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Franks And Saxons

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These models can all be used equally well for Franks, Saxons, Jutes, Angles and many other hairy European races. Saying that it may well have been the case that the shaved napes and francisca were more characteristic of the Franks, so for Saxons use mainly FS002346 and 7. For Franks you can use them all. Franks and Saxons serve equally well in your Arthurian Army.

Our Franks and Saxons were sculpted by Michael and Alan Perry. Scroll down for lots of historical information on collecting armies by Adrian Garbett.

Dark Age Warriors
by Adrian Garbett
By the mid-3rd century AD the German tribes which had been held back by the Roman frontier were on the move in ever increasing numbers. Some were destined to disappear from history, others to be defeated and absorbed by stronger tribes or by the Roman Empire. Yet others went on to forge new kingdoms of their own in Spain, North Africa and Britain. The Old Saxons, along with the related Angles and Jutes, were part of this last group, and carved out a new niche for themselves in the West.

The Germanic military tradition was related to, but different from, that described for the continental Celts. While there was a similar individual heroic ethos it did not apply only to the warrior class. Instead every able bodied man was expected to take up arms in defence of his land. These farmer-warriors were extremely tenacious in battle and seem to have been highly motivated in both defence and attack. Permanent warrior retinues had appeared by the 3rd century, who swore devotion to their warlord. These were referred to as comitatus by the Romans, who copied this system from the Patrician period onwards.

The retinue of a warlord would consist of full time warriors equipped at his own expense, from whom he expected total loyalty. At first only the richest and most favoured would have had any form of body armour (almost always a mail shirt) but the majority possessed at least a helmet and all of them carried a medium sized shield. Their weaponry consisted of various throwing spears, some very heavy like the Roman pilum, but the prized weapon was a long sword. Each man felt that his sword was imbued with his spirit, and it was not uncommon for them to be passed on as heirlooms. So concerned were the Romans about the high quality of their enemies’ arms that they instituted an embargo and would not allow weapons to cross their borders. Archaeological finds suggest that this embargo was very effective; nevertheless, a few enterprising individuals must have succeeded in smuggling occasional consignments across the frontier (a possible scenario for a game).

While the comitatus of a warlord considered themselves well above the peasantry it was the latter who provided the solid backbone of early Saxon armies, both at home and abroad. Armed with spear, javelin and long knife and protected only with a shield, they were still a formidable foe who looked upon retreat as a dishonour. They would form up several ranks deep and attempted to keep formation as they crashed into the enemy line in an attempt to sweep it away. This could be very dangerous to formed bodies of regular troops who presented a solid target, but if the Saxon line could be disrupted by missiles or skirmishers prior to contact the formed troops normally won. It was extremely unusual for Germanic armies to defeat Imperial armies in pitched battle, but as time wore on and the nature of warfare changed the tribal warriors often found that their motivation won more land than their swords.

Saxons raided all along the Continent’s western and northern seaboard for centuries. In Britain a chain of forts had to be built to hold them back, this coming under the command of the Comes Saxonici (named after the major antagonists). By this time Germans also served in Imperial armies all around the Empire and several Late Roman units of German origin are recorded in 5th century Britain. With the end of direct Roman rule in around 410 AD the British province fragmented into competing mini-kingdoms, and in 429 AD the warlord Vortigern invited three ‘keels’ (longships) of Saxons to Britain as mercenaries. The 150 warriors they carried turned the tide for Vortigern in that year’s campaign against his rivals, but the Saxons quickly realised how weak the Britons were and sent word home. Between 430 and 441 AD Saxon mercenaries flooded in to fight in the British warlords’ petty wars, and by the time the Britons realised their mistake it was already too late. The Saxon warbands now began independent operations on their own behalf. From then on the Saxon tide ebbed and flowed, until the early 7th century saw them victorious in the north, where Edwin set up the Kingdom of Northumbria, heralding the dawn of Anglo Saxon England.

To assemble a Saxon army you will need three main troop types - noble comitatus, peasant spearmen, and lightly equipped scouts. A formidable looking comitatus retinue can be collected using FS005 and 6. Further variation can be added by swapping heads and substituting spears for throwing axes. For the main body of a Saxon army use FS002 and 3, again with head swaps and added spears for variety. I also recommend the inclusion of small numbers of LR018, the bare headed Auxilia figures from the Late Roman range. Shields for these should be a mix of medium-sized round and oval types. Skirmishers were only a small proportion of Saxon armies (no more than 5%), and consisted of around two-thirds archers (who can also be included in the rear ranks of a shield wall) and slingers, and one third javelinmen. The archers come readily from FS007 (though you could also add a few bare headed LR019), and the slingers from FS004. Javelinmen can be converted from the more active figures in pack FS002, with a wire javelin instead of the heavier spear and the substitution of a smaller shield. For those who like something different you could mount your whole army on stolen horses for extra mobility. This can be achieved by some heavy conversion work to Late Roman and Arthurian cavalry figures; you would also need to have duplicate foot figures to replace them when in actual combat, as the Saxons seldom fought mounted.
The Saxons wore tunics and trousers in solid, dark colours, with simple bands of embroidery at neck, wrist and hem. Early warriors may have worn Late Roman style embroidered tunics in basic colours but these would have disappeared by the 7th Century at the latest. Favoured colours were shades of deep red, dark blue, rich green, tan, brown, and earthy-brown yellow, with natural leatherwork. Shields would be similar solid colours with patterns of a simple, bold nature involving halving or quartering the surface, or utilising swirling lines following the curve of the shield, plus groups of dots, rivets and asterisk shapes; so your Saxons need not look boring.

From 250 AD the Saxons fought the Picts; Middle Imperial, Late Imperial and Patrician Romans; Goths, Franks, Huns, Slavs, and Avars; and, of course, Sub-Roman Britons. Not surprisingly for such a warlike folk, nobody ever seems to have had the inclination to ally themselves with the Saxons.

During the early period of their emergence onto the world stage around 250 AD, this Germanic tribe appeared to be just another bunch of barbarian chancers, carving out a petty kingdom here and launching a major raid there. However, they proved to be so successful that their effects on the history of Europe have been felt right up to the present day. Why the Franks should have been so much more successful than the dozen or so other major German tribes is not readily apparent until you look at the alliances they made. They always seemed to come out on the winning side, pushing into power vacuums at just the right time and attacking opponents when they were at their weakest. They were also pragmatic in defeat and ruthless in victory, and absorbed or destroyed most of their neighbours. But most of all they were fearsome warriors who could sweep an enemy from the battlefield in a single charge or slug it out toe-to-toe with a frighteningly single-minded, tactically inflexible tenacity.

The Franks took their name from a weapon, the francisca, an axe designed for throwing. They learned early on in their conflicts with Rome that decent weapons were a necessity, so, unlike many other German peoples, they began to use heavy javelins and axes that were hurled at the enemy just before hand to hand combat began. These missiles were not for skirmishing: they were designed as shock weapons which would cause the enemy to flinch at the moment of contact. They provided a cutting edge to the Frankish warbands, whose warriors were a fierce proposition at the best of times.

Frankish armies were simple but effective against all but the most sophisticated enemies. The main body consisted of the tribal warband, warriors who advanced in deep columns towards their opponents, screened by skirmishers and a few cavalry. Their aim was to hit the enemy so hard they won the engagement in a single charge. Often this worked, but modern day Frankish warlords will need to ensure that their warriors are protected so they can deliver the killing blow. At the battle of Casilinum in 553 AD the Byzantines halted the deep columns with spearmen and proceeded to harry their flanks until the Frankish army dissolved into chaos.

Apart from their prowess as warriors another plus point of this army is its colourful appearance. The Franks wore tunics which were horizontally striped somewhat like a modern rugby shirt. The base colour would be off white, linen, or cream, etc, while the stripes would be red, blue, green, brown, etc. They also favoured fur waistcoats and partly shaved their heads, which make them one of the most ‘barbarian’ looking peoples of the period. Their tight leggings were cross gartered in contrasting coloured cloth and the whole ensemble was set off by hairy buskin shoes. Shields would be round and medium/large, with prominent bosses and similar patterns and colours to those used by Saxons (see the Saxon section above).

To collect an army of Franks you need to use a majority of figures from pack FS001 with a few from FS002 and 3 for variety. The warlords’ retinues would fight in the same way as other warriors but can be distinguished by using the armoured noble and chieftains in packs FS005 and 6. Up to 10% of a Frankish army might be skirmishers, with a 50:50 split between archers and javelinmen. Archers come from pack FS007. For javelinmen use warband warriors with small shields and wire javelins.

One unusual feature of Frankish armies was their use of cavalry. In the early period they would only have a few (around 5% of an army), but they increased in numbers as soon as the Franks had established their own kingdoms at around the start of the 6th century. The cavalry packs from the Arthurian (LR032 and 33) and Dacian (DS007) ranges, with heads swapped from foot figures, are a good place to start. 

The Franks fought for and against all the Roman Imperial forces of the Middle, Late and Patrician periods. They also took on early and later Visigoths, fought on both sides during the Western Hunnic wars, absorbed the related Alemanni, fought the Armorican Britons (see the Sub Roman section), Gepids, and various Slavs, and invited themselves into the Italian campaign between the Ostrogoths and Byzantines. Their only independent allies seem to have been the Alemanni until the mid-4th century.

All in all the Franks are a great army for sociopathic warlords who have little honour except to themselves and will bully and grind down any opponent they choose. A perfect wargames army, really.

The Alemanni
To recreate the armies of this relatively successful group of tribes who took control of Roman Gaul, use unarmoured Saxons as the warbands and substitute archers for between 10% and 30% of the spearmen. Other details are as for the Franks tactically and the Saxons clothing colour wise. They can have Frankish, Quadi, Alan or Vandal allies.

The Quadi
These hailed from the upper Danube area and swept into history across the frozen River Rhine in 406 AD in the company of the related and similar Suevi and allied Alans. Their main difference from the Alemanni was in their mounted nobles who, while still being only a small percentage of the total warband, took to charging ferociously at the enemy. Use LR023 and 33 with wire lances. Between 373 AD and 375 AD they were allied with a Sarmatian tribe, which could make for an interesting combination (see the Dacian and Sarmatian section).

The Suevi
These were another upper Danubian group which accompanied the Quadi over the Rhine in 406 AD. Similar to the Alemanni in equipment and dress, they set up a short-lived independent kingdom in north-west Spain. They can have charging noble cavalry like the Quadi, and Late Imperial Roman or Sciri allies. The Romans are covered in their own section. The Sciri were neighbours of the Ostrogoths so should be represented as mounted nobles charging with javelins or lance and accompanied by up to equal numbers of bow armed retainers on foot. LR02023, 2431 and 33 are a good place to start for any of the Gothic noble cavalry; the archers should be bareheaded and can come from LR019 and FS007.


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