War was a common pastime in the middle ages. Nations battled nations, cities battled cities, and villages battled villages. It is no wonder that it is the period that generated some of the greatest soldiers and military units in history. This is a list of the best of the best – the 12 most impressive soldiers of the middle ages.
A longbow is a type of bow that is tall (roughly equal to the height of a person who uses it), is not significantly recurved and has relatively narrow limbs, that are circular or D-shaped in cross section. A Welsh or English military archer during the 14th and 15th Century was expected to shoot at least ten “aimed shots” per minute. An experienced military longbowman was expected to shoot twenty aimed shots per minute. A typical military longbow archer would be provided with between 60 and 72 arrows at the time of battle, which would last the archer from three to six minutes, at full rate of shooting. Thus, most archers would not loose arrows at this rate, as it would exhaust even the most experienced man. Not only are the arms and shoulder muscles tired from the exertion, but the fingers holding the bowstring become strained; therefore, actual rates of fire in combat would vary considerably. Ranged volleys at the beginning of the battle would differ markedly from the closer, aimed shots as the battle progressed and the enemy neared. Arrows were not unlimited, so archers and their commanders took every effort to ration their use to the situation at hand. Nonetheless, resupply during battle was available.
The Varangians or Varyags, sometimes referred to as Variagians, were Vikings, Norsemen, mostly Swedes, who went eastwards and southwards through what is now Russia, Belarus and Ukraine mainly in the 9th and 10th centuries. Engaging in trade, piracy and mercenary activities, they roamed the river systems and portages of Gardariki, reaching the Caspian Sea and Constantinople. Basil II’s distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen, whose loyalties often shifted with fatal consequences, as well as the proven loyalty of the Varangians led Basil to employ them as his personal bodyguards. This new force became known as the Varangian Guard. Over the years, new recruits from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway kept a predominantly Scandinavian cast to the organization until the late 11th century. So many Scandinavians left to enlist in the guard that a medieval Swedish law stated that no one could inherit while staying in Greece. In the 11th century, there were also two other European courts that recruited Scandinavians: Kiev Rus c. 980-1060 and London 1018-1066. Steve Runciman, in “The History of the Crusades” noted that by the time of the Emperor Alexius, the Byzantine Varangian Guard was largely recruited from Anglo-Saxons and “others who had suffered at the hands of the Vikings and their cousins the Normans”.