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Household Troops

Discussion in 'World Building' started by trentonian7, Mar 19, 2016.

  1. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

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    I understand for most of history, countries seldom kept standing armies and most often troops were only called upon in times of war. The reasons for this, as I understand it, are mostly cost-- it's expensive to mantain a military force.

    That being said, I don't want a standing army, I want the nation's ruler to have a household "guard" much as the Ottoman sultan had the Janissaries. Of course, these elite troops would be more than a simple guard, they would participate in select military operations and accompany the King to battle.

    Is it feasible in a vaguely Hellenistic island archipelago, where regular armies are composed of citizen volunteers, auxiliary troops from vassal lands, and sometimes (in dire times) conscripts assembled only in times of war, for the king to keep a household force of 1,500 men? There would be 750 heavy infantry, 250 cavalry (leather and spears), 250 skirmishers, and 250 archers.

    The capital city has maybe 400,000 people, the next largest city half that. The countryside is fairly fertile, though steep hills render the very interior nearly impossible to farm. Fishing is plentiful.

    I'm wondering if such a permanent force is possible under the circumstances, what might prevent it, and what else I might need to consider in the portrayal and design of the guard.
     
  2. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    A household guard that size is reasonable, especially if you consider 10% of the population as "ready conscripts" at all times. That would mean you'd be able to raise at least 6000 levies in the event of a war, not counting conscripts that perhaps aren't prime specimens of humanity.


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  3. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

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    I assume you drew the 6,000 from the combined populations of the largest cities, which would be around 600,000. I'm not sure if you meant 1% could be conscripted or if you meant the king could levy 60,000 men because 10% of 600,000 isn't 6,000?
     
  4. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    Kinda! I guess in my brain i dropped a 0 from the end of the population numbers... LOL. What I meant was that 10% of the total population (counting both rural and cosmopolitan areas) wouldn't be a bad number, but that won't count additional conscripts that have recieved next to no training.


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  5. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    A few points.

    1. 10% of the population is a very large percentage of the people you can recruit if this is a typical army made up entirely or almost entirely of men. In this case, you can remove roughly 50% of the population right from the start. These are the women, and they're not going to be fighting, so you're left with only the male half as your conscription pool. Then you have to take into account those who are too old or too young to be fighting, those who suffer from debilitating conditions or diseases, and people who are exempt from fighting due to profession or by dodging the draft. On the other hand, there will be women dodging the system as well who will pretend to be men to fight, so perhaps these two subsets will offset. Now, I don't know the exact demographics of your Hellenistic kingdom, but taking into account those who can't physically fight by virtue of age or disability would probably be in the 30-35% range, leaving you with 15-20% of the population available to be drafted. However, you may want to take into account that if 7% of the population is under arms for over 90 days, this would have catastrophic effects on any preindustrial economy (according to this article on writing-world.com).

    2. Okay, so you have an urban population of 600,000 in the two largest cities, but what is the total population? Historically, the rural population was over 90% of the total, but I believe that mostly applies to agricultural societies. I don't know how much they depend on fishing, and how much fishing would change that percentage. Still, a population of over 6 million with those two cities seems about right.

    3. How is this guard not a standing army in all but name?
     
  6. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

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    To answer your third point, because it isn't an army. A regiment of an army is not the same as the actual army-- so while it may be a standing regiment, it isn't sizable enough to constitute an "army." I see what you're saying, but I'm not trying specifically to dodge the idea of a standing military with a technicality. They don't have a regular army in times of peace, but the king keeps a relatively small number of troops to protect him, counter the power of provincial elites, and form a small but firm backbone in the nation's army when it does form.

    I also appreciate your calculations on levy size, thank you!
     
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    A household of 1500 seems awfully big to me. You might ask yourself the purpose of this force, especially given that it's a mixed force.

    One sort of household is almost literally that--it's the king's buddies and allies, and/or their young sons. The French called it a mesnie, and older Latin term was comitatus. It's about one and a half steps up from a gang. Their purpose was to be *with* the king, not only in war but also in hunting and feasting. Fifteen hundred is too many for that, imo.

    Another sort of household is more like an elite guard unit, somewhat like Martin's gold cloaks. It's a palace guard, keeping peace and protecting the palace in quiet times, and serving as a bodyguard and reserve in wartime. 1500 is still too many, except for an emperor or a sultan.

    Then we get to someone like the Janissaries, which were basically just elite troops kept on the payroll as much to make sure the sultan always had a hammer as it was to have a military strike force in war. The Praetorian Guard would be another example. Note, however, that in both cases there was *also* an army. These were simply part of the larger army.

    In general, I see household troops as not being mixed forces. They would tend to be all infantry (City Watch) or all cavalry. Also note that a medieval knight should not be thought of as a single man. He typically had a couple of men-at-arms, plus one or more servant types (squire, e.g.). So those 1500 really balloon if you were thinking knights.
     
  8. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

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    I wasn't thinking knights at all. 1,500 would be it-- and you're right to note "household troops" is really a misnomer, but I did explain I was going more for something like the janissaries than the palace guard per say. The Jannisaries, the sultan's "household troops" numbered 1,000 almost from the start, though as the empire expanded and industrialism grew they reached some 130,000 in number. The praetorians numbered between a thousand or so and 10,000 over time and guarded a city not much larger than 400,000 at their conception. Both Jannisaries and the Praetorians had mixed troops... Though perhaps not as diverse as what I had originally brainstormed; you're right to point that out. I was hoping to create a force that can both provide personal protection, palace protection, and maybe even city watch duties while also being capable and quickly responding troops in times of war or rebellion, much like the Janissaries. I imagine keeping 250 cavalry on hand in the city isn't very practical though...

    Edit: pretty sure the gold cloaks in King's Landing you reference are at least 1500.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2016
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Interesting. I would have put the City Watch at more like 500 or so. *shrug*

    I still think the big distinction has to be between an entity that is primarily palace guard or city watch, and an entity that is primarily an elite army unit. Sounds like it's the former for you, so I would agree that cavalry is unlikely.

    But that frees a couple hundred up for other purposes. Maybe a magic-user unit? Or spies/assassins? An urban combat unit? IOW, why not invent something unique to your world for the purposes of your story?
     
  10. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    A mixed bag of 1500 troops makes me think of a crack unit the monarch can keep on hand to deal with pesky peasant revolts or uppity aristocrats. Word gets out to potential troublemakers: stir things up, and this unit will turn up on your doorstep.

    Actually, I'd make the 'crack unit' about a thousand men, and retain the rest as a police force/palace bodyguard unit. 'The thousand toughest men in the nation.' Kids aspiring to join their ranks.

    I'd also make them heavy on officers/NCO's to transform militia groups into real military units in a hurry if need be.
     
  11. DMThaane

    DMThaane Sage

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    Something to remember about the Janissaries and Praetorian Guard is that were formed by industrial powers that maintained large standing armies. It simply isn't feasible for less industrialised and less militaristic states to sustain standing guards in such numbers. The English 'Thingmen' or 'Þingalið', as an example, were a temporary standing army that started at 3000 men and was steadily reduced over its forty year existence before being disbanded, and this was hardly during a golden age of peace.

    Another key thing is how these forces are recruited. You don't have a standing army so you can't recruit from it, that leaves nobility, mercenaries, or locals supported by the treasury. Nobility can support themselves but they require estates that are vulnerable to attack or subversion and are inevitably involved in political intrigue. They may also resent the service or expect favour. Locals chosen for merit need some way of demonstrating it and will be expensive to equip and maintain. Mercenaries can actually work quite well if selected from a society where oaths are taken seriously, as they can be loyal and are uninvolved in politics. Caeser maintained a German bodyguard, as did the Julio-Claudians (the latter being around 500 men), the Varangian Guard of the Byzantines were well regarded (their numbers started at 6,000 but tended to be lower, perhaps as low as a few hundred at times) and even the Janissaries were recruited from Christian children as a loyal slave core. The Janissaries demonstrate another problem with palace guards. Once they realise how important they are they may become their own political faction.

    Another question is why the guard were formed. What made the rulers of your nation believe they needed such a large standing force at their side? Why they were formed in the first place would have some bearing on their nature and composition.
     
  12. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

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    Okay so reading through this thread, there are a few key factors I need to consider.

    1. Cost. How are the 1500 paid for? I understand that in a Northern European feudalistic society, armies were tiny and seldom raised for more than very brief times of war; soldiers needed to tend to their farms and kings couldn't afford to feed and mantain such a force for long stretches. That being said, I don't plan on using such a setting. I'm emulating more so Rome, Carthage, and the post- Alexander Hellenistic kingdoms that arise in the east. Farming is of course important, but the islands I'm using are heavily involved in over seas trade and shipping and there is going to be more revenue for a king to tax, especially given the archiplaego's (small) vassal states. So while it may be too costly to keep a full army, the king is able to keep a small elite force independent of any provincial elites without bankrupting his coffers or the kingdom. It's important to note that when I say standing army, I mean land army. The archiplaego keeps a sizable navy if that's any indication of their finances.

    2. Necessity. Why is this force needed? Why spend the money on it in the first place? The foremost answer for any household guard is, of course, to protect the house and its head. In this case, that would be the palace and King. A guard of 1,500 is far too large to simply patrol the palace and accompany the king about the countryside, however, and it is hardly justifiable. That being said, I'm using the term "household troops" loosely. Someone characterized the janissaries as a hammer for the sultan to bang around and that's more or less why I want it. Envious lords are a lot easier to keep in place when you have an elite personal force at your disposal. When your provinces are literally islands separated by the ocean, governors or local nobility are far more likely to contest central authority and the threat of a crack regiment of the king's finest should at the very least make the lords think twice, if not provide military deterrence. If the rebellion is bad enough and a formal army is raised, the 1500 can form the rigid backbone of the army. In times of peace and political rest, some 500 might remain with the king and the remaining 1000 could be used for construction of roads, fortifications, etc or even as city watch. (I think I'll replace the cavalry)

    3. Recruitment. Where do these men come from? Like a commentator noted, it could be considered a large honor to serve in the king's personal guard. Victorious soldiers in war might be offered a permanent place in the guard, but most are probably volunteers.

    P.S. The Gold Cloaks had several thousand; during the siege of King's Landing there were six thousand according to the ASOIAF wikI. King's Landing is 500,000-- my capital is 400,000.
     
  13. Jerseydevil

    Jerseydevil Minstrel

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    Others have explained many of the points that I was going to make about the economics and numbers. There is an issue I have with the amount of cavalry. Horses are extremely expensive and difficult to maintain, and rarely were a major part of a Western army in large numbers. For example, a typical Roman legion and a detachment of about 300 cavalrymen or so who supported a 5,000 man legion. In all fairness, the Romans were known as being horrible with cavalry, but you get the point. There is also the practical uses. If they are a personal guard, I would think that they would be employed in a palace or possibly an urban setting. While they can be used to run down uppity peasants, the narrow streets would mean that they can be cornered into a bottleneck, and even the most cruse spears can be used against them. Cavalry work best on wide open, flat plains, something that an archipelago might not have. In ancient Greece, cavalry was rarely used, as the landscape was too rocky for most maneuvers and horses were too valuable to be used in anything other than farming. Also, horsemen are next to useless during siege warfare.

    As far as other uses for the guard, some units had different divisions withing them. For example, Alexander the Great's Companions were Macedon's heavy shock cavalry, made up of about 1500-1800 men. Within this was the Royal squadron, about 300 or so that moved directly with Alexander and were in bodyguards when in the field. Perhaps your guard units could be set up in a similar way, with a unit dedicated to guarding the monarch, with other units for crowd control, or as a base to build an army around.
     
  14. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    It's worth pointing out that the cavalry attached to the legions were primarily for courier duties and the like. The real work was done by cavalry auxilia units, recruited from places with traditions of horsemanship, like Gaul and Pannonia. And they were significantly better than the cavalry of Republican times.

    I'll agree that cavalry was definitely a subordinate arm in Greek warfare until Philip and Alexander came along. They did get used, but the terrain was a major limiting factor. And in an archipelago it would probably be worse. Transporting horses wasn't exactly an easy thing in the ancient world.
     
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