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Aldarion

Armies of Westeros and Essos

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Posted (edited)

I was just thinking about how armies fight in Westeros, and realized that up until Golden Company's appearance, I could not recall a single army utilizing combined arms operations.

1) Westerosi armies seem to have a good mix of troops - heavy and light cavalry, heavy and light infantry, archers, crossbowmen - but these troops do not work together. When Robb did his thing, he separated foot from the horse - not two mixed-unit armies, but one all-infantry and one all-cavalry. Renly went ahead with cavalry to relieve Storm's End, leaving infantry behind. Stannis at the Wall? All-cavalry army, apparently.

2) Essosi armies are even worse. Unsullied? All infantry. Dothraki? All cavalry, and rather incompetent cavalry at that. They are light cavalry, yet at Qohor they went "we are heavy cavalry now, bros" and got themselves slaughtered.

Considering that neither side would be able to field full military strength (logistics yay), 5th century Byzantine army would have crushed these guys in any given field battle. Black Army of Matthias Corvinus, or else 10th century Byzantine army, would have likewise made a mincemeat of any Westerosi army of similar size. So why is that?

Edited by Aldarion

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Posted (edited)

The Unsullied aren't an army, they're particular type of slave soldier anyone can purchase to augment their own army and the Dothraki are a caricature of several cultures of parthian style warriors. I wouldn't put too much thought into it, basically style over substance. Robb's entire campaign in the West is basically one of raiding and if it comes to it knights can fight on foot as well as horseback, similarly Stannis and Renly are both instances of taking the cavalry to deal with an urgent threat, 

Off the top of my head the Battle of the Green Fork is a mix of cavalry and infantry, the contingents are even described as regards cavalry and infantry and for the others each army has a component of cavalry and infantry before they split up to go about whatever they intend to do, it's safe to assume some level of cavalry will have remained with the foot. 

Edited by Trigger Warning

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In Westeros pedigree matters. Or commanders are literally born to their rank in the army.

Personal reputation matters and so warriors very often are more interested what they do personally and their own reputation. Or they rather fight duels with other VIPs than be part of effective war machine.

Some ways to fight are more important than others. For instance most of heavy cavalrymen have noble blood and most of infantry are "peasants". So cavalry units would not accept any role that would even make them look less valuable than infantry. 

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If the Byzantines could take on the Westeros would depend on alot of stuff. But in a big fight on a open field, I think it could go either way. The Byzantines of the 10th century would likely have an advantage in discipline but given how the Westeros are, essentially a mash of different time periods, but have things like plate armour and other late medieval weapons which could be a crucial advantage in a decisive part, like an engagement between knights and cataphracts, I don't think that a Westerosi defeat is a forgone conclusion.

In a certain way the Byzantines would be facing a Western Sassanid empire with a heavy focus on cavalry. But lets not forget that a solid part of the Westerosi infantry would be professional men-at-arms and the Westerosi heavy cavalry is a formidable fighting force, and I've yet to see them do anything stupid due to bad discipline. As seen by the Redgrass Field, several encounters during the Dance and War of Five Kings, the Westerosi are fully capable of producing solid commanders and warriors from their military traditions and system.

The biggest advantage for the Byzantines would probably be that the constant feuding and obsession over personal honour could, during a longer war, among the Westerosi could allow them to open rifts among the Westerosi and so open up for defections or less enthusiastic participation in the war.

The Westerosi would be a far more potent foe for the Byzantines than the Vandals or Ostrogoths, and I don't know the general outcome of fighting between Byzantines and Western Crusaders, but I do know that the Normans of Sicily had alot of battlefield success over the Byzantines, and since heavy cavalry charging in with lances is one of the main tricks used by the Westeros, the Byzantines may have a fairly tough fight on their hands.

But then again I would think that the Byzantines could cause havoc with mounted archers since the Westerosi have no experience of knowledge of how to deal with such foes, and the Byzantine infantry is likely going to be as, or more, disciplined than the Westeorsi one even if parts of the Westerosi infantry may have better gear than their Byzantine counterpart. But one think that I think is very possible is that the Byzantines, through a professional army, may well be able to execute complex battlefield manouvers better than the Westerosi would, thus potentially giving them an advantage in responding to developments on the field of battle.

But this is just what I think, and I'm not an expert on medieval warfare.

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18 hours ago, Trigger Warning said:

The Unsullied aren't an army, they're particular type of slave soldier anyone can purchase to augment their own army and the Dothraki are a caricature of several cultures of parthian style warriors. I wouldn't put too much thought into it, basically style over substance. Robb's entire campaign in the West is basically one of raiding and if it comes to it knights can fight on foot as well as horseback, similarly Stannis and Renly are both instances of taking the cavalry to deal with an urgent threat, 

Off the top of my head the Battle of the Green Fork is a mix of cavalry and infantry, the contingents are even described as regards cavalry and infantry and for the others each army has a component of cavalry and infantry before they split up to go about whatever they intend to do, it's safe to assume some level of cavalry will have remained with the foot. 

But had we seen tactics used? Fact that infantry and cavalry are present in the same battle does not mean they work together. IIRC, in Battle of Krbava Field, where Croatian army actually used tactics typical of Western Europe at the time, Croatian army was divided into three groups. Each of these groups had cavalry up front and infantry behind, and when cavalry charged it separated itself from the infantry.

18 hours ago, Loose Bolt said:

In Westeros pedigree matters. Or commanders are literally born to their rank in the army.

Personal reputation matters and so warriors very often are more interested what they do personally and their own reputation. Or they rather fight duels with other VIPs than be part of effective war machine.

Some ways to fight are more important than others. For instance most of heavy cavalrymen have noble blood and most of infantry are "peasants". So cavalry units would not accept any role that would even make them look less valuable than infantry. 

Yes, isn't it noted as unusual that Stannis stays in the background and actually commands? IIRC, both Robert and Robb fought on the front, personally. And yeah, I agree with your point about mentality. That, I think, will doom Tyrells when they run into Golden Company.

15 hours ago, Lion of the West said:

If the Byzantines could take on the Westeros would depend on alot of stuff. But in a big fight on a open field, I think it could go either way. The Byzantines of the 10th century would likely have an advantage in discipline but given how the Westeros are, essentially a mash of different time periods, but have things like plate armour and other late medieval weapons which could be a crucial advantage in a decisive part, like an engagement between knights and cataphracts, I don't think that a Westerosi defeat is a forgone conclusion.

In a certain way the Byzantines would be facing a Western Sassanid empire with a heavy focus on cavalry. But lets not forget that a solid part of the Westerosi infantry would be professional men-at-arms and the Westerosi heavy cavalry is a formidable fighting force, and I've yet to see them do anything stupid due to bad discipline. As seen by the Redgrass Field, several encounters during the Dance and War of Five Kings, the Westerosi are fully capable of producing solid commanders and warriors from their military traditions and system.

The biggest advantage for the Byzantines would probably be that the constant feuding and obsession over personal honour could, during a longer war, among the Westerosi could allow them to open rifts among the Westerosi and so open up for defections or less enthusiastic participation in the war.

The Westerosi would be a far more potent foe for the Byzantines than the Vandals or Ostrogoths, and I don't know the general outcome of fighting between Byzantines and Western Crusaders, but I do know that the Normans of Sicily had alot of battlefield success over the Byzantines, and since heavy cavalry charging in with lances is one of the main tricks used by the Westeros, the Byzantines may have a fairly tough fight on their hands.

But then again I would think that the Byzantines could cause havoc with mounted archers since the Westerosi have no experience of knowledge of how to deal with such foes, and the Byzantine infantry is likely going to be as, or more, disciplined than the Westeorsi one even if parts of the Westerosi infantry may have better gear than their Byzantine counterpart. But one think that I think is very possible is that the Byzantines, through a professional army, may well be able to execute complex battlefield manouvers better than the Westerosi would, thus potentially giving them an advantage in responding to developments on the field of battle.

But this is just what I think, and I'm not an expert on medieval warfare.

Agreed. I think logistics might be the greatest Byzantine advantage - do we have any idea of logistical arrangements of Westerosi armies? And, as you point out, Middle Byzantine army is fully capable of complex battlefield maneuvers.

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On 7/11/2019 at 8:12 PM, Aldarion said:

I was just thinking about how armies fight in Westeros, and realized that up until Golden Company's appearance, I could not recall a single army utilizing combined arms operations.

1) Westerosi armies seem to have a good mix of troops - heavy and light cavalry, heavy and light infantry, archers, crossbowmen - but these troops do not work together. When Robb did his thing, he separated foot from the horse - not two mixed-unit armies, but one all-infantry and one all-cavalry. Renly went ahead with cavalry to relieve Storm's End, leaving infantry behind. Stannis at the Wall? All-cavalry army, apparently.

2) Essosi armies are even worse. Unsullied? All infantry. Dothraki? All cavalry, and rather incompetent cavalry at that. They are light cavalry, yet at Qohor they went "we are heavy cavalry now, bros" and got themselves slaughtered.

Considering that neither side would be able to field full military strength (logistics yay), 5th century Byzantine army would have crushed these guys in any given field battle. Black Army of Matthias Corvinus, or else 10th century Byzantine army, would have likewise made a mincemeat of any Westerosi army of similar size. So why is that?

To be fair, Essos was fragmented and mercantile. Kind of like Renaissance Italy city states that kept throwing Condottieri Mercenaries (mostly heavy calvary) at each other, and the Dothraki were basically Mongols who rode as an extension of their nomad lifestyle. Moreover, Unsullied were like B1 battle Droids (just better)--ready made, general purpose, and obedient troops. So if the buyer wanted archers and calvary, he needed to hire them elsewhere. 

As for Robb separating his host, IIRC, he was pressed for time so he probably could only take his mounted men at arms with him. Moreover, if he had to sacrifice to distract Tywin, sacrificing foot soldiers (peasant levies) would be more cost effective.

Basically, Westeros was primitive. The Knights and Mounted Men at Arms were probably the Household Guards and the core "real army", everything else was just filler to them.

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1 minute ago, Br16 said:

 To be fair, Essos was fragmented and mercantile. Kind of like Renaissance Italy city states that kept throwing Condottieri Mercenaries (mostly heavy calvary) at each other, and the Dothraki were basically Mongols who rode as an extension of their nomad lifestyle. Moreover, Unsullied were like B1 battle Droids (just better)--ready made, general purpose, and obedient troops. So if the buyer wanted archers and calvary, he needed to hire them elsewhere. 

 As for Robb separating his host, IIRC, he was pressed for time so he probably could only take his mounted men at arms with him. Moreover, if he had to sacrifice to distract Tywin, sacrificing foot soldiers (peasant levies) would be more cost effective.

Basically, Westeros was primitive. The Knights and Mounted Men at Arms were probably the Household Guards and the core "real army", everything else was just filler to them.

But it isn't just Unsullied - IIRC, Ghiscari legions are noted to be spearmen, no mention of cavalry or any other support arm that Macedonin phalax or Roman legion would have. And Mongols had light and heavy cavalry both; even earlier, Sarmatians had cataphracts. Yet Dothraki are light cavalry only, though IIRC at least book Dothraki seem to have good missile capacity.

But yeah, what you wrote makes sense.

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1 minute ago, Aldarion said:

But it isn't just Unsullied - IIRC, Ghiscari legions are noted to be spearmen, no mention of cavalry or any other support arm that Macedonin phalax or Roman legion would have. And Mongols had light and heavy cavalry both; even earlier, Sarmatians had cataphracts. Yet Dothraki are light cavalry only, though IIRC at least book Dothraki seem to have good missile capacity.

But yeah, what you wrote makes sense.

Yeah, good point. I always thought maybe the Ghiscari had auxiliary they hired somewhere? Maybe George simply didn't think that far. Also, perhaps the Dothraki were basically a scaled up version of Mongols when they were still dirt poor (i.e. before Ghengis). Just a bunch of warring tribes who can't really afford much.

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Posted (edited)
On 7/11/2019 at 8:12 AM, Aldarion said:

I was just thinking about how armies fight in Westeros, and realized that up until Golden Company's appearance, I could not recall a single army utilizing combined arms operations.

1) Westerosi armies seem to have a good mix of troops - heavy and light cavalry, heavy and light infantry, archers, crossbowmen - but these troops do not work together. When Robb did his thing, he separated foot from the horse - not two mixed-unit armies, but one all-infantry and one all-cavalry. Renly went ahead with cavalry to relieve Storm's End, leaving infantry behind. Stannis at the Wall? All-cavalry army, apparently.

Westerosi armies are not professional soldiers.  At the end of the day they are only honoring their oaths to their lords.  They wanna go home to their families.  Do treat yourself and check out an old movie "Southern Comfort" and Stuckey is what I see when I think of Westeros soldiers.  

2) Essosi armies are even worse. Unsullied? All infantry. Dothraki? All cavalry, and rather incompetent cavalry at that. They are light cavalry, yet at Qohor they went "we are heavy cavalry now, bros" and got themselves slaughtered.

The Essosi armies are good because they're professionals.  The Dothraki are formidable.  They got licked at Qohor because discipline, not individual warrior skills, wins wars.  The Unsullied discipline is superior and they won the day.  

Considering that neither side would be able to field full military strength (logistics yay), 5th century Byzantine army would have crushed these guys in any given field battle. Black Army of Matthias Corvinus, or else 10th century Byzantine army, would have likewise made a mincemeat of any Westerosi army of similar size. So why is that?

Westeros military is Dark Ages level.  They have the armor but they're kind of backwards.  

 

Edited by Quoth the raven,

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5 minutes ago, Quoth the raven, said:

 

But is that really so? I may be wrong in my assessment, but Westerosi armies seem to be raised according to banderial system, whch essentially means that each noble maintains a semi-professional / semi-standing force of soldiers which he then dispatches when the King commands it. They would not be up to par to a true professional standing army, but they are not mere militia either.

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9 hours ago, Br16 said:

Yeah, good point. I always thought maybe the Ghiscari had auxiliary they hired somewhere? Maybe George simply didn't think that far. Also, perhaps the Dothraki were basically a scaled up version of Mongols when they were still dirt poor (i.e. before Ghengis). Just a bunch of warring tribes who can't really afford much.

Ghiscari cavalry, at least at Astapor (or Yunkai whichever wasn't taken from the inside), was the Second Sons and the Stormcrows. At Mereen they hire more sellswords (presumably a lot mounted, Qarth brings in their camel corp, and they try to hire a khalasar. For the most part, the slavers and their allies do not seem to have much in the way of cavalry, light or heavy. This makes sense since the Ghis legions were spearmen. The Free cities not having cavalry either also makes sense. Horses are expensive and they pay off the Dothraki while paying mercenary companies to fight against the other Free cities. 

As for the Dothraki, GRRM has already touched on their inspiration: The Dothraki were actually fashioned as an amalgam of a number of steppe and plains cultures... Mongols and Huns, certainly, but also Alans, Sioux, Cheyenne, and various other Amerindian tribes... seasoned with a dash of pure fantasy. So any resemblance to Arabs or Turks is coincidental. Well, except to the extent that the Turks were also originally horsemen of the steppes, not unlike the Alans, Huns, and the rest.

 

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1 hour ago, Aldarion said:

But is that really so? I may be wrong in my assessment, but Westerosi armies seem to be raised according to banderial system, whch essentially means that each noble maintains a semi-professional / semi-standing force of soldiers which he then dispatches when the King commands it. They would not be up to par to a true professional standing army, but they are not mere militia either.

It's a little bit of both. This thread is a nice collection of all the militaria passages from the main books. Basically the lords do maintain professional soldiers (e.g. their household guard like the WF guardsmen or the red cloaks) and the rest are levies, but the levies that get called up by Robb or Tywin are going to be well armed, armored, and trained. We see as much in AGoT when the Freys join and then later at the Battle of the Green Fork.

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2 minutes ago, Universal Sword Donor said:

 It's a little bit of both. This thread is a nice collection of all the militaria passages from the main books. Basically the lords do maintain professional soldiers (e.g. their household guard like the WF guardsmen or the red cloaks) and the rest are levies, but the levies that get called up by Robb or Tywin are going to be well armed, armored, and trained. We see as much in AGoT when the Freys join and then later at the Battle of the Green Fork.

That does sound like banderial system. This is what I wrote, based on banderial system, for the setting I am working on:

Quote

 

Insurrectio takes one of several forms:

  • Insurrectio Banderialis: landowners are required to raise regiments according to their financial wealth. These fight under colour of the owner, and are typically professional soldiers.

  • Insurrectio Portalis: each house (porta) is required to provide a soldier – this is in essence peasant militia

  • further variations are:

  • Insurrectio Generalis: all components are called to arms, nationwide

  • Insurrectio Partialis: only some are called to arms

 

So something like a core of professional soldiers + semi-professionals + peasant levy is not that weird.

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1 minute ago, Aldarion said:

That does sound like banderial system. This is what I wrote, based on banderial system, for the setting I am working on:

So something like a core of professional soldiers + semi-professionals + peasant levy is not that weird.

Right but when you say peasants, do you mean random guys with pitchforks and no armor or would you include literally everyone who's not a noble (but would show up with a spear, dagger, mail, and a helmet)?

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2 minutes ago, Universal Sword Donor said:

Right but when you say peasants, do you mean random guys with pitchforks and no armor or would you include literally everyone who's not a noble (but would show up with a spear, dagger, mail, and a helmet)?

Something in-between. You will notice that insurrectio portalis provides one person per house. Now, we can assume a household of seven or so, but it is also possible (I am not certain on this) that more than one family will have lived in a house. Either way, it is not "sticks and pitchforks", but neither is it properly trained militia. You would have guys with minimal training and cheap weapons such as spears and axes, but they would not be rabble, exactly.

I'm still doing research on it, but:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militia_portalis

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1 hour ago, Aldarion said:

But is that really so? I may be wrong in my assessment, but Westerosi armies seem to be raised according to banderial system, whch essentially means that each noble maintains a semi-professional / semi-standing force of soldiers which he then dispatches when the King commands it. They would not be up to par to a true professional standing army, but they are not mere militia either.

The man whose main profession is plowing the land is not going to have the same discipline as the man who is a professional soldier.  Just about every man among the Dothraki are warriors.  They are after all a warrior society.  The average Dothraki will destroy the average soldier of Westeros.  Bring this up a notch and The Unsullied average guy would destroy the average Dothraki on foot.  Battle team work and discipline favor The Unsullied.

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30 minutes ago, Universal Sword Donor said:

Right but when you say peasants, do you mean random guys with pitchforks and no armor or would you include literally everyone who's not a noble (but would show up with a spear, dagger, mail, and a helmet)?

Well-armed they may be but the weapon is the soldier.

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Posted (edited)
10 minutes ago, Quoth the raven, said:

 The man whose main profession is plowing the land is not going to have the same discipline as the man who is a professional soldier.  Just about every man among the Dothraki are warriors.  They are after all a warrior society.  The average Dothraki will destroy the average soldier of Westeros.  Bring this up a notch and The Unsullied average guy would destroy the average Dothraki on foot.  Battle team work and discipline favor The Unsullied.

But that is precisely what I'm talking about: Westerosi soldiers are not peasant militia. Under banderial system, nobles and Church were required to provide the King with a number of men for war, depending on the amount of land they held. These were trained soldiers: in fact, it is pointed out (in the history book I just went to to check specifics) that introduction of banderial system improved the quality of the army.

EDIT: Found it online:

https://hr.wikisource.org/wiki/Stranica:Vjekoslav_Klaić_Povjest_Hrvata_2.djvu/78

Edited by Aldarion

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On 7/11/2019 at 3:12 PM, Aldarion said:

When Robb did his thing, he separated foot from the horse - not two mixed-unit armies, but one all-infantry and one all-cavalry. Renly went ahead with cavalry to relieve Storm's End, leaving infantry behind.



The both did this because they needed speed on the cavalry unit and because cavalry is strong fpr ambush.

 

On 7/11/2019 at 3:12 PM, Aldarion said:

Unsullied? All infantry.

Unsullied are a unit, not an army.

Westeros Armies are pretty similar to medieval Europe though so i don't get yout point. As for Byzantines, at the height of their power they had a very strong army with extremely heavy cavalry and liquid fire so yeah they were OP for their time.

On 7/11/2019 at 3:12 PM, Aldarion said:

Dothraki? All cavalry, and rather incompetent cavalry at that. that?

Dothraki are practically Mongols and they are deadly in open field. The have light cavalry because they rely on skirmish. They have horse archers and light cavalry so that they can harrass heavy infantry, break them and then when they are out of order give the final blow and slay them like sheep.

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8 hours ago, Dreadscythe95 said:

The both did this because they needed speed on the cavalry unit and because cavalry is strong fpr ambush.

I may be asking for too much here, but when Basil II needed speed, he did not abandon infantry - he had his infantry mount mules and ride them (so mounted infantry). But yeah, as I said, I might be asking too much here.

8 hours ago, Dreadscythe95 said:

Unsullied are a unit, not an army.

Westeros Armies are pretty similar to medieval Europe though so i don't get yout point. As for Byzantines, at the height of their power they had a very strong army with extremely heavy cavalry and liquid fire so yeah they were OP for their time.

But at Qohor, there is no indication of Unsullied having support of, say, archers or heavy cavalry which phalanx required to be fully effective.

And yeah, Byzantines might have been placing the bar too high for Westerosi, but they are what I am most familiar with.

8 hours ago, Dreadscythe95 said:

Dothraki are practically Mongols and they are deadly in open field. The have light cavalry because they rely on skirmish. They have horse archers and light cavalry so that they can harrass heavy infantry, break them and then when they are out of order give the final blow and slay them like sheep.

But Mongols did have heavy cavalry. And problem with Dothraki approach is that disciplined infantry is not going to break. When Roman legions of Crassus fought Parthians, they withstood hours if not days of missile fire in good order - and if they had good bowmen, they would have slaughtered Parthian light cavalry (as a rule, infantry archers outrange cavalry counterparts by a good margin). The reason Parthians prevailed was because they had heavy cataphract cavalry: when Romans deployed into formation to defend against arrows, Parthians unleashed cataphract charge, and when Romans reformed against cataphracts, they instead got harrassed with missiles.

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