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Imagine a modern day special forces soldier, armed with the best gear and training the military can offer (Limited only by what he can reasonably haul around). Now imagine him thrown into the distant past, all the way to early-medieval Europe.

Would it be reasonable for this soldier to take over a kingdom through nothing but martial force and skill?

  1. If yes, how difficult would it be?

  2. If no, why not?

In my head, it seems to me that it would be reasonably possible, as his weapons would seem nearly like magic to medieval people. But claiming a throne and holding it are two entirely different things.

Note: The soldier is only armed with the best equipment he would be able to carry, not what would be provided. Unless he could carry an entire predator drone with him, he won't have one.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems very much related to What could an average modern human achieve in medieval times?, though not a duplicate of that question. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 23 '15 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ "Limited only by what he can reasonably haul around" is a pretty strict limitation. A rifle without ammunition is just a club. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Apr 23 '15 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ Gear aside, the best training and combat skill provided by a society of overweight peace-loving computer nerds is not going to be bad, but I would hesitate to assume it would come close to the training and combat skill provided by a society of war-loving knights who orient their entire civilization around spending hours every day honing their strength and ruling through force. The best human warrior ever to live almost certainly died a long time ago. Not to mention that he's trained in the wrong things. $\endgroup$ – Leushenko Apr 23 '15 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @KSmarts - and given how we try and make military guns light to increase the ammo load, it isn't even that great a club! $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Apr 23 '15 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ How many bullets do you think a soldier carries? This isn't an FPS. He will only have 90-120 bullets. 200 tops. Maybe a single grenade as well. A modern firefight can go through thousands of rounds. Even if he scored two kills per bullet, there's not enough ammo to eliminate anything. He'd get halfway through a battalion and that'd be it. $\endgroup$ – Shane Apr 23 '15 at 19:11

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In my opinion no. I have two different areas of arguments here:

  1. He is human, after all: The same limitations as for a tank apply. In Short: limited mobility, people would get used to the 'magic', he can still be killed relativly easy (even more than a tank), he has to sleep (huge vulnerability), his items can be stolen/taken away. There may be a small chance to get to the top within a warrior society (fight for the throne), but what if this has certain weapon families to use? And for the magic part: Given some time, some people will question his 'supernatural' abilites. Even if he can forge a legend / prophecy around his items or something similar.

  2. Kingdoms are about politics, too: The abilites of good soldier are certainly not optimal to gain / hold political power. Using soldiers to excert power is really different to fighting. If he's a 'soldier by heart', fighting is his thing, I doubt he even would want to be king, because ruling and administration wouldn't be his cup of tea.

Not my native tongue :)

Edit / Update in reaction to comment/the other answer:

If you have time to plan such an action for maximum impact, you would do the following: Dont send a soldier. Send somebody (like a trained spy/diplomat/ambassador), who is really good at manipulating humans / dealing with them / administration. Then choose spezialised items for maximum impact. While a personal defence weapon with caseless ammo (for maximum bullets/weight/volume) and perhaps a grenade should be enough to take care of the fighting, if required, even given very basic combat training, the majority of the other items should be

  • surveillance items to gather intel (wires, small drones etc.)
  • Items for awe (lighters, stage magican equipment etc. to dazzle the people)
  • Item specially crafted to form legends (I have only 1 bad example. Hidden camera at the back, you are now the man 'with eyes on his back')
  • Hard to pull off: medical equipment like anti-biotics. Adds bonus of faith healing :)

These things would have much more impact imho than a human apache helicopter with a minigun :), at least in the long run. If, within your story, a trooper gets to the past by accident, this may not be possible, however

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  • $\begingroup$ Your English is really good for it not being your native tongue :). I largely agree with your points, but the reason I asked this question is that the soldier is not, in essence, like the tank of the previous questions. He is not some ambiguous power force, he is a person, who the locals could reasonably relate to. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Apr 23 '15 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ +1. Combat ability is pointless given that the locals outnumber him by several million to one. If you really want an impact on the past society, send someone skilled at intrigue and politics. There is a parallel with the Envoys in Altered Carbon and sequels by Richard Morgan -- the method of travel means they can't take any equipment, so instead the Envoys are frighteningly good at manpulating people. $\endgroup$ – Royal Canadian Bandit Jun 4 '15 at 23:21
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Ask yourself this question: if an advanced alien arrived on earth, armed with a powerful gun, but no magic protection from harm, who did not speak the language, did not know anything about how life works here, did not understand the terrain and probably couldn't even pronounce the name of the country he ended up in, do you think that alien would end up leader of the country?

I think he would end up in a research lab, a prison, or buried a box.

Your martial prowess, even with a semi-magical weapon, is useless in politics. Your soldier would end up poisoned in the first meal after uttering the words "I want to be king". Way too much dependance on all these other people, who have structures of power in place designed specifically to keep their power.

Remember that you do not become the king by shooting the previous king. You just become the guy who helped the second in line to become king, and your reward for it will be delivered on the chopping block after he has you executed for it. Maybe you'll get a pat on the back and a "nothing personal, this is just politics" before he has it done.

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    $\begingroup$ "Our superior intellect is no match for your puny weapons" -- The Simpsons $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Apr 24 '15 at 9:16
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It entirely depends on how charismatic/likable he is.

A single human, no matter how equipped, strong or trained, is just too vulnerable. If he's unlikable, at some point he's going to get killed by assassins in the night, or he'll be betrayed.

On the other hand if he has the kind of draw that can bind people to him and make them loyal, then they can help protect him when he's vulnerable. And with modern knowledge and military training he could probably take over the kingdom by training an army and taking it with force. His modern equipment will need to be hoarded for maximum impact, since he doesn't have infinite ammo or the ability to make more than field repairs.

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I heavily doubt that his combat skills and weaponry alone would make him king.

What will most likely get him the kingdom, though, is his knowledge of tactics, provided he has at least some leadership quality.
In medieval times combat tactics were practically incomparable to those of today, with camouflage being only one aspect (albeit an important one).

His weapons would quickly make him the leader of a horde, then an army, and both would be near invincible until the moment where others picked up the tactics he uses. But by that time, we would long have ran out of ammunition, since he would at minimum be forced to use his weapon every so often to prove he still held the power the weaponry promises.

So, while he would be able to gain a kingdom, holding on to it would be a completely different story.

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See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Connecticut_Yankee_in_King_Arthur%27s_Court : an engineer is sent back in time without any equipment, and improvises his way to success.

There have been a few cases in history of people rising through the ranks or successfully leading rebellions from outside, but it's rare. And you can't do it by yourself: you have to recruit enough people to your side. This can snowball if you're very lucky and charismatic. You could be the Garibaldi or the Che Guevara of your time. However, that relies very heavily on knowing the local language and culture in order to be convincing in it.

A thing to take cues from is the Lewis and Clark expedition. They took a high-powered air rifle with them, as they could recover the pellets and not worry about running out of powder. This was wonderous and convincing to the Native Americans that they met. But it didn't make them kings of America.

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You have to consider what the society the soldier enters is like. One man, even with today's best equipment, could not become the king of 13th century France, at least without exceptional political skills (to, for instance, gain the support of major nobility or whip up a peasant revolution). Militarily, he could not defeat the supporters of the crown.

However, if the soldier ends up in an 8th century England setting - more a tribal chiefdom than a kingdom - becoming a petty king just might be possible. Kingdoms of that time could be small and the number of people directly supporting the king similarly small, perhaps small enough to be defeated with modern weapons. This is highly speculative of course. The help of locals, perhaps a band of warriors or dissident peasants, would be very beneficial, but would require political and leadership skills or possibly mystical abilities, such as modern medicine, or blessings from the church.

Also, if the prevailing culture assumes that the strongest should be king, the soldier might be able to fight a duel with the king and win with his modern equipment. However, this is not very plausible in a European setting.

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While he might be able to seize power, his ability to be King would be limited by his ability to exercise political power. As a Special Forces or Special Operations Forces soldier, he may well be skilled in being able to carry out "face to face" diplomacy with people he encounters on his way, but Kingship (or even lesser nobility) often depends on forging a permanent structure of long term alliances, understandings and use of "quid pro pro".

As King, he would also need to have uncontested access to resources he could use to grant favours, cement alliances and even just buy and sell things (in the middle ages, armies and fleets were more "events" than standing forces as we understand them). Disgruntled former nobles and noble families whose estates were seized were a huge source of instability in historical times, and this would be true for your "man who would be King".

Finally, to be a good and effective King, he would have to internalize and live by a certain code of conduct understood by all. Steven Pressfield said it best in his novel "Gates of Fire":

A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men's loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them...A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.

― Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

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    $\begingroup$ While I like the first part very much, the latter (Gates of Fire) seems to be heavily romanticized and unrealistic. $\endgroup$ – openend Apr 23 '15 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ Well it is a novel. I certainly would not expect things to be quite like that should I ever go to the Sparta of that time either. Pressfield's quote does lay out the "ideal" of Kingship, and any individual who did internalize that would certainly have a much easier time with a retinue of willing followers. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Apr 23 '15 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ I do not agree with the last part :) While showing solidarity with the commoners on occasion here and there in a symbolic way, distance and a 'godgiven halo' seem to work much better, from what I read. Basically you dont want them to think 'You and I are alike' but the opposite of this. The quality you describe seems to be much better suited for a squadleader or seargant for example. $\endgroup$ – openend Apr 23 '15 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ I think you are misunderstanding the quote. Pressfield is talking about leadership, not solidarity. The best English monarchs like Henry V or Elizabeth I (or HM Elizabeth 2, for that matter) are leaders. They often do share hardships with their followers, but not just for symbolic reasons. Alexander III's armies followed him around the known world for much the same reason, and I'm sure you can find a few Kings of your own who also epitomize leadership and service to their nation/people $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Apr 23 '15 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ Your Examples have some power, I got to admit that :) Mind you, I was talking about the ACT of solidarity as a matter of leadership. My point is, that the vast majority of leaders (in history/currently known to ME) just dont lead that way, and that such behaviour is not a neccesity of effective leadership. On the other hand, you example of Alexander (the Great, I presume?) hints to me, that it may raise the effectiveness by forming a special bond. $\endgroup$ – openend Apr 23 '15 at 11:53
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Doable, but not universally, and not alone.

If the country is ruled by a well-loved king, forget it. He won't rule by threat of his weapons alone.

But if there's a strong dissenting faction - an oppressed ethnic minority, , the soldier's expertize in tactics, modern warfare and modern ideas of politics could earn him the place of the leader of a revolution, and then, leading the revolt, he can take over the kingdom.

The weaponry could be a boon - a sniper gun would make a short story of enemy leaders and the hated ruler. Arming the rebels with makeshift explosives and teaching them modern, stealthy combat techniques would enable them to overcome superior forces of the enemy army. And in the end, becoming the hero, he would have no problems being accepted as the ruler.

Of course he couldn't just be a common grunt who choose army because he was too stupid to do anything better. He'd need to be a smart person with a good empathy sense, to acquire the right allies - simultaneously friends and advisors; ones who would enable him to rule efficiently by serving the right advice and not backstab him to seize the power themselves. And yes, he would still be at risk of assassination, poisoning or just armed assault by an overwhelming enemy force (even if his army was mighty and skilled, sheer numbers of the enemy could shift the balance.) But these are standard risks of a wise king.

His worst problem would be approval of his peers. He has no "noble parentage", so winning acceptance by the elites and neighbor kings would require exquisite wit. Possibly clever political maneuvers involving religious powers could help - if he wipes heretics from an occupied catholic country, he could seek the blessing of the Pope, receiving the crown by God's will. That certainly would help his stance. Consigning a large unit of his elite troops skilled in modern battle techniques, medicine and logistics, armed with explosives and firearms, to a crusade, and actually making the crusade successful, would earn him enough of unquestioned fame that his position would be secure for a long time.

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In general I would say no. your average person is not a leader, and even well trained special forces people have limitations. While they may be great leaders, they generally are not politicians.

There are some people that could conceivably do so, but it would be by guile and judicious use of their equipment. Timeline would be important to. (besides not being able to communicate and needing to learn a local language) Becoming a trusted general for a king, become powerful and then maybe have a coop.

But just fire power would only allow maybe the ruling of a small town, especially since he would be trained well enough he could beat 2-3 dissenters with his bare hands at the same time.

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Power does make a king, but not the power of arms. That can be helpful to keep him a king afterwards, but what the Declaration of Independence says about governments "deriving their power from the consent of the governed" is more than just political rhetoric.

A ruler's power, even his military might, ultimately derives from the resources produced by his nation, which we can simplify, for the purposes of this discussion, down to the single word "taxes". At the very simplest level, a king can't maintain administrative control over a non-trivial amount of land without administrators, nor tyrannical control without an army, and if he can't pay his administrators/troops, they're not going to keep working for him for long. And if a large enough percentage of the people decide to stop contributing their taxes--and especially if they can convince the king's administrators and/or troops to side with them--he's going to lose the control he had in short order.

Even our hypothetical time-traveling soldier, whose power very literally "flows from the barrel of a gun," is dependent on scarce resources. As others have pointed out, once he runs out of bullets, there goes the source of his power. If he wanted any chance at all to prolong that power, he would need loyal followers; at the very least, a master smith and a master alchemist to produce new bullets and powder, and even that is pretty dubious when you start looking into the details of the technology involved!

Without gaining the consent of a significant fraction of the people he wanted to rule over, our would-be "king" would never become much more than a common warlord, a thug who lives by the (metaphorical) sword, and eventually dies by the (quite possibly literal) sword.

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Yes, he quite possibly could.

Things to carry:

1) Computer/smartphone.

2) Spare harddrives that can connect to 1 (with useful information on them of course).

3) Solar panels that can power up 1.

4). Not a weapon. No way to get ammo.

Useful info includes wikipedia pages (including details about all the current ruling monarchs, particularly those with secrets that we learnt about after their deaths, science textbooks, and forums answering the question "what could people do if they went back in time"

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm upvoting this just because you now have given me a mental image of the soldier surfing a saved version of worldbuilding.stackexchange. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Apr 24 '15 at 6:35
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As other answers state, to become king really requires political skill, and taking over an existing kingdom might not be do-able. However, if stable kingdoms do not exist, you might create one. This is still primarily a political act.

So the question can be restated:

"To what extent would the combat skills and equipment be helpful in supporting the political side?"

This clearly depends a lot on the local political environment.

You want:

  1. A warrior society.
  2. Significant turmoil or chaos.

An ideal time and place might be somewhere in Gaul just after the death of Attila.

The approach to take is to model Temujin, subsequently Ghengiz Khan.

In these circumstances:

  1. Contact a small warrior band (Temujin started with a remnant of family)
  2. Take it over, possibly by killing the leader.
  3. Conduct raids to demonstrate skills - these need to be both combat and tactical
  4. Distribute spoils to the band
  5. Attract more warriors
  6. Take over other bands
  7. Keep scaling up to the point of occupying towns

Temujin just kept scaling up size of army and the need for spoils. This did not really generate a stable empire. An alternative, in the presence of an initially chaotic environment is to bring peace and stability. Once in control of a town, use modern methods to train citizens in defending the town. [ Seven samurai/Magnificent seven? ]

Once the town has been defended from a roving warrior band, you have the nucleus of a small kingdom.

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