In a story that I am building, I want to have an elite force of cavalrymen who are totally mute.

In typical fantasy settings, soldiers in an army loudly announce their presence on the battlefield (The Ride of the Rohirrim in LOTR, for example. Theoden's army blow horns and yell and scream as they thunder across the battlefield towards their enemy). What I want is the exact opposite of this.

In this fictional Empire, soldiers who distinguish themselves are picked out and are offered the honor of joining an Elite Cavalry Force (still haven't decided on a name for them). If they accept, their vocal cords are slashed or otherwise removed/paralyzed to keep them from making any noise. They are dressed in armor that hides their faces and resembles the servants of the God of Death in their religion.

The basic idea is that this cavalry force would enter the battlefield, fight, kill, and die, in total silence. The fact that their faces are concealed further removes any hint of humanity, and my hope is that all of this produces an extremely damaging effect on the morale of any enemy forces they might face on the battlefield.

What I want to know is mainly 2 things:

  1. Given medieval technology, is it possible to slash/remove a man's vocal cords without threatening his life? (The vocal cords are located in the larynx; would not cutting them out also incur the risk of massive blood loss during the procedure?) / Are there other ways to make a man completely silent other than simply training him to be?

  2. Is there historical precedent for a similar strategy? I have personally never heard of silent soldiers, and it seems like it would go against the ethos of chivalry/bushido/other regional versions of a warrior's code.

Edits: I see a couple different counters to my question, and I'll try to answer them as best I can.

1: Why not just a vow of silence instead of cutting their vocal cords?

The idea of a vow of silence did cross my mind, but I thought it might be possible that a vow of silence can be broken by a cry of agony. I mean, people can barely win don't laugh challenges, so I would think a "don't scream in pain when somebody stabs you" challenge would be much more difficult.

2: Soldiers need to make noise by yelling and screaming to make them aggressive.

A fair point. I think the way I would work around this is by using only instruments. The important thing is that the soldiers are silent so the enemy thinks they are almost supernatural beings. Instruments such as war drums and horns could be used to amp up morale before a fight while still maintaining the illusion of the cavalrymen's inhumanity. Plus, you might be able to psychologically condition your soldiers to actually believe that they are the servants of the God of Death.

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    $\begingroup$ "I have personally never heard of silent soldiers" well, silent anybody is generally worse than a speaking person. It's a lot harder to deal with the mute. Although, refraining from speech has been seen as a devoted holy exercise. For example, the vow of silence that some take. So, religion can indeed be a catalyst for something in this vein. We also know that some religious practices involve potentially extreme alterations to the body. I'd not be very surprised if a devout warrior takes silence as the extreme by letting his voice be removed. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 9, 2020 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ Not exacly the "mute knites" case, but there were Order of Saint_Lazarus, wich used leprosy warrios in battle - they feel amoust no pain and were not talking much. And there were disciplinary battalions in many armies for crime soldiers (up to now). And many of them were and are (un-)officialy forbiden to go in batlle with battlecry as a sign of there dishonor. $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Jan 9, 2020 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ Why is it necessary to cut their vocal cords? If you want an elite band of warriors who don't talk on the battlefield, just give them a tradition of swearing a vow of silence while on campaign. $\endgroup$
    – Priska
    Jan 9, 2020 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ What's the point of a muted knight if the horse he is riding will make noise anyway? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 9, 2020 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ I think the idea actually has some appeal. Someone who will just move forward silently will seem businesslike, and quite frightening, to the enemy, simply by being so completely different to what they are used to. You may want to add that they take their fallen with them, so nobody can check if they are actually human. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jan 9, 2020 at 11:09

4 Answers 4

  1. Humans can speak without using their vocal chords; it's called whispering.

    Technical note: sounds produced without vocal chord vibration are called unvoiced. In English, the sounds /p/, /t/, /k/, /f/ and /s/ (and others) are unvoiced; the major difference between them and their voiced counterparts /b/, /d/, /g/, /v/ and /z/ is that the vocal chords vibrate for the voiced sounds. When whispering, the vocal chords don't vibrate, and all sounds are pronounced unvoiced. Try it yourself: whisper "bid" and "pit", "zit" and "sit" and try to hear a difference.

    (Whispering is not normal speaking at a low volume. It's specifically speaking without vocal chord vibration. One can speak normally at a low volume, but that's not whispering.)

    Humans without vocal chords are not mute; they just cannot speak loud.

  2. The standard medieval way of ensuring that a slave could not speak was to cut their tongue. They were quite good at it, and were perfectly able to cut a person's tongue with very little risk of killing them.

  3. Mute slaves, that is, slaves with their tongues cut, were pretty common, especially in the Ottoman Empire. The goal being that, of course, they wouldn't be able to reveal secrets. (It didn't actually work.) Mute executioners were also not uncommon, also especially in the Ottoman Empire.

    I've never heard of mute soldiers.

  4. In western Europe it was not uncommon for monks to take vows of silence. No need for surgery when devotion can work as well.

  5. Humans can make noise without using their phonation apparatus, for example by clapping their hands.

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    $\begingroup$ Your point 4- Mute Monks, really sells the idea. Add some incense by your Bishop and you got loyal troops with the auspices from "above". Teach them Sign Language and make them also scholars. The image of holy silent chevaliers is really eavocative. $\endgroup$
    – Gustavo
    Jan 9, 2020 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ I should have mentioned this in my original question, but I actually like the idea of whispering soldiers. What I want is soldiers who don't speak "normally". The stipulation isn't so much that they can't form words (which cutting their tongues would do), but that they don't have normal voices. I would imagine whispering soldiers sound ominous and deathly. $\endgroup$
    – KaiGuyMBK
    Jan 9, 2020 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ @KaiGuyMBK whispering definitely the worst to give command during battle though, assuming the enemy create a lot of noise including your horse and depend on the helmet your cavalry already hard to hear, it may end up misheard the command which can end up fatal and not effective to give command/order to big troops especially with a lot of chain of command, and since you allowed music instrument that at least make it viable to give order or telling something to this mute cavalry since its not just to pump morale but also as an easier way to give order to the troops far away. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Jan 9, 2020 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ Speech can be very helpful at times to make your fighting more effective: "Hey, I'm out of ammo. Gimme a couple arrows, will ya?" or "Move your shield to the RIGHT, ya dope." $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jan 9, 2020 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ @KaiGuyMBK speech or scream also help to give attention or to inform the general or the commander is death or captured during battle either to enemy or friend even if you wave them around the majority troop may not notice unless other troop that can speak is nearby. it can help in disrupt the battle or the chain of command or end the battle/war quickly. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Jan 10, 2020 at 10:36

The fact that their faces are concealed further removes any hint of humanity, and my hope is that all of this produces an extremely damaging effect on the morale of any enemy forces they might face on the battlefield.

Frame challenge:

As pointed out in many comments, a band of mute knights is going to have a terrific effect on a battle field, but not in the direction you hope.

Funerals are silent, celebrations are loud.

When the supporters of a team want to protest against the team, they usually stay silent within the stadium.

If you have seen 300, you probably have felt the chills over your spine when Leonidas' soldiers shout their war cry.

Shouting, taunting, making noise, is an effective way of attacking the enemy without physical contact. Silence is a sign of submission, why would you want to give your opponents the psychological advantage of feeling superior?

It would be different if it was a group executing a covert operation: in that case the silence play at your advantage, because the enemy sees casualties without noticing any sign of attack, and panic can ensue. But that's not the case for a group of knights riding horses which are, already on their own, noisy.

  • $\begingroup$ "Silence is a sign of submission, why would you want to give your opponents the psychological advantage of feeling superior?" well, to iterate on the point of not seeming human, this can work. I've seen fiction that depicts facing the undead and being silent and unflinching can definitely shape up the shouting mob. Especially once the enemy refuses to go down (which in this case could just be good armour and theatrics). Also, at the start of its expansion, the Roman empire was really shocking to the barbarians that faced it. Superior discipline meant the Roman soldiers would not flinch $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 9, 2020 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ when their comrade went down but would just continue following orders, marching, and fighting. The hordes of screaming barbarians thought this was inhuman and could quickly crush their morale as the enemy force just kept advancing despite taking losses. That's not what a normal (screaming barbarian) human would do! So there is definitely a point for being "inhuman" when facing the enemy. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 9, 2020 at 13:06

We had a Japanese-Americans unit in WW2 who in order to invade a very dangerous base had to do so climbing up a steep cliff in total silence not an issue until you factor in it's night time and the cliff face was very prone to give way and they'd also need to fall to their deaths in silence. They vowed to do this and take the fort. As one by one they fell not a sound beyound the crumbling rocks was heard. Those who made it to the top succeeded in taking the occupied fort from the Japanese. The point?

As others have mentioned you don't need to cut your men's vocals to keep them silent give them vows, dishonor, and other things they can speak in the base or at specific times and use sign language, taps, or other things if writing isn't allowed. I get the idea that these people are suppose to be super stealth so muffle the horse's hooves with sacks and if you have carts do the same to them that is a viable stealth method of old.

The soldiers are either killed by their CO for speaking or something else is done to mar them and toss them out of the force. Its basically what incentive is there for these people to be in this group as opposed to others? How does this benefit their families more then just pride?

These people are also scouts, infiltrators, and the like I'd say not the best for front line combat unless you're also doing the immortals army strategy as well which breaks somewhat the Knight Company aspect. Your war spooks have a limited use and what happens if direct fast combat occurs? They can't shout to one another for aid, cover, or encourage or direct others to coordinate their attacks is their plan in case of discovery to always go after the goal? Or is it whomever has the opportunity is to go forth and complete the goal? Leaving those pinned down unaware the goal has accomplished or failed?

It's not impossible to do this unit its just those details and the missions they undertake need to be well constructed. Do they need/have back up plans if things go horribly wrong and what is the rules for how or when they can or must break their silence?


Would it be safer to precisely cut the nerves controlling the vocal cords, rather then cut the vocal cords themselves? A small an precise cut is easier to manage as an injury, than the risks in wriggling a sharp blade down someone's throat. Your leaders could have discovered this with a lucky survivor of an arrow or blade to the throat.


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