'Place of Slaughter'
Perceptions of the Dark Ages by Dave Millward
In a film which I saw recently1, a recalcitrant Argentine cavalryman is charged with the wilful misunderstanding of History. That interesting concept led me to the consideration of wargaming the Dark Ages. DBM is probably the most widely used set of Wargames rules for the Dark Ages. When looking at Troop Definitions, probably the most fundamental distinction made is still that between 'Regular' and 'Irregular'. The explanation of the differentiation made is interesting:
This somewhat arbitrary distinction chiefly reflects the ease with which they can be controlled by their general. Regulars are typically enlisted into units under officers appointed by government and practised in manoeuvre and combat techniques. Irregulars typically join with acquaintances under local or tribal leaders and are less accustomed to waiting for, listening to or precisely and instantly obeying formal orders.
Whilst this may initially seem an acceptable and useful way of looking at things in terms of writing rules, I would argue that it carries with it an implicit misunderstanding of military processes during the Dark Ages. Not that I'm accusing Richard Bodley-Scott and Phil Barker of the willful misunderstanding of History, it's just that commonly used terms carry with them implicit value judgements and assumptions that may not be as useful as they first seem, in understanding a historical process. This is certainly the case with the terms, Regular and Irregular as applied to military 'units'.
Our understanding of such terms is irrevocably bound up in our perceptions of modern military institutions. Thus when we see that 'Late Roman Army, 307-425AD.' classified largely as 'Regular', it is difficult to escape from the notion of an Army, very much like our modern day regular armies with all the associated images of parade grounds, discipline, uniform command structures, uniforms and equipment etc etc. And herein, lies the problem. The reality of the Late Roman Army was probably as far removed from our modern day institution as may be imaginable. Using the term 'Regular' as a key for comparison, to say: 'well it had some similarities to our modern Army, which may be useful starting points to understanding' is all very well, but allowing the impression to persist, that the two were in substantive form 'the same but with different technologies', is entirely misleading.
|Late Roman Infantry from Old Glory|
There is no suggestion that Richard and Phil had this intention. However, it's the almost inevitable consequence of using the terms in drawing out the contrasts they wanted to illustrate. Not only does it lead the uninformed or unwary reader/player into making unwarranted assumptions, but it has also led the authors themselves perhaps, into following the implications of the terminology and ascribing behaviour to 'regulars' or 'irregulars' which is not always appropriate.
There are two points which follow from the above. One is an examination of our assumptions about the nature of so called 'Regular' troops in the pre-modern world. And my thoughts focus particularly here on the Dark Ages, and especially, the Late Roman Army, itself, perhaps a misleading term. Secondly, is there a useful alternative to the classification 'Regular' or 'Irregular. I hope that this beginning will stimulate discussion on both topics. As for my views on the Late Roman Army, I will limit comment for now to the observation that it was almost certainly a good deal less 'regular' than many wargamers assume, and invite your observations.
|Franks from Old Glory|
As for alternate troop classifications, I have to say that the focus of my wargaming 'nour days is in computer moderated gaming with miniatures. As such, I'm not limited by the number or complexity of any potential classification, in the way that a writer of written sets of rules would be. The following are initial ideas on possible ways to classify troops by their social and organisational backgrounds:
|Militia||Select||Civilians fighting to defend their locality.|
Well, those are my initial thoughts. I know that there are omissions and perhaps misplaced categories and I invite your comments...
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|More Late Romans from Old Glory|
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1. Way of the Gaucho Director unknown, late 1950s I'd guess.