Dougherty, Martin J. The Medieval Warrior: Weapons, Technology, and Fighting Techniques, AD 1000-1500.

Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2008.

I first read the author’s later work, The Ancient Warrior, and was very impressed by his knowledge, his astute interpretations, and the accessibility of his prose and presentation. This book is equally informative, especially since the early medieval period is one of my own principal interests when it comes to history.

Dougherty is a freelance historian, not an academic, but he knows his subject very well. His specialty is in weapons technology and tactics and he understands both fields comprehensively.

In the post-Roman world, warfare ceased to be a function of the state and reverted to its earlier tribal bases, with the continually warmongering feudal aristocracy being the evolution of that. Warfare between neighboring lords, or (less often) nations, broke down into four main areas by type of participant: Mounted fighters, foot soldiers, missile troops, and “specialists,” which included engineers, sappers, and artillerymen in the later period.

Mounted forces consisted mostly of knights, the highest-status segment of society, if only because horses and armor were very expensive and required constant training. Lighter mounted troops, including horse archers, were common farther east and in the Muslim lands, but Dougherty focuses mostly on Western Europe. Foot troops ran from “sergeants” and housecarls and other full-time professional men-at-arms at the top to levies made up of poorly-armed, untrained peasants at the bottom, whose function was to be arrow-fodder and to keep the enemy busy while their social superiors got close enough to fight. Missiles meant longbowmen in some areas and crossbowmen in others, with small but still powerful recurved bows in use farther east. This was a more advanced technology and therefore anathema to most knights, who generally considered shooting at your betters from a distance to be unsporting. Siegecraft was highly specialized and attracted freelance professionals, as did the later appearance of artillery.

As in his later book, every page is filled with color illustrations, explanatory drawings and diagrams, and battle maps. Key engagements are detailed as examples of good or bad tactics and the use and misuse of types of forces and weapons. And throughout, the language is plain and straightforward as Dougherty points out how the European style of war evolved and why. An excellent introductory volume.


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