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The Power of Medieval States – A Report from the Year 1423

What was the wealth and military power of states in the Middle Ages? It is a question that the Venetian government tried to figure out – around the year 1423 they produced a document which estimated the power of the European states, as well as some in Asia. Probably drawing upon information derived from its diplomats, the report offers the “income of all the Christian powers and what they are able to do.”

Map of Europe in 1430, created by Lynn H. Nelson

Map of Europe in 1430, created by Lynn H. Nelson

The report also seems to draw on information from the the year 1414 – perhaps the Venetians regularly created these documents to help them understand the geopolitical situation within Europe and assess the strength and weaknesses of their potential enemies or allies.

For most states, the report notes how large an army of horsemen these kingdoms, city-states and principalities could muster, and routinely notes that if they wanted to conduct wars outside their own borders, only about half that number could be used. Later on, the report estimates the annual income (in ducats) of these states, often adding information on how recent wars have impoverished these funds.

France

The report begins with “The king of France with all his force and the feudal services of princes, dukes, marquises, counts, barons, knights, bishops, abbots, canons, priests, and citizens, can in his own country raise 30,000 horsemen skilled in arms.”

The wars with England, which included the loss at the Battle of Agincourt, seems to have depleted French power, for the report adds that “Before the war with their own countrymen, it could have raised 100,000, for that war destroyed both Church and revenues.”

The report notes the annual income for the French king to be 1,000,000 ducats, which is half what he was receiving in 1414.

England

The King of England’s forces are estimated to be 30,000 horsemen, down from 40,000 in 1414, and his revenues are at 700,000 ducats, down from 2,000,000. The reports author also compares the English to the French, stating “In making the test of war these powers are equal. They have always been powerful in their undertakings. And if one of these forces had been greater than the other, one would have been destroyed.”

Scotland

Described as “a great country, and of a people of so great poverty” it can have a military of 10,000 horsemen.

Norway

10,000 horsemen, but no estimate of revenues is included. At this time, Norway, along with Sweden and Denmark were part of the Kalmar Union.

Castile

30,000 horsemen, which is up from 20,000 in 1414. However, this state’s revenues have fallen sharply, from 3,000,000 ducats in 1414 to 800,000 at time of this report.

Portugal

6000 horsemen and 200,000 ducats in revenue.

Brittany

8000 horsemen and 140,000 ducats

Burgundy

3000 horsemen and 900,000 ducats. The report adds the Duke of Burgundy was earning 3,000,000 ducats in 1414, “but war has destroyed the country.”

Provence

6000 horsemen

Savoy

8000 horsemen and 150,000 ducats

Montferrat

2000 horsemen and 60,000 ducats, down from 150,000 ducats.

Milan

The report notes the Duke Francesco Sforza can emply 10,000 mercenaries and that his current revenues are 500,000 ducats, down from 1,000,000.

Venice

10,000 horsemen, with revenues at 800,000 ducats, down from 1,100,000.

Ferrara

2000 horsemen and 70,000 ducats, down from 150,000.

Mantua

2000 horsemen

Bologna

2000 horsemen

200,000 ducats – down from 400,000

Siena

2000 horsemen

Florence

4000 horsemen and 400,000 ducats

The Papacy

6,000 horsemen and 400,000 ducats

Kingdom of Aragon and Naples

12,000 horsemen and 310,000 ducats. The report gives a separate figure for Barcelona and Catalonia, which was also ruled by the same individual – Alfonso the Magnanimous – estimating 12,000 horsemen.

Genoa

This Italian city-state had 5000 horsemen in 1414, “but through their present dissension and the wars they are only able to maintain at present 2000.” Annual revenues are thought to be 130,000 ducats.

Germany

“All Germany with the lords temporal and spiritual, the free and the other cities, north and south Germany, and the Emperor who is German, can raise with all their resources and revenues 60,000 horsemen.”

Hungary

80,000 horsemen

Teutonic State in Prussia

The leader of the Teutonic Order could have 30,000 horsemen, however in 1414 it was 50,000 soldiers “But war has weakened him” the report adds, probably reflecting losses in their wars with Poland and Lithuania.

Poland

50,000 horsemen

Wallachia

20,000 horsemen

Principality of Achaea

This state in what is now present-day Greece could muster 20,000 horsemen.

The Balkans

“All Albania, Croatia, Slavonia, Serbia, Russia and Bosnia with all their revenues at home 30,000 horsemen.”

Cyprus

2000 horsemen

Empire of Nicaea

This Byzantine state had 2000 horsemen.

Hospitallers at Rhodes

4000 horsemen

Emperor at Trebizond

Another Byzantine state, it was said to be able to support 25,000 horsemen.

Georgia

“The king of Georgia with his revenues of 1414 raised 30,000 horsemen. At present he can raise at home 10,000 horsemen.”

Byzantine Empire

The entry for the number of soldiers belonging to the Emperor at Constantinople is left blank.

The report also offers the military strength for a few non-Christian states outside of Europe, including:

Ottoman Turks

40,000 horsemen

Principality of Karaman

This state in present-day Turkey was reported to have 20,000 horsemen.

Ağ Qoyunlu

An Azerbaijani Turkic tribal federation that ruled parts of the Middle East, it was said to have a force of 20,000 horsemen.

North Africa

“The king of Tunis, of Granada and the other cities of Barbary who have galleys and boats to the injury of Christians, at home are 100,000 horsemen”

Central Asia

The report also notes that the Timurid leader “Tamerlane with all his Tartar power can raise at home 1,000,000 horsemen, abroad 500,000,” although Tamerland had died in 1405. Perhaps the report could do little more than guess at the what the strength of the Timurid empire.

You can read an English translation of this report from Translations and reprints from the original sources of European history, Vol.3 No.2: Statistical Documents of the Middle Ages, published in 1906 – click here to read it on Archive.org.

See also:

Ten Medieval Kingdoms and States that No Longer Exist

Medieval Geopolitics: An interview with Andrew Latham

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