5 Key Medieval Infantry Weapons

5 Key Medieval Infantry Weapons

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It goes without saying that medieval weapons were very different from those used in battle today. But although medieval armies may not have had access to modern technology, they were still capable of inflicting serious damage. Here are five of the most important infantry weapons used between the 5th and 15th centuries.

1. Sword

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There were three main types of swords used in the European medieval period. The first, the Merovingian sword, was popular among the Germanic peoples in the 4th to 7th centuries and derived from the Roman-era spatha – a straight and long sword used in wars and gladiatorial fights.

The blades of Merovingian swords had very little taper and, unlike the weapons we would recognise as swords today, were usually rounded at the ends. They also often had sections that had been pattern-welded, a process whereby metal pieces of varying composition were forge-welded together.

Merovingian swords developed into the Carolingian or “Viking” variety in the 8th century when sword smiths increasingly gained access to high quality steel imported from Central Asia. This meant that pattern-welding was no longer necessary and that blades could be narrower and more tapered. These weapons combined both weight and maneuverability.

Carolingian-era swords, displayed at the Hedeby Viking Museum. Credit: viciarg ᚨ / Commons

The 11th to 12th centuries gave rise to the so-called “knightly” sword, the variety that best fits our image of a sword today. The most obvious development is the appearance of a crossguard – the bar of metal that sits at right angles to the blade, separating it from the hilt – though these were also seen in late versions of the Carolingian sword.

2. Axe

Battles axes are most commonly associated today with the Vikings but they were in fact used throughout the medieval era. They even feature on the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

At the start of the medieval era, battle axes were made of wrought iron with a carbon steel edge. Like swords, however, they gradually came to be made of steel as the metal alloy became more accessible.

With the advent of steel plate armour, additional weapons for penetration were sometimes added to battle axes, including sharp picks on the rear of the blades.

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3. Pike

These pole weapons were incredibly long, ranging from 3 to 7.5 metres in length, and consisted of a wooden shaft with a metal spearhead attached at one end.

Pikes were used by foot soldiers in close formation from the early medieval period until the turn of the 18th century. Though popular, their length made them unwieldy, especially in close combat. As a result, pikemen usually carried an additional shorter weapon with them, such as a sword or mace.

With pikemen all moving forward in a single direction, their formations were vulnerable to enemy attack at the rear, leading to catastrophes for some forces. Swiss mercenaries solved this problem in the 15th century, however, employing more discipline and aggression to overcome this vulnerability.

4. Mace

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Maces – blunt weapons with heavy heads on the end of a handle – were developed in the Upper Paleolithic area but really came into their own during the medieval era when knights wore metal armour that was difficult to pierce.

Not only were solid metal maces capable of inflicting damage on fighters without needing to penetrate their armour, but one variety – the flanged mace – was even capable of denting or piercing thick armour. The flanged mace, which was developed in the 12th century, had vertical metal sections called “flanges” protruding from the head of the weapon.

These qualities, combined with the fact that maces were cheap and easy to make, meant they were quite common weapons at this time.

5. Halberd

Consisting of an axe blade topped with a spike and mounted on a long pole, this two-handed weapon came into common use in the latter part of the medieval period.

It was both cheap to produce and versatile, with the spike useful for pushing back approaching horsemen and dealing with other pole weapons such as spears and pikes, while a hook on the back of the axe blade could be used for pulling cavalry from their horses.

Some accounts of the Battle of Bosworth Field suggest that Richard III was killed with a halberd, the blows proving so heavy that his helmet was driven into his skull.

5 Key Developments in the History of Infantry

From the dawn of military history, infantry have provided the backbone of armies the world over.

Mesopotamian Phalanxes

The first step in the transformation of individual warriors into uniformed, disciplined infantry took place in the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia, now Iraq. Around 2500 BC, city states such as Lagash and Ur began to equip their fighting men with matching equipment. Protected by shields and helmets, their spears formed a hedge of deadly points that held opponents at bay.

These Mesopotamian phalanxes set a precedent that would spread outward and be imitated by other ancient civilisations. By equipping their men with identical weapons, the rising nations of the ancient world could ensure reliable armies that fought with the best tools available to them. And for the first time, infantrymen began to emerge as a distinct group.

Roman Legions

It was Rome’s legions that made it great, transforming a small Italian city-state into an empire that stretched from northern Europe to the Sahara, from the Atlantic to the Middle East. This was made possible by a new sort of soldier – the disciplined and well-equipped legionary.

The Roman legion as we remember it was born in the Marian reforms of 107 BC. Under the leadership of general and statesman Gaius Marius, the Roman army began to recruit from the common ranks of society, not just the wealthy elite. This increased both the manpower and the professionalism of the army.

Marius’s reforms included re-organising and re-equipping the troops. A permanent organisational hierarchy including cohorts and legions was put into place. Soldiers were made responsible for carrying their supplies of food and other equipment along with their armour and weapons, earning them the nickname of “Marius’s mules”.

The Roman army had a degree of uniformity no others had managed. From his hob-nailed sandals to his bronze helmet, the legionary was equipped exactly like his comrade. They lived, marched and fought together, and they all did so in the same way. On arriving at a new site to make camp each night, the legionaries would work together to assemble defensive earthworks. They were the strong sinews of the war machine, not just its glamorous flashing blade.

Ruled by strictly enforced discipline, these men formed a formidable fighting machine, showing that uniformity and discipline could be more powerful than the old ideal of individual courage.

Swiss Pikemen

For nearly a thousand years following the fall of the Roman Empire, warfare in Europe was dominated by cavalry. Though infantry made up the majority of every army and were sometimes able to defeat the cavalry, men on horses were both the icon of battle and its hard fighting core.

This began to change in the early 14th century, and though the change could be seen from the Scottish borders to the ruins of the Crusader states, it was exemplified by the famed Swiss pikemen.

These men, who made up the armies of the Swiss Confederation, had a psychological strength that came more from stubbornness than professional discipline, determined not to let outside rulers cause trouble for their homeland. They also had the weapons to back this up. Twenty-foot pikes were the weapon of the majority of men in their formations, preventing cavalry charges from getting close to them and holding enemy units at bay. Within this wall of deadly points were men with shorter, heavier weapons – halberds, spiked clubs and two-handed swords – ready to hack down any enemies who got close.

At Morgarten in 1315, Laupen in 1339 and Morat in 1486, the Swiss proved that infantry was once again the dominant force on the battlefield. Their pikes, alongside ever more sophisticated gunpowder weapons, would fill the battlefields of the 16th and 17th centuries.

French Conscription

The French Revolution of 1789 put France at odds with many of its neighbours and even its citizens. Attacked on many fronts, the government found itself running out of men and resources with which to fight. From this was born the first mass conscription of modern times – the levée en masse.

Introduced on 23 August 1793, the levée en masse made all able-bodied men aged 18 to 25 eligible for military service. By bringing such a large part of the national population into the military, the conscription transformed the infantry who made up most of the French army. They were now ordinary men, bound together by military experience and their duty to their country. The simplicity of using a musket allowed them to be turned into an effective fighting force.

For the next century and a half, this would be the face of the infantry – vast masses of troops fighting in formation, ordinary men fed into the grinder of war.

First World War
A French postcard from 1914 showing infantry attacking as a massed block for the last time.

Throughout military history, the successful infantry had fought in large, united blocks. Shoulder to shoulder, they prevented their opponents from coming close. There was strength and safety in a densely packed formation, which also gave them greater striking power.

With the Great War, this came to an end.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, millions of infantrymen were flung into action in the same massed blocks they had used for centuries. In the face of overwhelming firepower from artillery and machine guns, they died in droves. Millions were left dead in the mud of the Western Front and scattered across the battlefields of the Eastern Front.

Though the generals leading this war have gone down in infamy for their reluctance to abandon the old ways, the First World War eventually brought a huge change in the way infantry fought. After four and a half millennia, massed blocks and phalanxes were finally abandoned. With a gun in hand, the 20th-century infantryman returned to loose formation fighting, in which individual action became as important as massed discipline.

In the face of technological change, infantry have once again been transformed.


De re militari Edit

Vegetius, De re militari, preface to book 3. [1]

Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote De re militari (Concerning Military Matters) possibly in the late 4th century. [2] Described by historian Walter Goffart as "the bible of warfare throughout the Middle Ages", De re militari was widely distributed through the Latin West. While Western Europe relied on a single text for the basis of its military knowledge, the Byzantine Empire in Southeastern Europe had a succession of military writers. [3] Though Vegetius had no military experience and De re militari was derived from the works of Cato and Frontinus, his books were the standard for military discourse in Western Europe from their production until the 16th century. [4]

De re militari was divided into five books: who should be a soldier and the skills they needed to learn, the composition and structure of an army, field tactics, how to conduct and withstand sieges, and the role of the navy. According to Vegetius, infantry was the most important element of an army because it was cheap compared to cavalry and could be deployed on any terrain. [5] One of the tenets he put forward was that a general should only engage in battle when he was sure of victory or had no other choice. [6] As archaeologist Robert Liddiard explains, "Pitched battles, particularly in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, were rare." [7]

Although his work was widely reproduced, and over 200 copies, translations, and extracts survive today, the extent to which Vegetius affected the actual practice of warfare as opposed to its concept is unclear because of his habit of stating the obvious. [5] Historian Michael Clanchy noted "the medieval axiom that laymen are illiterate and its converse that clergy are literate", [8] so it may be the case that few soldiers read Vegetius' work. While their Roman predecessors were well-educated and had been experienced in warfare, the European nobility of the early Medieval period were not renowned for their education, but from the 12th century, it became more common for them to read. [9]

Some soldiers regarded the experience of warfare as more valuable than reading about it for example, Geoffroi de Charny, a 14th century knight who wrote about warfare, recommended that his audience should learn by observing and asking advice from their superiors. Vegetius remained prominent in medieval literature on warfare, although it is uncertain to what extent his work was read by the warrior class as opposed to the clergy. [9] In 1489, King Henry VII of England commissioned the translation of De re militari into English, "so every gentleman born to arms and all manner of men of war, captains, soldiers, victuallers and all others would know how they ought to behave in the feats of wars and battles". [10]

In Europe, breakdowns in centralized power led to the rise of several groups that turned to large-scale pillage as a source of income. Most notably the Vikings, Arabs, Mongols, Huns, Cumans, Tartars, and Magyars raided significantly. [11] As these groups were generally small and needed to move quickly, building fortifications was a good way to provide refuge and protection for the people and the wealth in the region.

These fortifications evolved throughout the Middle Ages, the most important form being the castle, a structure which has become almost synonymous with the Medieval era in the popular eye. The castle served as a protected place for the local elites. Inside a castle they were protected from bands of raiders and could send mounted warriors to drive the enemy from the area, or to disrupt the efforts of larger armies to supply themselves in the region by gaining local superiority over foraging parties that would be impossible against the whole enemy host. [12]

Fortifications were a very important part of warfare because they provided safety to the lord, his family, and his servants. They provided refuge from armies too large to face in open battle. The ability of the heavy cavalry to dominate a battle on an open field was useless against fortifications. Building siege engines was a time-consuming process, and could seldom be effectively done without preparations before the campaign. Many sieges could take months, if not years, to weaken or demoralize the defenders sufficiently. Fortifications were an excellent means of ensuring that the elite could not be easily dislodged from their lands – as Count Baldwin of Hainaut commented in 1184 on seeing enemy troops ravage his lands from the safety of his castle, "they can't take the land with them". [13] [ verification needed ] [14]

Siege warfare Edit

In the Medieval period besieging armies used a wide variety of siege engines including: scaling ladders battering rams siege towers and various types of catapults such as the mangonel, onager, ballista, and trebuchet. Siege techniques also included mining in which tunnels were dug under a section of the wall and then rapidly collapsed to destabilize the wall's foundation. Another technique was to bore into the enemy walls, however, this was not nearly as effective as other methods due to the thickness of castle walls.

Advances in the prosecution of sieges encouraged the development of a variety of defensive counter-measures. In particular, Medieval fortifications became progressively stronger – for example, the advent of the concentric castle from the period of the Crusades – and more dangerous to attackers – witness the increasing use of machicolations, as well the preparation of hot or incendiary substances. Arrow slits, concealed doors for sallies, and deep water wells were also integral to resisting siege at this time. Designers of castles paid particular attention to defending entrances, protecting gates with drawbridges, portcullises and barbicans. Wet animal skins were often draped over gates to repel fire. Moats and other water defences, whether natural or augmented, were also vital to defenders.

In the Middle Ages, virtually all large cities had city walls – Dubrovnik in Dalmatia is an impressive and well-preserved example – and more important cities had citadels, forts or castles. Great effort was expended to ensure a good water supply inside the city in case of siege. In some cases, long tunnels were constructed to carry water into the city. In other cases, such as the Ottoman siege of Shkodra, Venetian engineers had designed and installed cisterns that were fed by rain water channeled by a system of conduits in the walls and buildings. [15] Complex systems of tunnels were used for storage and communications in medieval cities like Tábor in Bohemia. Against these would be matched the mining skills of teams of trained sappers, who were sometimes employed by besieging armies.

Until the invention of gunpowder-based weapons (and the resulting higher-velocity projectiles), the balance of power and logistics favoured the defender. With the invention of gunpowder, the traditional methods of defence became less and less effective against a determined siege.

The medieval knight was usually a mounted and armoured soldier, often connected with nobility or royalty, although (especially in north-eastern Europe) knights could also come from the lower classes, and could even be enslaved persons. The cost of their armour, horses, and weapons was great this, among other things, helped gradually transform the knight, at least in western Europe, into a distinct social class separate from other warriors. During the crusades, holy orders of Knights fought in the Holy Land (see Knights Templar, the Hospitallers, etc.). [16]

The light cavalry consisted usually of lighter armed and armoured men, who could have lances, javelins or missile weapons, such as bows or crossbows. In much of the Middle Ages, light cavalry usually consisted of wealthy commoners. Later in the Middle Ages, light cavalry would also include sergeants who were men who had trained as knights but could not afford the costs associated with the title. Light cavalry was used as scouts, skirmishers or outflankers. Many countries developed their styles of light cavalries, such as Hungarian mounted archers, Spanish jinetes, Italian and German mounted crossbowmen and English currours.

The infantry was recruited and trained in a wide variety of manners in different regions of Europe all through the Middle Ages, and probably always formed the most numerous part of a medieval field army. Many infantrymen in prolonged wars would be mercenaries. Most armies contained significant numbers of spearmen, archers and other unmounted soldiers.

Recruiting Edit

In the earliest Middle Ages, it was the obligation of every noble to respond to the call to battle with his equipment, archers, and infantry. This decentralized system was necessary due to the social order of the time but could lead to motley forces with variable training, equipment and abilities. The more resources the noble had access to, the better his troops would typically be.

Typically the feudal armies consisted of a core of highly skilled knights and their household troops, mercenaries hired for the time of the campaign and feudal levies fulfilling their feudal obligations, who usually were little more than rabble. They could, however, be efficient in disadvantageous terrain. Towns and cities could also field militias.

As central governments grew in power, a return to the citizen and mercenary armies of the classical period also began, as central levies of the peasantry began to be the central recruiting tool. It was estimated that the best infantrymen came from the younger sons of free land-owning yeomen, such as the English archers and Swiss pikemen. England was one of the most centralized states in the Late Middle Ages, and the armies that fought the Hundred Years' War were mostly paid professionals.

In theory, every Englishman had an obligation to serve for forty days. Forty days was not long enough for a campaign, especially one on the continent. Thus the scutage was introduced, whereby most Englishmen paid to escape their service and this money was used to create a permanent army. However, almost all high medieval armies in Europe were composed of a great deal of paid core troops, and there was a large mercenary market in Europe from at least the early 12th century. [17]

As the Middle Ages progressed in Italy, Italian cities began to rely mostly on mercenaries to do their fighting rather than the militias that had dominated the early and high medieval period in this region. These would be groups of career soldiers who would be paid a set rate. Mercenaries tended to be effective soldiers, especially in combination with standing forces, but in Italy, they came to dominate the armies of the city-states. This made them problematic while at war they were considerably more reliable than a standing army, at peacetime they proved a risk to the state itself like the Praetorian Guard had once been.

Mercenary-on-mercenary warfare in Italy led to relatively bloodless campaigns which relied as much on manoeuvre as on battles, since the condottieri recognized it was more efficient to attack the enemy's ability to wage war rather than his battle forces, discovering the concept of indirect warfare 500 years before Sir Basil Liddell Hart, and attempting to attack the enemy supply lines, his economy and his ability to wage war rather than risking an open battle, and manoeuvre him into a position where risking a battle would have been suicidal. Machiavelli understood this indirect approach as cowardice. [18]

Weapons Medieval weapons consisted of many different types of ranged and hand-held objects:

Artillery and Siege engine

The practice of carrying relics into battle is a feature that distinguishes medieval warfare from its predecessors or early modern warfare and possibly inspired by biblical references. [19] The presence of relics was believed to be an important source of supernatural power that served both as a spiritual weapon and a form of defence the relics of martyrs were considered by Saint John Chrysostom much more powerful than "walls, trenches, weapons and hosts of soldiers" [20]

In Italy, the carroccio or carro della guerra, the "war wagon", was an elaboration of this practice that developed during the 13th century. The carro della guerra of Milan was described in detail in 1288 by Bonvesin de la Riva in his book on the "Marvels of Milan". Wrapped in scarlet cloth and drawn by three yoke of oxen that were caparisoned in white with the red cross of Saint Ambrose, the city's patron, it carried a crucifix so massive it took four men to step it in place, like a ship's mast. [21]

Medieval warfare largely predated the use of supply trains, which meant that armies had to acquire food supplies from the territory they were passing through. This meant that large-scale looting by soldiers was unavoidable, and was actively encouraged in the 14th century with its emphasis on chevauchée tactics, where mounted troops would burn and pillage enemy territory in order to distract and demoralize the enemy while denying them their supplies.

Through the medieval period, soldiers were responsible for supplying themselves, either through foraging, looting, or purchases. Even so, military commanders often provided their troops with food and supplies, but this would be provided instead of the soldiers' wages, or soldiers would be expected to pay for it from their wages, either at cost or even with a profit. [22]

In 1294, the same year John II de Balliol of Scotland refused to support Edward I of England's planned invasion of France, Edward I implemented a system in Wales and Scotland where sheriffs would acquire foodstuffs, horses and carts from merchants with compulsory sales at prices fixed below typical market prices under the Crown's rights of prise and purveyance. These goods would then be transported to Royal Magazines in southern Scotland and along the Scottish border where English conscripts under his command could purchase them. This continued during the First War of Scottish Independence which began in 1296, though the system was unpopular and was ended with Edward I's death in 1307. [22]

Starting under the rule of Edward II in 1307 and ending under the rule of Edward III in 1337, the English instead used a system where merchants would be asked to meet armies with supplies for the soldiers to purchase. This led to discontent as the merchants saw an opportunity to profiteer, forcing the troops to pay well above normal market prices for food. [22]

As Edward III went to war with France in the Hundred Years' War (starting in 1337), the English returned to a practice of foraging and raiding to meet their logistical needs. This practice lasted throughout the war, extending through the remainder of Edward III's reign into the reign of Henry VI. [22]

The waters surrounding Europe can be grouped into two types which affected the design of craft that traveled and therefore the warfare. The Mediterranean and Black Seas were free of large tides, generally calm, and had predictable weather. The seas around the north and west of Europe experienced stronger and less predictable weather. The weather gauge, the advantage of having a following wind, was an important factor in naval battles, particularly to the attackers. Typically westerlies (winds blowing from west to east) dominated Europe, giving naval powers to the west an advantage. [23] Medieval sources on the conduct of medieval naval warfare are less common than those about land-based war. Most medieval chroniclers had no experience of life on the sea and generally were not well informed. Maritime archaeology has helped provide information. [24]

Early in the medieval period, ships in the context of warfare were used primarily for transporting troops. [25] In the Mediterranean, naval warfare in the Middle Ages was similar to that under late Roman Empire: fleets of galleys would exchange missile fire and then try to board bow first to allow marines to fight on deck. This mode of naval warfare remained the same into the early modern period, as, for example, at the Battle of Lepanto. Famous admirals included Roger of Lauria, Andrea Doria and Hayreddin Barbarossa.

Galleys were not suitable for the colder and more turbulent North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, although they saw occasional use. Bulkier ships were developed which were primarily sail-driven, although the long lowboard Viking-style rowed longship saw use well into the 15th century. Their main purpose in the north remained the transportation of soldiers to fight on the decks of the opposing ship (as, for example, at the Battle of Svolder or the Battle of Sluys).

Late medieval sailing warships resembled floating fortresses, with towers in the bows and at the stern (respectively, the forecastle and aftcastle). The large superstructure made these warships quite unstable, but the decisive defeats that the more mobile but considerably lower boarded longships suffered at the hands of high-boarded cogs in the 15th century ended the issue of which ship type would dominate northern European warfare.

Introduction of guns Edit

The introduction of guns was the first steps towards major changes in naval warfare, but it only slowly changed the dynamics of ship-to-ship combat. The first guns on ships were introduced in the 14th century and consisted of small wrought-iron pieces placed on the open decks and in the fighting tops, often requiring only one or two men to handle them. They were designed to injure, kill or simply stun, shock and frighten the enemy before boarding. [26]

As guns were made more durable to withstand stronger gunpowder charges, they increased their potential to inflict critical damage to the vessel rather than just their crews. Since these guns were much heavier than the earlier anti-personnel weapons, they had to be placed lower in the ships, and fire from gunports, to avoid ships becoming unstable. In Northern Europe the technique of building ships with clinker planking made it difficult to cut ports in the hull clinker-built (or clench-built) ships had much of their structural strength in the outer hull. The solution was the gradual adoption of carvel-built ships that relied on an internal skeleton structure to bear the weight of the ship. [27]

The first ships to actually mount heavy cannon capable of sinking ships were galleys, with large wrought-iron pieces mounted directly on the timbers in the bow. The first example is known from a woodcut of a Venetian galley from 1486. [28] Heavy artillery on galleys was mounted in the bow which fit conveniently with the long-standing tactical tradition of attacking head-on and bow-first. The ordnance on galleys was quite heavy from its introduction in the 1480s, and capable of quickly demolishing medieval-style stone walls that still prevailed until the 16th century. [29]

This temporarily upended the strength of older seaside fortresses, which had to be rebuilt to cope with gunpowder weapons. The addition of guns also improved the amphibious abilities of galleys as they could assault supported with heavy firepower, and could be even more effectively defended when beached stern-first. [29] Galleys and similar oared vessels remained uncontested as the most effective gun-armed warships in theory until the 1560s, and in practice for a few decades more, and were considered a grave risk to sailing warships. [30]

In the Medieval period, the mounted cavalry long held sway on the battlefield. Heavily armoured mounted knights represented a formidable foe for reluctant peasant draftees and lightly armoured freemen. To defeat mounted cavalry, infantry used swarms of missiles or a tightly packed phalanx of men, techniques honed in antiquity by the Greeks.

Swiss pikemen Edit

The use of long pikes and densely packed foot troops was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. The Flemish footmen at the Battle of the Golden Spurs met and overcame French knights in 1302, as the Lombards did in Legnano in 1176 and the Scots held their own against heavily armoured English cavalry. During the St. Louis crusade, dismounted French knights formed a tight lance-and-shield phalanx to repel Egyptian cavalry. The Swiss used pike tactics in the late medieval period. While pikemen usually grouped and awaited a mounted attack, the Swiss developed flexible formations and aggressive manoeuvring, forcing their opponents to respond. The Swiss won at Morgarten, Laupen, Sempach, Grandson and Murten, and between 1450 and 1550 every leading prince in Europe (except the English and Scottish) hired Swiss pikemen, or emulated their tactics and weapons (e.g., the German Landsknechte).

Welsh and English longbowmen Edit

The Welsh & English longbowman used a single-piece longbow (but some bows later developed a composite design) to deliver arrows that could penetrate contemporary mail and damage/dent plate armour. The longbow was a difficult weapon to master, requiring long years of use and constant practice. A skilled longbowman could shoot about 12 shots per minute. This rate of fire was far superior to competing weapons like the crossbow or early gunpowder weapons. The nearest competitor to the longbow was the much more expensive crossbow, used often by urban militias and mercenary forces. The crossbow had greater penetrating power and did not require the extended years of training. However, it lacked the rate of fire of the longbow. [31]

At Crécy and Agincourt bowmen unleashed clouds of arrows into the ranks of knights. At Crécy, even 5,000 Genoese crossbowmen could not dislodge them from their hill. At Agincourt, thousands of French knights were brought down by armour-piercing bodkin point arrows and horse-maiming broadheads. Longbowmen decimated an entire generation of the French nobility.

In 1326 the earliest known European picture of a gun appeared in a manuscript by Walter de Milemete. [32] In 1350, Petrarch wrote that the presence of cannons on the battlefield was 'as common and familiar as other kinds of arms'. [33]

Early artillery played a limited role in the Hundred Years' War, and it became indispensable in the Italian Wars of 1494–1559, marking the beginning of early modern warfare. Charles VIII, during his invasion of Italy, brought with him the first truly mobile siege train: culverins and bombards mounted on wheeled carriages, which could be deployed against an enemy stronghold immediately after arrival.

Arabs Edit

The initial Muslim conquests began in the 7th century after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and were marked by a century of rapid Arab expansion beyond the Arabian Peninsula under the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates. Under the Rashidun, the Arabs conquered the Persian Empire, along with Roman Syria and Roman Egypt during the Byzantine-Arab Wars, all within just seven years from 633 to 640. Under the Umayyads, the Arabs annexed North Africa and southern Italy from the Romans and the Arab Empire soon stretched from parts of the Indian subcontinent, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and southern Italy, to the Iberian Peninsula and the Pyrenees.

The early Arab army mainly consisted of camel-mounted infantry, alongside a few Bedouin cavalry. Constantly outnumbered by their opponent, they did, however, possess the advantage of strategic mobility, their camel-borne nature allowing them to constantly outmanoeuvre larger Byzantine and Sassanid armies to take prime defensive positions. The Rashidun cavalry, while lacking the number and mounted archery skill of their Roman and Persian counterparts was for the most part skillfully employed, and played a decisive role in many crucial battles such as Battle of Yarmouk.

In contrast, the Roman army and Persian army at the time both had large numbers of heavy infantry and heavy cavalry (cataphracts and clibanarii) that were better equipped, heavily protected, and more experienced and disciplined. The Arab invasions came at a time when both ancient powers were exhausted from the protracted Byzantine–Sassanid Wars, particularly the bitterly fought Byzantine–Sassanid War of 602–628 which had brought both empires close to collapse. Also, the typically multi-ethnic Byzantine force was always racked by dissension and lack of command unity, a similar situation also being encountered among the Sassanids who had been embroiled in a bitter civil war for a decade before the coming of the Arabs. In contrast, the Ridda Wars had forged the Caliphate's army into a united and loyal fighting force.

Hungarians Edit

Vikings Edit

The Vikings were a feared force in Europe because of their savagery and speed of their attacks. Whilst seaborne raids were nothing new at the time, the Vikings refined the practice to a science through their shipbuilding, tactics and training. [34] Unlike other raiders, the Vikings made a lasting impact on the face of Europe. During the Viking age, their expeditions, frequently combining raiding and trading, penetrated most of the old Frankish Empire, the British Isles, the Baltic region, Russia, and both Muslim and Christian Iberia. Many served as mercenaries, and the famed Varangian Guard, serving the Emperor of Constantinople, was drawn principally of Scandinavian warriors.

Viking longships were swift and easily manoeuvered they could navigate deep seas or shallow rivers, [34] and could carry warriors that could be rapidly deployed directly onto land due to the longships being able to land directly. The longship was the enabler of the Viking style of warfare that was fast and mobile, relying heavily on the element of surprise, [35] and they tended to capture horses for mobility rather than carry them on their ships. The usual method was to approach a target stealthily, strike with surprise and then retire swiftly. The tactics used were difficult to stop, for the Vikings, like guerrilla-style raiders elsewhere, deployed at a time and place of their choosing. The fully armoured Viking raider would wear an iron helmet and a mail hauberk, and fight with a combination of axe, sword, shield, spear or great "Danish" two-handed axe, although the typical raider would be unarmoured, carrying only a bow and arrows, a knife "seax", a shield and spear the swords and the axes were much less common. [ citation needed ]

Almost by definition, opponents of the Vikings were ill-prepared to fight a force that struck at will, with no warning. European countries with a weak system of government would be unable to organize a suitable response and would naturally suffer the most to Viking raiders. Viking raiders always had the option to fall back in the face of a superior force or stubborn defence and then reappear to attack other locations or retreat to their bases in what is now Sweden, Denmark, Norway and their Atlantic colonies. As time went on, Viking raids became more sophisticated, with coordinated strikes involving multiple forces and large armies, as the "Great Heathen Army" that ravaged Anglo-Saxon England in the 9th century. In time, the Vikings began to hold on to the areas they raided, first wintering and then consolidating footholds for further expansion later.

With the growth of centralized authority in the Scandinavian region, Viking raids, always an expression of "private enterprise", ceased and the raids became pure voyages of conquest. In 1066, King Harald Hardråde of Norway invaded England, only to be defeated by Harold Godwinson, who in turn was defeated by William of Normandy, descendant of the Viking Rollo, who had accepted Normandy as a fief from the Frankish king. The three rulers had their claims to the English crown (Harald probably primarily on the overlord-ship of Northumbria) and it was this that motivated the battles rather than the lure of plunder.

At that point, the Scandinavians had entered their medieval period and consolidated their kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. This period marks the end of significant raider activity both for plunder or conquest. The resurgence of centralized authority throughout Europe limited opportunities for traditional raiding expeditions in the West, whilst the Christianisation of the Scandinavian kingdoms themselves encouraged them to direct their attacks against the still predominantly pagan regions of the eastern Baltic. The Scandinavians started adapting more continental European ways, whilst retaining an emphasis on naval power – the "Viking" clinker-built warship was used in the war until the 14th century at least. However, developments in shipbuilding elsewhere removed the advantage the Scandinavian countries had previously enjoyed at sea, whilst castle building throughout frustrated and eventually ended Viking raids. [36] [ clarification needed ] Natural trading and diplomatic links between Scandinavia and Continental Europe ensured that the Scandinavians kept up to date with continental developments in warfare.

The Scandinavian armies of the High Middle Ages followed the usual pattern of the Northern European armies, but with a stronger emphasis on infantry. The terrain of Scandinavia favoured heavy infantry, and whilst the nobles fought mounted in the continental fashion, the Scandinavian peasants formed a well-armed and well-armoured infantry, of which approximately 30% to 50% would be archers or crossbowmen. The crossbow, the flatbow and the longbow were especially popular in Sweden and Finland. The chainmail, the lamellar armour and the coat of plates were the usual Scandinavian infantry armour before the era of plate armour. [ citation needed ]

Mongols Edit

By 1241, having conquered large parts of Russia, the Mongols continued the invasion of Europe with a massive three-pronged advance, following the fleeing Cumans, who had established an uncertain alliance with King Bela IV of Hungary. They first invaded Poland, and finally, Hungary, culminating in the crushing defeat of the Hungarians in the Battle of Mohi. The Mongol aim seems to have consistently been to defeat the Hungarian-Cuman alliance. The Mongols raided across the borders to Austria and Bohemia in the summer when the Great Khan died, and the Mongol princes returned home to elect a new Great Khan.

The Golden Horde would frequently clash with Hungarians, Lithuanians and Poles in the thirteenth century, with two large raids in the 1260s and 1280s respectively. In 1284 the Hungarians repelled the last major raid into Hungary, and in 1287 the Poles repelled a raid against them. The instability in the Golden Horde seems to have quieted the western front of the Horde. Also, the large scale invasions and raiding that had previously characterized the expansion of the Mongols was cut short probably in some part due to the death of the last great Mongol leader, Tamerlane.

The Hungarians and Poles had responded to the mobile threat by extensive fortification-building, army reform in the form of better-armoured cavalry, and refusing battle unless they could control the site of the battlefield to deny the Mongols local superiority. The Lithuanians relied on their forested homelands for defence and used their cavalry for raiding into Mongol-dominated Russia. When attacking fortresses they would launch dead or diseased animals into fortresses to help spread disease.

Turks Edit

An early Turkic group, the Seljuks, were known for their cavalry archers. These fierce nomads were often raiding empires, such as the Byzantine Empire, and they scored several victories using mobility and timing to defeat the heavy cataphracts of the Byzantines.

One notable victory was at Manzikert, where conflict among the generals of the Byzantines gave the Turks the perfect opportunity to strike. They hit the cataphracts with arrows, and outmanoeuvred them, then rode down their less mobile infantry with light cavalry that used scimitars. When gunpowder was introduced, the Ottoman Turks of the Ottoman Empire hired the mercenaries that used the gunpowder weapons and obtained their instruction for the Janissaries. Out of these Ottoman soldiers rose the Janissaries (yeni ceri "new soldier"), from which they also recruited many of their heavy infantry. Along with the use of cavalry and early grenades, the Ottomans mounted an offensive in the early Renaissance period and attacked Europe, taking Constantinople by massed infantry assaults.

Like many other nomadic peoples, the Turks featured a core of heavy cavalry from the upper classes. These evolved into the Sipahis (feudal landholders similar to western knights and Byzantine pronoiai) and Qapukulu (door slaves, taken from youth like Janissaries and trained to be royal servants and elite soldiers, mainly cataphracts).

2. The Pugio

The pugio is synonymous with status and often associated with high-ranking officers it was famously used to kill Julius Caesar. Being in the military was an honor for a Roman citizen and wearing a pugio was the simplest way to let everyone know.

The pugio was a small knife, between seven and eleven inches long, and was used as a last resort if no other weapon was available. Its sharp edge had a focal rib, and the handle was typically bolted on (although these bolts disappeared from the first century AD and numerous later precedents are found with substitution handles). The pugio went through many different designs, and it was less common during the second century. However, it returned in the third century with a more extended cutting edge.

Special Forces Post-WWII

On the other side of the world, France and then the United States were fighting a war of attrition in Indochina. The French wanted to restore their pre-war colonial rule. The U.S. was persuaded by George Kennan and John Foster Dulles to adopt a policy of containment to rein in international communism. The locals wanted self-determination and were willing to take help from any quarter, as they had done during the Second World War. Step by reluctant step, the U.S. entered the Vietnam quagmire, unsupported, for once, by the U.K. Like Afghanistan today, it was a conflict fought against a guerrilla army, one in which the occupation of minds counted for more than the control of territory. It saw the emergence of strategic hamlets and free-fire zones (based on British experience in Malaya) civic action teams recruitment of aboriginal tribes and a steady buildup of Special Forces such as the Mobile Guerrilla Force and including, from 1962, the creation of Navy SEALs (described by their Vietcong adversary as “devils with green faces”) on the orders of President Kennedy. The same themes resonated in Afghanistan, but as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out: “Apart from Special Forces and a few dissident colonels there has been no strong, deeply rooted constituency inside the Pentagon or elsewhere for institutionalizing the capabilities necessary to wage asymmetric or irregular conflict.” By 1970, as U.S. planes began bombing the Ho Chi Minh trail and American combat troops invaded Cambodia, the British SAS focused on another Communist threat: the potential loss of Oman, gateway to the Gulf, as a result of the despotic, medieval regime of the Ruler, Sheik bin Taimur, a British client. A coup d’etat was engineered by SIS in which the Ruler was replaced by his son, Qaboos, then under house arrest. The first problem was to open a line of contact with Britain’s chosen Ruler-in-waiting, Qaboos. His father grudgingly allowed him to receive cassette tapes of music. Qaboos, as a result of his service with the British army in Germany, liked Scottish marches, with bagpipe accompaniment. The tapes, purchased at Harrods store in London, were doctored so as to interrupt the music and relay voice messages from a friend who had shared his room at Sandhurst military college.

After a brief exchange of fire during which Bin Taimur shot himself through the foot, the deposed leader was spirited away by the Royal Air Force to live out his final years in London. The SAS then moved stealthily into Oman with a strategy that placed as much emphasis on winning hearts and minds as war-fighting. It included the extraordinary gamble of persuading the untamed hill tribes of Dhofar to change sides by arming them with the latest British rifles, and paying them. A similar strategy saved Western policy in Iraq in 2006 with the difference that in Oman, SAS officers and sergeants worked in isolation with these “turned” enemy, at great personal risk. The Oman Cocktail—a blend of bribes, development, and firepower—became a signature tactic of the SAS, out of sight of the British public in a six-year war without limits that ended in 1976. This SAS victory had momentous implications. It ensured Allied control of the gateway to the Hormuz Strait, the Gulf, and its oilfields for decades.

The SAS phenomenon spread to postwar U.S. Special Forces thanks to Charlie Beckwith, a young American officer attached to 22 SAS from 1961 to 1963, during which time he took part in jungle operations in Malaya. The informal structure and idiosyncratic discipline of the SAS that paid little heed to rank, only quality, puzzled and fascinated him. He wrote later: “I couldn’t make heads or tails of this situation. The officers were so professional, so well read, so articulate, so experienced. Why were they serving within this organization of non-regimental and apparently poorly disciplined troops? The troops resembled no military organization I had ever known…. Everything I’d been taught about soldiering, been trained to believe, was turned upside down.”

In 1977, having survived an apparently fatal gunshot wound in the abdomen in Vietnam, “Chargin’ Charlie” set up an elite Special Forces known as Delta, carefully modeled on the SAS. Its first major test, Operation Eagle Claw—an attempt to rescue U.S. diplomat-hostages in Iran in 1980—was a fiasco caused by poor air support and a top-heavy command structure. Beckwith’s ironic verdict, in a message to his British buddies, was: “You can’t make chicken chowmein out of chickenshit.” Delta survived that disaster to become the cutting edge of U.S. unconventional warfare in Iraq from 2003 and Afghanistan after campaigns in Mogadishu, 1993, Central and South America. When the going got tough in Congress, ingenious spirits in Washington such as Marine Colonel Oliver North recruited plausibly deniable ex-SAS British mercenaries and others to operate in Nicaragua. They included Major David Walker, formerly of the SAS and later head of the enigmatic private military company KMS.

The creation of Delta Force was followed in 1979 during the Iran crisis by the Foreign Operating Group (later redesignated the Intelligence Support Activity, aka “The Activity”). In 1981 the ISA ran signals intelligence that led to the rescue of U.S. General James Lee Dozier, a prisoner of Italian Red Brigade terrorists for forty-two days, as well as the 1984 attempted liberation of Bill Buckley, the CIA station chief held captive, then murdered, in Beirut and operations in Panama, Colombia, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Like Britain’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment, a unit with roots in the Irish conflict, the ISA also acts as the eyes and ears of an SF strike force such as Delta.

By the time the Soviet empire collapsed in 1989, Special Forces had emerged as the means to resolve political conflict without the penalties that would accompany the use of conventional armies. It was even, as M. R. D. Foot argued, a political safety-valve, a useful alternative to the mutually assured destruction of nuclear war. This history examines the validity of that novel proposition, and much else, including the extent to which the SF phenomenon licenses its operators, notably deniable warriors in the private sector, to enter a legal gray area where others dare not go, boldly or otherwise. In practice it uniquely inhabits an ambiguous zone between the politically acceptable and the officially deniable. Success comes at a cost, usually in civil liberties. Population control methods employed in the conflicts of Malaya, Vietnam, Kenya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and internment without trial in Northern Ireland were all case studies in misapplied social engineering.

But in an age of asymmetric warfare, the techniques developed by Special Forces represent the future. The economic crash of 2008 forced the Obama regime to take a long, hard look at the Pentagon’s spending. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Secretary of State, espoused instead Professor Joseph Nye’s concept of “smart power,” acknowledging that “most of the conflicts we are facing and will face rarely have a military solution.” It was probably no coincidence that in the final months of the Bush presidency, after prolonged campaigns that ended in stalemate, at best, a blueprint for a new military strategy emerged from the Pentagon. Dated September 2008, the 280-page document is Field Manual 3-05.130, entitled Army Special Operations Forces—Unconventional Warfare. It defines the Bush administration’s foreign policy aims as “furthering capitalism to foster economic growth…and promote the sale and mobility of U.S. products to international consumers” accompanied by such strategic tools as “global freedom of action” and “full spectrum dominance.”

To create a new world order, after the American model, the authors concede, will be the work of generations. While orthodox military dominance, worldwide, is a given, the main thrust of policy is the use of Unconventional Warfare, “working by, with or through irregular surrogates in a clandestine and/or covert manner against opposing actors.” It is also “a fundamentally indirect application of power that leverages human groups to act in concert with U.S. national objectives.” That means training and supporting surrogates in “the full range of human motivation beyond narrowly defined actual or threatened physical coercion.”

It is, essentially, war on the mind, manipulating public opinion. “The objective of Unconventional Warfare (UW) is always inherently political…. Some of the best weapons do not shoot.” Furthermore, “A fundamental military objective in Unconventional Warfare (UW) is the deliberate involvement and leveraging of civilian interference in the unconventional warfare operational area…. Actors engaged in supporting elements in the Unconventional Warfare Operational Area may rely on criminal activities, such as smuggling, narcotics or human trafficking…. The methods and networks of real or perceived criminal entities can be useful as supporting elements of a U.S.-sponsored UW effort.”

The foot soldiers in the new model army of irregulars will be “unconstrained by sovereign nation legalities and boundaries. These forces may include, but are not limited to, specific paramilitary forces, contractors, individuals, businesses…black marketers and other social or political ‘undesirables’.” The new doctrine also proposes a license to kill opponents pre-emptively, “against non-state actors operating within or behind the laws of nonbelligerent states with which the United States is not at war…or within a hostile state that harbors, either wittingly or unwittingly, these nonstate actors within its borders.”

There is more of the same. The new doctrine also synthesizes the darker history of Special Forces: the ruthless use of surrogates including civilians, involvement in the international drug trade, compulsory relocation of civilian populations, the redirection of aid programs for political purposes, and the subversion of unfriendly governments lubricated by the dollar (as in Iran in 1951). It is a pragmatic handbook for illegal military activity to “ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade.” Its attraction to increasingly hard-up military planners facing an open-ended Global War On Terror, could be irresistible unless the Obama administration puts its foot on the ethical brake. Whatever the outcome, we cannot understand the complexities of modern, asymmetric warfare without an awareness of the sophisticated, multi-layered organism that we loosely describe as “Special Forces.”

What began as Irish and American resistance to British rule, mutating into organized guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and propaganda-by-deed along the way, has now become a military discipline in its own right. It does not discard the old skills such as, for example, the British commando raid on the Bruneval radar station in 1942 to snatch enemy secrets. But it has matured into a matrix of intelligenceled military and non-military techniques requiring skills beyond the reach of the most talented conventional soldier including public relations, deception operations, undetectable burglary, and esoteric foreign languages—alongside, of course, high-altitude freefall parachuting, scuba diving, and a voluminous knowledge of exotic weapons. There is much more. SF medical specialists learn field surgery by practicing on anaesthetized, live animals freshly wounded by gunshot to ensure realistic blood pressure levels as the medics try to revive them.

The SF military agenda is now expected to include unconventional military operations as part of a conventional campaign (see Britain’s amphibious South Atlantic War, 1982) counterinsurgency (Iraq, Afghanistan) combat rescue (Entebbe 1976) peacekeeping including weapons verification (Balkans) snatch operations to arrest wanted war criminals rescuing allied pilots from enemy territory and surrogate warfare using deniable paramilitaries. As an IRA joke about the SAS ran: “An SAS man is one who can speak half a dozen different languages while disguised as a bottle of Guinness.”

Yet during the decades since 1945, Special Forces have won acceptance among governments at the pace of a funeral march and are sometimes—as in Yemen in the sixties—dependent on private funding. Official caution is understandable. Elements of the British Army in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, operating as armed men in civilian clothes, came chillingly close to resembling the death squads of South America. If democratic governments have a nightmare about their armed forces, it is that some adventurous spirits will act as a law unto themselves.

As we have seen, the SAS was officially reinvented with the inauguration of a reserve unit, 21 SAS (the Artists’ Rifles) in 1947 and its merger with an ad hoc formation, the Malayan Scouts (SAS) in 1951. With the end of the Malayan Emergency, two of the regiment’s four squadrons were axed. They were restored in the 1960s, following the regiment’s successful cross-border secret war in Indonesia. Yet it was not until the regiment’s unique skills were demonstrated during the Iranian Embassy siege in London in 1980—when what started as a terrorist “spectacular” became a British government “spectacular”—that it was accepted as a national institution. What little was published about the SAS until then, in postwar years, was almost universally hostile, the work of left-wing journalists.

American Special Forces, in spite of their many successes in defending a political lost cause in Vietnam, were also slow to win permanent status in America’s order of battle. This time the leading opponents of Special Forces were the military top brass. “These [Special Forces] units,” writes Colonel John T. Carney, one of their pioneers, “had been virtual pariahs within their own armed services…in the late 1970s” after Vietnam. “In the aftermath of post-Vietnam down-sizing, funding for special operations forces had been cut by 95 per cent. Reaching a low point in 1975, special operations forces constituted only one-tenth of one per cent of the entire defense budget.” No official U.S. document even dared mention Special Operations Forces as such until 1981, when a Defense Guidance from the Pentagon directed all the armed services to develop an SOF capability.

Five years later, Senators Sam Nunn and William S. Cohen persuaded Congress to legislate for an independent U.S. Special Operations Command, to ensure that never again would “ad hoc rescue forces have to be cobbled together to meet the kind of time-urgent crisis that the Son Tay and Iranian rescue missions represented.” Another year passed before Special Operations Command could begin work as the lead agency against terrorism, just in time for Afghanistan, America’s first major Special Forces conflict since Vietnam. SF soldiers do not give up easily. As Colonel Bill Cowan USMC, one of the pioneers of the reborn Special Forces, told the author: “Following my retirement I went to serve as an aide on Capitol Hill. I got the last laugh with the bureaucracy. I was one of five key staffers who wrote the legislation which created the Special Operations Command in Tampa. The Pentagon and the White House fought the legislation tenaciously. But they lost and the command was formed, leading to Spec Ops being at the forefront as they are today.”

The story of the CIA’s paramilitary Special Operations Group followed a similar pattern. Following many misadventures involving coups and assassinations in the 1980s, the Agency retreated to intelligence analysis allied to satellite surveillance. The SOG “knuckle-draggers” were moribund. George Tenet, CIA Director, started the SOG renaissance in 1998. The process accelerated rapidly after 9/11. The budget grew by millions of dollars, equipment including jet aircraft, cargo planes reminiscent of Air America and Vietnam, speedboats, and Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles.

Their remit, handed down by President George W. Bush, was to use “all necessary means” to track down and kill Osama bin Laden and his cohorts. Not everyone—notably Defense Secretary Rumsfeld—was happy about the duplication of effort that SOG—though tiny compared with SOCOM—represented. In 2005 he unveiled yet another weapon to be added to SOCOM’s armory. The Marines had landed, in the form of 2,500 Leathernecks and sailors, to form an entity known as MarSOC (U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command). The Corps was not happy, for it creamed off some of its best reconnaissance talent. It was also to lead to one of the most disputed firefights of the Afghanistan campaign, and an equally controversial court of inquiry that exonerated two officers.

The CIA, meanwhile, continued to recruit experienced Special Forces officers, training some of them for a year in spycraft, before sending them back to the Agency’s preferred form of low-profile warfare, working through proxies. For a time after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a symbiosis of CIA and SOCOM functioned well enough. But the two have continued to work in parallel, rather than together, with mixed results. Should President Barack Obama conclude some time in the future that U.S. strategy requires a change of emphasis, away from hearts-and-minds toward Howard Hart’s nostrum (“Cut a deal with the Taliban”) and Senator Biden’s wish to concentrate America’s fire on al Qaeda, it suggests a bigger role for the CIA’s Special Operations Group. The McChrystal formula, publicly endorsed by the president at West Point on 2 December 2009 to safeguard civilians in the most populous areas of Afghanistan (and, by extension, Pakistan), will be a task that emphasizes the role of SOCOM, as well as the poor bloody infantry.

But we should note that Obama, a cautious cat, hedged his bets. He said: “The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan…. Unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies. So as a result…we will have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold—whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere—they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.” Note the language. For “nimble and precise,” read “Special Operations Forces.” At the military level, the symbiosis of CIA paramilitary and intelligence combined with Special Operations Forces was the future war-fighting model beyond the time-limited commitment to Karzai’s Afghanistan.

4# The Hellburner

When the Dutch rebelled against the Habsburgs, the Duke of Parma sent Spanish forces to subdue the rebels. The Spanish soldiers built a blockade by building a ship bridge over River Scheldt to starve the Flemish city by blocking the supply at the Siege of Antwerp in 1585.

Queen Elizabeth I of England supported the Flemish rebels and hired Italian military engineer Federigo Giambelli, to help the city and to destroy the blockade. Giambelli, after much thought, came up with the idea to build explosive chambers in the ships to deploy it for the destruction of the bridge.

For this, he converted two large ships and placed 3 tons of explosives gunpowder with a fixed clockwork detonator in each ship. When the ships reached the bridge, they exploded.

The explosion is said to have killed thousands of Spanish soldiers and created a space in the bridge large enough to allow the sailing of ships.

The Hellburner is known to be the first weapons of mass destruction that destroyed much of the Spanish fleet.

8) Siege tower:

Replacing the simple ladders was the usage of the siege tower, a towering (pun intended) transportable structure housing enemy troops eager to assail the walls of the besieged city via windows, sometimes protruding ladders out of them. Made entirely out of lacquered wood, they were reinforced with metal to keep the gargantuan-weapon stable. With that, they could also offer defense against being set ablaze alongside the countless shields riveted on the outside.

Daggers and Knives

A dagger is a double-edged blade used for stabbing or thrusting. Daggers often fulfill the role of a secondary defence weapon in close combat. In most cases, a tang extends into the handle along the centreline of the blade.

Daggers may be differentiated from knives in that daggers are intended primarily for stabbing whereas knives are usually single-edged and intended mostly for cutting. This distinction is confused by the fact that many knives and daggers are capable of either stabbing or cutting.

Historically, knives and daggers were always considered secondary or even tertiary weapons. Most cultures mainly fought with pole weapons, swords, and axes at arm's length if not already utilizing bows, spears, slings, or other long-range weapons.

From the year 1250 onward, gravestones and other contemporary images show knights with a dagger or combat knife at their side. Hilt and blade shapes began to resemble smaller versions of swords and led to a fashion of ornamented sheaths and hilts in the late 15th century. This is also a symbol of the church because the dagger look much like a cross.

With the advent of protective plate armour during the Middle Ages, the dagger became increasingly useful as a good close in weapon for stabbing through the gaps in armour. Books offering instruction on the use of weapons described the dagger being held in the hand with the blade pointing from the heel of the hand and used to make downward jabs. Straight jabs from a normal hammer grip were also used, though icepick style jabs are more commonly depicted in manuals. The dagger was a common murder weapon, used by commoners or vengeful aristocrats who wished to remain anonymous.

With the development of firearms, the dagger lost more and more of its usefulness in military combat multipurpose knives and handguns replaced them.


An anelace, also called an anlace, is a medieval long dagger r a very short type of sword. An anelace was sharp on both sides and could be carried at the small of the back or girdle. Two anelaces could be used in a paired fighting style similar to using a sword and parrying dagger.


A stiletto is a short knife or dagger with a long slender blade of various designs primarily used as a stabbing weapon. Its narrow shape, ending in a rigid pointed end, allows it to penetrate deeply. Most stiletti are not suited for cutting, even with edged examples. A typical early stiletto had a one-piece cast-metal handle. The blade was hammer-forged in a triangular blade cross section without any sharpened edges. Other examples have round, square, and diamond cross sections.

The Italian word "stiletto" comes from the Latin stilus meaning: "a stake a pointed instrument".

The stiletto, also called a misericorde ("mercy"), began to gain fame during the High Middle Ages, when it was the secondary weapon of knights. It was used to finish off a fallen or severely wounded heavily armoured opponent. The pointed, stout blade could easily pass through most mail or find its way through gaps in a knight's plate armour. A severely wounded opponent, who was not expected to survive, would be given a "mercy strike" (French coup de grace), hence the name misericorde.

This weapon could also be used as a means of killing an active adversary, as during a grappling struggle. The blade could be used against an opponent's face, or thrust through holes or weak points in armour, such as under the arm, with the aim of piercing the heart. The weapon was known from the 12th century and has appeared in the armaments of Germany and England.

Later the Gunner's Stiletto became a tool for clearing cannon-fuse touch holes used in the manner of an automotive oil dipstick, they were often scribed with marks indicating levels of powder charges for ranging distance.



A rondel dagger or roundel dagger was a type of stiff-bladed dagger in Europe in the late Middle Ages (from the 14th century onwards), used by a variety of people from merchants to knights. It was worn at the waist and might be used as a utility tool, or worn into battle or a jousting tournament as a side-arm.

The blade was typically long and slim, measuring 12 inches (30 cm) or more the whole dagger might be as long as 20 inches (50 cm). Rondel means round or circular the dagger gets its name from its round (or similarly shaped, e.g. octagonal) hand guard and round or spherical pommel (knob on the end of the grip).

The blade was stiff, made from steel, and the tang extended through the handle, which was cylindrical, normally carved wood or bone. In profile, the blade was usually diamond-shaped, lenticular, or triangular. These blades would have a sharpened point, and either one or both edges would also be sharpened. They were principally designed for use with a stabbing action, either underarm, or over arm with a reverse grip. They would also have been used for cutting. The long straight blade would not have lent itself to a slashing or sabre action.

Rondel daggers were ideal in battle for puncturing chain mail, and although they would not have been able to punch through plate armour, they could be forced between the joints in a suit of armour and helmets. This was often the only way in which a heavily armoured knight could be killed.

A few examples also exist of four-edged rondel daggers, the blade having a cruciform profile. These blades would not have been suited for cutting, or use as a general utility tool they would have been worn as a side-arm in battle. The rondel daggers which have survived and found their way into museums and collections are usually those with fine craftsmanship and often ornate decoration. The blades may be engraved, the grips ornately carved, and the hand guards and pommels highly decorated.

In a scene from a miniature by Girat de Roussillon depicting the construction of twelve churches in France (c. 1448), merchants and tradesmen can be seen wearing rondel daggers at their waists. Before the 1400s, daggers were actually a peasant's weapon. However, in the 15th century they became the standard side-arm for knights, and would have been carried into battles such as the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

They were a knight's backup weapon to be used in hand to hand fighting, and as such one of their last lines of defence. Since they were able to penetrate a suit of armour (at the joints, or through the visor of the helmet), rondel daggers could be used to force an unseated or wounded knight to surrender, for a knight might fetch a good ransom. Daggers may also have been thrown at unseated enemy knights to force them to engage in battle, though a mace was perhaps better suited to this task.

9) Arquebus:

As the use of gunpowder spread in Europe, it allowed for the construction of very first firearms, among which were the Arquebus rifles. Even though primitive and somewhat lacking in power at first, they later replaced bows and crossbows in the battlefields. They paved the way for better gunpowder armaments to appear. The body was made out of wood, hardened and lacquered, while the tube was made out of steel. These riffles were prototypes of muskets later on. Every single Arquebus differs from the other, be it by weight, length or even by use.

9 wacky medieval war machines

Stop someone in the street and ask them to describe a medieval castle siege and they would likely mention a big battering ram being heaved against tall wooden gates, a spoon-shaped catapult flinging a big boulder at battlements, and the old favourite – boiling oil being poured on to the heads of hapless knights by laughing soldiers.

Read more about: Medieval History

Execution in the Middle Ages

There was much more to medieval military technology, though. Skilled engineers concocted increasingly sophisticated devices for ambitious rulers and cautious cities money and resources were put into builder bigger and better ‘siege engines’ and weird and wonderful weaponry was designed to intimidate as well as destroy enemies.

Here we look at 9 of the most unusual war machines from the Middle Ages.

1. Leonardo da Vinci’s tank

Over four hundred years before the first modern tank made its debut on the Western Front in the First World War, Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) designed what is believed to be the first-ever armoured vehicle, in 1487. Made of wood with metal sheeting on the outside, its conical design was to enable it to move in all directions and fire outwards on all sides. It was to be operated by men inside working hand cranks, with another group inside firing cannons.

Da Vinci wrote in a letter to the ruler of Milan:

Read more about: Battles

Tank Origins

‘I can make armoured cars, safe and unassailable […] and behind these our infantry will be able to follow quite unharmed and without any opposition.’

Never built, it was thought to have been designed by the great inventor with a deliberate flaw built-in: it could not move. Some have speculated that this was because da Vinci was a pacificist, while others have suggested that this was to prevent others from stealing his design.

2. Leonardo da Vinci’s giant crossbow

The ballista was a familiar sight on medieval battlefields. It was a siege engine like a crossbow in form, firing bolts, darts, or other projectiles. Da Vinci’s giant crossbow resembled a ballista but on a much bigger scale than anything that had ever been conceived of before.

Known as Leonardo’s crossbow, it was intended either for defence or possibly for use in sieges.

Designed in the 1480s and collected in Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, it was never constructed (except for a TV show in 2002).

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It had six wheels and measured roughly 27 metres long and half as much across.

It was to be built of thin wood for flexibility and it had an innovative, aerodynamic design. It would also have been, if built, cost-effective, quiet (compared to a cannon), and hefty, with Leonardo expecting the weapon to fire projectiles weighing 45 kilograms.

It was a sophisticated machine with a gear for drawing back the bowstring and two alternate methods of firing, either by hammer blow or with a lever.

Conceived as a weapon to frighten the enemy, it was one of several designs presented by da Vinci to Ludovico Sforza (1452-1508), regent and later Duke of Milan, in the hope of being employed by Sforza as a military engineer.

Over 500 years later, experts are still in the dark about why the giant crossbow was never built.

3. Kyeser’s people blender

Konrad Kyeser (1366-c.1405) was a German engineer and author famous for his 1405 manual of military tech, Bellifortis.

In this famous textbook, Kyeser describes well-known devices such as battering rams and trebuchets, but also rockets, grenades, siege towers, mobile pontoon bridges, and battlefield troop carriers.

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He also discusses astrology and the use of ‘magic’ in warfare.

One of the designs in Kyeser’s grisly guidebook was described by him as a ‘war cart’ which ‘shreds’ and ‘mangles’ enemy foot soldiers. The illustration for the cart shows six spears sticking out of each side, with a further five serrated barbs on each side, designed to spin with the motion of the cart and churn up enemy infantry.

4. The fire dragon – The ancient exocet

In the Huolongjing (Fire Dragon Manual’), a 14th-century Chinese military text, a host of fearsome weapons are described, including firearms, cannons, landmines, and ‘fire arrows’.

One of the weapons detailed in this book is the ‘huo long chu shui’, or ‘fire-dragon issuing from the water’. This was probably the world’s first multi-stage rocket.

This missile launcher had an opening resembling a dragon’s head and an opposite end with the appearance of a fishtail.

The first stage of the rocket launcher would ignite and launch the battery of exploding arrows out of the mouth of the dragon.

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5. Leonardo’s submarine

Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘submarine’ invention was an empty shell with enough room for one person. It had a conning tower on top and was described by da Vinci not as a submarine precisely but as a ‘ship to sink another ship’. It was later discovered that da Vinci’s designs for this contraption would not have enabled it to fully submerge.

He conceived of many other devices for naval warfare, such as a one-man battleship, but because da Vinci was concerned about the deadly use his ‘submarine’ might be put to by ‘evil men’ he also designed more peaceful apparatus such as a machine to refloat sinking ships using air-filled tanks.

6. Digging tortoise

Tenth-century writer Hero of Byzantium wrote two famous tracts on ‘siege craft’, surviving copies of which are held in the Vatican Library. These manuals, called ‘poliorcetica’, were the early medieval world’s authoritative guides to siege engineering and siege warfare.

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This tract describes a range of siege engines and weapons. One machine was known as a digging tortoise. A sort of large mobile shed, it would be brought up to the walls of a city or castle by an attacking force. It would sometimes be covered with animal hides to protect it from any sand or oil the defenders threw down on it. The ‘tortoise’ would then give attacking sappers the cover to employ battering rams to weaken the walls, or to use borers to drill into them.

7. Iron crow

One peculiar but not uncommon sight at a siege in England in the Middle Ages was a large device resembling a fishing rod, called a crow. This machine would have been mounted on to the defenders’ walls and used to snare and then ‘reel in’ enemy soldiers, particularly those on horseback. Once hooked, the unfortunate knight would be hoisted into the castle walls and ransomed.

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A famous incident involving an iron crow occurred at the Siege of Ludlow in 1139 when King Stephen saved Prince Henry of Scotland from being winched away from his horse by one of these fearsome ferrous fishing rods.

8. Hellburners

At the Siege of Antwerp in 1585 jobbing Italian military engineer, Federigo Giambelli unleashed a fearsome new weapon of war which sent shockwaves around Europe.

The Habsburgs’ local lackey the Duke of Parma had been sent to quash rebels in the Flemish city the previous year.

Elizabeth I of England, supporting the resisters, engaged the services of Giambelli. His devasting ‘machines’ nearly resulted in victory for the defenders of the port city. What was it that wreaked havoc on besieging Spanish forces? Why, exploding ships, of course.

Nicknamed ‘hellburners’, some have referred to these floating bombs as the world’s first ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

Two large ships of over 60 tons were converted for the purpose. Over three tones of gunpowder were placed in the hold of each ship, and a clockwork detonator was created. The huge explosion of one hellburner was said to have killed over a thousand Spanish troops and created a hole wide enough in the attackers’ blockading pontoon bridge to enable a fleet to sail in. The naval relief never took the opportunity created by the hellburner to aid the city, and in August of 1585, the Spanish prevailed over the local insurgents.

9. The lantern shield

While strictly a personal weapon as opposed to a siege engine or artillery piece, this Swiss Army knife of medieval weapons clearly meets the definition of a ‘contraption’. Dating from Renaissance Italy, the cleverly-named lantern shield was a buckler (small shield) with a lantern fitted to it. It was designed for use in duels and as protection for those who braved Italian city streets at night.

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The shield’s lantern may have been used to dazzle muggers, but if that failed the implement also had attached to it a gauntlet with serrated teeth, a dagger, and spikes.

Weird and wacky innovation has always been a part of warfare, and military engineering continues to attract designers who are keen to create either life-preserving equipment or destructive weapons. Intriguingly, some of the designs and ideas mentioned here, such as the submarine, resurfaced (ahem) in later centuries.


Roberts first proposed the concept of a military revolution in 1955. On 21 January of that year he delivered a lecture before the Queen's University of Belfast later published as an article, The Military Revolution, 1560–1660, that has fueled debate in historical circles for five decades, in which the concept has been continually redefined and challenged. Though historians often challenge Roberts' theory, they usually agree with his basic proposal that European methods of warfare changed profoundly somewhere around or during the Early Modern Period. [1]

Roberts placed his military revolution around 1560–1660 as the period in which linear tactics were developed to take advantage of the increasingly effective gunpowder weapons [6] however, that chronology has been challenged by many scholars.

Ayton and Price have remarked on the importance of the "Infantry Revolution" taking place in the early 14th century, [7] and David Eltis has pointed out that the real change to gunpowder weapons and the elaboration of a military doctrine according to that change took place in the early 16th century, not, as Roberts defended, in the late 16th century. [8]

Others have defended a later period for the military change. Jeremy Black thinks that the key time period was that of 1660–1710, which saw an exponential growth in the size of European armies, [9] while Clifford J. Rogers has developed the idea of successive military revolutions at different periods, first an "infantry revolution" in the 14th century, secondly an "artillery revolution" in the 15th century, thirdly a "fortifications revolution" in the 16th, fourth a "fire weapons" revolution between 1580 and 1630, and finally a fifth revolution, the increase in size of European armies, between 1650 and 1715. [10] Similarly, Geoffrey Parker has extended the period of the military revolution from 1450 to 1800, the period in which Europeans achieved supremacy over the rest of the world. [2] Some scholars have questioned the revolutionary character of an evolution through four centuries. [11] Clifford Rogers has suggested that the military revolution can best be compared with the concept of "punctuated equilibrium evolution" (a theory originating in biology), meaning short bursts of rapid military innovation followed by longer periods of relative stagnation. [12]

Linear tactics Edit

Shallow formations are ideally suited for defensive deployments, but they are clumsy in offensive missions: the longer the frontage, the more difficult to maintain order and cohesion, or to perform any maneuver, especially wheeling. Gustavus Adolphus understood well that far from being slow and ponderous, the assault columns like those used by Tilly were in fact faster and more flexible, and the Swedish King made use of them when required, like in the battle of Alte Veste (see picture 3).

Armies did start to use thinner formations, but in a slow evolution, and subjected to tactical considerations. [a] Firearms were not so effective as to determine solely the deployment of troops, [b] other considerations were also observed, like units' experience, [c] assigned mission, terrain, or the need to meet a required frontage with an understrength unit. The debate of line vs column was carried through the 18th Century up to Napoleonic times, with a temporary reverse to deep columns in the later campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. [15]

Ironically, depth reduction in cavalry formations was a more permanent change introduced by Gustavus Adolphus. In conjunction with less reliance on pistol fire it had the net effect of favouring shock action over firepower, contrary to the tendency defended by Roberts.

Trace Italienne Edit

Roberts' linear tactics concept had an early critic in the younger historian Geoffrey Parker, who asked why the supposedly outdated Spanish tercios defeated the Swedish linear formations at the battle of Nördlingen in 1634. [16] Parker instead suggested that the key development was the appearance of the trace italienne fortifications in early modern Europe. In this view, the difficulty of taking such fortifications resulted in a profound change in military strategy. "Wars became a series of protracted sieges", Parker suggests, and open-pitch battles became "irrelevant" in regions where the trace italienne existed. Ultimately, Parker argues, "military geography", in other words the existence or absence of the trace italienne in a given area, shaped military strategy in the early modern period, and lead to the creation of larger armies necessary to besiege the new fortresses and to garrison them. In this way, Parker placed the birth of the Military Revolution in the early 16th century. He also gives it a new significance, not only was a factor in the growth of the State, it was also the main factor, together with the "Naval Revolution" to the rise of the West over other Civilizations. [2]

This model has been criticised on several grounds. Jeremy Black pointed that it was the development of the State that allowed the growth in size of the armies, not the other way around, and found Parker guilty of "Technological Determinism". [9] More tellingly, the figures presented by Parker to sustain his idea about the growth of armies have been severely criticised by David Eltis as lacking consistency [8] and David Parrott has proved that the period of the trace italienne did not show any significant growth in the size of French armies [17] and that the late period of the Thirty Years War showed an increase in the proportion of cavalry in the armies, [18] contrary to Parker's thesis that the prevalence of siege warfare marked a decrease of its importance.

The infantry revolution and the decline of cavalry Edit

Some Medieval specialists elaborated on the idea of an infantry revolution happening early in the 14th century, when in some relevant battles, like Courtrai (1302), Bannockburn (1314) or Halmyros (1311), heavy cavalry was routed by infantry [19] however, it can be pointed out that in all those battles infantry was entrenched or positioned in rough terrain unsuited for cavalry, like in other battles of the 14th and 15th century in which cavalry was defeated. In fact infantry had been victorious in earlier times in similar situations, for instance at the battle of Legnano in 1176, but in open ground infantry still had the worst, as shown for instance at the battle of Patay (1429) and the battle of Formigny (1450) in which the vaunted English longbowmen were easily run down however, the experience of battles like Courtrai and Bannockburn meant that the myth of the invincible knight disappeared, which was in itself important for transforming medieval warfare.

More substance has the case for the "return of Heavy Infantry" as Carey has named it. [20] Pikemen, unlike other infantry, could stand in the open against heavy cavalry. While requiring drill and discipline, individual training requirements were much lower than those for archers or knights, and the switch from heavily armoured knight to footsoldier made possible the expansion in the size of armies from the late 15th century onwards as infantry could be trained more quickly and could be hired in great numbers. But that change was slow.

The full development, in the 15th century, of plate armour for both man and horse, combined with the use of the arret (lance rest) which could support a heavier lance, ensured that the heavy cavalryman remained a formidable warrior. Without cavalry, a 15th-century army was unlikely to achieve a decisive victory on the field of battle battle might be decided by archers or pikemen, but a retreat could only be cut off effectively or followed-up by cavalry. [21] In the 16th century, a lighter, less expensive and more professional cavalry gained ground, so that the proportion of cavalry in the armies actually grew continually, so that in the last battles of the Thirty Years War cavalry actually outnumbered infantry as never before since the high feudal period. [22]

Another change that took place in the late 15th century was the improvement in siege artillery as to render old style fortifications very vulnerable. But the supremacy of tactical offence in siege warfare was not to last for very long. As Philippe Contamine has noted, by a dialectical process which may be found in all periods, progress in the art of siege was answered by progress in the art of fortification, and vice versa. [23] Charles VIII's invasion of Italy in 1494 demonstrated the potency of siege artillery but in this region by the early years of the 16th century there were beginning to emerge fortifications which had been designed specifically to resist artillery bombardment. The full impact the 15th-century "artillery revolution" was blunted fairly quickly by the development of the bastion and the trace italienne. But the military supremacy which the possession of a powerful siege train conferred contributed in no small degree to that strengthening of royal authority which we find in some European states in the later 15th century. [24]

The increase in army size and its influence on the development of Modern States is an important point in the military revolution theory. There are several sources for the study of the size of armies in different periods.

Administrative sources Edit

By their own nature they are the more objective sources available. Since Napoleonic Wars European Commanders had at their disposal periodical strength reports of their units. Those strength reports are the main source for research in conflicts in 19th and 20th centuries, however they are not without problems, different armies count effective strength in different ways, and in some instances reports are inflated by commanding officers to look good to their superiors.

Another source was muster calls, non-periodical strength reports of the personnel ready for duty. Muster calls are the main source for the strength of armies before the 19th century, but by their own nature they lack continuity and are ill-suited for long time period analysis. They are, however, the most reliable source for the period and do provide a general picture of army strengths and their variability. [d]

Thirdly, pay rolls provide another set of information. They are especially useful to study army costs, but they are not so reliable as muster calls as they only show payments, not real soldiers ready for duty, and before the 19th century "ghost soldiers", men falsely enlisted by officers in order to get the fees for themselves, were a very common occurrence.

Finally, Orders of Battle, lists of units without specifying strength, are very important for the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Before that period armies lacked the organization to deploy permanent units, so that orders of battle usually consist in an enumeration of leaders with commands. The exception for Ancient Times would be the Roman army, that from an early period developed a considerable military organization. An Order of Battle is not a reliable source for army strength, since units in campaign, or even in peace time periods, are rarely if ever at full authorized strength.

Narrative sources Edit

Modern historians make use of the large amount of administrative sources available now, however things were very different in the past. Pre-modern writers too many times give numbers without naming sources, and there are few cases in which we can be sure they are actually using any administrative source. That is especially true when they speak about enemy armies, in which the access to administrative sources was in any case problematic. Besides that, there are a number of additional problems concerning pre-modern historians they could be very biased in their reports, as inflating the number of enemies has been one of the favourite propagandistic resources of all times. Even when presenting a balanced account, many historians did not possess military experience, thus they lacked the technical judgement to properly assess and critique their sources. On the other hand, they had access to first hand accounts that could be very interesting, although in the subject of numbers were rarely accurate.

Historians consider pre-modern narrative sources to be highly unreliable on the subject of numbers, so that it is not possible to make use of them in a pair to administrative sources. Comparatives between modern and pre-modern periods are thus very difficult.

Size of overall armies Edit

A clear differentiation should be established between Overall armies, i.e., the overall armed forces of a given political entity, and Field Armies, tactical units capable of moving as a single force along a campaign. The growth in size of overall armies has been considered by several scholars as a key issue of the Military Revolution. There are two main theses: it has been either considered a consequence of the economic and demographic growth of the 17th–18th century [46] or the main cause for the growth of the administration and centralization of the Modern State in the same period. [47]

However, some opponents of the general thesis have challenged those views, for instance I.A.A. Thompson has noted how the growth in size of the Spanish army in the 16th–17th centuries contributed rather to the economic collapse of Spain and to the weakness of the central government against regional rebellions [48] while Simon Adams has put in question if there was any growth at all in the first half of the 17th century. [49] The growth is however clear in the second half of the 17th century, when the States embrace the task of recruiting and arming themselves their armies, abandoning the system of commission, prevalent until the end of the Thirty Years' War. The organization of a system of Local and Provincial Militias around this period in several countries (and the growing importance of Local Aristocracy, the so-called "refeudalization of the armies" especially in Eastern Europe) contributed to the extension of manpower base of the national armies, although foreign mercenaries still remained a considerable percentage in all European armies.

Size of field armies Edit

This has been dictated through history by logistical constraints, mainly the supply of food. Before the mid-17th century, armies basically lived off the land. They didn't have supply lines they moved to the supply, and many times their movements were dictated by supply considerations. [50] While some regions with good communications could supply large armies for longer periods, still they had to disperse when they moved from these well supplied areas. The maximum size of field armies remained under 50,000 for most of this period, and strength reports over this figure are always from unreliable narrative sources and must be regarded with scepticism. In the second half of the 17th things changed greatly. Armies began to be supplied through a net of depots linked by supply lines, [51] that greatly increased the size of Field Armies. In the 18th century and early 19th century, before the advent of the railway, the size of Field Armies reached figures over 100,000.

The theory of a military revolution based upon technology has given way to models based more on a slow evolution in which technology plays a minor role to organization, command and control, logistics and in general non-material improvements. The revolutionary nature of these changes was only visible after a long evolution that handed Europe a predominant place in warfare, a place that the industrial revolution would confirm. [52]

Some historians have begun to challenge the existence of a military revolution in the early modern period and have proposed alternative explanations. The most radical revisionist views of the theory consider it unable to explain the military developments of the Early Modern Period and the hegemonic rise of the West. The new wave of revisionist historians reject completely the idea of a military revolution and base their position on close analysis of the gradual and uneven transformation of tactical, operational, and technological aspects of European warfare over the course of the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period, as well as in their assessment of similar military experiences among non-Western countries, namely, Japan, Korea, the Mughal Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. [53]

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