For narrative purposes I need to have a city conquered and occupied by a neighboring empire whose eventual goal is to conquer / absorb the entire kingdom. The setting I'm aiming for is roughly equivalent to 10th century C.E. Europe, with the kingdom being conquered being a mildly decentralized feudal kingdom. There's no magic that would alter the ease or difficulty of anything. The problem is, I know just enough to know I'm unsure how a conquering force of that period would plausibly occupy a captured city (or if it's not even something that would likely happen).

Obviously the end goal would be to get the king or at least a majority of his powerful vassals to concede - which doesn't necessarily require an occupying force, but I envision this as being a strategically advantageous city for supply and logistical reasons. I'd like to avoid blundering into implausible ways to occupy the territory, but can't seem to find any good descriptions of the logistics, tactics, and organization involved for historical instances of cities being occupied during that period.

Can anyone point me in the right direction for historical examples to draw inspiration from? Even if you can just give some general examples of how garrisons might have been set up, or if it was more common in that period to enslave/conscript/disperse a local population and spread the conquered people around, etc. would be helpful.

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    $\begingroup$ What research have you done already? I really don't want to have to type 'medieval city occupation' into the googlematic and have it turn up loads of websites, articles & books that you could have found on your own! Basically, in order to best help us with this kind of question, we'd really need to know how far you've gotten already! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 28 '21 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ Example: Crusaders enter Jerusalem $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jan 28 '21 at 0:48
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    $\begingroup$ History Stack Exchange $\endgroup$
    – 11Bravo
    Jan 28 '21 at 0:58
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to look up the term "sacking (of a city)". Not for the faint of heart but it apparently was a common occurrence when a city was captured. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 '21 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ I don't feel this comment is detailed enough to warrant being an answer, but I suggest reading Machiavelli's The Prince. He covers what to do when capturing new territory. It's pretty in depth so I won't do it a disservice by trying to summarize it here. $\endgroup$
    – Morgan
    Jan 28 '21 at 13:46

Assuming that you are speaking of medieval western and central Europe...

Medieval armies did not occupy cities, or anything else. They took cities, sacked cities and villages, conquered territory etc. But occupation forces they were not.

  • Medieval armies were very small; 5000 men was a very large army: such small forces cannot occupy much. And...

  • Medieval armies were ephemeral; they assembled when called, and dispersed at the end of the campaign, rarely longer than half a year or so.

    Note that this works both for the attacker and for the defender: they both have to do something to bring the conflict to a conclusion within the limited time they can keep forces in the field.

To give a practical, if imaginary, example: let's say the army of Oltenia, all 5000 men of it, invades Muntenia. The goal is to take Targovishty, depose the Muntenian voivode and install in his place an Oltenian ban.

They march across the Olt, and they invest the city of Pitteshty. The defenders resist for a while, but anyway the city is taken -- either by assault, or by terms, or by treachery, doesn't matter.

What happens now? In a modern war, the city would be occupied by the victorious army. But this is the Middle Ages! They taken city now belongs to Oltenia. The Muntenian military are gone, one way or the other. The inhabitants don't give a toss whether they are ruled from Targovishty or from Crayova.

The Oltenians will appoint a new duke of Pitteshty, and let him sort out his new possession, or else confirm the old duke if he swears fealty to the Oltenian great ban; the army will continue towards Targovishty, to finish the business.

Things to remember:

  • In the middle ages, nations had no political dimension whatsoever; ordinary people did not have feelings of patriotism for a country. Cities changed hands as a matter of course; nobody cared much what was the name of the king.

  • In the middle ages, ordinary people did not participate in wars of their own free will. The very notion of a volunteer was unheard of. If king A takes a city from king B, the inhabitants won't care much.

  • Medieval states were very very weak and did very very little. For ordinary people, belonging to state A or to state B had no importance whatsoever.


But if you are not speaking of medieval western and central Europe, yes, there were powerful realms during the middle ages who could garrison a conquered city. Note that again the garrison is not an occupation force, but rather an ordinary military garrison; once the (Eastern) Roman empire, the Ottoman empire, the Arabs, the Persians, the Chinese took a city it was theirs. Occupation forces make sense only if the city is acknowledged to stll belong to the enemy, but needs supervision during the war; but in the middle ages this concept did not exist.

As for the logistics of such garrisons, they are simple:

Maintain a troop of soldiers in the city. The city and surrounding area will pay them, feed them, clothe them. The central goverment may send inspectors from time to time.


Well, You could just look at how the Mongol Empire did things.
Ghengiz Kahn conquered an enormous land mass with a relatively small army. He did this with a pretty simple method.

First, get the city to surrender. How or why they surrender doesn't really matter. If they don't surrender, destroy the city and kill everyone there. Then go back to the city and kill everyone who was hiding or who fled and then returned. Advertise what you did, because cities that know what happened to the last one are less likely to put up a fight.

After the surrender, go in, take whatever valuables you want, kill off a few of the feisty ones, and simply confirm or appoint a leader who will then be loyal to you. His responsibility is to send men, supplies, and tribute to you as needed. How he does it is his concern. Try to make this guy a local if you can. Then all you need to do is tell the newly installed local leader that non compliance means you will return to the city and kill him painfully, followed by the local populace, followed by burning the city to the ground, sowing the fields with salt, and so on.

At this point, you really don't have to do much. The Cities you conquer will pretty much take care of themselves. The ones that don't behave may make you have to come back and wipe the city out, but you shouldn't have to do that very often at all.


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