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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > Warfare Through the Ages > The Medieval Era

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The Medieval Era Discussions on Knights and Crusaders, and all things medieval!

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  #16  
Old 02 Sep 17, 17:56
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Originally Posted by Pirateship1982 View Post
Oh yeah. One thing I often wonder about is how many trample deaths there were. If you have two large groups of warriors that are jammed together in mosh pit proximity, scared out of their minds as any sane person would be, and being urged to push forward by their commanders, I have to wonder how many friendlies who were wounded or just tripped might wind up simply getting trampled to death by the momentum of their own guys trying to break a line.
Except you are taking a very outdated view of how the fighting went.. Armies were in general far better organised (read the second of the links in my earlier posts). A typical way of fighting was that each side had blocks of infantry consisting of pikemen who protected the body of men from attack by cavalry and missile men (archers, crossbowmen, hand gonners, slingers etc etc depending on the period and the theatre of war). The opposing blocks would not close but attempt to break the others front with missile fire and possibly small charges. Once one side had made a break in then the armoured cavalry would exploit it and the opposing cavalry would try and counter them. The majority of casualties occurred when one side broke and tried to flee and then the casualties would be very one sided indeed - a massacre in fact.
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Old 02 Sep 17, 18:39
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thanks all replies
it's so very hard for our modern minds to imagine thousands of men ''lining up''/massed for hand to hand, bloody combat
...I tried researching reenactments...those look really good.....but they don't have nearly as many as would've been at the actual battle??
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Old 02 Sep 17, 19:11
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Originally Posted by Moulin View Post
thanks all replies
it's so very hard for our modern minds to imagine thousands of men ''lining up''/massed for hand to hand, bloody combat
...I tried researching reenactments...those look really good.....but they don't have nearly as many as would've been at the actual battle??
See my previous post. They weren't lined up for hand to hand bloody combat. That was only the case if one side was routed.
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Old 03 Sep 17, 09:30
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See my previous post. They weren't lined up for hand to hand bloody combat. That was only the case if one side was routed.
ok, so that sounds logical/more realistic .....I can see where that would lead to the battle taking so long
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Old 03 Sep 17, 11:33
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Originally Posted by MarkV View Post
Except you are taking a very outdated view of how the fighting went.. Armies were in general far better organised (read the second of the links in my earlier posts). A typical way of fighting was that each side had blocks of infantry consisting of pikemen who protected the body of men from attack by cavalry and missile men (archers, crossbowmen, hand gonners, slingers etc etc depending on the period and the theatre of war). The opposing blocks would not close but attempt to break the others front with missile fire and possibly small charges. Once one side had made a break in then the armoured cavalry would exploit it and the opposing cavalry would try and counter them. The majority of casualties occurred when one side broke and tried to flee and then the casualties would be very one sided indeed - a massacre in fact.
Thanks for the link. An informative read.

Does this manner of warfare speak for the whole middle ages or only the "classic" for lack of a better term middle ages? During the early middle of say 800-1000 AD I was under the impression that medieval armies were professional but utilized the more phalanx style tactic of forming a shield wall and trying to push a wedge into the enemy formation from which a breakout could be achieved.
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Old 04 Sep 17, 06:52
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Originally Posted by Pirateship1982 View Post
Thanks for the link. An informative read.

Does this manner of warfare speak for the whole middle ages or only the "classic" for lack of a better term middle ages? During the early middle of say 800-1000 AD I was under the impression that medieval armies were professional but utilized the more phalanx style tactic of forming a shield wall and trying to push a wedge into the enemy formation from which a breakout could be achieved.
The sources I have found usually indicate that this style of fighting dates from around the early 12 century (1100 ish) and before then the shield wall in various variations was more normal. It is not clear what changed (its not called the dark ages for nothing) but it looks as if it was the rise of the armoured lance wielding horseman that did it. A combination of stirrups, improved saddles and developments in horse breeding all combined to make charging with a long lance increasingly less difficult. A shield wall formation means having to use weapons that can be used one handed and poked through it such as short spears or swords and theses won't keep a lance armed rider away. The momentum of a charging horse and its couched rider striking the shield wall with a lance would probably punch a hole in it and once through the rider could use a long cavalry sword to hack at the infantry (it is the use of this sword whilst standing in the stirrups that makes the introduction of the latter particularly important rather than their use with the lance).

The answer to the cavalry man was the long pike but this is essentially a two handed weapon which means the shield has to be abandoned. It is a commonly held mis conception that a horse cannot be made to charge a wall of pikes or in later centuries a wall of bayonets. This is incorrect a horse is much less intelligent than even a medieval peasant and can be trained to obey its rider's commands even in such circumstances. Some years ago I did some investigations into the causes of broken infantry squares in the 18th and 19th century (and there were more than you might think) and in almost all cases horses crashing into them was a major contributory factor. No it was getting the rider to urge his horse on in such circumstances that was the difficulty. Charging formed pikemen was very likely to result in the death of the leading riders and even if they survived their horses probably would not and for the medieval knight his horse and his armour were often his most valuable possessions. If some horsemen were valiant (or foolhardy) enough to charge the impetus of the dying horse might well punch a hole in the formation that following riders could exploit but at the likely cost of their life and/or most valuable possession. Understandably there was a marked reluctance to charge a formation of pikemen but once that formation was broken then it was easy meat.
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  #22  
Old 04 Sep 17, 08:44
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I suspect there may also be some misconceptions as to the size of "armies" - in Europe at least.

When you see something like this,



It's easy to imagine it as being a part of a much larger battle, but when reading the actual accounts it turns out there were only a couple of hundred attackers, and the defenders - who numbered several thousand in total came out drunk and in small groups of 20 to 30.

It's basically an overgrown football riot - no doubt it got obscenely violent at the critical point, but rarely was there wholesale butchering of thousands.

The "classic" image massive armies hacking away at each other, Lord of the Rings style, was in fact rather uncommon.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Beverhoutsveld
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Old 04 Sep 17, 09:58
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Originally Posted by Snowygerry View Post
I suspect there may also be some misconceptions as to the size of "armies" - in Europe at least.

When you see something like this,



It's easy to imagine it as being a part of a much larger battle, but when reading the actual accounts it turns out there were only a couple of hundred attackers, and the defenders - who numbered several thousand in total came out drunk and in small groups of 20 to 30.

It's basically an overgrown football riot - no doubt it got obscenely violent at the critical point, but rarely was there wholesale butchering of thousands.

The "classic" image massive armies hacking away at each other, Lord of the Rings style, was in fact rather uncommon.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Beverhoutsveld
Some Wars of the Roses battles
  • 1455 1st St Albans Lancastrians 2,000. Yorkists 3,000 - 6,000 casualties "negligble on both sides"
  • 1461 Towton Lancastrians 25,000. Yorkists 25,000 casualties Lancs 9,000 Yorks unknown but much less
  • 1461 2nd St Albans Lancastrians 14,000. Yorkists 10,000 casualties Lancs 2,000 Yorks 4,000
  • 1471 Barnet Lancastrians 15,000. Yorkists 10,000 casualties Lancs 1,000 Yorks 500
  • 1471 Tewksbury Lancastrians 6,000. Yorkists 3,500 casualties Lancs 2,000 Yorks not known but reckoned "relatively small"
Contemporary chroniclers often greatly exaggerated both numbers involved and casualties for example for Towton giving almost twice what modern historians believe to have been the size of the armies and trebling the casualty figures. However in proportion to the numbers involved for some battles the figures represent much the same casualty rate as in much later battles - for example in some of the last battles of the Somme casualty rates of about 40% were suffered - the same as the Yorkists at 2nd St Albans
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  #24  
Old 04 Sep 17, 10:06
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I've heard it said the city of Ghent at the height of its power could muster a militia of 5000, when it mobilized the entire citizenry.

To the Battle of the Golden Spurs - no doubt one of best known battles of the later Middle Ages here, they sent 700, reportedly.
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Old 04 Sep 17, 19:29
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thanks again--that was one of my other thoughts--were these numbers accurate?
I question stories in today's news....so, I would definitely question accuracy in stories that long ago
...you keep giving a better picture...very good
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Old 05 Sep 17, 07:04
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There were a number of factors that restricted the possible size of medieval armies
  • Population
  • Population density
  • Politics
  • Economics (money)
  • Logistics
  • Agricultural Productivity

Population
The size of a population determined the number of fit younger men available to fight. So that even if in an emergency there was a levée en masse when every fit freeman was called to rally to the standard the population size determined the pool from which the army could be drawn. On a day to day basis it determined the recruiting potential for a paid army. In Europe in particular population growth was slow and frequently checked and even reversed by natural disaster like famine or disease (the Black Death for example). In 1328 the population of France (the area that comprises modern France) is estimated from tithe returns to have been between 17 and 20 million but by 1440 this had dropped to 10 million or less (see D. B. Grigg, Population Growth and Agrarian Change: An Historical Perspective) and France was one of the most populous regions of the time. In 1300 the population of England and Wales was somewhere under 5 million. Given that half of these would be women and a significant portion of the population would be under or over military serving age then the available pool from which to recruit an army is small by modern standards.

Population Density

Even if a form of conscription is used mobilisation can be difficult and take a significant amount of time even in the modern era of good communications. It was made even more difficult in the medieval period by the low density of the population. Most if not all towns and even cities were relatively small and dirt and disease usually gave them a death rate higher than the birth rate so that they could only maintain their size by inward migration from the countryside. London in 1300 by far the largest city in Britain had a population of 80,000. Over 95 % of the population lived in scattered very small agricultural communities and concentrating an army of any size took considerable time and was difficult.

Politics

Although the various forms of feudalism in Europe were intended to provide a means of providing rulers with armed men in time of need as each lesser noble was supposed to provide a certain number to their superior from whom they held the land, in practice this was often very inefficient as it was often evaded. The Welsh Wars of Edward I by John Edward Morris is full of examples where the expected compliment of soldiers are not provided, turn up without any proper arms, were untrained or unfit. In turbulent times subordinate nobility often preferred to keep their trained men at arms close to home to protect their property rather than send them to support the cause of the King with whom they might not agree. Sending their fools and unfit instead meant they didn't have to feed them. Increasingly armies were not made up of feudal levies but from professional soldiers often from overseas.

Economics

Professional soldiers have to be paid - in hard cash. Having a large body of dissatisfied hard bitten mercenaries with no political loyalty to you demanding payment is the sort of industrial dispute best avoided. There are instances of English bowmen in service to French nobles sacking the territory they were hired to protect over such issues. In a world were most economic activity was driven by barter and even most taxes were paid in kind rulers were notoriously short of hard cash. One thing that sustained the many wars in Italy was the advanced banking system of many of the city states that could find money and loan it to their rulers. England's French wars were largely financed by Florentine and Lombard bankers but they were expensive - in defiance of the medieval church (which took an almost Islamic view on interest) charging near usurious rates. This severely restricted the size of army that could be afforded.

Logistics

Armies whether feudal levies or mercenary have to be fed. In an age when transport consisted of unsprung ox carts traveling over unmetalled roads (and often mere tracks) this imposed severe constraints on the size of army that could be maintained in the field. It is one reason why much of medieval warfare involves not pitched battles but sieges and why castles were so important. A well provisioned garrison could often sit and watch their besiegers starve outside.

Agricultural Productivity

The overwhelming majority of people were involved in agriculture. Productivity was very low and European farming was almost at subsistence levels. This had two impacts firstly there wasn't the surplus to feed very large armies and secondly if one drafted large number into military service food production could be badly hit. This was another reason why the nobility were often unwilling to meet their feudal obligations (see above). Feeding a large army could also be inflationary pushing up the price of grain and grain products in the towns and cities some times to the extent of creating artificial famines.
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Old 05 Sep 17, 08:20
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thanks--very hard to find books/articles that give statistics as straight and concise, without a bunch of useless, other material
...I would think it would be like WW1, or 2, or other civil wars where the human factors also play a part:
.some didn't want to leave their families/farms/work
.some didn't want their sons to go
.some were too sick/etc to go and fight
.some were ''cowards''
.communicating what/when/where/etc caused problems--as it still does in today's world, even with most everyone having a communicating device 24/7
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Old 06 Sep 17, 04:59
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Some years ago I did some investigations into the causes of broken infantry squares in the 18th and 19th century (and there were more than you might think) and in almost all cases horses crashing into them was a major contributory factor.
Interesting stuff Mark. If you do a search on Cavalry attacking squares you'll find we've had some very animated scuffles about it on the Napoleonic section of the forum!

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Old 06 Sep 17, 07:57
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Interesting stuff Mark. If you do a search on Cavalry attacking squares you'll find we've had some very animated scuffles about it on the Napoleonic section of the forum!

There is an awful lot to go through there

Some of the examples I found were in theatres where the attackers were unaware of the perceived wisdom that a square cannot be broken by charging cavalry and went ahead and charged anyway. To give but one example- there was an action near Karnak on the Nile when Mamluk cavalry charged a French square. The commander of one square made the mistake of not giving the order to fire until the charge was too close and the momentum of the dead and dying horses in the front of the charge carried them onto the square. A dying horse arriving at speed kicking madly will cave in the most resolute infantry line. The following horsemen exploited the gap. Interestingly enough the French were trained in what to do if a square was broken and lay down. Although some medieval knights' destriers where trained to trample on the foe most horses will not - it is intinctive - a horse will protect its feet - and the mamluks in this case were not lance armed and could not reach the prone men with their swords whereas they could stab upwards with their bayonets. The adjacent unbroken square fired volleys into the milling cavalry which was driven off with heavy losses. French casualties were comparatively light which also exposes the other myth that a broken square equals disaster whereas there were clearly defences against this and the French were trained in them.
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Old 06 Sep 17, 09:00
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Interesting point about Towton compared to other battles. The numbers involved were much greater than any other English medieval battle. Also much greater than the size of armies that England deployed in the 100 year war in France or if the armies used against the Scots or Welsh.

Where did all these apparently trained and experience soldiers come from?
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