Thursday, 29 September 2016


At the Ends of Empire is coming along nicely.  I’ve now got a three side Play Sheet and the cards are done but not yet printed. 

The first draft of the main rules is done too and I have four Army Lists in draft Irish, Picts and two Roman armies.  

So time for a play test soon I’m particularly interested to see how the chariots and cavalry Drungus works. I’ll be very pleased if they both do what I intended.

For the play test I'm going to do a Roman punitive expedition into the lands of the Picts. There will be a lot of Picts so we'll see how the Romans do.

I've refurbished some more Minifigs Picts and they will get an outing.  Also I ordered some Donnington Romans for some armoured Auxilia Palatina, artillery and Legion Britones Seniores.  Painting the shields of the latter is going to be a challenge - 12 spokes.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Irish Part 2

Sometime between 306 and 312 AD there may have been a significant Irish incursion into Britain in support of rebels.  We don't know who or where the rebels were and other than noting they were apparently suppressed we can say little more.

According to Ammianus Marcellinus in the years before 359/360 AD there was a treaty in place between Rome and the Irish and, possibly, the Picts.  This was standard Roman frontier practice and it was probably the latest of a succession of such agreements. The treaty broke down and resulted in subsequent and frequent Irish incursion.

Ammianus notes “the areas near the frontier were devastated”.  We don’t know if this was either north or south of the Wall.  If the target area was north of the Wall it would have been the territory of one or more of the British client states that Rome subsidised against the Picts. 

If the devastation did occur north of the Wall it might explain what subsequently happened in 367 AD when those clients- the Dummnonii, Novantes and Votadini- sided with the Irish and Picts or at the very least allowed their armies free passage. Significantly they did not ravage Pict territory while the best of the fighting men were away. This was a major break in north British policy and would be explainable if the north British felt that active allegiance to Rome would put their territories at risk from a combined and irresistible Irish and Pict attack.

The Irish then began to raid Britannia in a systematic fashion culminating in major incursions and consequent Roman defeats between 367-9AD. 

Charles-Edwards see's this primarily as the reaction of Bréga to the failure of the treaty which in part guaranteed its primacy in Ireland. That would imply the Romans broke it or were perceived to have done so.  It would also suggest a heavy Irish investment in trade infrastructure - namely ships. This in turn means transporting enough warriors to tackle a Roman Field Army became an easier task.  The Pict motivation was probably a result of one Imperial punitive expedition too many and of the opportunity provided by the Irish alliance that allowed the north British to be over awed and neutralised.

In 367 AD Britannia was overwhelmed by the Irish (Scotti and Attacotti) and the Picts, just possibly accompanied by some north British.  Two senior Roman commanders and their forces fail to resist them. Ammianus tells us that Count Nectaridus "responsible for coastal defences" was killed and the General Fullofaudes was "circumvented by the enemy" however we may wish to interpret that phrase; some scholars favour 'captured' others that he was slain. We have no idea if Nectaridus died on land or at sea* but both the Irish and Picts arrived by sea and a nautical fight is not impossible. 

The Roman Field Army was beaten and dispersed with many deserting.  Britannia was then pillaged as the victors spread out to loot.  This would have been a horrific experience for the British provincials and it left, as we read in Gildas, a lasting impression.

It should not be thought that this rapine was limited to the north for the raiders are recorded as being in areas adjacent to Londinium (London).  

So far as we can tell the fortified cities and towns successfully provided refuge but outside of them few who found themselves in the path of the raiders would have been safe.

Subsequently the Romans would refer to the event as the Barbarian Conspiracy seeing the Frank and Saxon attacks on Gaul and the simultaneous Irish and Pict assault on Britannia as evidence of a well executed diabolical plan. 

In far-away Cyprus Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis noted the event - this was clearly not a little local difficulty.

* Contrary to some secondary accounts our sources do not tell us that Nectaridus was Count of the Saxon Shore nor do they reveal any naval resources at this time allocated to Britannia.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Classifying Units for At the Ends of Empire

This is another ‘note to self' but it might be of interest.

As I work my way through the various protagonists for At the Ends of Empire I’m beginning to give some thought to how units should be classified. 

I think the Romans might be represented with the elite troops being, well… Elite, so high Combat and Defence Dice and Specialist bonus all round, Ferocious, and Stubborn for the infantry. 

The differences between Comitatenses and Limitanei are a bit more nuanced and I’m minded to reflect them in the number of Lull Cards in the Roman deck. The more Limitanei the more frequent the Lull’s. This is because the Limitanei are unused to fighting in big formations and won’t respond as quickly to orders as the Comitatenses.  Otherwise I’m inclined to give them both similar combat and defence capabilities.

I’m also thinking that the legions should have more resilience than most so a high Defence Die and Stubborn Defence option for them I think.

For the non- Romans I think the great divide is between the full timers and the part timers. Part timers might well be brave but their combat skills and resilience will not be as good as the professionals.  That said they were closely tied to their leaders and poor performance in battle meant retribution at home -if all survived.

A mechanism that required leaders to invest Morale Points to keep the lesser troops in combat might reflect this well and present a nice tactical dilemma for the player.   Morale Points could be used to increase the chances of a Ferocious attack but might be needed instead to ensure the part time warrior/farmers kept on fighting.

Alternately, simply and perhaps more historically justified; Barbarian armies could opt for more Leader bases (costly and potentially vulnerable) whose presence with the ordinary warriors would keep them fighting.

Barbarian full timers are high quality troops and should present a challenge to all but the best Roman soldiers. Most of them lacked armour - a disadvantage against the better equipped Romans. For barbarian aristocrats’ Ferocious attacks, Specialist for missilery and a Stubborn defence can be available as appropriate.

Finally another note for when we get to the Jutes of Kent.  Gavel Kind persisted in Kent until 1926. 

Saturday, 17 September 2016


Scholarly thinking on the Roman garrison of Britannia, as drawn together by Mattingly, gives us a minimum of 18,500 soldiers.  

These soldiers served either in the field army comitatenses or were permanently stationed limitanei on the borders of Britannia. The former were paid more than the latter. For a long time, this was taken as evidence that the limitanei were much inferior soldiers, almost a militia compared to the real regulars of the comitatenses.

Recently this view has been challenged by scholars who note that both groups were equipped in the same fashion and that limitanei units were sometimes incorporated into the field army. 

One key difference is that the limitanei tended to fight as a single unit or in even smaller groups rather than as a regiment in line of battle. This was dictated by their function which was to hold defences and intercept relatively small groups of raiders. Their combat experience was therefore different from units in the field army who fought and manoeuvred as part of much bigger formations. Indeed, some have said that the combat experience of the limitanei was more heroic or individualistic just like their opponents.

From time to time other forces were available; groups of surrendered barbarians or units of high quality soldiers from the Emperor at Augusta Treverorum (Trier).

It is thought that Legions at this time routinely consisted of between 500-1000 men and other units of 300-500 men although exceptions to this are found and the question remains open.  It is also the scholarly consensus that the limitanei and most of the field army were British in origin recruited from the locality of their unit’s station*.

The armour, discipline, training and command structure of the Roman Army gave it a serious advantage against its opponents; especially in the case of the part time farmer/warriors that comprised the bulk of non-Roman armies.  Barbarian aristocrats were more of a challenge, they were full timers and might well enjoy greater morale than the average Roman milite

For the early period of At the Ends of Empire the Roman Army in Britain is thought to have been comprised of up to 6,000 comitatenses and around 12,500 limitanei though new information will undoubtedly cause revision of those figures. 

The garrison of the Wall, always a heavy commitment for the army, perhaps consisted of 23 units including 5 of cavalry. Behind them were a further 14 units including 3 of cavalry and the 6th Legion based at Eboracum (York).  

* A key point would be that if the soldiers mothers were British they would as a consequence have 'P' Celtic as their mother tongue and add Army Latin to that.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Irish Part 1

Famously Tacitus has Agricola saying he could he could conquer Ireland with a single Legion and associated auxiliaries-let’s say 10,000-12,000 men. An expelled seems to have been involved.  Agricola may well have done so or perhaps have had a Caledonian experience.  Instead the emperor sent him north.

The Irish had very long established links with Gaul and Britain and must have watched what was happening on the other island with trepidation.  They received refugees from the Brigantes and probably other peoples as the Conquest proceeded seemingly inexorably.

We can note that some of the peoples found in Britannia according to Ptolemy were also to be found in Ireland including the Brigantes. The Christian cult of St Brigid seems to have been grafted onto an ancient pagan cult of Bríg who gave her name to Brigantia: and surely the young Setanta had some connexion with the Setanti - a Brigantian polity.

The Irish initial reaction to the Empire more or less seems to have been a policy of isolation keeping well clear of interaction with the looming danger.  Trade with Gaul was gone and trade with Britannia judging by archaeological finds became miniscule.  Never the less - the Irish were now on the frontier of the Empire with the sea functioning as a road rather than an obstacle.

The dynamics at play for peoples on the Empire’s borders have been identified and explained by Peter Heather and the Irish of the eastern seaboard followed the pattern of seeking to exploit trade links while holding off both Roman domination and demands for fairer trade access from polities further west.  For the Empire it was the usual carrot and stick policy.

By 297 AD the Romans seem to be aware of a burgeoning Irish problem shortly afterwards political developments in Ireland result in a Roman change of nomenclature the Hiberni become the Scotti in our Imperial sources and appear on a list of ‘new’ barbarian peoples.  These new barbarians all seem to be old ones in bigger and more powerful political units and are a direct consequence of proximity to the Empire.

In Ireland the dominant polity appears to have been Bréga best thought of as greater Leinster and controlling the Lion’s share of both the good arable land and the trade routes.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Some Basic Politics 1

The ath was the minimal polity of ancient Ireland and it consisted of a Rí (king) and his people and their territory.  Among the British a similar leader was sometimes termed a Brenin which Charles-Edwards considers a term of huge antiquity. There were other terms too notably Tigern.

It seems there were 150 or so atha (plural) in Ireland which gives you an idea of the scale we are talking about. The minimal polity was in practice a component part of a much bigger political entity; in Ireland 4 or possibly sometimes 5 of these bigger entities existed.

External politics worked like this:

The Rí had to decide which of his neighbouring Túatha might or could be brought to clientship and if any of them could make him become a client.  He then acted accordingly.  A Rí who could command other kings was acknowledged as a Wledig in Britain.

The most famous example is Macsen Wledig (known to his fellow Romans and sometime subjects as Flavius Magnus Maximus Augustus) who figures as the founder of so many British and some Irish dynasties.

There were others too and we can be quite sure that the normal state of affairs was for smaller kings to be commanded by more powerful monarchs.  Thus the micro - polities advocated by some scholars were real enough but crucially,and this is sometimes missed, they formed the component parts of bigger more powerful polities.

Internal politics worked more or less like this:

The members of the ruling clan had to decide which individuals from which segments of their agnatic kin group were best suited to be king.

Aristocrats had to decide which candidate from which segment of the ruling clan they would support.

Free men of the Túath had to choose from the many aristocrats the man whom they would support.

These were all individual decisions to be carefully calculated.

The later Welsh saying ‘Me against my brother, my brother and me against my cousins and my cousins and my brother and I against the world” illustrates the competitiveness and resilience of the system perfectly.

This as far as we can tell was the system across the Celtic world and in considering the sources for At the Ends of Empire I keep it in mind.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Cives to Cymry

In the period I want to cover with At the Ends of Empire Gildas and St Patrick think of their fellow Britons as Cives (fellow citizens) by the end of it the Britons think of themselves as Cymry (comrades).  It is an interesting and much contested period of history.

Following the completion of the Roman Conquest of Britannia the Emperor created local self- government units called civates-plural civitates- for some of the native polities.  The historical consensus is that these followed the usual Roman model and were run by an ordo of 100 local aristocrats.  The idea being that these would rapidly become urbanised and Romanised (here I’m with Mattingly it means everything and nothing) and thus provide the willing middlemen necessary for the smooth exploitation of the province.

The scholarly view summed up by Sheppard Frere is that the British ordo, in the main, still preferred to live mostly rurally-close to their powerbase.  Scholars note that most civitates capitals were by comparison to other provinces a bit shabby -underdeveloped is the term often used. 
It has been proposed, partly because of archaeological evidence, that sometime around the Theodosian restoration of Britannia the civitates received permission to bear arms.  At this time and indeed before, the towns and cities of Britain were fortified - many in traditional British style.  So once again British aristocrats found themselves with in control of fortified sites and armed men.

Things had not come full circle though. Imperial rule had meant huge land appropriations, massive military occupation and consequent infra structure, the establishment of Colonia cities and Imperial estates all reducing the land controlled by the natives. 

The fate of the once mighty Brigantes is illustrative, once they had ruled from sea to sea, their civates was utterly dominated by the nearby Colonia of Eboracum (York). The civitates of Britannia were a power- not the power- in the land.

We can say the civitates of Britannia were a political power but there were other more powerful ones notably the Emperor’s administrative nominees and the Army. The ordo of the Colonia and those administering Imperial estates were richer and better connected too.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Armour and Army Sizes

This is by way of a ‘note to self’ type of post but it might be of interest.  Firstly, armour – it seems to me that the best way to handle armour in At the Ends of Empire is the troops with the best armour reduce their opponents Combat Die by down one dice size.  So a group of Pict nobles with a Combat Die of D10 will find that reduced to D8 when they take on a unit of mail armoured Romans. Likewise a unit of veteran mail clad Romans would find their D10 Combat Die reduced to D8 if faced by fully armoured Sassanian cataphracts.

Secondly army size- I’ve never been much bothered about points systems.  After all a major part of a general’s art is to fight at an advantage.  That said lots of folk want a bit of equity in their games for obvious reasons. In Have a Heart and At the Ends of Empire the simplest way to achieve this is to ensure an equal number of Morale Points on each side.  A Roman army of full timers is therefore going to be considerably smaller than a Pict army of mainly part timers.  

I’ll see how it works in practice.