We pretty much know how the process goes with being enlisted in the army: prove your citizenship, pass the ASVAB test, meet the requirements, take the oath of enlistment, and the next thing you know, you’re deployed some thousand miles away from home. But, of course, things were different decades ago. This is how the medieval times handle military recruitment.

Your Family Could Tag Along

The Four Leaders of the First Crusade (1095). (Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you think you have separation anxiety and feel like you’re not ready to be deployed away from your family just yet, then you’d envy the soldiers of medieval times. They could bring their family along. Depending on the battle they were engaged in, they could bring along their wives, mothers, children, and even other members of the family. This practice was usually done during the Crusades when tens of thousands marched from Western Europe to Jerusalem. German Historian, Ekkehard rewrote the particulars of his history relating to the First Crusade,

Others confessed that they had been induced to pledge themselves by some misfortune. A great part of them started forth with wife and child and laden with their entire household equipment.

Of course, bringing them along was not without risks, as what happened after was that they encountered a group of Turks who mercilessly killed everyone who couldn’t fight: the clerics, monks, older women, and even the babies.

Formal Training? We Don’t Do That Here.

The military of today is pretty big in training. For example, the Army Basic Combat Training (BCT) lasts about ten weeks; the longest was the Marine Corps, which is approximately 13 weeks.

Formal training did not exist until the early Middle Ages. So, those troops gathered for a battle and participated in drills and exercises, but they primarily relied on their existing skills before joining the army. For instance, hunters were usually already skilled with horsemanship and using weapons.

Medieval tournament by Thomas Fogarty. (Thomas Fogarty, 1873-1938, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The tournament was a great way to show men’s military skills during the Middle Ages. They could demonstrate using a variety of weapons like lance, battle-ax, daggers, and swords. Other activities included sword fights, archery, and wrestling competitions. Joining these tournaments had its dangers, too. There was a huge possibility that you could get hurt or even die while participating in the competitions. For instance, Duke Leopold of Austria was killed while in a tournament after falling off his horse during a joust in 1194.

A Good Day’s Work Was Rewarded With Loot

Taking and looting of the fortress of Bergen
Taking and looting the fortress of Bergen. (Artiste inconnu, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Seige warfare could take a week to up to a couple of months. Henry III’s attack on Kenilworth Castle in 1266 lasted for six months. For those victorious soldiers, they could strip their fallen enemies of their armor, weapons, food, jewelry, and whatever else was valuable. They could even loot the wives and children of the warriors to take them home in their kingdom as slaves. If they were fortunate, they could capture and bring home high-ranking members of the besieged kingdom and hold them for ransom. They were plundering after a long and hard-fought battle that was part of the medieval fighting experience.