During the Middle Ages, warfare evolved rapidly in Europe. The materials used for building weapons, the type of weapons used and the role of the cavalry and infantry also changed significantly during this period.
Castles came to be used as a central element of fortifications during wars and different techniques to lay down sieges were invented. With the development of new weapons, new methods of defence were also created. For instance, with the invention of sharp iron blades that could pierce chain mail, armour were used which could ricochet away the blade's blow.
This led to the replacement of swords with axes and other weapons to effectively tackle the new improved Armour. In this way, weapons used in attack and methods used in defence both evolved side by side.
The Medieval era was marked by wars throughout Europe. As a result, the art of warfare significantly evolved during this time. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, wars primarily depended on well-armed knights who were mounted on horses bred specifically for the battlefield. In later Middle Ages, wars came to be heavily dependant on the infantry (footsoldiers) with a smaller number of knights backing it. This happened as a result of the rising costs of war. Similarly, fortifications during the medieval era became better and stronger as a defence against the improving art of siege warfare. This was one of the factors which led to the construction of stronger castles in different parts of medieval Europe.
During the early period of the Middle Ages, infantry did not have an important role during actual battle. Wars primarily depended on horse-riding warriors and later, knights. These knights typically came from the aristocracy who made use of expensive equipment which they used to participate in battles and wars. Over time, this mode of warfare became too expensive to be affordable. The need for a greater number of men led to the use of infantry (footsoldiers) which comprised of peasants and common men. These footsoldiers were clad lightly and made use of cheaper weapons. The trend caught on from the 14th century onwards and grew further as a result of the Black Death which resulted in a shortage of manpower. Crusades also encouraged the use of infantry since battles fought during the Crusades required a greater number of men to match the enemies armies.
Medieval Warfare – Knights
Knighthood in the medieval era began with Emperor Charlemagne. Mounted warriors of the 11th and 12th century proved very fruitful during wars. By the 12th century, knights were already a social class and formed the backbone of the warfare of that age. They usually served as vassals to a particular lord and bore his banner. Knights were typically clad in Armour, equipped with expensive and well-made weapons and mounted on well-bred horses. In later Middle Ages, knighthood also came to be identified with chivalry and bravery. Crusades led to the creation of different Knight Orders which served Christianity and amassed significant powers.
Medieval Warfare – The Battle of Crecy Froissart
Medieval Warfare weapons
Different weapons were used in warfare during different eras of the Middle Ages. Usually, an army carried three types of weapons. One of them were wielded by the lords, nobles and knights who fought on horseback. The second type was used by the foot soldiers and archers. The third type of weaponry was used to lay siege to a city or a fort. Among the weapons used during the era were the battle axe, sword, war hammer, crossbow, halberd, pole axe, spear, mace, billhook, long bow and jousting lance. The weapons used for laying siege included catapults, Ballista, battering ram, Mangonel, siege tower and Trebuchet. Knights usually limited themselves to the use of lances, swords and daggers. And the foot soldiers made use of most of the other weapons listed above.
Medieval Warfare Sieges
A number of siege techniques were used during medieval era to affect the collapse of a besieged enemy city or fortification. These included the mining of the walls which was attempted to damage them enough to bring about their collapse. As a result, defence mechanisms to thwart sieges also improved. This led to the creation of concentric castles for fortifications, constructions such as drawbridges, portcullises and Barbicans were added to castle, and arrow slits were dedicated to allow defence from the castle walls.
Medieval Naval Warfare
Ships were primarily used for transporting troops to the site of a battle during the early medieval period. In later times, galleys were used to throw missiles on enemy ships and attempts were made to board enemy vessels for hand-to-hand combat. Towards the end of the medieval period, ships with increasingly grander fortifications were used. These warships had towers at both the bow and the stern.
Medieval Warfare in the battle of Schlacht bei Dorneck
Medieval Warfare Recruitment
Early medieval wars were fought by nobles mounted on horseback. As time passed, the need for a greater number of men and the expensive nature of a horseback fighter became obvious. This led to the creation of larger armies, relying also on foot soldiers. Initially, nobles were required to bring a certain number of troops to the battlefield, including knights and foot soldiers. Over time, permanent and paid armies were created for the sake of conquests and campaigns. This also led to the rise of mercenaries who would fight for an army in return for payment.
Medieval Warfare Summary
Medieval warfare was a period during which every aspect of warfare evolved rapidly. Countless number of wars were fought during the Middle Ages and many invaders raided Europe, including the Vikings, Mongols, Turks and Muslims. The intensity in warfare led to the creation of newer weapons, better armours, new siege techniques and better fortification methods. The use of the battering ram began during the Middle Ages and it coincided with the construction of large stone castles and fortifications that were built to withstand the sieges. Battlefield combat also rapidly evolved. Initial medieval wars were fought by horseback riders, mostly noblemen. This later led to the creation of knighthood as a designated social rank. During this period, cavalry was considered the most important part of an army. In later medieval periods, infantry came to play an increasingly greater role. It comprised of foot soldiers who were lightly equipped but far greater in number.