Book Review: Medieval Warfare: A History


by Maurice Keen (editor)

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. xii + 340. Illus, maps, plans, append., index. $40.00. ISBN:0-19-820639-9

Medieval Warfare is a valuable summary of the state of knowledge and scholarly understanding of the practice war in Europe from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance. The thirteen essays, are divided into two parts. The first part is essentially a survey of the military history of the Middle Ages in chronological fashion (e.g., "Carolingian and Ottonian Warfare," "Warfare in the Latin East," etc.). The second part deals with specific aspects of warfare in the period (e.g., "Fortifications and Sieges in Western Europe," "War and the Non-Combatant in the Middle Ages").

The essays, which are by some of the most respected authorities on the period, such as Christopher Allmand and Michael Mallett, are uniformly clear and comprehensive. The are surprisingly comprehensive and complex, considering their length, effectively weaving political, social, and economic threads together. The major omission is that coverage of Byzantine and Islamic developments is superficial, due, the editor notes, to considerations of space.

The volume presents several interesting and novel ideas. For example, that the use of the couched lance was by no means as revolutionary a development as has often been suggested, arising largely in response to the increasing prevalence of mounted armies; the overhead thrust actually being more effective against infantry (Andrew Ayotn, "Arms, Armour, and Horses"). Another interesting observation is that most sieges failed, and in fact most fortified places probably never endured a siege (Richard L. C. Jones, "Fortifications and Sieges").

One of the more interesting things the book touches upon is the surprising number of cases in which dismounted armies defeated mounted ones, long before the Hundred Years War, most notably with an excellent description of Courtrai in 1302 (Clifford J. Rogers, "The Age of the Hundred Years War"), particularly if urban militiamen were involved, for they were often veterans.

Without question an important book for anyone interested in Medieval warfare.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, CAN   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close