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 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/non-English terms. 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 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. Now I leave you to help me preserve these words so that one day they may no longer be considered uncommon in fantasy and popular culture. All who read ancient, medieval or renaissance fantasy may now freely understand them at their pleasure.

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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A List of Interesting Interjections and Archaic Exclamations! Te Deum!

Somewhere in the Caribbean…

Adieu (a-DOO): “Goodbye!” Example: Adieu, poltroon! Fall on my spadroon!

Viva (vEEvA): “Long live!” Example: Adieu to you, craven! Viva Captain Flint!

Voila (vWala) “There you go!” Example: Have it your way, macho. Voila! Take that!

En garde (AWn gArd) “On guard!” Example: Ha! Your spadroon is no match for my cutlass! En garde, dead man!

Egad (eegAd) “Oh!” “Wow!” “Yes!” Example: Egad, how did you hit me? You will pay for that, old man!”

Gad (gAd) “Oh my god!” Example: Ha! You really think?–Gad, my wrist! You cheat! You are the one who will pay!”

Faugh (fAW) “Disgusting!” Example: Faugh, you may have a superior sword but I have superior skill, pendejo.

Huzzah (hUzzAW) “Yay!” “Oh yeah!” Example: Oh yeah? I don’t think so! Huzzah! Take this! What? How did you block that?

Quotha (KooWowthA) “Really it is so” “Indeed!” “Forsooth” Example: I blocked your attack because, like I said, pendejo, your skills are lacking, quotha.

Fie (fY) “Damn!” “Disgusting!” Example: Fie, that snake in your mouth makes me sick.”

Oyez (Oh YAee) (Oh Yezz) “Hear ye!” “Attention!” “Hearken!” Example: If my tongue makes you so sick–oyez! Oyez! Oyez, my friend. My tongue will hiss you off to your grave and–egad, my heart! You bastard! You stabbed me in the heart!

Tut-tut (tUt tUt) “What a shame” “Tsk tsk” Example: You had skill but, tut-tut, you talked too much.

 

 

 

A List Of Rare Archaic Adverbs – How To Sound Medieval/Renaissance

Want to add a historical touch to your words without sounding like Shakespeare? Experiment with some of the adverbs below to find the historical touch you were looking for.

I understand that in Britain many of these words are far from rare but in places like Canada where many old words have been neglected these words come far less often to human lips.

Cap-a-pie (16th century) – “from head to foot” – Example: The wolf was covered cap-a-pie in mud.

Tête-à-tête (17th century) – “face to face in private” – Example: I slowed my horse to chat tête-à-tête with the captain.

Well-nigh (11th century) – “almost” “nearly” – Example: The siege was well-nigh lifted.

Widdershins (16th century) – “counterclockwise” “in a left hand” “against the sun’s course” – Example: I rolled the dice widdershins across the floor.

Alfresco (18th century) – “out in the open air” – Example: With our tour of Florence complete, we stopped at the loggia for a refreshment alfresco.

Aloft (13th century) – “overhead” “at a great height” – Example: The knights waved their weapons aloft.

Certes (13th century) – “assuredly” “I assure you” – Example: Certes, Your Magnifico, I meant no harm!

Forsooth (12th century) – “indeed” – Example: It was a sad day forsooth.

Shillyshally (18th century) – “in a hesitating manner” – Example: The pardoned boy bowed shillyshally to his frowning mother.

Whilom (12th century) is synonymous with Erstwhile (16th century) – “in the past” “formerly” – Example: The cardinal, who was whilom a mere priest, said the evening prayer.

Yon (11th century) – “that” – Example: I wouldn’t go near yon graveyard if I were you.

Anywise (13th century) – “in any manner or way” – Example: The queen gets what she wants anywise.

Singly (14th century) – “individually” “one by one” – Example:  Come singly to see His Magnificence!

Anon (11th century) –  “soon” “shortly” – Example: Indeed, my dear brother, the world shall anon be ours!

Lief (13th century) – “readily” “willingly” “gladly” – Example: His Majesty lief accepted the proposition.

Thanks for visiting and I hope this list helps you anon.

 

 

 

Brigandine vs. Brigantine vs. Barkentine vs. Barquentine vs. Barque (Brain Bubblegum)


BRIGAN’d’INE

realistic fantasy art

Inspired by the 11th century coat of plates, a brigandine is a 12th to 16th century vest or jacket of armor. It consists of many metal plates held together by a sturdy textile. Many times in history the plates were small, overlapping and hidden under fabric. In movies and videogames today, however, the most popular version of a brigandine is a long coat of canvas covered with visible rectangular plates (somewhat similar to the Japanese kikko in appearance).


BriganTine

boat-2022434_1280

In the early 17th century, a brigantine (the most talked about version of it today) was a two-masted sailing vessel with a square-rigged foresail and a fore-and-aft mainsail (like in the picture above). Much earlier in the 13th century, a brigantine was a sexy lateen rigged ship, popular among Mediterranean pirates for its nimbleness in action. Later in the 17th century, when ‘brigantine’ was being used throughout the New World, the word meant a ship that was slightly different than the early 17th century version: it’s foresail was still square-rigged, but the mainmast was gaff-rigged and had a few extra square-rigged sails on the top of it. Other unique ways of rigging a ship became associated with the word brigantine during the 18th century and onwards. Overall, though, a brigantine was simply naught more than a quick way to board ya for some pieces of eight, ya scallywag! I hope ya captain’s ready for a good keelhauling! Shoulda handed da booty while ya had da chance. Yar!


Barkentine aka Barquentine

(also called schooner bark or schooner barque)

A barkentine is a 17th to 21st century sailing ship similar to an early 17th century brigantine, though instead of only having one fore-and-aft sail behind the square-rigged foresail, a barkentine can have two or more fore-and-aft sails (like in the picture below). Therefore, a barkentine was longer than a brigantine, too. The extra triangular staysails corded to the nose are called jibs.

brigandine vs barkentine vs brigantine


Barque, Barke, Bark, Barc, Barca (no it doesn’t mean ‘dog’)

Barque is an ancient word which has sailed throughout many cultures, hence the many ways to spell it. It’s hard to say if every culture used the same rigging on their barques because in many places the word simply meant “boat.” Today, however, people of the world have come to agree that a barque is a 15th to 21st century three-masted ship. The front two sails are square-rigged, but the mizzenmast has fore-and-aft rigging. It’s naught more than an early 17th century brigantine with an extra square-rigged mast plunked in amidships. So grab ya spyglass, matie! Brace yourself and spot the barque in the picture below. Yar! And don’t forget to surrender ya booty next time or we’ll keelhaul ya captain thrice over!

best pirate boats

 

Lazar, Lazarus, Lazaret, Lazarette vs. Lazaretto (A “Lazy” Comparison)

Whether you’re a poet looking for words that start with L or a student trying to understand what a lazarette is, I have made this list to assist you. So now let’s begin.

LAZAR

define lazar a diseased person

A lazar is a diseased person, especially a poor person with a feared disease such as leprosy.

LAZARUS

lazarus compared to lazar

According to the online Merriem-Webster dictionary, Lazarus was: “… a brother of Mary and Martha raised by Jesus from the dead according to the account in John 11. 2 : the diseased beggar in the parable of the rich man and the beggar found in Luke 16.”

LAZARETTE

lazarette vs lazaret

On a sailing vessel, a lazarette is a storage compartment near the stern, typically accessed by a trapdoor on the deck. A lazarette could be used to store many things but it is interesting to note that a lazarette was and could be used as quarantine space if diseased members were on the ship.

LAZARETTO

what is a lazaretto

Throughout history, especially during times of plague, isolation hospitals known as lazarettos were erected, and in times of emergency, buildings and even moored boats were quarantined to act as temporary hospitals. A lazaretto is an isolation hospital or barricaded place to house diseased people (sometimes called a lazar house). Even a market square, for example, could be barricaded to act as a lazaretto and hence be called a lazaretto. Modern hospitals have hundreds of functions, but a lazaretto’s function is purely to hold and sometimes treat diseased people, especially people with a feared and contagious disease.

LAZARET

lazaret vs lazaretto

It’s important to note that the word lazaret is interchangeable with lazarette and lazaretto, though lazaret is most commonly used to mean lazaretto. Here is lazaret’s threefold definition:

  1. A lazar house; an isolated hospital for people with infectious diseases.
  2. A building, boat or barricaded area used for quarantine.
  3. On a sailing vessel, a storage compartment near the stern, typically accessed by a trapdoor on the deck.

I hope this comparison aids you in your studies! Stay healthy 🙂

Vintenar vs Vintner vs Verderer

VINTENAR

define vintenar

Vintenar means, in medieval England, a leader of a score of footmen, more specifically a leader of twenty draft men. During wars or anarchies, freemen such as farmers were paid to become infantry soldiers in order to help quell a tumult, defend a fortification or join a greater army and march to battle. Whatever the cause, a vintenar was responsible for leading his twenty infantry to victory. Whether the leader hired the footmen himself or was charged with them doesn’t matter, so long as he leads them he earns the title vintenar.

VINTNER

define vintner

A winemaker or a wine merchant can both be called vintners. A wine connoisseur, a grape farmer or a sot, however, cannot claim the title of vintner, sadly. Only those who make or sell wine can claim such a sexy title.

VERDERER

define verderer

Someone has to make sure no one shoots the king’s deer. That’s one of a verderer’s many responsibilities as a verderer is a judicial officer of a royal forest. Footpads stalk the swamps waylaying and accosting drovers and peddlers, but the local verderer is hiring men to deal with the quandary. Hungry peasants may mock a verderer behind his back, hate him, because being unable to use the king’s coppices and hunt the king’s precious boars can mean a night without dinner. So if you’re breaking the law–hunting in the king’s forest–watch your back because the verderer in these parts is a stern man who likes to take the law into his own hands.

Springalds versus Ballistae – What is the Mechanical Difference?

This is not a historical lesson with dates and events, but a mechanical lesson to explain the physical differences between these two magnificent ancient artillery weapons.

Springalds and ballistae are both “catapults” that loose either spear-like bolts, Greek fire or round stones. The major difference between them is in how they hold the power necessary to launch these projectiles. I would like to start by clarifying the definition of the word “catapult” because many people confound that word with “mangonel.” A catapult is any stationary device that uses built-up tension to fire or, in more accurate terms, loose or shoot a projectile. Like ballistae and springalds, a mangonel is a certain kind of catapult. So do not picture a mangonel every time you hear the word catapult like I did for many years 🙂

Springalds (also known as espringals)

ballista compared with espringal

how do springalds operate

Like many arbalests or heavy crossbows, springalds use devices known as windlasses to build-up tension in skeins, bow arms and draw cords. However, springalds have inward-facing bow arms and ballistae have outward-facing bow arms. A springald, at first glance, may look odd because they are not as common in movies and video games as ballistae are. Some springalds look very similar to ballistae (their only difference being in which direction the bow arms face) but other springalds, like the example below, look like bizarre wooden cages.

the difference between a ballista and a springald or espringal

Whatever the design, a springald can always be differentiated from a ballista by gandering at the bow arms. Ballistae have outward-facing bow arms that are always facing outwards even when they are not bearing tension; they simply look like over-sized crossbows on mounts. Springalds, on the other hand, when they are not bearing tension, have smaller arms that face forwards and they do not face inwards until accumulated tension bends them inwards and towards the operator using the windlass. It is easy to see how these rectangular springalds on wheels would be better for besieging whereas the mounted ones that look like ballistae would be better for defending because they can aim down from turrets and bastions.

Ballistae

ballista vs springald

We’ve already done a sufficient comparison for there is not much difference between these two famed weapons of ancient war, but it may be good to cap off what we’ve learned by briefly comparing a ballista to an arbalest. An arbalest is either a cranequin crossbow or a windlass crossbow. Below I will show a picture of a cranequin crossbow so you can see just how similar it is to a ballista and also how different it is from a springald.

similarities between crossbows and ballistae and springalds

See how the bow arms of the crossbow and ballista face outwards while the springald has bow arms that face forwards until tension brings them inwards? If you see the difference, you now know what separates a springald from a ballista! Yay! Now let’s do a little test: what type of catapult is the bolt thrower in the scene of the Greek siege at the top of this article? Is it a springald or a ballista?