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[Fwd: TMR 08.01.23 Bowlus, The Battle of Lechfeld (Madgearu)]

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  • jenne@fiedlerfamily.net
    a review of a book on an important hungarian battle and its consequences. ... Subject: TMR 08.01.23 Bowlus, The Battle of Lechfeld (Madgearu) From: The
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2008
      a review of a book on an important hungarian battle and its consequences.

      ---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
      Subject: TMR 08.01.23 Bowlus, The Battle of Lechfeld (Madgearu)
      From: "The Medieval Review" <tmrl@...>
      Date: Mon, January 28, 2008 1:21 pm
      To: tmr-l@...

      Bowlus, Charles R. <i>The Battle of Lechfeld and its Aftermath,
      August 955. The End of the Age of Migrations in the Latin West</i>.
      Ashgate, Aldershot, 2006. Pp. xxiv, 223. $100.00. ISBN 0-7546-5470-

      Reviewed by Alexandru Madgearu
      Institute for Defence Studies and Military History,
      Bucharest, Romania

      After studies on the Carolingian expansion toward the Middle
      Danubian basin that provided new insights for the eve of the
      Hungarian conquest of this area, [1] Charles Bowlus turns with this
      book to one major consequence of this event. The sources for the
      Hungarian attacks in the Western lands were carefully gathered a
      long time ago by Gina Fasoli [2], and more recent studies refined
      the chronology of the invasions. [3] Archaeological research has
      also provided new data on them. [4] These invasions suddenly ended
      in 955 when a large Hungarian army was defeated by Otto I. Bowlus
      explains how and why this happened.

      The work has two main themes. One is the conflict itself. The
      second concerns the clash between two types of art of war, the
      western one and the nomad one. This discussion on Hungarian warfare
      is in turn largely based on the impact of the ecological and
      geographical conditions that enabled or, in this case, hindered the
      success of the fast offensives of lightly armed horsemen in
      confrontations with the heavy cavalry. The main ideas of the book
      were already presented in a study published a decade ago. [5]

      In the first chapter, the author emphasizes the significance in
      world history of this victory that not only gave to Otto I the
      opportunity to proclaim himself emperor, but freed forever Western
      Europe from the danger represented by the nomad warriors, a fact
      that allowed its future economic growth (5-7). Most of the
      introduction concerns the credibility of the main sources, the
      chronicle of Widukind and the <i>Life of St. Ulrich</i> by Gerhard.
      A brief survey of the data shows that "the really decisive action
      took place during the Hungarians' retreat to their homeland several
      days following the initial encounters near Augsburg" (15), and
      that, contrary to previous clashes, the Hungarian army was almost
      annihilated. Bowlus contradicts the common perception of a battle
      in a single place, the Lechfeld plain, led during one day.

      The second chapter (19-44) describes Hungarian strategy and
      tactics, in correlation with the potential of their war resources
      in campaigns, namely the fodder for the horses and the efficiency
      of their main weapon, the composite bow. The tactical advantage of
      the high mobility of mounted archers was made vulnerable when there
      were no sufficient grass areas for feeding horses, in the
      expeditions outside the Pannonian Plain between the Danube and
      Tisza (based on previous calculations made for steppe peoples,
      Bowlus estimates that all these feeding areas occupied by the
      Hungarians could support at most 15,000 archers). Such low manpower
      required the use of an infantry recruited from the sedentary
      subject population from Pannonia, while the limited amount of
      fodder restricted the time for sieges or for long campaigns. If
      such things as the limited capability of nomad manpower dependent
      on horse fodder were already known, another disadvantage of
      Hungarian warfare is for the first time fully analyzed in this
      book: the composite bow could not be properly used in a wet
      environment. This fact was crucial in the circumstances of the war
      of 955, because Bowlus is able to prove (in another chapter) that
      heavy rains occurred exactly in the decisive moments of the fights.
      He remembers that this inconvenience was remarked in the sixth
      century <i>Strategikon</i> ascribed to the emperor Maurice, for the
      same weapon used by the Avars. On the other hand, the composite bow
      is effective only at a great distance. Bowlus shows that light
      arrows were most efficient if launched from 400 meters. This means
      that Hungarian tactics required that they remain quite a distance
      from the enemy, and that a close fight against men armed with heavy
      swords could easily reverse the advantage given by the mobility of
      the light cavalry equipped with sabres. Bowlus shows that this
      redoubtable force was mainly composed from those warriors who
      occupied the plane between Szeged and Budapest (the so-called Nagy
      Alfold) and the district of Nyirseg, in the north-eastern corner of
      present day Hungary. A small mistake should be signaled here: the
      cities of Szeged and Csongrad are in Hungary, not in Romania (41).
      The group of rich graves from Nyirseg ended after the middle of the
      tenth century, and Bowlus seems to be right to link this with the
      extermination of the Hungarian army elite in 955.

      The third chapter (45-71) deals with the background of the
      victory obtained by Otto, which was not possible without the
      military reforms operated by his father Henry I. They consisted in
      the conversion to a defence-in-depth strategy based on forts set
      near river crossings, and in the drilling of a strong infantry
      force recruited from the peasants (<i>agrarii milites</i>). The
      fighting capability of this new and disciplined army was checked in
      the wars against the Slavs after 930, but also against the
      Hungarians, in the battle of Riade (933). This battle displayed the
      importance of the forts garrisoned with <i>agrarii milites</i>, who
      resisted until hunger forced the Hungarians to accept a close fight
      with the heavy cavalry of Henry I. Bowlus shows thus how the future
      victory of 955 was enabled by the experience gained and by the
      careful organization of the armed forces.

      The Hungarian inroads in the West and against Bulgaria and
      Byzantium before 955 are discussed in the next chapter (73-95).
      Bowlus supposes that the Byzantine Empire bribed the Hungarians to
      make raids in Bulgaria between 896 and 933. There is no proof for
      this. The gold coins found in Hungary are dated later, between 948
      and 959 (they were paid to the allied chiefs Bulcsu and Gylas). The
      attack of 934 seen by Bowlus as a consequence of the cessation of
      the payments was directed not only against Byzantium, but also
      against Bulgaria and it happened only because the Hungarians
      suffered a major defeat in 933 at Riade. Only after this campaign
      did Byzantium try to prevent future raids by diplomacy. Theophanes
      sent to the Hungarians in 934 (and also after the next attack of
      943, an event ignored by Bowlus) not a <i>Patriarch</i> of
      Constantinople, as Bowlus believes (74 and in the index), but a
      patrikios, therefore a civilian dignitary, not a prelate, as the
      author writes in the following phrase. [6] This mistake denotes a
      superficial reading of the secondary sources on Byzantine-Hungarian
      relations in the tenth century. One could suppose that the contacts
      established by Theophanes convinced Bulcsu and Gylas to ally with
      Constantine VII. They wished to strengthen their regional power
      against the supreme chief, the <i>kende</i>. Therefore, the
      orientation toward Constantinople concerned only two dissident
      rulers, not the entire Hungarian confederation as Bowlus seems to
      think. The consequences of the new treaty, negotiated in 948, were
      the visits of Bulcsu and Gylas to Constantinople. Only the latter
      respected the peace. The rest of the Hungarian chiefs remained
      hostile to Byzantium, including Bulcsu, who broke the alliance when
      Gylas became a new ally. Therefore, the history of Byzantine-
      Hungarian relations on the eve of 955 is more complicated than it
      appears from the few lines written by Bowlus. His idea that the
      ascending power of the East Frankish kingdom stimulated the
      orientation of the Hungarian chiefs toward Byzantium is
      nevertheless valuable.

      In the same chapter Bowlus presents the rebellion of the
      Bavarian duchy (953-954), to which the Hungarians were attracted.
      This had as a final consequence the raid toward Augsburg, the
      subject of the fifth chapter, "The Way to the Lechfeld" (97-129).
      Bowlus provides a very detailed description of the events and the
      strategy followed by both parties. He has reconstituted the ways
      followed by the invaders and by the troops under the command of
      Otto, up to the siege of Augsburg. Worthy of mention is the idea
      that Otto applied elements of the art of war taken from Vegetius.
      Bowlus concludes that the victory of Augsburg did not destroy the
      elite units of the Hungarian army that hoped to reverse the fate of
      the conflict by a feigned retreat.

      The careful strategy of Otto made this counteroffensive
      impossible. In the next chapter (131-162) an explanation for the
      victory of August 955, on the return from Augsburg, is offered.
      Bowlus shows that the decisive battle took place not exactly on the
      field of Lech, as it is usually known, and that the fight was not
      ended on 10 August. This chapter reveals why Otto was victorious.
      It was a combination of smart strategy and favorable conditions
      that made impossible the counteroffensive of the Hungarians. The
      sources attest that weather was stormy, and this had dramatic
      consequences for the enemy, whose composite bows were so sensitive
      to water. A no less important factor in the victory was the strong
      defence of the retreat paths, provided by the garrisons in the
      fortresses located near water crossings. The places were
      established by an ingenious deduction. Since it is known that the
      fight was made during St. Laurence's day and after, Bowlus has
      searched all the churches dedicated to St. Lawrence in the region,
      considering that they commemorate the event of 955. The result can
      be seen on map 8, and it is indeed convincing, because it covers
      all the possible crossing points. Most of these churches are placed
      near forts used in that time. In such conditions, the Hungarian
      army was almost annihilated.

      In the conclusion, the author resumes the main ideas of the
      book, emphasizing that the decisive factor of the victory was the
      heavy rainfall that impeded the use of bows and the crossing of
      rivers on the retreat. He also sustains that the destruction of the
      Hungarian army caused the decline of the power center identified
      around Nyirseg. The consequence was the rise of two other competing
      centers, near Budapest and near Szeged, both located in
      agricultural lands. This idea deserves full attention, but we
      should note that the development of the center north of Szeged
      began earlier. That was the area ruled by Gylas, where the mission
      of bishop Hierotheos was sent, and it is known that Gylas became an
      ally of Byzantium before the battle of 955. [7]


      1. <i>Franks, Moravians and Magyars. The Struggle for the Middle
      Danube 788-907</i>, Philadelphia, 1995 and such studies as:
      "Warfare and Society in the Carolingian Ostmark," in <i>Austrian
      History Yearbook</i>, 14, 1978, p. 3-26; "Carolingian military
      hegemony in the Carpathian Basin 791-907," in F. R. Erkens (ed.),
      <i>Karl der Große und das Erbe der Kulturen. Akten des 8.
      Symposiums des Mediavistenverbandes, Leipzig 15.-18. Marz 1999</i>,
      Berlin, 2001, p. 153-158; "Italia-Bavaria-Avaria: The Grand
      Strategy behind Charlemagne's <i>Renovatio Imperii</i> in the West,
      in <i>The Journal of Medieval Military History</i>, 1, 2003, p. 43-
      2. <i>Le incursioni ungare in Europa nel secolo X</i>, Firenze,
      3. M. Schulze-Dorrlamm, "Das ungarische Kriegergrab von Aspres-
      les-Corps. Untersuchungen zu den Ungarneinfallen nach Mittel-,
      West- und Sudeuropa (899-955 n.Chr.) mit einem Excurs zur
      Munzchronologie altungarischer Graber," <i>Jahrbuch des Romisch-
      Germanisches Zentralmuseums Mainz</i>, 31, 1984, p. 473-514; B. Le
      Calloc'h, <i>Le Xeme siecle et les Hongrois</i> (Bibliotheque
      finno-ougrienne, 12), Paris, 2002, p. 37-89; V. Spinei, <i>The
      Great Migrations in the East and South East of Europe from the
      Ninth to the Thirteenth Century</i>, Cluj-Napoca, 2003, p. 68-85.
      4. M. Schulze-Dorrlamm, "Die Ungarneinfalle des 10. Jahrhunderts
      im Spiegel archaologischer Funde," in J. Henning (ed.), <i>Europa
      im 10. Jahrhundert. Archaologie einer Aufbruchzeit. Internazionale
      Tagung in Vorbereitung der Ausstellung "Otto der Grosse, Magdeburg
      und Europa"</i>, Mainz, 2002, p. 109-122.
      5. "Die Reitervolker des fruhen Mittelalters im Osten des
      Abendlandes. Okologische und militarische Grunde fur ihr Versagen,"
      in <i>Ungarn-Jahrbuch. Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Ungarns und
      verwandte Gebiete</i>, Munchen, 22, 1995-1996, p. 1-25.
      6. For his career see R. Guilland, <i>Recherches sur les
      institutions byzantines</i>, Berlin-Amsterdam, 1967, vol. I, p.
      7. See C. Balint, <i>Sudungarn im 10. Jahrhundert</i>, Budapest,
      1991, p. 118-120; A. Madgearu, <i>The Romanians in the Anonymous
      Gesta Hungarorum. Truth and Fiction</i>, Cluj-Napoca, 2005, p. 97-

      -- Jenne Heise / Jadwiga Zajaczkowa
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