aggression is a 2. I take issue with the terrain. The Old Saxon should be littoral in light of all of their waterborne work.

Tactics depend on what army you are fighting. Should your opponent field a mounted army (Carolingian Franks or Avars) use the new DBA rules and hide in the woods/hills if you have them. If not refer to rule #1. Should you be fighting another warband army (Welsh or other Germans) obey rule #1, but do so in a group with no stragglers. Low pip rolls should not hurt in this case. Those mixed armies (Romans, Carolingian Franks, Sub-Roman Britons) are the challenge (see rule #2). Their steady line of spear and knights can decimate your line. Stay together, put your psiloi behind your general, use bad going to advantage, and shields up.

Figures

I use Essex figures for all my Anglo-Saxon armies (yes I have all three). The SXA2 foot command represents my chieftain with his trusty horn blower. SXA 3, SXA 4, SXA 5 represent the bands of warriors. They are good figures. Many have the characteristic Phrygian cap. I painted the general base with some nice colors (maroons, turquoise and dark green) the other bases have one or two colorful figures, the rest in more plain homespun clothing (browns, tans, dark blues). I made a beached boat camp with some painted-epoxy waves washing on the beach.

Sources

Nicolle, David Arthur and the Anglo-Saxon Wars , Osprey Publishing Ltd. 1984

Macdowell, Simon, Germanic Warrior, Osprey Publishing Ltd. 1996.

Both of the above listed books were illustrated by Angus McBride and his fine work inspired many of my paint schemes.

Henry Treece, Alfred Duggan and Bernard Cornwell all provide some entertaining and Informative fictional accounts of the time period.

Fanatici Feedback

Chris Brantley: Another helpful Osprey title is Anglo-Saxon Thegn - 449-1066 AD by Mark Harrison, illustrated by Gerry Embelton, although the contents are geared more toward the Middle Anglo-Saxon (III/24) list. In addition to the excellent Essex figures, you might take a look at 15mm Old Glory Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Outpost Wargames Services' Saxons ranges for early Saxon period figures.


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Last Updated: October 3, 2003