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The Battle in Vinland (c. 1020 AD)
(Karlsefni vs. the Eastern Forest American Indians)

By Jonathan LIm

Having read the Vinland Sagas (translated by Penguin), I feel inspired to write a battle scenario. I am not too sure about the historical aspects of these battles, but I am relying on my (scant) readings of the two Vinland Sagas, the "Graenlendinga Saga" and "Eirik's Saga." These weird poems deal with the Norse discovery and settlement of modern America. This settlement was called Vinland, and was situated somewhere north of New York. This was amazing enough; but to my surprise, the sagas also depict a battle in DBA style. So here it is, the battle of the Viking trader Karlsefni against the Eastern Forest American Indians.

Background

Karlsefni was a trader who came to America in search of...well, wealth. He found it in the form of thousands of American Indians (or Skraelings), who, says the Eirik's Saga, had a penchant for red cloth. They were willing to trade huge amounts for this commodity. When Karlsefni's Viking traders began running out of cloth, they cut it into thin ribbons - but even then, the Indians were willing to pay a great deal (in the form of badger skins). They wore the red cloth around their heads.

At least, that is what the Eirik's Saga says. The Graenlendinga says they traded milk, not red cloth, though it also confirms the American Indians' great desire for this.

The Battle

The two sagas give quite different stories. However, I will give a description that incorporates both accounts.

Karlsefni had been successfully been trading red cloth (or milk) with the Skraelings for quite a while. It was said that the Skraelings were terrified of the cows the Vikings had, probably much as the ancients feared elephants. There was an incident where trading Skraelings were driven off because of a bellowing bull. This would be used by Karlsefni as a way of winning the battle.

The Skraelings began hostilities when a small band tried to steal the Vikings' weapons. They were driven off, but Karlsefni claimed they would return. So he devised a plan.

To protect their cattle, they hid them in the woods. Then several of their men stood on a nearby headland and made noise, causing the Skraelings to believe that the men were vulnerable. They kept the bull in front of their lines, knowing that it would terrify the Skraelings. They then concealed themselves in the woods. They intended to trap the Skraelings against a nearby lake when they tried to attack the men on the headland.

The Skraelings attacked. They were waving their war-rattles in an anticlockwise direction, a sign of hostility. They came initially in moose-hide boats, armed with flint weapons. They attacked the Vikings, who were forced to retreat, thinking that they were surrounded. They were also terrorised by a weird weapon that the Skraelings allegedly had. It was described as "A catapult...Karlsefni and Snorri saw them hoist a large sphere on a pole. This was dark blue in colour. It came flying in over the heads of Karlsefni's men, and made an ugly din when it struck the ground." This was probably the "ballista" described in some American Indian traditions.

The Vikings finally halted when they had their backs to a cliff, and decided to fight on. Freydis, the wife of Karlsefni, announced that the Viking warriors were cowards for retreating. Being pregnant, she couldn't fight; but she picked up a sword (from a dead viking who was killed with a flint axe!) and slapped a bare breast with it. This filled the Skraelings with fear (for some reason) and the Vikings quickly got the upper hand. Finally the Skraelings fled, into the forest. Many had been killed.

One incident during the battle was remarked on by both sagas. An American Indian, picking up an axe during the battle, began to test it out on a tree. He and his comrades were delighted by it. However, he then chopped at a rock. As the axe broke, he assumed it was not as good as a stone axe - so he threw the axe into the sea!

The Opposing Armies

The Eastern Forest Americans (Skraelings): 1 x 3Wb (Gen, with Viking Axe, next to rock!), 2 x 2Ps (Scouts), 1 x 1Art (Ballista), 8 x 3Wb (Warriors).

The battle was fought slightly north of New York, which was then populated by Eastern Forest Americans. These primarily fought using flint weapons, and are defined as "warband" in DBM. However, as we have seen, some of their troops also had some weird catapult. They would have been dressed as Eastern Forest American Indians (don't know what they wore), except many had red cloth headgear from the Vikings! They also had some sort of war-rattle. For a camp, I suggest beached boats, as they came in hide boats.

As noted, their general should be depicted with a Viking axe, attacking a large stone!

The Vinland Vikings: 8 x 4Bd (Warriors), 1 x 2Ps (Diversion on headland), 1 x 2Ps (scouts), 1 x 1El (Bull, counting as Elephant), 1 x Bd (Freyda personally holding back the American natives!)

These would have been dressed as normal Vikings. We do know one thing about them though: they all had red shields; they are described as lifting "red shields" when the battle began. Be sure to include a figure of Freyda, and also the bellowing bull! Their camp was in the woods, and was a clearing full of cattle.

The Battlefield

The following map is completely hypothetical.


     =============Skraeling Baseline=============
     WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW......WWWWWWWWWWWW
     WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.........WWWWWWWWWWWWW
     WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW............WWWWWWWWWWW
     WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.............WWWWWWWWWWWW       ^North
     WWWWWWWWWWWWW......................WWWWWWWWW
     WWWWWWWWWW...............................WWW
     R...............................ffffffffffff 
     .R..........................ffffffffffffffff
     .R...................ffffffffffff...ffffffff
     ..R..........ffffffffffffffffff.......ffffff
     ...R.......fffffffffffffffffffff....ffffffff
     ...R.........fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff
     ...R............ffffffffffffffffffffffffffff
     ...R.............fffffffffffffffffffffffffff
     ...R............................ffffffffffff
     ....R..............................fffffffff
     ....R.......................................
     .....R......................................
     .....R......................................
     ......R.....................................
     CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC.........................
					===============Viking Baseline==============


LEGEND:

. = Good Going
W = Lake
f = Forest
R = River
C = Steep Cliff (impassable)

Deployment

The Vikings hid in the clearing in the forest (to the east of the map) along with all but one of their cows. The headland (up north) has a group of men on it (Ps) to attract the Skraelings. The Skraelings fell for it, coming and landing at the coast in hordes. The Vikings charge out (towards left of map). However, the Skraelings force them south along the river because of their Art. They are driven back when the Vikings reach the cliffs at the south (and can recoil no further!) The Skraelings then run off.

Special Rules

None.

Victory Conditions

The Skraelings must either: (1) defeat Vikings; or (2) capture their camp.

The Vikings must drive off the Skraelings and defend their camp.


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Last Update: Mary 8, 2000

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