Time on My Hands Chapter 44 - 356-361 CE: The Raven Raiders Fight

Time on My Hands

Chapter 44: 356-361 CE: The Raven Raiders Fight

For the 356 campaigning season, Julian linked up with the main body of the Gaul militia which involved a long march through country swarming with Alemanni raiding bands. Julian surprised and drove off a large Alemanni force that had surrounded Augustodunum {PD Autun} and defeated a raiding band in the wilderness. At Reims, Julian showed his boldness by deciding to deal with the Alemanni problem at the source by marching straight to Alsace and restoring Roman control of the Rhine. On the way his troops were ambushed. Nearly a quarter of his forces were destroyed by a large band of Alemanni but neither side emerged victorious. At Brotomagus {PD Brumath} in Alsace, Julian's forces routed another Alemanni band. After assessing the situation in Alsace, Julian decided that his force was insufficient to prevail over the Alemanni alone. Instead, he set out to recover Colonia Agrippina, leading his army via Augusta Trevorum to Roman-held Koblenz and then down the Rhine.

Raben and the Raven Raiders escorted the regular Corvus Shipping Caravan along the Via Germanica. They linked with Julian and jointly entered the plundered Colonia Agrippina unopposed, Julian's men were set to work to rebuild the city walls. Raben explained how he’d saved the soldiers and citizens and kept them alive when the Franks attacked. Julian wasn’t happy but Constantius II had told Julian that Raben was wise and did his best to avoid bloodshed which was a positive thing. The story of Raben, the Demon Slayer, taking on a hundred Franks by himself had swept through Gaul, the Franks the Alemanni and the Romans. The people who had fled the river port/fort under the protection of the Raven Raiders returned. Together with the Raven Raiders the townspeople and soldiers set to work rebuilding the fort and city.

With Raben at his side, Julian concluded a peace treaty with the Franks which removed half the opposition in Gaul allowing Julian to focus his resources on dealing with the Alemanni. By this time Raben and the Raven raiders were virtually committed to assisting Julian.

As the 357 campaign season approached, a plan was created by Constantius II's staff to trap the Alemanni in eastern Gaul in a pincer movement. Julian would advance eastward from Reims where he’d wintered, while 25,000 of Constantius' troops in Italy were despatched under general Barbatio to Augusta Rauracorum {PD Augst, 5 miles east of Basel, Switzerland} in Raetia, from which he was to advance northward to meet Julian. The Alemanni bands would thus be cornered and destroyed in the southern part of Germania Prime {PD Alsace}. Ignoring the Roman threat large bands of Alemanni, swept south west through the Jura Mountains to invade and ravage the rich lower Rhone valley. They almost turned back when they saw the massive defensive walls that made up the south eastern shore of the River. They learned the land on that side of the river was the Province of Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae the home of the Demon Slayer, the Raven Raiders and the Clan Corvo. The fact there were hundreds of armed men atop the walls disabused any ideas they had about attempting to breach the formidable fortifications. They didn’t know many of those manning the wall were called up mitiltia or that half of them were women. They just knew they wouldn’t try to mess with the Clan Corvo. The raiders moved down the northwestern shore of the Rhone trying to take the city of Lugdunum {PD Lyon} by assault.

The attack was repulsed but vast amounts of booty were taken from the unprotected never before plundered Roman estates, villas, and villages. However, the Alemanni were trapped in the interior of Gaul, as their return routes to the Rhine were barred by the Roman armies. In Julian's sector squadrons of cavalry ambushed and destroyed several smaller returning Alemanni bands. But in Barbatio's sector, the main body of Germans were allowed to pass unmolested: Barbatio rejected the urgent plea of two of his cavalry commanders to deploy their squadrons on a highway that they expected the enemy would use. The escaping force reached some islands in the Rhine near Strasbourg where the raiding-bands had moved their camps for safety in response to the Roman pincer movement. Nevertheless, Julian pursued them vigorously. Although without boats, his men succeeded in reaching one island, as the river had become fordable due to summer drought. An entire raiding-band was surprised and slaughtered. The Alemanni evacuated the remaining islands, removing their sutlers, baggage and booty to the far side of the Rhine.

Constantius II, who was visiting Rome, came under great pressure from the Catholic priests and laity who hated the anti-Bishop of Rome Felix whom he had appointed. After two years of exile, Liberius returned to resume working as the Bishop of Rome. Constantius had hoped the two could be co-bishops but the people stubbornly refused forcing Felix to flee.

Julian began rebuilding the fortress at Tres Tabernae {PD Saverne}, which was astride the Mediomatrici {PD Metz} - Strasbourg Roman highway at the mouth of the main entry through the Vosges mountains into northern Alsace, a location with commanding heights overlooking the Rhine valley.

Near Strasbourg, the vanguard of Barbatio's army was ambushed by a strong Alemanni force. The Romans fled in disarray and instead of engaging, Barbatio led the rest of his force in a hasty retreat, under close pursuit by the Alemanni. Barbatio led his forces out of Alsace and a good way into Raetia losing most of his sutlers, pack-animals and baggage which could not keep up with his rapid retreat. Then Barbatio withdrew his army from the theatre of operations altogether, sending his forces across the Alps into winter-quarters in Italy despite it being the middle of the campaigning season. This reduced Roman forces in Alsace by two-thirds sabotaging the pincer strategy.

Chnodomar, as arrogant as ever, could not ignore Julian's re-fortification of Saverne, since it threatened his control of Alsace and blocked his main access route into the interior of Gaul. He had come to see this region as Alemanni territory by right of conquest after occupying it for several years also claiming to possess letters from Constantius II granting the Alemanni the right to occupy those lands. Chnodomar had been surprised and dismayed by Julian's successful campaigns. But encouraged by his own success against Barbatio he felt invincible. Having driven two Roman generals from the field, Chnodomar had lost the barbarians' traditional fear of pitched battles with the Romans. The Alemanni kings ordered a mass mobilization of all the confederation's member tribes, gathering their bands at Strasbourg. They received support of the Alemanni mini-states near Raetia that had been pacified by Constantius in 355. Their leaders were overthrown in an anti-Roman coup and they summoned the assistance of the Burgundians, another Germanic tribe, as mercenaries. At Strasbourg on the Rhine they gathered a combined force of some 35,000 men. Their aim was to bring Julian to battle and crush him by sheer weight of numbers. They provoked Julian by sending him an ultimatum to evacuate Alsace immediately.

Raben was in Colonia Aggripina due to the spring iron/people transfer. Raben’s raven spies had reported Barbatio’s retreat and the concentrating Alemanni. Realizing the danger, Raben pulled together his 3 Raven Raider divisions, 20,358 men, 8373 ravens, 3 tigers, 27 eagles, 243 wolves and 27 artillery squads. They rode hard south along the Via Germanica from Colonia Aggripina to intercept the Alemanni in case Julian decided to attack them.

Julian was now faced with a dilemma. The safer option was to ignore Chnodomar's challenge and to keep his forces in their fortified bases, then request and await reinforcements, if necessary until the following year's campaign season. But the performance of Barbatio and the imperial forces in the recent campaign cast doubt on whether such reinforcements would be supplied. Retreating would also expose Gaul to another massive Alemanni invasion just when the harvests was due. Julian’s troops wanted instant action, combat at this juncture offered the prospect of a decisive victory, since the Alemanni forces were for once concentrated and not divided into many bands. The Romans almost always won pitched battles with barbarians, but in this case it was clearly a high-risk option because of the Alemanni 3-1 manpower advantage. Julian, with only 11,500 troops, decided to confront the Alemanni.

Julian's army set forth at dawn, arriving within sight of the barbarian entrenchments outside Strasbourg at around midday. Julian wanted to build a fortified camp and attack the next day so the men could rest after their six hour march but his officers and men would have none of it and clamored to be led against the enemy immediately.

Chnodomar, alerted that the Roman army was at hand, moved his army forward to his chosen battlefield nearby. The battlefield was a gently-sloping hill a few miles from the Rhine. The western edge of the battle field was defined by the Metz-Strasbourg Roman highway, on the far side of which was broken, wooded ground impassable to cavalry. The Alemanni were waiting for the Romans on the crest of the hill. The Alemanni left wing was held by Chnodomar and his cavalry. The rest of the line was divided into units under other Alemanni kings. Julian drew up his infantry in two lines, widely spaced apart, each several ranks deep. Julian himself, with his mounted personal escort, took up position in the space between the Roman lines, giving him a close, but relatively protected, view of the action. Julian's best hope for a quick victory lay in a cavalry breakthrough. Failing a cavalry breakthrough, Julian would have to rely on a struggle of attrition on foot, in which superior Roman armor, training and formation discipline almost inevitably prevailed.

The Battle of Argentoratum in 357 began with the Roman heavy cavalry charging the Alemanni horsemen. Chnodomar had hidden and interspersed foot warriors amongst his cavalry who killed the Roman horses leaving the heavily armored troops at the mercy of the more maneuverable Alemanni. The surviving Roman heavy cavalry panicked and fled the field. Bogged down by the infantry amongst them as well as the dead Roman cavalry and horses the Alemanni cavalry was unable to capitalize on their success. Encouraged by their cavalry's success, the Alemanni foot soldiers gave a great roar and ran towards the Romans. Alemanni warriors repeatedly charged the Roman shield wall, hoping to break through by sheer weight of numbers and brute strength. The Roman held them off for a long time, inflicting severe casualties on the Alemanni who flung themselves recklessly at their bristling spears. Then, a group of Alemanni kings and their best warriors punched a hole through the center of the Roman front line. Despite being cut in two, the Roman front line did not collapse, managing to shorten their lines and curve to hem the breakthrough. A large number of Alemanni poured through the breach in the Roman frontline and charged the centre of the Roman rear line which stopped the Alemanni attack in its tracks and then counterattacked linking with the battered frontline. The battle raged back and forth with the Romans slowly being forced back. At this point the Romans had little hope for victory but continued their disciplined fight hoping to hold on until darkness ended the battle. The Alemanni were just as determined to crush the Romans before dark. An hour before the sun was about to sink into the trees the Alemanni launched a final crushing attack.

Suddenly from the trees alongside the battlefield the skirmishers and hidden reserves of the Alemanni erupted in absolute panic into the rear of their own left flank. They had been driven out of the protection of the trees by Raben accompanied by the wolves, tigers, eagles, and ravens of the Raven Raiders. At the same time, the mounted soldiers of the Raven Raiders thundered up the Via Germanica turning to charge along the Metz-Stasburg road spreading into 9 sets of brigade sized dual lines successively slamming into the right rear of the Alemanni. The front line of each brigade advanced with lances while the second line had their bows at the ready. Any Alemanni attempting to attack the lancers were cut down by arrows. The 27 sections of Raven Raider artillery deployed along the Rhine effectively cutting off all hope of an organized Alemanni retreat

The unexpected dual onslaught caught the Alemanni flat footed, trapped between the stubborn Roman soldiers to their front and the rampaging Raven Raiders to their rear. Seeing the Demon Slayer leading the tigers, wolves, eagles and ravens attacking from the tree line caused absolute terror and panic. The warriors, already weary from the heavy battle, tried to flee only to run into the lances and swords of the mounted Raven Raiders on the other side. All discipline amongst the Alemanni disintegrated.

The mass of their army was now trapped in front by the Roman lines and the unyielding vice of the Raven Raiders and their animals. The wolves and tigers vented long pent up savagery in the bloodbath as the eagles and ravens raked faces with their claws and plucked living eyeballs from screaming heads. The Alemanni were being methodically cut down with the ones in the middle packed tightly together and unable to move as the Raven Raider archers poured arrows into their jammed ranks. They were packed so tightly the dead couldn’t fall to the ground. After more relentless pressure from the Romans and Raven Raiders the Alemanni lines collapsed as utter panic spread through their ranks. They broke formation and ran helter skelter for their lives. Many did not run fast enough pursued all the way to the Rhine by Roman infantry and the Raven Raiders, cutting them down as they ran. Those that fled into the cover of the forest were pursued by the Tigers, wolves, eagles and ravens working together. Of the 2000 Alemanni who entered the thick forest, none emerged. Large numbers attempted to swim across the river, but many drowned, hit by Roman and Raven Raider arrows and artillery or simply weighed down by their armor. Nearly 20,000 Almanni died that bloody day. Thousands more were captured.

Chnodomar and his retinue tried to escape on horseback, hoping to reach some boats prepared for just such an emergency near the ruined Roman fort of Concordia {PD Lauterbourg} 24 miles downstream from Strasbourg. The Raven Raiders easily cornered and captured them, delivering them to Julian. Like many bullies, once defeated and caught red handed Chnodomar begged for mercy. Julian sent him in chains to the court of Constantius II where he died a few months later in a camp for barbarian prisoners.

The battle was the first open field combat for the Raven Raiders. They had been at the Battle of Milvan Bridge but the opposition broke and fled before first contact. They had fought the Goths during their Quest for Aurochs and Tarpans but did so using arrows. The savage Battle of Argentoratum was the bloodying of the Raven Raiders. It was the first time they fought face to face with and enemy. The intense training regimen Raben had established paid off. The Alemanni melted before their lances, swords and arrows. The Raven Raiders suffered 67 wounded and 14 killed, their first combat deaths. Raben's personal body count was only 79 since the Alemanni fled in terror from the Demon Slayer.

Needless to say Julian was quite grateful to Raben and the Raven Raiders and offered a reward of Raben’s choosing. Before asking, however, Raben questioned Barbatio’s action, wondering if perhaps his behavior might have been instigated by a paranoid Constantius II in an effort to eliminate his last adult blood male relative.

Julian realized it seemed unlikely that the general would have risked breaking off operations unless confident of the emperor's approval. Before Julian could decide, his troops acclaimed him as co-emperor. Still unsure, and with Raben’s advice he vehemently refused the title, which could only legally be bestowed by the ruling Constantius II. Given the emperor’s murderous attitude against potential contenders, Julian's caution is understandable although it bought him no credit with Constantius II. Raben then told Julian he’d hold off requesting his reward for services rendered until such time as Julian became at least a co-emperor.

The immediate aftermath of the battle saw a vigorous "ethnic cleansing" campaign. Alemanni families who had settled in Alsace on stolen land were rounded up and expelled from imperial territory. The battle was the turning point in Julian's effort to restore the Rhine frontier. Until this battle, Julian was obliged to campaign largely inside Gaul, with the barbarian bands holding the initiative, playing cat-and-mouse with his forces and causing enormous economic damage to a vital region of the empire. Julian followed up the battle by an incursion into Alemanni territory beyond the Rhine. Now Julian was able to take the war to the enemy, each year invading the lands beyond the Rhine, devastating them and terrorizing the tribes into accepting tributary status while making serious progress in repairing Rome's shattered line of forts.

Raben had Raven Raiders performing roving patrols up and down the Via Germanica rounding up smaller bands of Alemanni raiders. Upon his return to Barmaz he requested Raven Raider volunteers to create 2 battalions of Raven Raiders less the eagles but with their families, 1 to settle in Madeira, the other to the Azores to split up into troops with 1 troop settling on each of the nine islands on permanent placement. In early spring they would head down to Zarbam where the Madeira/Azores fleet would pick them up. Raben headed south to Mazbar before the snows closed Poeninus Mons. After checking out Mazbar, Raben headed to Zamrab for 2 weeks before moving on to Marzab on the island outside of Constantinople to visit the newest office of Corvus Scriptorium. There he reviewed scriptorium to make sure their primary effort of preserving writings was continuing unabated.

While Raben had been swept up in the crisis on the Rhine, the colonists continued flowing unchecked into Madeira and the Azores. As needed the 360 ton elephant and chimpanzee caravel moved from colony to colony over the years. In 354 the colonial fleets delivered 8256 colonists to Madeira. The Azores took 5000 colonists to Sao Miguel, 4000 to Terceira, 6000 to Flores and 1000 to Corvo. Those settling on Flores and Corvo capped the populations of both islands. Since all the islands were now inhabited the Pathfinders withdrew to reconsolidate.

In 355 the colonial fleets delivered 6896 colonists to Madeira. The Azores took 5000 colonists to Sao Miguel, 4000 to Terceira and 8500 to Pico. Those settling on Pico capped it's population. In 356 the colonial fleets delivered 7556 colonists to Madeira. The Azores took 5000 colonists to Sao Miguel, 4000 to Terceira and 8000 to Faial. Those settling on Faial capped it's population. In 357 the colonial fleets delivered 6726 colonists to Madeira. The Azores took 9000 colonists to Sao Miguel and 9000 to Terceira. In March 358 Raben returned to Zarbam to meet the spring Madeira/Azores supply and colonial fleet. The voyage went smoothly. The dispersal of Colonists for 358 was the same as the previous year. Raben traveled to the Azores to visit each colony and to set up the raven mail stations between the islands as well as settling in the Raven Raiders detachments. The colonies were thriving and growing.

The Azores and Madeira were rapidly approaching their population cap. In 6 years they’d be filled. When he returned to Zarbam he organized a 20 vessel fleet of 180 ton ships with 2400 pathfinders. They would sail south of Madeira to find another set of islands that his readings, especially the Phoenicians and their successors the Carthaginians, had indicated were inhabited. Madeira and Azores had no native populations, so this would be a new situation for the expansion of the Clan Corvo. A native population raised questions of morality.

The exploratory fleet sailed for Madeira in August 358, after topping off their water they sailed due south with ravens scouting ahead. Early in the morning on the second day the ravens began returning. They found 2 clusters of small islands 184 miles slightly southeast of Madeira. Raben split the fleet to explore the 2 clusters spending another day doing so. The islands were small, rocky and virtually treeless with no streams. They named the group the Savage Islands, the 2 largest islands Big Savage and Little Savage. Big was 0.8 miles wide and 1 mile long. Little was 0.3 miles wide and 0.5 miles long. There was no way the island could be self sufficient so Raben decided to set up a 25 man Pathfinder unit with a clinker ship to serve as a way station and Raven Mail Roost.

The next day they continued south for 120 miles finding the archipelago they’d been searching for. They named the Archipelago the Canary Islands. The ravens reported the islands were populated so Raben kept the fleet together heading to the northwestern most island.

They sailed around the teardrop shaped island that was 29 miles long and 17 miles wide. In the middle of the east side they saw an old volcanic caldera right on the shore. It was about 3000 feet in diameter with 1/3 of the rim eroded into the sea. They saw a small village with several canoes on the sandy beach. There were dozens of people along the shore watching them. Several of the men held spears and war clubs. It was getting late in the day so Raben took a dozen Pathfinders in a small boat to row ashore.

More people appeared, many armed, as the boat touched the sandy shore. Raben stepped out with his weapons sheathed and hands held out to show he held no weapons. Once he was ashore the boat rowed back to the ship. The natives began talking amongst themselves as they discussed what to do.

“We come in peace,” Raben declared in their language after a few moments of listening. “Like you, we have weapons to defend ourselves, but we much prefer discussion and negotiations to settle any disputes.”

“You speak our language!” One of the men who appeared to be a leader said. “How did you learn it? Why have you come?”

“I have a gift from God that allows me to learn a language just by listening to it,” Raben explained. “We came because our Clan is growing and we need more land. We’ve settled 2 island groups to the north, we came here to do the same. We do not want to fight you for the land. We’d like for you to join our Clan so our peoples can become one.”

“We have no land to spare,” the leader declared. “We have our own clans and don’t need yours. Your leaders insult us by sending a child!”

“I am the head of the Clan Corvo and therefore I am the leader,” Raben explained knowing they had no concept of large numbers. “There are as many people in my clan as stars in the sky. We have ways of farming and herding and fishing that enable the land to support many more people. We have medical expertise that will keep people healthy. All we have we offer to you. Just look at our ships. They are much larger than your canoes, travel further and safer, and can carry many people and goods. I assume you have already dispatched runners to summon your peoples to defend against our aggression. When they arrive we will parley. I estimate it’ll take three days for them all to arrive. I’ll send my men back to the ships but stay with you so we may talk and learn from each other. Most of my ships will sail on to explore more islands as we wait. Let me summon my messengers.”

Raben cupped his hands and began krocking. At least 5 ravens immediately took off from every ship winging toward Raben. The eyes of the natives grew wide as they saw the raucously krocking ravens swarm overhead then land on the beach around Raben. One landed on each shoulder.

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