Tagged: EarlyMiddleAges

The Battle of Hastings

At the bottom of Senlac Hill, the Norman army advanced in three divisions or “battles”. On the left were the long time Norman allies, the Bretons under Alan the Red. In the center were the Normans, led directly by William and his half-brother Odo, the Bishop of Rouen. And on the right the Flemish barons related to William’s wife Matilda, and the troops of that renegade of the French court Eustace of Boulogne. The battles were formed into three great lines, with archers to the front, followed by the infantry, and cavalry behind.

William began his assault on Senlac Hill at 8am with a rain of arrows, which had little effect on the shield wall proper. However it did kill any levy troops that did not have shields and any horses of the Anglo Saxon nobles who brought them to fight on. Next, William sent in his men at arms, and the battle devolved into a two hour long shield wall press, the kind of fight at which the huscarls excelled. But before the Norman infantry broke, William sent in his knights to support. With no weak point to charge, the Norman knights fought atop their steeds in the line with the men at arms. In places there was the shield wall press, in others, a chaotic melee, and still others, local charges. This panel of the Bayeux Tapestry shows a huscarl beheading a Norman horse with his Viking great ax, a Norman knight skewering a huscarl with his spear, and the shield wall holding firm.

This grinding attritional fight continued for another two hours, until around 3 pm when a rumor spread that Duke William was killed. The Bretons on the left thought all was lost, broke and retreated down the hill. William of course was not dead, and galloped over from the center, and pulled off his helmet to prove so. But the English were pursuing down the hill, which turned into a blessing for the Normans, as the pursuit temporarily broke the shield wall. Odo, the archetypical battle cleric, rallied the Bretons, and wielding his mace (lest he spill Christian blood) led the charge of the reformed left, just as William’s Norman bodyguards charged into the gap created by the pursuit. The English took serious casualties, but many managed to make their way back up the hill. Only Norman exhaustion prevented the complete destruction of the English right.

William by this point was becoming desperate: All Harold had to do was still stand on the hill at nightfall to win while William had to utterly rout the English. With the Breton example, William had what he thought was the template to win the battle: charges and feigned retreats which would hopefully cause the shield wall to unhinge as it did with the Bretons. For the next three hours, a typical pattern emerged: the Norman infantry would charge, then fall back. The Norman knights would charge, but the horses refused to impale themselves on the English spears so both sides just poked at and wailed on each other for a bit, then they too would fall back. Then the archers would fire a few volleys. Rinse and repeat.

The English didn’t fall for the feigned retreat and break ranks, but the sustained losses thinned out the shieldwall considerably. From time immemorial, whether Greek phalanxes, Roman legions, or English shieldwalls, formations of men with shields drift right when they sustain casualties or move, if only to get in the shadow on the man’s shield next to him. And this is what seemed to happen at Hastings: the English battle line shortened due to exhaustion and casualties, and the Norman knights got around the flanks, particularly on the English left. The was almost certainly no “All is lost!” moment for the English. Harold is depicted as shot through the eye on the Bayeux Tapestry, but that’s the only evidence of that happening until accounts of the battle from years later. Contemporary accounts all mention that the English fought on until they were overwhelmed and only broke when it was clear that if they stayed they would be surrounded and massacred. Harold, and his brothers Gyrth and Leofine, all died anonymously on the battlefield.

The bottom line is the English went toe to toe with the Normans for over ten bloody and exhausting hours, and the Normans were simply the last ones standing.

The next day, the Norman cavalry hunted down any survivors. Harold’s body was recovered but his head was so mangled that William sent for Harold’s mistress in London to identify the body. With the majority of the Anglo Saxon nobility dead on Senlac Hill, the Norman victory was complete.

The remaining English contingents from the farther reaches of Harold’s realm that couldn’t reach Hastings in time rallied around the 13 year old Edgar the Aetheling, but William made short work of them. On Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey, Duke William the Bastard of Normandy was crowned King William the Conqueror of England.

The Battle of Hastings: The Norman Army

When William’s scouts and spies reported Harold was at London, he regathered his army at Hastings, from where he would strike north. William’s army differed significantly from Harold’s. On continental Europe, the most common invaders in recent memory were cavalry based, whether the Huns, Avars, or Magyars from the eastern steppe, or more influentially, the Arabs, Berbers, and Moors from North Africa and Islamic Iberia. Frankish and Anglo-Saxon infantry developed along similar lines until the Franks had no response to the raiding from the Umayyed Caliphate and Charles Martel nearly lost the Battle of Tours in 732 due to a lack of cavalry. The Franks from that point on made heavy cavalry a priority. His grandson Charlemagne’s Paladins, and his heavily armored knights, were a direct result of the need for mounted soldiers.

Warhorses required special breeding, a dedicated support structure, and were expensive to maintain. Only the manor lords and his dedicated henchmen could afford it, and as such the mounted soldier gained a status. Additionally, this also allowed a high degree of training as the riders had no other duties. The difference could be summed up in a common scenario: if a huscarl walked into town, demanded the lord’s taxes, and the village didn’t want to pay, the fight would be relatively even: the huscarl’s training and armor would be offset by the fyrdmens’ numbers. If a knight did the same there would be no question who the victor would be: the knight could ride circles around the shieldwall or fix them in position with a threatened charge while his companions took what they wanted anyway. (They could also demand more from the villages) Feudalism as a result developed more quickly and to a much greater degree on Continental Europe.

This was directly reflected in the composition of William’s 8000 strong army at Hastings: almost evenly split between infantry, cavalry, and archers. The cavalry looked strikingly similar to Harold’s huscarls, albeit on horse, and sans great axe. The infantry were comprised of the men of the cavalry’s support structure: the liverymen, blacksmiths, squires, saddlers, etc just “at arms” hence “men at arms”. They were armed similarly to the fyrdmen but wore mail hauberks and metal caps. Their advantage in armor however was offset by their short martial training, particularly in formation: as artisans they were usually tied to a knight not a unit, and lacked the training time afforded to fyrdmen by the growing season. Which begs the question, “Why didn’t Frankish peasants develop into fyrdmen?” The increased demands of the knights led to better agricultural practices which unfortunately caused more year round work for the peasants. Furthermore, to deal with Muslim raiders, mounted bandits, and robber knights, the peasants became nominally proficient in the common hunter’s bow or shepherd’s sling, their only options to stay out of melee distance, and afforded a small counterbalance against these otherwise unassailable opponents.

Thus, on 14 October, 1066, William the Bastard of Normandy approached Senlac Hill with his army in three great lines. The first were the archers who would rain arrows down on the shield wall, killing or wounding as many as possible. They were followed by the men at arms who would hopefully disrupt Harold’s line enough for the real force of the Norman army: the knights, whose thunderous charge at an Anglo-Saxon weak point would break the shield wall

The Battle of Hastings: The English Army

The razing of Harold and Leofine’s lands had the intended effect: the English army raced south from the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold stopped briefly in London to gather his army and collect stragglers, but every day he waited dozens of villages burned, and their inhabitants slaughtered or carried off. On 13 October 1066, Harold and his footsore and much reduced army moved south to Senlac Hill.

Harold led 15,000 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but for the upcoming battle he had less than seven, most of whom forced marched nearly 500 miles in the last month, and the rest were hastily armed locals because he dared not wait for other contingents of fyrdmen and huscarls from the distant parts of his realm. But Senlac Hill was a strong position, nearly impossible to flank, with a steep, but not too steep, slope to the south. It was a perfect position for Harold’s infantry based army. A huscarl shield wall at the top would be difficult to break.

In England the most common invaders were footbound i.e. the Romans, Germanics, Vikings etc and usually nearby on the relatively small island, so there was little reason to engage in the expensive horse breeding and logistics support required for the warhorses needed to carry heavily armored knights. So feudalism (such as it was) developed differently in England and this reflected in Harold’s army: the money saved on cavalry was used for the training and equipping of professional heavy infantry, huscarls, and semi-professional medium infantry, fyrdmen.

The fyrdmen were trained militia, though most likely unarmored, but disciplined and proficient in the use of round shield, long stabbing knife, and spear. They were the foundation upon which the huscarls won the battles. Harold’s huscarls were the exact sort of composite heavy infantry that Western Civilization has depended upon since the Greeks threw the Persians back into the sea at Marathon: stalwart and deadly in any defense, and unstoppable in the attack under deliberately prepared circumstances. The huscarls were trained and influenced by the best standards and practices of their day: they carried the long Norman kite shield that protected the legs and prevented the Viking penchant for thrusting under the shield wall. They wore Frankish chainmail, a Frankish steel cap with distinctive noseguard, and carried a bearded Frankish throwing axe to break up charges and formations (and you know, chop wood). From their Saxon, Angle, and Jute forefathers they had the seax, a long stabbing knife, perfect for gutting a fish… or an adversary in the press of a shield wall. Furthermore, they were trained in that one constant of warfare since the Stone Age: the venerable and versatile 7 ft spear, whether thrown, braced for a charge or a boar, or overhand in a way familiar to the Greeks and Romans in ancient past. Finally, they carried the deadly Viking great axe, for the general melee after their adversaries’ shield wall broke, or more commonly for individual combat.

These professional soldiers and militia made an imposing sight on Senlac Hill, and an even more formidable shieldwall. On 13 October 1066, they were just seven miles from the Norman army gathered around Duke William the Bastard’s wooden castle at Hastings.

The Norman Invasion of England

In September 1066, William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy and direct descendant of Rollo the Viking (the founder of Normandy), was waiting for an opportunity to seize the crown of England from Harold Godwinson, his cousin once removed, whom he considered a usurper and believed only had the crown because he was at Edward’s deathbed. On 22 September, William was granted his opportunity when his spies reported that Harold marched north in great haste with his army (to Stamford Bridge). William loaded his ships but there was no wind: the finicky weather of the English Channel prevented him from sailing.

On 27 September, a storm blew in but the wind was in the correct direction so William ordered his Norman-French army to sail north. The storm dispersed his ships and the Normans landed all along the southern English coast, but with Harold gone there would be time to consolidate. William landed with a large force at Pevensy in Sussex after scattering Harold’s weak navy. Then in an act that would be emulated by Hernando Cortez 450 years later, William dismantled his ships to signal to his men that there was no return to Normandy. He used the wood to build a castle near the town of Hastings.

William had to wait until the English army moved away from Sussex to land, but now that his army was on the ground, William desperately needed a battle with Harold. With only 11,000 men he could not seize London, and with no way to resupply from Normandy so late in the season (which was why he was ok with dismantling his ships) his army would eventually starve. So William decided to force Harold south before he could gather even more reinforcements from the furthest reaches of England and overwhelm him.

As the former Earl of Wessex, Sussex was part of Harold’s own personal holdings, and nearby Kent belonged to Harold’s brother Leofine. Any on goings in those lands would eventually reach Harold, and more importantly, the nobles and fighting men who left their wives and children to head north. If the news was bad, Harold would be forced to react. So William unleashed the Norman army on the English countryside.

William scourged the undefended Sussex and Kent.

The Normans and French ravaged Harold and Leofine’s lands. They foraged anything useful from the villages and farms, and then fired them. They killed any men they found, and brought the women back to be wives for the army in arranged marriages. The children became pages and servants to the nobles. William wanted the future generations to be Normanized, or “normal”. And his men went about the task with a fury worthy of the Vikings whose descendants they were.

The devastation of Sussex and Kent was so thorough that thirty years later the most common town description in the Doomsday Book (the very detailed tax record of all of England) for those areas pillaged by the Normans was simply,

“Laid to waste”.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Even though King Harold Godwinson and his men marched 50 miles a day for four days straight, York still surrendered to the Viking King Harald Hardrada before they could arrive. Hardrada, his army still disorganized from the Battle of Fulford, didn’t sack the city but demanded supplies and hostages lest he would burn it to the ground. The supplies and hostages were to be delivered to the bridge over the River Derwent at Stamford on 25 September 1066. That morning, Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson, Harold’s exiled brother, took about two thirds of the Viking army to the bridge to help carry the supplies and escort the hostages. Most didn’t wear armor as they weren’t expecting resistance, and well, it was hot and armor is heavy. While they waited many Vikings lounged on the river banks or sunbathed in warm September sun.

Around mid-morning the English arrived, but cresting over the small rise into the valley weren’t supplies and hostages. The glint of the sun was first seen off of thousands of spear points, then the steel caps, and finally the metal kite shields of Harold Godwinson’s huscarls and fyrdmen in battle formation. The Norse Sagas record the moment as,”Their shining arms were to the sight like glancing ice”. The surprise was complete. Tostig attempted to stall the English and negotiate with his brother, whom offered him his earldom back if Tostig switched sides. Tostig counteroffered and asked what Harold would offer Hardrada. Harold replied, “Seven feet of good English soil, as he is taller than normal men”. The Vikings on west side of the Derwent were quickly overwhelmed and crushed, and Tostig fled.

Hardrada needed more time to form a shieldwall on the eastern end of the bridge, and it was given by a single Viking berserker. This lone greataxe wielding wildman prevented Godwinson’s entire army from crossing the bridge until an enterprising young fyrdman found a boat, rowed it underneath the bridge, and stabbed the berserker in the groin through a gap in the planks.

Godwinson’s men rushed across the bridge and crashed into the half formed Viking shield wall on the other end. The Viking’s lack of armor was balanced by the English exhaustion of having marched in full kit 220 miles in the last five days, and twelve to this battlefield. Nonetheless, weight of armor and numbers told, and Tostig and Hardrada’s army were slowly wrapped and massacred. The king was killed by an arrow to the throat during a savage charge in a desperate attempt to breakout. For a brief moment near the end, the Viking’s fortunes changed when Eystein Orre, Hardrada’s son in law, led a furious assault into the flank of the English army by the fully armored Vikings just arrived to the battle from guarding the ships. But “Orre’s Storm” was too little too late, and they too were crushed.

Godwinson chased the remaining Vikings back to their ships where he accepted a truce from the survivors to never set foot on English soil again. Hardrada’s original army arrived on 336 longships, just 24 returned to Norway. The Vikings would never again raid or try to conquer England. The Viking Age was over.

The Battle of Fulford

In January of 1066, Harold Godwinson was crowned King of England after the death of Edward the Confessor. His exiled older brother Tostig Godwinson (he was such a bad ruler of Northumbria that Edward threw him out) felt that he had a better claim than Harold and began looking for allies. The King of Norway, Harold Hardrada, also had a claim, and accepted Tostig’s offer of help in overthrowing Harold Godwinson. Tostig and Hardrada, with a large Viking army, landed in Yorkshire in the north of England in early September 1066. Harold Godwinson’s spies knew they were coming, and his fully mobilized armies of his Earls Edwin of Mercia and Mocar Northumbria met them at the town of Fulford.
The first English charge almost broke the Vikings but Harold and Tostig managed to form a shield wall which held until men still disembarking from the ships could reach them. The battle then devolved into two rival shield walls attempting break each other. This lasted for several hours(!) but eventually the English sobered up and the arriving Viking numbers were still boozed up enough to continue to push. (Just about every source on fighting in a shield wall at this time mentions that one had to be drunk to get up enough courage to attack a shield wall or defend in one against a determined charge.) The English broke, and due to the swampy terrain were trapped and annihilated.
King Harold Godwinson was in the south preparing for the inevitable invasion by another claimant to the English thrown, Duke William of Normandy. When he heard that his armies in the north were destroyed, Godwinson hurried north with his household guard, the Huscarls, and every Anglo Saxon thegn enroute. Godwinson needed to protect the largest city of the north, York, and the only defensible terrain between it and Fulford was the bridge at Stamford on the River Derwent. For a week he marched night and day – he had to arrive before the Vikings reorganized.

The Battle of Manzikert: “The Disaster”

For hundreds of years the Byzantine army held back the various waves of Muslim and Steppe invaders because of an effective and efficient defense in depth throughout the empire. The first layer was a superior intelligence system, managed from the “Office of Barbarians” that tracked the movements of tribes on the Steppes, and the activities of the sultans. It gave sufficient warning for Byzantine diplomats to bribe a rival tribe or sultan into war against the impending invader. The next layer was the buffer states, Georgia, Armenia etc which could be reinforced or let fall as needed, but gave time for the next two layers: The first was a series of well stocked, manned and provisioned border fortresses, which could hold out for years if necessary. The next and most important were the troops of the “themes” or provinces, comprised of free peasants who served in times of crisis in exchange for land. Finally, the thematic troops were backed up by the semi-autonomous regional tagmata, or professional armies. All of which if necessary could be reinforced by the Emperor’s personal guard and the nobles levy from Constantinople.

The system was amazingly flexible and effective on the defense but cumbersome on the offense. In the early 11th century, when the threat of invasion seemed remote, the emperors wanted to recover lost land, and began reorganizing it to better suit offensive operations. Unfortunately, they undermined the critical foundation, the self sufficient thematic peasants, whom made amazing soldiers, chiefly because they, being free, were well equipped, and they had skin in the game defending their own lands. However, that came at a cost because they weren’t productive if they were deployed. The emperors gradually mobilized them less and less, but took increasing portions of their goods, not to pay for more tagmata, which potentially posed a threat to their reign, but to pay for mercenaries loyal directly to emperor (and that didn’t have to return for the harvest). Finally, in their attempt to expand the empire, they directly annexed in a bloody and destructive war, Armenia – the bulwark against the east and north east. The tenacity in which the Armenians fought the steppe invaders was turned against the Byzantines, and it would result in the virtual destruction of the country and the first Armenian diaspora. More importantly, it meant no Armenian buffer.

In the mid eleventh century, the Byzantines were victorious and modestly expanded the empire, but it did not mattter. In 1070, the Seljuk Turks took advantage of the Armenian situation and crashed through the weakened area, and overran the border fortresses devoid of thematic troops. The next year, Emperor Romanos himself led the army against the Seljuk Turks under Sultan Alp Arslan, and on 26 August, was decisively defeated at the Battle of Manzikert in what is now eastern Turkey. The hardcore of the Byzantine Army was destroyed, including all of the tagmata, the households of all the major nobles, and the famed Varangian Guard, the intensely loyal viking mercenaries whom died to a man defending the emperor. Emperor Romanos was captured, and within six years most of Eastern and Central Anatolia would fall.

The Battle of Manzikert would be known as “The Disaster” for the next 500 years. More immediately, 13 years later in 1094, the Byzantines, still reeling from the complete loss of the professional core of its army, would ask the Pope for help against the Turks, leading to the First Crusade.

The Battle of Yarmouk

The Byzantine Empire and the Sassanid Persian Empire had been archrivals for nearly four hundred years: ever since the Eastern Roman Empire split from the Western, and the Sassanids replaced the Parthians in the third century. In the early seventh century, the two old rivals fought a twenty year increasingly expensive and destructive war for control of the Near East and Egypt that in the end resulted in little change to the status quo, and left both empires exhausted. While both empires hammered on each other, the prophet Mohammad preached Islam in the deserts of Arabia, and just after his death, the Rashidun Caliphate was poised to expand beyond the Arabian Peninsula.

In 634, the Muslim Arabs exploded into the Levant (modern Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria), and quickly overran the Byzantine Christian lands. To the credit of both the Sassanids and the Byzantines, they recognized the threat that the Rashidun Caliphate represented. Byzantine Emperor Heraclius secured an alliance with the Persians, but the damage they did to each other was extensive and complete. Nonetheless, Heraclius concentrated his diverse armies into an overwhelming mailed fist, and in May 636 sought to crush the invading Muslims.

Khalid ibn al-Walid, the supremely competent, dedicated, and faithful Muslim battle commander, was outnumbered at least four to one, and fell back to the Yarmouk River, where if he was defeated, could easily seek refuge in the stronghold of Najd. Heraclius, whose army was wracked with logistics difficulties (the Byzantines never concentrated their armies for exactly this reason; although the bureaucracy was extensive, the effectiveness of the old Roman supply system was long gone), and bickering factions (ditto: the Slavs, Armenians, and Christian Arabs couldn’t get along), felt compelled to fight the Muslims on the ground of their choosing.

The battle began with Muslim warriors challenging various Byzantine commanders to single duels, but after losing several of his best soldiers, Heraclius attacked. For five days, the Byzantines pounded the Muslim lines, but the attacks were uncoordinated, and breakthroughs were never exploited because of the emperor’s cumbersome, complicated, and lethargic command system (one could say it was “Byzantine”… Ba Dum Tiss!). Furthermore, because of the feuding, Heraclius never committed his reserve to the fight: his cataphracts, the most powerful armored mounted force in the world, and hundreds of years ahead of the mounted knights of the West, whom sat watching the battle for most of six days. Conversely, Khalid’s mobile guard, comprised of the best warriors of Islam, consistently and routinely appeared at troubled spots on the line, stabilized it, and quickly moved off to another threatened area to repeat.

Nevertheless, Heraclius’ almost secured victory twice: On the third day, his army broke through the Muslim right which fell back to its camp. But there the defeated warriors were met by their camp followers. The enraged wives and servants used tent poles to beat the warriors back into the line. Not wishing to face the wrath of their women, the ashamed warriors counterattacked. With no follow up, the overextended Byzantines fell back. And again on the fourth day, when Byzantine horse archers (a direct result of experience fighting the Persians) dominated the Muslim Left. The fourth day of the battle would be forever remembered by Muslims as, “The Day of Lost Eyes” due to the uncanny accuracy of the Byzantines. The lack of follow through, and darkness, saved the Muslims.

On the fifth day, Heraclius, whose disorganized army by this point had thousands of casualties and low morale, asked for a truce. Khalid, sensing weakness declined. The next day, Khalid concentrated all of his cavalry in a decisive flank attack, and before his infantry broke, smashed the Byzantine Left in an unexpected charge.

Khalid ibn al-Walid’s stunning victory at the Battle of Yarmouk cemented Muslim control of the Levant for the next 450 years, and was the first Muslim conquest outside of Arabia. It would not be the last.

The Battle of Verbita Pass (Pliska)

In the late 7th century CE, the semi nomadic Turkic Bulgars merged with the Vlach and Thracian people, were Slavicized, invaded the Byzantine Empire, and established the First Bulgarian Empire. A hundred years later, Nikephorus I Genik became Byzantine Emperor and after concluding peace treaties with Charlemagne and the Arabs, was determined reconquer the Bulgarian lands.

In 810, Nikephorus with a large Byzantine army of 60,000 invaded the Bulgarian Empire and expected an easy campaign. Initially he was not wrong and defeated the Bulgarians in two separate battles. But the pragmatic and wily Khan Krum knew he could not stand against the Byzantines in open battle and always managed to slip away before his army was completely destroyed. Three times Khan Krum tried to negotiate but the arrogant Nikephorus ignored him. In July, 811, the Byzantines captured, sacked, and razed Pliska, Krum’s capital. Confident in victory and heavily laden with slaves and plunder, the Byzantine Army withdrew back to Constantinople. However, Khan Krum had mobilized his entire people, and shadowed Nikephorus’ march home.

On 26 July 811, Khan Krum blocked the Byzantine Army in the Verbita Pass. As the Bulgar warriors descended on the column, the slaves taken at Pliska revolted, and the Byzantine Army broke. The Bulagrian people hunted down the routed troops, and in the ensuing massace, not a single Byzantine survived, including the emperor Nikephorus, his entire court, and most of his administration, all of whom went on the campaign expecting easy plunder.

After the battle was over, Krum had Nikephorus’ body found. He decapitated the corpse, and had the emperor’s skull bejeweled with the plunder taken from the Byzantine treasury and lined with silver. At the victory celebration, Khan Krum toasted his warriors and drank deeply from Nikephorus’ skull.

The Byzantines wouldn’t bother the Bulgarians for another hundred years.

The Battle of Chalons (Catalaunian Fields)

Stymied by the Great Walls of the Qin and Tang Dynasties in the early first millennium CE, the Huns moved west. They drove entire nations before them, creating a ripple effect that exacerbated the rot inside the Roman Empire and brought about its fall. When the Huns burst into Europe 400 years later in the mid fifth century, Rome had been sacked three times in fifty years, and what remained of the Western Roman Empire was a Romano-Celtic-Germanic conglomeration at the ripples’ end in Gaul (modern France).

In 450 CE, Honoria, the sister of Roman emperor Valentinian III, was unhappy with her betrothal so she sent a message to the Huns’ leader, Attila, for assistance. Attila took the message as a marriage proposal with the Western Roman Empire as a dowry. Valentinian obviously disagreed. Atilla, known as the Scourge of God because Christians believed that he was sent to punish the corrupt Romans, invaded.

In 451, Attila and his army crossed the Rhine and sacked most of Gaul before confronting a combined Romano-Germanic army under Attila’s friend, Flavius Aetius, and the Visigothic King Theodric I, son of the infamous Alaric, who sacked Rome in 410.

The Allied army was typical of the “barbarization” of the Roman military in the final days of the Roman Empire. Ironically, so was Attila’s. Gone were the days of Roman legionary heavy infantry and Hunnic horse archers, though they existed in small numbers in both armies. Each army was mostly Germanic foederati, light spearmen and horsemen, though the Franks allied with Flavius were already known for the quality of their heavy(er) cavalry. On 20 June 451, outside of Chalons on the Catalaunia Fields, the two nearly indistinguishable armies met. In a chaotic battle in both which commanders lost control, they fought each other to a standstill. Theodric was killed, but Attila felt that no chick was worth this and retreated.

The Battle of Chalons was the last gasp of the Western Roman Empire. Attila’s campaign broke the Roman army, destroyed Gaul, shattered the Visigothic Kingdom, and neutered the Hunnic army. None recovered. Into the vacuum stepped the Slavs and various Germanic nations, especially the Franks. In gratitude for their service (and because they were going to take it anyway) Valentinian gave the semi mythical leader of the Franks, Merovech, land around the town of Aachen as his own. Within 50 years the Merovingian Franks would be the masters of west central Europe.