Some insights to military logistics problems in medieval Europe

Some insights to military logistics problems in medieval Europe

So we have already talked about logistics in construction, in the army and many industries around the world. Nowadays it is easy to understand supply chains and how goods travel fast and with accuracy to any point around the globe. Even for the military, it is now easy to have communication, supplies and many other things sent to their troops on a daily basis.

But was it the same in the past? For armed forces in Medieval Europe, it was a whole different story and a struggle to reach their troops in many ways. Here are some thoughts from David Kiger about military logistics the medieval times.

The first big issue in logistics was the distance that had to be traveled to reach the point of the war. It has to be noted for example that Roman-style roads were very common and armies marching on those roads could travel up to 50 miles a day by foot.

After having to travel so long to fight, another problem arises. How did they supply the troops? This was an issue that came from many fronts. First, there was the problem of collecting food to feed the army because in many cases states did not have the organization and logistic needed to find such supplies and to keep them going. Organizing a military campaign at that time was indeed a big task, and there wasn’t any institution or apparatus that could handle and be accountable for giving the entire force what they needed. Maybe some low-level army soldiers and some soldiers directly under the command of lords and knights benefited from food, but keeping the whole army going was a different game. 

Another option was to loot in enemy territory but that done on a regular basis could disrupt a kingdom’s agriculture and economy. Also, an army marching towards enemy territory still faced the problem of being supplied even on the way, when they were in their own territory. They couldn’t just steal from their own peasants. And when they were in enemy territory they still faced the danger that local people did not want them there and had the means to arm themselves and counter fight.

Another problem when it came to military logistics in the medieval Europe world was that concept of lords and knights managing their own army. Often each lord had their own army and arrived with it at the scene. They had their weapons and style of war, and when it came to having the same view of the battlefield, it became a problem. There was no clear leader and it had to be appointed or, as seen in the movie Brave Heart, a leader had to emerge to unite forces and to make it easier for troops to fight the enemy.

Image courtesy of Tim Cummins at Flickr.com

Soldiers nowadays enlist in the army or in certain countries they have to do it in a mandatory way. Either way, the length of stay in the army is enough to endure any campaign. In medieval Europe, this was an issue. In that time, none of the Western European countries had a standing army and when it came to recruiting they relied on the allegiance between the upper classes of society. For example, the Knights had the duty of only being part of the military service for forty days. This made campaigns short and with a very short reach on their objectives. To illustrate this, in many wars soldiers put pressure on their lords to let them go back home to finish harvesting for their families and to continue with their daily routines. Many of the campaigns were done in the summer time because of the harvest and its benefits.

Another big military logistic problem was the communication that made it very difficult for the army forces to be organized. Nowadays communication devices make it easier in the battle filed for soldiers to communicate with their generals and their direct command. It is still an issue that comes with problems, so you can just imagine how it was back in the day. Armies in medieval Europe depended on couriers or direct conversations to get their information and to then pass it on to troops. Some very significant consequences happened when communications did not reach receivers or got confused on the way. Armies attacking other armies that were allies or battles that were not supposed to happen were things that could be seen when communications failed.

And the last issue that military logistics had in medieval Europe was that recruiting for war was not easy. If a state wanted to launch a large-scale military operation, they faced the issue of the number of troops and men willing to fight.  There is no direct reference to this issue in history but drawing, paintings and art can tell us how difficult this was when it came to getting people to fight for the state.

Be sure also to read this post about how to view logistics from a military perspective

* Featured Image courtesy of Pixabay at Pexels.com

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