‘What did the Gallic countryside look like anyway?’
This has turned out to be rather harder to discover than I expected. I kind of expected to amble out into the electronic environment, or at least the scholarly one, and be overwhelmed with studies explaining the varieties and techniques of ancient farming and, at least, to be able to deduce from those what the environment looked like, and how it could be represented on the wargame table.
I have been disappointed. Perhaps I have been looking in the wrong place, but I have not been able to find anything particularly useful, certainly about Gaul. Of course, it is possibly because I am, after all, a monoglot, and pre-Roman and Roman Gaul is not a major item of interest in Anglo-Saxon parts, but it has to be said that even British agriculture of the period is a bit of a stuggle.
I did find, however, one extremely useful web site, that of Butser Iron Age Farm (http://www.butserancientfarm.co.uk/). This covers quite a lot of what I wanted to know, and a few bits and pieces in Peter Salway’s ‘A History of Roman Britain have helped to flesh out some of the rest. That is not to say that there is a definitive answer to the original question (how could there be?), but there is probably sufficient to create a suitable wargame terrain.
Butser suggests that, at least in the south of Britain (and hence, I hope, by extension, to France, agriculture was focussed on fields around settlements. Depending on where you were, the settlements could be stockade or not. It is not entirely clear if the stockades were for defence or to keep grazing animals out of some areas.
The fields could be of wattle fencing or of live hedge, and would be rather small. If you Google for ‘Celtic fields’ images, you will see a large number of pictures of small fields in various parts of the country. These suggest that field boundaries could be of banks and ditches, or of dry stone walls. I suppose that local materials were used, whatever was available, pretty much as they are today.
It would seem that quite large areas must have been under arable cultivation, as the estimate of the area required to fill a storage pit is about three and a half hectares, which is eight and two thirds acres, more or less. Salway quotes the director of Butser as saying that the problem is really to identify areas where there was no prehistoric agriculture, not where there was.
That said, the Celtic fields do not seem to be sufficient to supply the grain required by, say, an occupying Roman army, so the question of where the major source of arable land was has to remain open. Outside the enclosures around the settlements, however, animal ranching of sheep, goats, cattle and horses was a major occupation.
Within the fields, a variety of grains were grown, spelt, emmer, einkhorn, wheat and oats, barley and rye. The yields were not great, but would probably have been sufficient for some trade for luxury goods. Interestingly (or at least, it was to me) if you plough frequently perpendicular to the slope of a field, the soil slowly settles in a downward direction, giving you terraces, with a bigger one at the bottom. This is called a ‘runrig’, although I would guess that most of you already knew that.
Interestingly, the advent of the Romans does not seem to have disturbed this pattern too much. The Roman villas were generally placed to be central to (and sometimes in higher places than) the native farmsteads, and presumably served as the focus for the collection and storage of the produce. Hence, and again this is probably only of interest to me, the French word ‘ville’ meaning town, and the English ‘village’.
So, in wargame terms, what should the countryside look like?
The terrain is probably reasonably heavily settled by, effectively, small farming communities. There may be some local overlord, either in a villa once Romanized, or a local hill fort or oppodia. I have not been able to find out thus far if, in England, the diversity of settlement shapes found in medieval times operated. I mean the fact that some villages in England are focussed around a centre to keep the good arable land to a maximum, while some are linear, with each plot having its own paddock, indicating a more animal focussed farming. It is possible that this happened, but I am not at all sure.
Outside the enclosed areas, the land would have been for grazing and growing other crops such as timber. Wetlands would have been used for water meadows and for growing willow, and of course hunting and fishing would have been happening too. Orchards would also have been kept, and grazed by pigs.
So, far from a largely unpopulated landscape, much beloved of wargamers (who prefers to fight battles on a flat plain?), we are looking here at a complex, heavily used countryside with a distinct stamp of the hand of man.
So, now, my solution to my terrain problems:
I have decided that I need to roll with the problem of the two scales. The areas of woods, settlements and fields will be marked out by pieces of felt (or, hopefully, some nifty bits of thin foam stuff that I have run across). These will be in the correct ground scale. The terrain items (houses, fields, trees) will be the correct figure scale, but mounted on the same bases as the figures (or double bases, to be exact; even roundhouses can be quite big). They will, thus, be interchangeable with figures if the units move into the areas of terrain.
I have nearly finished the first of my new tree bases, and am pondering the enclosures. If I am happy with the results, I might even post a picture here, but I would not hold your breath, because ‘nearly finished’ can still mean 'quite a long time off' in my world.