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Medieval warfare

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Medieval warfare

Battle of Crécy (1346) between the English and French in the Hundred Years' War.

Medieval warfare is the warfare of the Middle Ages. In Europe, technological, cultural, and social developments had forced a dramatic transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery. In terms of fortification, the Middle Ages saw the emergence of the castle in Europe, which then spread to southwestern Asia.


  • Strategy and tactics 1
    • De re militari 1.1
    • Employment of force 1.2
  • Fortifications 2
    • Siege warfare 2.1
  • Organization 3
    • Recruiting 3.1
  • Equipment 4
  • Relics 5
  • Supplies and logistics 6
    • Plunder and foraging 6.1
    • Supply trains 6.2
    • Famine and disease 6.3
  • Naval warfare 7
    • Introduction of guns 7.1
  • Rise of infantry 8
    • Swiss pikemen 8.1
    • Welsh & English longbowmen 8.2
  • Transition to gunpowder warfare 9
  • Medieval conquerors 10
    • Arabs 10.1
    • Vikings 10.2
    • Mongols 10.3
    • Turks 10.4
  • See also 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14
  • Further reading 15

Strategy and tactics

De re militari

si vis pacem, para bellum
If you want peace, prepare for war

Vegetius, De re militari, preface to book 3.[1]

Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, Vegetius for short, wrote De re militari (Concerning Military Matters) possibly in the late 4th century.[2] Described by historian Walter Goffart as "the bible of warfare throughout the Middle Ages", De re militari was widely distributed through the Latin West. While Western Europe relied on a single text for the basis of its military knowledge, the Byzantine Empire in Southeastern Europe had a succession of military writers.[3] Though Vegetius had no military experience, and De re militari was derived from the works of Cato and Frontinus, his books were the standard for military discourse in Western Europe from their production until the 16th century.[4] De re militari was divided into five books: who should be a soldier and the skills they needed to learn; the composition and structure of an army; field tactics; how to conduct and withstand sieges, and the role of the navy. According to Vegetius, infantry was the most important element of an army because it was cheap compared to cavalry and could be deployed on any terrain.[5] One of the tenets he put forward was that a general should only engage in battle when he was sure of victory or had no other choice.[6] As archaeologist Robert Liddiard explains, "Pitched battles, particularly in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, were rare."[7]

Although his work was widely reproduced, and over 200 copies, translations, and extracts survive today, the extent to which Vegetius affected the actual practice of warfare as opposed to its concept is unclear due to his habit of stating the obvious.[5] Historian Michael Clanchy noted "the medieval axiom that laymen are illiterate and its converse that clergy are literate",[8] so it may be the case that few soldiers read Vegetius' work. While their Roman predecessors were well-educated and had been experienced in warfare, the European nobility of the early Medieval period were not renowned for their education, however from the 12th century it became more common for them to read. Some soldiers regarded the experience of warfare as more valuable than reading about it; for example, Geoffroi de Charney, a 14th century knight who wrote about warfare, recommended that his audience should learn by observing and asking advice from their superiors. While it is uncertain to what extent his work was read amongst the warrior class as opposed to the clergy, Vegetius remained prominent in the literature on warfare in the Medieval period.[9] In 1489, King Henry VII of England commissioned the translation of De re militari into English, "so every gentleman born to arms and all manner of men of war, captains, soldiers, vituallers and all others would know how they ought to behave in the feats of wars and battles".[10]

Employment of force

The experience level and tactical maneuvering ability of Medieval armies varied depending on the period and region. For larger battles, pre-battle planning typically consisted of a council of the war leaders, which could either be the general laying down a plan or a debate between the different leaders, depending on how much authority the general possessed. Battlefield communication was difficult before the advent of strict lines of communication. Communication from the general to his forces, and down through the ranks, was done through musical signals, audible commands, messengers, or visual signals such as raising a standard banner or flag.

The infantry, including missile troops (such as archers), would typically be employed at the outset of the battle to break open infantry formations while the cavalry attempted to defeat its opposing number. If the cavalry met foot soldiers, the pikemen would engage them. Perhaps the most important technological advancement for Medieval warfare in Europe was the invention of the stirrup. It most likely came to Europe with the Avars in the 7th century, although it was not properly adopted by the major European powers until the 10th century.[11]


In Europe, breakdowns in centralized power led to the rise of a number of groups that turned to large-scale pillage as a source of income. Most notably the Vikings (but also Arabs, Mongols Huns, and Magyars) raided significantly. As these groups were generally small and needed to move quickly, building fortifications was a good way to provide refuge and protection for the people and the wealth in the region.

These fortifications evolved over the course of the Middle Ages, the most important form being the castle, a structure which has become almost synonymous with the Medieval era in the popular eye. The castle served as a protected place for the local elites. Inside a castle they were protected from bands of raiders and could send mounted warriors to drive the enemy from the area, or to disrupt the efforts of larger armies to supply themselves in the region by gaining local superiority over foraging parties that would be impossible against the whole enemy host.

Fortifications were a very important part of warfare because they provided safety to the lord, his family, and his servants. They provided refuge from armies too large to face in open battle. The ability of the heavy cavalry to dominate a battle on an open field was useless against fortifications. Building siege engines was a time-consuming process, and could seldom be effectively done without preparations before the campaign. Many sieges could take months, if not years, to weaken or demoralize the defenders sufficiently. Fortifications were an excellent means of ensuring that the elite could not be easily dislodged from their lands - as Count Baldwin of Hainaut commented in 1184 on seeing enemy troops ravage his lands from the safety of his castle, "they can't take the land with them".[12]

Siege warfare

In the Medieval period besieging armies used a wide variety of siege engines including: scaling ladders; battering rams; siege towers and various types of catapults such as the mangonel, onager, ballista, and trebuchet. Siege techniques also included mining in which tunnels were dug under a section of the wall and then rapidly collapsed to destabilize the wall's foundation. A final technique was to bore into the enemy walls, however this was not nearly as effective as other methods due to the thickness of castle walls. Several of these siege techniques were used by the Romans but experienced a rebirth during the Crusades.

The Walls of Dubrovnik are a series of defensive stone walls, never breached by a hostile army, that have surrounded and protected the maritime city-state of Dubrovnik (Ragusa), situated in southern Croatia.

Advances in the prosecution of sieges encouraged the development of a variety of defensive counter-measures. In particular, Medieval fortifications became progressively stronger — for example, the advent of the concentric castle from the period of the Crusades — and more dangerous to attackers — witness the increasing use of machicolations and murder-holes, as well the preparation of hot or incendiary substances. Arrow slits, concealed doors for sallies, and deep water wells were also integral to resisting siege at this time. Designers of castles paid particular attention to defending entrances, protecting gates with drawbridges, portcullises and barbicans. Wet animal skins were often draped over gates to repel fire. Moats and other water defenses, whether natural or augmented, were also vital to defenders.

In the Middle Ages, virtually all large cities had city wallsDubrovnik in Dalmatia is an impressive and well-preserved example — and more important cities had citadels, forts or castles. Great effort was expended to ensure a good water supply inside the city in case of siege. In some cases, long tunnels were constructed to carry water into the city. In other cases, such as the Ottoman siege of Shkodra, Venetian engineers had designed and installed cisterns that were fed by rain water channeled by a system of conduits in the walls and buildings.[13] Complex systems of underground tunnels were used for storage and communications in medieval cities like Tábor in Bohemia. Against these would be matched the mining skills of teams of trained sappers, who were sometimes employed by besieging armies.

Until the invention of gunpowder-based battle items(and the resulting higher-velocity projectiles), the balance of power and logistics definitely favored the defender. With the invention of gunpowder, the traditional methods of defense became less and less effective against a determined siege.


The medieval knight was usually a mounted and armoured soldier, often connected with nobility or royalty, although (especially in north-eastern Europe) knights could also come from the lower classes, and could even be unfree persons. The cost of their armor, horses, and weapons was great; this, among other things, helped gradually transform the knight, at least in western Europe, into a distinct social class separate from other warriors. During the crusades, holy orders of Knights fought in the Holy Land (see Knights Templar, the Hospitallers, etc.).

Heavily armed cavalry, armed with lances and a varied assortment of hand weapons played a significant part in the battles of the Middle Ages. The heavy cavalry consisted of wealthy knights and noblemen who could afford the nutritious diet, high-intensity training, and premium equipment, and non-noble squires employed by noblemen. Heavy cavalry was the difference between victory and defeat in many key battles. Their thunderous charges could break the lines of any but the most disciplined pike formations, making them a valuable asset to all medieval armies.

Hungarian raids in the 10th century. Most European nations were praying for mercy: "Sagittis hungarorum libera nos Domine" - "Lord save us from the arrows of Hungarians"

Light cavalry consisted usually of lighter armed and armoured men, who could have lances, javelins or missile weapons, such as bows or crossbows. In much of the Middle Ages light cavalry usually consisted of wealthy commoners. Later in the Middle Ages light cavalry would also include sergeants who were men who had trained as knights but could not afford the costs associated with the title. Light cavalry were used as scouts, skirmishers or outflankers. Many countries developed their own styles of light cavalry, such as Hungarian mounted archers, Spanish jinetes, Italian and German mounted crossbowmen and English currours.

Infantry were recruited and trained in a wide variety of manners in different regions of Europe all through the Middle Ages, and probably always formed the most numerous part of a medieval field army. Many infantrymen in prolonged wars would be mercenaries. Most armies contained significant numbers of spearmen, archers and other unmounted soldiers.


In the earliest Middle Ages it was the obligation of every noble to respond to the call to battle with his own equipment, archers, and infantry. This decentralized system was necessary due to the social order of the time, but could lead to motley forces with variable training, equipment and abilities. The more resources the noble had access to, the better his troops would typically be. Typically the feudal armies consisted of a core of highly skilled knights and their household troops, mercenaries hired for the time of the campaign and feudal levies fulfilling their feudal obligations, who usually were little more than rabble. They could, however, be efficient in disadvantageous terrain. Towns and cities could also field militias.

As central governments grew in power, a return to the citizen and mercenary armies of the classical period also began, as central levies of the peasantry began to be the central recruiting tool. It was estimated that the best infantrymen came from the younger sons of free land-owning yeomen, such as the English archers and Swiss pikemen. England was one of the most centralized states in the Late Middle Ages, and the armies that fought the Hundred Years' War were mostly paid professionals. In theory, every Englishman had an obligation to serve for forty days. Forty days was not long enough for a campaign, especially one on the continent. Thus the scutage was introduced, whereby most Englishmen paid to escape their service and this money was used to create a permanent army. However, almost all high medieval armies in Europe were composed of a great deal of paid core troops, and there was a large mercenary market in Europe from at least the early 12th century.

As the Middle Ages progressed in Italy, Italian cities began to rely mostly on mercenaries to do their fighting rather than the militias that had dominated the early and high medieval period in this region. These would be groups of career soldiers who would be paid a set rate. Mercenaries tended to be effective soldiers, especially in combination with standing forces, but in Italy they came to dominate the armies of the city states. This made them problematic; while at war they were considerably more reliable than a standing army, at peacetime they proved a risk to the state itself like the Praetorian Guard had once been. Mercenary-on-mercenary warfare in Italy led to relatively bloodless campaigns which relied as much on manoeuvre as on battles, since the condottieri recognized it was more efficient to attack the enemy's ability to wage war rather than his battle forces, discovering the concept of indirect warfare 500 years before Sir Basil Liddell Hart, and attempting to attack the enemy supply lines, his economy and his ability to wage war rather than risking an open battle, and manoeuvre him into a position where risking a battle would have been suicidial. Macchiavelli understood this indirect approach as cowardice.

The knights were drawn to battle by feudal and social obligation, and also by the prospect of profit and advancement. Those who performed well were likely to increase their landholdings and advance in the social hierarchy. The prospect of significant income from pillage and ransoming prisoners was also important. For the mounted knight Medieval Warfare could be a relatively low risk affair. Nobles avoided killing each other, rather preferring capturing them alive, for several reasons—for one thing, many were related to each other, had fought alongside one another, and they were all (more or less) members of the same elite culture; for another, a noble's ransom could be very high, and indeed some made a living by capturing and ransoming nobles in battle. Even peasants, who did not share the bonds of kinship and culture, would often avoid killing a nobleman, valuing the high ransom that a live capture could bring, as well as the valuable horse, armour and equipment that came with him. However, this is by no means a rule of medieval warfare. It was quite common, even at the height of "chivalric" warfare, for the knights to suffer heavy casualties during battles.


Varlet or Squire carrying a Halberd with a thick Blade; and Archer, in Fighting Dress, drawing the String of his Crossbow with a double-handled Winch.--From the Miniatures of the "Jouvencel", and the "Chroniques" of Froissart, Manuscripts of the Fifteenth Century (Imperial Library of Paris).

Medieval weapons consisted of many different types of ranged and hand-held objects:

Artillery and Siege engine


The practice of carrying relics into battle is a feature that distinguishes medieval warfare from its predecessors or from early modern warfare. The presence of relics was believed to be an important source of supernatural power that served both as a spiritual weapon and a form of defense; the relics of martyrs were considered by Saint John Chrysostom much more powerful than "walls, trenches, weapons and hosts of soldiers"[14]

In Italy, the carroccio or carro della guerra, the "war wagon", was an elaboration of this practice that developed during the 13th century. The carro della guerra of Milan was described in detail in 1288 by Bonvesin de la Riva in his book on the "Marvels of Milan". Wrapped in scarlet cloth and drawn by three yoke of oxen that were caparisoned in white with the red cross of Saint Ambrose, the city's patron, it carried a crucifix so massive it took four men to step it in place, like a ship's mast.[15]

Supplies and logistics

Plunder and foraging

Supply trains

Famine and disease

Naval warfare

The Byzantine fleet repels the Rus' attack on Constantinople in 941. The Byzantine dromons are rolling over the Rus' vessels and smashing their oars with their spurs.

The waters surrounding Europe can be grouped into two types which affected the design of craft that travelled and therefore the warfare. The Mediterranean and Black Seas were free of tides, generally calm, and the weather predictable. The seas around the north and west of Europe experienced stronger and less predictable weather. The weather gage, the advantage of having a following wind, was an important factor in naval battles, particularly to the attackers. Typically westerlies (winds blowing from west to east) dominated Europe, giving naval powers to the west an advantage.[16] Medieval sources on the conduct of medieval naval warfare are less common than those about land-based war. Most medieval chroniclers had no experience of life on the sea, and generally were not well-informed. Maritime archaeology has helped provide information.[17]

Early in the medieval period, ships in the context of warfare were used primarily for transporting troops.[18] In the Mediterranean, naval warfare in the Middle Ages was similar to that under late Roman Empire: fleets of galleys would exchange missile fire and then try to board bow first to allow marines to fight on deck. This mode of naval warfare remained basically the same into early modern period, as, for example, at the Battle of Lepanto. Famous admirals included Roger of Lauria, Andrea Doria and Hayreddin Barbarossa. Galleys were not suitable for the colder and more turbulent North Sea and Atlantic Ocean, although they saw occasional use. Bulkier ships were developed which were primarily sail-driven, although the long lowboard Viking-style rowed longship saw use well into the 15th century. Their main purpose in the north remained the transportation of soldiers to fight on the decks of the opposing ship (as, for example, at the Battle of Svolder or the Battle of Sluys).

Battle between Venetian and Holy Roman fleets; detail of fresco by Spinello Aretino 1407-1408.

Late medieval sailing warships resembled floating fortresses, with towers in the bows and at the stern (respectively, the forecastle and aftcastle). The large superstructure made these warships quite unstable, but the decisive defeats that the more mobile but considerably lower boarded longships suffered at the hands of high-boarded cogs in the 15th century ended the issue of which ship type would dominate northern European warfare.

Introduction of guns

The introduction of guns was the first steps towards major changes in naval ware, but it only slowly changed the dynamics of ship-to-ship combat. The first guns on ships were introduced in the 14th century and consisted of small wrought-iron pieces placed on the open decks and in the fighting tops, often requiring only one or two men to handle them. They were designed to injure, kill or simply stun, shock and frighten the enemy prior to boarding.[19] As guns were made more durable to withstand stronger gunpowder charges, they increased their potential to inflict critical damage to the vessel rather than just their crews. Since these guns were much heavier than the earlier anti-personnel weapons, they had to be placed lower in the ships, and fire from gunports, to avoid ships becoming unstable. In Northern Europe the technique of building ships with clinker planking made it difficult to cut ports in the hull; clinker-built (or clench-built) ships had much of their structural strength in the outer hull. The solution was the gradual adoption of carvel-built ships that relied on an internal skeleton structure to bear the weight of the ship.[20] Gunports cut in the hull of ships weren't introduced until 1501, at the very start of the early modern period[21]

Two views of a hand culverin and two small cannons from the 15th century.

The first ships to actually mount heavy cannon capable of sinking ships were galleys, with large wrought-iron pieces mounted directly on the timbers in the bow. The first example is known from a woodcut of a Venetian galley from 1486.[22] Heavy artillery on galleys was mounted in the bow which fit conveniently with the long-standing tactical tradition of attacking head-on and bow-first. The ordnance on galleys was quite heavy from its introduction in the 1480s, and capable of quickly demolishing medieval-style stone walls that still prevailed until the 16th century. This temporarily upended the strength of older seaside fortresses, which had to be rebuilt to cope with gunpowder weapons. The addition of guns also improved the amphibious abilities of galleys as they could assault supported with heavy firepower, and could be even more effectively defended when beached stern-first.[23] Galleys and similar oared vessels remained uncontested as the most effective gun-armed warships in theory until the 1560s, and in practice for a few decades more, and were actually considered a grave risk to sailing warships.[24]

Rise of infantry

In the Medieval period, the mounted cavalry long held sway on the battlefield. Heavily armoured, mounted knights represented a formidable foe for reluctant peasant draftees and lightly armoured freemen. To defeat mounted cavalry, infantry used swarms of missiles or a tightly packed phalanx of men, techniques honed in Antiquity by the Greeks.

Swiss pikemen

The use of long pikes and densely packed foot troops was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. The Sempach, Grandson and Murten, and between 1450 and 1550 every leading prince in Europe (except the English and Scottish) hired Swiss pikemen, or emulated their tactics and weapons (e.g., the German Landsknechte).

Welsh & English longbowmen

A modern replique of an English longbow.

The Welsh & English longbowman used a single-piece longbow (but some bows later developed a composite design) to deliver arrows that could penetrate contemporary mail and damage/dent plate armour. The longbow was a difficult weapon to master, requiring long years of use and constant practice. A skilled longbowman could shoot about 12 shots per minute. This rate of fire was far superior to competing weapons like the crossbow or early gunpowder weapons. The nearest competitor to the longbow was the much more expensive crossbow, used often by urban militias and mercenary forces. The crossbow had greater penetrating power, and did not require the extended years of training. However, it lacked the rate of fire of the longbow.

At Crécy and Agincourt bowmen unleashed clouds of arrows into the ranks of knights. At Crécy, even 15,000 Genoese crossbowmen could not dislodge them from their hill. At Agincourt, thousands of French knights were brought down by armour-piercing bodkin point arrows and horse-maiming broadheads. Longbowmen decimated an entire generation of the French nobility.

Since the longbow was difficult to deploy in a thrusting mobile offensive, it was best used in a defensive configuration. Bowmen were extended in thin lines and protected and screened by pits (as at the Battle of Bannockburn), staves or trenches. The terrain was usually chosen to put the archers at an advantage forcing their opponents into a bottleneck (at Agincourt) or a hard climb under fire (at Crécy). Sometimes the bowmen were deployed in a shallow "W", enabling them to trap and enfilade their foes.

The pike and the longbow put an end to the dominance of cavalry in European warfare, making the use of foot soldiers more important than they had been in recent years. Knights began to prefer fighting while dismounted, using two-handed swords, poleaxes and other polearms, as the improved knightly plate armour made them fairly immune to arrows. Gunpowder eventually was to provoke even more significant changes. However, a mounted reserve was often kept, and the heavy cavalry continued to be an important battlefield arm of European armies until the 19th century, when new and more accurate weapons made the mounted soldier too easy a target, with WWI being the last instance where cavalry played a major role in the war.

Transition to gunpowder warfare

Depiction of artillery in a 1490s illustration of the Siege of Orleans of 1429.

In 1326 the earliest known European picture of a gun appeared in a manuscript by Walter de Milemete.[25] In 1350, Petrarch wrote that the presence of cannons on the battlefield was 'as common and familiar as other kinds of arms'.[26]

Early artillery played a limited role in the Hundred Years' War, and it became indispensable in the Italian Wars of 1494–1559, marking the beginning of Early Modern warfare. Charles VIII, during his invasion of Italy, brought with him the first truly mobile siege train: culverins and bombards mounted on wheeled carriages, which could be deployed against an enemy stronghold immediately after arrival.

Medieval conquerors


The initial Muslim conquests began in the 7th century after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and were marked by a century of rapid Arab expansion beyond the Arabian Peninsula under the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates. Under the Rashidun, the Arabs conquered the Persian Empire, along with Roman Syria and Roman Egypt during the Byzantine-Arab Wars, all within just seven years from 633 to 640. Under the Umayyads, the Arabs annexed North Africa and southern Italy from the Romans and the Arab Empire soon stretched from parts of the Indian subcontinent, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and southern Italy, to the Iberian Peninsula and the Pyrenees.

The early Arab army mainly consisted of Caliphate's army into a united and loyal fighting force.


The Vikings were a feared force in Europe because of their savagery and speed of their attacks. Whilst seaborne raids were nothing new at the time, the Vikings refined the practice to a science through their shipbuilding, tactics and training. Unlike other raiders, the Vikings made a lasting impact on the face of Europe. During the Viking age, their expeditions, frequently combined raiding and trading, penetrated most of the old Frankish empire, the British Isles, The Baltic, Russia and both Muslim and Christian Iberia. Many served as mercenaries, and the famed Varangian Guard, serving the Emperor of Constantinople, was drawn principally of Scandinavian warriors.

Viking longships were swift and easily manoeuvred; they could navigate deep seas or shallow rivers, and could carry warriors that could be rapidly deployed directly onto land due to the longships being able to land directly. The longship was the enabler of the Viking style of warfare that was fast and mobile, relying heavily on the element of surprise, and they tended to capture horses for mobility rather than carry them on their ships. The usual method was to approach a target stealthily, strike with surprise and then retire swiftly. The tactics used were difficult to stop, for the Vikings, like guerrilla-style raiders elsewhere, deployed at a time and place of their own choosing. The fully armoured Viking raider would wear an iron helmet and a maille hauberk, and fight with a combination of axe, sword, shield, spear or great "Danish" two-handed axe, although the typical raider would be unarmoured, carrying only a bow and arrows, a knife "seax", a shield and spear; the swords and the axes were much less common.

Almost by definition, opponents of the Vikings were ill prepared to fight a force that struck at will, with no warning. European countries with a weak system of government would be unable to organize a suitable response would naturally suffer the most to Viking raiders. Viking raiders always had the option to fall back in the face of a superior force or stubborn defence and then reappear to attack other locations or retreat to their bases in what is now Sweden, Denmark, Norway and their Atlantic colonies. As time went on, Viking raids became more sophisticated, with coordinated strikes involving multiple forces and large armies, as the "Great Heathen Army" that ravaged Anglo-Saxon England in the 9th century. In time, the Vikings began to hold on to the areas they raided, first wintering and then consolidating footholds for further expansion later.

With the growth of centralized authority in the Scandinavian region, Viking raids, always an expression of "private enterprise", ceased and the raids became pure voyages of conquest. In 1066, King Harald Hardråde of Norway invaded England, only to be defeated by Harold Godwinson, who in turn was defeated by William of Normandy, descendant of the Viking Rollo, who had accepted Normandy as a fief from the Frankish king. The three rulers had their claims to the English crown (Harald probably primarily on the overlord-ship of Northumbria) and it was this that motivated the battles rather than the lure of plunder.

At that point, the Scandinavians had entered their medieval period and consolidated their kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. This period marks the end of significant raider activity both for plunder or conquest. The resurgence of centralized authority throughout Europe limited opportunities for traditional raiding expeditions in the West, whilst the Christianisation of the Scandinavian kingdoms themselves encouraged them to direct their attacks against the still predominantly pagan regions of the eastern Baltic. The Scandinavians started adapting more continental European ways, whilst retaining an emphasis on naval power – the "Viking" clinker-built warship was used in war until the 14th century at least. However, developments in shipbuilding elsewhere removed the advantage the Scandinavian countries had previously enjoyed at sea, whilst castle building throughout Europe effectively ended any benefit it might bring. Natural trading and diplomatic links between Scandinavia and Continental Europe ensured that the Scandinavians kept up to date with continental developments in warfare.

The Scandinavian armies of the High Middle Ages followed the usual pattern of the Northern European armies, but with a stronger emphasis on infantry. The terrain of Scandinavia favored heavy infantry, and whilst the nobles fought mounted in the continental fashion, the Scandinavian peasants formed a well-armed and well-armoured infantry, of which approximately 30% to 50% would be archers or crossbowmen. The crossbow, the flatbow and the longbow was especially popular in Sweden and Finland. The chainmail, the lamellar armour and the coat of plates were the usual Scandinavian infantry armour before the era of plate armour.


During The Mongol invasion of Europe, Tatars, under the leadership of Kadan, experienced a major failure in March 1242 at Klis Fortress in southern Croatia.[27][28]

By 1241, having conquered large parts of Russia, the Mongols continued the invasion of Europe with a massive three-pronged advance, following the fleeing Cumans, who had established an uncertain alliance with King Bela IV of Hungary. They first invaded Poland, and finally Hungary, culminating in the crushing defeat of the Hungarians in the Battle of Mohi. The Mongol aim seems to have consistently been to defeat the Hungarian-Cuman alliance. The Mongols raided across the borders to Austria and Bohemia in the summer when the Great Khan died, and the Mongol princes returned home to elect a new Great Khan.

The Golden Horde would frequently clash with Hungarians, Lithuanians and Poles in the thirteenth century, with two large raids in the 1260s and 1280s respectively. In 1284 the Hungarians repelled the last major raid into Hungary, and in 1287 the Poles repelled a raid against them. The instability in the Golden Horde seems to have quieted the western front of the Horde. The Hungarians and Poles had responded to the mobile threat by extensive fortification-building, army reform in the form of better armoured cavalry, and refusing battle unless they could control the site of the battlefield to deny the Mongols local superiority. The Lithuanians relied on their forested homelands for defense, and used their cavalry for raiding into Mongol-dominated Russia.


An early Turkic group, the Seljuks, were known for their cavalry archers. These fierce nomads were often raiding empires, such as the Byzantine Empire, and they scored several victories using mobility and timing to defeat the heavy cataphracts of the Byzantines.

One notable victory was at Manzikert, where a conflict among the generals of the Byzantines gave the Turks the perfect opportunity to strike. They hit the cataphracts with arrows, and outmaneuvered them, then rode down their less mobile infantry with light cavalry that used scimitars. When gunpowder was introduced, the Ottoman Turks of the Ottoman Empire hired the mercenaries that used the gunpowder weapons and obtained their instruction for the Janissaries. Out of these Ottoman soldiers rose the Janissaries (yeni ceri; "new soldier"), from which they also recruited many of their heavy infantry. Along with the use of cavalry and early grenades, the Ottomans mounted an offensive in the early Renaissance period and attacked Europe, taking Constantinople by massed infantry assaults.

Like many other nomadic peoples, the Turks featured a core of heavy cavalry from the upper classes. These evolved into the Sipahis (feudal landholders similar to western knights and Byzantine pronoiai) and Qapukulu (door slaves, taken from youth like Janissaries and trained to be royal servants and elite soldiers, mainly cataphracts).

See also


  1. ^ Milner (1996), p. 63
  2. ^ Nicholson (2004), p. 13
  3. ^ Goffart (1977), p. 65
  4. ^ Nicholson (2004), pp. 13–14
  5. ^ a b Nicholson (2004), p. 14
  6. ^ Gillingham (1992), p. 150
  7. ^ Liddiard (2005), p. 79
  8. ^ Quoted in Nicholson (2004), p. 16
  9. ^ Nicholson (2004), p. 16
  10. ^ Quoted in Nicholson (2004), pp. 18–19
  11. ^, Medieval Warfare in Europe,
  12. ^ McGlynn, Sean (Jan 1994). "The Myths of Medieval Warfare". History Today 44 (1): 32.  
  13. ^ Karaiskaj, Gjerak. "Furnizimi me ujë i kalasë së Shkodrës ne mesjetë." Monumentet: Materialet e sesionit III shkencor të Institutit të Monumenteve të Kulturës 11 (1985): 55-77.
  14. ^ John Chrysostom, Laudatio martyrum Aegyptiorum, 1 PG 50 col. 694f.
  15. ^ Bovesin de la Riva, De Magnalibus Mediolani: Meraviglie di Milano (Milan, 1998), as reported in John Dickie, Delizia! The Epic History of Italians and Their Food (New York, 2008), p. 33.
  16. ^ Fernández-Armesto (1999), p. 231
  17. ^ Fernández-Armesto (1999), pp. 230–231
  18. ^ DeVries (1992), p. 283
  19. ^ Rodger (1997), pp. 205–6 .
  20. ^ Marsden (2003), pp. 137–142.
  21. ^ Rodger (1997), p. 207.
  22. ^ Lehmann (1984), p. 31
  23. ^ Guilmartin (1974), pp. 264–66
  24. ^ The British naval historian Nicholas Rodger describes this as a "crisis in naval warfare" which eventually led to the development of the galleon, which combined ahead-firing capabilities, heavy broadside guns and a considerable increase in maneuverability by introduction of more advanced sailing rigs; Rodger (2003), p. 245. For more detailed arguments concerning the development of broadside armament, see Rodger (1996).
  25. ^ Kelly 2004:29
  26. ^ Norris 2003:19
  27. ^ Listeš, Srećko. "Povijest Klisa". (in Croatian). Službene stranice Općine Klis. Retrieved 2010-05-16. 
  28. ^ Archdeacon (2006), p. 299.


  • Fernández-Armesto, Felipe (1999), "Naval Warfare after the Viking Age, c.1100–1500", in  
  • Gillingham, John (1992), "William the Bastard at War", in Strickland, Matthew, Anglo-Norman warfare: Studies in Late Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman Military Organization and Warfare, Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, pp. 143–160,  
  • Guilmartin, John Francis, Gunpowder and Galleys: Changing Technology and Mediterranean Warfare at Sea in the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, London. 1974. ISBN 0-521-20272-8
  • Rodger, Nicholas A. M., "The New Atlantic: Naval Warfare in the Sixteenth Century", pp. 231–47 in Hattendorf, John B. & Unger, Richard W. (editors), War at Sea in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Woodbridge, Suffolk. 2003. ISBN 0-85115-903-6 [1]
  • Liddiard, Robert (2005), Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape, 1066 to 1500, Macclesfield: Windgather Press Ltd,  
  • Lehmann, L. Th., Galleys in the Netherlands. Meulenhoff, Amsterdam. 1984. ISBN 90-290-1854-2
  • Marsden, Peter, Sealed by Time: The Loss and Recovery of the Mary Rose. The Archaeology of the Mary Rose, Volume 1. The Mary Rose Trust, Portsmouth. 2003. ISBN 0-9544029-0-1
  • Nicholson, Helen (2004), Medieval Warfare: Theory and Practice of War in Europe, 300–1500, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,  
  • Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (1996), Milner, N. P., ed., Vegetius: epitome of military science, Translated Texts for Historians xvi, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 
  • Rodger, Nicholas A. M., "The Development of Broadside Gunnery, 1450–1650." Mariner's Mirror 82 (1996), pp. 301–24.
  • Rodger, Nicholas A. M., The Safeguard of the Sea: A Naval History of Britain 660–1649. W.W. Norton & Company, New York. 1997. ISBN 0-393-04579-X

External links

  • Medieval Warfare Siege warfare, open battles, weapons, armour and fighting techniques.

Further reading

  • Contamine, Philippe. War in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.
  • Creveld, Martin Van. Technology and War: From 2000 BC to present, 1989.
  • France, John, Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000–1300, London: Cornell University Press,  
  • Keegan, John. The face of battle: a study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1988.
  • Keen, Maurice. Medieval Warfare: A History. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • H. W. Koch: Medieval Warfare. Bison Books Limited, London, 1978, ISBN 978-0-86124-008-1
  • McNeill, William Hardy. The pursuit of power: technology, armed force, and society since A.D. 1000. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
  • Oman, Charles William Chadwick. A history of the art of war in the Middle Ages. London: Greenhill Books; Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1998.
  • De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History
  • Kosztolnyik, Z.J. Hungary in the thirteenth century. New York: Columbia University Press: Stackpole Books, 1996. (Parts of which are available online)
  • Parker, Geoffrey. The Military Revolution: Military innovation and the Rise of The West, 1988.
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