[MUD-Dev] Depth of realism

Wendy Winkler dionyza at peace.tbcnet.com
Mon Nov 22 21:55:47 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999


Your contentions are of considerable interest.  To be specific:

On Mon, 22 Nov 1999, Marian Griffith wrote:
> On Sun 21 Nov, Jo Dillon wrote:
> > Travis S. Casey (efindel at io.com) spake thusly:
> > > > Also, on a medieval mud, medieval army sizes should be used.  Until the
> > > late part of the medieval period, few battles involved more than a few
> > > hundred people total.  You can break those up into units of 10 or so, and
> > > have only 10 to 50 units to handle for most battles.
> >   I'd have thought a couple of thousand and up more typical - it depends which
> > area and time you're talking about of course.
> A couple of hundred is a fairly good estimate for medieval armies. Romans
> had a bit larger armies, but even they rarely brought a thousand soldiers
> in the field at the same time.

It depends a great deal upon what you mean by an "army".  A couple of
hundred men might make a useful skirmishing force, same as today.  But if
you're talking about the sort of outfit which could be expected to fight a
regular battle:

Agincourt 1415:  ~5,500 English versus 20-30,000 French.
Crecy 1346:  14,000 English versus perhaps 20,000 French.
Poitiers 1356: 7,000 English versus ~7,500 French.

It can, of course, be argued that the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries
are rather late in the medieval period.  Even, say, Hastings, however,
pitted between four and seven thousand Normans against seven thousand
English.  The Lechfeld and Legnano featured comparable numbers.

As far as your contention that the Romans rarely brought a thousand
soldiers into the field at the same time, it should be noted that a Roman
legion of the original type numbered 4,200 men.  Later legions under
Marius or Caesar numbered 6,000 men.  Adding in the omnipresent
auxiliaries and irregulars made an army of one legion equal to about
10,000 men.  Roman history is thick with battles with battles involving
multiple legions; Cannae in 216 BC featured a Roman force of 80,000 men
against Hannibal's 50,000.

> My history teacher showed me  that the typical siege of a castle was done
> by posting ten or so soldiers  in front of the gate,  two of which walked
> around to prevent the defenders from slipping out of the back. The defen-
> ders rarely numbered  more than that.  The reason for these small numbers
> is simply that training a soldier was incredibly expensive.  Sword train-
> ing took years of practice and unless started young you never got good at
> it. Knights were so expensive in training and maintenance that a duchy or
> county could afford only one or two of them.  Archers were incredibly im-
> portant and so rare that they pretty much could dictate their terms (they
> were the only unit  that could deal with knights  before  they started to
> chop up the infantery).  It is also why  much of the armies  consisted of
> mercenaries. Those were the only units that could train and work together
> Levies  could be used to fill the gaps,  but they really were little more
> than a wall of flesh to slow the other army down. Archers or polearm com-
> panies and of course the knights were what decided the wars, and very few
> nobles could afford to maintain those companies from their own lands.  It
> was far cheaper to hire mercenaries.

It is hard to know what to make of all this.  The idea that sieges were
conducted by ten men against an equal number of defenders brings a smile
to the face and perhaps exaggerates the Middle Ages' capacity for
ritualized warfare.  I suppose it makes sense if you are willing to
believe that archers were "incredibly rare", because one would imagine
that ten men (of whom two were, er, watching the castle's back door) would
be easily picked off from the walls.  What terror the medieval yeoman must
have felt to be kept at bay by ten men!  Perhaps Nietzsche was right.

In any case in the real world training a soldier wasn't really "incredibly
expensive".  The general mass of armies consisted of levied soldiers
recruited largely for the prospect of ready wealth from ransoms (rarely,
for the prospect of defending the homeland).  These soldiers were
reasonably good at handling the assortment of weapons which they wielded,
and they fought against persons of similiar ability.  Our ideas of the
sword prowess of knights and nobles are colored by thoughts of the finely
tuned fencing of later centuries.

As for knights being expensive to train and maintain:  that was true,
although it should be pointed out that they often trained and maintained
themselves.  Also, a "duchy or county" (these are meaningless terms to use
to imagine governmental organizations or geographical regions;  they only
referred to titles of nobility and you could easily have a rich count or a
poor duke) had as little trouble maintaining a few dozen knights as a
modern-day city or county has in maintaining a small fleet of automobiles
for governmental duties.

Archers, while often quite important (at least in northern Europe) were
hardly rare, at least in England.  Archery was a very common sport in
England during the later medieval period, and in fact for a number of
years all other sports were banned, to ensure a ready supply of archers.
It seemed to work:  Henry had approximately five thousand archers at
Agincourt.  In addition, crossbows and pikes could make short work of
heavy cavalry under the right circumstances, making longbows hardly
irreplaceable when fighting mounted troops.  (At Agincourt, for example,
the archers were almost entirely ineffective against the French mounted
knights, whereas at Poitiers the French cavalry were slaughtered by
forcing them to dismount to cross muddy ground.)

Many medieval armies did rely heavily on mercenaries;  Hawkwood's Great
Company saw a great deal of action in its day, and the Catalan Company may
never be forgotten in Asia Minor.  The English, however, for example
almost never used mercenaries in foreign wars, and it would be hard to
justify a statement that mercenary units were the only ones which could be
trained to work together!

Far be it for me to refute your "history teacher", but for the real story
see:

Contamine, Philippe.  _War in the Middle Ages_  Oxford: Blackwell, 1984
(trans. Michael Jones for English edition)

DeVries, Kelly.  _Medieval Military Technology_ Peterborough, Ont.:
Broadview Press, 1992

Keen, M. H.  _England in the Later Middle Ages_ London: Routledge, 1988
  




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