Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Alcoholism amongst medieval soldiery Reply to topic
This is a standard topic Go to page 1, 2  Next 
Author Message
Tom King




Location: florida
Joined: 11 Sep 2009
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 416

PostPosted: Fri 20 Sep, 2013 11:02 pm    Post subject: Alcoholism amongst medieval soldiery         Reply with quote

I'm wondering about the frequency of alcoholism amongst dark ages, high medieval, and renaissance soldiers. Certain authors of historical fiction have addressed the concept, such as bernard cornwell, but are there any historical sources detailing things such as the historical nature of the English's alcoholism during the hundred years war (frequently talked about, but with little documentation to back it up)? I will not confirm or deny whether i have currently partaken at the time of posting this thread, but lets just say i feel rather energized, have done a few dozen (per exercise) pushups and squats despite my protesting muscles, and have been shadowboxing the walls; It seems like being "uninhibited" through light drink may have been an advantage in medieval warfare. Obviously it would be grossly irresponsible in modern reenactment combat, but in historical warfare "courage derived from a bottle" may have been commonplace on the battlefield (but is there conclusive evidence?).

Semi related is the quasi historical assertion that beer , mead, and other alcoholic drinks were the beverage of choice from practically infancy due to the unsuitability of water as a beverage thanks to e coli and various other water born illnesses; I've seen "evidence" going both ways on the issue, but nothing conclusive.

View user's profile Send private message
M Boyd




Location: Northern Midlands, Tasmania
Joined: 16 Aug 2013

Posts: 61

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 12:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's an interesting line of thought.
I wonder if it will be worth looking into the origins of the term "Dutch courage?"

Myself, I have experienced an increased ability to ... read an opponant's movements when just slightly pissy.
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
William Swiger




Location: Reston, VA
Joined: 23 Feb 2011
Likes: 50 pages
Reading list: 9 books

Posts: 442

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 1:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Modern militaries have experimented with certain drugs to see if there were any positive uses for soldiers on the battlefield. Have read they also experimented on civilian populations to see the effects caused.
View user's profile Send private message
Steven Lussenburg





Joined: 20 May 2013

Posts: 19

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 1:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M Boyd wrote:
That's an interesting line of thought.
I wonder if it will be worth looking into the origins of the term "Dutch courage?"

Myself, I have experienced an increased ability to ... read an opponant's movements when just slightly pissy.
Afaik, the term "Dutch courage" comes from the Dutch-English trade wars (The Dutch Wars in English, the English Wars in Dutch). Like the other most charming expressions as double Dutch, Dutch widow and going Dutch.

In regards to the OP, most people were used to drinking (very light) beer most of the time, so I guess soldiers were not an exception. I am not sure though if they were sent into combat drunk. It could have happened, but would depend very much on the supplies available.

(Although the description of the Austrian grenadier in the encyclopaedia of the game Cossacks II does claim that they got a few extra shots of brandy before combat, but I have no clue how reliable this is as a source).
View user's profile Send private message
M Boyd




Location: Northern Midlands, Tasmania
Joined: 16 Aug 2013

Posts: 61

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 2:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steven Lussenburg wrote:
Afaik, the term "Dutch courage" comes from the Dutch-English trade wars (The Dutch Wars in English, the English Wars in Dutch). Like the other most charming expressions as double Dutch, Dutch widow and going Dutch.

In regards to the OP, most people were used to drinking (very light) beer most of the time, so I guess soldiers were not an exception. I am not sure though if they were sent into combat drunk. It could have happened, but would depend very much on the supplies available.

(Although the description of the Austrian grenadier in the encyclopaedia of the game Cossacks II does claim that they got a few extra shots of brandy before combat, but I have no clue how reliable this is as a source).

Yes, but it means to get drunk enough to do some difficult task.
In the early wars of the 20C Australian soldiers received a tot of rum as part of their breakfast ration. In WWII the army recruited with the promise of "two beers, per man, per day. " to which the soldiers added "...perhaps."

I don't know what happens currently- probably dry and politically correct.
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Daniel Wallace




Location: Pennsylvania USA
Joined: 07 Aug 2011

Posts: 580

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 8:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i don't think you would want to encourage your men to 'drink' before an engagement. true when your buzzed you feel bullet proof, (i can't shoot pool wroth crap until I've had at least 2 beers) but, that's hardly the case i think.

i think a dulled lack of scenes in a place where you need to have all of them is a pretty bad decision. i know we're not talking about being totally plastered on the field, more of an idea of 'drink two of these - and go smash that guys head in.' something that would make any sober person cringe to even think about, but this also may not be hitting any mark. the ways soldiers deal with combat trauma is personal through any time period and i wouldn't expect any combat vet to speak about it.

being drunk on the field probably caught you some discipline by any commanding officer. i can't draw on much evidence, but my opinion on the idea would be that if you were the officer in charge, you'd do your best to make sure your solders do not indulge at the beginning of the day, but by the evening and the end of the march, you would relax that rule a little.
View user's profile Send private message
Philip Dyer





Joined: 25 Jul 2013

Posts: 482

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 9:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Daniel Wallace wrote:
i don't think you would want to encourage your men to 'drink' before an engagement. true when your buzzed you feel bullet proof, (i can't shoot pool wroth crap until I've had at least 2 beers) but, that's hardly the case i think.

i think a dulled lack of scenes in a place where you need to have all of them is a pretty bad decision. i know we're not talking about being totally plastered on the field, more of an idea of 'drink two of these - and go smash that guys head in.' something that would make any sober person cringe to even think about, but this also may not be hitting any mark. the ways soldiers deal with combat trauma is personal through any time period and i wouldn't expect any combat vet to speak about it.

being drunk on the field probably caught you some discipline by any commanding officer. i can't draw on much evidence, but my opinion on the idea would be that if you were the officer in charge, you'd do your best to make sure your solders do not indulge at the beginning of the day, but by the evening and the end of the march, you would relax that rule a little.

A won't be surprised if the Medieval world equivalent of post battle PTSD therapy is get to plastered enough to forget what you did that day.
View user's profile Send private message
Tom King




Location: florida
Joined: 11 Sep 2009
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 416

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 11:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

alcohol in small amounts acts like a stimulant, whereas in large amounts it is a depressant. When in the former, I feel it could give a "boost' to a fighter without affecting coordination or the ability to follow orders, while offering the benefit (even if only perceived) of increased confidence, martial skill, strength, and pain resistance.

But until someone can pull up a treatise, account, or edda detailing such it is all just speculation. The 19th and 20th century accounts do make you wonder if the practice was around beforehand.
View user's profile Send private message
Steven Janus




Location: Florida, USA
Joined: 12 Mar 2008

Posts: 185

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 9:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I somehow don't know if being drunk and fighting would be Adria legal Tom Big Grin. Though I suppose it comes with the territory. Speaking of which, can anyone here name a medieval or renaissance story that didn't involve an elaborate tavern scene with mead or wine? I can't think of any Eek!
Newbie Sword collector
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail MSN Messenger
Neal Matheson




Location: sussex UK
Joined: 08 Feb 2009
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 144

PostPosted: Sat 21 Sep, 2013 11:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Off the top opf my head (I'm just off to work) there is at least one historical account of gauls (?) being too drunk to fight effectively, the men of the Goddodin had mead as their downfall and George Silver talks of masters being able to hold the floor against resolute men and men half drunk.
Neal
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Dan K. F.




Location: Calgary, Alberta
Joined: 12 Aug 2013
Likes: 1 page

Posts: 32

PostPosted: Sun 22 Sep, 2013 9:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M Boyd wrote:

Yes, but it means to get drunk enough to do some difficult task.
In the early wars of the 20C Australian soldiers received a tot of rum as part of their breakfast ration. In WWII the army recruited with the promise of "two beers, per man, per day. " to which the soldiers added "...perhaps."

I don't know what happens currently- probably dry and politically correct.


I recall reading somewhere that the Red Army had an alcohol ration (I forget what it was but it was hard liquor which I'm assuming was vodka) as well that remained even after the Second World War. Even if the leadership was against it, did medieval armies even have the means or the luxury of policing restrictions on drinking? I doubt very many armies back then had military police corps like modern militaries do now to strictly enforce regulations. As long as your army wasn't falling down drunk I'd think more pressing concerns like finding money to pay them and keeping them all from dying of dysentery would occupy most of a medieval commander's time when he wasn't preparing for combat.
View user's profile Send private message
Bennison N




Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Joined: 06 Feb 2008
Likes: 1 page

Posts: 416

PostPosted: Sun 22 Sep, 2013 2:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There's also the fairly commonly shared fact that prior to the horrible abuse that was the Opium War, the entire nation of England drank Gin instead of Tea, and at the frequency with which they now drink Tea. Now, I realise this is possibly a later development than the Middle Ages, but it does show that the use of alcohol was far more widespread than it is even now, even in the early and mid 19th century.

I've certainly heard claim that the Brit troops drank "Genever" in the Eighty Years War, and that the earliest references to Genever are in the 13th century, with the earliest printed recipe from the 16th.

I know this doesn't really answer the question, but I finally knew something, so I just had add it. Cool

"Never give a sword to a man who can't dance" - Confucius

अजयखड्गधारी
View user's profile Send private message
Sean Flynt
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Joined: 21 Aug 2003
Likes: 10 pages
Reading list: 13 books

Spotlight topics: 7
Posts: 5,864

PostPosted: Mon 23 Sep, 2013 7:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Do I remember correctly that the kind of beer and wine we're talking about as an medieval military ration had relatively low alcohol content? Maybe I'm just imagining that.
-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Mike Janis




Location: Atlanta GA
Joined: 26 Feb 2007

Posts: 27

PostPosted: Mon 23 Sep, 2013 7:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In 1983 I spent time with the French Army. It was “off the books” as supposedly the French were not involved militarily with NATO at the time. At breakfast the French soldiers got breakfast (hard bread, coffee or hot chocolate), an MRE type box for lunch and two Jucy-Jucy type boxes of red wine. We were given two instructions before we went: 1. To fully fit in and do what the French soldiers did and 2. We were never there. Our chain of command about crapped themselves when they saw breakfast and realized the ramifications of #1.
MikeJ
View user's profile Send private message
Philip Dyer





Joined: 25 Jul 2013

Posts: 482

PostPosted: Mon 23 Sep, 2013 10:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Flynt wrote:
Do I remember correctly that the kind of beer and wine we're talking about as an medieval military ration had relatively low alcohol content? Maybe I'm just imagining that.

Yeah I've heard the same thing to about cowboys. Supposedly the reason they could spend all their spare time drinking and gambling and still be able to shoot is because most bars served watered down alcohol or grog, which is basically water with alcohol mixed in so that you won't get sick from it.
View user's profile Send private message
Radovan Geist




Location: Slovakia
Joined: 19 Aug 2010
Likes: 5 pages

Posts: 358

PostPosted: Mon 23 Sep, 2013 10:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most history books I have read on that topic (or that have mentioned that topic) contend that a large amount of alcoholic beverages were drunk in middle ages and early modern period. However, these had relatively small amounts of alcohol. See for example Richard W. Unger: Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance or A. Lynn Martin: Alcohol, Sex, and Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe for medieval and early modern period, or two interesting books by Peter Englund on 17th century wars in north-eastern Europe (Years of War, Invincible). Englund gives an interesting account how a tolerant attitude towards alcohol changed in the later 17th century, after a wave of alcoholism caused by hard alcohol drinking that came from eastern Europe (obviously, spirits were known before, in Central and Western Europe, but according to Englund were not commonly drunk).
Also, there is an interesting book by Massimo Montanari (I have it only in Czech translation, and not here with me, so I don´t know the original name; I guess it could be easily googled) which deals generally with eating & drinking patterns, culture etc. in Europe since late antiquity to modern period, with emphasis on Middle Ages. It is highly intriguing and also traces how (and why) did the permissive attitude towards "soft" alcohol (meaning beer and wine) changed in west-northern Europe in modern period, and why it did not change that much in South European countries. I can only recommend that.
However, with the exception of Englund´s works none of that deals specifically with soldiers, but it gives at least a general pattern.
Also, just out of curiosity, when I was googling for an exact name of Montarari´s book, I found this: http://books.google.sk/books?id=1jW1Yl07XwgC&...mp;f=false Looks interesting Happy
View user's profile Send private message
Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 24 Sep, 2013 1:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've spoken with Dr. Unger at UBC, and asked him about inebriation and the upper classes. My question was something along the lines of, "Since noblemen were drinking alcohol frequently in the Middle Ages, would it be reasonable to assume that many of them would be mildly to moderately drunk during the day?" His answer was, in his view (and I don't think we have much by way of sources to substantiate this) that yes, this probably was the case.

Remember, Unger's book also mentions that there could be large degrees of fluctuations in alcohol content. Going from memory alone, I believe he cites alcohol content ranging from 0.1 percent per volume to as high as around 13 percent. While a lot of medieval beer was probably around 0.5% to 4% (these are my figures, not from sources), we need to be aware that it could be and was substantially higher than this too.
View user's profile Send private message
Radovan Geist




Location: Slovakia
Joined: 19 Aug 2010
Likes: 5 pages

Posts: 358

PostPosted: Tue 24 Sep, 2013 2:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You have made a very good point on fluctuating alcohol content in drinks such as beer, wine etc. My impression was that besides some purely incidental factors, it was also caused by differing "purposes" of these drinks - those with milder alcohol content would be drunk during the day, basically as a substitute of water, stronger ones for special occasions (feasts, dinners etc). But I have to admit that I have built this impression mostly on Englund´s books (and I think it was also mentioned by Montarari), so I could be well wrong. Maybe culture, local availability, or purely incidental production-related factors played major role.
Having said that, two liters of mild beer or wine would make people mildly drunk, even if they were used to it.
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 931

PostPosted: Tue 24 Sep, 2013 4:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You know, I'd think moderate daily alcohol consumption would mostly just build up your tolerance rather than keep you perpetually tipsy. Especially with the sub-1% alcohol contents most people I know of assume for daily drinking.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
D. S. Smith




Location: Central CA
Joined: 02 Oct 2011

Posts: 221

PostPosted: Tue 24 Sep, 2013 8:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can see a moderate amount of alcohol as being both beneficial and detrimental to a medieval soldier. It can make you less susceptible to blunt trauma since your body is more languid, as in the classic example of why DUI drivers are often less injured in a crash than the sober motorists they run into.

On the other hand, it is a proven fact that even a very small amount of alcohol (1 beer) significantly increases your perception and reaction time, which I could see as being very detrimental on the battlefield.

Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them,
In the halls of Valhalla!
Where the brave may live forever!
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Alcoholism amongst medieval soldiery
Page 1 of 2 Reply to topic
Go to page 1, 2  Next All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum