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Dashiell Harrison




Location: California
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 1:40 am    Post subject: Combat effectiveness of Early Modern Civic Militias         Reply with quote

I've recently started reading Anne Tlusty's The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany and I was somewhat surprised by her assertion that civic militias were totally ineffective at defending their towns from attack, despite the numerous ordinances in these towns compelling the citizens to keep and bear arms. Is this consistent with other people's impressions?

The only battle from the period involving a large militia force that I can think of off the top of my head (Hemmingstedt, 1500) was a victory for the militia, but Dithsmarchen seems to have had a particularly strong militia tradition, as well as enjoying a substantial terrain advantage.

Can anyone else think of some good examples of German civic militias in combat between 1400 and 1700? What was the outcome? Are there any good books or articles that look at Late Medieval/Early Modern militias from a military (rather than social) historical perspective?
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Joe A




Location: Philadelphia, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 7:02 am    Post subject: Re: Combat effectiveness of Early Modern Civic Militias         Reply with quote

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
I've recently started reading Anne Tlusty's The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany and I was somewhat surprised by her assertion that civic militias were totally ineffective at defending their towns from attack, despite the numerous ordinances in these towns compelling the citizens to keep and bear arms. Is this consistent with other people's impressions?

The only battle from the period involving a large militia force that I can think of off the top of my head (Hemmingstedt, 1500) was a victory for the militia, but Dithsmarchen seems to have had a particularly strong militia tradition, as well as enjoying a substantial terrain advantage.

Can anyone else think of some good examples of German civic militias in combat between 1400 and 1700? What was the outcome? Are there any good books or articles that look at Late Medieval/Early Modern militias from a military (rather than social) historical perspective?


I think if you are serious about this interesting subject you need to look at this "holistically." A civic militia exists to defend a place, property and people from others. If they are perceived to be effective, the place will not be attacked as the goal of the attack is not just to win a battle, rather the battle is a means to an end...to control a place and its resources. A city with a weak militia would be the one forced to fight as the attackers would think they have a reasonable chance of success. My point is that the most effective civic militia is the one that never has to actually fight so anyone simply saying "civic militias were totally ineffective at defending their towns from attack" is only considering those militias that actually were attacked and those were perhaps the ones most likely to be the most ineffective in the first place.

Of course this is simplistic and war is never simple.

A good commander in the attack should never fight unless he has to to achieve his goals, and only when the chances of success are greatest so would avoid places with a strong a strong militia tradition, as well as enjoying a substantial terrain advantage if possible.

So just looking at the battles/military aspect of "German civic militias in combat between 1400 and 1700" will not really provide a good overall understanding of the subject and may lead to the wrong conclusion.

Other thoughts? Am I totally missing the point?
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Steve Fabert





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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 7:32 am    Post subject: Re: Combat effectiveness of Early Modern Civic Militias         Reply with quote

Joe A wrote:

A good commander in the attack should never fight unless he has to to achieve his goals, and only when the chances of success are greatest so would avoid places with a strong a strong militia tradition, as well as enjoying a substantial terrain advantage if possible.

So just looking at the battles/military aspect of "German civic militias in combat between 1400 and 1700" will not really provide a good overall understanding of the subject and may lead to the wrong conclusion.

Other thoughts? Am I totally missing the point?


Reputation is built on experience. Any locale whose defense force has never proved itself in combat would be unlikely to have an intimidating reputation. So at least one instance of successful defense should be expected if a militia's reputation is to be given credit for a long stretch of peaceful existence. Once a fight is lost I would expect there to be future fighting at that locale, but even one good defensive effort might establish a long period of peace.

I would never trust a statistical analysis of the frequency of successful/unsuccessful combat that seeks to compare one local force with another. Are there any locations where there was more than one instance of actual combat? Without the ability to compare the results of multiple engagements there would be no basis for any reliable conclusions.
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Joe A




Location: Philadelphia, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 7:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't disagree for the most part.

Reputation for effectiveness in any endeavor should come from some sort of concrete action in theory, an actual test within a period of time.

In the real world "reputation" can be constructed from complete lies told well, and often, even by the losing side.

Propaganda is a powerful weapon as well and need not be true to be believe, and effective.
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Steve Fabert





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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 8:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe A wrote:
I don't disagree for the most part.

Reputation for effectiveness in any endeavor should come from some sort of concrete action in theory, an actual test within a period of time.

In the real world "reputation" can be constructed from complete lies told well, and often, even by the losing side.

Propaganda is a powerful weapon as well and need not be true to be believe, and effective.


Propaganda can influence historical analysis also. If a reputation for effective defense, without any history of demonstrated effectiveness, is offered as the explanation for a period of peace I would look beyond the advertising to the other circumstances that might explain why the neighbors left the locals in peace. Sometimes having powerful friends will explain a lot more than any reputed skill at self defense, for example. Kids with big brothers don't often get beaten up by bullies. Geography can also be more important than military ability. Sometimes your police force deserves credit for a low crime rate, sometimes it's the fact that there just aren't many criminals living in your town. All of the variables should be considered together rather than assuming that the quality of the defenders is the most important factor.
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Daniel Staberg




Location: Gothenburg/Sweden
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 11:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So what evidence does Prof. Tlusty support her claim that militias were "totally ineffective" with? Which cities and towns does she use as examples of this ineffectiveness? The book is a bit too expensive to buy simply in order to research a forum reply and the only copy available in Sweden is an e-book only available to students of a particular university so interlibrary loan is not a possibility either.

I also note that there is a focus on "Civic militia", a choice which excludes Dithmarschen and the Swiss Cantons as these were either country militias (or a mixture of civic & country miltias in the case of the Swiss).

Because battles were rare in the early modern period they are not the best way to judge military effectivness, the bulk of the fighting in wars was the so called "Klein krieg" (small war) and siege warfare. Consider for example the career of the famous Maurice of Nassau, he only fought two battles in the open field that were of significant size yet was successfull in no less than 110 actions related to siege warfare.

Another factor to consider is that most civic militias were small scale forces as most towns were small or at best medieum sized. Cities that could muster large and well equipped militias were far and few between. This meant that even a few fähleins of Landsknechts were an overwhelming force in the open field simply because of their size. And even a great city like Nürnberg which was able to field thousands of well armed militia found itself outnumbered by the margrave of Bayreuth simply because the later could raise a large levy from his peasantry in addition to his cavalry and small force of Swiss & Landsknechts.

"There is nothing more hazardous than to venture a battle. One can lose it
by a thousand unforseen circumstances, even when one has thorougly taken all
precautions that the most perfect military skill allows for."
-Fieldmarshal Lennart Torstensson.
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Joe A




Location: Philadelphia, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 1:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it is important to know something about an author when such questions arise.

https://www.bucknell.edu/academics/arts-and-sciences-college-of/academic-departments-and-programs/history/faculty-and-staff/b-ann-tlusty

I for one would not take her conclusions too seriously now that I know where her focus is, and it is not military history.

She perhaps has a bias?
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Dashiell Harrison




Location: California
Joined: 14 Jun 2014

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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 4:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Daniel Staberg wrote:
So what evidence does Prof. Tlusty support her claim that militias were "totally ineffective" with? Which cities and towns does she use as examples of this ineffectiveness? The book is a bit too expensive to buy simply in order to research a forum reply and the only copy available in Sweden is an e-book only available to students of a particular university so interlibrary loan is not a possibility either.

I also note that there is a focus on "Civic militia", a choice which excludes Dithmarschen and the Swiss Cantons as these were either country militias (or a mixture of civic & country miltias in the case of the Swiss).

Because battles were rare in the early modern period they are not the best way to judge military effectivness, the bulk of the fighting in wars was the so called "Klein krieg" (small war) and siege warfare. Consider for example the career of the famous Maurice of Nassau, he only fought two battles in the open field that were of significant size yet was successfull in no less than 110 actions related to siege warfare.

Another factor to consider is that most civic militias were small scale forces as most towns were small or at best medieum sized. Cities that could muster large and well equipped militias were far and few between. This meant that even a few fähleins of Landsknechts were an overwhelming force in the open field simply because of their size. And even a great city like Nürnberg which was able to field thousands of well armed militia found itself outnumbered by the margrave of Bayreuth simply because the later could raise a large levy from his peasantry in addition to his cavalry and small force of Swiss & Landsknechts.


That's the weird thing about it, she doesn't offer any examples, she just says the consensus among military historians is that civic militias weren't able to defend their towns. Then she moves on to focus on the social history that clearly interests her more, which I found rather disappointing in a book that I've been told several times is a must-read for anyone interested in martial culture from the period.

As for battles versus other forms of warfare, I did ask for examples of 'combat' rather than 'battles'. I suppose maybe I should have said 'warfare'. I'm aware that battles were rare in the period, I'd be interested in looking at examples of sieges, skirmishes, or campaigns involving militia as well, really anything that examined them from a military historical point of view.
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Steve Fabert





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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 4:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe A wrote:
I think it is important to know something about an author when such questions arise.

https://www.bucknell.edu/academics/arts-and-sciences-college-of/academic-departments-and-programs/history/faculty-and-staff/b-ann-tlusty

I for one would not take her conclusions too seriously now that I know where her focus is, and it is not military history.

She perhaps has a bias?


Back when I took courses from politically correct professors there was a bias in favor of militias versus professional military organizations. Popular self-defense forces were the favorites of Marxist historians back in the 1970s. Despite evidence from the Spanish Civil War that modern "People's Militias" are militarily pretty useless they held to the dogma that every bunch of illiterate peasants were the equivalent of the Viet Cong as long as they were fighting for Social Justice. Maybe the feminists now have a different bias than the Marxists did. Sounds like she's ready to write them all off as no more dangerous than a bunch of drunken frat boys.
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Joe A




Location: Philadelphia, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 5:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm sorry for hijacking your thread Dashiell, it was just too interesting to me to not say something.

"That's the weird thing about it, she doesn't offer any examples, she just says the consensus among military historians is that civic militias weren't able to defend their towns. Then she moves on to focus on the social history that clearly interests her more, which I found rather disappointing in a book that I've been told several times is a must-read for anyone interested in martial culture from the period. "

Does she have any foot or end notes to support her claim?

I volunteer in a large archaeological museum, in the Greek Gallery, and frankly have stopped asking most of the professional staff any questions regarding the arms and armor depicted on countless vases, some world renowned. They are experts in many things related to ancient Greek material culture, ancient art and the technical aspects of making the pottery and of course how to interpret it as an object in situ, but almost none have a good appreciation or understanding for the actual helmets, swords, shields, body armor...etc. let alone how any of the stuff was actually used. That's just not what is popular today, gender studies are and for the most part seem to be a component of a broader critique of Western Masculinity that is all the rage here in the US on many college campuses.

So, I am not surprised the book we are discussing was recommended and I'm guessing not by military historians correct?

For information I can not find myself I go to places like myArmoury and a few others.
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Dashiell Harrison




Location: California
Joined: 14 Jun 2014

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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2018 5:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't want to get too much into politics, but I will say that her book isn't especially negative or critical towards Western Masculinity. I'm not terribly interested in gender studies, but there's nothing in it that I've run into so far that seems to reflect an anti-masculine bias.
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Dashiell Harrison




Location: California
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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2018 12:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In fact I would say the book is a very interesting social history. I've learned quite a bit about some of the nuances of laws and cultural attitudes regarding weapon laws and fights, it's just not as big on military historical information as I was hoping it would be.
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Apr, 2018 5:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If the statement isn't footnoted with refererences to the military historians in question then the the reported "consensus" needs to be taken with a significant pinch of salt. As always the devil is in the details, for example what is the militia supposed to defend against? Even a powerfull city like Nürnberg could clearly get into trouble if it engaged in warfare in the open field without bolstering it's resources. On the otherhand it was perfect capable of defending the city walls against ordinary threats given that it was well supplied with artillery and it's burghers soon aquired an impressive array of firearms. (In 1508 Nürnberg could muster 4707 militiamen, of these 3307 had firearms.)

But most militias were much smaller, in 1578 Ochsenfurt could only field 243 men: 76 with "haken" (a heavy arquebus) & pistol, 88 with halb-haken (arquebus) 57 with spears ("federspeissen"), 5 with pikes and 17 with halberds. Nearby Eibelstad only fielded 182. Enough to hold of marauders and bands of out of work soldiers but not enough to withstand army size attacks unless they had good fortifications and preferably support from regular troops as well.

"There is nothing more hazardous than to venture a battle. One can lose it
by a thousand unforseen circumstances, even when one has thorougly taken all
precautions that the most perfect military skill allows for."
-Fieldmarshal Lennart Torstensson.
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Tianhong Yu





Joined: 12 Jul 2016

Posts: 10

PostPosted: Sat 07 Apr, 2018 11:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Daniel Staberg wrote:
If the statement isn't footnoted with refererences to the military historians in question then the the reported "consensus" needs to be taken with a significant pinch of salt. As always the devil is in the details, for example what is the militia supposed to defend against? Even a powerfull city like Nürnberg could clearly get into trouble if it engaged in warfare in the open field without bolstering it's resources. On the otherhand it was perfect capable of defending the city walls against ordinary threats given that it was well supplied with artillery and it's burghers soon aquired an impressive array of firearms. (In 1508 Nürnberg could muster 4707 militiamen, of these 3307 had firearms.)

But most militias were much smaller, in 1578 Ochsenfurt could only field 243 men: 76 with "haken" (a heavy arquebus) & pistol, 88 with halb-haken (arquebus) 57 with spears ("federspeissen"), 5 with pikes and 17 with halberds. Nearby Eibelstad only fielded 182. Enough to hold of marauders and bands of out of work soldiers but not enough to withstand army size attacks unless they had good fortifications and preferably support from regular troops as well.


What's the difference between "federspeissen" and pike?
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Apr, 2018 12:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tianhong Yu wrote:


What's the difference between "federspeissen" and pike?

Well, to start with the lenght is quite different as one is a type of spear, the other a pike, the point is of diffrent shape and make. The "federspeiss" also have "feder" on the shaft, i.e the metal strip used to reinforce the shaft which are known as "langets" in English. Pikes were both made with and without langets.

It is not easy to indentify "federspeissen" among surviving weapons as the documentation may simply have listed them as "speiss" (a word also used for actual pikes in german as the pike was the "langspeiss" i.e long spear) The armoury at Graz have a number of robust spears which may have been considered "federspeissen" but the records do not use that word for them. You can see one in this picture to the left of the massive glaive http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/attachment.php?...&stc=1

"There is nothing more hazardous than to venture a battle. One can lose it
by a thousand unforseen circumstances, even when one has thorougly taken all
precautions that the most perfect military skill allows for."
-Fieldmarshal Lennart Torstensson.
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Tianhong Yu





Joined: 12 Jul 2016

Posts: 10

PostPosted: Sat 07 Apr, 2018 1:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Daniel Staberg wrote:
Tianhong Yu wrote:


What's the difference between "federspeissen" and pike?

Well, to start with the lenght is quite different as one is a type of spear, the other a pike, the point is of diffrent shape and make. The "federspeiss" also have "feder" on the shaft, i.e the metal strip used to reinforce the shaft which are known as "langets" in English. Pikes were both made with and without langets.

It is not easy to indentify "federspeissen" among surviving weapons as the documentation may simply have listed them as "speiss" (a word also used for actual pikes in german as the pike was the "langspeiss" i.e long spear) The armoury at Graz have a number of robust spears which may have been considered "federspeissen" but the records do not use that word for them. You can see one in this picture to the left of the massive glaive http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/attachment.php?...&stc=1


So...in the picture from left to right Long Spear (pike) Short Spear (Federspeiss) Glaive Kurzspiess short spear(Federspeiss again?) ...Am I right?
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Sat 07 Apr, 2018 1:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The last two "short spears"/kurzspeiss are not federspeiss as they have no "feder"/langets protecting the shaft.
"There is nothing more hazardous than to venture a battle. One can lose it
by a thousand unforseen circumstances, even when one has thorougly taken all
precautions that the most perfect military skill allows for."
-Fieldmarshal Lennart Torstensson.
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