Badon and the Early Wars for Wessex, circa 500 to 710
Pen & Sword Military, 2018
Pen & Sword Military, 2018
From the publisher:
“David Cooper's book reappraises the evidence regarding the early battles for Wessex territory. It charts the sequence of battles from the c. AD 500 siege of Badon Hill, in which the Britons defeated the first Saxon attempt to gain a foothold in Wessex territory, to Langport in 710, which consolidated King Ine's position and pushed the Britons westwards. Discussion of the post-Roman British and Germanic factions provides context and background to Badon Hill, which is then covered in detail and disentangled from Arthurian legend. In considering how the opposing commanders are likely to have planned their campaigns, enduring principles of military doctrine and tactics are discussed, using examples from other periods to illustrate how these principles applied in Dark Ages Britain. Going on to follow subsequent campaigns of the West Saxons in southern Britain, a credible assessment is made of how these resulted in the establishment of a viable Wessex kingdom, two centuries after Badon. Grounded in the latest academic and archaeological evidence, David Cooper offers a number of new insights and ideas.”
David Cooper OBE is a retired British Army Lieutenant Colonel with 36 years' service. He was initially taught military history and doctrine by the Burnham lecturers at Sandhurst and later gained a Masters degree in Defence and International Affairs. In the latter part of his career David instructed young officers in doctrine and tactics and wrote related publications for the British Army. Due to an abiding interest in the period he began to study the Dark Age Wessex campaigns in detail in 2002, and this book is the result.
1. The Fifth-century Tribes of Britain
2. The Hampshire Avon Frontier
3. Doctrine, Organisation and Tactics
4. The British in the South West
5. The Badon Campaign
6. The Siege of Badon Hill
7. Cerdic to Ceawlin – The Early Gewisse
8. The Fall of the British Glastenning
9. Wessex, Mercia and Dumnonia
Dark Age Warfare
This book is of a similar ilk to King Arthur's Wars (Helion, 2016) in which author Jim Storr, a former soldier turned academic, set out to chart the progress of the Anglo-Saxon conquest by examining placename evidence and defensive man-made landscape features such as earthworks and dykes. Storr located the battle of Badon in Eastern England and did not seem aware that many of the dykes are actually of prehistoric construction.
In Badon and the Early Wars for Wessex, Cooper follows the trail of Ceawlin in establishing the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Wessex as recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, written several hundred years after the events. Most historians today treat the foundation legends of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms in England with a due amount of suspicion and terms such as ‘barbarian invasion’, used to describe the increasing presence of Germanic immigrants in Britain , are no longer considered befitting or accurate.
There are three main themes running through Cooper’s pages. Firstly, he argues that the Germanic rise to power has its roots in post-Roman Britain in which diverse warbands fought localised wars over territory. Secondly, the battle of Badon Hill was the first conflict of larger armies as these localised warbands began to form alliances. Thirdly, that Wessex was not established and then expanded by immigrant Germanic tribes but emerged from much more complex circumstances.
Cooper envisages the Hampshire Avon as the Germanic frontier immediately prior to the Badon campaign with British territories defined by the earthworks Wansdyke and Bokerley Dyke. He argues, in consideration of that frontier, that Badbury Rings must have been the location of the battle of Badon Hill. Following the implication of Gildas writing in the 6th century, that Ambrosius, ‘the last of the Romans’, was probably the leader of the British led alliance at Badon.
Cooper uses chapters three, ‘Doctrine, Organisation and Tactics’, and five, ‘The Badon Campaign’ to discuss Dark Age battle tactics and takes us through the siege day-by-day in the next chapter. Here he introduces Sarmatian lancers as the charge of ‘Arthur’s cavalry’. 5,500 Sarmatian troops were sent to Britain in the 2nd century by Marcus Aurelius. They were stationed on Hadrian’s Wall and Ribchester (Bremetennacum) but there is absolutely no evidence for them fighting a campaign in Britain at that time, let alone their survival into the 6th century and fighting at the border of the Durotriges.
The very nature of this type of study demands a high level of conjecture owing to the limited primary sources. But we are forced to question if people trained in modern conflict techniques have an advantage in relating to Dark Age warfare and the military tactics of poorly documented battles fought 1,500 years ago?
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