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War and battle

Aldarion

Inkling
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.
My point is that when people chose to be soldiers in the past, they generally made the choice themselves. Yes, there were many reasons why they made that choice - and poverty was a big one - but point is, nobody was going out there, picking peasants off the fields and sending them to die in droves. It didn't happen even in those societies where soldiers were not professionals. In societies such as ancient Greece or Rome, serving as a soldier was considered to be not just a civic duty but a privilege. In Greece, warfare in general was task of the well-off classes who could afford the hoplite panoply, while lower classes basically sat back at home or tended to the fields (even in Athens, 90% of the population were not citizens and thus not eligible for the military service). And similar thing was true in the Roman Republic - which caused massive issues when constant warfare essentially obliterated the class of small freeholders that used to provide the manpower for the legions. And this in turn led to the Marian reforms and professionalization of the army.

And if we are discussing Middle Ages specifically, soldiers during that particular era tended to be comparatively well-off professionals, or at least people well-versed in using weapons. And because that required both free time to practice and the resources to actually afford weapons, the result was that soldiering was largely reserved to people who were well above the average in terms of their material wealth and social standing. One exception to this rule were the mercenaries, who could indeed fit your description of people with no other choice, because they derived their livelihood from war.

Septon Meribald's speech is pure bullshit, at least if we are discussing the Medieval Europe.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
My point is that when people chose to be soldiers in the past, they generally made the choice themselves.

That generalisation is so broad as to be bullshit. The various peasant levies who accompanied their lords on the battlefield in early medieval Europe were there because they were obliged to be there. There wasn't much choice involved, not even for the lord concerned. Part of what changed this system was the idea that a lord could pay money to his liege lord and so get out of providing lots of men. That was partly driven by events like the Black Death, but in turn it created a need to recruit people and then give them weapons.

Yes, there were many reasons why they made that choice - and poverty was a big one - but point is, nobody was going out there, picking peasants off the fields and sending them to die in droves. It didn't happen even in those societies where soldiers were not professionals.

It didn't happen because it meant that there would be no-one to work the land and produce food. A lord summoned to support his liege lord had to take some form of fighting force with him, but he also had to think about who work the land while he was gone - he couldn't take all the peasants. That meant that sometimes a lord would turn up with only a few men.

In societies such as ancient Greece or Rome, serving as a soldier was considered to be not just a civic duty but a privilege. In Greece, warfare in general was task of the well-off classes who could afford the hoplite panoply, while lower classes basically sat back at home or tended to the fields (even in Athens, 90% of the population were not citizens and thus not eligible for the military service). And similar thing was true in the Roman Republic - which caused massive issues when constant warfare essentially obliterated the class of small freeholders that used to provide the manpower for the legions. And this in turn led to the Marian reforms and professionalization of the army.

The Roman legions of the republic were raised for specific conflicts, and in that sense they are more similar to the levies of the medieval period. However, the use of a property qualification made it difficult to raise larger forces and this first resulted in the property qualification being removed and then later the use of full time professional soldiers. Those early legions lived on plunder, and it was only when the legions became professional forces that the idea of the state paying wages and paying for equipment became accepted. In that sense the Marian reforms are very significant.

And if we are discussing Middle Ages specifically, soldiers during that particular era tended to be comparatively well-off professionals, or at least people well-versed in using weapons. And because that required both free time to practice and the resources to actually afford weapons, the result was that soldiering was largely reserved to people who were well above the average in terms of their material wealth and social standing. One exception to this rule were the mercenaries, who could indeed fit your description of people with no other choice, because they derived their livelihood from war.

Only very early in the medieval period. Whilst medieval infantry did need some form of training and weapons, it was the population shortages after the Black Death combined with larger military campaigns like the Crusades which led to the more widespread use of infantry as opposed to mounted knights. Infantry were simply more economical to equip and train, and they could be recruited from almost anywhere. The result was that many lords recruited and equipped their own household forces.

Septon Meribald's speech is pure bullshit, at least if we are discussing the Medieval Europe.
Not really, as records from the period show. Perhaps the best example are the French routiers of the 1300s
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
This thread is wandering far from the OP, who had asked whether we as readers liked having battle set pieces or having war as a sort of background to the story.

I would encourage people to voice disagreement over historical interpretation, but would remind them that this can be done without calling something bullshit. That rarely persuades, but mostly just sends people to their corners for the next round.

I've said it before but as a former teacher I never tire of repeating myself: the Middle Ages covers a thousand years and an entire continent. There was *huge* variety in every aspect of society, politics, economics, and so on; in short, of the human experience. Any time someone says the Middle Ages were this or that, aim a critical eye at the statement. What generalization would hold across such a span of time and space?

As a writer, this is why I find the Middle Ages to be such a rich field--its variety and inconsistency. It also can be utterly overwhelming to someone just arriving.

(and isn't routier just a wonderful word?)
 

Mad Swede

Maester
This thread is wandering far from the OP, who had asked whether we as readers liked having battle set pieces or having war as a sort of background to the story.
Not really. Finchbearer was asking partly about the need for a battle description and partly also about how two characters might join a legion and then meet up later. For that to work you need to think about how and why they might join a legion. Is the legion a full time professional force like the later Roman legions? If so, why would you join? Or is it something you're conscripted into like the first Roman legions? As for the battle, is the focus on a blow by blow decription which, from a character point of view, will be very limited, or will the focus be on how that battle changes people and their later lives? As side issues, are you the author going for a "war is glorious" type of narrative or are you aiming for something more nuanced or even anti-war?
 

Aldarion

Inkling
That generalisation is so broad as to be bullshit. The various peasant levies who accompanied their lords on the battlefield in early medieval Europe were there because they were obliged to be there. There wasn't much choice involved, not even for the lord concerned. Part of what changed this system was the idea that a lord could pay money to his liege lord and so get out of providing lots of men. That was partly driven by events like the Black Death, but in turn it created a need to recruit people and then give them weapons.
The whole "peasant levies" thing is a zombie myth that really needs to finally die. Yes, common soldiers were there because they had a military obligation... as were the nobility and the magnates. In theory, if not always in practice, a noble or a magnate that refused to answer the call to arms would lose his property, and often his head as well. But fact remains that feudal levies were not "peasant levies", at least not in a sense commonly assumed under that description (and if you are not in fact using it in that sense, my apologies for the rant - but next time, use a more correct term). Reason was simply that weapons and armor were expensive, food and pack animals were expensive, and there was no point in wasting that stuff on people who would break at the first sight of cavalry charge and in general had no clue what they were doing.

To give an example of a country that I actually studied in detail... Hungary utilized the "general levy" as late as 15th century. But this general levy was not peasant levy. It was a levy of minor nobility. Issue was that many of minor nobles over time ended up so impoverished that they resembled peasants... and when that happened, general levy was discontinued. It was not transformed into the mythical "peasant levy", it was flat-out abandoned in the favour of militia portalis... which was again a form of select levy where a group of peasant households would come together to equip and train a soldier.

This by the way is a system that has existed throughout various medieval societies and systems, from Byzantine themata to Anglo-Saxon fyrd and Carolingian select levy. Fyrd in particular is something I have seen described as a general military obligation of all free men... but if it ever was indeed so general an obligation, that obligation died out as the society stratified. The version of fyrd we have evidence for is very clearly a select levy, of people trained and equipped for war, and capable of remaining in the field entire year round.

If you really, really want the "commoners being forcibly levied for war" thing, you need to look at the pre-feudal era. In tribal societies - such as early Slavic societies - there is indeed a possibility of the general levy, as in, "literally everybody capable of bearing a weapon". In barbarbian groups that invaded the Roman Empire more or less all males were warriors - when Vandals and Alans moved to North Africa, they could field an army of 15 000 - 20 000 out of the population of 80 000. But that, again, is an early tribal society, not a feudal or an urban one.

In short: you want a general levy? Write about a tribal society.
It didn't happen because it meant that there would be no-one to work the land and produce food. A lord summoned to support his liege lord had to take some form of fighting force with him, but he also had to think about who work the land while he was gone - he couldn't take all the peasants. That meant that sometimes a lord would turn up with only a few men.
And these few men were trained and equipped for war. Sure, the equipment and the training may not have been that good - but as I said, nobody sent untrained peasants to fight.
The Roman legions of the republic were raised for specific conflicts, and in that sense they are more similar to the levies of the medieval period. However, the use of a property qualification made it difficult to raise larger forces and this first resulted in the property qualification being removed and then later the use of full time professional soldiers. Those early legions lived on plunder, and it was only when the legions became professional forces that the idea of the state paying wages and paying for equipment became accepted. In that sense the Marian reforms are very significant.
Uh, no. In fact, the very fact that Roman legions of the early Republic raised troops from small landholders was what allowed them to raise massive armies time and again. When Hannibal attacked Rome, he wiped out Roman army after a Roman army... but they kept coming, because every soldier equipped himself and thus was cheap to raise.

Reason why property qualification was removed is quite complex, but it basically comes down to social processes at the time which devastated the class of small landholders that the Roman army previously depended upon. Reasons for why that devastation happened... as I said, there were many. First one is that as Rome's territory grew, campaigns became longer and longer. Sometimes, a campaign would last for years, which in turn meant that soldiers would return home only to find they had been impoverished and their land bought up by a well-off neighbour. That is not something part-time landed troops could withstand. Second reason are the Punic wars. In addition to requiring extraordinary length of service noted previously, these wars also devastated Rome's manpower reserves. This can be seen clearly from the fact that property requirements for joining the army were slashed time and again. Between the Punic wars, servile wars and the Social war, maintaining the property requirement became impossible, and state was forced to assume responsibility for equipping the soldiers. This in turn was formalized and standardized by Marius.

But when Roman Empire needed a lot of troops on cheap following the Arab invasions of the 7th century, the Emperor divided the Imperial estates and gave land to soldiers - thus essentially reintroducing the "landed part-time soldier" style of mobilization that had been abandoned nearly a millenium before.
Only very early in the medieval period. Whilst medieval infantry did need some form of training and weapons, it was the population shortages after the Black Death combined with larger military campaigns like the Crusades which led to the more widespread use of infantry as opposed to mounted knights. Infantry were simply more economical to equip and train, and they could be recruited from almost anywhere. The result was that many lords recruited and equipped their own household forces.
Agreed.
Not really, as records from the period show. Perhaps the best example are the French routiers of the 1300s
Routiers were basically mercenary bands. Definitely not the untrained peasants Septon Meribald's description implies.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
The whole "peasant levies" thing is a zombie myth that really needs to finally die.

If you really, really want the "commoners being forcibly levied for war" thing, you need to look at the pre-feudal era. In tribal societies - ...

In short: you want a general levy? Write about a tribal society.

- but as I said, nobody sent untrained peasants to fight.

I'm not a historian. So I am so confused and doubtful of what you're saying, or implying with all this.

The reason is: Forced conscription of commoners happens today, in modern advanced societies. Countries like South Korea and Israel have mandatory service. In the US we still have veterans from Vietnam who were forced into battle.

Is there something that prevented countries from rounding up peasants, spending a month training them on basic pike formations, and sending them into combat? It wouldn't take that much training or all that much equipment.

So color me confused, but why would conscripting the common person into combat be a modern invention?




edit: I changed the word nobodies because it reads wrong
 
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I’m officially killing this thread, if that is such a thing. I’m all for debates in progress…but we’ve gone off-piste. Please everyone respect this and refrain from posting more replies, thank you for all of your input 👍🏻
 
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