As we know, early medieval warfare featured more than just a bunch of militiamen running around with clubs. So, if the four Ages were more historically accurate, what generic units would be available in which age? We’ll be ignoring balancing issues with this little experiment.
I attempted to answer this question myself, in that I made a data mod showing how such a concept would play out. Given how China invented a lot of things before Europe, I made both a Chinese style and the European style of Age availability. The Chinese style applies to China, while European style applies to the other 38 civilizations. Due to how time consuming this is, I have no desire to make styles/themes for other regions, or to apply this to anything else other than generic units. I also changed China’s tech tree to allow for Hand Cannoneers and Bombard Cannons (all other civ tech trees, outside the different Age requirements, remained the same).
For this mod, I used the following time periods for the Ages:
- Dark Age: 500-750
- Feudal Age: 750-1000
- Castle Age: 1000-1300
- Imperial Age: 1300-1600
You can take a look at how I moved around the units in this spreadsheet, or you can take a look at the screenshots below (top Europe, bottom China):
And now my explanation for placing units in the periods they were placed in. See if you agree with my assessments:
- Man-at-Arms: Dark (China, Europe)
- Long Swordsman: Dark (China) Castle (Europe)
- Two-Handed Swordsman: Feudal (China) Castle (Europe)
- Champion: Imperial (China, Europe)
- Spearmen: Dark (China, Europe)
- Pikemen: Dark (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Halberdiers: Castle (China) Imperial (Europe)
As I said at the top, infantry in the middle ages featured more than just a bunch of soldiers running around with clubs; people obviously were still fighting with swords (see specifically the Migration Period sword) and spears after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and Han China.
According to the AOE Wiki, whose editors I trust more than myself, the Long Swordsman in AOE2 is not wielding a longsword, but is instead wielding a knightly sword, a weapon that first appeared in the 1000s. Two handed longswords also appeared that century, hence the reason I made both the Long Swordsman and Two-Handed Swordsman available in the Castle Age for Europe. Finally, the swords wielded by the Champion can be seen as a claymore or a zweihänder sword, swords that first appeared in the 15th and 16th centuries. This is why the Champion remains in the Imperial Age.
During the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589), sword blades received upgrades that made them deadlier. This is why I made the Long Swordsman available to the Chinese in the Dark Age. Two-handed swords appeared in the Tang Dynasty in the form of the changdao (长刀), but then disappeared in the Song Dynasty. Two-handed swords would reappear in the Ming Dynasty in the form of the wodao (倭刀). That’s why in my mod you can train Two-Handed Swordsman in Feudal for the Chinese, but you have to wait until the Imperial Age to train Champions.
While pikes were used in ancient Greece, they fell out of favor in Europe until the 1300s. This is why I the European Pikemen is available in the Imperial Age instead of the default Castle Age. Same thing thing applies to Halberdiers, who first appeared in the 14th century.
The pikes wielded by AOE2 Pikemen resembles the dagger-axe with spear seen in this image. These dagger-axes with spears, also known as ji (戟) first appeared during the ancient Zhou Dynasty and, unlike in Europe, probably did not fall out of favor in the Middle Ages. This is why I made Pikemen available to China during the Dark Ages.
Some ancient Chinese polearms have also been described as halberds. However, these halberds don’t seem to possess the same broad axe heads as AOE2’s halberds. Instead, using that Chinese polearms image I linked to earlier as a reference, we see that it isn’t until the Song Dynasty that AOE2-style halberds appear, specifically in the form of the qilong ji (青龍戟). This is why the Chinese have to wait until the Castle Age to train Halberdiers.
- Archer: Dark (China, Europe)
- Crossbowmen: Dark (China) Feudal (Europe)
- Arbalester: Castle (China, Europe)
- Skimishers/Elite Skirms: Dark (China, Europe)
- Cavalry Archer: Dark (China, Europe)
- Heavy Cav Archers: Castle (China) Feudal (Europe)
- Hand Cannoneer: Castle (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Chemistry: Feudal (China) Imperial (Europe)
In China, the crossbow was heavily used in the Han and Song Dynasties, the latter dynasty see significant improvements to that weapon (hence Castle Age Chinese Arbalesters). There was intermittent usage during the Tang, but the crossbow’s history between Han and Tang is less clear. Unlike in Europe, Wikipedia and the World History Encyclopedia don’t comment on whether crossbows disappeared from Chinese consciousness between the Han and Tang dynasties. I would argue that if the crossbow was something China rediscovered, it would be something worth mentioning. Instead, I think it’s likely that the Chinese were aware of crossbows between the Han and Tang, but chose not to use them given the circumstances. Additionally, history professor David A. Graff (via Reddit) mentioned that 30,000 crossbowmen were involved in the Sui Dynasty’s invasion of Korea. With all of this in mind, I think it makes sense to give the Chinese Dark Age Crossbowmen.
Elite Skirmishers (armored javelin throwers) can be seen as being analogous to pilum throwing Roman legionaries. That’s why I placed both Skirmishers and Elite Skirmishers in Dark Age. There’s a lot less documentation of javelins in China, but they still existed. Plus, according to David A. Graff again, the Sui also used javelin throwers during their invasion of Korea.
Like with light cavalry, horse archers existed well before the Middle Ages, which is why in my mod make them available in the Dark Age. Few sources make a distinction between “regular” horse archers and “heavy” horse archers, but it did find that the Russian druzhina can be considered a so-called heavy cavalry archer. Given that druzhinas first appeared in the 900s, I made Heavy Cavalry Archers available in Europe in Feudal Age. The Mongols also apparently made use of heavy cavalry archers, so I made Heavy Cav Archers available in China in the Castle Age, in reference to the Yuan Dynasty.
Gunpowder was invented during the Tang Dynasty, but was not used much in warfare until the Song Dynasty. To reflect this, I made it so that the Chinese can research Chemsitry during the Feudal Age, but they have to wait to get to Castle Age to train Hand Cannoneers, Petards and Cannon Galleon.
Gunpowder reached Europe during the late 1200s/early 1300s, where it was quickly utilized in warfare. This is why I kept Chemistry and Gunpowder units in the Imperial Age for Europe.
- Scout Cavalry: Dark (China, Europe)
- Light Cavalry: Dark (China, Europe)
- Hussar: N/A (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Knight: Dark (China) Feudal (Europe)
- Cavalier: N/A (China) Castle (Europe)
- Paladin: N/A (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Camel Rider: Feudal (China) Castle (Europe)
- Heavy Camel Rider: N/A (China) Imperial (Europe)
Like with swordsmen, people did not suddenly forget how to fight with light cavalry when the WRE and Han Dynasty collapsed. I also assume Scout Cavalry were designed to be analogous with reconnaissance units, while Light Cavalry were meant to be analogous to light cavalry raiders. However, it seems like light cavalry have long been used for both reconnaissance and raiding; the idea that armies could use light cavalry for both certainly existed before the Middle Ages. This is why I made both Scout and Light Cavalry available in the Dark Age.
The invention of the stirrup played a major part in the rise of heavy cavalry. Stirrups was invented in China during the 300s, while they became widely used in Europe during the 700s. This is why I made Knights available to the Chinese in the Dark Age and in the Feudal Age for everyone else.
The Cavalier’s helmet looks similar to an great helm, which came to prominence during the 1200s. The Paladin’s helmet resembles a sallet or a close helm, both of which were used after 1400. This is why I made the Cavalier available in the Castle Age, while the Paladin remains in the Imperial Age.
Observers such as Matteo Ricci considered Chinese horses to be inferior compared to horses from other regions. This, combined with the fact that I could not find any Chinese armor that came close to resembling a great helm or a close helm, is the reason I made Cavaliers, Paladins and Hussars unavailable to the Chinese.
China utilized Turkic camel riders during the Tang Dynasty, which is why China can train Camel Riders in the Feudal Age. Documentation on Chinese camel warfare is otherwise lacking, though, so I have no idea how to fit in Heavy Camel Riders.
- Battering Ram: Dark (China, Europe)
- Capped/Siege Ram: Imperial (China, Europe)
- Mangonels: N/A (China) Dark (Europe)
- Onager: Dark (China) Feudal (Europe)
- Siege Onager: Imperial (China, Europe)
- Scorpion: Dark (China, Europe)
- Heavy Scorpion: Dark (China, Europe)
- Bombard Cannon: Castle (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Petard: Castle (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Trebuchet: Castle (China, Europe)
Mobile battering rams existed in ancient Rome and Zhou Dynasty China. What’s less clear is when armies starting putting iron caps on their rams, which is why Capped/Siege Rams remain in the Imperial Age. I would like to see if anyone here can provide more information on this.
Unlike in AOE2, it’s the Mangonel, not the Onager, that is considered to be the superior siege engine. Onagers were used in Europe since Roman times, while the Ancient Chinese never used anything like the Onager, instead using Mangonels from the start. This is why Mangonels are available in the Dark Age for Europe, but the Onager is automatically researched in Dark Age for the Chinese. I could not find anything regarding mangonels going through significant upgrades outside the counterweight trebuchet, so I kept the Siege Onager in the Imperial Age.
Like with Onagers, Scorpions (aka ballistas) were used in the Roman era. There was even an upgrade to the ballista called the cheiroballistra during the Roman era. This is why both the Scorpion and Heavy Scorpion are available in Europe during the Dark Age.
Wikipedia states on the Mangonel article that the Chinese never used anything like a ballista. However, I would argue that mounted crossbow beds and multiple bolt crossbow beds are analogous to the Scorpion and Heavy Scorpion respectively. Both of these siege weapons existed in China before the middle ages, so that’s why the Chinese can also train Dark Age Scorpions.
Counterweight trebuchets first appeared in the 1100s in Europe and the 1200s in China.
- Galley: Dark (China, Europe)
- War Galley: Castle (China, Europe)
- Galleon: Imperial (China, Europe)
- Fire Galley: Feudal (China) Dark (Europe)
- Fire Ship: N/A (China) Feudal (Europe)
- Fast Fire Ship: N/A (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Demolition Raft: Dark (China, Europe)
- Demolition Ship: Castle (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Heavy Demolition Ship: Castle (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Cannon Galleon: Castle (China) Imperial (Europe)
- Elite Cannon Galleon: Imperial (China, Europe)
Galleys in Europe continued to be used during the early middle ages, hence their availability in the Dark Age. In the 11th century, warships went through major upgrades, while Galleons came about during the 1500s. This is why the War Galley and Galleon remain in the Castle and Imperial Ages.
With regards to medieval Chinese warships, they certainly existed during the early middle ages. I honestly have no idea how comparable these warships were to European ones, though, so I just kept the Age availability the same as the European style. Hopefully someone familiar with naval history can help out with this.
Fire Galleys/Ships are based off the Byzantine dromon, which initially were used with Greek Fire in the 600s. They were also upgraded to biremes in the 900s. I could not find any further dromon/Greek Fire upgrades after that, so I kept Fast Fire Ships in the Imperial Age.
In China, the closest thing they had to Greek Fire was the meng huo you (猛火油), which saw widespread use in the 900s. The advent of gunpowder removed the incentive to development more advanced incendiary weapons, which is why Fire Ships and Fast Fire Ships are unavailable to China.
Demolition Rafts are portrayed as if they explode with gunpowder, but combustible fire ships were used in antiquity before the advent of gunpowder. This is why I made the Demolition Raft available in the Dark Age, as I think they’re analogous to those non-gunpowder fire ships. Demolition Ships/Heavy Demolition Ships are upgrades to the Demolition Raft, so it makes sense to think of them as being gunpowder units. Thus, like with other gunpowder units, they are only available in Castle Age China and Imperial Age Europe respectively. This same logic applies to Cannon Galleons.