No Silver, No Swiss

“No silver, no Swiss,” commented Gian Trivulzio, a Milanese Condottiero during the Italian Wars. He was talking about the Swiss Mercenaries that served in the armies of the Italian City States. They were expensive and often sieges and sacks depended on the city’s ability to pay foreign soldiers.

A more recent quote “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics,” quoted to Gen. Robert H. Barrow, Commandant of the USMC.

The bravest warriors and the stoutest horses can’t fight without food and water. The most advanced military weapons can’t be operated without fuel and spare parts. Men can’t march without boots. Supplies can’t be used unless they arrive at the right place at the right time. Military supply and logistics is often if not the most important aspect of battle behind fate itself.

Yet so many fantasy and science fiction novels completely hand wave this critical aspect of military operations. Fantasy fiction is often the most grievous violator of basic common sense. Massive armies march across barren lands. Foot soldiers willing to leave their homes to die for whatever cause, yet pay is never mentioned, supplies never shown, equipment that in reality would cost a lifetime to acquire is just magically handed out.

The Cost of Infantry

During the Renaissance

Sergeants -5 Ducats per month

Corporals -3 Ducats per month

Pikemen -3 Ducats per month

Musketeers -3 Ducats per month

The Renaissance at War by Thomas F. Arnold

The above is in Venetian Ducats, one of Europe’s most popular and traded form of currency. While exact value and buying power is hard to pin down. You can approximate based on known sources. For example, Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo earned about 100-300 Ducats a year. Michelangelo earned up to 450 per statue, and he was a superstar.

The Ducal Palace in Urbino built by Federico da Montefeltro was estimated at 100,000 Ducats when it was first built. The richest Medici had savings of 200,000 and up.

Ducal Palace Urbino

Your average army had about 20,000 infantry, so you are looking at 60,000 Ducats per month in wages alone, ignoring food, water, clothing, and you know.. the really expensive aspects of an army, cavalry and artillery.

Emperor Charles V during the Schmalkaldic War took 54 artillery pieces, 10 of them were full cannon. A full cannon weighed 10,000 lbs, required 21 horses to move, and cost about 1,310 ducats. The price does not factor in the horses, carriage, spare parts, iron balls, and the wages of the 20 or so artillery men assigned to each gun.

Warfare was, and still is, monumentally expensive.

3 thoughts on “No Silver, No Swiss

  1. Alexandru,

    The biggest problem with fantasy writers is that they nevr had any military experience. I have the same problem but being interested in military history I know where to look and try to mention it in passim (how long before the supplies come in? We’ll need to conserve our rations, etc)

    Question, how should fantasy writers deal with logistics but not get bogged down on technical infodumps?
    xavier

    Like

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