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In a little short story I'm writing, a king has an army of about ten thousand men, and is about to face a host twice as large at least.

In preparation for the battle, he has his men pray to the gods and make a sacrifice.

On the hill they are about to defend, each of his 10k soldiers receives a rabbit to sacrifice and about half a liter of wine to pour on the ground as an offering to the gods.

The king then orders his men to fall back a little, leaving the slope of the hill drenched in blood and wine, littered with 10k dead rabbits.

As the enemy army charges, their horse riders slip on the dead rabbits and their infantry gets bogged down on the muddy slope.

This allows the king and his ten thousand men to secure a very important victory.

Is this a realistic scenario?

Would a field with 10k dead rabbits affect a charging cavalry at all?

Would the slope of a hill be muddied by 5k liters of wine and whatever blood the rabbits spill?

Also, could this backfire against the king and his army?

How could this be turned into a realistic scenario that could easily be interpreted as divine intervention?

Edit:

The rabbits are pre caught, before the battle, let's say by their wives and children.

Edit:

Right, I'll just have the enemy king slip on one if the dead rabbits, hit his head against a jug of wine left there and die. The enemy army will loose morale and route. I suppose this is relatively realistic and can also be interpreted as divine intervention.

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closed as off-topic by Azuaron, sphennings, March Ho, L.Dutch, James Aug 18 '17 at 18:52

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like a hare-y situation. I know if I was a horseman, I'd certainly wine about it. $\endgroup$ – Nex Terren Aug 17 '17 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ I believe we need to pun ish @NexTerren $\endgroup$ – CaM Aug 17 '17 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ A hill "covered" in 10,000 rabbits and "soaked" in 5,000 liters of liquid is a very very small tiny hill. A rabbit flat on the ground is what, let's say 50 cm by 30 cm, 0.15 square meters; ten thousand of those make 1500 square meters, smaller than a square with a side of 40 meters. On this area, those 5000 liters make about 3 liters per square meter or 3 mm of water... I hope that the ten thousands defending soldiers are dwarven infantry, because they will be planted so close one to another that they will have no possibility to maneuver or even to draw their weapons. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 17 '17 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @user227435 In Agincourt they had forests on both sides (cavalry doesn't work in forests), but obviously narrow mountain path works too. However, if you have narrow mountain path AND pikemen or spearmen, you wouldn't even need offering to gods, as you are pretty much in perfect conditions to counter most types of cavalry. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Aug 17 '17 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ The Killer Rabbits of Caerbannog! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Aug 17 '17 at 19:23
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Not realistic

Where did the rabbits come from?

10,000 rabbits is quite a lot of rabbits. Your army would need to spend a great deal of energy capturing that many live rabbits. Or your army has spent quite some time breeding rabbits and caring for them. Or you have a large force of rabbit-wranglers. Somewhere. Who are now out of work. Either way, that's not realistic.

An army on the march might trap a few rabbits, but not enough to feed the troops, and no where near enough to stockpile this sacrificial bounty. Rabbits run fast and wouldn't hang around near incoming armies, their foragers, etc.

How much blood?

Nevermind how they got the rabbits, assuming they have them... Rabbits weigh, on average, 1.2 kg1. They average 56 ml of blood per kg2. That means that if you could get 100% of the blood out of your rabbits, that's 672 liters.

But you can't get 100% out. Some will remain in the flesh. Some will stain the fur and not be usable. And much will soak into the ground. So even if your army manages to get 50% of the blood as usable ground lubricant, that's only about 336 liters. By the time you spread that around your army, it won't present any challenge to the cavalry.

How long to get the blood?

Each soldier has to kill his own rabbit. No squeamishness here. Cutting the throat and draining blood into a bucket will take at least 10 minutes per rabbit. ("Squeeze hard, lads! Get every drop!") You then have to pour each bucket into a larger vat, or pass the bucket up the line to the next guy. If you want to toss the rabbits out there, too, that'll take some more time. Oh, and this is a sacrifice. There's ritual involved. So make that 20 minutes. And you can't rush, else you botch the ritual or spill the bucket.

So now your men have to carry buckets sufficient for all this blood and wine. And not spill it. And transfer it from the back of the line to the front. I'd say you're looking at roughly an hour, minimum, not counting the time to ready the rabbits, wine, and buckets.

That's assuming the back row has 1 bucket per man. They kill the rabbit, say the words, and pour the wine, then pass their bucket up the middle line. Middle line men kill the rabbit, say the words, pour the wine and pass to the front. Front line repeats. Then they pour the buckets out, 3 paces in front of their line. If you have fewer buckets -- a reasonable guess, since buckets are not a standard field kit item -- then it takes longer.

So probably at least 3 or more hours of passing out creatures, capturing the rabbits that get dropped, passing out wine, capturing the rabbits that squirmed free, and then passing out buckets. That time would be better spent setting up spears at 45 degree angles, or honing small trees into spikes to repel their horses.

Now add the wine!

So let's assume we collect 75% of the blood and 100% of the wine (no one cheats and drinks their allotment. It's for the gods!) That gives us a total of 5,504 liters of liquid.

But how does that work out?

If you stack your men in a square of 3 rows, that means you have about 833 men on a side. That's 3,332 men on the outer line. If all the wine/blood is poured outside this line, that's about 1.65 liters of blood-wine per person on the front line.

Less than two liters of liquid. Some of that will run off. Some will soak in. And some will pool on the ground making the potential trip-hazard you are after.

Conclusion:

Horses are generally able to move over wet ground without dying3. I mean, they do it every day. I do not believe this degree of coverage will present any challenge at all to them. Wet morning grass is as dangerous as your frontage of blood-wine.

There's no way to directly threaten the army via rabbit blood and wine. Unless the gods intervene more directly4.

Better to focus on spears or spikes set at 45 degree angles to repel their horses.


4 (Yes, Richard, orbitally launched rabbit-sicles are a completely different set of questions but those questions don't really fit into the framework of this particular question...)

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    $\begingroup$ TL;DR: Seems like a horrible, tragic, waste of perfectly good wine to me. $\endgroup$ – CaM Aug 17 '17 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ "There's no way to threaten the army via rabbit blood and wine" - Dropping the rabbits and wine from orbit would do it. $\endgroup$ – Richard Aug 17 '17 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Richard wouldn't they burn on reentry? $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Aug 17 '17 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ I am reminded of this Xkcd. Moles, but suddenly seems relevant. what-if.xkcd.com/4 $\endgroup$ – CaM Aug 17 '17 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ Knowing rabbits, once you catch the first two rabbits you'll probably get to 10,000 pretty quickly. $\endgroup$ – A C Aug 18 '17 at 5:58
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Little story twist.

The Gods say, Here are 10000 rabbits and 5000 litres of wine. You can use these to avert the war.

That's more than just a little vague. You could kill the rabbits in an effort to make the ground problematic for the incoming Horsemen. Maybe you get the dead rabbits out there in an effort to attract lots of ravens (to what point and purpose I am unsure). You could try to use the fluid to muddy things up, and the smell of rotting meat to make things unpleasant, but none of these sounds like a particularly effective tactic.

Or, you could bring in a bunch of chefs and use the rabbits and wine to make some amazing rabbit stew, Braised rabbit, roast rabbit, rotisserie rabbit, chicken fried rabbit... and so on. In this case, you might find that the wine pairs well with rabbit, so don't waste it. Invite the enemy officers over for a parley, a feast, and peace terms.

Who says you have to fight?

OK, so the bunnies are pre-caught and the brutal use of them is fairly unrealistic. You are going to have to jump through some pretty unbelievable hoops of coincidence to make this work out just right.

But the story could be about the wise king, much favored by the gods. A clever king could make use of things like "The Gods told us to sacrifice 10,000 rabbits so everybody go get one before the enemy gets here". 5,000 litres of wine is believable. A clever kings' "revelation" and order to create a feast could neatly secure his own legend in spite of the fact that he had been negotiating with the incoming army for a long while. It might keep the hotheads and panic-mongers busy while he tidies up trade agreements and such.

Or, we could lead into the tragic, but fairly established story of "invite them all in and poison them".

Just saying there are alternative uses for a rabbit and 500mL of wine.

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    $\begingroup$ Haha oh that's good! I like that $\endgroup$ – user227435 Aug 17 '17 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ @user227435 Glad you like it. I'm kind of into old fairy tales lately (the more obscure, the better, and this sounds like just that kind of setup. $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Aug 17 '17 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ You have the BEST parties! Which leads to an idea... Wine-soaking is known as marinating. And marinated meat tastes awesome. Lets say the attackers are vegetarians from birth, or are malnourished/starving from famine or a long hard campaign. The wine-soaked rabbits are somehow set on fire, perhaps as a line of defense. Attackers forget to attack and devour the barbequed meat instead, like a Golden Retriever unable to ignore food. then your army slaughters them while distracted. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Aug 17 '17 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Criggie , you could make sure that a large meat smoker is a required part of all field fortifications. We could call it War-B-Cue ok, i need to get some sleep now $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Aug 17 '17 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @PaulTIKI 'Twas six in the morning, on feyborough hill, the men and the rabbits were sleeping still/then a horn, then a drum, then a very loud shout! The enemy is launching an early assault./The general wakes, he says in his mind "It's not even seven, that's not very kind."/"Man the walls and the turrets and the guardhouse alike, give them the bows so they can shoot our enemies at sight./I'll ask our chef to produce us some stew, if by noon we have slain them there'll be War-B-Cue!" $\endgroup$ – J_F_B_M Aug 18 '17 at 7:24
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Let's gather some thoughts first

Best counter to cavalry are always pikemen in tight formation, that remained true even in era of gunpowder - bayonets of Napoleon era were turning gun into makeshift pike.

So, how tight can formation of 10000 men can be?

According to this, square 60m by 60m, pointing pikes and halberds in every direction. Square formation exists to protect from attacks from any direction - it has no flanks, and thus cavalry can never attack it from the weaker side, it will always have to charge head on, taking heavy casualties on pikes. Cost is mobility, such crowd will not move or react quickly.

The battlefield

Let's say that like in Agincourt, your force has a clearing in the forest to rest the flanks against. This takes care of cavalry, as cavalry can't operate effectively in forests. There's still enemy infantry to worry about, though. Hopefully your infantry can take them on if cavalry fails to win instantly, like they are used to win.

So, let's say you have tight formation 120m by 30m, holding the only path through the forest. Now, are rabbits and wine enough to make ground slippery? Let's see.

Artificial Heavy rain?

5000 litres of wine gives us about 42 l/m of the line. If we try to spread this on rectangle of 120m by 1m, this gives us 42mm of rain. According to this, 50mm of water in hour is considered quite an extreme rain. Unfortunately, 1m thick sogged field won't do - according to this, horse stride can reach over 7m at peaks speed. Most horses will just step over it, if you make soggy patch 1m thick.

Horse stride

Luckily, heavy cavalry won't reach peak speed due to weight of rider and armour (both knight and horse armour) as well as fact that it's not a race track. Unfortunately, it's hard to find any real source on cavalry charge speed. Let's say 40 km/h as I have a hard time believing that horse could reach same speed with ~150 kg more weight as it could without. This gives stride length of roughly 5m.

Rabbits

Unfortunately, on a field 120m by 5m, each square m will receive only 8.4 mm of wine. Not good enough, I'm afraid. Time to add wabbits.

According to this, half a year old rabbit can reach nearly 4kg. Let's take younger ones and 3 kg. According to this, rabbit will have 56 ml of blood for every 1 kg of body mass. So 10000 rabbits, 3kg each will have total of ~1700 l of blood if drained dry.

That brings liquid to about $11 \frac{mm}{m^2}$. I'm not sure that's enough. But I know how to improve it: important feature of terrain in battle of Agincourt was that land was recently ploughed, which magnified effect of heavy downpour. If your gods for some reason want animal offerings buried, there's a good reason to soften the ground before soaking it. Preferably battle should NOT happen after very dry month.

Some more musings

I think in this contrived circumstances, it could actually work: cavalry gets up to speed, and suddenly hits soft ground. Horses won't expect that and could conceivably lose balance causing domino effect, falling down and throwing riders off of their backs. If soldiers are positioned close enough behind that trap, first few lines should be able to counter-charge as soon as enemy cavalry loses cohesion and win - cavalry fights by shock of charge, in protracted melee infantry wins. They however would need to quickly handle the cavalry and return to position before another wave of cavalry attacks, unless first wave turns into enough of a mess to simply block other charges.

Conclusion.

It's a long shot, very risky, and requires extremely contrived circumstances, but I think it could work. King or general leading the armies would have to be true tactical genius, unbelievably lucky or both, but it could potentially be done, making the battle a true stuff of legends. Contemporary scribes would claim that gods themselves, pleased by the offerings, joined the battle, and thus, King of this country would overnight increase his political influence tenfold, if not more. You obviously know better, what caused the outcome.

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    $\begingroup$ Leave the wine in the urn. Upon reaching it the cavalry stop for lunch. Soon the troops are very drunk and are defeated. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Aug 17 '17 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @DonaldHobson Enemy force counts 20k men, you have 5k l of wine. Where do you live if quarter a litre of wine is enough to make grown man "very drunk"? $\endgroup$ – M i ech Aug 17 '17 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Miech: I'm reminded of an episode of "Sex In The City" where at the end of lunch they remark, "I can't believe we finished the bottle". Whereas I couldn't believe that 4 people only had one bottle. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Aug 18 '17 at 9:43
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The horses will likely shy away from the dead animals before even reaching the foot of the hill. Should they manage to be persuaded to charge up the hill, the slippery bodies will cause the horses to lose traction and fall. If they start slipping and falling during a cavalry charge, it will look like a bad game of ten-pins, with horses falling all over the place, knocking down others and causing still more to panic (and possibly fall down in a chain reaction). The second and third waves of cavalry (since we all know cavalry don't charge in a single compact mass, don't we?) will pull up short and probably won't even make it to the base of the hill.

Following infantry and dismounted men at arms (assuming a middle ages scenario) will be equally disadvantaged, with the ground now churned up and littered with injured, screaming horses and men as well as the carcasses of the rabbits. Even in a black powder to WWI era setting, both the horses and following infantry will be at a huge disadvantage due to the poor footing and slippery surface you have just created. Once the enemy general has determined what has happened, he may respond with his own magical counter spell, or order the reserves to come around the flank and cut off your forces.

As noted in the comments, 10,000 rabbits only cover a fairly small area, so this might only have utility if you are set in a defensive position like the English in Agincourt, with a narrow approach and both flanks shielded by dense woods.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for this. Dead animals can be horrifyingly slippery to walk on. Don't ask me how I know this. $\endgroup$ – Clonkex Aug 18 '17 at 5:09
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Assume the top of a hill covered by 10k people is, say, 100m square. You'd be hard-pressed to have 100k people in a smaller area and still have them ready to repel attackers.

That's a rabbit every square meter. That's not a lot of rabbit. And a winebottle spilled over a square meter is just a little puddle.

Just based on bunny-corpse-density, which is not something I expected to be using as a measurement this early in the evening, I'm thinking there'll be negligible effect. Your odds of standing on a bunny are small, and for war-chargers, trained in galloping over the fields of the dead, are negligible.

So you have 100m square, covered in dead bunnies and wine.

BUT. What if it's not wine? What if it's whiskey?

So you have 100m square, covered in dead bunnies and good Scotch!

That's an entirely different proposition. See, in the latter case, you drop a torch, and the whole hill is covered in an eerie blue flame that the commander is standing in apparently unhurt, while the stench of blood and burning hair rises from the bunnies.

Would that be enough to break a cavalry charge by people who believe in magic? I think maybe.

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Where did your army get 10,000 rabbits? Did they have a pre-sacrifice en-masse hunt? And your army just killed 10,000 kilos of meat they probably would rather have eaten. I tried looking for the average population of bunnies in a meadow and one source suggested there are 1-3 rabbits per hectare. So your army will need to harvest all the rabbits in at least 3000 hectares (30 square kilometers). I applaud their efforts - particularly because they caught these rabbits live so they could sacrifice them later. I would have enjoyed being a spectator for the hunt, watching all these fighting men leaping around trying to catch them.....

You mention they 'receive' these rabbits, so maybe there is a nearby rabbit farm? Divine intervention of rabbit sending? Magicians pulling hoards of bunnies out of hats?

But this is good material to spin legends from. Maybe it was only a hundred men against two hundred, and the mountain was a small rocky mound, but the story got exaggerated with each telling...

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  • $\begingroup$ One of the species of rabbit was domesticated in medieval times and since then is constantly raised for food and fur. More recently, also as pet. You are probably thinking of Hares, of which none were ever domesticated. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Aug 17 '17 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ I certainly wish there were only 1-3 rabbits per hectare. I own a field that is slightly less than a hectare, and generally contains rather more than 1-3 rabbits. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Aug 17 '17 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ The domesticated rabbit was still a rarity in the medieval period it lead to the construction of fortified structures such as Thetford Warren for the warreners that guarded the rabbits to live in.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/medieval-part-2/…. 10,000 rabbits is still quite a few. $\endgroup$ – Sarriesfan Aug 17 '17 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeScott I definitely agree with that. Rabbits are a huge pest in most of Australia and, depending on location and time of year, there can easily be well over 10/hectare. On occasion I've seen more than 20 in less than an acre, which I would assume is rather depressing to the farmers. $\endgroup$ – Clonkex Aug 18 '17 at 5:08
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Perhaps this impediment could be psychological...?

Certainly the sight of so many dead animals could have some influence on the attacking force. The only vaguely relevant (and possibly apocryphal) battle I can think of is the Battle of Pelusium. In this example, (living) cats were carried by the Persian soldiers in the front of the lines, to discourage the Egyptians from attacking for fear of harming the sacred animals. Perhaps the rabbits could be a sacred animal to the attacking force? However, in that case it would be better if they were alive rather than dead. For fear of trampling these animals a cavalry charge would be blunted or disorganized, leading to a rout.

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I think that this battle could be done much differently and more realistically.

Think about what would you do in that situation. You command a force of 10,000 men. I'll assume your forces are split up approximately 7,000 infantry, 1,000 archers, and 2,000 cavalry (just because I can). Your enemy commands double your forces and you are forced to meet him in open battle.

You make the decision to take a hill to make effective use of terrain in an attempt to even the odds slightly. The enemy needs a reason to attack uphill. So let's assume they are the attacking force and you are the defending force. They cannot take their objective without engaging you as the hill is strategically blocking their path so they MUST engage you uphill. You are wise and set up your line weak in the middle and strong on the flanks. (this will be important later)

Now lets switch from rabbits to pigs. Not 10,000 but let's say they gathered livestock from all the surrounding farms on the march. I'll say even 1,000 pigs would be a significant number. You now have the high ground defended by a front line of infantrymen with archers to slow a cavalry charge. Now when the enemy cavalry charges. You hold yours back and order the archers to loose on the enemy cavalry. As they get closer the infantry sets the pigs on fire and the run down the hill towards the enemy line. This is a tactic that is grounded in/near to reality.

Now put yourself in the position of the enemy cavalry. What would you do? Fresh from a march, ordered into battle, charging uphill under thick archer fire. Your horse is tired already and men are falling left and right as either they or their horse is struck by arrows. Now you have 1,000 tar covered pigs set on fire running towards your charge. Imagine the sounds, smells, and sight of this scenario. Horses are spooked and turn to flee. Trampling fallen comrades and a full route of the enemy cavalry has occurred.

Let's say the enemy numbers are similar to yours but double. Now you have just routed or killed 4,000 men without a single loss. Your infantry is rested, theirs is tired from the march and just witnessed their shock cavalry route and now have 1,000 burning pigs running at them. Even if they don't route your infantry begins a slow and steady advance, morale boosted by the initial win. Clattering shields with swords/spears to increase the sounds of the battle and make your force sounds larger than it is. The enemy morale is already low and now your fresh forces are marching towards them.

The enemy king is trying to stop a route and command his forces at the same time. He is forced now to rethink his strategy because due to his arrogance he no longer has cavalry. Your archers start pelting his forces with arrows since they have a range advantage on the hill. They stop right as the infantry forces meet. It is at this point the enemy king realizes he cannot see your cavalry in front of his forces. This is due to them being sent wide around the flanks to strike the flanks of his forces and strike down his archers.

Archers don't fare well against cavalry. They don't receive the same swordsmanship training infantry/cavalry do and they start routing on the flanks. The rear of the enemy infantry on the flanks take notice and now their morale plummets further. The attacking king is fully engaged with your forces and his flanks are crumbling. Even though your center is having a hard time they are still holding fast. The enemy king has now lost, either through route/death, at least 6,000 men. His infantry is surrounded, tired, and fighting for their lives. It is at this moment the defending king and his guard storm the flank and charge straight for the enemy king. You have to remember even though his infantry is battered, tired, and low on morale they outnumber yours 2:1. Charging the enemy king will either force a route or you can capture or kill him. (Assuming the defending king is equally/more skilled than his opponent which has been demonstrated by the battle). Seeing a king route/killed can stop a battle in its tracks as the men under his command lose leadership. Especially as they are surrounded and taking casualties.

You have now won the battle. It was hard fought and many men died on both sides. But glory is yours. Hope it helps.

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