3200 years in the past, amongst the fens of northern Germany, within a valley near the Baltic Sea was perhaps the largest battle to take place in Europe to that day. It is to be called the Battle of Tollense, as the battle was fought at the river Tollense. A key terrain piece being a long bridge/ “mound bridge” over this river. It is an interesting story. One of a “uniquely” great scale of violence for this part of the world. If one sifts through the mud. It is an archaeologically rich find, and may reveal much more. This is an ever going discovery, very slow. Somewhat not new.
What you have is a collection of skeletons and artifacts from what was obviously a battle. Bones left in violence, bronze and stone weapons. From bronze and stone axes, spears, arrow heads, clubs, perhaps other organic weapons. Horses were also used. A large amount of jewellery, the hair rings I find attractive. A large amount of dead. Perhaps 130 and more, with other areas yet to be discovered. We have many examples of the battle wounds to study those given and received. Humans do not fight to the last man, especially in this era or fashion of violence, so one can multiply the combatants numbers. It is theorized from hundreds to thousands. We can also discover the origins of the dead, as in were they grew up. The large majority of the slain were not local. We know not exactly were, yet is seems a distant “neighbor”. Few of the dead were local. This speaks of the narrative. This is what I seek.
Much has been written of this discovery. In research one must brace himself, for strange perspectives of violence and such, yet you will find the facts of archaeology. Sift through scholars opinions and feel obligated to listen to no ones opinion. This is a stomping of the dead horse within history.
Yet what is this era and fashion? In warfare reason and style, we do not exactly know. It seems most past encounters during the bronze age were no more than skirmishes, not large bodies of warriors. Yet a skirmish can lead to extremely high casualty rates very quick, an entire band being wiped out within seconds or minutes. Many believe the bronze age was a more peaceful time overall. I believe this is true. Not because mankind was more peaceful, we could actually be more aggressive, and yet still it would be more peaceful. It was a lack of population crisis. People typically want to kill people because there so many of them to close. In this land and this area, there was theorized to live around 4 in a square kilometer, perhaps a family. Neighbors are distant. Of course there may be small centers of “power”. A small cluster of kin groups. So in essence, one must wish to truly take for the sake of taking, if one acted out in great numbers against another. Famine or some natural catastrophe excluded. Yet this was not the case here. The land and environment were plentiful, and have been for millennia. (Thus the interesting case of Herxheim…) Many also believe warfare may have been a contestation of groups displaying masculinity and prowess without violence. What would be a judgement of who is stronger. Whether true or not this would most likely be the beginning of most Northern European violence at this time. This said posturing could lead to duels. Once again a way of winning that would see few die. This was probably common. Yet to what outcome? For one could still not take what the other had. There for the system of deciding other terms. Not needing resources, yet establishing boundaries, hunting grounds. Perhaps dominance of subjected yet respected vassals. Did only trained warriors compete, or did all men. From the finds we see some were far better equipped than others. Horses were slain with a 1/25 ratio to humans. Did these horses belong to the “warrior caste”? Does this display a separation of caste? Makes sense. Were the warriors responsible for most warfare, yet in a case of true invasion many “others” came forth, makes sense. What were the warriors role? Administrative, religious, attached to bands, or separate and gathering in times of need, really just gangs? From a martial standpoint given technology, were the “warriors” greater then the population of “tribesmen”. The average tribesman was most likely a very capable hunter/ farmer/ gatherer/ builder/ survivor. As these are all skills one would need to live. This is why primitive skills go hand and hand with modern survival techniques. If technology was the separation of “caste”, as is often the way through time, this is a time of closely even technology. Whether one is wielding bronze, stone, or just wood, an even playing field… In an ideal environment the “trained warrior caste” had greater time to train for only war and does so. “And does so” is a large variation through time. This is of ultimately “feudal”/“tribal” perspectives. Modern becomes a different beast and time. Yet the mentality of Tollense continues forward always the same. The future of mankind. On and on. One surety is we are human. We take, we kill, we enslave, we rape, we plunder. It has always been this way. The battle of Tollense seems to speak of a sense of “total war”, kill them all mentality. A prime example of this would be the taking of Troy. A “contemporary battle” for the reasons of greed. The greek city states needed nothing from Troy, nor were they a threat. It was a reason of plunder, due to the threat of ego. Desire of water power. The numbers of combatants, the size of the city, far smaller then you believe. Hundreds, perhaps into thousands on either side. The Tollense battle thus stands as another, perhaps as great, if not fewer combatants. I guess three – four hundred, more if we find more slain, simply because if one loses a third or more of his forces, while the enemy did not, that would be great reason to retreat given these circumstances. And one would probably be unable to stop his men from doing so, if you could even call them his “men”.We have archaeology that speaks the story. That comes to life. That tells an immortal narrative, that no one recorded.
The narrative is simple yet one can see the life of Bronze age warfare. Or perhaps one can view a rare example of something, just as Troy would have been rare… The story is likely thus put simply without character. Somewhere within Germany, there rose a powerful war leader. One who united many kin groups under his power, surrounded by his immediate warriors. He wished to take from others. He most likely did so successfully. He decided to invade neighboring lands. This land south of the Baltic was his choice. His force came in strength, obviously to cause great damage to those living upon the lands. To take materials, enslave woman and children, kill men, make sacrifices, get drunk. There was knowledge of their coming. Word was spread by horse. Men took up arms in strength. Met them at a specific location of their choosing, the simplest way to enter their territory. A bridge that existed for generations, somewhat crude because it was old. Yet strong as much rock and timber has been added through the years. The two sides met. This was not and act of intimidation at this point and masculine pride. It was an act of true war. There would be the typical display of prowess by champions, one could theorize. Perhaps even some duels. Yet it came to battle, a rarity in this time. Probably some skirmishing were terrain permitted. Yet a large defense of the bridge. The fighting was desperate and intense. Hand to hand combat with no mercy. Men wailed in pain dying mortally wounded. Many slain outright, stabbed multiple times. Heads caved in with clubs. War trumpets sounding. Screams of rage, mixed with excitement and fear. Men yelling and shouting curses and blessings. Horses squealing in pain. The smell of blood and human insides. The invaders lost. And retreated home empty handed. Bodies were looted, perhaps thrown together. Some falling underwater to escape looting and not resurface.
What caused this victory to such a great extreme? Or simply did the victor carry off nearly all of his dead? The losing attempting to carry theirs as well, or not, depending on desperation of retreat. Technology was the same. And no side seemed to have terrain advantage, even if the battlefield was a choke point. Or did they? the tactics we do not know. Were defences of some sort built. Did one side have greater warriors, more skilled? Was the defending leader simply greater, inspired greater acts of valour? Or was it simply they were defending, and must act as one must. Not an invader, who truly did not need what he was taking. For there is an old saying, that when a man refuses to retreat from something, he gains the strength of two. Perhaps the enemy was simply outdone in strength.