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Reading ASOIAF, I've never been quite clear on who the soldiers in armies are, and where they come from. Meribald's speech in AFFC implies that soldiers are pooled from the smallfolk:

Broken men are more deserving of our pity, though they may be just as dangerous. Almost all are common-born, simple folk who had never been more than a mile from the house where they were born until the day some lord came round to take them off to war.

(Emphasis mine.) But this doesn't say a huge amount. Is it indiscriminate - is every fighting man within the lord's lands taken as a soldier? Is it voluntary, or are soldiers conscripted? Do all able-bodied men within the families of the lord and his bannermen fight? I'm looking for more general information about how armies of Westeros are formed.

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They are a combination of Knights, Sellswords and, as you said, small folk. –  Mooz Aug 9 at 22:35

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

Westeros uses a feudal system. Which means that each lord, high or low, has the responsibility of providing fighting men to his liege lord when the call comes. Willing volunteers are of course preferred, but they are often not enough when the conflict is large enough. So the lords conscript from their population. How they do that and how much men they take is up to the individual lord. Usually, it is only the lowest of the low who get conscripted. The unskilled workers, farmers and the poor who have no better prospects. Tradesmen, smiths and artisans are usually far too valuable to use as common soldiers. Which is why lords are usually keen on ending a campaign before harvest time comes, when most of their men would be yearning to go back to their farms. If a lord is rich enough he would bolster this army of smallfolk with his household knights, hedge knights and sellswords.

In the novella Sworn Sword we see this take action (albeit on a very small scale). Dunk and Ser Eustace round up a few able men from their lord's village. Only a few of whom had previous combat experience, and the rest just simple farmer boys who have nothing better to do.

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Okay, so generally the families don't get involved? –  Leo King Aug 9 at 23:24
    
@LeoKing - Whose families? The smallfolk's? They don't have a say on anything –  System Down Aug 10 at 5:32
    
Nono, I mean, do the brothers and sons etc of the Lord, or his bannermen, fight if they are able? –  Leo King Aug 10 at 7:33
    
@LeoKing the noblemen are honor bound to fight for their liege lord, least they be labeled cowards. Usually they'll be in prievelegd command positions –  System Down Aug 11 at 15:27
    
Are the Lord's siblings and children et al. considered his vassals, and compelled to fight (if of age?) That's what I was trying to ask. –  Leo King Aug 11 at 15:57

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