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D. Nogueira




Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
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PostPosted: Thu 26 Mar, 2009 7:46 pm    Post subject: Which was the largest medieval battle?         Reply with quote

Hi again,

Which battle from the middle-ages do you think was the largest, in terms of the number of combatants involved.

1) Anywhere?
2) In Europe?

(Note: I'm not asking about a full campaign, just about a particular battle... and I'm not restricting the matter only to battles where knights or any other elite-warriors took part. I also know it's almost impossible to have truly accurate numbers, and some figures will be much more trustworthy than others... but anyway I still would like to hear your opinions)

Thanks a lot for your help.
Diego.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 26 Mar, 2009 9:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Give us the timeline that you're working with for "medieval"- it will help to narrow things down a bit.
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JE Sarge
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PostPosted: Thu 26 Mar, 2009 10:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd say the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 (340,000 vs 60,000), depending on which account you read.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Mar, 2009 10:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Numbers of soldiers involved or biggest important battle ? I could mention a few important one's like Lepanto.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lepanto_(1571)

Siege of Constantinople: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Constantinople

Battle of Manzikert: http://wapedia.mobi/en/Battle_of_Manzikert

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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Mar, 2009 10:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The number of soldiers involved in Medieval battles is notoriously overestimated by contempories, so one can't really know the truth. Supposedly, there were millions of soldiers involved in the Battle of Grunwald, fought in Poland in 1410 between the Teutonic Knights on one side, and the kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania on the other. The Teutonic Knights lost. I don't believe in Medieval armies with millions of soldiers, but that's what Wikipedia says, and declares Grunwald the biggest Medieval battle.
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Mar, 2009 10:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

according to my war and diplomacy class an army of over 50k before the renaissance would have been beyond amazing. Part of the whole argument about the military revolution hinges on troop size. By the time of Louis XIV france had 400,000 men total and that was the biggest army in all of europe. During the 30yrs war Gustavus had like 149K roughly and that was total, in all countries under swedens control. So I would doubt if any medieval battle had more than 100k men in it.

And that is being overcautious.

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Lukasz Papaj




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 1:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roger Hooper wrote:
Supposedly, there were millions of soldiers involved in the Battle of Grunwald


That's only in German accounts, that also states that Poles and Lithuanians involved were pagans, top estimate was like, 6 millions on Order side, phantasy and propaganda if you ask me. Estimate thought true right now by historians is 15 thousand men-at-arms on Teutonic Order side, and 30 thousand at Polish-Lithuanian Alliance side (Nadolski, 1996) Even rough estimation on top side : Teutonic order fielded 51 banners, I dont know what was precise amount of each banner type (see here for description of the types) but with even amount of each type, were talking 26 thousand Teutons, with about twice that number of Poles, Lithuanians and supporters at maximum . Even if all banners were "Great banners" (which were not), were talking some 35700 riders (51x700).
One might note that this battle was pure horse armies battle, with only few cannons fielded by the order (I heard speculations that he actual text should be rather translated as hand-cannons, not the "siege" type). No infantry involved at all, definitely biggest "horse battle" in medieval era. If the biggest, that I do not know. It all depends what sources to believe. "Millions" and even "hundreds of thousands" of participants in 15 july of 1410 affair is pure fantasy.
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D. Nogueira




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 7:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roger Hooper wrote:
The number of soldiers involved in Medieval battles is notoriously overestimated by contempories, so one can't really know the truth. Supposedly, there were millions of soldiers involved in the Battle of Grunwald, fought in Poland in 1410 between the Teutonic Knights on one side, and the kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania on the other. The Teutonic Knights lost. I don't believe in Medieval armies with millions of soldiers, but that's what Wikipedia says, and declares Grunwald the biggest Medieval battle.


Hi Roger, Wikipedia (At least the english version) says, that there were 39,000 men on one side and 27,000 men on the other.

The Battle of Grunwald (or 1st Battle of Tannenberg): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Grunwald
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D. Nogueira




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 7:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
Give us the timeline that you're working with for "medieval"- it will help to narrow things down a bit.


Hi Craig,
I know the timeline would be too broad, but I'm talking about the lapse between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the fall of Constantinople.
I know there is no universal agreement on the precise dates or events that delimit the middle ages... so info about battles that some may consider part of the medieval period are more than welcome.

Thanks.
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D. Nogueira




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 8:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

JE Sarge wrote:
I'd say the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 (340,000 vs 60,000), depending on which account you read.


JE,
I always thought of this definitely as one of the largest battles in medieval history.
The lowest estimates I have ever read about this event, mention about 100.000 (Forces of the "Almohades", sorry, I speak Spanish and I don't know how to translate this...) vs. 60.000 (Forces of "Castilla, Navarra, Aragon" and Military orders). And that's after thousands have already deserted the crusade.

And there are larger estimates coming from that time of course, though there are reasons to at least doubt their veracity Happy
For instance, Muslim chroniclers have mentioned 600.000 men on their side, and "uncountable" christians.
The christian side, have mentioned 200.000 muslim riders, plus a larger number of auxiliary forces... etc. etc.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 8:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. Nogueira wrote:
Craig Peters wrote:
Give us the timeline that you're working with for "medieval"- it will help to narrow things down a bit.


Hi Craig,
I know the timeline would be too broad, but I'm talking about the lapse between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the fall of Constantinople.
I know there is no universal agreement on the precise dates or events that delimit the middle ages... so info about battles that some may consider part of the medieval period are more than welcome.

Thanks.


476 A.D. to 1454 A.D. : Lots of battles and war/campaigns from various large invasions and collapses of civilizations.

The consequences of the Mongol invasions of Persia, Eastern Europe ( Almost Western Europe ) being an example of a major disruption of previously established Empires/cultures/Ethnic groups.

Armies larger than 50,000 in this period would be a logistical nightmare and unsustainable in the field for any extended time as food resources as well as disease would tend to kill more of one's troops than enemy action. ( Long sieges being hard on both sides ).

Anyway, getting reliable numbers to be able to say which battle was the biggest, was the winner of the biggest battle contest, is hard to be sure about: One can make a short list of major battles that had large numbers involved although some very historically important battles may have had relatively small numbers of participants.

Making that short list can still be interesting for discussion. Cool Wink

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D. Nogueira




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 8:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
[Anyway, getting reliable numbers to be able to say which battle was the biggest, was the winner of the biggest battle contest, is hard to be sure about: One can make a short list of major battles that had large numbers involved although some very historically important battles may have had relatively small numbers of participants.


Jean, excellent point, and thanks for both of your posts.

My idea is to discuss and gather information or references about the largest battles of the medieval period, the ones that mobilized the largest armies on a single event. But I wouldn't like this thread to become a "biggest battle contest" Happy of course!

Diego.
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 8:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. Nogueira wrote:

Hi Roger, Wikipedia (At least the english version) says, that there were 39,000 men on one side and 27,000 men on the other.


Well, it was late and I should have read a liitle further. Wikipedia says:

In one of the Prussian chronicles it is mentioned that "the forces of the Polish king were so numerous that there is no number high enough in the human language". One of the anonymous chronicles from the German Hanseatic city of Lübeck mentions that the forces of Jogaila numbered some 1,700,000 soldiers, the forces of Vytautas with 2,700,000 (with a great number of Russians, or Ruthenians, as they were called then), in addition to 1,500,000 Tatars.[citation needed] Among the forces supposedly aiding the Polish-Lithuanian army were "Saracens, Turks, pagans of Damascus, Persia and other lands".[citation needed] According to Enguerrand de Monstrelet, the knights fielded some 300,000 men, while their enemies under the kings of "Lithuania, Poland and Sarmatia" fielded 600,000. Andrew of Regensburg estimated the Polish-Lithuanian forces at 1,200,000 men-at-arms. It must be noted that medieval chroniclers were notorious for sensationally inflating figures, and armies of the sizes quoted were actually impossible with the logistics technology of the day.
More recent historians estimate the strength of the opposing forces at a much lower level. Ludwik Kolankowski estimated the Polish-Lithuanian forces at 16,000-18,000 Polish cavalry and 6,000-8,000 Lithuanian light cavalry, with the Teutonic Knights fielding 13,000-15,000 heavy cavalry. Jerzy Dąbrowski estimated the overall strength of the allied forces at 18,000 Polish cavalry and 11,000 Lithuanians and Ruthenians, with the opposing forces bringing 16,000 soldiers. If these figures are accepted, this would make the battle less well attended than the Battle of Towton fought in Yorkshire, England, in the same century, which engaged two armies of around 40,000 men, 28,000 of whom died.



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the "millions" at Grunwald
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 8:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Roger,

Roger Hooper wrote:
The number of soldiers involved in Medieval battles is notoriously overestimated by contempories, so one can't really know the truth. Supposedly, there were millions of soldiers involved in the Battle of Grunwald, fought in Poland in 1410 between the Teutonic Knights on one side, and the kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania on the other. The Teutonic Knights lost. I don't believe in Medieval armies with millions of soldiers, but that's what Wikipedia says, and declares Grunwald the biggest Medieval battle.


The Wikipedia article for Grunwald does not claim that millions were involved, only that some early chronicles cited such numbers. In fact, the article gives a rundown of various historic numerical claims, along with estimates from modern scholars. It even gives some explanation of the limitations of medieval logistics.

Edit: You just beat me in commenting on your own post!

All the best,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
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Lukasz Papaj




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 9:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Now, hold your horses with that XIX century depiction ...Matejko did some historical studies, yet he taken very phantastical approach ... as in say, Wagner.

German-language sources used to put millions on Alliance side to justify defeat and/or show lost greatness. They also claimed "we" were all pagans.

Also mind that due political reasons most descriptions/depictions of the Grunwald battle are skewed (to this day)

Grunwald was biggest horse-only battle, and it was beginning of the end of Teutonic Order. infantry based battle were much, much bigger (or so I think)

For more contemporary depiction see : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjfO9FHr790 Big Grin
(peasant infantry is artistic licence due political reasons) ... and armours made from PCV :P
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 10:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I re-enter this thread with some trepidation, but I want to say something about Towton, not the largest medieval battle, but considered to be the biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought in Britain.

Contemporaries estimate a total of around 100,000 men for both armies. After some analysis, A. W. Boardman (The Battle of Towton) comes up with the figures of 25,000 for Lancaster and 20,000 for York - still big numbers for medieval armies.

Fought in late March 1461 in Northern England on a snowy field, it was a nightmarish battle fought under very tough conditions. Many of the Lancastrian casualties came at the end of the day when that army fled the field. A lot of them drowned trying to cross the rivers Cock and Wharfe. Typically for any Wars of the Roses battle, any captured high ranking lord was executed on the spot, at Towton, or a few days later at York.

With a few mopping up battles shortly afterward, Towton would have ended the Wars of the Roses with Edward IV firmly in control. Unfortunately Edward alianated the Earl of Warwick so deeply that he turned his coat and revived the fortunes of Lancaster, causing another cycle to battles nearly 10 years later.

I don't have a 19th century propaganda painting to show, but here is a modern one by Graham Turner (not propagandistic)



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Graham Turner
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 11:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lukasz Papaj wrote:
Now, hold your horses with that XIX century depiction ...Matejko did some historical studies, yet he taken very phantastical approach ... as in say, Wagner.

German-language sources used to put millions on Alliance side to justify defeat and/or show lost greatness. They also claimed "we" were all pagans.

Also mind that due political reasons most descriptions/depictions of the Grunwald battle are skewed (to this day)

Grunwald was biggest horse-only battle, and it was beginning of the end of Teutonic Order. infantry based battle were much, much bigger (or so I think)

For more contemporary depiction see : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjfO9FHr790 Big Grin
(peasant infantry is artistic licence due political reasons) ... and armours made from PCV :P


This is a quote from: http://www.kresy.co.uk/grunwald.html

The Poles had provided a formidable army of 18.000 knights, 11.000 retainers and 4000 foot soldiers, to which must be added 11.000 Lithuanian knights and foot soldiers, 1100 Tartars and about 6000 Bohemians, Russians, Moravians and Moldavians who came to help the Polish-Lithuanian State. But only a precious few were heavy cavalry. Most of the Lithuanian and Polish foot soldiers were armed with clubs, and their equipment was inferior to that of the Krzyzacy.

The Krzyzacy could assemble that day 21.000 excellent heavy cavalrymen, 6000 massively armed infantry, and 5000 servants trained in battle, and better-armed than most of the Lithuanian and Polish foot soldiers. Most of these Krzyzacy would be Teutonic Knights/Germans, but from all Western Europe knights had come to help their brothers against the "pagan" Lithuanians (some of them were indeed still pagans), and the Poles who dared to support the pagans instead of the Christians. English, French, Hungarians, Austrians, Bavarians, Thuringians, Bohemians, Luxembourgians, Flamands, Dutch and even some Poles would help the Teutonic Knights, but the Grand Master had expected more help from western Europe. The Krzyzacy had 100 cannons capable of throwing balls larger than a head, while the Polish-Lithuanians had only 16 cannons.


I don't know what are the sources for this but it seems logical that footsoldiers would participate in the battle... We know of Bohemian merecenaries witj Jan Zizka, they would be very unlikely to fight as cavalry. Teutonic Grand Master is also supposedly killed by a Polish footsoldiers. Why do you think there was no infantry there? If old accounts doesn't specifically mention infantry it doesn't mean they weren't there, it's just that they weren't worth mentioning for the witnesses writing for the King or the nobles.
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Douglas S





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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 12:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gibbon thought that the battle of Chalons-sur-Marne in 451 AD involved a full million souls.
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Lukasz Papaj




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 12:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I quote from polish language sources, mainly from book by Andrzej Nadolski "Grunwald 1410", published by "Wydawnictwo Bellona, Warszawa 1996", That's second edition, published posthumously . Wiki bio stub on Author
He states forces at 15 000 for Teutonic Order, 30 000 for Alliance, all horse, with about 1:3 ratio of lancers to shot troops, mostly mounted crossbowmen.
On the page 47 he specifically states about Order forces:
Quote:
.Jednakże o działaniach piechoty krzyżackiej na Polach Grunwaldu, w otwartej bitwie, nie wspomina żadne z dobrze poinformowanych źródeł opowiadających nam o przebiegu zdarzeń 15 lipca 1410 r. Wyjątek stanowi krzyża­cka kronika w części zwanej Kontynuacją Possilgego, która opisując mobilizację wojsk zakonnych mówi, że na wyprawę stawili się wszyscy ludzie „razem na koniach i pieszo" Wzmianka ta niczego jednak nie przesądza, bo mobilizacja objęła także niewątpliwie zbrojnych przeznaczonych do wzmocnienia załóg zamkowych, a do tego piechota nadawała się jak najbardziej. "

Which I translate to:
Quote:
However, about actions of Teutonic infantry on Fields of Grunwald, in open battle, there is no mention in any respectable source telling the course of events of 15th of July 1410. Only exception is Teutonic chronicle named Continuation of Possilge[Chronicle], which describing the Order's muster says, that for the excursion there appeared all men "both on horses and on foot" . This mention does not fix anything, because the muster also involved troops needed to strengthen the castles, for which infantry was especially suitable


As for Alliance side, main factors were : the muster type, that precisely called for horse attendance of landlords only for offensive excursion (while two other types called for either city contingents or complete muster of male population capable of bearing arms), [part about place of muster for Alliance troops and distance needed to cover deleted , see 2 posts below] (of course one can argue about horse troops dismounting for battle, but than again- there is no mention of such custom in the time of the battle in this particular region). The "only horse" statement for Alliance troops one can find on page 60 of aforementioned book.

One must have in mind that before the battle both armies manoeuvred for days, it is said that battle was more or less coincidental, when two armies rode in the morning of 15th of July, sentries made contact and battle commenced on the field inbetween the roads. There was no preparation, fortifying, digging pits and other picturesque fantasies proposed by some authors. 4 hours needed for alliance troops to move through forest on their side Order used to pull baggage train in and commence cannonade, just as Alliance troops finished deploying. During this time the skirmishes taken place.

As for using handcannons, as I wrote, there's some speculation on that matter, given that both armies needed to "travel fast and light" and the battle was more or less accidental; this matter is just heresay in circles close to Castle Just a possibility. Dlugosz and other chronicles did mention use of large cannons by the Order that failed to do any damage. Polish side did have siege cannons in baggage train (there were used in sieges later in campaign).

One must remember that, as I stated before, Grunwald Battle is a very political theme, which draws many kind of fringe "historians", many of which take their knowledge from fictionalized book by Henryk Sienkiewicz- "Krzyzacy" (the link in my previous post was to a part of the movie made based on it) Its like writing English/Scottish history basing on Walter Scott's works. I prefer to stick to academic resources, still I'm willing to change my mind if better analysis would emerge. Right now i base on Nadolski's work (I'm architect not professional historian)

Anyway I will gladly continue this discourse, but I feel that this definitely not-the-biggest battle matter is "stealing the show". Maybe it needs separate Topic Happy
I would stick with 15k to 26k estimate for Order, Alliance on 30 - 44 k , no more. Or so I think.

EDIT: Oh, and Jan Žižka matter. He was wealthy nobleman and records say that he with fellow Bohemians served in St. George's banner. They were not Taborites at the time (Hussite wars started in 1420 IIRC). Why he would not fight on horse?


Last edited by Lukasz Papaj on Sat 28 Mar, 2009 4:43 am; edited 1 time in total
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Mar, 2009 4:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting. I admit web is not the best source for that kind of research, books are definitely better... It sounds like much of what most people, including me, regard as history is just a myth. For Jan Zizka, I agree that he with his companions would fight as cavalry if noble, but I thought of him more like a leader of lower - birth mercenaries that would likely fight on foot. A mistake obviously. Happy
Thanks for the useful information. I always liked this battle, but never had a good source for exploring it. You know any good book about it in English?
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