Size of a medieval army

clement

Ad Honorem
Jun 2011
2,141
California, USA
And most of the medieval commanders were overly cautious. So many wars (especially between feudal lords) ended without a single battle, merely one or two sieges and a raid.
 

Guaporense

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
5,047
Brazil
I don't understand what you mean here...
Was there a "usual" number? I've read about groups of knights that only had a few dozen or a few hundreds of knights.

At the time of the Flemish rebellion against Phillippe le Bel around 1300AD, Phillipe gathered a monster army of about 2700 mounted warriors (knights + their squires), 500-1000 crossbowmen and 5000 foot soldiers. France being the greatest military force in Western Europe, at the time.

The forces that stood up against them, near Kortrijk (Courtrai) in 1302, and beat them, counted about 8000-10000 men of whom only 350 mounted knights.

Just to say, numbers could vary...
Of course. But I interpreted you saying that the number of men reportedly involved in battle was only the number of knights. However in some battles we have tens of thousands of men. They cannot been all knights, which is implicitly recognized by our statements here.
 

irishcrusader95

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
and the problem is that the scholars of the time only like talking about the knights, very little is ever said of the ordinary troops and it doesn't help that they often exaggerated troop numbers to make them look better. pitched battles in medieval times were usually avoided as it was very hard to control them, it takes a real leader to hold a large army together in a fast changing situation.
 
Oct 2009
831
Ontario, Canada
It depends on the region and year.

In western Europe armies were a bit smaller. You might see a larger army coming out of Hungary. In the far east they had much larger armies.

After the plagues, you could expect armies to be smaller. At the beginning of the Hundred Years War there were armies of 35,000 men but later that would be nearly impossible. By the end of the wars they were using armies of 5000 men.
 

clement

Ad Honorem
Jun 2011
2,141
California, USA
I do think that the plague did play a role in this, but it is not the only reason for this decrease in size of the armies involved. After all, on at least one occasion, there were huge armies (30,000 was already huge at that time) : the campaign in Spain.

I think the problem was that it was not so big an advantage to have big armies. Look at Crecy : the French had 35,000 men, they lost. At Poitiers : the French had 20,000 men, they lost. Agincourt : 15 000/ 30,000 men, they lost. Big armies were simply impossible to manage efficiently at that time : they were costly, had to be disbanded quickly and it was very difficult to command them on the battlefield. Du Guesclin used a fabian strategy to win back the territories that had been taken by the english. He could not have done so with Philip's army of 1346. Because it was too big to escape a pitched battle, it could not been kept for very long (the French king relied heavily on the "ost" service, which generally lasted 40 days. After that, even the lords and knights had to be paid) and it was difficult to supply. On the other hand, mercenary bands could continue to fight for months and even more, provided that they were given what they wanted : spoils of war.
 

Zeno

Ad Honoris
Jan 2010
13,691
♪♬ ♫♪♩
Could it also be that the crown was spending more on the bureaucracy and administration, so less money was available for armies, which caused the decline of armies in West Europe?
 

Guaporense

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
5,047
Brazil
Could it also be that the crown was spending more on the bureaucracy and administration, so less money was available for armies, which caused the decline of armies in West Europe?
Well, the growth of centralized governments actually helped to increase the size of armies. In the middle of the 16th century France had a standing army of 160,000 men. Such large army wasn't even imagined 200-300 years earlier.
 

irishcrusader95

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
It depends on the region and year.

In western Europe armies were a bit smaller. You might see a larger army coming out of Hungary. In the far east they had much larger armies.

After the plagues, you could expect armies to be smaller. At the beginning of the Hundred Years War there were armies of 35,000 men but later that would be nearly impossible. By the end of the wars they were using armies of 5000 men.
i have a theory of why armies were smaller in the west then in the east and its because of different styles of warfare. in the west they used heavy hard hitting troops which, in this case numbers were not the major thing but the strength of the army itself. in the east they fought with large fast moving armies that relied on large numbers to deal enough damage but that's not to say that the soldiers of eastern armies were no individually strong, they were, just in a different way to western troops
 

clement

Ad Honorem
Jun 2011
2,141
California, USA
I also think that in Europe, warfare was more submitted to rules than elsewhere. This has lasted until Napoleon and it started with the decision of the chruch to limit warfare with the "truce of God".

In the muslim world, wars are often bloodier because the aim was often to destroy an empire or a dynasty etc. On the other hand, in Europe, wars were generally waged i to take one very specific region. And in order to do this, the European rulers had to have legal claims on those regions. Tamerlan, for example, fought to destroy the muslim states of india and the ottoman empire. On the other hand, even three centuries later, Louis XIV was still fighting to win one small region (franche-comté or Alsace).

So in Europe, war was less risky in a sense. In the muslim world or china etc. it was more decisive because a defeat could have tremendous consequences : the fall of an empire for example. So the different leaders were probably more inclined to raise big armies.