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Battle Scenarios

Battle of Porth Mawr (500 AD)

By Tim Donovan

The Tangled History: While the Scots of Dal Riata (Irish) were establishing an enduring Kingdom in what is now Scotland, even more threatening Irish kingdoms were growing in power in Wales. However, unlike in the North where the Irish were to leave an indelible mark on the future Kingdom, the settlements in Wales were ruthlessly crushed around the time of Arthur. The Irish originally arrived as either raiding warbands displaced by turbulence at home or possibly as foederati hired by Magnus Maximus or others to replace the regular troops withdrawn to the continent. Regardless, the Irish kingdoms in Wales were seen as a serious threat and were dealt with ruthlessly after the victory at Badon. The campaign began in earnest when Arthur defeated either an encroaching or raiding Scots Irish army at Chester, one of his legendary twelve battles. However, the remainder of the campaigns fell on the shoulders of Arthur's Generals and "Knights." Various legends, almost all disputed, record two names, Agricola and Theodoric, with the reduction and expulsion of the Irish from their largest Kingdom of Demetia in the Southwest.

Agricola, son of Tribunus, is the first new ruler installed after the Irish dynasty is expelled and is well dated to about 500 AD. He is stylized not as a King but as a Protector and later is given credit as the founding ancestor of the Dynasty. Theodoric, on the other hand, is specifically a Gothic name at this time. One authority wraps an entire legend of a wandering Visigothic fleet, displaced by Clovis's crushing of the Visigoths in Gaul, around Theodoric. It is known that a Visigothic fleet operated in the Bay of Biscay, and following the Visigothic defeat in 507 it is possible they crossed the channel, under the leadership of Theodoric, to find employment in Britain with Arthur. Later legends have Theodoric, with his fleet, fighting in Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany, finally settling in Cornwall to outlive Arthur and die in a hunting accident in 530 AD. True or not it is an interesting portrait of one of many of Arthuršs lesser knights.

Contemporary with Arthur in Ireland at this time was a powerful High King Mac Erca, whose reign lasted from 482 to 532. He is believed to have respected Arthur and been content to consolidate power in his own realm, possibly forcing many of his enemies from the South overseas to the colonies in Britain.

As convoluted as the whole history is, the dates and contemporary events fit precisely with the woven story. Arthur is attempting to revive the Roman past and sends a trusted noble, Agricola, to revive authority in lands overrun by barbarians. Theodoric, a Visigothic refugee fleet from Clovis's crushing victories, finds employment for himself and his ships while at precisely the same time, the Irish of Leinster and Munster whom settled Wales, are reeling from the powerful onslaught of a powerful northern Uiš Neill King and flee to the Welsh colonies in droves provoking conflict with the Roman-British.

The Historical Battle: The narrative of the battle has Theodoric and his force advancing down the Old Roman road through Llandovery and Carmarthen to Porth Mawr, losing over 100 men at each location. The ruins of Porth Mawr are still visible today. In its time it was the principal port for voyages to Ireland, and from whence St. Patrick is said to have sailed. The campaign was successful and the Irish dynasty was replaced by a Romano-British under Agricola. Theodoric's battles with the Irish continue as he is next recorded as patrolling the waters off Cornwall and landing to fight an alliance between an Irish king Fingar and his 770 warriors and their British ally, Guiner.

Historical Note: Overall this whole history fanciful and easily disputed. In gaming terms though this is fertile territory for us to explore. Not constrained by verifiable accounts or detailed army lists we can refight these battles however we please.

The Standard Scenario

The Armies: Scots Irish (#61) fighting either Early Gothic (70), Later Visigothic (80), Sub Roman British (81) or any combination of them.

Terrain: Standard DBA terrain rules or the proposed rules for DBA 2000. The sources mention that Porth Mawr, a hillfort town and Port, was situated on a hill overlooking a small bay. Two other hills of note are mentioned as is a road leading to the main Roman road. I suggest defender place compulsory terrain of 2 hills, 1 wood, 1 swamp, and then 0-3 additional terrain pieces of hill, woods, or swamp. A road will also be placed, see below.

Deployment: After the defender places the compulsory and optional terrain the attacker chooses the edge to invade from . The defender now deploys the hillfort within 300 paces of their baseline edge and extends a road from the hillfort to the attackers edge. The defenders baseline is now considered cliff and ocean and is impassable.

The defender now deploys 6 elements and then attacker deploys 6 elements. The defender finishes their deployment followed by the attacker. Dice for the initiative, high score has option of moving first or second.

Special Rules: The Hillfort is +3 garrisoned by camp followers. The attacker need not deploy a camp.

Rules and Victory: Standard.

The Expanded Scenario

I have always preferred Big Battle DBA as it allows for a more appropriate representation and balance of the armies. My expanded scenarios utilize armies of roughly 100 points as per DBM and are played on an expanded battleboard (2 x 4 for 15mm, 4 x 6 for 25mm).

The Armies:

  • Scots Irish: 6 LCh or Wb or Lh (nobles), 6 Wb (mercenaries), 12 Ax, 8 Ps. The Irish at this time were transitioning from a Heroic Age Army of chariots and loose order infantry to more of a warband style of army. The general and nobles should be warbands or possibly still in chariots while Light Horse is plausible given influences from the Romano-British. Mercenaries, especially Franks or at this time rebel British, have always been accounted for in Irish armies so just grab whatever you have on hand, Ancient Celts or Britons, Picts, any barbarian warbands along with some loose order infantry and slingers or javelinmen as skirmishers.

  • Romano-British and Visigoths: 1 Kn/Wb (Theodoric), 4 Cv/Sp, 6 Wb, 4 Ax (sailors), 4 Ps + 1 Kn or Cv (Agricola), 4 Ax or Wb, 2 Ps (British). Once again this force was an amalgamation of wandering Visigoths and Romano British along with recruits drawn from the North. I definitely see the value of Cavalry operating down the Roman road while the harsh terrain could force them to dismount to bolster the light infantry. As with the Irish just grab and use what you have on hand!

Terrain Notes: The board should be expanded to 2 x 4 for 15mm or 4 x 6 for 25mm. Standard DBA terrain rules or the proposed rules for DBA 2000. The sources mention that Porth Mawr, a hillfort town and Port, was situated on a hill overlooking a small bay. Two other hills of note are mentioned as is a road leading to the main Roman road. I suggest defender place compulsory terrain of 2 hills, 1 wood, 1 swamp, and then 0-4 additional terrain pieces of hill, woods, or swamp. A road will also be placed, see below.

Deployment: After the defender places the compulsory and optional terrain the attacker chooses the edge to invade from . The defender now deploys the hillfort within 300 paces of their baseline edge and extends a road from the hillfort to the attackers edge. The defenders baseline is now considered cliff and ocean and is impassable.

The defender now deploys 12 elements and then attacker deploys 12 elements. The defenders finish their deployment followed by the attackers. Dice for the initiative, high score has option of moving first or second.

Special Rules: The Hillfort is +3 garrisoned by camp followers. The attacker need not deploy a camp.

Visigothic and Romano British units may start mounted and dismount, outside of combat or the ZOC of any enemy, at the cost of 1 Pip per element, no group move allowed. Once dismounted, or if deployed at start as dismounted they may not remount.

Victory: Standard.

Background Resources

The Age of Arthur, John Morris, 1973, Scribners, (primary source)
Early Medieval Ireland, Daibhi O' Croinin, 1995, Longman History of Ireland
Medieval Ireland, Michael Richter, 1995, St. Martin's Press
Barbarians and Romans, Justine Davis Randers-Pehrson, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1983
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
The Celts, Nora Chadwick, 1971, Penguin

WRG
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)
DBM Army Lists, Book 2 : 500 BC to 476 AD
DBA


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Last Update: March 17, 2000

My thanks to Tim Donovan for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.