The Middle Ages saw the development of new modes of warfare encompassing
both pitched battles and siege warfare. Then as now the western
world was engaged in an arms race. New weapons technology prompted
new defensive technologies, for example the introduction of cross-bows
led quickly to the adoption of plate armour rather than chain mail.
During the Dark Ages Christendom had largely abandoned the sophisticated
techniques of Classical times, arguing that anything not mentioned
in the bible was of satanic origin and that God would ensure victory
for his faithful followers.
Along with the scientific advances, military techniques had been
abandoned and forgotten. This affected building as well as weaponry.
For example the Greeks and Romans had used iron ties to join blocks
of stone together. Knowing the effects of rust they encased the
iron in lead so that it did not rust, and stonework using this technique
survives intact today. Medieval builders did not know about the
lead protection and used iron ties that rusted, expanded and fractured
the surrounding stone.
So it was with military engines like the balista and military techniques
like the Romans' famous tortoise. So too, ancient techniques for
making quick-setting concrete and prefabricated defences were forgotten.
To some extent the development of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment
is the story of the rediscovery of ancient techniques.
for Medieval Battle
Supplies and Logistics
Equipment & Weapons
|Balista - a Roman artillery weapon rediscovered in the late
Preparations for Medieval Battles
For larger battles, planning typically consisted of a council of
the war leaders, which could either be the commander laying down
a plan or a debate between the different leaders, depending on how
much authority the commander possessed.
Often decisions were dictated by the Church and formulated for
religious rather than military reasons. This explains for example
some of the worst disasters suffered by crusaders armies during
the Crusades where senior clergy in command of armies routinely
ignored advice from seasoned commanders.
Medieval Pitched Battles
Infantry, including missile troops, would typically be employed
at the outset of the battle to break open infantry formations. Cavalry
attempted to defeat the enemy cavalry.
Once one side coaxed their opposing infantry into breaking formation,
the cavalry would be deployed in attempt to exploit the loss of
cohesion in the opposing infantry lines and begin slaying the infantrymen
from horse top.
Once a break in the lines was exploited, the cavalry became instrumental
to victory - causing further breakage in the lines and wreaking
havoc amongst the infantrymen, as it is much easier to kill a man
from the top of a horse than to stand on the ground and face a half-ton
destrier carrying an armed knight.
Until a significant break in the enemy infantry lines arose, the
cavalry could not be used to much effect against infantry since
horses are not easily harried into a wall of pikemen. Pure infantry
conflicts would be drawn-out affairs.
A hasty retreat could cause greater casualties than an organized
withdrawal, because the fast cavalry of the winning side's rearguard
would intercept the fleeing enemy while their infantry continued
In most medieval battles, more soldiers were killed during the
retreat than in battle, since mounted knights could quickly and
easily dispatch the archers and infantry who were no longer protected
by a line of pikes as they had been during the previous fighting.
|A medieval pitched battle
Breakdowns in centralized states led to the rise of a number of
groups that turned to large-scale pillage as a source of income.
Most notably the Vikings, Arabs, Mongols and Magyars raided significantly.
As these groups were generally small and needed to move quickly,
building fortifications was a good way to provide refuge and protection
for the people and the wealth in the region.
These fortifications evolved over the course of the Middle Ages,
the most important form being the castle, a structure which has
become synonymous with the Medieval era to many.
The castle served as a protected place for the local elites. Inside
a castle they were protected from bands of raiders and could send
mounted warriors to drive the raiders from the area, or to disrupt
the efforts of larger armies to supply themselves in the region
by gaining local superiority over foraging parties that would be
impossible against the whole enemy host.
Fortifications provided safety to the lord, his family, his servants
and his local vassals. They provided refuge from armies too large
to face in open battle. Heavy cavalry which dominate an open battle
was useless against fortifications.
Building siege engines was a time-consuming process, and could
seldom be effectively done without preparations before the campaign.
Sieges could take months, or even years, to weaken or demoralize
the defenders sufficiently.
Medieval Siege Warfare
In the Medieval period besieging armies used a wide variety of
siege engines including: scaling ladders; battering rams; siege
towers and various types of catapults such as the mangonel, onager,
ballista, and trebuchet. Siege techniques also included mining.
Advances in the prosecution of sieges encouraged the development
of a variety of defensive counter-measures. In particular, medieval
fortifications became progressively stronger — for example,
the advent of the concentric castle from the period of the Crusades
— and more dangerous to attackers as witnessed by the increasing
use of machicolations and murder-holes, as well the preparation
of hot or incendiary substances. Arrow slits, concealed doors for
sallies, and deep water wells were also integral to resisting siege.
Designers of castles paid particular attention to defending entrances,
protecting gates with drawbridges, portcullises and barbicans. Wet
skins of freshly slaughtered animals were draped over gates, hourdes
and other wooden structures to retard fire. Moats and other water
defences, whether natural or augmented, were also vital to defenders.
In the European Middle Ages, virtually all large cities had city
walls. Carcassonne and Dubrovnik in Dalmatia are well-preserved
examples. The more important cities had citadels, forts or castles
inside them, often built against the city walls. Great effort was
expended to ensure a good water supply inside the city in case of
siege. In some cases, long tunnels were constructed to carry water
into the city. Complex systems of underground tunnels were used
for storage and communications in medieval cities like Tábor
Attackers would try to get over the walls using scaling ladders,
siege towers called belfries, and grapples. Alternatively they could
try to get through the doors using a battering ram, or through the
walls using heavy artillery. They might try tunnelling under the
walls to gain access, but more often they would try to undermine
the walls to bring them down.
In a siege one army typically attacks an enemy within a stronghold.
either a castle or a fortified town. Medieval towns were generally
surrounded by defensive walls, just like castles. Indeed the distinction
between castles and fortified towns is often blurred. Castles were
often located within fortified towns - in fact many towns grew up
around existing castles - so that the castle became a sort of citadel
within the fortified town.
Carcassonne - you can see the castle (chateau comtal) within
the city walls. The odd external feature was a stairway down
to the River Aude.
Attackers therefore often had two sets of obstacles - first the
city walls, then the castle walls. This could lead to interesting
complications as at Beaucaire in 1216. For months Simon de Montfort
besieged Raymondet in the town, while Raymondet besieged a garrison
loyal to de Montfort in the castle within the town.
Sometimes there were three sets of obstacles, because fauxburgs
with their own defensive walls were often built on to the exterior
of city walls, as at Carcassonne
Besiegers had a number of techniques for gaining control of their
objective - either by forcing a way in, or by forcing the besieged
garrison out. Specific techniques - established since prehistoric
times - include:
- breaching the walls or doorways. Attackers would use
weapons to get through walls. Examples are stone throwing machines
petriers such as trebuchets and mangonels); machines to knock
holes in walls such as battering rams; and engines to extract
individual dressed stones one by one (cats, weasels and simple
- tunelling under the walls. Attackers would build mines,
either to gain access to the interior or to undermine and collapse
the defensive walls.
- getting over the walls. Attackers would use scaling ladders
and siege engines such as large mobile wooden towers known as
- sitting and waiting. If communications between the besieged
and the outside world could be cut then the defenders could be
denied food supplies and sometimes water (as at Beaucaire, Carcassonne,
This was not always possible (as for Raymondet at Beaucaire and
at Montsegur). The word siege means "to sit", an indication
that this was a standard technique.
- A Fifth Column. Inducing someone on the inside to assist
the attackers, either by bribery or exploiting divided loyalties.
They could for example open a postern gate at night. Occasionally
attackers could be smuggled in to the besieged fortification to
fulfil this role, as for example in ancient times in the famous
- Diplomacy, threats, terror and psychological techniques.
To help weaken the will of the defenders, attackers could make
threats or promises, or terrorise the defenders - for example
by mutilating or executing hostages, or by using throwing machines
to lob fire, or human heads or other body parts, into the the
- Biological Warfare. Medieval besiegers were known to
project diseased animals into fortifications with the deliberate
intention of spreading disease and so weakening the garisson.
I some cases it was possible to poison water supplies, though
most fortifications had their own wells or water cisterns.
Until the invention of gunpowder-based weapons (and the resulting
higher-velocity projectiles), the balance of power and logistics
definitely favoured the defender. With the invention of gunpowder,
the traditional methods of defence became less and less effective
against a determined siege, giving rise to a new form of defensive
structure, the star-fort.
|Working trebuchet at Château
|The Siege of a Castle, Hartlet, Dorothy and Elliot, Margaret
and Work of the People of England: The Fourteenth Century” (1929)
|The Siege of Damietta
|The Second Siege Of Acre, 1291
|Philippe Augustus, King of France, recieves the keys of a
surrendered city from two of the inhabitants.
Siege Towers (Belfries, Belfrois)
wheeled belfry with its own battlements
The medieval belfry was not a church tower, but a siege
engine - the modern meaning seemsto have come about by the
erroneous association of towers and bells (etymologically,
the bel in belfry is not connected with the word "bell").
A belfry was used for gaining access to a castle, generally
at the level of the battlements. It was typically constructed
in wood, on several stories - as many as necessary to reach
the battlements. Each story offered a location for attack
- bows and crossbows in the lower levels, and armed men in
the upper level, ready to drop a sort of drawbridge and gain
access to the castle ramparts. The belfry was normally wheeled,
so that it could be moved up against the castle walls, and
like all exposed wooden engines of war it would be covered
in the hides of freshly slaughtered animals and regularly
dowsed in water to keep it fireproof.
One way to foil the approach of a belfry was to have sloping
castle walls. This forced the attackers to cover a greater
distance from the top of the belfry to the top of the castle
wall. This was one of the benefits of a talus.
Another way to foil the approach was to build ditches and
moats to prevent the approach of belfries.
As on the right, attackers often needed to fill up the ditch
or moat to provide a level surface that extended all the way
to the foot of the castle wall.
In practice, all sorts of material was used for this: earth,
rocks, straw, dead bodies, wood, whatever came to hand. If
too much wood was used in the infill then the infill itself
became a target for fire setters.
covered belfry crossing an infilled dry moat, with
a boarding party crossing the lowered drawbridge
A battering ram is a siege engine originating in ancient times
to breach fortification walls or doors. In its simplest form, a
battering ram is just a large, heavy log carried by several people
and propelled with force against the target, the momentum of the
ram damaging the target.
Some battering rams were supported by rollers. This gave the ram
much greater travel so that it could achieve a greater speed before
striking its target and was therefore more destructive. Such a ram
was used by Alexander the Great
In a more sophisticated design, the ram was slung from a wheeled
support frame so that it could be much more massive and also more
easily swung against its target. Sometimes the ram's attacking point
would be reinforced with a metal head. A capped ram is a battering
ram that has an accessory at the head (usually made of iron or steel,
traditionally shaped into the head and horns of a ram to do more
damage to a building.
Many battering rams had protective roofs and side-screens covered
in materials, often fresh wet hides to prevent the ram being set
on fire, as well as to protect the ram's operators of the ram from
enemies firing arrows down on them.
An image of an Assyrian battering ram shows how sophisticated attack
and defence had come by the 9th century BC. In the image defenders
are trying to set the ram alight with torches and have also put
a chain under the ram. The attackers are trying to pull on the chain
to free the ram - the same scene could have been depicted in Roman,
Visigothic or Medieval times.
When a castle was being attacked, defenders attempted to foil battering
rams by dropping obstacles in front of the ram just before it hit
a wall, using grappling hooks to immobilize the log, setting the
ram on fire, or sallying out to attack the ram. Battering rams had
an important effect on the evolution of defensive walls
- the talus for example was one way of reinforcing walls. In
practice, wooden gates would generally offer the easiest targets.
ram - covered for protection
the future Raymond
VII, Count of Toulouse, used a ram at Beaucaire
in 1216. He was himself besieged in the town by Simon
de Montfort's Crusader
forces, while he himself was besieging the garisson of the castle
within the fortified town. The The
Song of the Crusade (the Canso) tells us a little about the
ram. We know for example that it had an iron head. The poet tells
us that it was
"... long, straight, sharp and shod with iron; it thrust,
carved and smashed till the wall was breached and many of the
dressed stones thrown down. When the besieged Crusaders
saw that, they did not panic but made a rope lasso and used a
device to fling it so that they caught and held the ram's head,
to the rage of all in Beaucaire.
Then the engineer who had set up the battering ram arrived. He
and his men slipped secretly into the rock itself [presumably
the hole already made by the ram, intending to break through the
wall with their sharp picks. But when the men in the keep realised
this, they cast down fire, sulphur and tow together in a piece
of cloth and let it down on a chain.
When the fire caught and the sulphur ran, the flames and stench
so stupefied them that not one of them could stay there. Then
they used their stone throwers and broke down the beams and palisades."
Song of the Crusade, laisse 164).
|Battering ram - covered for
protection and wheeled to move it up to the wall
|Battering ram at Château
des Baux, France
|Battering ram in action
A Cat was a wooden structure built (or moved) up to a defensive
wall. From surviving documents it seems that an arm could manipulated
to claw away at the castle wall - hence the name.
Cats could be large multi-purpose structures, perhaps with a trebuchet
on top and sappers operating from the protected interior.
Cats were much feared and if they possibly could, castle defenders
would try to destroy them by mounting sorties, by using stone throwing
engines, or by setting fire to them.
Like all wooden siege engines they would be routinely covered in
the skins of freshly slaughtered animals and regularly dowsed with
water to keep them fireproof.
de Montfort used a cat at the Siege
of Beaucaire in 1216, but unsuccessfully. According to the Canso
it had "no more effect than an enchanter's dream". It
was "a spider's web and a sheer waste of material".
Perhaps the most famous cat was one Simon
built two years later, attempting to besiege the City
of Toulouse in 1217-18. It was while protecting his cat from
counter attack by the citizens of Toulouse that Simon
de Montfort was struck on the head by a massive stone projectile
from a trebuchet on the city walls, and killed instantly.
A weasel was a similar sort of structure to a cat, but smaller
and lighter. It seems to have been more manoeuvrable and used a
spike rather than a paw to attack castle walls.
It may have taken its name from its business end looking like a
weasel's nose, or perhaps its long thin body, or both.
A weasel was used by the forces of Raymondet,
the future Count
Raymond VII of Toulouse, at Beaucaire
in 1216 according to the The
Song of the Crusade (Canso
de la crozada). As Simon
de Montfort was conducting a Council of War, a beggar burst
in, shouting that he had seen a weasel. The weasel
was already against the citadel wall and ready to drive a spike
into it. The defenders were quick to react. The chief engineer hurled
a pot of molten pitch at it, hitting it
in exactly the right spot and it burst into flames.
Chemical Weapons - Greek Fire
Incendiary devices were standard weapons of war. Wooden defences
always needed protection from burning. Wet animal hides were highly
effective against burning arrows so military engineers dedicated
themselves to finding ways of ensuring that fires burned as long
and as strongly as necessary to catch. All sorts of chemicals could
be used for this purpose - petroleum, sulphur, quicklime and tar
barrels for example.
Liquid fire is represented on Assyrian bas-reliefs. At the siege
of Plataea in 429 BC the Spartans attempted to burn the town by
piling up against the walls wood saturated with pitch and sulphur
and setting it on fire, and at the siege of Delium in 424 BC a cauldron
containing pitch, sulphur and burning charcoal was placed against
the walls. A century later Aeneas Tacticus mentions a mixture of
sulphur, pitch, charcoal, incense and tow packed in wooden vessels,
ignited and thrown onto the decks of enemy ships. Formulae given
by Vegetius around AD 350 add naphtha or petroleum. Some nine centuries
later the same substances are found and later recipes include saltpetre
and turpentine make their appearance. The ultimate in this form
of chemical warfare was called Greek-Fire.
Greek fire was a burning-liquid used as a weapon of war by the
Byzantines, and also by Arabs, Chinese, and Mongols. Incendiary
weapons had been in use for centuries: petroleum and sulphur had
both been in use since the early days of the Christianity. Greek
fire was vastly more potent. Similar to modern napalm, it would
adhere to surfaces, ignite upon contact, and could not be extinguished
by water alone.
Byzantines used it in naval battles to great effect because it
burned on water. It was responsible for numerous Byzantine military
victories on land as well as at sea - and also for enemies preferring
discretion to valour so that many battles never took place at all.
It was the ultimate deterrent of the time, and helps explain the
Byzantine Empire's survival until 1453. There was no defence. As
the Lord of Joinville noted in the thirteenth century "Every
time they hurl the fire at us, we go down on our elbows and knees,
and beseech Our Lord to save us from this danger." Men were
known to simply flee their posts rather than face Greek Fire. On
the other hand Greek fire was very hard to control, and it would
often accidentally set Byzantine ships ablaze.
Greek Fire is said to have been invented by a Syrian Engineer,
one Callinicus or Kallinikos, a refugee from Maalbek, or an architect
from Heliopolis in the Byzantine Province of Judaea, in the seventh
century (673 AD). The formula for Greek fire was a closely guarded
secret and it remains a mystery to this day.
The term Greek Fire was not attributed to it until the time of
the European Crusades. Some of the original names include Liquid
Fire, Marine Fire, Artificial Fire and Roman
Fire. (Muslims against whom the weapon was used called the Byzantines
The weapon was first used by the Byzantine navy, and the most common
method of deployment was to squirt it through a large bronze tube
onto enemy ships. Usually the mixture would be stored in heated,
pressurised barrels and projected through the tube by some sort
of pump, operators being protected behind large iron shields. Byzantines
used Greek Fire only rarely, apparently out of fear that the secret
mixture might fall into enemy hands. The loss of the secret would
be a greater loss to Byzantium then the loss of any single battle.
In 678 the Byzantines utterly destroyed a Muslim fleet - over 30,000
men were lost. In 717-718 Caliph Suleiman attacked Constantinople
(Byzantium). Most of the Muslim fleet was once again destroyed by
Greek Fire, and the Caliph was forced to flee. There is virtually
no documentation of its usage after this time by the Byzantines
and it is generally believed that it was during this era that the
secret of creating Greek Fire was lost. Formulae used after this
date never seems to have had the same devastating effect.
Some form of Greek Fire continued to be used for centuries. Byzantines
used it against the Venetians during the Fourth Crusade. A so-called
"carcass composition" containing sulphur, tallow, rosin,
turpentine, saltpetre and antimony, became known to the Crusaders
as Greek fire but is more correctly called wildfire.
So far, no-one has been able to recreate Greek Fire. Arabian armies,
who eventually created their own version sometime between the mid-seventh
century and the early tenth. It was relatively weak copy of the
original Byzantine substance, though still one of the most devastating
weapons of the period. Arabs used the Greek Fire much like Byzantines,
using brass tubes mounted aboard ships or on castle walls. They
also filled jars with it, to be hurled by hand at their opponents.
Arrows and javelins would be used to carry the mixture further and
engines of war could be used to throw larger amounts over castle
As a defence, water alone was ineffective. On land sand could
be used to stop the burning . Intriguingly it is also known that
vinegar and urine were effective - suggesting an alkaline composition
that could be neutralised by acid. According to some accounts pure
or salt water served to intensify the burning, suggesting that Greek
Fire may have been a 'thermite-like' reaction, perhaps involving
quicklime. According to some sources, Greek Fire burst into flames
on contact with water. Some have suggested phosphorus, Others have
suggested a form of naphtha or another low-density liquid hydrocarbon
(petroleum was already known in the East). There are numerous candidates
including liquid petroleum, naphtha, burning pitch, sulphur, resin,
quicklime and bitumen, along with a hypothetical unknown "secret
ingredient". The exact composition is unlikely ever to be deduced
from the inadequate surviving records.
It is not clear from contemporary reports if the operator ignited
the mixture with a flame as it emerged from the syringe, or if it
ignited spontaneously on contact with water or air. If the latter
is the case, it is possible that the active ingredient was calcium
phosphide, made by heating lime, bones, and charcoal. On contact
with water, calcium phosphide releases phosphine, which ignites
spontaneously. The reaction of quicklime with water also creates
enough heat to ignite hydrocarbons, especially if an oxidiser such
as saltpetre is present.
Ingredients were apparently preheated in a cauldron, and then pumped
through a pump or used in hand grenades. If a pyrophoric reaction
was involved, perhaps these grenades contained chambers for the
fluids, which mixed and ignited when the vessel broke on impact
with the target.
Professor J.R. Partington, A History of the Greek Fire
and Gunpowder, Heffer, 1960.
Greek fire was not the only Chemical Weapon. Poisoned arrows could
be employed and in the late medieval period gunpowder became common.
Medieval warriors also used basic biological weapons, for example
catapulting dead and diseased animals into a defended fortress to
help spread disease.
Ancient armies had used sophisticated psychological weapons. For
example would have mad armour suitable for a man of several times
normal size. He would then leave a few samples laying around the
scene of his victories against the Persians. After he had gone Persians
would find this armour and were were soon spreading stories of Alexander's
superhuman giant soldiers.
Christendom did not stretch to this level of sophistication, but
it did engage in some psychological warfare, spreading rumours for
example, sometimes with success effectively turning a military defeat
into a political victory. Other examples of psychological warfare
include making loud noises (an old Celtic practice) and catapulting
the severed heads of captured enemies back into the enemy camp.
Defenders in castles under siege might prop up dummies beside the
walls to make it look like there were more defenders than there
really were. They might throw food from the walls to show besiegers
that provisions were plentiful (Dame Carcas, who saw off the Franks,
supposedly gave her name to Carcassonne after feeding the last few
scraps of food in the besieged city to the last pig and then tossing
over the walls as a present to the Franks. As intended, they deduced
that their siege was useless and raised it the next day).
Firearms provided a strong psychological benefit when they were
introduced, even though their rate of fire rendered them almost
useless - and their users often blew themselves up rather than the
enemy - literally hoist by their own petard.
|Napalm, the modern equivalent
of Greek Fire, deployed by the US navy during the Vietnam war
much as the Byzantine navy deployed Greek Fire
A contemporary account of the Byzantines in action:
[The Byzantine Emperor Alexios] had fixed to the bows
of each of his galleys a tube ending in the head of
a lion or other beast wrought in brass or iron, 'so
that the animals might seem to vomit flames'. The fleet
came up with the Pisans between Rhodes and Patara, but
as its vessels were pursuing them with too great zeal
it could not attack as a single body. The first to reach
the enemy was the Byzantine admiral Landulph, who shot
off his fire too hastily, missed his mark and accomplished
nothing. But Count Eleemon, who was the next to close,
had better fortune; he rammed the stern of a Pisan vessel,
so that the bows of his ship got stuck in its steering-oar
tackle. Then, shooting forth the fire, he set it ablaze,
after which he pushed off and successfully discharged
his tube into three other vessels, all of which were
soon in flames. The Pisans then fled in disorder, 'having
had no previous knowledge of the device, and wondering
that fire, which usually burns upwards, could be directed
downwards or to either hand, at the will of the engineer
who discharged it'. That the Greek fire was a liquid,
and not merely an inflammable substance attached to
ordinary missiles, after the manner of fire-arrows,
is quite clear from the fact that Leo [VI the Wise]
proposes to cast it on the enemy in fragile earthen
vessels which may break and allow the material to run
aboutas also from the name pyr enygron or 'liquid
fire' which Anna uses for it.
C.W.C. Oman paraphrasing an account by Alexios's daughter
Anna Comnena (10831153) about a sea battle between
the Pisans and Byzantines near Rhodes in the year 1103.
The Lord of Joinville, a thirteenth century French
nobleman, mentions Greek Fire during the seventh Crusade:
It happened one night, whilst we were keeping night-watch
over the tortoise-towers, that they brought up against
us an engine called a perronel (which they had not done
before) and filled the sling of the engine with Greek
fire. When that good knight, Lord Walter of Cureil,
who was with me, saw this, he spoke to us as follows:
"Sirs, we are in the greatest peril that we have
ever yet been in. For, if they set fire to our turrets
and shelters, we are lost and burnt; and if, again,
we desert our defences which have been entrusted to
us, we are disgraced; so none can deliver us from this
peril save God alone. My opinion and advice therefor
is: that every time they hurl the fire at us, we go
down on our elbows and knees, and beseech Our Lord to
save us from this danger.
So soon as they flung the first shot, we went down
on our elbows and knees, as he had instructed us; and
their first shot passed between the two turrets, and
lodged just in front of us, where they had been raising
the dam. Our firemen were all ready to put out the fire;
and the Saracens, not being able to aim straight at
them, on account of the two penthouse wings which the
King had made, shot straight up into the clouds, so
that the fire-darts fell right on top of them.
This was the fashion of the Greek fire: it came on
as broad in front as a vinegar cask, and the tail of
fire that trailed behind it was as big as a great spear;
and it made such a noise as it came, that it sounded
like the thunder of heaven. It looked like a dragon
flying through the air. Such a bright light did it cast,
that one could see all over the camp as though it were
day, by reason of the great mass of fire, and the brilliance
of the light that it shed.
Thrice that night they hurled the Greek fire at us,
and four times shot it from the tourniquet cross-bow.
|spraying Greek Fire
|Spraying Greek Fire (detail)
Mining, Undermining Defensive Walls
A"mine" was a tunnel dug to destabilise and bring down
castles and other fortifications. The technique could be used only
when the fortification was not built on solid rock. It was developed
as a response to stone built castles that could not be burned like
earlier-style wooden forts.
A tunnel would be excavated under the outer defences either to
provide access into the fortification or more often to collapse
the walls. These tunnels were supported by temporary wooden props
as the digging progressed, just as in any mine. Once the excavation
was complete, the mine was filled with combustible material. When
lit it would burn away the props leaving the structure above unsupported
and liable to collapse.
To save effort attackers would start the digging as near as possible
to the wall or tower to be undermined. This exposed the sappers
to enemy fire so it was necessary to provide some sort of defence.
des Vaux de Cernay recounts that at the siege of Carcassonne
in 1209, during the Cathar
wars (Albigensian Crusade),
"... after the top of the wall had been somewhat
weakened by bombardment from petraries,
our engineers succeeded with great difficulty in bringing a four-wheeled
wagon, covered in oxhides, close to the wall, from which they set
to work to sap the wall" (Historia
Albigensis - Pierre des Vaux de Cernay, 53).
Successful sapping usually ended the battle since either the defenders
would no longer be able to defend and surrender, or the attackers
would simply charge in and engage the defenders in close combat.
There were several methods to resist under mining. Often the siting
of a castle would be such as to make mining difficult. The walls
of a castle could be constructed either on solid rock or water-logged
land making it difficult to dig mines. A very deep ditch or moat
could be constructed in front of the walls, or even an artificial.
This makes it more difficult to dig a mine and even if a breach
is made the ditch or moat makes exploiting the breach difficult.
The defenders could also dig counter mines. From these they could
then either dig into the attackers tunnels and sortie into them
to either kill the sappers or to set fire to the pit-props to collapse
the attackers' tunnel. Alternatively they could undermine the attackers'
tunnel to collapse it.
If the walls were breached they could either place obstacles in
the breach for example a chevaux de frise to hinder an attack, or
construct a coupure.
The practice has left us reminders in English. "undermining"
has acquired figurative as well as literal meanings. And military
engineers are still known as Sappers.
|Breaching a castle wall did not automatically signal victory.
There are examples, some from the Cathar Wars, of attackers
succeeding in breaching a wall but then being forced to retreat,
and the defenders improvising further defences to protect the
weak spot. (as illustrated below)
was essential to any army and the defence of any stronghold. Wherever
practical castles were built on the site of natural springs but
that was not always possible.
Where it was not, much effort went into digging wells or aqueducts
(sometimes subterranean), or massive cisterns.
Many of the castles that fell during the Cathar Wars did so because
of a shortage of water, including Termes
The illustration on the left shows a massive defensive structure
built at Carcassonne
to ensure a water supply and access to the River Aude.
|plan view of a model of the water corridor at carcassonne
Supplies and Logistics
Medieval armies were supplied much as earlier armies had been. The
usual method for solving logistical problems for smaller armies was
foraging or "living off the land". As medieval campaigns
were often directed at well-populated settled areas, a travelling
army would forcibly commandeer all available resources from the land
they passed through, from food to raw materials to equipment.
Living off the land is not very easy when there is no food ready
to eat, so there was, in theory at least, a prescribed "campaign
season" that aimed to conduct warfare at a predictable time,
when there would be both food on the ground and relatively good
weather. This season was usually from spring to autumn, as by early-spring
all the crops would be planted, thus freeing the male population
for warfare until they were needed for harvest time in late-autumn.
As an example, in many European countries serfs and peasants were
obliged to perform around 45 days of military service per year without
pay, usually during this campaign season when they were not required
Plunder in itself was often the objective of a military campaign,
to either pay mercenary forces, seize resources, reduce the fighting
capacity of enemy forces, or as a calculated insult to the enemy
ruler. Examples are the Viking attacks across Europe, or the highly
destructive English chevauchées across northern France during
the Hundred Years' War.
With the advent of castle-building and the extended siege, supply
problems had to be solved on a scale seldom seen before, as armies
had to stay in one spot for months, or even years.
Supply trains are as much a feature of Medieval warfare as they
are of ancient and modern warfare. Due to the impossibility of maintaining
a real front in pre-modern warfare, the supplies had to be carried
with the army or transported to it while under guard. However, a
supply source moving with the army was necessary for any large-scale
army to operate. Medieval supply trains are often found in illuminations
and even poems of the period.
River and sea travel proved to be the easiest ways to transport
supplies. During his invasion of the Levant, Richard I of England
was forced to supply his army as it was marching through a barren
desert. By marching his army along the shore, Richard was regularly
re-supplied by ships travelling along the coast. Likewise, as in
Roman Imperial times, armies would frequently follow rivers while
their supplies were being carried by barges. Supplying armies by
mass land-transport would not become practical until the invention
of rail transport and the internal combustion engine.
The baggage train provided an alternative supply method that was
not dependent on access to a water-way. However, it was often a
tactical liability. Supply chains forced armies to travel more slowly
than a light skirmishing force and were typically centrally placed
in the army, protected by the infantry and outriders. Attacks on
an enemy's baggage when it was unprotected — as for instance
the French attack on the English train at Agincourt, highlighted
in the play Henry V—could cripple an army's ability to continue
a campaign. This was particularly true in the case of sieges, when
large amounts of supplies had to be provided for the besieging army.
To refill its supply train, an army would forage extensively as
well as re-supply itself in cities or supply points - border castles
were frequently stocked with supplies for this purpose.
A failure in logistics often resulted in famine and disease for
a medieval army, with corresponding deaths and loss of morale. A
besieging force could starve while waiting for the same to happen
to the besieged, which meant the siege had to be lifted. With the
advent of the great castles of high medieval Europe however, this
problem was typically something commanders prepared for on both
sides, so sieges could be long, drawn-out affairs.
Epidemics of diseases such as smallpox, cholera, typhoid, and dysentery
often swept through medieval armies, especially when poorly supplied
or sedentary. In a famous example, in 1347 the bubonic plague erupted
in the besieging Mongol army outside the walls of Caffa, Crimea
where the disease then spread throughout Europe as the Black Death.
For the inhabitants of a contested area, famine often followed
protracted periods of warfare, because foraging armies ate any food
stores they could find, reducing or depleting reserve stores. In
addition, the overland routes taken by armies on the move could
easily destroy a carefully planted field, preventing a crop the
following season. Moreover, the death toll in war hit the farming
labour pool particularly hard, making it even more difficult to
Medieval Wars: Major European wars of the
Middle Ages, arranged chronologically by year begun
- Umayyad conquest of Hispania (711-718)
- Muslim conquest of southern Italy (831-902)
- Byzantine-Seljuk wars (1064–1308)
- Byzantine-Ottoman wars (1299–1453)
- Bulgarian-Ottoman Wars (1354–1422)
- The Byzantine-Bulgarian Wars (680–1364)
- The Saxon Wars - (772-804)
- The Spanish Reconquista (718-1492): In which the Moors
were driven from the Iberian Peninsula; begun under Pelayo
in Asturias, concluded under the Catholic Monarchs (Isabella
I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon), of Columbus fame.
- The Crusades (1096–1291): A generic, catch-all term
for Church-sanctioned wars against non-Christians or heretics.
- 1096–1099—First Crusade: The only "successful"
crusade against the Islamic Near East; Christian states
were established throughout the Levant.
- 1101—Crusade of 1101
- 1147–1149—Second Crusade
- 1147-1410—Northern Crusades
- 1187–1191—Third Crusade
- 1202–1204—Fourth Crusade: In which the Western
forces sacked Constantinople
- 1209–1229—Albigensian Crusade: In which the
Albigensians in southern France were crushed.
- 1217–1221—Fifth Crusade
- 1228—Sixth Crusade
- 1248–1254—Seventh Crusade
- 1270—Eighth Crusade
- 1271–1291—Ninth Crusade
- The Hussite Wars (1420–1434)
- The Hundred Years' War (1337–1453): In which the
English were eventually driven out of France;
- The Wars of the Roses (1455–1487): War for the English
throne between the Houses of Lancaster and York
Medieval Battle Equipment & Weapons
Medieval Military Technology
Perhaps the most important technological advancement for medieval
warfare in Europe was the invention of the stirrup, which had been
unknown to the Romans. It most likely came to Europe with the Avars
in the 600's AD, although it was not fully adopted by Europeans
until the 900's AD.
In the Medieval period, the mounted cavalry long held sway on the
battlefield. Heavily armoured, mounted knights represented a formidable
foe for peasant draftees and lightly-armoured freemen. To defeat
mounted cavalry, infantry used swarms of missiles or a tightly packed
phalanx of men, techniques developed in Antiquity by the Greeks.
Ancient generals of Asia used regiments of archers to fend off mounted
threats. Alexander the Great combined both methods in his clashes
with swarming Asiatic horseman, screening the central infantry core
with slingers, archers and javelin men, before unleashing his cavalry
to see off attackers.
The use of long pikes and densely-packed foot troops was not uncommon
in Medieval times. Flemish footmen at the Battle of the Golden Spurs
met and overcame French knights in 1302, and the Scots held their
own against heavily-armoured English invaders.
During the St. Louis' crusade, dismounted French knights formed
a tight lance-and-shield phalanx to repel Egyptian cavalry. The
Swiss used pike tactics in the late medieval period. While pikemen
usually grouped together and awaited a mounted attack, the Swiss
developed flexible formations and aggressive manoeuvring, forcing
their opponents to respond. The Swiss won at Morgarten, Laupen,
Sempach, Grandson and Murten, and between 1450 and 1550 every leading
prince in Europe hired Swiss pikemen, or emulated their tactics
Welsh & English longbowman used a single-piece longbow to deliver
arrows that could penetrate contemporary plate armour and mail.
The longbow was a difficult weapon to master, requiring years of
use and constant practice. A skilled longbowman could shoot about
12 shots per minute. This rate of fire was far superior to competing
weapons like the crossbow or early gunpowder weapons. The nearest
competitor to the longbow was the much more expensive crossbow,
used often by urban militias and mercenary forces. The crossbow
had greater range and penetrating power, and did not require the
extended years of training.
At Crécy and Agincourt bowmen unleashed clouds of arrows
into the ranks of knights. At Crécy, even 15,000 Genoese'
crossbowmen could not dislodge them from their hill. At Agincourt,
thousands of French knights were brought down by armour-piercing
bodkin point arrows and horse-maiming broadheads. The Welsh longbowmen
decimated an entire generation of the French nobility.
Since the longbow was difficult to deploy in a thrusting mobile
offensive, it was best used in a defensive configuration. Bowmen
were extended in thin lines and protected and screened by pits (as
at the Battle of Bannockburn), staves or trenches. The terrain was
usually chosen to put the archers at an advantage forcing their
opponents into a bottleneck (Agincourt) or a hard climb under fire
(Crécy). Sometimes bowmen were deployed in a shallow "W",
enabling them to trap and enfilade their foes.
The pike and the longbow put an end to the dominance of cavalry
in European warfare, making the use of foot soldiers more important
than they had been in recent years. Knights began themselves to
rather fight dismounted, using two-handed swords, poleaxes and other
polearms, as the improved knightly plate armour made them fairly
immune to arrows.
Gunpowder eventually was to provoke even more significant changes.
However, a mounted reserve was often kept, and the heavy cavalry
continued to be an important battlefield arm of European armies
until the nineteenth century, when new and more accurate weapons
made the mounted soldier too easy a target.
In the armies of Europe, mounted and unmounted crossbowmen, often
mixed with javeliners and archers, occupied a central position in
battle formations. Usually they engaged the enemy in offensive skirmishes
before an assault of mounted knights. Crossbowmen were also valuable
in counterattacks to protect their infantry. The rank of commanding
officer of the crossbowmen corps was one of the highest positions
in any army of this time. Along with polearm weapons made from farming
equipment, the crossbow was also a weapon of choice for insurgent
peasants such as the Taborites.
Mounted knights armed with lances proved ineffective against formations
of pikemen combined with crossbowmen whose weapons could penetrate
most knights' armor. The invention of pushlever and ratchet drawing
mechanisms enabled the use of crossbows on horseback, leading to
the development of new cavalry tactics. Knights and mercenaries
deployed in triangular formations, with the most heavily armoured
knights at the front. Some of these riders would carry small, powerful
all-metal crossbows of their own. Crossbows were eventually replaced
in warfare by more powerful gunpowder weapons, although early guns
had slower rates of fire and much worse accuracy than contemporary
crossbows. Later, similar competing tactics would feature arquebusiers
or musketeers in formation with pikemen, pitted against cavalry
firing pistols or carbines.
Cannons were introduced to the battlefield in the later medieval
period. However, their very poor rate of fire (which often meant
that only one shot was fired in the course of an entire battle)
and their inaccuracy made them more of a psychological force multiplier
than an effective anti-personnel weapon.
Later on in medieval warfare, one handed cannons were introduced,
the rate of fire improved only slightly, but the cannons became
far easier to aim, largely because they were smaller and much closer
to their wielder. Users could be easily protected, because the cannons
were lighter and could be moved far more quickly. Real field artillery
did not become truly effective or commonly employed until well into
the early modern period. The introduction of the arquebus is reflected
in contemporary castle architecture - traditional arrow slits were
replaced by (or adapted into gun ports).
Some Medieval Battles
- The Siege of Constantinople (718)
- The Battle of Tours (732)
- The Battle of Brunanburh (937)
- The Battle of Lechfeld (955)
- The Battle of Tara (980)
- The Battle of Maldon (c. 991)
- The Battle of Kleidion (1014)
- The Battle of Stamford Bridge (1066)
- The Battle of Hastings (1066)
- The Battle of Manzikert (1071)
- The Battle of Levounion (1091)
- The Siege of Jerusalem (1099)
- The Siege of Lisbon (1147)
- The Battle of Sirmium (1167)
- The Battle of Myriokephalon (1176)
- The Battle of Hattin (1187)
- The Battle of Adrianople (1205)
- The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212)
- The Battle of Bouvines (1214)
- The Battle of Baghdad (1258)
- The Battle of Fishing Town (1259)
- The Battle of Ain Jalut (1260)
- The Battle on the Marchfeld (1278)
- The Battle of Yamen (1279)
- The Second Battle of Homs (1281)
- The Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297)
- The Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302)
- The Battle of Bannockburn (1314)
- The Battle of Dysert O'Dea (1318)
- The Battle of Faughart (1318)
- The Battle of Velbazhd (1330)
- The Battle of Crécy (1346)
- The Battle of Poitiers (1356)
- The Battle of Lake Poyang (1363)
- The Battle of Maritsa (1371)
- The Battle of Kulikovo (1380)
- The Battle of Aljubarrota (1385)
- The Battle of Kosovo (1389)
- The Battle of Nicopolis (1396)
- The Battle of Ankara (1402)
- The Battle of Grunwald/Tannenberg (1410)
- The Battle of Agincourt (1415)
- The Battle of Patay (1429)
- The Battle of Varna (1444)
- The Fall of Constantinople (1453)
- The Siege of Belgrade (1456)
- The Battle of Towton (1461)
- The Battle of Vaslui (1475)
- The Battle of Nancy (1477)
- The Siege of Rhodes (1480)
- The Battle of Bosworth Field (1485)
- The Battle of Knockdoe (1504)
|Armour piercing bodkin - a type of arrow head
|Mons Meg at Edinburgh Castle
|The Christian surrender at the battle of Hattin - 1187
Medieval Military Communications
Battlefield communications before the advent of strict lines of
communication were difficult. Communication was done through musical
signals (drums and horns), audible commands, mounted messengers,
and visual signals such as flags.
Fire beacons were used in many places where there was a network
of towers or castles visible one from another. On the border between
England and scotland a line of Peel Towers was built for exactly
this purpose. In Scandinavia many hill forts were part of beacon
networks to warn against invading pillagers. In Wales, the Brecon
Beacons were named for beacons used to warn of approaching English
raiders. In England, the most famous examples are the beacons used
in Elizabethan England to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada.
Many hills in England were named Beacon Hill after such beacons.
In the Languedoc, where castles were often built on mountain tops,
castles were almost invariably in view of at least one one other
pigeons historically carried messages only one way, to their home.
They had to be transported manually before another flight.
By placing their food at one location and their home at another
location, pigeons have been trained to fly back and forth up to
twice a day reliably. This setup allows Pigeons to cover 160 km
Medieval Military Organisation
The medieval knight was usually mounted and armoured, often connected
with nobility or royalty, although especially in north-eastern Europe
knights could also come from the lower classes.
The cost of a knight's armour, horses, and weapons was great. This
helped transform the knight, at least in western Europe, into a
distinct social class separate from other warriors.
During the crusades, holy orders of monks who were also knights
were created, including the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller
and the Teutonic Knights. They were formed to fight in the Holy
Land and became the "storm troops" of the Christian crusaders.
Heavy cavalry, armed with lances and an assortment of hand weapons,
played a significant part in the battles of the Middle Ages. The
heavy cavalry consisted of nobles and wealthy knights who could
afford the equipment.
Heavy cavalry made the difference between victory and defeat in
many key battles. Their charges could break the lines of most infantry
formations, making them a valuable asset to all medieval armies,
the equivalent of twentieth century tank regiments.
Light cavalry consisted of lighter armed and armoured men, who
could have lances, javelins or missile weapons, such as bows or
crossbows. Light cavalry were used as scouts, skirmishers or outflankers.
Many countries developed their own styles of light cavalry, such
as Hungarian mounted archers, Spanish jinetes, Italian and German
Crusaders tended to favour heavy cavalry mounted on mares while
the Saracens favoured light cavalry mounted on stallions.
Infantry were recruited and trained in a wide variety of manners
in different regions of Europe all through the Middle Ages, and
probably always formed the most numerous part of a medieval field
army. Many infantrymen in prolonged wars would be mercenaries. Most
armies contained significant numbers of spearmen, archers and other
In sieges, perhaps the most common element of medieval warfare,
infantry units served as garrison troops and archers, among other
positions. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, with the advancements
of weapons and armour, infantrymen became more important.
In the earliest Middle Ages it was the obligation of every noble
to respond to the call to battle from his liege lord with his own
equipment, archers, and infantry. This decentralized system was
necessary due to the social order of the time, but could lead to
motley forces with variable training, equipment and abilities. The
more resources the noble had access to, the better his troops would
Typically feudal armies consisted of a core of highly skilled knights
and their household troops, mercenaries hired for the time of the
campaign and feudal levies fulfilling their feudal obligations,
who usually were little more than rabble. They could, however, be
efficient in disadvantageous terrain. Towns and cities could also
As central governments grew in power, a return to the citizen and
mercenary armies of the classical period also began, as central
levies of the peasantry began to be the central recruiting tool.
It is often claimed that the best infantrymen came from the younger
sons of free land-owning yeomen, such as the English archers and
England was one of the most centralized states in the Middle Ages,
and the armies that fought the Hundred Years' War were mostly paid
professionals. In theory, every Englishman had an obligation to
serve for forty days. Forty days (called quarantine) was not long
enough for a campaign, especially one on the continent.
Scutage was introduced, under which most Englishmen paid to escape
their service and this money was used to create a permanent army.
Almost all high medieval armies in Europe were composed of a great
deal of paid core troops, and there was a large mercenary market
in Europe from the early twelfth century.
As the Middle Ages progressed, both the Papacy and Italian cities
began to rely mostly on mercenaries to do their fighting rather
than the militias that had dominated the early and high medieval
period in this region. These would be groups of career soldiers
who would be paid a set rate. Mercenaries tended to be effective
soldiers, especially in combination with standing forces. In Italy
they came to dominate the armies of the city states. While at war
they were considerably more reliable than a standing army, but in
peacetime they proved a risk to the state itself (as the Pretorian
Guard had once been in Roman times).
Mercenary-on-mercenary warfare in Italy led to relatively bloodless
campaigns which relied as much on manoeuvre as on battles, since
the condottieri recognized it was more efficient to attack the enemy's
ability to wage war rather than his battle forces,, and attempting
to attack the enemy supply lines, his economy and his ability to
wage war rather than risking an open battle, and manoeuvre him in
a position where risking a battle would have been suicidal.
Knights were drawn to battle by feudal and social obligation, but
also by the prospect of profit and advancement. Those who performed
well stood to increase their landholdings and advance in the social
hierarchy - this was a major factor in the Crusades in the Holy
Land and also European crusades such as the Albigensian Crusade
- the War against the Cathars of the Languedoc.
For the mounted knight Medieval Warfare could be a relatively
low risk affair. Nobles avoided killing each other, rather preferring
capturing them alive, for several reasons for one, many were related
to each other, had fought alongside one another, and they were all
members of the same elite culture; for another, a noble's ransom
could be very high, and indeed some made a living by capturing and
ransoming nobles in battle.
Huge ransoms could be demanded for captured knights and more still
for high nobles and kings. Some knights made their fortunes by fighting.
William the Marshall being the best known example. Even peasants,
who did not share the bonds of kinship and culture, would often
avoid killing a nobleman, valuing the high ransom that a live capture
could bring, as well as the valuable horse, armour and equipment
that came with him. On the other hand it was quite common, even
at the height of "chivalric" warfare, for the knights
to suffer heavy casualties during battles. Christendom was shaken
when King Peter II of Aragon was killed fighting on the side of
his vassal Raymond of Toulouse at Muret in the Languedoc.
played a major part in battles - from their planning to building
siege engines (a clerical specialty), encouraging the troops and
taking part in the fighting. We have many accounts of senior clergy
leading battles and not only during the crusades. They are also
depicted in contemporary art - popes, cardinals and bishops, wearing
full armour and wielding weapons. The role of military bishops is
commemorated today by the presence of four bishops on a chess board.
Clerical combatants are depicted in medieval art and according to
tradition favoured the mace as a weapon (a mace could kill without
shedding blood which the Church considered desirable).
On the other hand swords feature more heavily than maces in the
arms of England bishops
|Bishop of London
||Bishop of St-Albans
||Bishop of Winchester
||Bishop of Exeter
Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, the shock troops of Christian
armies, were monks in the fullest sense- they took the same vows
as other monks in addition to their vows as knights. If caught by
the enemy they were almost always executed while other knights were
usually ransomed. The reason was that they were such fanatical fighters
that it made sense to put them permanently out of the war whenever
The practice of carrying relics into battle is a feature that distinguishes
medieval warfare from its predecessors or from early modern warfare.
The presence of relics was believed to be an important source of
supernatural power that served both as a spiritual weapon and a
form of defence; the relics of martyrs were considered by Saint
John Chrysostom much more powerful than "walls, trenches, weapons
and hosts of soldiers" - another reason for so many lost battles.
In Italy, the carroccio or carro della guerra, the "war wagon"
, was an elaboration of this practice that developed during the
13th century. A Carroccio was a four-wheeled war altar drawn by
oxen, used by the medieval republics of Italy. It was a rectangular
platform on which the standard of the city and an altar were erected.
Priests held services on the altar before the battle, and the trumpeters
beside them encouraged the fighters to the fray.
The carro della guerra of Milan was draped in scarlet cloth and
drawn by three yoke of oxen caparisoned in white with the red cross
of Saint George, the city's patron, it carried a crucifix so massive
it took four men to step it in place, like a ship's mast.
|Bishop Odo wielding his mace against an Anglo-Saxon knight
at the Battle of Hastings (From the Bayeaux Tapestry)
|Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy a
bishop, recognisable by his mitre, riding to battle with other
knights at Antioch on 28th June 1098. He is carrying a Holy
|A War Waggon
|carroccio della guerra - A religious war waggon
|The Prince Bishop of Durham displayed (and still displays)
his bishop's mitre within a ducal coronet, reflecting his temporal
power. Behind the shield are a crozier and a sword.
Women at War
Contrary to popular belief, women often engaged in medieval warfare.
If the Chatelaine happened to be at home while their husband was
away and their castle was besieged, it was routine for her to command
Here are some examples of notable Medieval femail warriors:
- 8th century: Shieldmaidens fight at the Battle of Bråvalla
on the side of the Danes.
- 722: Queen Aethelburg of Wessex destroys the town of Taunton.
- 750: Veborg, as well as many other Shieldmaidens, participate
in the Battle of Bråvalla in Sweden.
- 783: Saxon women throw themselves barebreasted into battle against
Charlemagne's forces. Among them is Fastrada, who became Charlemagne's
- Early 9th century: Cwenthryth fights Wulfred, Archbishop of
Canterbury, for control of her abbey estates.
- 880: Ermengarda defends Vienne.
- 912-922: Reign of Ethelfleda, ruler of Mercia. She commanded
armies, fortified towns, and defeated the Danes. She also defeated
the Welsh and forced them to pay tribute to her.
- Mid 10th century: Queen Thyra of Denmark leads an army against
- 971: The Scandinavian ruler of Kiev attacked the Byzantines
in Bulgaria in 971. When the Norsemen had been defeated, the victors
discovered shieldmaidens among the fallen warriors.
- Early 11th century: Freydís Eiríksdóttir,
a Viking woman, sails to Vinland with Thorfinn Karlsefni. When
she faced hostile natives while pregnant, she exposed her breasts
and beat her chest with a sword. This caused the natives to run
- 1040-1090: Sichelgaita of Salerno second wife of Robert Guiscard,
Duke of Apulia, accompanies her husband on military campaigns,
and regularly puts on full armor and rides into battle at his
side. At the Battle of Dyrrhachium (1081) she rallied Robert's
troops when they were initially repulsed by the Byzantine army.
- 1046-1115: Lifetime of Matilda of Tuscany, who conducted wars
to defend the papacy.
- 1071: Richilde, Countess of Mons and Hainaut is captured fighting
in the Battle of Cassel.
- 1072: Urraca of Zamora, Infanta of Castile, defends the city
of Zamora against her brother, Sancho II of Castile.
- 1075: Emma de Guader, Countess of Norfolk defends Norwich castle
while it is under siege.
- 1090: A Norman woman Isabel of Conches rides armed as a knight.
- 1121:Urraca of Castile fights her half-sister, Theresa, Countess
of Portugal when she refuses to surrender the city of Tuy.
- 1131-1160: Melisende of Jerusalem ruler of the crusader Kingdom
of Jerusalem is one of the rulers involved in the Second Crusade.
- 1136: Welsh princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd leads an army
against the Normans. She is defeated and killed.
- 1141: Matilda of Boulogne raises an army to continue the fight
for the crown of England, after her husband, King Stephen is captured
by the Empress Matilda.
- 1145: Eleanor of Aquitaine accompanies her husband on the Second
- 1172: Alrude Countess of Bertinoro ends a siege of Aucona by
leading an army into battle and crushing imperial troops.
- Late 12th century: Eva MacMurrough conducts battles on behalf
of her husband, the Earl of Pembroke.
- 3rd May 1211. The chatelaine of Lavaur, Gerauda (or Geralda)
de Lavaur, was murdered by Catholic Crusaders because of her part
in resisting their siege of Lavaur during the Cathar Crusade.
here to read more about the siege of Lavaur
- Mid 13th century: Eleanor of Castile accompanies her husband
on his crusade. According to legend, she saves his life by sucking
poison from his wound when he was injured.
- 1264: Eleanor of Provence raises troops in France for her husband
during the Baron's War.
- 1271: Isabella of Aragon dies at Consenza on the way back from
- 1290: An illustration of a woman named Walpurgis is shown training
in sword and buckler techniques
- 14th century: Jane, Countess of Montfort leads troops into battle.
Countess Jeanne de Penthievre is among her antagonists.
- 1326: Isabella of France invades England with Roger de Mortimer,
and overthrows Edward II, replacing him with her son Edward III,
with her and de Mortimer acting as regents.
- 1334: Agnes Dunbar successfully defends her castle against a
siege by the Earl of Salisbury.
- 1335: The Scots defeat a company led by the Count of Namur.
Amongst the Count's casualties was a female lancer who had killed
her opponent, Richard Shaw, at the same moment that he had killed
her. Her gender was only discovered when the bodies were being
stripped of their armour at the end of the engagement. "The
chronicler Bower seems to have been at least as impressed by the
rarity of two mounted soldiers simultaneously transfixing one
another with their lances as with the fact that one of them was
- 1364-1405: Tamerlane uses female archers to defend baggage trains.
- 1383: Eleanor of Arborea, ruler of Sardinia, conducts a defensive
war against Aragon.
- 15th century: Maire o Ciaragain leads Irish clans in rebellion.
- 15th century: Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine, leads an army to
rescue her husband from the Duke of Burgundy.
- 1429: Joan of Arc leads the French army. Yolande of Aragon supports
her. Pierronne, a contemporary of hers, also hears voices and
fights for the king of France.
- 1461: Queen Margaret of Anjou defeats the Earl of Warwick in
the Wars of the Roses.
- 1461: Lady Knyvet defends Buckingham Castle at Norfolk against
Sir Gilbert of Debenhem
- 1471: Queen Margaret of Anjou is defeated in battle at Tewksbury.
- 1472: Onorata Rodiana from Cremona, Italy is mortally wounded
in battle. She had disguised herself as a man to become a soldier.
- June 27, 1472: Jeanne Hachette rips down the flag of the invading
Burgundians at Beauvais, inspiring the garrison to win the engagement
|Eleanor of Arborea
|Isabella of France
|Joan of Arc
Recommended sites for Further Information
during the Crusades
A collection of translations of primary source material, articles
and reviews on the period.
Reference Book for Medieval Studies
A learning module including essays and resources from part of
a distance learning course, Washington State University.
of the Crusades 1099-1291
An educational site about living and working in eleventh to fourteenth
century England, produced by high school students.
Abstracts, illustrations and web links for a book of collected essays
on medieval themes from the Australian National University, published
by Merton Priory Press.
End of Europe's Middle Ages
A large tutorial site designed to assist those students engaged
in Renaissance, Reformation and Early Modern studies who lack a
background in medieval European history.
History of Costume
Illustrations from Braun & Schneider - c.1861-1880
Important events described by eyewitnesses, with introductory explanations.
Includes the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on the 12th-century English civil
war, Marco Polo describing Kublai Khan in battle, and the discovery
of America by Columbus.
Normans, A European People
Comprehensive coverage of the history, culture and heritage of the
Normans in France, the British Isles and Italy. Includes biographies,
genealogies of rulers, a gazetteer of Norman buildings, places to
visit and bibliographies.
Medieval attitudes to the end of the previous millennium and argues
for an apocalyptic viewpoint, Center for Millennial Studies.
Selection of articles from the Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries.
Re Militari Society homepage
An academic association examining medieval warfare and military
history. Features information on the society as well as original
articles and book reviews.
Discussion group for medieval and Renaissance swords, daggers and
associated weapons of war.
Society of Ancients
The International Amateur Society for Ancient and Medieval Wargamers
|Os Jacques são massacrados em Meaux (1358) (FR 2813),
fol. 414v, Grandes Chroniques de France, France, Paris, XIVe
s. (70 x 65 mm)
Siège de Melun par Robert le Pieux,
roi de France. Grandes Chroniques de France de Charles V,
Paris, XIVème siècle
« Bataille entre les Francs, commandés
par le roi Clotaire II, et les Saxons ». Grandes Chroniques
de France de Charles V. France, Paris, XIVème siècle.
65 x 65 mm. Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Bataille de Roncevaux entre Roland et Marsile
(778). Grandes Chroniques de France France, Paris, XIVe s
Massacre de Sarrasins. Grandes Chroniques
de France, Paris, XIVe s. Bibliothèque Nationale de
« Combat singulier entre le roi Clotaire
II et Bertoald ». Grandes Chroniques de France de Charles
V. France, Paris, XIVème siècle. 65 x 65 mm.
Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Assassinat de sigebert Ier. Grandes Chroniques
de France vers 1375-1380. Bibliothèque Nationale de