angon: (4th–8th centuries) A unique, barb-headed Frankish spear of moderate length that could be used both as a javelin or in close-quarter combat.
arban: (12th–14th centuries) The smallest unit in the Mongol army, consisting of 10 men. Ten arbans made up a jagun or squadron of 100 men. Ten jaguns made up a minghan or regiment of 1,000 men, while ten minghans made up a tuman, the largest manoeuvre unit in the Mongol army (10,000 men).
arquebusier: (15th–16th centuries) A light infantry hangunner who fired an arquebus, an early smooth-bore firearm ignited by a matchlock, and later, a wheel lock mechanism.
articulation (tactical): A military term describing the offensive capability of troops. Unarticulated troops usually lacked the drill and discipline to march and fight in close order, and therefore usually fought in static, defensive formations. Well-articulated troops were capable of offensive action in close-order combat.
Assassins, Ismaili Order of the: (1094–1256) A radical Shi’ite sect which terrorized orthodox Islam from its mountain fortresses in north-eastern Mesopotamia for nearly 200 years, using political murder and subterfuge in an attempt to overthrow the existing Sunni order in the Near East. Its various leaders took the title ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’. The Ismaili Order was destroyed by the Mongols in 1256.
Auszug: (15th–16th centuries) Elite Swiss heavy infantry composed mostly of unmarried men between the ages of eighteen and thirty.
bandum (plural banda): (7th–15th centuries) The basic administrative and tactical unit of the Byzantine army from the seventh century. It consisted of about 400 soldiers commanded by a tribune and, later, by a count. The banda were about equally divided into infantry and cavalry, with the dominant weapon system being heavy cavalry (historians believe that cavalry made up 20 to 40 per cent of a Byzantine army, depending on where it was created and where it was operating).
banner: 1. A standard or battle flag. 2. A subdivision of the medieval bataille formation. Each bataille was broken down into elementary tactical units called banners. These were usually recruited through family, lineage or feudal relations, and were supposed to stay grouped around a battle flag or a leader (called a banneret), or were united by a common war cry.
‘barbarization’: The infiltration of non-Roman peoples (typically Germanic tribes) into Rome’s territory and political/military institutions, due as much to Roman policy as to the efforts of the Germanic tribes. Barbarization changed the concept of Roman citizenship, resulting in a weakening of the social, cultural and political foundations of the empire.
barding: A protective covering for mounts. It could be of felt or leather or even form-fitted iron, and was designed to balance protection with mobility. Although horses were most often barded, camels and even elephants could be covered for war.
bataille: A division in a medieval army. Medieval armies were typically organized into three batailles. On the march they formed a vanguard, main body and rearguard. The order of march was usually dictated by nationality, battlefield reputation and personal relationship with the commanding lord.
bombard: (14th–16th century) A type of early cannon, firing stone shot weighing as much as 900 pounds.
bondi: (8th–11th centuries) Viking infantry levies that consisted of ordinary men such as farmers and labourers. The bondi could be organized into the smaller ‘pirate bands’ or raiding groups, or into larger infantry blocks when attached to a royal army or large territorial force. These troops ranged in fighting ability, and as the Viking age progressed, many men gave up their farms to become full-time warriors. They were also sometimes known as drengs, thegns or yeomen.
bow (self and composite): The selfbow was made of a single piece of wood, perhaps the most famous being the English longbow. The composite bow was a recurve bow constructed of wood, horn and tendons from oxen, carefully laminated together to create a bow of superior strength, range and impact power.
breidox: (10th–12th centuries) A long-hafted Viking battleaxe. The ‘broad axe’ was first seen at the end of the 10th century and made famous by the huscarles at the battle of Hastings in 1066. It took its name from the blade’s distinctive crescent shape, large size (usually 12 inches along its curved edge), and 5 foot haft. This long-hafted axe also became the signature weapon of the Varangian Guard.
bucellarii: (4th–6th centuries) These units were armed retainers of Byzantine nobles who took an additional oath of fealty to the Byzantine emperors. They usually consisted of very high quality cavalry.
burh: (9th–11th centuries) A walled, fortified site built using earth and timber construction. Burhs were used by the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great as a way of protecting south-west England from Viking marauding.
cabalerias: Land grants exempt from taxation. During the Reconquista, as lands were liberated by Christian monarchs, cabalerias were given to loyal lords to support the cavalry necessary for warfare.
cabalgadas: Long-distance Christian raiding against predominately Muslim (Moorish) targets during the Spanish Reconquista.
caballeros villanos: A Spanish term for non-noble knights supported by termed benefices. These ‘commoner-knights’ were used by Christian kings and nobles in the frontier wars against the Moors during the Reconquista (‘reconquest’) of Spain and Portugal.
caracole: (16th–17th centuries) A cavalry manoeuvre in early modern warfare. To execute the caracole, reiters trotted toward their enemy in a line of small, dense columns, then fired their three muzzle-loading pistols. After discharging their weapons, they then swung 180 degrees and filed to the rear to reload. Usually the caracole tactic was employed before a general advance as a means of disrupting enemy cavalry and infantry formations.
cataphracts: (7th century bce – 15th century ce, from the Greek word ‘covered over’) Chain- or scale-mailed heavy cavalry from the Near East who employed the two-handed kontos in shock combat. This kind of close-order heavy cavalry originated in Persia and became the signature tactical system for later civilizations from that region (Persians, Parthians, Romans and Byzantines).
cavaller: A Spanish term for a non-noble horseman.
chevauchée: A French term first encountered in the 12th century for a mounted raid intended to destroy an enemy’s resources and enrich the raiding army. This tactic was used with great success by the English in French territory during the Hundred Years War.
chivalry: (11th–16th centuries) 1. (after chevallerie, meaning ‘skill on horseback’ in French) A fusion of Germanic and Christian cultural elements into a new code of honour. From the 11th century onward, chivalry was reinforced by the religious ceremony of dubbing to knighthood, the adoption of distinguishing emblems and blazons (and the science of heraldry to develop and interpret these symbols of station), and the emergence in the 12th century of court poets known as troubadours to sing the praises of knights living, past and legendary. 2. A generic term for noble heavy cavalry from any period.
clibanarii: Heavily armoured cavalry in the Roman and Byzantine armies. These lancers and mounts were protected by composite chain- and scale-mail armour. As the Roman Empire wore on, these units formed an increasingly higher proportion of Roman cavalry and became the dominant tactical system of the later Byzantine Empire
comitatenses: (4th–6th centuries) Units of the late Roman and early Byzantine field army composed of mixed regular and barbarian regiments not specifically tied to frontier provinces. They often supported limitanei and bucellarii on campaign.
comitatus: A practice in Germanic societies where a war leader or chief attracts freed warriors to himself on the condition the leader would bring glory and war treasure. This practice was between social equals. The comitatus influenced the evolution of vassalage in the early medieval period.
Compagnies d’ordonnance: (15th century) The first French standing army, raised in the fifteenth century by the duke of Burgundy, Charles VII. By 1473 these companies numbered 900 men based on a nine-man lance of heavy cavalry made up into four squadrons, each of 25 men-at-arms, 25 light horse, 25 valets and 75 mounted light infantry longbowmen. These units were further supported by contingents of 25 crossbowmen, 25 pikemen and 25 handgunners, all on foot. As each man was well paid and provided with rations, these companies had no need to forage, and owed their loyalty solely to the crown.
condottieri: (14th–15th centuries) Mercenaries employed by Italian city states such as Florence, Pisa and Milan, who served under a contract called a condotta. These units were recruited from all over Europe.
conical helm: An open-faced helmet favoured by many armies in western civilization and characterized by the way it tapered off to a point. This helmet provided excellent protection because it offered a glancing surface for blows. The Assyrians, Germanic tribes, Vikings and Normans used variations of this design.
countermarch: (16th–17th centuries) An early modern infantry manoeuvre used to create volley fire. The first rank of arquebusiers and musketeers fired their weapons, then wheeled and marched between the files of the men standing behind them to the rear, reloading their weapons together in unison to the precise commands of an officer. Meanwhile, the second rank discharged their weapons and repeated the manoeuvre until all ten ranks had rotated through and the first rank was ready again to fire. With practice, the countermarch allowed the Dutch battalion to continuously fire at enemy formations, giving an adversary no time to recover from the impact of one volley before another volley hit home.
cuirass: A type of metal armour which usually includes a breastplate and back-plate held in position by either pins or leather straps. It gave excellent protection of the torso while freeing the arms for combat. It was very popular in Greece and Rome, and continued in popularity until the early modern period.
cuirassiers: (16th–17th century) A type of early modern light cavalry, named after their breastplates, who specialized in pistol fire. These horsemen used wheel lock pistols in the caracole manoeuvre. See reiters.
Dar al-Harb: (Arabic for ‘House of War’) According to traditional Islam, the realm of the world where the infidel lives.
Dar al-Islam: (Arabic for ‘House of Islam’) According to traditional Islam, the realm of the world where Muslims and protected peoples live.
destrier: (11th–16th centuries) A heavy war horse used by Christian knights during the high and late medieval periods. The finest destriers include Arabian blood acquired via Andalusian or other Spanish breeds. The destrier was usually a stallion, reaching its largest proportions in the 14 century. The magnus equus or ‘great horse’ of the late Middle Ages was a sturdy steed of 17 hands and 1,200 to 1,300 pounds, capable of supporting its own barding and a knight in full plate armour.
drekkar: (8th–11th centuries) The largest type of Viking longship, known to history as a ‘dragon ship’. These larger, taller vessels had a crew of perhaps 80 warriors and were particularly suited for long-range raiding and invasion. Drekkars had high, planked decks fore and aft, from which arrows and spears could be rained down on their opponents’ decks. Difficult to manoeuvre in battle, drekkars were sometimes lashed together ‘stem to stem and stern to stern’ to create large, floating battlefields of oak, canvas and rope.
fahnlein: (13th–14th centuries) A subunit (‘little flag’) of the Swiss phalanx, consisting of between 50 and 150 men. The early Swiss phalanx was composed of two or more cantonal contingents called a banner. Each banner was commanded by its own officers and was subdivided into subunits called fahnleins. Fahnleins were further subdivided in ten-man squads called rotten or sections.
flail: An early agricultural implement used to thresh grain which was modified for war. Essentially a spiked ball (sometimes multiple balls) and chain attached to a haft, the flail became a contusion weapon of choice for both infantry and cavalry during the medieval period.
foederati: (4th–6th centuries) Barbarian allies of Rome who retained their Germanic commanders and were allowed to roam within the boundaries of the empire. Eventually, these barbarian units became indistinguishable from regular Roman and Byzantine units, who adopted Germanic arms, armour and tactics.
fossato: A Spanish term for a major military expedition. During the Reconquista, Christian monarchs would pull together a temporary army or host for a military campaign.
francisca: (4th–8th centuries) A finely balanced Frankish axe used both on foot and from horseback as a close-quarter weapon or thrown as a missile.
Garde des Cent Suisses: (15th century) Elite Swiss heavy infantry who served as the French monarch’s personal bodyguard. This hiring signified the dominance of the Swiss heavy infantry tactical system in late medieval/early modern warfare.
gendarmerie: A French term for lance-wielding heavy cavalry.
General Fyrd (Great Fyrd): (9th–11th centuries) Anglo-Saxon militia. These levies usually fought locally to protect their hearth and home, but as soldiers, they were the least dependable element of the Anglo-Saxon army. When in combat, the General Fyrd usually occupied the rear ranks behind their more able and better-armed comrades. See also Select Fyrd.
genitors: (15th–16th centuries) Spanish light cavalry who traded in their javelins for bulky crossbows and arquebuses. Ultimately unsuccessful on the battlefield, genitors were used for strategic reconnaissance, screening and disrupting enemy communications.
Gewalthut: (14th–16th centuries) The main body in a Swiss column. It was usually larger than the vanguard (Vorhut) and the rearguard (Nachhut), which was usually smaller than the main body. The Swiss drilled, marched and even advanced to the attack to the sound of the drum, with some authorities stating that the troops marched in cadence.
‘Great Army’ (Viking): A Scandinavian army made up of fleets of hundreds of longships carrying thousands of Viking warriors and led by several Scandinavian kings. Between 865 and 879 and again between 892 and 896, the ‘Great Army’ plundered England, with the Danes occupying an area known as Danelaw in north-eastern England.
gyula: A Magyar (Hungarian) term for general.
halberdiers: (13th–16th centuries) Soldiers carrying polearms with bladed or axe-shaped heads swung in close-quarter combat. The Swiss became especially adept with this weapon in their wars against the Austrians. As the late medieval period wore on, the halberdier was slowly replaced by the pikeman as the dominant tactical system of the Swiss.
hauberk: Chain-mail armour which covered the body and arms. It was constructed with tens of thousands of round metal links. It dates back to the classical period where it was used by both barbarian and civilized peoples. It became very popular in the medieval period.
heavy cavalry: Well-armoured horsemen who use shock combat as their primary way of fighting. Heavy cavalry relied on collective effort to be effective, and collective effort required discipline and training. Famous examples of heavy cavalry from history are the cataphractarii from Persia,clibanarii from Rome or Byzantium, and medieval knights.
heavy infantry: Well-armoured foot soldiers who use shock combat as their primary way of fighting. Like heavy cavalry, collective effort was required. Famous examples of light infantry are Greek hoplites, Macedonian phalangites, Roman legionaries, Swiss Auszug or German Landsknechts.
host: An army pulled together on a temporary basis.
huscarles: (10th–11th centuries) Members of the household of a Scandinavian (later Anglo-Saxon) king or lord, often identified as bodyguards and known for their prowess with long-hafted broad axes.
‘Immortals’: A division (myriad) of 10,000 Persian heavy infantry so named because when a member of this elite group fell, he was immediately replaced by a previously selected man.
jagun: (12th–14th centuries) A term for a cavalry squadron of 100 men in the Mongol army. See arban.
javelineer: A light infantryman who wields a javelin. Commanders often used these light troops as skirmishers or for screening the deployment of friendly heavier troops.
jihad: (Islamic holy war) In the Islamic faith, literally ‘to struggle in the way of God’. The ‘greater jihad’ is the personal struggle of a Muslim to maintain his or her faith. The ‘lesser jihad’ is holy war, or spreading Islam into new territories. Jihad was often invoked by Muslim rulers to rally political or military support in much the same way the Catholic Church used the concept of the crusade.
jinete: (11th–16th centuries) A light Spanish cavalry mount equipped with low saddles, shorter stirrups, and specially shaped palate bits for increased control and mobility. This new Spanish light cavalry’s short stirrup and low saddle allowed for quick remounting, and the smaller and faster mounts were better suited to counter the lighter and more agile Muslim light cavalry.
junds: (from the 7th century) A term for non-Arab Islamic units recruited locally. The pace of Islamic conquest forced the Arabs to include more of these units in their ranks. They fought for booty more than ideology, swelling the ranks of Islamic armies in times of victory, and evaporating in times of trouble.
karr-wa-farr: (simulated flight) A tactic used by Islamic cavalry in Spain and Portugal to lure enemy cavalry into pursuit, only to be ambushed in terrain favourable to the Muslims. The Spanish adopted a similar feigned retreat called torna-fuye.
keil: (13th–14th centuries) A Swiss battle square organized in deep files. This tactical array was less a wedge than a column, narrower than it was deep. When attacked by enemy cavalry, the pikemen in the keil would face outwards and lower their pikes, creating a bristling hedgehog that would be difficult to approach on horseback.
kite shield: (10th–11th centuries) A cavalry shield whose unique shape helped protect a knight’s leg while he attacked from horseback. It is closely associated with the Normans and is seen numerous times on the Bayeux Tapestry.
kontos: (1st century bce – 6th century ce) A long, two-handed thrusting spear used by heavy cavalry (cataphractarii or clibanarii) from Parthia, Persia, Rome and Byzantium.
laager: An encampment created by drawing an army’s baggage wagons into a circle or square. This temporary fortification was often used when camping in hostile territory or served as a base of operations or refuge in battle.
lamellar armour: A type of composite armour consisting of a shirt of laminated layers of leather sown or glued together, then fitted with iron plates. It was popular with both barbarian warriors and the soldiers of civilization.
lance: 1. A spear used from horseback as a shock weapon, usually in conjunction with a built-up saddle and stirrups. 2. A name for a small unit of knights who usually fought within a banner.
lance garnie: (13th–15th centuries) The retinue of a knight, usually consisting of a mounted squire and two mounted light infantry archers. The squire carried the knight’s armour on a packhorse, and also tended to the knight’s warhorse, which was never ridden unless in battle.
Landsknechts: (15th–16th centuries) German mercenaries, known for their flamboyant costumes, who fought in a phalanx using pikes. These troops originally emulated Swiss formations and were capable of offensive action against other infantry formations, and could defend themselves from heavy cavalry attacks.
Landsturm: (15th–16th centuries) A Swiss levée en masse of all able-bodied men. It was a reserve force called to arms only in an emergency.
Landwehr: (15th–16th centuries) The primary combat force of the Swiss heavy infantry, composed of men willing and able to leave home if the need arose.
levée en masse: A mass conscription of able-bodied men for warfare.
light cavalry: Light armoured horsemen who used missile combat as their primary way of fighting. These lighter units were less armoured than their heavier counterparts, and consequently had greater tactical mobility. Famous examples of light cavalry are the various horse archers from the Eurasian steppe (Scythians, Parthians, Magyars, Turks and Mongols) and Spanish genitors.
light infantry: Light armoured foot soldiers who use missile combat as their primary way of fighting. Like the light cavalry, they enjoyed greater tactical mobility. Famous examples of light infantry are Thracian peltasts, Rhodian slingers and English longbowmen.
limitanei: (4th–6th centuries) These units were a militia, retired legionaries mustered to defend their homeland. In times of emergency, limitanei could be promoted into the field army, receiving the title pseudocomitatenses. The complement of these new units was about one-third of a 1st-century legion.
longship: (8th–11th centuries) A Viking warship. Long, narrow-keeled and flat-bottomed vessels with beautifully carved arched prows, the first longships carried around 35 warriors, though later ships known as drekkars could carry a complement of 80 men. They were made of oak using clinker construction (overlapping planks held together with clinch bolts) with a mast amidships and one bank of oars on each side. Controlled with two steering oars, these vessels had shallow draughts making it possible for them to navigate up rivers and along coastlines, giving the Norse, Danes and Swedes unprecedented strategic mobility.
long sword: A type of sword usually longer than 30 inches in length and wielded as a cut-and-slash weapon. It became popular at the beginning of the Iron Age for both infantry and cavalry.
mace: One of the earliest weapons. Essentially a long-handled implement with a spiked or flanged ball at the tip. It was a very effective contusion weapon and became a weapon of choice against plate mail and full plate in the high and late medieval periods.
mangudai: (12th–14th centuries) Mongol ‘suicide troops’ (an honourable title more than a job description). The function of these elite cavalry troops was to charge the enemy position alone and then break ranks and flee in the hope that the enemy would give chase. If the enemy pursued, the Mongols would lead them into terrain suitable for ambush.
military orders: (12th–16th centuries) Orders sanctioned by the medieval papacy to protect pilgrims on the way to the Holy Land. These well-armed and well-trained warrior-monks or militia Christi (‘knights of Christ’) became the shock troops for Christian commanders during the crusades. Various orders emerged in this period all over Europe and the Levant, including the Knights Templars, Knights Hospitallers, Knights of Calatrava, Knights of Santiago and Teutonic Knights.
milites: A medieval Latin term for knights, soldiers or ‘men-at-arms’.
minghan: (12th–14th centuries) A cavalry regiment in the Mongol army consisting of 1,000 men. See arban.
missile combat: A form of warfare where participants use ranged weapons (slings, bows, javelins, throwing spears) against the enemy. Such combat is usually performed by light troops (infantry and cavalry).
motte-and-bailey: (10th–13th centuries) Referring to a type of fortification used by the Normans in their subjugation of England, Wales and Ireland. The motte was a mound of earth built up and usually topped off by a wooden (sometimes stone) tower. The bailey was an enclosure protected by a ditch, an earth bank and wooden palisade. Since timber was plentiful, these castles were easy to construct. It is estimated that hundreds of these fortifications were erected in the first decades of the Norman conquest of England.
musketeer: (15th–17th centuries) A musket-wielding light infantryman. This type of soldier used the first reliable handgun in history, a muzzle-loaded smooth-bore weapon.
naccara: (12th–14th centuries) A large kettle-like drum carried by a camel and used by Mongol commanders to orchestrate their army’s movements. Mongol lancers usually advanced at a trot and in silence. It was only at the last possible moment that the charge was ordered by striking thenaccara.
Nachhut: (14th–16th centuries) The rearguard in a Swiss column. It was usually smaller than the main body or Gewalthut.
Normans: Originally from Scandinavia, this Viking culture settled in Normandy at the beginning of the 10th century and adopted both Catholic Christianity and feudalism. Over the next 200 years, Norman warriors successfully invaded and carved out states in Italy, England and the Levant. They were masters of heavy cavalry shock tactics and built castles (first motte-and- bailey and later stone) to dominate conquered regions.
numeri (sing. numerus): (2nd–6th centuries) A Roman term referring to irregular units from a common ethnic background employed to patrol the limes, the guarded and often fortified border in frontier regions. It was also applied to some units of cavalry in the late Roman Empire and early Byzantine periods.
palatini: (4th–6th centuries) Military units in the late Roman Empire and early Byzantine period which were of a higher status and prestige than the comitatenses. They often formed part of the field armies.
‘Parthian shot’: A standard nomadic light cavalry manoeuvre where horse archers break formation and gallop toward an enemy formation firing arrows, then wheel right and retreat, firing over their shoulders back at the enemy. The manoeuvre is named after the Parthians, though all steppe archers practised it. The ‘Parthian shot’ was often used in conjunction with the feigned retreat, pulling enemy cavalry into pursuit, then ambushing them far from their camp.
pavise: A tall body-shield usually used to protect light infantry missile troops (archers, slingers and, later, crossbowmen and handgunners) from attack. The shield’s all-body protection made it ideal for sieges.
Peace of God: (first pronounced in 989) Roman Catholic spiritual sanctions designed to mitigate the violence of the high Middle Ages. This legislation targeted anyone who plundered or violated a church, struck an unarmed member of the clergy or robbed a peasant. The prohibition was later extended to knights attacking merchants or pilgrims, and destroying mills or vineyards.
peonias: Infantry land-grants made during the Spanish Reconquista. Christian kings granted land to subjects (peones) who were willing to provide the assigned obligation. Peones who became rich enough could become caballeros villanos.
phalanx: A close-order heavy infantry formation with spearmen arranged in rank and file. This formation was capable of devastating offensive power through the collision and push of its soldiers. There is evidence that this formation dates back to Bronze Age Mesopotamia, though it was certainly perfected by the Greeks and Macedonians during the archaic, Hellenic and Hellenistic periods, and resurrected in the late medieval period by the Swiss.
pikeman: A heavy infantryman armed with a long-hafted thrusting spear (usually over 12 feet in length) who often fought in rank and file in a phalanx.
plate armour: (15th–17th centuries) Late medieval armour consisting entirely of metal plates to encase the knight. This was done in response to the vulnerability of mounted lancers to the arrows and bolts of light infantry. Contrary to popular belief, this very expensive armour was custom-fit and allowed the wearer very good mobility, though he may have suffered from poor ventilation.
plate-mail armour: (13th–17th centuries) A transitional armour in late medieval Europe using metal plates to strengthen chain-mail armour at particularly vulnerable points (such as the shin and knee). This was done in response to the vulnerability of mounted lancers to the arrows and bolts of light infantry. This armour was very cumbersome.
polearm: A long-hafted heavy infantry weapon popular throughout the history of warfare, designed to be used with two hands against infantry and cavalry formations.
poleaxe: (14th–16th centuries) A short-hafted infantry weapon popular in the Late Middle Ages. It was usually 5 feet long with a metal-sheathed shaft mounted with an axe-head to the front and a hammer or pick to the rear. This weapon’s versatility allowed it to be used for cutting, crushing or piercing attacks.
pseudocomitatenses: (4th–6th centuries) The title given to units of limitanei who were attached to field armies in the late Roman imperial and early Byzantine periods.
Reconquista: The nearly 800-year process of Christian armies reconquering the Iberian peninsula from Islamic occupation (711–1492). This counter-crusade intensified in the mid-11th century when Christian armies swept south through central Spain and Portugal seizing territory. The early 13th-century Christian victory over the Almohads at Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) broke the back of Islamic control of much of southern Spain, with the last Muslim stronghold at Granada holding out until 1492.
reiters: (16th–17th centuries) German cavalry wearing breastplate armour and high, heavy leather boots, and armed with three wheel-lock pistols. This new mercenary light cavalry attacked enemy formations using the revolving tactics of the caracole.
rotten: (13th–14th centuries) The smallest subunit of the Swiss phalanx. See fahnlein.
schiltron (schiltrom): (13th century) A Scottish infantry formation. These battle squares and circles placed countryman beside countryman, each holding a long infantry spear or pike before him to discourage enemy heavy cavalry charges. It was employed by the Scottish in their wars of independence against the English.
Schwarzreiter: (German for ‘black rider’) A specific type of German reiter armoured in a black breastplate. See reiters.
scramasax: A single-edged sidearm favoured by Indo-European (Germanic and Scandinavian) warriors in the classical and early medieval periods. Often called a sax, this utility knife could take on the dimensions of a short sword.
Select Fyrd: (9th–11th centuries) A body of Anglo-Saxon nobles and freeman organized since the Viking invasions of the 9th century to defend England.
shield wall: (9th–11th centuries) A defensive infantry formation used by Anglo-Saxon and Viking warriors standing in close order, shields overlapping to form an unbroken front. This formation could also open up enough to allow warriors room to throw spears and javelins, and wield spears, axes and swords.
shock combat: A form of warfare where participants use close-quarter weapons (swords, axes, maces, thrusting spears) against the enemy. This combat is usually performed by heavy troops (infantry and cavalry) and most often in well-articulated formations.
short sword: A type of sword usually shorter than 30 inches in length and wielded as a thrusting weapon. It is the first sword design in history and became popular for infantry at the beginning of the Bronze Age.
skeggox: (8th century) An early type of Scandinavian battleaxe. The skeggox (‘bearded axe’) took its name from the asymmetrical shape of the axe blade. Viking axes usually began as dual-purpose implements used as both tools and weapons. Later, the Vikings would develop axes used exclusively for war (see breidox).
spangenhelm: An Indo-European open-faced helmet conical in shape and characterized by its composite construction. It gets its name from the spangens or metal bands. It consisted of a framework formed by a single headband on which were attached six or more spangens. This framework was then filled with either metal or horn plates, creating a strong and comfortable helmet. It was used by Germanic tribes, Viking warriors and Norman soldiers in the medieval period.
spatha: (1st–6th centuries) A long sword originally used by Roman and auxiliary cavalry and, later, infantry. Though the spatha was pointed for thrusting, it was usually utilized for cut-and-slash strikes, emulating the favoured tactics of the Germanic tribes.
spearman: A warrior who uses a spear. A spearman can be heavy infantry if he uses his spear as a shock weapon or light infantry if he throws his weapon as a missile.
squire: (11th–16th centuries) A knight in training. Indoctrination into knighthood began at puberty with a long residency and training among peers in the household of a great lord. The young squire was taught how to choose and look after a mount, as well as how to ride. He was also instructed in the use of a wide variety of weapons, such as the spear, sword and shield, axe, mace and flail, as well as unarmed combat such as wrestling. Once he could manage a horse he learned how to hunt, a valuable skill which taught the use of terrain and available cover, and select lines of advance. Mounted combat was emphasized.
strandhogg: (9th–11th centuries) A Viking shore raid where warriors would beach their longship, round up cattle and sheep, then sail off. This form of medieval livestock rustling was even done in Scandinavia itself until it was outlawed by the rise of centralized monarchies in the 9th and 10th centuries, forcing the strandhogg into foreign waters.
tagmata: (7th–15th centuries) The core of the Byzantine army, consisting of professional soldiers organized in homogenized cavalry or infantry units. The tagmata were equal to the size of the thema (4,000–9,600 men). These soldiers were the best-trained troops in the empire, serving as Constantinople’s garrison and as the chief expeditionary force for the emperor. When the emperor went on campaign, the tagmata and local themae combined to create a field army.
tercio: (16th century) A Spanish tactical system containing 3,000 men divided into three colunelas of 1,000 men (12 companies of 250 men apiece). It integrated pikemen and arquebusiers into one battle square, creating the most formidable tactical system in Europe.
thegn: (9th–11th centuries) A military class of Anglo-Saxon nobles. They could be members of the households of kings, or lesser nobles and/or landowners of 100 acres or more who were obligated to serve in the English army during wartime or a military emergency once per year.
thema: (7th–15th centuries) A Byzantine division of between 4,000 and 9,600 men commanded by a strategos. The thema replaced the legion as the premier strategic unit of manoeuvre in Byzantine warfare. The soldiers of a particular frontier province (theme) were the legal holders of the land itself, a development that came in the form of imperial land grants within the particular region, similar to the land grants during the early Roman Empire. Although the soldiers did not work the fields or run farms on a full-time basis, their ownership brought about a personal stake in the defence of their respective theme.
torna-fuye: (11th–16th centuries) A Spanish term for a feigned retreat tactic favoured by jinetes.
trace italienne: (16th–17th centuries) An early modern European fortress specifically designed to defend against gunpowder technologies. It consisted of a ring of polygonal bastions designed to project from sloped walls and serve as a screen and gun platform. The bastion system was enhanced by ditches and detached forts.
Truce of God: (pronounced in the early 11th century) A second Catholic Church sponsored movement, which, along with the ‘Peace of God’, was designed to reign in the violent tendencies of the knightly class. The ‘Truce of God’ asked the mounted aristocracy to forgo the pleasure of war on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holy days, and to refrain from acts of violence at all times in and around churches.
tuman: (12th–14th centuries) The largest unit in the Mongol army, consisting of 10,000 men. Mongol commanders often pulled together numerous tumans as field armies. See arban.
turcopoles: (12th–13th centuries) Indigenous mercenaries of the Levant who served western Christian knights as mounted archers and other types of light cavalry. These troops, often the product of Christian and Muslim marriages, became a standard feature of crusading warfare, serving as large native contingents in the armies of lay rulers and the military orders, while often retaining their own officers.
turma: 1. (4th century bce – 3rd century ce) The basic subunit of Roman cavalry for much of its history, consisting of 30 men. 2. (7th–11th centuries) A Byzantine combined-arms force consisting of between five and eight banda (2,000–3,200 cavalry and infantry).
Varangian Guard: (10th–11th centuries) Russo-Swedish and Scandinavian mercenaries in the service of the Byzantine emperor. Many of these Vikings returned to Scandinavia to carve out kingdoms.
Vikings: Scandinavian warriors, from Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Their movements constitute the final wave of Indo-European migration. Warriors, traders, superb shipbuilders and sailors, the Vikings pushed south from their homeland in their trademark longships and attacked the whole of Europe between the 8th and 11th centuries.
Vorhut: (14th–16th centuries) The vanguard in a Swiss column, often including skirmishers armed with crossbows or handguns. The van was followed by a main body or Gewalthut much larger than the advance guard, and a rearguard or Nachhut.
Waldstaaten: (medieval period) Swiss forest canton militia. According to Germanic tradition, all able-bodied men were required to participate in the self-defence of their cantons.