What Life Was Like As A Medieval Soldier

Peter the Hermit, miniature from Egerton Manuscript 1500, folio 45 verso, France, circa 1325-1350. Egerton ms. 1500 fol. 45v/Wikimedia Commons.

15. War Was a Family Affair

Soldiers who were called upon to travel long distances for battles frequently brought their wives, children, and other family members with them. It was not uncommon for the entire family to pick up and leave, particularly during the Crusades. Ekkehard of Aurach wrote that during the First Crusade, men set “forth with wife and child and laden with their entire household equipment.” Of course, this practice meant that everyone faced the hardships of war, not only the soldiers. Sometimes, the elderly and children made long, arduous, and dangerous journeys to the battlefront rather than stay at home to take care of the farm.

During the Crusades, it was not at all uncommon for the entire family to join the soldiers. Peter the Hermit was a monk who led a campaign to the Holy Lands via Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul. While there, a group of Turks reportedly were “going within the tents, they destroyed with the sword whomever they found, the weak and the feeble, clerics, monks, old women, nursing children.” There was also the consideration that sometimes soldiers married while they were far away. If they died in battle, their wives and children, having never been to the soldier’s homeland, had a hard time trying to claim any inheritance.