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Luka Borscak




Location: Croatia
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PostPosted: Tue 05 Apr, 2011 4:58 pm    Post subject: Old question, percentage of armored men on the battlefield         Reply with quote

So, I know there has been a lot of discussions about this, but I read a few quite different conclusions... One theory is that majority of men on the battlefield are simple soldiers with little or no metal body armor, shield, spear and a hand weapon. Other theory is that such men were not really useful on the field of battle and they were usually left behind as reserves and the real fighting was done by wealthier soldiers with decent protective equipment. This theory also states that such men were not as few in numbers as the first theory states. I have no access to much first hand accounts of battles and ones I have read don't really talk much about the role of lower status soldiers on the battlefield. I'm mostly interested in the mail armor era, but info about the age of plate is also welcome. What are your thoughts about the subject?
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Apr, 2011 5:24 pm    Post subject: Re: Old question, percentage of armored men on the battlefie         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
So, I know there has been a lot of discussions about this, but I read a few quite different conclusions... One theory is that majority of men on the battlefield are simple soldiers with little or no metal body armor, shield, spear and a hand weapon. Other theory is that such men were not really useful on the field of battle and they were usually left behind as reserves and the real fighting was done by wealthier soldiers with decent protective equipment. This theory also states that such men were not as few in numbers as the first theory states. I have no access to much first hand accounts of battles and ones I have read don't really talk much about the role of lower status soldiers on the battlefield. I'm mostly interested in the mail armor era, but info about the age of plate is also welcome. What are your thoughts about the subject?


With respect, your question is far too broad. When? Where? On which side? In which part of the battle? Are they peasants who can't afford armor or light troops (e.g., professional archers or pikemen) who have no use for full harness? Without these delimiters this question can't really be studied meaningfully.

For example, at the Battle of Wisby in Gotland in 1361, the citizens of Wisby were largely poorly-armed farmers while the Danish invaders were (probably) much better equipped. Both sides, incidentally, probably had gear--however complete--that was out of date compared with that in use on the continent. Conversely, at Agincourt, it is likely that most of the French line troops (i.e., not the archers, etc.) were men at arms, and therefore fully armed in complete harness. The French brought plenty of "spearmen" (read: "unarmored peasants"), but they did little or no fighting and were used as labor. Then in the Swiss wars of the fifteenth century, most of the Swiss troops had only partial armor (and the farther back in the phalanx that they fought the less they likely wore), and there were proportionately fewer men at arms (remember, a man at arms is a fully-armored combatant, not the half-clad peasant the popular media has come to associate with the term), while their Burgundian opponents had proportionately more men at arms.

Regards,
Hugh
www.schlachtschule.org
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Wed 06 Apr, 2011 6:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are regulations for required armament, the Swiss for example asked for their troops to wear mail during the Burgundian Wars. As a result a group of men had a mail shirt and one guy took that shirt and went on war. If more guys were mobilized, well, mail was in short supply, leading to a discrepance between official demands and true equipment. If you look at the Scots of Robert de Bruce, they had as minimum equipment an iron helmet and a gambeson. The front ranks were stiffened with heavily armoured men-at-arms. For example in the Battle of Flodden Field different blocks of the Scottish army wore differing degrees of armour, but all tried to fight in the same manner.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Apr, 2011 7:07 am    Post subject: Re: Old question, percentage of armored men on the battlefie         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
So, I know there has been a lot of discussions about this, but I read a few quite different conclusions... One theory is that majority of men on the battlefield are simple soldiers with little or no metal body armor, shield, spear and a hand weapon. Other theory is that such men were not really useful on the field of battle and they were usually left behind as reserves and the real fighting was done by wealthier soldiers with decent protective equipment. This theory also states that such men were not as few in numbers as the first theory states. I have no access to much first hand accounts of battles and ones I have read don't really talk much about the role of lower status soldiers on the battlefield. I'm mostly interested in the mail armor era, but info about the age of plate is also welcome. What are your thoughts about the subject?

As others have said, it varies hugely by place and date. In 15th century France and England, essentially no combatants would be unarmoured, and most soldiers* had metal body armour and a helmet. In the 11th century in the same places, only the military elite (French milites and the Select Fyrd) and a scattering of other people would have hauberk and helmet, and cloth armour was probably not in use as a separate defense. I can't think of a perfect book to read offhand. Maybe Kelly de Vries' book on medieval military technology?

* Archers are a bit of an exception ... the poorer or less experienced ones might not have a haubergeon or helmet
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Apr, 2011 8:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ok, I will narrow the question a bit. Let's take a few situations. 1066 Hastings and Stamford bridge (big important battles, armies assembled for either national defence or big invasion, Saxon huscarls, Hardrada's and other jarl's huscarls, and norman knights were I would say well armored, but what about regular fyrd, norman and breton infantry and Hardrada's lower status infantry?), 1214 Bouvines (also big, important battle, how were typically equipped HRE infantry, Anglo-Norman infantry, French infantry?). So that is period of 11th to 13th century, melee infantry, not skirmishers or archers, armies assembled for battles of great importance.
The second period - melee infantry, but not dismounted men at arms, in battles of 14th and maybe early 15th century (English infantry in scottish wars, French and English infantry in early HYW, early Swiss infantry in their battles with Austrians, typical HRE infantry in their constant wars between Emperor, Counts, town leagues...)
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Fri 08 Apr, 2011 4:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Isn't Stamford Bridge the battle where the Norwegians were caught off guard and did not have their metal armour ready?
You have the Bayeux tapestry for the Norman and Saxon army, but is the percentage of armour shown corresponding to the true distribution?
Regulations on the other hand might tell you the minimum armour required per social standing, but in a country with frequent wars or an unstable condition of external and internal affairs, people might consider engagement in battle a very certain part of life and thus have prepared themselves for better survival.
We have a nice report from the crusades where in a case of emergency pots were turned helmets, and blankets into organic body armour, but none of this kind I know of for the battles you refer to.
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A. Gallo





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PostPosted: Sat 09 Apr, 2011 10:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think you'd see a lot of soft armor (cloth, leather, etc) among the general bulk of an army

In most of the accounts of soldiers fighting completely unarmored which I've read, they were doing so as an intentional/traditional statement of fearlessness, not out of poverty, although of course the opposite extreme (full metallic harness) was definitely reserved for the wealthy

padded cloth was very effective vs light weaponry but lets face it, not very aesthetically pleasing/romantic compared to other types of armor, probably something artists are quick to forget about, nobody wants to die dressed like the Michelin man at reenactments either
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Apr, 2011 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Excellent question if left rather broad (perhaps intentionally?), and also excellent answers.
I look forward to seeing this thread evolve.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Sat 09 Apr, 2011 11:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
The second period - melee infantry, but not dismounted men at arms, in battles of 14th and maybe early 15th century (English infantry in scottish wars, French and English infantry in early HYW, early Swiss infantry in their battles with Austrians, typical HRE infantry in their constant wars between Emperor, Counts, town leagues...)


The Swiss are a nice case of regulations requiring them to wear armour because they didn't. The Swiss were quite confident of winning against anybody and the big question was how much plunder you could acquire for returning home(and marry a niece girl). There's an old German joke that the Swiss are a "diebisches Bergvolk" (thieving mountain people). So theory and practice for the Swiss may be sometimes more or less apart. Well, we know mostly the theory. At least, after vanquishing the Burgundians several times they had lots of armour and historians think that then armour became more common than before. But once again if they were in for plunder, they didn't want to carry on their back too much weight down from the mountains, but as much as possible up the mountains on their voyage home.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2011 6:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kurt,

I am not sure that is entirely true. There has been research done showing that there was actually a fair deal of armour in use by the Swiss from period inventories. (See Winkler's PhD thesis for example). So I think it is perhaps dangerous to make the commonly held notion regulations are done because people do not oblige them. The same is said about many regulations ancient to now and I think this concept is often shown not much more than an untrue stereotype.

There has been similar comments regarding commoners and arms/armour ownership in England. When I began looking through their inventories it seemed that most went far past the minimum requirements for arms and armour ownership. I think kingdom and other legislature that gives minimum requirements was much more efficient than most realize. In part because how the system works. 1-4 times a year a local official was required to make rounds and check. We have records of this taking place. They have incentive to do this as they make money off it. The fine being much higher than simply paying for the minimum arms and armour. Money than as it is now is a powerful motivator.

I have found similar accounts in many countries. Seems to have been a fairly common system and many of the inventories I have been able to find show once again a fair amount of martial equipment was owned, often far exceeding the demands.

RPM
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2011 8:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A. Gallo wrote:
I think you'd see a lot of soft armor (cloth, leather, etc) among the general bulk of an army

In most of the accounts of soldiers fighting completely unarmored which I've read, they were doing so as an intentional/traditional statement of fearlessness, not out of poverty, although of course the opposite extreme (full metallic harness) was definitely reserved for the wealthy

padded cloth was very effective vs light weaponry but lets face it, not very aesthetically pleasing/romantic compared to other types of armor, probably something artists are quick to forget about, nobody wants to die dressed like the Michelin man at reenactments either

You might think so, but there is no solid evidence in Latin Christendom from the early middle ages to the 12th century (and not a lot of evidence for people wearing heavy clothing in battle for protection). From the medieval Roman empire, the Strategikon (12.b.4) says that heavy infantry just need spear, shield, and helmet; and that the front ranks should have armour and greaves. The unarmoured trusted their shield or bow, and tended to line up behind the men with armour.
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2011 9:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
Kurt,

I am not sure that is entirely true. There has been research done showing that there was actually a fair deal of armour in use by the Swiss from period inventories. (See Winkler's PhD thesis for example). So I think it is perhaps dangerous to make the commonly held notion regulations are done because people do not oblige them. The same is said about many regulations ancient to now and I think this concept is often shown not much more than an untrue stereotype.

There has been similar comments regarding commoners and arms/armour ownership in England. When I began looking through their inventories it seemed that most went far past the minimum requirements for arms and armour ownership. I think kingdom and other legislature that gives minimum requirements was much more efficient than most realize. In part because how the system works. 1-4 times a year a local official was required to make rounds and check. We have records of this taking place. They have incentive to do this as they make money off it. The fine being much higher than simply paying for the minimum arms and armour. Money than as it is now is a powerful motivator.

I have found similar accounts in many countries. Seems to have been a fairly common system and many of the inventories I have been able to find show once again a fair amount of martial equipment was owned, often far exceeding the demands.

RPM


Well, I derive my knowledge from "Der Alte Schweizer und sein Krieg.Studien zur Kriegsführung vornehmlich im 15. Jahrhundert" by Walter Schaufelberger. So it's limited in time and geography and no, I didn't check lots of inventories. Sure, there are people exceeding their due requirement and there are people owning as little as possible. Using local officials and checking several times a year helps against betrayal. Can you help us to get our hands on a systematic study of this phenomena?

Sean Manning wrote:

You might think so, but there is no solid evidence in Latin Christendom from the early middle ages to the 12th century (and not a lot of evidence for people wearing heavy clothing in battle for protection). From the medieval Roman empire, the Strategikon (12.b.4) says that heavy infantry just need spear, shield, and helmet; and that the front ranks should have armour and greaves. The unarmoured trusted their shield or bow, and tended to line up behind the men with armour.


Which Strategikon are you referring to? Perhaps there's a misunderstanding about what is cloth and what is armour.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2011 1:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kurt Scholz wrote:
Sean Manning wrote:

You might think so, but there is no solid evidence in Latin Christendom from the early middle ages to the 12th century (and not a lot of evidence for people wearing heavy clothing in battle for protection). From the medieval Roman empire, the Strategikon (12.b.4) says that heavy infantry just need spear, shield, and helmet; and that the front ranks should have armour and greaves. The unarmoured trusted their shield or bow, and tended to line up behind the men with armour.


Which Strategikon are you referring to? Perhaps there's a misunderstanding about what is cloth and what is armour.

The one from c. 600 CE attributed to emperor Maurice. I don't have the Greek text to check the original language. There is also evidence of unarmoured Roman infantry in earlier periods.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr, 2011 9:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
1214 Bouvines (also big, important battle, how were typically equipped HRE infantry, Anglo-Norman infantry, French infantry?). So that is period of 11th to 13th century, melee infantry, not skirmishers or archers, armies assembled for battles of great importance.


By this period, the most powerful and most reliable close-combat infantry type was (still) the dismounted knight, and you'd expect them to have the full monty minus the horse. On the other hand, there was also the "common" infantry type, largely armoured in a quilted tunic/jack and round cap or kettle hat, often with a smattering of hauberks among the more well-to-do (and not rarely these hauberks/haubergeons would have been sandwiched between two layers of cloth). Many of them (including the so-called "Brabantines" who formed the famous circle of spears in this battle) were part of more-or-less uniform formations with long spears and fairly large shields, but in some places the infantry was more of a mixed bunch with a large variety of polearms (including spears), axes, and swords-and-bucklers. And of course, for all your efforts to disqualify skirmishers and archers, you simply can't ignore the crossbowmen--the infantry type par excellence for the 12th and 13th centuries. For the most part they would have been equipped very similarly to the close-combat infantry, with quilted coats and round caps/kettle hats. So, in short, while the majority of non-chivalric infantry types wouldn't have been as well-equipped as the men-at-arms, they generally had a reasonable standard of armour.






Quote:
The second period - melee infantry, but not dismounted men at arms, in battles of 14th and maybe early 15th century (English infantry in scottish wars,


J.E. Morris's 1914 article on the hobelar has some interesting quotations on this matter: http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/pdfs/morris.pdf


Quote:
French and English infantry in early HYW,


Are you sure you wouldn't want to just read Prestwich or Sumption instead? You'd get much more detailed information than anybody can impart in the limited medium of this forum.


Quote:
early Swiss infantry in their battles with Austrians, typical HRE infantry in their constant wars between Emperor, Counts, town leagues...)


OK, now I'm tempted to suggest that you just take up miniature wargaming. The community tends to have some rather intense discussions on the standards of equipment for the armies they're using, because unlike more academic scholars they can't just give up and say "we don't have enough information to go on" when they need to figure out how to paint their figures. Of course, the result is sometimes less rigorous than that of academic research, but still worth checking out (especially in matters that leave room for disagreements and differences in interpretation).
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr, 2011 2:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Mr. Curtis. And I wasn't trying to disqualify missile troops, I just wasn't interested in their equipment as much as that of melee infantry. Happy
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William P




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2011 2:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i would like to ask about the prevelence of metallic armour (more specifically maille since that was the main armour type for them) during the viking period (800-1000AD) in scandinavia, and/ or anglo saxon england.

ive heard figures something like there being maybe 1 person in a thousand, or even as low as one in 5000 combatants from my fellow reenactors (varangian guardsmen) ill be honest i cant remember the exact figure but itw as ridiculously low
i however find such a low prevalence a bit hard to swallow
was maille armour really that expensive and/or uncommon?
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2011 8:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William P wrote:
i would like to ask about the prevelence of metallic armour (more specifically maille since that was the main armour type for them) during the viking period (800-1000AD) in scandinavia, and/ or anglo saxon england.

ive heard figures something like there being maybe 1 person in a thousand, or even as low as one in 5000 combatants from my fellow reenactors (varangian guardsmen) ill be honest i cant remember the exact figure but itw as ridiculously low
i however find such a low prevalence a bit hard to swallow
was maille armour really that expensive and/or uncommon?


Since viking "armies" rarely exceeded 1000 or so fighting men, I don't find that assumption likely at all. At least in later times (10th-11th centuries), Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon armies were headed by a fair amount of more or less full-time professional warriors such as huskarlar, tegnar, drengar, hemtagare (pl.) etc, who would have the means to acquire mail shirts and helmets.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2011 5:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bog finds from Denmark, interpreted as deposits of battle trophies, seem to indicate that about 10 percent of a force was armored (in a mailshirt). That agrees with other estimates I've heard over the years, though I honestly don't know what sort of documentation might back that up. Probably the Saxon fyrd system was at least this good, and I would guess that professional forces like housecarls would have a higher percentage of armored men. I think 1 armored man in 10 is also indicated by requirements for Viking vessels.

I really don't think there is much to indicate that men with just spears and shields would be relegated to non-combat roles, though it was certainly normal for the more heavily armored men to be in the front ranks. I also don't think we should assume the presence of non-metallic armor unless there is some reference to it, such as in the 12th and 13th century Assize of Arms. Viking-era lists and stories all talk about helmets and shields and mail, with almost nothing that can be positively identified as organic armor.

So yes, I agree that 1 in 1000 is WAY too low!

Matthew
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2011 8:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm. Ran across a blog post with several extracts from medieval illustrations of infantrymen. Apparently, if we go by the art, full armour was relatively uncommon but partial armour was very common, especially in later periods.
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William P




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2011 11:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

they also mentioned the price of a mail shirt in anglo saxon/ viking times being either 8 or 16 cows worth
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