2015 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice
War and History
THE GEOSTRATEGY OF WAR
Can we characterize the strategies that defined war on the Eurasian continent from the steppes of North Asia to the Mediterranean in the south over the long period from the fifth century B.C.E. to the fifteenth century C.E.?
From the fourth century B.C.E. until the eighteenth century C.E., China was always coveted by the nomads on its northern border. Chinese civilization, which developed around the Yellow River during the third millennium B.C.E., was already the object of northern nomadic attacks even before Chinese unification (221 B.C.E.). Under the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. to 219 C.E.), the focus of Chinese culture was north-central China, with the Yangtze Valley as its southern border. Progressively, China extended south under the Tang dynasty (618-906), but it was only under the Song dynasty (960-1279) that the Yangtze Valley came to dominate China both demographically and economically. China's southern frontier region was one of expansion, where Chinese colonizers found fertile lands, inhabited by sedentary populations less advanced than themselves. In the north, however, although the steppe could be farmed, nomadic warriors stood ready to attack. As a result, China's northern frontier was generally a line of defense, as illustrated by the beginning of the Great Wall shortly after unification, which was not completed until the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Before the nomad Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Chinese territorial expansion to the north and northwest occurred under the Han and the Tang dynasties. Their goal was to control the northwestern oases of the Silk Road and establish a buffer zone between China and the northern nomads.
Until the Tang period, soldiers retained high prestige in Chinese society. Subsequently, however, the Confucian scholar became the favored role model, particularly after the tenth century, when mandarin competitions were instituted to select bureaucrats according to merit. Soon thereafter, the mandarins, rather than battle-hardened generals, were in control of Chinese military strategy.
From the fourth century on, northern China was constantly harassed and often occupied by nomads. Indeed, the occupation of northern China by nomadic peoples is a recurrent feature of Chinese history. All of China was, in fact, occupied twice by nomad dynasties, both coming from the north: the Mongol Yuan (1279-1368) and the Manchu Qing (1644-1911). The nomad invasions involved relatively small armies, however, which became sinicized within a few generations and were demographically diluted by the immense Chinese population-culture and demography have been China's great assets throughout its history. Nonetheless, the sinicization of the occupiers did not change the geostrategy of the Chinese Empire or diminish its vulnerability in the north.
In order to rule northern China, the nomads needed to control the Ordos Desert, encircled by the rectangular bend of the Yellow River, which flows for more than four hundred miles into the Mongolian steppe. When well led and facing weak Chinese dynasties, nomads effectively dominated the Ordos for fifteen hundred of the two and a half thousand years of Chinese imperial history. Often the nomads would raid settled regions, and occasionally they would conquer northern China and capture its capital cities, Xian, Chang An, or Lo-Yang. However, whenever a great dynasty arose in China, it would take the offensive again with the goal of controlling the oases in the north and west along the Silk Road as far as the Tien Chan Mountains and Dzungaria (northern Xinjiang). This happened under the Han (202 B.C.E. to 220 C.E.), the Tang (618-902), and at the beginning the Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. The Chinese attacked in early spring, when the nomads' horses were still poorly nourished.
The Ming Empire underwent two distinct periods. The first, offensive, aimed at restoring Chinese imperial greatness. During this period, the Chinese imperial fleet reached as far as East Africa, at a time when the Portuguese had barely reached the southern coast of Morocco. However, beginning in the latter half of the Ming era, in the late fifteenth century, the empire isolated itself behind the Great Wall, and China's coasts were abandoned to Japanese pirates.
After its conquest by the nomad Manchus in 1644, China returned to an expansionist policy. Under the sinicized Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722), the Manchus expanded to the north, crushing the troublesome nomads of Dzungaria. By the end of the eighteenth century the nomad peril had vanished. However, in the nineteenth century, the advance of Russia and the rise of European imperialism would present a far more serious threat to China.
Persia was another favorite target of the Central Asian nomads. In that respect, Persia and China faced similar challenges. The nomadic populations of Central Asia were concentrated around the northern part of the Oxus River-known today as the Amu Dar'ya, which flows fifteen hundred miles northwest from Afghanistan and Tajikistan to the Aral Sea. The first nomads to occupy this area were the Scythians. Herodotus relates that in the fifth century B.C.E., the Persian Great King Darius organized a campaign against them, which failed: the Scythians' scorched-earth tactics weakened the army of the Achaemenid Empire, forcing Darius to retreat.
Indo-European nomads occupied the northern part of the Oxus from the seventh century B.C.E. to the third century C.E. and spread as far as the Ukrainian steppe. By the sixth century, the Central Asian steppes fell under the domination of Turkic tribes. By the tenth century, in Book of Kings (Shahnameh), the Persian poet Firdawsī identifies the Touran, that is to say, the turcophones, as Persia's greatest enemies. Meanwhile, in the west, after the fall of the Achaemenid dynasty (550 to 330 B.C.E.), Persia successively confronted the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Finally, the Arabs put an end to the Persian Sassanid dynasty in 642 C.E.
Afghanistan to the east was never powerful enough really to dominate Persia. It was from the north that Persia was most vulnerable to invasions. The most serious threat came from the Turks beginning in the tenth century. Like the Chinese, the Persians had a civilizing influence on the turcophone nomads. From the eleventh to the end of the twelfth century, Persia was ruled by the Seljuk Turks, whose great vizier Nizam Al-Mulk (1018-92) was, however, a Persian.
Although Persia never had a population as huge as China's, it also culturally assimilated its conquerors. For example, the Arab Abbasid dynasty, which arose in Baghdad after the decline of the Arab Umayyad dynasty centered in Damascus, was gradually influenced by Persian culture. Shiism, which was adopted by the Safavid dynasty at the beginning of the sixteenth century, led Persia further to differentiate itself from the Sunni Arabs and Ottoman Turks.
The French historian René Grousset called Persia the "real middle kingdom". Every powerful dynasty that ruled Persia-Achaemenids, Sassanids (224-642 C.E.), Abbasids (750-945), and Safavids (1502-1722)-dominated Central Asia from Samarkand to the Indus. For almost a thousand years before the nineteenth century, Persian was thus the lingua franca of an area extending from Samarkand and Bukhara to Delhi and Agra. Persian influences are also seen in Central Asian architecture, with its emphasis on elegant gardens, and in cooking techniques that are widely shared from Central Asia to the Punjab.
The Indian subcontinent is geographically protected by oceans on two sides and by the Himalayas. Until the early modern European incursions, India was always invaded from the northwest. The history of the Indus Valley's Harappan civilization goes back to the third millennium B.C.E., as witnessed by the remains of the city of Mohenjo-Daro, in today's Pakistan. The Aryan invasion (1800-1500 B.C.E.) marked the beginning of a long succession of invasions, including that of the Hephthalite (or White) Huns in the fourth century B.C.E. This was followed by the great indigenous Indian dynasty of the Maurya (325 to 180 B.C.E.), which produced the remarkable emperor Aśoka the Great (273 to 232 B.C.E.). In his youth, Aśoka was a brilliant military commander, but he later became a devout Buddhist and promulgated laws banning hunting and ending forced labor. The Maurya Empire reached its greatest extent during this period, covering the entire Indian subcontinent and extending to the eastern part of present-day Afghanistan. Later, India would be ruled by another great indigenous state, the Gupta Empire (320 to 550 C.E.).
However, India prior to the modern era knew only one period when it was ruled from a single capital city, that of the Maurya Empire under Aśoka. Throughout its history, Indian unity has been less political than cultural. During most of its history, India was divided in multiple kingdoms, except when it fell under a foreign domination, as during the rule of Sultan Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316), the Mughal Empire under Aurangzeb (1659-1717), and finally under the British.
As early as the tenth century, northern India and, progressively, all of India except the Tamil extreme south fell under Muslim domination. In 1526, Babur, a turcophone fleeing Samarkand following an attack by Uzbeks, set out to conquer India using his artillery. After crossing the northwestern mountains and deserts, he waged battle on the plain of Delhi like the conquerors before him and won because he had cannons. He was victorious at Panipat despite his smaller army. It is interesting to note that the Delhi plain played the same historical role in India as Adrianople in the history of the Byzantine Empire: it was a place where geography and history met.
Unlike that of China, the political influence of India never extended much beyond its borders. However, the cultural influences of both China and India were widespread. East Asia became sinicized, reflecting the Chinese occupation of Korea until the fourth century, and of Vietnam until the tenth century, as well as the indirect influence of China on Japan through Korea, from the fourth century until the fall of the Tang dynasty (907). Similarly, Buddhism, born in India but gradually expelled by it, exerted a considerable influence on Southeast and East Asia beginning in the second century. Thus, India influenced Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Indonesia, which would later become Muslim, thanks to the peaceful proselytizing of Muslim merchants.
The Buddhist influence also reached Afghanistan (Gandhara), China, Korea, and Japan, and, in the seventh century, Tibet. The Mongol Yuan dynasty (1260-1370) converted to Buddhism, and Buddhism spread to Mongolia in the fourteenth century. Indian influences are also reflected in the magnificent temple architecture of Pagan in Burma, Borobudur in Java, and Angkor in Cambodia. India was twice subjugated by Muslims and then by Europeans. However, rural India entrenched itself in traditional Hinduism. The Islamic influence was felt most strongly in the north-in eastern Bengal and the northwest.
All nomadic invasions of India, like those of the White Huns and those led by sons of the steppe like the Ghaznavids and Babur, had to cross the same northwestern mountain passes, including the Khyber, and the deserts of Baluchistan before reaching the edge of the Indo-Gangetic plain. It is no surprise that the most warlike populations of the subcontinent, Sikhs, Punjabis, Marathis, and Rajasthanis, are concentrated in the northwest of the country, where conquerors came in droves. Bengal, on the other hand, which was better protected geographically, is known as a province of artists and poets. It was conquered from the sea by the British in the second part of theeighteenth century.
Asia Minor and Egypt
The border between Anatolia and Iran has changed little throughout two millennia, except when a single empire dominated the whole of Asia Minor from Central Asia to northern India. The border that separated the Roman Empire and the Parthians, the Byzantine Empire and the Sassanids, and the Ottomans and the Safavids resembles the border that today separates Turkey and Iran. Armenia has long been a buffer state that hangs in the balance between rival powers seeking alliance or allegiance. Because the power that controlled Anatolia was blocked in the east by the Persians, geostrategic logic forced it to advance toward the Balkans. The strategic key to this expansion is Edirne, previously called Adrianople. The other possible area for expansion is the Syrian-Palestinian corridor to the south. If the circumstances were favorable and the Anatolian empire was powerful, it would dominate the totality of these eastern Mediterranean territories, as in the case of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
Egypt, "the gift of the Nile," needs to maintain control of the Upper Nile until the fourth cataract. During the colonial period, the British had wisely linked the fate of Sudan to that of Egypt, and accepting their separation after decolonization was an error on the part of the "free officers" Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1953, in his manifesto Falsafat al-thawra (Philosophy of the Revolution), Nasser sketched a very ambitious plan of pan-Arab geopolitics. In practice, his short-lived alliances with Syria and Yemen were poorly conceived, and in the case of Yemen led to a disastrous conflict. It would have been better to have merged with Sudan and underpopulated Libya, whose oil reserves would have been very useful to Egypt.
Egypt is bordered in the west, east, and south by deserts. Thus, during the Old Kingdom and most of the Middle Kingdom-a period of some fifteen hundred years-Egypt was protected by its geography and the absence of powerful neighbors. The threat came from the northwest, where the Sinai Desert serves as a buffer, but was not sufficient to stop the Hyksos invasion. When possible, Egypt has always tried to secure control of the Syrian-Palestinian corridor, ideally as far as the Euphrates. The battles of Megiddo and Kadesh, the most ancient documented battles in history, were fought to control this corridor. Kadesh, fought between the Hittites and the Egyptians, led to a compromise. As for the small states in the Fertile Crescent, they were safe only when a strong power did not rule Asia Minor or Egypt.
The emergence of superior European armament and technology upset the traditional Eurasian balance of power during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Great Britain, an insular power, repeatedly opposed whatever continental power was dominant in Europe (Spain, France twice, and then Germany) by allying itself with other states concerned about the threat of hegemony. Today, the United States, protected by two oceans, faces no serious rivals. However, it was made brutally aware of its vulnerability on September 11, 2001.
WAR AND WEAPONRY IN HISTORY
Sedentarism, the transition from nomadic life to the first urban centers, began some four millennia B.C.E. in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and China in the vicinity of the Yellow River. Very early on, Mesopotamia and Egypt became centers of civilization. We know little about the wars of high antiquity, aside from the vestigial archaeological artifacts. The first documented battle in history is that of Megiddo, which occurred in Palestine in 1469 B.C.E.
The weapons of Mesopotamian and Egyptian antiquity were made of bronze. It was only in the second millennium B.C.E. that iron weapons were introduced, with their increased efficiency and durability. Shields and armor made of leather or metal offered little protection. The pike, of variable length, was the classic weapon of antiquity. Swords of varying length were also used, the shortest being the Roman glaive.
The dominant projectile weapon, from China to Europe and throughout Eurasia, was the bow and arrow, though slings and spear-throwers were also used. Nomadic societies developed advanced laminated bows made of multiple woods, with a double curve that provided greater range and more power. The nomads generally used two bows: a short one when mounted, and a long one when on the ground.
Starting in the second millennium B.C.E., the chariot was a symbol of power and the supreme weapon of the sovereign and his nobles. It was used by the Egyptians, the Homeric Greeks, and, in the ancient Orient, by the Chinese. The chariot was often the determining factor in battle. With two wheels, pulled by two horses, it usually carried three warriors: a driver, an archer, and, in the back, the "third one" of Assyrian texts, whose role was to protect the other two with a large shield. Chariots and cavalry were primarily used to break through enemy lines. Behind the chariots came foot soldiers in greater numbers, including both heavy and light infantry. The infantry were grouped according to their weapons; warriors with bows and slings in one group, and those with pikes and swords in another. Armor usually included a helmet, breastplate, and leggings.
In spite of the terror inspired by chariots, the charioteers were vulnerable if opposing archers could maintain formation and sustain fire over the final one hundred meters of the chariot's charge. In ancient battles, the last one hundred meters were almost always decisive. Cavalry, which appeared at the end of the second millennium B.C.E., reduced the time necessary for the final charge, and became the core of Eurasian nomadic armies from Ukraine to Manchuria. The nomadic mounted archer was a constant feature of war for over two and a half millennia. Stirrups, which added balance and power, originated in Central Asia around the fifth century B.C.E. and were adopted by the Byzantine Empire long before they came into use in Europe. The Maurya Empire (325 to 180 B.C.E.) used elephants in their cavalry, as did Carthage. Elephants could be terrifying when they charged in an orderly manner, but they could also be difficult to control and cause panic in their own army.
Siegecraft, or poliorcetics, was an ancient art mastered by the Assyrians as early as the eighth century B.C.E. From antiquity to the twentieth century, the most famous sieges lasted between six and twelve months, although the siege of Masada is believed to have lasted three years. Tyre was besieged by Alexander the Great for seven months in 332 B.C.E., Sebastopol was besieged for eleven months by the British and French in 1854, and Leningrad was besieged for more than a year by the Germans in 1941-42. However, most sieges were of shorter duration.
The Phoenicians were the first to adopt galleys in warfare at sea. Battles usually involved hand-to-hand combat after the galleys had joined, although ships also attempted to sink their adversaries by ramming their hulls. Galleys were careful to stay as close as possible to the coast. Improvement in their speed and power enabled galleys to rule the Mediterranean for two and a half millennia before they were supplanted by more advanced ships.
On land, opposing forces were arranged in lines or, more often, in columns of various depths, and more rarely in square formations. Each of these formations had its advantages or disadvantages.
• The line, which was effective against envelopment, lacked depth and mobility.
• The column, beginning with the phalanx, played an important role for centuries, but was vulnerable on its flanks.
• The square formation, powerfully defensive and sometimes impregnable, was often static. However, Swiss squares had enough cohesion to be mobile, thus transforming the wall into a battering ram.
Tactical maneuvers, essential in battle, include a few common motifs. The flank attack was designed to destabilize the enemy. The encircling movement was often used by nomadic cavalry, and could include a double attack on both flanks, as well as from the rear. During the Middle Ages, Europeans favored frontal assaults, aimed at breaking through the enemy center and dividing the enemy. These attacks could be waged by foot soldiers organized into columns (phalanxes) or by cavalry. In Europe, Greek and Roman infantry dominated from the fifth century B.C.E. until 378 C.E., when the legions of the Roman emperor Valens were routed by German cavalry.
Nomadic societies had similar strategies regardless of their ethnic origin: harrying the enemy from a distance; using combined mounted archers to destabilize the adversary before attacking him with a decisive frontal assault; envelopment from the sides; and simulating retreat to disperse the enemy and draw them into an ambush. In Central Asia, mounted nomads successfully employed this style of fighting until the sixteenth century.
The role of logistics-managing the army's transportation and the maintenance and deployment of food supplies and weaponry-has always been a key one in warfare. In sum, the adequacy of logistics defines the rhythm and range of military operations. Without it, there can be no campaign. The larger the army, the greater the demand it places on logistics.
It is estimated that each Roman legionnaire carried two weeks' supply of wheat, and that the supply column added four weeks' wheat per soldier, giving the troops six weeks of autonomy. Nomadic mounted archers had greater autonomy. Their well-integrated logistics gave them a vastly larger range of deployment because of their superior operational speed. Indeed, it is uncertain whether the advance of the German panzers on the Russian Front in World War II was faster than the advance of the Mongols over the same region centuries before. Each Mongol soldier had three to four spare horses and was accustomed to living on minimal supplies since childhood. The Mongols preferred winter campaigns, when frozen rivers could be crossed easily.
Strategy deals with ways and means to impose one's will on the adversary. For military historians, it is of little interest to speculate about whether war is characteristic of all so-called primitive societies. What is clear is that since the birth of the city-state, war, both offensive and defensive, has been a constant feature of civilizations.
In antiquity, victory in war meant being able to plunder assets and acquire slaves and land. At different times, and in various societies, war could take ritual forms. For example, it might be a contest between two champions, or sets of champions, representing rival groups. For example, Herodotus (book 1.82) describes the battle between three hundred Lacedaemonian and three hundred Argive champions, which ended with only three fighters remaining alive. Among the Aztecs, who built an empire through conquest, the goal of war was less to destroy the enemy than to capture prisoners to be sacrificed to the sun god. Western feudal battles were also meant to capture knights, whose freedom would be obtained through ransom. In the Renaissance, condottieri (mercenary warlords) were often content with the capture of the adversary, who could be ransomed, and the preservation of their own troops.
Strategies also changed over time. In the fourteenth century, after cavalry had dominated warfare for millennia, it was challenged by the Swiss square infantry formation, whose efficiency depended on its cohesiveness. Each square was formed in a canton, where everyone knew and relied on everyone else, so that neighbor fought alongside neighbor. What made these squares so terrifying to their opponents was that, unlike other troops of that time, the Swiss were not interested in ransom. Not a single prisoner, whatever his rank, was spared. Later, the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632) introduced another innovation: instead of a slow buildup to battle, he sought a rapid and direct assault, supported by mobile artillery, which proved highly successful.
With the French Revolution, a new way of making war appeared, based, not on mercenary troops, but on the levée en masse, or mass conscription of citizens, so that the entire society was involved. With Napoleon Bonaparte, battles aimed at the annihilation of the enemy armed forces. Armies throughout Europe were gradually nationalized in the nineteenth century, and military service became obligatory. There was considerable progress of fire power due to industrialization. With the increasing harshness of national antagonisms and the demonization of the enemy, as in the religious conflicts of the sixteenth century, the wars of the twentieth century became total wars.
The development of propaganda during World War I, brought forth by democratization, aimed at consolidating public opinion. However, success in prolonged conflicts depended more and more on industrial capacity. In the Spanish Civil War, Guernica anticipated the conflating of military and civilian targets: the civilian population became as much a target as the soldiers. War became yet more total in World War II, as exemplified by the bombing of civilians in Coventry, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Terrorizing civilian populations in order to destroy their morale in fact revived a tradition long forgotten in Europe.
Europeans emerged from World War I with a sense of disgust at the high price of victory, and painful frustration among the losers, giving rise to widespread pacifism. It is impossible to analyze war from a historical perspective based on today's political sensibilities. Executions, for instance, were public spectacles in many places in Europe before World War I and drew large crowds (as was still the case until recently under dictatorships in Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Mao's China). In western Europe, the military underwent significant changes during World War I: the officer caste was selected more democratically, and foot soldiers sometimes refused to accept the fate of sheep sent to slaughter. Thereafter, war ceased to be perceived as glorious: its price was too painfully heavy. Human life came to be seen as too precious to waste in combat. Elsewhere, outside Europe, poorer countries with demographically younger populations, sometimes with no experience of the two world wars, have not developed similar sensitivity. Their citizens are often dissatisfied with the status quo and have a different attitude to combat.
The concept of the "decisive" battle, according to which the collapse of the enemy forces is sought, lasted only about a century and a half, from Bonaparte to 1945. Military historians of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth cite an earlier period when supposedly decisive battles occurred. By the criterion of Anglo-American "grand strategy," only a battle whose politico-military or historical outcome is definitive should be called decisive. In this sense, the conquest of Constantinople (1453) by the Turks and the Arab victories over the Byzantines at Yarmouk (636) and over the Persians at Qadisiya (637), giving them the possession of Syria and of Iraq, were truly decisive. The same could be said of the fall of Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) into the hands of the Spaniards in 1521.
With all the difficulty and complexity involved, it is important to map out different types of wars, starting with acknowledgement that the concept of war and its nature has changed throughout history. If we exclude wars in primitive societies, determined by demography and the struggle to survive, wars can be divided into several different types:
Ritualized wars. They often occur inside a given society or in neighboring societies and are not waged to the death. Generally, they are characteristic of archaic or traditional societies.
Wars with limited objectives. They usually take place in a world where the code of behavior, the values, and rules of combat are implicitly accepted by both antagonists. Dynastic quarrels, for instance, do not seek to overthrow the established order, but have much more modest aims.
Classical wars of conquest. These have predatory objectives and seek to crush the enemy. No compromise is allowed before complete surrender. They can end with the annihilation or subjugation of the adversary.
Mass war. The French Revolution marks its beginning, and it reached its apogee in World War II. Adversaries seek the annihilation of enemy forces through battles, and the collapse of the civilian population though massive use of terror (bombardments, summary executions, mass deportations, and genocide).
Total war. Throughout history, the cruelest wars have been civil wars. The wars of religion, from the end of the sixteenth century to the first part of the seventeenth, are classic examples. Civil wars are ruthless and cause the most casualties. For example, the Thirty Years' War, the French religious wars, and the Civil War in the United States each caused more losses than the Franco-Prussian war (1870). Heavy losses were also seen during the civil war in Russia (1918-20), the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), and in the religious conflicts in India at the time of Partition (1947-48). If strategy consists of evaluating the benefits in relation to the costs, civil wars are the most irrational, since their cost generally exceeds their benefits.
Ethnic wars waged against a people considered radically foreign are another type of implacable war. In this category, we can put the conflicts between nomadic and sedentary peoples, such as the invasions of the Mongols in thirteenth-century Central Asia. Colonial conquests in America and Africa are also classical examples of this category. On the Eastern Front in World War II, Hitler's troops exterminated Jews and Gypsies.
In short, the most radical conflict is the conflict between brothers, or where the enemy is considered subhuman. There is a vast difference between wars with limited objectives and total war in the industrial age, which derives from the concept of the nation-state, and between ritualized wars and the devastating clash between radically different societies or the demented fury of religious wars. The type of soldier-mercenary, draftee, or volunteer-almost always matches the type of war.
Since the end of World War II, when nuclear weapons were first unleashed, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction has prevented conflicts between major powers. However, smaller wars persisted during the Cold War, some of them classic conflicts, such as the Indo-Pakistani war and the Israeli-Arab wars, but mostly irregular wars, guerrilla conflicts, and more recently, in a militarily modest way, terrorism.
The first attempt to extend the reach of the city-state, created by the Sumerians, was by Sargon of Akkad (2325 B.C.E.), who created an empire that extended beyond Mesopotamia, which included Syria. His grandson Naram-Sin (2250 B.C.E.) was the most important sovereign of the Akkad dynasty, which collapsed around 2200 B.C.E. Our knowledge about the military campaigns of the Akkad dynasty is limited to the little information on a few stelae.
Pharaonic Egypt, which appeared around 2900 B.C.E., did not dominate any foreign country, with the exception of Lower Nubia, during the Old Kingdom (2100 B.C.E.) or the Middle Kingdom(1650 B.C.E.). Egypt was well isolated from potential enemies by its surrounding deserts. The main objective of pharaonic power was control of the Nile River as far as the second cataract. The Nile naturally floods regularly, with fertile alluvia that are ideal for farming in the Nile Delta. In contrast, Mesopotamia needed large irrigation systems organized by the state to permit farming. And, unlike in Egypt, there were no natural boundaries to protect Mesopotamia. It derived protection from its armies. Thus, given those conditions, the populations of modern-day Egypt and Iraq differed, and they continue to be different from a military perspective.
At the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E. until around 1600 B.C.E., Babylon, particularly under Hammurabi (around 1700 B.C.E.), came to dominate the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The incursions of the Kassites from the Zagros Mountains began around 1750 B.C.E. They were preceded by the Hittite capture of Babylon (1585 B.C.E.), which put an end to the Babylonian Empire. Egypt became a military state after some fifteen hundred years of peace uninterrupted by external aggression. The invasion of the Hyksos with their chariots around 1800 B.C.E. put an end to the Middle Kingdom, but after the Egyptians expelled the occupiers, the New Kingdom was created around 1567 B.C.E. Finally, the increasing threats from the northeast led the pharaohs to create a regular army and move the capital south to Thebes, less vulnerable than Memphis to invasions from the north. The impact of war chariots was felt not only in Egypt, but also in the Indus Valley. Unlike the Hyksos, who spoke a Semitic language, the conquerors of North India were Indo-European. In distant China, where chariots may have appeared around 1200 B.C.E., the Shang dynasty invested the Yellow River Valley (1766 B.C.E.), but was overthrown by a southern dynasty, the Zhou, around 1046 B.C.E.
Here is what we know about the first battle ever documented in history: that of Megiddo, where the Egyptian pharaoh confronted the king of Kadesh and his Canaanite army. Using an offensive strategy and defensive tactics, the king of Kadesh marched south from the Orontes River to prevent Pharaoh Thutmose III from marching north. In the spring of 1468 B.C.E., Thutmose moved against the forces of Kadesh, which were camped near Megiddo. It was a remarkable strategic position. Nine days after his departure, Thutmose reached Gaza, having covered around fifteen miles a day. He advanced toward the city of Yehem, where he took counsel. He could choose among three different routes:
• The most direct route through the gorges of the Wadi Ara
• The road to the north leading to the north of Megiddo
• The road to the south, leading to Taanacia, south of Megiddo
Thutmose explained to his captains that information from his scouts suggested that the king of Kadesh was seeking battle at Megiddo. The captains objected to the shortest route, with its steep banks and vulnerability to ambush: if the vanguard was attacked, the rear guard could not intervene. The pharaoh nevertheless decided to take the shortest and most difficult route (calling to mind the first chapter of Edward Luttwak's book Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace). Indeed, the enemy was expecting the Egyptians to advance by the southern or northern route, but not to take the most direct and dangerous approach. The pharaoh started on the shortest road, but accepted the advice of his captains to wait for the rear guard and only to attack when all the Egyptian troops had regrouped. Thutmose accordingly set up camp south of Megiddo, on the banks of the river Qina, and attacked the next morning.
The strategic importance of Megiddo was that it commanded the exit from Wadi Ara, the narrow gorge through the Carmel Mountains that links the coastal plain of Palestine to the Jezreel Valley. This gorge was the famous Via Maris, which served as a communication passage between Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Anatolia. Whoever controlled Megiddo controlled this route, and consequently, an important part of the Fertile Crescent. There were important battles in Megiddo in 1917 and 1948 and many times before that.
At dawn, Thutmose III started the assault. The Canaanites were routed and took shelter in Megiddo. Instead of pursuing, the Egyptian army pillaged the Canaanite camp. It would take a seven-month siege to capture Megiddo.
The second battle of Megiddo, in 1295 B.C.E., in which the Egyptians fought the Hittite Empire, with its capital in central Anatolia, is rightly famous. When Ramses II become pharaoh-he ruled for thirty-seven years-there were threats on the northeastern frontier. The Hittite king Mouwatalli had formed alliances with tribes in Asia Minor and northern Syria and challenged the Egyptians on land and sea. A clash was unavoidable and both sides were prepared. Here is how Ramses II is celebrated in the long poem commemorating the battle of Kadesh on the Orontes River (in present-day Syria):
Great are his victories over foreign lands, no one knows when he will start the fight.
He is a strong wall of protection for his soldiers and their shield on battle days. He is an unequaled archer, stronger than a hundred thousand enemies. When he advances his divine visage strikes fear and inspires a multitude because his spirit is strong. Strong is his heart at the hour of battle as a flame springing to life. Strong is his courage, like a bull before a fight. He knows all things from all countries. A million men could not withstand him and hundreds of thousands faint at his sight. He is the lord of fear whose war cries carry to the ends of the earth.<B> </B>
In Year 1 of his reign, on the ninth day in the second month of the dry season (late May), Ramses began marching north with twenty thousand men. The four divisions, Amon, Re, Ptah, and Seth, each with five thousand warriors, advanced toward Kadesh. The Hittites were awaiting them northwest of the city. Two of Mouwatalli's spies, pretending to be deserters, told the Egyptians that the Hittite army was still far away in the north, near Aleppo.
Ramses, deceived, set up camp on the north bank of the Orontes, with the divisions of Amon and Re. Those of Ptah and Seth were two hours' march away. Suddenly, two Hittite prisoners who had been captured by Egyptian scouts were brought before him. Questioned, they revealed the truth. However, even before Ramses could react, the Hittites had overrun the Re division, attacked Amon, and entered Ramses's camp.
Then, says the chronicle:
His majesty arises and gallops to the center of the enemy forces from Hatti. He advances alone, no one accompanies him. Looking behind, he sees that he is surrounded by two thousand five hundred chariots. His escape is blocked by the warriors of the hateful Hatti. However, Ramses asks help from the God Amon. Can a father forget his son? Have I not always marched and halted to your orders and never disobeyed your rules? How great is the lord of Egypt: too great to allow foreigners to sully the borders of his lands.
All of Egypt gives you divine offerings and ships bring you foreign tribute. I call upon you, O my father Amon. I am surrounded by innumerable enemies. All of the foreign lands are allied against me. I am all alone and nobody hears when I call. But you, Amon, are worth more than thousands of men. I send this prayer to the ends of the earth and my voice already carries to Hermonthis.
Amon hears me and gives me his hand. I am joyous. He says . . . "Beloved Ramses I am with you. I am your father and my hand is in your hand . . . I, master of victory, who loves courage."
I now realize that my heart is strong and my spirit joyous enough to achieve what I undertake. Suddenly, I see that the two thousand five hundred chariots are overturned before my horses. None had the strength to fight. They lost heart at the terror that I inspired. Their arms became too weak to bend a bow or lift a spear. They fell down before me, and I killed whom I wanted. None of the fallen will rise again.
They say: "It's not a man, it's Soutekh of great courage, it's Baal himself! This is no man, but Baal himself. Flee before him to save your lives and feel the wind on your skin. See: anyone who approaches him becomes weak and is struck down with paralysis. You cannot lift a bow or a spear when it comes at a gallop."
Thus does the poem celebrate Ramses II's victory at Kadesh. However, in reality, Kadesh was not taken. Although the battle went in Egypt's favor, the Hittites were far from vanquished. The victory was only a truce. Mouwatalli, blocked at Kadesh, resumed the offensive, but without conclusive results. Around 1280 B.C.E., fifteen years after the battle of Kadesh, the Egyptians and the Hittites came to terms with the fact that neither could crush the other. A truce was announced and a treaty signed. The Hittite king died in 1288 B.C.E. Ramses took advantage of Hittite dynastic quarrels and dominated the Near East as far as the Orontes River, reigning until 1233 B.C.E.
The treaty was originally written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of the time. Although the original has been lost, versions in Egyptian and Hittite remain. The Egyptian version is inscribed on the walls of the Great Temple of Karnak. The Hittite version was among the imperial archives excavated at Hattusa, the Hittite capital in central Anatolia, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Based on the figures cited at the time, the Egyptians were said to have fifty chariots and the Hittites two thousand five hundred. Thus, the Egyptian celebration of Ramses II's victory was attributed to the mythical powers of the pharaoh, reflecting the magical thinking and exaggeration typical of the chronicles of the wars of antiquity. The battle of Kadesh was also recorded at the Ramesseum in Thebes, as well as at Luxor and Abu-Simbel. The Hittites lured the Egyptians north and surprised them with a flank attack, which nearly proved fatal. However, the Egyptians were able to launch a desperate counterattack when the Hittites began pillaging the Egyptian camp instead of pursuing the fleeing Egyptian forces. Egyptian Canaanite reserves routed the Hittite army as they were pillaging, and the remainder of the Hittite army retreated behind the walls of Kadesh. Thus, the outcome remained indecisive, with both armies sustaining heavy causalities. Nevertheless, the battle of Kadesh represents the height of Egyptian power, which slowly declined during the eighteenth dynasty after the reign of Ramses III (1197 to 1165 B.C.E.).
The Assyrian Empire
There were two separate Assyrian imperial periods. The first Assyrian Empire (thirteenth
century B.C.E.) pushed back the Hittites and conquered the kingdom of Mittani in northern Syria and southeastern Anatolia. The more important second Assyrian Empire (ninth to seventh centuries B.C.E.) emerged as the first truly military empire in the world. From conquest to conquest, it expanded to extend from western Persia to the Caucasus and included all of Mesopotamia. The Assyrians occupied the Fertile Crescent and Egypt as far south as Thebes. Civil wars, strains on logistics, and a proliferation of enemies brought the Assyrian Empire to an end in 613 B.C.E.
The Greeks and the Romans
The Greek phalanx composed entirely of free infantrymen appeared in the sixth century B.C.E. and introduced a new style of combat. With the exception of Macedonia, most Greek terrain was unfavorable to cavalry. The phalanx was eight or ten men deep. Each soldier carried a shield (used for defense and to push the phalanx forward) and a sarissa, a pike up to seven meters in length, which enabled the men in the first four ranks to reach the enemy. The goal of the phalanx was to break through the enemy's line, and the phalanx's success depended upon its coordination and cohesion.
Greece was more geographically vulnerable than Egypt. However, Greece was not as vulnerable as Mesopotamia, whose peoples had no choice but to conquer or be conquered. The mountainous geography, fertile valleys, and long coastline made it possible for Greek shepherds and sailors to defend their homeland and for the Athenians to create a thalassocracy, or maritime empire.
It was in Sparta that Greek society became most militarized. The distinction between free warriors and slaves was strongly emphasized. Boys began to train for war at the age of seven, while girls practiced physical culture. Girls stayed with their families, but boys lived communally. The training continued until the age of eighteen, when formal military training began. By the age of twenty, a Spartan soldier had to be ready for anything, because soldiers were Sparta's only defense. Sparta was the greatest military power in the Peloponnesus. Other Greek cities, notably Athens, emphasized their naval power, which reached from Asia Minor and the Crimea in the northeast to Sicily and beyond in the southwest.
Infantrymen in the phalanx carried a shield, the hoplon, which gave rise to their name of hoplites. The hoplite helmet protected the nose, face, and neck, while a cuirass (breastplate) and armor protected the legs and arms. The goal of the phalanx, with hoplites massed up to a dozen rows deep, shields locked, and pikes protruding, was to break through and divide the enemy lines with the force provided by the push of soldiers in the rear.
In addition to the pike, the hoplites used a short sword for hand-to-hand combat. The strength of the phalanx derived from its cohesion. Family members, friends, and neighbors fought side by side, sometimes next to famous citizens, such as Aeschylus, who fought at Marathon. Indeed, the armor and tactics of the hoplites required physical interdependence. Each hoplite protected his own right flank with his shield held next to the hoplite on his right, but his left flank was protected by the man on his left. The frontward movement of the tight formation required that each hoplite hold his position while pushing with his shield on the back of the hoplite in front. This increased the impact force of the phalanx, provided that it could maintain its ranks. The fact that all hoplites, even the most illustrious citizens, were similarly armed, without special distinctions, reinforced the idea that they were battling together, among equals, for the city-state.
The phalanx was faced with two somewhat contradictory constraints: increasing the depth of its ranks gave increased force to the charge, while increasing the width of the phalanx would enable it to overrun the flanks of the enemy formation. Usually, the deeper phalanx prevailed, at the risk of seeing its flanks overrun. In contrast, spreading the phalanx was dangerous, because the shallower formation risked collapse in its center. In part, strategy and tactics depended on the shape of the phalanx used. The Theban general Epaminondas defeated the Spartans at Leuctra (371 B.C.E.) and Mantinea (362 B.C.E.) by opposing the traditional dominance of the right flank and increasing the depth of his left flank to fifty rows. Generally, the phalanx had a tendency to veer to the right in battle, because warriors sought the protection of the shield of the soldier on the right. Usually, the right flank of each phalanx would dominate the left flank of its adversary. The battle was then decided by the two right flanks. With Epaminondas, the Spartan right flank faced a strengthened left flank, while the Theban right flank broke through the left flank of the Spartans. Moreover, Epaminondas coordinated the cavalry and phalanx to provide mutual support. Techniques for coordinating phalanx and cavalry were further developed by Philip II of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great.
The phalanx was limited by the necessity of fighting on a favorable terrain, and each side would carefully select a position prior to battle. Thus, the well-positioned Athenian phalanx defeated the Persian army at Marathon (490 B.C.E.) by breaking through the Persian lines, while the poorly commanded Persian army remained unable to utilize either its archers or its cavalry effectively.
The phalanx at the time, without the support of the cavalry or missile throwers, was vulnerable on its flanks to cavalry and on the front to archers. The only protection was to charge from a short distance in the hope of breaking through enemy lines and spreading panic in their ranks. The phalanx, composed of citizens, was the usual formation in Greece, but light infantry and cavalry progressively gained more importance as harrying forces to protect the phalanx. The Peloponnesian War, with its long campaigns and its strategy aimed at limiting frontal clashes, saw the further development of the light infantry. Besides, the use of mercenary troops led to the introduction of foot soldiers who were less heavily armed and more mobile than the hoplites: the peltasts. The peltasts could manage difficult terrain and had enough protection to come to the rescue, when numerous enough, of the hoplites.
After defeating Persian armies on land (Marathon, Plataea) and at sea (Salamis), the Greek city-states were defeated by Philip II of Macedon, who was able to create an army superior to those of his rivals. Athens and Thebes were crushed at Chaeronea (338), where Philip's son Alexander commanded the left flank of the cavalry, which proved the decisive factor in victory. The Macedonian phalanx was a tactical unit similar to the Greek, but improved: its rows were deeper and closer and its pikes were longer, allowing the first six or seven rows to reach the adversary during battle. The Macedonian phalanx comprised fifteen hundred men, sixteen rows deep, creating sufficient force to break through enemy lines. Light infantry such as peltasts, archers, and slingers supported this heavy infantry.
The cohesion of the Macedonian army came not only from its organization and discipline but also from its regional (one might today say patriotic) identity, with cavalry from tribal areas. The phalanx included two types of hoplites: a larger group of phalangites armed with sarissas and a smaller, more mobile group of hypaspists, armed with shorter pikes.
The cavalry had no stirrups. They were armed with long sarissas, which they used in the initial charge, and with swords. Later, an even larger phalanx was developed, composed of 4,096 combatants, subdivided into units called the chiliarchia (1,024 hoplites), syntagma (256 hoplites), taxichia (128 hoplites), and tetrarchia (64 hoplites). The Macedonian army included four phalanxes, or about 16,000 hoplites, to which were added other corps comprising over 8,000 men, including 1,024 cavalry and 2,048 peltasts.
The cavalry played an important role, and Alexander, in his battles with Darius, used it to his advantage. The principal corps of the cavalry was composed of Macedonian aristocrats, called the king's companions, or hetairoi, armed with pikes and swords, who participated in the frontal charge, harrying, pursuit, and reconnaissance. Macedonian superiority derived from the disciplined integration of the various tactical elements and their combination and flexibility under the brilliant command of Alexander. The cavalry was capable of supporting the infantry during its charge, but it could also break through enemy lines, while the phalanx, in a defensive posture, could repel the frontal assault of the enemy. The successes of Granicus (334), Issus (334), and Gaugamela (331) in destroying the vast and powerful Achaemenid Empire were owing to the tactical use of the combined Macedonian forces.
The Romans would overcome this Macedonian phalanx and progressively establish their hegemony over the Mediterranean basin. The process started with the defeat of Carthage, which under Hannibal threatened the existence of Rome (battle of Cannae, 216 B.C.E.). The historian Polybius tells us that after a victorious siege, the Roman custom was to destroy the city and kill all of the inhabitants. Pillage could start only after the physical liquidation of the vanquished. In this respect, the Romans did not differ much from other conquerors better known for their brutality.
The Roman infantry was organized into legions consisting of 4,500 to 5,000 men. Each soldier was armed with a gladius, or short sword, roughly twenty-four inches long and two inches wide, a weapon highly suitable for close combat, and two pila, or javelins, a heavy one and a light one, thrown during the last few yards of the charge.
The legion consisted of ten cohorts (450 to 570 men) each divided into "maniples" (150 to 180 men) and later "centuries" (around 100 men). A consular army usually consisted of four legions. This formation of infantrymen included light infantry, or velites; the hastati, young men who formed the first line; more experienced soldiers, or principes, in the second line, the legion's center of gravity; and, finally, veterans in third line, or triarii. The legion had more flexibility and adaptability than the phalanx, but was also essentially trained for offense. Its organization, cohesiveness, and discipline made it a formidable force, which was rarely defeated. Each century was led by a centurion. The centurions played a fundamental role throughout the history of Rome, and were the backbone of the Roman legion.
Slightly before the end of the first century B.C.E., some changes were introduced. Marius opened the army to the most disadvantaged popular classes and established a new system of organization. On the battleground, the cohort consisted of five men in the first line with a depth of eight to ten rows, with enough space between two legionaries to allow flexibility as well as strength. During the attack, often waged on the flanks, the two first rows threw their javelins just before closing with the enemy, sword in hand. The next rows threw their javelins and then relieved the previous rows in close combat. Then two other rows would throw javelins again before close combat, and so on, until the enemy line was broken by wave after wave of fresh troops.
The legion was superior to the phalanx in its flexibility, adaptability, and efficiency. However, the Romans never achieved the balanced combination of forces that Alexander had managed. Rome's victories were won by its infantry; but they also suffered reverses, as in the battle of Carrhae in Mesopotamia in 53 B.C.E., where Parthian (Persian) cavalry inflicted a catastrophic defeat on an army of Roman legionaries. At the height of Augustus's reign (27 B.C.E.-14 C.E.), the Roman army included 125,000 Roman soldiers, with an equal number of mercenary troops who were not Roman citizens. Around 63 C.E., with the conquest of England and the subjugation of Armenia, the empire approached its maximum size. Soon afterward, Rome conquered Mesopotamia and Dacia too, but it did not hold them long.
The Romans were masters of siegecraft, as shown in Caesar's siege of Alesia. The legions, when they moved, built a fortified camp each night, and thus were rarely surprised. In the Punic Wars, the fleet played an important role; the power struggle between Antony and Octavian played out at sea in the battle of Actium (31 B.C.E.).
By the third century C.E., the function of the legions on the limes, or frontier, which had previously threatened neighboring lands, had become primarily defensive, and the empire was split into its western and eastern halves. Constantine the Great (306-37 C.E.), who emerged victorious in a series of civil wars to become sole ruler of both west and east by 324, reorganized garrisons and regrouped and reinforced the cavalry. However, the Western Roman Empire under the emperor Valens met with disaster at Adrianople (396 C.E.), where the Roman infantry was overcome by Goth cavalry. The Germanic push at the beginning of the fifth century would become an irresistible rush within the next few decades, which ended with the destruction of the Western Empire (476 C.E.). The Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire would last until 1453.
The Byzantine Empire, considered in isolation, is an exceptional model of survival in a difficult geographic situation. It survived, showing exceptional durability, based on an ability to adapt, refined strategic thinking, and subtle, flexible diplomacy. On many occasions, the Byzantine Empire recovered from apparently desperate situations. It played a fundamental role in the history of Christianity, particularly during the critical doctrinal disputes from the fourth to the eighth centuries. The importance of the Byzantine Empire has been deemphasized in Eurocentric versions of history, due in part to the rivalry between Rome and Constantinople at various times. The rising power of Roman Christianity from the eleventh century on (following the schism in 1054) brought forth the Fourth Crusade, which Venice managed to turn against its rival, Constantinople, in 1204. Although the Byzantine Empire was restored half a century later, it lost its ability to face the mounting regional perils. It collapsed in 1453, a thousand years after the fall of Rome.
Europe between the fifth and eighth centuries is largely remembered from a military/strategic perspective for the Frankish victory under Charles Martel in the battle of Tours (Poitiers) in France in 732 C.E. that stopped the advance of the Arabs. However, from an Arab perspective, Tours was of minor importance in comparison with the many defeats inflicted on the Muslims by the Byzantines. The major event during this period-which will be dealt with hereafter-was the stunning military expansion of Islam in less than a century.
After the introduction of the stirrup-in the fifth century in Central Asia and China, in the sixth century in Byzantium and Persia, and in the eighth century in western Europe-cavalry became the most important military force. In the battle of Adrianople, it was clear that dominance on the battlefield had shifted: cavalry triumphed over the infantry, reversing the order that had characterized Greek and Roman dominance.
By crowning Charlemagne, Charles Martel's grandson, as Holy Roman emperor in 800 C.E., Pope Leo III challenged the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, who viewed himself the heir to ancient Rome. The Carolingian cavalry's strategic culture was inherited from both the Germanic tradition and that of the Roman legion, which alike favored frontal assaults. This culture, born in the feudal age, lasted until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.Some military historians, like Victor Davis Hanson, characterize the Western strategic tradition as systematically seeking a frontal assault, expressing a style of combat born in societies where soldiers were citizens. Though many examples support this thesis, there are also many contradictory examples, particularly in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. In contrast, the British military historian B. H. Liddell Hart argued that successful military strategies are invariably indirect, even in the West.
Western Europe faced Saracen incursions on land and Viking incursions at sea. It also confronted nomadic peoples driven from the steppes by the Mongols. Fighting mostly on horseback, using laminated bows, nomads like the Hungarians (Magyars) devastated Italy, Burgundy, Germany, and the countries of the Danube until they were defeated by the German emperor Otto I at Lechfeld in 955. The Hungarians converted to Christianity at the end of the tenth century, and by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had become a bulwark against the Turks, before their defeat at Mohács in 1526 at the hands of the Ottomans. The Vikings descended the Russian rivers and settled Ukraine, trading with both Byzantines and Arabs. In the west, they settled in France, England, Iceland, and Greenland, and their descendants the Normans conquered England (1066) and then Sicily. The Saracens were eventually confined to Spain south of Asturias. The reconquest of the rest of Spain did not begin until the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
In the eleventh century, western European populations were increasing, and the economy was growing. Europe felt capable of going on a crusade. Until then, the Carolingians' gains in the east had been modest, much less than what Christendom had lost in Spain and North Africa, once the homeland of Saint Augustine and Tertullian, founding fathers of the Latin Church. Militarily speaking, the Crusades offered some new lessons to the Europeans. When they reached Anatolia, the Franks clashed with Seljuk Turks and consequently with mounted archers. The Seljuk strategy consisted of hitting the enemy with a shower of arrows shot from the first row of horsemen, which then moved away to make room for the second row and so on, in order to inflict severe losses to their adversary before storming their defenses. The Turkish horsemen, with their lighter arms and armor, were faster than the Franks. Charging, as was the Franks' custom, proved frustrating, since the mounted archers would merely retreat and then return to start harassing them again. The Seljuks also used the classic tactic of nomad warriors, which consisted of feigning a retreat to draw their opponents into a scattered attack and then setting an ambush. Finally, the mounted archers used the technique of envelopment from the sides or rear. In particular, the Seljuks would often attack marching troops from the rear before they could organize themselves. All of these tactics were used in Asia Minor during the Second Crusade (1147), and against the troops of the emperor Frederick Barbarossa in Anatolia during the Third Crusade (1190).
The Seljuk mounted archers would engage in a direct frontal assault only when the enemy had been weakened and disorganized by volleys of arrows. With their greater mobility, the mounted archers could easily retreat if enemy resistance proved too strong. Later, the Franks would be faced with the Fatimids of Egypt, who proved to be even more dangerous than the Seljuks.
Arab tactics were different from those of the Turks and did not include mounted archers, but rather heavy cavalry that would engage in initial frontal assaults with lance and sword, like the Franks. The Kurdish commander Saladin led a successful counteroffensive, but final victory over the Christians at Acre in 1193 would come at the hands of the Mamluks, who combined the harassment of mounted archers with the power of heavy cavalry. During the two centuries of their presence in the Levant, the Franks adapted to the style of combat of their Seljuk, Mamluk, or Arab adversaries, with frontal assaults whenever possible.
Over time in the Levant, Frankish rule was accompanied by the construction of crusader castles. The crusaders had learned from the military architecture of the Byzantines and Armenians, which was well adapted to castle construction in mountainous regions. The influence of crusader architecture remains particularly noticeable in Italy.
The success of the early Crusades was greatly facilitated by divisions among the Muslims. Later, when the Muslims were unified under Saladin as sultan of Egypt and Syria, the situation changed. The battle of Hittin (1187) marks a turning point, when Jerusalem was taken back by the Muslims, although Saladin remained unable to capture the Franks' fortresses. Later, the Mamluks would finish the reconquest at the end of the thirteenth century. The crusaders' defeat was less a consequence of their style of combat than of the size of their armies. Despite the addition of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, they lacked manpower. The major political result of the Crusades was the irreparable weakening of the Byzantine Empire following the misguided sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204.
In Europe, the Hundred Years' War between England and France, from thefourteenth to the fifteenth century, was marked by three battles: Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415). Their outcomes reflected the gradual change in performance of archers and heavy cavalry, which was organized for frontal charges and limited in mobility by the weight of armor. The crossbow became more important because of the ability of its bolts to penetrate armor, but remained slow to reload. At Crécy, the six-foot long bow could launch arrows almost five hundred feet, with skilled archers capable of firing eight to ten arrows per minute. Uneven terrain, which impeded the charge of the more numerous French knights, also contributed to the victory of the English at Crécy.
However, the real return to infantry was due to the Swiss. The English won battles with a combination of archers and cavalry, but the Swiss won with their infantry alone. In the battle of Morgarten (1315), Swiss soldiers in square formations defeated the Austrian cavalry. The Austrians, who came to repress restive cantons clamoring for freedom, were routed in a gorge. Later, at Laupen, near Berne (1339), and Sempach (1386), the Swiss square would again triumph over the Austrians and their allies. The Swiss soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder came, not only from the same canton, but from the same valley. Their cohesiveness and patriotism, born of the recently proclaimed freedom in the first three cantons, partly explains Swiss superiority. The Swiss tactic, based on the use of the pike, could be either offensive or defensive, since the Swiss squares could resist on four sides. The Swiss troops were ruthless and ready to die when necessary.
Swiss pikes were over five meters long, making it difficult to reach behind the hedge of pikes created by the first several rows of soldiers. The usual formation consisted of 250 men organized in squares consisting of 16 × 16 rows. Each square also included a small corps of crossbowmen. For almost a century and a half, this Swiss formation was the most successful in Europe.
Firearms appeared progressively over more than a century before they became decisive in the eighteenth century. Long before, from the seventh century until the thirteenth, "Greek fire" had been the secret weapon of the Byzantine Empire, especially in naval battles. The iron bombard firing stone cannon balls appeared in 1325. Its reach was about well over two hundred yards. The harquebus appeared on the battlefield in 1425. Mobile bronze cannons that shot iron cannon balls were introduced in 1444 and helped expel the English from France less than ten years later. A giant cannon cast by a renegade Hungarian would help the Ottomans take Constantinople in 1453.
The iron cannon was inexpensive, and bronze cannons, heavier and much more costly, were less widely used on the battlefield. Bronze cannons could weigh as much as three thousand kilos, making them difficult to transport, but their greater firepower was often worth the cost. The crossbow remained in use until the beginning of the sixteenth century, when it was gradually replaced by the harquebus, which had greater firepower, but a shorter range, and was slower to reload. Firearms progressively improved. Gunpowder was also used outside of Europe, although little is known about its deployment in combat.
In 1494, Charles VIII of France surprised Italy with mobile cannons shipped by sea to the port of La Spezia. The use of an armored siege train to take Naples revolutionized the art of war. Cannons proved decisive there, as in the fall of Constantinople forty years earlier.
In the fifteenth century, among tactical innovations, Jan Žižka, who led a peasant rebellion in Bohemia, was one of the first to mount cannons on wheels. He also reemployed the Gothic Wagenburg, or wagon fortress, a mobile stronghold consisting of wagons covered with steel plates and linked together in a circle with chains. Between 1420 and 1434, at the head of the Hussites, Žižka made remarkable use of the Wagenburg strategy. As soon as an attack was repelled by it, the Hussite cavalry and pikemen would counterattack to seal the enemy's defeat
At the battle of Marignano (1515), French cannons would put an end to the dominance of Swiss infantry. However, the French were soon outdone by the Spanish, who became the elite troops of Europe. The sixteenth-century battlefield was still dominated by the pike and heavy cavalry. It remained so until the era of Gonzalo de Córdoba and the Spanish tercio, a huge formation of up to three thousand infantry, with pikemen in the center and crossbowmen and musketeers on the sides. The Spanish troops were very disciplined and pugnacious and dominated the European battlefield from 1520 to 1620.
Weapons changed slowly. The musket, introduced in Europe around 1520, was a heavy weapon and slow to reload. By the middle of the sixteenth century, a harquebus could still only shoot twice a minute and had an effective range of not much more than a hundred yards. The troops were suspicious of change and slow to adapt to muskets, in part because of the time necessary to reload. Battles were thus often decided by forcefully led cavalry charges.
The Reformation convulsed Europe and unleashed a series of conflicts, culminating in the Thirty Years' War. Important military innovations were made in the forces of Maurice of Nassau, stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, during the Dutch rebellion against Catholic Spain, and in those of the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632).The religious quarrels raging in Europe gave rise to unusual alliances, such as that of France under François I with the Ottomans, formed to weaken the Hapsburgs. A final (Hungarian) attempt at a crusade ended in defeat in the battle of Varna in Bulgaria in 1444. Leaving aside the Catholic coalition that defeated the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto in 1571, there was no longer a confessional basis in Europe for an anti-Muslim alliance.
The revolt of the Netherlands against Catholic Spain lasted over eighty years. Inspired by the discipline of the Roman legions, Maurice of Nassau formed a remarkable army. He standardized artillery and his principal weapon, the howitzer, came to be adopted by many other European countries. Hitherto, siegecraft had lagged behind the art of fortification. Remarkable engineers, such as Niccolò Tartaglia (1500-1557), Edward de Bar-le-Duc, and later the Netherlander Simon Stevin (1548-1620), in the service of Maurice of Nassau, conceived lower and thicker fortifications, while eliminating blind corners. These innovations returned advantage to the defense.
Maurice of Nassau reduced the depth of his infantry formations. The rows were reduced to five instead of fifty, so that more soldiers could participate simultaneously in battle. He introduced a linear formation of fifty pikemen over the five rows, with forty musketeers on the sides arranged in short columns. In total, units contained five hundred men, like a Roman cohort, as described by the humanist Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) in his book Politicorum sive Civilis doctrinae (Politics or Civil Doctrine).
These innovations aimed at improving firepower and mobility, to which were added the essential ingredients of the Dutch Protestant army, unusual for the time: discipline, strict drilling, high morale, and regular pay. In contrast, Spanish troops pillaged when they were not paid. During the French wars of religion, the Huguenot commander François de La Noue, called Bras-de-Fer (Iron Arm), who fought in France and Holland, wrote essays on military strategy that influenced Gustavus Adolphus and Cromwell, among others, which are unjustly ignored.
Until the seventeenth century, galleys dominated the Mediterranean. In the sixteenth century, a well-packed galley could transport four hundred men. The Venetian galley or galleass, was twice as large, and it played an important role at Lepanto. The Turkish galliot (half-galley) was fast and could carry a hundred men with light cannons. Until the sixteenth century, naval battles resembled land battles and were mostly decided by hand-to-hand combat. In the sixteenth century, ocean-going galleons appeared, with heavier cannons for long-distance battle. The era of hand-to-hand naval combat came to an end. The cannon became the foundation of European naval domination. The Portuguese, after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, were able to impose themselves in the Indian Ocean. Their bases at Ormuz (1507), in the Gulf, and at Diu (1509) would enable them to occupy Indonesian and Chinese ports (1557). Meanwhile, the Spanish advanced toward the Philippines and the Americas, beginning in 1492, in voyages that would combine discovery, trade, and war.
The year 1562 marked the beginning of the French religious wars. Six years later, Dutch Protestants revolted against the Catholic domination of Spain. The Reformation sparked a series of conflicts, which soon ravaged all of Europe. Soon after the French and Dutch civil wars, the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) began. These religious conflicts would last eighty years in all and end with Cromwell's Civil War in England.
The Protestants took advantage of advances in the art of fortification and siegecraft. The Huguenot style of fortification was based on a palisade backed by trenches and artillery. The Protestants repelled cavalry charges with soldiers armed with harquebuses called "lost children," since they were undefended by pikemen and were sometimes sacrificed when they failed to halt cavalry charges with sustained fire. After the end of the sixteenth century, the musket became widespread, despite the fact that it sometimes required more than two minutes to load. By 1650, the range of a wheellock musket was well over two hundred yards, but rain and humidity often made it very difficult to set off the charge. At this time, artillery still played only a peripheral role in many battles.
By the second half of the sixteenth century, cavalry began to use firearms. The German introduction of the pistol, fired at short range, was a revolution that spread quickly. It evolved into the caracole, where horsemen armed with two pistols apiece would advance in ranks, turn their horses first to one side and then to the other to discharge their pistols from just out of the range of the enemy pikemen, and then retire to the back of the cavalry formation, up to twelve ranks deep, to reload. Well-coordinated cavalry could deliver a virtual continuous stream of fire.
The French Huguenots sent reinforcements to the Dutch Protestants. François de La Noue would distinguish himself there as a general. The Dutch War of Independence (1568-1648) was not only religious; the Reformation greatly increased the political and economic role of the merchant classes, who would come to play an increasingly important role in seventeenth-century Holland, despite the continued influence of the landed gentry. There were few decisive battles in this war. Dutch dikes, swamps, canals, and estuaries were less conducive to decisive victories than open fields of battle. Military operations were delayed by long sieges and prolonged naval battles. Spain's delays in paying its troops led to a mutiny and the sacking of Antwerp, the largest Netherlandish city of the time, in 1576, a calamity known as the Spanish Fury.
Hostilities of another kind were also faced by Spain, whose galleons were often attacked by pirates supported by the English crown. In 1587, Philip II readied a fleet at Cadiz to invade England. The English privateer Sir Francis Drake managed to destroy a portion of the Great Armada, delaying its sailing until the following year. Consisting of 130 ships, including eight galleys, with 7,000 sailors and 17,000 Spanish soldiers, the Armada was an army transported by sea. It was opposed by experienced English captains such as Drake, John Hawkins, and Martin Frobisher, who commanded over a hundred smaller but more maneuverable ships. The English were victorious, but their victory did not change the balance of power among on the continent, which remained largely in favor of Spain.
However, the defeat of the Spanish Armada reduced Spanish pressure on the Netherlands at a time when the House of Orange had an invaluable leader in Maurice of Nassau. He paid his troops punctually but demanded strict discipline and rigorous training. On the battlefield, his troops proved tactically superior to the Spanish and developed improved siegecraft that enabled them to take previously impregnable fortresses.
Nassau won the battle of Nieuwpoort (1600) with innovative tactics and siegecraft, which may have been of greater importance than the outcome of the battle itself. The rebels recaptured their cities, and the war ended with a truce. The seven Protestant United Provinces became independent, while the southern Netherlands, present-day Belgium, remained Catholic.
Europe was at peace for nine years before the Thirty Years' War, the most murderous war in its history until the twentieth century. The Hapsburgs, backed by the power of Spain and Portugal, sought to crush the German Protestants. The Hapsburg Holy Roman emperor Charles V was king of Spain and was married to Isabella of Portugal. However, Catholic France didn't wish to see the Hapsburgs' power increase and joined with Protestant Sweden to oppose them. Bohemia, Denmark, England, and the United Provinces also sided against the empire. The musket, introduced in the sixteenth century, had improved: it was still slow to shoot, requiring a hundred movements to reload, but had become efficient at distances of over two hundred yards. It could be discharged twice a minute and was heavy enough to require a supporting post.
The Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, a major figure in the Thirty Years' War, reorganized his army through a series of reforms to improve mobility. Cavalry was strictly reserved for charging enemy lines. The cavalry would fire their pistols and then charge with their sabers. The infantry carried improved muskets, which were capable of firing once a minute, using bullets wrapped in paper, and light enough not to require a mount. Musketeers also had sabers. Pikemen carried shorter and lighter pikes. Gustavus Adolphus's troops, with a large proportion of Swedes and Finns among them, were highly disciplined: pillage and rape were punished by hanging.
For almost a century, the depth of the infantry had been determined by the time needed by musketeers to reload their weapons. Maurice of Nassau reduced the rows to ten after rigorous drills. Gustavus Adolphus, thanks to improved musket design, was able to further reduce them to six rows, thus increasing the mobility of infantry brigades of about fifteen hundred men, half pikemen and the other half musketeers.
The cannon made slow progress until the seventeenth century. In 1624, Gustavus Adolphus introduced a new type of cannon weighing two hundred pounds that could be transported by a single horse and four men. The imperial armies used cannons that weighed half a ton.
Each group of five hundred men in the Swedish army had a cannon, which gave great mobility to Swedish firepower. For the first time, artillery became an integral component of battle and a potent offensive weapon. Finally, the king, at the head of his cavalry, was a commander who knew how to galvanize his troops. His only handicap was the size of his army, which never amounted to more than twenty-five thousand soldiers, and was often much smaller. This didn't stop the Swedish king from winning important battles (e.g., at Breitenfeld in 1631).
Meanwhile, Germany underwent terrible suffering, with pillage, executions, and epidemics that killed one-third or more of the German and Bohemian populations.
France, which sided against the Hapsburgs, won the battle at Rocroi (1643) thanks to Richelieu's disciplined army, inspired by the Swedish model. This victory signaled the end of the supremacy of Spanish infantry and the beginning of French continental hegemony under generals such as Turenne. At sea, the Dutch admiral Cornelis Tromp had crushed the Spanish fleet four years earlier.
It was only in the second half of the sixteenth century that European sovereigns, particularly in France, took effective control of their kingdoms' resources. Once Western sovereigns could raise taxes, they were able to establish permanent armies that could be used to defend the country against foreign enemies and as a coercive force of repression domestically. French influence increased as the power of Spain and the Hapsburgs declined. Richelieu raised taxes to support France's military power, first defined by Michel Le Tellier, and then his son, François Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois, under Louis XIV. The French army, which was placed under the direct control of government ministers, was the largest ever known at the time.
During the Thirty Years' War, most troops were mercenaries. Standing armies increased in the seventeenth century under Louis the XIV and his minister, Louvois. Armies became permanent institutions. European armies had generally comprised fewer than fifty thousand men, but Louis XIV's troops numbered as many as four hundred thousand. After adopting the Swedish model of regiments six rows deep with pikemen in the middle and musketeers on the flanks, Louvois reorganized the rest of the army, including heavy and light cavalry, fortifications (under the military engineer Vauban), and logistics. Vauban's theories dominated the technique of fortification and siege in the seventeenth century. He built thirty fortresses to protect the borders of the France and remodeled hundreds more. His siege technique was based on a system of parallels. The first trench was dug about five hundred meters from the walls of the fortress, at the distance reachable by a cannonball of the time. The trench was parallel to the fortress walls. Cannons were installed in the trenches. Under protective fire, sappers dug perpendicular trenches in a zigzag design to limit the efficiency of enemy firepower. During this work, sappers were protected by sandbags. At three hundred meters from the fort, a second trench was excavated, using the same precautions. Then, still protected by cannon fire, the sappers again dug trenches in a zigzag pattern, as previously. At this time, the reserve infantry occupied the second trench, in order to counterattack the besieged if they attempted to escape. Finally, the most perilous trench was constructed, next to the moat, from where artillery volleys could be fired at the castle wall at point-blank range to open gaps and allow the final assault.
These innovations were used all throughout the following century, when sieges were frequent. In spite of Colbert's opposition, Louvois also built a navy, which became the most powerful in the world from 1685 to 1690. The English and the Dutch, even with their admirals Tromp and Michiel de Ruyter, were outclassed. However, the importance of naval power was not appreciated by Louis XIV, notwithstanding the advice of Admiral de Tourville, and the French navy declined.
The seventeenthcentury, after Gustavus Adolphus, heralded great army captains such as Condé, Turenne, and Raimondo Montecuccoli, who defeated the Turks at the battle of Saint Gotthard (1644). This century also saw European power begin to exceed that of other continents. European strategic thinking, anemic and long dormant, reemerged. Machiavelli, who linked the business of war and government for the first time, was the only exceptional European military theorist since Vegetius.
England had not participated in the Thirty Years' War, but didn't escape the consequences. The English Civil Wars opposed the king and the aristocracy to Parliament and led to the rise of Oliver Cromwell (1642). Cromwell organized a small, highly disciplined and motivated cavalry. Soon, he was authorized to raise an army of volunteers organized according to the principles of Gustavus Adolphus, emphasizing the importance of mobile artillery, cavalry for the final charge, and infantry in six rows. In the course of the second Civil War, Cromwell won the battle of Dunbar (1650). The following year was a further disaster for the royalists. A militant religious ideology contributed to Cromwell's success. He ruled as a dictator for seven years. Protestantism triumphed in England, limiting the divine right of the kings and empowering Parliament.
Shallow ranks, introduced by Gustavus Adolphus, became the rule in the next century. These enabled continuous fire by having each row fire in succession while previous ranks reloaded. In the eighteenth century, the troops were arranged in six rows and fired from the last row to the first, shooting when necessary over the heads of soldiers who reloaded their weapons on their knees. Thus the fire was continuous. As the speed of the shooting increased, the depth of the formations decreased. In the eighteenth century, they were reduced to three or four rows. However, the change from the line to the column was slow, and battles remained static.
There were many technical innovations. The bayonet made its appearance (1703) and was attached to the musket, further reducing the role of the pikemen. The flintlock rifle was introduced around 1760-70. It could be fired twice a minute and was accurate at three hundred meters. Artillery underwent even more spectacular advances. The Swedish cannon of 1620 that could be fired once a minute was followed by Florent-Jean de Vallière's French cannon of 1732 that could be fired three times a minute, with a range of six hundred meters. The remarkable cannon subsequently developed by Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval (1715-89) could be fired four times a minute, at a range of some two miles, with frightful accuracy up to almost 1,650 yards. This was the artillery used during the battles of the Revolution and, with minor improvements, during the French First Empire.
The European powers had long confronted each other in a relatively small geographic area, covering about one-third of Europe, but the stage of conflicts enlarged starting in the sixteenth century. The field of battle reached its maximal extent between the middle of the nineteenth and twentieth century, when it not only included Africa north of the Sahara, but extended worldwide. The Spanish had already invaded Cuba and San Domingo, and from there proceeded to conquer Mexico and Guatemala. Then, from Central America, they conquered Peru, Columbia, Chile, and La Plata. Christianity followed military conquests. In the meantime, the Portuguese circumnavigated Africa and had occupied Brazil.
In the same century, the Russians, recently freed from the Mongols and helped by the Cossacks, advanced across the steppes as far as the Sea of Okhotsk. This first European push in the sixteenth century, by sea routes in the west and by land in the east, was followed by a second push in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Dutch colonized Indonesia, and the English India. The Ottomans constantly retreated in the face of the Russians and the Hapsburgs in the eighteenth century. The French and the English colonized North America. A third surge took place in the nineteenth century, after the Napoleonic wars. Progressively, until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the largest part of the Afro-Asian world was colonized by Europeans: India, Indochina, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and all of Africa south of the Sahara, with the exception of Abyssinia and Liberia. In the eighteenth century, the Russian Empire had retaken lands conquered by the Ottomans and the Tatars' conquests north of the Black Sea (the Crimea). Russia then took the Caucasus from Qajar Persia, conquered the Central Asian Muslim states (Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tadjiks), and drove the Manchus from the Ussuri River and the north of Manchuria. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Europeans occupied Morocco and Libya. At the end of World War I, Great Britain and France divided the formerly Ottoman Near East into "mandates." In geopolitical terms, the centuries from 1492 (the European discovery of America) to 1945 marked the globalization of conflicts and the hegemony of Europe and its cultural heir, America.
The maritime dimension of the globe became all-important by the end the fifteenth century, when the nomads lost their military superiority. Naval battles became more frequent in the eighteenth century. Mercenary troops remained important from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries: Swiss, Scots, Germans, Croats, and Hungarians enlisted and fought indifferently for whoever paid them. The generals themselves, until the eighteenth century, often served rival sovereigns. They could fight in turn for the Hapsburgs, then for the Russian tsar or the Swedish king. France's great Condé joined Spain during the Fronde, and Prince Eugène of Savoy served the Hapsburgs. As for the soldiers, they often came from the lower class and were treated by their officers with severity and disdain.
Until the innovation, improvement, and spread of firepower under Frederick II of Prussia, the superiority of an army did not primarily reside in its armament. The decisive factors in the battle plan of the commander were the organization, drilling, cohesiveness, and morale of the troops. Even the number of troops was not always decisive, as we can see in the battle of Cannae and in many of Napoleon's victories.
When Frederick II, later known as Frederick the Great, ascended the Prussian throne in 1740, he inherited from his father an excellent army numbering eighty thousand men, out of a population of two and a half million. Forty years later, the Prussian army would number a quarter of a million men, out of a population of five million. (For comparison, Louis XIV's France, with a population of twenty million, had an army of four hundred thousand, which was three or four times bigger than any previous army in Europe.) Prussia became a formidable military power.
In the first phase of reorganization, Frederick II improved the offensive capacity of his army: mobility, and rapid firing, as a result of strict drilling skills, allowed the soldiers to maneuver with unequaled cohesion. When necessary, Frederick used diagonal lines of troops, like Epaminondas. Usually, he pressed the attack thanks to great speed, using an infantry organized in three lines, flanked by cavalry and supported by horse-drawn artillery. He later came to realize the decisive role of firepower in attack and considerably reinforced his artillery.
Frederick II also introduced innovations in logistics. He organized supplies in mobile units that would travel with the armies. Frederick operated within a radius of thirty-eight miles, with four days' supplies always available. With the creation of divisions, logistics became yet more complicated. From then on, there would be a line of operation and a line of communication protected by positions and detachments at intervals between the base of operations and the supply depot from where the division advanced.
Thanks to his talent, innovations, and the excellence of his troops, Frederick II won exceptional tactical victories, such as at Leuthen in Silesia in 1757, where his army of thirty-six thousand defeated the Austrian army commanded by Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, which was twice its size.
Frederick II of Prussia was the great military figure of the eighteenth century. Firepower already played an important role in battles, but Jacques de Guibert (1715-89) signaled another type of war in his Traité général de la tactique (General Treatise on Tactics). The second part of the eighteenth century brought a change in strategy.
Artillery had improved its mobility and was standardized by Gribeauval. The division system and, soon, the column were instituted. The deep formation was preferred to the narrow one, the goal being the charge and not the defensive line. Light infantry, composed of small battalions of voltigeurs (skirmishers), moving as needed, broke with the rigid order of the armies of the first part of the eighteenth century. It revolutionized war with new ideas born of the Revolution: those of the sovereign nation and mass conscription in the most populous country in Europe.
With conscription, Gribeauval's division system, and artillery, France already had an exceptional army when an outstanding general emerged: Bonaparte. After trying a voluntary army, then unequal conscription, the Republic chose uniform mandatory service in August 1793. By the end of 1794, 700,000 men were in arms. Napoleon's draft amounted to 10 percent of a population of 26 million. However, by 1812, more than half of the Grande Armée would be foreign-born.
After the French Revolution, wars ceased to be battles between dynasties, and became battles between nations. Thus began, for a century and a half, the era of what Clausewitz called "absolute wars." Political and social upheavals in France produced significant changes in military organization starting in 1793. The army was based on the nation-state and became the expression of the mobilized nation. War changed in nature: It was carried to greater excess (Carnot).
Napoleon inherited the revolutionary conditions of the most populous country on the continent, excluding Russia. He organized the army, as the British historian Michael Howard notes, based on unlimited decentralization under one supreme commander, a model that would be adopted in all European armies during the next century and a half.
With Napoleon almost four centuries of a Western strategy that had often been based on delaying tactics came to an end. He systematically sought to deliver a decisive blow and annihilate the enemy. Napoleon not only won battles after forced marches by concentrating his troops at precise points of weakness, but also pursued enemies in order to rout them completely. His genius lay in his skill at disrupting the enemy's center of gravity, his tactics, and his strategic use of arms.
Napoleon introduced a more mobile and efficient artillery and a lighter, mobile infantry, and simplified logistics on the battlefield by having each soldier carry four days' supplies. The French army's exceptional mobility allowed it to strike the adversary's flanks or front, or both at the same time, with an enveloping maneuver. Operations were simplified, well drilled, and executed under an effectively structured, unified command. Napoleon always attacked while sparing most of the army for a concentrated assault at a critical point in the battle. The cavalry was used both to break the enemy's lines and in pursuit operations after victory to assure the annihilation of the enemy. Finally, cavalry voltigeurs were used to surprise the enemy and avoid being surprised. The victorious campaign of Italy was followed by more victories until the campaign of Russia, which was a failure of logistics due to the scorched-earth policy of the retreating Russian army, aided by climate and distance. At sea, the battle of Trafalgar (1805) destroyed the French fleet, signaling the dominance of the British Navy.
The French victory over the Prussian army at Jena (1806) kindled a Prussian military reawakening and the development of military strategists including Scharnhorst and Clausewitz. A more meritocratic and efficient patriotic army was needed to face the French, but reforms were deemed dangerous and were unpopular among the European aristocracy. The Prussians reformed by enabling commoners to become career officers, a role hitherto limited to the nobility. After 1813, Prussian patriotism grew and a great coalition of European sovereigns proved capable of defeating Napoleon. However, military art remained influenced by the strategy of Napoleon as reflected in the writings of Clausewitz and Jomini. The Prussians and Russians raised large armies. However, with its naval superiority, Great Britain reduced the number of its troops from 685,000 to 100,000 as early as 1821 and sent half of them to its colonies. During half of the nineteenth century (1830 to 1871), both the French and British armies were primarily occupied with the suppression of domestic upheavals and with colonial expansion.
The nineteenth century was also marked by industrialization and the rise of new powers such as Germany, and, to a lesser extent, Russia and the United States, although the military power of the latter remained far inferior to its industrial capacity. However, the American Civil War was the first modern war from the industrial point of view: railroads played a decisive role, as did naval blockades and firepower.
Whereas the populations of Germany and Great Britain tripled during the nineteenth century, the population of the United States, due to immigration, increased fifteenfold. The population of Europe in the nineteenth century rose from 185 million to 400 million, with only the populations of France and Ireland remaining stagnant. Great Britain, thanks to its maritime superiority, which was unrivaled after 1805, became the world's dominant financial and colonial power. However, by 1890-1900, the industrial power of the United States had even overtaken that of Germany, the greatest industrial power in Europe. Military innovations in the nineteenth century depended on important scientific and industrial innovations:
• The railroad revolutionized logistics, greatly speeding the transport of troops and supplies in comparison with transport by horses or on foot.
• Firepower increased vastly during and after the American Civil War: the rifled cannon enhanced range and accuracy; rifles and cannons became breech-loading, greatly increasing their firing rates; and the introduction of the machine gun and more mobile artillery facilitated well-organized tactical defenses.
• Military communications improved due to the telephone (1876) and the radio, first Hertz (1885) then Marconi (1908). The first undersea cable was laid in 1866.
• Naval advances also occurred with the introduction of steel ships, improvements in marine engine design, and larger and more accurate heavy-caliber guns. The "dreadnought" became the new ship of the line.
• Sanitary conditions also improved after the Crimean War (1854-56). Until then, up to 80 percent of combatant deaths were the result of epidemics or wound infections. By the end of the century, these causes would account for 20 percent of fatalities.
The American Civil War (1860-65) heralded the advent of total war, but its lessons went largely unheeded by European chiefs of staff. In both the American North and South, the conflict was at first thought likely to be of short duration. Neither side thought that it would be necessary to mobilize all its human and material resources. The South mobilized one million men, and the more populous North twice as many. The economic resources of the North were infinitely superior to those of the South. The North also benefitted from its maritime superiority, which enabled a blockade of southern ports, and its more advanced railway network, which gave it the capacity to easily move troops by rail. The observation balloon and the telegraph appeared on the battlefield, the breech-loading rifle became more common, and the Gatling machine gun made its appearance. Starting in 1863, the South was split in two, but the fighting continued, relentlessly, until 1865, when the South had been bled dry. The Civil War produced 620,000 casualties, with roughly equal numbers on the two sides. It would be the deadliest war in U.S. history, producing nearly as many causalities as all other American wars-before and since-combined.
Another military innovation was instituted by Prussia in the 1860s. It established a new type of chief of staff, both political and military, whose influence would be decisive until the middle of the twentieth century. The idea was introduced by Scharnhorst and implemented under Helmuth von Moltke, who introduced the study of military theory and tactics, along with permanent rotation of the top chiefs of staff and officers, to facilitate the circulation of stimulating ideas. Admission to war colleges was through competitive examinations. Those who graduated became assistants to the chiefs of staff for two years and were responsible for organizing maneuvers, map exercises, and Kriegspielen (war games).
By the eve of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, most Prussian officers had undergone this training. After 1871, all continental European powers would adopt the model. The long hegemony of the French army, which had lasted since the second half of the seventeenth century, came to an end. Three decades later, Great Britain and the United States would adopt this model too.
However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, technology had wrought more radical changes than were anticipated by even the most astute commanders. Contrary to predictions, the duration of wars would increase. And, in spite of the primacy of attack, defensive strategies would prove decisive. New armaments had made war more static and increased the cost in human and material resources. In short, besides morale, war became more dependent on industrial production. War at sea became increasingly important. And so, in a long war, any coalition supported by the great industrial power of the United States could not lose.
During World War I, together with mass propaganda, a series of new arms appeared: the submarine, the tank, which would play its greatest role in World War II, and the airplane. The Germans laid plans for a two-front war against their continental adversaries as early as 1905. They would strike the French with a pincer maneuver and capture Paris before turning against the Russians, who would take longer to mobilize. This plan was modified and yet failed in World War I, since progress bogged down in the French trenches. But the Russians were defeated (1917). In the Near East, an allied expedition to put the Ottoman Empire out of action ended in failure at Gallipoli (April 1915). Not until 1917 were the Allies able to control the Orient.
The carnage in World War I was terrible: artillery, and, soon, poison gas produced millions of causalities on the two sides on the Western Front alone. General staffs realized that their doctrines had become outdated owing to murderous technological increases in firepower. The machine gun (Maxim, 1884; Hotchkiss, 1897) had, however, already proven its formidable efficiency in the colonial wars of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, and little seems to have been learned either from the Russo-Japanese war in Manchuria (1904-5).
British and American naval superiority allowed the Americans to intervene on European soil. The French managed to advance in the Balkans. However, early enthusiasm for the war was quickly followed by deep, potentially mutinous, disenchantment. Europe discovered that mobilization would affect all social classes, and that civilians would not be spared the consequences of the war.
By the end of the war in November 1918, France, whose territory included most of the Western Front, had lost 1.7 million young men out of a population of thirty-nine million. The British Empire lost one million men, and Italy lost six hundred thousand. Germany lost two million from its population of almost seventy million.
When World War II erupted in Europe twenty years after the blood bath of World War I, the blitzkrieg, based on combined tank and airplane attacks, made mobility a dominant factor. Prior to World War II, J. F. C. Fuller in Great Britain, Hans von Seeckt in Germany, and General Jean-Baptiste Estienne in France were strong proponents of mechanized force. Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Hugh Trenchard had persuaded the British government to endow Great Britain with a very precious instrument, the RAF, which kept the German Luftwaffe in check in 1940. The Manstein plan, executed by Heinz Guderian and his tanks, enabled the Germans to break through French lines in the Ardennes and surround French and British forces. In less than two months, France was forced to sign an armistice.
In World War II, as in the preceding Spanish Civil War, civilian populations became targets. Entire ethnic groups would disappear because of racist Nazi ideology. The morale of civilian populations was targeted in bombings of Coventry, Tokyo, and Dresden (200,000 dead), and with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (70,000 dead) and Nagasaki (130,000 dead).
The success of the blitzkrieg was based on logistics. After Stalingrad, logistical failures compelled Germany to a gradual retreat in good order that would last two years. Great Britain held, and the Soviet Union as of 1941 waged most of the ground war. Japan condemned itself to defeat as early as Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) by forcing the United States to enter the War of the Pacific. However, Japan's victories over European powers in Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, Indochina, Singapore, Malaysia) would contribute to new anti-colonialist movements that would soon develop in Asia. The United States, with its industrial might, played a pivotal role on both fronts. Beginning in 1942, the United States alone would defeat the Japanese in the Pacific. The importance of aviation increased greatly with the introduction of aircraft carriers and improved aircraft (B17, B24, and B29). Napalm was used, and missiles appeared (V1 and V2), as well as radar.
The development of nuclear weapons was a qualitative change that revised military strategy. The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, between the free world and the Communist states, became the Cold War in 1947. It was punctuated with crises (Berlin, 1948; Cuba, 1962), but direct conflict between the two superpowers was avoided by nuclear dissuasion based on a balance of terror. Any nuclear aggressor would be sure to suffer catastrophic counterstrikes. George Kennan's policy of containment would dominate Western strategic thinking as early as the beginning of the 1950s (the Korean War).
Technological advances were considerable in the second half of the twentieth century, including the hydrogen bomb (1952), intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from land or sea, and nuclear submarines. While these new technologies were developed, guerrilla conflicts occurred, pitting the weak against the strong in battles that used conventional weapons. The Cold War largely played out in conflicts outside developed countries, in what the countries of the Northern hemisphere then called the Third World, that is, former colonial or semi-colonial states. The unexpected collapse of Communist states in Central Europe and the Balkans, followed by the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, put an end to forty-five years of hostility. The 1991 Gulf War was made possible by the collapse of the USSR. Saddam Hussein's regime subsequently became a preemptive target for the George W. Bush administration, inaugurating an altered global strategy in the Middle East.
Terrorism, often a substitute for guerrilla warfare, had experienced significant growth since 1968. Shiite Islam emerged in brutal form in Iran in 1979. In the same year, Sunni insurgents, strongly encouraged by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, began to weaken the Soviet hold on Afghanistan (1979). After the Russians left Afghanistan (1989), the same Islamist fundamentalists turned against the United States, and explicitly against "crusaders and the Jews." Al Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, gave rise to the largest counterterrorist operation that the world had ever seen, beginning with attacks on the Afghan sanctuaries where jihadi volunteers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, and other countries had trained. In the course of the 1990s, U.S. technological progress was particularly important and led to new theories of future warfare, the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Technological developments gave U.S. forces undisputable supremacy. Twice, in Bosnia (1993) and Kosovo (1999), Europeans were forced to call on the United States to settle medium-sized European conflicts.
The war of choice against Iraq, led by U.S. and British forces, was justified by the assumption that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It aimed at establishing a bridgehead in the Middle East to remodel the region (Syria-Lebanon and Iran) in the interests of the United States and its regional allies, especially Israel. The American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were not a strategic success, and the strategic balance is gradually shifting as a consequence of the increasing economic weight of Asian nations, particularly China.
Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more