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Wends (580-1218 AD)
(DBA III-1a)

The Wends (a.k.a. Lusatians or Sorbs) were a western Slavic people who occupied the southern Baltic region bounded at various periods by the Elbe and Saale Rivers in the west and the Oder and Neisse Rivers in the East. They were famous for their hospitality and for their staunch resistance to Christianity. They are treated here as a northern subset of the Slavic peoples, although many historians argue that the term "Wend" originally applied to all Slavic people throughout Europe. Characteristic is the Roman Latin name for the Baltic Sea--Wendile Mare (or Wendish Sea).

Although the list starts in 580 AD, the first mention of the Wends or Sorbs as a distinct Slavic people was by the Frankish monk Fredegar in 631 AD. The next significant record is from the period of Charlesmagne's campaigns in Eastern Saxony and Thuringia circa 804 AD, and his establishment of the so-called Saxon March. During his campaign to subdue the Saxons, which was largely completed by 810 AD, Charlesmagne's armies pushed the Wends east beyond the River Elbe. Thereafter, the Wends faced steady pressure throughout the 10-12th centuries from Saxon, Thuringian, Frankish, and Flemish raiders, who seized the pastoral Wendish as slaves, and by colonists, who moved east to carve out new settlements in Wendish territory.

The next major milestone in Wendish history can be traced to 965 AD, when the Viking Harald Gormsson (a.k.a. Bluetooth) married a Wendish princess and built a stronghold at Jomsborg on the Baltic Coast near the Wendish trading center of Wollin. Here a famous brotherhood of Vikings (i.e., the Joms-Vikings) founded by Harald's son, Svein Forkbeard, is supposed to have collected, fighting with the Wends against foreign invaders on land and sea. The Joms-Vikings were essentially a warrior cult (a sort of Pagan Knights Templar) who lived in barracks under harsh discipline and trained constantly in hopes that they would die in battle so as to join Woden in Valhalla.

Later, after Harald was forced from his Scandanavian kingdom by Jarl Hakon in 985 AD, he again took refuge among the Wends. It is said that Harald Bluetooth taught the Wends to be sea raiders in order to annoy his foes, and if so, he was certainly effective, since they took to Baltic piracy with a vengeance. In 983 AD, King Mistivoj of Wendland invaded Brandenburg and Holstein, burning Hamburg, while the Frankish emperor Otto was distracted by a crusade against Saracens in Italy. The period of 1020-1040 AD then saw heavy Wendish raids by land and over sea into Denmark and Skane (southern Sweden).

In 1043 AD, the Scandanavian Magnus the Good sought to end the Wendish threat to his new kingdom and descended with his army on Jomsburg, destroying the Joms-Viking garrison and burning the Wendish city of Wollin. Meanwhile, a large Wendish army had raided its way deep into Denmark. Magnus (the son of St. Olaf) landed a Danish and Norwegian army at Hedeby in the rear of the Wendish force in order to link up with Saxon allies under Orduff. Fighting on Michaelmas day, the Christian allies joined battle with the Wends on the flat plain of Lyrskov Hede (near modern Schlesig). Despite being heavily outnumbered, and bolstered by the righteousness of their cause, they cut down the pagan Wends in waves according to Adam of Bremen, leaving 15,000 of them dead on the field. The battle of Hedeby marked the end of serious Wendish raiding in Denmark and the beginning of a Danish campaign to seize the Baltic coast from Rugia to Estonia, which denied the Wends access to the sea and effectively ended their piratical expeditions.

In 1147 AD, St. Bernard preached a crusade among the Saxons and Danes, who preferred to attack their pagan Slavonic neighbors rather than setting out to save the Holy Land as Bernard intended. Bowing to necessity, Bernard obtained a Papal Bull blessing the endeavor and a crusading army led by Henry the Lion of Saxony and Albert the Bear of Brandenburg set forth to convert the Wends by sword, but were stopped cold that same year. Set against the backdrop of the "Northern Crusades," the Wendic Crusade continued for nearly 30 years. Waldimar I of Denmark joined forces with Henry and Albert against the Wends. Eventually, persistent pressure by the Christian Saxons, Danes and the expansionistic Poles broke down Wendish resistance. Pagan idols were destroyed and Catholicism was introduced throughout Lusatia. After1185 AD, the Wends fell almost entirely under the sway of Poland.

1218 AD marks the end of the DBA Slav list and has been applied to the Wend list for convenience, although the significance of that date for the Wends is not clear. The Polish domination of the Wends after 1185 AD is another appropriate ending date. Another possible date is the final annexation of Lusatia by Germany and formation of margravates circa 1360 AD, although by that time there was no organized Wendish resistance. As a historical aside, although christianized and long subjected to German rule, the Wends have been able to maintain a distinct identity and language as Sorbs to the present day. There are approximately 150,000 Wends still gathered in Lusatia, in the upper Spree valley which lies within eastern Germany and southwestern Poland. Groups of Wends have also migrated to Texas, Australia and other locations over the past century to escape "germanization."

Allies and Enemies

The Wends find themselves at odds with their Germanic neighbors - the Old Saxons, Frisians, Thurigians (II/73) as well as with the Swedes, Danes and Norwegians (III/40abcd), the East Franks (III/52), the Early Poles (III/62ab) and the early Medieval Germans (IV/13a). The limited references available to this author seem to indicate that inclusion of the Early Polish as enemies is somewhat dubious as the Wends didn't seem to resist Polish expansion (i.e. fellow Slavs) as heartily as they did the Germans, and may have viewed Polish occupation as preferrable to German conquest.

The Wends only Big Battle ally are the Old Saxons (II/73).

Army Composition

1x 3Cv (Gen) Wendish chieftain and retinue
1x 3Cv Wendish nobles.
7x 3Aux Wendish foot armed with javelins and hand axes or knives.
1x 3Bd or 3Cv or 3Kn According to DBM Early Slav list, these represent Viking (Bd) allies after 804 AD, or Danish, Saxon or Thuringian merceniaries (Cv or Kn) after 1057 AD. What do you do for the period 580-804 AD? There should probably be an additional 3Aux option.
2x 2Ps or 3Bw Bow should be used after 1056 AD only. They were also trained by Saxons to shoot in groups and deploy with shield bearers after 1170 AD.

Camps and BUAs

Your typical Dark Ages camp such as an A-frame log dwelling is suitable for the Wends. Since they also made their mark as sea raiders, a beached longboat is also appropriate.

Village

Good subjects for BUAs include the Viking stronghold at Jomsborg or a timber pallisaded village.

Miniatures

You won't find a specific "Wendish" range of miniatures, but suitable Slavic, early Saxon and Viking figures are available from various sources including Essex, Two Dragons, Irregular and others. Any Dark Age European "barbarian" foot can be put to good use. Gripping Beast offers "JomsVikings" as part of its 28mm Viking range.

Tactics

Historically, the Wends were known for Viking-like raids along the Baltic coasts, transporting horses to increase their range in-land. As the German marches hemmed in their landward territory, the Wends turned increasingly to sea "piracy." When on the defensive, they tended to avoid pitched battles, preferred ambushes and hit and run attacks. Cavalry was common but not particularly effective; the riders eschewing close formation and shock tactics to ride rings around their opponents, showering them with javelins. In the later periods, as Saxon levies gave way to imperial German armies as their primary foes, the Wends were forced to become more disciplined, beefing up their ranks with mercenaries and employing Saxon archery coaches.

As a littoral, primarily bad going DBA army with relatively low aggression, the Wends make for an interesting mix of troop types and options. Effective use of bad going terrain and their mobility advantage is obviously important when facing Knight-heavy German armies and Blade-heavy Scandinavians. Wendish archers can also help against the Frankish, Polish and German mounted. The littoral option encourages steathly end-runs to get at exposed enemy flanks and camps.

Notes on Resources

In addition to the DBM rules, I relied on bits and pieces of information gleaned from the Hammond Atlas of World History, Gwyn Jones' "A History of the Vikings," Skip Knox's Thesis on The Destruction and Conversion of the Wends and other web sources in preparing this piece. I am not familiar with any books specifically on the Wends, although there are numerous resources on the Slavs available in print and a web search for Wends, Sorbs and Lusatia produced hundreds of links, although few with significant historical details. The story of the Joms-Vikings is recorded in the famous Jomsburg Saga.

Because my sources for this piece were so sketchy, I invite your inputs providing additions or corrections to the historical and other notes above, as well as any comments you may have about the list itself.

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Last Updated: February 6, 2004

Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.