The Nitpicker’s Guide to Ancient Warfare: Training

By David Flin

This series of articles is the first draft of what will hopefully be a book published by Sgt. Frosty Publications

French soldiers training alongside a Parachute Regiment of the British Army. Photo by Cpl Robert Weideman and shared under the OGL v1.0 licence.


Before we get into the issue of training, we first need to make a distinction between warriors and soldiers. It might seem trivial, but there is a fundamental difference between them that affects how they operate, and hence what sort of training they need and get.

A warrior is an individual who fights. The core of being a warrior is that it is fundamentally individualistic. They may train exclusively to fight, or they may be predominantly employed in other activities and only called up at need. Middle Age knight, Celtic tribesman, Sioux horseman – all would be classified as warriors, training and practising as individuals.

They may well be, like the Middle Age knight, from the elite of their society, expected to take the lead in defending the community against others (or attacking other communities).

By contrast, a soldier is part of a group, by definition. They may be full time soldiers, like Roman Legionnaires, or they may be part-time soldiers, such as the Saxon fyrd or Greek hoplites. In either case, being a soldier is a job. By definition, a soldier is part of a hierarchy and is given orders by his superior officers. They train as a group and are grounded in working as a group.

As a general rule, warriors will train as individuals and soldiers will train as a group. And, also as a general rule, a group will be more effective in combat than a collection of individuals. You only have to look at the usual outcome of battles between the Roman Legions and warbands, such as Boudicca and the Celts at Watling Street.

Is training important?

It’s a question I have heard asked on more than one occasion. Surprising, really. There’s a reason soldiers and warriors train so much. Anyone who has had experience of stressful situations like combat will know that it’s hard to think straight, one gets confused and react in the old familiar ways. Put simply, you do what you’ve been trained to do. Very, very few people “rise to the occasion” under the stress of combat, despite what some people believe.

Instead, you fall to the level of your training. You act without thinking, because your brain isn’t working too well. As a result, you do what is ingrained and familiar, that you can do without thinking.

Different types of troops – steppe horse archers, pike phalanx, longbowmen, siege engineers, for example – have different skills that they need. They more they train, the better they are at it in combat.

Surprisingly enough, there’s rather more involved to a unit of effective troops than getting a bunch of people, giving them weapons, and expecting them to produce results. There’s a reason why the Spartans induced boys from the age of 7 into the agoge, training school.

The short answer to the question: “Is training important?” is an emphatic Yes.


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David Flin is a writer and owner of Sgt. Frosty Publications. His books can be found there.