How well could 15 year olds fight in a war?

Nov 2014
464
ph
Has there ever been an organized army in the past where the vast majority of fresh recruits or levies were made up of 14 to 16 year olds, what was the average age of a new recruit in a hastati cohort or a roman legion?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,626
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Roman girls got married around 15-16 ...

Regarding the legions there were two preliminary steps:

the "dilectus" [the authority communicated to the individual that may be he was going to serve in a legion];
the "probatio" [substantially a series of tests to see if the individual was able to train to join a legion, the alternative was to join support units].

As for the age of the individuals involved in the dilectus, they were between 17 and 25. Only in case of real emergency they recruited younger boys. But it wasn't the rule.

I wonder about Spartans in case of necessity: their children left the families really young [around 7] to join what we could call "military schools", the "agoge".
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
5,015
Dispargum
Most boys at the ages of 14-16 are still growing. Some boys reach their adult height before age 16, others do not. Even if a boy has reached his adult height, height comes first, muscle mass comes later. Boys who get tall fast tend to be very thin at first. Even if a 15 year old was tall enough to be a soldier, he would probably lack the strength to be a good soldier. Probably less than ten percent of all 15 year old boys are strong enough to be soldiers. You might find one or two 15 year olds in the ranks, but you wouldn't find the vast majority of an ancient army to be under the age of 17 or even under 19. Armies would normally take 18 year olds but they also take 19, 20, 21 year olds and even older.

One advantage of a 15 year old soldier is that his moral compass is not yet fully formed. A 15 year old will have less mental resistance to killing than will an older soldier. A 15 year old is also more susceptible to peer pressure than an older soldier and can therefore be more easily manipulated and molded into the army's ideal soldier.
 

MG1962a

Ad Honorem
Mar 2019
2,400
Kansas
One advantage of a 15 year old soldier is that his moral compass is not yet fully formed. A 15 year old will have less mental resistance to killing than will an older soldier. A 15 year old is also more susceptible to peer pressure than an older soldier and can therefore be more easily manipulated and molded into the army's ideal soldier.
Yes the National Socialists turned this process into a science :(
 

Code Blue

Ad Honorem
Feb 2015
4,519
Caribbean
It depends on what job. Isn't that why they call it "infantry?" The older, wiser, and wealthier fight from horses or from desks.
 
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Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,557
Portugal
Soldiers with 15 years old, and less, had recently (in the last 50 years) been seen them in many wars around the world, such in Liberia, Serra Leone, Congo, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Libya, Cambodia, or with the drug lords in Asia, and Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia). And I am only talking bout some places that they were mostly used.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
5,015
Dispargum
Soldiers with 15 years old, and less, had recently (in the last 50 years) been seen them in many wars around the world, such in Liberia, Serra Leone, Congo, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Libya, Cambodia, or with the drug lords in Asia, and Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia). And I am only talking bout some places that they were mostly used.
Yes, in the last 100 years or so the strength requirements of a soldier have reduced. You don't have to be very strong to pull a trigger. You did have to be much stronger to throw a javelin, thrust a sword, or hold a shield. Today, younger soldiers are attractive because of the psychological aspects I mentioned. It's also a reason why child soldiers are banned by international law - young soldiers with no moral compass are more likely to commit atrocities.
 

Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
9,503
here
“Let the boy win his spurs," was reportedly said of the 16 year old Black Prince or Edward, Prince of Wales, during the battle of Crecy. I'm not certain, but it sounds like he took part in the battle and performed well enough.
 

Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
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Yes, in the last 100 years or so the strength requirements of a soldier have reduced. You don't have to be very strong to pull a trigger. You did have to be much stronger to throw a javelin, thrust a sword, or hold a shield. Today, younger soldiers are attractive because of the psychological aspects I mentioned. It's also a reason why child soldiers are banned by international law - young soldiers with no moral compass are more likely to commit atrocities.
I don't know about that.

It's not just pulling a trigger. It's running, it's humping all day up and down mountains with quite a bit of equipment, in excess of a hundred pounds sometimes: communication equipment, night vision, body armor, ammo, water, medical supplies, food, etc. The m16 weighs 8lbs. The m249 weighs over 20 locked and loaded. Carrying these weapons all day, aiming, etc, is a struggle, mentally and physically. Physical training in the US military has been revamped recently for good reason.

I bet a modern day US Marine or US Army soldier is much more physically capable than a WWI Doughboy.
 
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Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
9,503
here
How about Hitlerjugend units? I've read that often times the these soldiers were under 18. IDK how accurate that is though....