Jumat, 13 Februari 2009

The Bulilding For Defense

Castle Defense

The basic principal of castle defense was to maximize the danger and exposure of any attackers while minimizing the same for defenders. A well-designed castle could be defended effectively by a small force and hold out for a long period. A stout defense allowed well-supplied defenders to hold out until the besiegers could be driven away by a relief force or until the attacker was forced to fall back by lack of supplies, disease, or losses.


The keep was a small castle often found within a large castle complex. This was a fortified building that often served as the castle lord's residence. If the outer walls fell, the defenders could withdraw into the keep for a final defense. In the case of many castles, the complex began with the keep, which was the original fortification on the site. Over time, the complex might have been expanded to include an outer wall and towers as a first line of defense for the keep.


Stone walls were fireproof and protection against arrows and other missiles. An enemy could not climb sheer walls without equipment such as ladders or siege towers. Defenders on top of the walls could shoot down or throw objects down against attackers. Attackers wholly exposed in the open and shooting up were at a great disadvantage against defenders largely protected and shooting down. The strength and protection value of castle walls was increased where possible by building on cliffs or other elevations. Gates and doors in castle walls were minimized and given heavy protection.


At the corners of and perhaps at intervals along a long wall, towers were placed as strong points. Towers extended out beyond the vertical plane of the wall face, allowing defenders in a tower to shoot along the face. From a corner tower, defenders could shoot along two different wall faces. A gate might be protected by towers on each side. Some castles began as simple towers and evolved into a greater complex of walls, an inner keep, and additional towers.


Walls and towers were often improved to provide greater protection for defenders. A platform behind the top of the wall allowed defenders to stand and fight. Gaps were built into the upper wall so defenders could shoot out or fight while partially covered. These gaps might have wooden shutters for additional protection. Thin firing slits might be placed in the upper walls from which archers could shoot while almost completely protected.

During an assault, covered wooden platforms (called hourds) were extended out from the top of the walls or from towers. These allowed defenders to shoot directly down on enemies below the walls, or drop stones or boiling liquids on them, while being protected. Hides on top of the hourds were kept wet to prevent fire. Stone versions of hourds, called machicolations, might be built over gates or other key points.

Ditches, Moats, and Drawbridges

To accentuate the height advantage of the walls, a ditch might be dug at their base, completely around the castle. Where possible, this ditch was filled with water to form a moat. Both ditches and moats made direct assaults against walls more difficult. Armored men risked drowning if they fell into even relatively shallow water. Moats made undermining a castle's walls difficult because of the risk of the mine collapsing during construction and drowning the miners. In some cases, attackers had to first drain the moat before moving forward with an assault. Then the ditch had to be filled in places to allow siege towers or ladders to go up against the wall.

Drawbridges across a moat or ditch allowed the castle occupants to come and go when necessary. In time of danger, the drawbridge was raised, reestablishing the ditch and sealing the walls. Bridges were raised by a mechanism within the castle that was protected from the attackers.


A portcullis was a strong grating that slid down the walls of the castle gate passageway to block the entrance. The gate of a castle was inside a gatehouse, which was a strong point in the castle defense. The passageway of the gate might be through a tunnel in the gatehouse. The tunnel was blocked by one or more portcullises, in the middle or at the ends. The winding mechanism that raised the portcullis was in the top of the gatehouse and heavily guarded. The portcullis itself was usually a grating of heavy timbers or iron. Defenders and attackers could both shoot or stab through the grating.


A strong castle had both an outer gate and inner gate. Between the two was an open area called the barbican. This was surrounded by walls and designed to be a trap for any attackers who got through the outside gate. Once inside the barbican, attackers could only go back out the outer gate or fight their way through the inner gate. In the meantime they would be targets for arrows and other missiles in the open.


A relatively small number of men could guard a castle in peacetime. At night any drawbridge was raised and the portcullis was lowered, effectively locking the door. Under threat of an assault, a much larger force was needed to defend a castle.

Competent archers and crossbowmen were needed to shoot from the walls and towers at attackers making an assault or just preparing for one by attempting to drain the moat or fill the ditch. Each attacking casualty lowered the morale and fighting power of the attackers. Heavy losses from missile fire could cause the attackers to break off.

If the attackers managed to actually close for hand-to-hand fighting, a strong fighting force of swordsmen was needed to hold them off. Men were needed to throw down rocks or pour hot liquids from the hourds. Men were needed to make repairs to damaged wall sections or put out fires started by flaming missiles. An aggressive defense looked for opportunities to sortie out from the castle and raid the besieging army. A quick raid that burned a siege tower or trebuchet under construction delayed an assault and lowered the morale of the attackers.

In times of emergency, local peasants were enlisted to help with the defense. Although untrained as soldiers and not skilled usually with the bow or sword, they could help with many of the other tasks.

Read More..

Rabu, 11 Februari 2009

The Byzantines (476 to 1453)

The Byzantines took their name from Byzantium, an ancient city on the Bosphorus, the strategic waterway linking the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea. The Roman Emperor Constantine had renamed this city Constantinople in the fourth century and made it a sister capital of his empire. This eastern partition of the Roman Empire outlived its western counterpart by a thousand years, defending Europe against invasions from the east by Persians, Arabs, and Turks. The Byzantines persevered because Constantinople was well defended by walls and the city could be supplied by sea. At their zenith in the sixth century, the Byzantines covered much of the territories of the original Roman Empire, lacking only the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal), Gaul (modern France), and Britain. The Byzantines also held Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, but by the middle of the seventh century they had lost them to the Arabs. From then on their empire consisted mainly of the Balkans and modern Turkey.

The first great Byzantine emperor was Justinian I (482 to 565). His ambition was to restore the old Roman Empire and he nearly succeeded. His instrument was the greatest general of the age, Belisarius, who crisscrossed the empire defeating Persians to the East, Vandals in North Africa, Ostrogoths in Italy, and Bulgars and Slavs in the Balkans. In addition to military campaigns, Justinian laid the foundation for the future by establishing a strong legal and administrative system and by defending the Christian Church.

The Byzantine economy was the richest in Europe for many centuries because Constantinople was ideally sited on trade routes between Asia, Europe, the Black Sea, and the Aegean Sea. It was an important destination point for the Silk Road from China. The nomisma, the principal Byzantine gold coin, was the standard for money throughout the Mediterranean for 800 years. Constantinople's strategic position eventually attracted the envy and animosity of the Italian city-states.

A key strength of the Byzantine Empire was its generally superior army that drew on the best elements of the Roman, Greek, Gothic, and Middle Eastern experience in war. The core of the army was a shock force of heavy cavalry supported by both light infantry (archers) and heavy infantry (armored swordsmen). The army was organized into units and drilled in tactics and maneuvers. Officers received an education in military history and theory. Although outnumbered usually by masses of untrained warriors, it prevailed thanks to intelligent tactics and good discipline. The army was backed by a network of spies and secret agents that provided information about enemy plans and could be used to bribe or otherwise deflect aggressors.

The Byzantine navy kept the sea-lanes open for trade and kept supply lines free so the city could not be starved into submission when besieged. In the eighth century, a land and sea attack by Arabs was defeated largely by a secret weapon, Greek fire. This chemical weapon, its composition now unknown, was a sort of liquid napalm that could be sprayed from a hose. The Arab navy was devastated at sea by Greek fire.

In the seventh and eighth centuries, the Arabs overran Egypt, the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain, removing these areas permanently from Byzantine control. A Turkish victory at Manzikert in 1071 led to the devastation of Asia Minor, the empire's most important source of grain, cattle, horses, and soldiers. In 1204 Crusaders led by the Doge of Venice used treachery to sack and occupy Constantinople.

In the fourteenth century, the Turks invaded Europe, capturing Adrianople and bypassing Constantinople. They settled the Balkans in large numbers and defeated a large crusader army at Nicopolis in 1396. In May 1453, Turkish sultan Mehmet II captured a weakly defended Constantinople with the aid of heavy cannon. The fall of the city brought the Byzantine Empire to an end.

Read More..

The Britons (500 On)

Following the withdrawal of the Roman legions to Gaul (modern France) around 400, the British Isles fell into a very dark period of several centuries from which almost no written records survive. The Romano-British culture that had existed under 400 years of Roman rule disappeared under relentless invasion and migration by barbarians. Celts came over from Ireland (a tribe called the Scotti gave their name to the northern part of the main island, Scotland). Saxons and Angles came from Germany, Frisians from modern Holland, and Jutes from modern Denmark. By 600, the Angles and Saxons controlled most of modern England. By 800, only modern Wales, Scotland, and West Cornwall remained in largely Celtic hands.

The new inhabitants were called Anglo-Saxons (from the Angles and Saxons). The Angles gave their name to the new culture (England from Angle-land), and the Germanic language they brought with them, English, replaced the native Celtic and previously imported Latin. Despite further invasions and even a complete military conquest at a later date, the southern and eastern parts of the largest British Isle have been called England (and its people and language English) ever since.

In 865 the relative peace of England was shattered by a new invasion. Danish Vikings who had been raiding France and Germany formed a great army and turned their attention on the English. Within 10 years, most of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had fallen or surrendered. Only the West Saxons (modern Wessex) held out under Alfred, the only English ruler to be called "the Great."

England was divided among the Vikings, the West Saxons, and a few other English kingdoms for nearly 200 years. The Viking half was called the Danelaw ("under Danish law"). The Vikings collected a large payment, called the Danegeld ("the Dane's gold"), to be peaceful. The Danes became Christians and gradually became more settled. In time the English turned on the Danes, and in 954 the last Viking king of York was killed. England was united for the first time under an English king from Wessex.

In 1066 the Witan ("king's council") offered the crown to Harold, son of the Earl of Wessex. Two others claimed the throne: Harald Hardrada (meaning "the hard ruler"), King of Norway, and Duke William of Normandy. The Norwegian landed first, near York, but was defeated by Harold at the battle of Stamford Bridge. Immediately after the victory, Harold force-marched his army south to meet William at Hastings. The battle seesawed back and forth all day, but near dusk Harold was mortally wounded by an arrow in the eye. Over the next two years, William, now "the Conqueror," solidified his conquest of England.

During the remainder of the Middle Ages, the successors of William largely exhausted themselves and their country in a series of confrontations and wars attempting to expand or defend land holdings in France. The Hundred Years War between England and France was an on-and-off conflict that stretched from 1337 to 1453. It was triggered by an English king's claim to the throne of France, thanks to family intermarriages. The war was also fought over control of the lucrative wool trade and French support for Scotland's independence. The early part of the war featured a string of improbable, yet complete, English victories, thanks usually to English longbowmen mowing down hordes of ornately armored French knights from long range.

The English could not bring the war to closure, however, and the French rallied. Inspired by Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who professed divine guidance, the French fought back, ending the war with the capture of Bordeaux in 1453. The English were left holding only Calais on the mainland (and not for long).

Read More..

Barbarian Invaders

Around the year 200 AD, nomadic tribes on the great grass steppes of Central Asia began migrating toward China, India, Persia, and Europe. The reasons for this migration are not fully understood. The largest group of nomads was the Huns. Their small stature and small ponies belied a fierce and determined ruthlessness. They terrified other tribes they encountered in their migrations, causing something like a domino effect. Moving west, the Huns displaced the Goths living northwest of the Black Sea, for example, who pushed south over the Danube into the Balkans lands ruled by the Eastern Roman Empire. More Huns moved toward the German plains, encouraging other Germanic tribes to cross the Rhine.

The Western Roman Empire was already weakened by this time from sporadic raids and invasions across the Rhine and Danube. Germanic tribes with growing populations coveted the sparsely occupied lands in Gaul and the benefits of being within the Roman Empire. By 400 the Roman army was already 30 to 50 percent German mercenaries. In desperation, some barbarian groups were enlisted into the Roman army as entire units to help defend against other groups. This was especially popular during civil wars of the fourth century, when pretenders to the throne in Rome needed to raise armies quickly. These barbarian units did not have the loyalty and discipline of the legions and kept their own leaders. This stopgap measure backfired when whole barbarian armies revolted. The Rhine and Danube frontiers dissolved and Germanic tribes moved into Gaul, the Balkans, and even Italy itself. The fighting was nearly incessant along the shrinking frontier and the number of loyal Roman troops continually diminished.

The last legions in Britain were withdrawn for service in Gaul in 410, abandoning that province forever. Saxon raids increased and became actual invasions. The Jutes, Frisians, and Angles, other Germanic tribes from the north German coast, joined the Saxons. Together they overwhelmed the Romano-British culture and took possession of what is today England (Angle-land).

The Eastern Roman Empire suffered through the loss of most of the Balkans but was able to deflect or bribe the barbarians before they could attack Constantinople. The invaders in this area were the Goths, who had become much more civilized through their contact with the Eastern Empire than had the Germanic tribes along the Rhine. The Goths came as settlers primarily, not conquerors.

During the fifth century Rome was sacked several times and the Western Empire ceased to exist effectively. Italy was repeatedly invaded and ravaged. In 476 the last recognized Roman emperor was killed. Italy and the old Roman Empire were now occupied by Germanic tribes. Despite a general wish by the barbarians to preserve the stability and order of the past Roman civilization, only vestiges of it survived the turmoil and devastation that followed the invasions. Most of Europe fell back into a much more primitive and barbaric period.

Read More..

The Aztecs (1325 to 1521)

Political control of the populous and agriculturally rich central valley of Mexico fell into confusion after 1100. Gradually assuming ever-greater power were the Aztecs, probably a northern tribe that had migrated to the valley and occupied a minor town on the shore of the great central lake. They were a society that valued the skills of warriors above all others, and this emphasis gave them an advantage against rival tribes in the region. By the end of the 15th century, the Aztecs controlled all of central Mexico as a military empire that collected tribute from rivals.

The Aztec culture drew upon the experience of those that came before it and invented little that was new. They had an advanced agriculture that supported a very large population. They built immense buildings of grand design and flourished in many arts. They were adept metal workers, but had no iron. Lacking any suitable draft animal, they made no motive use of the wheel.

One of the distinctive features of the Aztec culture was its penchant for sacrifice. Aztec myths dictated that human blood be fed to the Sun to give it the strength to rise each day. Human sacrifices were conducted on a grand scale; several thousand in a single day were not uncommon. Victims were often decapitated or flayed, and hearts were cut from living victims. Sacrifices were conducted at the top of tall pyramids to be close to the sun and blood flowed down the steps. Although the Aztec economy was based primarily on corn (or maize), the people believed that crops depended on the regular provision of sacrificial blood.

The incessant demand for sacrificial victims meant that the Aztecs tolerated loose control over satellite cities because frequent revolts offered opportunities for capturing new victims. During times of peace, "garland wars" were arranged strictly as contests of courage and warrior skill, and for the purpose of capturing victims. They fought with wooden clubs to maim and stun, rather than kill. When fighting to kill, the clubs were studded with obsidian blades.

Despite their great agriculture and arts, the Aztecs appear in retrospect to have been a waning society. They passed on no significant technology or ideas of religion or political theory. Their civilization was brought to an abrupt end by the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century. Already devastated by European disease passed by early traders, they fell to a small Spanish army armed with steel weapons, firearms, and riding a few horses. The cruelty of the Aztecs contributed to their downfall by making it easy for the Spanish to enlist allies among the non-Aztecs in Mexico.
Read More..

The Medieval Armies Tactics

Battle Tactics

Medieval battles evolved slowly from clashes of poorly organized war bands into battles where tactics and maneuvers were employed. Part of this evolution was in response to the development of different types of soldiers and weapons and learning how to use these. The early armies of the Dark Ages were mobs of foot soldiers. With the rise of heavy cavalry, the best armies became mobs of knights. Foot soldiers were brought along to devastate farmlands and do the heavy work in sieges. In battle, however, foot soldiers were at risk from both sides as the knights sought to engage their enemies in single combat. This was mainly true of foot soldiers early in the period who were feudal levies and untrained peasants. Archers were useful in sieges as well, but also at risk of being rundown on the battlefield.

By the late 1400's commanders were making better progress in disciplining their knights and getting their armies to work as a team. In the English army, knights gave their grudging respect to the longbowmen after the archers demonstrated their value on so many battlefields. Discipline improved also as more and more knights fought for pay and less for honor and glory. Mercenary soldiers in Italy became well known for long campaigns during which no appreciable blood was spilt. By that time soldiers of all ranks were assets not to be discarded lightly. Feudal armies seeking glory evolved into professional armies more interested in living to spend their pay.

Cavalry Tactics

Cavalry was divided typically into three groups, or divisions, to be sent into battle one after another. The first wave would either break through or disrupt the enemy so that the second or third wave could break through. Once the enemy was running, the real killing and capturing could take place.

In practice, knights followed personal agendas to the detriment of any commander's plan. The knights were interested primarily in honor and glory and jockeyed for positions in the first rank of the first division. Overall victory on the field was a secondary concern to personal glory. In battle after battle, the knights charged as soon as they saw the enemy, dissolving any plan.

Commanders dismounted their knights on occasion as a way to better control them. This was a popular option with the smaller army that had little hope in a contest of charges. Dismounted knights bolstered the fighting power and morale of common foot troops. The dismounted knights and other foot soldiers fought from behind stakes or other battlefield constructions designed to minimize the impact of cavalry charges.

An example of undisciplined behavior by knights was the Battle of Crécy in 1346. The French army greatly outnumbered the English (40,000 to 10,000), having many more mounted knights. The English divided into three groups of longbowmen protected by stakes driven into the ground. Between the three groups were two groups of dismounted knights. A third group of dismounted knights was held in reserve. Genoese mercenary crossbowmen were sent out by the French king to shoot into the dismounted English army while he tried to organize his knights into three divisions. The crossbows had gotten wet, however, and were ineffective. The French knights ignored their king's efforts at organization as soon as they saw the enemy and worked themselves into a frenzy, shouting, "Kill! Kill!" over and over. Impatient with the Genoese, the French king ordered his knights forward and they trampled down the crossbowmen in their way. Although the fighting went on all day, the dismounted English knights and longbowmen (who had kept their bowstrings dry) defeated the mounted French who fought as an undisciplined mob.

By the end of the Middle Ages, heavy cavalry had been reduced to roughly equal value on the battlefield in comparison to missile and foot troops. By this time, the futility of charging well-emplaced and disciplined infantry was well understood. The rules had changed. Stakes, horse traps, and trenches were routinely employed by armies to protect against cavalry charges. Charges against massed ranks of pikemen and archers/gunners left only a pile of broken horses and men. Knights were forced to fight on foot or wait for the right opportunity to charge. Devastating charges were still possible, but only when the enemy was in flight, disorganized, or out from behind his temporary battlefield defenses.

Missile Troop Tactics

For most of this era missile troops were archers using one of several types of bow. At first this was the short bow, then the crossbow and longbow. Archers had the advantage of being able to kill and wound enemies at range without joining in hand-to-hand combat. The value of these troops was well known in ancient times, but the lessons were temporarily lost in the Dark Ages. The land-controlling warrior knights were supreme in the early Middle Ages and their code demanded hand-to-hand combat with a worthy enemy. Killing with arrows at a distance was dishonorable to the knights so the ruling class did little to develop this weapon and use it effectively.

It became apparent gradually, however, that archers were effective and very useful, both in sieges and in battle. More and more armies made room for them, if grudgingly. The decisive victory of William I at Hastings in 1066 may have been won by archery, although his knights traditionally get the most credit. The Anglo-Saxons held a hillside and were so packed into their shield-wall that the Norman knights had great difficulty penetrating. The fighting flowed back and forth all day. The Anglo-Saxons ventured out of their shield-wall, partly to get at the Norman archers. When the Anglo-Saxons came out, they were easily run down. For some time it seemed that the Normans must fail, but many believe that Norman archery was winning the battle. A lucky shot mortally wounded Harold, the Anglo-Saxon king, and the battle ended soon thereafter.

Foot archers fought in massed formations of hundreds or even thousands of men. When within a hundred yards of the enemy, both crossbow and longbow shots could penetrate armor. At this range, archers shot at individual targets. It was maddening for the enemy to take this damage, especially if they could not respond. In the ideal situation, the archers disrupted the enemy formation by shooting into it for some time. The enemy might be safe from cavalry behind stakes, but it could not block all the arrows or bolts coming in. If the enemy left its protection and charged the archers, friendly heavy cavalry would respond, hopefully in time to save the archers. If the enemy formation just stood its ground, it might waver eventually to the point that cavalry could charge effectively.

Archers were actively encouraged and subsidized in England because the English were at a population disadvantage when waging war on the mainland. When the English learned how to use large contingents of bowmen, they began winning battles, even though they were usually outnumbered. The English developed the arrow barrage, taking advantage of the range of the longbow. Instead of firing at individual targets, the longbowmen fired into the area occupied by the enemy. Firing up to 6 shots a minute, 3000 longbowmen could put 18,000 arrows into a massed enemy formation. The effect of this barrage upon horses and men was devastating. French knights in the Hundred Years War spoke of the sky being black with arrows and of the noise of these missiles in flight.

Crossbowmen became prominent in mainland armies, especially in the militia and professional forces raised by towns. With a minimum of training, a crossbowmen became an effective soldier.

By the fourteenth century the first primitive handguns were appearing on the battlefield. When these worked, they were even more powerful than bows.

The difficulty in using archers was protecting them while they shot. To be effective they had to be fairly close to the enemy. English longbowmen carried stakes onto the battlefield that they pounded into the ground with mallets in front of the spot from which they wished to shoot. These stakes gave them some protection from enemy cavalry. They relied on their firepower to fight off enemy archers. They were at a disadvantage if attacked by enemy foot soldiers. Crossbowmen carried a large pavise shield into battle. This came with supports and could be set up in walls, from behind which the men could shoot.

By the end of the era, crossbowmen and pikemen were working together in combined formations. The pikes kept enemy hand-to-hand troops away while the missile troops (crossbowmen or handgunners) fired into the enemy formations. These mixed formations learned how to move and actually attack. Enemy cavalry had to withdraw in the face of a disciplined mixed force of pikemen and crossbowmen/gunners. If the enemy could not respond with missiles and pikes of their own, the battle was probably lost.

Infantry Tactics

The tactic of foot soldiers in the Dark Ages was simply to close with the enemy and start chopping. The Franks threw their axes just before closing to disrupt the enemy. Warriors relied on strength and ferocity to win.

The rise of knights put infantry into a temporary eclipse on the battlefield, mainly because disciplined and well-trained infantry did not exist. The foot soldiers of early medieval armies were mainly peasants who were poorly armed and trained.

The Saxons and Vikings developed a defensive posture called the shield-wall. The men stood adjacent and held their long shields together to form a barrier. This helped to protect them from archers and cavalry, both of which their armies lacked.

Infantry underwent a revival in those areas that did not have the resources to field armies of heavy cavalry-hilly countries like Scotland and Switzerland and in the rising towns. Out of necessity, these two sectors found ways to field effective armies that contained little or no cavalry. Both groups discovered that horses would not charge into a barrier of bristling stakes or spear points. A disciplined force of spearmen could stop the elite heavy cavalry of the richer nations and lords, for a fraction of the cost of a heavy cavalry force.

The schiltron formation was a circle of spearmen that the Scots began using during their wars for independence around the end of the thirteenth century (featured in the motion picture Braveheart). They learned that the schiltron was an effective defensive formation. Robert Bruce offered battle to the English knights only in swampy terrain that greatly impeded the heavy cavalry charge.

The Swiss became renowned for fighting with pikes. They essentially revived the Greek phalanx and became very proficient at fighting with the long pole arms. They formed a square of pikemen. The outer four ranks held their pikes nearly level, pointing slightly down. This was an effective barrier against cavalry. The rear ranks used bladed pole arms to attack enemies that closed with the formation. The Swiss drilled to the point that they could move in formation relatively quickly. They turned a defensive formation into an effective attacking formation also.

The response to massed pikemen was artillery that plowed through the ranks of dense formations. The Spanish appear to have first done this effectively. The Spanish also fought the pikemen effectively with sword and buckler men. These were lightly armed men who could get in among the pikes and fight effectively with short swords. Their buckler was a small and handy shield. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Spanish also first experimented with the combination of pikemen, swordsmen, and handgunners in the same formation. This was an effective force that could take on all arms in varying terrain, on both defense and attack. At the end of this era the Spanish were the most effective fighting force in Europe.

Read More..

Strategy of Medieval Military


Medieval military strategy was concerned with control of the economic basis for wealth and, thus, the ability to put armies in the field. At the start of the era this meant primarily ravaging or defending the countryside because all wealth originated in the fields and pastures. As the age progressed, towns became important control points as centers of wealth from trade and manufacturing.

Holding and taking castles was a key element of war because they defended the farmland. The warrior occupants of the castle controlled the neighborhood. As towns grew they were fortified also. Defending and taking them gradually became more important than fighting for castles.

Field armies maneuvered to take the key fortified points and ravage the countryside, or to prevent the enemy from conducting such a campaign. Pitched battles were fought to end the destruction of enemy invasions. The Battle of Hastings in 1066, for example, was fought by the Anglo-Saxons to stop an invasion by the Normans. The Anglo-Saxons lost and the Normans under William spent the next several years establishing control of England in a campaign of conquest. The Battle of Lechfield in 955 was fought between the Germans and Magyar raiders from the East. The decisive victory of the Germans under Otto I brought an end to further Magyar invasions. The defeat of the Moors in 732 by Charles Martel ended Muslim raids and expansion out of Spain.

The battles of Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, all fought during the Hundred Years War between the English and French, were all attempts by the French to stop English incursions. The French lost all three battles and the English raids carried on. In this case, however, the raids did not establish permanent control for the English and the French eventually won the war.

The Crusades were attempts to take and hold key strong points in the Holy Land from which control of the area could be maintained. Battles in the Crusades were fought to break the control of one side or the other. The victory at Hattin in 1187 by the Saracens under Saladin made possible the recapture of Jerusalem.

Read More..

The Armies Organization


The organization of feudal armies was kept simple in comparison to the large national armies of more modern time. There were no permanent regiments, divisions, or corps until the very end of the age. When a feudal army was summoned, each vassal traveled to the meeting point with any knights, archers, and footmen that he was required to bring. At the meeting point, the contingents would be reassembled by role. The knights and their squires kept and marched together, as did the archers and footmen.

Special units, such as engineers and the operators of siege artillery, were usually professionals hired for the campaign. Christian mercenaries, for example, operated the artillery employed by the Turks against Constantinople.

Being a mercenary soldier was a respected profession in the late Middle Ages. Warrior entrepreneurs formed mercenary companies that allowed a rich lord or city to hire a ready-made competent fighting force. Mercenary companies existed that were all of one skill. For example, 2000 Genoese crossbowmen served in the French army at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. Other mercenary companies were mixed forces of all arms. These were often described in terms of the number of lances they contained. Each lance represented a mounted man-at-arms plus additional mounted, foot, and missile troops. A company of 100 lances represented several hundred fighting men. This system was the origin of the word "freelance."

Command hierarchy within a feudal army was flat. Not much maneuvering was anticipated so there was little provision of large staffs to support the commander and pass orders.

In 1439 Charles VII of France raised Royal Ordinance Companies. These companies were filled with either knights or infantry and were paid from tax revenues. Each company had a fixed complement of men; their armor and weapons were chosen by the king rather than left to personal choice. This was the beginning of modern standing armies in the West.


There was little provision for food and medical supplies. Medieval armies lived off the land, to the detriment of everyone residing in an area they occupied or passed through. Having a friendly army march through was no better than having the enemy pass. Medieval armies did not linger in one area for long because local supplies of food and forage were quickly exhausted. This was a particular problem during sieges. If an army laying siege did not make arrangements to have food and supplies brought in, it might have to lift its siege to avoid starvation long before the defenders had to surrender.

Sanitation was also a problem when an army stayed in one place. A medieval army brought along many animals, in addition to the horses of the knights, and sewage problems led to dysentery. Feudal armies tended to waste away to disease and desertion. During his campaign in France, Henry V of England lost an estimated 15 percent of his army to disease at the siege of Harfleur and more on the march leading up to Agincourt. At the battle itself, he lost only 5 percent. Henry V died of disease related to poor sanitation at another siege.

Deployment for Battle

Most battles were set-piece affairs where the two sides arranged themselves before the fighting began. Campaigns of maneuver and meeting engagements were rare.

Prior to battle, commanders divided their forces into contingents with specific tasks in mind for each. The first separation might be into foot soldiers, archers, and cavalry. These groups might be divided further into groups to be given individual missions or to be held in reserve. A commander might arrange several "battles" or "divisions" of knights, for example. These could be launched individually as desired or held in reserve. Archers might be deployed in front of the army with blocks of infantry in support. Once the army had been arranged, the only major decisions were when to send in the prearranged pieces. There was little provision for pulling back, reforming, or rearranging once the fighting started. A force of knights, for example, could rarely be used more than once. After they had been committed to action, they were usually reinforced or withdrawn. A full charge by heavy cavalry caused such disruption, lost equipment, and loss of horses that the force was essentially spent. The Norman knights at Hastings were reformed for further attacks, but they did not launch a full charge because they could not penetrate the Saxon shield-wall.

Superior commanders made use of the terrain to their advantage and conducted reconnaissance to evaluate the enemy's strength and weaknesses.


The ultimate rewards from successful battle included honors and grants of fiefs. The proximate rewards included booty from looting bodies, ransacking captured towns and castles, selling the armor and weapons of the dead, and ransoming high-ranking prisoners. Knights were expected to pay ransoms to save their lives. One of the highest recorded ransoms was more than US $20 million paid to a German prince for the release of Richard I of England, captured during his return from the Crusades.

At Agincourt the English were holding a large group of French knights at the rear for ransom. During the battle, a French contingent raided toward the rear of the English and briefly panicked Henry V. He ordered the execution of the held French knights to prevent their release, thereby forgoing a fortune in ransoms.

The capture of knights was recorded by heralds who kept a tally of which soldiers were responsible and thereby due the bulk of the ransom. The heralds then notified the prisoner's family, arranged the ransom payment, and obtained the prisoner's release.

The popularity of ransoms seems remarkably civil but masks a darker story. Low-ranking prisoners of no value might be killed out-of-hand to eliminate the problem of guarding and feeding them.
Read More..

The Mongols

The nomadic horse peoples of Mongolia assembled the world's largest land empire in a series of military conquests spread over a few generations, beginning in the twelfth century. In the course of their conquests, the Mongols fought most of the other world powers of medieval Asia and Europe, winning in almost every case. Their empire was built entirely on military conquest, thanks to an army that was unlike any other in the world. They were thought invincible by most of their opponents. Their campaign into Europe turned back only after a death in the ruling family. The possible claimants to the throne headed home with their forces and never returned.

The Mongol Army

The Mongols were nomadic herders and hunters who spent their lives in the saddles of their steppe ponies. They learned to ride and use weapons, especially the composite bow, at an early age. For hunting and war, every able-bodied male under the age of 60 years was expected to take part. The armies of the united Mongol tribes consisted of the entire adult male population.

They fought under a strict code of discipline. Booty was held collectively. The penalty was death for abandoning a comrade in battle. This discipline, together with leadership, intelligence-gathering, and organization, raised the Mongol force from a cavalry swarm into a true army.

The Mongol army was organized according to a decimal system, with units of 10, 100, 1000, and 10,000 men. These numbers for units were probably rarely approached due to casualties and attrition. The 10,000-man unit was the major fighting unit, like a modern division, capable of sustained fighting on its own. Individual soldiers identified most with the 1000-man unit of which they were a part, the equivalent of a modern regiment. Original Mongol tribes fielded their own 1000-man units. Conquered peoples, such as the Tatars and Merkits, were broken up and distributed among other units so that they could pose no organized threat to the ruling family.

Genghis Khan created a personal guard unit of 10,000 men. This unit was recruited across tribal boundaries and selection was a high honor. In its early stages it served as a form of honorable hostage-holding. It grew into the family household and the source of the growing empire's ruling class.

Mongol soldiers at first received no pay other than booty. Advancement was based on merit. Once the rapid conquests slowed, a new system of pay was put in place. Officers were later able to pass on their posts to heirs.

Each soldier went on campaign with approximately five horses, allowing quick changes and rapid movements. No comparable armies moved as rapidly as the Mongols until the mechanized armies of the twentieth century.

The Mongols fought mainly as light cavalry archers (unarmored), using the compound bow. This was a compact weapon of impressive range and penetration power. They employed Chinese and Middle Easterners as siege engineers. Infantry, garrison troops, and heavy cavalry (wearing armor) that used lances came from the armies of subjected peoples.

Mongol Tactics

The Mongol armies relied on firepower, the ability to move quickly, and a reputation for ruthlessness that came to precede them. All of their opponents moved much more slowly and deliberately. The Mongols looked for opportunities to divide an enemy force and overwhelm the pieces with rapid bowshots. They sought to surround or encircle enemies and achieve local superiority of numbers. Horses of mounted enemies were wounded, dismounting the riders and making them more vulnerable.

The Mongol light cavalry could not stand against a heavy cavalry charge, so they feigned flight to draw the knights into exhaustive charges that left them vulnerable. The fleeing Mongols turned rapidly and became the hunter. They excelled in setting ambushes and surprise attacks. Mongol army leaders made great use of scouts and synchronized force movements to catch the enemy at a disadvantage.

The Mongols made extensive use of terror. If the population of one city was massacred after capture, the next city was more likely to surrender without a fight. This proved the case, as city after city surrendered upon the approach of Mongol armies.

Read More..

Armies of the Middle Ages

The first medieval armies were tribal war bands carried over from ancient times. These evolved into feudal armies made up of a lord's vassals and their respective retainers. Fief holders were required to provide a period of military service each year. This began as weeks or months of service by the vassal accompanied by professional soldiers he retained personally. The armies of later kings and wealthy lords consisted of a higher proportion of professionals and mercenaries. Late in the period, vassals sent money instead of actually serving in armies, and this "martial tax" helped kings to support armies year-round.

Service in feudal armies was a matter of duty and honor for the knights. In a warrior society, knights lived for the opportunity to fight. Success in battle was the main path to recognition and wealth. For professional soldiers, often the sons of the aristocracy left with little when the eldest began inheriting everything, fighting was a job. It was duty for peasants also, when they were called up, but certainly not an honor.

By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, many commoners joined the ranks for pay that was often much better than that for more peaceful employment. A strong attraction for a commoner to become a soldier was the prospect of loot. Tribal warriors stayed loyal to their warrior chief and fought for him so long as he provided them with a living and loot. These ideals of the war band carried over into the feudal age. Low-ranking knights and professional foot soldiers longed for the opportunity to take part in the assault against a rich town or castle because strongholds that resisted were traditionally looted. A soldier could gather up many times his year's pay during the sack of a city. Pitched battles also offered opportunities for gain. The armor and weapons of the dead could be sold and captured knights could be ransomed.

Read More..