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Variant Armies

Medieval Portuguese (1350-1485 AD)
DBA 171a

By G. Branco

Portugal is not mentioned in the DBA rules, so this list does it some justice. Peninsular armies should collectively be called Peninsular, Hispanic or Iberian, but not Spanish during this period. At this time the Arabs had been eradicated from Portuguese borders, so main battles were fought with Castela-Leao, its French allies, and with Moors at Ceuta, which was captured in 1415. There was important help from the British longbows [1] until 1411. The most famous military leader was Nuno Alvares Pereira, the 'Condestavel' or high commander of the Portuguese Army [1], who was in my opinion the greatest Portuguese military genius of all times.


Berber (125), Granadine (155), Navarrese (156), Medieval French (170), Medieval Spanish (171).


3x 3Kn/4Bd
1x 3Cav
2x 2LH
1x 4Cb
3x 4Sp
1x 2Ps
1x 4Lb (English) or
3Aux or 2Ps


Knights:: The main contemporary representation of knights come from seals. We can see rectangular shields with rounded bottom [2] and typical heater shields [3] probaly imported [4]. The Elvas seal (1258) shows a knight with lance and drop/lozenge shaped shield [5]. No rounded shields are found. A very important reference is a statuete of an armoured knight with full barded horse and heater shield [6].

In a famous painting of the battle at Aljubarrota (Jean Wavrin, Chroniques d'Angleterre), we see dismounted knights with axes and maces fighting supported by spears. Some plate could probably be used but not full plate as in the painting.

There are a lot of references to the "Condestavel" having ordered every man on foot before battle (Atoleiros - 1384, Aljubarrota - 1385) spears, swords and crossbows having probably been prominent. Thus the list should allow for dismounted knights, as does DBM organization.

About 1/3 to 2/3s of the knights should come from the military orders, which were still strong by this time. [1,7] The local Military Orders must be used:

  • Ordem de Aviz - white(?) or black(?) mantles with green cross.

  • Ordem de Sao Thiago - white mantles and small red sword.

  • Cavaleiros de Cristo - the most important by this date, because they were present during the overseas expansion. White mantles and red cross with withened ends and a small white 'silver' cross on the center. The 'Cruz de Cristo' is still used today as aircraft insignia.

Cavalry: The Cavalry element accounts for mounted crossbowmen or even bows. These could probably dismount as 4xBw but it is not allowed for in the rules.

Light Horse: Light Horse (LH) were called "ginetes" armed with spear and sword accordingly to Portuguese dictionaries. They were probably less numerous compared to other Iberian kingdoms. Round shields or Moorish shields were probably used.

Crossbow: Crossbows were very popular. In fact in 15th century sources it is said that bows had entirely been abandoned as having become obsolete.

Some crossbows in the peninsula fired stones instead of quarrels, and could be mistaken by the enemy as 'slings'.

Proportion of crossbows would average about 10% of the army [7].

Other foot: The word for the crossbow armed soldier was "besteiro," but there is some confusion because most soldiers that fought on foot would be called besteiros. The first permanent army was formed in 1331 [8] called "besteiros do conto," supported by the "concelhos" (administrative territories), which were probably armed mainly with crossbows, swords and spears. The concelhos also raised mounted troops. Chainmail armoured soldiers with open pointed helm, with vertical nose bar are represented in 13th century "iluminuras" with a big drop or almond shaped shield [10]. These soldiers are armed with spears (Sp) or swords (Bd).

In the same source, bowmen are represented with wide vests and no armour, corresponding to lights troops, so Ps should be bows or crossbows with light armor.

Options: The English longbowmen played an important role in the battle of Aljubarrota. The Auxilia, if used, should be of peasents in the first years of the period, as the Condestavel is known to have raised the local population [1].

Words on DBM 1/3 Portuguese 68 list.

The most obvious errors on the list are:

  • The majority of the army and at least half foot should be irr Sp(O).
  • Bds should be present.
  • Absence of the mounted crossbow soldiers (Cv) that could fire from the horses.
  • There were most probably no Almogahvars nor Granadine troops in the army.
  • Besteiros do Conto are omitted.
  • Military Orders should be more numerous.
  • There were no French allies.


Still trying to get more and better documentation.

  1. Known fact that can be found in most Portuguese History books.
  2. Equestrian D. Diniz seal. Paris, Archives Nacionaux, Department des Sceaus.
  3. Equestrian Afonso, Conde de Bolonha seal. Paris, Archives Nacionaux, Department des Sceaus n. 1063.
  4. Osprey, Man-at-Arms, n200, El Cid and the reconquista 1059-1492.
  5. Seal of the Elvas county, Lisboa, Torre do Tombo, C.R., SSa Cidade de Santarem, caixa 83, maco 1 ou II, doc 79.
  6. Statue in Capela dos Ferreiros, Oliveira do Hospital, 1325-50.
  7. Serrao, Joaquim Verissimo. Historia de Portugal, I, 1080-1415. Editorial Verbo, 1995, pags. 297 and 311.
  8. Osprey, Man-at-Arms, n155, The Knights of Christ, 1996.
  9. Mattoso, Jose'. Historia de Portugal, Segundo Volume. Circulo de Leitores 1993, pag. 373.
  10. Iluminura in Bible page, sec. XIII, Lisboa, Biblioteca Nacional, Alcob. 399, fol. 95r.

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Last Updated: May 11, 1999

My thanks to G. Branco and fellow Portuguese gamers for researching and developing this list. They welcome your comments and suggestions to jerboa@mail.EUnet.pt.