It has been called ”Europe’s first battlefield” and attracted attention since its discovery. But the battle of Tollense around 1200 B.C. is also interesting from an archery perspective.
The tactics used by the victorious archer army reminds of the battle of Agincourt, some 2,600 years later.
During the Bronze age, Tollense valley — situated in northern Europe — was a part of a northern European network of trade and commerce, stretching into the Baltic sea. At this time, regional chieftains had began organising armies of professional warriors. The research question has been if these men of power also hade the proto-state capacity to wage all-out wars?
The finds made at Tollense provides the answer, as archaeological excavations since the 1990’s has found the first site of a northern European battlefield. The impressing fact about the battle is the size of the armies fighting, possibly numbering around 5,000 men in total. Also, these warriors does not seem to have been farmers, put together to form a temporary fighting force.
Instead, they seem to have been professional soldiers. And the victorious ones were primarily archers, massed together. When they let loose their arrows, the targets seem to have little chance to prevail
The landscape of Tollense valley remains wet and swampy, much like the battlefield of Agincourt in 1415. The terrain surrounding the battlefield were covered with forests and bushes, also much like Agincourt.
During the Bronze age, the river stretching the valley was crossed by a road. Thus, the valley connected two important trade routes, making the valley both strategically and economically important.
Some 3,200 years ago an impressive army was advancing north, into the valley. The attacking force consisted of infantry and mounted cavalry, armed with wooden mallets and some swords.
Their origin seem to have been today’s southern Germany, pushing north in what could have been a campaign of conquest. Defending the valley, an army of archers waited in the woods and bushes surrounding the river. Archaeological field work suggests their goal was ambush.
The attacking army seemed to have been chocked by massive volleys of arrows, fleeing south. At certain points they seem to have stopped their route, in order to strike back. The result was fierce melee combat. Skeletons found has injuries from both arrows and mallets. Arrowheads from the battle are found in abundance.
Fighting a heavily armed enemy army, consisting of both infantry and mounted cavalry, using volleys of arrows, is a tactic usually connected to late mediaval European history. But the tactics used at Tollense around 1200 B.C, predating the battle of Agincourt by thousands of years, makes the understanding of archery warfare more complex.
Swedish television SVT mentions the battle extensively in the documentary ”De första svenskarna” (2019), which has provided many of the photos and pictures used in this article. There is an excellent article about Tollense at sciencemag.org.