1
$\begingroup$

Background

Fans of power metal band "Gloryhammer" might have already recognized from the title of this question that I'm talking about Knights of Crail as described in a song "Hail to Crail". For a short story I have in mind I want to imitate the pathos and awe of that song and create basically a carbon copy of Knights of Crail, a tribute to the band I love and song that inspired me to write this story. In my story, the undefeated warriors loose a fight against advancing "great, bad empire" which creates the motivation for the main character to seek vengeance and kick-starts the story. The only difference between my warriors and warriors from the song other than name is that they are real life warriors from late iron age, since eagle warfare doesn't fit the "alternative history" setting I'm going for.

Problem

The part I'm struggling with is that, according to the song, Knights of Crail are "fighting battles every day". I don't know of any non-nomadic cultures, where that would be sustainable for an extended amount of time. Even if my warriors were so good that they never loose anyone in battle, eventually there would be nothing to raid and nobody to fight. If possible, I would prefer that those warriors don't travel a lot (no further than a horse could reach) and stay in the village most of the time, so viking-style raiding is not an answer I'm looking for.

Celts where ferocious warriors and my first choice for inspiration, but for most of the time they maintained peace with surrounding tribes and enjoyed their social position at the top of society. Aztecs are an interesting choice, history of Mexica people is absolutely bonkers and full of senseless bloodshed for the god of war they worshiped but the only reason why Aztecs where not annihilated is because they knew when to lay low and when to strike. If people in my story where anything like those from Valley of Mexico, in response to constant harassment my tribe would swiftly be destroyed by an alliance created to oppose it.

Additional info

Although not directly related to the question "how can iron-age sedentary warriors fight every day and not run out of people to fight", below information might be helpful to answer the question.

  1. I need to make sure that the reader feels the same veneration towards those warriors as the main character, so I'm overplaying their role in keeping the village safe and downplaying any horrors of war. Any glorification of killing needs to be omitted. The fighting needs to be justified in the eyes of contemporary readers. No killing of the weak and defenseless.
  2. My village needs to be unique in its strength among other villages. It would be nice if those warriors where also venerated in neighboring villages, their fights benefiting the community at large. It's okay if their superiority came from their training alone and plot armor, it must be clear that even if all friendly relations were severed they would still prevail without any danger.
  3. The superior strength of warriors from my village has been maintained over generations so whatever the explanation is for never-ending stream of people to fight, it must hold for at least few centuries.
  4. Warriors of this village are a significant cultural element of living there. Although I could work around the warriors not returning home every night, I imagine them returning to the village after battles every evening and telling their stories with a beer in hand while enamored youth listens in awe and admiration.
  5. Despite possessing military might over generations, nothing reminiscent of an empire should form. This is important for the narrative reason because it plays into a theme of inevitable social progress and "new" defeating the "old" ("age of warring tribes" defeated by the more advanced "age of empires") and a theme of success turning into a weakness (undefeated warriors never had a reason to adapt to modern times and imperial social structures seen as inferior, never had a reason to join forces with other tribes and form alliances).

Possible solutions

At the moment I have two ideas that could work but what I'm really not sure about is the number side of things. Even if just two opponents die in a battle every day, that makes over 700 deaths every year on the opponent side. If we consider that most of the opponents are captured and not killed this gives a gigantic, very minimal figure of 1400 slaves a year, totaling a 2300 population drain every year. That's without counting all the "epic fights" they are trained for.

First idea is that the geographic area where my village is located is modeled on Mycenaean Greece. People slowly concentrate in urban centers, devoting themselves to life of agriculture and trade and roaming bands of bandits still outnumber the settled population. My warriors leave their fortified village everyday to search for and capture or scare away those bandits, keeping the tracts safe and trade prospering. The bandits present a danger to traveling merchants and field workers but not to the fortified village. Similar but slightly different idea is that my village is located at the choke point between mountains and the sea and nomadic tribes constantly try to cross that choke point to reach worse defended areas to raid. Those ideas are not mutually exclusive and will together provide a sizable amount of foes to fight for my warriors. But I'm not sure if "every day" is guaranteed here, especially if they fail to track any enemies.

Another idea is that "great, bad empire" is close enough to the village to raid and is not very well defended for some political reason. "Real life" example of this would be a hypothetical Celtic tribe that refused to sign a pact of non-aggression with Roman Republic. My village would keep harassing them but for some political reason or because of previous defeats the Republic never did anything about it. Maybe warriors were not bordering the Republic but were secretly provided safe pass by a tribe friendly to the Republic and Romans couldn't counter-strike without invading their allies, which would result in all surrounding Celtic tribes collapsing on them in a war Rome knew they would loose. If my tribe was located close to an equivalent of Germanic tribes they could go riding either way, splitting the damage between those two regions and making it less impactful. Again, the numbers of casualties from everyday fighting seem way too big to be realistic but by spreading them over maximum territory perhaps it would allow time for those regions to be repopulated and ready to be invaded again. Going this route it would be a bit harder to paint the warriors as knights of justice but a subtle spin of "they started it" and "everyone does it anyway" should be enough.

Originally I wanted the empire to be completely foreign and appear suddenly and this idea contradicts that. However what I love about it is that sudden shift in balance of power between the tribes and the empire can be caused by the end of war in a far, far away land and ambitions of some imperial politician, making the grand, larger-than life warriors and their village from the first chapter feel even more like a small and insignificant part of the larger and indifferent world, where barely no one can make a significant impact.

Question

Although already stated multiple times, I'll reiterate the question in full, since this post turned out really long and full of details.

In a realistic setting, mirroring late Iron Age in our history, how could it be possible for a party of non-nomadic, possibly horse-riding, undefeated warriors (meaning that casualties are incredibly rare) to fight battles every day and return back home at least every few days over the span of generations and never run out of enemies to fight. At the same time, those warriors cannot engage in behavior that would paint them as obvious villains to contemporary readers, like killing and kidnapping defenseless farmers. Killing and kidnapping other warriors is permitted, as long as this is a norm in both cultures. The impossible superiority of warriors doesn't need an explanation, they just are undefeated by the power of hand-waveium and eventually defeted due to being outnumbered, outmaneuvered and outequipped by a larger-than-life power.

I'm especially interested in numbers of casualties and ways to lower the impact of those casualties over the area, since even lowest estimates give numbers that scale to huge proportions over a year of every day fighting.

$\endgroup$
6
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ According to Uderzo and Goscinny, your legendary heroes lived around the middle of the 1st century, in the one village of indomitable Gauls which stubbornly refused to submit to the Roman yoke. Their daily battles with the surrounding Romans and their world-spanning adventures are legend, and the numerous illustrated scrolls have been translated into numerous languages; quite a few were even adapted into films. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 13, 2021 at 16:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ... In other words, there is a famous series of comics and films (both animated and live action) based on the exact same premis. It is a major cultural reference in a large part of the world; any child in Europe knows who Astérix and Obélix are. (OK, maybe not all, but at least very many.) (In fact I am mildly curious to learn in what country of this world are they unknown to somebody who is interested in developing a fantasy story.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 13, 2021 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP the similarity to famous Gauls didn't escape me. The significant difference is that the village of Asterix and Obelix were pacifists, fighting a defensive battle against roman occupation presumably until the Rome itself fell. Warriors in my story were utterly defeated the first time the Empire shown their true power in a battle. $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2021 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ "The part I'm struggling with is that, according to the song, Knights of Crail are "fighting battles every day". I don't know of any non-nomadic cultures, where that would be sustainable for an extended amount of time." – well that's obviously not sustainable for any species in any time or place. The point of war is destruction and if war is habitual, rather than an occasional aberration, survival is a complete impossibility. $\endgroup$
    – Humphrey
    Sep 13, 2021 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ By way of hearsay, could you not tell the story through the eyes of an exaggerating narrator who lived this power transition long ago? "Daily they fought, nightly they celebrated. Victory was always theirs, and death they never saw". Surely can't be true, but with the right voice, it would read like "the becoming of a legend". $\endgroup$
    – fredsbend
    Sep 13, 2021 at 21:01

3 Answers 3

3
$\begingroup$

One of the conditions of this question is that these warriors cannot travel long distances (presumably for plot reasons) and thus could not go Viking. That seems to open of the obvious solution: have someone else go Viking.

If your village is constantly dealing with raiders, your heroes will have lots of people to fight. And if these raiders cross a small ocean to launch their attacks (like the actual Vikings), you can establish that they come from a heavily populated land making for an endless supply.

Think of this as very frequent Viking raids on a pre-Roman Britain.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There were no Viking raids on pre-Roman Britain. The Romans conquered (the southern part of) Britain in the 1st century CE. The Norsemen began going viking around in the 8th century CE, seven centuries later. When the Norsemen began vikinging, the Romans had left (in the 5th century), the Angles, Jutes and Saxons had come, and a large part of Britain was already speaking a Germanic language. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 13, 2021 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I'm fully aware that there were no Viking raids on pre-Roman Britain. My point was to paint a picture with words. The scenario I was describing as an answer to the question would look something like very frequent Viking raids on pre-Roman Britain. Obviously no such raids happened but it's easy to imagine what it would be like. $\endgroup$
    – legio1
    Sep 13, 2021 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I had already upvoted the answer. My comment was more in the nature of a public service for those readers who have only a hazy notion of the chronological positions of the vikings. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 13, 2021 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ How are you proposing to deal with seasonal limitations on sea travel at that time? Do raiders have some advanced ships that allow travelling during the storm season? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Sep 13, 2021 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin By not being European? There are plenty of parts of the world where travel doesn't become effectively impossible for months at a time. $\endgroup$
    – legio1
    Sep 13, 2021 at 20:44
2
$\begingroup$

I think that a better explanation would be that knights fight challengers, not raiders.

A long time ago knights established a reputation of the best warriors in known lands (it does not matter how it happened, you just need them to be known as the best of the best, the sky above the sky). Warriors of other countries and cultures come to the village to fight with knights: Some want to prove their superiority, some want to improve their skills, and some are just curious.

This explanation solves several issues with the raider-type ideas:

  • daily fights regardless of the season and weather (travel out of season is somewhat easier for small groups and skilled individuals than warbands and armies);
  • challenges also do not have to be fights to the death, so there is no issue with population size;
  • existence of the village for a long time (it is hard to explain that raiders capable of sending a never-ending stream of fighters would be dumb enough not to send a superior force after suffering several defeats);
  • challenges create a peaceful environment and a constant stream of people both of which are beneficial for the development of nearby villages;
  • no need to create alliances with neighbouring territories to repel invasions;
  • no need to change lifestyle, traditions, or improve technologies since the current status quo works just fine.
$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Try it the other way around.

The people of your village could have been allies of your "great, bad empire" before the empire turned on them. They were located at a very contested border region at the edge of the empire, fighting every day to keep the endless hordes of invading barbarian warbands out of the empire's lands.

These sort of arrangements were not uncommon in ancient times, since especially the romans tended to ally with certain tribes to gain an edge over others. (You might want to look into Caesar's German cavalry as a possible inspiration, even though they were probably mercenaries rather than allies. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/featured/caesars-elite-germanic-cavalry.html)

This should give you a situation that is conceivably close to your desired circumstances. This tribe has been allied to the empire for centuries, keeping their part of the border secure by daily battles with encroaching barbarians. Since ancient warfare was not devastatingly lethal, if you never lost a battle, the village should be able to sustain a large population of warriors especially if they receive food and resources from the empire.

If your village is only the most formidable in a long string of border villages, they might escape the horrible casualties you want to avoid by fighting larger and more deadly warbands with the assistance of other villages. Despite them probably having large numbers of dead and wounded every year, if you eliminate the need for farmers, through the empire supplying them, the society could exclusively be made up of warriors and artisans (and their families of course), giving them the capacity to stomach the losses and keep their population constant over centuries.

In order to arrive at the starting point of your story the "great, bad empire" betrays your village. Some political or cultural shift leads them to mistrust your warrior society and they try to get rid of them in one fell swoop. The group you want to remain survives the betrayal and seeks vengeance.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ This setting might actually work better than my initial idea. But it still doesn't explain where all those hordes of barbarians come from. Surely they couldn't afford invading for centuries without facing a total extinction? $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2021 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ Thats a good point but I think if the warriors also venture outside the border to keep the barbarians from settling down too close to the border, they might still be able to stay in a state of constant warfare for a long time. Maybe the lands beyond the border are steppes and nomads regularly push the barbarian tribes into the border region. And as an additional threat large nomad invasions are also an option. $\endgroup$
    – Blitz
    Sep 15, 2021 at 19:36

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .