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Tormod Engvig




PostPosted: Thu 01 Apr, 2010 12:43 pm    Post subject: Did medieval soldiers march in step?         Reply with quote

Hello all!

Does anyone know if medieval soldiers actually marched in step? I was under the impression that marching was introduced with close order drill during the Renaissance to perfect pike and shot tactics. I have noticed a tendency in Hollywood movies to portray medieval warriors marching, I would assume to give them a militaristic, imposing air. Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" immediately comes to mind. There, we see the English infantry advancing toward the Scots at Stirling bridge neatly and in step like something out of the Napoleonic Wars. Is this even remotely accurate?

Cheers,
Tormod

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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 01 Apr, 2010 12:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've always assumed that drums, at least, were used to set the pace of march, but that's not really the same things as being in left-right-left-right step.
-Sean

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Christopher VaughnStrever




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Apr, 2010 1:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There was a degree of formation of those particpating in the crusades during the 13th century and that could have had a certain degree upon the formation of the medieval soldier of those times in the 13th century, though I would not go so far as to say that this influenced the entire armies way of marching as in the movie. Remember that the Romans had formation and dicipline, however that was within itself their way of war and not a patern that was followed through the medieval days.
Please corect me if I am wrong on this.

On another note as I am more familiar with the 15th century, there was no formalized training of getting everyone to walk "in-step" and have a formation. The Knights rode out and all other divisions were an aid to and of the Knights. From Knight to Knight as they lead the war with their personal heroism' They did not act with an "in-step" formation in any way. A charge of Knights with lances... I do not believe to have been in step with one-another, though there was at the least a line of some sort to the least of a small degree... I think...

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Tormod Engvig




PostPosted: Thu 01 Apr, 2010 3:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps it is safe to say that medieval armies (esp. infantry or dismounted troops) in general had a good notion of formation and pace, but did not march in step. I just have difficulty believing, for example, that the dismounted French knights at Agincourt marched in step with one another as they advanced toward the English lines. Wasn't the reinvention of marching and close order drill a major aspect of the "rebirth" of ancient (Greek and Roman) battlefield tactics in the 16th century? Perhaps the exception would be pikemen from the 15th century onward. If I am not mistaken, unit coherence is key for a pike formation to be effective. Perhaps they were the earliest examples (after marching had disappeared with the Romans) of the "rebirth" of ancient marching techniques, at the end of the Middle Ages?

The Middle Ages also represents a huge chunk of history, as well as tactical evolution. As far as "formation and pace" are concerned, I would imagine there would be enormous differences between infantry from an 11th century Viking army and an army from 15th century Burgundy during Charles the Bold's reign.

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Christopher VaughnStrever




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Apr, 2010 4:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are a couple quotes out of the book entitled Medieval Warfare" written by H W Koch.

In this particular section on the pages from which the quotes are taken have pictures of knights wearing armor suitable of a 15th~16th century orgin and also one illustraton of the crusade era.

Page 70
Military discipline therefore was an artifical product, in-applicable to and contradicted by the political, social, and military realities of the middle ages. Nor were there any articles of war governing the behavior of the knights during a campaign."

page 75
"The knights did not arrange themselves in any particular tactical order. They just advanced on their mounts with little attention being paid to a straight linear approach. Only the order of the Templars had issued a rule saying that no brother was to attack on his own initiative or to ride outside formation."

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Maurizio D'Angelo




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Apr, 2010 5:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eastern Roman army used many tactics.
Already in the sixth century the officers had written orders.
The formations were trained to keep the alignment. The banners, the leader of the row, and some men were used to close ranks. It was forbidden to speak or scream in battle. The silence was necessary to listen to orders.
Shields were used to keep the rows aligned.
It is not written that modern marching in step, but it is written that were walking together, looking at the banner is the leader of the row.
Often, the army was deployed at the last minute. This not to give the enemy information on tactics to use.
To deploy an army so quickly they were trained to keep their ranks.
The Byzantine cavalry, unlike the European cavalry, attacked at trot to keep the compact formation.
I counted 53 position change orders for the troops.
"ad conto clina" front right
"ad scuto clina" front left
"Redi" turnabout
"torna mina" turn around and charged the enemy line
orders seem modern.
Persian and Byzantine precursors tactics?
without order, nothing tactics. Happy

Ciao
Maurizio
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Werner Stiegler





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PostPosted: Fri 02 Apr, 2010 3:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Page 70
Military discipline therefore was an artifical product, in-applicable to and contradicted by the political, social, and military realities of the middle ages. Nor were there any articles of war governing the behavior of the knights during a campaign."
It's a 16th century thing, I believe, but Philip von Seldeck detailed plenty of the soft skill and the formal methodes of addressing your own knights and soldiers in order to get everyone on the same page. He stressed that a leader should address his fellow knights as equals and be of demure and polite manners to keep his forces together.

He also wrote rather detailed on how to organize and fight a wedge of cavalry via: "Place the banner bearer where at least 3/4 of the people in your wedge can see him." and "Try to break a formation around the row of the banner bearer."

Apparently the political, social, and military reality of the early modern age were conductive to an oddly polite way of leading an army that's quiet far appart from the brutish manners of the 20st century. Probably the current research into medieval methods of conflict management will have some influence on our knowledge of how armies were controlled during confilct. At least for German forces a certain politeness seems to have been the norm. Could be different for french and italian armies which operated under a different set of social and political circumstances though. The Middle Ages tend to defy the expectations of us modern day readers anyway.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Apr, 2010 4:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't think it is possible to hold an infantry formation tight during movement without at least some kind of marching in step. And there are many cases of medieval infantry keeping tight formation during advance. Any tight group of people trying to walk together will eventually develop some kind of marching step.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Apr, 2010 4:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The battle of Arsuf (1191) shows a good example of a disciplined medieval march. With the Templars in the vanguard, the Hospitallers at the rear, discrete regiments in between, horse on the seaward side and infantry on the landward side, Richard's army stayed compact and orderly until the final charge on 'Saladin's' Army.

But whether they marched in step or not, I don't know.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Apr, 2010 6:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
The battle of Arsuf (1191) shows a good example of a disciplined medieval march. With the Templars in the vanguard, the Hospitallers at the rear, discrete regiments in between, horse on the seaward side and infantry on the landward side, Richard's army stayed compact and orderly until the final charge on 'Saladin's' Army.

But whether they marched in step or not, I don't know.


Marching in step: How important is the " left foot/right foot " to marching in keeping a line in order or is it an 18th century obsession with it looking disciplined and orderly ? it does make an impression and certainly is not inferior to a more disorganized marching technique but is it essential ?

By this I mean there could be degrees of marching " styles " with varying degrees of control over keeping a formation cohesive:

A) Marching in step left foot of each soldier forward simultaneously.

B) Marching to a cadence where either foot would hit the group in time but either foot could be forward. The cadence being kept orderly by some sound cue like drums or some other means.

C) Looser marching where attention is paid to keeping the lines orderly and aligned but more of a shuffling random gate.

D) Very loose mob generally staying together.

E) No formal formation except the natural tendency to not want to be alone in front of a large group of enemies and wanting ones friends close on each side.

So depending on definition one might say that, yes there was marching in some sort of order, for any cohesive formation, but that more formal and disciplined in step marching makes moving as a unit and control of a unit by leaders/officers easier and more precise. An orderly army also less likely to charge without orders or run away in panic.

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Sander Marechal




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Apr, 2010 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A few months ago our WMA group went on training camp. One of the things we did there was experimenting with formation fighting. One of the things we found is that a tight formation like the Roman tortoise is very hard to do if you don't march (e.g. same left foot/right foot for everyone). Other tightly packed formation (viking wedge) are perfectly possible without any kind of marching step. What that means for medieval formation I don't know though. But the experiment proved to me that at least the Romans knew of the marching step.

I think that at least the famed swiss pikemen would also know the marching step. We didn't experiment with this (we lacked the massively long pikes) but I imagine that if a block of pikemen doesn't march in step then the long pikes start clattering together and causing problems. So I imagine that they too did have a marching step.
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Samuel Bena




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Apr, 2010 2:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maurizio D'Angelo wrote:

The Byzantine cavalry, unlike the European cavalry, attacked at trot to keep the compact formation.


I would like to disagree on this one Maurizio Happy .
The whole attack sequence starting at trot is in fact something that the Byzantines copied from "the fair haired races" (i.e. Western Europeans). 6th century Strategicon of Maurice says the following (in Curta,2007, p.312) :



Quote:
At the command “Close ranks,” the soldiers close up from the rear for the
charge. With the troops marching in close formation, particularly after
they have closed in tightly from the flank, the archers open fire, and the
command is given: “Charge.” The dekarchs and pentarchs lean forward,
cover their heads and part of their horses’ necks with their shields, hold
their lances high as their shoulders in the manner of the fair-haired races,
and protected by their shields they ride on in good order, not too fast but
at a trot
, to avoid having the impetus of their charge break up their ranks
before coming to blows with the enemy, which is a real risk.


emphasis mine

Curta, Florin. (2007). The other Europe in the middle ages:Avars, Bulgars, Khazars and Cumans (east central and eastern europe in the middle ages, 450-1450) . Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Regards
Samuel

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Maurizio D'Angelo




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Apr, 2010 10:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Samuel Bena wrote:
Maurizio D'Angelo wrote:

The Byzantine cavalry, unlike the European cavalry, attacked at trot to keep the compact formation.


I would like to disagree on this one Maurizio Happy .
The whole attack sequence starting at trot is in fact something that the Byzantines copied from "the fair haired races" (i.e. Western Europeans). 6th century Strategicon of Maurice says the following (in Curta,2007, p.312) :



Quote:
At the command “Close ranks,” the soldiers close up from the rear for the
charge. With the troops marching in close formation, particularly after
they have closed in tightly from the flank, the archers open fire, and the
command is given: “Charge.” The dekarchs and pentarchs lean forward,
cover their heads and part of their horses’ necks with their shields, hold
their lances high as their shoulders in the manner of the fair-haired races,
and protected by their shields they ride on in good order, not too fast but
at a trot
, to avoid having the impetus of their charge break up their ranks
before coming to blows with the enemy, which is a real risk.


emphasis mine

Curta, Florin. (2007). The other Europe in the middle ages:Avars, Bulgars, Khazars and Cumans (east central and eastern europe in the middle ages, 450-1450) . Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Regards
Samuel



In my Italian copy, the subject in the sentence is: The dekarchs and pentarchs.

"The dekarchs and pentarchs lean forward, (subject)
cover their heads and part of their horses’ necks with their shields,
hold their lances high as their shoulders in the manner of the fair-haired races, (this isn't subject)
and protected by their shields they ride on in good order,
not too fast but at a trot, to avoid having the impetus of their charge break up their ranks
before coming to blows with the enemy, which is a real risk."

Strategikon Book III par 5
This means that only carried spears as people with blond hair, not that rode like them.

The people with blond hair, were the Lombards and Franks.
In this case refers to the Lombards.
The cavalry, at least as we understand it today, was born more than a century later, the famous Battle of Poitiers on 7 October 732.
An important aspect is that the cavalry had not yet the bracket in first part of the sixth century
The Lombards did not know.
To invent the bracket were the Avars. The Byzantines have copied. Only 50 years earlier,
Procopius never mentions the bracket, although many things described in detail.
The Lombards preferred fighting on foot.
Narses with 2500 "symmachoi" Lombard get off from their horse to defeat the ghotic's leader, Totila (Bustra Gallorum Procopius' De Bello ghotic "text 19)

If you read, always, in the Strategikon book X par 3 is written:
"people with blond hair, either on foot or on horseback, are impetuous and uncontrollable, as if they were the only ones in the world to not know fear ...
Lack any astuteness, despise the tactics especially when are on horses."

Of their rude and unruly character speaks the same Procopius of Caesarea, and later Paul the Deacon in Historia Longobardorum.
If the Byzantine army had not been hijacked in the East, and elsewhere, would be enough, only an army of Byzantine firefighters, to repel the Lombards, over the Alps.
Difficult to learn tactics from them, do not you think? Happy

P.S: I would like to know if the English sentence has, the same meaning Italian.
in other words if you understand that only carried spears as people with blond hair, not that rode like them.

Ciao
Maurizio
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Apr, 2010 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maurizio D'Angelo wrote:

P.S: I would like to know if the English sentence has, the same meaning Italian.
in other words if you understand that only carried spears as people with blond hair, not that rode like them.


Well not really. Wink

But here is what I'm guessing is the meaning:

I read this as meaning that although they used their spears in the same fashion ( overhanded ? ) as the blond people their cavalry formations and tactics where not the same as the blonde people or had a different style of riding which could mean also getting off the horses to fight on foot ? ( The blond people being the one's fighting on foot by preference ).

But I really have to guess hard at the meaning: I assume literal translation from the translation program you use. Also the words may be badly translated but the sentence structure or order of words, grammatical structure doesn't work and causes ambiguities in meaning or simply no coherent meaning at all ? So, yes, I'm guessing much more than usual here. Wink Big Grin

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Samuel Bena




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Apr, 2010 6:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ciao Maurizio ,

Hahah, you've bested me again! Wink

Honestly I don't really know. I have assumed that the Byzantines copied the whole manoeuvre from Franks etc. as they've been very good at adapting pretty much anything they had encountered (and subsequently converting it a more "Roman" approach). Very true points about the subject of the sentence as well as the use of "brackets" (I assume you meant stirrups). Perhaps somebody who has actual experience with the Strategikon in its original form could shine some further light into it. A splendid observation nevertheless.

Regards,
Samuel
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Maurizio D'Angelo




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PostPosted: Sat 03 Apr, 2010 12:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:

But I really have to guess hard at the meaning: I assume literal translation from the translation program you use. Also the words may be badly translated but the sentence structure or order of words, grammatical structure doesn't work and causes ambiguities in meaning or simply no coherent meaning at all ? So, yes, I'm guessing much more than usual here. Wink Big Grin

hello Jean,
thanks for the explanation. I have reason to call you my mentor. Wink

Samuel Bena wrote:
Ciao Maurizio ,

Hahah, you've bested me again! Wink


Hello Samuel,
I remember you now, the matter of the guards of oriental origin. On that occasion I also learned from you, remember the picture? That's the beauty of this site. Wink

Quote:

Honestly I don't really know. I have assumed that the Byzantines copied the whole manoeuvre from Franks etc. as they've been very good at adapting pretty much anything they had encountered (and subsequently converting it a more "Roman" approach). Very true points about the subject of the sentence as well as the use of "brackets" (I assume you meant stirrups). Perhaps somebody who has actual experience with the Strategikon in its original form could shine some further light into it. A splendid observation nevertheless.

Regards,
Samuel


Quote:
"brackets" (I assume you meant stirrups).

Yes, it is so.Blush

I had been warned that some points of translation from greek could be controversial.
There are some translations, Romanian, English, French, German and Italian. It seems that English is the worst and the best German. But I sent the application to a professor of Byzantine history teacher in Venice, can easily translate from greek.
I think it is important to establish this, as it changes their view of things.
The Lombards, a century later, take the stirrups and replace the blanket with saddles.
Take even cavalry charges, with what later will be called "spear in rest." (held the spear with both hands while charging)
The European cavalry begins to make its own imprint.

P.S. There is, also another fact that makes me think, right, the Italian translation. Also in Strategikon has said many times that we must train troops to remain united. The ardor of the most courageous than those who had afraid, can to break ranks. To this the officers were careful to mix veterans and recruits. It was forbidden, to cavalry, pursue the enemy, in depth, without the coverage of the infantry. This is to avoid ambushes due to feigned retreats. Raid was also prohibited immediately after winning the battle, the troops would be dispersed and enemy could still have hidden departments.
They were obsessively to serried ranks , after all, Roman's tactic, was familiar. The people with blond hair, were the exact opposite.

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! (Christ is Risen!) would say the Byzantines. Happy Easter

Ciao
Maurizio
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Mark T




PostPosted: Sun 04 Apr, 2010 3:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't have it to hand right now, but in Venus and mars: The world of the medieval housebook, the commentator specifically points out that the depictions of troops on the move are not marching in step - although this is 'en route', not while in a 'hot' engagement. The housebook dates from ~1480s 'Germany', is considered one of the more coherent and accurate collections of images from the time, and was used as a period source for Osprey's German medieval armies book, as well as our own Aaron Schnatterly and his very impressive kit (found on a couple of threads here). I can source the exact quote if anyone wants it.

Edited to add: I think (part of) the 'troops on the move' image from the housebook was also reprinted in the Osprey title, although in a fairly small size, and monotone, which makes the image fairly grey. However, the Osprey book will be easier to track down than Venus and mars.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 10 Apr, 2010 11:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm. One thing I remember is Commynes mentioning somewhere about the Swiss using drums for signaling, which was new to him. This indicates that the drum wasn't commonly used in France and Burgundy during the second half of the 15th century, and perhaps (by extension) that marching in step or even in cadence wasn't widely used there within the same timeframe.

Not that marching in step is necessary for keeping a formation at all--people can march ahead and maintain a simple, roughly ordered line without following a cadence, let alone walking in lockstep (i.e. with everybody putting the same foot forward). The tricky part comes when it gets to doing tactical maneuvers, since marching in step (and especially in lockstep) does make things easier for any movement other than a simple forward march!
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Apr, 2010 12:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:


Not that marching in step is necessary for keeping a formation at all--people can march ahead and maintain a simple, roughly ordered line without following a cadence, let alone walking in lockstep (i.e. with everybody putting the same foot forward). The tricky part comes when it gets to doing tactical maneuvers, since marching in step (and especially in lockstep) does make things easier for any movement other than a simple forward march!


One thing to consider is that with a sound cue from a drum or other means everyone in the formation gets the cue to move or manoeuvre at the same time and in step it's probably easier to have for a whole formation to move as a solid block without the reaction time lags of the first line moving, the second line moving a fraction of a second later and so on until the last line or the end of a column ends up reacting long after the front has started to move !

When stopping it also mean avoiding the guys behind bumping into the forward lines.

Moving as a solid block is advantageous with the manoeuvres are going to be intricate and frequent or if different unit blocks have to move to separate cues i.e. one block retreating and a reserve coming forward or a checker board formation closing into a solid line. Or a skirmisher line or missile troops moving forward or back of an infantry shield wall or pike block.

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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Apr, 2010 1:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
One thing to consider is that with a sound cue from a drum or other means everyone in the formation gets the cue to move or manoeuvre at the same time and in step it's probably easier to have for a whole formation to move as a solid block without the reaction time lags of the first line moving, the second line moving a fraction of a second later and so on until the last line or the end of a column ends up reacting long after the front has started to move !


Ah, yes, the "accordioning" phenomenon. It's actually less of an issue once the men are deployed into a relatively shallow line, especially if the line is only four men deep (or less). And, in any case, I've observed some degree of accordioning even in formations that march in step or in lockstep under the guidance of a drum or bugle cadence--mostly when the men aren't very experienced in close-order drills and/or the prescribed interval between ranks is too short.
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