In the X century, shortly after the Viking Christianization, many warriors were raised as a mistaken effort to completely eradicate foreign invasions. Since there was peace between the major European nations including France, England, Germany and Italy; the newly-trained warriors were found needless and they resorted to fight among each other and terrorize villagers. An outlet for this need of war was sought by Pope Gregory VII who after being called for aid by the Byzantine emperor, sought to expand Christianity to new lands.
However, it wasn't until the year 1095 when the pope Urban II launched a full-scale attack against the Muslims. His belief was that no Muslim could ever possess the center of the world, as featured in most medieval maps. Henceforth, he offered all loyal warriors who fought for Jerusalem a full redemption of their sins. This, of course, caused much enthusiasm in Europe which led more than 100,000 crusaders to fight for what they believed in - the Holy Land.
Urban II planned the departure of the First Crusade for August 15, 1096. However, without his consent, an army led by Peter the Hermit marched toward Jerusalem as an attempt to be the first Crusader army to reach the Holy City.
Peter's army was undisciplined and faced many problems. The most remarkable was its lack of food and water which was often scarce in the area. Afterward, his army marched to the Danube in which he hoped to have support from the local villages by providing food and water for his army - or at least selling it at a reasonable price. Since most of the time the locals refused to offer such commodities for the foreigners, many pillages ensued.
After a long march, Peter's army finally arrived at Constantinople where he was met by another early crusader army consisting of Italians and the French. When they acknowledged Alexius of their arrival, Alexius became desperate because he was skeptical about the Crusader's intentions. Such was his desire to get rid of them that he ferried them "free" of charge across the Bosporus.
When the crusaders arrived to Asia Minor, they promptly divided their army in two and were defeated by the Turks who were more experienced and had a vast knowledge of the land. Peter did survive to the massacre which killed thousands of crusaders making this first attempt to reach Jerusalem before the main Crusader army an utter failure - reason for which this first Crusade is now called "The People's Crusade." as it was mostly disorganized.
Two months after this event, all the main armies of Europe congregated outside the walls of Constantinople to ask Alexius for aid to reach Jerusalem and to be provided with food and water. Alexius, suspicious of this, asked for every noble to swear loyalty to him which did happen. Alexius sent a Byzantine army to escort the Crusaders with the condition that any lands recovered from the Turks were to be given to him. The Crusaders agreed and a full army of thousands of knights, warriors, peasants, women and children marched toward Jerusalem.
When a Crusader soldier wrote an entry to his diary, he mentioned that he thought it would only take the complete army two months to reach the Holy Land - but unfortunately, he found that it was much more lengthy since many cities and forts had to be besieged first. It took two years for the Crusaders to reach the Holy Land - and in the way Nicaea, capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, was besieged and finally captured.
After many battles including the Battle of Darylaeum the Crusader army reached Jerusalem on May 7, 1099. Due to the lack of water in Jerusalem's surroundings, many soldiers died. A close estimate reveals that out of the 7,500 knights who marched to Jerusalem, only 1,500 survived.
Peter Desiderius had a divine vision in which he swore that provided the Crusader army starved and marched around Jerusalem, the city would fall within 9 days. Such was the enthusiasm for this that many siege weapons were built and the Crusaders marched around the city and in the seventh day, the Crusaders finally entered Jerusalem killing everyone in their path.
Everyone was massacred by the Crusaders including children and women. Many accounts claimed that there was so much blood on the street that it could reach a warrior's ankles.
The First Crusade was the only Crusade to achieve its intended goals. It successfully took control of the Holy Land which even though lasted for less that two hundred years, was still a major European victory which had much influence in the Western World including in architecture, entertainment and ways of life. Additionally, the medieval crossbow is an invention owed to the Crusades, which was the time when it was finally implemented into warfare.
Stirrups were used to mount horses much easily. They were very important for medieval knights since; before they were invented, fighting on top of a horse was extremely difficult. Subsequently, the stirrup gave a quick twist to medieval warfare since it was quickly realized that infantry was not powerful anymore.
Knights are probably, before castles; the strongest conception that we have of the Medieval Times. They were so effective that every lord had to have a few knights in order to ensure his own safety. After the invention of the stirrup, knights were much more suitable for the battlefield.
Against knights and heavy cavalry
Different countries found different ways to overcome heavy cavalry. The British used thousands of long bowmen to easily kill everything in their path. Many French accounts said "When they fired so many arrows, the day turned to night."
The French, on the other hand; were more enthralled into using pike men. Pike men consisted of serfs wielding a very long spear which could easily stop a horse.
In carefully-planned battles, generals formed their troops by dividing them in the vanguard, the center and the rearguard. The vanguard consisted of archers and long-range attackers. The center consisted mainly of heavy horses and heavy infantry (such as pike men and sword men). And in the rearguard, faster horses were employed since they would be mainly used either for killing retreating units or for giving additional backup.
The vanguard was normally formed to the right while the center in the middle and the rearguard to the left. Horses were lined very tightly with four or more ranks deep. They constituted the main striking force that was supposed to either form a triangle and kill pike men or make a long line to kill other forms of infantry (such as sword men). If the cavalry proved to be unsuccessful, it would retreat while archers fired from behind, just a few moments before the infantry came in to finish the opposing army. If all of this failed, normally the remaining horses would be sent.
On a calm retreat, very few people died; but calm retreats were very scarce; and more people died when retreating than on the actual battle. When an army retreated; the opposing army's horses could easily kill the archers, pike men and infantry in general.
Medieval warfare after castles
Before castles, open field battles were very common. Nevertheless, castles happened to be much more effective for protecting land - which was the most common cause of war.
Castles were besieged frequently; but not very frequently since besieging a castle's cost was enormous.
Logistics is the term given to supplying goods. Most medieval armies were inadequate for providing resources for its integrants; let it be food or water. Most armies had to rely on the landscape for food. Nevertheless, more advanced armies had a fine line of supplies that could replenish their goods fast and easily. When possible, armies would follow a river for water and fish.
Most countries had many ships ready for battle. They were rowed by slaves; just like in the Greek Times; which was not very effective. Moreover, the object of a medieval ship was to ram another ship or simply conquer it by getting close enough for the infantry to go to the other ship.
Cannons were not very efficient when on a deck. They were very slow and sometimes caused fires which could turn into conflagrations if not taken care of. Nevertheless, cannons started to be improved which was a major accomplishment for naval warfare.
Ships were viewed by the French as "floating strongholds."
Unfortunately for older castles, diggers could very frequently destroy walls and towers in a couple of weeks of digging. Diggers were employed when storming a castle by a different approach was impossible - this happened very frequently because of a hurry as isolating a castle would take much more time.
Since digging could potentially destroy a huge castle wall, this method was avoided by the castle attackers because what they normally sought was to take the castle for themselves.
When digging did take place, the defenders had very little choices. The most common one was to make a counter-tunnel - this consisted in making a tunnel which would intercept the opponent. When such an interception did occur, a fearsome underground struggle would take place until the tunnel was itself destroyed and another one had to be built.
After the tunnel was built, the most common practice was to simply let it collapse along with the castle's wall.
Another way was to simply make a small tunnel and let the invaders enter from it (to avoid castle damage).
Either way was extremely feared by the defenders as they could only watch.
The defenders would do whatever they could in order to detect an enemy's tunnel. What was normally done was pretty simple - water was poured into the ground to see if it drained hastily. If it did, there very likely was a tunnel.
Unfortunately for the defenders, water was very often scarce and thus; another defending weakness.
Rain was the defender's best friend. It supplied them with water whilst potentially destroying any ongoing tunneler progress.
Of course, everybody loved rain - except the attackers that is.
They could land devastating blows to a castle's walls which almost invariently resulted in the castle's fall. Castle defenders could do very little in order to destroy the siege weapons besieging the castle. It was not until many centuries later when castles themselves began employing siege weapons to destroy the attackers as well.
When the term "siege weapons" is mentioned, one normally thinks of a catapult launching a missile. Nevertheless, there is an enormous variety of siege weapons including trebuchets, onagres, etc.
Siege weapons were improved throughout the centuries of the Dark Ages. Leonardo Da Vinci played an enormous role in the development of such weapons as he deviced a way for trebuchets, for example, to reach a farther distance and cause more damage.
Improvement of siege weapons halted when gunpowder was invented. However, siege weapons were very effective in previous centuries so their usage is unquestionable as they could easily destroy a castle's wall and give access to even the mightiest of castles.
Some castles had walls many feet thick in order to prevent them being destroyed because of a siege weapon. Unfortunately, many attackers would choose a seemingly weak spot in the wall and continue firing against it until it finally broke - for this reason, making an invulnerable wall was impossible as any could be breached sooner or later.
As I mentioned in previous articles, destroying a castle's walls was a possible, but not a practical way to make a castle fall. Sometimes, the attackers wanted the castle intact for their own purposes so destroying it would eliminate the whole purpose of besieging it in the first place.
The catapult dates back to the Roman Empire - from there it spread to the rest of Europe and it continued to be widely built during the Dark Ages. It then evolved into different forms which could shoot fire projectiles at a very large distance.
Another tactic castle attackers used with siege weapons was to, instead of throwing rocks or stone at a castle, was to throw dead humans or cows inside the castle to spread diseases. As the castle was completely surrounded, there was no way to get rid of such animals and diseases spread easily inside the castle which would haste the castle's fall.
For the defenders, siege weapons got them in a tight position. As I mentioned earlier, defenders began employing siege weapons too. Unfortunately, they needed a very good accuracy as attacking a 2 feet moving target wasn't the same as destroying a 200 feet static target.
Archers were, during the Dark Ages, the main long-range infantry at battle. A skilled archer was able to fire up to 12-15 arrows in just a minute, reason for which they were extremely effective.
An archer with a good accuracy could, from a distance, shoot a heavy armored soldier in a weak spot sometimes avoiding the shield itself. Of course, those archers were very rare or they would have had dominated the battlefield completely.
Additionally, they were also used widely for a castle's defense. They could be very frequently situated at the top of a keep while firing arrows towards the incoming enemies. They were very effective for this reason as they could easily fire arrows and kill dozens of enemies while the invaders could literally only stare at them.
If this wasn't enough, improvements led archers to find more effective ways to fire their arrows. Adding fire and venom to arrows had long been discovered - but during the Dark Ages, this was improved and used more frequently.
The British made many improvements to archery - most notorious the longbow which was so effective that it could easily pierce through a armory. Sometimes a shot from a very strong and trained archer could destroy a shield!
Arrows suffered many improvements as well. The first arrows could only do piercing damage, but later on, archers developed blunt arrows which were effective at destroying armor or knocking down opponents. Additional arrows included fire arrows and acid arrows (with venom).
A bow itself was not very expensive to produce. It obviously depended in the quality itself - but for a regular soldier it would go very cheap and sometimes even free of charge as stealing bows from defeated soldiers was a very common practice. Additionally, richer soldiers who could afford better bows could spend a small fortune in the bow itself. Composite bows were very expensive and adding a handle would cost even more.
Some nobles would decorate their bows with jewels and family signs.
Fletching was the art of making arrows and improving them. A good archer had to know fletching in order to successfully understand his profession and make arrows in times of need. Of course arrows were very difficult to produce, and thus; they were very frequently used again and again on different targets.
The story of most of these go back hundreds of years during the time of the Shoguns and, mainly; civil wars.
Additionally, castles were also built in order to defend the Japanese interests from foreign invaders - most notorious the Mongols who kept trying to invade them throughout their history. Nevertheless, the time in which the most amount of Japanese castles were built, was during the Shogun times, as mentioned above, in which many internal battles took place.
Japanese castles were very similar to European because they were both stormed in the same way. Ultimately, Japanese castles could usually withstand a siege much longer as they were very disciplined and in some extreme cases they could last up to a year or more defending themselves.
As it can be noted in the image above, Japanese castles featured a complete different architecture from European castles. Their decorations were totally different and so where the ways to defend them.
Additionally, in Japan, honor played an even greater role when defending castles as the defenders would hold on to the last moment instead of giving up. This was rarely the case as many times relief arrived before, but when it didn't mostly the samurais defending would commit seppuku or hara-kiri in order to kill themselves.
This practice, hara-kiri, was very common during Feudal Japan and it continued throughout the centuries and it still happens even today! In terms of medieval Japan, it frequently happened and it was common to never surrender even if it was clear that a battle was to be lost.
For Vikings, weapons were not only used for battle, but they were also used to show each individual's own wealth and social status. For this reason, most Viking weapons were decorated with precious gems which made them very valuable.
The main Viking weapons was the spear - it was normally very big and heavy which could even destroy medieval armor in its early stages. For this reason, the Vikings were greatly feared as they were both strong and good at war.
Additionally, Vikings also used projectiles such as bows - which were not as common as in the South - but were employed nevertheless. Since their bows were not very effective, since the British began employing them, the Vikings had a notorious disadvantage.
Swords were very expensive to make because of the lack of knowledge and resources. For this reason, only important soldiers could afford them. Looting became very common as destroying an European army could result in a huge variety of new weapons which resulted in more swords for the Vikings - this inspired them into fighting more and was a major cause of Viking warfare.
Norse horses were different from the ones in Europe. They were smaller and not as fast, furthermore; they were not as good as the rest. This was another major disadvantage for the Vikings as they almost invariantly fought on their feet while the British, for example, could kill many more by fighting on their horses.
As years passed, some regular horses were stolen from Europe and used for the Viking's own purposes, but due to the weather, horses did not breed as fast as they would have in the South. Furthermore, only the stronger horses survived which were reserved for Viking generals and important soldiers.
Even though the Vikings were at a disadvantage because of a lack of horses and swords - they were still very efficient at conquering villages and terrorising peasants. Their weapons were mostly slow, but since they were so strong, one blow could mean the demise of an enemy soldier.
Furthermore, conquering another village could mean a new settlement for the Vikings - reason for which they rarely pillaged and utterly destroyed an opposing town. Instead, what was normally done is that they simply settled there.
Unluckily, naval warfare was almost not existant in the North as galleys were not suitable for the cold weather. The Vikings during their time were able to make better ships for the cold, however.
Naval warfare did not evolve much until the end of the Dark Ages drew nearer - with the remarkable invention of the cannon. Even then, cannons very very seldom used on a galley as they were very innaccurate and heavy. This changed at the end of the Middle Ages when better cannons were employed.
The Defeat of the Spanish Armada - is a clear example of this as it involved new technology from the British navy.
Heavy cavalry was especially good for killing retreating forces as they could very hastily charge against the confused soldiers killing several units per trip.
Retreating armies usually had pikemen who could make the cavalry's job much harder, but the pikemen were usually the first to retreat so this type of defense was more of the exception rather than the rule.
One battle which changed the curse of the Scottish history illustrates perfectly this point. You may read more about it in my Bannockburn Battle article.
Among the Asians, many different cultures existed. The most powerful was (supposedly) the Mongol tribe as they managed to conquer a very big percentage of Asia (including some China and Russia) and as far as the Middle East with some European invasions.
Mongols - The mongols were hated because of the extreme fear they inspired on their enemies. Even though they were low in numbers (approx. 200,000 at their peak), the mongols were very effective at totally banquishing any resistance and having order within their empire.
Even though many more Asian invasions took place - none of them were very important as the equipment of the eastern civilizations was much better than that of the Asians.
Additionally, the Europeans were much greater in number as some cities would peak more than a hundred thousand inhabitants whilst the Asians had not as many.
Lack of agriculture led many adventurous Vikings to sail South in search of land. Ireland was the primary target of such attacks which were successful most of the time.
Nevertheless, as the Vikings kept pushing forward into land, they began conquering Scotland - and at their peak, they conquered half of England.
It was during the X century when king Alfred the Great decided to halt the Viking progression so he reorganized his army, built many ships, and made a decisive defeat on them.
Even though the Vikings retreated to Norway, they still sailed and attacked many villages. Even though the Vikings could not defeat the regular army of Scotland, Ireland or England; the Vikings could still terrorize villagers and easily defeat local armies which inspired a lot of fear into the medieval villagers.
Vikings attacked mostly with Dragon Ships which consisted of up to 100 well-trained infantry.
The Dragon Ships were very well designed. They could easily be taken inside a river to attack villages from unexpected positions - giving them a huge advantage.
Vikings also used swords, shields and some armory. Even though the European defenders were frequently better-trained, the Vikings were very ferious and they attacked without mercy.
Viking ships traveled in groups - a normal Viking fleet consisted of approximately 20 dragon ships with 100 soldiers each.
One of the biggest Viking fleets recorded consisted of many hundreds of dragon ships which sailed to Europe.
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