Miles may be translated as soldier, man-at-arms, or knight, an uncertainty which reflects both the ambiguous use of the word in contemporary sources and the developing relationship of military function and noble status. In this edition, the translation is standardised on man-at-arms.
Domesday Book is by far the richest source of data for the contemporary miles, recording over 750 holdings held by men-at-arms. These, for the most part, were of only modest value, averaging between one and two hides, more the endowment of a soldier than a noble. Most of the milites recorded in Domesday Book also occur in anonymous groups, more likely to conceal low-ranking soldiers than high status knights, though Domesday does, on occasion, apply the word miles to some of the richer landowners of 1086. Professor Harvey concluded from this dichotomy that the Domesday miles represented 'two completely different social and tenurial classes, the influential knightly sub-tenants and the professional knights'. Despite some methodological problems with the data, the socially ambivalent use of the term miles is clear enough.
Within a generation of Domesday Book, the miles, like the vavassor, was more clearly of noble status, more the knight than the soldier; but, as Professor Barlow has observed, 'the emergence of knights as a distinct and honourable class did not get under way before Henry I's reign'.
For a discussion of the problems, see Sally P.J. Harvey, 'The knight and the knight's fee in England', Past and Present, vol. 49 (1970), pages 1-43; Donald F. Fleming, 'Landholding by milites in Domesday Book: a revision', Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 13 (1991), pages 83-98; Peter Coss, The knight in medieval England (1993); and Frank Barlow, William Rufus (new edition, 2000).