The War in Medieval Times


According to the traditional view of the wars and popular in Europe in the Middle Ages, the Knights dominated the battlefields during the period between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. They wore armor of metal plates and threw themselves to the charge with solid lances, scattering, spearing and trampling to death with horses infantry soldiers they encountered on their journey, siding in a compact and decisive battle. The era of the great knights came to an end when the infantry regained a prominent role on the battlefield thanks to the introduction of new weapons and new strategies of war:

  • Firearms;
  • Compact formations of pikemen.

The traditional view of art and cavalry is due to poor chronicles, commonly focusing on legendary figures of nobles on horseback, ignoring the commoners and peasants who fought on foot. Nevertheless, the notion that revolved around the figure of the knight and which limited the art of war the feats of chivalry is not really true.

In fact, in medieval times, infantry troops were a very important component in all armies. They fought with bare hands by jumping into the fray or used strings of various kinds. On later time, they start to use even firearms. The interventions of the infantry were always critical and decisive in the context of the siege of castles or fortified cities.

In the Middle Ages, wars, sieges consisted mainly of various kinds, while large open battles between armies were quite rare. The armies were moving as on a chessboard, making maneuvers and workarounds to conquer towns and castles of strategic importance, avoiding as much as possible to engage in battles where they could suffer huge losses.

On the occasion of pitched battles and fights to the death, the intervention of the knights could be decisive: the charge of knights protected by strong armor had an impact force of great power. However, the victory went to the army who knew how often take advantage of the three components at its disposal:

  • infantry;
  • cavalry;
  • archers.

Equally important and determinants factors that influenced the battles of all time, were:

  • clever use of the battlefield;
  • attention to the morale of the troops;
  • a skilled leadership;
  • discipline;
  • strategic tactics.

The advent of Chivalry

At the time of Charlemagne units of mounted warriors had become the military elite of the Franks. The use of cavalry spread throughout Europe. Fighting on horseback was particularly glorious, because it allowed to penetrate into the thick of the fight, and to move quickly in order to crush the enemies of lower rank, usually on foot.


When two forces clashed with rival knights, speed of charging and the violence of the impact were incredible. Another source of prestige was the high cost of horses, weapons and armor, so that only the most wealthy and their followers could afford them.


The kings of the late middle ages, still lacking the money necessary to keep large and expensive contingent of cavalry, named warriors to be their vassals, granting them the feudal lands from which they had to obtain the profits to pay for mount and equipment. Often the vassals took the pay of mercenaries companies. At a time when the central government was weak and communications poor, the vassal, along with his men, was in charge of law and order within the fief he had received, in return for which they undertook to perform military service at the feudal lord. Thus, in case of need, the aristocrats and rulers were able to form armies that had the strength of the knights.

During the Middle Ages the warriors on horseback, prestigious class in Western Europe, adopted a strict and detailed code of conduct. The fee covered the fundamental sense of honor in war and in peace, applied exclusively to relations between peers, never to the lower classes or to the peasants, who constituted the majority of the population. The Knights became the ruling class, in possession of the land that produced all the wealth. In a world full of violence, it is understandable that the title of nobility was mainly acquired through the status of a valiant warrior. Only in latter times the concept of inheritance came in, at the expense of the value of the person.

The Cavalry

The term “cavalry” initially indicated horse riding. In the Middle Ages the caste of warriors stood out from the peasants, the clergy and the rest for the demonstrated ability in combat and on horseback. The symbols of their importance were strong and fast ,animals beautiful, effective and well worked weapons and armours. In the twelfth century, however, the term cavalry was referring to an entire way of life. The basic rules of the chivalric code were the following:

  • Protect women and the weak.
  • To fight against the unjust and the wicked.
  • Love the homeland.
  • Defend the Church, even at the risk of life.

In fact, however, the knights and aristocrats behaved as they saw fit and feuds and territorial disputes took precedence over everything. The Germanic tribal custom, according to which the assets of a head touched the various children instead of the firstborn, often unleashed fratricidal wars, the conflict between the grandsons of Charlemagne offers an example. The Middle Ages were a succession of civil wars in which the real losers were usually the peasants.

In the late Middle Ages, kings created orders of chivalry, knights exclusive partnerships with high-ranking officials who swore loyalty to each other and to the monarch. The admission order was highly coveted, as an index of importance in the kingdom. In 1347, during the Hundred Years War, Edward III of England founded the Order of the Garter, which still exists today, which was formed by 25 of the most noble knights of England, bound by an oath of dedication and loyalty to the crown, to victory in war.

The Order of the Golden Fleece, founded in 1430 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, became the richest and most powerful in Europe. Louis XI of France founded the Order of St Michael in order to keep tabs on the leaders of the aristocracy. The Orders of Calatrava, Santiago, and Alcantara were built to drive the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula and were merged by Ferdinand of Aragon, whose marriage to Isabella of Castile marked the unification of the Kingdom of Spain. The king was the Grand Master of the three orders, although they were separated.

Knight: how to become

At seven or eight years of age, males of noble birth went to live with an overlord as pages. In this condition they learned the correct social behavior by the women of the house and the rudiments of the use of weapons and the art of riding. At the age of 14 they became squires, that is, apprentices, and as such they were assigned to a knight, which provided for the rest of their education. The squire functioned both as a companion and as a servant, with tasks such as polishing armor and weapons (which tended to rust), provide for the clothing and personal effects of the knight, even working as his guard, sleeping in front of his door.

During tournaments and in combat, the squire gave the assistance required by the circumstances: to bring weapons and spare horses, medicate wounds, defending his master from danger and, if necessary, guarantee him a decent burial. In many cases he attended in person to fight alongside the rider, although usually the enemy was not paying attention to the squire, who was on the other side of the horse, and took care rather of the opponent of equal or higher rank than his. The squire was looking for, instead of joining the battle, to acquire glory or capture an opponent of high rank. In addition to strengthening the martial training, the apprentice was practiced in the games, he learned to read at least, if not writing, studying music, dance and song.

At 21 he was ready for the investiture, which was performed by a man or another knight of noble birth. The ritual, initially simple, was to touch the shoulder of the aspirant with a sword, then he fastened a belt. Over time the ceremony became more complex for the elements introduced by the Church: the night before the candidates were bathing, cut their hair and keeping watch in prayer, and the next morning they received the sword and spurs of the new title.


In general, this charge was accessible only to those who owned lands or rents necessary to meet the responsibilities related to the title, but as the great feudal lords or bishops were accustomed to keep large bodies of cavalry, it was easy to find employment with them. It could happen that a squire Was noticed for his outstanding bravery in combat, fot that reason awarded on the field.

The tournaments

The first tournaments, such as simulated battles between knights, are dted back to the tenth century. They were immediately condemned by Pope Innocent II in the course of the Council of Letran. The European sovereigns were contrary to the wounding and killing generated by activities that are considered frivolous. Despite that, these tournaments continued, taking on increasing importance, becoming an integral part of the life of the rider.

Originally it was made of a single combat between rivals. However, with the passing of time, it took on a complex structure, turning into social events that attracted patrons and contestants from far away. The so-called Lizzie (battlefields) were equipped with bleachers for spectators and pavilions for those who competed. The Knights continued to duel, with different weapons, individually or in teams clashing in the fray. The main event consisted of a couple charging each other with spears, in order to get the prize, prestige and admiration of the female audience sitting in the stands, not much unlike with modern athletic competitions.

In the thirteenth century the victims of the tournaments became so numerous as to alarm the authorities and the Holy See. In 1240 in a competition held in Cologne perished sixty horsemen. The Pope would have preferred to send those brave men to fight in the Crusades in the Holy Land, rather than see them fall that way. Despite the use of new rules and blunt weapons to reduce accidents, injuries became more severe and often fatal. Henry II of France was killed in a joust to celebrate the wedding of his daughter.

Usually the challenges took place in the form of friendly competitions, but it was not uncommon to use it to settle old grudges between the contenders. In that cases the result was the killing of the contender, otherwise the loser was captured and got freedom only paying a ransom to the winner in horses, weapons and armor. The progress of the race was updated by heralds that recorded the outcome of the fighting and communicating them to the public. A low-ranking knight could replenish their meager assets with awards and gain a rich wife.

Military Orders

To achieve the objectives of the Christian crusades therevwere created orders of chivalry military fighters who became the fiercest and most hated enemies from the Arabs. Their activity continued even after the failure of the conquest of Palestine. The first to rise was the order of the Templars, founded in 1108 to protect the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. His followers wore a white tunic with red cross and, like the Benedictine monks, took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They were the last Crusaders to leave the Holy Land, with the reputation of possessing great courage but also extreme hardness in combat. In the following years they were enriched by donations and the practice of usury, attracting the envy and distrust of kings. In 1307, Philip IV of France accused them of various crimes and heresy, arrested them and confiscated their lands. Other European monarchs followed the example so that the Templars had to disappear from the scene.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, or Hospitallers, who had in principle the aim of curing the sick and poor pilgrims visiting the Holy Sepulchre, soon turned into a military order. They wore a red tunic with a white cross and took the vows Benedictines. Their rules were strict and forbidding to get rich or to indulge in indolence. Expelled from the Holy Land after the surrender of their greater castle, Krak des Chevaliers, they retreated on the island of Rhodes, defending it for many years. Driven by the Turks, they moved to Malta. The third great military order was that of the Teutonic Knights, built in 1190 to protect German pilgrims to the Holy Land. Before the end of the crusades, they had dedicated themselves to the conversion of the pagans in Prussia and the Baltic States.



To differentiate the horsemen in the field they developed a system of symbols, heraldry. Every noble exposed on the shield, the coat, on the flags on the seal and its emblem. The surcoat adorned badge was called blazon, a term that was used to indicate the sign itself. An independent organization, the Heraldic Council, drew the emblems so unique and prove them recorded in special books, subject to its supervision.

The coats of arms were handed down from generation to generation and you changed with weddings. Some patterns were reserved for the royal families of different countries, but at the end of the Middle Ages even the cities, guilds and the leading men of plebeian origin could aspire to own an emblem.

In battle the combatants used coats of arms to distinguish a friend from a foe in the melee and locate a worthy opponent. The conservatives of heralds, which made a lists of knights about to enter in action, had also a function as a neutral intermediary, facilitating the exchange of messages between the defenders of a castle or town and the besiegers. After the battle these heralds identified the dead ones by their coats of arms.

Different types of Knights

Scout on horseback

The importance of fast mounted units for exploration, well understood in ancient times, was kept in mind throughout the Middle Ages. Even with the great development of heavy cavalry, in all armies there was a force of mounted scouts with light armor which represented the eyes of the army on the march.

Mounting thoroughbred horses to take advantage of the speed and the force, they proceeded and watched from the sides of the army on the march to spot the movements of the enemy. The mounted scouts were of little use in battle armor been equipped with light weapons, but they could be decisive once the defeated enemy was retreating, guiding the army to the chasing fugitives and capturing weapons, vehicles and prisoners.

Light Cavalry

With the increase in size of armies and campaigns, it was pushed farther and farther the importance of exploration. Many civilizations developed a light cavalry, as an enhancement of the scouts on horseback, expressly for this purpose. Better trained and equipped for combat, they could be used in battle fot repeated attacks, to charge the enemy infantry or to support the charge of his cavalry. The units of light cavalry wore only a partial armor and a shield, and frequently were armed with spears. The civilizations that could not use expensive armor of heavy cavalry, such as the eastern barbarians groups, lined up vast numbers of light cavalry.


Chosen Knight

Among the knights it existed a hierarchy based on the feudal rank and prowess in combat. A knight of humble origins could achieve a social position of great importance due to the blessings acquired in battle, to victory in a tournament or a wedding. The chosen riders could become members of an elite group of important orders, such as the Order of the Garter or the order of the Golden Fleece. The first to be chosen among were for their political power and military prowess. With the passing of centuries, the orders became much more than a social elite.


Paladins were the strongest and most experienced in the class of knights, chosen champions of their lords and their cavalry order. They were men from the highest social status and with great military value. Often they formed the guard of a powerful king, sworn to protect the life of their ladies with their own life.

Teutonic Knight

At the time of the Crusades in the Holy Land, the Germanic Crusaders formed an order of warrior monks called Teutonic knights. They abandoned shipments in the Eastern Mediterranean and turned their attention to Eastern Europe. With their conquests they brought Christianity to the Baltic region and in the forests of what became Prussia, building castles in order to control the surrounding area, as indeed they had done during the Crusades. Strong and brave warriors, they were one of the main orders of chivalry arose specifically for the Crusades.



The Templars were the order of the richest and most important of those born exclusively for the Crusades. They take their name from the Temple of Solomon, from whom resided during their stay in Jerusalem. Strong and relentless riders, thanks to their ability they accumulated immense wealth that made them powerful, to the point that the sovereigns of Europe, after the of the Crusades, regarded them as a threat rather than as allies.

For the Romans, the need for warships in the Mediterranean was reduced after the conquest of all the territories neighboring the empire: now there was no other competitor with marine, and piracy had been almost entirely eliminated. But from the ruins of the Roman Empire arose new civilizations and piracy having a new momentum. Again it arouse the need for warships in order to repel invasions, the need to establish a military posture and to protect the trade routes of the sea.

Byzantine ships

In the early Middle Ages, the Byzantines were the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean. The maritime supremacy was crucial to the survival of their vast empire: the land defenses of Constantinople were excellent and made a direct attack very unlikely but you had to keep open the supply by sea in case of siege. As long as the ships were able to unload supplies, the capital had the life assured.

At that time, the main Byzantine warship was dromen, created on the basis of ancient specimens and similar to the trireme. The typical dromen was a long and narrow to gain speed, and its driving force was made up of rowers (50 to 200) and lateen sails. At the center of the front half and the back went up a tree. The hook bow was used to spear the enemy vessels before the boarding; the beaks were rare instead. From platforms located at the center, fore and aft, the archers and catapults pulled on the enemy ships and crews. During the battle, the goal was to ram or to knock out the enemy ship to dock it and then send the boarding crew.

The Byzantines used with success a secret weapon, known as greek fire (the ship used this weapon and was therefore called incendiary). It was a chemical compound that burned violently on contact with the air; they poured it through pipes or it was thrown as incendiary bullets. On vessels of wood, the effect was devastating and allowed the victory of the Byzantines in clashes with the Arabs. Given its importance, the formula of the greek fire was guarded so jealously that was lost. It still remains a mystery.

Mediterranean ships

Since the Middle Ages as well as warships, rowing boat, known as galleys, dominated the routes of the Mediterranean, whose waters were relatively free of turbulence. At that time the flourishing trade with the Levant it gave the supremacy on the seas to the Republics of Genoa and Venice. Even the Arabs, however, were equipped with a fleet to have good game in trade and to keep up with the Byzantines and other Christians in the struggle for control of the Mediterranean. During the first Crusades (eleventh century) came from northern ships with completely different structure.

European ships

The Germanic tribes, who invaded northern Europe around 500 AD, developed various kinds of new vessels. The classic commercial one had a larg hull and a deep draft. Initially equipped with a single tree, it was successively enhanced with the increase in tonnage. The Scandinavians called it knarr. The one discovered on the seabed of a Danish port in the sixties has provided much useful information. It is known that, for businesses and for exploration, the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings tended to use this type of boat, the evolution of which was the cargo ship, the largest merchant ship of the High Middle Ages, combining the ease of maneuvering and a considerable capacity.

In northern Europe the naval battles of those represented extensions of land. At the bow and stern of the cargo ships were built the towers of protection which also served as the basis for the approach of the enemy archers, intensified the crossfire of arrows with the intent of hitting crew and soldiers. Then the ships coming up to try and capture each other, fighting with bayonets.


In those waters sailing ships were not able to ram each other. Until the appearance of the cannon in the fourteenth century, there were no weapons capable to produce severe structural damage or sink the boats. In 1340, at Sluys, about 400 British and French warships, on the model of cargo ships, with large contingents of archers and foot soldiers, the naval battle waged in the typical way of the late Middle Ages: the action was simply to gather for the launch of arrows and in melee combat.


The first guns were installed at the bow or stern. The small vents positioned on the edges of the walled crews had to hit opponents. The English ship Christopher of the Tower, in 1406, was the first purpose-built to mount cannons. Only at the end of the Middle Ages the guns appeared suitable to pierce the side of the hull.

The boat used by the Vikings was more suitable for the transport to war, but it was rare that you fought on board. When this happened, it seems that the ships were tied together, forming a platform for melee combat. The longboat rowing worked up to the eighth and ninth centuries, after which it was enriched with sails. Despite the fragile appearance and seemingly inadequate to navigation on Oceans, modern reproductions of ancient models are shown up to the reputation of the past. The addition of the sails partly explains why the Vikings in the ninth century began to extend the range of their raids.

The Irish curragh was a small boat used mainly for coastal trade and travel, but can also deal with the oceans. It was made from animal skins stretched over an armature of wood and sealed with pitch. Incredibly lightweight, owned a small sail or was powered by oars. In the event of rough seas, he closed the cover of skins to avoid swamping and sinking. The Irish monks explored the North Atlantic on the curragh, reaching Iceland long before the Vikings. They even believe that they reached the New World, but there is no evidence in this regard.

During the Crusades, in the Mediterranean it made their appearance boats of the northern lands, and the contacts between the sailors and ship builders of the northern areas and those of the southern areas were imtensified. The southern peoples began to adopt some elements of the cargo ship, including the large hull and square sail to the north instead spread the use of the compass, rudder and stern of the lateen sail.

Chinese ships

The greatest shipbuilders of the Middle Ages were probably the Chinese. The well-known junk remained for many centuries a boat better than any other used in the West. It was a wonderful combination of cargo capacity, maneuverability and reliability. In 1405, the Chinese admiral Cheng Ho established a powerful navy of 25,000 men who explored much of the southwestern Pacific and Indian oceans, but since the Chinese authorities did not give any value to the company and the resulting discoveries, the most famous ship in existence at world at that time were beached and abandoned.



The militia was formed by peasants and workers of the various regions called up for military service in times of temporary emergency. Tese soldiers were frequently equipped with weapons and armor of sall value and returned to their usual occupations as soon the emergency ended. The militia units were often used as second-line troops when the lords gathered their vassals for a campaign and were used for less demanding fighting, as a support to the main army. The Englishman Harold Godwinson took the field in 1066 at Hastings alone with his vassals. According to some historians, if he had folded and the militia called Anglo-Saxon probably would not have had to give up his kingdom to William the Conqueror. For most of the Middle Ages, the professional armies in the West were very small. At this time most of the fighting was conducted by militia units led by strong leaders and their few followers.


The infantry choice was made up of men trained in the use of weapons and protected in battle armor of some kind. In this sense, even the knights were part of the infantry choice, but not necessarily the reverse. The infantry choice also included professional military of non-noble birth, called sergeants and knights still in training, known as squires. The armies of the feudal nobles were divided into 2 distinct groups: the infantry choice of various origins, and the militia formed by farmers. The trained fighters supplied to the main army force into the strike. The chosen infantry was fighting on foot with the sword, an effective weapon that distinguished them from the soldiers of inferior condition, as spearmen and units with throwing weapons. Chosen infantry units were particularly effective against cavalry, so if they were able to get close enough, fighting alongside the knights, in special circumstances they could dismount the assault on the castles. During the Hundred Years War the British often fought on foot to fight the French knights, characterised by a significant numerical superiority. In the battlefield a chosen infantry unit was definitely at a disadvantage compared to a knights one. The Knights used a small number of chosen infantry units as wingmen to maintain order within the local feud and to be accompanied when they were called up for military service.

Warrior with long sword

The weapon of choice by the soldiers of noble origin was the long sword. The skill with the sword was a sign of social distinction as the best swords were expensive and difficult to achieve. Chosen infantry units chosen were trained with shorter blades, economic weapons, while long swords were reserved for the nobility. During the ceremony of investiture, the new knight was appointed by his master wielding a long sword.

With the improvements of the armor, the weapons underwent an evolution. The two-handed sword was an innovation that allowed the warrior to hit the enemy with the strength of both arms. It was a long and heavy sword that required a lot of strength and training to be handled. The warrior with two-handed sword was a formidable opponent in melee combat: he did not use any shield and relied solely on its own power of attack to prevail on the shield and armor of the enemy. Even if he hit a few times, each blow could be fatal, regardless of the armor and weapons of the defender.

Some of the best warriors with sword, for their skill and fame acquired during tournaments or on the battlefield, earning the title of champion, becoming leaders in military campaigns and raising their social status. The lords of the samples did their gregarious and sometimes organized fights between their best warriors to resolve disputes. Having to their service as a vassal or a large sample represented in the Middle Ages a very good insurance to deal with the litigation. The chosen one were professional soldiers and sometimes members of the nobility. A chosen warrior of success could not get a title with a victory in a tournament, the merits were acquired in battle or a wedding. In England, a knight of lower rank which name was Marshal John won many victories in tournaments in order to become a foregrounded noble and of great wealth thanks to the awards and subsequent marriages with some of his landowner admirers.

Weapons and Equipment of the cavalry

From the very origins of the cavalry, which occurred around the tenth century BC, the mounted troops were appointed for prominent roles in battle: explorers, patrolling soldiers, strike force in combat, rear and pursuit of the enemy on the run. The cavalry was divided into several categories depending on the equipment used and training received, and some categories were more suitable to be used for other purposes or special missions. The light cavalry had no armor or used only a small armor, for this reason and it was used in preferebly to perform exploration, reconnaissance and rear. The heavy cavalry instead involved the use of suits of armor and constituted a real impact force. Typically, every rider, regardless of the order to which he belonged, excelled in pursuit.

The knights of the Middle Ages belonged to the heavy cavalry and also the code of chivalry emphasized the role of this unit to attack. From the thirteenth century onwards, the term “man-at-arms” was used to describe armored warriors who fought on horseback and foot soldiers. The new term was applied without distinction to knights, squires, gentry and mercenary soldiers.

The knights in battle could count on such factors as speed, physical strength, height and power of intimidation against the opponent. During the medieval period the equipment of knights underwent a constant evolution in order to improve these strengths.

Weapons of chivalry

The larger pike and then the spear were the weapons with which the cavalry began the battle. These weapons were ideal for hitting the foot soldiers, especially those on the run. The use of the spear or pike during a clash between knights, if combined with the power of a small group launched into the battle, often had a power to intimidate the opponent. Much of the strength of the mount was transmitted with the tip of the spear at impact: in this way, the knight became a tremendous danger for opponents.

Historians disagree on the importance of the bracket in the development of the art of chivalry. The bracket appeared for the first time in Asia and spread into Europe in the eighth century. Some scholars argue that the introduction of this instrument was fundamental for the cavalry, since it allowed the rider to gather strength and to challenge the best lance, thereby transmitting a tremendous impact force to the horse launched against the enemy. It was never questioned the advantage inherent in this multiplication of forces, but other historians have suggested that this was due to the use of the saddle rather high, in Roman times, even before the discovery of the bracket.

In the Bayeaux tapestry, illustrating the conquest of England by William in 1066, the Norman knights are depicted in the act of using pikes and spears as weapons rather than throwing weapons at the ready. At that time, the use of the bracket was already widespread in Europe by at least two centuries. Until the end of the Middle Ages, knights threw themselves to the charge with the lance in rest, and this gesture became a sort of symbol of the courteous fight, though not always turned out to be the best tactic.

The initial charge of the knights had the effect of loss of pikes and spears, or the charge ended in a general melee. In either case, the knights were still appealing to another weapon, usually a sword. The sword used by knights turned in saber, a wide and flat blade, with which the knight could slash tremendously against the head and the torso of the opponent. The swords were the weapons of choice by the knights since they could be worn on their belt, were unlined with measured and elegant gestures and could be personalized with the heraldic symbols. The sword was in fact the weapon used in melee combat between knights. A good sword was expensive, so to own it was a sign of distinction and nobility.

Among other weapons used for melee there were the bat and the mallet, both evolutions of the club, the ax and the scourge. Maces and hammers were the weapons used in preference by monks and holy men, who wanted to respect the letter of the biblical commandment forbidding the shedding of blood.

In no case did the knights use of throwing weapons: to kill an opponent at a distance such as hitting the target with an arrow, an arrow or a bullet was in fact considered a dishonorable action. Preferably, the knights fought with their opponents of the same rank or worthy of their value and rather than hitting the enemy from behind, they preferred not to kill at all.

Armor Cavalry

The armor chainmail was already used by the ancient Romans, in some Germanic tribes, including the Goths, and continued to be very popular among the nobility in the Middle Ages, until the advent, in the thirteenth century, of plate armor. This second type of armor offered better protection to the wearer, it was relatively simple, however, was that an arrow or the sharp point of a sword penetrated into the texture of chain mail. In particular, during the Crusades, under the crush oitwas normally worn a robe of heavy fabric, called surcoat, capable of reflecting sunlight and blind the enemy.

Even the helmets underwent an evolution: from simple tapered design to more squared shapes up to elaborate carved pieces, able to deflect the blow of the arrows. Following the helmets, it were fitted with a visor and a closure device attached to the rest of the armor.

In the fourteenth century appeared thatvsuits of armor could reach a weight of almost twenty-six kilograms. The armor plate was assembled in such a way as to allow riders an unsuspected level of agility. A knight in armor was not thrown helpless on the ground. He could easily get up from the ground. There are reports and depictions of men in armor intent on carrying out gymnastic exercises and vertical on the hands during breaks between games and the other a battle. Other types of armor, developed in subsequent periods, had been augmented by deflecting shots with thrown weapons or strengthened in the most subject to the blows of the enemy. At the end of the medieval armor also appeared more complex, with elaborate drawings and engravings, however, used in ceremonial or celebratory purposes rather than practical.

The cost of full armor and equipment for a knight and his squire was high and, usually, the feudal lord had to provide the equipment for many men. The production of armor constituted an important and profitable activityq during the Middle Ages and developed a thriving market for the sale of armor used. Following the victory of a battle, the common soldiers could earn large sums by plundering the fallen weapons and armor, and sell them at a later time. Mounts Medieval knights were particularly proud of their horses, trained to be fast and durable, as well as to be ready to juggle if incited to-hand combat or the office. In particular, the training was designed to launch the steed into the battle with minimal guidance, allowing the rider to hold shield and spear. The medieval historians do not fully agree on the type of horses used in battle, it is not certain if they were mighty horses able to support the considerable weight of a man in armor or smaller horses but incredibly agile and fast.

The riding was another skill that distinguished the knights of high rank from common ones. It was practiced during the chase and was an entertainment very popular among the nobles, who survived to the present day in the traditional fox hunting.

Hand weapons

The infantry soldiers with hand weapons were the third main component of medieval armies, along with the cavalry and the troops with throwing weapons. The infantry was employed in the melee and was crucial during battles or sieges. It consisted of peasants, common soldiers and knights without mount.

The Franks of the Middle Ages fought with an ax throwing called “francisca”, which also gave its name to the tribe. The Saxons fought instead with a large knife to cut a single called “scramasax”, from which they took their name.

With the development of heavy cavalry was adopted the use of the sword, also used in melee combat. Variants of the sword included the two-handed sword, which required a lot of space to be handled. The foot soldiers and warriors without a horse employed a variety of weapons, including axes (to handle single or double), maces, hammers and flagella. A variant of the bat was the mallet, constituted by an iron ball with spikes and secured to a rod by a chain. With the enhancement of the reinforcement as a means of protection against the blows of the sword, developed weapons sharp and with better penetration.


Throughout the Middle Ages, the spear weapon was very positive as it was simple to build and use. It was usually used even by inexperienced soldiers and peasants, forcibly recruited for battle. In most cases, this expedient, however, did not elicit a positive effect, but with the experience and a discrete training it was possible to train large units of lancers.

The evolution of the spear continued throughout the medieval period and infantry formations expert in the use of this weapon is revealed gradually very efficient. The spears were made of a more sophisticated tip consists of more blades, for example, long blades, blades of the ax and so on.

The polearm diverged to adapt to the use by horse and the result was the formation of new specialized troops, like the ancient greek model of the “phalanx”. The horses would not have uploaded a compact formation of men with long sharp spears. A dense and compact formation of polearm also served as a protective shield against the dangerous arrows of the archers.

At first the foot soldiers learned to hide behind a shield of spears stuck in the ground to repel the attacks of the cavalry, and later used the spears and pikes to attack the knights, allowing the entire training to advance. In the melee, the various accessories at the end of the spear or pike served to unseat the knights, to reject or inflict injuries to both the horse and the rider. Although the riders dismounted they were still helpless and could count on the protection of armor and armor, were, before he could get up from the ground, temporarily at a disadvantage and exposed to the blows of the infantry soldiers.

With the development of the cities in the second half of the Middle Ages, the infantry formed militias and self-defense in the lord. Even in this case, the weapons rod proved useful and widely used, thanks to the limited cost and proven effectiveness. The militia were trained using this type of weapon, developing tactics to use in battle. Over time, the formations of spearmen to attack and learned not only to be a defensive force. Massive formations of spearmen were able to physically attack other infantry and even cavalry. The Swiss had available a few grazing lands in order to have an army of cavalry numerically sufficient, but became famous as pikemen and often offered themselves as mercenaries for the quotas of other armies land. Also the territories of Flanders and the Scottish Highlands boasted unit of pikemen of great renown.

Throwing weapons

Throughout the medieval era, bows and crossbows of various kinds and shape played an important role in combat. They were used as weapons directed against individual targets on the battlefield and during sieges. In some cases, they were used as wide range weapons .

Throwing weapons allowed to hit targets at a distance. The archers were used as light troops to cause losses in the ranks of the enemy and weaken the morale of the opponent line before combat. If enemy forces could be somehow weakened or deeply shaken, the greater the chance of success in the final battle was.


The arches used in the Middle Ages were of various kinds: short bow, the composite bow and the long bow. The short arc measured about one meter and it was quite simple to build and use. It was used widely and is the most well-known arc of medieval times. It possessed a mid-range. It was a powerful and precise weapon, and required a lot of experience and training to be used in order to exploit its potential.

The composite bow was of Asian origin and was formed from parts made of wood and bone tied together. The plating was used to make the bow more powerful, but it required more strength and training than a normal bow. This bow was the preferred weapon of horse archers, especially the Mongols and other nomadic peoples of Asia. A variant of the arc composite was bent at the ends in the course of processing by heating steam and bending the plate coating. This arch curved was considerably more powerful and required greater strength and skill in order to be used effectively.

The longbow was born in Wales and spread to England. It was an arch of almost two meters tall, carved from a single piece of wood, usually yew wood. With this arch were used against infantry arrows meter long with a wide tip (to pierce the armor of leather and cause injury) or against men protected by armor arrows with narrow and sharp-pointed (to penetrate chainmail or the plates of the armor). The longbow required a lot of exercise and practice: better trained men could strike up to six targets per minute. The longbows had a wide range and were very powerful. In medieval times, teams of well trained archers were the decisive force in many battlefields: they could hit targets individual or dropping a rain of arrows in the required place.

The British favored the use of the bow along organizing archery tournaments throughout the territory. The practice of any other sport was banned on Sundays. The purpose of these tournaments was also to identify the best archers to be able to recruit the army. Every year, by law, all the English counties were obliged to make available a number of archers. Usually it was not difficult recruit, since the pay of the soldiers was far superior to that of other occupations.


The crossbow was already known in ancient China but seems to have been reinvented in Europe around 900. It had a good range and was more powerful than most of the existing arches, but it required more time to charge. A crossbowman of average skill was able to perform two shots per minute.

The arch was the crossbow was kept in a horizontal position and the arrow was thrown by pulling a release lever that released the rope taut. To be loaded, it was pointed at the ground and held in position between the feet. The rope of the crossbow was stretched and released with the aid of both hands or with a special crank. The crossbow launched a “Quadrello” or “dart” shorter than the arrow of traditional bows. The Quadrello was equipped with feathers at the lower end to give greater stability to the trajectory and a sharp tip of metal.

In battle, the archers, while they were engaged in loading the firearm, often protected with a special shield large and equipped with wooden supports or created a face shield behind which they knelt. The moment struck they, behind the barrier of shields were visible only helmets and crossbows. If forced to fight outdoors against a large number of archers, the archers were usually forced to retreat.

The crossbow was a deadly weapon very popular due to the fact that its use was simple and required minimal learning. Relatively little skilled soldiers could become proficient in the use of the crossbow in a short time and a well-aimed shot was able to knock down a highly trained knight in armuor. The use of the crossbow was not always considered fair, in particular by the riders, since it did not require special skills or attitudes. Richard I of England was twice wounded by a crossbow, the second of which proved fatal. The idea that noble and valiant men could be killed so easily by common soldiers, it was inconceivable for the courteous elite. In the twelfth century a pope tried to get the banning of the crossbow as a means of “inhuman.”

The discovery of gunpowder

Already in the eleventh century they used the Chinese gunpowder for military purposes, as fuel for the bullets, but more than of actual throwing weapons they were deterrents to intimidate the enemy. Although it was exploit it for pyrotechnics uses, it was not fully understood its potential as explosive and propellant.

The gunpowder gradually penetrated in the West, where many uses were destructive. The oldest work of art that depicts an european weapon working with gunpowder is dated back to 1326. It was a primitive piece of artillery, loaded with a kind of spear instead of a cannon ball. The Europeans were experimenting with gunpowder for half a century, so that the first description of its formula, attributed to an English monk, Roger Bacon, dates back to 1260. In 1340 there were cannon balls of lead, iron and stone. During the battle of Crécy in 1346, the British fielded cannons on the effectiveness of which there have been received news.

Other infantry units


The typical medieval armies of infantry was often made up of spearmen protected by armor consists of a helmet and a breastplate that covered his torso. In the later years of the Middle Ages the role of spearmen became increasingly important. The armies in fact learned to deploy large formations of spearmen to counter the attacks of the heavy cavalry, since the horses refused to charge the men protected by thick barriers spearhead. The Lancers reached the maximum efficiency when emulated the ancient Greek phalanx, a formation in which many closed spears could be oriented in a certain direction at the same time. With the increasing importance of cities in the Middle Ages, there were increasingly deployed large contingents of very well trained Lancers, more effective in battle than the cost of their equipment. The lancers, initially developed as defensive body, became in the best cases, as among the Swiss, the Goths and the Flemish, able to maneuver with precision and go on the attack.


The success of the Lancers against cavalry involved the innovation of their equipment and their battle tactics. The pikemen were introduced by the cities and communities that do not have enough money to deploy many units of heavy cavalry: the pikes were in fact cheap and could become very effective with the training. One of the most important changes involved the change in the length of the weapon: if the spear could be from 1.8 meters to 2.4 meters, the shaft of a spear could reach 5.4 meters in height. This meant that more tips pike could be invoked against the enemy to protect the men lined up in the front row.

The pikemen could, along with archers and gunners, to train combined military units: pikemen protected the group from the attacks of the cavalry, while units with throwing weapons inflicted losses on the enemy from a distance. The use of combined units became common practice on the battlefields in the Middle Ages. With the increasing use of firearms, from the end of the Middle Ages pikemen gradually lost importance. The bayonet, which allowed the musketeer to fend off cavalry, made the pike weapon obsolete.

Units with throwing weapons


The bow was an important military weapon after the fall of Rome, although less prevalent in European areas covered by dense forests. The archers could fight at a distance, protected by walls or other cover and ambush. They were decisive battles offensive because they were not able to physically rip the ground to the enemy as it could do the infantry. They were mainly constituted the defensive troops and light units that could decimate the enemy ranks before the decisive hand to hand combat. If the massive throwing of arrows had inflicted losses and sapped the morale of the enemy before the actual battle, the troops could more easily break the resistance of the opponent and eventually win. Even in the case of defense of castles, the archers were a very useful force.


The crossbow was throwing weapon consisting of a bow lying on a wooden stand that was on her shoulder like a modern rifle and with which the shot was lashed by pressing the trigger. Invented in ancient China, ot did not become common in Europe until the Middle Ages and it was used to launch small darts, stones or metal balls rather than arrows. It was a powerful weapon, but lower than the range of the arch, easy to use, relatively inexpensive and lethal. A farmer with only a few hours of training could easily kill a chosen knight protected by a shield that was worth a fortune, and who had practiced all his life the art of war. The European knights did even pressure on the Church in order to prohibit the use of such a weapon, which was considered inhumane. The English King Richard the Lionheart died from a wound inflicted by a shot with a crossbow during a siege. during the Middle Ages it was also developed the Chosen Arbalest, which used a crossbow of steel, whose elasticity and tension attributed an increased power to the weapon.


Following the introduction of the cannon. the gun began to appear in Europe during the fourteenth century, small arms trigged with the use of gunpowder. These first firearms, formed by a small tube of iron mounted on a wooden support, were inaccurate and slow to load. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the light gun was reduced in size, the support was redesigned to allow to be placed in the chest and was introduced a mechanism for the inclusion of a slow burning fuse in the combustion chamber. The weapon was effective only for a short distance.

Other units with throwing weapons

Light Infantry

Many medieval armies used troops protected by light armor for combat to support the armed forces more heavily. It could be difficult to control it, and even if of limited value in battle, it were sometimes used with success. Deployed in front of the main line of the troops, light infantry hit the enemy with bows, slings and javelins in order to weaken the ranks of opponents and cause leaks before it happened: the main battle. The light infantry could then fold the sides of the main army and continue to attack repeatedly the enemy. It was also useful to chase the fleeing enemy with higher speed movement than that of the armored units. In the event of a collision with chosen infantry troops, however, the light infantry units were unable to resist and quickly capitulated.

Elite of light infantry

In a minority of armies there was a trained elite of light infantry that attacked enemy formations, folded and supported the fight of the main forces from the flanks. The Swiss took often up to one quarter of their forces as light infantry. The Swiss elite of light infantry claimed the attack of the dense phalanxes of pikemen hitting the enemy troops before the pikemen could actually attack it. In case of emergency, light infantry could hide behind the rows of pikes, lined up to go back out and hit opponents in retreat.

Horse Archer

The horse archers were originally from the vast plains of Asia and continued to be the main force of the armies of these regions throughout the Middle Ages. The Mongol armies that conquered much of Asia, the Middle East and a large portion of Europe were made mostly by horse archers. By that time represented a unique combination of firepower and speed. They could quickly cross almost any terrain, hit by surprise and retreat if necessary before the heavy cavalry or infantry enemy could react. The Mongols were particularly expert in the tactics of hit, escape and ambushes, avoiding combat until the enemy was completely demoralized. The horse archers were effective especially in the open field, where they could have freedom of movement, while they were ineffective against fortified positions that could not be espugnate and required a melee attack.

Armored archer on horseback

The archers on horseback could be a devastating force if well trained and used in an appropriate manner, but they were exposed as much as their enemies to the arrows of the archers. An innovation was to make them less vulnerable to the introduction of helmets and armor for the chest. They were thus created the armored horse archers, less agile of their comrades without armor but able to fight undergoing minor losses. The Byzantines made extensive use of armored archers on horseback in clashes with the cavalry coming from Persia and northern Great Plains.


The availability of food and medicine was limited. The medieval armies were living at the expense of the occupied country, without too many worries for those who resided in the occupied zone. For the inhabitants of a particular place, the passage of an army, as a friend, it was certainly better than the enemies pass. The medieval armies were standing not long in the same place due to the rapid exhaustion of supplies of food and forage, a particularly important aspect during the sieges. An army during a siege that was not ensuring the constant supply of provisions and food, with a good chance it was forced to retire long before the surrender of the besieged in order to avoid starvation.

Even the hygienic conditions were an issue linked to the movement of armies from one place to another. A medieval army brought with it many animals, in addition to the horses of the knights, and sewage often spread diseases and dysentery. Frequently it happened that an army was weakened due to plagues and desertion. In the military campaign in France, Henry V of England lost about 15% of his army due to illness during the siege of Harfleur, and many other men perished during the march to Agincourt, while losses in battle corresponded only to 5%. In the course of another siege, Henry V died of the same disease for poor hygienic conditions of the place.

Deployment in battle

In most decisive battles it was the tactical deployment of the opposing armies before the start of actual combat. The campaigns of maneuver and the fights were rare in a duel.

Before the battle, the commanders divided their forces into contingents, giving each one a particular task. The first division could be between infantry, archers and knights. These groups could then be broken down into other groups for the allocation of individual missions or as spare modules. The commander could for example organize numerous “battalions” or “divisions” of riders, which, depending on the case, could be sent to the attack or held in reserve. The archers could be placed at the head of the army with support of infantry. Once it was determined the structure of the battle, the main decisions concerned the moment to advance the set of units. A battle started, the possibilities to turn back or re-training were scarce. Rarely, for example, a troop of horsemen could be used twice, as having participated in the action. They were usually accompanied by a reinforcement or made to retire. The charge of the heavy cavalry involved such confusion and such a waste of equipment and horses that it was almost impossible to restore the original integrity of the unit combat. The squads of Norman knights at Hastings were reorganized to launch subsequent attacks, but they were able to organize a real charge because they could not penetrate the Saxon defense.

The commanders were trying to use the terrain to their advantage and organized patrols to assess the strength and weaknesses of the enemy.


The most coveted prize for a battle that ended successfully included honors, awards and the allocation of fiefs. Other types of reward were the booty obtained from looting, the redemption request to the towns and castles conquered, the sale of arms and armor of the dead soldiers and redemption of individual prisoners of high rank. In order to save their life, the captured knights had to pay a ransom. One of the highest recorded ransoms paid in the course of history it was the equivalent of $ 20 million paid to a German prince for the release of Richard I of England, captured while returning from the crusades.

At Agincourt the English army held hostage a group of French knights in the rear of the army. During the battle, a French contingent effected its raid in the rear English, putting Henry V in a very critical position. He ordered the immediate execution of the French knights kept as hostages to prevent the release, giving up a fortune.

The capture of knights was recorded by heralds who kept track of which soldiers were to be considered responsible and consequently had to shoulder the burden of paying the ransom. The heralds news of what happened to the family of the prisoner, had made the payment of ransom and obtained the release of the prisoner.

The spread of the payment of ransoms may seem a sign of civilization, but in reality very often hidden infamies and crimes, as was the case with the low-ranking prisoners, killed instantly in order to avoid having to supervise and nurture them.

Military Tactics

The medieval battles underwent a slow transformation from clashes of poorly organized gangs fighting in which they were employed sophisticated operations and tactical maneuvers. Part of this evolution was due to the development of different types of soldiers and weapons and the increased knowledge of their use. From the early armies of the Dark Ages, formed simply by crowds of foot soldiers, passed, with the birth of heavy cavalry, to formations consisting of groups of more advanced riders. The foot soldiers, which were used to ravage the land to cultivate and take care of the toughest jobs during sieges, in battles they were particularly exposed to the risk of being caught when the knights were trying to engage the enemy in individual duel, especially in the case of feudal levers and uneducated peasants. Even the archers were useful during sieges, but also ran the risk of being caught on the battlefield.

In the last years of the fifteenth century, the commanders made good progress in teaching the discipline to their knights and armies in getting a team effort. In the British Army, the knights initially refused to accept on an equal footing with the archers, although the latter had proven their worth in many occasions. Even the discipline improved as more and more riders were fighting for money rather than for honor and glory. The mercenary soldiers became very famous in Italy thanks to the long campaigns with minimal bloodshed: at that time the soldiers of all ranks were valuable elements, not to be sacrificed lightly. The feudal knights ready to die for the glory gradually turned into professional armies whose members were more interested in live and earn money.

The tactics of the cavalry

The cavalry was typically divided into three groups, or divisions, to be sent into battle one after the other. The first wave led the way and disturb the enemy so that the second or third wave could open up a gap. Once forced the enemy to flee, it began the true operations of killing and capture.

In practice, the knights took personal decisions at the expense of any plan of the commander. Being primarily interested in the honor and glory, sought to obtain positions of advantage in the first ranks of the division's equipment: total victory on the field was overshadowed by personal glory. Battle after battle, the knights charged as soon as they saw the enemy, in spite of any plan.

The commanders on occasion put on foot their own riders to control them better. It was a common choice for small armies which had little hope in terms of charges. The dismounted riders continued the battle supporting the common foot troops, fighting protected by fences or other battle constructions designed to minimize the impact of cavalry charges.

An example of unruly behavior on the part of the knights was the battle of Crécy in 1346. The French Army, with 40,000 men against 10,000, far in excess of the English, was counting many more knights among its ranks. The British were divided into three groups of longbowmen protected by palisades planted in the ground. Of the three groups, two were made up of dismounted riders, while a third group of dismounted knights was kept in reserve. Genoese mercenaries crossbowmen were sent by the French king to hit the British army while he was trying to organize his knights into three divisions. The crossbows were wet but losing their effectiveness and the French knights, ignoring the organizational efforts of the king, wished frantically to charge as soon as they saw the enemy. Impatient with the Genoese, the French king gave his knights attack and they overran the crossbowmen during charging. Although the fighting continued all day, with the long bow archers, who had kept dry their cords, the English dismounted knights managed to defeat the French horsemen which had fought as an undisciplined horde.

By the end of the Middle Ages, the value in war of heavy cavalry was decreased, compared to the combat power of throwing weapons and infantry. In this period there were known the futility of charging well placed and regulated troops on foot. The rules were changed. Poles, traps and trenches horses were normally employed by armies to protect against cavalry charges. The attacks against the ranks of pikemen, archers or gunners left the field just a bunch of horses and men to pieces. The knights were forced to fight on foot or wait for an opportunity to charge. Devastating charges were still possible, but only when the enemy was on the run, disorganized or not temporary protected behind the defenses on the field of battle.

The tactics of the troops with throwing weapons

For almost all the medieval age, the troops were nothing more than throwing archers who used one of several types of arch: initially it was a short bow, a crossbow and then finally a long bow. The archers had the advantage of being in a position to kill and injure enemies without intervening in melee combat. The value of these troops was well known in ancient times, but the idea was temporarily forgotten during the High Middle Ages. The knights warriors who controlled the territory were figures of total superiority in the early Middle Ages and their code demanded that commit themselves in a close combat with an enemy was brave. Killing with arrows from a distance was considered dishonorable to the knights, so the ruling class neglected the use and development of this weapon.

The effectiveness and usefulness of the archers, both during sieges and in battle, gradually became more and more evident and increased the number of armies in which they were entered, although with some resistance. It appears for example that the decisive victory of William I at Hastings in 1066 has been achieved thanks to the archers, even if the riders boasted about as the victory was their merit. The Anglo-Saxons, holed up on the side of a hill and protected by their shields, did not allow to Norman knights to join them. The fighting continued throughout the day. When the Anglo-Saxons came out in the open, in part to attack the Norman archers, were easily impressed. The Normans seemed destined to lose, but many believe that the decisive factor in their victory were the archers. A mortally lucky shot wounded Harold, the Anglo-Saxon king, and the battle ended soon after.

The archers on foot were fighting in formations of hundreds and even thousands of men. When they were in a range of three hundred feet, where they could be aimed at single targets, an arrow shot from a crossbow or a longbow could pierce an armor. It was madness for the enemy to take a risk of this kind, especially if it was not able to deal with it. When it appeared the ideal situation, the archers disturbed opponents by hitting them repeatedly. The enemy could be protected from the attacks of the cavalry thanks to the palisades, but it could not avoid all the arrows or darts that were falling. If the enemy left the shelter to hit the archers, heavy cavalry would intervene to save them. If the enemy formation had held the position, it would be weakened until the effective cavalry charge.

In England, the archers were actively encouraged and subsidized, as the British were in unfavourable numerical conditions when they fought on the continent. When they learned the use of large contingents of archers with a simple bow, they began reporting of the first victories in battle despite the numerical inferiority. The British also developed the launch flurry of arrows, taking advantage of the range of the longbow: instead of hitting individual targets, the longbowmen hit the area occupied by the enemy. Launching up to six rounds per minute, 3000 longbowmen could strike an enemy formation with 18,000 arrows. The effect of these bursts on horses and men was devastating: the French knights who participated in the Hundred Years War told about the black sky for arrows and noise of these missiles in flight.

The archers gained importance in the armies of the continent, especially in the military and law professionals gathered from the cities. With a minimum of training, an archman was able to become a soldier to all effects.

By the fourteenth century made their appearance on the battlefields of the first muskets, that when they worked, they were even more powerful than bows.

The use of the archers was difficult, as it was necessary for them to be protected during the launches and they were pretty close to the enemy to hit accurately. The longbowmen, to protect against enemy cavalry, led on the battlefield of the poles that were fixed to the ground with hammers in front of the point from which they wanted to pull. Against enemy archers they could count on their superior firepower, but they were at a disadvantage if attacked by soldiers on foot. The archers in battle wore large shields placed on frames that could be assembled to form the protections from behind which men flushed.

Towards the end of this period, archers and pikemen fought together in combined formations. The pikes kept away enemy infantry, while the troops throwing composed of archers or gunners hit the enemy formations. These mixed formations learned how to move and attack together. The enemy's cavalry had to withdraw in the face of a mixed force of pikemen and coordinated and archers or gunners. If the enemy was not equipped with missiles and pikes, the battle was probably lost.

The tactics of the infantry

In the Middle Ages, the tactics of foot soldiers was simply to engage in a hand to hand combat with the enemy. The Franks were approaching their opponents, throwing their axes to disturb them. The Warriors relied exclusively on their strength and ferocity to win.

The rise of the cavalry placed temporarily into the background the role of infantry on the battlefield, mainly because there was a disciplined and well-trained infantry. The foot soldiers of early medieval armies were mainly peasants poorly trained and poorly armed.

The Saxons and Vikings developed a defensive formation in which the men were advancing compactly, protected by their large shields, forming a barrier. This training helped to protect them from archers and cavalry, of which their armies were not equipped.

The infantry lived a new flowering in those areas that did not have sufficient resources to take the field with heavy cavalry armies, such as Scotland and Switzerland, and in the cities that were rising. Driven by necessity, these two sectors found a way to organize armies which contained a small formation of cavalry or not possessed at all. Both found that the horses would not have charged a barrier of bristling stakes or spear: a disciplined force of spearmen would have stopped the heavy cavalry elite of nations and richest gentlemen, for a fraction of the cost of heavy cavalry.

Another type of training, consisting of a group of spearmen arranged in a circle, was used by the Scots during the wars for independence that led around the end of the twelfth century and proved to be a good defensive formation. Robert Bruce attacked the English knights only on wetlands, that prevented the charges of the heavy cavalry.

The Swiss were famous for their skill in fighting with pikes and essentially took up the idea of ​​the Greek phalanx. They formed a square of pikemen, in which the four outer row held their pikes nearly horizontal, with the tip pointing slightly downwards, to form a strong barrier against cavalry, while the rear row halberds used to attack enemies. The Swiss were trained so well to be able to move in group relatively quickly, thus transforming a defensive formation even in an offensive formation.

The answer to the pikemen who moved en masse were the gunners who were advancing through the ranks of compact formations opponents. It seems that the Spanish were the first to move in this way, the pikemen fighting with swords and small round shields. The soldiers were armed lightly in order to move easily between the pikes and fight with short swords. At the end of the Middle Ages the Spanish, yet first, experienced a formation composed of pikemen and musketeers soldiers with sword, an effective fighting force able to use all the weapons on different terrain, in both defense and attack positions. At the end of this period the Spaniards proved to be the most effective fighting force in Europe.

Military strategies

The medieval military strategy was based on the monitoring of the economic base and thus on wealth linked to the ability to take the armies on the fields. At the beginning of the Middle Ages this meant mainly plunder and devastate, or, on the contrary, defend a territory, since the wealth was derived from their work in the fields and the exploitation of pastures. During this period the city, thanks to trade and manufacturing activities, gradually became more and more important centers of control over the wealth of a state or a nation.

Attack, conquer or defend castles was a key element of the strategy of war because a castle was the outpost of protecting farmland and soldiers responsible for its defense also controlled the entire surrounding area. The expansion of the city fortification was necessary: to defend the town gradually assumed greater importance in the struggle for the possession of the territory.

The strategy of the armies in the field focused on the conquest of the key and fortified points on the looting of the countryside, or on the use of all the means that would have prevented the enemy to succeed in their intent. The purpose of the battles was the annihilation of the enemy at any cost. The Battle of Hastings in 1066, for example, was fought by the Anglo-Saxons to stop the invasion of the Normans. The Anglo-Saxons and the Normans were defeated under the leadership of William, who spent the following years trying to establish their rule over England through a military campaign of conquest. The Battle of Lechfield of 955 was fought between the Germanic peoples and the marauding Magyars from the east. The decisive victory of the Germans led Otto I to put an end forever to the Magyar invasions. The defeat of the Moors in 732 by Charles Martel had as consequences of the end of the Moorish plunder and expansion of this people outside the Spanish borders.

The battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, all fought during the Hundred Years War between the English and the French, were an attempt by the French to stop English incursions. The French lost all three battles and raids continued English. In this case, however, the raids British were not decisive to establish control over the territory and the French, in the end, turned out to be the real winners of the war.

The goal of the Crusades was to gain and maintain control of the strongholds in the Holy Land in order to dominate a large surface area. The many battles that marked the period of the Crusades were fought to break this control to one side or the other. The victory of Hattin in 1187 by the Saracens led by Saladin made possible the Arab conquest of Jerusalem.

History, even and especially when describing armies and battles, helps us to understand the reasons behind the formation of protected cities, castles, armies and weapons: a series to bloodsheds to which men, up to these days, seem unable to give up.


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