Chalons Battle Pack
This Battle pack should be read in conjunction with all the material on the SoA Forum that has been posted.
“The battle field was a plain rising by a sharp slope to a ridge.” (Jordanes)
This is really all we know about the ground over which the battle was fought. Chances are that there were other minor features breaking up the plain. Later in his description of the battle Jordanes says: “a brook flowing between low banks through the plain was greatly increased by blood from the wounds of the slain.” This may of course be poetic license but it does give the option for a brook somewhere on the field even if it is only decorative without any impact on the game.
The actual position of the dominating ridge is a matter of conjecture. It was on one flank but the arguments are fairly evenly weighted as to which one. In favour of it being on the Roman left flank are:
• Jordanes says: “The Huns with their forces seized the right side, the Romans, the Visigoths and their allies the left, and then began a struggle for the yet untaken crest.” We do not know Jordanes perspective when he says left or right but it is reasonable to assume it is from the Roman/Visigoth point of view. If so it possibly places the ridge on the Roman left.
• Apparently both Aeitus and Thorismund led the troops who successfully took the hill. If Aeitus was present it could be argued that the action took place on the Roman left as that is where the Roman troops were stationed.
In favour of the hill being on the Roman right are:
• If the Romans/Visigoths took the left side of the ridge this could because the left slope (from the Roman/Visigoth perspective) was closest to the right hand end of their line. Jordanes says that the Huns ‘seized the right side which may’ indicate they took the initiative and were attempting to , come down the hill onto the Visigoth flank.
• If Thorismund took part in the attack he must have led Visigoth troops and as the Visigoths were on the right then the hill must have been on the right also. Aeitus apparently moved around the battlefield so he may well have gone over to join Thorismund early in the battle to launch the attack. It is unlikely the Visigoths (who were only nominally allied) would have split their forces.
Composition of Forces
As Gibbon so eloquently put it: ‘All the nations from the Volga to the Atlantic’ took part in the battle. How many of each nation? How they were armed and equipped? And how great their enthusiasm for whatever cause they were fighting for? are really wide open questions.
On the Roman side Jordanes says there were: “Franks, Sarmatians, Armoricans, Liticians, Burgundians, Saxons, Riparians, Olibriones (once Romans soldiers and now the flower of the allied forces), and some other Celtic or German tribes.”
There were probably not many Romans. According to Sidonius Apollinaris Aetius had with him only "a thin meagre force of auxiliaries without legionaries" when he moved into France from Italy. There is a possibility that he was able to round up some of the remnants of the Gallic field army as well as some garrison troops.
There were Franks on both sides due possibly to a dynastic dispute and the Riparians were another branch of the Franks from further up the Rhine who were possibly fleeing Attila's approach. Burgundians are also mentioned on both sides and may have been the case as one branch had settled in France after an earlier defeat at the hands of the Huns who at that time were Aetius’ allies.
By Sarmatians Jordanes was probably have been referring to Sangiban’s Alans. These were settled near the town of Orleans and earlier in the campaign had struck a deal with Attila to turn the town over to him. Aetius prevented them from doing this but their loyalty was doubtful.
Armoricans are from Brittany, perhaps former Bacaudae or maybe recent immigrants from Britain. Saxons are also possible as a band had previously been given land to settle north of the Loire.
The Liticians are unknown but they could be laeti (German or Sarmatian military colonists) It is also likely that Aëtius' army would have been augmented by the private armies (bucellarii) of the powerful Gallic landowners. Perhaps these could be Jordanes' enigmatic 'Olibriones'.
Commanded by King Theodoric and his son Thorismund, the Visigoths were an independent allied force. Until recently they had been at war with the Romans and the alliance was one of convenience rather than friendship.
The Visigoths were the descendants of the men who had destroyed the East Roman army at Adrianople in AD 378 and who had sacked Rome in 410. By this time they had settled down as a warrior aristocracy over the native Gallo-Romans and having had access to Roman weapons factories for several generations would have been very well equipped compared to other Germanic peoples.
Although initially most of the Visigoths fought on foot, by this time most warriors would have been able to afford horses and they were perfectly happy fighting either mounted or dismounted.
Like the Romans, the Hun army was a composite of many peoples:
"Suddenly the barbarian world, rent by a mighty upheaval, poured the whole north into Gaul. After the warlike Rugian comes the fierce Gepid, with the Gelonian close by; the Burgundian urges on the Scirian; forward rush the Hun, the Bellontonian, the Neurian, the Bastarnae, the Thuringian, the Bucteran and the Frank, whose land is washed by the sedgy waters of the Neckar." Sidonius Apollinaris.
There is a huge amount of poetic licence in this description borrowing heavily from Herodotus. We know one party of the Franks involved in the dynastic dispute had appealed to Attila and so a Frankish contingent is likely. There were also some Burgundians still living to the East of the Rhine and they may have been forced or persuaded to join. Contingents of Gepids, Scirians, Thuringians and Rugians were almost certainly present with the Gepids, under Ardaric, commanding the right wing at Châlons. Interestingly Sidonius does not mention the Ostrogoths who feature prominently Jordanes’ account where they form the left wing at Châlons under the brothers Valamir, Theodimir and Vidimir.
Because the various German tribes were subject to the Huns, many people have concluded that their morale and loyalty were low. Unlike Sangiban’s Alans however, there is no evidence that this was the case. From all accounts the Gepids and others fought valiantly at Chalons and although they revolted after Attila’s death it is not unusual for a bloody power struggle to break out after the death of such a strong leader without an obvious successor.
Some wild numbers have been given for the size of Attila’s army. Some claim it was half a million men strong. Jordanes, for example, says that there were 165,000 casualties on both sides at Châlons.
Such numbers are impossible. It took a great deal of logistical effort to keep even tens of thousands of men and horses fed and supplied on campaign and for that reason it was rare for armies of this period to exceed 20,000. Larger armies, like the one the Emperor Julian led into Persia nearly a century before, required careful pre-positioning of fodder and supplies.
The actual manpower that could be raised by some of the 5th century barbarian tribes was nowhere near as many as some fearful Roman chroniclers recounted. The only reasonably reliable number we have is that the Vandals crossed into Africa in AD 429 with 80,000 people. This would give at best 10-15,000 fit and able fighting men. Attila could probably could raise more than that from his vast empire but the problems of logistics remained and it was also unlikely that he would have taken every fighting man with him while relations with the Eastern Empire were still quite hostile.
An estimate in the region of 20-40,000 men for Attila’s army is probably reasonable with maybe up to 1/3 of that being actual Huns. As Jordanes says that Aetius ‘assembled warriors from everywhere to meet them (the Huns) on equal terms,’ it is also reasonable to assume that the combined Roman-Visigoth force was about the same size.
This is relatively straight forward. Jordanes is quite clear that Aetius’ army was deployed with the Visigoths on the left, the Alans on the right and the Romans (probably including other allied contingents) on the left. Attila posted the Gepids on his right, Huns in the centre and Ostrogoths on the left. It is likely that the other Germanic allies were split between the Gepids and Ostrogoths.
The only real issue to consider about deployment is a follow on from whatever decision you take about the ridge. If you decide to place it on the Roman left then a contingent of Visigoths under Thorismund will also need to be deployed on the left. If you choose to place it on the Roman right then a contingent of Huns needs also to be deployed to the left of the Ostrogoths (from the Hun perspective) to conduct a flanking action.