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Ask me about Warfare

Discussion in 'Research' started by thecoldembrace, Mar 3, 2014.

  1. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    That is why infantry square was so popular. Spanish tercio is maybe the best-known pre-18th-century variant, but Byzantines utilized hollow square as one of their basic tactical formations (with cavalry and supplies being protected within the square by infantry), Crusaders picked it up from them, and both John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus also utilized similar formation.
     
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  2. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    I can't comment on details of non-European warfare, I know to little about it in this period, but I can comment that with the starting decline for the dominance of knights they were approaching their end date of us. A knight who is breed, raised and lives primarily for war is a significant investment. If he can't deliver results much better than professional soldiers who are generally cheaper to work with, there's no reason to use knights as opposed to heavy cavalry of a lower social status. The counters developed by the infantry against heavy cavalry charges simply made the heavy cavalry less able to produce the results that were in relation to their costs. For as you know, cavalry is not a cheap branch of the army.

    And to my knowledge, neither Byzantine nor Arab armies used heavy massed pike formations to my knowledge. Primarily because from what little I've heard and read it was more of raids back and forth and thus infantry of such use would be of limited value.

    I agree. But cavalry is expensive and heavy cavalry is very expensive. Hence when they can't dominate a battlefield you usually don't amass giant numbers of them but use less of them as a supplement to the other parts of the army. And like I said above, a knight is expensive. Why go through extra costs when a lower status professional soldier can fullfill the same tasks for a smaller price tag?
     
  3. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    "Knight" is literally "armoured man on a horse", or more accurately, a man who can afford horse, armour and other equipment of heavy cavalry. Knights existed within feudal system, but feudal system was not requirement for a knight. Roman equites were also basically knights (and the term itself is often translated as "knights"), as were landed kataphraktoi of Byzantine armies. That is how I use the term, most of the time. And to give example of author who used it in the same way, Knights of Dol Amroth were called such by Tolkien despite Gondorian military organization having absolutely nothing in common with Western European feudalism. So when I talk about knights, do not assume that these are automatically feudal knights. And even in feudal system, there were knights who did not have high social status - term "freelancer" in fact comes precisely from knights who did not have either lands or feudal lord, and sold their services as mercenary soldiers. Other than freelancer knights, another group of professional heavy cavalry in feudal system were household knights, who may or may not have had lands, and were in service (household) of a lord.

    Knight is basically a professional heavy cavalry. That is all he is.

    And both Byzantine and Arab armies absolutely did use heavy massed pike formations. Maybe not to the extent of Spanish tercios, but several - up to twelve, I think - ranks of pikemen was not unknown. However, combined-arms formations were preferred choice. Nikephoros Phokas discusses an infantry square where infantry were deployed seven deep - two rows of spearmen, three of bowmen, and two of spearmen on the inside (in case enemy cavalry breaks into the suqare). But since such formation could be smashed by armoured cataphracts, menavlatoi weilding short powerful spears were deployed in front, making formation seven-deep. Also, two rear ranks of spearmen could be brought forward. (You can read Eric McGeer, Sowing the Dragon's Teeth for more information).
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >A knight who is breed, raised and lives primarily for war is a significant investment.
    Well, sort of. Many knights were granted lands that were intended to provide the income they needed to maintain themselves so that they could be called to arms and outfit themselves appropriately. That didn't always happen, but that was the theory. So it's not like X knights = Y dollars out of the royal pocket.

    It's also probably worth saying that not all knights were warriors. Some were little more than garrison commanders that never saw action. Some were even more like civil servants, but granting them a title and land was the medieval version of a paycheck. Aldarion touches on this.

    As for their use in battle, as is typical with everything else medieval, there was some of this and some of that. It's absolutely true that the massed heavy cavalry charge was sort of the calling card of medieval Europe from the 11thc onward. Sometimes it was devastatingly effective and sometimes it was almost laughably ineffective. Examples of both can be found in just about every century right up until the development of sidearms, and even that varied depending what part of Europe you're talking about. And it's not like there was no evolution or variation in tactics within the institution of heavy cavalry in the Middle Ages.

    A final addendum. The word "knight" comes from the German Knecht, which means something along the lines of "servant." It gets used to mean employee or apprentice, among other things. The German word for knight is Ritter. Rider. How that German word managed to wiggle its way over into English is rather obscure, but its a good indiciation of just how slippery this whole business of knights and mounted warriors is. Italian, French, Spanish, all have perfectly sensible words for a knight, all variations on chevalier, caballero--horse person. Rider. Leave it to English to get it weird.

    Hey AldarionAldarion, what's the Croatian for knight? I'd be willing to bet it's another variation on horse rider.
     
  5. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    Well, you just lost the bet. "Knight" for Croatian is "vitez". I am uncertain of the origin of the word, but it seems that it came from Old Slavic vitędzь which means, basically, Viking. Today, Russian vitjaz and Czech vitez both mean "warrior", though Croatian language has a separate word for it.

    So these are the original knights.
     
  6. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    In the ancient Indo-European we have the root word marj for our mounted warrior, meaning something like 'hero' but being applied to a caste or class in conquered areas, such as marjanni in Hurrian and so on. I chose to do a variant of that for my Muram people, conquering riders 'from the steppes,' with their own warriors being called mur, but the name quickly becoming a synonym for 'noble' in the areas they occupied. In a couple generations, it came to mean anyone of their ethnic background in some regions.
     
  7. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    Damn system gutted my post. Let's make a new try, and split it up into two posts. Sorry for the double posting, mods. :(

    The terminology of a word is often grossly irrelevant in regards to what a word actually means in its use.

    I am not really interested in the misunderstanding of ancient Roman society or the misuse of the term "knight" to apply to the term to social groups who did not more than have a very superficial resemblance to knights..

    You are free to use whatever term as you wish. I still think you are wrong to use it that way.

    Tolkien's misuse of the term "knight" does not move my position.

    There are as far as I care nothing such as knighs outside of Western feudal society. There are classes, groups and castes who have a similar function in one or more parts, but that don't make them knights. I wouldn't call the "maryannu" knights despite simiarities in their role in society for the reason that precise terms are often useful and that they existed and acted in very different socal, cultural and political contexts.

    No. A knight is a social status. Its not another word for "heavy cavalryman". You wouldn't call a Naploleonic cuirassier for a knight, as an example.

    And we're talking actual pikemen and not spearmen in a deep formation?
     
  8. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    There's are always things in a system that don't work out 100% in practice.

    And granting them land, and a social title, is very much in my opionion a drain on the royal pocket as far as I can see when the crown loses the direct income from that land.

    WIth this I agree.

    The terminology of a word is often grossly irrelevant in regards to what a word actually means in its use.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >And granting them land, and a social title, is very much in my opionion a drain on the royal pocket as far as I can see when the crown loses the direct income from that land.

    Kinda sorta it all depends. In some cases, the grant lasted for generations, and other circumstances (including income) shifted so many times, it's hard to see a particular grant as a loss of income. It's only the English kings who got away with claiming all land belonged in theory to the crown. Most places the situation was muddier. And even where the grant was made, the recipient might owe a percentage of fines collected, and certainly was expected to contribute the "donations" and "gifts" that served as the medieval version of taxes.

    Coming at it from the other angle, the footsoldiers who came eventually to replace the heavily armored knight with his lance and war horse were themselves no cheap deal. The whole business of raising an army had changed so greatly by the 17thc that I'm not sure comparisons can be pressed very hard. It's certainly the case that putting a 17thc army into the field and keeping it there was a much greater drain on a royal treasury. We can measure that.
     
  10. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    In your use vast majority of knights would not be knights. Even in medieval Europe, let alone somewhere else. I had already mentioned it elsewhere, but many knights served as either household knights of nobility, or as mercenaries and freelancers. If you want to use knight to mean landed heavy cavalry, you may do so - and as mentioned, in fact it would be more accurate. But such term would still not necessarily restrict its meaning to feudalism, and in that case it would be more accurate to talk about men-at-arms, as that term covers knights, but it also covers men who were otherwise identical as knights but without being landed nobility - and who, in fact, formed a majority of heavy cavalry of the period.

    To quote your original post:
    If you define knight the way you are defining it - landed nobility serving as heavy cavalry - then the entire bolded part of your post is wrong, because landed nobility was rarely the majority of heavy cavalry. And heavy cavalryman who is bred, raised and lives primarily for war may or may not have been a knight. Plus, those heavy cavalrymen - mounted men-at-arms - were the only professional soldiers feudal Europe knew until mercenaries started breeding like rabbits and kings started thinkg about standing armies (Black Army, compagnies d'ordonnance). Many men-at-arms in fact were mercenaries, and the Black Army, itself formed almost solely of mercenaries, had a significant - possibly even dominant - heavy cavalry contigent.

    Again: knight = person who can afford to serve as heavy cavalry.

    Maryuannu were not knights, they were charioteers. Completely different type of troops.

    Cuirassier was not medieval heavy (i.e. shock) cavalry. In fact, cuirassiers originally utilized firearms. Neither were they expected to provide for their own equipment, which you could add as part of definition but which would render many "knights" as not being knights (and in fact they were not, in feudal terminology - these would have been men-at-arms).

    Depends on how you define pike and pikemen. But pikes are commonly 3 to 7,5 meters in length; Byzantine infantry spears were 3,7 - 4,7 meters in length. Some soldiers were equipped with menavlion, which is 3 - 4 meters in length but much thicker in order to resist a cataphract charge (which could and often would literally crush thinner spears). Either would have been too long to handle with one hand, so I would define them as pikes.

    EDIT:
    You can use Byzantine Empire for comparison. They never gave up on professional infantry, and in fact heavy infantry was arguably more important tactically than heavy cavalry by 10th century.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Before we get too far into the use of the second person (we doesn't want that, does we precious?), I want to put forward again that medieval usage was inconsistent, malleable, and downright murky. Any document most of us read is going to be in translation, which means we don't know the word or the context of the original. Many of the documents we read were written by scribes, clerics who had religious training rather than secular education. Bernie Bachrach has whole essays on how slippery is the term milites.

    I am suspcious of any statement about knights and knighthood that does not specify a time period and a region. I'm happiest when specific documents can be cited (see above). Comparative studies can produce some real insights.

    That said, we're writing fantasy, so we can generalize in ways historians will not. We can stereotype in ways historians will not. And that's fine, so long as we aren't claiming that our "knights" are historically accurate. Some do make claims of historical accuracy and pretty much earn whatever bricks fall on their head. I'm looking at you, Dan Brown and Braveheart and all your ilk. As for using historical examples (not stereotypes, mind, but examples) as inspiration, well that's meat-and-potatoes for writers of fantasy, and verisimilitude wins the day every time. Even against plate armor. <g>
     
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