Best era to be a soldier

By Jim Rohrer

This issue might be relevant to the decision about which era you to prefer to wargame. We all can agree that war is a nasty business and should be avoided at all costs. But wars do happen and wargamers should have some opinions about which eras were better than others for the common soldier.

Personally, I have an aversion for weapons of mass destruction and in my mind that should include artillery and air raids.

Secondly, automatic weapons bother me. Soldiers spray thousands of bullets at each other. The single shot rifled weapon seems better to me.

The musket era might have some appeal but marching in formation instead of shooting from behind cover is counter-intuitive. Can you imagine John Wayne doing that? Musketry was more effective when fired in volleys which pretty much requires exposed formations.

The popular notion of the medieval era carries a lot of romance with it. Crowds of men whacking each other with heavy or sharp objects would have been unpleasant but that is better than marching into a hail of canister fire. Perhaps I would have been useful with a crossbow. Maybe not. I was a poor shot with a M16 so a crossbow would not have been a better weapon for me.

The Dark Ages relied on the shieldwall. Those were bad but probably better than marching into a hail of lead. They would have put me into the levee. That would have been okay. I could have been a scythe-man.

What about the ancients? Was that the best time to be a common soldier?

About jimr

As a semi-retired professor, I have time to indulge myself with hobbies. Solo wargaming with 54mm figures using One Hour Wargame (OHW) rules and an expanded card deck is my style of play.
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7 Responses to Best era to be a soldier

  1. admin2 says:

    ((Rob Morgan submits the following.))

    Well the simple fact is:
    The late Medieval and Early Renaissance in Italy.

    Machiavelli describe the Italian wars as being “…commenced without fear, continued without danger, and concluded without loss.”

    The time of the great Condottieri leaders. Of about 175 great captains and captains general in the service of Italian nobles, cities and states, only 12 were actually killed in battle, but one or two of those were, shall we say, losses attributed to “friendly fire,” or a failure to respect agreed pay arrangements.

    The mercenary companies often refused to take the field, unless paid hefty bonuses, or paid up front. Pensions were often paid to soldiers as well as officers. Fighting sometimes became an option difficult to pursue, as in the 1430s when Captain General Attendolo, of Florence, had certain difficulties taking on Milan’s Captain General Sforza, as many of his troops had friends and relatives in the “enemy” company, and Sforza was his cousin. The soldier’s real enemies were often the greedy idle dukes who employed them, and sometimes failed to pay on time.

    Captains like the legendary Malatesta could wring splendid uniforms and quality gear as well as good rations out of their masters. Everyone had a contract. The only group of mercenaries with, shall we say, a strong likelihood of coming to an unhappy end, especially in the 1420s, 1430s and 1440s, were those skilled with the handgun, for whom capture meant a quick unpleasant death. Nasty things guns!

    Wars were not fought to the death, kill the enemy, and you kill the business! Several battles were said to have seen little or no fighting and very few, if any, casualties. The Battle of Anghiari in 1440 saw, so Machiavelli claimed, one man dead as a result of falling off his horse and being trampled. At the Battle of Molinella in 1467, some men were wounded, and a few prisoners taken. He claimed at the Battle of Rimini in 1469 that no-one was killed at all.

    Well, wars of that period in Italy may not have been “Bloodless Battles” completely as Machiavelli claimed, but they were far from brutal; often not violent encounters by far!

    — Rob Morgan

    • Jim Rohrer says:

      By coincidence, I have been reading The White Company this week by Arthur Conan Doyle. The archaic dialogue is boring but I am hoping some battle scenarios will emerge.

      Encyclopedia references to the mercenary units in Italy are interesting. Even though late nineteenth century has been my era, I have been playing around with four mercenary units on a chessboard and it has been fun. (Mounted knight, archer, two fully armored men at arms, two rules from The Portable Wargame (no diagonal movements, hand to hand combat with an adjacent square), other rule from One Hour Wargames.)

  2. Dexey says:

    There has never been a good time to be a ‘common soldier’ unless you are in the support arms and then it is any time.
    As I am sure you know, rank has its privileges and that always applied in any era.

    I was a very good shot with a Sterling SMG on single shot, but it is good to be able to spray if you are a common soldier, in my estimation :0)

    • Jim Rohrer says:

      The common man was respected in the armies of the dark ages and medieval period, to some degree. An archer was valuable. A talented commoner could rise to a high rank as a man at arms. The true casualty rates might have been lower on average than what was reported for famous battles.

  3. Peter R Barkworth says:

    I would say that the best time to be a common soldier is now. This is simply because medicine is more advanced than times gone by so fewer soldiers die of desease and injuries. Also the degree of medical help a soldier received often depended on his rank and who his opponent was. Dentistry is also better – I remember an excavated tomb revealing a pharoah with a constant running abscess in his gums; if he didn’t get it treated, I’m sure his troops would not be better off. A soldier is also more educated these days, better trained, has access to a pension, legal help and perhaps compensation. He/she is regularly paid and has a possibility of advancement.

    Of course, it also depends on where the common soldier is. In some countries, corruption and deprivation mean some soldiers (though we might be charitable describing some as soldiers) survive in conditions similar to centuries ago and still gain their pay in what we would call loot and plunder; I’m thinking of some African states and other very poor countries.

    However, if particularly considering dress and uniform, then be a hoplite, a landsknecht or medieval knight and look impressive.


    • Jim Rohrer says:

      Peter, you make a good point in regard to camp diseases and wound treatment. But I am not so sure about psych trauma. Shell Shock was not an issue before artillery bombardments. During the Thirty Years War and the Hundred Years War, I suspect PTSD was more common among civilians in combat zones than among soldiers.

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