Ancient and Medieval Terminology - Miscellaneous

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Medieval English term for being dubbed a knight; the ceremony of knighting.  The meaning of the original French verb was to equip warriors, usually in knightly harness; it did not necessarily imply the same rise in status.
One of the divisions of an army of the 14th century. An army of the time was arrayed in three "battles" or divisions, the avant-garde (or forward guard), bataille (or main army) and arriere-garde (the equivalent of the modern reserve). Sometimes the three formed in a line, with the avant-garde and arriere-garde forming the wings, but retaining their names.

One of the divisions of an army of the 14th century. An army of the time was arrayed in three "battles" or divisions, the avant-garde (or forward guard), bataille (or main army) and arriere-garde (the equivalent of the modern reserve). Sometimes the trhee formed in a line, the avant-garde and arriere-garde forming the wings, but retaining their names.


Medieval French term for a young knight still dependent upon wages, or a member of a military household.  In order to acquire fiefs and heiresses a bachelor would be expected to demonstrate prowess in battle.

Medieval English oared vessel used during 100 Years' War.  Clinker built with about 12 oars per side - fighting crew of 40-60 men.

Medieval standard.  Generally a square flag carried by a banneret.  In a formal ceremony a knight's swallowtail pennon was cropped to indicate his rise in status.

Knight of sufficient wealth and status to lead 20 other knights.  He carried a banner as a symbol and as a rallying point in battle.

Scandinavian term referring to battle-madness that overcame warriors.  May have been induced by hallucinogenic mushrooms (fly aleric).

Medieval French term for a light infantryman.  Traditionally came from mountains of southern France and carried javelins, bucklers and swords.  In battle they could swarm around a stationary knight, slipping under the horse's belly to kill it and capture him.

European joust in which no weapons were used, a kind of barging match on horseback.  Punching with shields and wrestling was allowed.  Later came to mean jousting with blunted lances.


castle guard
Knight's obligation to provide garrison service at a castle.  Considered lesser service than that in the host (army) Often organised on a rotational basis; could be commuted for money. 

French term for a knight, sometimes given qualifying words such as engagé (paid) or d'un écu (with heraldic arms).  English term "cavalier" is derived from it. 

A raid through enemy territory to damage crops, buildings and property; drive peasantry into hiding etc. in order to reduce productivity of the region.  Pillagers were sent out from an army's line of march, up to 20 km / 12 mi each side.

cingulum militiae
Knight's sword belt.  The sword and belt were strapped to a new knight during the dubbing ceremony and symbolised his entry into the order of the knighthood.  Derived from Roman cingulum. 

Coat of arms or a representation of part of it carried by retainers or subjects.

Italian term, used in 13th-16th centuries, to describe a mercenary leader who commanded his own company.  The contract signed to employ such a company was called a "condotta". 

French term for unit of 20-60 knights, usually following a particular lord.  Term could also mean whole battle array.

(Latin comes stabuli, count of the stable) an officer of the king originally in charge of army stores and stabling, later responsible for the army in the king's absence. 

A group (or troop) of ten knights, the smallest unit of knightly cavalry.

Battle formation used by the Germans and late Romans.  Although word translates as wedge, actually more like a deep attack column. "Closely compressed on all sides and secure in front, rear and flank"; "even and dense".


Lightly-armed javelin carrying soldier who served on the land and sea.

Name for a knight's warhorse or charger, always a stallion.  Name could mean that the horse either led with its right leg or was led on the right by its groom.

dismounted knight
Battle tactic in which knights, normally used as heavy shock cavalry, dismounted to fight on foot.  Made for stable defence against charging cavalry before the development of more highly trained specialist infantry.

Single one-to-one combat used to settle disputes.  Generally accepted legal recourse.  Culturally the duel was the right of a noble in defence of his honour.  The knight could throw down his gage (a token of defiance, usually a glove or a hat) and demand combat with an accuser.


Anglo-Saxon nobleman and royal governor of a shire.  He would command the fyrd of the shire in battle.

French term for a squadron of knightly cavalry, of no fixed size, but made up of several conrois.

(French "flayer") term used to describe mercenary companies which ravaged France during 100 Years' War.


Medieval Arabic horseman, often compared to western knight.  Basic military skills described in furusiya (cavalry training manuals) stressing obedience, individual skills, tactical awareness, bravery and the possession of good arms and weapons including the bow and lance.  Also trained to fight on foot.

Free Companies
Groups of mercenaries under captains who sold their services.  Appeared around 12th century plagued Europe until 14th century, living off the land, plundering and ransoming.

Anglo-Saxon local militia.  All freemen were obliged to serve in the defence of their shire.  By 11th century distinction between great fyrd (for local defence) and select fyrd (better equipped and experienced warriors, serve further afield).


German term for knight and his "team" - three horsemen, the knight, one with missiles and a page.

Lance-head banner, larger than knight's pennon, not as large as a banner.  Used to direct movement of troops in battle.


"Manager" of medieval army.  Played a role in military ceremony as announcers for commanders - they would announce declarations, challenges etc. and received privileges as neutrals in war.  Later became announcers at tournaments and experts on rules of blazon and rights of heraldic arms.

Old English word for a force or army in a more general sense than a fyrd.

In England, the death duty owed to one's lord.  Initially this was the restoration of what the lord had provided for a soldier in war: arms, armour and a horse.  The death duty was cancelled for a soldier who was killed while fighting for his lord.

Horsed English infantrymen used in Wales and Scotland in 14th century.  Originally rode small speedy horses, used for transport rather than combat.  Precursors of mounted archers.

household, military
A fighting unit.  The core of a ruler's fighting men.  They were usually retained as knights, receiving pay in return for providing military service.

(Greek "shield bearer") man who carried a hoplite's shield before he went into battle, usually a slave.


English military contract between a ruler and a baron knight etc. specifying the numbers and types of troops to be provided for war service, usually overseas, during 100 Years' War.  Obligation varied from one campaign to life, in return for an annual fee.


Scandinavian nobleman who, in the Viking period, controlled an area of land either independently or under the king.  Term related to Anglo-Saxon "earl".


Irish lower class warrior, unarmoured and carrying only a sword and javelins.

(Medieval German "lad") originally a squire or military servant, later extended to mean a knight.

Knights Hospitaller
Order of Crusading knights

Knights Templar
Order of crusading knights


(Medieval German "servant of the country") Name used for troops raised by Charles the Bold in 1470, in imitation of the Swiss pikemen.  Used extensively in campaigns of Maximilian I, who took an oath of loyalty from them in 1490.

In medieval Switzerland, the troops of the mass levy, only called upon in times of emergency

In medieval Switzerland - reserve forces raised from older men, often married, who were prepared to serve at some distance from their homes.

Medieval German term for an armoured horseman or knight.

The levying of ships, warriors and equipment in Viking Denmark.

Regional leaders of the Carolingian Franks.

Provision of food and drink, lodgings, clothing and other maintenance to retainers or servants.  Also the provisions themselves, especially the distinctive clothing, hood or badge worn to indicate the retainer's service or loyalty to a particular lord or group.  In the collective singular, retainers or servants in livery.

(from Latin meaning "hauberk") Medieval European soldiers wearing a hauberk.  Soldiers in armour were well equipped and had social status.  The word was later equated with the meaning of "knight".


Nomadic invaders and creators of Hungary, made up of nine tribes, but heterogeneous.  They were mobile horse archers and devastated Europe on deep raids 898-955.  Defeated by Otto I in 955, after 1000 converted to Christianity and aided crusaders.

Medieval French fighting unit.

marshal (or mareshal)
Military commander of a ruler or magnate.  Responsible for the supply and maintenance of equipment horses and general logistical support.  He also led troops into battle.


Large Mongol drum used to direct troop movements.  Drums commonly used in battle in Muslim world, but Mongols took their use to a higher level, controlling their squadrons of pony-mounted and camel-mounted cavalry to such a degree that no army could oppose them.

Medieval Swiss term for "rearguard".  see Vorhut.

Medieval Arabic term for soldiers who threw incendiary bombs.  Word is believed to derive from naphtha, a naturally occurring petroleum mixture related to Greek fire.

Small drum carried by foot soldiers, Arabic in origin but widely used throughout medieval world.


Order of the Garter
English royal order of chivalry founded by Edward III in 1348.  Originally comprised of two 13-man jousting teams led by Edward III and his son , Edward, the Black Prince.  Name came from incident when Edward stooped to recover a lady's garter which had fallen off (said "honi soit qui mal y pense" =  "shame on anyone who thinks evil of this" to scandalised courtiers).  The Garter remains highest knightly award of the British monarch to this day.

Scarlet banner given to French kings by the abbot of St Denis and used as a rallying call throughout France in the middle ages.  Became a symbol of the French nation at war and was displayed during battle.


Triangular flag carried at the end of a knight's lance, frequently armorial and intended to identify his place in the battle-line above the dust of battle.  When a knight was placed at the head of 25 other knights the pointed end of the pennon was ceremonially cut off, creating a banner, and he was called a knight banneret.

(Greek "rank") in ancient Greek warfare, term used to describe a massed formation, many ranks deep, of hoplite and Macedonian style armies.


Money paid to recover a person captured in war, probably originating in the value placed on a man payable as a fine for killing him.  Capturing knights for ransom became a lucrative practice in later medieval period.

(Medieval French) replacement of horses lost in battle or campaign by a knight's lord.

Medieval mercenary, interchangeable with cottereau.  Used especially of companies who hired themselves to princes and, acting of their own accord, created havoc.  Sometimes had their own administrative system and uniforms.


Elite Carolingian Frankish unit of full-time soldiers.

Medieval Scottish term for body of pikemen or long spearmen who adopted a very close formation as a defence against English knights, sometimes making a circular "hedgehog" with their weapons.  Efficient at repelling cavalry but immobile and could be decimated by archers when pinned by threat of knightly charges.

Feudal tax imposed on knights as a substitute for service.  Developed from fines for non-attendance at musters under the Carolingians, but by XII England became a purely fiscal measure to raise money to finance mercenary armies, reflecting the decline in the military significance of feudalism.

(From Latin "servus" = slave) term for an ordinary soldier, commonly a cavalryman who was not a knight, but also used for infantry.  Sergeant was also a tenant owing military service to a lord, but sergeanty tenure, not always military, was an inferior form of tenure.  May also be an officer with police duties.

servitium debitum
("service owed") knight or military service.  Introduction into England was gradual, by individual bargain rather than mass imposition.  Tenants-in-chief later provided a number of knights (the quota) for annual military service to the king for a set period in return for lands, the knight's fee being the basis for assessment.

shield wall
Poetic description of a battle formation used by English and those fighting in the Scandinavian style.  Word suggests a very tight formation, difficult for an enemy to penetrate.

Medieval French mercenary.  Term suggestive of a warrior below knightly rank.

(sing. soldurus) Infantryman making up bulk of Celtic armies.  Rewarded for displays of personal courage and skills, making them ferocious and aggressive soldiers.  Although nobles wore helmets from 300 BC, soldurii fought naked or stripped to waist, carrying only a shield.  Used war-paint and lime-washed hair to intimidate opponents.  Engaging in battle cries, taunts, boasts and acts of intimidation to work selves into frenzy before engaging enemy.  Battle lines were open order to allow each man to use his sword or spear in single combat.  Head of the vanquished taken as proof of valour, booty from enemy camp also motivation.

(derived from French) large battle flag.  Term first appeared in XII.

Medieval Italian light cavalryman, similar to later Hungarian hussar, used for skirmishing and hanging on the flanks of an enemy force.

Long, flowing fabric tunic worn over armour, which carried the personal arms or device of a knight, for the purpose of identification.

("joined shields") In Greek warfare, the closest order military formation.  Only 46 cm / 18 in separate the right shoulder of each man from the right shoulder of his neighbour - thus literally shoulder-to-shoulder.


Form of surcoat worn in late med. Europe.  In XIV was sleeveless overgarment worn by lower classes, by 1400 term was applied to surcoat, decorated with (and indeed called) a herald's coat of arms.  From 1430s term was applied to a knight's short-sleeved surcoat, open at the sides and decorated with his coat of arms.

(Latin "tortoise") Roman infantry formation in which the soldiers completely covered themselves on all sides and overhead with their shields, usually while approaching an enemy wall during a siege.  Later became known as fulcum.  Testudo can also refer to piece of siege equipment which forms a similar function, that is a movable shed or covering for soldiers approaching an enemy wall.


Knight's servant (in English "varlet") who replaced the squire in the later Middle Ages.  The title designated a military usefulness: varlets could ride the knight's horse as cavalry when the master dismounted to fight.

(or vassallus) Vassal, subject to a lord.  Term used in context of feudal relationship between a free man and his lord, voluntary subordination in return for protection and maintenance.  Vassal gave of an oath of fidelity and commended himself to his lord, later doing homage.  Vassal could later be of high rank.

A lesser vassal under a tenant.  Lesser free men (Domesday Book) or free tenant with military obligations depending partly on land, expected to serve with arms, armour and horse.

Swiss term for vanguard of their pike and halberd formations.  Equivalent terms for main body and rearguard are Gewalhut and Nachhut, respectively.

Flemish term of XIV for a military unit raised from the cities, usually associated with their guild forces.