A List of Historical Military Terms (60+ Rare Words)

Welcome! Military words like danegeld and scutage have been reserved for an upcoming list about medieval laws and crimes. Similarly words like centenar, turcopole and mameluke, aside from a few favorite titles, have been saved for an upcoming list about medieval titles and peerages. Likewise for your patience words like portcullis, trebuchet, loophole and other obvious terms have been excluded. Also, terms like cri de coeur and coup de grâce which are brilliant for military applications have been reserved for a separate list about English terms that are clearly not English. I should also mention that words like caliver and baselard, not to mention many pieces of armor, have of course been reserved for future lists about ancient, medieval and renaissance arms and armor. Again, seafaring terms, castle terms and HEMA terms have all been for the most part excluded for the aforementioned reason. At last, enjoy!

  1. Semaphore – noun – a system or apparatus for sending visual messages according to a code.
  2. Pele – noun – a faced outbuilding used as a beacon watchtower, born on the border of Scotland and England.
  3. Burgus – noun – a fencible tower with outwork, born on the routes and frontiers of Rome.
  4. Outremer – noun – meaning “overseas,” similar to ultima thule, the land taken by Franks in the First Crusade including Antioch and Jerusalem.
  5. Extreme unction – noun – in the medieval Roman Catholic Church, the extreme unction was the very last anointment given to the sick and dying. Some may not consider this word to be military but if you’re gravely ill in your pavilion during campaign then calling the chaplain to perform your extreme unction may be the only thing on the surgeon’s mind, especially if he is in your will.
  6. Equitator – noun – equestrian, vedette, genetour, dragoon, hobelar, verderer, cavalier, caballero, cuirassier, hussar, cowboy or, simply put, rider. To open a page with over forty synonyms for “horse” click here.
  7. Auxilia – noun – help, assistance; can be used to mean auxiliaries, condottieres.
  8. Casemate – noun – a room in the wall of a fortress with embrasures for shooting guns and missiles at attackers.
  9. Dromedary – noun – perhaps the “racehorse” or “courser” of the desert; a one-humped camel trained for riding and racing.
  10. Mantelet – noun – an arrow-proof screen for besiegers in their attempt to mount an offensive, sometimes mounted on wheels.
  11. Sutler – noun – a civilian provisioner who followed an army and lived in its camps to set up shop and trade with its well-paid soldiers.
  12. Vinea – noun – a house-like structure on wheels to protect besiegers in their attempt to take a wall or batter a gate.
  13. Ordnance – noun – cannon; pieces of artillery. Side note: I plan to do a whole post on cannon alone for their are countless words to put here like pot-de-fer, crakys, culverin, falconet, etc.
  14. Overture – noun – a proposal to the enemy; a tactical liaison; for example, “let us send an envoy with an overture for peace!”
  15. Caesura – noun – an armistice, ceasefire, truce, lull, break or brief interruption.
  16. Abase – verb – to lower in position; a perfect word to use when describing a joust or a group of charging men; for example, “he embraced the quintain and abased his lance.”
  17. Commark – noun – the frontier of a country.
  18. Serry – verb – to press together in ranks; for example, “the serried shield-wall advanced.”
  19. Fosse – noun – a narrow trench around a motte or other fortification; moat.
  20. Cantonment – noun – a military garrison or camp beyond the frontier of its own country; similar to billet or barrack.
  21. Panoply – noun – cap-a-pie, harness, battledress, coat-armor.
  22. Right marker – noun – the warrior given the honor of standing on the right side of a formation where everyone is holding their shield left-handed, therefore making his job hard for no shield is at his right to share the blows.
  23. Breastwork – noun – chest-high trenches or dugouts as part of a frontal defense, used commonly in the heyday of rudimentary lead balls.
  24. Reveille – noun – an alarum or tocsin, especially by a bugle or drum at night to wake a sleeping camp or garrison during a surprise attack.
  25. Chanfron – noun – a horse’s helmet, as part of a horse’s “barding” or armor. Side note: I could list every piece of horse armor here but that too will one day have its own post.
  26. Conroi – noun – a group of five to ten knights who trained and fought together.
  27. Batter – noun – a gradual slope in a defensive wall, like that of a redan or bastion, to aid in the deflection of artillery.
  28. Treasurehouse – noun – a building for safeguarding treasure, typically kept on strict watch, used by conquistadors.
  29. Stronghouse – noun – a fortified house; similar to a keep yet more so to a manse.
  30. Gabion – noun – a basket full of earth used in excess by besiegers for filling moats.
  31. Picquet – noun – a group of sentries outside a garrison to prevent a surprise attack.
  32. Cordon – noun – a line or circle of soldiers preventing egression.
  33. Revetment – noun – the foundation of an outwork wall or curtain wall, whether it be sandbags, masonry, etc.
  34. Flotilla – noun – an armada; a swathe of men-of-war.
  35. Flotsam – noun – floating wreckage.
  36. Mirador – noun – a tower, window, balcony or other vantage point constructed to command an extensive view.
  37. Contravallation – noun – whereas circumvallation is an inside wall to keep besiegers safe from sallies and escape attempts, a contravallation is a wall that keeps the besiegers safe from outside relieving forces, used by Caesar in Gaul.
  38. Postilion – noun – a rider who guides a horse-drawn coach that doesn’t have a coachman by riding abreast to the horses.
  39. Enfilade – verb – to fire or shoot down the length of a ship or formation; to rake the line.
  40. Defilade – verb – to defend while behind cover and invisible to the enemy.
  41. Harl – the Scottish synonym for roughcast which is the type of plaster put on the outside of some buildings and fortifications.
  42. Appel – verb + noun – a tap or partial step of the foot as a feint; a feigned step to confuse an opponent in a fight; a word in league with vor, nach and other infighting terms which I would endlessly list here if I wasn’t going to dedicate a whole post to them.
  43. Equerry – noun – a wrangler, ostler, hostler; specifically an officer in charge of a stable at a noble household.
  44. Bivouac – verb + noun – a camp without defenses or cover, used very briefly.
  45. Caracole – noun – of cavalry with lances, a timed and organized half turn to the left or right as part of a flanking charge against a formation of footmen.
  46. Casque – noun – archaic for helm or helmet.
  47. Redan – noun – a renaissance battlement similar to the bastion projecting from a curtain wall or bulwark, shaped like the tip of an arrowhead.
  48. Daff – verb – to thrust aside; rebut; for example, “the reserve of cavalry daffed the assault as expected.”
  49. Abscond – verb – to secretly leave a place in haste; for example if you knew a great army would arrive at your little bastide in the morning you might abscond in the night to prevent capture.
  50. Leaguer – verb – to besiege; to beleaguer; to reduce, wage attrition.
  51. Laager – verb + noun – to form a baggage train into a defensive circle; a temporary defensive position consisting of this.
  52. Gonfalon – noun – a banner hanging from a crossbar, emblazoning a device. The men who sometimes carried them on cavalcade, the standard-bearers, are called gonfaloniers.
  53. Fusillade – noun – a salvo, sometimes cannonade; specifically a rapid discharge of fusils or fuzees which are flintlock rifles similar to the arquebus or hackbut; hence fusilier, arquebusier and hackbutter.
  54. Convalescence – noun – time spent recovering.
  55. Chivvy – verb – to miff with perpetual petty attacks.
  56. Commissariat – noun – a system for victualing a campaigning army, a crucial system as learned by Napoleon in Russia.
  57. Fyrd – noun – the militia of an Anglo-Saxon shire, mustered during war or rebellion.
  58. Muster roll – noun – an official list of all personnel in a unit or company; similar to roster.
  59. Pons – noun – a temporary bridge over a body of water supported by pontoons.
  60. Echelon – noun – a slantwise battle array of troops or military equipage where multiple formations are overstepping each other.
  61. Salient – noun – a bulge in a frontline or formation; specifically a fensible projection in a landscape where two armies are wreaking war.
  62. Marque – noun – a letter of marque; a license granted to a privateer allowing authority to plunder enemy sailing vessels.
  63. Chevauchée – noun – a method of razing villages to draw the enemy out of their castles and cities, famously used by the Edwards in France.
  64. Bridgehead – noun – a powerful position procured by an army in enemy territory allowing further advancement.
  65. Runegate – noun – a runaway, routing soldier or vagabond.
  66. Schiltron – noun – a dense shield-wall protecting anti-cavalry pikemen, used effectively by the Scottish against the English until cavalry once again became a last resort on the battlefield, replaced by longbow arrows. No matter though. The schiltron was replaced with more will-o’-the-wisp tactics.
  67. Schweinskopf – noun – a military formation for footmen used by medieval Germans, translating into “boar’s head” because one large arrow-shaped column would be flanked by two smaller ears or salients. Likewise the svinfylking or “swine array” was used by vikings.

I referenced no other list while making this list, which has helped to improve my own memory. All words here were found slowly over time by reading history and historical fiction. Historical fiction, despite my love for fantasy, satiates my predilections like no other genre except, of course, litHEMA.

a list of medieval military words

This list will be updated whenever I come across more related words so if you check back here later it may be weightier and prithee leave a comment if you know a word that could be added! If you would like to learn more about my trick for growing one’s vocabulary check this out: How To Triple Your Vocab In A Year!

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5 Comments

  1. A delightful list, Timothy! No. 6, with all its synonyms, is wonderful, since I am always on the lookout for new words for mounted warriors – to date, my favourite word has been “cataphract”, but “genetour” is delicious as well! 🙂

    Like

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