, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The war-band seems to be a polycultural phenomenon and is associated with any kingships that depend more on raiding for stability than a bureaucracy.  They are, for that reason, to be found all over the world at different times.

Unfortunately, historians only have real descriptions of the Celtic and Germanic war-bands, and those descriptions aren’t lengthy.  What we do know is that it was considered humiliating for any warrior to survive the death of their king in battle.  We also know that new warriors slept in the feasting hall, that more experienced men might have hovels nearby, and that the most trusted men would be given their own plots of land where they were allowed to form their war-bands.  Bards or their analogues often acted as entertainment in this setting and were clearly paid more for extolling the accomplishments of the king first and his warriors second.  Finally, warriors saw their king as their own personal patron.  He granted precious metals by taking them off his person.  He gave out weapons, armor, and livestock from his personal store.  A king was, in short, a father to his band of warriors.  Teulu, the Welsh word for war-band, also means family in Modern Welsh.

It is possible for a leader to have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of fanatical followers.  Hitler managed it in our century.  But such is rare even now, Hitler had a magnetism coupled with a gift for oratory that is studied by students of the art.  Other leaders manage the loyalty of entire countries as well but on a lesser scale.  Most have no magnetism and their oratory could be used as bedtime music.

Still, it is possible that someone could have even millions of devoted people in the modern era.  This is because of technological advances that allow citizens to see and hear their leaders -radio, t.v., even Youtube.  Arthur, Hrolf Kraki, and likely others kings such as Achilles and Gilgamesh were limited to the personal tools that were only effective at short-range.  They had the torque of silver or gold broken off from their arm to give to a warrior or a sword.  Such a direct act does create a closer bond, to be sure, but it isn’t something that can be done across a kingdom.

In fact, it would be difficult to do with a very large army.  The largest Germanic or British halls yet discovered could have held roughly one hundred warriors.  That is one hundred warriors sitting in a feast at one time so (and I am just throwing out guesses at this point) perhaps a half-dozen counselors who only came to the hall on special occasions, fifty to seventy less experienced men that had their own personal possessions and lived outside the hall, and the rest who slept on the floor there where they literally lived off the king’s generosity until they had proven themselves to him.  The process was designed to generate loyalty and to weed out those who were not worthy warriors or were not loyal.  But the inherent flaw in the system, clearly, was the size such a system allowed.  That halls have been found that could have housed no greater than one hundred men marks a clear upper limit as to how many men a king could bond directly to himself.

King’s had vassals as well, and these men would have theoretically been loyal to the king.  The reality is that they would have been loyal to their lord, the man who created the personal bond with them.  But, since early kings only allowed their most trusted warriors to be sub-rulers, the distinction was unimportant.  If a vassal’s men were loyal to their lord and the lord was loyal to his king, then then the men were ultimately loyal to the king.