Why would an unpatriotic conscripted army with a much lower number of loyal soldiers compared to random people continue to fight a losing battle against a superior rebel force, which stood to have a good chance of capturing the kingdom?

The soldiers are obviously losing, unenthusiastic, and will probably not face recriminations for deserting and going home (the king has other problems, for example, the huge rebel army on his doorstep).

What reason could the troops have to continue fighting?

EDIT: The king has limited resources (he's fighting a war!) so no enormous number of hostages. He also is unable to punish all the deserters (or even many of them) effectively, so that's not a huge worry either. Also, these conscripts are going to die or be captured if they keep fighting forever.

They do break eventually, but around 1/4 of them die first. But there is no way they are winning this battle. They know this from 5 minutes in.

EDIT: Forget the 1/4 half to die part. They actually need to kill some key rebel commanders (who are OP warriors) by somehow reaching them so I can write an awesome death scene for them.

EDIT: The soldiers in the King's army are mostly from urban areas.

  • $\begingroup$ There's the obvious reply: that the king is holding their families hostage; but you seem to be eliminating any possibility of this in the question. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Mar 18 '17 at 4:56
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The king is holding the families of 1-2 hundred thousand troops hostage. With medieval sized families that's up to a million people. That many people would be extremely difficult to round up and keep. I'll consider that he's holding a lot of random family members, and nobody knows if one of the random ones is a member of their family. Not a lot of people going to risk it, even if it's only one family member from one in a hundred soldiers. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 5:06
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ There's the Inigo Montoya justification: "You killed my first cousin twice removed's aunt-by-marriage's sister's husband. Prepare to die". They aren't interested in the King's cause, merely their own revenge. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Mar 18 '17 at 8:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What about economics and class politics? Any chance the rebels are from a despised lower class and the conscripts are fighting to protect their class privileges? As in virtually every revolution, e.g., Cuba. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Mar 18 '17 at 16:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Drugs and alcohol. There are many precedents. The greeks, Hashashins, Viking berserkers (magic mushrooms), Napoleon's troops, Nazi troops, Sierra Leone children soldiers (They would cut the children's temples, mix the drug into their wounds, and then cover it with tape), US troops (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), etc. allday.com/… $\endgroup$ – Stephan Branczyk Mar 19 '17 at 15:58

16 Answers 16


The conscripts are fighting defensively. They're fighting to protect their families, their homes, their cities, and their memories.

If the rebels aren't any better than the current government, they have zero incentive to flee, and if they're worse, they have good incentive to stay. If the Rebels are known for terrible things, like raping, pillaging, burning down cities, etc, then the conscripts are going to protect "Their" people. Even if they're not direct relatives, odds are someone in the army has one, and the conscript knows of them indirectly. If the Rebel army doesn't tolerate surrendering well, either - Harsh POW camps, executions, etc - This will only bolster the resolve to fight. If you run, and the rebels win and find you, well... It's still not fun, is it?

There's also the fact that "Probably" goes a long way. Sure, only one man in ten might be caught and punished, but what if I am that man? I don't want that to happen.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ While the government is not loved - even loathed - With an unknown enemy, you don't know what they're going to do. This can be worse than a known bad guy, because at least you know the limits of the known guys. Additionally, civilians may be evacuated from a potential conflict area, especially if a siege is imminent. The fewer mouths to feed, the longer you can hole up. The longer the conscripts stick around, the more of their friends and families get out and away from approaching army of doom. $\endgroup$ – Andon Mar 18 '17 at 2:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As mentioned in the other answer's comments, governments that use such conscript forces generally use a lot of force to ensure they stay in line. Often backed up by execution. Caught talking about "Good" exploits of the enemy? Well, you're dead. Just because things ACTUALLY happen doesn't mean the commissars SAY they happen. People might not actually believe the commissars 100%, but if you're constantly fed a line of "EVIL EVIL EVIL" you might believe there's at least one "EVIL" in there. $\endgroup$ – Andon Mar 18 '17 at 3:04
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Then we can't help you because you're insistent on specific things that are contradictory to each other, and any answer we give you will simply counter with "Yeah, but in my world..." $\endgroup$ – Andon Mar 18 '17 at 3:16
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Gryphon - "behaving honorably" is likely to be much harder to see on a battlefield than you think. Few would have the luxury of time to see how other fights are, much less get a good look at the treatment of injured or surrendered, while they are still fighting. Also, doing crazy stuff to rescue each other is likely to be worse, not better, in the conscripts' view - the enemies rebels charge and kill to save their own, are the conscripts' own, and they could assume the rebels have more reason to hate with losses of those they did crazy things for. They might see honor, but might not. $\endgroup$ – Megha Mar 18 '17 at 11:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Again, army of doom is hypothetical, and the rebels haven't actually committed any atrocities yet. => it doesn't matter whether they do or don't, what matters is what the conscripts believe; propaganda is your friend... $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Mar 18 '17 at 15:58

Fear of their local leaders

Imagine the Soviet Union in the first part of the WW2, until the Germans had nearly won.

The Soviets liked to use life force against the Germans (sending people on minefields, massive attacks against automatic gunners, and so on). Of course the body count were very high (the CCCP lost 20 million lives in the war, Germany lost 8 million, while fighting on multiple fronts).

Of course, in such a case the soldiers' primary goal was to somehow escape this hell.

Against that, on the Soviet side

  1. Desertion attempts were punished by death on the spot (it was usual on all sides of the WW2, the difference is that the Soviets had to use this punishment very often)
  2. soldiers were told that anybody captured alive by the enemy would also be punished by death (captured soldiers coming back after the war only got long forced labor camp punishments; although it was essentially an elongated death penalty in many cases)
  3. And, what is the most important: behind the front, there was a "second front". It was run on the name of "anti spy troops". Their name was "SMERS", which is the abbreviation of "death for the spies". Next to their anti spy/saboteur/diversant tasks, they had also the task to shoot any soldier without his own troop on the spot.

Despite these, desertion was still a major problem on the Soviet side, but eventually they would win.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That was helpful, thanks. However, if the Soviets had been drastically losing at any point, it would have been unlikely they could have kept their soldiers in line. Not to mention that if the Germans had broken through and destroyed the Soviet army (as the rebels are about to do) the Soviet government would have had too much to worry about to hunt down and kill every deserter, or even many of them. They would have been more likely to round them up and use them as soldiers once again. The soldiers are well aware of this. Thanks for the answer though :) $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 2:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You would be surprised at what extent a government will go to ensure control of their troops. They've gone to absurd extents - Even losing battles, if memory serves - to make sure their conscripts stay in line. Many of them would refuse to accept that losing is even possible, and stating that losing was an option was likely to get you killed on the spot. $\endgroup$ – Andon Mar 18 '17 at 2:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Gryphon My pleasure :-) In theory, the military leaders could see such an event before it happen and they can re-group their army until it is not too late (polite form of "retreat"). In the beginning, Stalin has forbidden any retreat, which also resulted major losses. Furthermore, the people was on the beginning with the Germans side, because the life in the communism wasn't a childdream for them and they hoped under the German rule it will be better. This chance was wasted by the Germans, they looked the slavs as underhumans and so handled they them. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 18 '17 at 3:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Gryphon They committed the same mistake with the arabs in North Africa and on the Middle East. With a little bit more smart top leadership, they could have easily won, consider the losses of the iraqi partisan fights after the 2003 war, not in lives (4000 soldier is nothing for the US) but in money. With a people sympathising with the Germans, and getting weapons for them, the English and the Russians couldn't ever really conquer their territories back. Unfortunately, the top leaders were idiots on both sides in this sense. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 18 '17 at 3:07
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "However, if the Soviets had been drastically losing at any point". Heres the thing, the soviets spent a large amount of the war drastically losing. But the soviet strategy was to simply just replace and continue. It was a huge meat grinder, particularly for soviet forces and citizens. But ultimately it was enough to finally break the germans (With a bit of help from the winter) $\endgroup$ – Shayne Mar 20 '17 at 6:36

Trapped and Outmaneuvered

A cornered enemy will fight back even against overwhelming force, if their only chance of escape is through said overwhelming force.

Depending on the tactical savvy of the commanders on each side, the rebels could somehow lure the conscripts into an extremely poor situation, trapping the army between the proverbial rock and a hard place. So even though the conscripts want to break and run immediately, they can't.

As an example, it sounds like the conscripted army is on the offensive against a rebel-held fort. The rebels could initially under-play their strength, allowing the conscripts' commanders to exhort them into assaulting the walls. Once the conscript army is committed (siege towers and ladders in place, battering ram smacking the doors, etc.), the rebels unleash their full capability. Archers come out of hiding and begin firing, boiling oil, flame traps, etc. The conscripts immediately realize that they've been had, but they can only disengage from the siege so quickly.

Then the reserve force the rebels had hidden nearby takes that as their cue to charge. The rebel flanking force hits the conscripts' back ranks, scattering or overwhelming the command structure and shattering any chance of an orderly withdrawal. By the time the conscripts are able to escape the encirclement, they could easily lose a quarter of their number or more.

And since you want specific over-powered rebels to be killed in the battle, they could be the ones leading the flanking charge. It's the highest-risk position on the rebel side, and if they're that powerful they might see it as their duty.

Other possible things that could prevent the army's escaping:

  • fire arrows ignite a forest fire behind them
  • a critical bridge is destroyed, trapping them against a river
  • alternately, a triggered surge of said river carries away the boats they'd used to cross it.
  • in mountainous terrain, the rebels could use siege weaponry or pre-set traps to trigger a rockslide.

etc., etc., etc...

Something similar (minus the fort) was used historically by William Wallace against the English in the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The Scots hung back while the English army began crossing a narrow bridge, then rushed them once a few thousand troops had crossed over. The portion that crossed was trapped against the river and annihilated, and the remaining English army on the other side of the river destroyed the bridge and withdrew.

Or in fiction, take the Battle of Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings, except give the orcs just enough time to commit to hitting the walls before the Rohirrim and Gandalf charge their flank.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Helms Deep is actually a major influence on this battle. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 9:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good answer. I like the idea that the rebels were underplaying their strength. Thanks for answering :) $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 9:28
  • $\begingroup$ Wasn't there a general who burned down his ships as an incentive for his army not to retreat? $\endgroup$ – raubvogel Nov 20 '19 at 19:44

There is little to add to the other answers, some of which I find splendid.

I would simply classify them under the five "constant factors" that Sun-Tzu outlines in his opening of the Art of War:

  1. The Moral Law: people in complete accord with their ruler (something you have excluded from the outset; but in some societies, people cannot conceive of status quo without their rulers or priests, etc., even if they hate or despise them; perhaps they are afraid of God, i.e. to die without absolution, etc.).
  2. Heaven: the time and climate in which the battles are fought (e.g. the season, it is summer and everything looks airy-fairy to the soldiers and they are actually enjoying themselves for a while; or it is winter and things are too grim to be undisciplined).
  3. Earth: the location where the battles are fought (indeed they could be lost, cornered, trapped or face annihilation one way or the other if they stop fighting or stop sticking together; it could be also that this is due to environmental dangers like drought or wild beasts, not the enemy).
  4. The Commander: "wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness". You could conceive of a highly moral and effective officer whose courage and stamina is capable to rally even the most disheartened soldiers in desperate conditions (where the previous generals had failed miserably), and instill in them the courage and honor values they were lacking in the first place. They would follow their leader because he embodies (at a minimum) the hope to return home in one piece. Take characters such as Joan of Arc, de Gaulle, Patton, etc.
  5. Method and Discipline: in essence the logistics and methods of control of the troops (unfortunately, Komissars of a totalitarian state or fear of being summarily punished could be part of it; even drugs, alas).

It could be a combination of 2 or more of these factors, of course (for example religious terror as 1. Moral Law, plus religious Komissars as 5. Method and Discipline).

But the one I would prefer, and a good opportunity to make a likable character, is the Commander. According to your plot, the Commander could safely bring the debris of the army home and finally take a higher responsibility -- by ascending the ranks or revolting against the King, or marrying his daughter, etc. -- to contribute to a happy ending of the story. Or if he is hopelessly on the wrong side, be a redeeming character that the reader is bound to respect and admire; and perhaps could die in a worthy way on the battle field, or sacrifice himself in order to advance both his cause and the opposed one (take e.g. the myth surrounding German general Erwin Rommel).

  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking mostly a combination of 5 (through kidnapped families, but each soldier doesn't know if his family is one of them, and low-level drugging of the troops), and also a extremely charismatic, (and honerable?) commander for the conscripts. Thank you, this answer was really helpful. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 12:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You're welcome! The more factors to create a rich "texture", the better. Just curious, what would be the commander's position be about the drugging of the troops? Would he think it's OK, ignore it, mildly disapprove of it, or want to stop the practice? $\endgroup$ – fralau Mar 18 '17 at 15:05

Possible reasons:

  • They are fighting for what they really care (families, holy part of their nation)
  • They have a compelling code of honor, like the samurai's bushido, for which the only onorable surrender is death
  • They are intoxicated with some fear reducing drug, which make them go berserk
  • $\begingroup$ Great ideas, especially the last one! For various reasons, the only one that will really work in my world is the first (families) and they would probably do a better job of that back at home, especially since they are obviously going to lose the battle (and die if they don't surrender) this will most likely not stop them from deserting. It will probably end up being a factor however. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ I'm actually considering the last one now. Drugs are a possibility, but it would have to be fairly mild. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 8:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The word Assassin comes from the name of a sect, the Ashishin, whose members where kept under the influence of ashish and then sent on targeted kills with the promise of being given back ashish in case of success. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Mar 18 '17 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ Didn't know that. I just meant no copping out on the problem by saying my guys that need to die get assassinated. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ That wasn't his point. His point was they're all drug addicts that are promised their next fix. Sounds like that would be induced during basic training. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Mar 18 '17 at 10:09

They don't know they're losing.

TLDR: fog of war. The battlefield is a mess and you don't know what's going on.

They don't have a battlefield observation aircraft with radar and night vision looking down on the battlefield and relaying strategic data to their HUD. Seriously, war isn't like that (except in movies).

What really happens is the fog of war - too litle information and too much useless information at once in the pandemonium of the battlefield.

That's assuming neither you nor the enemy is adding informational chaos on purpose for a tactical advantage, with smoke, vocalizations, decoys, and the like.

For a great example of battlefield data misleading commanders, look at the surrender of Detroit, where Tecumseh laid the impression of having a much larger number of fierce Indians.

Or the incident where a British special forces platoon got surrounded by a vastly superior force of experienced Iraqi guard, and the F-16 air support could see the battle but couldn't pick out the Brits because they didn't bring strobes. So the F-16’s kept their weapons on the racks and hit everybody with sonic booms along with some other nonlethal theater like flares&chaff, and some well timed fire from the British forces, to create the illusion of a full-on airstrike. This made the guard follow their trained procedures for surviving an airstrike, and while they turtled, the Brits escaped.

  • $\begingroup$ That is a great idea! If the soldiers don't realise their losing, they will press the attack long enough to kill the commanders, then realise they're going to lose and break formation. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 19 '17 at 17:48

Lots of possible reasons - 3 spring to mind immediately and have all occurred in history.

It's a sectarian, religious or minority war.

Sectarian wars are incredibly bitter and whole families are annihilated so you might as well go down fighting.

Religious wars have often been total wars with not just the losers getting killed, but everyone in sight, the ground plowed and sown with salt and wholesale slavery for the few survivors.

Minority wars give you a situation like Cambodia, etc. Bad enough in historical times, but their own history of war between Khmer and other Cambodians is even bloodier. The one we know most about was the bloodiest genocide in modern times. If you're on the losing side, just keep fighting until they get you - there is nothing after losing.

The underlying theme to all of these is that there is no downside to fighting to the death - death itself is preferable to the alternative of torture and then death. And there is no upside to surrendering.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 19 '17 at 4:49

Propaganda. Simple, yet very effective.

I'm assuming this is somewhere around medieval technology levels in general, which necessarily means medieval communications.

Sure, you say that the rebels are good and honorable people, which may even be true for the leaders (the common people will at a minimum be prone to looting, and possibly worse; you can't really expect them to be much better or worse than the conscripts). But how would the conscripts know that? They get their news from local taverns, from their neighbours/fellow soldiers, and from any heralds of the king or whoever the local noble is. They're going to get a horribly slanted picture of reality here.

Your conscripts have no way of knowing that the rebels are honorable short of being among those captured, at which point they obviously cannot communicate that news to their fellow conscripts still in the army. Even if these prisoners were released to try and spread the word, a few spies of the king could be roaming around to quietly dispose of such people. Or it could even be done openly, hauling them off for "questioning" as "rebel agents" who must obviously have been "twisted by the wiles of the rebels" or other such claims; the people aren't likely to stand against that for fear of being singled out as "rebel agents" themselves. This takes some resources, but the king's/noble's guards are going to be around already; they can be used for this purpose as well.

Also, it doesn't take much for the king in this scenario to simply have his heralds, generals, nobles, etc., inculcate the populace in the belief that the rebels are vicious savages who will massacre the families of anybody who dared to stand in their way, did not instantly join them, etc., if they are triumphant. As the king's people, they will generally be taken at their word; people might be skeptical of more exaggerated claims, but they have no perspective from the side of the rebels to counteract this. They don't even have to swallow the propaganda hook and all: simple repetition, in the absence of a reliable contradictory view, will make any rebel advocates seem untrustworthy, and people will come to believe that the rebels certainly cannot be better than the current regime.

Given all of this, your average conscript will be too afraid of the enemy to surrender by choice. The more patriotic will fight on to protect their king, the others to protect their families. A losing fight will eventually break their will, but initially the likely fate of a deserter will keep them in check.


It is safer to keep ranks and continue fighting

Presuming most of the combat is done at short-range (swords and spears) there will be a lot of carnage on the front lines, though nowhere near as much as action movies would lead one to believe. It is surprisingly difficult for two sword-and-shield fighters to incapacitate each other, until one or both become exhausted. Moreso if both fighters are heavily armored -- a suit of plates will immediately splint any broken bones. And with the adrenaline you probably won't notice your arm is broken until the battle is over.

But if we keep ranks the carnage is restricted to the front lines.

Breaking ranks and fleeing will lead to what's called a rout. The losing side drops their weapons, turns tail and flees uncontrollably. All control of the army is lost. Enemy cavalry intersperses with our fleeing troops and cuts them down from behind. Historically this is the most dangerous part of the battle.

In a rout the carnage is now everywhere.

Our fighting force is well-disciplined. They are trained to continue fighting until an orderly surrender can be achieved. Then they expect to be taken as prisoners rather then executed. Since the soldiers are conscripts, the rebel force have an incentive to not executing -- they might want to reconscript the soldiers onto their side. But you can't do that in the middle of a battle now can you?!

But is the training enough? Do you expect even the most seasoned front-liners to stick with their training once eventual defeat is assured? Probably not. But what else are they going to do? They cannot flee until the second line flees first -- otherwise they'll be the first cut down. And the second line cannot flee until the third line does. The third line is not in immediate danger. So they are sticking to the plan to fight defensively until surrender is achieved.

Fighting defensively like this you can still have local victories. The army may still push forward in parts temporarily. The enemy is winning overall, but we can still demoralise small parts of their force we can keep small parts of ours safe.


Why would a conscripted army continue to fight a losing battle??

One possible explanation. ISIS (daesh) Soldiers (marauding terrorists)

Are often high on drugs.


Its a horrible thing to think about but a fact.

  • $\begingroup$ Good point. Somebody already suggested that, and its something I've actually started to consider. Should be possible to have some very basic low-tech drug with no debilitating effects (for a few days anyway). Since the battle is only a few hours, this should work. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ Drug use goes way back to the time of the Sumerians. :( $\endgroup$ – mark Mar 18 '17 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ The vomiting, bleariness, etc. of most unrefined drugs is a problem though. You don't want your whole army to fall over sick in the middle of the battle. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 7:44
  • $\begingroup$ Makes it a little bit unfeasible. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 7:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ vice.com/en_us/article/… $\endgroup$ – mark Mar 18 '17 at 7:48


You write that the king probably won't catch deserters. That may be true. But how much should they bet on it? If the kingdom is medieval/feudal:

  • Feudal levies are raised when the king calls his dukes, the dukes call their barons, the barons call their knights, and the knights round up some hapless peasants.
  • The peasants do not own their farms. They have a (possibly hereditary) right to live there as part of their feudal rights and duties. Deserting now could give their landlord an excuse to evict them, a year from now or a decade from now, whenever he finds the time to try the miscreant.
  • The peasants might be unable to conceive a society without knights in charge. They will gripe about bad overlords, and fondly remember good ones, but the system stays.

How do the conscripts figure to go home? Through a war-ravaged country? Without supplies? Could they read a map, if they had one to start with?

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for responding :) The system isn't really feudal, and I won't go into the details, but the king randomly raises levies of troops personally, and there are no barons/dukes/earls/etc. The troops won't be dealt with now by the king (he has a rebel army to deal with), its a toss-up between the rebels and the king for who takes the kingdom, and the troops will either be killed or forced to surrender (or retreated and used in another battle, with another low chance of survival). Their chance of death/capture in battle is around 99.9% and their chance of death (continued in next comment) $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ if they desert is around 50% (the chance of the king winning, where he kills the deserter later). The only explanations I can find are that their families are being threatened, and/or they are slightly high on something. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ To answer your second concern, this is the first major battle of the war, so the country isn't exactly war-ravaged yet. They will probably be able to ask directions? (which way is east) if they can't follow the sun and will be able to ask specific directions once in the area (which road goes to Randomcityicouldntbebotheredtothinkupanamefor) $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ Also, if I didn't explain this already, many conscripts are from towns, and those that do farm (which are admittedly most), do so on a sharecropping basis with a large merchant. Their families (sons, parents, wives) would have kept up the land, and the merchant won't care as long as he gets his money. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 8:04

Conscripts are fighting to avoiding turning back on their comrades.

I've heard that it's the primary motivation. You might have zero incentive to risk your life, save that your inactivity will cause your pal, who you leave unprotected, will be slaughtered easily by enemy forces.

Of course that won't work if everybody in the troop has zero or negative motivation, and everybody just pretend to fight. I've heard Syrian army fights like that.


alamar is essentially correct in his answer. Soldiers generally fight for their comrades and their units. Large scale strategies, loyalty to causes or kings or expectations of the end result are not that important really. If the soldiers trust their leaders and each other they will fight defensively just fine. Such trust is forged by shared history and experience.

In your scenario you can simply assume that all the weak links have already deserted the army or even defected to the winning side. What is left is the hard core of people who have already been through hell and decided to get through it together instead of running. They will still break when the situation gets bad enough, but they will break together. And even after they have been broken they will try seek out each other and get out together.

Since you are talking about city folk, you can also assume that the empire formed regiments or companies of people from the same city. So soldiers would start off with some loyalty to others in their unit. You can also assume that NCOs would come from the ranks and be natural leaders popular with their troops. Not necessarily liked, but respected and followed.

For officers... Well, the officers have fast horses and political connections. What is left of them is either promoted from the ranks and more loyal to their comrades than to the king or professionals just trying to do their job with honor. In either case people the soldiers would have no problem following.

The one unreasonable thing you have to assume is that the rebels must have some reason not to remove the army by negotiation. Easiest solution would be that the rebel leaders want the leaders of the remaining army dead and that this is too obvious for diplomacy to work. The reason can be political, religious, or personal. But it should be well known and obvious.


Well, historically, militaries facing this issue came up with strategies to deal with it. Their main answer was to employ professional soldiers as noncommissioned officers ("Sergents", usually) whose primary duty was to keep conscripts from running away from battle. They would position themselves behind the back rank (because retreats and routs usually start in the rear, believe it or not) and carry out their duty by killing the first person to try to run away. Since the conscripts knew this was the plan, there was a substantial deterrent effect as well, so it often never had to come to the Sergeant killing anyone.

"Cowardice" (retreat) and desertion were also generally capital offenses, which helped, but the general theme was "fight for your king and country and god and you'll either live or be rewarded in the afterlife, or don't and you'll surely die and be subjected to the eternal fires of hell."

...and lest we think this was only done in the uncivilized middle ages, or by modern day barbarians like ISIS (who on multiple occasions treated fleeing recruits to a public execution by burning them alive), there are plenty of examples of Western governments executing recruits for "cowardice" (fleeing from battle) as recently as WW I (and more sporadic examples as recently as the Vietnam war, IIRC).

There could be other factors, as mentioned in the other answers as well, but I didn't see this, and it probably deserves mentioning, as it's been a historically common answer to thus exact problem for centuries, if not longer.


The conscripts could hate the attacking forces so much, that even though they were forced to fight they would rather keep fighting than surrender to these people. I think

A little more sinister, the other side could have a policy to "take no captives".

  • $\begingroup$ Good suggestions, but unfortunately the other side (who are defending themselves) are the 'good guys/protagonists' in the story, and they have to be honorable :( The whole point of this question was to get a/some reason(s) for them to continue to fight long enough to kill some overly OP rebels before fleeing. They're reluctant to fight for the king who has been taxing them half to death (and you thought income tax was bad, try 70-80%), but keep fighting anyway because of ? $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 8:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Gryphon do the Kings conscripts know that the rebels are the good guys? The king could of led a misinformation campaign about the rebels, "rebels eat babies" or whatever makes the conscripts really really hate the rebels. $\endgroup$ – MadisonCooper Mar 18 '17 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe, but the rebels only became a big threat around three weeks ago. Before then they were lying really, really low. That's a really fast misinformation campaign. The rebels are also being really honorable on the battlefield, so that doesn't hurt their standing in the eyes of the conscripts. $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 18 '17 at 8:14

A conscripted army might fight because of promise of rewards, a better life if the fight well, maybe they'll be killed if they're seen slacking, and maybe the officers just build up a big "Honour and Glory for the King" thing.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.