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Officers and NCOs in Medieval Armies?

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  • Officers and NCOs in Medieval Armies?

    You know how in stories and movies showing medieval battles you have the king (or other supreme leader) with his entourage of princes and you have the army of mounted knights, infantry, archers, etc.

    The king nods his head, the mounted signals man gallops with his colorful flags across the front of the army and alerts them and they advance. However, once they get going it seems like a free-for-all affair until defeat or victory. Each mounted knight formation has a legendary feudal leader at the front, but that man doesn't really command, he just charges with everybody else and is preoccupied with his own survival. He tries to set an example with his swordsmanship.

    Was there any chain of real-time communication & command in medieval armies or was the officer corps limited to the handful of princes gathered around the king on the hill; watching the battle but not really participating in any way?
    Last edited by MonsterZero; 21 Mar 04, 23:12.

    "Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a ugly brawl."
    --Frederick II, King of Prussia

  • #2
    There wasn't really any chain of command, neither officers or NCO's. As you say it it was a free for all affair until the victory or the defeat. When the two lines were in contact, it was the mess.
    I heard that in many battles, the ones between knights, there were few killed, less than 10. And they prefered to makes prisonners, for the ransom.

    LaPalice.
    Monsieur de La Palice est mort
    Mort devant Pavie.
    Un quart d'heure avant sa mort
    Il était encore en vie...

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    • #3
      It depends...some armies had "officers" leading 10, 20, 100 or more men. Their role on the battlefield was probably limited on trying to maneuver his unit along with the rest of the army.

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      • #4
        An officer class during the middle ages would be the knights and members of the nobility with the rank/position passed down from generation to generation.

        NCO's during the middle ages would have been composed of older, veteran soldiers.
        -----------------------------------
        Sings we a song of wolves.
        Who smells fear and slays the coward.
        Sings we a song of man.
        Who smells gold and slays his brother
        .

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        • #5
          For most European medieval armies, the company was the basic unit. It had a professional soldier as it's leader and he may or may not have been of significant birth, his proficiency as a professional soldier being more important. Companies (horse or foot) would be deployed in whatever formations that were seen as necessary for defence of cities or for going into battle by the senior noblemen. There were various names of these next higher formations, such as vans, battles, wards, wings, divisions etc, and they would be under the direct command of a nobleman who then reported to the commanding king or prince. There could be variations for specialist groups of knights or archers or mercenary forces.

          So the structure is obviously a bit flat (soldier->company->wing->army) and uncomplicated, but then so were the medieval battles when compared to modern battles.

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          • #6
            Maybe the role of NCO's was an unofficial one. I have no evidence for this nor have i done any research but i would say that if you had a group of men no matter what size some would naturally fall into leadership roles and others would follow, it would just be human nature.

            Probably the more complicated a formation the more likely hood of this, Robert the Bruce's chilterns( i think thats what they were called) probably needed a more formal command structure than your average formation of the day.
            Not lip service, nor obsequious homage to superiors, nor servile observance of forms and customs...the Australian army is proof that individualism is the best and not the worst foundation upon which to build up collective discipline - General Monash

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            • #7
              Did the ancient Romans have any ranks between the private legionary and the centurion ("leader of a 100" or company commander by modern standards)?

              "Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a ugly brawl."
              --Frederick II, King of Prussia

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              • #8
                The Roman's definitely had ranks below centurion indicating both position and pay level, and they had an eight man tent section or tent party grouping within the centuria. I don't think there was a specific rank for this section leader though because the section probably had no use outside of camp. Instead I expect the senior soldier in the tent section would tell off the others.

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                • #9
                  Which legion are we talking about here? They fall into two basic categories, the polybian legion, which consisted of 30 manapiles of 120 men and came before 107 BC, or the post Marian army, which had 10 cohorts of 6 centuries of 80 men. In either event, the Romans had the rough modern equivalent of squad leader and company commander.
                  "the only reason tanks were effective during WWI was that the troops were too busy laughing to fight back"

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                  • #10
                    One reason that the Military Orders (Knights of St. John, Templars, Teutonic Knights, Knights of St. James, etc.) in the Middle Ages were pretty good was that they did have proper command structures, based upon the very well-organised orders of monks from which they'd developed. As they were supposed to be permanently ready, or in training, for battle they were the nearest thing to professional soldiers in Medieval Europe.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by fulcrum7
                      Which legion are we talking about here? They fall into two basic categories, the polybian legion, which consisted of 30 manapiles of 120 men and came before 107 BC, or the post Marian army, which had 10 cohorts of 6 centuries of 80 men. In either event, the Romans had the rough modern equivalent of squad leader and company commander.
                      Both legions. I didn't find any specific references to a rank or title for tent section leader. But my references are pretty general warfare books and miss a bit of the detail.

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                      • #12
                        I've read that the senior centurion in a legion would often act as more than just the commander of the eighty to a hundred men that comprised his century. He was always a long serving professional who would advise the more senior aristocratic officers - legates and tribunes - for whom a period of military service was often a stepping stone in a longer term political, legal or financial career. Varus, the commander who lost the three legions in the Teutonburger Wald massacre, was really a militarised tax collector/judge, wholly unsuited to the task he ended up with. In the Later Empire, there was a large body of staff officers who were nominally the Emperor's bodyguard but who would be detached for service with the legions as part of their career progression, like the famous writer and historian Ammianus Marcellinus.

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                        • #13
                          Archers

                          My point's more to do with Medieval warfare than the use of NCO's but it's interesting anyway. It's common knowledge that Heavy Horse were the decisive arm for most Medieval armies, and they probably were on a fairly level, firm surface. But they were easy prey when the conditions were unsuitable.

                          Both at Crecy and again at Agincourt the largely unarmoured English archers cut them to pieces. After running out of ammo they took their dirks and went hunting the French Knights who were at this stage disorganised and floundering in the mud. The archers would gang-tackle the knights to the ground and while one or two pinned them down, they'd deliver "the butcher's stroke" into his groin or arm-pit. Just a bit of trivia.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Sharpe
                            My point's more to do with Medieval warfare than the use of NCO's but it's interesting anyway. It's common knowledge that Heavy Horse were the decisive arm for most Medieval armies, and they probably were on a fairly level, firm surface. But they were easy prey when the conditions were unsuitable.

                            Both at Crecy and again at Agincourt the largely unarmoured English archers cut them to pieces. After running out of ammo they took their dirks and went hunting the French Knights who were at this stage disorganised and floundering in the mud. The archers would gang-tackle the knights to the ground and while one or two pinned them down, they'd deliver "the butcher's stroke" into his groin or arm-pit. Just a bit of trivia.
                            I don't know much about Medieval warfare, so that a cool piece of triva. Can anyone think of modern day examples of that. I know in WWII infantry would all "tackle" a tank by shoting in the siting holes and tossing grenades in the hatch. Thats the best modern day example that I can think of.

                            Thanks for looking!!

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