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Old October 9th, 2009, 04:26 PM   #1
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Cleaning up after the Battle


There is something I've always been curious about and haven't found much written on the subject: After a battle, particularly in ancient/medieval times, what happened to all the bodies of soldiers and horses and to the equipment and such?

Now my assumption would be that after a siege the townspeople would probably get the task of cleanup, but it must have been quite the operation after large battles. They probably burned the bodies, but what about the shields and swords lying around?

This question applies to all eras so any info would be appreciated.
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Old October 9th, 2009, 04:33 PM   #2

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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


Quote:
Originally Posted by Cogger View Post
...but what about the shields and swords lying around?

This question applies to all eras so any info would be appreciated.
That's what I call "Loot"
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Old October 9th, 2009, 05:08 PM   #3

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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


Sometimes burnt together with everything (in the taking of Canaan, the people was said to spare nothing, in some cases),
sometimes kept (in _The Seven Samurai_, the villagers had samurai weapons and gear, but not even samurai were allowed to wear them, because of some matter of religion -- maybe you don't wear gear of dead samurai, nor use their weapons?).

But I'm guessing.

In the modern world, it seems to have been abolished: when you take weapons from other people (like native Americans, for instance) you use it in the measure of your knowledge of it. I'm talking about fire arms.
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Old October 9th, 2009, 06:51 PM   #4

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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


Any armour that you could strip off a corpse before the body started to rot real bad was a sweet find. You can be sure that there was always a kind soul willing to unburden the dead of their valuables.
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Old October 10th, 2009, 04:29 AM   #5

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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


A large part of Hannibals soldiers after the first few encounters with the Romans were dressed as Hastati and Principes, with the Roman chainmail, scutum, etc (they weren't as well armed as the Romans were, though a few battles later...). The death were buried by the victors, given proper honours to those that should deserve them (the leaders).

For most eras the terms 'pile', 'pit', 'fire' and 'loot' would suffice. Soldiers in wars have always been interested in that little 'extra' the loser would leave behind.
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Old October 10th, 2009, 05:36 AM   #6

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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


In Europe from medieval times to Napoleon.

Looting the dead and wounded of both sides by the victorious army was mandatory. When a battle was going to place it usually got around to the locals who gathered on the periphery so when the victorious army had finished looting, they could have seconds. Usually the next day if the wounded had survived the night, they would be picked up from the battlefield by the field hospital which would have set up by then. The dead were usually left on the field to rot. Battlefield of the past are usually the most fertile fields of today. The crops grow thicker and stronger on the places where the bodies decomposed.
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Old October 10th, 2009, 06:54 AM   #7
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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


the practice of looting the bodies was common place as others have said here, the weapons left over after the victors had taken their pick most likely were gathered up by locals , as weapons would have been expensive, the bodies were not always burned or buried but left as a leason to others as was the case with boudica's army, besides the logistics of burning or burying so many would have been huge!, the fields where this happened as with burials are indeed very fertile due to the nitrates that so many bodies left behind. btw camp followers also would have had a share in looting the dead too i suspect .
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Old October 10th, 2009, 08:22 AM   #8

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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


I know that islamic armies usually berry all death, no matter if they are enemies. But exceptions are many.
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Old October 10th, 2009, 08:35 AM   #9

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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


Quote:
Originally Posted by sturm View Post
I know that islamic armies usually berry all death, no matter if they are enemies. But exceptions are many.
That's right, they bury it in one big hole.
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Old October 10th, 2009, 09:19 AM   #10

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Re: Cleaning up after the Battle


In the book 100 things to know – The Battle of Gettysburg the author has this to say:

“Looting and souvenir collecting were rampant on the battlefield, and the government wanted to reclaim as much useful military material as it possibly could. On July 7, Union captain William Smith was sent from Washington to Gettysburg “to collect all property left by both armies in the vicinity.” It was a tremendous task.

On his first day in town, Smith saw seventy-six wagons leaving the battle area; he stopped and searched thirty of them—everyone contained government property.

Smith and a newly formed cavalry unit launched a systematic search for stolen materials. The canvass produced bountiful results, with weapons and blankets being uncovered by the wagon load over a fifteen mile radius. On farmer had a cache that included ten muskets, a saber, two cartridge boxes, fifteen blankets, fifteen tent sections, twenty-five knapsacks, some clothing, and a horse.

A six pound cannon was found lowered into a well. In many cases, the looters were ordered to lead the material into their wagons themselves and join the searchers’ convoy. Those who refused were dealt with harshly. “I am not very careful,” Smith wrote, “how I treat such parties.”

And he adds…

“A week after the battle, Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtin visited the field. He was appalled by the devastation, and by the treatment of the dead. He quickly devised a plan whereby the state would defray the cost of removing any Pennsylvanian killed in the fighting and sending the remains back to his hometown.

He also agreed to establish a national cemetery at Gettysburg, the first of its kind in the country. The site would be on seventeen acres purchased for $2,475.87 atop Cemetery Hill. Under the plan, Pennsylvania would provide a burial spot for any soldier killed in the battle; the soldier’s home state would then be assessed for the body’s removal and preparation of the grounds.

The date of the ceremony to dedicate the cemetery was moved from October 23 to November 16 to accommodate the event’s main speaker, renowned orator Edward Everett. Organizers were surprised when Abraham Lincoln accepted the courtesy invitation extended to him. Two weeks before the event, the president was offered time after Everett’s speech to make “a few appropriate remarks.” The brief address he gave became one of history’s greatest speeches.”

This brief example of plundering, pillaging, and looting can be extended to all battles not just the civil war.

Bonus: The expression to sack a village comes from putting into a sack all you could carry off.
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