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Aaron A.





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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 10:20 am    Post subject: What did open field warfare look like?         Reply with quote

Hello, I'm new to the forums and I would like to say that I've been a interested in historical arms and warfare for a long time now. So straight to the point, my brother and I were watching a video of a medieval battle re-actment on youtube, the two sides were pushing and shoving with both lines not breaking. As this was going on my brother asks me if that video was accurate in the sense that the two sides sort of push at each other and not mesh together (like you would see in braveheart).

This question had actually got me, I have been able to answer many of his questions before, but this time the only answer I could give him was I'm not sure, many different armies during different time periods had different ways of fighting.

So my question here is how often if ever did armies actually just run into each other, mixing into one big mass and slug it out, did open field battle look like they did on breaveheart or did the armies stay in tightly packed formations and pound on each other trying to get the other to break.?

One more question, I know medieval Europe became dominated by cavarly, but it was only the social elite that could actually afford horses so the majority of ground troups where still on foot. So how exactly did the foot soldiers fight, did they use shield walls (until the introduction of plate armor), and what exactly was the the funtion of the calvary?
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Peter G.




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 1:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thats a question that takes ages to answer-and warfare did change a lot over time-if you are really interested in learning get
"The Art of Warfare in Western Europe during the Middle Ages from the Eighth Century" by Verbruggen-its a hard read, but leaves not much questions unanswered.Well, for me, it provided answers to questions i hadn´t even thought about..

The battlefield in early middle ages in western europe was dominated by heavy cavalry-some battles were fought without foot troops at all.
During the crusades both cavalry and foot troops learned to cooperate better-and the cavalry learned to valuate the foot troops-they covered their backs and where a harbour where the cavalry could regroup and attack again.

The later you come in middle ages, the more important foot troops are-depending on the country-in the netherlands the foottroops of the rich towns (brugge, gent) where the mainforce on the field-something that is not true for france during the same time.
The role of the heavy cavalry was offensive-as shock troops-the foot defensive (due to the slow speed compared to horses)
For both troops it was most important to stay grouped-a melee where everybody was on his own was to be avoided at all costs-alone you´re dead-wether on horse or on foot.

The cavalry attacked in conrois (from 30-150men), the foot stayed grouped in close packs.


Last edited by Peter G. on Mon 07 Jan, 2008 1:49 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 1:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Aaron. The youtube video seems to have been more accurate than Braveheart. Integrity of the formation was everything. As soon as the line was broken and the two forces "meshed" as you say, the cavalry would expliot it. At this point a rout would occur fairly soon after in this section. Though other parts of the army may still hold their place. Morale and battle-experience is very important

A battle with only cavalry is not much of a battle. All cavalry can do by themselves is intercept other cavalry units or dislodge an infantry position. You need infantry to take and hold ground.
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Brian Robson





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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 1:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a re-enactor who is used to taking part in large re-enactments, I can say that it is psychologically difficult to break from your line and step into into the enemy. You know that as soon as you step forwards, you expose your sides to 2-3 spearmen on each side of you (due to the reach) and so just don't want to do it. I can only imagine that feeling magnified in real life where your life is on the line.
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 9:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would think that during the dark ages formations would not always be used, because a lot of battles were very small affairs, like at stamford bridge when the one guy held off the whole english army.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 9:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
I would think that during the dark ages formations would not always be used, because a lot of battles were very small affairs, like at stamford bridge when the one guy held off the whole english army.


Below a certain number group cohesion loses some of it's value and the fight can turn into multiple individual duels but one would still try to maintain some sort of line if possible.

Terrain would also factor in: On a bridge or narrow space in urban fighting, a single fighter or small group, could hold a line as long as fatigue didn't come into play. Even more if the defenders(s) had superior armour and skills.

If it got to the point where exhaustion made just raising one's sword arm or holding one's shield then numbers of fresh opponents would eventually wear one down.

Training and discipline makes all of the above more probable but the natural tendency of even low skilled fighters would be to not go in front of the line " ALONE ", and if they go forward together it remains a line. Wink Laughing Out Loud

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!


Last edited by Jean Thibodeau on Tue 08 Jan, 2008 7:15 am; edited 1 time in total
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 10:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So how long was the shield wall used? I know that few people cared about infantry at all before the hundred years war and the swiss. So it seems theres quite a bit of middle ground between the viking age and the 14th century.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 10:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Context, context.

It's not as simple as few people caring about infantry. The Saxons and the Scandanavians fought on foot for a long period; culturally it was the manly thing to do. No doubt logistical concerns limited the transport (and therefore use) of horses by seafaring peoples in the north, and this would have some impact on warefare at that time and in that place.

From what I gather samurai were originally mounted archers, but later moved to combat on foot. Heavy shock cavalry never appeared in Asia the way it did in western Europe, and there is really no eastern equivalent to the French gendarmes.

The Romans certainly centered thier legions around infantry, as did the Gauls and Celts.

Close order infantry ebbs and flows like any military concept; sometimes used often and to great effect, sometimes irrelevant and suicidal.
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 10:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
So how long was the shield wall used? I know that few people cared about infantry at all before the hundred years war and the swiss. So it seems theres quite a bit of middle ground between the viking age and the 14th century.

There was plenty of infantry used in the period between 11th and 14th Centuries. Solid infantry was a key part in the armies of the Crusaders states in Outremer and the city states of Italy fielded large numbers of good infantry as well. To name but two examples. The alledged infantry revolution of 14th Century is partly a myth.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jan, 2008 10:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
So how long was the shield wall used? I know that few people cared about infantry at all before the hundred years war and the swiss. So it seems theres quite a bit of middle ground between the viking age and the 14th century.


Well, shield wall or just well armoured working close together as men-at-arms on foot or armoured pikeman if speaking in generalities.

Classical shieldwall is probably a Dark Ages/Early Medieval thing having many things in common with earlier phalanx or later pikemen tactics: I'm not sure enough to nail down specific dates as a lot depends on how one defines shieldwall.

So, I'm just giving you an opinion off the top of my head. Wink Laughing Out Loud

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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 6:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
So how long was the shield wall used? I know that few people cared about infantry at all before the hundred years war and the swiss. So it seems theres quite a bit of middle ground between the viking age and the 14th century.


As already pointed out infantry was in fact common throughout the middle ages. Infantry was important for instance in the italian states, and at Legnano in 1176 the spearmen of the Lombard League defeated Friedrich Barbarossa's imperial knights
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 11:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The military revolution is a myth? are you guys sure about that? My western civ. teacher said otherwise, though I admit he is weak on military history.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 2:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't study the Roman army eras, but a friend who does loves to boast about how they mastered the shield wall. Although Romans later seemed to increase cavalry, I would speculate that Germanic tribe tactics and surviving traditional Roman infantry tactics could have commingled. Charles Martel actually utilized infantry longer and more than cavalry, and originally formed cavalry as more of a multi-purpose force that he recognized as required to counter enemies who utilized cavalry. Regardless of who invented the shield wall, its use as a prevalent tactic can probably be attributed to many armies long before the conquest of Gaul, and continuing afterwards.
Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 2:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The first iconographical evidence for shield walls date back to the early bronze age. The first literary evidence is in Egyptian records. It is a natural formation for any group of men with large shields and has been the primary defensive infantry tactic ever since.
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 2:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
The military revolution is a myth? are you guys sure about that? My western civ. teacher said otherwise, though I admit he is weak on military history.

Actually I wrote the "infantry revolution", not the military revolution which belongs more to the early modern period rather than the medieval period. The notion of a military revolution which was introudced Michale Roberts and the debate which followed has in some ways done more damage than good for the study of warfare and military history since so myc tiem and resoruces has been spent defending or attacking a particlary academic position rather than doing actual reserach into what realy took place on the ground.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 3:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
The military revolution is a myth? are you guys sure about that? My western civ. teacher said otherwise, though I admit he is weak on military history.


We've all had Western Civ teachers who are wrong Big Grin

The one I had last spring some how got the idea in his head that the Norse believed women could never lie.

M.

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 4:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In battles, formations where usually very important indeed.

Single indivuals will as a rule not attack a formation, because it is suecide. As part of a formation, however, they will face near certain death.
Once the formation breaks, however, it is reduced to a mass of individuals. And, as they will not attack the enemy formation, they can be picked of relatively safely, even if they do not run. (which they probably will)

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Justin King
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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 4:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Context is probably more important than time period here. A running skirmish and a pitched battle are rather different, although both may transpire on the same field on the same day with the same armies.
Infantry formations are about the only effective means of holding/defending ground. In this role a tightly packed immobile "wall" or schiltron is most effective if not the only viable option. This would tend to force the opposition to attack in a likewise ordered formation in order to have any effect.
In the event of a running battle or skirmish the lines would be much more fluid and intermingled, likewise for a routing army being pursued. There are also references to large battles ending in a general melee once the main defensive line is broken or the agressors have made a failed assault.
Raids and other small-scale engagements were much more common than two huge armies slugging it out on a field until one broke, so it depends a lot on what you consider to be a battle vs. a minor engagement. Also whether we are talking about a professional force or conscripted peasants, the latter of which are far less likely to maintain discipline and hold formation when under heavy assault. Add large-scale use of missile weapons from 1300-onward and it becomes even more compicated.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 5:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Isn't a Schiltron a circle formation?

M.

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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jan, 2008 7:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
The military revolution is a myth? are you guys sure about that? My western civ. teacher said otherwise, though I admit he is weak on military history.


I am biting my tongue so hard it's bleeding.
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