So, I'm working on a fantasy setting where knights are just a foreign martial tradition, much disapproved of, and there is a native martial tradition that trained warriors are part of instead.
But how do I make them different? Were the Varangian Guard, for instance, significantly different from European Knights of later centuries? Did Celts have anything similar to Knights?
The easiest thing to do would make them the exact opposite of what you'd expect from knights. Do away with the mounts, the armor, the chivalry, everything. Make them the medieval fantasy equivalent of the Vietcong, ruthless pragmatists who think that valor and honor are a good way to get killed.
That's the easiest thing. Not necessarily the best. Tell me more about this setting. I might get better ideas from that.
Make the professional soldier class entirely mercenaries. You bring up Varangian Guard so this should work fine.
Think of it like this perhaps: Vast mercenary companies live in secluded areas training to the degree of warrior monks. They can provide any type of soldier needed for a campaign given that the pay is good. Their grizzled veterans fulfill the nightly role as armored captain-level soldiers with the best gear and decades of training. Being a mercenary is a prestigious thing because mercenaries in this setting are organized and efficient rather than being lazy bandits.
It's a sort-of Hollywood pre-Christian pagan society taking inspiration from Insular Celtic history, the Picts, and Faroese culture. The region is rocky, high-altitude steppeland inspired by the terrain of Mount Haleakala and Mauna Kea, which means rocks, grass, and very few trees good for things like lances and bows.
This geography means their metallurgy is a little primitive, though they do process trees for charcoal to make some low-quality steel. Their most advanced ranged weapon is the sling, and prowess with the sling is one of the marks of distinction for the culture.
They're a society of mostly shepherds and miners, or they were. Invasions in centuries past changed them, so that now there are agrarian areas with decent farms. Population density is pretty low even so, and raiding is common during late fall and winter. This is why they need a military tradition. Typically, single villages will have such a warrior acting as a village mayor or judge, who will take charge of the defense of these villages. Nomadic shepherding clans typically have more such warriors and warriors in training.
They don't have a culture of mounted warfare, though a small species of hardy ponies is bred in a few places. Those who adopt the tradition of knighthood, a foreign concept brought in by traders from a distant kingdom, tend to ride these in battle.
Better image of the sort of terrain I'm thinking about. Though I suppose instead of clouds they'd have fog, but Haleakala is high enough that these grasslands are drenched in cloud almost every day, which is how they sustain themselves.
But what's to stop the mercenaries from trying to take power themselves, like the Praetorian Guard? I don't know much about the Varangians, aside from the fact that they were pretty loyal to the Byzantines for centuries. What kept them loyal? Just pay?
>They're a society of mostly shepherds and miners, or they were. Invasions in centuries past changed them, so that now there are agrarian areas with decent farms. Population density is pretty low even so, and raiding is common during late fall and winter. This is why they need a military tradition. Typically, single villages will have such a warrior acting as a village mayor or judge, who will take charge of the defense of these villages. Nomadic shepherding clans typically have more such warriors and warriors in training.
This makes me think that "fantasy Celtic Vietcong" would work well, actually. Small, highly-mobile bands who know the local terrain like the back of their hands They're big into slings, meaning that they've already got a ranged weapon (and one where your ammunition is literally everywhere). These small groups would be perfect for raiding and also defending against raids (similar to how in Vietnam we dealt with the VC's unconventional warfare by using small groups of highly-trained special forces).
The single warrior acting as mayor or judge makes sense as well. These bands would probably all be from the same village, and the guy who fills this role would probably be the most experienced one among them. He appoints a successor from the rest of the band, and so on.
Finally, this is exactly the sort of tactics that might emerge from a civilian population fighting back against an invading force. You couple memories of how, generations ago, these tactics won them back their lands with a strong sense of martial tradition?
You've got a really good basis for them being "professional guerrillas," OP.
Also regarding Celtic equals to knights:
Neitos (Nee-yet-os; "Soldiers") were armored shock infantry used in Gaul armed with swords and board. They were warriors above all rather than farmers who went to fight for glory on the weekend. There were also the Arjos ("Nobles") who were similarly equipped but with higher quality gear. Finaly there were Gallic Brihentin (Bree-hen-ten; Literally means Knights). Gauls did use heavy armored cavalry with spears and swords to maul enemy formations so yes, some Celts had knights. Galatians, Celtiberians, and Britons did not though.
Varangians can't speak Greek, are getting paid a lot, and they don't stay in the guard for life. Most Varangians collect their pay after 5-15 years and then pack up to go back north once they get rich and famous enough. Foreign mercenaries are less likely to try and take over so long as you pay them enough.
On top of this, the Byzantines were literally always getting into fights with other pricks on their borders. And internal power struggles.
So, to recap: you've got foreign mercenaries coming from a culture that glorifies combat and dying in battle, you are literally throwing people at them to kill, if they do die they're going out exactly how they'd prefer, you're paying them well, AND it's not a "for-life" sort of contract.
The Norse were in fucking Valhalla in the Vangarian Guard, basically. If they were still around they'd probably be doing the exact same shit in the French Foreign Legion.
They are foreigners, are paid directly by the emperor, and usually only spend a few years in the guard before heading back home and/or dying. Given all that that there's not a whole lot of incentives to betray the emperor, especially since most of them don't speak Greek and thus can't really follow the politics of the region.
That should work well for tactics and things, yeah. Maybe they use iron cudgels and maces for close-quarter combat instead of swords, in addition to their slings. Or would iron and bronze swords make sense?
What about armor? Is iron armor a thing? I mean, I'm sure they must've made iron armor in the past but surely not plate or things like that, right?
That's really helpful, I've got to look those up. Thanks!
So then these mercenary warriors wouldn't be native to the country, they're just imported as needed? Or this is actually the mercenary homeland and so they come back with their military experience and enough money to retire?
>That should work well for tactics and things, yeah. Maybe they use iron cudgels and maces for close-quarter combat instead of swords, in addition to their slings. Or would iron and bronze swords make sense?
>What about armor? Is iron armor a thing? I mean, I'm sure they must've made iron armor in the past but surely not plate or things like that, right?
Iron cudgels sounds about right. Especially if the town they're from has decent metalworking. If not, some stout wood should work just as well. Cudgels and daggers, of course.
Bronze would probably be more common than iron, but maybe not remarkably more so.
As for armor, Leather and hide is probably what you're looking at. Iron armor might be a thing, but plate is probably right out; proper platemail didn't become common in Europe until the 14th century or so. You may be able to get away with a bastardized version of brigandine: a leather coat with small scales of bronze or iron attached. OR maybe even sewn in between two layers of leather. Not enough to stop a sword or arrow, maybe, but enough to protect against a sling bullet or a cudgel to the chest.
Pretty much being part of a Knightly order.
Which means either
A) You fight on behalf of something greater or a shared goal
B) You're part of a special club of people who kill people and beat the shit out of eachother for bragging rights
That will pretty much cover nearly every group of knights in history.
Knighthood was around long before chivalric orders came about though. Those started coming only after the Baltic crusades started coming to an end, in the late 14th and 15th century IIRC.
Knighthood is a manifestation of the concept of warrior nobility. In theory, it's when a society assigns wealth and power to people who show military aptitude. In reality it's more like a society expects military aptitude out of people who have been assigned wealth and power through a hereditary system. Knight is the second lowest rank of nobility, the lowest being esquire, usually used for sergeants and other distinguished men-at-arms.
So if your culture is not blending hereditary nobility and military rank together, it probably won't have knights.
Have a beurocrat noble class, like in China. Generals should be second rate, drawn from the administration and given massive armies of peasants to compensate for lack of military thinking
Eh if I was going to go with ripping off china I'd probably first go with martial arts schools. Don't necessarily need to call it that but treating martial training as a scholastic tradition makes for a clear reason why they would disapprove of those nepotistic foreigners tying the whole thing to social class.
1 - you could make fighting and the pursuit of martial excellence something frowned on, either considered uncivilised or something more zen like in the idea of killing or harming others is just totally abhorrent to them. Therefore the 'native martial tradition' is something that is illegal and only exiles or outcasts perform it. Likewise it might be seen as a necessary evil and only adopted by orphins or some such.
2 - you could just make a martial art that focuses on inner peace, have the society think of martial arts as a way of harmonizing the internal and external of their body and spirit, not something designed for conquering others.