In the Middle Ages, countries were constantly being crossed by marauding groups of soldiers, brigands and guardsmen in groups of various sizes, or lone combatants, who often changed their place of abode. They lived in makeshift huts, shelters or tends around a central fire. Some stayed at one camp for several days, others set up camp only for one night and moved on again next day. One important factor in their choice of campsite was the ready availability of water, food, animal fodder and firewood. Very rarely they camped in villages or by a castle or in its vicinity. This was reserved for overnighting by the nobility and their entourage. During wartime or while on the run, they would sleep in the open, since there was no time to raise or break down tents. The noblemen's armies also camped at sites where provincial militias were gradually gathering, or while awaiting the arrival of reinforcements or allies. The longest-lasting (sometimes up to several months) were encampments for laying siege to strongholds or those on riverbanks, waiting to engage with enemy forces on the other side.
Tents were intentionally erected close together for security (mimicking battlements). The largest tent in the centre of the camp belonged to the commander, nearby tents housed nobles and high-ranking soldiers, surrounded by simple shelters and huts for the ordinary soldiers and their horses. There was no need to camp together in one place, and an army could make camp across several locations. In the larger camps, there would be a field chapel, an infirmary to care for the wounded, and sometimes even a makeshift brothel.
Simple tents in the early Middle Ages took the shape of a capital 'A', with a square base and a distinctive central pole mounted on two upright stands. The tent canvas was most often made from flax or hemp, undyed for ordinary soldiers, but variously coloured and decorated for the commanders. The men slept on the ground on mats, skins, pelts, but the nobility and churchmen would have travel beds.
Long-term camping was challenging logistically, supplies always being the responsibility of the administrator of the nearest affiliated townships. If the army was on hostile territory, it would send out provisioning detachments to procure food and fuel. When supplies ran short, it was time to move on to another location or give up the campaign.
The worse occurrence was an outbreak of any epidemic in the camp since hygiene was difficult to maintain. While waiting for developments, there would also be quarrels, duels and fights, which could escalate into a bigger conflict and significantly compromise the army. Disputes, therefore, had to be judged and if necessary severe punishments meted out.
This page was last edited on 30 April 2018, at 06:49.
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