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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > How did the medieval infantryman carry his stuff? Reply to topic
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Kuo Xie




Location: Chicago, IL
Joined: 29 Feb 2012

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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2015 11:37 am    Post subject: How did the medieval infantryman carry his stuff?         Reply with quote

Please forgive this somewhat rambling question on the logistics of medieval camp life. I've always wondered how the medieval foot soldier carried his gear around. Of course most of the army supplies are transported on wagons in the baggage train, but what items did the medieval soldier carry on his person, and how did he do it? Stuff like bedroll, rations, spare clothes, plunder, personal effects, etc. I've never seen a medieval backpack in a museum but they certainly must have existed, right?

For those infantrymen who had personally owned armor, where was it stored when not being worn? I wouldn't like to trust an expensive mail shirt or helm to a baggage cart where any other light fingered soldier could filch it. On the other hand, if a soldier functions as an archer, does he march with bow/crossbow in hand and a bag of arrows or does he leave that stuff with the baggage and draw ammo only when battle is imminent?

How do these guys carry their food and cooking equipment? At what level of the army are the cookpots, tripods, portable ovens, etc. organized? Is there a centralized commissary or do smaller units handle their own cooking? For that matter, what proportion of the rations come from an actual logistics train, vs. scrounged from the surrounding land?

I'm not talking about knights or mounted men-at-arms, here. I assume if you were rich enough to afford horse and armor, you could also afford personal baggage animals and/or personal servants to take care of your gear.

I know that there is not going to be one answer that covers the entire Middle Ages, but I would appreciate any info on specific times and places or reading recommendations you can give me.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2015 12:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's not precisely medieval but there is a lot of information (and a lot of period images) covering this for the context of Landsknechts.

One thing seems to be having your girlfriend or camp follower carrying stuff for you












More seriously, Landsknechts, and earlier incarnations of similar mercenaries, were pretty well organized. Theft from another soldier probably wasn't unheard of but would be punished severely (execution) and therefore pretty rare. But there was a lot of specialization for people to keep track of things like supplies, food, ammunition, and so on.. there was even a 'whores sergeant' in most Landsknecht companies who was in charge of the prostitutes and camp followers. A lot of gear was carried in the wagons, sometimes even the main weapons like the pikes (and in some famous cases this caused problems). I think generally though most soldiers carried their own main weapons and the equivalent of a few shots worth of ammunition, this depended on which army in which place.

As far as personal individual kit like purse, bedroll, eating spoon and so on, some re-enactors can probably help more than I can.

If you look at the 15th Century Swiss Chronicles, like this one, you'll find a lot of portrayals of their supplies and kit, which seem to be well organized. There are some depictions of things like distributing ammunition, making things like flaming crossbow bolts, and feeding the troops, distributing pay, field kitchens and everything.

http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/bbb/Mss-hh-I0001/13

There are also a lot of pretty detailed records from Burgundy on soldiers kit and supplies and so on from the 14th and 15th Centuries. You might want to look for companies of ordinance. Some of the Osprey books give you some visual representations of this kind of stuff.

From the images I've seen the individual soldiers don't seem to be marching with a ton of kit, in the way modern infantrymen sometimes are, but just armor, weapons, and maybe water. Looks like most of the other stuff goes in the wagons.

For an example of what goes in the wagons,

..."a small army from Regensburg on campaign in 1431. The force which consisted of 73 horsemen, 71 crossbowmen, 16 handgunners, and a mixed group of smiths, leatherworkers, a chaplain, pike-makers, tailors, cooks, and butchers, for
248 men in total.

They brought 6 cannon, 300 lbs of cannonballs and 200 lbs of lead shot. Forty one wagons carried powder and lead, 6,000 crossbow bolts, 300 fire-bolts, 19 handguns, cowhides, tents, and horse fodder for six weeks. Supplies for the 248 men included ninety head of oxen, 900 lbs of cooked meat, 900 lbs of lard, 1200 pieces of cheese, 80 stock-fish, 56 lbs of uncut candles, vinegar, olive oil, pepper, saffron, ginger, 2 tuns and 73 “kilderkins” of Austrian wine, and 138 “kilderkins” of beer. The total cost of this campaign was 838 guilders..."





Jean

System D'Armes Historical European fencing in New Orleans

Essays on Hroarr

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Wed 13 May, 2015 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pepper and Saffron? The stuff brought into Europe on a camels back?

As for the infantryman. It's quite likely he could wear most of his armor while on the march, of course no one likes carrying things so it is within the realm of possibility that he dumped parts of his gear on a wagon if he could.

As far as I am aware the majority of medieval soldiers had to provide food for themselves during a campaign which would mean they bought it from the supply train of merchants, cooks and butchers following the army. Maybe there were occasions in which a central supply system was established but I am not aware of it. A soldier would carry money with him to buy food and whatnot at his army camp/lodging. An eating knife and perhaps a wooden cup/bowl and a canteen were carried by soldiers from the Roman empire to modern day and I see no evidence suggesting medieval soldiers didn't carry their personal eating utensils.

I do not know if a modern day backpack design with two shoulder straps was around in the medieval period. Landsknecht era depictions do show solid frames being used to carry goods such as this one, however I cannot determine how many straps are used.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-rMNK6F69qI8/Uzs_q5I...Train.jpeg

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-T2hqJB_lWVA/Uzs_o4V...an+(2).jpg

There is also pictorial evidence from this period showing snapsacks which have one strap and are worn diagonally over the shoulder.

Loot division was sometimes stipulated in a contract and sometimes it wasn't, it really varied and of course some just hid what they looted. However hiding a silver platter/chandelier is harder than hiding a few coins which can be carried on your person. If one couldn't carry loot himself and could not arrange transport than there was always the option of selling your loot to the merchants accompanying the army, though the sum it would fetch could be lower than the real price.

Quote:
Also, the people within the town were all but destroyed by the great famine which prevailed in the said city. For the water, running in a fine stream, which used to pass through the city, was dammed up and withheld from them, so that neither horse nor other beast was retained alive in all the said city; for so closely were they pent within the city, and so great was the famine, that the quarter of wheat was worth four pounds sterling, the quarter of oats two marks, a hen’s egg six pence, and two onions one penny. And as for our people besieging it without, throughout all the host of the King of England they had so great a plenty of victuals, wine, bread, and flesh of every kind, that nothing was wanting; praised be sweet Jesus Christ therefore.


Quote:
And the same day, the Count of Henaud took a great force with him, and rode to forage full twenty miles in the land beyond the siege, and took great prey in beasts belonging to France, and slew men-at-arms in great numbers, and took six-and-twenty of the most valiant knights whom Philip de Valois at that time had, and had them taken as prisoners to the King of England; beasts and provisions also without number. For a person might then have had a good beeve for forty pence, a swine for eighteen pence, a mutton for twelve pence, bread and wine in great plenty ; blessed be God therefore!


Both bits are talking about the same siege. You can see how scarcity and abundance inside and outside of the besieged city affects prices. Apparently you could buy a mutton for twelve pence outside and the besiegers camp while inside the city that same money would buy you two eggs.

Looting the countryside for food and loot was a standard mode of operation of medieval armies unless you were fighting on friendly terrain. It fed and paid your own army while causing economic damage to the enemy. Sometimes rich pickings could be had like stated above and sometimes armies starved for lack of food. I found it hard to determine exactly how much food was taken along by armies. Four footed self propelling ration packets provided fresh meat and don't require wagons to carry it. Grain, wine, salted beef, meat and fish need to be carried along. In terms of weight expect a soldiers daily food requirements to weigh in at 1.5-2 kgs per day per soldiers (not counting horses). A modern draft horse on a paved surface might be able to draw three times his body weight on wheels. A WWII german horse in Russia managed a 1:1 ratio of bodyweight to draw weight, American civil war artillery horses roughly the same. I dug through a few actual and some questionable sources on german and american civil war supply horses since we have a few numbers on those. Germans made their wagon horses draw around 500 kgs of which slightly more than 300 kg was cargo space (heavy wagons?) irrespective of the type of wagon in terms of number of horses. This rather questionable statement from an article on the US civil war does seem to back those numbers up.

Quote:
The capacity of a healthy horse to pull a load was affected by a number of factors. Chief among these was the nature
of the surface over which the load was being hauled. A single horse could pull 3,000 pounds 20 to 23 miles
a day over a hard-paved road. The weight dropped to 1,900 pounds over a macadamized road, and went down to 1,100 pounds
over rough ground. The pulling ability was further reduced by one-half if a horse carried a rider on its back.
Finally, as the number of horses in a team increased, the pulling capacity of each horse was further reduced.
A horse in a team of six had only seven-ninths the pulling capacity it would have had in a team of two.
The goal was that each horse’s share of the load should be no more than 700 pounds.
This was less than what a healthy horse, even carrying a rider and hitched into a team of six,
could pull, but it furnished a safety factor that allowed for fatigue and losses.


If you want a workable number just go for a weight of 250-350 kg's per horse.
2 kgs of solid foodstuff per day and 5 kgs of dry fodder per horse per day.
Want to keep 20.000 men in the field with 3000 cavalry for fifteen days? That's gonna take 2750 horses + accompanying wagons, wagoners, farriers and food for those horses themselves.
And that is without the tents, artillery, camp followers, merchants etc.

It's the reality of pre-train land transport. Napoleon and Frederick the Great went to war with each soldier carrying 3-4 days of rations and around 10 days of rations on wagons. When in enemy territory you would have to bring in new rations or get them locally.

I kinda lost track of where I was going but don't expect a medieval army carrying a month worth of food along if they are traveling overland. Bellum se ipsum alet was the way things were when an army couldn't rely on food magazines.
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Kuo Xie




Location: Chicago, IL
Joined: 29 Feb 2012

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PostPosted: Fri 15 May, 2015 3:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
there was even a 'whores sergeant' in most Landsknecht companies who was in charge of the prostitutes and camp followers.


Probably one of those jobs that's not nearly as fun as it sounds.

Quote:
A lot of gear was carried in the wagons, sometimes even the main weapons like the pikes (and in some famous cases this caused problems)


Jean, do you have a source in mind when you say this? I'd love to read up on medieval/renaissance battles where the nitty gritty of supply problems caused major swings in the battle.


Quote:
If you want a workable number just go for a weight of 250-350 kg's per horse.
2 kgs of solid foodstuff per day and 5 kgs of dry fodder per horse per day.
Want to keep 20.000 men in the field with 3000 cavalry for fifteen days? That's gonna take 2750 horses + accompanying wagons, wagoners, farriers and food for those horses themselves.
And that is without the tents, artillery, camp followers, merchants etc.


Pieter, in undergrad I remember reading about a thought experiment describing food transportation which made the same point: if you have an ox pulling a grain wagon, eventually you reach a point where the ox has eaten all the grain in the wagon, which sets a very hard upper limit for the operating range of pre-industrial armies. Thanks for the hard numbers to back up this idea.

Thanks guys for the very informative responses.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun, 2015 5:26 pm    Post subject: Re: How did the medieval infantryman carry his stuff?         Reply with quote

Kuo Xie wrote:
I've never seen a medieval backpack in a museum but they certainly must have existed, right?


Not really. We see a fair number of bags/sacks with one shoulder strap in medieval paintings and miniatures (as Pieter has mentioned already). But these generally weren't very big, and carrying tents or bedding inside them would have been out of the question. Now, we do have one small and unclear depiction of a bag with a pair of shoulder-straps like a modern backpack (I think I first saw it in the Company of Saynt George's Dragon -- try checking out their website for a downloadable PDF), but given the rarity in art it's probably safer to assume that it wasn't common in real life either. And then we have large open-topped baskets with a pair of backpack-style straps but these were worn by labourers (and occasionally camp followers), not soldiers.

Never forget that soldiers always try to get away with carrying as little as they can. If you were in a mechanised unit today, you'd leave your pack with the vehicles as often as possible. And on the other hand, the medieval person wasn't really that "outdoorsy;" carrying heavy loads on one's back was only done over relatively short distances (think porters moving stuff around in the city), and if significant loads were to be transported then it was more common to hire a wagon or a pack animal.


Quote:
For those infantrymen who had personally owned armor, where was it stored when not being worn? I wouldn't like to trust an expensive mail shirt or helm to a baggage cart where any other light fingered soldier could filch it.


Then pay the baggage attendant to keep an eye on it. Or march right next to the wagon so that you could keep an eye on it (especially if discipline was loose enough to let you straggle around a little and pick your own place in the marching column rather than having to stay in formation most of the time). Or both.


Quote:
On the other hand, if a soldier functions as an archer, does he march with bow/crossbow in hand and a bag of arrows or does he leave that stuff with the baggage and draw ammo only when battle is imminent?


Both. Archers carried quivers or arrow bags, but in many cases they could also expect periodic resupply from the rear.


Quote:
I'm not talking about knights or mounted men-at-arms, here. I assume if you were rich enough to afford horse and armor, you could also afford personal baggage animals and/or personal servants to take care of your gear.


And if you were rich enough to afford the equipment to be a soldier at all, then there's a fair likelihood that you had enough spare money to pitch in and hire a wagon (along with the necessary animals, servants, and teamsters) with several other fellow soldiers. So try not to gamble it all away at the first instance.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun, 2015 5:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Maybe there were occasions in which a central supply system was established but I am not aware of it.


It was often attempted -- with varying degrees of success. Try this book by Michael Prestwich, which details how the royal administration tried to organise recruitment and supply under the reigns of Edward I, II, and III of England.

https://books.google.com/books?id=Z1LQm6fjHdkC&pg=PA45&lpg=PA45&dq=three+edwards+supply+recruitment&source=bl&ots=0t8XyXHyvl&sig=iEhsFFaFNtN_IpwfsBUnHjhlRO4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=g2SDVaShLsnGuAT6zoCIBQ&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 19 Jun, 2015 4:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Pieter B. wrote:
Maybe there were occasions in which a central supply system was established but I am not aware of it.


It was often attempted -- with varying degrees of success. Try this book by Michael Prestwich, which details how the royal administration tried to organise recruitment and supply under the reigns of Edward I, II, and III of England.

https://books.google.com/books?id=Z1LQm6fjHdkC&pg=PA45&lpg=PA45&dq=three+edwards+supply+recruitment&source=bl&ots=0t8XyXHyvl&sig=iEhsFFaFNtN_IpwfsBUnHjhlRO4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=g2SDVaShLsnGuAT6zoCIBQ&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA


So there were attempts to setup (forward) supply depots.

I always thought that in rich lands such as England and France there was enough food to be gotten from the countryside.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Fri 19 Jun, 2015 5:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Usually it involved a lot of:

"Hey woman/servant/slave! Hurry up with my stuff and don't drop anything."

Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen and Sword Books
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