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Battle of Glenmama (999 AD)
Brian Boru and the Dublin Vikings

By Tim Donovan

This is the second of three battles that highlight the career of Brian Boru, the greatest national hero of Medieval Ireland. Brian was born in 942 as the last of twelve sons, of whom ten would fall in battle, to a minor local King in Southern Ireland. His career would see him fight incessantly for fifty years and rise slowly from obscurity until usurping the throne of High King and being proclaimed "Emperor of the Irish." The peace would be short-lived as the endless power struggles and blood feuds would draw Brian once again, at the age of seventy two, to the field of battle at Clontarf. For more background, see also the army notes for the Norse Irish (#112)

The Historical Battle

This battle was a crushing victory for Brian, then King of Munster, and the High King Malachi Mor, against a coalition of the Vikings of Dublin and their Irish allies from the rebellious province of Leinster.

Relative peace had followed the victory of Brian and his brother, King Murrough of Muntser, over the Limerick Vikings and their Irish allies at Sulcoit. In 976 however, the losing Irish faction had Murrough assassinated. Brian assumed the throne of Munster and began a long campaign to finally subdue the realm while hunting down and annihilating his brother's killers. By 999 Brian was not only in firm control of his own province but exerting strong influence far beyond its traditional borders. This brought him into conflict with the reigning High King Malachi Mor. The conflict between Brian and Malachi slowly escalated from small scale border raids till threatening to become a full scale civil war. In acknowledgment of his military inferiority, Malachi prudently decided to share power with Brian by dividing the whole of Ireland, as it had been in very ancient times into North (Leth Conn) that he would retain control over and South (Leth Mogh) that Brian already controlled.

This brought the ever rebellious province of Leinster under Brian's sway. Its King, Maelmordha, had close ties to the Dublin Vikings (his sister had been the wife the previous King and the mother of the current one) and called for their support in resisting Brianís attempt at collecting tribute. Malachi Mor, whose native province of Meath had long suffered from the neighboring Norse of Dublin, came to Brian's aid.

The battle had to have been the largest to date in Ireland with the rebel Irish and Vikings losing between 4000-7000 men in a crushing defeat. Brian and Malachi wisely followed their victory by sacking Dublin and ravaging Leinster.

The Scenario

I have always preferred is to play BB DBA either with double or triple size DBA armies or armies of roughly 100-150 points as per DBM. The board should be expanded to 2 x 4 for 15mm or 4 x 6 for 25mm. For this battle I will use armies of 100 points while the sister scenario of Sulcoit, Boruís first major pitched battle, will utilize modified double size DBA armies so players can get a feel for which system suits their tastes.

For players wishing to fight the scenario as a standard 12 element DBA battle I have also included appropriate army lists and modifications for the rest should be simple and straightforward.

The Armies

The Irish:

  • Big Battle DBA -- 2 Generals Wb or Ax (Brian and Malachi Mor), 2 Wb or Ax (Nobles, Hostage Sons or Gael Gaedhil), 6 Bd (Ostmen), 12 Ax (Bonnachts), 4 Ps (Kern), 2 Ps or LH (skirmishers).

  • Standard DBA -- 1 General (Wb or Ax), 1 Wb, 3 Bd, 4 Ax, 2 Ps, 1 Ps or LH

The Irish nobles are known to have adopted some armor, larger shields and the axe by this time. They fought by making an impetuous charge following a shower of javelins and darts and therefore I give the general elements the option to fight as warbands or light infantry. Brian is known for his extensive use of light cavalry and the chronicles mention mounted troops for both armies. Malachi Mor employed a large number of Danish mercenaries while both Kings would have had plenty of tribute Kingís Sons or the resources to employ the dreaded Gael Gaedhil. Both the Hostage Sons and Gael Gaedhil are reputed to fight with exceptional ferocity so are classed as Warbands.

The Vikings:

  • Big Battle DBA -- 2 Bd General (Ivar and Harold), 1 Wb or Ax General (Maelmordha), 6 Bd (Hird), 2 Bd or Cv (Mounted Contingent), 2 Wb (Berserks), 4 Bw or Ps (Viking Archers), 8 Ax (Bonnachts), 2 Ps (Kern).

  • Standard DBA -- 1 Bd General, 5 Bd, 2 Ps or Bw, 1 Wb or Cv, 2 Ax (Irish allies), 1Ps

The Dublin Vikings are known to have been able to typically field around 1000 mail clad warriors and a contingent of Cavalry in distinctive red cloaks is also mentioned on more than one occasion. Brian is reputed to have personally fought a few bare-chested warriors of exceptional ferocity so I have also included the berserkers. The rebel Irish continued to fight long after the Vikings broke and suffered grievous losses. Their leader, King Maelmordha was captured while hiding in a yew tree and an insult regarding this fact would later spark the fire that would see most of the survivors of this battle massacre each other on the plains of Clontarf.

Terrain & Deployment : The Vikings were ambushed while marching up out of a wooded valley. The flanks of the board should be steep hills while a large gentle hill runs along the whole of the Irish base edge. Hills and rough ground (woods and bogs) should then be scattered at random so that 1/3 to 1/2 of the board is covered by terrain.

Or, since the battle was a meeting engagement, players can roll for attacker and defender as usual. The defender places compulsory terrain of 3 hills, 2 woods, and 1 bog (rough ground) and then 0-3 additional terrain pieces of terrain. After the defender places the compulsory and optional terrain the attacker chooses the edge to invade from . The defender now deploys his camp and half of his command followed by the attacker. The defender finishes deployment followed by the attacker, then dice for the initiative, high score has the option of moving first or second.

Command and Control: Both sides have three generals but should divide the armies into two separate commands of 10-14 elements.

Brian and Cahal or reputed to be superior leaders so the Irish roll three pip die, choosing any two to utilize. The Vikings roll one pip die for each command and may not exchange or lend pips.

Victory Conditions: Standard, 8 elements destroyed with generals and camps counting as 2 elements lost.

Background Resources

Historical Atlas of the Vikings, John Haywood, 1995, Penguin
Arthur and the Anglo Saxon Wars. David Nicolle, 1984 Osprey (#154)
Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: Middle Ages, Hooper & Bennet, 1996
Conquest of England, Eric Linklater, 1966, Doubleday & Company
Early Medieval Ireland, Daibhi Oi Croinin, 1995, Longman History of Ireland
The Fury of the Northmen, John Marsden, 1993, St. Martinís Press
History of the Vikings, Gwyn Jones, 1968, Oxford
Irish Battles, Hayes-McCoy, 1969, Barnes & Nobles
Kings and Vikings, P.H. Sawyer, 1994, Barnes & Nobles
Lion Of Ireland, Morgan LLywellyn, 1981, Tor
Medieval Historical Battles 732 to 1485, Peter Sides, 1993, Gosling
Medieval Ireland, Michael Richter, 1995, St. Martinís press
Medieval Warfare Sourcebook, David Nicolle, 1995, Arms and Armour
Neglected Heroes, Terry Gore, 1995, Praeger
Njals Saga, Magnus Magnusson translated by Hermann Palson, 1960, Penguin
Stern Sudden Thunder Motion, Guy Halsall, Miniature Wargames 1986
The Viking art of War, Paddy Griffith, 1995, Greenhill Books

Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome, Phil Barker
Armies of the Dark Ages, Ian Heath,
Army Lists, Book Two, 55bc -1000 AD (for WRG Rules)
DBM Army Lists, Book 3 : 476 AD to 1071 Ad

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Last Update: March 17, 2000

My thanks to Tim Donovan for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.