Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book 2, Ch. 3: Of their deficiency in battle

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Of their deficiency in battle, and base and dishonourable flight

In war this nation is very severe in the first attack, terrible by their clamour and looks, filling the air with horrid shouts and the deep-toned clangour of very long trumpets; swift and rapid in their advances and frequent throwing of darts. Bold in the first onset, they cannot bear a repulse, being easily thrown into confusion as soon as they turn their backs; and they trust to flight for safety, without attempting to rally, which the poet thought reprehensible in martial conflicts:

"Ignavum scelus est tantum fuga;"

and elsewhere -

"In vitium culpae ducit fuga, si caret arte."

The character given to the Teutones in the Roman History, may be applied to this people. "In their first attack they are more than men, in the second, less than women." Their courage manifests itself chiefly in the retreat, when they frequently return, and, like the Parthians, shoot their arrows behind them; and, as after success and victory in battle, even cowards boast of their courage, so, after a reverse of fortune, even the bravest men are not allowed their due claims of merit. Their mode of fighting consists in chasing the enemy or in retreating. This light-armed people, relying more on their activity than on their strength, cannot struggle for the field of battle, enter into close engagement, or endure long and severe actions, such as the poet describes:

"Jam clypeo clypeus, umbone repellitur umbo,
Ense minax ensis, pede pes, et cuspide cuspis."

Though defeated and put to flight on one day, they are ready to resume the combat on the next, neither dejected by their loss, nor by their dishonour; and although, perhaps, they do not display great fortitude in open engagements and regular conflicts, yet they harass the enemy by ambuscades and nightly sallies. Hence, neither oppressed by hunger or cold, nor fatigued by martial labours, nor despondent in adversity, but ready, after a defeat, to return immediately to action, and again endure the dangers of war; they are as easy to overcome in a single battle, as difficult to subdue in a protracted war. The poet Claudian thus speaks of a people similar in disposition:-

"Dum percunt, meminere mali: si corda parumper
Respirare sinas, nullo tot funera censu
Praetercunt, tantique levis jactura cruoris."

Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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