CARNAGE AT CLONTARF: IRELAND’S DARKEST DAY!

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On Good Friday, April 23, 1014 just north of Dublin a momentous and bloody battle was fought. At stake was the nascent unification of the island under its first true king, Brian Boru; and the future influence of the Vikings, who had settled and meddled in Ireland for nearly two centuries. The battle that resulted changed the course of Irish history, forever!

The Vikings had first begun raiding Ireland in the late 8th century.  As throughout western Europe, Scandinavian longships, crammed with warriors bent on rapine and plunder, descended on the coastal settlements and raided deep into the countryside; bringing death and destruction to the unwary inhabitants. These Vikings were perhaps the first iron-clad, mailed warriors the Irish had ever encountered: the defending Gaelic warriors “had nothing to defend their bodies… save only elegant tunics, shields, and finely wrought collars”; who fought in as light infantry in loose-formation.  By contrast, the Vikings were often veteran warriors, who fought in close order, “a solid, skillful, and firm rampart of strong coats mail like a thick, dark stronghold of black iron with a battle-wall of gleaming shields around their chiefs”.

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WEAPONS OF WAR: POLE-ARMS PART 1

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Deadliest blogger looks at various weapons of war; examining them by category. This first is a quick look at pole weapons; beginning with spear and pike. 

From the the earliest times as hunter-gathers, humans have sought to gain advantages over the large game they hunted and rival clans/tribes they competed against, though the use of various kinds of weapons. One of the earliest weapon used by man was the spear. Useful either at a thrusting or throwing weapon, it had the advantage of keeping the savage animals teeth or tusks at a distance while inflicting lethal wounds; or striking an enemy before he came within reach with stone or club (or stone club). Also, deep puncture wounds were more likely to prove deadly than blows with wooden or stone club; particularly on a very large animal or man.

As the history of man progressed, so did the variety and sophistication of pole weapons. Some, like the spear or pike, were strictly for thrusting (or fending-off attackers). Others, sporting cutting blades or clubs, were used to deliver a more powerful chopping blow. All pole weapons were eventually superseded in the west by the development of the gun (first the musket, followed by the rifle), mounting a spike, sword or knife: the bayonet. This turned the gun into a pole weapon (albeit a rather short one), useful when combat came to close quarters.

SPEARS AND PIKES

The spear is the most ubiquitous of human weapons. Beginning with the earliest clans of human hunter-warriors, the spear (along with the bow) were the weapon of choice. To this day, “primitive” tribesmen of New Guinea muster for battle with long spears or pikes….

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THE AGE OF ARTHUR: PART FIFTEEN

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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 fifteenth-part of our discussion of Britain in 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”; the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain.

(Read Part Fourteen here. Or start from the beginning, with Part One!)

THE CITY OF THE LEGION

Continuing on, we are attempting to piece-together a hypothetical career of Arthur, the historical basis for the legendary king. At present, we are drawing upon the work of the 9th century Welsh monk, Nennius. In chapter 56 of his Historia Brittonum (c. 830), he discusses twelve battles fought and won by Arthur as war leader (dux bellorum) among the kings of the Romano-Britons in their wars against the Anglo-Saxons:

At that time, the Saxons grew strong by virtue of their large number and increased in power in Britain. Hengist having died, however, his son Octha crossed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent and from him are descended the kings of Kent. Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander [“dux bellorum”]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion. The tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet. The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor. And while they were being defeated in all the battles, they were seeking assistance from Germany and their numbers were being augmented many times over without interruption. And they brought over kings from Germany that they might reign over them in Britain, right down to the time in which Ida reigned, who was son of Eobba. He was the first king in Bernicia, i.e., in Berneich.

First, it must be remembered that though he clearly drew on Gildas, a near-contemporary of  Arthur’s, and perhaps other Welsh sources, Nennius wrote centuries after the events he purports to chronicle. At best, we must take Nennius with a grain of salt. However, for purposes of constructing this hypothetical narrative, he is a useful roadmap.

Our discussion to date takes us to Arthur’s ninth battle; which Nennius claims  took place at “the City of the Legion”.

Attempts to identify this location has (not surprisingly) caused controversy….

(To continue reading, go here!)

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GREAT WARSHIPS OF HISTORY: SHIP OF THE LINE

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Deadliest Blogger continues its presentation of the great warships of history with a look as the main battleships of the Age of Sail: the Ship of the Line!

In the first half of the 16th century, the northern European maritime nations began developing purpose-built men-of-war; ships designed specifically to be warships, rather than (as had been common practice) outfitting a merchant Cog for combat in time of war. Developed from the Cog, these Carracks were ocean-going gun platforms, and allowed first the Spanish and Portuguese; and later the English and French to create great trading and colonial empires that spanned the globe….

(To continue reading, go here.)

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DIADOCHI: MACEDONIAN GAME OF THRONES (PART 3)

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Long before George R.R. Martin penned his tale of war, intrigue and treachery the ancient world was scene to its own version of The Game of Thrones.

(This is the third in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. Part  2  can be found here.  It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments!)

THE LAMIAN WAR BEGINS

Greece had long been under the thumb of Macedon, ever since Philip’s victory over the Athenian and Theban-led alliance at Chaeronea in 338 BC. Upon Philip’s assassination Thebes had revolted; but there had been no general rising, and one of Alexander’s first campaigns had been to crush the Theban revolt. The city of Heracles had been destroyed and its citizens sold into slavery, a warning that kept the other Greek states in line for the rest of Alexander’s reign.

Early in his campaign against Persia, the Greeks (with the notable exception of Sparta, which had never submitted to either Philip or Alexander) had been compelled to furnish men or ships. Meanwhile, many who had been opponents of Macedonian hegemony had taken service as mercenaries with the Persians. Defeated along with Darius by Alexander, some had returned to Greece after Issus; taking service under the Spartan king Agis III to fight against Antipater. Others had followed the defeated Darius east, to the Upper Satrapies where the last Achaemenid King of Kings” was ultimately assassinated by his own disgruntled nobles. After this, Alexander settled many of these (along with Greek mercenaries who had served in his own army) in these Upper Satrapies, particularly in Bactria; in one of the many Alexandrias that he founded.

When the conqueror died in Babylon in June of 323, confirmation was slow to arrive back in Greece. Initially, many doubted the rumors (this was not the first time that Greeks had heard unfounded rumors of Alexander’s death: it was just such a rumor that had inspired the Theban revolt of 335, leading to that city’s destruction). Demades, the Athenian statesman, quipped, “If Alexander were (truly) dead, the stench would fill the world!” But by September that year, the great King’s death was confirmed.

In Athens, this was the signal for revolt.

(To continue reading, go here!)

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A MOST SANGUINARY AFFAIR: BLOODY TOWTON, 1461

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Palm Sunday, 1461: On a bleak, windswept Yorkshire plateau two Medieval armies clashed amidst a snowstorm; brutally hacking-and-slashing with sword, halberd and bill in what was to prove the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. It would prove to be the decisive battle in the dynastic struggle known to history as the War of the Roses.

The War of the Roses was a 30 year-long conflict between adherents of two branches of the ruling Plantagenet dynasty: the House of York, whose symbol was a white rose; and the House of Lancaster, whose device was the red rose. The roots of the conflict lay partially in the competing claims of these royal cousins; and can be traced back to the deposition of King Richard II by his Lancastrian cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, Early of Derby and Duke of Hereford; who took the throne as King Henry IV. While Henry was able to hold onto his usurped crown and pass it to his son, the heroic warrior king Henry V; the legitimacy of Lancastrian rule came into question in the reign of his grandson, Henry VI

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SPARTANS: ELITE WARRIORS OF ANCIENT GREECE 7

Greek_Galleys 1(To read Part 6, go here; or to start at the beginning, go here.)

The Battle of Mantinea in 418 BC was the largest hoplite battle of the Peloponnesian War. The one-sided Spartan victory over their rivals secured Spartan hegemony over the Peloponnesians; and confirmed their reputation as the foremost soldiers in Hellas.

The prime agent behind the anti-Spartan alliance that collapsed at Mantinea was the Athenian Alcibiades son of Cleinias. A kinsman of the late Athenian leader, the renown Pericles, Alcibiades was perhaps the most charismatic politician of his generation. He had wealth, wit, good looks and boundless ambition. While not a great public speaker, he was charming and persuasive in private conversation. Unfortunately for Athens and his own fortunes, he was also completely lacking in scruples; and his primary loyalty was to no one other than himself.

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Herm portrait of the young AlcibiadesFollowing the failure of his efforts to sabotage Spartan power in the Peloponnese, he began to champion another project; one that would thrust him into a position of great influence and responsibility in the Empire. In 415 BC, delegates from the Ionian/Elymian city of Segesta in Sicily requested Athenian support in their war against neighboring Selinus; asking for a force of 60 triremes, the cost of which they offered to pay for a year. Alcibiades very quickly became the champion for this proposed intervention in Sicily; arguing for a military expedition to not only aid Segesta, but for subduing the entire island!

This opening of a new war, when the war against Sparta and her allies was yet smoldering and likely to erupt anew was foolish in the extreme….

(To continue reading, go here.)

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