Castle Doctrines – Ratios by R. Ann Parris
The eras of castles and ring forts can offer a lot of lessons for preppers, with particular value for those seeking both self-reliant lifestyles and sanctuary in times of strife. Many can be applied at any level of preparedness, in any location.
We regularly see an enormous focus on weapons among preppers, just like knights regularly jump to mind when we think of castles. If we want to be successful as our own island of safety in a chaotic world, the actual compositions of the populace around and inside those castles of old can be particularly insightful.
In olden times, as now, dedicated warriors had needs. Filling those needs started with peasant farmers.
Those farmers had to produce not only enough for their own families, but also surplus to support the other classes — rulers, military, tradesmen.
For most of human history, the surplus collected was a bare double-digit fraction of what each farmer produced. It wasn’t a 1:1 ratio of basic-laborer to specialist — not even close.
This site https://ourworldindata.org/employment-in-agriculture has charts we can look at for eyeballing just how much of that support population was involved in food production for some of last days of castles and the dawn of modern farming methods.
Even today, nations with high levels of self-reliance and sustenance lifestyles have 30-40% and 60-80% of the populace directly involved in food production — food production, not post-harvest processing or distribution.
Even that doesn’t give the whole picture, though. Remember, those are just the people feeding everyone.
For every warfighter, there were — and still are — dozens and hundreds in other support roles.
Clothing, equipment, bedding, shelter, clean homes, child care, pay (or the equivalent), and in some cases transportation of various types have been part of the logistical challenge since the dawn of dedicated warriors. The advent of chariots and destriers, larger standing armies, and metal tools only increased the need for supplies — for more of them, and for them to move smoothly.
A pyramid can help visualize the numbers involved, with rulers and various armsmen at the extreme top, the middle layers various trade and craft specialists, and the base the backbone of peasant farmers.
The costs were so high that for most of history, very few were full-time soldiers.
Instead, there was a reliance on yeoman — splitting time between military service and daily sustenance tasks.
The Vikings make an excellent study of yeoman fishermen and farmers, and craftsmen who trained and participated in raids or warfare on a part-time basis. We can see that focus throughout history, though, even after the advent of firearms.
Both the U.S. and Europe relied on militia in colonial expansion and during various revolutions. Farmers, fishermen, ranchers, craftsmen, and even homemakers served as yeomen throughout both World Wars.
Part-time soldiers — reservists, national guards, and home guards — still make up a significant portion of military forces throughout the world.
The U.S.’s “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” is an excellent reminder of the yeoman’s division of labor.
The 1:15 and 1:26 ratios aren’t exact throughout history or around the world, but they’re a good average and starting point for the proportion of military service to daily sustenance work.
And remember, not all of today’s active-duty and “yeoman” military have their fingers on triggers or joysticks.
For every daily gunner, there are dozens and hundreds keeping them fed, vetted, paid, housed, clothed, armored, armed, and mobile, collecting and distributing intel, and deploying them, and still others holding the home front while they’re away — roles that historically fell to castle rulers, clerics, craftsmen, sheriffs and wardens, and peasant farmers.
Preppers regularly focus on the spear, ignoring the spade, spool, smithy, and surgeon.
There are arguments to be made for a strong focus on defense and the martial skills. We do have to devote time to developing muscle memory to be effective in a fight, whatever medium we choose for defense, and to keep what we have, we may have to fight for it — just as those isolated villagers of old periodically did.
However, there’s a balance that has to be struck.
The proportion of time spent on non-military pursuits by the Vikings, yeomen pikemen and archers of castles, and colonial and homeguard militias of our past make excellent examples for anyone interested in resilience, self-reliance, and security. The ratio of peasant farmers to specialists, yeomen, knights, and rulers bears serious consideration for preppers in particular.
Just as we don’t typically grow up with martial skills from toddling stages up anymore, we’ve also lost a lot of the other skills of castle and village life. They, too, need attention and practice if we truly want to keep our families and castles safe — not just stockpiling things, but also being able to repair, build, and resupply.