Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: military organization

Captains Held Enormous Power Over Their Companies

January 25, 2023

Every captain in an early modern army held enormous power over the rank and file of his company. In absolute charge of discipline he could flog, fine, or otherwise humiliate his men whenever he chose; because he alone decided who should perform sentry guard and other onerous duties, the captain was free to victimize the men he disliked and excuse his friends…. [Without] interference from above, [a Spanish Empire] captain chose the two sergeants and eight corporals of his company (the cabos de escuadra or corporals were in charge of twenty-five men and received a wage-bonus of 3 escudos each per month), and he distributed at his pleasure 30 escudos of treasury bonus-pay among his men. As if this were not enough, the insolvency of the military treasury made the company captains into money-lenders and welfare-officers as well. Every company had a chest (caja) kept by the captain and used by him to advance subsistence wages (the socorro) to necessitous men when no money arrived from the treasury. The captains were also responsible for ransoming, re-arming, or re-horsing any of their men who had the misfortune to lose their liberty, their weapons, or their mounts. Naturally when the treasury did contrive to pay an [installment] of wages the captains expected to receive it first in order to deduct the sums already advanced “on account”. The scheme was excellent in principle, but it assumed that all captains were honest and scrupulous men. Of course they were not…. “The arrangements for paying the troops played right into the eager hands of the captains, who took full advantage of the generous opportunities afforded them.”

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, p. 160

Not All Recruits Were Base-born: the Gentleman-rankers

January 21, 2023

Not all recruits were destitute or base-born, however. The Army of Flanders, especially in the sixteenth century [C.E.], needed quality as well as quantity; men who excelled in single combat, in the “actions” of the war, were required as well as cannon-fodder for the great battles. Every captain therefore tried to enlist a number of gentlemen (particulares) to serve as common soldiers in his company, offering a bonus-pay (ventaja) to every gentleman who agreed to do so. Some of these volunteers would be the relatives of the captain, others would no doubt be poor gentry unable to gain a living in other ways (Spanish gentlemen were not supposed to demean themselves by manual labour or commercial transactions), others still would be aspiring noblemen who began their military service in the ranks and hoped before long to rise to a position of command.

Most army commanders set the highest value upon these gentleman-rankers. The duke of Alva, for example, was overjoyed to find that a large number of particulares had volunteered to serve in the Spanish infantry which he led to the Netherlands in 1567.

Soldiers of this calibre [wrote Alva] are the men who win victory in the “actions” and with whom the General establishes the requisite discipline among the troops. In our nation nothing is more important than to introduce gentlemen and men of substance into the infantry so that all is not left in the hands of labourers and lackeys.

Throughout the Eighty Years’ War the same sentiment was expressed in remarkably similar terms. As late as 1640, for example, a Netherlander—and a civilian at that—could write:

Gentleman-rankers…are the people who bear the brunt of the battles and sieges, as we have seen on many occasions, and who by their example oblige and enliven the rest of the soldiers (who have less sense of duty) to stand fast and fight with courage.

Service as a volunteer among the infantry was particularly popular among the Spanish gentry, but particulares were also to be found in considerable numbers in the ranks of other “nations”. The English units in the Army of Flanders, for example, regularly included Catesbys, Treshams and other members of the leading recusant gentry families—including Guy Fawkes. Not all these gentleman-rankers were poor. On one celebrated occasion the Emperor Charles V lent additional dignity to the military profession by himself taking up a pike and marching with his men; later, in the 1590s, the dukes of Osuna and Pastrana and the prince of Asculi, scions of the most illustrious houses of Spain, were all to be found serving as simple soldiers in the Army of Flanders. Naturally these volunteers, especially the nobles, aspired to an eventual position of command, but they first received an admirable apprenticeship and, in addition, their presence in the ranks helped to maintain morale and reduce insubordination. In this way the Spanish Habsburgs assembled armies which were supremely capable of victory without resort to any compulsion.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, pp. 40-41

Emphasis mine.

Retinue Versus Followers

September 3, 2022

The retinue did not consist of only soldiers…but also of servants, artisans, professionals, estate officials, treasurers, stewards, lawyers and generally all that was needed by the normal operation of society. And, as the lord grew in status, so did the retinue; so that a sort of “bastard feudalism” developed, in which middle ranking figures under a king or major noble would compete for money, offices or influence…. The collective name for these retainers was “affinity,” which also happens to be a word that began in c. 1300 [C.E.] as “relation by marriage.” In a sense, the retinue were “kin,” or part of the “neighbourhood,” words that have developed other meanings over time. For this post, [we will] go on using the word retinue and retainer, but try to keep affinity in mind….

Obviously, this would mean that many persons outside the retinue would always be seeking to be a part of it, if they had no affinity of their own. This meant that outside the retinue were an amorphous group of general supporters and contacts, most of them completely unknown to the lord, but known to the various members of the retinue. Thus, even a minor lord could potentially affect hundreds, even thousands of persons, simply by their existence at the heart of his or her retinue. This made political maneuverings and the raising of an huge army a realistic possibility…. In [Dungeons & Dragons], we tend to think that to raise an army, we need to scatter out agents and interview people. In fact, the more likely truth is that there would be large numbers predisposed to our cause; we would need only to canvas our own connections, gain the support of other nobles and let them canvas their connections, and thus through specific persons already in our employ, we would dredge up the very people we needed from both our lands and from those wanting to be part of our lands. Thus, every war begins with a promise of land—which we will naturally take from the losers, when we win.

All this makes the retainer far, far more valuable than the follower—though, it must be said the retainer has less reason to be directly loyal. Ultimately, the retainer serves the office, not the individual. A lord is sure to be surrounded by trusted, reliable followers and henchmen, the “inner circle,” while sorting out the trusted members of the retinue from those not quite so trusted. In general, the retinue is expected to fall in line because the lord has the retinue’s general welfare at heart; if the lord fights to preserve the lord’s lands, he or she also fights to preserve the retinue’s lands. So all join together in the common cause.

Retinue vs. Followers – The Tao of D&D

Author’s emphases are in italics. Mine are in bold.

An Army Open to Talents

March 12, 2022

[King Philip] had carried through a social revolution among the Macedonian military class…. The old nobility were laid under an obligation of regular military service; to it a new nobility of military adventurers was added, recruited and promoted on the basis of professional excellence. The result was an army ‘open to talents’, in which the king’s new and old followers competed for position in demonstrations of loyalty and self-disregard.

The Mask of Command, pp. 19-20

Retinue of Retinues

January 25, 2022

The phrase I drill into my student’s heads about the structure of medieval armies is that they are a retinue of retinues. What I mean by this is that the way a medieval king raises his armies is that he has a bunch of military aristocrats (read: nobles) who owe him military service (they are his ‘vassals’) – his retinue. When he goes to war, the king calls on all of his vassals to show up. But each of those vassals also have their own bunch of military aristocrats who are their vassals – their retinue. And this repeats down the line, even down to an individual knight, who likely has a handful of non-nobles as his retinue (perhaps a few of his peasants, or maybe he’s hired a mercenary or two on retainer).

…The average retinue…was five men although significant lords (like earls) might have hundreds of men in their retinues (which were in turn comprised of the retinues of their own retainers). So the noble’s retinue is the combined retinues of all of his retainers, and the king’s army is the combined total of everyone’s retainer’s retainers, if that make sense. Thus: a retinue of retinues.

How It Wasn’t: Game of Thrones and the Middle Ages, Part I – A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry

Author’s emphases both italics and bold.

Versatility of the Napoleonic Army Corps

May 2, 2008

Among the reforms of the army begun before the [French] Revolution was the development of the corps d’armée. Napoleon saw the value of this reform, adopting and developing it into what has been called his secret weapon. The Napoleonic army corps was a well-balanced unit comprising all arms: infantry, cavalry and artillery, with attached engineers, auxiliary trains and a headquarters staff. The corps was in effect an army in miniature, although its size, anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000 men, could rival that of many 18th-century armies. The corps would be made up of a number of infantry and cavalry divisions, each of two or more brigades with attached artillery. As Napoleon’s corps structured army went into battle against a traditionally organized enemy force, each of his corps, being a complete fighting force, could go into action without delay as soon as it arrived on the field. When [Marshal Louis-Nicolas] Davout, one of the pre-eminent corps commander of the period, brought his men by an epic forced march directly into the fray at Austerlitz, he undoubtedly stopped the great Russian envelopment of the French right which would have threatened to cut across Napoleon’s line of communication and make his position untenable. The size of a corps could vary and would depend on several factors, such as its particular task and the ability of its commanding general. To his step-son, Eugéne de Beauharnais, Napoleon in 1809 commented, ‘…a corps of 25,000-30,000 men can be left on its own. Well handled it can fight or alternatively avoid action…an opponent cannot force it to accept an engagement, but if it chooses to do so it can fight alone for a long time.

David Hamilton-Williams, Waterloo: New Perspectives, p. 115

Emphasis mine.

From Ghazi to Sipahi

May 2, 2008

The ghazi warriors who provided the original cutting edge of Ottoman expansion were land-hungry freebooters of diverse origins. An increase in the size of this group was essential if the Ottoman state was to continue expanding. The timar system provided an economic basis for a numerous class of such sipahis, whose obedience was ensured by institutionalizing denial of the hereditary principle in the Ottoman law of feudal land-holding, and whose appetite for warfare was stimulated by the enticing prospect of fresh plunder perpetually available across the frontiers of the empire. According to the Venetian ambassador…there were 80,000 sipahis in European Turkey in 1573 [C.E.] and 50,000 in the Asiatic provinces, together with 15,000 sipahis ‘of the Porte’, household cavalry who were paid by the treasury and did not receive timars. The sipahis remained an unruly class, militarily valuable but politically untrustworthy, whose turbulence it was necessary to balance and control by increasing the numbers and improving the efficiency of public administrators and by establishing a body of household infantry whose effectiveness on campaign and loyalty to the sultan were beyond question. It was in response to these requirements that the Ottomans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries developed slavery as a fundamental social institution; organizing by this means a supply of obedient and talented soldiers and administrators on a scale suited to the demands of a great imperialist power.

Paul Coles, The Ottoman Impact on Europe, pp. 49-50

Assyrian Army of the Sargonid Period

May 2, 2008

The Assyrian army in the Sargonid period had a potential magnitude of several hundreds of thousands of troops, although a call-up of the entire force for a campaign was extremely rare. Supreme command of the army rested with the king and, immediately under him, the “field-marshal”…. The army was divided into units of various sizes and types; but the basic division was the “company”…of fifty men under a “captain”…and this unit was in turn broken down into files of ten men. An officer carried a mace as a symbol of his authority.

The levying of troops was the primary responsibility of the captains, each of whom had a certain number of villages under his command, and the captains were in turn responsible to the provincial governor. By the Sargonid age there was also a standing army which was under the direct authority of the king, no doubt created as a counter-balance to the potential misuse of military power by the provincial governors. The king also had his own bodyguard of infantry and cavalry. The troops recruited within Assyria proper were spread around the empire as much as possible, since they were the most loyal, and they constituted the chariotry and cavalry divisions. The infantry consisted largely of foreigners, mainly Aramaeans. Some foreign groups became specialized units. For example, the Ituaeans, an Aramaic people, were entrusted with special tasks such as escort duty throughout the empire.

Garrisons and barracks were scattered over the empire, but the military headquarters was a massive armoury in the Assyrian capital. Here was stationed a large portion of the troops, animals, and equipment of the standing army, and there were, in addition, royal apartments for the king to occupy when he wished. At each New Year there was a grand inspection at the armoury when the king reviewed his troops and their equipment….

The Cambridge Ancient History, volume III, part 2

Regimental Proprietary System

May 2, 2008
The establishment of permanent units hastened the almost universal adoption of the proprietary system, which had already begun to replace the vestiges of feudalism and of free companies. The permanent colonel was the proprietor of his regiment, accepted by the king as a permanent officer and authorized (personally, and through him his captains) to raise men. Initially, with armies being raised only for a campaign and disbanded afterward, the troops raised by the proprietary system were volunteers, more or less carefully selected from the available and willing manpower. But as the armies became permanent, the standing units were not disbanded and were kept up to strength by regular influx of recruits, usually provided by the crown. This, combined with the financial considerations in maintaining year-round units, gave the crown increasing rights of supervision over the administration and training of the regiments, and thus somewhat restricted the proprietary right previously exercised by colonels and captains.
This proprietary system could be profitable. A commander was paid for the number of men he mustered, as well as for their weapons, equipment, and subsistence. In addition to the profit to be derived from economical exercise of his proprietorship (to say nothing of the possibilities offered by parsimony and fraud), an officer could sell his proprietary interest when he retired. Thus officers’ commissions were valuable, and could be purchased. This custom of purchase of commissions continued in some armies—notably that of England—long after the proprietary system itself had disappeared.

The Encyclopedia of Military History, p. 527

Amir Grades of Rank

March 7, 2003

A brief explanation regarding the ranks of Mamluke ameers [sic] may here be useful. The government was divided into two distinct classes, “men of the pen” and “men of the sword,” civil servants and soldiers. The men of the sword at this period consisted solely of Turkish Mamlukes born on the steppes….

When the sultan wished to promote an efficient soldier to officer rank, he was given a commission and the rank of “an ameer of ten,” corrosponding, let us say, to a lieutenant. He was obliged to maintain ten mamlukes of his own, and was given a small fief of government land, on the income from which he had to live and maintain his ten mamlukes. In the event of war, the officer and his ten men served in the army, providing their own horses, weapons and supplies.

Next above an ameer of ten was an ameer of forty, who maintained forty trained mamlukes. We may compare this officer to a captain. At this stage, he was allowed to have a tablkhana, a small military band, consisting of drums, and possibly also cymbals, oboes and trumpets. The essential component was the drums, which were used in battle.

…The drums were not merely a military ritual, but played a vital part in battle. An ameer of forty was consequently often called “an ameer of drums”….

The next rank above ameer of drums was that of ameer of one hundred, whom we may liken to colonels. The establishment of ameers of one hundred under Baybars was twenty-four. These senior ameers were each supposed to have one hundred private mamlukes. They had larger bands than those of the ameers of forty. The sultan’s own band was larger still, and was commanded by a band-master. The drums were presumably side-drums or kettle-drums, for they were beaten on horseback.

Ameers of one hundred are often described as “commanders of one thousand.” The one hundred were the ameer’s personal retainers, always under arms. In war time, when the reserves were mobilized, the ameer commanded a thousand troopers. All real Mamluke units were mounted. They had no infantry and disliked fighting on foot.

In peace time, the sultan and all ameers of a hundred were entitled to have their bands play outside their houses at sunset. History does not explain what happened if several ameers lived next door to one another in the same street, for in Egypt all ameers seem to have had houses in Cairo. The resulting evening cacophany must have been trying for civilian neighbours….

Reasonably enough, the right to beat drums was a military privilege….

Soldiers of Fortune, pp. 77-80

Military Systems

March 7, 2003

The military system of a state is explained by its resources, principally financial, the structure of its government and administration, the level of its technology, the organization of its society and the nature of its economy, but one must also take into account its objectives and strictly military imperatives. Every state in effect seeks to raise armed forces adapted to its ambitions and to its own fears. This was the case in England at the end of the Middle Ages when military institutions were founded as a result of the interaction of several factors. First, it was a society where the feudal regime had changed almost completely into a system of land tenures, creating the need to establish new personal ties between those who governed and the men who were capable of serving them in war—’bastard feudalism’. Secondly, the fact that the principal English strength lay in the massive use of the longbow, a weapon which was popular rather than aristocratic, led to the need to draw on the resources of every level of society, independent of juridical status, in order to recruit a sufficient number of highly qualified archers. Finally, the adoption of a deliberately aggressive and expansive foreign policy implied the sending of forces against Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but above all across the sea. These expeditionary corps had to be capable of waging war away from their base for six months, a year, two years or even more. Garrison troops, intended to hold permanently a certain number of places on the continent and also, if the need arose, capable of turning themselves into a proper army of occupation, were vital.

Phillipe Contamine, War in the Middle Ages, p. 150

A Vast Encampment

March 7, 2003

Uninterrupted conquest was the law of life of Turkish society; the sultans emerged into the light of recorded history as leaders of a ghazi horde. Even when the empire had acquired a metropolis and was governed through a formal and elaborate administrative system, it remained almost continuously at war, a vast encampment rather than a state in the European sense. Until the advent of a succession of luxurious and fainéant rulers in the later sixteenth century [C.E.], sultans were active field commanders, usually quitting Istanbul with the army each spring and campaigning throughout the summer.

Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, p. 34

Three-Tier System of Administration for Military Orders

May 6, 2001

In the years immediately following foundation, a [Christian] military order [like the Knights Templar] consisted of a small group of brethren under the leadership of a master. At this stage little governmental machinery was needed. As property and recruits were gained, it became the norm to establish subordinate convents, both in frontier regions and elsewhere. If expansion was considerable, an intermediate tier of government between convents and the order’s headquarters was soon needed, as it became difficult for masters to supervise distant convents. Also, a system was needed by which resources and recruits could easily be channelled to frontier regions from other convents. Orders which fought on several fronts also required a military leader in each district. They adopted the practice of grouping the convents of a region into what were called provinces or priories. Although there were variations in detail, the leading orders adopted a three-tier system of administration.

Jonathan Riley-Smith (editor), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, p. 204