As I set out from my home to do battle, once again, with the forces of Winter, I mused upon my recent reading, a historical novel, which, in part, depicted battles between Mongols and the knights of the European High Middle Ages, in the 1240’s.
There’s that bit in the Bible about a time to do this or that–and you can see it illustrated beautifully in various books of hours made for the nobility.Here is one example, a hunting scene representing December.
Because only a fool would do out on military campaign during the winter. There is little fodder for men or horses, and one can run short of fuel for fires, not to mention becoming cold and uncomfortable. On top of that, there were no standing armies. Armies were made up of the men-at-arms and soldiers of each noble, summoned to fight in the cause of their higher lord, straight up to the king, and under obligation do do so for only a set period, to make sure that the men and their leaders could return home to tend their own lands and families.
And so, when we read accounts of medieval warfare, including the Hundred Years War between England and France, they are accounts that begin in the spring and wind up in the fall, either with the entire ad hoc army dispersing to their various homes, their time of service having ended, or with an army in a distant land considering where to camp or lodge for the winter, so they would be in a good position to start up again in the spring. A notably civilized way to organize the slaughter.
The Mongols were something else entirely, and their attitude about warfare is one large reason they were so successful, even against the famous Teutonic and Templar knights of this period. When the Great Khan set his tumons (groups of 10,000 soldiers) on a course of conquest, they just kept going. They scouted ahead for areas most suitable to feed men and horses, but they didn’t let little things like mountain ranges or bad weather get in their way, and they certainly didn’t turn back in winter. On the contrary, they turned winter to their advantage, once they realized that the Europeans expected the invasion to wait. The Mongols took advantage, not only of this expectation, but also of the frozen rivers that bordered and sometimes cut through the cities of Russia and Eastern Europe, riding their horses straight across, and right into the lightly defended riverbank opposite.
Now, as I lift and fling another shovelful of snow, I picture a rider emerging from the swirling flakes, his furred hat and his sturdy horse rimmed in white, his eyes gleaming and his bow at the ready. . .