random notes--crossbow specialists

Although ballesteros did occasionally utilize the bow in combat, the English longbow never quite caught on in Iberia. In the Iberian military the ballesteros were men highly specialized in the use of the crossbow.

By the fourteenth century, this weapon [the crossbow] was often built from a combination of wood, horn, and sinew. The bolts or arrows, narrower than they had been before, were designed specifically to pierce armor. Their effective range was probably about 100 meters. --Castillian Reform under Alfonso XI by Nicolas Agrait

Because they were valued for their skills with the crossbow, the ballesteros usually avoided hand-to-hand combat; however, they still wore light armor and carried swords or daggers for their defense.

The Castilian Military

Research is always my favorite part of writing. I thought I'd share some interesting things I've learned about armies and caballeros on the Iberian Peninsula during the fourteenth century. This information came from the article "Castilian Military Reform under the Reign of Alfonso XI (1312-50)" by Nicolas Agrait.

The ranks:

  • Gentes de pie (or peones) were the infantry. The peones were armed with shortened lances or spears, which were used as either missiles or to hold a defensive position by planting the butt of the spear in the ground. The peones wore a loriga (mail shirt) or light leather armor and supplemented their armor with whatever they could afford (helms, shields, etc.). The peones also wielded guisarmes. Guisarmes were "a type of pole with a long curved blade edged on the concave side with a slender spear point opposite, used to either spear opponents, to hook and forcibly dismount knights, or to sever the sinews in horses' legs."
  • Ballesteros. The ballesteros were specialists in the use of the crossbow. The bolts were narrow and designed to penetrate armor. The effective range of the 14th century crossbow was approximately 100 meters. The English longbow never gained a lot of popularity in Castile.
  • The calvary or caballeros. There were two distinctive types of cavalry: 1) the men who rode a la brida and 2) those who rode a la jineta.
    • Caballeros who rode a la brida used heavy plate armor for rider and horse. Their armor consisted of mail lorigas or hauberks reinforced with metal plates. They used straight stirrups and a high saddle.
    • Caballeros who rode a la jineta were heavily influenced by Muslim equestrian practices. These men prized speed and agility over power and protective armor. They wore only a light hauberk without plates and were armed with shorter lances and lighter swords.

More random facts:

  • The adalid. The adalid was not only an expert caballero who had adapted to riding a la jineta. Adalid also referred to specialized military officials, who were considered very valuable due to their expert knowledge of the terrain and their ability to lead their men.
  • The institution of the caballería popular. If townsmen within certain incomes chose to keep a horse and armor, they were obligated to maintain their weaponry and serve when called. In return for this service, these men were given tax exempt status for themselves and their families for so long as the mount and equipment were maintained.
  • In Castile, Alfonso XI in his Ordenamiento de León mandated that vassals were to spend their royal disbursements (known as soldadas) for the recruitment of caballeros and infantry. For every 1,100 maravedíes (roughly 55 florins), the vassal had to recruit one caballero, one lancer or spearman, and one crossbowman.

Agrait, Nicolas, "Castilian Military Reform under the Reign of Alfonso XI (1312-50)," The Journal of Medieval Military History 3 (2005): 88-126.

That concludes today's history lesson. Carry on.