Jay's Wargaming Blog

June 30, 2009

The Battle Of Maldon

Filed under: Scenarios — Jay @ 6:47 am


The battle of Maldon, 991 AD, is mentioned both in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and in a famous eponymous poem of the period. It was an important engagement which led to the humiliating Saxon practice of paying ‘danegeld’ in exchange for peace. Wikipedia provides the following concise account of the battle:

“The Vikings sailed up the Blackwater (then called the Panta), and Byrhtnoth called out his levy. The poem begins with him ordering his men to stand and how to hold weapons. His men, except for his household guard, were peasants and householders from the area. He ordered them to “send steed away and stride forwards”: they arrived on horses but fought on foot. The Vikings sailed up to a small island in the river. At ebb, the river leaves a land bridge from this island to the shore; the description seems to have matched the Northey Island causeway at that time. This would place the site of the battle about two miles southeast of Maldon. Olaf addressed the Saxons, promising to sail away if he was paid with gold and armour from the lord. Byrhtnoth refused.

Olaf’s forces could not make headway against the troops guarding the small land bridge, and he asked Byrhtnoth to allow his warriors onto the shore. Byrhtnoth, for his ofermōde [“pride” or “excess of courage”], let all the Vikings cross to the mainland. The Vikings overcame the Saxons after losing many men, killing Byrhtnoth. An Anglo-Saxon called Godrīc fled riding Byrhtnoth’s horse. Godrīc’s brothers Godwine and Godwīg followed him. Then many Anglo-Saxons fled, recognizing the horse and thinking that its rider was Byrhtnoth fleeing. After the battle Byrhtnoth’s body was found with its head missing, but his gold-hilted sword was still with his body.”

This battle provides excellent material for a solo game. The map above provides the initial dispositions (click on the map to go to a larger version). Note that the marshy ground does not appear to have affected the fighting and may therefore be disregarded as a terrain factor, at your discretion. The following scenario has been designed with a standard small-scale DBA battle in mind, but it would be a simple matter to adapt the opposing forces to other rulesets – the Danes were (as usual) tooled-up professional raiders, while the Saxons fielded a few housecarls and a mass of inexperienced levies.

The Scenario

The Danes: 1 x Blade General (Olaf Tryggvason), 11 x Blades

The Saxons: 1 x Blade General (Byrhtnoth), 2 x Blades (Housecarls), 8 x Spears (Fyrd), 1 x Psiloi (Light Troops)

Deployment: all Danes are deployed in a single, one-element wide column on the causeway, with Olaf Tryggvason at least three elements back from the front. They are faced at the end of the causeway by a single element of Saxon Housecarls (not Byrhtnoth’s element). The causeway is one element wide.

Phase One

During this Phase the Danes on the causeway must attack the Housecarls holding its landward end. During this Phase the Danes fight at a – 2 combat penalty, reflecting the historical performance of the respective troops. The Housecarls will hold their position and will not advance further down the causeway if the Danes are pushed back. However, if pushed back the Danes must attack again next turn.

At the start of each game turn during this Phase throw a D6. On a throw of 1 or 2, Byrhtnoth calls on his Housecarls to retire to the main body of his army, and the Phase ends immediately. At the end of game turn six this will be automatically triggered, and Phase One will end.

Phase Two

Redeploy the Housecarls as part of the Saxon line, then draw up the Danish force (minus any casualties they have suffered) opposite them, i.e. with all Danish troops now across the river and over the causeway. The main battle may now commence. Note that the Danes will fight on until two thirds of their original strength has been destroyed (8 elements) and the Saxons will fight on so long as a Housecarl unit remains on the field (but see below).

To reflect the historical weakness of the Saxon Fyrd in this battle, all Spear elements will fight at a penalty of – 1. In addition, if a Housecarl unit is destroyed, throw a D6: on a throw of 1 all Saxon Fyrd will immediately flee the battlefield.

This gives a reasonable re-play of the original battle. However, for added spice any or all of the following extras can be included:

1. Saxon Morale. At the start of Phase Two throw a D6 and note the following results. If a 1 or 2, the Saxon Fyrd will fight on a – 1 factor for combat as in the main rules. If a 3 or 4, they will be inspired by Byrhtnoth’s honourable behaviour and fight at their regular combat value. If a 5 or 6, they will be imbued with martial spirit and fight at a bonus of + 1 during their first combat, and at their usual combat value thereafter.

2. Byrhtnoth’s Single Combats. To reflect the poem’s account of Byrhtnoth’s individual prowess, he will take on three Danish warriors at the start of Phase Two. You can either place individual figures on the table to represent the combatants, or run it as a ‘virtual’ combat. Dice for each separate combat in turn, throwing a D6 for each combatant and adding + 2 to Byrhtnoth’s dice score. If he is beaten, Byrhtnoth is deemed to have been killed and his element must immediately be removed from play. If he wins all three combats then the Danes will be deemed to have become demoralised, and will fight at a penalty of – 1 for the remainder of the battle. If Byrhtnoth is unbeaten at the end of the three combats but has drawn one or more of them, then Danish morale will be temporarily shaken and they will fight at a penalty of – 1 during the next round of combat only.

3. Godric’s Treachery. To recreate another aspect of the poem’s account of the battle, dice for the reliability of Godric and his kin once the first round of fighting in Phase Two has been completed. Throw a D6 and proceed as follows: if a 1 or 2, Godric defects and two Fyrd elements flee the battlefield (dice or draw a card to determine which ones); if a 3 or 4, Godric flees and one Fyrd unit follows his cowardly example; if a 5 or 6, Godric overcomes his fear and stays to fight…in which case history has done him a grave disservice!

Feel free to mix and match any of these additional rules or to add others, as you see fit. After all, this was a Dark Age battle – who knows what really happened ;o)

Brythnoth v 2


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