What are some interesting facts about medieval warfare?
Answered by: Dylan McLaren,Studies ancient warfare
For starters, battles were nothing like the chaotic massed charge you see on TV or in a movie.
Time to charge in, boys! Just like last week!
While it certainly makes for great entertainment (and the ensuing chaos provides a convenient chance for main characters and villains to stumble across each other), it’s just poor tactics. There’s no outflanking, no maneuvering, not even any attempt at holding a line!
At that point, there’s really no point in fighting- the side with a better combination of training, numbers, and equipment wins no matter what. Unless the generals don’t know the capabilities of each other side’s soldiers, the “Hollywood Charge” is little more than the elaborate suicide of one side’s entire army
In much of the same vein, the sword was never anyone’s first weapon of choice on the battlefield! One can’t be blamed for not knowing this, as every medieval-themed piece of media created seems hell-bent on portraying swords as these legendary, deadly masterpieces. However, the simple spear was a much more common, and more effective, weapon.
While swords required a great deal of metal to forge, a spear required very little, due to its small tip. In contrast to the years needed to truly learn how to wield a sword properly, a spear could be taught and drilled into conscripts in a matter of weeks.
Most importantly, spears had far greater reach than swords, an incredible advantage most people don’t understand. However, after months of my 5′8 self sparring against a 6′4 guy at my HEMA club, I can confirm that superior reach is a real killer. After all, if you can stab your enemy before he’s even close enough to touch you, you win.
It went like this, only Carl had a sword and still outranged me by far…
Speaking of HEMA, one of my club member’s favorite historical anecdotes is about a Landsknecht, a kind of Germanic mercenary from the 15th and 16th century. See, this guy attacked a castle with his unit, and after surviving the arrow-and-crossbow-bolt-filled advance to the walls, he was the lucky first man up the ladder.
While most sane people would balk at having to climb an exposed structure right into the waiting jaws of an enemy formation, our Landsknecht friend had no such qualms. He scaled the walls, but immediately found himself locked in combat with a minor noble, decked head to toe in near-impenetrable, more-expensive-than-your-life plate armor!
While the rest of the Landesknecht’s allies came raging up the walls, ready to take the castle by storm, our hero had altogether different priorities; over the course of the fight, he managed to knock the noble to the ground, where he simply… sat on the helpless man weighed down by his armor.
“Can you believe this man Sitting on him, instead of helping us take the castle!”
See, a captured noble was already a great prize, as ransoms tended to be quite costly. But a suit of plate armor too?
That was a literal fortune, the Landsknecht was set for life! There was no need for him to risk participating in the rest of the battle any more. After all, the wages he would earn from the battle paled in comparison to the massive profits laying helpless underneath him.
Capturing one man was sometimes more profitable than taking a castle!