GREECE IS SAVED BY ITS “WOODEN WALLS”

49Just six weeks after the brazen shields of the 300 brave Spartans failed to stop Xerxes at the pass of Thermopylae, Greece found salvation behind the “wooden walls” of the Athenian navy!

IN 480 BC there occurred one of those turning points in history, where the trajectory of history and the future of Western Civilization hung in the balance. That event was the Persian invasion of Greece.

The roots of this conflict went back twenty years.

Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, had incorporated the Greek cities along the Aegean coast of modern Turkey, then called Ionia, into his dominions. But in 500-499 B.C., the Ionian Greeks rebelled against Persian rule. The rebels were aided by the Ionian “mother city”, Athens; and by the small city of Eretria, on the island of Euboea. The revolt was short lived; but Persian memory was long.

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In 490 B.C., Darius I (called “the Great”) dispatched an expeditionary force to punish Athens and Eretria. The size of the force has at times been exaggerated, but the ground force (fleet aside) was likely around 50,000 men; transported across the Aegean by a substantial fleet of warships.

The Persians quickly overcame and destroyed Eretria. Their army then embarked again and landed on the mainland, on the beach of Marathon; only 25 miles from Athens. After appealing in vain for Spartan aid, the So of their own city (plus a minor contingent from the nearby town of Plataea), the Athenians engaged the Persians with only their own 10,000 hoplites at Marathon.

The Battle of Marathon showed the world for the first time the inherent superiority at close-quarters fighting of Greek hoplites over the lighter armed archers of Asia. The Persian army, despite its numerical advantage, was routed and thrown (literally!) back into the sea.

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Ten years later, Darius’ son and successor, Xerxes, launched a second invasion. This one was far, far larger in size and scope than his father’s. Darius had sent a punitive expedition; Xerxes led an invasion, the purposes of which was to bring the free city-states of Greece into “the fold” of the Persian Empire…..

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ENGLAND IS BORN AT BLOODY BRUNANBURH

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The Battle of Brunanburh is largely unknown to all but the most die-hard buffs of Anglo-Saxon or Viking history. But it is a battle that deserves to be remembered. For it was the largest and bloodiest battle fought in Anglo-Saxon England prior to Hastings (and likely surpassing that later battle in the numbers of combatants involved). It left its victor, King Athelstan of Wessex, the first Anglo-Saxon king to be called “King of England”.

Athelstan was the son and heir of Edward the Elder, and grandson of Alfred the Great. Upon his father’s death in 924, Athelstan was acclaimed first King of Mercia (central England); and then King of Wessex (the dominant Saxon kingdom, encompassing all the area south of the Thames) the following year. Continuing the ambitious, anti-Danish policies of his father and grandfather, in 927 Athelstan conquered York; which had been in Danish hands for 60 years, since captured by Ivar the Boneless and the “Great Heathen Army” in 867.

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After this, Constantine II of Alba (Scotland) and Owen I, ruler of British Strathclyde (Cumberland) submitted to Athelstan’s over-lordship. This effectively placed all of “England” under Saxon rule for the first time in history. (Prior to the Danish invasion of 866, England had been comprised of four rival kingdoms: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, and Wessex. The first three of these were Anglish; with Wessex the only Saxon kingdom.)

After seven years of peace, Athelstan invaded Scottish territory. It has been suggested this was on account of Constantine’s attempt to renounce his submission to Athelstan’s over-lordship. A coalition formed…..

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THE AGE OF ARTHUR: PART FIVE

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Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic conquest for nearly two centuries. This was an age of heroes… It was the Age of Arthur!

This is the fifth-part of our discussion of Britain in the so-called Age of Arthur: the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”. It was the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain; it was the Age of Arthur!

But who was Arthur? Before we answer that question, it is necessary we understand the world in which he lived.

(Read Part Four here; or start series from the beginning!)

THE SAXON TERROR

Vortigern had nurtured the Saxon wolf, from mere pup to full grown lupine menace. Now, like Fenris of Norse legend, the beast could no longer be chained! Hengist and his Saxon foederatii turned upon Vortigern and the Britons, devouring their host.

The brawny Horsa and wily Hengist

The exact date of the Saxon mutiny is unknown. It is unlikely to have occurred earlier than 451, and certainly no later than 455. Nor do we know the number of Saxon warriors involved in the insurrection. An estimate based upon the number of Saxon ships that, according to the sources, joined Hengist in Briton prior to the mutiny render a number not less than 1,000 warriors, and not more than 3,000 (a high and unlikely estimate).

SAxon shore forts

Furthermore, Hengist may have been able to win over those descendants of Saxon foederates settled in Britain by the Romans in the 4th century. Archeology has revealed that Saxon settlements may have dotted the eastern fringe of Britain; along the so-called Saxon Shore. These settlers might have risen and joined their ethnic cousins in pillaging their Celtic neighbors.

However many or few, Hengist’s foederates constituted the only standing body of “professional” troops in the heart of Britain, aside from Vortigern’s own household troops. Little stood between them and the nearly undefended civilized heartland of Roman Britain. Saxon warbands fanned-out throughout the countryside and spread fire and bloody destruction throughout the whole of the Roman Britain. Farms and manor houses were pillaged and burned, towns were sacked and likewise put to the torch. Men were slaughtered, women raped and murdered or, along with children, enslaved. These pagan Saxons had nothing but contempt for Christian places of worship: churches were robbed, their priest’s butchered, their alters desecrated.

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Gildas, writing nearly a century later, states that the Saxon violence “devastated all the neighboring cities and lands, and did not cease after it had been kindled, until it burnt nearly the whole surface of the island, and licked the western ocean.

During this time, many thousands of wealthier Romano-Britains and their retainers fled the country in despair; crossing the Channel to find sanctuary in Armorica (modern Brittany), in Northwestern Gaul; which bears their name to this day. This was not a process of months but of years. Throughout the century, Brittany remained an alternative refuge for Romano-Britons…..

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THE DEADLIEST BLOGGER LIST OF THE 25 GREATEST COMMANDERS OF THE RENAISSANCE

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Once again, Deadliest Blogger presents its list of Greatest Commanders of history. This time, we tackle the difficult period of the Renaissance; defined as the period from the second half of the 15th century through the 17th century. While some scholars would quibble with this broader time scope, it works very well militarily. During this 250 year period of history, the advent and integration of gunpowder weapons (“firepower”) on the battlefield reaches its fruition; replacing shock-and-melee weapons and tactics as the dominant force on the field. This is a period of increasing military professionalism, with many of the pioneers and great innovators of modern war taking the stage. The possible candidates for this list are so great and varied that many great commanders had to be overlooked, rated lower than those here. Some will of course take issue with the order in which I rate these, in itself an obviously subjective selection. But that is the fun of lists: to stimulate thought and conversation! So let us begin:

25. Edward IV

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Edward was born in 1442, the second son of Richard Duke of York. A branch of the Plantagenet royal family, the House of York found itself in a power struggle over the Protectorate of England during the reign of King Henry VI; when that king experience a period of madness. Henry was the third king of the Lancastrian-branch of the royal family; and their claim to the throne was technically weaker than that of the House of York. The result was the War of the Roses, a civil war that raged intermittently between the nobility for 32 years. Despite having most of the great nobles against them, York triumphed under the leadership of Edward. Becoming leader of his faction upon the execution of his father after the Yorkist defeat at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460; he reversed his family’s fortunes by defeating the Lancastrians at the Battles of at Northampton on 7 July 1460,  at Mortimer’s Cross on 2–3 February 1461 and at Towton the following month. Edward was declared King in March 1461 after capturing London. Though the Lancastrians would defeat Edward’s chief supporter, Richard Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker) at the Second Battle of at St. Albans on17 February 1461, their fortunes were in sharp decline. Edward found himself driven from the throne when his great vassal and right-hand-man, Warwick, turned against him; joining the Lancastrians and restoring Henry VI briefly to the throne in 1470. Edward fled to Flanders, accompanied by his younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III). With the aid of his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy, he raised a force and returned to England to reclaim his throne. At the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471 Edward defeated Warwick, and the Earl was killed in the subsequent rout. Edward secured his throne and brought the War of the Roses to a close for the remainder of his 12 years on the throne by victory over the Lancastrians at the subsequent Battle of Tewkesbury, on 4 May 1471. Edward was an accomplished amateur commander, who provided determined and aggressive leadership. While not in the same category of other great Plantagenet kings such as Richard the Lionheart or Edward Longshanks, he won nearly every battle he commanded in, often against superior enemy forces. He also had the gift of resiliency: he took misfortune in stride as readily as success; and always found a way to turn-the-tables on his enemies. He was among the handsomest of a line of kings noted for its good-looks. His impressive physique and height (approximately six feet four inches) along with his noted courage also made him a formidable fighting man in an age where a commander was often expected to trade blows with the enemy.

24.  Pierre Terrail, Chevalier de Bayard

Chevalier_Bayard_(1473_-1524)Often regarded as “the Last Knight”, an anachronism in his own time, it is often overlooked that Pierre Terrail, the Chevalier Bayard was a superb cavalry leader; and understood the military arts of his day as much or more than any other captain of the age. Born to a minor branch of the French nobility, his family enjoyed the dubious distinction of having a Terrail killed in battle in every generation for two centuries. Bayard was very early in his life involved in France’s Italian Wars, beginning as a teenager in Charles VIII invasion of Italy. Bayard distinguished himself at the Battle of Fornovo in 1495, capturing an enemy standard; and was knighted after the battle. In 1503, Bayard was the hero of a celebrated combat of thirteen French knights against an equal number of Spanish. At the Battle of Garigliano he single-handedly defended the bridge of the Garigliano against 200 Spaniards, gaining French forces much needed time. He played a key role as commander of the French vanguard in Louis XII’s 1508 Genoese campaign. In 1509 he was commissioned to raise and command a mixed company of infantry and cavalry; which became a model for discipline and professionalism. At the Battle of Agnadello his company played a key role in saving the French vanguard from destruction. Throughout the minor skirmishes and sieges that marked the next decade of the French Italian Wars, Bayard’s company and leadership were ever evident and effective. In 1513, he was in northern France to repel Henry VIII of England’s invasion. Though the French were routed at the Battle of the Spurs (Guinegate), Bayard won distinction and when captured, so impressed King Henry by his good humor and gallant bearing that he was released without ransom. At the Battle of Marignano in 1515, one of the great battles of the age, Bayard led repeated and effective charges by the French gendarmes (armored lancers) against the Swiss pike phalanx; the combination of French artillery and Bayard’s armored cavalry bringing the French victory that day. After the battle, Bayard had the honour of conferring knighthood on his youthful sovereign, King Francis I. He was given command of the retreat of the French army at the River Sesia. Bayard succeeded in extricating the army from a trap, but while directing the rearguard was shot in the back by an arquebuse, and died that afternoon in the care of his Spanish enemies. As a soldier, Bayard was considered the epitome of chivalry and one of the most skillful commanders of the age. He was particularly adept and keen in the arts of mounted reconnaissance; and was noted for the completeness of the information he gathered on enemy’s movements. Unusual in his age, he created a well-arranged system of espionage in the districts in which he campaigned, and was never caught unawares. In the long history of mounted warfare, he rates highly as one of the greatest cavalry leaders of all time. In an age of mercenary armies, Bayard remained absolutely disinterested but remained ever loyal to his king and country. To his contemporaries he was known and remembered for his romantic heroism, piety, and magnanimity: the fearless and faultless knight (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). His gaiety and kindness won him, even more frequently, another name bestowed by his contemporaries, le bon chevalier.

23. Gustav Horn

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Born to a Finnish noble family in 1592, Horn studied military sciences under Maurice of Nassau (above). Promoted to colonel, he took part in siege of Riga in 1621 and was seriously wounded. He acted with distinction in Livonia, his troops conquering Tartu. With count Jakob De la Gardie, he led defense of Livonia against Poland in late 1620s. At the age of 35, he was elevated to the rank of field marshal, by king Gustav II Adolphus (See below). He was Gustavus’ second-in-command and among his best commanders. He commanded the Swedish left at the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631; saving the day when the Saxon allies fled, leaving exposed the Swedish center-left. On his own initiative (King Gustavus was away with the cavalry on the far-right of the battle) he wheeled the Swedish line back at a right angle; preventing their envelopment by the right of Tilly’s (see above) Imperialist forces. Following the death of Gustavus at Lützen in November 1632, Horn and General John Banér were appointed to the overall command of the Swedish forces in Germany. He supported Bernard of Saxe-Weimar at the latter’s disastrous defeat battle of Nördlingen in 1634; and was taken prisoner. He was held till 1642, when he was exchanged for three Imperial generals. Following his exchange, Horn was appointed Minister of War. During the war against Denmark in 1644, Horn led the attack on Skåne and conquering the province, and laying siege ot Malmö. The Treaty of Brömsebro brought the war to an end before the siege ended. The conquest of Skåne became known as “the Horn War.” Horn later served as Governor-General in Livonia and Lord High Constable of the empire. When war broke out again against Poland in 1655, Horn directed the defense of Sweden against possible Polish invasion. He died in 1657, and is remembered as one of the most capable of the Swedish commanders of his age. His particular skills were in arranging defenses for every sort of situation. In an age when armies of mercenaries were often maintained by pillaging the local population, Horn was noted for maintaining strict discipline, not allowing his troops plunder the population. (In this he was in stark contrast to either Wallenstein (below) or his fellow Swede, Torstensson (see below).

22. Sir Thomas Fairfax

 4bc654f46df33cfd4e115b52dfd636f9Fairfax was the creator of the New Model Army, and second only to Cromwell in reputation at the end of the English Civil War. He was born in 1612, a member of the English-Scottish nobility in the north of England. Because his father’s title was in Scotland, he was able to take a seat in the English House of Commons. He learned the arts and sciences of command under Sir Horace Vere in the Netherlands, fighting for Prince Maurice of Nassau in the 80 Years War. In 1639 he commanded a troop of the King’s Dragoons in the short-lived First Bishops’ War; and in the Second Bishops’ War the following year he commanded his troop as part of the English army which was routed at the Battle of Newburn. Fairfax nevertheless distinguished himself, and was knighted for his services in January 1641. In the lead-up to the Civil War, he was among those who urged King Charles I to find accommodation with Parliament. When the civil war broke out in 1642, his father, Lord Fairfax, was appointed general of the Parliamentary forces in the north, and Sir Thomas was made lieutenant-general of the horse (second-in-command) under him. Both distinguished themselves in the early campaigns in Yorkshire. Though defeated at the Battle of Adwalton Moor, they survived as a viable force; Lord Fairfax retreating into the port of Hull, where he was resupplied by the Parliament navy; while Sir Thomas raided with a force of cavalry around York, a Royalist stronghold. The Parliamentary alliance with the Scottish Covenanters led to a Scottish army under the Earl of Levan (a veteran of Swedish service in the 30 Years War) marching south to join with Fairfax and the newly arrived army of the Earl of Manchester (and Manchester’s Lieutenant General of Horse, Oliver Cromwell); resulting in the Siege of York. Fearing the loss of their northern bastion, King Charles dispatched his chief andn most talented lieutenant, his nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine to rally Royalists forces and break the siege. This led to the Battle of Marston Moor (2 July 1644) which proved the decisive battle for control of the north. Sir Thomas Fairfax commanded the rightwing, with John Lambert as his second in command with several of the regiments of foot in support. During the bloody fight that followed, Fairfax’s wing collapsed, and he rode to Cromwell on the opposite side of the field. There, Cromwell had routed Prince Rupert and the Royalist left. Fairfax rode beside Cromwell in his decisive counter-attack that crossed the field and shattered the hitherto successful Royalist left under Goring. Marston Moor ended the Royalist cause in the north, and made Cromwell’s reputation as a leader of horse. Fairfax was severely wounded, but acquitted himself gallantly. The following year Parliament passed the New Model Ordinance, which replaced the locally raised Parliamentary regiments with a unified, “New Model Army”. Sir Thomas Fairfax was selected as the new commander-in-chief with Cromwell as his lieutenant-general and cavalry commander. This new organization and command quickly proved its worth in the decisive Battle of Naseby (14 June 1645). The Royalist cause was lost, and the First Civil War soon came to an end. When the Second Civil War broke out two years later, Fairfax effectively led the New Model Army against the revived Royalists in England; while Cromwell defeated the King’s Scottish allies at Preston. At the trial of King Charles, Fairfax was originally the chief among the judges; but he left the court, refusing to take part in a trial that would ultimately condemn the king to death. Fairfax’s last service as commander-in-chief was the suppression of the Leveller mutiny at Burford in May 1649. After this he resigned his commission, and Cromwell replaced him as Lord General of the Kingdom (and eventually Lord Protector of the Kingdom). His break with his more radical associates and refusal to condemn the king led to his exemption from punishment a decade later when The Restoration returned Charles II to England and the throne. He took up arms for the last time to aid the restoration, when George Monck invited him to assist in the operations undertaken against John Lambert‘s army. In December 1659 his appearance at the head of Royalists forces was enough to cause 1,200 cavalry to quit Lambert’s cause and joined him. This was speedily followed by the breaking up of all Lambert’s army, end resistance to the restoration of the monarchy. Along with Monck, he was the head of the delegation sent to Holland to escort the new king home, and Charles II rode into London on a horse provided by Fairfax, at the king’s side. He died eleven years later in retirement in his native Yorkshire. His legacy is that of an organizer and a leader of horse. Though eclipsed by Cromwell both as a commander and a politician, his reputation remained intact with both the supporters of Parliament and his erstwhile enemies, the Royalists. He was an honorable gentleman to the end, who remained moderate in politics, gracious in victory and stoic in defeat.

21. Henry of Navarre

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Military leader of the Huguenots in the latter half of the Wars of Religion in France, Henry of Navarre was baptized as a Catholic as an infant; but raised as a Protestant. As a teenager, he joined the Huguenot forces in the French Wars of Religion. He inherited the throne of Navarre in 1572 upon his mother’s death. Narrowly escaping murder two months later in Paris (for his wedding) during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, he was a virtual prisoner at court till 1576. Escaping to Tours, he abjured the Catholic cause and rejoined the Huguenots. In 1584 he became the presumptive heir to the throne, something unpalatable to the majority Catholics in the country. This triggered the War of the Three Henries; a three-way struggle for the crown between Henri III and the Royalists, the Catholic League led by Henri of Guise, and Navarre leading the Huguenots. In his first battle as commander, at Courtras in 1587 Navarre defeated the Royalist general (and intimate favorite of the king), Anne Duke of Joyeuse. His tactic of interspersing his three columns of pistol-and-sword armed cavalry with supporting groups of musket or arquebuse-armed infantry (the first rank of which were ordered to kneel, allowing greater concentration of fire in the first volley), broke-up the charge of the heavily armored lancers; followed by a counter-charge that shattered and routed the now disordered Royalists. This tactical innovation presaged Gustavus Adolphus’ later use of “commanded muskets” to support his squadrons of Swedish horse. Two years later, both Henri III and Guise were dead; and Navarre fighting to confirm his kingship. His forces, now mixed Huguenot and Catholic, represented the “Royalist” faction. His opposition was the still powerful Catholic League, now led by Guise’s brother, the Duke of Mayenne; supported financially and materially by Catholic Spain. At Arques in Normandy, Navarre caught Mayenne’s much larger League army in a field too narrow for their numbers to be brought to bear. Several days of skirmishing took place, until a well placed battery and repeated charges of cavalry (Navarre always at their head) routed the enemy. At Ivry in 1589, near Paris, the opponents met again in the decisive battle of the struggle. Tactically, the battle became one of the most instructive of the century; a harbinger for what was to come. While the League infantry were equal portions of pike-to-shot (many of which were Swiss and German mercenaries), and the best of their cavalry were lance-armed; not a single trooper of Navarre’s Royalist cavalry carried anything but sword and pistol. While among the infantry, the proportion of shot-to-pike in the Royalist force was 3-1 in favor of fire-units over melee (clearly influencing the later tactical innovations of Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus, below). The League cavalry, mixed German reiters and Guise-faction lancers were unable to coordinate their actions; harassed and disorganized as they advanced by Royalist arquebusiers. Navarre timed his charge perfectly (ordering his men to “follow his white plume”), catching the retreating reiters passing through the oncoming lancers and neither prepared to meet his charge. Galloping thigh-to-thigh, his lighter horse discharged their pistols in the face of their enemies; following up with sword. The Royalist squadrons broke through, and routed the League forces. It was a defeat from which the League never fully recovered. Thereafter, Navarre had to contend with Spanish forces, intervening directly to prevent a Huguenot king from ascending the throne of France. Now facing the foremost soldier of his day, the Duke of Parma, Navarre was baffled at every turn. Only that great soldier’s premature death turned the tide in his favor. Through statecraft rather than force of arms, he brought the war to a conclusion and secured the throne: he agreed to become a Catholic, in return for the surrender of Paris and the acceptance of his rule (“Paris is worth a Mass”). He ruled France well and wisely for another 17 years, before assassinated in 1610. As a leader of horse he was gallant and brave to a fault; with the great leader’s gift for timing. But it was as a tactician that he truly shone; his innovations and battle practice inspiring the most influential tacticians of the next century.

20. Hernán Cortés

cortesCortés was perhaps the ultimate military adventurer. Born of the minor gentry in Medellin, Spain, he immigrated at a young age to Hispaniola. It was 15 years before he was given the opportunity to show his native military talents; when, in 1519, he was appointed to lead a small expedition to explore Mexico. Upon landing on the eastern coast with a force of 500 men (13 of which were mounted), he burned the 11 ships that had conveyed them; by this gesture announcing to all his conviction to advance and conquer or die in the process. Marching deep into the heart of the Aztec Empire, a nation of several million and capable of fielding over 100,000 warriors, he displayed a brilliant combination of audacity with caution; statesmanship and diplomacy combined with calculated terror. He benefited greatly from and played upon the native superstitions, which suspected him of being the god Quetzalcoatl, returned. He first defeated and then formed an alliance with those tribes independent of and hostile to the Aztecs, particularly  the fierce Tlaxcalteca. Through diplomacy, he gained for himself and his army peaceful admittance into the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, “The Heart of the One World“. Once there, he took prisoner the Aztec ruler, Moctezuma; using him as a puppet till that king was killed by his own outraged subjects during an explosion of outrage directed against the Spanish interlopers. Besieged in the heart of Tenochtitlan, his tiny force fought bravely, benefitting from superior weapons technology and European tactics. As the situation grew increasingly desperate, Cortez attempted to escape the city under the cover of night. In the process, his army was ambushed while crossing along the narrow causeway’s leading out of the city, in what came to be called La Noche Triste (“The Night of Sorrows”). Much of his force was destroyed, yet despite this nearly fatale reverse, a week later he defeated a large Aztec army at the Battle of Otumba. Buoyed by this success, Cortez retreated into the territory of his native allies, to rebuild his army. He returned the following spring and laid siege to Tenochtitlan; whose defenders were greatly weakened by a smallpox epidemic brought by the Spanish. After a two-and-a-half month siege, in which Cortez cut off all supplies to the island city by blockading the causeways into the city and interdicting canoe-born resupply by building and launching armed caravels upon Lake Texcoco; the Aztecs surrendered to Cortez. Cortez was the first and greatest of the “Conquistadors”, an amateur military genius who achieved more with fewer resources from his home-country than perhaps any conqueror in history. He was an accomplished diplomat as well as soldier, skilled in the ways of a Renaissance courtier; and his conquest would have been impossible had he not augmented his meager European forces with native allies. In battle he was courageous and aggressive. Both militarily and politically, he was an opportunist with an instinct for finding his opponent’s jugular. He would rate much more highly on this list, had he not faced an opponent armed only with weapons of flint and obsidian; or whose style of warfare emphasized capturing rather than killing their enemies.

19. Selim the Grim

 Yavuz_Selim 2Sultan Selim I, nicknamed Yavuz, “the Stern” (but often rendered in English as “the Grim”) was born around 1470, the youngest son of Sultan Bayezid II. He successfully rebelled against his father when his brother was named heir to the throne in 1512; exiling his father and killing his brother and nephews, in order to eliminate potential pretenders to the throne. His first challenges as Sultan was the growing power of  Shah Ismail and the Shia  Safavids. In 1511, Ismail had supported an pro Shia/Safavid uprising in Anatolia, the Şahkulu Rebellion. In 1514, Selim attacked the Safavid kingdom to stop the spread of Shiism into Sunni Ottoman lands. The two armies met at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. The Ottoman army, using modern tactical…..

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THE CRUSADES, PART FOUR: CRUSADERS GONE WILD!

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This is the fourth part of Deadliest Blogger’s politically incorrect look at the Crusades. Considering the sheer volume of material and scope of history involved, this can only be a cursory examination of the Crusades*; with the politically correct blinders removed. In this part we will look at the First Crusade, and the establishment of the Christian Crusader States in Syria and Palestine.

(For Part Three, go here; or, to start from the beginning, go here!)

In 1204 a singular event occurred which shook the Western World: Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) Empire, long the impregnable bastion of Eastern Christendom and bulwark against Islamic expansion, was captured and sacked. Not by its Muslim enemies; but by an Army of Christian “Crusaders”!

Thus began a period in which the Crusader movement became misdirected, seemingly attacking everywhere except to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land!

From 1204 until 1272 there were eight Crusades (only six of which are counted as “official” Crusades) launched. Of these, only two actually arrived in the “Holy Land” (Syria/Lebanon/Palestine).

The Crusader movement had indeed “gone wild”!

It should be remembered that the original purpose of the Crusades, motivated by Pope Urban II’s sermon at Clermont in 1095, was to succor the beleaguered Christian empire of Byzantium from the Seljuk Turks; and to recover Jerusalem and the Holy Land, captured by the Muslims in the 7th century. Yet in 1204, just 109 years later, Byzantium was captured and sacked by a Crusader army! How had this movement become so misdirected?

Constantinople 1200

Constantinople, “Miklagaard” the Golden City to the Vikings, was the greatest city in Europe till 1204. Within its walls were priceless works of art and literature from the Classic Age of Greece and Rome. Istanbul (below) echoes the glories of its imperial past.

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The answer is that like all things created by man, the Crusades were able to be turned to the uses of the venial and corrupt; to be twisted for their own purposes by powerful and ambitious men.

THE FOURTH CRUSADE

The Third Crusade had failed to liberate Jerusalem; ending instead with a negotiated settlement between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. (See Part Three here) The dust had barely settled when the new Pope, Innocent II, was preaching another Crusade. After some time and effort, the Fourth Crusade was launched.

In 1202, a 13,000 strong Crusader army of mostly French and Flemings contracted with the blind Doge (ruler) of Venice, Enrico (Henry) Dandolo, for transport to Egypt. From there, it was planned to deliver a crippling blow to the Ayyubids; the successors of Saladin who ruled both Egypt and Syria. From here, it was thought Jerusalem could subsequently be liberated.

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Enrico (Henry) Dandolo, the “Blind Doge” of Venice

However, the cost of transportation was more than the Crusaders could pay. They reached a compromise with the Venetians: to stop in route and capture the Adriatic coastal city of Zara; a former Venetian dependency now aligned with Hungry. As the Crusader army invested the city, the terrified citizens hung banners marked with crosses from the battlements and windows of the city; to show that they were fellow Catholics. This did not save them, and the Crusader forces nevertheless stormed the city, followed by the usual sack-and-pillage.

The unscrupulous Enrico Dandolo had thus used the zealous but impoverished Franks to achieve Venetian political ends; however irrelevant to the goals of the Crusade.

When word reached Pope Innocent III, he was immediately outraged at this attack upon fellow Christians; and in a letter to the army’s leadership, threatened the Crusaders with excommunication. However, the Crusader leaders did not disclose the Pope’s letters to the rank-and-file; who continued to believe they had Papal absolution for any acts committed while on Crusade.

At this junction, an exiled Byzantine prince arrived in the Crusader camp; and history reached one of its turning points….

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THE AGE OF ARTHUR: PART 4

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Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic conquest for nearly two centuries. This was an age of heroes… It was the Age of Arthur!

This is the fourth-part of our discussion of Britain in the so-called Age of Arthur: the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”. It was the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain; it was the Age of Arthur!

But who was Arthur? Before we answer that question, it is necessary we understand the world in which he lived.

(Read Part Three here)

THE ARMIES OF VORTIGERN AND HENGIST: COMPOSITION OF FORCES IN THE MID-FIFTH CENTURY

Returning to Vortigern and the military situation in the 440s, it is important to remember that all of the professional Roman soldiers who had not left the island in 407 were either dead or grown old in service.

What replaced them?

It is very likely that in the old border forts, which had become crowded villages (albeit very strongly fortified villages), sons took their father’s place in the unit. This had probably been the case for over a century, with duty in the limitanei garrisons becoming hereditary. Now these men were no better than territorial militia, available for local defense only.

In the southern heartland of Britain, where Roman roots had sunk deep and towns and wealthy villas abounded, defense was only provided by local civic militias and the small retinues of rich landed nobles. Unlike the north, which had the Wall garrisons and fierce tribal allies to defend it; or in the western hills of Wales and Cornwall, where the tribal system was still strong; the southern Britons had grown soft and civilized. It is not surprising that this region of Britain was the first to succumb to the coming barbarian tide.

The old command of the Comes Litoris Saxonici (“Count of the Saxon Shore”) had deteriorated much more than had that of the Dux Britanniarum in the north. While the coastal forts still remained occupied for several more generations, and were very strong places indeed; they had been stripped to the bone by first Stilicho and later Constantine III, and had no troops to spare to contribute to the defense of the interior.

(Recent scholarship has suggested that many of these “Saxon Shore” defenses were, in fact, manned by Saxon feoderati. It has always been supposed that the “Saxon Shore” was so named because it was the target of Saxon raids. However, it may be that it gained its name because of the presence of large number of settled Saxon feoderates placed there by the Roman authorities. The presence of Anglo-Saxon grave sites and villages dating to the 4th century and the Roman occupation gives strength to this argument.)

It was in the west, where tribal leaders still had authority, and warriors still maintained a martial tradition, that troops were to be had who could hold back the barbarian. It is understandable that it is from here that Vortigern, a prince of the Cornovii (and perhaps a former Bishop of London?), came to take over the leadership and defense of Britain.

So what would Vortigern’s army look like?

ROMANO-BRITISH FORCES IN THE TIME OF VORTIGERN (425-455)

In the 5th century, as the Western Roman authority became increasingly tenuous and the comitatensis armies disappeared, Roman generals came to rely more-and-more upon a combination of barbarian feoderati and their own mounted bodyguard units. These latter were employed directly by the general and were members of his Household; and paid out of his own purse (an economic advantage for the ever-strained Imperial treasury). They were called “bucellarii“, a term translating literally as “biscuit eaters”; referring to their campaign rations of twice-baked bread, or hardtack, that was their daily ration. Bucellarii were often the professional core of 5th and 6th century Roman field forces; and could be quite large; depending on the resources and prestige of the general. The largest recorded was the household regiment of the great Eastern Roman commander, Belisarius; which spearhead all of his campaigns and numbered as many as 7,000 men.

Vortigern likely maintained a regiment of bucellarii, recruited mostly from the loyal western tribes. As the memory of Rome faded further and further, and Brythonic replaced Latin as the lingua franca in the former Roman province of Britannia, these body-guard units came to be known as Teulu (“Family”; or “Household”). These were cavalry armed with javelins and/or light spear, wearing coats of mail and helmets of late Roman design.

Vortigern’s own bucellarii would likely have been organized in troops numbering between 150 (the number of teulu for later Welsh princes) and 300 men (the standard unit strength for Late Roman and Byzantine cavalry regiments). The overall strength of his Teulu is unknowable. But a Welsh poem c.650AD mentions a certain Celtic prince named Cynddylan maintaining as many as 700 warriors at his court. Another northern British chieftain who was a contemporary of Vortigern maintained a Teulu of 900 cavalry (three troops of 300 horsemen each). Considering his position and prestige, it is unlikely that Vortigern’s Teulu would have numbered less.

Though expected to form the hard-core of any campaign army, this force was primarily for Vortigern’ personal security: he was never popular with his fellow Britons, and his reign (at least the latter part) depicts a man deeply distrusted by and distrustful of his countrymen. When he moved himself to make war, Vortigern would rely on local militia forces of infantry and (to lesser extent) the mounted retainers of landed magnates and tribal princes to rally around and flesh-out his professionals. These latter would have operated as javelin-armed heavy or light cavalry, in the late Roman style.

These local British militias would be mostly spear and javelin armed infantry, called Pedyt (from the Latin “Pedites”, or Foot) supported by small numbers of archers. They would have been organized and equipped much like the late Roman auxilia and legions; in units of 1,000 (sub-divided into units of 100 men each). One version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the 4,000 British casualties at Creacanford as 4 troops, suggesting units of 1,000 each; the same size as the late Roman legio. Body armor would be limited to only the officers, with helmets more ubiquitous. The spatha pseudo-broadsword would be the weapon of second-resort.

When in the north, a British warleader could draw from the garrisons of the old Wall forts and settlements. These were likely better armed and armored than the civic militia in the south. Importantly for the future, among these….

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Romano British warlord

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THE VIKINGS: AN ENDURING (AND SAVAGE) FASCINATION (Second Edition)

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(For Cecilia, in whom the Viking spirit still resides.)

A  furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine: “From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord.”

This simple prayer was once on the lips of priests and parishioners across all of northern Europe; as sleek, dragon-prowed longships carried savage bands of Viking warriors in search of plunder and conquest. In the midst of the “Dark Ages”, a brutal age of hard men, none were harder than the Northmen!

Starting in the late 8th century there occurred one of those sociological events that, from time-to-time, cause historians and social scientists to scratch their heads in fruitless attempt to explain. For reasons imperfectly known, fearsome warriors from the nascent nations of Scandinavia began to raid throughout Europe and the Mediterranean world. One theory is that a global warming trend produced a surplus of population in Scandinavia; resulting in a bold search for new land to settle. Another theory is that the Saxon campaigns of Charlemagne, in the late 8th century, and his suppression of the pagan religion the Saxons shared with the peoples of Scandinavia; led to a violent counter-reaction by the Danes and Norse.

However, the simplest explanation may be the correct one: they raided because they could. The initial raids of such isolated places as the coastal monastery of Lindisfarne (793AD) in Northumbria were so successful and opposition so weak, they encouraged further aggression.

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Wither Danes or Norsemen, and whatever their motivation, they were known collectively to the terrified peoples of the West as “Vikings”.

It is curious that at a time in history when our boys are taught to “use their words” instead of their fists, and young men are inculcated with a “political correctness” that emphasizes the modern values of sensitivity, inclusiveness and non-violence; that the Vikings are still looked upon with such admiration. They continue to be celebrated in film and in literature. Dozens of films over the years lionize the adventures of Viking heroes. The Icelandic Sagas, written in the 13th century, are read by a far wider audience today than perhaps at any other time in history. Across the world, “Historical Reenactors” spend their leisure time dressing as Vikings, recreating their culture and styles of combat. Currently on American television a dramatic series, “Vikings”, is based upon the saga of the semi-legendary Viking, Ragnar Lothbrok.

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So who were the Vikings; and why such an enduring fascination?

To begin to understand the Vikings, it is necessary to first understand what made their seaborne expeditions possible:  their longships. These vessels were….

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Viking008

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