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Something I was wondering about recently. My world has a medieval/fantasy setting. Most of the factions are either empires or kingdoms and they all have some sort of standing army. In time of war, they recruit extra peasants and mercenary bands. My question is: How much would these cost? You can take a simple currency system of bronze, silver and gold coins.

Food & (basic) equipment will be provided for the soldiers, so this also counts in the cost. The basic equipment is limited to standard leather armour with wooden shield and iron swords. Ranged units would have padded armor with crossbows or longbows.

If anybody knows a source or way to calculate:

  • A) the operational cost per day for an army of 1000 soldiers
  • B) the food cost for a day for such army and
  • C) the cost of equipment for these soldiers + maintenance of said equipment. I really have no clue as how to start this.

Say that the bronze coin is worth a penny/cent and a silver is a dollar/ euro/pound. So a golden coin would be 100 dollar/euro/pound

Say the army has 100 horsemen, 400 infantry, 400 archers/crossbow men and 100 men to operate siege weapons, magi and generals.

The political build op of this kingdom would be a king and his counts/barons. It will not follow the traditional system of freemen and serfs. Instead every dweller would be a freemen, bound only to their lord by taxes. The lord would still hire these freemen to tend his lands and so on, but he would pay them in coin. A lord in this kingdom is by standard responsible for the safety of his people. The kingdom would border a large swath of 'wilderness' with higher than usual bandit activity and occasional 'monster' (orcs whatnot) attacks. Due to this I would like to think that they have a 'higher than usual' combat experience but are also more thinly populated (I guess this will influence the cost as well?).

Secondly the kingdom is 'forced' into a war because of the immoral actions of the other kingdom, this makes many of its residents eager to pick up arms and go 'fight the good fight'.

Soldiers would be provisioned by the army, so no need to buy their own food. The land of the kingdom is fertile and since there is ample land against a lower than normal population there is enough crop land/farms making the prices for it rather lower than in the neighbouring countries. The kingdom has also large deposits of iron, tin, copper and smaller yet rich deposits of gold and some other ores/minerals.

Finally they also have an allied kingdom that lies along a long mountain range, having many mineral/ore deposits. They can offer this at a 10% discount or something like that. (they are not at war (yet) but like to see the other kingdom crippled).

The armies are composed so that each of them has a couple of craftsmen of each craft, so that if some of them die, a craftsman of each craft stays available. During the campaigns these craftsmen are also ordered to have 3 apprentices to teach their craft to.

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  • $\begingroup$ To calculate this we can either use some sort of standard modern currency (e.g. USD or Euro) or we can use a fantasy currency. In the case of the latter you will have to define what your coins are (e.g. Silver dollar==$1 or gold shilling == $30). So please edit your preference into the question :-) $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 16 '15 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan You can only kind of do as you propose, because we have no assurances that gold there has the same worth as gold in the real world, due to scarcity/availability, desirability of material, etc. Like many answers on this site, it will need to come with a big disclaimer. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Apr 16 '15 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ "...the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men." - Sun Tzu, The Art of War $\endgroup$ – Aza Apr 16 '15 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ What does a medieval army cost? If you have to ask, you can't afford it. :P $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Apr 17 '15 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ Editing questions after answers have been posted is looked down upon, especially when added requirements for the answer surface. I suggest, next time, fielding your question in the question sandbox on the meta site before posting it as a final question. (Of course, you had no idea that people would respond to this as quickly as they did.) $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Apr 17 '15 at 15:45
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Some Important Groundwork

Middle-Age warfare and the cost of armies varied greatly. Some areas expected you to heed the commands of your local noble, paying your own way, meaning that it doesn't cost them anything to put together. Other times, the noble in question decided to hire mercenaries, outfit their conscripts, provide arms and armor, and so forth. This means that the cost varies quite a bit, and it depends on whatever social constructs are present in your world.

It should be noted that most medieval wars were fought with a class of people called "freemen." These were not the peasants which worked nobles' lands. These were individuals who had the right to live in cities and move between regions as they would like to. Freemen would eventually grow to encompass most of society, but that is neither here nor there for this question.

Just like today, individuals of different ranks and abilities also received different pay. Your military structure may change depending on who is available, experience, politics, and so forth. The composition of those 1 000 armed men is really important. For example, in the battle of Agincourt, the English had 7 000 archers and 1 500 men-at-arms, while the french did not retain those proportions at all.

You could buy a live, whole chicken for a half pence. Given that buying an egg-producing hen today costs about 20 USD, that means that 1 pence (in the 14th century) = 40 USD. That's a pretty steep exchange rate, but the income disparities then were huge. If you go with your $5, non-hand-plucked, non-organic, raised-with-modern-agriculture chicken, then the estimates here go down to 1/8 their cost. Obviously, all calculations here are an estimate based off of this exchange rate; take these as back-of-envelope estimates, not the end-all final say on this subject. If you develop a better exchange rate, please use that. It should be noted that values in pence are more accurate.

It should be noted that you need most of your population, as an empire, to produce grain and money so you can go off on a campaign. One of my sources claims that ~7% of your total population can fight without causing famine back home. That helps put numbers into perspective.

The Cost of Soldiers

The sources I found resulted in me determining the following daily wages:

  • Footmen: 3-4 pence (120-160 USD or 1 g 20-60 s): men wearing armor, having no horse. Likely the bulk of your army; we can call them "Light Infantry"
  • Men-At-Arms or Squire: 12 pence (480 USD or 4 g 80 s): trained soldier, heavy armor, very skilled. Call them "Heavy Infantry."
  • Knight: ~24 pence (960 USD or 9 g 60 s): Heavily armored troops, with mounts.
  • Archer (unmounted): ~6 pence (240 USD or 2 g 40 s): very useful, but need protection

If you have the composition of the English Army at Agincourt, requiring that your army must buy its own food and gear, and scaled to 1000 men (176 men-at-arms and 824 archers), they require 7056 pence, 89 424 USD, or 894 g 24 s per day. That english army was considerably cheaper than the french one they faced at Agincourt.

If you wanted a more rounded army, with say 750 footmen, 500 archers, 500 men-at-arms and 250 knights, that costs around 18000 pence, 252 000 USD, or 2520 g per day. Knight and men-at-arms are very expensive, but they are trained to fight and that cost may be worth it. This also assumes that these people are not mercenaries or somehow have higher commission than normal.

Assuming magi, generals, and siege operators average out in pay to that of a man-at-arms, we can calculate how much per day your army costs. I feel this is reasonable because magi may be very expensive, but most siege engine operators are not and are likely more common. For your army of 100 knights, 400 footmen, 400 archers, and 100 miscellaneous other skilled individuals, that would come out to 6400 pence, 256 000 USD, or 2 560 g per day.

The Equipment

You ask for:

  • 100 horses: 1 for each knight, at least 5 pounds apiece, or 240 pence (24 000 pence, 960000 USD, 9 600 g total)
  • 100 sets of knightly armor: 16 pounds, 6 shillings, 8 pence per set, or 3920 pence a set (392 000 pence, 15 680 000 USD, or 156 800 g) Armor was expensive!
  • 800 hauberks: assuming these come with a free helmet with every purchase, 5 pounds per hauberk, 960 000 pence. Converted, that's 38 400 000 USD or 384 000 g. This covers the armor of your infantry and archers.
  • 600 Spears: the medieval weapon-of-choice. This is really a catch-all for bills, lances, and halberds. Good news is that they're mostly wood, so that reduces cost. Maybe around 100 USD per new halberd. So 60 000 USD, or 600 g.
  • 600 Swords: most swords were considered side-arms. Therefore most men need one. Something like a messer or arming swords. Swords were actually pretty common, as Matt Easton (historian and HEMA instructor), says poor quality or old ones cost around 2-3 pence in the late medieval period. 1200 pence, 48 000 USD, or 480 g total.
  • 500 bows: even at 250 USD, which you can buy some warbows for, 125 000 USD total, or 12 500 g.

So that's 563 980 g to raise the equipment of an army from nothing. However, most knights and men-at-arms own their weapons and armor, so you can negate most of this cost. You have said that most individuals already have weapons and experience fighting, so I will not include this in the final cost, as I assume they have armor and weapons already.

Since your people are very martial, I am assuming they have their own swords and bows, and the knights have the equipment they need as they are professional soldiers. They fight for a living, so they want their own sets of armor and weapons.

If you are only paying for the hauberks and the halberds/bills, the cost jumps down to 384 600 USD or 3 846 g. These are one-time costs, and will make it into the final total. As long as the metal and leather gets oiled, these weapons and armor will last a long time. Oiling a sword and leather does not take much oil, but I'm unsure how much this will cost them.

The Camp

Every army needs supplies, and usually close at hand, or close enough to march from the camp to the battle, fight, and be back again within a day or so.

You've specified that you need craftsmen, at least one of each pertinent type. Really, you're looking at several blacksmiths, weavers, tanners, and carpenters. Some of those carpenters are really bowyers, people who make bows, but I'm going to assume that they're paid similarly as carpenters. My sources say that the daily wages look like:

  • Carpenters: 2 pence (80 USD or 80 s): makes all your wooden things, like staves, bows, siege engines. Follows directions from master carpenters.
  • Master Carpenter: 3 pence (120 USD or 1 g 20 s): directs carpenters, dictates plans for siege engines, and may even do some of the more tricky woodwork himself.
  • Master Weaver: 3 pence (120 USD or 1 g 20 s): makes your clothes. This is important for armor, as every piece of armor needs padding underneath to protect the wearer from the metal of the armor, in addition to combat itself. Obviously, your master weaver will have apprentices and journeymen working under him/her.

Those are the daily wages that my sources mention. I could not find another reliable source for the wages of blacksmiths or tanners, but I'm going to assume blacksmiths and carpenters are paid about the same, and tanners also do your leatherwork, which makes them as valuable as your smiths and weavers.

So, a couple of masters of each craft plus 3 apprentices per master should not be that much. At least, not much when compared to the cost of the army. Around 3 pence per day per master, 4 sets of 2 masters (8 total), 3 apprentices per master (24 apprentices), and those getting 2 pence or less each day, gives us around 72 pence, 2880 USD, or 288 g per day.

Food Costs

You gotta feed 1 000 fighting men, plus 32 other people. The national association of wheat growers says that 1 bushel of wheat is enough for 90 whole-wheat loaves of bread weighing 1 pound each. Since agriculture is this kingdom's main economic focus, I will assume food cost are low. So 1 bushel costs .59 pence, ale .75 pence, and so forth. (See the sources below!)

Your fighting men are on a high-calorie diet (like those of athletes) so they can have the strong muscles and energy they need to pound their enemies into dust. I have assumed they have similar activity levels as athletes, days of long marches or battles will very likely increase their caloric needs. Not to mention the marching and training they undoubtably need to do. So that's a 3 000 calorie diet for each of them. Each soldier, if fed on bread alone, needs around 2 loaves per day to be satisfied. That's 6 000 loaves, about 67 bushels, around 39.9 pence, 1 574 USD, or 57 g 4s per day to feed each man just bread.

Steer give your around 65% of their body weight in usable meat, so you can assume to get 750 pounds of meat per cow. You get around 800 calories from 1 pound of raw meat, so that's 560 000 calories from one cow. If you eat ~5.3 cows per day, you can feed your men on beef alone. (5.3 cows * 72 pence per cow = 381.6 pence, 15 264 USD or 152 g 64 s) Really, you're not going to do that. It is very unhealthy.

Let's go with assumption of half of the calories from beef and the other half from bread. That's is more balanced and will result in healthier men. So that's the cost of the beef halved (76 g 32 s) plus the cost of bread halved ( 18 g 7 s) to give you 94 g 39s per day to feed your men.

Obviously, whatever diet these men have will change the price, but I assumed beef and bread as those are staples for traditional European cuisine. An actual army in Europe in that period have other alternative food sources, but you may calculate them as you will.

The Grand Total Per Day

104 g 39s (food) + 2 560 g (pay) + 288 g (camp) + 3 846 g (equipment) = 6788 g 39s for the first day

2 942 g per day thereafter. (Good thing you don't need hauberks every time!)

It should be noted that these do not include many small things, entertainment, or arrows. This is an estimate covering most basic costs; a "ball park" estimate.

Good Sources Used in This Answer

John Savage wrote an article about "keeping your fantasy army a little less fantastic."

There is also an ugly, but informative page from United States Naval Academy on the costs of war in England around 1270-1400. It also lists the costs of common food items and armor in the correct period.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note that the bursar doesn't have to salary dead men. There is some slush around how these guys gets paid. They can also be docked pay for misbehavior. Notably, they might also be under orders to take the spoils of war for themselves as pay. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Apr 16 '15 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf That's a whole, live chicken. Not the half-breast that people mistakenly call breasts. I'm assuming the army will, with their swords, daggers, and other pointy bits, slaughter and prepare the animals themselves. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Apr 16 '15 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ Great research, but I am afraid it still doesn't say much. The economy of the middle age was so vastly different from the economy today that a comparison of monetary value is just not possible. Also, your whole calculation of the exchange rate hinges on comparing the price of a live chicken, which is just a single commodity of many. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Apr 16 '15 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe I have overlooked it, but don't you need to add the cost of arrows? Each arrow does take quite some time to make, shape the wood, putting on flights and then there is the steel tip. Though one arrow might not be expensive you still need thousands of arrows, and a steady production of new ones. $\endgroup$ – BentNielsen Apr 17 '15 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ And...... A roar of applause. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 17 '15 at 18:48
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Note: I'm doing this answer with modern-day costs. You will have to change them depending on the time period.


Equipment

According to the UK's Royal leather supplier, leather will cost you around £282 per square metre.

Body surface area can be calculated using the Du Bois formula:

$$ \text{A}_{\text{BS}} = 0.007184 \times W^{0.425} \times H^{0.725} $$

Given that an average soldier might be 1.75 metres tall and weigh 75kg, that gives

$$ 0.007184 \times 175^{0.425} \times 75^{0.725} $$ $$ = 1.475... $$ $$ \approx 1.5\text{ m}^2 $$

That gives a cost of £423 per suit of leather armor. Call it £400, given that not the entire body surface will be covered. For 1000 soldiers: £400,000

You can get a decent sword for £250. For 1000 soldiers: £250,000

Total: £650,000

Maintenance

This depends on how much you're going to be using your army. If they're fighting a battle every day, you can assume they'll need new armor every day and a new sword every couple of days. I'll assume they're fighting one battle per month. That means they need new armor every month and a new sword every 2.

Armor: £400,000 every month for 12 months = £4,800,000
Swords: £325,000 every month for 12 months = £3,900,000

Total: £8,700,000

Running costs

You'd want to pay your soldiers a decent amount to avoid desertions and provide an incentive for people to join. Here in the UK, that would be about £40,000 per year. For 1000 soldiers: £40,000,000.

If you're feeding them as well, then taking numbers from here and converting them, feeding one person for a week costs £33.50. In one year that's £1742, and for 1000 soldiers that becomes £1,742,000.

Total: £41,742,000

Grand Total

To set up your army and run it for a year, fighting a battle every month, you need:

$$ 650,000 + 8,700,000 + 41,742,000 $$ $$ = £51,092,000 $$

For each extra year you want to run it, you need £50,442,000.

Using the conversion rates you've provided, that gives 510,920 gold and 504,420 gold respectively.

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  • $\begingroup$ Some of those swords are for display only. Stainless steel is not a good sword material; the carbon steels are. Some HEMA enthusiasts claim that a hand-and-a-half sword is too poor of quality if it costs below 250 USD. You need to base your estimates off of the functional swords. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Apr 16 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @PipperChip No idea which they are; didn't even know some were for display. I'll get editing. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Apr 16 '15 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @PipperChip edited. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Apr 16 '15 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ As a Reference a good single handed sword for sparring will run about $300, more if modern materials are in use. Claymores, bastard swords and Hand and a Hals can run between $450-600. Heavens forgive your wallet if you want a Japanese sword of sparring quality... $\endgroup$ – ChargerIIC Apr 16 '15 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Some soldiers will be wearing mail or plate as opposed to just leather armor. You might want to include that in your cost. Also: horses, tents and other support items. $\endgroup$ – Michael McGriff Apr 16 '15 at 17:04
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As Erik mentioned in his comment, an answer is "gold pieces" or "inflation-adjusted US dollars" is impossible. You don't have a money-based economy, and teleporting in with bags of coins won't put any more food onto the table than the region has harvested. Perhaps trade patterns would change on the long run, but can you wait that long?

As a very rough rule of thumb, assume that 9 out of 10 people live in farming villages to feed the rest, and that 9 out of 10 town/city/castle inhabitants are doing necessary jobs. That leaves 1% of the population for the nobility, expendable warrior caste, or offensively deployed armies. Let's generously assume that one in three of the warrior caste are actually fighters, and not too young, too old, or the childcarers. That means 0.33% of the population can fight.

Wikipedia has figures for England. 3,000,000 people would allow 10,000 soldiers.

Notes: I'm assuming that minors, elderly, and similar non-workers are in equal proportions for all these groups. Probably not realistic. It might be possible to call up a greater levy close to home and for a short time -- if it isn't planting time, or harvest time, or winter.

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There is some nice math in this thread already, but all of this assumes modern value and modern inflation is directly back converted. People in, say, 1950, would have thought £6,000 a year is a good salary, whilst those same people today would demand £20K+. Similarly, a profitable businessman in victorian England might have £30 to his name and that would have been a good fortune.

So yes, you first need to establish how much your gold coin is worth IN YOUR ECONOMY. You say 100 dollars as an example, but its hard to work it out linearly like that. A peasant in medieval setting is unlikely to ever see a gold coin, for example, and it might be equivalent to a year's worth of labour for them, since national minimum wage is not exactly a thing back then.

Consider, for example, a Japanese Koku from the Sengoku period. This is your 'gold coin' equivalent, and its value is literally 'the amount of rice needed to feed a man for a year' (though in practice it ended up less, but the point still stands). In other words, buying yourself a beer is not going to cost you £3 (aka. 3 silvers) as does today. Its probably like a couple of coppers at most, especially if distilled stuff is the primary drink due to inavailability of good drinking water.

As already noted above, other incentives, typically land, titles, the ability to vote and have more political clout were often the rewards for military services, rather than coin directly.

Your armies food costs are also dependant on your morals and your distances from your supply. Most armies of the day would at least consider pillaging for supplies, even in their own borders, since the logistics of sending food back and forth are difficult at the best of times in low-tech, especially before canning becomes a thing.

Standing armies need salaries, as do mercenaries. Assuming that we go with the gold coin being extremely valuable, we can probably say each soldier gets paid about 20 silver + rations per month. They probably blow half of that on the camp followers (booze and wenches), another quarter on maintaining their own equipment, and then they have 5 silvers to gamble or do whatever they want with.

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    $\begingroup$ Pillaging only makes things cheaper during invasions. When you are on your home turf, pillaging just costs you twice, or more than twice since dead peasants can't feed you tomorrow. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Apr 16 '15 at 23:33
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Since trying to calculate values depends on what assumptions you are using, perhaps a simpler rule of thumb might simply be to consider that in most societies of the period, the ratio between civilians (by which I mean anyone else who has the ability to provide economic output like merchants, craftsmen, tradespeople and so on) and fighting men was about 15:1. These "Fighting men" would basically include anyone who had the training and access to equipment (believe it or not, armour and weapons were often pawned between wars; only noble households could really afford to keep entire arrays of armour and weapons in storage and do the routine upkeep when not needed).

Men at arms and Sergeants had the skills and training to not only form the core of any army or mercenary band, but could also be used as officers and NCO's to lead the freemen who chose to join up in a quest for adventure and chance at plunder (the primary way people got paid. Pillage and shares of ransoms made up the bulk of an armies pay early on, but was even a part of how military forces worked even into the 1800's...)

So to calculate how big and expensive your army will be, remember that only 1 in 15 people is really able to act in a leadership capacity, and that for the most part, the ruler expected to recoup much of the expenditure of raising an army by what he could gather in pillage and in ransoms. This did not often work out as well as expected; when Henry V did his famous campaign that culminated in Agincourt, he virtually destroyed the port of Harfleur, which required costly rebuilding for Henry's own use. As well, much of the ransom money won at the battle itself simply was never paid, since many of the French nobles did not have the amount demanded. The English were still owed 1.6 million crowns from the capture of John II during the battle of Battle of Poitiers in 1356, for example.

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Well, first of all, you need to define what types of troops you are expecting to have in your army. Professional soldiers (like roman legions) costed FAR more than peasant levies of the medieval era.

Furthermore, many soldiers (from Rome all the way through most of the medieval era) were expected to provide their OWN equipment. Peasants therefore might have been lucky to have a sturdy pitchfork.

Archers mostly used their hunting bows for warfare. Only highly trained, professional soldiers would have been provided weapons, much less armor.

So, let's look at it this way:

Say you have a standing army in Roman style: you would be paying them an annual stipend of the equivalent to pocket spending money in today's terms (something like, enough to buy extra snacks, entertainment, etc.). This is in addition to providing them with their armor and weapons (which they are expected to maintain from their pay), and their room and board.

During times of war, your 5,000 or so regular soldiers probably won't be enough, so you levy 10,000 or so peasants. You go from farm to farm, take anyone old enough to hold a spear and throw them on the front lines. If they happen to have a hunting bow they become a ranged unit. You would pay these levies nothing and provide them only the most basic food for the duration of the campaign.

o.m. is also correct in that it is hard to convert the cost to an equivalent price in today's terms, because the majority of your concern will be feeding your troops, not paying them.

Roman legions were "paid" with the promise of a plot of land after 20 years of service. That would be another way to pay.

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