Part 8 in a 10 part series. To view other entries into the War Paint Series, follow the link.
The Battle of Grunwald, as it’s most commonly known, was one of the largest in Europe’s medieval history, was a deciding event in Eastern Europe’s history and saw the rise of a great regional power, yet often flies under the radar. The battle was fought in 1410 by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania against the Teutonic Order near the modern Polish village of Grunwald in the country’s north.
The battle was born out of a series of events known as the Northern Crusades, in which the Teutonic Order and Scandinavian monarchies attempted to Christianize the pagan tribes of the Baltic Sea. The Teutons had seized land belonging to Lithuania, but with the Grand Duchy’s conversion to Christianity in 1385 and their union to Poland, the tides turned back in favor of the Slavs. Fought between upwards of 70,000 participants, it forever changed the landscape of the Baltic and saw the Polish-Lithuanian Union, and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, become the largest state in Europe. The Teutonic Order would maintain relevance for some time, but the financial burden placed on it following its defeat would lead to a series of internal struggles that would eventually see its demise.
The Battle of Clontarf took place on April 23rd, 1014. It was fought between the forces of Brian Boru, Ireland’s greatest figure of the Middle Ages, and a rival king in rebellion, Máel Mórda. Máel Mórda’s side was aided by the Dublin Vikings, long a power in the area, while Boru had various other kings in support. The battle resulted in a rout of Mórda’s forces, the eventual diminishing of Viking influence in Ireland and, perhaps most importantly, the death of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland.
Ireland was a very fractured place at this time. There were numerous Kings and endless clan politics dominated life. Mórda had risen up a few years earlier, but a tentative peace had been agreed upon. He began enlisting the aid of numerous clans who would like to see Boru deposed. He also enlisted the aid of Sigtrygg Silkbeard and the Dublin Vikings, who then called in help from Orkney and the Isle of Man. The battle would go back and forth over the course of the day, Good Friday. Brian’s forces eventually got the upper hand and the Vikings fled. Their retreat was cut off and nearly all of the Viking leadership was killed in the process.
Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808 is an iconic painting by one of the great masters. The image depicts the execution of prisoners following the Dos de Mayo Uprising in Madrid against Napoleon’s invading forces. The events form part of the Peninsular War. Napoleon was invited into Spain by the Spanish King Charles IV. The pretext was that the two nations would conquer and divide up Portugal. Napoleon had other ideas and the expeditionary force showed no signs of leaving.
On May 2nd, the population of Madrid took to arms. Oddly enough, this is the second painting in a row in this series to deal with an uprising against Napoleonic occupational forces. Once unrest was inevitable, the French gave the order that anyone involved was to be shot. Fighting broke out in the city and the French forces quickly put it down. Some hundred or so French soldiers were killed along with numerous Madrileños.
The revolt of Cairo took place in 1798, shortly after Napoleon Bonaparte and his French forces took the city during their occupation of Egypt. The campaign was fought to destabilize British power in the Near East and India and, ostensibly, to spread the ideals of Republicanism. After taking Cairo without a shot fired in July of that year, tension began to mount. On October 21, in a surprise attack, citizens of Cairo rose up in revolt against the French stationed there, killing French general Dominique Martin Dupuy, among hundreds of others, in the process. Napoleon returned to the city and his response was both swift and brutal. After herding the belligerents into the Great Mosque, which had been fortified and armed by the locals for the days events, he opened fire with his cannon. French forces then massacred the Egyptians who’d taken refuge there, killing or wounding some 5,000.
The Battle of Nagashino is one of the seminal battles in Japanese history. It took place on June 28, 1575 near Nagashino Castle and was one of the key engagements toward to conclusion of the Sengoku period.. The battle was fought as the forces of Takeda Katsuyori besieged the castle. Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu sent relief forces. The two sides squared off in what is considered the first ‘modern’ battle in Japanese history. The Takeda clan had introduced the cavalry charge in recent times, to devastating effect. To counter this, Oda implemented a revolutionary use of firearms, volley fire, never before seen in Japan. As wave after wave of Takeda’s mounted troops rushed Oda’s position, they were mowed down by the revolving fire of the matchlock rifle-toting, samurai-led riflemen.
The Battle of Alexander at Issus is one of the most epic pieces of art you may ever lay eyes on. It was painted by Albrecht Altdorfer in 1529 after being commissioned by Duke William IV of Bavaria. It shows Alexander the Great’s resounding victory over Darius III of Persia at the Battle of Issus which took place in 333 BC. It was the decisive battle of the Macedonian king’s subjegation of the Persian Empire. The battle was a rout and King Darius fled, leaving behind his wife and children, who were taken into captivity. Darius himself would be captured a few short years later, never having been able to amount a response to his crushing defeat at Issus. Alexander would go on to form the largest empire in the Ancient World.
Part 1 in a 10-part series on depictions of war in art.
The Bayeux Tapestry is a beautiful piece of art. Produced sometime in the 1070’s by the victorious Norman’s following their conquest of England, the tapestry depicts the build up and conquest by William, Duke of Normandy, in 1066. The Battle of Hastings, where King Harold Godwinson of England was slain, is the climax. The death of Harold is the scene I’ve chosen as the featured image, as it was, historically speaking, the critical event.