How many men?

By Rob Morgan 

So, there I was, admiring the Viking “army” displayed before me, in bold 25mm — it looked 28mm, as a matter of fact — and as I was proudly told, “Only 70 pounds the lot, for a hundred figures. A few mounted figures too, for not much more.” It seemed a fair size force to go pillaging with, and unnecessary, as the opposition was largely puny looking peasants and fyrdmen, and I said so. The evening cooled. Well, admiring someone’s over-priced, and over-numbered armies is supposed to be without any criticism, but I couldn’t resist it.

In early medieval times, the Irish and Welsh regarded the naming and size of forces of armed men with some vigour and exactness. Welsh military households were around 50 armed men, while the Irish suggested that only 20 men were required for raiding, and that taking any more than 36 on a raid turned it into an army! Though of course, around 100 warriors were needed to “make and win a battle.” Hm?

This information comes from a very good book called “Welsh Military Institutions 633-1283AD” by Sean Davies, an expensive academic title ( ISBN 0-7083-1836-3), filled with information about early medieval forces. By the year 1000AD, an Anglo-Saxon army tended to consist of 80-200 men, and typical “continental” armies in northern Europe would be a little larger at 250 or so. It’s interesting to note that the major opponent of the Anglo-Saxons in the decades before Hastings in 1066 was the Welsh. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” entry for 1055AD records an army from the fyrd of Herefordshire which, thrown into battle against the Welsh, fled before a single spear was thrown or arrow discharged, because they had been ordered to fight their enemy on horseback, rather than on foot. This was contrary to their custom.

I’ve long enjoyed the smaller medieval fighting force, warband or army if you prefer, not only because it seems more accurate in numbers, and easier to manage on the table-top, but easier to personalize, and cheaper, and quicker to paint too. My smallest “army”is one of Mick Yarrow’s 15mm “wolf-men,” just 12 of them, and they seem to do quite well against most opponents, and they aren’t just a “skirmish” force either.


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1 Response to How many men?

  1. Dale Hurtt says:

    I agree. That seems to be a sweet spot for miniatures gaming. Enough figures that you cannot use deeply detail man-to-man rules, but not so many that you feel it necessary to start lining the figures up in rigid formations and wondering why you based all of the figures singly instead of multiple figures per base.

    Interestingly, few people play at this level after the introduction of gunpowder until you get to World War One.

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