Medieval Warfare and its Effects on Society/Economics

Sotik

Villager
TLDR: Outside of plundering and pillaging, what kind of effects did war have on society and the economy of a kingdom as a whole?

Hey everyone I was wanting to pick the minds of others and see if I could get some tips on my setting. I have a world in which a war is brewing between two kingdoms, currently they are gathering forces preparing for the blood bath that is to follow. When the players first step into my world I plan to put them smack dab in the middle of one of these kingdoms, so I want it to really feel like they are preparing for war. This got me thinking, what kind of effects did medieval wars have on society.

To be clear, I am not talking about what happened to towns when war would sweep over them, but instead I want to focus on the towns and people part of the kingdoms but far from battles. I was thinking that perhaps black smiths might have been taken away to the war camps to help repair armor and forge new sets, farmers would have most of their crops taken, lumber would be in short supply for the use of building war machines, able bodied men would have been forced into service, supplies like medical kits, bedding and mess kits would be in low supply, and in a setting like D&D you'd have a shortage of magical herbs, potions, priests who were tending to the troops and so forth.

Now, I will admit my google skills aren't that great, but when I look into the subject I actually find people saying that war wouldn't have affected those far removed from the battles at all and that the fighting would have mostly been carried out by knights and the kings trained soldiers. So as someone with next to no knowledge on medieval warfare, what kind of effects did war have on society and the economy of a kingdom as a whole?
 

Celebrim

Legend
If by Medieval warfare you mean war in Europe during the Middle Ages (which I'll define as roughly from Charlemagne to the Black Death), Medieval warfare was designed to have as limited of effect on the society as a whole as possible.

Fights were supposed to be exclusively between members of the warring class, which were almost universally heavy cavalry. Serfs were in theory completely outside of warfare, and though they had to support it in their taxes they weren't supposed to be fighting it. Medieval wars were fought on a comparatively small scale for the most part - often with only a few hundred on each side and major battles being a few thousand on each side. Without logistical infrastructure, campaigning was limited to seasonal forays when the small armies could be supported by the surrounding countryside. Castles were very hard to break down with available technology and served as very effective point defense. In the West, officially the church was opposed to any warring between Christian states, and while these sort of prohibitions had limited effect, they did have some and most of the truly impactful wars of the period come under the heading of 'crusades' of various sorts.

Wars don't get really impactful on society until you get out of the Middle Ages, and get into the age of absolute monarchs, standing armies, supply depots, and most of all the developing sense by the commoners that they are a part of the political system in some sense - which leads to Nationalism and ultimately Democracy/Republicanism.
 

Sotik

Villager
In what time period would you put the Forgotten Realms in? That's really more or less what my campaign world resembles. I always took the Medieval era to be more in tune with what fantasy worlds represented, but it sounds like it might be more in line with the Middle Ages. Would that be a correct assumption?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
If by Medieval warfare you mean war in Europe during the Middle Ages (which I'll define as roughly from Charlemagne to the Black Death)
I don't dispute that as a reasonable chunk of time to detail. However, for the readers - what historians usually call the "middle ages" is broader, and includes several centuries before this, and a century or so after this.

And, similarly I note that we are specifying war in Europe. The Crusades, which ran through this period, were outside Europe, and made much larger use of European infantry - IIRC, the first crusade had something like 5000 cavalry, and 30K to 35K infantry. I think we are also leaving out some of the conflicts of northern Europe which we could reasonably call the Viking period that overlaps the early portion of the period you set. Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, and other folks there has some back-and-forth among themselves that was in a different mode than the rest of the continent.

The impacts of these kinds of conflicts should probably be handled separately.

Medieval warfare was designed to have as limited of effect on the society as a whole as possible.
Well, not destroying infrastructure that they intended to own if they won the war was by design. However, the mode of using mounted cavalry instead of infantry was less intentional and more a simple upshot of having developed the wealth base and technology to field enough knights. There wasn't much point in having a standing army of lightly armored infantry, as knights would cut them to ribbons.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
I don't dispute that as a reasonable chunk of time to detail. However, for the readers - what historians usually call the "middle ages" is broader, and includes several centuries before this, and a century or so after this.

And, similarly I note that we are specifying war in Europe. The Crusades, which ran through this period, were outside Europe, and made much larger use of European infantry - IIRC, the first crusade had something like 5000 cavalry, and 30K to 35K infantry. I think we are also leaving out some of the conflicts of northern Europe which we could reasonably call the Viking period that overlaps the early portion of the period you set. Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, and other folks there has some back-and-forth among themselves that was in a different mode than the rest of the continent.

The impacts of these kinds of conflicts should probably be handled separately.



Well, not destroying infrastructure that they intended to own if they won the war was by design. However, the mode of using mounted cavalry instead of infantry was less intentional and more a simple upshot of having developed the wealth base and technology to field enough knights. There wasn't much point in having a standing army of lightly armored infantry, as knights would cut them to ribbons.
There were several crusades inside Europe against various heresies and other groups the pope of the day didn't like. Probably the best known is the Albigensian Crusade where the "Kill them all and let God sort them out" quote is supposed to originate.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't dispute that as a reasonable chunk of time to detail. However, for the readers - what historians usually call the "middle ages" is broader, and includes several centuries before this, and a century or so after this.
I would accept including the period from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West to the time of Charlemange - a period on its own often referred to as The Dark Age - as broadly being part of 'the Middle Ages', but there would be significant problems with speaking authoritatively about wars in Europe in the Dark Ages the most obvious would be the nearly complete lack of sources. Another problem is that though the Dark Ages are sometimes lumped in with the Middle Ages, there are vast cultural, economic and social differences between the two, and when people think of 'The Middle Ages' they generally are thinking of the period I choose.

I would not accept a much later date than what I suggested, though I know some prefer dates as late as 1492 - which I consider at least a century too late.

And, similarly I note that we are specifying war in Europe. The Crusades...
I mentioned them in my post.

, which ran through this period, were outside Europe
Well, also in this period there were a number of Crusades in Europe, such as the conquest of the Baltic states which at the time still had pagan rulers.

, and made much larger use of European infantry - IIRC, the first crusade had something like 5000 cavalry, and 30K to 35K infantry.
Yes, the Crusades were very different and had a big role in beginning the changes in European culture that would lead to the end of the Middle Ages.

However, the mode of using mounted cavalry instead of infantry was less intentional and more a simple upshot of having developed the wealth base and technology to field enough knights. There wasn't much point in having a standing army of lightly armored infantry, as knights would cut them to ribbons.
Your going to force me to break out my Charles Oman. Among other things, the development of heavy cavalry in Europe was a rational response to the sort of warfare that had developed in that 'viking age', where forces of lightly armored infantry could arrive with little warning in a remote area and it would be necessary to counter that force quickly and locally using only the limited resources available to the community.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
In what time period would you put the Forgotten Realms in?
D&D is always highly anachronistic, with technologies from everything from Ancient Greece to the early modern period coexisting at the same time and often within the same culture. Some of this is deliberate throw the kitchen sink into setting for the sake of diversity, and some of it has to do with the lack of knowledge that the authors have of the subject matter.

But, a typical D&D world resembles a hodge podge of ideas, cultures, and technologies from the Early Renaissance period through to Regency England in the early 19th century.

For example, let's say you have a pirates in your world, and you have someone call out from the Crow's Nest, "Sails, ahoy!" That 'Crow's Nest' is 18th century technology not found anywhere in Middle Ages, and your pirates are very likely speaking an argot and singing sea shanties based on 19th writings about that earlier period, "Rrr, matey", rather than sounding a lot like a character in Shakespeare. And the costuming is likely to be a pastiche of 16th century costuming from the same source.

That's really more or less what my campaign world resembles. I always took the Medieval era to be more in tune with what fantasy worlds represented, but it sounds like it might be more in line with the Middle Ages. Would that be a correct assumption?
In modern fantasy, there is almost nothing which is actually in line with the Medieval era, whether you call it the Middle Ages or not (most people would consider them the same thing). A typical fantasy world is roughly 16th or 17th century in terms of culture, with the exception that there is typically some sort of prohibition against gunpowder.
 

Sotik

Villager
So what I largely take away from this, is to just do as I see fit in my world. Since it's not really going to be set to any time period it doesn't really matter how historically accurate I am trying to be. I think I will just settle with what I came up with then. The whole idea that everything is being directed towards the war so people aren't too happy with life. That way as my players go from town to town they get this gloomy feeling from the citizens who all blame the war. I guess I just think of WW1 and WW2 and how much they effected entire countries and I want to carry that over into my world.

None the less, this has been an interesting history lesson.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I would accept including the period from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West to the time of Charlemange - a period on its own often referred to as The Dark Age - as broadly being part of 'the Middle Ages', but there would be significant problems with speaking authoritatively about wars in Europe in the Dark Ages the most obvious would be the nearly complete lack of sources.
Yep. My only intent there was to note for readers that there's times that are commonly called "Middle ages" but aren't in your timeslice. There is a bit of a difference between "what people think of" and "what terms historical writers use" - such that someone reading other materials could get tripped up.

I don't dispute that your timeslice is a reasonable one to take for this discussion.

Well, also in this period there were a number of Crusades in Europe, such as the conquest of the Baltic states which at the time still had pagan rulers.
Yes, but those were smaller in comparison. The First Crusade had 5000 knights. The Battle of Saule, by comparison, had something like 50 knights. The Order of Teutonic Knights never had more than about 1300, iirc.

Your going to force me to break out my Charles Oman. Among other things, the development of heavy cavalry in Europe was a rational response to the sort of warfare that had developed in that 'viking age', where forces of lightly armored infantry could arrive with little warning in a remote area and it would be necessary to counter that force quickly and locally using only the limited resources available to the community.
Yes, it was a rational response. But, turning that rational response to vikings into "the way war is done" only happened because the economy had grown to support it - those knights were expensive. They could not have become the mainstay of war without the economic development to support an entire class of them.

Which, honestly, calls out a major point of the discussion - the mode of warfare, and thus the impact of that warfare on society, is significantly dependent on the economies of the areas at war.
 
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S'mon

Legend
I may be wrong but I think historians claiming eastern-Roman Late Antiquity and western-post-Roman Dark Ages for the Middle Ages is a fairly recent development. It doesn't make much intuitive sense to lump the migration period in with feudal & bastard-medieval societies, but they do it anyway.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So what I largely take away from this, is to just do as I see fit in my world.
That is and always has been the prerogative of the Game Master.

Since it's not really going to be set to any time period it doesn't really matter how historically accurate I am trying to be.
Any historical rigor you apply to the setting is always only to make yourself happy. My advice on this is usually to use history as a resource to increase the richness and texture of the setting, and not as a straight jacket that limits your creativity. For a fantasy game, history ought to be inspirational and not proscription.

That said, part of the reason the Greyhawk map is such a better map than many of the fantasy D&D maps that came after it, was Gygax was through his background in historical wargaming much better prepared to create a pastiche of historical and Medieval culture in particular in all of its richness than many later authors were.

I guess I just think of WW1 and WW2 and how much they effected entire countries and I want to carry that over into my world.
It's my opinion that most people are incapable of truly imagining a culture more than one or two centuries removed from their own, and so whenever they create 'historical fiction' they almost inevitably imagine that the historical world they are imagining was a lot like what they think the world was like 100 or 200 years ago. Thus, Greyhawk was at the same time both a Medieval culture (based on Gygax's writing) and at same time the Old West of 19th Century America, which was the romantic past as Gygax understood it. Gygax however was at least conscious of this, where as many other D&D writers (and many writers in other mediums as well) haven't had the education to actually be conscious of their anachronisms.

Write what you know, but I would encourage you also to read widely in history - it helps you be a better GM by helping you present a more believable, more alive, and more interesting world.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I may be wrong but I think historians claiming eastern-Roman Late Antiquity and western-post-Roman Dark Ages for the Middle Ages is a fairly recent development. It doesn't make much intuitive sense to lump the migration period in with feudal & bastard-medieval societies, but they do it anyway.
Since the people living in the period didn't think of it as the Middle Ages, the whole question is highly subjective and is not and cannot be a settled question among historians. I was careful to define the Middle Ages as I define it. I'm happy to defend why I define it as that to anyone, and why I don't accept that the 'Early Middle Ages' or 'Dark Ages' really are not distinctive enough from the 'High/Late Middle Ages' that they should not be thought of as a separate period.

I mean, this whole demarcation ultimately comes down to us by way of Renaissance propaganda writers who were wanting to justify their break from the past, and so wanted to denigrate the whole period which came before them. They weren't really interested in actually analyzing that period as much as advocating for cultural revolution.

And my choice of 'The Black Death' is that is really what killed the culture. You'll note that some historians will date the start of the Renaissance much earlier than they date the end of the Middle Ages, which really doesn't make a lot of sense. The Renaissance, however you date the start, represents a 'clean break' - a deliberate cultural upheaval by a group of people asserting that they belong to a new historical era and very often saying just that.
 
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S'mon

Legend
I think AD 800 Coronation of Charlemagne is a reasonable start point, though large parts of western Europe are still pre-feudal at the time, so AD 1000 is popular; AD 1066 in England for the Battle of Hastings. As for the end, 1453 Fall of Constantinople is popular, in England it's more 1485 Battle of Bosworth.

Most academic historians seem to want to go straight from the end of the Western Roman Empire - which most of them call a 'transition' (LOL) - to the Middle Ages.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Any historical rigor you apply to the setting is always only to make yourself happy. My advice on this is usually to use history as a resource to increase the richness and texture of the setting, and not as a straight jacket that limits your creativity. For a fantasy game, history ought to be inspirational and not proscription.
There is something to be said for referring to history not for "rigor" but for verisimilitude and plausibility. History can help us build a world in which in-game events have consequences that make sense.

While noting...

It's my opinion that most people are incapable of truly imagining a culture more than one or two centuries removed from their own, and so whenever they create 'historical fiction' they almost inevitably imagine that the historical world they are imagining was a lot like what they think the world was like 100 or 200 years ago.
...that this is a fair point. This extends to your players, and their expectations. If you employ what seems to you to be reasonable consequences to events based on more distant history... they are less likely to be things your players will be able to plan for and interact with.

The point is to provide a rich and interactive world for your players - historical precedent may result in results that are plausible to a historian, but feels arbitrary and unexpected to the players, as they are more steeped in the romantic view of it, rather than the realistic view.

Write what you know, but remember your audience.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Viking Weapons & Warfare ~ J. Kim Siddorn
War of the Roses: A Concise History ~ Charles Ross
The Chronicle of the Third Crusade: A Translation of the "Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Ricardi" ~ Translator - Helen Nicholson
The Conquest of Constantinople ~ Robert of Clari, Translator - Edgar Holmes
The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade: Sources in Translation ~ Peter W. Edbury
Here are some titles
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Once you get to the mongols, the warfare is purely apocalyptic; however, I'd also put disease and religion as top influences on the era.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
Once you get to the mongols, the warfare is purely apocalyptic; however, I'd also put disease and religion as top influences on the era.
The Black Death certainly killed more people and disrupted society more than any of the wars - possibly all of the wars combined, with the exceptions of one or two local campaign specifically aimed at the total eradication of a particular society (Charlemagne against the pagan Saxons, roughly where I'd start the "middle ages"; the failure of the Hussite crusades at the other end).

Something to consider is that warfare in the medieval period is characterised not by battles or sieges, but by raids. That doesn't always mean the raid is restricted to a region close to the border. The Great Chevauchee (led by John of Gaunt of Shakespeare fame) crossed France from Calais to the English king's territories in Gascony, looting and pillaging much of the way. Other armies covered equal or longer distances in their raids (in eastern Europe, Mongol successor states raided extensively, and did so for centuries). In other parts of the world raiding was more local, but where the borders were stable it could go on for long enough that the border regions basically developed farmer-warriors who lived in fortified villages and expected to engage in a certain amount of raiding or raid-defence every year. The impact on the population and wealth of eastern Europe was much greater from those centuries of persistent raiding for loot, slaves and random destruction than the effect on France of one great expedition. Yet persistence over time isn't necessarily going to do that much damage - the Viking raids lasted for a couple of centuries and England came out of them as one of Europe's wealthier kingdoms (Scotland didn't, but Scotland was poor before they began and didn't regress noticeably). Effectively you can say there's no "front line", and an army can appear anywhere; but that unless you're unlucky enough to be in that army's path you probably don't notice much effect; and if it comes by again next year and rides over you, then you're going to develop defences to make that harder and a society where most people are able to defend themselves and those that aren't have moved somewhere safer.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
The Black Death certainly killed more people and disrupted society more than any of the wars ...

... in eastern Europe, Mongol successor states raided extensively, and did so for centuries ...
The Black Death was one of a series of plagues, classical urban civilization is often considered to have fallen due to the Plague of Justinian: Plague of Justinian - Wikipedia

As an Eastern Euro, I can say the coming of groups, such as the Avars, which conquered many states and forced them into vassalage in the early middle ages, ends with the Apocalypse of the Mongols where entire states, and peoples are destroyed, such as Vladimir: Mongol invasion of Europe - Wikipedia Countless times there are cities, castles, and such were one reads this was a thriving place until destroyed in the 13th century and did not recover, or did so many centuries later. Yes, the Tatar powers lasted well into the 19th century; Moscow is stone because the Tartars with Turkish artillery burned it to the ground, leading away thousands of captives, millions over the centuries. In comparison, western history is almost viewed as Charle-who?
 

Sotik

Villager
@Bluenose that's pretty much what I had in mind. The idea is that the two kingdoms use to be at war over land rights. They fought many wars along this channel where now stands many war torn buildings.

Recently the High Priest of the ruling religion kingdom A had the long killed and disguised it as an assassination by kingdom B. The High Priest due to a old by law that gives him control until a successor can be found now rules as the King Priest, a role he doesnt intend to give up. He plans to ensure this with the war so hes gave decree to all of the Lord's of the kingdom to send their forces to help aid those along the border.

So when the players come in, there will be this area that sees constant fighting, raiding, quick in and out attacks, small scale stuff. My only thing is that I want this war to feel big, and huge to my players to the poimt that even if they're within the heart hundreds of miles away, they can still feel it.

But as has been said, I guess that's just me looking at WW1 and WW2 and feeling that wars always had an effect. I still plan on doing this, but clearly what I had in my head has no historical bearing lol. Oh well, I'll embrace the romanticism of it and run.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
Recently the High Priest of the ruling religion kingdom A had the long killed and disguised it as an assassination by kingdom B. The High Priest due to a old by law that gives him control until a successor can be found now rules as the King Priest, a role he doesnt intend to give up. He plans to ensure this with the war so hes gave decree to all of the Lord's of the kingdom to send their forces to help aid those along the border.

So when the players come in, there will be this area that sees constant fighting, raiding, quick in and out attacks, small scale stuff. My only thing is that I want this war to feel big, and huge to my players to the poimt that even if they're within the heart hundreds of miles away, they can still feel it.
Take a look at Spain, either in the era of the Allmoravids or Almohads (or some of the wars of the Reconquista). Make the two sides a little more united than they historically were, but keep the central monarchy rather weak (not unreasonable for the period). Most wars will be between local rulers, and there's a shifting border across which raiding is quite common. Then one side gets an influx of religious fervour (perhaps including outsiders) and a leader who promises to finally destroy the infidel. There's your extreme national effort with effects felt across the whole region (on both sides) building up to some form of climactic experience (and then fizzling out into more of the same, just with different people in charge and a larger change in the borders).
 

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