Weapons, body type and fighting style (Middle Ages)

Oct 2011
515
Croatia
There is no ideal fighting physique. You're either in shape or you're out of shape. You're either strong or you're not. You're either good at cardio or not. All that ectomorph, meso, etc., that is old school stuff that has been discredited anyway.

The Great Body Type Myth: Why Somatotypes Don’t Matter

Somatotype and constitutional psychology

That pseudo science was as realistic as phrenology, humors, and other sham concepts.
Categories are always generalizations, but that doesn't mean body build doesn't matter.

Somatotypes were discredited in psychology, not physiology.

Bowmen didn't become bowmen because somebody looked at their build upon military recruitment and handed them a bow. Commoners in kingdoms like England were required by law to practice all through their childhood to their adulthood. Besides that practice at drawing the bow, most were manual laborers and were thus strong from that too.

All through the ages, elite units have had standards for recruitment. Modern day, formal selection processes measure mental, physical, intelligence, integrity, etc. Back in the day, they said "Hey, that guy is big. Big men make great warriors. Let's recruit him."

For instance, check out this quote: "You pick out the big men! I'll make them brave!" - Pyrrhus of Epirus

Its the same reason individuals wore crests on their helmets, to make them look bigger and more imposing. But there was rarely special weapons designed for big people. The ones you're describing weren't. And those 17th century cuirassiers, what were they carrying? Pistols and plain one handed swords, no different than anyone else.
Except, as I pointed out, Byzantines did care about which physique was suited for which weapon and role. Now, I understand that Western European feudal armies, and even later Byzantine armies, may not have had that luxury or else ability. But that does not mean that certain body types are not more suited for certain weapons, even if it is not always possible to match person to weapon they are best suited for.

Manual labour does not necessarily make you physically powerful. My maternal grandfather was manual labourer - lived his whole life at village - yet he always looked like a stick - or as we say in Croatia, like a dried cod.

And you do understand that your second paragraph contradicts your point?
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
Categories are always generalizations, but that doesn't mean body build doesn't matter.

Somatotypes were discredited in psychology, not physiology.
LOL, I can see you read none of those. But do keep on pressing with your somatotype hypothesis. Maybe we will be entertained with further theories that round headed individuals are natural bowmen. Or those with too much spleen will favor the spear, but with sufficient bloodletting to balance the humors they might favor a war hammer.

Manual labour does not necessarily make you physically powerful. My maternal grandfather was manual labourer - lived his whole life at village - yet he always looked like a stick - or as we say in Croatia, like a dried cod.
I'm seeing patterns here...Ignorance.

This string bean is carrying over 100-200 lbs of sulfur up and down mountains, all day, every day. Does he look like Arnold Schwarzenegger? How about this tiny Nepalese guy lugging a legit fridge uphill? How about this runt trying out to be a Gurkha, hauling over 50 pounds of sand uphill at a run?

Muscle size is not an indication of strength, its an indication of muscle size. There is a reason "ropey" or "wiry" muscles were a term used for quite some time, and it was describing skinny people who were still very strong.

A life of arduous manual labor does in fact make people strong, especially in legs, back, shoulders, arms. Not beach muscles, but still strong. The reason they aren't huge is they don't eat enough protein. But you don't need double your bodyweight in grams of protein per day to be strong, you just need to challenge yourself physically, for a long long time.

And you do understand that your second paragraph contradicts your point?
Says the guy who thinks individuals waited until they wee fully developed adults in the ancient and medieval world before some sort of bodybuilding physique judge categorized them before they had their weapons and fighting style chosen for them, all based on their looks and not their classes, nationalities, personal preference.

LOL, you rock at history!
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,903
Blachernai
Except, as I pointed out, Byzantines did care about which physique was suited for which weapon and role. Now, I understand that Western European feudal armies, and even later Byzantine armies, may not have had that luxury or else ability. But that does not mean that certain body types are not more suited for certain weapons, even if it is not always possible to match person to weapon they are best suited for.
We need to remember that this is a manual. It's describing how things ought to be, not necessarily how they were. And yes, it does say what Decker is saying, but there's more. It says that the infantry should be big (εὐμήκεις) but also that they should be of Roman or Armenian stock, that they should be organized according to kinship and friendship in the line, and only then do their weapons matter, but they get to pick between sword, axe, and mace. They don't get to pick whether they get a spear and what they're wearing, because the state tells them all about that.

I've read through all these manuals (save a variant of the Strategikon, which was only edited recently), and they emphasize discipline, unit cohesion, and order far above weapon skill or physique. Taxis surpasses armament every time in Byzantine military thought.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Picard

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
Found it, mentioned in Byzantine Art of War by Michael Decker (pg.120):
"These were wielded is primary weapons on the line; the manuals show that tactically armies were a mix of 'best weapon' men, who used the tool most suited to their training, experience and physique."
At what age do you think Byzantine new enlistees entered basic training and where chosen for the Byzantine Military Occupation Specialty?

Try again. That quote did not say people were sorted by build and size and other physical aspects. Its saying that armies were combined arms.
 
Oct 2011
515
Croatia
At what age do you think Byzantine new enlistees entered basic training and where chosen for the Byzantine Military Occupation Specialty?

Try again. That quote did not say people were sorted by build and size and other physical aspects. Its saying that armies were combined arms.
You have obviously not read what is written:
"who used the tool most suited to their training, experience and physique. "

So yes, it does say that people were sorted by build and size. I think it was also mentioned somewhere that menavloi were used by strong/large men, but I am not sure about it.

We need to remember that this is a manual. It's describing how things ought to be, not necessarily how they were. And yes, it does say what Decker is saying, but there's more. It says that the infantry should be big (εὐμήκεις) but also that they should be of Roman or Armenian stock, that they should be organized according to kinship and friendship in the line, and only then do their weapons matter, but they get to pick between sword, axe, and mace. They don't get to pick whether they get a spear and what they're wearing, because the state tells them all about that.

I've read through all these manuals (save a variant of the Strategikon, which was only edited recently), and they emphasize discipline, unit cohesion, and order far above weapon skill or physique. Taxis surpasses armament every time in Byzantine military thought.
And that is the problem. In my OP I described what is advantageous or ideal, not necessarily what will happen in reality. Reality, by definition, is never ideal.

LOL, I can see you read none of those. But do keep on pressing with your somatotype hypothesis. Maybe we will be entertained with further theories that round headed individuals are natural bowmen. Or those with too much spleen will favor the spear, but with sufficient bloodletting to balance the humors they might favor a war hammer.
I have read a lot more than just those, but it seems that you have not read them. Nothing there says somatotypes cannot be used. Since you have apparently failed to read your own links:
"To repeat, describing someone’s body type is very different to prescribing a diet and training program based on that body type."
"Sheldon's ideas that body type was an indicator of temperament, moral character or potential—while popular in an atmosphere accepting of the theories of eugenics—were soon widely vilified. "

I'm seeing patterns here...Ignorance.

This string bean is carrying over 100-200 lbs of sulfur up and down mountains, all day, every day. Does he look like Arnold Schwarzenegger? How about this tiny Nepalese guy lugging a legit fridge uphill? How about this runt trying out to be a Gurkha, hauling over 50 pounds of sand uphill at a run?

Muscle size is not an indication of strength, its an indication of muscle size. There is a reason "ropey" or "wiry" muscles were a term used for quite some time, and it was describing skinny people who were still very strong.

A life of arduous manual labor does in fact make people strong, especially in legs, back, shoulders, arms. Not beach muscles, but still strong. The reason they aren't huge is they don't eat enough protein. But you don't need double your bodyweight in grams of protein per day to be strong, you just need to challenge yourself physically, for a long long time.
That has to do with muscle fiber activation rate. But strength also has to do with muscle size, muscle fiber type and attachment point distance, and for those, body type does matter. Of course, training can fix a lot of shortcomings - but natural inclination + training > just training.

Says the guy who thinks individuals waited until they wee fully developed adults in the ancient and medieval world before some sort of bodybuilding physique judge categorized them before they had their weapons and fighting style chosen for them, all based on their looks and not their classes, nationalities, personal preference.

LOL, you rock at history!
I have already shown you that Byzantines did that, when possible. And question here isn't "would person always do it" but "what is ideal". Ideal = not always achievable. You have clearly not read, or else not understood, half of what I have posted.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
I have read a lot more than just those, but it seems that you have not read them. Nothing there says somatotypes cannot be used. Since you have apparently failed to read your own links:
"To repeat, describing someone’s body type is very different to prescribing a diet and training program based on that body type."
"Sheldon's ideas that body type was an indicator of temperament, moral character or potential—while popular in an atmosphere accepting of the theories of eugenics—were soon widely vilified. "
Sheldon was the PERSON WHO CREATED ALL THAT NONSENSE. He used the somatotypes not to educate Croatians about various body types and muscular development (Sheldon knew almost nothing about it) but so he could categorize personalities based on their physiques, which meant Sheldon was an idiot on top of being a eugenicist. So when the psychological aspect was debunked as nonsense, so was the rest.

Behold, all three of Sheldon's body types all be shared by the same person:




Christian Bale, the actor, as Endomorph, meso, and ecto.

What weapon would Christian Bale carry if he was a Byzantine warrior? Let's break out the measuring tape to find out!

That has to do with muscle fiber activation rate. But strength also has to do with muscle size, muscle fiber type and attachment point distance, and for those, body type does matter. Of course, training can fix a lot of shortcomings - but natural inclination + training > just training.
It has to do with you suggesting skinny people can't be strong. I just posted three pictures of little people, short in height, small muscles, all doing things that most bodybuilders would have trouble doing. Things that can only be done with great strength, by people whose muscles aren't very big. That is the point I'm trying to make. Big muscles are not the only indicator of strength. People who work hard doing manual labor all day are very strong in things they do repetitively, which is why an English bowman was not strong just from pulling on a bow starting at 18 at your fictional medieval selection, MOS assignment, and basic training course you apparently think happened, but from a life of doing pulling a bow since I think 8-9, plus doing lots and lots manual labor.

Ever hear of Farm Strong? Its real. Hell, my short little wife used to be able to toss 90 lb hay bales with ease, from working on her grandparent's farm. She can't do it now, because that was over a decade ago, but she was strong. I have a bunch of friends that are master craftsman. One of them is fat as hell, type 2 diabetes, because he eats like garbage. And the guy's grip could probably a hardened screw driver. His fingers are so strong he can unlock bolts without a wrench. His hands and fingers have the consistency of concrete, in terms of callouses. You don't think that plays a part in warfare? Ever held a sword before? Much of it is hand and forearm strength.

I have already shown you that Byzantines did that, when possible. And question here isn't "would person always do it" but "what is ideal". Ideal = not always achievable. You have clearly not read, or else not understood, half of what I have posted.
You most certainly didn't. You provided a one sentence quote from a secondary source that described a desire for Byzantine armies to have different troop types. Nowhere did you prove the Byzantines held bodybuilding competitions to see who gets the war hammer, who gets the bow, and which shrimps get the spear.

If you want to prove your theory, provide the primary source. Something written by Byzantines that spells out coincides exactly with what you wrote about in the OP.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,903
Blachernai
[Here Kirialax wrote a long litany about the importance of primary sources and how there is no excuse not to use them when they are available in translation. Readers are astonished at the vitriolic language employed.]

Praecepta Militaria, mid-10th c., translated by Eric McGeer in Sowing the Dragon's Teeth (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1995).






 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Tulius
Jan 2019
21
Northumberland-England
It may or may not be of any interest, but the ideal physique for an archer shooting heavy weight longbows, is a broad chest and short (ish) arms. This comes from observations from Mark Stretton, who currently holds the world record in drawing heavy bows (200 pounds). He fits that criteria exactly, so no surprise there!
Whether this theory is upheld by investigations into the Towton skeletons is not yet known.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Picard

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
It may or may not be of any interest, but the ideal physique for an archer shooting heavy weight longbows, is a broad chest and short (ish) arms. This comes from observations from Mark Stretton, who currently holds the world record in drawing heavy bows (200 pounds). He fits that criteria exactly, so no surprise there!
Whether this theory is upheld by investigations into the Towton skeletons is not yet known.
The ideal physique means nothing to the English, as nobody was chosen to be an archer because of a physique, which they got from a lifetime of labor and training with the bow. They had, because of their class, had their job picked for them at birth. They were chosen for service simply based on skill at arms (can they loose an arrow?), overall health (not a cripple?), basic intelligence (not a moron?).

And as much as I love Stratton's videos on youtube, there are tons of other vids of much smaller guys pulling bows just as heavy.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Dan Howard

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,018
Australia
The best warriors these days are in the various special forces of the world. Look at their physique.