Neglected Heroes: Leadership and War in the Early Medieval Period

Neglected Heroes: Leadership and War in the Early Medieval Period

Neglected Heroes: Leadership and War in the Early Medieval Period

Neglected Heroes: Leadership and War in the Early Medieval Period


Contrary to prevalent military historical thinking, the early medieval general was not an ignorant warrior chieftain, but an able, astute, intelligent, and often very cunning commander. Through the use of contemporary literature, art, and archaeological evidence, this study argues that these generals could and did effectively exercise command control before, during, and after battle. Using the examples of a dozen or so leaders and drawing upon over 60 battles, this study brings to light the genius and the adaptability of medieval generals.


Many Westerners look at the Middle Ages as poor, brutish, nasty and short, that was
not the universal opinion of those who experienced it.
M. T. Clanchy

Contrary to prevalent thinking, the early Medieval Western warrior chieftain was not simply the biggest, meanest, most cunning member of his economically/politically powerful ruling class. Such a person as described above would need little in the way of tactical expertise, psychological awareness (certainly not recognized in the pretwentieth century), or manipulative charismatic appeal to fight his way to the top of the dog eat dog structure of the Dark Ages/Medieval power pyramid. The brutishness Clanchy refers to brings to mind the archetypal Viking warrior, mindlessly smashing his way through his rivals to victory, riches, and rulership. Tactics? The character described above could not make use of a "plan," much less act in concert with his fellow warriors. Many historians agree, noting the orderly, confined hazel-field battles of the Viking sagas where tactics were unnecessary as the two forces rushed at each other and hacked away with abandon, and the survivors would then nurse their wounds and later drink to their fallen enemies.

Such meetings undoubtedly occurred, but they were very small in number compared with the many conventionally fought battles and were last referred to in the late tenth century. Also, anyone reading about the exploits of Harald Hardrada, for example, cannot help but note his tactical expertise--here was a true giant of his age--as he constantly relied on his intelligence and leadership abilities rather than simply his brute strength.

Our present-day conception of early Medieval leadership has not taken sufficient account of the psychological and philosophical tendencies inherent in the early Medieval warrior class as represented in the art and literature of the fifth through thirteenth centuries. For some warriors and their leaders, this period marks the emergence of a new spiritual orientation, mythical in its concept, fanatical in . . .

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