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Army Notes

Scots Irish (55 BC - 846 AD)
(DBA II/54 Variant)

Original by Tim Donovan
Edited by Chris Brantley

[Editor's Note: This variant proposed was prepared in response to the DBA 1.2 Scots-Irish list and does not discuss the revisions (i.e. the splitting into two lists) done in DBA 2. The discussion and proposal still has relevance, and therefore is being republished with only slight modifications to remove outdated references.]

The Scots-Irish list (II/54) is problematic in that it attempts to portray the army through three distinct periods of warfare. The Irish have always been backwards in their military technology, with changes adopted only in response to external influences such as the Viking and later Anglo-Norman invasions.

The first era, 55 BC to 563 AD, was the Heroic age of Ireland. The warrior aristocracy engaged in almost constant raiding warfare that resembled more a dangerous pastime than the desperate fight for survival raging across most of Europe. The archeology evidence is supportive of this claim in that the weapons were more archaic than any other culture in Europe at this time. Javelins and small shield predominated while swords were typically small and brittle and typically half the size of their European counterparts.

Most of our information for this early period comes from one of the oldest pieces of vernacular Literature in Western Civilization, Tain Bain Cuilagne, or the cattle raid of Cooley. In this "window to the Celtic past" a warrior aristocracy engages in almost ritualistic warfare of vengeance, personal glory and looting. These elite fought from small 2 wheel chariots that they used as a mobile missile platform though often dismounting to fight on foot. Armor, other than possibly helmets (most likely a literary convention) bows and fighting from horseback are unrecorded. A few large battles are recorded in which the chariot bound aristocracy was supported by a mass of loose order unarmored infantry armed with javelins, small shields and either a shortsword or knife. The last recorded use of chariots in battle was by the Dal Riada at the battle of Moin Dairi Lothair in 563.

For raiding overseas the small hide covered Curraghs or a similar but larger version with 8 oars, mast, sail and rudder were the most probable means of transportation. Definitive testing has proven cattle and horses could be transported in either by tying their legs while the larger boat (attested to in a 1st century gold model and cross carvings) would have been capable of carrying up to 50 warriors or at least some of the easily dismantled chariots.

Regardless of the means of transport Irish raiding was a major nuisance in Britain, Alba and even Gaul from the late third through the fifth century with the "Groans of Britain" attributed mainly to an overwhelming raid of Scot and Pictish warriors.

For the following period of "Arthur" through to the Viking era we have little to no knowledge of Irish warfare, especially on overseas raids and in the kingdoms of Demetia in Wales and Dal Riada in Scotland. Most likely by 500, and no later than 563, the warrior aristocracy had foregone their chariots and now fought on foot supported by either by their own Fianna of personal warriors, or increasingly a royal bodyguard of foreign mercenaries, typically Franks or Dal Riada Scots.

Mounted raids were commonplace as was riding to battle but most often the warriors did dismount to fight although constant contact with the Sub Romans of Strathclyde and Picts make it hard to believe that they were incapable of fighting as Light Horse and all the more publicized and well worn arguments for Anglo-Danish cavalry are applicable here.

The revised Scots Irish list from the new DBM Army List Book 2 reflects much of this transition in thought on the Scots Irish. The standard warrior has been reclassified as Auxilia vice warbands while the chariots are replaced in 432 by a General Warband element supported by a unit of Fianna Warband. The dreaded Attecoti, naked fanatic warriors and often allies of the Scots and Picts are now most likely attributed to an Ulster tribe of Tu- Ata-cotye (Tribe of the cat) who were warlike aboriginal settlers in Ireland. They, like the chariots, disappear along with the Roman army from Britain around 407.

The reasoning behind the arguments for the end period for the chariots and Attecoti are that we hear no more of the Attecoti after the Romans leave in 407 while Christianity dooms chariot warfare in the heroic style in 432.

Both are reasonable although St. Patrick was confronted and nearly run over by the High King (who remained a splendid pagan and was buried upright in full war gear) and his warriors and druid in their chariots and they are recorded in use till as late as 563.

With all this in mind I tallied up two armies from the lists as a basis for a new DBA list considering that DBA 2000 lists are to be based on DBM.

Using the DBM army list I made a 350 point army for the early Roman period and arrived at what would be an incredibly fun, and effective army to fight with at:

Figures Type Points
4 Generals - LCh, Wb or Ax 50 avg.
8 Attecotti - Wb(S) 40
16 Chariots - Cv(O) 96
2 Roman Axilia - Ax(S) 10
2 Slingers - Ps(O) 4
10 Skirmishers - Ps(S) 30
10 Skirmishers - Ps(I) 10
30 Warriors - Ax(O) 90
10 Plashed wood edge 20

A later Dal Riadic army would be a more mundane:

Figures Type Points
4 Generals - Wb or Ax 40 avg.
4 Fianna (supporting Generals) - Wb 12
10 Skirmishers - Ps(S) 30
10 Skirmishers - Ps(I) 10
2 Slingers - Ps(O) 4
2 Praying Saints - Hd (Horde) 01
77 Warriors - Ax(O) 231
10 Plashed wood edge 20

A notable exclusion from the older WRG army lists for this period are the upper class warriors (the old charioteers) who can comprise at least half of the army or in their place a substantial force of "better" Frankish or Dal Riadan warriors.

So how do we reconcile these two lists? It would really not be a major concern other than the fact that this transition occurs just before the Arthurian era, a popular campaign setting, soon to be even more popular with a cooperative effort between Bernard Cornwell's books, Gripping Beast Figures, and a WAB supplement. That the later Scots Irish army is woefully disadvantaged against their historical opponents in DBM is readily apparent regardless of the fact that at this time they carved out substantial kingdoms against one (Picts) and drew substantial military resources away from the other (Sub Romans) to the extent that one expert (Morris) states that the Irish were always considered the most dangerous threat until the Saxon revolt.

Instead of a variant list for Dal Raidans, I would propose a revised basic list and am more amicable to a single listing of 4x LCh or 3Wb or 3Ax, 5x3Ax, 3x2Ps.

The early Scots Irish could then be more accurately portrayed as say a traditional army of 4xLCh, 5xAx, 3xPs or on overseas raids or with Attecoti as 2xLCh, 2xWb, 5xAx, 3xPs. Then players can decide for themselves when to transition to say a Dal Riadic army of 4xWb (upper class warriors), 5xAx (warriors) and 3xPs.

Thoughts ?


* The Age of Arthur, John Morris, 1973, Scribners.
*Early Medieval Ireland, Daibhi O' Croinin, 1995, Longman History of Ireland.
*Barbarians and Romans, Justine Davis Randers-Pehrson, 1983, Oklahoma
Medieval Ireland, Michael Richter, 1995, St. Martin's Press
*Arthur's Britain, Leslie Alcock, 1971, Penguin
*Arthur and the Anglo-Saxon Wars. David Nicolle, 1984 Osprey (#154)
Medieval Historical Battles 732 to 1485, Peter Sides, 1993, Gosling

Wargames Research Group:
*Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome, Phil Barker
Armies of the Dark Ages, Ian Heath,
*Army Lists, Book Two, 55bc -1000 AD (for WRG Rules)
*D.B.M. Army Lists, Book 2 : 500 BC to 476 AD
D.B.A. version 1.2

* denotes primary resources.

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Last Updated: April 12, 2004

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.