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Joseph Walukonis

There was no standing army in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The armed forces were mobilized whenever an enemy attacked, or was expected to attack, or when an offensive was planned. The first Lithuanian Statute of 1529 ruled that “every landowner is bound to serve during the war”. Calvary was the main branch of the army. It was indispensable in the steppe warfare against the Tatars, as well as in distant campaigns against the Teutonic Knights, and later against Muscovy. The art of horsemanship, as well as that of breeding horses, could best flourish on landed estates, especially the large ones. This was one reason for the leading role of the landowners in the army. Besides, each nobleman was considered a natural military leader of his men. The Lithuanian army therefore consisted mainly of two categories of horsemen;

1. the lords and their retainers;

2. the district gentry regiments.

It was the lords who mustered the core of the army of the grand duchy. On the basis of the army register of 1528 Vernadsky estimates that the dignitaries mustered about 8000 horsemen; that is, about two fifths of the Lithuanian cavalry army of 20,000 total. Some samples of the cavalry strength of the princes and lords who supplied the largest contingents, by families, are as follows:

Infantry was rarely used in the regular army, except in cases of local or national emergency. Besides the nobility, the burghers were also expected to muster horsemen for the grand duchy's army. In the army register of 1528 there is a long list of names of burghers of Polotsk who had to muster horsemen and a shorter list of the burghers of Vitebsk made for the same purpose. In addition the burghers had to pay the war tax and supply workers to build and maintain fortresses.

Both the noblemen and the burghers who sent their contingents were expected to defray the cost of maintenance throughout the war. When the army invaded a foreign country, it lived off the resources of the land conquered. In the first quarter of the 16th century the customary requirement was to muster one fully equipped horseman per each ten sluzbhy (service unit). In 1529 the ratio was changed to one horseman per each eight service units. The nobleman who controlled only eight units or less was bound to appear at the mobilization in person. According to the decision of the Diet of 1507, a 100 ruble fine was established for everyone who failed to appear. Anyone who failed to appear at all or who left that army before the end of the war was subject to capital punishment. Despite the punishment the mobilization quota was usually not filled, and if the war lasted long a number of the gentry would go home, arguing that otherwise their estates would be ruined.

For this and other reasons the grand dukes tried to strengthen their military forces by hiring professional soldiers, as was done in this period in Poland and Germany. These were known as zholners. They were usually recruited in Czechia, Moravia, and Silesia for a definite term or for the duration of the campaign. Under Sigismund I, 5000 were engaged. Part were employed regularly to man the castles erected along the southern border of Ukraine to protect the country against the Tatar raids. Among the best of the mercenary troops were the companies of Czech soldiers and artillerists. They enjoyed a high military reputation in both Poland and Lithuania. The cost of mercenaries was high. During certain periods, when several thousand officers and soldiers were on the payroll, the yearly expenditure for hired troops amounted from three to six million groshi, that is 50000 rubles. This was a heavy burden on the grand duke, who on many occasions had to mortgage part of the crown estates to meet the expenses.

In addition to the mercenary troops, the grand dukes tried to harness to their army certain groups of the population that were specially fit for military service. In the late 14th century Grand Duke Vitovt settled in the regions of Troki and Novgorod-Litovsk several thousand Tatars some of whom were prisoners of war and others who had gone over to the Lithuanian side because they had participated in the strife between two Tatar khans and their candidate had been defeated.

In the 15th century more Tatars, Nogays, and Chuvash migrated to Lithuania. All of these eventually became known as Tatars. Their number in the 16th century amounted to 4000. The Tatars manned the chain of forts west of Vilna and Troki to protect Lithuania from the attacks of the Teutonic Knights. They were granted land estates on condition of military service. Many had tenant farmers and servitors whom they could mobilize. Others were called Cossacks and could offer only their own personal service. The landowners were equal in status to the gentry and had a regiment of their own commanded by their own khorunzhy. The cossacks were commanded by their ataman.

The main function of the gentry was military service. There were two classes:

  1. those who served in the district regiments under the authority of the district commander;
  2. those who served in the “banners” of the lords.

The majority served in the district banners. This means they were under the grand duke and not a local lord.
The gentry held their lands only if they performed military service, even if it was hereditary property. Their position was more precarious than that of the Polish lords and szlachta.
After adoption of the Second Lithuanian Statute of 1566, the situation changed. After that the army could be mobilized only with the approval of the siem, except in case of sudden enemy attack. And the grand duke promised that no land would be taken from the owners. This gave the gentry a guarantee of its rights on the land and also control over the mobilization and financing of the army.
The Karaites were settled in a chain of forts along the northern and northwestern border between Lithuania and the Livonian Knights. They were to guard for the fortress of Troki and the bridge connecting it to the mainland. There were also groups in Smolensk, Starodub, Kiev, Zhitomir, and other towns. In the 16th and 17th centuries they were very useful in the wars against the Crimean Tatars and the Turks. The heavy losses in war reduced the numbers of Karaites.
Even using all its strength Lithuania could not hope to match the military power of Moscovy.
Between 1474 and 1569 Tatars made 75 attacks against Lithuania.(1)
Mikhail Glinski led Lithuanian army to defeat Tatars at Kleck on 5 August 1506.

1236 Victory of Samogites over Teutonic Knights at Battle of Saule

1259 Victory of Samogites over Teutonic Knights in Kurland

1260 Victory of Samogites over Teutonic Knights at Durban;

1270 Victory of Samogites over Teutonic Knights at Gulf of Riga;

1278-9 Lithuanian victory at Kaunas over Teutonic Knights

1322-23 Pskov raids Estonia and Mazovia;

1327 Algirdas defeated Saxons near Frankfort;

1341 Gediminas wounded by gunshot in battle

1348 Germans defeat Lithuanians at Strawe

1410 Lithuanians and Poles defeated Teutonic Order at Tannenburg

Army register of 1528 lists 12,000 cavalry which was half the total army strength at that time. Lords and retainers comprised 2 thirds of army, rest from towns. Also had mercenaries from Czechia, Moravia and Silesia, Tatars, Karaites and Cossacks. Sigismund had 5,000 Czech and other infantry and artillery

Lithuanian light cavalry in 13th cent armed with spears, javelins and shields. Had swords, bows, and axes. Used Tatar tactics of raids, ambushes and reigned retreates. By 1470 cavalry wore heavier armor and used lances like heavy cavalry. By 1570 carried pistol also. At Orsha in 1514 had mail armor, lance, shield, saber. used for shock action.

Infantry was less. Used spears shields and axes. Support for cavalry. russian auxiliaries used bows and they also had crossbows. handgunners from 1400 at Tannerberg 1410 and Orsha 1514. Formed first standing infantry 1551 after streltsi. Infantry conscripted from estates starting in 1563. had arquebusiers

Cannon gunpowder after 1330. heavy cannon used against Teutonic fortress of Jubarkas in 1382 Cannon at Tannenburg also and at Orsha.

Bieganski Military Technique -

Nowak Polish warfare technique -

Poland in 17th century was 990,000 sq km with 10 million people 40% Poles 67% were peasants - 23% townspeople - 10% nobility

80% were in agriculture - 20% handicrafts , trade and transport

There were 650 towns but only 8 over 10,000 population - Cracow, Poznan, Warsaw, Gdansk (by far the largest at 75,000), Bydgoszcz, Lublin, elblag, Torun.

There were 100 towns from 3,000 to 10,000 population

Craftsmen produced weapons, swords, gun barrels, at local forges using local charcol and iron. Gunpowder production was scattered all over. By then the exclusively practical skill of craftsmen was not enough to meet the requirements for warfare technology.

One problem arose with the need for new field fortifications and fortifications for cities. The new bastion forts required knowledge of geometry and trigonometry

Then artillery also needed science and engineers needed cartography.

The crown armed forces had several parts

There were mercenaries, the peasant infantry, In emergencie expeditions of peasants could be recruited on the basis of land holdings and numberof chimneys in towns. There was also the general mobilization of the nobility.

The Polish army was composed of central and regional troops and the private military formations of wealthy nobles. The central troops were the royal guards of the king. There were district troops and armed militias in the small towns. The nobility had armed forces on their estates.

The crown artillery was the main force of the technical troops, but it did not develop fully until after 1637 when special tax funds were allocated for its upkeep. The towns also spent tax funds on their own armies and the nobility spent taxes collected on their estates.


The first book on artillery was translated from Italian in 1547. The Margrave Albrecht Hohenzollern (1490-1568) had book on warfare that included a section on artillery.

There were 245 cannon cast in Poland between 1551 and 1565 by order of King Sigrismund August.

The first Polish artillery manual was printed in 1624, then another one was published in 1630.

Andrzy dell' Aqua - Della congregatione et siola dei bombardiere, Zomask 1622 This was Manual praxis of cannon.

Artillery organization

The artillery included that of the crown (Polish), Lithuanian, town, and private. The state artilelry 1632-37 transformed royal artillery on crown lands using revenue from royal estates.

The large towns had their own artillery maintained by municipal funds. Most artillery was owned by the rich nobles such as Zamoyski and Radziwill. Some monasteries and other families had artillery. CAnnon production centers where barrels were cast and carriages made were in several cities and towns. WE now have examples of 37 actual cannon of the 17th century and 16 without exact date.

The Warsaw foundary made 112 cannon between 1635 and 1654

There were foundaries at Cracow, Gdansk, Elblag, Torun, Lvov, Vilno, and small foundaries in other locations. Iron and lead cannonballs were made in several locations.

The artillery was reformed after the Swedish war of 1625-29. The aim was to change over to cannon with several standardized sizes with medium length barrels and set calibers. They may have been modeled on the Dutch azrtilerly and also on Swedish field guns.

The standard sizes were:
- full cannon 48 pounds 18 caliber barrel
- semi-cannon24 pounds20 caliber barrel
- quarter cannon12 pounds24 caliber barrel
- octavocannon6 pounds27 caliber barrel
- regimental guns for infantry were 6 pound in 1633 and after 1639 there were also 3 pounders of 15 calibers.
- There was also a howitzer of 5 pounds and 8 caliber and the mortar of 50 pounds

In 1654 the crown had 372 cannon - 242 made of gun metal. 23% were long barrels - 12 culverines, 44 falconets
- 60% were medium including:
- full cannon 2
- semi-cannon 27
- quarter cannon 49
- octavocannon 18
- regimental 63
- 11% were short barrel including 13 mortars

The arsenals were centers of command and storage as well as proudction. The largest center was Warsaw, built in 1638-43

The Royal arsenal in Cracow was built in 1528-33 near the castle A new building was built in 1640- 43

The crown arsenal in Lvov was built in 1638-39

The French engineer Vasseur de Beauplan built one in Bar, Vilno, Grodno, Brody, Brest, Olyka, Bar, etc

There were also smaller town arsenals. The gunpowder was usually kept in an old castle keep

The artillery also used signal rockets and incendary rockets.

Artillery operations

Artillery was used for:
- 1 defense of towns and strongholds
- 2 siege of strongholds
- 3 battles in open

At Chocim ( Khotin) in 1621 in Turkish war the Command Grand Hetman of Lithuania Jan Carol Chodkiewicz had 30,000 men and ordered the engineer William Appelman to build a fortified camp.


Poland had the two basic types of cavalry, heavy and light. Both of these evolved over the years, but in one sense they remained the same; namely, the more wealthy aristocracy and gentry outfitted themselves as heavier cavalry and the poorer social classes, frontier dwellers, and hired foreigners composed the light cavalry. This was a simple result of the fact that in every era more elaborate and better armor cost more than less elaborate armor. The state was rarely in a position to provide armor, but relied on the individual warriors to purchase their own. One brief exception occured in the last half of the 13th century when the Galician cavalry was actually outfitted in direct immitation of the Mongol heavy and light cavalry units. During the 14th and 15th centuries the Polish nobility tended to adopt the heavier and heavier armor in use in Western Europe while relying on poorer or hired individuals to serve as light cavalry.

Among the foreign mercenaries recruited in the 14th and 15th centuries were the hussars. These at first came from Serbia and Hungary and wore Hungarian style costume with little armor. At first they were the army's light cavalry in contrast to the heavy cavalry of fully armored knights. Then, as heavy plate armor went out of fashion in Poland, the gentry adopted the designation of hussars along with the use of chain mail and lighter forms of plate armor such as breastplates. The principal weapons of the heavy cavalry were the lance and two swords. Around 1550 they began also to carry one or two pistols.

By the 16th century in general the hussars were formed from the nobility and their retainers. The light cavalrymen then were recruited from the cossacks, independent frontiersmen, and hired troops such as Tatars.

After 1640 a new class of light cavalry appeared. The cossack might have a great variety of weapons and armor. The richest cossack units might have fairly extensive armor including sziszak helmets and misurka mail helmets. Later some cossack units were converted to hussars.

During Bathory campaigns a third of the cavalry units were mixed types with different kinds in the same company. Hussars composed 85% of the cavalry, however, hussar units usually had some cossacks as well. By the 1590's these disappeared. Then in the 17th century the proportion of hussars fell to 5 - 20% of the total cavalry force. The dress of both cossacks and hussars varried greatly since most men bought their own and dressed as they pleased or could afford. Later the nobles would try to outfit their retainers. Especially among the hussars the dress and quality of armor of the nobles was much superior to that of their retainers and servants. Many mounted servants had no armor at all. By the late 1600's the noble hussars were quite elaborate and even gorgeous in appearance. Everyone sought to outshine his rivals. They were called by contemporaries “the most beautiful cavalry in Europe”. They were heavy cavalry not only because they were more heavily armored, but also because they rode heavier and more powerful horses. Among their distinctive characteristics in the 17th century and later was the famous “wings” that they adopted from the Turkish delis,

The cossacks were less expensive than hussars, having less costly armaments and clothing, and especially less expensive horses. In the 16th century they comprised less than 10% of the total cavalry, but by the end of the 17th century formed over 60% of the forces. The hired cossack cavalry was made up of individuals, mostly Poles, from all over. They were not the same as the Zaporozhian Cossacks who inhabited the Ukraine and who fought the Polish Army as often as they served in it. Gradually the term to designate the light cavalry was changed from cossack to pancerni, the term for the characteristic chain mail most of them wore. The cossacks were typical light cavalry mounted on fast, sturdy horses. Many were unarmored or

(1) Joseph Walukonis, “The Lithuanian and Samogitian Armies, 1017-1569”, Gorget & Sash, Vol. II, No. 3.