Outfit a Foot Soldier with the Best Pre-firearm Arms and Armor from Around the World

You can pluck arms, armor, and the methods to make and use them from any point in history, and multiple points at that. Your goal is to field an army of foot soldiers from any pre-firearm point in history. We’ll use the mid 15th century as a cutoff, as that marked the introduction of matchlocks to Europe.

So you could outfit Hoplites with katanas, Roman shields, and gothic cuirasses if you’d like. Pretty much anything goes. So what’s the best-equipped group of foot soldiers you could patch together?

I’d start with the crossbow and some armor.

Crossbows are pretty effective, though not at all for close quarters combat.

Will these soldiers be marching in formation? Then wall shields and long spears are probably a good adea, as are shortswords and daggers.

Borrowing the idea from Gwynne Dyer, train the crossbowmen as if they were musketeers, e.g. front row fire, kneel, reload, second row fire, etc… And organize the crossbowmen as Adolphus did in the 30 Years’ War. As long as I’m dreaming, we can swap out for the crossbows for English longbows and cloth-yard arrows… Is it possible to use small ballistas in the same manner that Adolphus used light cannon? With enough firepower from the crossbows, would you even need pikemen?

Probably not. Enough highly trained crossbowmen would have the same impact on cavalry and muskets would. What you are going to really feel the lack of is artillery. Ballistas just don’t have the portability or firepower of cannon.

Wait - is this a drilled group of footsoldiers who are going to be facing other footsoldiers, cavalry and archers? Because then I’d outfit them as Roman legionaries of 100CE, without any changes to equipment, except good Wootz steel for their lorica and weapons rather than carburized iron.

If I, personally, was going to be a single footsoldier tossed into some medieval melee, I’d want full Milanese harness with visored sallet & poleaxe as primary weapon, with a Type XVIII cut&thrust sword and rondel dagger for backup. But if it was to be unit fighting, I’d want everyone to have pikes.

If missile weapons or cavalry were going to be a *big *factor (as in, most of what we face, rather than mostly infantry), I might have to rethink things. Are they?

It would be really hard to easily load a period crossbow kneeling on the ground.

Who are these hypothetical guys going to fight?

Arms and armor evolved over time, based on who they were fighting- what worked for a legionary soldier in 43 BC isn’t what worked in 300 AD, and vice-versa. And what worked for a dismounted knight wouldn’t have worked for either of those Roman guys, and vice-versa.

Right. To some degree, it’s rock-paper-scissors.

However, it’s worth noting that crossbowmen were, as far as I know, uniformly run off or slaughtered by trained archers every time the two weapons encountered each other. Crossbowmen did fine for siege operations, but there are a variety of reasons why bowmen were consistently superior for battles.

Gurkas armed with kukris made of Damascus steel. From there on it would depend on my strategy and enemy. Am I going with a light mobile force which can engage at distance? Am I fielding a ten thousand strong force over an open prairie? Am I fighting in the narrow passes of the Swiss Alps? What part of the world(metal armor is a huge drawback in the tropics, high altitudes, or extreme lattitudes)? The Romans were pretty much ideal for their area and time, although I’d still sub out their short swords for kukris. I don’t think I could make much of an improvement over the tortoise for protection from missile weapons of the time. Armor is too variable though.


Naah. Shield formation fighting needs a dedicated stabbing weapon, not a slashing one. The Romans were familiar with its likely predecessor but, like the Greeks, they went for straight-bladed because it was better for their purposes.

Cite? Especially the “high altitudes” and “extreme latitudes” - iron lamellar and mail armour was the standard inTibet, for instance. Indians, too , didn’t eschew metal armour even though it’s mostly tropical.
I think you may be being misled by the fact that South American tropical cultures didn’t develop metals in the first place, or use them for armour. This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have used them, or that others didn’t. Conquistadors, for instance, won partly because they had steel armour – just compare their casualty rates versus native troops. Granted, corrosion and heat exhaustion are more of a problem in tropical regions, but that’s corrected by armour design (lacquer over iron, for instance, was standard in subtropical Japan) and tactics, not by tossing away your armour.

Avoid the Atlatl, it’s probably only good when shooting into large crowds otherwise ineffective for close combat.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but this reminds me of the show Deadliest Warrior - it might settle some points for you.

Early muskets still needed pikemen to protect them. It wasn’t until they started putting bayonets on the end of muskets that the pikemen were no longer needed, and that was only because a musket with a bayonet on the end is in itself a pretty good pike.

It wasn’t until the invention of the rifled musket in the mid 1800s that pike-style fighting became no longer necessary. Bayonets in earlier times accounted for roughly a third of all battlefield casualties. In the U.S. Civil war, bayonets dropped to less than 1 percent of battlefield casualties. After that, bayonets became last-ditch weapons that were rarely used on the battlefield, and their design changed from pike type things to utility knife type things.

If you’ve got crossbows, you need pikes.

How much training do these foot soldiers get? Longbows are much more effective than crossbows, but only if you can train your archers for a very long time, otherwise crossbows are more effective. What seemed to work best in the 14th century (right before the OP’s 15th century cutoff) were longbow archers surrounded by armored foot soldiers. The one change I would make to that for the OP’s foot soldiers is I would switch out the English longbow for the superior Mongolian bow.

Why would you outfit footmen with a horse bow?

Dogs! Good idea.

Dangit—we can’t cheat and use non-firearm, post-15th century arms or armor? So no Lexan? :frowning:

If they’re trained in it, give them the longbow. If not, the crossbow. Remember, money is no object, so you can give them other arms as well. The weight of the bows that won’t be used (because their users will be defending the other bow-users) will be outweighed (heh!) by the flexibility of having everyone armed with a ranged weapon.

So, bow and pike. And sword for backup. Make it a katana, and give them a dagger for real close fighting.

Armor: at a minimum, cuirass for everyone as well as a light helmet. Not sure if the protection of limbs and head is more important than weight and movability, but the protection of the torso is.

I’m thinking spring-reloadable repeater crossbow. No, scratch that. Spring-reloading repeater ballista. No, I mean a spring-reloading repeater catapult.

Swiss pikemen backed by halberdiers, all wearing cuirass-and-helmet, worked very well for a very long time in a variety of encounters. Note that the pikes are mostly used offensively in this system; the Swiss believed in constantly moving (as a formed body) when on the battlefield, and the pike was a shock weapon.