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Battle of Maldon (Aug. 10, 991 AD)

By Larry Nellinger, Jr.
and Chris Brantley

The subject of a famous Anglo-Saxon poem, the Battle of Maldon (Maeldun or "hill with the cross") was actually fought along the southern shore of the Blackwater Estuary in Essex and in adjacent wheatfields. The battle began when the Viking raider Olaf Tryggvasson with some 3000 northmen made camp on the somewhat appropriately named Northey Island in the sheltered estuary. Byrhtnoth, ealdorman of Essex (the local Earl to King Aethelred the Unready) led his retainers and the hastily raised fyrd (militia) down to the estuary where they lined the banks opposite the island at high-tide.

The island was linked to the shore by a narrow earthen causeway, which was submerged at high tide and surrounded by mucky salt flats when the tide receded. As they waited for the tide to fall, the Vikings called across the water to Byrhtnoth and his men, pledging to sail away if paid a ransom of gold and silver. Byrhtnoth held firm and put three of his best warriors at the head of the causeway to deny the Vikings passage.

As the tide fell, the Vikings attempted to cross the causeway in small groups but could make no headway against Byrhtnoth's battle-hardened champions. Frustrated, they appealed to Byrhtnoth to allow them to cross and fight the Anglo-Saxons on even terms. Inexplicably, Byrhtnoth agreed. The two armies arrayed themselves in a nearby wheatfield and then closed into melee. In the resulting battle, the Vikings dispatched Byrhtnoth and overwhelmed his patchwork army. The famous poem recounts that Byrhtnoth's thegns, despite his demise and the scattering of the fyrd, stood their ground and fought to the death to avenge his loss.

For more details on the battle, see Larry Nellinger Jr.'s notes below.

The Armies

Middle Anglo-Saxon (DBA #75b) -- 3 x 4Wb, 8 x 4Sp, and 1 x 2Ps

Vikings (DBA #106a) -- 10 x 4Bd, 1 x 3Wb, 1 x 2Ps.

Deployment

The Vikings deploy first anywhere on Northey Island. The Anglo-Saxon's deploy next anywhere on or below the indicated set-up line in the map below.

The Battle Map (ASCII)


================Viking Baseline==================
w w . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . w w    NORTHEY ISLAND
w w w . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . w w w
w w w w w w m m m m m . m m m m m w w w w w w w .
. . . . . . m m m m m . m m m m m . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . m m m m . m m m m . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . m m m m . m m m m . . Water . . . .
. Water . . . m m m m . m m m m . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . m m m m m . m m m m m . . . . . . . .
w w w w w w m m m m m . m m m m m w w w w w w w w
b b b b b b b b b b b r b b b b b b b b b b b b b   Anglo-Saxon set-up line.
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .   Open Wheat Fields
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
==============Saxon Baseline=====================

SCALE: The space between each dot/letter is one inch.

TERRAIN KEY:

.=Good Going (Good Going)
w=Water (impassable)
m=Mucky salt flats (bad going terrain)
b=Bank (defensible feature)
r=Road


Terrain Notes

The battlefield is set at low tide. The Vikings may cross on the good going causeway and/or attempt to slog their way across the bad going salt flats. Any Anglo-Saxon defenders deployed along the shore are allowed a +1 close combat modifer to reflect the Viking's difficulty in moving/attacking through the deep muck (a more difficult task than presented by ordinary broken ground and similar bad going terrain).

From current pictures of the field, it seems the roadway was actually raised and divided two large flat fields down the middle. If you wish, you can choose to depict the roadway as a raised causeway with the same terrain effects as a gentle hill.

Special Rules

The Anglo-Saxon player can earn two of the four required victory points by deploying within the normal deployment area (within 600P of the Saxon baseline) rather than taking advantage of the forward deployment option. In this case, the Viking may also deploy within 600P of their baseline.

To represent the unsteady militia, 5 of the 8 Anglo-Saxon spear elements should be designated as fyrd, which receive a -1 modifier to close combat. These elements should be somehow marked so as to be recognizable to the Viking commander.

If the Anglo-Saxon Cnc's element (i.e., Earl Byrhtnoth) is destroyed, then one warband element of the Anglo-Saxon army will become bloody-thirsty for revenge. That element becomes rash and receives a +1 modifier to close combat for the balance of the game.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA, except Anglo-Saxons ignore loss of CnC Byrhtnoth as a victory condition (i.e. treat as loss of normal base).

Background Resources

Airflow Design's Battle of Maldon webpage includes a description of the battle and links to relevant resources on the web.

Bjornstad's Battle of Malden page gives you the Viking perspective.

Larry Nellinger, Jr's Notes on Maldon

The Historical Battle: The Vikings were led by Olaf Trygguasson and consisted of a force of 93 ships (Oxford Anthology of English Literature). The Vikings had established a base on Northey Island. The Saxon force was led by Byrhtnoth and contained some of his kinsmen and retainers as well as the Fyrd.

The battle began with an exchange of arrows while both sides waited for the tide to go out. Was the tide had subsided enough to allow crossing the Viking started across (of course there was the customary exchange of insults, medieval trash-talk). The Viking were prevented in crossing by one of Byrhtnoth's kinsman Wulfstan and two other Saxons Aelfere and Maccus of unknown heritage. After this trio wounded or killed several Vikings the Vikings withdrew and asked for permission to cross. The poem reads:

When the pirates perceived and clearly saw that they had been met by bitter bridge wardens, the Viking shipmen began to dissemble, asked for permission to make their approach, to fare over ford and take their troops. It was then that the eorl disdainfully granted too much ground to the hostile host.

Byrhtnoth had already set his troops on a slope to have the advantage of high ground. As the Viking approached he "bade form with shields the war-hedge for battle" Apparently the Vikings then advaced and there was exchange of archer and spears followed by a charge. From here the poem goes on to individual heroics and death of Byrhtnoth. He is wounded by a Viking spear which he shatters with his shield edge, and in return spears the Viking through the throat; he then throws a spear killing another Viking (through his mail shirt and into his heart) I should point out that Byrhtnoth was over 60 years old! He is then wounded in the side by another spear which Wulfstan's son Wulmaer the youthful draws out and mortally wounds the Viking that threw it (recycling works!). At this point Byrhtnoth rallies his men and bades them to "go forward and bear them well" Byrhtnoth is then attacked by several Vikings intent on stealing his armor rings and jewels, he tries to defend himself but is wounded in the arm dropping his sword. At this point the poet has him make a prayer for deliverance of his soul to heaven before he is hacked down. Then the retreat begins:

Then fled from battle who feared to be there: The sons of Odda were first in flight, Godric from battle, leaving his lord who had gven him many a goodly steed; he leaped on the horse that belonged to his leader, rode in the trappings that were not his by right.

At this point Byrhtnoth's household retainers decide to either avenge their lords death or join him, and the poem continues with tales of individual heroics and the line attributed the aged Byrhtwold, "Heart must be braver, courage the bolder, mood the stouter as our strength grows less!" One Saxon Eadweard the Long is credited with singlehandedly shattering the Viking shield wall and killing several Danes before being cut down. There is also a reference to the Viking breaking their shield wall and advancing, so apparently enough Saxons remained after the retreat that the Vikings still had to maintain the shieldwall for a time.

The Battle of Maldon as a DBA Scenario: I'm not quite sure but it seems that a Viking boat held 20 to 40 warriors which gives them army in the neighborhood of 3000 warriors. Short the Saxons some elements maybe 2 to 4, and as the (75b Middle Saxon) Wb are the only "killer" elements maybe one of them should be the first to go. With the advantage of defending the high ground, the Wbs' +4 to Bd +5 might make for a quick reversal of history with good rolling. The Saxons flee if they lose their general, with possibly the exception of the remaining warbands (house retainers) who go berserk so to speak. I would also suggest having the scenario begin after the Viking crossing; if three men could hold the ford its obviously to small for DBA scale. I'm still up in the air about the archery (no pun intended); it's mentioned frequently in the poem on both sides, so most likely give the Vikings the Bw option and maybe allow the Saxon Ps to function as the same ( maybe at +1 instead of +2?)


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Last Update: Dec. 19, 1998

Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.