What Life Was Like As A Medieval Soldier
What Life Was Like As A Medieval Soldier

What Life Was Like As A Medieval Soldier

Trista - January 1, 2019

What Life Was Like As A Medieval Soldier
German foot soldier with crossbow and scale armor at the siege of the Wartburg in Thuringia. Picture of the Codex Manesse, fol. 229v, Der Düring (1305-1340). Picture from the University Library Heidelberg/Wikimedia Commons.

2. You Wanted to be an Archer

Medieval armies were more than just men wearing hundreds of pounds of armor riding in on horses. Sure there were cavalrymen, most of whom had to bring their armor and horses. There were also foot soldiers and a line of archers. The sequence of archers was what people had to watch out for because they could shoot deadly arrows long distances and begin to kill soldiers on the other side long before the foot soldiers and the cavalry had made their way down to the battlefield. Archers were also frequently positioned along the castle walls and could pick off invaders.

Short bows were probably the weakest of an archer’s weapons, and they could shoot with accuracy as far as 100 yards. They were frequently used in the earlier Medieval Ages, such as in defending against Viking raids up through the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Later on, longbows could shoot arrows over 300 yards. The crossbow, though, was the most dreaded of all: it could send an arrow a quarter of a mile with incredible accuracy. Arrows shot with a crossbow could easily pierce through metal armor, but the real danger was when the tips were on fire.

What Life Was Like As A Medieval Soldier
Battle of Agincourt, 15th-century miniature. Lambeth Palace Library, London, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library/Isis/Wikimedia Commons.

1. You Would Destroy Your Own Land to Discourage the Enemy

When an army was approaching, the leader would often send out an emissary to try to get the opposing force to surrender. Moreover, considering how large these armies were when they were traveling, usually on foot, through long stretches of countryside, there was no hiding when an enemy army was approaching. As such, opposing forces knew when they needed to prepare. They would often burn the surrounding countryside so that the approaching army would have no food. This was only the first step of many that they would take to prepare.

With a siege on the horizon, soldiers would stockpile food and supplies inside the castle so that they could hopefully outlast the surrounding army. They would also dig ditches that they could use to defend their territory, as well as set up pikes and fighting platforms. With the Vikings, however, the game changed. No one knew when a Viking raid was coming, as they came by water and were thereby able to launch surprise attacks. Standing defenses became a way of life to protect against Viking raids. And when they didn’t work, paying bribe money to make the Vikings go away was rarely considered to be beneath the defending army.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Medieval Warfare: Theory and Practice in Europe, 300-1500, by Helen Nicholson. Red Globe Press, 2003.

“Ekkehard of Aurach: On the Opening of the First Crusade.” Fordham University.

“25 Most Insane Medieval Weapons,” by List25 Team. List 25 History. May 14, 2007.

“Disease in the Middle Ages,” by Ellen Castelow. Historic UK.

“The Bow in Medieval Warfare.” Encyclopedia.com

“Medieval Warfare: How to Capture a Castle with Siegecraft.” Historynet. June 12, 2006.

“Five Fun Facts About Medieval Archery”. Medievalists.net.

“Stirling Castle skeletons reveal the brutal reality of medieval warfare say experts,” by Richard Moss. Culture 24. May 27, 2011.

“Medieval Sourcebook: Charlemagne: Summons to Army c. 804-11.” Fordham University.

Inscribing the Hundred Years’ War in French and English Cultures, ed. Denise Baker. State University of New York Press. 2000.

“The military activities of bishops, abbots and other clergy in England c.900-1200,” by Daniel Gerrard. University of Glasgow. 2011.

“The Longest Siege in Medieval English History.” English Heritage. June 16, 2016.

“1066,” by Dr. Mike Ibeji. BBC. February 17, 2011.

“Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War, by Remy Ambuhl”. Cambridge University Press. 2013.

“20 Things Everybody Gets Wrong About the Middle Ages”. History Collection.

“Facts from the Middle Ages that Are Full of Surprises”. History Collection.

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