Chronicles talking about wars and battles, very stingy with small details. Chroniclers passed the general course of events, noted features, for example, especially stubborn, fierce battles. Therefore, they cannot tell us about the methods of combat. Oriental and Byzantine authors are also stingy with similar details.
As a result, researchers are forced to turn to historical reconstruction. Another source may be the Scandinavian sagas. The Scandinavian warriors, both in armament and in battle techniques, were close to Russian soldiers. It is clear that sagas as a source for reconstruction of events are very unreliable. A critical analysis is needed. But still some researchers were able to isolate some of the data, and they are close to objectivity. In addition, for the writer of the saga, the description of the battle is not an end in itself, the motives of the conflict and the behavior of the heroes are usually described. The author will say: the hero “waved his sword”, “chopped off his leg”, “struck”, but we don’t recognize how the warrior moved, how exactly he struck.
Modern lovers make copies of the ancient weapons, protective weapons, try to imitate battles and individual battles. The military-historical reconstruction has become in our time a very widespread phenomenon. However, it is also far from a real battle, as well as conditional sports “martial” arts. Real military skills, like martial arts, were aimed at the destruction of the enemy. This seriously changes the psychology of battle. There are other details that greatly distinguish modern reconstruction from the real battlefield. The weapon is blunted, which increases the safety of participants, but reduces the reliability of the use of weapons. It becomes heavier than it was in antiquity. This is especially true of swords. In addition, in the modern reconstruction massively used armor, protective weapons. And the percentage of soldiers in the Old Russian army, who had helmets, not to mention chain mail and plate armor, was small. The head was protected by a regular hat. A howl from the countryside went to fight in casual clothes. In more ancient times, the Slavs could beat and naked. The only mass protective weapon was a shield. Warriors without armor were threatened not by a blunt weapon and a club mate, but by real enemies and sharp spears, sabers and axes.
Therefore, modern historians can report just a few details that can be called reliable. Where did the Russian warrior study? As previously reported, the ancient man got used to the weapon from early childhood. A knife, an ax, a bow, a hunting spear, and a brush were everyday objects of everyday life, protected from the beast and the dashing person. A particular weapon was in every family, and often it had to be used. Children accustomed to arms with the help of children's bows, spears, etc. The high level of general physical fitness of the Russian person was maintained by life itself and culture. People were constantly engaged in physical activities. Negative mass social diseases, such as alcoholism, drug addiction were absent in principle. They helped to maintain high physical readiness and such elements of folk culture as festive dances, fisticuffs.
It is obvious that military skills were purposefully developed in the princely and boyar units. Professional warriors were exempt from the need to engage in industrial and commercial activities. The availability of free time allowed to purposefully develop strength, endurance, agility, develop combat skills. When the squad prepared and change, the youths. The one with whom he worked systematically from childhood became a professional warrior, whose skills sharply distinguished him from those around him. So “Saga of Nyala” describing one of the best warriors of Iceland - Gunnar, reports that he could have been cut with both his right and left hands, well threw a spear and he had no equal in archery. "He could jump in full arms more than the height of his height and jumped back no worse than forward ...".
The ancient warrior could show his skills in two cases - in an individual duel and, what happened much more often, in the ranks. According to written sources, we know that individual fights were commonplace in Russia. So, in the Russian state there was the practice of judicial fights, when defending one's honor and dignity, one could speak for himself, or expose a specially trained fighter. The justice of God’s court, the “field” (of the judicial duel) was recognized in Russia until the 16 century. Usually such a duel took place when both parties had equal evidence, and the truth could not be determined in the usual way. “The battle of truth” existed since ancient times and was a legacy of the primitive era.
We also know about the cases of hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield - this is a duel between the Kozhemyaka and Pechenega young men (992 year). But perhaps the most famous match of this kind is the battle of Peresvet and Chelubey before the start of the Kulikovo battle. Apparently, it was a classic battle of heavily armed horsemen, the elite of the armed forces of that time. They were armed with long cavalry spears, and in this fight the main technique of heavily armed cavalry lancers was used - a ram attack.
In individual fights, most often the ratio of weapons was about equal - both warriors had a shield and a sword, or an ax. Sometimes one side could use a spear. Usually a warrior held a weapon in his right hand, a shield in his left hand in front of him. There was a certain rack. It is believed that the fighter stood half-turned to the enemy on slightly bent legs, covering most of his body with a shield (except for the head and legs below the knee). Round shields with a diameter of approximately about 90 were spread around the Rus. Cuts with a sword or an ax were struck with great force and amplitude. Icelandic sagas tell about severed limbs, severed heads and bodies. The warrior, striking, tried not to take the shield too far sideways, so as not to open up to strike the enemy. In one-on-one combat, they were perhaps the most vulnerable spot of a fighter. Round shields made it possible to maneuver well, but did not cover the whole body. The warrior had to guess the direction of the enemy's strike in order not to get hit, or to lower the shield down. It should be noted that the contractions of the sword on the sword, without shields in the sources are not marked. The swords of that time, of the Carolingian type, with their small handle and massive pommel, were not intended for fencing.
But the main area of application of combat skills was combat battle. It’s not for nothing that wall-to-wall combat was massively prevalent in Russia right up to the beginning of the 20 century. It was this kind of fight that taught the battlefield. He taught to hold the blow of the enemy, not to break the line, developed a sense of elbow, camaraderie. The basis of the old Russian “wall” is an infantryman armed with a sword, an ax, a spear and protected by a shield. The system could be tight to prevent enemy cavalry from breaking through. In this case, the front ranks were warriors armed with spears, including spears. With the help of the spears, war horses were stopped, they coped with warriors in armor of all degrees of protection. Build infantry could not be too dense. To be able to maneuver combat with a shield. This concerned infantry combat with infantry and small detachments. At the same time, the system and should not have been too stretched - too large an opening did not allow to support the neighbor and those who are in another row. In the combat battle there was no place for knightly fights one on one, they beat the enemy who is closer. In addition, a decisive and experienced adversary could have wedged into a too large opening, destroying the battle formation, which was fraught with demoralization and flight.
Battles began with the use of throwing weapons. By examples of battles between the English and the French, it is known that bows could play a decisive role in the fight. In a big battle, getting into the enemy was not as difficult as in a single target. Therefore, if the concentration of archers on one side was significant, the other side could have suffered great losses even before the commencement of melee. Salvation in this situation was one. Take cover with shields and quickly attack, rapidly throwing, shortening the distance with the enemy. And it was generally impossible to effectively fight with the cavalry detachments of archers without having the same units. It must be said that archers could be used not only at the initial stage of the battle. Already in the course of the battle, archers from the back rows could fire at the enemy.
As the order of battle approached, sulitsy — darts and throwing spears — went into action. Technically, the throw of a light spear looked like this. The fighter kept sulitsu approximately in the field of center of gravity and sent it to the target. The spear was directed not straight ahead, but slightly upward in order to determine the optimal flight path, which provided the greatest flight range. Sulitsy rushed warrior from a distance 10-30 meters.
In the battle used such a psychological weapon as a battle cry. So the Byzantine historian Lev Deacon tells about the battle cry of Russian soldiers of Prince Svyatoslav Igorevich during the battle of Dorostol: ", I.e." Romans "- the author) ...". The battle cry was of great importance. First of all, for both pagans and Christians - this was an appeal to higher powers, gods (God, the saints). The cry was a legacy of the most ancient era. A warrior of antiquity went to battle with the name of his patron god. “One!” - from the Scandinavians. A warrior could be killed at any moment, and the last thought was very important. The thought of a god-warrior was a “path” to the world of gods. Secondly, the cry was a kind of key word that introduced the squad, a special psychological state of the army, “combat trance”. Thirdly, the cry had a certain moral impact on the enemy. Finally, the battle cry was a means of strengthening the fighting spirit of the warriors, contributing to the unity of the troops, where all the fighters felt themselves as one. A unity of the troops was the key to victory.
In melee the main attack takes the first row. They tried to put heavily armed warriors, warriors in chain mail and plate armor into it. Usually the first row, like the second, was saturated with spearmen. The warriors covered themselves with shields and struck with spears, swords and shields. We must not forget that warriors usually had more than one type of primary and auxiliary weapons. For example, a spear and an ax, a sword and an ax (chasing, mace, etc.). Weapons tried to hit the one who opens. We tried to keep several opponents in sight and follow the neighbors right and left in order to help them if necessary.
In melee, the ax and sword were used in a similar manner. But in the technique of their work there were several differences. The cutting surface of the sword is higher, its weight is greater than that of an ax. The sword needs a large amplitude of impact. In addition, the probability of hitting the sword is higher due to the length of the blade. The ax was smaller and demanded from the warrior the speed and accuracy of the strike. The smaller weight of the ax made it possible to act quickly, to change the direction of the blow, to widely use deceptive movements. At the same time, the impact energy of an ax is such that even if it is blunted, it can inflict heavy damage to the enemy.
The second row, which operated under the cover of the first row, was also massively armed with spears. The spear did not require much room for maneuver and allowed to deliver quick and accurate strikes to any open part of the enemy’s body. Usually a spear used for stabbing. Although in some cases, they could deliver and chopping. But for this special spears were suitable, with long and wide tips that had extended side surfaces. The spearmen also worked not on one but on several opponents. Striking at the one who opened. Especially dangerous were stabbing in the face. In the second row, it was also possible to use wide-blade axes with a long handle. Such a weapon was well suited for inflicting strong chopping blows. At the same time, the protruding angle of the blade could be used for stabbing the enemy in the face.
We must not forget the fact that the South Russian troops from the beginning of the XI century were mostly equestrian. However, it is almost impossible to restore a horse fight by the modern historical reconstruction method. Impact of the inability to prepare real warhorses, and the warhorse itself was a weapon. According to bylins it is known that the horses of the warriors participated in battles. There is no possibility for full-fledged, long training of cavalry warriors, such a need has long disappeared.
Historians can only with a relative degree of probability suggest how the warriors in Russia fought. Widely used ram spears. At the same time, judging by the stories of sources, the spear often broke. Then saber, swords, axes, maces, tassels, and other weapons were used. Apparently, the tactics of the use of cavalry archers, inherited from the times of the Scythian-Sarmatian era, played a certain role.
Tactics and strategy
We know more about the tactics and strategies of the ancient Rus than about combat techniques. Quite a lot can be learned from the Byzantine authors, since Russia and the Slavs were constant opponents of the Byzantine Empire. The Romans carefully recorded their wars with their enemies. It is clear that these texts should be carefully analyzed. Byzantines tend to exaggerate their virtues, downplaying the achievements of the enemy. It happens that dozens of Romans and hundreds, thousands of opponents die in battles.
Procopius of Caesarea noted that Slavs of the 6th century were masters of "partisan" sabotage war. Dwellings are built in remote, hard-to-reach places, protected by forests, swamps, rivers and lakes. Slavic warriors skillfully ambushed, delivered sudden blows at the enemy. They used various military tricks. Slavs were good swimmers, skillfully forced the reservoirs. Slavic scouts skillfully hid under water, using a hollow reed inside for breathing. The Slavic warriors were armed with spears, including throwing (sulitsy), bows, shields.
Another Byzantine author, commander and emperor Mauritius Strategist speaks about the use of “partisan” tactics by Slavs in the 6th century: “When they lead a robbery life, they like to attack their enemies in wooded, narrow and steep places. They benefit from ambushes, surprise attacks and tricks, night and day, inventing numerous tricks. ” About the "robbery" life the author clearly lied. Especially considering the expansion of Byzantium itself into lands inhabited by Slavs.
Byzantine authors note that the Slavic detachments "do not seek to fight in the right battle, nor show themselves in open and even places." In principle, such a tactic was due to the tasks that were solved by the Slavic teams. The Slavic princes at that time (the so-called “era of“ military democracy ”) were aimed at seizing booty, rather than waging the“ right ”war and seizing territory. Therefore, there was no need for "general battles" with the Byzantine troops. In order to successfully complete the task, the squad had to suddenly invade enemy territory, destroy certain areas and quickly leave without engaging with troops sent against them.
The Byzantine historian, who lived at the beginning of the 7th century, Theophylact Simokatta cites the example of a successful Slavic ambush. So, when the Romean commander-in-chief, the brother of the emperor, without conducting proper intelligence and not believing that there could be an enemy nearby, orders the troops to begin the crossing. When the river was crossed by the first thousand soldiers, it was destroyed by the “barbarians”. It was an old, well-adjusted method - to strike at the enemy’s crossing, without waiting for the entire enemy army to cross.
Sources say that the Rus skillfully used the court in the war. An important role in the fighting of the Slavs was played by light river vessels — one-trees. So they were called from the fact that at the base of each vessel was laid one big hollowed out (burned) tree trunk. He was built up as needed from the boards of the board, such vessels were called ambush. The Slavs also had ships of the “river - sea” class - lodis (rooks). In almost all Russian-Byzantine wars, we see the use of fleets by Russian soldiers. Their main function was transport - they transported soldiers and cargo. Rook could carry 40 - 60 people. The number of fleets reached several hundred ships, and sometimes 2 thousands. The use of such flotillas sharply increased the mobility of the Russian army, especially when the region was saturated with rivers and lakes. The Black Sea was so mastered by the Rus that it was called Russian.
The need to resist the horsemen of the steppe quickly made cavalry squads an important part of the Russian army. As already noted above, from about the XI century, the basis of the troops in South Russia was the horse brigade. Judging by the rapid movement of the army of Svyatoslav, he had already massively used cavalry, including the auxiliary - the Pecheneg and Hungarian. And the infantry was transported by ships. Horse warriors were mostly heavily armed vigilantes, who had several types of weapons (spear, sword, saber, ax, mace, brush, etc., depending on the preferences of the warrior). But there were lightly armed archers. Thus, it was used, as the experience of Byzantium, with its heavily armed cavalry - cataphracts, and the use of fast, lightly armed horsemen, capable of sudden blows.
Battle of Novgorod and Suzdal in 1170, a fragment of the icon of 1460 of the year.
However, under Svyatoslav the infantry was still the basis of the army. And the prince himself preferred to fight on foot. The Rus during this period fought a close foot system - the “wall”. On the front, the “wall” was about 300 m and reached 10-12 in depth. In the forefront were well-armed warriors. The flanks could cover the cavalry. Attacking the "wall" could line up a ramming wedge, where the most experienced and well-armed warriors were advancing on the edge. Such a “wall” was very difficult to overthrow even the heavy Byzantine cavalry. In the decisive battle with the Romans near Adrianople in 970, the less efficient horseback flanks of Svyatoslav, the Hungarians and the Pechenegs, were ambushed and overturned, but the main Russian-Bulgarian forces continued the attack in the center and were able to decide the outcome of the battle in their favor.
In the XI-XII centuries, the Russian army will be divided into regiments. As a rule, an infantry regiment stood in the center of the battle formation — urban and rural militiamen. And on the flanks of the cavalry squads of princes and boyars (the shelves of the left and right hands). By the end of the 12th century, division into three regiments in depth was added to the division into three regiments along the front. An advanced or guard regiment will appear in front of the main forces. In the future, the main force could supplement the reserve, or an ambush regiment.