The Romans’ success in conquering and maintaining their enormous empire lay partly in their military culture, their weapons and their training. Rome’s ability to provision large armies at long distances was, however, equally as, or more important to its success. The military history of Rome is not one of continuous victory: indeed the Romans often won wars because, after losing battles—and sometimes entire armies and fleets—they could keep replacing them until the enemy was defeated. Polybius, a keen observer of the Roman military at its height, remarked that “the advantages of the Romans lay in inexhaustible supplies of provisions and men.”

A sophisticated logistical system allowed the Romans to exploit their military resources effectively. The Romans recognized the importance of supply and used it both as a strategic and a tactical weapon and the necessities of military supply influenced and often determined the decisions of the Roman commanders at war. Plutarch even mentions the military slang term for such tactics: “kicking in the stomach” (eis tên gastera enallonomenos). Frontinus cites Caesar, certainly Rome’s greatest general, on the use of logistics in military strategy:

I follow the same policy toward the enemy as did many doctors when dealing with physical ailments, namely, that of conquering the foe by hunger rather than by steel. Logistics in Campaign Planning Traditionally, Roman campaigns began on March 1st: in part to ensure the availability of fodder.

The Romans paid close attention both to raising armies and to the preparations for supplying them. Their habitually careful arrangements made a strong impression, and, given the general neglect of logistics in military history, our sources mention such planning remarkably often. For example, Polybius describes the large-scale Roman preparations for a Gallic invasion as early as 225 B. C.:

[The consuls] enroll[ed] their legions and ordered those of their allies to be in readiness. . . . Of grain, missiles and other war materiel, they laid in such a supply as no one could remember had been collected on any previous occasion.

There are many other examples both in the Republican and the Imperial periods.

Commanders naturally wanted to complete their logistical preparations before operations began. When Quinctius Flamininus was preparing his campaign against Nabis, the tyrant of Sparta, in 195 B. C., the arrival of allied troops, including Macedonians, completed his authorized force. Nevertheless, he still waited until the arrival of the supplies (commeatus) requisitioned from the neighboring Greek states before beginning his offensive. At times, troops were moved first and supplies sent after them. When Sulla had obtained the command of the First Mithridatic War, he marched his army over to Greece and then summoned money, auxiliary troops and supplies from Aetolia and Thessaly.

Some wars broke out unexpectedly and preparations had to be made in haste. Sallust notes that when the consul Spurius Postumius Albinus determined to reopen hostilities with Jugurtha, he “hastened to transport to Africa provisions (commeatus), money for paying the soldiers, and other apparatus of war.” The frequency of Roman conflict, and the experience of Roman officials with warfare, made such impromptu preparations much easier. Other times, military campaigns were planned years in advance.

The Security of Supply Lines

Ensuring that the army continued to receive supplies, despite an enemy’s attempts to interrupt them, remained an important priority in Roman warfare in every period. Provisions reached the army in a variety of ways: by sea and river, overland and through foraging and requisition. In each of these circumstances, enemy action was a threat, and the Romans had to deploy military forces, as well as the application of strategy and tactics, to meet this threat. Rome often found it necessary to prevent the enemy plundering Roman or allied territory: it is noteworthy that the fleet of Gaius Duilius, which won the first major Roman victory of the First Punic War at Mylae (260 B. C.), was sent out to prevent the Carthaginians from plundering the territory of a Roman ally.

Security of Waterborne Transport

Protecting sea-borne transport was vitally important in wartime: enemy action could seriously threaten the army’s supply shipments. There are many instances of such threats. In 217 B. C., for example, the Roman grain fleet supplying the army in Spain was captured by the Punic fleet. A Roman task force was immediately mobilized to set out in pursuit, but the damage had already been done. Plutarch notes that the Macedonian king Perseus during his war against the Romans (172–167 B. C.):

. . . made an unexpected attack upon the Roman fleet which was lying at anchor near Oreus, seized twenty ships of burden with their car- goes, and sank the rest together with the grain that filled them. . . .

The navy of Antiochus III, operating from the Hellespont and Abydos during the war of 192–189 B. C., made frequent raids (excursiones) against Roman cargo ships (onerariae) supplying their army in Greece. Later, Mithridates used his naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean to cut off supplies to Sulla’s forces in Greece in 87–85 B. C. Attacks on sea-borne supply were important elements in the Civil Wars of the Late Republic. In 42 B. C., a Republican fleet under Statius defeated Dolabella’s fleet at Laodicea, cutting him off from supplies. When Octavian sent a large force by sea to reinforce and resupply the Caesarean army at Philippi, it was attacked and destroyed by the Republican navy.

The Romans routinely used their fleet to protect supply transports in wartime. As early as the First Punic War, the Romans assigned a fleet of 120 warships to provide a convoy for merchant ships bringing supplies for the siege of Lilybaeum (249 B. C.). When the commander of the fleet in 209 B. C., Marcus Valerius Laevinus turned some ships over to the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus for use in the assault on Tarentum, they are called by Livy “the ships which Laevinius had for protecting the supply lines (tutandis commeatibus).” Such protection continued in the late Republic: Sallust, in a speech attributed to the consul Gaius Cotta, and set in 75 B. C., refers to the fleet which “guarded our supplies (commeatus tuebatur).”

Such naval escorts were not always successful. The convoy protecting supplies going to Lilybaeum in 249 B. C., mentioned above, did not prevent the Carthaginians from attacking and seizing several of the merchant vessels. The threat of attack was sometimes more destructive than the attack itself: trying to avoid attack by Carthaginian warships, a Roman supply fleet placed its ships in a dangerous anchorage where a storm destroyed the entire fleet including all the army’s supplies. Whenever possible, a fleet put supplies put ashore before a battle. To prevent them from falling into enemy hands commanders of escorts might scuttle conveyed merchant ships, as the Pompeian admirals Lucretius and Minucius did during the Dyrrachium campaign of 48 B. C. 26 Despite the dangers of attack, supplies transported by sea were generally safer from attack than those sent overland, a point made by Tacitus.

Security of Overland Supply

The army provided escorts for supply convoys bringing provisions to troops in garrison even during peacetime, albeit on a limited scale. An incident from the anti-Roman uprising of Athrongaeus in Palestine around 4 B. C. illustrates the small size of such peace- time escorts. Josephus reports that a single century (80 men at full strength) was escorting a convoy of grain and arms to a legion stationed in Jerusalem, when the rebels ambushed the column near Emmaus. The Romans lost half the century and only the intervention of King Herod’s army saved the rest.

Obviously, moving provisions from the operational base to the army over supply lines provided ample opportunities for attack. Due to the increased danger in war, convoy escorts were, of course, considerably larger than in peacetime. A tribune commanded the forces that escorted a supply convoy bringing provisions to the army of Pompeius Aulus in Spain in 141 B. C. Appian does not give the size of the escort, but a tribune would have commanded at least several centuries and possibly a cohort or more.

An escort’s size was not the only factor in successful defense of a convoy. While accompanying a supply convoy to Lucullus’s army from Cappadocia in 71 B. C., a Roman force defeated an attack by Mithridates’s cavalry: the Pontic force had attacked the convoy in a defile, a more easily defensible position, instead of waiting until it reached open country. An escort also had to maintain a disciplined defense cordon, even if the column was proceeding to pick up sup- plies. Tacitus notes the lack of security in an unloaded supply column going to Novaesium from the Roman forces at Gelduba in 69 A. D., during the revolt of Julius Civilis. The troops assigned to defend it moved as if there were no danger:

. . . the cohorts escorting [the convoy] were proceeding as if in time of peace, that there were few soldiers with the standards, that their arms were being carried in carts (vehicula) while they all strolled along at will, he drew up his forces and attacked them, sending first some troops to occupy the bridges and narrow parts of roads.

The column was unable to make it to Novaesium and had to fight its way back to Gelduba without fulfilling its mission. In order to secure its supply lines, an army had to pacify the area between the operational base and the tactical base. This is why Vespasian did not immediately attack Jerusalem when he arrived on the scene in 67 A. D.: if he left hostile forces behind him, in Galilee and Samaria, the rebels would have been in a position to cut off his supply lines. Therefore, he spent an entire campaigning season taking important fortresses in the north of Palestine.

Providing a series of depots between the operational and tactical base was not only a question of “leap-frogging” supplies forward. Depots were generally placed within fortifications, as at Rödgen and South Shields and they served to secure provisions from enemy attack. Therefore, the sources often refer to them as “forts” (castella or phrouria). Vegetius describes this practice:

Among the things particularly incumbent upon a general . . . is to see that the transportation of grain and other provisions . . . is rendered secure from hostile attack. The only way to achieve this is to plant garrisons at suitable points through which our supply-trains pass. These may be cities or walled forts. If no old fortifications are available, temporary forts (castella) are established in favorable positions [and] a number of infantry and cavalry stationed in them on outpost duty provide a safe passage for supplies.

Brutus used fortified lines to protect his supply lines at Philippi (42 B. C.).

The use of fortified depots considerably reduced the risk of attack to supply lines. Once a rear area had been pacified, though, the danger of convoyed supplies, which at first glance seem very vulnerable, was actually rather small. Lacking firearms or explosives, the ambushing party in antiquity usually had to rely on superior numbers to overwhelm a convoy. Even if the enemy knew the likely route of a convoy, the exact time of its movement would not be predictable, so a large ambushing force would have had to wait in enemy territory, itself vulnerable to surprise attack.

Naturally, armies have a tendency to use their worst troops to garrison depots and operational bases, not to mention escort duty, leaving the best soldiers for combat. Livy explicitly states that after the consuls filled their legions with the best troops, they assigned the “surplus” (ceteri ) to garrison duty. In the Republican period, the Romans sometimes used their least reliable Italian allies to defend supply lines, sometimes with unfortunate results. In 218 B. C., Dasius of Brundisium commanded the garrison of Clastidium, in which a great quantity of grain had been stored for the Roman army. He betrayed the city to Hannibal for 400 gold pieces. The city’s capture not only hurt the Romans, but relieved the Carthaginians of considerable supply difficulties. When Manlius Vulso set up an operational base on the Lake of Timavus in his Istrian campaign of 178 B. C., he garrisoned it with a single reserve cohort (repentina cohors) and a few legionary centuries. The Istrians, seeing the weakness of the Roman defense, attacked the base and captured it. Only the barbarian drunkenness that followed, and the timely arrival of Gallic auxiliaries and of part of another legion (which had been foraging nearby) restored the situation, and the base, to the Romans.

Since Roman marching camps also functioned as supply bases, camp security was especially important. The Romans were justifiably famous for their security measures while encamping. Such measures involved both fortification and maintaining the discipline necessary to proper security. This system sometimes broke down, as it did in Albinus’s army in Numidia. Sallust notes that in this case:

. . . [his] camps were not fortified, nor was watch kept in a military fashion, men absented themselves from duty whenever they pleased.

It was no doubt at least partly for logistical reasons that the consul Caecilius Metellus reestablished security in his famous reform of the army in 109 B. C.

Khmer War Elephants


Khmerian war elephant in action. The crew consists of two men – or maybe the driver was deemed too insignificant to be depicted. It is hard to tell which of the two riders is of higher rank: the one with a javelin and shield on the elephant’s neck or the archer in the howdah. In Southeast Asia noble warriors traditionally fought sitting in front, and his rich armour and helmet also probably speak in favour of the first warrior. (Relief carvings, Angkor Thom, Cambodia, late 12th-early 13th centuries, after D. Nicolle)

Khmer elephants are depicted with a driver, armed with spear and shield, and a single archer or sometimes spearman. Those ridden by generals (identified by being shown enlarged) are accompanied by one or more parasol carriers on foot. Neither these nor elephants being shown in the background of infantry combats, Cham elephants are all crewed by a driver, a javelin-thrower, and a parasol bearer at the rear.

The artillery was Chinese-type “double crossbows” man-handled on wheels or mounted (or possibly only transported) on elephants Khmer troops in Cambodia placed double-bow crossbows on elephants. Several surviving images of the late 12th through to early 13th centuries show that it was not an experimental device. The idea of multiple crossbows was undoubtedly borrowed from China, where similar powerful installations comprising two to three bows were common at the siege and defence of fortresses. Nevertheless, only the Khmers put these crossbows on elephants’ backs.

Tuning the instruments of war

While today the thought alone may seem barbaric, the use of elephants during war was an effective tactic that wasn’t unique to Thailand. Yet before stepping onto a battlefield, elephants had to undergo training to ensure they were up to the task.

The more-aggressive male elephants were trained in loud environments amidst the sound of drums to simulate the environment of war to ensure they wouldn’t be spooked during conflict, and they were cajoled forwards into battle with the help of a spear. Sadly, such training hasn’t been left in the past; whilst the circumstances and finer details might be a little different, this concept of training such a majestic, wild animal still occurs today in Thailand. The practice of Phajaan, or crushing, is still used by mahouts who wish to make elephants rideable for tourists, a practice which is harmful for the animals and should never be done when visiting Thailand.

Historical use in Thailand

The use of elephants in war in the region began as early as the 9th-century. The Khmer Empire—now modern-day Cambodia—ruled Thailand for centuries, with war elephants an effective tool in their arsenal which helped them to conquer and subjugate those around them. The collapse of the Khmer Empire and the rise of Ayutthaya (modern-day Thailand) saw war elephants continue to be used in battle.

Ayutthaya faced many battles with the neighbouring Burma, who had a powerful military at the time, and both sides counted thousands of elephants in their ranks. Covered in armour, seating armed soldiers and capable of charging at speeds of up to 25km/h, elephants were the historical equivalent of a tank, and were feared on the battlefield. However, their most famous use in warfare in Thailand didn’t come during a general skirmish, but a bout of single combat.

Milvian Bridge – Constantine’s Victory






27 October 312

Forces Engaged

Gallic: Approximately 50,000 men. Commander: Constantine.

Italian: Approximately 75,000 men. Commander: Maxentius.


Constantine’s victory gave him total control of the western Roman Empire, paving the way for Christianity as the dominant religion for the Roman Empire and ultimately for Europe.

Historical Setting

Rarely has the course of events followed such a convoluted path to a single decisive event as those that took the forces of the western Roman Empire to the battle at Milvian Bridge. In the 49 years between 235 and 284, Rome was ruled by no less than 26 emperors. Almost anyone with the support of a legion or two battled for, seized, and lost the position of supreme ruler of the Roman Empire. Finally, in 284, Diocletian seized and kept power. Although a soldier from Illyria (along the eastern Adriatic coast), Diocletian, once in power, spent most of his time trying to institute reforms that would stabilize the empire. This involved increased taxation, but the collection was done in a much more equitable fashion than in previous decades. The money was spent on increased bureaucracy and military to the point that some believed there to be more employees of the government than there were taxpayers.

While that did bring about a much more stable atmosphere, Diocletian’s most serious reform involved the system by which the empire was ruled. Realizing that no one man could possibly manage everything from Britain to Persia, Diocletian introduced a tetrarchy, rule by four men. Basing his capital in Nicomedia, at the western end of the Sea of Marmora, he appointed a co-emperor, Maximian, to rule from Italy. Both Diocletian and Maximian would hold the title of augustus. Each man appointed a subordinate, called a caesar, to assist them in ruling their respective halves of the empire. Diocletian named Galerius as caesar in the east, and Maximian named Constantius as caesar in the west. The caesar was to replace the augustus upon his death or retirement and then name a replacement caesar for himself. This was meant to ensure a regular succession, which had not existed for many decades.

When Diocletian decided to retire in 305, he convinced Maximian to do so as well. As planned, Constantius and Galerius rose to augustus, but then they named Flavius Severus as caesar in the west and Maximinus Daia in the east, respectively. Naming those two as caesars seemed a slap in the face to the two who thought that by birth they should have had the positions: Constantine, as son of Constantius, and Valerius Maxentius, as son of Maximian. That resentment came to a head when Constantius died in 306. His army, based in Britain and Gaul, named Constantine not just caesar but augustus, although Constantine declined the higher title. He was confirmed as caesar, but Severus, as acting caesar, became augustus in the west. Unfortunately, troops in Italy named Maximian’s son Maxentius as augustus, ignoring Severus who was next in line. That resulted in a civil war between 306 and 307 in which Severus was finally executed and Maxentius took the western augustus title, but ceded it to his father Maximian who came out of retirement to reoccupy the throne.

Rather than leave well enough alone, Galerius in the eastern empire refused to recognize either Constantine or Maximian as western augustus. Instead, Galerius named one of his generals, Licianus Licinius, as augustus to replace Severus, and he invaded Italy to enforce that appointment. During the invasion, Maxentius forced his father out of power and named himself western augustus. To make matters even more confusing, Galerius’s nephew Maximinus Daia sought and received the title of augustus as well. Thus, six men held the title originally intended for two, while the post of caesar remained vacant. Diocletian finally stepped in, calling a conference in 308 at Carnuntum (modern Hainburg, Austria). Each man except Maximian (retiring a second time) was allowed to retain the title of augustus and was given control over separate regions of the empire.

Diocletian’s mandate lasted but 2 years. Maximian, fleeing from his son to the court of Constantine in Gaul, tried to overthrow his host in 310. For his trouble, he was taken prisoner and allowed to kill himself. When Galerius died in 311, once again four men reigned, all as augustus and none as caesar: Constantine in Gaul, Maxentius in Italy, Licinius in the Balkans, and Maximinus Daia in the east. Had Constantine formally ceded the title of augustus and held that of caesar, Maxentius may never have felt the need to go to war against him. Maxentius, however, was a tyrannical ruler who spent lavishly on himself and his Praetorian Guard while abusing the common people; such men see conspiracies everywhere, and Maxentius suspected Constantine of plotting against him. Determined to rule the western half of the empire alone, in 311 Maxentius began preparations for an invasion of Gaul.

The Battle

Learning of Maxentius’s intentions, Constantine decided to strike first. He had some 100,000 troops under his command, but more than half had to be left to protect the German and British frontiers. In the early spring of 312, Constantine marched his army of 40,000 through the melting alpine snow into northern Italy. Maxentius sent troops northward under a variety of generals, whom Constantine proceeded to defeat at Susa, Turin, and Milan, each of his victories coming over superior numbers. Maxentius sent his best general last; Ruricius Pompeianus too was defeated at Brescia and Verona. As he fought his way south, Constantine maintained a fairly stable number in his army, picking up recruits from the countryside and his defeated enemies. As he approached Rome, his force numbered about 50,000 men. Maxentius, locked up in Rome, commanded about 75,000.

The events that occurred just outside Rome are the stuff of legend. Maxentius misread the omens he received. He was advised via the Sybilline books concerning the upcoming battle “that on that day the enemy of Rome should perish” (Dudley, The Romans, p. 270). Convinced that Constantine and not he himself was the enemy of Rome, Maxentius led his army out from behind the Roman Walls of Aurelian onto the plains near the village of Saxa Rubra, deploying them with the Tiber River at his back.

Constantine also received an omen. The day before the battle, it is said that he had a vision. This vision has been described in a variety of ways, depending on one’s source. Durant’s description, citing the contemporary source Eusebius, says that Constantine saw in the sky a flaming cross, upon which was written the Greek words en tutoi nika, “in this sign conquer.” The following morning, Constantine heard a voice instructing him to place upon his soldiers’ shields “the letter X with a line drawn through it and curled around the top—the symbol of Christ” (Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 654). Most sources put the wording on the cross as Latin: in hoc signo vinces. Dudley (The Romans, p. 270) states that Constantine had a dream before the battle in which he was told to place the Greek letters chi and rho (the sign of Christ) on his army’s shields.

Constantine had in his army a number of Christians, as well as followers of the equally popular Mithra cult. The followers of Mithra used a cross of light as symbolic of the Unconquerable Sun, a sign of their god. Constantine had also long been a believer in the cult of Apollo, the sun god. At any rate, Constantine later told Eusebius that he vowed before the battle to convert to Christianity if he was victorious.

Details of the battle are sketchy. It seems that both sides placed infantry in the center and cavalry on the flanks. Constantine commanded one of the cavalry wings and led the charge. His Gallic cavalry was more mobile than the heavily armored Roman cavalry under Maxentius, but was heavier than the lightly armed North African cavalry auxiliaries. Thus, it was able to outfight both and crush Maxentius’s flanks. Among the infantry, this caused much panic, and only the Praetorian Guard stood their ground against the attacks of Constantine’s infantry. They were over-whelmed and died where they stood. The rout of the remainder of Maxentius’s force had but one escape route, that of the Milvian Bridge across the Tiber. It was so crowded and the troops so desperate that not even Maxentius could get onto it. He tried to swim across, but the weight of his armor dragged him to his death. His body was brought to the surface the next day.


Maxentius’s death meant that Constantine was the sole ruler of the western Roman Empire. Just before he launched his invasion, Constantine had concluded a truce with Licinius. The agreement included the promise of marriage to Constantine’s sister for Lucinius’s impassivity during the campaign. Licinius was as good as his word, and once the situation had settled down, he and Constantine met in Milan in February 313. There the two issued the Edict of Milan concerning religious tolerance. “I, Constantine Augustus, and I, Licinius Augustus, met under good auspices in Milan, we discussed everything bearing on public advantage and security. First, we considered regulations should be framed to secure respect for divinity on these lines: that the Christians and all other men should be allowed full freedom to subscribe to whatever form of worship they desire, so that whatever divinity may be on the heavenly throne may be well disposed and propitious to us, and to all placed under us” (Dudley, The Romans, p. 271). Constantine seemed to be hedging his bets here, but as time went by he became more solidly supportive of Christianity.

Constantine was soon back in the field, campaigning against hostile Germanic tribes, while Licinius fought and defeated Maximinus Daia. This defeat placed Licinius in control of the eastern Roman Empire. For the next 11 years, the two alternately supported and fought each other. When Constantine defeated Licinius at a battle in 314 and took from him control of almost everything in Europe, Licinius responded by persecuting Christians in the east. He maintained his pagan ways as Constantine became more Christian, until a final showdown between the two resulted in Licinius’s defeat in 323; he was executed the following year.

The city of Rome, which had become an increasingly less important city, lost its title as capital of the empire when Constantine established the city bearing his name, Constantinople. Over time, it became not only the political center of the empire but rivaled Rome for centuries as headquarters of the Christian faith. It was Constantine’s victory outside Rome in 312, however, that put the Christians in a position to be arguing over where the power in their church should rest. The ban on persecution issued in Milan gave the Christians the first breathing room in their history. By 325, they were virtually guaranteed preeminence, for in that year Constantine summoned the Council of Nicea. There leaders of the Christian church branded certain beliefs to be heresies; unfortunately for history, Constantine blamed the Jews for Christ’s death, setting in motion centuries of pogroms.

The depth of Constantine’s conversion has been debated since his own day. The primary source for his statements of faith come from the contemporary Christian historian Eusebius, who was more than a little biased. Certain later statements attributed to the emperor give conflicting views. Constantine rarely followed Christian rituals, and, even though he expressed some religious views at the Council of Nicea, he was more interested in maintaining order than leading the church. His mother was a strong convert and certainly had some influence on him, but, whether he was a Christian by conversion or for political ends, the Christian Church benefited. Other religions soon found themselves persecuted just as harshly by the Christians as the Christians themselves formerly had been. Whatever the merits and drawbacks of later interreligious strife, the fact that Christianity is the dominant faith in Europe today is directly traceable to Constantine.

His foundation of Constantinople set up the division of the Roman Empire into two formal halves. The Eastern Roman Empire grew in power and wealth, later being titled the Byzantine Empire. It stood until overthrown by the power of Islam in 1453. The Western Roman Empire sunk into mediocrity, with occasional glimpses of its former glory when a passing tribe exercised enough power to establish any stability there. Ultimately, Rome came to be a religious rather than a political capital, and its later power emanated from the papacy rather than from the emperor.


Dudley, Donald. The Romans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970; Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944; Eusebius. The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine. Translated by G. A. Williamson. New York: Dorset Press, 1984 [1965]; Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Abridged by Frank Bourne. New York: Dell, 1963; Grant, Michael. Constantine: The Man and His Times. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994. Barnes, Timothy D. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981. Cameron, Averil, and Stuart G. Hall. Eusebius: Life of Constantine. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1999. Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ, Vol. 3, The Story of Civilization. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944. Ridley, Ronald T., ed. and trans. Zosimus: New History. Canberra: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1982.

Soviet Paratroopers (VDV)




The origins of the VDV stem from an organization called OSOAVIAHIM, a voluntary society which developed military and semi-military sporting games. Although not specifically a military unit, it was supportive of the army, airforce and navy. The membership subs for joining were very small since its goal was preparing a pool of reserves for the existing armed forces.

Very soon it became a powerful militarised organization, with its own aerodromes, radio clubs, parachute towers and firing ranges. It became extremely prestigious to earn badges such as Voroshilov marksman, Voroshilov horseman, and parachute jump badges.

Gradually, OSOAVIAHIM became a kind of training for the army reserves, with its courses including such advanced disciplines as tactics, map-reading and weapons handling. A person could join OSOAVIAHIM as early as at the age of 14, and by 1941, OSOAVIAHIM was estimated as having around 13 million members.

Needless to say, the parachute training offered by OSOAVIAHIM was extremely popular, and there were clubs across the Union where one could participate in jumps, and earn their sports wings.

This, served a dual purpose, and enabled the armed forces to have at their disposal men and women who had at the very minimum the basics in parachute training.

Parachute units were originally formed in the Soviet Union during the mid-1930s, and were massively expanded during World War II, where they formed up to ten Airborne Corps with numerous Independent Airborne Brigades, with most or all achieving the elite “Guards” status after 1942.

During the Soviet counter-offensive for the Defence of Moscow at Vyazma, 27th January 1942, the Soviet 4th Airborne Corps began a series of night drops of paratroopers in the German rear. Forty civilian and twenty-two military aircraft, escorted by limited numbers of fighters and ground attack aviation, supported the landings. From the beginning, the operation did not go well.

After, six nights, only 2,100 men from the 10,000-man airborne corps had been dropped in. Because of bad weather and the pilots’ inexperience with night navigation, most of these troops landed twenty kilometers south of the intended drop zone. Plans for five to six sorties each night did not take into account adverse weather conditions, aircraft failures, or combat losses. Also, the failure to conceal the buildup of troops at the airborne fields led to the closing of one of them by German bombers. The remaining two fields provided only two to three sorties per night.

The paratroops that landed, however, did succeed in interdicting lines of communication in the German rear area for almost three weeks, in part because of their linkup with the 1st Guards Cavalry Corps on 6 February.

A second series of night landings occurred near Yukhnov between 17 and 23 February. The paratroops were again spread out over a large area because of inaccurate drops, and many supplies were lost. Some of the paratroops eventually joined partisan groups in the area, while the main body restricted itself to night operations because of its lack of artillery and air support. A planned two- to three-day operation extended to almost five months, but despite incredible problems, the remnant of the 4th Airborne Corps managed to break through two encirclements (with the help of a battalion of reinforcements dropped into the area on 15-16 April) and to reach friendly lines by late May. Although it had created considerable havoc in the German rear, the corps was decimated. It had not accomplished its mission of preventing a German withdrawal to the west, because German counterblows had halted the main Russian advance.

Later on in the war the Soviet Union again used Desaniki in the summer of 1943 during a massive offensive in the Ukraine.

Despite the problems encountered in the paratroop operation at Vyazma in 1942, the Soviets attempted a second night drop of an entire airborne corps on 24-25 September 1943 to seize a bridgehead at the Bukrin Bend on the Dnieper. Although the concept was excellent, the planning, timing, and execution of the operation produced results similar to those in 1942. The landing of the first two brigades, scheduled for the night of the twenty-third, had to be delayed a full day because of bad weather and the failure of all military transports to arrive at the three designated airfields. Although 4,575 paratroops were airborne the next night, a full 30 percent of the two brigades remained behind because of aircraft that never arrived, refueling problems, and the insistence of the pilots on carrying smaller lifts than the corps staff had planned. The pilots were inadequately trained, despite exercises held late that summer along the Moskva River, on terrain similar to the Dnieper. Nor were the pilots prepared for the strong antiaircraft resistance they encountered once the operation began. As a result, the two brigades (minus) were spread over – a much wider zone than intended, landing between Rzishchev and Cherkassy. Some landed over friendly positions on the Russian-held side of the river; some landed in the river itself; worse, the main body landed on the positions of three German divisions moving through the area. The Germans shot at the parachutists while they were still in the air, thus forcing them to begin fighting before they hit the ground.

Once on the ground, the paratroops (and what equipment they had not left behind) were so scattered that they were forced to operate in approximately thirty-five small groups. Their mission of seizing a bridgehead and holding a line 110 kilometers long and about twenty-six kilometers deep was no longer feasible, if indeed it ever had been. Instead, Soviet airborne troops once again assumed the role of guerrillas, hiding in forests by day and moving and fighting with partisan groups in the area by night. Because their radio gear was scattered over a wide area, they could not communicate with other Soviet forces. Plans to drop a third brigade were cancelled long before communications were reestablished on 6 October. Gradually, small groups of paratroops began to merge into a corps unit, and an estimated 1,000 or more finally linked up with the advancing forces of the Second Ukrainian Front in mid-November. The Soviets had gambled in conducting this operation at a time when bad weather precluded aerial reconnaissance of the target area. The result was a fiasco, which led Stalin to prohibit similar night operations.

Without question the Soviet Arnhem, they sustained 60% casualties in the battle, and saw some of the most ferocious fighting of any Airborne Troops of all theatres during WWII.

Those are the two main occasions where the Soviets conducted airborne operations; however the Desantniki also fought as regular infantry in all the major battles of the Great Patriotic War.

Marshal Vauban’s Last Combats (1700-1707)

A new defensive organization of the border (to a certain extent prefiguring the 1930s Maginot Line) was called “Pré Carré” and would be, from then on, Vauban’s main task and principal mission until the end of his life. During Louis XIV’s reign, these regions without natural barriers were heavily fortified with numerous fortresses termed Pré Carré (literally “square meadow,” but Vauban of course meant “defended state”). Vauban’s “Pré Carré” was designed in the years 1672-1674 and occupied him most of his career.

War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1714)

After the Treaty of Ryswick, the coalition of Augsburg was disbanded, but a new period of tension opened. This time the issue was the Spanish succession. King Charles II of Spain had died without a male heir. Austria and France had candidates for the throne. The patrimony was enormous. It consisted of the Spanish Empire, then comprising not only the kingdom of Spain itself, but also Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium), a great part of Italy (Milan, Tuscany, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia), the Spanish Main (part of the West Indies, Mexico, and Latin America, except Brazil, which belonged to Portugal) and the Canary and Philippines islands, in all a handsome portion of the inhabited globe. Before his death, Charles II had refused to make a compromise or a partition and had designated as his successor the duke of Anjou, Louis XIV’s grandson, who became Philippe V, king of Spain. The possibility of Franco-Spanish power broke the precarious European political stability. This led to a renewed coalition including England, the German Empire, Brandenburg, Sweden, Savoy, Portugal and the Dutch United-Provinces. The new dynastic European war began in 1702. With the inevitability of sunset, it marked the twilight of Louis XIV’s reign.

The conflict started with initial Franco-Spanish victories at Friedlingen and Hochstadt in 1703, but soon things went badly wrong. The war proved long and terrible. For France, it was marked by serious reverses. Landau in Germany and Gibraltar in southern Spain were taken. In the Cévennes in mountainous central France, French Huguenots (known as Camisards) entered into armed rebellion and held back several royal armies. The close collaboration between Prince Eugen of Savoy-Carignan and John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, was one of the chief reasons for the allied victories, notably the battle of Blenheim (1704), obliging French troops to evacuate Germany. The new king of Spain, Philippe V, was temporarily driven from Madrid by an Anglo-Austrian offensive. French armies lost Belgian territories after the defeat of Ramillies (1706). After the lost battle of Turin, the French were forced to retreat in the Alps. Louis XIV’s armies pulled themselves together, won the battle of Malplaquet (1709) and succeeded in avoiding an invasion of France by holding fast in Vauban’s Pré Carré and by winning the battle of Denain (July 1712). This ultimate victory avoided the invasion of France just in time and allowed Louis XIV to sue for an honorable peace. The anti-French coalition, tired of this endless and exhausting war, agreed to make peace. Negotiations between the belligerents led to different treaties signed in 1713 and 1714. The Peace of Utrecht was particularly profitable to England, which became the first maritime and commercial power. Philippe V was confirmed as king of Spain and kept the South American colonies, but all possessions in Italy and Belgium were lost and passed under Austrian domination. Louis XIV had to forget his dreams of domination. France had to yield a part of its North American colonies to England, notably Terre-Neuve (Newfoundland), Hudson Bay and Acadia in Canada. He was also forced to restore several Belgian towns, bringing the northern frontier back to what it was in 1697. The Treaty of Utrecht was an important moment at the beginning of the eighteenth century in the distribution of European political power. It brought a new and better balance among the three great states. Neither France nor England nor Austria could impose its hegemony on the continent. The United-Provinces lost a part of their economic power. Spain entered a period of lasting and profound economic and political decay. The duke of Savoy became king of Sicily. Prussia was founded as a kingdom and occupied ever since a preponderant place in Germany. Russia began to open herself politically and economically to the West.

Vauban, when approaching the age of seventy, was still a busy man, traveling on inspection tours and designing fortress projects. However from 1700 on, his health deteriorated and he resided often in Paris in a house which he had hired near the Tuileries palace. Gathering his experiences and reflections, he wrote a lot, not only on military matters, but also on subjects such as peace, forest exploitation, agriculture and taxes. At the outbreak of the Spanish Succession War, he went back to service in the field and organized the defenses of the northern frontier. In January 1703, Louis XIV rewarded his old and loyal servant by elevating him to the post of marshal of France. But this distinctive promotion came very late, and it was purely honorific; Vauban was no longer in active service. The king then asked him to write studies about military architecture, army-organization and siege warfare. Nevertheless Vauban came back to work for Louis XIV and led his last victorious siege: the fortified city of Vieux-Brisach was taken by the elderly Vauban in September 1703. The following year Vauban was decorated in the Saint-Esprit chivalric order, but ill and exhausted, he was dismissed and put aside. The marshal plunged into mourning after his wife’s death and was feeling old, useless and worried about the bad turn of the war. After the disaster of Ramillies in May 1706, the duke of Marlborough took possession of Louvain, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Brugge and Audenarde, and he besieged Ostende and marched into northern France with the objective of taking Dunkirk. In the middle of the debacle, Louis XIV called again upon Vauban’s service. The old and sick marshal succeeded in stopping the panic of fleeing troops, regrouped the army, and organized a vast entrenched camp around Calais, Dunkirk, Gravelines, Bergues and Furnes which stopped Marlborough’s offensive. After this ultimate military campaign, Vauban was very ill and obtained leave. By that time he was snubbed and ignored by a new generation of ministers. His influence at court had sharply declined, not only because he was old and ill, but also because of his growing interest in social reform and equitable taxation. Indeed, at the end of 1706 he came back to Paris, put his writings in order, what he called his Oisivetés (“idle thoughts,”) and decided to publish a book about taxes called Projet de Dixme Royale. The book was condemned and banned, the author was watched, and suspected of political subversion by the royal police. Very ill, half-disgraced, bitter and disappointed, Vauban was dying. Having heard of the marshal’s desperate situation, Louis XIV, in a last gesture of gratitude, sent his best doctors, but it was too late. Marshal of France Sébastien Le Prestre Marquis de Vauban, died on March 30, 1707, at 10 a. m. in his residence in Rue Saint-Vincent (today Rue Saint Roch) near the Tuileries in Paris.

The disgraced Vauban died in the middle of the War of Spanish Succession, at a moment when the enemies of France were threatening to invade the kingdom. His body was hastily transported to his native Morvan, and buried on April 16 in the Saint-Sebastian chapel in the church of Bazoches without any official ceremony. The Academy of Sciences protested against such ingratitude and organized a solemn celebration, where the talented writer Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle pronounced a famous, historic funeral oration: “C’était un Romain qu’il sembloit que notre siecle eut dérobé aux plus heureux temps de la République” (he was a Roman, which our era, it seems, had taken from the happiest time of the Republic). According to the fashion of the time and on the order of Napoléon I, Vauban’s heart was cut out in May 1804 and rests now in an urn at Turenne’s side in the Invalides Church in Paris. By imperial decree of December 7, 1867, by Napoléon III, the marshal’s birthplace, the village of Saint-Léger-de-Fourcheret, has been renamed Saint- Léger-Vauban.


Anglo-Saxon Farm and Field

Diagram illustrating the resources exploited at the early Anglo-Saxon settlement at Bishopstone, Sussex. The evidence from the buildings and the cemetery is shown in the centre, surrounded by the resources derived from the sea-shore, arable fields, pasture and the Weald (data: Bell 1977)

An Anglo-Saxon farmstead could draw on a variety of environments to maintain the supply of essential resources. The evidence recovered from excavations emphasises that the landscape was being fully utilised by the inhabitants of farms, or groups of farms, dispersed across the landscape. The extent of utilisation is exemplified by the settlement and cemetery excavated on a hilltop overlooking the English Channel at Bishopstone, Sussex, (Bell 1977). In the fifth century buildings were erected over an earlier farm and fields. In the pastures stood sheep, cattle and a few horses and roaming more freely were geese, fowl and cats. Growing in the arable fields during the summer months would have been a crop of barley amongst which various weeds were growing, including fat-hen, common orache and black bindweed. The food produced in this way was supplemented by marine resources: mussels, limpets and periwinkles gathered on the foreshore, conger eel from the lower shore and whiting taken from the sea; nets were made on the farm. The animals not only provided dairy products, meat, leather and wool for clothing; bone was used to make such things as combs, weaving tools and netting needles. In nearby woodland pigs were reared, and red and roe deer were hunted. Also taken from the woodland were oak, hawthorn and hornbeam used for building, for fuel and for the wooden implements found in the adjacent cemetery. Clay and ironstone were brought from the Weald to manufacture pottery, spindle-whorls, loomweights and a variety of iron implements including nails, knives, spears and shield fittings. Copperalloy and silver items were manufactured or acquired and eventually buried, along with considerable quantities of other material, as gravegoods in the community’s cemetery.

This picture of subsistence agriculture varies little between settlements and any minor variations may be seen as the result of local environmental, social or cultural differences, survival or the recovery technique used in excavation. Some of the differences are most marked; for instance at Cowdery’s Down, Hampshire, the large proportion of cattle bones is the result of the discovery of a complete cow on a site where generally few animal bones were found. There is generally little variation in the quantities of bones of each species found on settlements; at West Stow, Suffolk, the proportions of animal species and the particular bones were the same in all types of context.

The settlement of West Stow was located on the banks of the River Lark in the relatively dry Breckland region of East Anglia. This is reflected in the animal bone recovered (West 1985; Crabtree 1985, 1989a, 1989b). The environment was quite different from that at Bishopstone: the valley provided good pasture, while the river itself was home to fish and water fowl; the river terraces supplied good farmland; and away from the river terraces the higher slopes provided rough grazing. Analysis suggested that hunting of deer and other wild mammals and of birds was rare and that at all stages in the settlement’s history cattle, sheep and goat, pig, horse, geese and chickens provided the majority of the meat diet; cats and dogs were present but apparently were not eaten. Typically the commonest domesticated animal was the sheep or goat, which was increasing in importance throughout the period in preference to cattle, unlike Continental settlements where sheep are less common. The sheep at West Stow were being used mainly for a combination of meat production and dairying, with a small amount of wool being used for domestic purposes (West 1985:93). Cattle at this time were generally goodsized, perhaps the result of the provision of reasonable grazing and implying successful husbandry. Horseflesh was more commonly eaten in earlier periods and on contemporary settlements on the Continent than at West Stow. The third most common animal found at West Stow was the pig which was being consumed in large numbers during the early fifth century. This is surprising when the Brecklands are more suitable for sheep-rearing. Pigs were comparatively rare on the Continent at this time. Crabtree suggests (1989a: 210) that this may be because of the time it would have taken settlers to establish their herds of sheep and cattle; pigs on the other hand `mature quickly and multiply rapidly’ and would be very suitable for such circumstances. This assumes, however, that the shape of the system of animal husbandry was driven by the needs of migrants. However, the differences between meat consumption and kill-patterns in England and on the Continent suggest different cultural influences. In contrast there was no change in butchery techniques and killpatterns between early Anglo-Saxon West Stow and in local Romano-British samples and there is no evidence for the introduction of new breeds in the fifth century. The evidence indicates that native traditions of animal husbandry were a greater influence than any Continental traditions that might have been introduced with the migrations.

At West Stow wild animals were not commonly hunted, their remains making up less than 1 per cent of the total. As a representation of the make-up of the diet this would seem to be typical although the quantity of wild animal bones does not necessarily convey their social importance. At West Stow these comprised red deer, roe deer, badger, hare, fox, beaver and the European brown bear as well as large water birds including teal, white-fronted goose, swan and crane. At Walton (Buckinghamshire) beavers, cranes, plover and redwing were identified (Farley 1976) but were equally rare. The infrequency with which wild animals were taken may be reflected in the similar rarity of the bow and arrow (Manley 1985). One bow was described by the excavator as about five feet in length’ (Hillier 1856:30). In a Warwickshire cemetery, Bidford-on-Avon, were `several arrowheads of different patterns with closed sockets’ (Humphreys et al. 1923:96- 7). The bow and arrow may be used as a weapon as well as for hunting game but it may be significant that not only are they rare in early Anglo-Saxon contexts but so also are other tools. The burial of weapons in graves appears to have been controlled by a particular set of rules and it may be significant that the bow and arrow is not included in that context. The rarity of the bow may also indicate that some hunting was restricted to particular social groups.

Animal husbandry in the early Anglo-Saxon period appears to have been designed to satisfy immediate local needs, but evidence that the situation was changing towards the end of the period can be found by comparing such food resources with those at the earliest post-Roman urban and commercial centres in England; Hamwic, the middle-Saxon port of Southampton, and Ipswich (Suffolk) have both seen large-scale excavation and have produced useful assemblages of animal bone. Middle-Saxon rural settlements, like those earlier, were supplied with domestic animals as well as some wild ones, whereas the latter are rare at Hamwic (Bourdillon 1979; Crabtree 1989b). Although they were eventually eaten, the Hamwic sheep were not reared primarily for that purpose, and there are lower proportions of fowl and poultry than at early and middle- Saxon farms. The numbers of cattle on both rural and urban middle-Saxon settlements are very similar but their size is larger than their earlier counterparts suggesting some improvement, whereas there was no significant development in the size of pigs. The conclusion would seem to be that the early Anglo-Saxon countryside was managed differently, or not as efficiently, as in the following centuries. In the eighth and ninth centuries the killing age of domestic animals was earlier in rural contexts, whereas at Hamwic the bones do not reveal such early mortality, implying that the town, divorced from the wild, was not affected by the immediate hazards of the land or that it was supplied with animals of selected older age groups (Crabtree 1989b: 207). The early killing age at the early Anglo-Saxon settlement at Walton need not reflect success in animal husbandry.

Russian Army of Ivan the Terrible

A policy change introduced at this time was of major importance in the evolution of the relationship between the Tsar, the landowning class and the armed forces. For most of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the main fighting force had been composed of cavalry, largely based on the princely appanages with little centralized organization. By the mid-sixteenth century these princely private armies were to be found only, if at all, in the appanages of Lithuanian origin, such as those of the Bel’skys and Mstislavskys, and in the retinues of the Russian ‘service’ princes of the Upper Oka, such as the Odoevskys and the Vorotynskys.

The development of a Russian army dependent on the grand prince alone began in the reign of Ivan III, who had already extended the grand prince’s control over the armed forces where he had been successful in absorbing a principality and destroying its separate identity. Princes and boyars, when not acting as governors and local commandants, were usually absorbed as commanders and senior officers in grand princely regiments, in accordance with the ranking laid down by the code of precedence, or mestnichestvo. The general run of service gentry, originally of mixed social origins, was gradually sorted out into those who served the grand prince directly, as members of his dvor, received estates in service tenure (pomest’ia), and were merged into the dvoriane or future service gentry, and those who had served local princes and boyars and who continued to carry out their service as pomeshchiki on a provincial basis. Lower-ranking cavalry officers were thus attached to provincial towns, resided on their estates and were summoned when required by the grand prince, bringing their servants with them. Both these groups received lands on a service tenure which in the early days of the system could not be sold or pledged, but could be passed on the death of the holder to a son or son-in-law fit to perform service. The service to be given was strictly calculated in terms of the amount and quality of land.

The system of pomest’ia was devised to enable cavalrymen to serve when called upon, and was to remain the basic way of paying for the cavalry army until the reign of Peter the Great. The Pomestnyi Prikaz, or Estates Office which administered the recruitment and the provision of land to the mounted cavalry, was founded in 1475. Further distribution of lands as pomest’ia took place under Vasily III and Ivan IV from a variety of sources. The estate was not regarded as the private property of the pomeshchik; it provided a fixed income for his maintenance and his equipment, and he was not expected to concern himself with its exploitation. He was not therefore a landowner in the Western sense of the word, but a land user entitled to a certain income from the land. It was thus quite distinct from the votchina or the patrimonial estate which formed the basis of the wealth of the aristocracy and the service gentry, which many pomeshchiki owned in addition to the land granted by the government.

The first major initiative in the remodelling of the armed forces taken in Ivan IV’s reign occurred in 1550. The Tsar’s dvor numbered some three thousand all told, and a specific group of one thousand cavalrymen, divided into three categories, was now provided with pomest’ia in the central provinces to enable them to lodge in Moscow and provide all their supplies from lands relatively near to the capital. They were to be available for immediate service as required, serving on a rota. The estates they were allotted were provided mainly from the Tsar’s own lands or from lands of free peasants around Moscow.46 Aleksei Adashev was one of these cavalrymen.

A corps of infantry equipped with firearms was also formed by Ivan, pishchal’niki, or ‘harquebuzzers’, as Jerome Horsey, a later English visitor, called them, who had already been used in 1480 in the nonexistent battle of the Ugra and who were replaced in 1550 by musketeers or strel’tsy, also on foot. These, together with Ivan’s chosen one thousand cavalry corps, formed his personal guard, ‘the forerunners of Peter I’ s guards regiments’, presumably to protect him against the sort of rioting which had so frightened him in 1547. The strel’tsy were to be part of the military scene until the reign of Peter the Great. Their function was not to fight with cold steel or pikes in hand-to-hand combat, but to use firepower. Their numbers fluctuated and probably reached some twenty thousand by the end of the sixteenth century. They were, unlike the cavalry levy, a permanent uniformed corps. Unlike the Ottoman janissaries they were free men; they received salaries in money and goods according to rank, but also maintained themselves and their families partly by artisan production and small-scale trading activities. Their officers belonged to the gentry and were allotted pomest’ia as well as salaries. The whole corps came under the authority of a new Streletskii Prikaz.

Artillery was also extensively and effectively used in Russia, and Ivan may have taken a personal interest in the manufacture of guns – from Russian-produced iron ore – and their utilization by his army. Each regiment was allocated a certain number of guns in the 1550s. Ivan took 150 heavy and medium pieces of artillery to Kazan’ with him in 1552, and in this respect Russia was not inferior to her Western enemies, though supplies of gunpowder and lead had to be imported and could therefore be subject to enemy blockade on land.

The origin of the idea of this corps of strel’tsy has been much debated in Russia. Clearly Russia needed more modern weaponry, namely firearms and heavy artillery, for her wars against Poland, Sweden and in Livonia, rather than cavalry armed with bows and arrows. Contemporaries and many military specialists have speculated on whether the new formations were borrowed from the Ottomans through the writings of a certain Ivan Semonovich Peresvetov, which may perhaps have been known to Ivan IV. For a long time Peresvetov’s very existence was in doubt and he was thought to be an assumed name or a collective personality. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century was his existence actually established. In the 1950s he was unfortunately treated as one of the powerful humanist thinkers of sixteenth-century Europe, comparable to Machiavelli or Bodin. A revision of his human and intellectual qualities has not yet been undertaken, nor is it certain that all his alleged writings can be attributed to him; thus his influence still needs to be questioned.

Born and bred in Lithuania, conditioned by life in this borderland, divided between Polish Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy, offering his sword as a Polish cavalryman now to the Hungarian Jan Zapolya, a vassal of the Ottomans, now to the Habsburg King of Bohemia, now to the voevoda Peter IV Raresh of Moldavia, Peresvetov was a fairly senior officer serving with six or seven horses and the corresponding number of grooms and servants. Evidently resentful at his failure to make good in service, and distrusting boyars and their ilk, he attempted to enter Russian service in 1538, during the regency of Elena. He may have been attracted to Russian service by his connexion with Peter of Moldavia, whose wife was Elena’s cousin by marriage. He tried to interest the Russian court in a model shield ‘in the Macedonian manner’ which he had invented, and was taken up by the boyar M. Iu’rev Zakhar’in, the uncle of the future Tsaritsa Anastasia, and provided with a workshop and a pomest’ie. Unfortunately for Peresvetov, Zakhar’in died, he lost his patron, and all interest in his patent shield evaporated.

Peresvetov continued in increasingly impoverished circumstances for some ten years, after which all traces of him vanish. This was not surprising since he had no connexions in Russia with any of the boyar clans, or even with the gentry, who tended also to be united by fairly close local associations. Reduced in his own eyes to poverty, in 1549, at the time of the gathering of the so-called ‘assembly of reconciliation’, he personally submitted a petition, together with a number of other written works, to Tsar Ivan, accusing the ‘great’ of having despoiled him of his land, leaving him naked and destitute, without even a horse. Peresvetov’s not unjustified hope of achieving more in Russia, where a simple horseman could now count on some support as a pomeshchik, was not to be fulfilled, and as a man he disappears from sight. But the various writings attributed to him survived in a number of manuscript copies of the early seventeenth century and have led to a belated acceptance of his existence as a man and his importance as a ‘spokesman’ of the gentry or the holders of pomest’ia, as against the rich and powerful, in the sixteenth century.

It is this interpretation of the ‘class’ role of Peresvetov, considered to have been insufficiently appreciated by pre-revolutionary historians, which has contributed to his great importance in Soviet historiography. The relevant texts attributed to Peresvetov are ‘On the conquest of Tsar’grad by the godless Tsar Magmet Amuratov, son of the Turkish Tsar’, ‘The Tale of Magmet Saltan’, and ‘The Great Petition’, which contains Peresvetov’s account of the five months he spent in the service of Peter IV Raresh, his only Orthodox patron. Mehmet II’s victory over the last Paleologus emperor, Constantine, was in great part attributed by Peresvetov to the selfishness, cowardice and incapacity of the ‘great’ men surrounding the Emperor and his failure to support the more lowly men-at-arms. (‘The rich never think of fighting, they think of peacefulness and gentleness and rest.’) He argued in favour of a centrally recruited, controlled and paid army, like the Turkish janissaries, but he also argued that free men fight better than slaves, and the Russian cavalry was free, while the janissaries were slaves as were all the civil employees of the Ottoman court. In Russia the kholopy or bondsmen of various kinds in the armed forces were at this time mainly employed either in the transport of food, fodder and munitions, or in labouring on engineering projects.

Another great virtue of the Ottoman system in Peresvetov’s eyes was its concentration on pravda rather than vera – truth or justice, rather than faith. This makes one wonder whether the long years in foreign parts, before he came to Russia, had somewhat dented the purity of Peresvetov’s Orthodox faith. The sense of the Russian word ‘pravda’ is impossible to convey in English, where in dictionaries the emphasis is almost always on the notion of truth, whereas in Russian the notion of justice or righteousness is fundamental. The most articulate expression of Peresvetov’s ideas (if they were his ideas) comes in his version of the tale of Prince Peter IV of Moldavia, where the Prince praises Mehmet the Conqueror for having restored justice to Constantinople, and explains that ‘God does not love faith, but pravda or justice’. Through his Son he left us the gospel of truth (pravda), loving the Christian faith above all other faiths, and showed us the path to heaven. But the Greeks, though they honoured the gospel, listened to others and did not carry out the will of the Lord and fell into heresy (i.e. the decision to unite with Rome, taken at the Council of Ferrara/Florence).

But Peresvetov was primarily concerned with the practical problems of governing a warlike society. He favoured the institution of a professional army (like the Ottoman janissaries), but free, government by state employees, and the bridling of the high nobility. It is difficult to see in him the spokesman of the gentry, he seems rather to place his faith in a state ruling by ‘groza’, terror or awe. Mehmed was again quoted as an example, for when he discovered that his judges were being dishonest he had them flayed alive, saying:

if their flesh grows back again their crime will be forgiven. And he ordered their skins to be stretched out and ordered them to be stuffed with cotton and ordered them to be affixed with an iron nail in places of judgment and ordered it to be written on the skins: without such terrors, justice and sovereignty cannot be introduced.

Mehmed was also praised for being dread, or terrible, in fact ‘grozen’: ‘If a tsar is mild and peace-loving in his realm, his realm will become impoverished and his glory will diminish. If a tsar is dread and wise, his realm will expand and his name will be famous in all lands.’ ‘A kingdom without terror [groza] is like a horse without a bridle.’ Peresvetov’s admiration for the efficiency of Ottoman rule is by no means unique at that time, when it was very much a lieu commun in that part of Europe which had had dealings with the Porte.

To be ‘dread’ Ivan did not need any advice from Peresvetov, and there is not in fact any evidence that Ivan IV ever read anything written by Peresvetov; and if the idea of creating the corps of musketeers came from outside Russia, a more convincing source is in fact Moldavia, where voevoda Peter Raresh had introduced a corps of musketeers who were not slaves like the janissaries, but free like the strel’tsy, and with which of course Peresvetov would have been familiar. It seems, therefore, unlikely that Peresvetov exercised any influence on Ivan’s policy in the 1550s as a spokesman for the gentry.



Louis XVIII Of France

Since both the republican and imperial models were discredited and unacceptable to the victorious Allies, a royal restoration was inevitable; the victor of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, warned that there would be no peace in Europe unless the Bourbons mounted the throne again. The Congress of Vienna, held to define European frontiers after two decades of war, reversed Napoleon’s conquests but was otherwise generous to France after Talleyrand inserted himself into the deliberations; in a sign of flexibility among recent adversaries, Britain and Austria allied with France to block a Prussian attempt to absorb Saxony.

However, the new monarch who called himself Louis XVIII in deference to his nephew who had died in prison two decades earlier, made a poor fist of it on his return from exile in Britain in May 1814. The corpulent 59-year-old king surrounded himself with appointees who had been out of government business for more than two decades. His principal minister, the Count of Blacas, was a minor noble who devoted himself to building up a fortune, arousing wide unpopularity and lacking authority. The army was alienated by the appointment of royalists for loyalty rather than ability, and the sacking of veterans who had borne the standard of Napoleonic glory. The monarch’s influence was undercut by his reactionary brother, the Count of Artois, and his circle of supporters set on revenge for the Revolution. Louis was unperturbed. As Paris amused itself with balls, he said he slept as well as in his youth.

This complacency was shattered on 26 February 1815, when Bonaparte escaped from Elba to stage an attempted comeback, reaching Paris on 20 March after getting a mixed but generally not unfriendly reception across the country. Louis fled as Napoleon raised a 125,000-strong army and attracted figures who had temporarily sided with the king. A referendum approved a constitution drawn up by the political theorist, Benjamin Constant, though the abstention rate was very high. Seeing a quick and decisive battlefield victory as the way to gain recognition from the Allies, Bonaparte launched his army across the north-eastern border to confront the British and Prussians. The resulting battle at Waterloo on 18 June 1815, was, as Wellington remarked, ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’, but defeat dethroned France as a great European power. The universe changed direction, Victor Hugo would judge. More to the point, France had had enough of its emperor. Even if he had not lost at Waterloo, Bonaparte’s days would have been numbered. His enemies were simply too strong, France too weakened and his political support too frayed.1

Escaping from the rout of his army, Napoleon regained Paris and put on as brave a face as he could. ‘All is not lost,’ he declared while taking a bath in the Élysée Palace. But the Chamber of Deputies obliged him to abdicate, and he threw himself on the mercy of the British, ending up in his second exile on the bleak South Atlantic outpost of St Helena.

The crowds cheered as Louis XVIII was driven in his carriage to the Tuileries Palace in the centre of Paris on 8 July 1815. A National Guard sergeant kissed the hand of the twice-restored monarch. Now referred to by his supporters as le Désiré (the Desired One), Louis made his Parisian palace, with its succession of halls and apartments stretching down what is now the rue de Rivoli to the Louvre, facing gardens laid out by the great designer Le Nôtre, the centre of festivities that summer. Balls were held at night outside – when the authorities tried to stop them to protect the lawns, the monarch called from the window ‘Dance on the grass!’ The surrounding buildings were illuminated at night. There were firework displays. Musicians strolled the streets and a charity kitchen fed the poor in the Saint-Antoine district. The Treaty of Paris signed with the victorious Allies assured Parisians that they would ‘continue to enjoy their rights and liberties’.

The restored monarch went to see plays at the Comédie-Française and, each morning, courtiers gathered to listen to his stories as he sat in a large armchair and gave them every opportunity to agree with his high appreciation of his wit. Rejecting Napoleon’s view that he should exercise despotic rule, he fancied himself as father of the people, refusing to be ‘king of two Frances’. A royal proclamation issued a week after Waterloo set out his intention ‘to call round our paternal throne the immense majority of Frenchmen whose fidelity, courage and devotedness have brought such pleasing consolation to our heart’.

With a charter setting out rights for the richer sections of society, Louis sought to win over bourgeois liberals and some Bonapartists, though democracy was still far off with an electorate limited to 75,000 men. A police report told him that barely 10 per cent of the French favoured a return of the ancien régime. As the writer Charles-Louis Lesur put it in 1817, however deplorable its excesses, the Revolution would ‘leave for ever great models as well as salutary lessons’.

Voting for the Chamber of Deputies was on a rolling basis with staggered five-yearly polls. A new upper house mixed old and new figures. Civil rights, religious toleration and press freedom were guaranteed. Conservatives were reassured that ‘abuses’ would be controlled by Article 14 of the Charter, which enabled the crown to decree ordinances for state security in times of danger. Most important for the middle class and richer peasants, the purchase of land taken from aristocrats and the church was left in their ownership.

Still, the king showed the limits of his tolerance by insisting on the white royal flag in place of the tricolour and dating his reign from the death of his nephew. Royal statues were restored. Streets and squares reverted to old names. Church building underlined the monarchy’s identification with Catholicism. The column erected by Napoleon to his glory in the Place Vendôme was torn down.

Louis insisted all power had to devolve from the throne, even if he chose to allow others to exercise it on his behalf. Citizens were to revert to being subjects. It was he who granted the constitution rather than accepting one drawn up by parliament. Ministers needed majority backing in the Chamber but, when they presented proposals to the throne, they said simply, ‘Here is our opinion’ to which the sovereign replied, ‘Here is my will’.

Property owners might be reassured but the outlook was distinctly unpromising for their fellow countrymen. The army, wounded and humiliated, was kept south of the Loire by the Allies. The demobilisation of hundreds of thousands of troops swelled the underclass. Ex-soldiers joined outlaw bands that roamed the countryside.

The restored king and his ministers were subject to the dictates of the Allies, represented in Paris by Wellington and Castlereagh for Britain, Metternich for Austria, the Tsar Alexander for Russia and the 72-year-old Prussian Marshal Blücher whose intervention had been decisive at Waterloo. They had at their command an occupation army of 150,000 men. The tents of the invaders stretched along the Champs-Élysées and frequently drunken British troops reeled through the streets mocking Louis as ‘an old bloated poltroon’ or referring to his liking for oysters by calling him ‘Louis des huîtres’.

Some foreign national treasures, which French armies had seized on their conquests, were reclaimed; a French observer recorded Wellington mounting a ladder to help take pictures down from walls. The Allied commander also annoyed farmers by importing his pack of hounds and hunting with them over fields without warning or compensation for the damage caused; eventually, when protests swelled, he gave the dogs to Louis XVIII.

The Prussians were the most set on revenge, looting at will. Occupying the Place du Carrousel at the end of the Louvre, they trained their cannons on the royal palace. Blücher proposed to blow up the Pont d’Iéna over the Seine commemorating Napoleon’s victory over Prussia in 1806, but Louis XVIII said he would go to the bridge to share its fate; hurrying to the scene, Talleyrand offered to change its name to the Pont de l’École Militaire, calculating that, once the invaders were gone, it could revert to Iéna. Most tellingly, Wellington posted a British soldier on the bridge, correctly guessing Blücher would not risk blowing him up.

The economy was in a sorry state, aggravated by financial indemnities to the Allies including meeting the cost of the occupation. Parts of eastern France had been ruined by fighting; in the historic centre of Laon, 280 of 350 homes had been destroyed. National output was below that of 1789; production in Marseilles was 25 per cent lower than at the outbreak of the Revolution. Farming was stagnant. The beetroot industry, encouraged by Napoleon to ensure home-grown supplies of sugar, went bust as imports from the West Indies resumed. There were few big factories; the most advanced city, Paris, was a web of small workshops and artisans doing piecework. Annual coal output was 800,000 tons compared to 17 million tons in Britain. Metallurgy remained stuck where it had been in 1789. British entrepreneurs used their techniques to set up a thriving lace industry round Calais, and an iron foundry and gas works outside Paris.

Barter was common in rural areas. For the better-off, income from land and interest from state securities took precedence over other forms of investment. Trade was at half the level of the mid-1780s. High duties raised the price of imports and manufactured goods were generally not competitive abroad. Falling exports hit port cities hard – the population of Bordeaux had dropped by a third since pre-Revolutionary days and grass grew on the quays. Industrial production in Marseilles was 25 per cent lower than at the outbreak of the Revolution, but the port still received several thousand cargo ships a year and its energetic Greek merchant community conducted commerce with the Levant in cotton, wool, horses, wheat and dried vegetables; one trader, who had a concession from the Pasha of Egypt, made a million francs in profit in 1817.

Banking and finance were hindered by regulation and an unadventurous spirit. Only seven shares were quoted on the Paris stock exchange. When the banker, Jacques Laffitte, proposed to create a company to take deposits to fund credit, the Conseil d’État rejected the idea. Though the state debt was low, government credit was limited and capital remained scarce. The new regime was obliged to raise funds by a forced loan and pawning royal forests, but still faced a budget deficit of 300 million francs and its ability to pay the indemnity to the Allies was in doubt, meaning that the occupation would drag on.

The Catholic church had been the biggest loser of the Revolution in terms of property and influence; nearly all its 4–5 million hectares of land holdings had been confiscated and mainly sold off, compared to an estimated half of those of the nobility. The priesthood had been reduced by more than 20,000 during the anti-Christian crusade from 1789 to 1793 and had not recovered significantly. So it now lost no time in seeking to restore its ranks. Ordinations rose from 900 to 2,500 a year and the number of nuns doubled to 25,000.

Some felt that the church should ally itself with the cause of liberty and progress – the prominent priest and philosopher Hugues-Félicité de Lamennais preached theocratic democracy. But most clergy were loyal to the traditional fusion of church and royal state as the priesthood played a role similar to that of the army under Napoleon in terms of jobs and career advancement for young men without wealth to support them. The importance of the family was stressed. Divorce was banned in 1816; a right-wing deputy castigated it for creating ‘a veritable domestic democracy [which] allows the wife, the weaker sex, to rise up against marital authority.’

Despite its sufferings and exile during the Revolution, the nobility still possessed at least a fifth of all land – some aristocrats who fled abroad had used agents to secretly buy property requisitioned from their peers or from the church. On their estates, they tapped in to proroyalist sentiment among peasants and smallholders who had been alienated by taxation and conscription under the Jacobins and the Empire. In regions like the Gard, Ardèche, Aveyron and Lozère, as well as the Vendée, they drew on rural anti-capitalist, anti-bourgeois, anti-Protestant sentiment, conjuring up rose-coloured memories of paternalistic ancien régime welfare to buttress their authority while cutting themselves off from progress.

In towns and villages alike, life was harsh for most people, 60 per cent of whom were illiterate. Bad water and lack of hygiene spread disease. Despite the efforts of the Jacobins to encourage national education, most people outside the Paris area communicated in the local patois; the port city of Toulon was known as ‘the northern colony’ because it was the only southern town where the national language was spoken by a majority of inhabitants. There were great empty, silent spaces. Stepping down from a coach at a staging post only thirteen miles from the provincial capital of Bourges in central France, Stendhal was struck by the sense of ‘complete isolation’ while, a little later, the German poet, Heinrich Heine, found Brittany ‘a wretched, desolate land where mankind is stupid and dirty’. The Landes in the south-west was known as ‘our Sahara’, a great deserted region where a travelling official recorded that ‘for several hours, I saw nothing but flat country varied by thickets of briar, and now and then, by a forest of pines on the horizon . . . the only inhabitants a few rare shepherds perched on their long stilts.’

Rural people faced the continuous threat of bad harvests and hunger. Much of the countryside, where 90 per cent of the population lived, was a backward patchwork of small farms, hamlets and country towns, isolated by poor communications, high hills and mountains, wide rivers, swamps and forests. Lack of transport and paved roads impeded the distribution of food and goods, and farmers held on to what they had for fear of famine. Meat was rare – a pig had to last a family for a year. Peasants depended on the local nobility or teachers and priests to mediate with the authorities on their behalf and lacked the concept of a world beyond their immediate surroundings. Some men escaped to become day labourers in towns or travelling pedlars, but women were confined to the most humdrum, restricted existences.

Poverty and backwardness was most marked south of a line from the border of Normandy and Brittany at St-Malo across to Grenoble in the Alps. North and east of this, people were generally taller, fitter and better educated. They also had better road communications. But even in this more evolved half of France, disparities were great and poverty widespread. Most inhabitants of big cities died without leaving any assets. Urban workers huddled in slums, prey to disease and exploitation or, in the capital, in filthy shanty towns for migrant workers outside the city walls.


Episode of the French intervention in Spain 1823 by Hippolyte Lecomte.

Despite the misgivings of the king, the nationalist, legitimist right pushed France into its first post-1815 foreign foray in Spain, where civil war had broken out in 1822 after the Bourbon King Ferdinand VII sought to re-establish the absolute monarchy he had been forced to renounce by a constitution ten years earlier.

Austria, Prussia and Russia backed French intervention and Louis did an about-turn saying, ‘a hundred thousand French are ready to march invoking the god of St Louis to keep the throne of Spain for a descendant of Henri IV’. Angoulême commanded the army that advanced to Madrid in May 1824, took Seville and Cadiz, and freed Ferdinand to launch a ferocious counter-revolution. In November, Angoulême returned to a hero’s welcome, leaving behind an occupying force of 45,000 men that was not fully withdrawn until 1828. Though he likened the expedition to an episode from Don Quixote, Ultras celebrated not only victory but also the restoration of absolute monarchy in Spain. For them, France had paid its dues in the counter-revolutionary alliance directed by Metternich from Vienna.