Given a fantasy setting with necromancers that can produce armies of undead, would such an army really be useful against a fully-equipped but smaller human force?

Given that:

  1. Zombies in this fantasy setting are magic based and are therefore unaffected by head injuries like other zombies.
  2. Zombies in this fantasy setting are smart enough to hold weapons, but not smart enough to wield them with any sort of skill whatsoever.
  3. Zombies in this fantasy setting usually wear armor.
  4. Zombies in this fantasy setting are controlled by necromancers, but the zombies in this fantasy setting don't seem to be able to understand anything except for the most basic of commands. (Attack, don't attack, move right, go left, and so on)
  5. Zombie army is shown to only use infantry units, with no cavalry or archers.

Also assume for the sake of argument that the human army has let's say ten thousand men (half as much as a zombie army), made up of an equal number of:

  1. Knights in heavy armor on horseback,
  2. Lightly armored foot soldiers armed with shields and swords.
  3. Heavy Longbow men.
  4. Pikemen.
  5. And have a small wooden Fortress that they can retreat back to.

All the men are well-trained professionals with competent commanders who know the strategies used throughout the Middle Ages.

My question is: would a zombie army really be an unstoppable threat (as shown in Game of Thrones and other fantasy movies and TV shows) or would a well trained, well-equipped medieval army with competent commanders easily destroy the less intelligent and untrained undead even if they were outnumbered?

Or would their lack of intelligence, skill, and inferior strategy make them easy prey for any competent medieval army?

Also assume that both sides have the resources to provide for at least light armor for all of their soldiers and heavy armor for their knights.

To clarify zombie army has 20,000 zombies, while the human army has 10,000 men.

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    $\begingroup$ Not quite what youre asking, but anyways: Leonardo da Vinci got your back $\endgroup$
    – user29956
    May 21, 2017 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ A few questions for clarity: How many zombies can a necromancer control? How do you kill these kinds of zombies if not decapitation or brain destruction? What magical weapons or effects do either side have? How mobile are these small fortress-thingeys? If the zombies have weapons, can they use them? Your description says they are not skilled with them, which is not clear. Does the warrior army have mages, wizards, clerics, or other magic users? If so, what are their offensive, defensive, and healing capabilities? Are these fast zombies, or shambling zombies? $\endgroup$ May 21, 2017 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think you understand what makes the zombie so dangerous in Game of Thrones: every battle produces huge numbers of new recruits. $\endgroup$ May 21, 2017 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ Two quick things that I think most answers ignore: 1. Cavalry horses often do more damage than their riders weapons. Horses hooves crush limbs, and could disable far more zombies than riders cutting off heads or such. In fact, an organized cattle stampede could be incredibly destructive to a zombie horde. 2. Killing the necromancer could end the entire battle/war. Armies simply need to stay alive until a small elite force of assassins can take care of your necromancer. A simple minded zombie would not be much of a body guard. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2017 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ Seems like the answeres are mostly bias towards one side or the other. Key factor is always strategy and tactics. It's the brains that win wars not muscles and since your zombies have none(at least functioning) it all falls down to how smart the necromancers controlling them are. A simple mindless horde despite all of its' undead advantages will lose to living humans who can adapt. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Dzink
    May 31, 2017 at 16:12

17 Answers 17


The difference between this and GOT is that in GOT, they aren't just outnumbered 2-1, it's far worse than that.

Where zombies excel is not in attacking knights on an open field, but in use by necromancers to attack fortifications. A pile of hundreds of them directed by a necromancer can help get them over and through things. While the individual zombie might not be so bright, the controlling mind might be. Hardholm in GOT features strategy used by the White Walker in charge, using the mindless hordes. In this case simple commands were used to great effect.

Strategies that humans can use:

  • Aim for limbs, specifically legs, but also arms. If they can't swing a weapon or walk, then they won't be as useful attacking. This is counter to aiming for center of mass, which is what you normally might do against an opponent.
  • Develop specialists and special weapons to decapitate. You said a head shot doesn't work, but if removing the head will, then there should be some elites that can do this quickly and well.

Things Humans should not bother with

  • Setting them on fire. Oh, it seems like a good idea, until they start walking towards you, on fire.
  • Archery. The reason why it's effective against humans is because they bleed to death or something vital is hit. Zombies don't have that, and most archers won't be able to totally take out a limb. Also, picture a Zombie filled with arrows. They now have a measure of protection from bladed weapons, because they've got to get through all that to strike. Unless the archers use this to pin and slow them, in a specialized manner, it's not going to be all that helpful.
  • Horses. They are more of a liability (you could get easily get pinned) against such a foe. For the specialists lopping off heads, this could be ok, but if you are targeting limbs rather than the neck and head, it's actually going to be harder to disable limbs from a horse.

Your commanders actually have to have experience in fighting these zombies in order to be effective. Otherwise they will strategize according to what they know--things like, an army tends to stop when arrows are raining down (these won't) and the concept of shock and awe simply won't work. In most battles, when the tide turns, a certain number of the enemy might flee. These won't. And if your dead can immediately be turned against you, you may not stand a chance--that's a big, big deal, and if true, your 10,000 may not stand a chance.

But your question is: Zombies, unstoppable threat vs. easy prey in your scenario.

Answer: that depends on how smart and experienced at fighting this threat the commanders on the human side are. And if their own dead can be turned against them. Unfortunately, shock and awe does work on the human army, and the effect of not being able to stop them in the same way as humans could cause morale problems.

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    $\begingroup$ Zombies would also be exceptionally well-suited for a siege. The attacking army wouldn't really need to worry about things like supply management or morale. If you want to really push on the pressure, you could even start loading zombies into catapults. $\endgroup$
    – Kaosubaloo
    May 19, 2017 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ One thing I learned from playing Fallout: Aim low. Especially if the zombie army has speedy elements and not just shamblers, you want to disable them from chasing after your defenders. Once you have a critical mass disabled and safely away from your troops, you can hit them with Greek fire. And as Erin notes, some specialists would have to evolve, such as bolas throwers and lightly-armored scythe wielders to kneecap the oncoming horde. $\endgroup$
    – Rache
    May 19, 2017 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree on the cavalry. Heavy cavalry, with barded/armored horses, would plow through a zombie horde like a scythe through crops, since zombies have little to no reflexes to react in time to defend themselves. $\endgroup$ May 22, 2017 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Hankrecords It would all depend on how dense the crowd of zombies is. If we're talking concert mosh-pit density, the horse can only move so much and it will go down, pikes or not, if they are all reaching for it. At the very least, they certainly could pull the rider off. I think the lack of reaction from z's is a disadvantage requiring new strategy. $\endgroup$ May 22, 2017 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Hankrecords Perhaps. but I think of it as a sort of death sentence to charge z's like that. Z'll just close in with no thought for themselves and there won't really be room to retreat. A better strategy would be ride by attacks--and attack the edges of the z crowd, because unlike people they won't shrink away. Dip in and out. Charging might mow some down, yes, but if they have any density at all, it's death because of how they don't react. All the tricks riders use to clear people mainly use their own self-preservation to do it. $\endgroup$ May 22, 2017 at 16:02

Watch out for fatigue

The other answers, especially of Erin Thursby, covered pretty much the subject : forget the archers, have pike formations and shieldwalls, aim for the limbs and consider how well your soldiers are trained for this kind of threat.

However, one important variable for your battle is fatigue. Fighting in heavy armor with heavy weapons is incredibly weary, most than people usually imagine. You can't fight non-stop for hours, 10 minutes are well enought to get you on your knees. Usually (aka in the real world), both armies are made up of humans with the same resistance to fatigue. But here you have zombies. They do not die easily, and they do not get exhausted. Never. They will fight until the last one of them is butchered into several pieces.

If both armies were of the same number, the humans could make rotations in the front row, allowing the soldiers to take turns to rest. But being outnumbered means that they can be flanked more easily, and partial retreat may not be an option. Thus, fighting in a natural corridor preventing the zombies to flank your army could be quite easy, but on an open field... not so much.

Because of that fundamental difference in fatigue between humans ("My heart will explode !") and zombies ("Ghâââ..." = "Don't care") exhaustion would become a far greater issue than one could expect.

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    $\begingroup$ Less effort? dismemberment is less effort? Can you imagine how long it would take to dismember someone in plate? $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 18, 2017 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @John : Yes, much less effort in this case. Dismembering moves are a core skill of about every martial art with blades I know (did Kendo and Iaido) as head and torso are often well protected. Furthermore given the "state of decay" a zombie has very likely undergone it actually takes way less strength to sever a limb than it would if it were a living human being. I'd say it's much easier to take on an armoured zombie as described than an armoured man - and you're trained for the later, so the zombie's much easier. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2017 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Patric how would it be easier? the training to bypass armor exploits things that would not harm the zombie, stabbing through gaps or puncturing weapon will not be effective. So called dismembering moves rarely achieve dismemberment, and certainly not on armored opponents, they are exaggerations. Dismembering a body is remarkably difficult even on an inert one, on a struggling armored one, dismembering a significant number would take multiple people per body and take minutes if not tens of minutes per body. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 19, 2017 at 1:44
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    $\begingroup$ Even executioners sometimes had problems with clean decapitations, and those were ideal conditions - convict had exposed, easily accesible neck, and wasn't trying to kill you. $\endgroup$
    – charlie_pl
    May 19, 2017 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ @charlie_pl - you're not aiming to execute the zombie by decapitation. You're trying to disable it as quickly as possible and then kill it, when you dealt with all of them. Breaking a leg or severing an arm will disable a zombie as much as a human being; not by pain but by impairing mobility. This gives you the chance to deal with other threats first and when it's "safe" enough you go for killing the disabled ones. $\endgroup$ May 19, 2017 at 13:35

Every battle is won before it's fought

The other replies have pointed out a lot of the horde's tactical advantages, but those are arguably counterbalanced by numerous tactical disadvantages. Either way, dwelling on tactics is ignoring the most important element of warfare. The horde would win because it has utter logistical supremacy. To wit, zombies:

  • Have no need to forage or protect a supply train. Meaning they're significantly more mobile than their human counterparts, on a strategic level. This is already a tremendous advantage, giving the horde much greater control over when and where to fight. "Speed is the essence of war", "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight" and all that jazz. The ability to weather a siege indefinitely is another plus.

  • Are immune to frostbite, disease, and heatstroke. In other words, they're basically unaffected by attrition, and can safely traverse all sorts of perilous terrain, enhancing the aforementioned mobility and further cementing their ability to choose the site of battle.

  • Never sleep, and are generally unhindered by darkness. This is first and foremost another massive mobility boost. It also gives them the edge in night attacks, which already soften some of their tactical flaws (comparative lack of martial skill; darkness is an equalizer) and augment their psychological strengths (fearlessness and a demoralizing effect on the enemy). And since we've already established that the horde has the initiative, there's not much the humans could do to prevent most of the fighting from taking place at night. If the humans discourage night attacks with expertly-fortified camps, the zombies are still free to ravage the countryside at night, eroding the humans' logistical base.

    The tirelessness also makes fleeing from the horde a nightmare: aside from costly rearguard actions, a fleeing force would have no reliable means of opening a gap between itself and its pursuers. The humans' best bet would be to scatter, which is no better than being killed, strategically.

Seems pretty cut-and-dry to me.

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    $\begingroup$ Even Romen generals, with its superior logistics, lost to many people, such as huns, Hannibal, Hermann... The Americans won their revolution with clearly inferior logistics to the British. While superior logistics is an important factor, it's not the only factor. 2-to-1 odds, but the enemy army has terrible skills... well, I think that skill difference is very important. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    May 18, 2017 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, logistics isn't the only factor. However, if the British had soldiers who didn't need to eat or sleep, had a 2:1 numerical advantage, were almost bullet-proof and didn't need provisions shipped from another continent, I dare say Canada would extend significantly further south. If the zombies cannot be replaced and they have no other support maybe you can win a war of attrition against them, but for a single battle/siege... well, it won't even happen unless the necromancer is confident he will achieve a decisive victory. $\endgroup$ May 19, 2017 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ @PipperChip yes, but you cannot win a battle unless you can kill your enemy and these zombies sound nearly invincible. Imagine using a sword to fight an invulnerable unarmed enemy that simply tries to push you over and sit on you till you starve to death. Now imagine fighting that same enemy who has a sword and is ordered to stab you on sight. You'll die eventually. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    May 20, 2017 at 4:30
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck These zombies, while durable, sound very nearly useless. Ill-aligned blades do hardly any damage. Uneven and broken ground, harrying tactics by mounted warriors, and lack of effective weapon skill could quickly render these zombies into mush. This answer addresses none of these things, and considers only logistics. Logistics are important, and the zombies have an these advantages, but the disadvantages are quite large and shouldn't be ignored. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    May 20, 2017 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ @PipperChip would you rather fight one skilled warrior that can be killed or would you rather fight two incompetent invulnerable soldiers? You have to remember that this is a 2 to 1 advantage on part of the undead and they are still intelligent. They just aren't well trained. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    May 20, 2017 at 19:52

You also need to think of the psychological side.

A general rule of thumb is that a human army will break when it loses about a third of it's number. So even if they have 'won' 10,000 to 3000 in casualties, that might be enough for the remaining humans to break for it (and rapidly get overwhelmed).

There is also the impact of them not dying. You shoot them with an arrow - they keep coming. You chop an arm off - it keeps attacking. You've cut it's legs off - now it's going for your legs whilst the next two are jumping on your shield. They have no fear and no sense of injury. So your line breaks; those in the rear echelons get spooked and start running, soon it's every man for himself.

Yes, if the defenders could stand in line, methodically chop off heads and ignore their own casualties they would probably win - but battles are not like that.

With additions as suggested..

Looking at various tactics:


Having a crowd of large horses with armored knights on them is a terrifying spectacle, if it is directed at you. Of course, the zombies feel no fear. Run them through with a spear, and you've just lost your spear. Hack with a sword and you might do some damage, but taking a head requires serious skill. Stop to fight at bay, and the mob will close in. Lose the horse, and you'll be stumbling around half-blind in heavy armor whilst zombies dogpile you. Would you charge a horde of zombies knowing that death is almost certain?


Look I made a pincushion. Time to leg it now.


Look I played skittles. Skittles getting back up. Tile to leg it even more..


In which your first rank have swords; second and third ranks have spears that protrude.

The whole point of the shieldwall is that it's meant to be safe, that's what allows people to go into combat (most people worry about dying, and a solid formation makes it harder to slope off), and it's hard to attack because the first attackers get skewered. But the zombies don't care - the first ones charge straight onto any spears, without dying, dragging them down. The next wave are onto the swordsmen, and even if you do kill them, sheer weight of numbers will overbear you, as above.

The majority of deaths in medieval battles happen in the rout, when your formation breaks up and starts to flee. Once chaos starts, the zombies have all the advantages. Every time they stab someone, break a limb, or stun an opponent they've knocked that person out of the fight; knocking them out requires serious dismemberment.

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    $\begingroup$ Probably the most relevant answer, but could do with expanding on how a lot of classical military technique relies on damaging morale - which is not effective here. Heavy cavalry charges may well kill or cripple a fair number of zombies but their real power was in disrupting formations and collapsing morale. In the proposed battle every opponent needs to be killed, and killing them requires literally chopping them to bits as no individual wound will stop them. Which also brings up Keelhaul's point about fatigue. Butchering an uncooperative corpse is hard work! $\endgroup$ May 18, 2017 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ Cannons firing chain shot might be significantly more effective against zombies than the standard cannonballs. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    May 18, 2017 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ "a human army will break when it loses about a third of it's number" - an unusually well-trained and well motivated army. Most armies would break at 1/5 to 1/4 casualties. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    May 20, 2017 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ Crushing to bits with animal hooves = chopping to bits with swords. It seems that trampling the outside edges of the horde with quick cavalry charges is not very risky and would be very effective. It would require significantly less human effort as well. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2017 at 20:39

Any well organized force could easily defeat a mass of mindless drones, even if the odds are two to one and they have to resort to hobbling them because they can't exactly be killed. Half a zombie is still a unit with no legs and not a credible threat.

The Romans proved this over and over again in antiquity. Military history and tactics matter considerably. If your individual units aren't capable of basic decision making they're pitiful cannon fodder and will be quickly mowed down by any half capable, organized force.

"Alright boys, take them out at the knees, we don't have time for this!"

  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention that using light cavalry to harry the flanks and soften up the force a bit before a full engage would be highly effective too. Or lead them into a trap/bottleneck and just create a butcher's yard. $\endgroup$
    – Hyfnae
    May 18, 2017 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Hyfnae Honestly I'm not sure that a Calvary charge would even be necessary. Seems like a shield wall and some pikemen would be able to handle it. After a short while the zombies would just be climbing over a mound of their own incapacitated... Almost said "dead" but you know zombies n' all... $\endgroup$
    – apaul
    May 18, 2017 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ Reading this, I think the zombies' best bet would be to press forward as a mob. If the front line of zombies fight, they'll be dismembered and neutralised by a trained swordsman... so don't bother. Just push forward without slowing. Even the best soldier can't remove four limbs and the head in the time it takes for the zombie to barge past. Just get the whole undead army to basically pile onto the humans and start clawing and biting. A soldier can win when it's a 2-on-1 swordfight, but perhaps not when it's 5 zombies trying to bite you while 5 more sit on your chest. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2017 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ @anaximander Yes! This. That's the advantage. You can get them to move forward and risk themselves in ways that regular thinking soldiers never would. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2017 at 16:48

All of the other answers miss a key point buried in the question; the zombies can use weapons. Instead of arming them with a sword or sword and shield arm them with a spear and shield combination, preferably a "tower" shield. The shield is there mostly to get in the way of anything that gets past the spear. The spears turn the zombies into a reasonable facsimile of a phalanx that will be hard to break open due to their lack of fear combined with armour and the fact that they will be hard to incapacitate by archers.

The knights on horseback will be rendered useless until a hole is made in the wall of spears since it is almost impossible to get horses to charge into a moving wall of death. Even when there is a hole in the line the horses are likely to refuse the charge due to the smell and unnatural qualities of the zombies. This will be most effective if the zombies can march backwards and sidewards, most humans cant do that as it is ungainly and slightly painful but your zombies won't be able to argue and are likely to be ungainly in their movements anyway. This prevents rear and flank attacks overcoming the strategy.

The archers have already been negated in most meaningful ways given that their only chance at penetrating armour (bodkin arrows) is totally useless and most other arrow types that they choose wont penetrate (at least enough to stop the zombies).

This leaves the infantry (plus dismounted knights) who are outnumbered, facing an unending sea of spears that will be constantly and untiringly jabbing at them. The shields and armour will make it hard to take down many zombies even if they can bat away the approaching spears and shields to get a chance to hit. The mass of zombie bodies will eventually push hard enough to tire them, make their ranks fall over, and overrun them. The psychological effect of the smell added to their dead buddies standing back up every so often to fight against them will make it a hard fight. The necromancers will need to be on the ball enough to use any enemy dead to their advantage, however.

Being outnumbered two to one by zombies is easy if you are on your own and they are moving slowly with short weapons as you can deal with them pretty much one at a time. Dealing with them as a mass of shielded spears that never gets tired and is bolstered by your own side is not an easy prospect.

The best way to deal with them in this case is a mixture of fire (including burning arrows) and archers targeting the necromancers. Otherwise the fact that they don't currently have a weak spot (such as the head) makes a mass of them rather hard to defeat.

Remember also that fire has its drawbacks; it will be slow to stop them and may well end up with soldiers fighting burning zombies, which is far worse that fighting just the ordinary zombies!

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    $\begingroup$ There's another aspect to the phalanx of zombies that you don't mention: exhaustion. The zombie formation is nearly unassailable, they won't break formation due to morale, and they never have to leave formation or stop marching. A human army will eventually have to leave the battlefield due to fatigue (even if both armies are just in a standoff), but the zombies can stay, or pursue to the camp. Eventually the humans will just die or fall unconscious of exhaustion; the zombies never have to engage, just fend off successful engagements from the humans. $\endgroup$
    – Delioth
    May 18, 2017 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @delioth I thought that I had said that. I may revise $\endgroup$
    – MD-Tech
    May 18, 2017 at 20:53

They can probably be taken out without much effort

With the information provided, I'm going to assume slow zombies. Immune to head injuries you say? Fire.
Only infantry, with little to no skill with weapons?

General's orders:
Pikemen, Longbowmen and other Footsoldiers stay back and provide refreshments to the Cavallry.
The Cavallry will consist of about 200 men, 1 for every 100 zombies. Give them some mixture of paraffin oil and ground coal (or anything that burns nicely), let em charge close to the zombie army, throw a bucket or 2 of this mixture and light them up.
Retreat to grab refreshments and repeat the process.
After a while, the zombies will be turned to dust and none of your men should have died.

Zombies are nothing you can't handle. Especially those depictions that are of the slow-kind. Horses in generall are suited well against slow moving units. Slow those units down even more and you got yourself a safe method of taking the zombies down.


To make your Zombies be more practical, make 'em move fast. And let them be at least decently skilled with their weapon of choice. Your necromancer(s?) could probably cast a resistance spell so the zombies don't catch fire.

One of the biggest strengths of the archetypical (is it spelled correctly?) zombie is his strenght. Due to the brain not working properly, the regions in the brain that regulate your strenght don't chip in when the zombie does something that would hurt him due to overly stressing his muscles etc. Make use of that. Have the Zombies use extremely heavy artillery with ease or make them punch the rocks out of the castle walls.

Or send out a small squad to kill the necromancers.

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    $\begingroup$ I have some suggestions for this post: 1) Ancient people would swap our front lines. Romans called this a 'maniple swap' (youtu.be/croWDsDhgPo) 2) Plate armor was pretty maneuverable, (youtu.be/qzTwBQniLSc), and once it's on your body, an athletic person can wear it pretty comfortably, avoiding much fatigue. 3) People in plate armor were the tanks of the ancient world- you can only really kill them if you hit them in the gaps. This requires skill, which zombies don't have! 4) Given that zombies are dumb- lighter armor and shields could be much more effective! $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    May 18, 2017 at 14:34

Zombies by themselves wouldn't be very effective

However, I can win ANY battle for you with a few simple tricks and some non-zombie troops.

Tactic #1: Disarming

We're about to charge, but the enemy has created a pike wall that would injure the horses, which is something the moral guardians wouldn't approve.

So, I clad the zombies (especially their limbs) in heavier armor and force them to charge the enemy as fast as they can (they're dead, they don't feel anything).

Force = mass * acceleration

The resulting CLANG would probably break the pike wall, but if not...


All weapon have a bad tendency of lodging into targets. Now imagine if that target holds onto your weapon, is too heavy to lift and some trained fighters (or just zombies with swords) are heading towards your team...

Tactic #2: Toxic

Zombies are dead and small little things, such as parasites, diseases, bacteria can't really affect them.

During the Middle Ages, victims of the bubonic plague were used for biological attacks, often by flinging fomites such as infected corpses and excrement over castle walls using catapults.

From Wikipedia: Biological Warfare in the Middle Ages (How to defeat the enemy with a jar of dirt)

And imagine, if those corpses can walk (or crawl) around. Not something that you can easily place in a grave.

You might consider using dead people inside the walls as spies and saboteurs.

The new torch zombies are now available in three different colors, light your enemy up with our new product!


In essence each human soldier only needs to disable 2 opponents, the battle would be over pretty quickly. Heavy infantry pike formations and swordsmen on a broad but compact front and the zombies are doomed (more doomed).

I say a broad front so the zombies can't and won't attack at one point with huge numbers. Compact so that if they do focus on one area it can immediately be strengthened. This should be easy for disciplined troops. A bit like a phalanx but with swordsmen between the spears. Spears stop the zombies. swordsmen chop them up. Winning battles is all about teamwork.

Exhaustion in heavy armour is not going to be an issue, a trained warrior can fight for a long time in armour and the battle will be for only minutes at a time. 2 zombies impale themselves mindlessly on your spear in two seconds and your battle is done. But in any case the armours weight is spread and designed to be able to fight in for heavy infantry. Soldiers have always trained to handle this, here is a link regarding forced marches with gear, from personal experience as a forestry worker I carried an average of 30kg for 10 hours a day during planting season up and down steep hills and through shrubbery.

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    $\begingroup$ Trained warriors ? With 10.000 soldiers, most of them must be conscripts, so not that much trained. 2 zombies impale themselves mindlessly on your spear ? Still, they continue fighting, so problem not solved. You carried an average of 30kg for 10 hours a day ? That's impressive, but not quite relevant. They fight, not walk (even on steep hills). Let's take out the armor/backpack : you're comparing a hike (that can last indefinitely, to the limit of sleep) to a boxing match (a few rounds) or judo (10min max), where even the most trained champions are left exhausted at the end of the time limit. $\endgroup$
    – Keelhaul
    May 18, 2017 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Keelhaul nope, a boxing match is exhausting if you are fighting a competent opponent, I boxed. If you outclass them it's not very tiring at all. You pick your shots and just beat them up. Bagwork during training is more tiring, and boxers train to do that. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    May 18, 2017 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ You're right. But if zombies are not competent offensively, they are defensively : each one of them is still a man's worth of meat to dismember, plus the armor, which is no easy task. And while incompetent with their weapons, I would still be quite cautious towards something wielding a big chunk of metal that don't really want to be properly dismantled. And I don't think you can just pick your shots like "here goes off one limb ! Her goes off the other !", that's a bloody melee with an enemy not afraid to charge you. If you're not shield first, even a badly wielded axe can split your skull. $\endgroup$
    – Keelhaul
    May 18, 2017 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Keelhaul I don't think it would be particularly difficult, transfix them on your spear, hold them while the swordsman lops off limbs. It would be scary as heck, but doable enough. Swordsman would have a shield. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    May 18, 2017 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ @John Romans had an excellent butchering sword that could be used in close and cramped quarters. The pike just needs to slow the zombies, this would work. You don't have 100 zombies coming at you, you just take care of the two in front of you and your team handles the rest. Historically teamwork by disciplined soldiers has mowed down larger amounts of rabble even if individually the rabble has excellent brave fighters who fight to the death and will grab shields etc,... . In this case they don't, they have uncoordinated zombies. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    May 19, 2017 at 10:17

Various historical accounts place your typical medieval 'army' (what you really had was a collection of lord, barons, and landowners, each with their own retainer of men) as having anywhere between 3:1, and 10:1 archers to men-at-arms, depending on when in the medieval period you look at.

Let's say for the sake of argument you're looking at 5:1. Your typical medieval man-at-arms uses a billhook, a light padded-jack, and possibly a helmet/crude gauntlets. Bills are good, they keep the zombies at range, they're wedged so that they have pushing power, and a block of billmen would move and fight as one. An average block would contain 200-300 men, usually formed in 3 arrays (cavalry formation), and you have 10 of these. That's a lot of pointy things. Behind your bill lines are 8000 archers. Let's be clear, your bill lines exist purely to stop your archers getting rushed.

Archers are cheap, arrows are easy to manufacture in bulk, and they can kill things without risk of dying themselves. Each archer has at an extremely conservative estimate (looking at the travelling armies of the Battle of Towton) 6-10 arrows, and by law has been training weekly with his bow since the age of 7. At the very least each man can hit 5 zombies with his arrows. He then puts down his bow, unsheathes his shortsword and buckler, and joins the bill line. Realistically as a defending force, each archer is likely to have access to near unlimited numbers of arrows. Medieval armies were very, VERY good at killing other humanoids that tried to take their things.

Now your enemy have only once chance of beating them, and that's to have more/better archers, and your question states they don't have any at all. Now the Sun Tsu puts the number of troops normally needed to conquer a defending force at 10:1. Take into account the attacking force is an untrained horde, and you'd be looking at forces greater than 100:1 before your 10000 strong band of merry men are even remotely worried.

TL;DR, your zombies haven't got a chance in hell.

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    $\begingroup$ Sure, but Sun Tzu was talking about beating human opponents. You've got archers hitting GOT style zombies, which, all it will do it poke holes in them and they'll continue on with arrows sticking out, whereas a human would have gone down. These don't bleed out. Hitting them with arrows isn't the problem. It's making that matter, at all. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2017 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ True, but film and TV representations tend to severely underplay the damage an arrow can do to a human body. Medieval bows were built from a poundage of 40lbs draw weight, up to 120 (ish) bows that were found on the wreck of the Mary Rose. These arrows (Bodkin) are built to penetrate plate armour, and are going to utterly destroy any flesh they might hit. Granted, the zombies are wearing armour, depending on the type they will have decent arrow protection (a padded jack will stop a crossbow bolt), but that trades off protection against the bill line. $\endgroup$
    – Korthalion
    May 19, 2017 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry for multiple comments, couldn't fit If your zombies have unarmoured parts, a broadhead at close range or a crossbow bolt could take a limb off. Up to OP whether he gives his monsters physical resistance though, otherwise they don't stand any chance whatsoever of reaching, or killing any archers $\endgroup$
    – Korthalion
    May 19, 2017 at 13:29

I recently read a book on medieval armies and war strategy and based on that the undead don't stand a chance.

In early medieval times there were no standing armies. The king usually had a small force of guards that in time of war would be augmented by the feudal vassals (depending on how much land each feudal lord was given by the king, he was expected to provide certain number of knights, man-at-arms, etc) and peasants that were largely armed with farm tools.

Those armies were very unreliable and so in later times were largely replaced by professionals for hire. So the human army has an advantage here - a large, well equipped, trained, professional army.

Up until the Swiss pikesmen, cavalry was dominating the battlefield. Even if the undead have pikesmen their lack of skill & inability to follow complex commands would mean that's another advantage for the human army.

Most medieval armies did not have large number of bowmen - most lords were a nervous to arm the peasants. The English did and used them with great success against the French during the 100 year war. Another advantage for the human side.

The humans also have fortifications - another advantage. Competent commanders and superior strategy - yet another advantage.

Too many to count at this point.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you post the name of the book? Please. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Januson
    May 19, 2017 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Januson "Medieval European Armies" by Terence Wise. tinyurl.com/l57r9j7 $\endgroup$
    – ventsyv
    May 19, 2017 at 18:17

It could go both ways. If the zombies can run at a decent speed and the necromancer(s) are smart commanders it could be deadly. Especially with a wooden fortress. Burning it down would be ideal. The whole scenario would be so surreal that morale would be in panic mode. Which means the humans wouldn't be in the right mindset. Realistically i'd say they'd lose about 30-40% kill efficiency alone just on the shear terror that you are forced to fight a zombie horde with double the men. Personally I would take my bravest men on horseback and kill the necromancer. Typically they are over confident and forget to cover their rear so i'd go to the back lines and kill him. once the necromancer is dead the undead army would be virtually useless without knowing what to do. However if the necromancer is surrounded by say 1000+ zombies it would be tough to reach him. At which point would be a war of attrition unless you had access to a lot of fire.

If I were a betting man I say the zombies win IF they can run not walk, and IF the necromancer has above average battle strategy. (he's defeated more than one castle).


If a headblow doesn't kill the zombie, it's not clear how nonmagical warriors will kill the zombie. The usual way to kill a zombie, even magical ones, is for decapitation or brain destruction. You don't mention if the zombies are slow or fast, so I presume they are slow.

Assuming that the nonmagical warriors have some similar method to kill the zombies, in this scenario, the zombies don't stand a chance. You only have the warriors out manned 2-1. Professionals like you describe can kill 2 zombies no problem. Professionals like you describe would vastly outmaneuver 1 or more necromancers loosely directing a horde of zombies. Necromancers studied necromancy, not strategy or tactics.

The main advantage of a zombie horde is that they vastly outnumber their opponents. They are the ultimate cheap labor. You make a good bunch of points about logistics, and other answerers make good points about fatigue and logistics, but at this scale, in this scenario, the horde is not big enough to win against this force.

You would need 10-1 or larger odds to really start stressing the warriors, their supply chain, command structure, and logistics. In this scenario, the hardest part would be getting all of the warriors in position to exterminate the zombies. It would be a massacre of zombies. I'd wager a WAG that it would take a few days to a week for the warriors to extinguish all the zombies, with minimal casualties. The necromancers would fall out before the professional warriors. Even assuming that a necromancer could control 100 or 1000 zombies, that would work against them. Each necromancer controlling more zombies means less necromancers, meaning they could not field as much of their force of zombies due to the necromancers needing to rest (either sleep, or replenish magic/mana).

The make-up you describe of the human army doesn't sound realistic. Most of a Medieval army is going to be infantry, with knights and archers making up smaller, elite, units. Your army's composition improves the fighting capability of the warriors tremendously, and is more similar to a modern fighting force, which is what it sounds like you based your scenario on.

To answer your questions directly:

  • A zombie horde could be an effective weapon against a peasant army or a well-trained, well equipped, army. However, you will need substantially more zombies than your opponent has troops. For a well trained, well equipped force of warriors that you describe, I would want a minimum of 20-30 zombies per warrior, and one or more generals to direct the necromancers on what to do with the zombies. The peasant army is out of scope for this question, but it would not need as high of a ratio.
  • The lack of skill, intelligence, strategy, and tactics of the zombies themselves can be easily compensated for with generals, strategists, tacticians, and real time communications.

Counterpoint: As an army, zombies are utter crap in a medieval setting.

On an even slightly armoured human they would have big trouble doing any damage. On a knight, they will do what, exactly, with fingers and human teeth (which unlike predator animals don't protrude, so you can't much bite into anything). And that ignores shields. How exactly would a zombie army defeat a well-managed shield wall?

On the other hand, almost every medieval melee weapon is great against zombies. Hacking them into pieces, smashing their skeleton to bits. While archery played a role, unlike the modern age it was not the main part of a medieval army, and most warriors were equipped for melee fighting.

Yes, you cannot fight for hours in heavy armour, but how long does it take to dispose of a zombie with a sword, mace, flail, axe? Seconds. By the time exhaustion becomes a problem for your human army, they have all killed dozens of zombies.

So unless you outnumber the human army by 100:1, my bet would be on the humans.


Well, I believe that the battle is already won by the humans, since they have a fort. Zombies cannot conduct sieges, they don't build catapults, they don't build ladders, they don't build trebuchets, etc...; Humans can sit lazely and comfortably in their fort while bombarding the zombies with the same weapons that the zombies can't build, and even with the necromancers giving orders, a zombie mind is just too simple to understand basic sieging techniques, or even the humblest of constructions. Meanwhile the humans will not only be constantly pouding the zombies with artillery, they can call for reinforcements using pigeons, prepare strategies, learn about the zombies and train their troops to fight the undead.

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    $\begingroup$ "Humans can sit lazely and comfortably in their fort" & starve while surrounded by a horde of zombies that doesn't need to eat or sleep sits just out of range of their missile weapons holding their fort under siege? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Apr 9, 2019 at 5:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Pelinore Forts are built and supplied to withstand sieges. Humans can laze about inside for weeks to years depending on their fortress and numbers. $\endgroup$
    – Jedboo
    Apr 17, 2019 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't matter how long they can survive without fresh supplies (weeks or years) does it ~ the zombies don't need food (or sleep) & won't get bored waiting outside will they ~ unless you have a fort big enough to carry on agriculture inside to support the defenders (which would be too big too defend all the walls against a siege) or sufficient help on the way to break the siege the defenders are dead, it's just a matter of time. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Apr 18, 2019 at 16:03

For some reason this scenario reminds me of Stronghold Crusader. Dump oil on the zombies. They cannot climb a castle wall with no leg muscle left. As log as the castle wall is made of stone, humans will survive.


Exist something that could outclass any other tactic by a LONG margin.

"Put the sky and earth to fight for you" (Art of War) or in other terms:

Terrain Control

A fortified position agains zombies change the concept of what is a "wall".

Here, you can take advantage that zombies are not smart, and you can control which routes them take, use detours / Labyrinth-like setups.

It can be done cheap and easy with wood stakes, or even flexible chains or similar + small trenches that make the stupid zombies to fall.

Here, the point is disrupt and slow the horde. Then suddenly archers and fire become usefull again

Smaller towers (2-5 mts ??) to get elevate terrain advantage but easier evacuation could be used for large-ish towns to maintain tactical advantage.

Finally, WATER & MUDD can be used for even bigger impact in mobility.

For open-field combat is almost the same idea. But you need to adapt the combat units to move as "flexible walls" and make "detours/routing" moving tactics for the horde. You can have heavy-armored soldiers used for control the flow and lighter units for kills.

Horses can be used here if is allowed to make them keep "quiet" and be used for wall support. Then now you have a "mobile walls" that can move faster!


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