If peasant conscripts made up bulk of armies historically, why can't they start uprisings?Why can't they beat small armies of elites such as knights?

In recent times so many new textbooks state the bulk of armies in feudalistic societies such as Medieval Europe was not the minority elite of heavy cavalry mostly manned by the nobles of society, but peasant conscripts. Basically stuff nowadays state past texts were written by poets and other artists and scholars who were provided patronage by the rich of society thus they intentionally wrote it out to make it seem like the samurai and whatever equivalent were all wonderful cultured selfless warriors who were willing to lay down their lives for the commoners without thought and that the upperclass Sipahis were the only ones doing all the fighting while peasants were simply toiling in the field is what these artists and scholars who were being endorsed by the nobles wrote down since they were getting fat.

So basically modern historians and other writers have been trying to discredit the old claims of knights and other warrior castes by painting them as abusive thugs and other negative stuff. In particular nowadays they point out the khanate horse archers made up less than 3% of the total armies and most soldiers in a typical say feudal Japan army were drafted commoners. That these commoners did all the brutal fighting and in reality knights and such simply sat back and got most of the credit, rarely fighting. The modern narrative point out when Rajputs and such did fight, it was only after the hard work was done by the peasants, and the Samurai just swept in after victory was guaranteed and took the credit. In addition it seems nowadays a lot of writings are put out about how random medieval peasants have defeated Ottoman sultanate cavalry because the aristocratic horsemen fought like individuals while Ashigaru commoners fought in disciplined and organized formation that emphasize teamwork. Many claims are made such as how Medieval Europe was saved from the Abbasids because of common foot soldiers from lower classbackgrounds and how the poor Mongol grunt on foot gets his contribution to the rise of the Mongol Empire ignored, not because of military castes like the Khanate Mongudai and the Byzantine Cathrapachts. They now start listing incidents like Swiss Pikemen defeating Leopard's forces and Saladin's army (made up of commoners or at least people without aristocratic blood) defeating the mostly European cavalry in the Crusades. So I have to ask...........

How come peasant uprising always failed when fighting against small professional armies such as the Hindu Kshatriyas (despite the fact the peasants made up the bulk of Indian armies and even did more fighting than the Kshatriya caste did)?


If its BS that knights dominated warfare and saved Europe from Muslim raiders, Vikings, and peasants were the ones responsible for Europe's freedom, why couldn't the battle hardened peasants beat knights in battles when they rioted?Especially when according to recent historians that peasants would probably have killed knights once an enemy armies militia force was beaten or deserted and only the knights stayed to defend nobles?


I mean considering the Ashigaru farmers made up over 90% of armies in Japanese warfare, how come we never hear about former soldiers in the Tokugawa era getting their Yari spears and attacking a Samurai lord's castle? If the Samurais were as cruel as modern historians say, shouldn't the Ashigaru commoners (who received military training and were battle hardened) take out an individual lord's small armies of Samurai without any problem as they storm the castle and behead the corrupt lord?
 
Peasants do have other things to do, like farm. How many of them have the time to start rebellions?

At any rate, historically, it was the more urban (and educated) middle class (such as it was) that tended to start rebellions.
 
In recent times so many new textbooks state the bulk of armies in feudalistic societies such as Medieval Europe was not the minority elite of heavy cavalry mostly manned by the nobles of society, but peasant conscripts. Basically stuff nowadays state past texts were written by poets and other artists and scholars who were provided patronage by the rich of society thus they intentionally wrote it out to make it seem like the samurai and whatever equivalent were all wonderful cultured selfless warriors who were willing to lay down their lives for the commoners without thought and that the upperclass Sipahis were the only ones doing all the fighting while peasants were simply toiling in the field is what these artists and scholars who were being endorsed by the nobles wrote down since they were getting fat.

So basically modern historians and other writers have been trying to discredit the old claims of knights and other warrior castes by painting them as abusive thugs and other negative stuff. In particular nowadays they point out the khanate horse archers made up less than 3% of the total armies and most soldiers in a typical say feudal Japan army were drafted commoners. That these commoners did all the brutal fighting and in reality knights and such simply sat back and got most of the credit, rarely fighting. The modern narrative point out when Rajputs and such did fight, it was only after the hard work was done by the peasants, and the Samurai just swept in after victory was guaranteed and took the credit. In addition it seems nowadays a lot of writings are put out about how random medieval peasants have defeated Ottoman sultanate cavalry because the aristocratic horsemen fought like individuals while Ashigaru commoners fought in disciplined and organized formation that emphasize teamwork. Many claims are made such as how Medieval Europe was saved from the Abbasids because of common foot soldiers from lower classbackgrounds and how the poor Mongol grunt on foot gets his contribution to the rise of the Mongol Empire ignored, not because of military castes like the Khanate Mongudai and the Byzantine Cathrapachts. They now start listing incidents like Swiss Pikemen defeating Leopard's forces and Saladin's army (made up of commoners or at least people without aristocratic blood) defeating the mostly European cavalry in the Crusades. So I have to ask...........

How come peasant uprising always failed when fighting against small professional armies such as the Hindu Kshatriyas (despite the fact the peasants made up the bulk of Indian armies and even did more fighting than the Kshatriya caste did)?


If its BS that knights dominated warfare and saved Europe from Muslim raiders, Vikings, and peasants were the ones responsible for Europe's freedom, why couldn't the battle hardened peasants beat knights in battles when they rioted?Especially when according to recent historians that peasants would probably have killed knights once an enemy armies militia force was beaten or deserted and only the knights stayed to defend nobles?


I mean considering the Ashigaru farmers made up over 90% of armies in Japanese warfare, how come we never hear about former soldiers in the Tokugawa era getting their Yari spears and attacking a Samurai lord's castle? If the Samurais were as cruel as modern historians say, shouldn't the Ashigaru commoners (who received military training and were battle hardened) take out an individual lord's small armies of Samurai without any problem as they storm the castle and behead the corrupt lord?
I would say that much of what's written on modern textbooks discrediting knights and extolling peasants seem to me to say more about the writers and the modern day attitudes than what actually happened in the middle ages.
 
Peasants do have other things to do, like farm. How many of them have the time to start rebellions?

At any rate, historically, it was the more urban (and educated) middle class (such as it was) that tended to start rebellions.
Quick question, they refer to these rebellion as being started by peasants. Wouldn't the urban and rich be aristocrats?
 
I was under the impression that lower-class professional soldiers also existed and were important. And naturally their loyalty would be to the ones who can pay them.
 
Starting a rebellion is difficult, let alone carry them out. It happened (more frequently then you might think) but generally the state's power and money, often combined with the superior training and experience of local landlords usually crushed most peasant uprising before they got much past casual banditry.
 
I would say that much of what's written on modern textbooks discrediting knights and extolling peasants seem to me to say more about the writers and the modern day attitudes than what actually happened in the middle ages.
Exactly I agree with this. Obviously not all armies were elite soldiers to think so would be ludicrous the only ones who ever really had a true elite professional force were romans. In the medieval Mediterranean it was mostly the fact that it would be a split of both commoners and knights.

Look at the battle of angicourt. The British had a number of peaseants these were mostly archers with some lighter infantry and the heavy fighting was done by the knights
 
You have to remember that before mass communication technology, starting with the printing press, coordinating actions on a large scale was extremely difficult, especially if you weren't part of a pre-existing power structure. Even at the height of peasant revolts, it was never about all peasants rising en masse into a unified army, but small-scale mobs that could be dealt with one at a time by a mobile army with an established command structure. During the Harelle, for instance, most of the major cities of France came under rebel control! But the King simply gathered his professional forces and coordinated them on Paris, taking it easily, and then took each remaining city one at a time.
 
Quick question, they refer to these rebellion as being started by peasants. Wouldn't the urban and rich be aristocrats?
The aristocrats had been mostly “countryside”, not “urban” and “rich” is a vague notion: rich comparing to whom?

As far as the rebellions are involved, there were 2 main categories (in Europe):
(a) Predominantly or exclusively peasant rebellions like Jaqueria in France , Doja Rebellion in Hungary or Great Peasants’War in Germany. Usually, they lasted until the “oppressors” managed to raise some sizable force (standing armies did not, yet, exist).

(b) Urban revolts (in the Flanders, Italian cities, etc.). At least in the case of the Flanders the Ghent militias kept kicking the ass of their knightly opponents (mostly French) all the way to Rosebeke and much later Maximilian also had serious problems with putting down rebellion(s) in the Flemish (or Dutch?) provinces.

Now, as far as the initial premise is involved, the politically correct modern historians tend to put together a lot of different things to get a desirable picture:
1. It is obviously true that the knights had been usually a minority in any army.
2. A knight usually had his personal band of the followers, all of them had been professional warriors. These followers are routinely ignored (judging by the old SHM postings of the professional medievalists) to minimize the “wrong” numbers. They also do not fit into Verbruggen’s theories about the knights routinely fight8ng in the dense, knee-to-knee formations and being almost exact copy of the modern cavalry which makes their existence extremely unwelcome.😀
3. There were professional soldiers for hire, individually or by the band. Condotta in Italy, numerous mercenary bands during the 100YW, etc. They could be foot (like most of the crossbowmen) or mounted (as condottas) but they were outside standard feudal militia. But they also were professional soldiers. There were some special cases of the “part time soldiers” (like the English yeomen) but they usually had at least some regular training. Either ignored or put into the category #5 to beef up the “right” numbers (well, socially most of them had been peasants so here you go).
4. Urban militias tended to be reasonably well organized, trained and armed. In medieval Italy they played an important role until being replaced by the mercenary bands. In the Flanders the Ghent militia defined political situation until finally was defeated. Usually ignored not to complicate the picture.
5. Peasant militias, except for Switzerland and few other places, did not have organization, training or good weapons. They were quite useful during the sieges, which were an important part of the medieval warfare: after all somebody had to do all necessary digging, construction and other unpleasant things, including scaling the walls (*). They were also capable of a general looting (important part of the medieval warfare). On a battlefield this category was pretty much useless and preferably kept in a wagenburg. But the battles were rather rare so this was OK. However, their potential value had been balanced by a need to feed them, control them on a march and defend them from the enemy so the peasant militias (Swiss excluding) were rarely used (**). To get the PC picture the numbers and scope of the militias usage are exaggerated based upon the general principle of them “being suspicious by their absense”. 😀

Why were the peasant armies (in Europe) reasonably easily beaten even when they had some professional leaders (like was the case in the Peasants War in Germany)? Because their majority did not have a military experience and they lacked an effective tactics that would allow them to use the numeric advantage. During the Peasants War in Germany the peasant troops often had the firearms and artillery but were not trained well enough to oppose the landsknechts supported by the cavalry and artillery.

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(*) Not a very noble type of activity because instead of a fair combat with your socially equal you can be hit on a head by a stone thrown by some low life form or to be forced to fight side by side with your socially inferiors. The idea was expressed quite eloquently by Bayard, when the French knights had been invited to take part in storming one of the Italian cities and, as far as the knightly class is involved, it would be close to impossible to match him in the terms of both bravery and ...er... “theoretical knowledge” of what is or is not proper. 🤪
(**) Muscovite state hade “per plough” units (посошная рать) raised from the rural areas and used almost exclusively for the siege works. They existed until at least the end of the Time of the Troubles.
 
warriors win the battles but commanders win the war.

One other important thing is that peasants during pre-enlightenment era were not as educated, which leads to them being unable to understand that they can simply kick out their feudal lords and rule themselves as a republic/other format of government. If you think your feudal lord is a representative of god(s) then you would be far less likely to fight against him.
 
In my opinion knights were perhaps more important as officers than as pure heavy cav. Peasant rebelions were mostly disorganized, but you can look into Hussite revolution in Bohemia if you want to see what fighting force drawn mostly from lower classes can do if properly organized and led. There are certainly other examples like the Swiss and various chinese rebelions.
 
I once saw a medieval knight compared to a modern fighter pilot; a highly trained professional equipped with the most lethal weaponry and the most mobility possible and thus extremely difficult to destroy. Therefore a modern analogy would be why don't infantrymen just destroy the air force on the battlefield, the answer being that they can't really. Perhaps a tank might be a more accurate analogy than a fighter-bomber, but even then a handful of tanks can dominate dozens or even hundreds of infantry.

Basically a medieval knight held all the cards, he had land therefore could support himself, buy his arms and armour and horse and give him the time he needed to train to become deadly with his weapons and horse. Further a landed knight could support a retinue of permanent fighting men, who much like the knight were equipped with weapons and armour and had the time to train to become proficient at fighting and were dependent on the knight for their sustenance. The life of a knight was full of handy things like hunting, suppressing bandits and cattle rustlers which were regular opportunities to hone the fighting and leading skills on a regular basis.

The peasant was the exact opposite, they laboured in the fields day after day in relative poverty, they had no weapons or armour nor the opportunity to train with them nor the lifestyle to allow them to experience 'action' repeatedly on a small scale to maintain combat proficiency. Thus when up against trained leaders with the backing of professional retainers they got slaughtered.
 
I am surprised this post has such a Eurocentric focus. Specifically, a number of Chinese dynasties fell to peasant revolts. For example, Liu Bang was born to a peasant family and eventually brought down the Qin dynasty and founded the Han dynasty. The Red Turban rebellion also brought down the Yuan (Mongol dynasty). Finally, Mao explicitly relied on a peasant army to bring down Chiang Kai Shek. Obviously, there are many examples of failed peasant revolts, but I would suggest the idea that peasant revolts cannot succeed it misplaced.

I would also suggest that more modern scholarship would suggest that "peasant" revolts were responsible for the fall of the Western Roman Empire. For example, the Ostrogoths were not really a coherent tribe of barbarians who moved from the territory of Gothia to the Empire with the purpose of dethroning the Emperor. Instead, they were people who chose to call themselves Ostrogoths (some of whom likely grew up speaking Gothic some of whom did not) because they felt such identification benefited them. Therefore, I would ask how different these people were from say those who chose to identify as the "Red Turbans" or as Communists in modern times.
 
I am surprised this post has such a Eurocentric focus. Specifically, a number of Chinese dynasties fell to peasant revolts. For example, Liu Bang was born to a peasant family and eventually brought down the Qin dynasty and founded the Han dynasty. The Red Turban rebellion also brought down the Yuan (Mongol dynasty). Finally, Mao explicitly relied on a peasant army to bring down Chiang Kai Shek. Obviously, there are many examples of failed peasant revolts, but I would suggest the idea that peasant revolts cannot succeed it misplaced.
I wouldn't say the OP lacked scrutiny of Asia, although it could perhaps have been more detailed. More broadly, I think his confusion was over the contradiction presented by revisionist histories of medieval warfare. If the common folk were the soul of armies, and possibly even more skilled at fighting than their noble overlords, then why wouldn't they always triumph over their effete incompetent lords?

And there's a few reasons raised here. One, this revisionist model is a caricature, and knights and samurai were good warriors at least some of the time. Two, most soldiers were peasants, but most peasants were not soldiers. Three, peasants were often not organized or unified well enough. Though they still won sometimes, as you say.

I would also suggest that more modern scholarship would suggest that "peasant" revolts were responsible for the fall of the Western Roman Empire. For example, the Ostrogoths were not really a coherent tribe of barbarians who moved from the territory of Gothia to the Empire with the purpose of dethroning the Emperor. Instead, they were people who chose to call themselves Ostrogoths (some of whom likely grew up speaking Gothic some of whom did not) because they felt such identification benefited them. Therefore, I would ask how different these people were from say those who chose to identify as the "Red Turbans" or as Communists in modern times.
I don't know enough about antiquity to answer that last question, but I'm guessing part of the issue is that the Ostrogoths and other Germanic peoples may have served in Roman armies, but were nevertheless not seen as Roman. Not universally, at least.
 
Peasant revolts don't go up against armies, they go up against states. States have money, they have contacts, they can bring in judges, they can hire mercenaries, they can do whatever is necessary to defeat a peasant revolt. If they start summarily hanging the revolutionaries they capture, while being able to keep an army in the field, then the will of the revolutionaries to keep going is damaged. If they start reprisals against the families or towns that revolutionaries come from, likewise. And the longer it goes on, the better odds that the state will win. The truth usually is that the peasant revolt has one chance, occasionally two, to win, but divided leadership, loss of will, temporary surrender by the state that is in bad faith and so on divides them and prevents them obtaining their ends
 
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