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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Friday 5 April 2024

The Faded Map

 My library pick this month was Alistair Moffat's look at the lost kingdoms of Scotland during the late Roman, Dark Ages, and early medieval periods. They are 'lost' because we know very little about them. What we do know is based on a handful of unreliable written sources and archaeology. 

The problem with writing about lost kingdoms is that without sources, you either have to give extensive context or speculate extensively. Moffat mainly goes for the former. This book was written in 2010, and there have been some developments since then. The History Hit podcast 'Gone Medieval' recently covered these.

The main lost kingdom in the east of Scotland is Bernicia. The Kingdom of Bernicia emerged in the early 6th century in the region that roughly corresponds to present-day Northumberland and County Durham in England. Moffat argues that it also covered much of lowland Scotland and for a period further north. Bernicia's history is closely intertwined with that of its southern neighbour, the Kingdom of Deira. Together, they formed the powerful kingdom of Northumbria when they were united in the late 7th century. 

One of the most notable rulers of Bernicia was King Æthelfrith, who reigned from around 593 to 616. Æthelfrith was known for his military prowess and expansionist policies. He was responsible for defeating the British kingdom of Gododdin at the Battle of Degsastan in 603 and the subsequent annexation of the region known as the Old North. After the death of Æthelfrith, Bernicia was briefly ruled by Edwin of Deira (killed at the Battle of Hatfield Chase 633) but later reverted to independent rule under Æthelfrith's sons. Eventually, the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira were united under King Oswiu in 654, forming the Kingdom of Northumbria. Bernicia's influence continued throughout the Northumbrian period, which lasted until the Viking invasions of the 9th century.

In the west, Strathclyde existed as an independent kingdom for several centuries, coexisting alongside Northumbria, Dalriada and Rheged. During its height, Strathclyde played a significant role in the politics and warfare of northern Britain. It was often a buffer state between the expanding kingdoms of the Angles and the Scots, and its kings were involved in conflicts with both. However, with the rise of the Kingdom of Scotland under Kenneth MacAlpin and his successors, Strathclyde gradually came under increasing pressure. By the 11th century, it had effectively been absorbed into Scotland, although remnants of its distinct culture and identity persisted for some time. Tim Clarkson's 'Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age' covers this later period well.

The benefit of this study is that it's focused on the lost kingdoms of Scotland. The problem is that just narrows down what we don't know. New archaeological findings certainly help, but the absence of historical sources will always limit our understanding of this period. Still, it gives free rein to excellent historical fiction writers like Matthew Harffy!

One of my 28mm Saxon command stands


  1. Just had a look at my local library has an e-copy so I'll definitely check this out. I'm currently reading Thomas Williams' Lost Realms which covers similar ground

    1. A broader geography but it looks similar. Another library trip for me as well!

  2. And this is relatively recent history. Sometimes you just have to speculate what might have happened from the little information you do have and how (or even if) you can link it to known people/events elsewhere.
    We aren’t 100% over biblical timings - the “new chronology” debate.

    1. That's fair. Sometimes we just have to do the best we can and make some educated guesses.