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War and battle

Aldarion

Inkling
But as history has it, armed forces like to send young inexperienced soldiers to the front line don’t they.
They really don't. Soldiers are a very expensive investment, and historically, majority of soldiers were actually professional soldiers. Well-trained troops were the rule, all the way from ancient Sumeria over the medieval England to the Byzantine Empire, Hungary and Ottoman Empire.

I actually wrote about how society impacts the military organization here:
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>majority of soldiers were actually professional soldiers.
I agree with the rest of the post but I'm having a hard time with this part. Almost none of the soldiers in the Middle Ages were professionals. Certainly the feudal levy wasn't. Nor the arriere ban. The militia of the cities were not professionals. All these people were employed (or sometimes not), coming under arms only at need. Nobody paid them, which is one reason why plunder was important, even into the high Middle Ages (say, 13thc or thereabouts).

Where you do start to get some professionals is with contract fighters--mercenaries. These soldiers served under a captain, who negotiated a contract for the band. There were indeed formal arrangements for pay among these mercenaries. We see this emerge in the 14thc with the condotierri in Italy (condotta is Italian for contract), the Landesknechten in Germany, or the Swiss pikemen. The hiring of professionals continued to develop during the wars of religion until the state began constituting its own standing armies, mainly under the extraordinary pressures of the Thirty Years War. There were forerunners, but they were not usual.

It was different elsewhere. Ancient Rome, medieval Byzantium, others did indeed have professional armies; that is, soldiers who had no or little income of their own and who were paid by the state to fight or to stand ready to fight. But I can't point to an example from most any time between the 7thc and the 14thc where a city or monarch had an army paid from the treasury. Compensated, yes; but the soldiers from peasant to high noble had their own income.

The whole topic of medieval armies is, like most every other medieval topic, marvelously complicated.
 

Gurkhal

Auror
I would say that a war isn't necessary for fantasy. A conflict can be necessary to drive a story but wars are just one of many, many kinds of conflicts.

Furthermore I would say that I personally enjoy reading about the conflict but if the war is only part of the story's framework rather than the conflict which involves the characters with each other, then I wouldn't mind if you don't get into to much detail about the war or its battles.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
It was different elsewhere. Ancient Rome, medieval Byzantium, others did indeed have professional armies; that is, soldiers who had no or little income of their own and who were paid by the state to fight or to stand ready to fight. But I can't point to an example from most any time between the 7thc and the 14thc where a city or monarch had an army paid from the treasury. Compensated, yes; but the soldiers from peasant to high noble had their own income.
I make use of a quasi-roman legion model in my writings. Hence training and paid compensation are things.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
>majority of soldiers were actually professional soldiers.
I agree with the rest of the post but I'm having a hard time with this part. Almost none of the soldiers in the Middle Ages were professionals. Certainly the feudal levy wasn't. Nor the arriere ban. The militia of the cities were not professionals. All these people were employed (or sometimes not), coming under arms only at need. Nobody paid them, which is one reason why plunder was important, even into the high Middle Ages (say, 13thc or thereabouts).
I think we have a different definition of the "professional".

For me, "Professional" is a person who is specifically trained and paid to do something, but that something doesn't need to be full-time nor does the "paid" part need to be in money. For example, US National Guard are professional soldiers. Byzantine thematic troops are professional soldiers. And medieval retinues were also professional soldiers. Feudal levy definitely were professionals - they were soldiers who lived off the land and were basically landlords, in exchange for the military service. Only the urban militias weren't professionals, but these didn't become really important until 12th century or so.
 
They really don't. Soldiers are a very expensive investment, and historically, majority of soldiers were actually professional soldiers. Well-trained troops were the rule, all the way from ancient Sumeria over the medieval England to the Byzantine Empire, Hungary and Ottoman Empire.

I actually wrote about how society impacts the military organization here:
I understand your point of view, but I can’t help but think about all those young soldiers who have died in war, who were as young as 15 and 16 years old, who couldn’t have possibly have been experienced professional soldiers. Mostly poor folk from disadvantaged backgrounds who were either press ganged, were conscripted or just had no other options. Poverty will do that. I’ve seen it in my own family. And nothings changed, we still have 19 year olds coming home without limbs, having to live off of the state because they’re now disabled, only at the very beginning of their adult lives. Sorry to be solemn, but that’s my observations. Not to say there aren’t experienced soldiers on the front lines either. What has been written throughout history isn’t always necessarily the truth either. Powerful nations won’t have it written in history that they were unprepared for war with young inexperienced men on their front lines.
 

Nighty_Knight

Troubadour
I understand your point of view, but I can’t help but think about all those young soldiers who have died in war, who were as young as 15 and 16 years old, who couldn’t have possibly have been experienced professional soldiers. Mostly poor folk from disadvantaged backgrounds who were either press ganged, were conscripted or just had no other options. Poverty will do that. I’ve seen it in my own family. And nothings changed, we still have 19 year olds coming home without limbs, having to live off of the state because they’re now disabled, only at the very beginning of their adult lives. Sorry to be solemn, but that’s my observations. Not to say there aren’t experienced soldiers on the front lines either. What has been written throughout history isn’t always necessarily the truth either. Powerful nations won’t have it written in history that they were unprepared for war with young inexperienced men on their front lines.
Well, there is only one way to get experience. Generally speaking though, most units are divided into smaller units, and it usually is a mix of experienced veterans and newbies. No military I know of would make a Company or platoon, or even just a squad of young soldiers with no experience. Typically each unit will get a number of new guys each rotation, and it will be up to them to get them caught up on things and made part of the team.
 
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skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
We do indeed have different definitions. A professional is someone who derives their whole or nearly entire income from that activity. Passive income doesn't really count, or else we'd be calling someone who had inherited wealth a professional.

So, landed nobility lived off the income of their estates. They supplemented this on occasion with the spoils of war, but war was so occasional and chancy, they could not depend on that. Indeed, very often, the nobles actually lost money on an expedition, for they had to provide not only their own arms and armor, they had to care for their own followers. We have accounts during the later Crusades of nobles coming to Louis IX (for example) asking for loans because the cost of campaigning was bankrupting them. There's something similar in the Hundred Years' War, where English knights went or didn't go based on their expectation of recovering their costs (through plunder, mainly). War was not often profitable. And kings were chronically broke.

As Finchbearer says, the common soldier was often in worse shape. He again paid his own way, bore the costs of battle (including injury), and hoped mainly to return to the family farm in one piece. In any case, a campaign might happen rarely or even never over the course of a lifetime, for peasant or noble. Where was the income then? From the land, as it ever was. Depending on where you lived, the local noble might do nothing grander than engage in the occasional cattle raid.

At the other end of the scale, there were people like the de Hauteville boys, who used warfare (and just outright banditry) to carve out entire duchies for themselves (southern Italy and Sicily). There was also good campaigning to be had against the Slavs along the Elbe River. War *could* be profitable, but the examples are scattered, and the work was rarely steady, even for a mercenary. I also shouldn't overlook the mesnie, the house guard, the king's men--there were a number of different names. Basically these were direct dependents on the king, paid indeed out of the treasury and serving as men-at-arms. This was never a large body, but they did exist. That would be as close to a professional soldier I can think of, before the early modern era (and post-Rome). Oh, and there's good ol' William the Marshal, who lived around the year 1200. He was the son of a noble but with elder brothers. He went out, almost like in legends, with a horse and arms and little else. He worked the tourney circuit. In those days, one common prize for the victor was that you got the loser's armor, which you could then either keep as an upgrade or sell. Sounds like an RPG, doesn't it? Anyway, Will was very good at his work, came to the attention of the king, and wound up being Marshal of England. Georges Duby wrote a fun little biography of him, still in print. He did come from a titled family, but he had to work his way up through accomplishments in the field, both in battle and at tournaments. So, sort of a pro, during those years.

Anyway, there were many different ways to go a'soldiering in the Middle Ages, and indeed the line between war and peace was blurry in the extreme. I know it means doing a dreadful amount of reading, but there are many individual stories and aspects that are great material for the fiction writer.

Alas, no historical precedents for magical combat, though. We're on our own, there.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
I understand your point of view, but I can’t help but think about all those young soldiers who have died in war, who were as young as 15 and 16 years old, who couldn’t have possibly have been experienced professional soldiers.
You have the wrong idea here. Professional soldiers absolutely could be that young, although it is true they wouldn't have been experienced by any measure. Standard age of recruitment for a Roman legionary was between 17 and 20 years of age, but there are recorded cases of legionaries as young as 13. Two tombstones in Chester show legionaries who had joined at 14 years of age, Black Prince was 16 years old at Crecy, and 18th century British army had soldiers as young as 12, and in fact up to a quarter of soldiers of the time would have been under 20 years of age. And British army at the time was a standing force of full-time professionals, with average age of soldiers being some 24 years.

And medieval soldiers were actually older on average than the above examples. Average age of soldiers at the Battle of Towtown was 29 years old, and out of 32 corpses, only 11 were between 16 and 25 years old.
Mostly poor folk from disadvantaged backgrounds who were either press ganged, were conscripted or just had no other options.
Not in the Middle Ages or earlier periods. What you describe is the modern thing: mass conscription begins only with Napoleonic Wars, while press gangs became famous through the Age of Sail. But if you look at history as a whole, conscription is an exception rather than rule: fighting for one's country was either a duty of professionals or a privilege of the wealthy. And neither of these were poor. Conscription did exist, but it was a last-ditch effort for defense of one's homes - akin to the Romans liberating slaves to serve in the army during the Hannibal's wars. A move of despair, rather than a standard approach.
And nothings changed, we still have 19 year olds coming home without limbs, having to live off of the state because they’re now disabled, only at the very beginning of their adult lives.
Actually, a lot has changed. For better and for the worse - modern weapons are far more destructive and likely to maim and/or kill, and modern soldiers are far more likely to experience psychological breakdown. But on the flip side, modern armies have far fewer losses from disease.
We do indeed have different definitions. A professional is someone who derives their whole or nearly entire income from that activity. Passive income doesn't really count, or else we'd be calling someone who had inherited wealth a professional.
To me, that distinction you are making between active and passive income is a) arbitrary and b) does not make sense. In premodern times, wealth was predominantly in land - even the Roman / Byzantine empire was predominantly agrarian, and taxes were paid predominantly by the peasantry, rather than by the merchants and so on. Therefore, land was the primary economic factor.

Byzantine stratiotes received a portion of pay from the central government, but majority of the income was drawn from a plot of land provided by that same government. And that plot of land was provided in exchange for the military service. To me, that is definitely a professional soldier. Later, Byzantines attempted to do something similar with the pronoia system, where the government provided soldiers revenue streams - plots of land, taxation rights and so on - in exchange for the military service.

Point here is that, for medieval knight or a Byzantine landed soldier, land came with an attached obligation of military service. Just as your (or mine) wage comes with an attached obligation of performing a job. This obligation attached to income is what makes them professional soldiers. Conscripted or other non-professional soldiers are not professionals because they do not have a revenue stream attached to the obligation of the military service: their income comes from elsewhere.

As for the examples you provide, all that stuff was also done by the mercenaries.
 
Alderion, I’m referring to the Early Modern period, and up to now, I’m not a historian but generally speaking 1600 and up to now when I talk about sending those from working class backgrounds as front line war fodder. Only a small percentage of the population could be classed as wealthy or ‘noble’, and that still remains to this day. All the officers get called ‘Ruperts’ for a reason…

I’m sure you’re right about all the stuff you’re talking about but that predates what I’m referring to.
 
You have the wrong idea here. Professional soldiers absolutely could be that young, although it is true they wouldn't have been experienced by any measure. Standard age of recruitment for a Roman legionary was between 17 and 20 years of age, but there are recorded cases of legionaries as young as 13. Two tombstones in Chester show legionaries who had joined at 14 years of age, Black Prince was 16 years old at Crecy, and 18th century British army had soldiers as young as 12, and in fact up to a quarter of soldiers of the time would have been under 20 years of age. And British army at the time was a standing force of full-time professionals, with average age of soldiers being some 24 years.
I agree in that they would have been classed as professional, but I suppose what makes a professional soldier? A uniform and a wage from the state? To become professional at anything you need a few years of experience from my perspective, unless you’re doing something totally unskilled.
 

Nighty_Knight

Troubadour
Alderion, I’m referring to the Early Modern period, and up to now, I’m not a historian but generally speaking 1600 and up to now when I talk about sending those from working class backgrounds as front line war fodder. Only a small percentage of the population could be classed as wealthy or ‘noble’, and that still remains to this day. All the officers get called ‘Ruperts’ for a reason…

I’m sure you’re right about all the stuff you’re talking about but that predates what I’m referring to.
Even then, they usually weren't just sent to be fodder. They would typically be dispatched as part of a unit. So it would be a mix of young and old. They still used pikelines then and you would not want all you men on the front being new. Some yes, but with all newbies in the front is a good way to get your line broken right from the start.
 

Nighty_Knight

Troubadour
Here is what I think is a good battle scene from that era. It's in Spain so they are using the Spanish Tercios. From the Spanish film Alatriste starring Viggo Mortenson. Just to give an idea of a 1600's early modern battle would be like.

 

Aldarion

Inkling
Alderion, I’m referring to the Early Modern period, and up to now, I’m not a historian but generally speaking 1600 and up to now when I talk about sending those from working class backgrounds as front line war fodder.
As I said, that is something that only really happened from the French Revolution onwards, as that is when you get levee en masse. Until then, such a practice was generally avoided, as a) it was believed that such a levy would not be trained enough to stand up to professionals (and until the musket age, that belief was correct) and b) nobility really, really didn't want to arm the peasantry.

In fact, era from 1590s to 1790s is precisely when professionalization of the army was in full swing. Spanish tercios were established in 1534., and Cromwell's New Model Army in 1645. More than this, English specifically prohibited usage of militia and militia-like formations. At least from 1570s, and maybe even from 1560s, majority of soldiers in Hungarian and Croatian border fortresses were paid mercenaries. This process in fact began in 1527., when Ferdinand obliged himself to keep a standing salaried army of 200 infantrymen and 1 000 cavalrymen, of whom 800 cavalrymen would be commanded by Croatian nobles. In 1572., said standing army numbered a total of 1 177 cavalry and 4 319 infantry (672 cavalrymen and 2 754 infantrymen in Croatia, 505 cavalrymen and 1 565 infantrymen in Slavonia). This army was supplemented by the feudal retinues (which, as I have noted, were also largely professional soldiers) and the popular insurrectio, but both of these were of secondary importance.

Of course, many of the professional soldiers of the time chose the military careers because they were poor - but once they chose soldiering as their calling and profession, they were no longer part of the "working class", whatever that was. They were not conscripts unwillingly marched to death.
I agree in that they would have been classed as professional, but I suppose what makes a professional soldier? A uniform and a wage from the state? To become professional at anything you need a few years of experience from my perspective, unless you’re doing something totally unskilled.
No, it is just that the word tends to be used wrongly. Professional is something relating to the profession. Professional soldier is a person who has soldiering as his profession. It has no relation to skill. Spartiates were professional soldiers, yet they were objectively less skilled and experienced at war than the utter amateurs that were Roman assidui.
Here is what I think is a good battle scene from that era. It's in Spain so they are using the Spanish Tercios. From the Spanish film Alatriste starring Viggo Mortenson. Just to give an idea of a 1600's early modern battle would be like.

Yeah, that scene is awesome.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I think we have a different definition of the "professional".

For me, "Professional" is a person who is specifically trained and paid to do something, but that something doesn't need to be full-time nor does the "paid" part need to be in money. For example, US National Guard are professional soldiers. Byzantine thematic troops are professional soldiers. And medieval retinues were also professional soldiers. Feudal levy definitely were professionals - they were soldiers who lived off the land and were basically landlords, in exchange for the military service. Only the urban militias weren't professionals, but these didn't become really important until 12th century or so.
And your definition of professional soldier is simply wrong - and I write that as a retired professional soldier with over 30 years in uniform. A professional soldier is someone who is a full time soldier, not a part time soldier like the US National Guard or a soldier/sailor/airman in the reserve forces. Note that part time soldiers may be well trained, extremely compentent and very dangerous, but they are not professionals. So the Italian condotierri would be regarded as professional soldiers, as would military engineers like a magister tormentorum. Byzantine stratiotes are not professional soldiers. Other examples of professional soldiers in the medieval period would be sergeants (using the term in its original meaning), who were full time professional soldiers ranked just below the knights.

The distinction between part-time and professional soldiers is important, because it was the (re)development of more formal battlefield tactics along with the advances in technology in the 1500s and 1600s which made it necessary to build better trained armies. One of the major issues in that process was paying for the manpower, and economic considerations meant that it usually wasn't possible to have a large standing army of professional soldiers. You might instead have a corps consisting of sergeants and some officers who would help train the part time soldiers called in to serve - as was done in the Swedish Indelningsverket. This sort of system worked quite well, but unless some of the sergeants remained at home when the army went on campaign losses could take some time to replace.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
And your definition of professional soldier is simply wrong - and I write that as a retired professional soldier with over 30 years in uniform.
I have talked to soldiers who have both agreed and disagreed with my definition. US National Guard however does not seem to consider full-time service a prerequisite for a soldier being considered a professional:
Developing healthy, resilient, and professional Soldiers and Airmen for any mission, anywhere.  Sustain the balance between Guard members’ civilian careers, military careers, and family commitments.  Ensure Guard member’s pay, benefits, and treatment reflect their service and sacrifices.  Foster a diverse, inclusive professional environment that rewards talent and provides opportunity.  Prioritize achieving and maintaining physical and mental awareness.
And that is what I am going by. It is also what I prefer from my time studying Byzantine military, as it excludes the rather incorrect (and silly) idea that Byzantine thematic troops were armed peasants, or as sometimes more poetically described, "part-time peasant militia". Part-time militia, sure, but they were still men who were drilled in warfare and for whom warfare was the primary profession, with any landlord duties being merely a manner of sustaining their ability to act as soldiers.
The distinction between part-time and professional soldiers is important, because it was the (re)development of more formal battlefield tactics along with the advances in technology in the 1500s and 1600s which made it necessary to build better trained armies. One of the major issues in that process was paying for the manpower, and economic considerations meant that it usually wasn't possible to have a large standing army of professional soldiers. You might instead have a corps consisting of sergeants and some officers who would help train the part time soldiers called in to serve - as was done in the Swedish Indelningsverket. This sort of system worked quite well, but unless some of the sergeants remained at home when the army went on campaign losses could take some time to replace.
I am not really familiar with Sweden, but as I have described of Habsburg military organization in 16th century, it was pretty much based around the full-time professional soldiers. Even 15th century Hungary maintained a significant force of standing troops, both as part of the border defense system (established by Sigismund in 1430s, and the manner in which it was manned sounds similar to the Swedish system you describe) and the standing field army of mercenaries (the Black Army, established between 1458. and 1462.).

Also, distinction you speak of can easily be described as being between "full-time" and "part-time" soldiers. Because if you equate "full-time" with "professional", how do you describe soldiers who are trained, equipped and ready to be called up at any time, but only expected to serve part of the time or even only when called upon / crisis develops? And how do you distinguish the latter from the civilians given weapons and a crash course in using said weapons?
 
Alderion the working classes describe those from low payed to unemployed backgrounds, and it derives from serfdom, where landowners would essentially keep people as slaves, trapped in a cycle of back braking poverty with no escape. If they attempted to leave or move around the country they would be arrested because it used to be against the law the be able to travel of your own free will, if you were of the lower classes. Later on, following serfdom the working classes would have still been trapped in the cycle of poverty, and joining the military may have been a choice of free will, but it was more likely the result of government propaganda, the desire to leave whatever sh**ty backwater town they came from and be able to wear proper clothes and have access to a bed and food, or it allowed them to hope for a better life. Nothing has changed much in that respect either because the armed forces still purposely target the young working classes by going into schools and and colleges to this day. Those from privileged backgrounds are still able to apply to train as officers, bypassing the normal routes in the armed forces, and are still given preferential treatment. And I don’t think you can be as naive as to think that 14, 15 and 16 year olds would have been fully equipped to be soldiers in any age at any time. You forget about the propaganda machine. What did George Orwell say, “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”. As long as the poor are kept illiterate and stupid they can be used as bodies on the ground if sh*t hits the fan, and that’s universal.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
Seems y'all are arguing over the definition of a word, which itself has many definitions.

Its widely held that armies of these times had young experienced people in them, and they were not always people who wanted it as a profession. If you want such in your story, you are free to use them.
Maybe, but the distinction matters. Whilst professional soldiers do get PTSD it doesn't always take the same form as it would for some youngster who gets dragged along/called up and then ends up in battle for the first time. Professionals often have comrades to support them, but youngsters called on to serve usually don't, and even if they have comrades they've got no tools to handle the psychological impact. GRR Martin's description of the way some people react (Septon Meribald's broken men speech) is very accurate - I've come across people like that whilst on peacekeeping missions, and sometimes they're beyond help.
 
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