This new book by Raffaele D'Amato in the Osprey Elite series covers the Dark Ages kingdoms in Gaul and Britain between 450 and 800. This is a challenging subject to write about, given the limited contemporary sources and archaeology. Particularly in Britain, where the later romantic fantasies about King Arthur can muddy the waters.
This is really two books in one, covering Gaul and Britain. There were solid links, but the narrative is quite different. The first two chapters cover the historical background, the kingdoms that developed when the Roman state left and the military organisation. On Arthur, the author goes with what he argues is the general consensus that, after Ambrosius, a leader named Artorius or 'Arthur' fought against the Saxons in the first part of the 6th century. Modern studies suggest that he was a Romano-Celtic warlord, probably bearing the title Dux Bellorum (war-leader), who led armoured cavalry against the invading Saxons; Collingwood compares him to a Late Roman cavalry commander. I can go with that!
I am less familiar with post-Roman Gaul, which split into different kingdoms as well, including Brittany and Armorica, which also appear in Arthurian tales.
The chapters on equipment and dress thankfully reflect my wargame armies of the period. Spear, sword and shield troops dominate, dressed in long-sleeved tunics, with puttees and a long cloak. Helmets were difficult to make and were probably limited in rank and file units. Better troops had scale or ringmail armour. Gallo-Roman nobles were often splendidly dressed, with more than a few painting challenges. A passage in The Dream of Rhonawby from the Mabinogion describes three horsemen wearing on their heads: 'A golden helmet with precious... stones in it, on top of the helmet an image of a yellow-red leopard, with two crimson-red stones in its head.' The colour plates are excellent, in a crisp painting style by Andrei Negin.
There is very little on battlefield tactics. Mainly because we know very little. More complex Roman manoeuvres probably lasted only a short time, although disciplined cavalry charges are mentioned in the sources.
This is a period that is popular with warmers. At GDWS, we played a fun campaign based on the WAB Age of Arthur supplement. Late Roman armies mostly work as well with some additions. There is a lovely colour plate of a Strathclyde crossbowman based on archaeological findings near me, which I might have a go at. Overall, a handy book, which wargamers will find particularly helpful. But be prepared for arguments if you use them in public!
|Some of my 28mm infantry of the period