Friday, June 08, 2012

Fridericus Redivivus: Crossbowmen

I asked you for opinions on what to present here next. At last count there was one vote for peasants, one for knights and one for fancy stuff. Well, I take it that this is a clear vote for a 'mixed' unit. And here we go, ordinary soldiers, fancy weaponry and even a horse!

In the army list for Konradin's campaign these are labelled as "Umbrian crossbowmen". These were part of the contingent funded by Ghibelline supporters of Konradin. Crossbowmen from northern and central Italy were in great demand as mercenaries throughout the Middle Ages, mainly because they were considered to be well trained and steadfast. So, even today, crossbows are a common feature in Italian folklore. For example, every year the Umbrian city of Gubbio competes against her rival, the city of Sansepolcro, in a Palio della Balestra or crossbow tournament.

The prominence of the crossbow in Italy is possibly linked to the level of urbanisation. Cities and urban communes dominated at least the northern half of the peninsula. Towns were heavily fortified, their dominions bordered by castles and towers. Thus sieges were more frequent than open battles, and crossbowmen are perfectly adapted to this kind of warfare: They can wait in cover, their weapons ready to shoot every enemy who shows his face. In fact, Italian crossbowmen were often used in open battle the very same way. That is to say they were combined with shieldbearers (and sometimes spearmen as well) to form some sort of "mobile field fortification", which could act both defensively and offensively. Later on, certainly from the 14th century onwards, crossbowmen began to carry shields by themselves, which provided cover while they reloaded their weapons. Hence the single foot soldier with shield shown here is well ahead of times.

That said, the use of crossbows was of course not confined to Italy. If compared to bows, especially those suited to warfare, crossbows had several advantages. First, it could be produced quite easily and from a variety of wood. If broken it could be repaired by replacing a component. Second, crossbows were a lot easier to handle, neither great strength nor training were a necessity. Third, quarrels shot from a crossbow were able to penetrate all kinds of armour, the more since direct aimed shots were no problem at all. (If, however, armoured targets of the 13th century might have had a good chance to face "just" wounds rather than instant death - as some friends of mine have outlined here.) All in all, these features made crossbows the ranged weapon of choice for almost every Medieval European warlord.

Portrayed here is a unit of crossbowmen advancing in "fire teams". Though this tactic was only properly developed centuries later, it resembles the typical Italian approach mentioned above: One group advances across a cart path led by their mounted commander, probably a sergeant or even a knight. Meanwhile the other group provides 'suppression fire' from behind a stonewall and directed by a corporal. The shield designs are once more fictitious, though they might resemble the Imperial eagle in different guises. Hence it's also a nod to my friends from the Frankfurter Spieltrieb who overtook me at the Impetus front (the city arms of Frankfurt show an Imperial eagle in red on white ground).

Next up will be some knights, I promise!

Miniatures by Legio Heroica.


Christopher(aka Axebreaker) said...

Super looking unit in what is shaping up to be a cracking great army!


Sire Godefroy said...

Thanks, Chris! I refuse to look at your recently started samurai army since I have no need for another distraction. ;-)
Hopefully you'll come back to the Crusades in the foreseeable future.

Christopher(aka Axebreaker) said...

LoL! Samurai are a personal dream project of mine and thank heavens I like them so much or I would have quit as they are a monster to paint!! I thought the Ashigaru were hard, but foolish me has discovered Samurai trump them in spades!!

No worries friend I'll come back to Ayyubid Muslims at some point. I'm very close to 300pts and so almost completed the first goal.

Enough about me and lets talk more about how your army is just looking fantastic!! Not to mention your work rate is very commendable! This will be a 15mm star attraction for sure!


Dalauppror said...

A peasant unit with crossbows, splendid! :)

Greate work Tillman !!! Realy inspiring !!!

Best regards Michael

Hendrid said...

Great looking unit and interesting write up. Good read.

JTW said...

I love these units you are making, you get a great amount of character and mood into them. Beautiful work!

Millsy said...

I could look at these for hours. This army is going to be something to see when complete!

Ray Rousell said...

Beautiful painting, loads of character and you've just gotta love them shields.

Paul´s Bods said...

Very well painted and based unit..and a very well written write up.


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