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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Dec, 2005 4:43 am    Post subject: Battle Durations and Fatigue         Reply with quote

How long, on average did a Ancient/ Medieval battle last, or is there an average? Is there an average? Are there any accounts of armies routing in twenty minutes? (professional armies, not peasant rabble) I've heard of battles that rage from sunup to sundown, but I would think that to be the exception rather than the rule; otherwise it would be hardly worth noting.

Obviously, fighting is very tiring, even to a conditioned fighter. Even at peak physical condition, I can't recall ever fighting for more that two or three hours continuously, and that was usually prelude to a very long siesta. Even fighting with spears, which is relatively energy efficient, gets tiring eventually. What measures, if any, would be taken to deal with fatigue on ancient battlefields? Rotate ranks? Fresh reserves? Do-or-Die?

Or was this not an issue, with battles being won or lost in a couple of hours?
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Dec, 2005 5:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Please be cautious about relying on the following information, because I don't remember exactly where I read it or whether that source was reliable. That said, I read somewhere that the Romans figured a soldier could fight for about 20 minutes before he had to be rotated out of the fight. That, according to this source, was why the Romans employed a looser formation than the Greeks, etc. By having more space, they could move men forward to replace the tired folk more easily.

Obviously this doesn't directly answer your question, as a larger army is going to be able to keep rotating more. My guess, based partly on my ability to engage in other physical activities, such as football (either American or European (both of which are rather comic displays when I am involved)) or Army physical training, would be that a battle probably couldn't last more than a couple of hours. That is just a guess, though.

Hope that at least gives you another perspective. Sorry I couldn't be more help.

-Grey

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Glen A Cleeton




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Dec, 2005 8:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It really depends on what your bottom line definition of a battle is. Some large confrontations may have taken long to stage and were over pretty quickly. Others gathered pretty quickly and lasted a long time. Would you consider a siege a battle? I don't know that you can really apply an average.

Cheers

GC
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Chris Lee




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Dec, 2005 5:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I not sure if this would be truly representative but....

I just finished watching a documentary on the History channel about the Norman invasion of England in 1066. They detailed the movements of both armies during the Battle of Hastings.

According to the show, the English began to line up on a ridge overlooking the Normans at about 7am, at about 9am the Normans began the attack with archers but that was unsuccessful due to the elevated position of the English troops. Then then moved forward and tried to break through the English "shield wall" but got no where. It was not until later, about noon if I remember correctly, that part of the Norman army, the Bretons, broke ranks and began to flee. The English in that part of the battle also broke to follow them and became cut off by Norman cavalry and were wiped out. At this point both sides took a break and regrouped. William the Conqueror then changed tactics by attacking and falling back getting parts of the English line to follow so he could again separate them and cut them down. By about 4pm, William again changed tactics and ordered his archers to fire into the air so that the arrows would rain down on the English. It was during one of these volleys that the English king Harold was struck in the eye. This demoralized the English forces and the lines began to break apart. The battle was then pretty much over by 6pm as many of the surviving English used the failing light to escape.

While I am sure of the time the battle started and reasonably sure of when it ended, I may be wrong on the exact times each part of the battle took place.

While this is only one battle in history, it seems to me that any battle of that magnitude would begin in the morning and if victory was not immediate (or virtually so) then it would continue until the loss of daylight when darkness would make it difficult or even impossible to continue. So that would be anywhere from about 10 to 14 hours depending of the time of year. (the battle of Hastings took place on October 14). Of course, if one side vastly outmatched the other, then the battle would be significantly shorter.

Chris Lee
Aurora, Ontario
Canada

PS. I checked the date and time of the start of the battle in some books that I have and they are correct.
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Dec, 2005 5:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I suspect that Hastings was one of the longer medieval battles. Both armies were of good quality; and the strategic situation made for a long battle. The Saxons could not effectively attack the Normans, so Harold's only option (tactically) was to out-last the invaders. On the other hand, for William retreat was not a good option in the face of an intact enemy. His lines of communication ran across the Channel, and winter weather was looming. William couldn't out-wait the Saxons, either. Reinforcements were steadily moving towards the Saxon army, and William lacked secure supply lines. So he couldn't stop attacking so long as it was possible.

Even good armies could be routed if attacked from ambush. This happened at least once in the early HYW, when a small English force decided to hide from a larger French army, and the English hid in a forest. The French then decided to camp next to the concealed English. Once the French were preoccupied setting up camp, the English attacked and routed the French.

My guess is that even if a battle lasted several hours, no one was continuously swinging a sword for the entire time. One reason this in unlikely that all components of an army were engaged at the same time. In later times, it is clear that Waterloo and Gettysburg were not fought continuously by any component of either army. Accounts of later battles and modern sporting events agree in that intense struggle is interrupted by lulls. For example, soccer has periods when the clock is running, the ball is in play, yet lulls do occur by mutual consent. It has been pointed out to me that modern riots show the same thing - surges of intense action followed by periods of desultory skirmishing.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2005 12:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I know Tours was an all day affair, but then, one side was is a supreme defensive posture, and the other staged a series of waves thruout the battle. This of course would make for a longer duration, and I really doubt that spears were working continuously there either. Of course the thought of milling around while your left flank crumbles is an odd one.

Speaking of routing an army while they pitch tents, wasn't there a battle where the landsknechts were beaten the exact same way? I vaguely recall that it was a tough blow to their image.

Ok so now the flip side, what are some examples of a very decisive battle? Not an ambush, just a case where one side fails catastrophically very early on.
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Malcolm A




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PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2005 4:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is my tuppence worth, although I freely admit that I have never used a sword and have no actual experience in re-enactments etc.

[a] A TV program on British Channel 4 had a small section on how long a soldier could fight for.
The soldier in question was in full plate armour and armed with a wooden practise sword.
He was fighting off 3 or 4 enemies similarly armed.
After about 2 to 3 minutes he was knackered.
It was felt that a conditioned soldier could have gone on for a while longer, perhaps up to 5 minutes before being too tired to continue effectively.
In general he soldier felt a combination of tiredness due to swinging the sword and also heat fatigue being in the armour and moving so much.

[b] In another program of that series the question of fighting in full armour came up again specifically on the subject of fighting with or without the visor in place. The guy in the program suggested that men-at-arms probably fought as pairs; the main guy fighting whoever came at him and his partner watching his back; the main guy would of course be unsighted behind him.
I can see the reasoning behind this and would suggest that fighting as a pair would allow the two guys to change role as and when required to allow them to rest between bouts of intense fighting,

[c] In an unrelated program concerning the Battle of Agincourt, experiments were done to assess how a man-at-arms foot would be affected by mud, and in particular to the mud at Agincourt.
It was found that an armoured foot would be held quite a bit by the suction of the mud which would of course make it harder to walk towards the enemy, as indeed the French men-at-arms did. This probably led to a lot of Frech maen-at-arms being tired / exhausted when the finally got close to the English.
Interestingly enough, a foot covered in typical archer's wear [cloth / leather] wasnt held so much by the mud which probably led to the bulk of the English force being relatively fresh. Especially as the Engilsh had advanced in a number of short "marches".
It would seem then reasonable to say that the length of a battle could be dictated by environmental conditions as well; a muddy battlefield could easily tire out soldiers and reduce the time that they could actually fight for and indeed make them vulnerable to quick defeat.

Please feel free to challenge any of the above.
I can't make any definitive statements due to lack of personal experience and would welcome inputs
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2005 5:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mud is definitely a killer, especially in boots (a fact not lost on Drill Sargeants Eek! ) but I would be careful about that show with the researcher getting tired in two minutes. I say this because I know the physical condition of too many researchers. Wink

I believe I saw the show about mud and Agincourt. It seemed fairly reasonable. They also pointed out that the ground sloped just enough to be advantageous to the defenders, but not exactly a pronounced hill or bluff.

Anecdotally speaking, I can fight in my SCA armor for about five minutes before I'm sucking wind, but many of the older (and not necessarily healthier) fighters can fight for twenty or thirty minutes. They have simply learned economy of motion. One can only guess at the efficiency of a Spartan, Principe, or Landsknecht. At that level of proficiency, ten hours might just become a day at the office.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2005 6:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A battle might last a whole day; FIGHTING, however, will make up only a very short portion of this.
Most of the time would be spent maneuvering and exchanging missile fire.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Hank Reinhardt
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PostPosted: Wed 21 Dec, 2005 5:08 pm    Post subject: battle duration and fatigue         Reply with quote

I don't think is possible to give an average time for any battle, medieval, ancient or modern. Each battle is differenct from all others. Some might be short, some could last for h ours, and others for days. What is important for us moderns to realize is the difference in the fatigue factor. That will also change with each battle depending on the individuals fighting, their health, the time in the field, and their supplies. But do not judge what was done in the past by what we can do today. Back in the 70's I was in excellent condition, and made it a point to run two miles a night wearing a 33 pound mail shirt I had made. I had fought in some of our local tournements, and had fought all day, from 9am to 7pm, with breaks for lunch. I was tired, but felt great. But I was only playing, it is not the same when your life is on the line. An example that sh ould be noted. When I was in Nepal, Sudhir and I were having lunch, and I was wtaching some Sherpa workers. They were little guys, about 5'3", 140, or in the range. They were hoisting up 150 lbs bags of cement on their backs, then walking it up a 250 yard incline of about 20 degrees, dropping it off, and walking down and getting another. On my best day I bet I couold have done that about 10 times before I gave out. They were doing it all day long! Haqd I been born there, I could have done. What I am saying is that we have this tendency to think that we produce great athletes, and that we are the norm. The truth is that we are soft compared to what has gone before. They may not have lived as long, but there we a lot tougher.
Hank Reinhardt
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Hisham Gaballa





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PostPosted: Thu 22 Dec, 2005 7:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have heard that the battle of Al-Qadesseya, fought between the Arabs and the Sassanid Persians in 637 AD was supposed to have lasted 3 days, but know very little about it. I suspect it may have either actually been a series of battles fought over 3 days or there was a lot of troop rotating going on.
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Hank Reinhardt
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PostPosted: Thu 22 Dec, 2005 7:51 am    Post subject: battle duration         Reply with quote

All too often when we speak of a battle we unconsciously think of it in terms of a single engagement taking place over the span of a day. But look at some modern battles. Like the Battle for Monte Cassino in Central Italy. It is considered one battle, but it oo place over a month or so, with numerous smaller engagements. I have also just realized how horrible my typing is....oh well,
Hank Reinhardt
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 22 Dec, 2005 8:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In most pre-WWI battles, people seldom bother to hang around if they are loosing; If one side seems to be about to win, the loosing side would pull back or rout.
This beeing because your entire army is present at the battle, and there is no one else you have to buy time for, etc...

In a modern war, where fighting is taking place on a front rather than on a field, this acts out differently.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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