How long would it take to train a medieval pesants to become a decent:

  • spear & shield soldier
  • foot archer
  • mounted archer
  • knight equivalent for commoner (man at arms?)

For each unit type separately.

The assumption is that you have enough money, equipment & instructors.

There are plenty of ambitious recruits who want to join the army.

Peasants have no experience in fighting beside drunken brawls, nor riding beside donkeys.

This happens around 1000 AD.

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    $\begingroup$ Have they been practicing archery? $\endgroup$ Mar 14 '20 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ No in general. Maybe few hunted with small bows. $\endgroup$
    – vax
    Mar 14 '20 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean with "decent"? Some of the relevant skills take years to learn properly but few days at a "meh" level. $\endgroup$ Mar 14 '20 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ Clarification needed: can these peasants be spared on a relatively permanent basis from their ordinary agricultural work? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 14 '20 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ Where is the worldbuilding here? This seems like a question for the History stack. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Mar 14 '20 at 20:58
  1. Spear and shield infantry - around a month as absolute minimum. Hypothetically, a man can fight with spear and shield pretty fast, but you also need to train them to keep formations, etc. If they can't do that, they're going to be near useless on battlefield.

  2. Archers - forget about it. Crossbow soldier is an option, but Archers require a lot of training. Your best hope is if you have some people who use hunting bow, but you won't have many of those, as nobles usually keep the hunting rights, so only people who're assigned by them as huntsmen will be possible for you. You might convert them into acceptable archers in a month, but for normal people, it might take over a year. But for training a crossbow soldier, on the other hand, month or two is enough.

  3. Mounted Archers - no, just NO. Archery alone is a difficult skill to gain. Horseriding alone is difficult skill. Now, for a person with no previous skill in either to learn both, and also learn combined skill of shooting from a horseback - that takes time. You're looking at 2+ years minimum, assuming you have people who can teach mounted archery.

  4. Pseudo-knights - Now this depends on what you imagine by knight. Armoured heavy infantry footsoldier? A half year is complete minimum, and you might want a year(for example Roman legionary). Armoured cavalry with lances? Now again, like mounted archery, you look at minimum of 2 years.

  • $\begingroup$ Few years is fine. $\endgroup$
    – vax
    Mar 14 '20 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ For mounted archers, you probably should employ some members of nomadic tribes to train your men. For pseudoknight/cataphract/hussar, you might try to pay a broke noble knights to train your men. However, expect your pseudo-knights to be inferior to knights(who're have advantage of being well fed during their childhood) and your horse archers to come short of professionals of warring nomadic empires. So, at least in first battles, you'll have to employ superior tactics. After few victorious battles, your soldiers will grow more confident which means massive boost in military power. @vax $\endgroup$ Mar 14 '20 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ @FailusMaximus 2 years seems low for a knight, the squires trained 5-7 years ignoring the years as page. $\endgroup$ Mar 14 '20 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ @slobodan.blazeski I used term "pseudo-knight" for a reason. You're not gonna have knights anyways. Knights are noble class, who keep their own armour, etc. Part of their training was also etiquette, domain management, etc. If you focused solely on training combat, you might get this down from 14 years (Page and knight training) to some 4-5 years. But you're not trying to build elite low-noble class, you want professional army. You'll probably not be able to provide them best equipment anyways, and you'll compensate with numbers. Thus 2-3 years might be enough to get a decent cavalryman. $\endgroup$ Mar 14 '20 at 21:44

Spear and Shield: A Few Weeks of Drilling

The spear is the easiest melee weapon to use and was the core armament of all medieval armies. If you want effective troops than you’d actually need them to understand drill. Knowing how to march in step, facing movements, and obeying commands are all critical, and can be learned quite well within 7 weeks. I know this from personal experience, because modern militaries still teach the core essentials of marching.

Archers: Years

Although the basics of archery can be picked up in a day, it takes a lifetime to master. It requires significant strength and skill, so much so that we can identify the skeletons of English Longbowmen by their thicker arm bones. Archery was such a valuable skill that requires so much time that there was a law in England for several centuries that mandated the practice of archery on Sunday, a day when all other work was prohibited. Archery can be very effective for a peasant army if it was already an integrated part of their culture, like it was in England or Korea.

Knight: Lifetime

Knights started their military training when they were about 12 years old. Effective horsemanship takes years of continual practice to become good at, because you have to know how to control and trust a powerful animal and bring that animal into a brutal fight against other men riding big animals. The knight needs to be skilled enough to ride fast and hard while wearing armor, and once he makes contact he has to be able to fight from atop his horse.

Being a knight also entails using weapons that require much more skill than the common spear or cudgel. Swordsmanship also takes years of effort to become decent at, and fighting in armor is also a skill in of itself, even in the mail hauberks of 1000 AD. (Note: knights in 1000 AD are going to be in chain mail, not plate so they will be using swords kite shields more than maces, hammers or poleaxes.)

Horse Archery: Generations

It takes years to master archery and years to master horsemanship, so you can see where this is going. Horse archery requires a specific set of cavalry skills and advanced archery skills that were available to only available to two kinds of Warrior. The first were elites like samurai who spent their life training like knights, and the second were steppe nomads.

Nomads were such skilled horse archers because they spent literally their entire life preparing for it. They rode horses from an extremely young age and practiced with bows from an extremely young age, and then they practiced horse archery to get all of their wild game.

European peasants as settled farmers just don’t have the ability to do this nor do they even have the right environment. Unless if you’re being generous with what counts as “peasant” because you could have poor nomadic herdsmen in Russia or Ukraine who were vassals to some boyar, but I kind of doubt that’s what you had pictured


Well this a rather interesting question since the general rule of 1000AD was there was no formal military training as we would recognize it and for most "decent" meant "living long enough to let the professionals do their work with some degree of safety"...in short, learning formations. Luckily, this can be done rather quickly for this most part

spear and shield...easy enough - the the pointy end forward, keep your shield up, stay in formation. This can honestly be drilled in over a matter of weeks, definitely within a month.

foot archery is a bit more complicated...not the archery part, after all archers just need to fire in volleys...nuf said. The issue is getting the troops strong enough to draw bows that are actually effective against the enemy...which depends on the armor of the day and thus creates a highly variable timescale. But lets just say there's a reason in 1360's Edward III made archery practice mandatory on every Sunday and holiday for all able bodied men (ensures the muscles are built up) so starting from scratch means years before pay off actually happens.

Mounted archery is even worse - sure the bows are lighter (read that as easier to use and less effective in battle), but it still takes a while to train the archer to shoot...and then there's the horse, not only is a matter of getting the horse of the right temperament but it also needs to be trained (something taking anywhere from a week to a couple months).

As for our knight equivalent...knight training itself could easily take a decade, but that also included nonmilitary education. Even so there's a plethora of tasks to master: horsemanship, lances, swords, tactics...the list goes on and some anecdotes joking anywhere between 2-5 years of training being involved simply because of how much investiture goes into the force just on equipment

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    $\begingroup$ The Byzantines had a standing army with great military training in 1000 AD $\endgroup$ Mar 16 '20 at 3:31
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for listing the exception against a general trend $\endgroup$ Mar 23 '20 at 19:24

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