THE AGE OF ARTHUR: PART SIXTEEN

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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 Sixteenth-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 Fifteen here. Or start from the beginning, with Part One!)

As we attempt to reconstruct the life of an “historical” King Arthur, it is important to bear in mind that all of this is highly speculative. We know little of Arthur beyond the legends; and that little we do have in way of “historical” data come from sources centuries later. However, unlike many modern historians who use this paucity of contemporary material as excuse to dismiss an historic Arthur as mere invention; we are here attempting to build a plausible narrative based upon what is available.

Certainly the historical facts support the possibility, even the likelihood of a British national leader in the late 5th/early 6th century; who defended the remnants of Roman civilization in Britain; and led the resistance to Anglo-Saxon expansion on the island. We see evidence in the archeological record, including the locations of Anglo-Saxon burial sites, that in the early 6th century the seemingly inexorable advance of the Anglo-Saxons across Britain was arrested and thrown back to the eastern fringes of the island.

Procopius, the Byzantine historian of the mid-6th century, noted that there was an ongoing exodus of Saxons from Britain to the continent during his lifetime. Something (or someone) caused this to happen; almost certainly by making successful war upon the hitherto triumphant Anglo-Saxons.  It goes without saying that successful warfare is impossible without good leadership; so such an achievement must be attributed to a otherwise unknown British leader.

Why would not that leader be the basis for the later stories and legends of “Arthur”?

(To continue reading, go here)

 

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DIADOCHI: MACEDONIAN GAME OF THRONES (PART 4)

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(This is the fourth in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadochi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! For Part 3, go here.)

REVOLT IN BACTRIA

The winter of 323-322 BC passed, with Antipater the Regent bottled-up in Lamia; besieged by a Hellenic League army commanded by Leosthenes the Athenian. Antipater’s agents in Macedon were raising mercenaries for the coming campaign season. Meanwhile, across the Hellespont, the ambitious Leonnatus was planning to march as soon as weather permitted; to Antipater’s rescue and, he hoped, to military glory. Further east, in Cilicia (or perhaps a bit closer, in Phrygia*) the popular Craterus was also planning a spring march back to Macedon. He had started home from Babylon, with 10,000 discharged veterans, before Alexander’s death. Aside from leading these veterans home, his personal mission to Macedon had been to relieve Antipater of his command and take over the governorship of Macedon. However, the king’s death and the rising of the Greeks had thrown such plans into question. Always the selfless soldier, he was prepared to return and serve Macedon (and Antipater) in whatever capacity was needed.

In the east, the Greek settlers left by Alexander in the Upper Satrapies (Northeastern Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) were also in revolt. It had been his policy to found settlements of aging veterans and Greek mercenaries throughout the east, as Hellenizing agents. Settling these Greek mercenaries in the east might also have been Alexander’s attempt to solve the issue of a surplus of Greek soldiers which had been a constant source of problems in the Greek world since the end of the Peloponnesian War. If so, it went counter to the interests of the professional class of mercenary captains (such as Leosthenes) whose living was dependent on the easy availability of such men. But Macedonian leadership was never popular among the Greeks, and such captains were able to play upon their simmering resentment….

(To continue reading, go here)

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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”.

(To continue reading, go here.)

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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….

(To continue reading, go here)

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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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