What Percentage of Soldiers in Medieval Combat Actually Engaged the Enemy? | HistoryNet MENU

What Percentage of Soldiers in Medieval Combat Actually Engaged the Enemy?

10/21/2014 • Ask Mr. History

During a 14 / 15th century European medieval battle, what percentage of the troops came into direct combat with the enemy, on average?

—R.R.

? ? ?

Dear R.R.,

I don’t believe there is a reliable way of quantifying such an average, simply because medieval European warfare did not involve statistics or percentages, nor was there an “average” battle. If it was a brushing skirmish, only the vanguard of two armies engaged. If it was decisive, like Crécy or Agincourt, even those soldiers initially not committed might find themselves being pursued and cut down. A siege could likewise vary, from a relatively small percentage manning the battlements to an entire town’s population being slaughtered. Generally, few European medieval leaders held reserves when they went into battle—especially if they were outnumbered, as was King Henry V at Agincourt. Some knights and/or light cavalry might be reserved in order to be fresh in the event of your routing the enemy, so they could then pursue and capture fleeing enemy nobles worth ransoming, and cut down the rest. But we do not have a reliable average from the cumulative whole of such a variety of engagements—not least because the overall numbers of combatants and casualties were subject to exaggeration, depending on whose scribe was taking them down.

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History

 

Don’t miss the next Ask Mr. History question! To receive notification whenever any new item is published on HistoryNet, just scroll down the column on the right and sign up for our RSS feed.

, , , , ,



Sponsored Content: