Another of the discussions that I noted (but avoided) involved army size. Ancient sources are filled with large numbers of combatants – The Battle of Marathon involved 100,000 Persians and ten years later Xerxes invaded Greece with about one million soldiers. The number of dead at Chalons-sur-Marne numbered 165,000 to 300,000. At the Battle of Mt. Badon 960 men fell to King Arthur in one charge.
Estimates of army size are notoriously inaccurate, in the ancient world as in the modern. No person in the history of warfare has ever made a point of counting the size of one army, let alone the opposing army. So they guessed, and as is often the case they guessed on the high end. As Walter Goffart has demonstrated (the same Goffart who showed that the Roman Empire was not overrun so much as it crumbled from within), all numbers on the continent during this period are highly inflated.
But somehow the Britons were different? As Arthur is said to have killed a thousand men in one charge, that implies that he fought against an army composed of tens of thousands. Which of course means that Arthur or whoever was commanding the Britons had a comparable number of warriors. That is not a practical number, however, for a number of reasons. If I might bore the reader for a moment I will point them out:
Archaeology. The work of Myres was based heavily on the historical sources and therefore he saw in his finds that which made sense in that context, kings of large regions before 500. As English kings during the Crusades and The Hundred Years War occasionally numbered in the tens of thousands, a force of ten or twenty thousand seemed reasonable to him for both sides at Badon. However less biased and more recent work shows that one or two clans controlled each village, and that they were entirely independent of each other and would be until the late sixth century, well after Badon took place. One of these villages might have supported 10 to 15 men, though that number is probably high.
History. As has been mentioned, numbers in armies are inflated. There is also the Law of Ine, one of the first law codes among the English people (written about 694). It carefully defines an army as any band of warriors eight or larger. Likely this was the size of a minor king’s war-band, but it gives some context. The post-Roman equivalent of a baron, 200 years after Badon and 300 years after the catastrophe that befell Europe while Rome was dying, normally had eight men under him.
Demography. The United States in 1945 had a population of roughly 145 million people, and during the entire war it fielded just under 18 million soldiers. Britain in 500 had roughly one million people living in it, which means that, theoretically, over one hundred thousand people could have been at the battle. That is, if every able-bodied person (even the British farmers under Germanic lordship would have to be armed in this scenario) on the entire island had been willing to travel (the farmers would mostly walk) along dirt paths as well as Roman roads for a week or two so that they might all meet on one pre-ordained day at one pre-ordained location and fight.
Economics. If any area lost a significant number of farmers it would have caused starvation. The crop yields of the time were on an average three or four to one, allowing for very little extra from year to year and no significant change in manpower to produce the food.
Culture. The Germanic clans might have been willing to form a loose and very temporary confederacy if they all felt threatened, but then again the historical records say that Badon stopped the Germanic advance, and not vice versa. Otherwise, the clans seem to have spent most of their time cattle raiding each other.
The Britons had formed kingships by the time of Badon and some contemporary halls might have held up to a hundred warriors. However, the extant poetry and legends, even those of Arthur, involve individual kings making cattle raids on each other or attacking the Germanic peoples. There is no hint that they allied against the Germanic peoples until the middle or later sixth century. That date might be too early, as recent suggestions have been made that the first British alliances were formed against other British kings. In other words, the Germanic tribes of the time posed no island-wide threat and there is no suggestion of a British army over a hundred before 550 or so.
Gildas’ wording suggests that the battle might have had an island-wide significance, however no battles before Trent seem to have held that kind of importance and so a more local context is now favored. The title of Dux Brittonum or Dux Brittanorum has been attached to Arthur in Historia Brittonum. However, an early king of Gwynedd, Padarn, is called Peisrud, implying he was a military officer or, as has been suggested, he was descended from a Roman officer. Similarly Patrick was descended from Roman officials. But in neither case is there any evidence that either individual actually held a Roman office. The same can safely be said for Arthur. He was a battle leader, an early king.