Medieval Prints by Graham Turner

Although firmly rooted and fairly well developed in the Rhineland, Franconia, Lorraine (the old Lotharingia) and Burgundy, feudalism in its widest sense was never as strong in Germany as in, say, France or England, and true knighthood and the customary granting of fiefs was unknown in Germany until the 12th century; the earliest recorded instance of knighting actually dates to 1146.

During the period under review Germany was basically a confederation of petty states led by princely families of tribal origin, of whom very few held their Lands as vassals of the crown. In the first half of this era, therefore, the king (or Emperor) had to depend almost entirely on the goodwill of these autonomous princes and dukes for military support, who recognised Imperial authority only when they deemed it expedient to do so. Their principalities had largely evolved from once-independent territories and sub-kingdoms (principally Saxony, Thuringia, Burgundy, Franconia, Bavaria, Swabia, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia) and the princes continued to associate themselves with the ethnic origins of their lands. Without their support the Emperor had practically no army, and therefore no power, at all, and it was as a result of this dependence that the Imperial throne became elective in the second half of the 13th century, the most powerful princes becoming Kürfursten or ‘Electors’ whose one concern was effectively to ensure their own autonomy by the maintenance of a weak monarchy. Some idea of the princes’ military potential can be got from the fact that at a Diet (parliament) in Mainz in 1235, where they were nearly all present, their personal retinues are recorded to have totalled 12,000 knights. An individual prince might easily raise several hundred knights (mostly ministeriales, for which see below), the Archbishop of Cologne reputedly fielding 500 in 1161.

Other than for the king’s expedition to Rome to be crowned (the expeditio italica, after 1135 called the expeditio roma or Romfahrt, later Romzug) only the princes of the church -the abbots, bishops and archbishops- were actually obliged to render him military service, since they alone owed their positions to the crown, having been invested with their various estates and offices by the king; therefore it was on them that he relied predominantly for troops. In 1167, 1174 and 1176, for example, German armies operating in Italy under Frederick I Barbarossa consisted almost entirely of church contingents. However, the obligations of ecclesiastical princes differed from those of feudal vassals; with them it was more a case of administering an Imperial estate and, when necessary, financing contingents of troops from the proceeds. Sometimes such proceeds were inadequate to pay for the requisite troops and it was not uncommon for the church to have to mortgage or pawn property and estates in order to raise men. Most German bishops were therefore soldiers first and churchmen second and many even commanded Imperial armies in the field, despite the fact that for most of this era there was bitter enmity between Empire and papacy. In 1257 Richard of Cornwall wrote to his brother, King Henry III of England, about the ‘mettlesome and warlike archbishops there are in Germany. It would be a fine thing for you if you could create such archbishops in England.’

It was Frederick I (who added the ‘Holy’ to ‘Roman Empire’) who first sought to fully reorganise German feudalism on the model of France. Realising the necessity of pulling together the heterogenous elements that made up the Empire, Frederick made a concerted effort to ensure that all princes, both ecclesiastical and lay, were tied to the throne by bonds of vassalage, and by 1180 the structure of the feudal hierarchy had been firmly established; the princes and dukes were now tenants-in-chief (the princes of the church inevitably taking precedence over lay princes), with their vassals obliged to perform military service as knights. Where previously the king bad been able to solicit military aid from his nobility chiefly only by cash payments, the late-12th century saw them serving for a standard period of6 weeks per year, in addition to which, after an interval, their vassals could be called upon for further service of another 6 weeks at the expense of the tenant-in-chief or crown. Unfortunately after Frederick’s death in 1190 his successors were unable to maintain their hold on the nobility, his grandson Frederick II (1214-50, best known for his Sicilian and Italian exploits) issuing in 1231 the ‘Statute of Favour of the Princes’ which granted lay and ecclesiastical princes alike absolute autonomy within their lands and total freedom from royal interference; assorted exemptions from and limitations on obligatory military service followed (Bohemians and Saxons, for instance, could commute their obligation to participate in the Romfahrt by means of a token cash payment). Thereafter the German monarchy was purely elective and royal authority Little more than nominal. Rudolf of Habsburg (1273-91) appears to have been at least partially successful in forcing the nobility back into submission, though be bad to put dissidents down by force on a number of occasions and destroyed some 70 or more castles in the process. Nor were his achievements particularly lasting.

Since the princes were of dubious loyalty, and because the German peasantry were basically forbidden to bear arms by the late-12th century, it was inevitable that some reliance should be placed on mercenary troops (principally Germans), though they were apparently never employed in particularly large numbers. As early as the late-11th century it had been suggested to Henry IV (by Benzo of Alba) that mercenaries, paid for by a form of scutage, should replace the feudal or semi-feudal muster, and the suggestion was revived following the failure of Henry V’s French campaign of 1124and again after the decisive defeat of the Imperialists under Otto IV at Bouvines in 1214. Certainly Frederick I had depended on Brabanson mercenaries in Italy in 1166-67 (5-800 men, or perhaps 1,500 including Flemish mercenaries too) and 1174-75 (commanded by the Archbishop of Mainz), where they gained a morale ascendancy over the Italians, who were scared to death of them (or, rather, of their reputation); such Brabanzonen were only actively employed within Germany itself once, in Saxony in 1179 by Archbishop Philip von Heinsberg of Cologne, who fielded as many as 4,000 mercenaries, cavalry and infantry together, of whom the Brabansons constituted the latter. The Emperors themselves tended to rely heavily on mercenaries in their personal retinues to compensate for the indifference of their vassals; for a crusading enterprise of 1196-98 Henry VI personally raised a contingent of as many as 6,000 mercenary troops, 1,500 of them knights and a further 1,500 being esquires. Many such troops were paid with money-fiefs. Hungarians too were sometimes employed, about 600 horse-archers being recorded in an army raised in 1158, while as many as 14,000 are supposed to have been present under their king in Rudolf’s army at Marchfeld 120 years later.

Another considerable – and unique – element of the Imperial army (and of the ecclesiastical contingents in particular) was supplied by ministeriales (German Dienscleuten), a class of ‘unfree’ knights. These appeared in the first half of the 10th century, were only first introduced on a large scale by Conrad II (1024-39), when they were much used for royal garrisons. They were initially nonnoble freemen administering fiefs without actually holding them as vassals, and they could be granted by one lord to another, leased out as mercenaries, or even sold.

The building of fortresses was one of the duties of the levy, particularly in the Marches. Henry the Fowler (919-936, founder of the dynasty), introduced a system where every ninth man lived in a fortified town, helping to build and maintain it, while the other 8 continued their agricultural chores and stored one third of their produce within the town, taking refuge there themselves during Slav or Magyar raids. These men were lower-class vassals, sometimes referred to as agrarii milites, who were in many ways the forerunners of the mediaeval German ministeriales, unfree knights.

It was Conrad II (1024-1039) who actually introduced ministeriales on a large scale. A ministerialis is best described as an unfree man in possession of a benefice and performing the same military service as a free, feudal tenant would. They appear to have originally evolved as a result of church lands being obliged to supply feudal troops in the same way as the nobility had to; so as not to incur a loss of income by granting the land to free vassals to fulfil these obligations, unfree men were granted such lands instead and were obliged to supply the requisite military duties while at the same time, being unfree, not being permitted any of the benefits or income of a free vassal. This practice became widespread in Germany.

Many vassals therefore bad no need to involve themselves in subinfeudation, since they could utilise ministeriales to satisfy their military obligations without loss of land or revenue, and it was this aspect that made them particularly popular with the church. However, ministeriales often became important Imperial officials so that their status steadily improved. As early as 1126 we find ministeriales being made knights and by the mid-century they had to be paid for service beyond their master’s own domains. Many were by this time becoming powerful and wealthy enough to be considered capable of holding lands on their own account, so that their offices were subsequently convened into feudal possessions. Their ability to hold property and thereby have vassals of their own inevitably broke down and blurred the original distinction between the ‘unfree’ ministerialis and the free knight (to the disgust of the latter), one powerful ministerialis of Frederick I’s reign, Werner von Bolanden, even being reported as holding 17 castles and allegedly being owed the service of as many as 1,100 men-at-arms. By the mid-13th century when, in South German contingents at least, as much as 95 per cent or more of an army could be composed of ministeriales – they were indistinguishable from the nobility, a considerable proportion of the latter by then being of ministerialis origin, including even dukes, counts and bishops.

Some ministeriales appear to have served as infantry but most evidence indicates that they were cavalrymen. The same applies to the Sariants, or sergeants, who first appear in the 12th century. Nethertheless infantry were an important element of German armies. Many were still supplied by the Heerbann or its equivalent, the traditional Germanic levy of all able-bodied freemen which lasted up until the 13th century, though from the late-12th century the lower classes were being steadily excluded from military service. It lasted longest in the north and east, in Saxony, Thuringia and Bavaria; Saxon and Thuringian infantry were present in strength at Bouvines in 1214 and fought in nearly every important campaign of the 11th and 12thcenturies.

The standard role of infantry in this period was of an almost entirely defensive nature, an attitude which remained prevalent until the beginning of the 14th century. They were either assigned to the cavalry units or organised separately, usually as close-order phalanxes. They could be drawn up before, behind, between or on the flanks of the cavalry depending on circumstances.

To strengthen the infantry and boost their morale many commanders chose to dismount at least a percentage of their knights, particularly in the late-11th and 12th centuries; this is especially true of English, Norman and German armies. Prior to the 13th century, in fact, German knights are recorded in a number of contemporary sources as better at fighting on foot than on horse. The 12thcentury Byzantine chronicler Cinnamus records them as being at their best fighting on foot with the sword, comparing them to the French who were better on horseback with the lance. William of Apulia, describing Swabian knights fighting on foot at Civitate in 1053, says they were ‘better with the sword than the lance since they are incapable of handling their horses or thrusting vigorously [with the lance]. But they excel with the sword.’ At Damascus in the Second Crusade we even find German knights dismounting to charge, William of Tyre telling us that this ‘was the custom of the Germans when circumstances obliged them to use it.’ Conversely, we are told that French knights were of little value on foot, while a source ofc. 1120 describes Breton knights as 7 times more effective mounted than they were when dismounted.

Other infantry were provided by town militias from the 11th century onwards, these participating in most of the civil wars which racked the reigns of every German king of this era.

They were obliged to go to war when ever called upon to do so by their sovereign (ie, the ruling prince, duke, bishop etc of the state in which the town stood, which in the case of Reichsunmittelbare towns-those under direct royal control- was the king or Emperor himself). In most cases, however, they were not expected to do much more than defend their own town walls, except in dire circumstances when they might be called upon to serve in the field locally (this obligation frequently being reduced in the 13th century so that service could not be called for further than a half-day’s march from the militia’s home town). Hence the reliance on Italian, Brabancon and other indigenous or mercenary infantry when campaigning outside Germany.

Auxiliaries were also employed, Magyars, Poles, Wends and other Slavs all being recorded in the 10th and 1th centuries. Even Danish auxiliaries are sometimes mentioned, by the mid-11th century apparently sometimes serving as cavalry As an indication of the numbers of troops available, 32 legiones were mustered for an attack on the Capetian Hugh the Great in 946, though these included Carolingian French and Flemish units, while at Lechfield in 955 there were 8 legiones, probably a more usual size for an army. Otto II, campaigning in Italy in 982, requested reinforcements of 2,080 feudal cavalry from Lotharingia, Bavaria, Franconia and Swabia, 1,482 of whom were supplied by ecclesiastical vassals; this may very well have been after his defeat by the Arabs at Cotrone, where he is recorded to have lost 4,000 men killed plus many more captured. In the mid-11th century Henry II had adequate troops to promise a Milanese rebel the loan of 4,000 knights (probably ministeriales).


Darius III

There are times when normally competent military commanders are truly outmatched by the opponents they encounter. There is no doubt that this is the case for Darius III, who was soundly defeated at the hands of the military prodigy, Alexander of Macedon. His defeat sounded the end of Persia as a globe spanning and dominant empire. Appearing primarily in Greek written texts, Darius has inevitably been presented through the ages in a negative light, yet there is strong evidence at least for his stalwart courage. As a young man he distinguished himself in single combat against a Champion sent forward by an Iranian mountain tribe in rebellion against the Persian Empire.

His route to the Persian throne was difficult and winding, for he was only a minor noble of the royal family, posted far away from the center of the empire as Governor of Armenia. A series of traitorous poisonings engineered by the palace court wiped out the majority of the ruling elite, paving the road to his Imperial rule in 336 B.C.E.

When Alexander initially invaded the Anatolian Empire in 334 B.C.E., Darius could be excused for treating this as a local difficulty to be handled by the regional governors. When he eventually did respond to the invasion and advanced with his army into Syria in 333 B.C.E., he seemed to have outmaneuvered Alexander into a disadvantageous position. Darius converged behind the Macedonians on the coastal plain. There he gathered his army into a strong defensive position, then tried an outflanking move – tactics that might have succeeded against a lesser opponent. The Persian forces were quickly shattered by Macedonian cavalry, however, and Darius was forced to flee the battlefield to avoid capture and greater losses. Darius’s second great battle against Alexander proved to be just as disastrous. Fleeing back to the city of Ecbatana, Darius intended to raise another army to continue the fight, but a rebellious subordinate governor captured him, held him prisoner for a time, and finally killed him.

Alexander the Great vs Darius III

After his humiliating defeat at the hands of Alexander in 333 B.C.E., the Persian ruler Darius III, was resolute in his decision to fight the Macedonians again and crush them. He assembled a considerable army by calling upon tribute and reserves from his Asian provinces, and then waited in Mesopotamia for Alexander to come to him. In the summer of 331 BC, Alexander – equally eager for yet another clash – marched from Egypt through Syria to the Euphrates River. Darius used the quickness of his cavalry to deny them supplies and shelter in the Euphrates valley, forcing Alexander to continue marching his army northeast to the Tigris River. Darius waited patiently for his rival Alexander’s much smaller army on the far side of the river.

Alexander crossed the Tigris unaware of the disposition or strength of Darius’s gathered army. After four days of marching along the river, Alexander managed to take prisoners in a clash with Persian cavalry. Interrogation revealed that Darius was waiting with his army on a plain some 6 miles away, using intervening hills to block line of sight. Alexander fortified his own camp and then spent four days preparing for the battle to come. Late on the evening of September 29, he advanced his army en masse toward Guagamela with the intent of attacking at dawn after the night march. After finally reaching the crest of the hill above the Persian camp on the plain below, Alexander ordered his army to halt. After beholding the full scale of his enemy Darius’s army, Alexander decided to wait. The following day, he surveyed the battlefield and finalized his battle plan. After deciding against the night attack, he made adjustments to his usual battle dispositions – his infantry phalanx would remain in the center, the companion cavalry would gather on the right, supported by a light cavalry left-wing. He also prepared measures in case of other possible battlefield developments. On the wings of his army, additional cavalry and skirmishers would be in position to counter any outflanking moves. He also stationed a second line of infantry in the rear of the line of battle, leaving them ready to turn around and defend the backs of the front line. Thus satisfactorily prepared, Alexander slept peacefully through the night. The following morning he marched his eager army down onto the plain of battle, riding as usual at the head of the Macedonian cavalry with the support of the best of his combat infantry. He led his entire army to the right, across the front of the waiting Persian lines. Alexander attacked the Persian left with his cavalry, while the unprepared Persian cavalry attempted outflanking moves but were soundly defeated. Obscured among the chaotic sounds of combat, with large plumes of dust rising from the dryness of the plain, Darius could not see Alexander’s next move. Alexander the Great charged his heavy cavalry – with infantry support – to strike at Darius in the Persian army center. Taken completely by surprise, the Persian king fled. Alexander’s initial instinct was to pursue him, but his horsemen were still needed to aid his other forces engaged in heated combat on other parts of the battlefield. The Persian army was soon scattered after suffering massive casualties. Alexander’s victory was swift and indisputable.

The Persian High Command

The Persian numbers in the two invasions of Greece were so overwhelmingly superior that one tends to blame the Persian commanders for the startling lack of success. The initiative for both enterprises came from the Great Kings themselves and there seems to have been no question of any significant “power behind the throne”. Yet there is nothing particularly blame-worthy in their conduct of the two operations – apart from the undertaking itself. There comes a time in the history of every empire when expansion has gone far enough and stability and consolidation, if not retrenchment, are needed. The handful of Athenian and Eretrian ships that had abetted the Ionian revolt was a poor pretext for such a massive military and naval effort.

If we turn to Aeschylus’ play, we find some contrast between the characters of Darius and Xerxes. The Persae presents the story of Xerxes’ crest-fallen return to Persia after his defeat at Salamis. Darius’ ghost appears and denounces the folly which has led to the recent débâcle. Darius is stern and dignified; in contrast, Xerxes is petulant and ineffective. At first sight, Herodotus’ narrative might seem to confirm this estimate. One recalls the incident when high winds destroyed the first bridge which Xerxes had constructed over the Hellespont, whereupon Xerxes ordered that the rebellious waters should be whipped as a punishment for the outrage. But perhaps this was not mere childishness on his part. In his multinational host there were many simple tribesmen who knew nothing of the enlightened Zoroastrian religion of the Persians; thus, to restore morale, it was no doubt necessary to demonstrate that even the gods of the winds and the waves were subject to the Great Kings of Persia.

Again, we are inclined to regard Xerxes’ return to Susa, his remote capital, after the disaster of Salamis, as weak and cowardly. Mardonius, his general, seems to have been left callously to his fate in Greece. But the matter may be viewed quite differently. The success of the Persian kings lay very largely in their ability to delegate power. Cyrus, when he conquered Lydia, had delegated the completion of his conquest to his general Harpagus, and probably Mardonius was expected to complete the conquest of Greece in the same way. However, when all has been said, the delineation of character in Aeschylus’ play should not be lightly dismissed. Aeschylus was, after all, writing at a time very close to the events which he described and he cannot altogether have overlooked the reputations which Darius and Xerxes had earned for themselves among their contemporaries.

As for Mardonius, he was Darius’ son-in-law, and had commanded the Persian fleet when it met with disaster on the rocks off Mount Athos. Darius’ dissatisfaction with him is clear, for in the subsequent expedition which that monarch launched against Greece, Mardonius was not in command. Datis and Artaphernes were in charge of the fleet which sailed across the central Aegean to Eretria and Marathon. However, Mardonius was a man of no mean ability and his later reinstatement proves that he enjoyed Xerxes’ confidence. After Xerxes’ return to Persia, Mardonius tried by sensible diplomacy to divide the Greek states against one another before deciding to engage in battle with them. His chances of success in this diplomatic initiative were very good and with a little more perseverance he might have succeeded. But, cut off from supplies by sea, he perhaps had difficulty in feeding his large army and was accordingly under pressure to reach a decision with the utmost possible speed.

In the spring of 336, Philip had sent an advance force of 10,000 Macedonians to AsiaMinor under the command of Parmenion, Attalus, and a certain Amyntas, perhaps the son of Arrhabaeus. Their presence, and the apparent initiation of the war against Persia, induced the Carian satrap Pixodarus to seek an alliance with Philip II, in the expectation of Macedonian success, at least on the coast of Asia Minor. But, by the fall of 336, Philip had been assassinated, Egypt recovered for Persia, and Pixodarus had found a new son-in-law in Orontopates. Indeed, the latter’s position as satrap of Caria suggests that Darius did not trust Pixodarus entirely. For the Macedonians, a window of opportunity had opened and closed. Whether Darius had sent gold to Macedonia to secure Philip’s assassination is unclear: Alexander found it convenient to level the charge against his opponent in 332, knowing that many in his camp and in the Greek world would regard it as plausible, if not dead certain.

Should Darius III have taken measures to preempt Alexander’s invasion? Was he capable of doing so? These are difficult questions to answer. On the one hand, he may have found it difficult to secure a new fleet capable of contesting the crossing of the Hellespont. On the other, he may not have thought it necessary. Perhaps he was encouraged by the poor showing of the advance force, which Memnon had managed to hold in check, and by the reassertion of the pro-Persian element in cities such as Ephesus when the news of Philip’s death became known. News of rebellions in Europe must also have provided grounds for optimism. Certainly, Darius had little reason to assume that the untried Alexander would have much more success than Agesilaus had some sixty years earlier, and he must have believed that the armies of a coalition of satraps from Asia Minor would suffice to repel the invader

It is a common mistake to assume, from hindsight, that Alexander’s conquest of Persia was inevitable or that the satraps and their king must have viewed the Macedonian invasion with deep foreboding. The Persians had learned the value of Greek hoplites, and they had a plentiful supply of them – though as it turned out they were reluctant to use them to maximum effect. Their skilled horsemen by far outnumbered the invader’s cavalry. Only too late would they discover that their own cavalry, armed with javelins and bows, were no match for the “shock tactics” of the dense wedges of Macedonians and Thessalians. But all that was yet to come, with neither side sufficiently experienced in the techniques and weaponry of their opponents.

Communication Networks – The Royal Road

Reliable and efficient communications throughout the Empire were a necessary component for its success. The construction, maintenance, and guarding of an extensive network of roads and bridges required a great deal of engineering expertise, manpower, and expense. The Persians adopted and adapted their predecessors’ systems, and greatly expanded them, to facilitate communication across vast distances. Individuals or groups on state business carried sealed documents that allowed access to supplies or provisions en route to their destination.

The most famous of these roads, though it was only one of many, was what Herodotus called the Royal Road from Susa in Elam to Sardis in Lydia (5.52–53). Any “royal” road would have, in fact, run through Persepolis and points eastward, so Herodotus’ terminology reflects a Greek view, which usually viewed Susa as the main Achaemenid capital. From the west it ran through Cappadocia and Cilicia in Anatolia to Armenia and then south through Arbela – along the Tigris River – and on toward Susa. Herodotus notes that there were 111 royal staging posts interspersed on it and mentions several of them specifically (5.52). By his calculations this route ran roughly 1,500 miles and took a journey of ninety days. That was for a traveler in no great haste. Royal dispatches could move with surprising speed, a relay system with fresh horses and messengers at each staging post. Herodotus also describes these royal messengers: “There is nothing mortal that travels faster than these messengers … for as many days as the whole route there are horses and men stationed, one horse and one man set for each day. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor night hinders them from accomplishing the course laid before them as quickly as possible. After the first one finishes his route, he delivers the instructed message to the second, the second does likewise to the third; from there in rapid succession down the line the message moves.” (8.98)

There were similar routes in all directions from the Empire’s core in Fars.11 Ctesias alludes to other roads running from Mesopotamia and Persia proper to Central Asia. The primary route to Bactria across northern Iran is called in modern works either the (Great) Khorasan Road or, for later periods, by its better known appellation the Silk Road. Administrative documents from Persepolis, Syro-Palestine, and Egypt record disbursements to travelers in all directions. From the Persepolis documentation we gain a sense of the itineraries of a number of the network of roads running between Susa and Persepolis. An Aramaic document tracks travelers journeying from northern Mesopotamia to Damascus and on into Egypt, with several stops along the way listed by name.

Large work crews were involved in the construction and maintenance of these roads. Herodotus’ account of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece describes roadmakers at work, not infrequently the army on campaign. The main roads, constructed wide enough to allow chariots or wagons to travel on them, served to move military forces quickly, but they were also used by travelers or merchants to transport cargo. Roads also at times had to cross obstacles such as rivers. Some permanent bridges, such as one spanning the Halys River in Anatolia, were guarded by a fort. Pontoon bridges allowed crossing of other rivers, for example, at many spots on the northern Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers and their tributaries. Temporary pontoon bridges afforded the means for Persian armies to cross into Europe: Darius I over the Bosporus on his campaign against the Scythians and Xerxes’ bridge over the Hellespont against the Greeks. Of course, rivers and larger waterways were sometimes part of the route. Diodorus Siculus (14.81.4) records a journey on a well-known route at sea along the coast of Cilicia, on land from northwestern Syria to the Euphrates, then down the river to Babylon. Similar sea trading routes connected other parts of the Empire to the core, such as through the Persian Gulf and along the southern coast of Iran to the Indus Valley.

The Military of Rome I

Rome now dominated southern and central Italy, including Etruria and the Greek cities. Northern Italy, of course, remained largely occupied by the Gauls, and the Gauls remained a menace. The process by which Rome had developed from a small military outpost on a river-crossing to become the dominant power of the Italian peninsula had been by no means swift or continuous. It had taken the greater part of five centuries, and during that time Rome itself had twice been occupied by a foreign power.

According to traditional stories, the last of Rome’s kings, Tarquinius Superbus, an Etruscan, had been expelled late in the sixth century BC after his son had villainously raped the wife of a noble kinsman. Etruscan armies under Lars Porsenna had attempted to restore Tarquinius but had been thwarted by the heroism of Horatius who, with two comrades, defended the Tiber crossing against them until the demolition of the bridge was completed. The Latin cities to the south had then combined to replace the exiled monarch on his throne, but had been defeated by the Romans at the battle of Lake Regillus (where the Romans were assisted by the gods according to the legend!).

Illustrated Etruscan tomb inscriptions, taken in conjunction with the existing legends, suggest that the underlying historical facts were very different. It is clear that Porsenna was not the friend but the mortal enemy of Tarquinius, his fellow Etruscan. He probably conspired with aristocratic, partly Etruscan elements in Rome to precipitate Tarquinius’ downfall, and then himself occupied Rome. He certainly advanced south of Rome, to fight the Latins and their Greek allies of Cumae – where according to one story Tarquinius ultimately took refuge. When the Etruscans were defeated by the Latin League at Aricia (as described by Livy), their fugitives were received and protected in Rome. Moreover, Livy stresses the friendship of Porsenna towards the Romans and his chivalrous respect for their way of life. One would guess that Rome had accepted the position of subject ally to Etruria. The Roman population, despite its Etruscan overlordship, was of course Latin; their Etruscan allegiances brought them into conflict with the other Latin cities, who were allied to the Greek maritime states – Etruria’s commercial rivals.

At Rome, Latin patriotic sentiment may have accepted Etruscan kings and welcomed their leadership against Etruria itself, just as English patriotic feeling in the Middle Ages accepted French-speaking Plantagenet kings as leaders against the French. The early Roman historians, however, did not like to contemplate their city as a mere catspaw in Etruscan dynastic politics, let alone a puppet state to be employed against their Latin brothers. Consequently, these chroniclers substituted history of their own invention, assigning fictional roles to historic characters.

As the strength of Etruria diminished, Rome asserted its authority over both the Etruscans and the Latins, but at the beginning of the fourth century BC the city was overwhelmed, after the disastrous battle of the Allia, by a vast horde of Gallic raiders. The Romans retreated into their citadel on the Capitoline Mount; they eventually bought off the Gauls, whose immediate interest was in moveables and not in land. Roman history records that the great Camillus, Rome’s exiled war leader, was recalled to speed the parting Gauls with military action, but this thinly veils the fact that the Gauls departed of their own accord, having obtained what they wanted. Livy blames Roman decadence and impiety for the disaster, but the Romans must in any case have been vanquished by sheer weight of numbers. Apart from that, they were never at their best when dealing with a strange foe whose weapons and methods of warfare were new to them.

Roman military history is chequered by catastrophes. Few great empires can have sustained more major disasters during the period of their growth. Nobody would deny that the Romans were a formidable military nation; yet the genius which enabled them eventually to dominate the ancient world was as much political as military. Their great political instrument was their concept of citizenship. Citizenship was not simply a status which one did or did not possess. It was an aggregate of rights, duties and honours, which could be acquired separately and conferred by instalments. Such were the rights of making legal contracts and marriages. From both of these the right to a political vote was again separable; nor did the right to vote necessarily imply the right to hold office. Conquered enemies were thus often reconciled by a grant of partial citizenship, with the possibility of more to come if behaviour justified it. Some cities enjoyed Roman citizenship without the vote, being autonomous except in matters of foreign policy. Even the citizens of such communities, however, might qualify for full Roman citizenship if they migrated to Rome; where this right was not available, citizenship could be obtained by those who achieved public distinction in their own communities.

■ The Roman Army in Early Times

Citizenship, of course, implied a military as well as a political status. For the duties which it imposed were, above all, military. The Latin and other Italian allies, who enjoyed some intermediate degree of citizenship, were in principle required to supply an aggregate of fighting men equal to that levied by the Romans themselves. In practice, the Romans relied on their Italian allies particularly for cavalry: an arm in which they themselves were notoriously weak. The Greek cities did not normally contribute military contingents, but supplied ships and rowers. They were known as “naval allies” (socii navales) because of this function.

Any army whose technical resources are comprised by hand-arms, armour and horses, will, at all events in the early years of its development, reflect an underlying social order. Combatants who can afford horses and armour will naturally be drawn from the aristocracy. Others will have little armour and less sophisticated, if not fewer, weapons. This was true of Greek armies and also of medieval armies. It was certainly true of the Romans, whose military class differentiation was defined with unusual care and with great attention to detail. The resulting classification is associated with the military and administrative reorganization of Servius Tullius, traditionally sixth and penultimate king of Rome. His name suggests a sixth-century date for the reforms in question, though some scholars think that the so-called Servian organization was introduced later than this.

The “Servian” infantry was divided into five property classes, the wealthiest of which was armed with swords and spears and protected by helmets, round shields, greaves and breastplates. All protective armour was of bronze. In the second class, no breastplate was worn, but a long shield was substituted for the round buckler. The third class was as the second, but wore no greaves. The fourth class was equipped only with spears and javelins; the fifth was composed of slingers. There is no reference to archers. The poorest citizens were not expected to serve except in times of emergency, when they were equipped by the state. However, they normally supplied artisans to maintain siege engines and perform similar duties.

The army was also divided into centuries (i.e., “hundreds”), as the citizens were for voting purposes. However, a century soon came to contain 60, not 100 men. The first property class comprised 80 centuries; the second, third and fourth class had 20 centuries apiece; the fifth class had 30. A distinction was made between junior and senior centuries, the former containing young men for front-line action, the latter older men, more suitable for garrison duty. A single property class was equally divided between the two age groups.

The cavalry was recruited from the wealthiest families to form 18 centuries. A cavalry century received a grant for the purchase of its horses and one-fifth of this amount yearly for their upkeep. The yearly grant was apparently provided by a levy on spinsters! In general, the financial burden of warfare was shifted from the poor on to the rich. For this imposition, the rich were compensated by what amounted to a monopoly of the political suffrage. Inevitably, it was felt in time that they were overcompensated, but that is a matter which must not detain us here.

During the early epochs of Roman history, as archaeological evidence indicates, Greek hoplite armour was widely imitated throughout the Mediterranean area. Italy was no exception to this rule and, as Livy’s description suggests, Rome was no exception in Italy. Greek weapons called for Greek skill in their use, and this in turn assumed Greek tactical methods. The Romans were in contact with Greek practice, both through their Etruscan northern neighbours, who as a maritime people were more susceptible to overseas influences, and through direct contact with Greek cities in Italy, notably Cumae. The Roman army, as recruited on the Servian basis, must have fought as a hoplite phalanx, in a compact mass, several ranks deep, using their weight behind their shields as well as their long thrusting spears. The light troops afforded by the fourth and fifth infantry classes will have provided a skirmishing arm, and the cavalry held the wings on either side of the phalanx. There were also two centuries of artificers (fabri) attached to the centuries of the first class, and two of musicians (made up of hornblowers and trumpeters).

■ The Military Reforms of Camillus

The next great landmark in Roman military organization is associated with the achievements of Camillus. Camillus, credited with having saved Rome from the Gauls and remembered as a “second founder” of Rome, was a revered national hero. His name became a legend, and legends accumulated round it. At the same time, he was unquestionably a historical character. We need not believe that his timely return to Rome during the Gallic occupation deprived the Gauls of their indemnity money, which was at that very moment being weighed out in gold. But his capture of the Etruscan city of Veii is historical, and he may here have made use of mining operations such as Livy describes. Similarly, the military changes attributed to him may in part, if not entirety, be due to his initiative.

Soon after the withdrawal of the Gauls from Rome, the tactical formation adopted by the Roman army underwent a radical change. In the Servian army, the smallest unit had been the century. It was an administrative rather than a tactical unit, based on political and economic rather than military considerations. The largest unit was the legion of about 4,000 infantrymen. There were 60 centuries in a legion and, from the time of Camillus, these centuries were combined in couples, each couple being known as a maniple (manipulus). The maniple was a tactical unit. Under the new system, the Roman army was drawn up for battle in three lines, one behind the other. The maniples of each line were stationed at intervals. If the front line was forced to retreat, or if its maniples were threatened with encirclement, they could fall back into the intervals in the line immediately to their rear. In the same way, the rear lines could easily advance, when necessary, to support those in front. The positions of the middle-line maniples corresponded to intervals in the front and rear lines, thus producing a series of quincunx formations. The two constituent centuries of a maniple were each commanded by a centurion, known respectively as the forward (prior) and rear (posterior) centurion. These titles may have been dictated by later tactical developments, or they may simply have marked a difference of rank between the two officers.

The three battle lines of Camillus’ army were termed, in order from front to rear, hastati, principes and triarii. Hastati meant “spearmen”; principes, “leaders”; and triarii, the only term which was consistent with known practice, meant simply “third-liners”. In historical accounts, the hastati were not armed with spears and the principes were not the leading rank, since the hastati were in front of them. The names obviously reflect the usage of an earlier date. In the fourth century BC the two front ranks carried heavy javelins, which they discharged at the enemy on joining battle. After this, fighting was carried on with swords. The triarii alone retained the old thrusting spear (hasta). The heavy javelin of the hastati and principes was the pilum. It comprised a wooden shaft, about 4.5 feet (1.4m) long, and a lancelike, iron head of about the same length as the shaft; which fitted into the wood so far as to give an overall length of something less than 7 feet (2.1m). The Romans may have copied the pilum from their Etruscan or Samnite enemies; or they may have developed it from a more primitive weapon of their own. The sword used was the gladius, a short cut-and-thrust type, probably forged on Spanish models. A large oval shield (scutum), about 4 feet (1.2m) long, was in general use in the maniple formation. It was made of hide on a wooden base, with iron rim and boss.

It has been suggested that the new tactical formation was closely connected with the introduction of the new weapons. The fact that the front rank was called hastati seems to indicate that the hasta, or thrusting spear, was not abandoned until after the new formation had been adopted. Indeed, cause and effect may have stood in circular relationship. The open formation could have favoured new weapons which, once widely adopted, forbade the use of any other formation. At all events, there must have been more elbow room for aiming a javelin.

Apart from these considerations, open-order fighting was characteristic of Greek fourth-century warfare. Xenophon’s men had opened ranks to let the enemy’s scythe-wheel chariots pass harmlessly through. Agesilaus used similar tactics at Coronea. Camillus was aware of the Greek world – and the Greek world was aware of him. He dedicated a golden bowl to Apollo at Delphi and Greek fourth-century writers refer to him. It is at least possible that the new Roman tactical formation was based on Greek precedents, as the old one had been.

■ Officers and Other Ranks

The epoch of Camillus also saw the first regular payments for military service. The amount of pay, at the time of its introduction, is not recorded. To judge from the enthusiasm to which it gave rise and to the difficulty experienced in levying taxes to provide for it, the sum was substantial. It was a first step towards removing the differences among property classes and standardizing the equipment of the legionary soldier. For tactical purposes, of course, some differences were bound to exist: for instance, in the lighter equipment of the velites. But the removal of the property classes produced an essential change in the Roman army, such as the Greek citizen army had never known. The Athenian hoplites had always remained a social class, and hoplite warfare was their distinctive function. The Spartan hoplites had been an élite of peers, every one of them, as Thucydides remarks, in effect an officer.

At Rome, however, the centuries of which the legions were composed were conspicuously and efficiently led by centurions, men who commanded as a result of their proven merit. The Roman army, in fact, developed a system of leadership such as is familiar today – a system of officers and other ranks. Centurions were comparable to warrant officers, promoted for their performance on the field and in the camp. The military tribunes, like their commanding officers, the consuls and praetors, were at any rate originally appointed to carry out the policies of the Roman state, and they were usually drawn from the upper, politically influential classes.

Six military tribunes were chosen for each legion, and the choice was at first always made by a consul or praetor, who in normal times would have commanded two out of the four legions levied; as colleagues, the consuls shared the army between them. Later, the appointment of 24 military tribunes for the levy of four legions was made not by the consuls but by an assembly of the people. If, however, additional legions were levied, then the tribunes appointed to them were consular nominations. Tribunes appointed by the people held office for one year. Those nominated by a military commander retained their appointment for as long as he did.

Military tribunes were at first senior officers and were required to have several years of military experience prior to appointment. In practice, however, they were often young men, whose very age often precluded them from having had such experience. They were appointed because they came from rich and influential families and they thus had much in common with the subalterns of fashionable regiments in latter-day armies. Originally, an important part of the military tribune’s duties had been in connection with the levy of troops. In normal times, a levy was held once a year. Recruits were required to assemble by tribes (a local as distinct from a class division). The distribution of recruits among the four legions was based on the selection made by the tribunes.

“Praetor” was the title originally conferred on each of the two magistrates who shared supreme authority after the period of the kings. The military functions of the praetor are well attested, and the headquarters in a Roman camp continued to be termed the “praetorium”. In comparatively early times, the title of “consul” replaced that of “praetor”, but partly as a result of political manoeuvre, the office of praetor was later revived to supplement consular power. The authority of a praetor was not equal to that of a consul, but he might still command an army in the field.

The command was not always happily shared between two consuls. In times of emergency – and Rome’s early history consisted largely of emergencies – a single dictator with supreme power was appointed for a maximum term of six months, the length of a campaigning season. The dictator chose his own deputy, who was then known as the Master of the Horse (magister equitum).

The allies, who were called upon to aid Rome in case of war, were commanded by prefects (praefecti), who were Roman officers. The 300 cavalry attached to each legion were, in the third century BC at any rate, divided into ten squadrons (turmae), and subdivided into decuriae, each of which was commanded by a decurio, whose authority corresponded to that of a centurion in the infantry.

The Military of Rome II

■ The Legions against the Phalanx

Rome had clashed with Philip V of Macedon when he cautiously allied himself with Carthage. Roman military commitments had then led to a compromise peace, but war was renewed two years after Zama. The Romans did not wish for a bad neighbour on the other side of the Adriatic, let alone one who often emerged as the ally and patron of pirates. Pretexts for intervention in Greek and Macedonian affairs were not far to seek. Since 273 BC, Rome had been on friendly terms with the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. Ptolemaic succession difficulties had now arisen, and with avid opportunism Philip had allied himself to Antiochus III, who ruled Syria – the rump of the Seleucid empire – in an attempt to seize the Ptolemies’ overseas possessions. As usual, in a struggle between the successor powers, would-be neutrals were reluctantly involved, and Rhodes and Pergamum, a Greek Asiatic kingdom of culture which had recently stemmed Celtic inroads and defied the Seleucids, appealed to Rome.

The Roman commander who eventually took charge in Greece was Titus Quinctius Flaminius, an ardent philhellene. He finally defeated Philip at the battle of Cynoscephalae in Thessaly (197 BC). Cynoscephalae in Greek means “dog’s heads”, the shape of local hillocks suggesting the name. The uneven ground seriously hindered the Macedonian phalanx, but heavy mist early in the day also hampered Roman mobile tactics. On both sides, the right wing was victorious, but the scales were tipped in Rome’s favour by a tribune whom history has not named. On his own initiative, he diverted 20 maniples from a point where victory was already assured, to surprise the enemy phalanx in the rear. Flaminius, thus victorius, was welcomed as liberator of Greece. Subsequently, however, in 183 BC, he appeared in a less generous light, attempting to extradite the aged Hannibal, who as a harmless exile now lived in the Asiatic kingdom of Bithynia. Hannibal took poison. Even Roman senators did not approve Flaminius’ action, condemning it as officious and harsh.

Rome’s terms with Philip were not unduly severe, but war already loomed with Antiochus, his eastern ally. The logic of Roman military expansion is clear enough. For the sake of security and trade, Rome wanted peace in the eastern Mediterranean, but since she could not countenance any power strong enough to act as peacemaker, she had to exert her own strength in this capacity. Antiochus neglected rather than suspected Roman power and he had, perhaps tactlessly, employed the exiled Hannibal in a military capacity. In the war which followed, Antiochus’ fleets were unable to resist the Roman grappling and boarding tactics which had destroyed Carthaginian naval supremacy. On land, he was defeated first at Thermopylae (191 BC), then at Magnesia near Sipylus (190 BC), in Lydia. This last battle proved decisive. The Roman legions, as at Zama, had the advantage of good allied cavalry support, provided here by Eumenes, king of Pergamum. In their desire to tempt Antiochus from his defensive position, the Romans exposed their right wing, but Eumenes’ attack anticipated and threw into confusion the outflanking movements by Antiochus’ heavily armoured cavalry. The Roman left wing was thrown back by a charge of Oriental horsemen under Antiochus’ personal leadership, but the victors in this section of the field continued their pursuit too long and left the central phalanx unsupported. The phalanx, stationed in dense formations, at intervals, with elephants filling the gaps, was broken when the Romans successfully stampeded the elephants and breached the line.

The peace terms which followed Magnesia reduced Antiochus to impotence as far as the Mediterranean was concerned. But Rome fought a third Macedonian war with Perseus, son of Philip V. The decisive battle which finally established Rome as arbiter of the eastern Mediterranean world came at Pydna in Macedonia (168 BC). The pikemen of the Macedonian phalanx were again at a disadvantage on broken ground and the Roman legionary swordsmen were able to exploit gaps in their ranks. Roman tactical flexibility was, on this occasion, well turned to account by the generalship of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, son of the consul killed at Cannae.

Rome’s victories in these eastern wars cannot be understood unless it is realized that the ponderous Macedonian phalanx of the second century BC differed completely from the original flexible and mobile phalanx of Philip II and Alexander the Great. With the growing tendency towards heavier weapons and armour, it in effect reverted in character to the rigid Greek phalanx of the fifth century BC. At Cynoscephalae, the phalanx, attacked by Flaminius’ tribune in the rear, had been unable to wheel about even to protect itself. This helplessness compares significantly with the alacrity of Alexander’s phalangists at Gaugamela, who faced sharply about to rescue their baggage train from a Persian breakthrough.

Ever since the days of Camillus, when the maniple formation had been introduced, the Romans, unlike the Macedonians, had developed consistently in the direction of flexibility. To this development, the genius of Scipio Africanus had given great impetus, and the commanders who fought Rome’s eastern wars in the second century BC had thoroughly absorbed his tactical principles.

■ Weapons and Tactics

The confrontation between the legion and the phalanx raises questions as to the comparative effectiveness of sword and pike. The pike, of course, had the longer reach, but the sword was a more manageable and less cumbersome weapon, giving greater opportunity for skill in its use.

At Pydna, the Italian allies serving under Aemilius Paullus hurled themselves with reckless heroism at the enemy pikes, trying to beat them down or hew off their points. But they sacrificed themselves in vain; the pike points pierced their shields and armour, causing terrible carnage. The phalanx was eventually shattered as the result of cool tactical judgment. Paullus divided his force into small units with orders to look for gaps in the pike line and then exploit them. The gaps appeared as a result of the rough ground which prevented the phalangists from moving with uniformity and keeping abreast. Forced at last by the infiltrating legionaries to abandon their pikes and fight at close quarters, the Macedonians soon discovered that their small swords and shields were no match for the corresponding Roman arms.

The Macedonian dynasts who relied upon the phalanx were perfectly aware of the dangers to which it was exposed and their awareness explains the hesitation to join battle that marked their encounters with the Romans. The phalanx was considered secure while it remained stationary. The Romans consequently tried to tempt it into action but, even so, had to beware lest in provoking an attack they rendered themselves too vulnerable.

Gaps, of course, might be opened in the enemy lines by the pilum. Something could be expected from the volley of weighted javelins with which the legions normally commenced a battle. But against this, the phalangists were heavily armoured: Perseus’ phalanx at Pydna drew its title of “Bronze Shields” from the round bucklers which his men wore slung round their necks and drew in front of them as fighting started. But wooded or uneven country was the legionary’s best chance against armies of the Macedonian type. The Romans had learnt their lesson as early as the battle of Asculum against Pyrrhus, where they had been able to withdraw nimbly before the intact line of the phalanx, only to rush in where ground obstacles created ready-made breaches in the pike formation.

A similar confrontation of sword and spear is to be found in Italy in 225 BC, when, in the period between the First and Second Punic Wars, Rome fought with invading Gauls at Telamon in Etruria. On this occasion the Romans were the spearmen and the Gauls the swordsmen. The Roman general, in fact, placed some of his triarii in the front line in order that their spears might blunt the Gallic swords: the Gauls, like the Italian soldiery at Pydna, tried to parry or hack away the spear heads. Gallic swords were sometimes made of very soft iron. In fact, Polybius tells us that the Gallic sword was so soft that after striking a blow the swordsman was obliged to straighten the bent iron against his foot. Incidentally, Plutarch tells the same story of poorly tempered Gallic swords in his Life of Camillus. The Gauls seem to have relied on carrying all before them at the first onset; this is understandable if their swords were rendered so quickly unserviceable. Perhaps the defect was localized in certain tribes where ironworking had not advanced beyond a primitive stage or where facilities for obtaining good weapons did not exist. At Cannae, although the Spaniards in Hannibal’s army fought with their short thrusting swords, the Gauls preferred their normal, unpointed, slashing weapons. However, there is no mention here of soft iron and the Gauls, so far from despairing when immediate victory eluded them, doggedly retreated in the face of Roman pressure, until Hannibal’s tactical plans matured. In any case, one feels that Hannibal’s astute generalship would not have permitted the use of soft iron weapons among his troops.

Polybius gives a graphic account of the Gallic invaders of 225 BC. Although the rear ranks wore cloaks and trousers, the huge men of the front line, with traditional bravado, fought stark naked save for their gold collars and armlets.

The sight was formidable, but the prospect of acquiring the gold stimulated Roman efforts to kill the wearer. The shields of these reckless fighters were not large enough to protect them; the bigger the warrior, the more exposed he was to the Roman pilum. The Roman legionary regularly carried two pila, one more slender than the other, perhaps for convenient reservation in the shield hand. The long, barbed, iron head was riveted so securely to the shaft that it would break rather than become detached from the wood. However, this very solidity was later felt to be a mixed blessing, for a spent missile, intact, could be recovered and used by the enemy. Technical measures were taken to neutralize the danger.

■ Sackers of Cities

Advantages cease to be advantages when one becomes too dependent on them. Rome’s dependence upon overseas power and wealth led to neglect of the old self-sufficient Italian economy. Roman overseas wars assumed the aspect of predatory exploits rather than peace-keeping missions; the struggles of the later second century BC characteristically terminated in the pitiless sack of cities rather than decisive battles followed by peace terms. When the Achaean League and its ally Corinth revolted against the Roman settlement of Greece, the Corinthians treated Roman senatorial ambassadors with disrespectful violence. After the short war which followed, the Roman consul Lucius Mummius razed Corinth and enslaved its inhabitants. Mummius was hardly a philhellene. For Greek art treasures, he displayed the enthusiasm of a collector rather than a connoisseur.

The same year (146 BC) had seen the destruction of Carthage, bringing the Third and last Punic War to its bitter end. The Carthaginians had recalled from exile an able general – another Hasdrubal – who organized their very solid defences. Against the 45-foot (13.7m) city walls, the Romans made slow progress. The Roman besieging army itself, at one time in grave danger, was saved only by the energy and resource of Scipio Aemilianus, son of Aemilius Paullus, victor of Pydna, and grandson by adoption of the Scipio Africanus who had defeated Hannibal.

When the Carthaginians were successful in running the Roman blockade by sea, Scipio built a mole across the gulf into which their harbour issued, thus cutting them off. The Carthaginians dug a canal from their inner (naval) harbour basin to the coast and put to sea with a full fleet, but the Romans defeated them in a naval engagement. The walls of Carthage were finally breached, Hasdrubal surrendered and was reserved for the day when Scipio triumphed as a victorious general in Rome, but his wife and children preferred to perish in the flames which enveloped the Carthaginians citadel and temples.

Another appalling siege was that of Numantia in 133 BC. For Rome, the capture of Numantia marked the successful culmination of a savage and often shameful war in which, after the elimination of Carthage, the Romans aimed to impose their rule on the native peoples of the Spanish peninsula. The siege operations at Numantia were, like those at Carthage, conducted by Scipio Aemilianus.

Scipio was something of an expert in sieges. Appian says that he was the first general to enclose with a wall an enemy who was prepared to give battle in the open field. It might have been expected that such an enemy would prove impossible to contain. But Scipio’s measures were very thorough.

Numantia was beset with seven forts and surrounded by a ditch and palisade. The perimeter of the circumvallations was twice as long as that of the city. At the first sign of a sally by the defenders, the threatened Roman sector had orders to hoist a red flag by day or raise a fire signal by night, so that reinforcements could immediately be rushed to the danger spot. Another ditch was built behind the first, also with palisades, after which a wall 8 feet (2.4m) high and 10 feet (3m) wide (not including parapets) was constructed. Towers were sited at 100-foot (30.5m) intervals along the wall, and where the wall could not be carried round the adjacent marshland its place was taken by an earthwork of the same height, thicker than the wall.

The river Durius (Duoro), on which Numantia stood, enabled the defenders to be supplied by means of small boats, swimmers and divers. Scipio therefore placed a tower on either side of the river, to which he moored a boom of floating timbers. The timbers bristled with inset knives and spearheads and were kept in constant motion by the strength of the current. They acted as a barrage, effectively isolating the city from any help which might reach it along the river.

Catapults and all kinds of siege engines were now mounted on Scipio’s towers and missiles were accumulated along the parapets, the forts being occupied by archers and slingers. Messengers were stationed at frequent intervals along the entire wall in order that headquarters might be informed immediately of any enemy action, whether by day or night. Each tower was furnished with emergency signals and each was ready to send immediate help to another in case of need.

Thus invested for eight months, the Numantines starved. They took to cannibalism, and at last 4,000 surviving citizens, now mere filthy and ragged skeletons, surrendered unconditionally.

■ Roman Camps

Excavations at Numantia have brought to light 13 Roman camps in the vicinity. Seven of these have been identified as Scipio’s. Others were those of his less successful predecessors in Spain. The Numantine excavations of Schulten testify in general to the accuracy of Polybius’ description of Roman camps, though some notable differences in internal arrangements and dimensions must be recognized.

A camp containing two legions with an equivalent strength of Italian allied contingents, commanded by a consular general, was normally built in the form of a square. A main road (via principalis), 100 feet (30.5m) wide, separated the headquarters of the general, with those of his paymaster (quaestor)3, staff of officers and headquarters troops, from those of the legionaries and attached cavalry. The via principalis issued on either side through gates in the camp wall. The headquarter section of the camp covered one-third of its total area. The remaining two-thirds was itself bisected by another road (via quintana), 50 feet (15.2m) wide, parallel to the main road. The word quintana indicated that it was adjacent to the tents of the fifth maniple and its attached cavalry. Both these roads were bisected at right angles by a third road, which ran to the general’s headquarters from a gate in the farthest wall. The headquarters (praetorium) was connected by a short road, on the other side, to a gate in the nearer wall.

Between the camp ramparts and the tents inside, a margin (intervallum) of 200 feet (6lm) was left vacant. This placed the tents out of reach of enemy missiles – especially fire darts. In exceptional cases, also, the camp could accommodate extra troops, and there was room to stow booty. Before the battle of the Metaurus, Claudius Nero had managed to smuggle his own legions into the camp of his colleague Livius without the enemy being aware of it. Hasdrubal only knew that he faced two consular armies instead of one when he heard the same trumpet call sounded twice in the same camp.

A Roman army never halted for a night without digging itself a camp. The perimeter was formed by a ditch, normally about 3 feet (.91m) and 4 feet (1.22m) wide. The excavated earth was flung inside to form a rampart, which was surmounted by a breastwork of sharpened stakes. For the purpose of constructing such a camp, each soldier on the march carried a spade, other tools and sharp stakes to set in the rampart.

In wartime, a Roman army encamped at a chosen spot for the winter. In this case, the camp comprised a more solid structure. The tents made of skin were replaced by huts thatched with straw. Each tent or hut held eight men, who messed together. Polybius’ account suggests that the huts or tents were laid out in long lines with streets between them, but the evidence of Numantia excavations points to the grouping of maniples round a square.

■ The Military Achievement of Marius

In the days when Marius had first served in North Africa, the nobiles were once more in precarious control of Roman politics. They were at least sufficiently in control to mismanage foreign wars. When Marius, a member of the equestrian class, declared his intention of standing for the consulate, his aristocratic commanding officer insulted him. However, Marius possessed ability, energy, wealth, influential family connections and a flair for intrigue. He became consul in 107 BC and superseded the general who had slighted him. However, no amount of intrigue could have raised Marius to the eminence for which he was destined if events had not conspired to demonstrate his very real military ability, both in the Jugurthine War and the campaigns against the barbarians.

A land-hungry Germanic tribe, the Cimbri, had left their homes in Jutland and together with other tribes, including the Teutones, whose name is remembered above all in this connection, had migrated southwards, carrying with them their entire families and moveable possessions. The Romans were alarmed and a consular army met the migrants in Noricum, a Celto-Illyrian area north-east of the Alps. In the ensuing battle the Romans were badly defeated. The Cimbri and their allies must have found that the Alps presented a more formidable barrier than the Rhône and they fortunately avoided Italy, moving westward into Gaul (Southern France), an area which was by now under Roman control. Several Roman armies attempted to eliminate the barbarian menace, but they met with a series of humiliating defeats culminating in a major disaster at Arausio (Orange) in 105 BC, which much disturbed Rome.

The campaigns against the migrants could be regarded as offensive wars. The German tribes were fighting in defence of the families they had with them, and the Romans had rigidly, though not unwisely, refused to negotiate or concede any right of settlement to the barbarians. After Arausio, however, the way to Italy lay open to the Germanic invaders and Rome was unquestionably on the defensive. A full state of emergency existed and in these circumstances Marius, who had recently emerged as conqueror of Jugurtha, was elected consul for the second and successive year (105 BC). Legally, ten years should have elapsed before his second election. Constitutional precedent required that the consul should be sponsored by the Senate. But the Popular Assembly, as the legislative body of the Republic, was free to do as it chose. In any case, the Romans rarely insisted on constitutional niceties where they conflicted with military expediency.

Marius gloriously justified his appointment. Fortunately, the Germans had not immediately attempted the invasion of Italy but moved westwards towards Spain. This gave Marius time to train his troops for the coming conflict. Much of his success may be attributed to good military discipline and administration. He was appointed consul for the third time before he came to grips with the enemy. He even had leisure to improve his supply lines by setting his men to dig a new channel at the mouth of the Rhône.

The Teutones and the Ambrones (another allied German tribe) parted company from the Cimbri and the Tigurini (a Celtic people who had joined them). While the former confronted Marius on the Rhône, the latter made for Italy by a circuitous march over the Alps. Marius restrained his men in their camp to allow them to become accustomed to the sight of the barbarians who surrounded them, calculating that familiarity would breed contempt. When the Teutones marched on towards Italy, bypassing his camp, he led his own men out and overtook the enemy near Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence). Here, he fought a battle on favourable ground and, making use of a cavalry ambush posted in the hills, completely annihilated the Teutones. Their allies, the Ambrones had already been slaughtered in great numbers in a fight at a watering place two days earlier.

Marius’ consular colleague in North Italy fared by no means so happily and was forced to withdraw before the invading Cimbri into the Po valley, leaving them to occupy a large part of the country. In 101 BC, Marius’ legions were brought to reinforce the north Italian army, Marius being now in his fifth consulate. A battle was fought at Vercellae (perhaps near Rivigo). The barbarians’ tactics were not utterly devoid of sophistication and had some success. Nor were the Germans ill-armed. Their cavalry wore lofty plumes on helmets grotesquely shaped like animal heads. Their breastplates were of iron and they carried flashing white shields, two javelins each and heavy swords for hand-to-hand fighting. The summer heat may have been in favour of the Romans, who were accustomed to the Mediterranean climate. Fighting was confused on account of a heavy dust storm. The Roman victory may be ascribed to superior training and discipline. Sulla, on whose account Plutarch relies, suggested that Marius’ tactics were mainly designed to secure glory for himself at the expense of his consular colleague. Sulla himself fought in the battle, but one would not expect his evidence to be unbiased. In any case, the entire Germanic horde was destroyed and Rome was spared a catastrophe that might have proved conclusive to its political existence. For unlike the victors of the Allia, three centuries earlier, the Cimbri were in search of land, not gold. The greatest threat presented by the northern barbarians lay in their numbers, estimated at a total of 300,000; some ancient historians thought that this was an underestimate. The Romans at Vercellae were a little more than 50,000 strong. At the same time, the barbarians’ great trek southward from Jutland, let alone their subsequent victories over Roman armies, cannot have been achieved without leadership. It is surprising that the names of the Germanic leaders are not at least as celebrated as that of Brennus.

■ Recruitments

The wars against the Cimbri and the Teutones are poorly documented. Marius emerges as both strategist and tactician, a leader possessing formidable discipline and great physical courage. Yet the secret of his success may well have lain in his ability as a military administrator and the intelligence of his military reforms.

One has only to consider his methods of recruitment. Constitutionally, these were outrageous and exposed him to the ever-increasing hostility of the Senate. But from a social and strategic point of view, they were precisely what Rome needed. Since the time of the Servian reforms, the poorest section of the population (proletarii) had not qualified for enrolment in the legions, except in times of grave national emergency. The name proletarii in fact signifies those who contributed only their children (proles) to the community – not their taxes or their military service. Plutarch suggests that only propertied classes were required in the army, since their possessions were some sort of a security for their good behaviour. In any case, it must have been felt that they had a greater stake in the society they defended.

At the time when Marius had been appointed by ‘the People’ to his first term as consul, Roman citizens were undergoing a process of proletarianization. The land, from which the farmer was being forced by low overseas corn prices, was brought up by wealthy absentee landlords, who were able to run their estates with the help of cheap labour, supplied by a multitude of enslaved war captives. Meanwhile, the small farmer moved into the city, where he could at least take advantage of the cheap and subsidized corn which often proved to be the price of his political support.

The Senate had ruled that extra levies should be raised for the Jugurthine War. Marius, finding the measure inadequate, and always ready to provoke the Senate, recruited not only volunteers and time-expired veterans – which it was open to him to do – but also offered enlistment to members of the proletariat who wished to go soldiering. Whereas previously the field for recruitment had been progressively narrowing as property requirements became harder to satisfy, Marius raised a strong army and at the same time produced one remedy for the problem of unemployment.

As long as he enjoyed the support of the People’s Assembly and its tribunes, the Senate could not check Marius’ recruiting activities. His methods, however, had an ominous aspect. Roman soldiers, though now members of a fully professional army, owed personal loyalty to the general who enrolled and employed them. This loyalty was enhanced by traditional Roman concepts of the semi-sacred relationship which existed between a protector (patronus) and his protégé (cliens): a relationship which in some contexts acquired legal definition. Marius became a patron to his veteran soldiers, securing for them, through his political associates, a grant of farmland on retirement. The day of private armies, when soldiers owed prime allegiance to their generals rather than to the state, was not far off.

■ Army Reorganization

At the battle of Aquae Sextiae, Marius gave the order to his men, through the usual chain of command, that they should hurl their javelins as soon as the enemy came within range, then use their swords and shields to thrust the attackers backwards, down the treacherous slope. The instructions to discharge javelins and then join battle with swords and shields is such as we might expect to be given to an army which had adopted the pilum and the gladius, but the offensive use of shields and the application of pushing tactics sounds like a reversion to the old fifth- and fourth-century phalanx as it had been used both in Greece and Italy. The probability is that the traditional manipular formation with its three-line quincunx deployment had generally been superseded. In the course of the preceding century, Rome had come into conflict with a wide assortment of enemies, variously equipped and accustomed, and the Romans were nothing if not adaptable. They were ready to improve and to adopt such tactics as suited the terrain and were most likely to prove effective against the type of enemy with whom they had to deal in any particular battle. There were no longer any routine tactics. The maniple which had been the unit of the old three-line battle front was in the first place a tactical unit (see here). Once it had ceased to be tactically effective, there was no reason for its retention. Marius recognized this fact and reorganized his army accordingly.

For purposes of administration a larger unit than the maniple was convenient; and in this, subdivisions were necessary. The legion was consequently divided into ten cohorts, and every cohort contained six centuries, each commanded by a centurion, whose titles, ranging from that of the exalted primus pilus to hastatus posterior, reflected differences of position on the battlefield, rank and seniority. Before Marius’ time, the cohort, notably as used by Scipio in Spain (134 BC), was often a purely tactical formation, employed to cope with special circumstances. On the other hand, it had originated as an administrative infantry unit among the Italian allies. Cohorts had been mobilized originally as 500 and 1,000 strong respectively. Each had been under the command of a praefectus. As a legionary unit, the cohort was 500–600 strong. Its division into six centuries meant that these were each somewhat under 100 strong, larger than the old manipular centuries, which had sometimes contained as few as 60 men.

Marius abolished the velites, the skirmishers of the ancient Camillan army; and with them, their characteristic arms of light spear and small buckler (parma) disappeared. The pilum was now used by all legionaries, and Marius introduced a change in its manufacture. In place of one of the iron rivets which had secured the head to the shaft, he had a wooden peg inserted. When the javelin impaled an enemy shield, the peg broke on impact and the shaft sagged and trailed on the ground, though still attached to the head by the remaining iron rivet. Not only was the javelin thus rendered unserviceable to enemy hands, but it encumbered the warrior whose shield it had transfixed. According to Plutarch, this novelty was introduced in preparation for the battle with the Cimbri at the battle of Vercellae. At the later date, in Julius Caesar’s army, as a further refinement, the long shank of the pilum was made of soft iron, so that it bent even while it penetrated.

Marius was at pains to be sure that every soldier in his army should be fit and self-reliant. He accustomed his men to long route marches and to frequent moves at the double. In addition to their arms and trenching tools, he insisted on their carrying their own cooking utensils and required that every man should be able to prepare his own meals. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote in the first century AD, describes the legionary as carrying a saw, a basket, a bucket, a hatchet, a leather strap, a sickle, a chain and rations for three days, as well as other equipment. If this was a legacy for Marius’ reforms, it is easy to understand why the men who patiently supported such burdens were nicknamed “Marius’ mules”. Campaigning in enemy country or where there was a danger of sudden attack, the Romans marched lightly equipped and ready for action at short notice, while the soldiers’ packs (sarcinae) were carried with the baggage train. Marius is also said to have introduced a quick-release system for the pack.

The Military of Rome III

■ Military Standards and Banners

Another of Marius’ innovations was the introduction of a single silver eagle (aquila), mounted on a staff, as a legionary standard. It is difficult to know just what significance should be attached to this change, because we have no clear information about the military standards which were previously in use. The eagle was a bird sacred to Jupiter. According to one source, there had previously been five legionary standards. Apart from the eagle, these exhibited the forms of wolves, bears, minotaurs and horses, and they were carried severally before the several ranks of the army in battle. But from Marius’ time, they were relegated to subordinate and ceremonial usages.

The legionary eagles were later made of gold and they were embellished with wreaths and other ornaments. In peacetime, they were kept in the state treasury (aerarium) at Rome, the old temple of Saturn. In wartime, they were carried with the legion and had a little sanctuary allotted to them in the camp. They were objects of quasi-religious veneration.

This quasi-religious function of the standards was in conflict with their practical purpose. In so far as the standard was a sacred object symbolizing the corporate existence of a military unit, it qualified for the care and protection of the soldiers whom it represented and could not properly be exposed to danger of capture by the enemy in battle. Its loss was, in fact, regarded as a great disgrace. The standard therefore had to be placed behind the front line and surrounded by troops who would defend it.

Schoolboys are – or used to be – familiar with Caesar’s anecdote of the standard-bearer who leapt down from his ship as it beached on the Kentish coast, with an exhortation to the hesitant legionaries to follow him if they did not intend the betrayal of their eagle into enemy hands. An earlier example of the same attitude occurs in Plutarch’s account of the battle of Pydna. On this occasion, a captain of one of the Italian contingents seized his unit’s ensign and flung it into the enemy phalanx. Thus blackmailed by the threat of dishonour, his men redoubled their efforts to break the phalanx. For, as Plutarch observes, the Italians in particular regarded it as ignominious to desert their standards.

If, however, the standard was a sacred object which required protection, it could not discharge its practical function – which was to serve as a rallying point. As such, its place was in the forefront of the battle. The legionaries could not be expected to look over their shoulders to discover where they should take their stand. The very name of the standards in Latin, signa, suggests that they were in fact signals, and as tactics became increasingly mobile and less uniform, the need for them increased. Incidentally, the Greeks of the fifth century BC had made no corresponding use of military standards in their compact phalanx battles.

A study of ancient references to the position of the standards on the battlefield suggests that they may have been located immediately behind the front line. They were thus protected, and yet at the same time sufficiently far advanced to serve as marking signals for the greater part of the army. On the other hand, the whole point of Marius’ innovation may have been to confer a single standard on the legion, which would serve its emotional needs, at the same time leaving the standards of the smaller units free to be used, without sentimental inhibitions, for practical purposes. By contrast with legionary standards, the old signalling staves of the maniples had embodied no sacred animals. They had exhibited the open palm of a hand on a raised spear, but were later decorated with garlands and other emblems. When maniples were absorbed into cohorts, the cohort took the leading maniple’s standard.

Similarly, the cavalry standards (vexilla), consisting of flags suspended from a kind of yard-arm and identifying units, would lose their more emotional significance with the adoption of the uniform legionary emblem. By Marius’ time, the Italian cavalry had largely been superseded by overseas cavalry forces (auxilia), who perhaps did not share the Italian veneration for standards and banners. The eagle remained a permanent symbol throughout later centuries of military development. But other forms of standard were also imitated from the usage of outlying peoples on Rome’s frontiers. An interesting example is the draco, which was a windsock of coloured silk, with the silver head and gaping jaws of a dragon.

The Italian captain distinguished by his gesture at Pydna had been a Pelignian. Marius came from Arpinum, a town which had enjoyed full Roman citizen rights since the beginning of the second century BC. Arpinum was not far from the territory of the Peligni, and Marius was perhaps acutely conscious of the importance of military standards and banners in terms of local sentiment. As an eminently practical commander, he must also have been aware of the difficulties which such sentiments created. It is possible to regard the silver eagle as his solution.

■ The Frontiers of Empire

The Roman navy, at such times as it could be said to exist at all, was always the junior service. However, Augustus was at pains to maintain it, for he needed to preserve lines of communication between Italy and the provinces. Of no small account were the naval forces whose allegiances had been transferred to him after the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, and he was able to establish fleets in the eastern and western Mediterranean and in the Black Sea. Other naval squadrons operated on the Danube, the Rhine and in the English Channel.

Campaigns in Illyricum, under Augustus’ destined successor, Tiberius, had safeguarded the route to the east by the Via Egnatia and Thessalonica, and the freedom of the Adriatic from pirates was further assured by the construction of the naval base at Ravenna. The Mediterranean in general was well policed under Augustus, and his was the last Roman administration to take effective measures against piracy.

Preoccupation with sea routes was the logical accompaniment of provincial road-building which proceeded under the Empire. Italy in the time of the Republic had acquired a good road system. Apart from that, the Via Egnatia, referred to above, and the Via Domitia, which led from the Rhône to the Pyrenees, were also Republican achievements. In Augustus’ time, new Alpine roads were made and communications facilitated with the Danube. The characteristically straight Roman roads, adhering where possible to high ground, were planned to satisfy military requirements. But at the same time, of course, they opened the way to trade and assisted official contacts.

The legions which in the first century AD extended and, later, defended the frontiers of the Empire were distinguished by names and numbers, though some of the numbers were duplicated. The names commemorated the patrons or creators of the legions, as for example the Legio Angusta, or else they referred to some event in regimental history, or marked a local connection, as in Macedonica or Gallica. Augustus’ army originally contained 28 legions. But three of these were annihilated in the great Roman military disaster of AD 9, when Augustus’ general, Publius Quinctilius Varus, was treacherously ambushed by the German chief Arminius in the Teutoburgian Forest. The numbers of these three ill-starred legions were as a consequence never allotted to Roman legions at a later date.

A Roman governor, in charge of an imperial province, ordinarily ranked as a legatos of the emperor. Legions apart auxiliary troops including cavalry contingents were an important element in the garrison of a province. Under Augustus, auxiliaries, which during the first century BC had been composed of foreign troops, once more began to recruit Roman citizens. This was in part because Roman citizenship itself had by now been conferred on many communities and individuals outside Italy. The social distinction being lost, auxiliaries tended to be integrated with legions. In permanent frontier stations auxiliary cavalry and infantry were posted at first from distant provinces. But as a matter of convenience, auxiliaries came to be recruited locally and the distinction between the legionaries and auxilia was accordingly once more obscured. However, military policy favoured independent cavalry tactics. From the reign of Trajan onwards, tribal non-Romanized units, known as numeri, were recruited; their role corresponded in some ways to that of auxilia in more ancient times.

The disaster which the Romans suffered in Germany under Varus was the result of an attempt to establish frontiers farther east, on the Elbe. Its effect was that Roman emperors were from that time onward content, as Julius Caesar had been, to rely on punitive and retaliatory action in order to assert a Roman presence on the Rhine. Augustus himself, at the end of his life, made it quite clear that his territorial ambitions were not unlimited. Defence, however, often entails offensive initiative, and he had been at great pains to secure the line of the Danube.

The most suitable location of frontiers was a question which left room for uncertainty, above all in the reign of an emperor of unbalanced mind, such as Gaius (Caligula) proved to be. His inexplicable vacillations could well have been damaging to Roman prestige, and the expansionist policies of the mild-mannered Claudius, who succeeded him, may have been necessary to ensure that enemies beyond the frontier were left with no illusions about the reality of Roman strength. Claudius, in need of a military reputation, added first Mauretania, then Britain to the Empire. Roman domination was carried farther by Trajan, who annexed Armenia and temporarily occupied much of Parthia. Rome, however, was never able to impose itself finally on the Parthians.

■ The Stabilization of Frontiers

The murder of Domitian in the year AD 96 was the outcome of domestic discord. Nevertheless, it gave great public satisfaction. Apart from his other shortcomings, the tyrant had failed to make adequate arrangements for a successor. The Senate appointed a new princeps, Marcus Cocceius Nerva, and Tacitus was pleased to see in this constitutional gesture a revival of Republican sentiment. Nerva was an old man at the time of his elevation. He was also childless, and after one year of power he appointed a loyal and able officer, Marcus Ulpius Traianus (Trajan), as his colleague and successor. The appointment was timely, for Nerva died early in the following year. Under Trajan, imperial expansion was renewed, and as one of Rome’s greatest soldier emperors, he was shrewd enough to nominate an equally great successor. The formal nomination and adoption which usually secured the imperial succession was much more satisfactory than the common hereditary process. It generally ensured that the successor would be a military commander, for with exceptions, one of which we have just recorded, none but a soldier could hope to survive. The Empire depended for defence and government upon military force. As for the principle of adoption itself, Roman reverence for legal forms lent it all the sanctity of a blood-tie. One may compare the relationship of patron and protégé (cliens), which we have already had occasion to notice.

Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus) who, as a connection by marriage, was Trajan’s ward and became emperor on his death, in many ways reversed the policies of his predecessor. But this does not prove that either he or Trajan was wrong. Times were changing. The steady westward migration of peoples in Asia and Europe meant that pressure on Rome’s frontiers was steadily mounting. Under Trajan, those frontiers had attained unprecedentedly wide dimensions. Hadrian saw the need for contraction and consolidation, and this policy was marked in vulnerable areas by the construction of fixed fortifications, signal posts and entrenchments. A line of forts linked by palisades, protected the intrusive salient of territory between the upper reaches of the Rhine and the Danube. Hadrian’s name is notably associated with the Roman frontier works across north Britain from the Tyne to the Solway. The line of forts and base camps, connected by a mural barrier, replaced an earlier linked chain of forts slightly to the south. “Hadrian’s Wall” was initiated as the result of the Emperor’s visit to Britain in AD 122; Hadrian spent a great deal of his reign in visiting outlying provinces. The Wall exemplifies the principles of Roman frontier defence as they existed in many sectors of the Empire. A chain of strong-points was connected by a well-defined communicating road (limes) along which troops could move with efficiency and speed.

Antoninus Pius (138–161), who succeeded Hadrian, presided over an epoch of comparative peace and plenty in the Mediterranean core of the Empire. But the price of social well-being was continual vigilance and preparedness on the frontiers. In Britain, Antoninus tried to advance the frontier – as he did in Germany – and built another wall in the form of a turf embankment on a cobblestone base, farther north, from the Forth to the Clyde. But the time came when this could no longer be defended, and after only 23 years it was decided to withdraw southwards once more and rely solely on Hadrian’s stone structure for the defence of Roman Britain.

The recourse to engineering skills in order to solve manpower problems had been Julius Caesar’s answer. Rome’s wars against the barbarians were a continual struggle against numerical odds, and with the help of technology the Romans strove to make good what they lacked in numbers. Twenty-eight legions had been all too few for Augustus’ original ambitions, and when he lost three of them in Varus’ disaster, he saw the need to reduce military commitments and shorten the perimeter of the imperial frontiers.

The military garrisons which manned frontier areas were (as a matter of policy on which we have already commented) not all nationally homogeneous. But they tended to form settled communities as a result of relationships with local women, and the resulting settled habits and lack of mobility in themselves constituted a disadvantage. However, legions were withdrawn from Britain at various dates during the centuries of Roman rule, to meet pressures in other parts of the Empire, and such withdrawals, even though the legions by this time were not all first-line troops, opened the way inevitably to northern or seaborne invaders to make incursions.

■ The Task of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who succeeded to the principate at the death of Antoninus Pius in AD 161, was also of a quiet and philosophic disposition, but unlike his predecessor he was faced with the necessity for continual warfare. The fact that he was able to meet the challenge of military duty with energy and unbroken resolve indicates some kind of spiritual triumph over his natural temperament, at the same time making him a practising as distinct from a purely academic philosopher.

War against Parthia (162–3) was only a prelude to barbarian incursions on the Danube front (166). It was already well recognized that responsibility for imperial defence was more than a single emperor could support. An emperor’s nominated successor, who now ordinarily received the title of “Caesar”, was also a colleague. Marcus Aurelius was not very fortunate in his colleague Lucius Verus, whose adoption derived from a decision of Hadrian. Marcus, showing perhaps poor judgment of character, arranged that the task of imperial government should be shared, and Verus, ruling as an equal on a collegiate basis, took command of the war against Parthia, which was won for him by his able officer Avidius Cassius.

The major cities of Parthia were captured, but this victory, like that of Trajan, though westward territories were annexed, could not lead to permanent Roman occupation of Parthia. The days were past when Romans and Parthians fought each other with characteristic national weapons and battles were a conflict of highly disciplined legionaries with incalculable swarms of mounted bowmen. Arrian, writing on military tactics in the time of Hadrian, testifies to the diversification of arms and armour and the variety of combatant methods employed by the Roman army at that epoch. Trajan’s Column and other monuments tell the same story. The Romans had among their own contingents heavily mailed horsemen on the Parthian model; nor did they lack archers who could retaliate against the Parthians. If they were never able to bring the Parthian Empire within the bounds of their own, this was probably because they lacked sufficient troops to hold what had been conquered. Such vast deserts were in any case ungovernable.

Lack of numbers also told heavily against Roman defence on the Danube, and it should be stressed that Rome was now seriously on the defensive in this area. Various barbarian tribes, forced westwards and southwards by migratory pressures, crossed the Alps and reached Aquileia at the northern extremity of the Adriatic Sea. Italy was threatened as it never had been since the days of the Cimbric invasion, but the barbarians did not capture Aquileia, lacking the equipment for assaults on fortified towns. Marcus Aurelius, despite the inferior ability of his colleague, was well served by his generals on the Danube front. Lucius Verus in any case died on active service in 169, and Marcus was left in sole command.

There seems to have been a good deal of collaboration between the German tribes of the upper Danube and the Sarmatians farther east. Roman armies, relying simply on mobility and speed, had to turn abruptly from one threat to another. The invaders were defeated in a series of arduous campaigns, forced back across the Danube and reduced to quiescence. But such warfare spelt an end to current methods of frontier defence and, in years which followed, Roman strategists had to think increasingly in terms of fortified zones rather than defensible lines.

Unfortunately, the manpower problem in the time of Marcus Aurelius became all the more critical on account of a devastating plague which the army brought back from its eastern wars. Sheer lack of manpower obliged Marcus to establish a German militia, settled within the imperial frontiers, as a way of combating German threats from without. Military service was the price of the land which the settlers occupied. As the frontiers became less distinct, so also did the definition of Roman nationality. The operations of Marcus Aurelius and his officers secured the line of the Danube, but in the large frontier province of Dacia to the north of the river, which Trajan had previously annexed, a right of way was granted to the barbarian tribes, allowing them to preserve communications with their eastward compatriots. In some sense, the Empire was now provided with insulating zones but – to press the metaphor – this insulation could become a semiconductor of extraneous forces.

Marcus Aurelius would probably have rendered the territory beyond the Danube more secure, but in AD 175 he had to meet the revolt of his eastern deputy Avidius Cassius. It would seem that Cassius had been deceived by a false report that Marcus was dead, and his dissident action hardly had time to gather impetus before he was murdered by one of his own centurions. Avidius Cassius would in any case have been a preferable alternative to the Emperor’s ineffective son Commodus, who eventually filled the role of official colleague and successor.

■ Septimius Severus and his Army

The principate of Commodus lasted 12 years, which should have been long enough to secure the succession, but Commodus did not allow the matter to trouble him. He was eventually murderer as the result of a conspiracy hatched by his Praetorian Guard commander, who had for some time shared the real power with other favourites, and at last decided that the present emperor was no longer necessary. During the next year, two emperors were proclaimed and then murdered, while the Praetorians tried to make up their minds. At last, they gave support to Septimius Severus, who commanded the Danube legions. The legions themselves, in fact, provided a firmer backing than Praetorian caprice.

Septimius had to fight for the imperial throne against other contenders, who were also supported by provincial armies. He was victorious in the ensuing struggle, partly because he commanded more troops than his adversaries and partly because he was nearer to Rome – still the key point. He temporarily came to terms with his northern rival Clodius Albinus, governor of Britain, recognizing him as a colleague. It is surprising that Albinus was deceived so easily. Septimius had time to march eastward and defeat his other opponent, Pescennius Niger, in a series of battles in Asia Minor and Syria. He was then in a position to renew hostilities against Albinus, who had advanced into Gaul and rallied the western provinces of the Empire in his favour. Perhaps Albinus also had been playing for time. The numbers engaged in the decisive battle near Lugdumum (Lyon) are reported as being equal, and the issue for long hung in the balance, but Septimius was completely victorious, deciding the battle by his use of cavalry as an independent arm.

Septimius Severus’ military ability was allied to shrewd political insight. On being proclaimed emperor, he had been quick to occupy Rome and disband the Praetorian Guard. He then re-established the Praetorians to suit his own convenience. In the past, the Praetorian cohorts had normally been recruited from Italy, but Septimius threw membership open to all legionaries. This meant in practice that Praetorians were picked from the Illyrian legions which had supported him. They continued to serve him admirably as an imperial corps d’élite in the course of his eastern campaign.

Having eliminated other imperial pretenders, Septimius undertook an effective punitive expedition against the Parthians, who had given support to Niger, his eastern rival. He also had to act promptly in Britain, for the province, stripped of troops by Albinus for his continental adventure, was badly exposed to Caledonian invaders from the north. But Septimius’ British campaign was incomplete and he was preparing to renew hostilities when he died at Eburacum (York) in AD 211.

Septimius Severus admired soldiers and believed in them, particularly in the soldiers of the Roman army. For him, their welfare was a paramount consideration, and one cannot help feeling that his attitude, despite its serious economic implications, was right. Roman civilization had come to depend completely on military power capable of defending the frontiers, and citizens who enjoyed the peace and comfort of metropolitan territories could at least be expected to support the defence effort with their tax contributions. Septimius, in fact, made sure that they did so.

Among other reforms which favoured the soldiers, he legislated that they should be able to marry legally while on service. This facility had not previously existed, though emperors in the past had given some sort of recognition to the relations which soldiers contracted with local women and to the children which resulted. Official attitudes on this subject seem to have been in conflict. On the one hand, the serving soldier was discouraged from forming local ties which might divert him from his principal allegiance to Rome. On the other, it was desired that he should feel at home in the army. The new legislation rectified anomalies. In any case Septimius’ son, colleague and successor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (known by the nickname of Caracalla) in subsequent years recognized the Roman citizenship of all freeborn provincials. The new constitutional enactment was not credited by an unimpressed posterity with generous motives, but regarded rather as a means of widening liability to tax. But it meant that civilians in general made a greater contribution to the defence budget. Of such a policy, Septimius would have approved.

Military and Civil Reorganization

The decade following Aurelian’s death was marked by another sequence of short-lived emperors. The year AD 284, however, saw the proclamation of the Emperor Diocletian (Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus) by troops in Asia Minor. Diocletian won the war against his rival and appointed Maximian (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus) as his colleague.

In 286, Diocletian permitted to Maximian the title “Augustus”, which indicated possession of the supreme power. From that time on, they ruled jointly, and in 293 each “Augustus” appointed himself a colleague who bore the title of “Caesar”. Four Imperial Headquarters, with their staffs, thus resulted. By regularizing procedures which had proved expedient in the past, Diocletian was in fact giving recognition to the inevitability of the collegiate principle. The Empire was too big for a single command. Troops might be transferred from Britain to the Danube in two months: perhaps less, if full use were made of Rhine river transport. But the Euphrates frontier was another matter. East and West were two Empires within a single civilization, and Diocletian wished to ensure that they should remain collegiate, not rival Empires. To some extent, their mutual independence was an accomplished fact which he was forced to recognise.

In re-establishing a co-optive procedure as the basis of imperial succession, Diocletian invoked another traditional expedient. Heredity notably in the family of Septimius Severus – based simply on blood-ties – had been productive of some grotesque results. Similarly, “praetorianism”, whether practised by the Guard itself or by the provincial legions, was simply an invitation to mutiny and murder. Because an emperor needed to be a soldier, it was too easily assumed that he needed to be nothing else. As in the first century AD, a blend of two principles was now expected to give best results. Co-option was confirmed by family affinities. The daughter of Diocletian and the step-daughter of Maximian married Galerius and Constantius, the two co-opted “Caesars”.

It was also arranged that the two “Augusti” should retire from office after 20 years and give place to their “Caesars”, who, assuming the supreme title, should appoint new “Caesars” as junior colleagues. Diocletian himself retired to his palace at Salonae (near modern Split in Jugoslavia). His choice of residence is itself significant. The imperial centre of gravity now lay in the Balkan peninsula and southeast Europe. Diocletian, like several of his imperial predecessors, had been of Balkan extraction. Rome was rapidly becoming no more than the ceremonial capital of empire. In practice, it was already merely a provincial capital, and the Senate was treated by Diocletian as if it were a body of town councillors. He never entered Rome during the first 20 years of his reign.

With his stern eye for realities and disregard for empty forms, Diocletian also realities and disregard for empty forms, Diocletian also relegated the old names of Republican magistracies to purely civil functions, and increasingly used distinct titles for military appointments. Like Septimius Severus, he realized that Rome’s greatest problem was one of recruiting, and he seems to have almost doubled the number of soldiers by increasing their pay. In order to do this, it was necessary to combat the monetary inflation which had long been associated with debasement of the Roman coinage. Diocletian went to the heart of the problem by exacting taxes in kind and maintaining his army with the proceeds.

Above all, Diocletian was an administrator and organizer, but it must not therefore be inferred that he was an “armchair” strategist. His reforms were worked out in the course of action and, like most Roman emperors who survived the first months of power, he had been obliged to fight for his position, suppress revolts and restrain barbarians. Maximian, his fellow “Augustus”, was an ambitious man, but he knew better than to challenge Diocletian on the field of battle.

Maximian, as Emperor of the West, had in fact his own military problems. Of these, the most intractable was presented by Carausius, a rebellious admiral of the British Channel fleet. Irrepressible, Carausius was for some time endured by the two “Augusti” as a kind of supernumerary colleague in Britain and north Gaul. Eventually, Maximian’s “Caesar”, Constantius, drove him from Boulogne and, continuing the war against Carausius’ murderer and successor, restored Britain to its former allegiance.

Renaissance Warfare I

As more centralized governments developed during the Later Middle Ages (1000-1500), significant changes took place in the way armies were raised. This included the more extensive use of mercenaries and led to the development of Europe’s professional armies.

While members of the nobility continued to fight primarily as the result of social and feudal obligations, other soldiers increasingly fought for pay. Although in theory some vassals in the later Middle Ages were obliged to serve their lord annually for up to 40 days in the field, if they had the financial ability they would often pay someone to serve in their stead. The limited service requirements of feudal obligations could also cause severe problems concerning a lord’s ability to sustain prolonged warfare. Once a vassal’s required service was over, he could theoretically withdraw if alternative arrangements had not been made. Thus, in addition to calling up their vassals, wealthier lords and kings often employed mercenaries. Successful use of mercenaries was usually dependent on their morale, as they were prone to flee when battles went poorly or pay was tardy. Finally, cities sometimes recruited armies from local populations or, if recruitment efforts were unsuccessful, raised armies through conscription.

Once an army was raised, the issue of logistics was paramount. Supply was so important that it often determined the makeup and size of armies. Among the most important members of an army’s leadership was the marshal, whose duties included marshaling, or gathering, the forces; organizing the army’s heavy weapons; and providing for the army’s constant provisioning. While all soldiers were responsible for providing their personal arms and armor, the leadership was obliged to provide weapons beyond the pocketbook of the common soldier, such as siege engines. Moreover, although soldiers would bring an initial supply of rations for themselves, the army’s leadership was responsible for plotting a route that allowed for resupply. This was done by maintaining supply chains, purchasing supplies from local populations, or, more often than not, foraging (plundering). Whatever the mean of provisioning, food and drink were a constant worry and often in short supply.

Medieval European armies were normally arranged in three sections (battles or battalions) that included a vanguard, a main body, and a rear guard. The vanguard was the forward division of the army, usually comprised of archers and other soldiers who wielded long-range weapons. Their purpose was to inflict as much damage as possible on an opposing army before the main bodies, composed of infantry and armored cavalry, clashed. The main body comprised the bulk of the army’s forces, and its performance was usually crucial to the army’s success. The rear guard was usually comprised of less heavily armored and more agile cavalry, often mounted sergeants who could move quickly around the battlefield and chase down fleeing enemy soldiers. It also guarded the main force’s rear as well as the army’s supplies and camp followers (noncombatants who accompanied the army). Each section deployed in either a linear or block formation depending on the situation on the battlefield. While a block formation could better withstand cavalry charges, a linear formation allowed nearly the entire army to take part in a battle.

The importance of the mounted knight in medieval armies was foundational to Europe’s social order. The prohibitive cost of proper arms, armor, and horses limited knighthood primarily to the landed feudal class. The typical knight was generally much more effective on the battlefield than the common infantryman, as he was not only better equipped but also better trained. Knights were usually placed in command of the cavalry (many of whom were less well-armed sergeants from lower social classes), which was used primarily to overrun enemy positions and break up enemy formations. If the cavalry charge was successful, infantry was positioned to exploit any break in the enemy line.

The infantry was composed of pikemen, archers, crossbowmen, swordsmen, and others who fought on foot and were usually joined by knights and other cavalry who had lost their horses. While some infantry were experienced warriors, many were poorly trained and only sporadically went into combat under the leadership of their local lords. Pikemen defended against enemy cavalry by pointing a concentrated number of pikes (long spears) in the direction of an onrushing cavalry charge, while archers could fill the sky with arrows to devastate the ranks of their approaching opponents. After several volleys, the archers could step aside to allow the cavalry and other infantry to engage their then weakened opponents. When the main bodies of two armies clashed on the battlefield, infantrymen armed with swords, battle-axes, and similar weapons provided screening for the cavalry and were essential for hand-to-hand combat. As the battlefield became chaotic, communication was usually limited to audible commands (sometimes produced by musical instruments), messengers, or visual signals that included the use of banners, standards, or flags.

The development of effective siege warfare was necessitated by the common use of defensive walls to protect medieval cities. Many cities also contained a keep, or elevated fortification, for additional protection in case the walls were breached by an enemy. Medieval strategists understood that the most effective way for an army to overcome defensive walls was simply to knock them down and rush through any openings. This was less risky than maneuvers that involved scaling ladders while fending off the attacks of defenders who benefited from their elevated position. Consequently, a variety of powerful siege engines that included the mangonel, the ballista, and the trebuchet were used to launch heavy projectiles at resisting cities and batter their defenses. Additionally, attacking armies used siege towers to position soldiers on a level equal to those defending a city wall, while forces on the ground would also employ battering rams to knock down gates or sappers to undermine walls.

Archers also played an important role in siege warfare. Talented marksmen could wreak havoc on the opposing armies of both sides. The skill and range of archers defending a city’s walls determined the placement of the attacking army’s camp, as it was important to make sure that the attackers were out of range of arrows. In the case of those who used the powerful English longbow rather than the more common short bow, archers had a much higher rate of fire and effective range, which made them especially valuable for use in siege warfare and by the vanguard on the battlefield.

Technological developments also aided armies defending cities or castles under siege. Concentric castles were developed during the period of the crusades, as were architectural improvements, such as the round tower, to make walls stronger and more defensible. Deeper wells allowed better access to water during lengthy sieges, and small openings in the wall for defending archers provided them protected positions. Attackers were also repelled from city walls with boiling oil or water as well as molten lead. Yet the most revolutionary changes in tactics, strategy, equipment, and organization emerged with the introduction of gunpowder to European battlefields in the fourteenth century. Powerful cannon tipped siege warfare in favor of the attacking army, while hand cannon and other firearms made the armor of knights obsolete. This led to the diminished importance of the mounted nobility, which contributed to the rise of full-time professional armies in the early modern period.

Renaissance Fortifications

The walls of Nicosia (1567) are a typical example of Italian Renaissance military architecture that survives to this day.

At the beginning of the Renaissance, fortifications had to be completely reconsidered as a result of developments in artillery. During the Middle Ages, well-stocked fortresses with a source of potable water stood a fairly good chance of resisting siege warfare. Such assaults usually began in the spring or early summer, and hostile troops returned home at the onset of cold weather if success did not appear imminent. Because repeated artillery bombardment of medieval structures often yielded rapid results, warfare continued year-round by the latter 15th century. Even though winter might be approaching, military commanders persisted in barrages of artillery as long as supplies were available for their troops, certain that they could break the siege in a few more days or weeks. A new type of defensive fortification was needed, and it was designed in Italy.

Early Renaissance

Medieval fortified structures consisted of high walls and towers with slot windows, constructed of brick or stone. These buildings were designed to withstand a long siege by hostile forces. The only ways to capture such a fortification were (1) to roll a wooden siege tower against the wall and climb over, but such towers were quite flammable and could be threatened by fiery objects catapulted over the wall; (2) to batter down part of the wall, under an assault of arrows, hot pitch, and other weapons hailing down from above; and (3) to tunnel under the foundation, a process that could take a very long time. Conventional towers and high walls were no match for artillery bombardment, which could be accomplished from a distance with no threat to the invading army. In addition, the walls and towers of medieval fortifications were not equipped for the placement and utilization of heavy defensive artillery. During the 15th century, European towns began to construct low, thick walls against their main defensive walls, permitting pieces of artillery to be rolled along the top and positioned as needed. The outer walls were often sloped outwardly or slightly rounded to deflect projectiles at unpredictable angles back toward the enemy. Bulwarks, usually U-shaped formations of earth, timber, and stone, were built to protect the main gate and to provide defensive artillery posts. In both central and northern Europe, many towns constructed gun towers whose sole purpose was the deployment of defensive artillery. These structures had guns at several levels, but usually lighter, lower caliber weapons than those used on the walls. Heavier weapons would have created unbearable noise and smoke in the small rooms in which they were discharged. In several conventional medieval towers, the roof was removed and a gun platform install.

Later Renaissance

Near the close of the 15th century, Italian architects and engineers invented a new type of defensive trace, improving upon the bulwark design. In the “Italian trace” [trace italienne -Star fort] triangle-shaped bastions with thick, outward-sloping sides were pointed out from the main defensive wall, with their top at the same level as the wall. At Civitavecchia, a port near Rome used by the papal navy, the city walls were fortified with bastions in 1520-the first example of bastions completely circling a defensive wall. Bastions solved several problems of the bulwark system, especially with bastions joined to the wall and not placed a short distance away, where troops could be cut off by enemy troops. The most important improvement was the elimination of the blind spot caused by round towers and bulwarks; gunners had a complete sweep of enemy soldiers in the ditches below. Development of the bastion design in Italy was a direct response to the 1494 invasion by the troops of Charles VIII and the superior artillery of France at that time, and to continued threats from the Turks. Bastion-dominated fortifications were constructed along the Mediterranean coast to create a line of defense against naval attacks. Several such fortifications were built in northern Europe, beginning with Antwerp in 1544. In some instances fortifications were not feasible, for reasons such as very hilly terrain or opposition from estate owners reluctant to lose property, and in some regions military threat was not extreme enough to warrant the effort of constructing new fortifications. In such cases, an existing fortress might be renovated and strengthened to create a citadel. Municipalities often opposed construction of citadels, which symbolized tyranny, because they were imposed on defeated cities by warlords. Citadels proved to be an effective means, however, for providing a protective enclosure during enemy attacks. By the mid-16th century, the expense of fortifications was exorbitant. Henry VIII, for example, was spending more than one-quarter of his entire income on such structures, and the kingdom of Naples was expending more than half.


After countless unsuccessful experiments, lethal accidents and ineffective trials, firearms research and techniques gradually improved, and chroniclers report many types of guns—mainly used in siege warfare—with numerous names such as veuglaire, pot-de-fer, bombard, vasii, petara and so on. In the second half of the 14th century, firearms became more efficient, and it seemed obvious that cannons were the weapons of the future. Venice successfully utilized cannons against Genoa in 1378. During the Hussite war from 1415 to 1436, the Czech Hussite rebels employed firearms in combination with a mobile tactic of armored carts (wagenburg) enabling them to defeat German knights. Firearms contributed to the end of the Hundred Years’ War and allowed the French king Charles VII to defeat the English in Auray in 1385, Rouen in 1418 and Orleans in 1429. Normandy was reconquered in 1449 and Guyenne in 1451. Finally, the battle of Chatillon in 1453 was won by the French artillery. This marked the end of the Hundred Years’ War; the English, divided by the Wars of the Roses, were driven out of France, keeping only Calais. The same year saw the Turks taking Constantinople, which provoked consternation, agitation and excitement in the whole Christian world.

In that siege and seizure of the capital of the Eastern Roman empire, cannon and gunpowder achieved spectacular success. To breach the city walls, the Turks utilized heavy cannons which, if we believe the chronicler Critobulos of Imbros, shot projectiles weighing about 500 kg. Even if this is exaggerated, big cannons certainly did exist by that time and were more common in the East than in the West, doubtless because the mighty potentates of the East could better afford them. Such monsters included the Ghent bombard, called “Dulle Griet”; the large cannon “Mons Berg” which is today in Edinburgh; and the Great Gun of Mohammed II, exhibited today in London. The latter, cast in 1464 by Sultan Munir Ali, weighed 18 tons and could shoot a 300 kg stone ball to a range of one kilometer.

A certain number of technical improvements took place in the 15th century. One major step was the amelioration of powder quality. Invented about 1425, corned powder involved mixing saltpeter, charcoal and sulphur into a soggy paste, then sieving and drying it, so that each individual grain or corn contained the same and correct proportion of ingredients. The process obviated the need for mixing in the field. It also resulted in more efficient combustion, thus improving safety, power, range and accuracy.

Another important step was the development of foundries, allowing cannons to be cast in one piece in iron and bronze (copper alloyed with tin). In spite of its expense, casting was the best method to produce practical and resilient weapons with lighter weight and higher muzzle velocity. In about 1460, guns were fitted with trunnions. These were cast on both sides of the barrel and made sufficiently strong to carry the weight and bear the shock of discharge, and permit the piece to rest on a two-wheeled wooden carriage. Trunnions and wheeled mounting not only made for easier transportation and better maneuverability but also allowed the gunners to raise and lower the barrels of their pieces.

One major improvement was the introduction in about 1418 of a very efficient projectile: the solid iron shot. Coming into use gradually, the solid iron cannonball could destroy medieval crenellation, ram castle-gates, and collapse towers and masonry walls. It broke through roofs, made its way through several stories and crushed to pieces all it fell upon. One single well-aimed projectile could mow down a whole row of soldiers or cut down a splendid armored knight.

About 1460, mortars were invented. A mortar is a specific kind of gun whose projectile is shot with a high, curved trajectory, between 45° and 75°, called plunging fire. Allowing gunners to lob projectiles over high walls and reach concealed objectives or targets protected behind fortifications, mortars were particularly useful in sieges. In the Middle Ages they were characterized by a short and fat bore and two big trunnions. They rested on massive timber-framed carriages without wheels, which helped them withstand the shock of firing; the recoil force was passed directly to the ground by means of the carriage. Owing to such ameliorations, artillery progressively gained dominance, particularly in siege warfare.

Individual guns, essentially scaled down artillery pieces fitted with handles for the firer, appeared after the middle of the 14th century. Various models of portable small arms were developed, such as the clopi or scopette, bombardelle, baton-de-feu, handgun, and firestick, to mention just a few.

In purely military terms, these early handguns were more of a hindrance than an asset on the battlefield, for they were expensive to produce, inaccurate, heavy, and time-consuming to load; during loading the firer was virtually defenseless. However, even as rudimentary weapons with poor range, they were effective in their way, as much for attackers as for soldiers defending a fortress.

The harquebus was a portable gun fitted with a hook that absorbed the recoil force when firing from a battlement. It was generally operated by two men, one aiming and the other igniting the propelling charge. This weapon evolved in the Renaissance to become the matchlock musket in which the fire mechanism consisted of a pivoting S-shaped arm. The upper part of the arm gripped a length of rope impregnated with a combustible substance and kept alight at one end, called the match. The lower end of the arm served as a trigger: When pressed it brought the glowing tip of the match into contact with a small quantity of gunpowder, which lay in a horizontal pan fixed beneath a small vent in the side of the barrel at its breech. When this priming ignited, its flash passed through the vent and ignited the main charge in the barrel, expelling the spherical lead bullet.

The wheel lock pistol was a small harquebus taking its name from the city Pistoia in Tuscany where the weapon was first built in the 15th century. The wheel lock system, working on the principle of a modern cigarette lighter, was reliable and easy to handle, especially for a combatant on horseback. But its mechanism was complicated and therefore expensive, and so its use was reserved for wealthy civilian hunters, rich soldiers and certain mounted troops.

Portable cannons, handguns, harquebuses and pistols were muzzle-loading and shot projectiles that could easily penetrate any armor. Because of the power of firearms, traditional Middle Age weaponry become obsolete; gradually, lances, shields and armor for both men and horses were abandoned.

The destructive power of gunpowder allowed the use of mines in siege warfare. The role of artillery and small firearms become progressively larger; the new weapons changed the nature of naval and siege warfare and transformed the physiognomy of the battlefield. This change was not a sudden revolution, however, but a slow process. Many years elapsed before firearms became widespread, and many traditional medieval weapons were still used in the 16th century.

One factor militating against artillery’s advancement in the 15th century was the amount of expensive material necessary to equip an army. Cannons and powder were very costly items and also demanded a retinue of expensive attendant specialists for design, transport and operation. Consequently firearms had to be produced in peacetime, and since the Middle Ages had rudimentary ideas of economics and fiscal science, only a few kings, dukes and high prelates possessed the financial resources to build, purchase, transport, maintain and use such expensive equipment in numbers that would have an appreciable impression in war.

Conflicts with firearms became an economic business involving qualified personnel backed up by traders, financiers and bankers as well as the creation of comprehensive industrial structures. The development of firearms meant the gradual end of feudalism. Firearms also brought about a change in the mentality of combat because they created a physical and mental distance between warriors. Traditional mounted knights, fighting each other at close range within the rules of a certain code, were progressively replaced by professional infantrymen who were anonymous targets for one another, while local rebellious castles collapsed under royal artillery’s fire. Expensive artillery helped to hasten the process by which central authority was restored.


The collapse of the monetary economy in Western Europe following the fall of Rome left just two areas where gold coin was still used in the 10th century: southern Italy and southern Spain (al-Andalus). Ready gold drew mercenaries to wars in those regions as carrion creatures draw near dead flesh. Also able to pay in coin for military specialists and hardened veterans was the Byzantine Empire, along with the Muslim states it opposed and fought for several centuries. The rise of mercenaries in Western Europe in the 11th century as a money economy resumed disturbed the social order and was received with wrath and dismay by the clergy and service nobility. Early forms of monetary service did not necessarily involve straight wages. They included fief money and scutage. But by the end of the 13th century paid military service was the norm in Europe. This meant that local bonds were forming in many places and a concomitant sense of “foreignness” attached to long-service soldiers. Mercenaries were valued for their military expertise but now feared and increasingly despised for their perceived moral indifference to the causes for which they fought. Ex-mercenary bands (routiers, Free Companies) were commonplace in France in the 12th century and a social and economic scourge wherever they moved during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). Their main weapon was the crossbow, on land and at sea. In the galley wars of the Mediterranean many Genoese, Pisan, and Venetian crossbowmen hired out as specialist marine archers. Much of the Reconquista in Spain was fueled by the mercenary impulse and concomitant necessity for armies to live off the land. The hard methods and cruel attitudes learned by Iberians while fighting Moors were then applied in the Americas by quasi-mercenary conquistadores. Mercenaries- “condottieri,” or foreign “contractors”-also played a major part in the wars of the city-states of the Italian Renaissance.

French “gen d’armes” and Swiss pikemen and halberdiers fought for Lorraine at Nancy (1477). By the start of the 15th century Swiss companies hired out with official Cantonal approval or as free bands who elected their officers and went to Italy to fight as condottieri. With the end of the wars of the Swiss Confederation against France and Burgundy, Swiss soldiers of fortune formed a company known as “das torechte Leben” (roughly, “the mad life”) and fought for pay under a Banner displaying a town idiot and a pig. Within four years of Nancy some 6,000 Swiss were hired by Louis XI. In 1497, Charles VIII (“The Affable”) of France engaged 100 Swiss halberdiers as his personal bodyguard (“Garde de Cent Suisses”). In either form, the Swiss became the major mercenary people of Europe into the 16th century. “Pas d’argent, pas de Suisses” (“no money, no Swiss”) was a baleful maxim echoed by many sovereigns and generals. Mercenaries of all regional origins filled out the armies of Charles V, and those of his son, Philip II, as well as their enemies during the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries. By that time Swiss mercenaries who still used pikes (and many did) were largely employed to guard the artillery or trenches or supplies. Similarly, by the late 16th century German Landsknechte were still hired for battle as shock troops but they were considered undisciplined and perfectly useless in a siege.

In Poland in the 15th century most mercenaries were Bohemians who fought under the flag of St. George, which had a red cross on a white background. When Bohemian units found themselves on opposite sides of a battlefield they usually agreed that one side would adopt a white cross on a red background while their countrymen on the other side used the standard red-on-white flag of St. George. In the Polish-Prussian and Teutonic Knights campaigns of the mid-15th century the Brethren-by this point too few to do all their own fighting-hired German, English, Scots, and Irish mercenaries to fill out their armies. During the “War of the Cities” (1454-1466) German mercenaries were critical to the victory of the Teutonic Knights at Chojnice (September 18, 1454). When the Order ran out of money, however, Bohemian soldiers-for-hire who held the key fortress and Teutonic capital of Marienburg for the Knights sold it to a besieging Polish army and departed, well paid and unscathed by even a token fight.


From the end of the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282-1302), the Italians tried to decide for themselves what government they wanted, resulting in conflict between the Ghibellines-who supported Imperial rule-and the Guelfs-who supported papal rule. The Guelfs were successful in the first decade of the fourteenth century, ironically at much the same time the papacy moved to Avignon in 1308. Suddenly freed from either Imperial or papal influence, the large number of sovereign states in northern and central Italy began to try to exert control over their neighbors. Florence, Milan, and Venice, and to a lesser extent Lucca, Siena, Mantua, and Genoa, all profited from the early-fourteenth-century military situation by exerting their independence. But this independence came at a price. The inhabitants of the north Italian city-states had enough wealth to be able to pay for others to fight for them and they frequently employed soldiers, condottieri in their language (from the condotte, the contract hiring these soldiers) and mercenaries in ours. Indeed, the immense wealth of the Italian city-states in the late Middle Ages meant that the number of native soldiers was lower than elsewhere in Europe at the same time, but it meant the cost of waging war was much higher.

One might think that having to add the pay for condottieri to the normal costs of war would have limited the numbers of military conflicts in late medieval Italy. But that was not the case and, in what was an incredibly bellicose time, Italy was one of the most fought over regions in Europe. Most of these wars were small, with one city’s mercenary forces facing another’s, but they were very frequent. They gave employment to a large number of condottieri, who in turn fought the wars, which in turn employed the condottieri. An obvious self-perpetuating circle developed. It was fueled by a number of factors: the wealth of northern Italy; the greed of wealthier Italians to acquire more wealth by occupying neighboring cities and lands (or to keep these cities from competing by incorporating their economies); their unwillingness themselves to fight the wars; and the availability of a large number of men who were not only willing to do so, but who saw regular employment in their mercenary companies as a means to comfort, wealth, and often titles and offices. In 1416, one condottierie, Braccio da Montone, became lord of Perugia, while a short time later two others, condottieri sons of the condottiere Muccio Attendolo Sforza, Alessandro and Francesco, became the Master of Pesaro and Duke of Milan, respectively. Other condottieri became governors of Urbino, Mantua, Rimini, and Ferrara during the fifteenth century.

Venice and Genoa continued to be the greatest rivals among the northern Italian city-states. Both believed the Mediterranean to be theirs, and they refused to share it with anyone, including Naples and Aragon, nor, of course, with each other. This became a military issue at the end of the fifteenth century. The common practice was a monopoly trading contract. Venice’s monopoly with the crusader states ceased when the crusaders were forced from the Middle East in 1291, although they were able to sustain their trade with the victorious Muslim powers. And Venice’s contract with Constantinople was abandoned with the fall of the Latin Kingdom in 1261, only to be replaced by a similar contract with Genoa that would last till the city’s fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Frequently during the late Middle Ages, this rivalry turned to warfare, fought primarily on the sea, as was fitting for two naval powers. Venice almost always won these engagements, most notably the War of Chioggia (1376-1381), and there seems little doubt that such defeats led to a weakening of the political independence and economic strength of Genoa. Although Venice never actually conquered Genoa, nor does it appear that the Venetian rulers considered this to be in their city’s interest, other principalities did target the once powerful city-state. Florence held Genoa for a period of three years (1353-1356), and Naples, Aragon, and Milan vied for control in the fifteenth century. Seeking defensive assistance, the Republic of Genoa sought alliance with the Kingdom of France, and it is in this context that their most prominent military feature is set, the Genoese mercenary. During the Hundred Years War, Genoa supplied France with naval and, more famously, crossbowmen mercenaries, the latter ironically provided by a city whose experience in land warfare was rather thin.

Before the fifteenth century, the Republic of Venice had also rarely participated in land campaigns-except for leading the forces of the Second Crusade in their attack of Constantinople in 1204. Seeing the sea not only as a provider of economic security but also as defense for the city, Venetian doges and other city officials had rarely pursued campaigns against their neighbors. However, in 1404- 1405, a Venetian army, once again almost entirely mercenaries, attacked to the west and captured Vicenza, Verona, and Padua. In 1411-1412 and again in 1418-1420, they attacked to the northeast, against Hungary, and captured Dalmatia, Fruili, and Istria. So far it had been easy-simply pay for enough condottieri to fight the wars, and reap the profits of conquest. But in 1424 Venice ran into two Italian city-states that had the same military philosophy they did, and both were as wealthy: Milan and Florence. The result was thirty years of protracted warfare.

The strategy of all three of these city-states during this conflict was to employ more and more mercenaries. At the start, the Venetian army numbered 10,000-12,000; by 1432 this figure had grown to 18,000; and by 1439 it was 25,000, although it declined to 20,000 during the 1440s and 1450s. The other two city-states kept pace. At almost any time after 1430 more than 50,000 soldiers were fighting in northern Italy. The economy and society of the whole region were damaged, with little gain by any of the protagonists during the war. At its end, a negotiated settlement, Venice gained little, but it also lost very little. The city went back to war in 1478-1479, the Pazzi War, and again in 1482-1484, the War of Ferrara. The Florentines and Milanese participated in both as well.

After the acquisition of Vicenza, Verona, and Padua in 1405 Venice shared a land frontier with Milan. From that time forward Milan was the greatest threat to Venice and her allies, and to practically any other city-state, town, or village in northern Italy. Milan also shared a land frontier with Florence, and if Milanese armies were not fighting Venetian armies, they were fighting Florentine armies, sometimes taking on both at the same time.

Their animosity predates the later Middle Ages, but it intensified with the wealth and ability of both sides to hire condottieri. This led to wars with Florence in 1351-1354 and 1390-1402, and with Florence and Venice (in league together) in 1423-1454, 1478-1479, and 1482-1484. In those rare times when not at war with Florence or Venice, Milanese armies often turned on other neighboring towns, for example, capturing Pavia and Monza among other places.

Perhaps the most telling sign of Milan’s bellicosity is the rise to power of its condottiere ruler, Francesco Sforza, in 1450. Sforza had been one of Milan’s condottieri captains for a number of years, following in the footsteps of his father, Muccio, who had been in the city-state’s employ off and on since about 1400. Both had performed diligently, successfully, and, at least for condottieri, loyally, and they had become wealthy because of it. Francesco had even married the illegitimate daughter of the reigning Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti. But during the most recent wars, after he had assumed the lordship of Pavia, and in the wake of Filippo’s death in 1447, the Milanese decided not to renew Francesco’s contract. In response, the condottiere used his army to besiege the city, which capitulated in less than a year. Within a very short time, Francesco Sforza had insinuated himself into all facets of Milanese rule; his brother even became the city’s archbishop in 1454, and his descendants continued to hold power in the sixteenth century.

Genoa, Venice, and Milan all fought extensively throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but Florence played the most active role in Italian warfare of the later Middle Ages. A republican city-state, although in the fifteenth century controlled almost exclusively by the Medici family, Florence had been deeply involved in the Guelf and Ghibelline conflicts of the thirteenth century, serving as the center of the Guelf party. But though the Guelfs were successful this did not bring peace to Florence and when, in 1301, they split into two parties-the blacks and the whites-the fighting continued until 1307. Before this feud was even concluded, however, the Florentine army, numbering 7,000, mostly condottieri, attacked Pistoia, capturing the city in 1307. In 1315 in league with Naples, Florentine forces attempted to take Pisa, but were defeated. In 1325, they were again defeated while trying to take Pisa and Lucca. Between 1351 and 1354 they fought the Milanese. From 1376 to 1378 they fought against papal forces hired at and drawn from Rome in what was known as the War of the Eight Saints, but the Florentines lost more than they gained. Forming the League of Bologna with Bologna, Padua, Ferrara, and other northern Italian cities, they warred against Milan from 1390 to 1402. While they were initially successful against the Milanese, Gian Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, was eventually able to bring Pisa, Lucca, and Venice onto his city’s side, and once again Florence was defeated. In 1406 Florence annexed Pisa without armed resistance. But war broke out with Milan again in 1423 lasting until 1454; Florence would ally with Venice in 1425, and with the papacy in 1440. Battles were lost on the Serchio in 1450 and at Imola in 1434, but won at Anghiara in 1440. Finally, after the Peace of Lodi was signed in 1454 ending the conflict, a league was formed between Florence, Venice, and Milan that lasted for 25 years. But, after the murder of Giuliano de’ Medici and the attempted murder of his brother, Lorenzo-Pope Sixtus IV was complicit in the affair-war broke out in 1478 with the papacy and lasted until the death of Sixtus in 1484. In addition, interspersed with these external wars were numerous rebellions within Florence itself. In 1345 a revolt broke out at the announcement of the bankruptcy of the Bardi and Peruzzi banking firms; in 1368 the dyers revolted; in 1378 there was the Ciompi Revolt; and in 1382 the popolo grasso revolt. None of these were extensive or successful, but they did disrupt social, economic, and political life in the city until permanently put to rest by the rise to power of the Medicis.

Why Florence continued to wage so many wars in the face of so many defeats and revolts is simple to understand. Again one must see the role of the condottieri in Florentine military strategy; as long as the governors of the city-state were willing to pay for military activity and as long as there were soldiers willing to take this pay, wars would continue until the wealth of the town ran out. In Renaissance Florence this did not happen. Take, for example, the employment of perhaps the most famous condottiere, Sir John Hawkwood. Coming south in 1361, during one of the lulls in fighting in the Hundred Years War, the Englishman Hawkwood joined the White Company, a unit of condottieri already fighting in Italy. In 1364, while in the pay of Pisa, the White Company had its first encounter with Florence when, unable to effectively besiege the city, they sacked and pillaged its rich suburbs. In 1375, now under the leadership of Hawkwood, the White Company made an agreement with the Florentines not to attack them, only to discover later that year, now in the pay of the papacy, that they were required to fight in the Florentine-controlled Romagna. Hawkwood decided that he was not actually attacking Florence, and the White Company conquered Faenza in 1376 and Cesena in 1377. However, perhaps because the papacy ordered the massacres of the people of both towns, a short time later Hawkwood and his condottieri left their papal employment. They did not stay unemployed for long, however; Florence hired them almost immediately, and for the next seventeen years, John Hawkwood and the White Company fought diligently, although not always successfully, for the city. All of the company’s condottieri became quite wealthy, but Hawkwood especially prospered. He was granted three castles outside the city, a house in Florence, a life pension of 2,000 florins, a pension for his wife, Donnina Visconti, payable after his death, and dowries for his three daughters, above his contracted pay. Florentines, it seems, loved to lavish their wealth on those whom they employed to carry out their wars, whether they were successful or not.

In comparison to the north, the south of Italy was positively peaceful. Much of this came from the fact that there were only two powers in southern Italy. The Papal States, with Rome as their capital, did not have the prosperity of the northern city-states, and in fact for most of the later Middle Ages they were, essentially, bankrupt. But economic problems were not the only matter that disrupted Roman life. From 1308 to 1378 there was no pope in Rome and from then until 1417 the Roman pontiff was one of two (and sometimes three) popes sitting on the papal throne at the same time. But even after 1417 the papacy was weak, kept that way by a Roman populace not willing to see a theocracy return to power. Perhaps this is the reason why the Papal States suffered so many insurrections. In 1347 Cola di Rienzo defeated the Roman nobles and was named Tribune by the Roman people. He governed until those same people overthrew and executed him in 1354. In 1434 the Columna family established a republican government in the Papal States, forcing the ruling pope, Eugenius IV, to flee to Florence. He did not return and reestablish his government until 1343. Finally, in 1453, a plot to put another republican government in place was halted only by the general dislike for its leader, Stefano Porcaro, who was executed for treason.

One might think that such political and economic turmoil would not breed much military confidence, yet it did not seem to keep the governors of the Papal States from hiring mercenaries, making alliances with other Italian states, or pursuing an active military role, especially in the central parts of Italy. Usually small papal armies were pitted against much larger northern city-state forces, yet often these small numbers carried the day, perhaps not winning many battles, but often winning the wars, certainly as much because of the Papal States alliances as its military prowess. This meant that despite all the obvious upheaval in the Papal States during the later Middle Ages, at the beginning of the 1490s it was much larger and more powerful than it had ever been previously.

Bibliography Contamine, Philippe. War in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. France, John. Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999. Lepage, Jean-Denis G. G. Medieval Armies and Weapons in Western Europe: An Illustrated History. Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland, 2005. Nicholson, Helen. Medieval Warfare. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Nicolle, David. French Medieval Armies, 1000-1300. Oxford, UK: Osprey, 1991.

Renaissance Warfare II

Warfare in Renaissance Italy

At the conclusion of the fifteenth century, Italy remained divided. There were four kingdoms: Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica, and Naples; many republics such as Venice, Genoa, Florence, Lucca, Siena, San Marino, Ragusa (in Dalmatia); small principalities, Piombino, Monaco; and the duchies of Savoy, Modena, Mantua, Milan, Ferrara, Massa, Carrara, and Urbino. Parts of Italy were under foreign rule. The Habsburgs controlled the Trentino, Upper Adige, Gorizia, and Trieste. Sardinia belonged to the kingdom of Aragon. Many Italian states, however, held territories outside of the peninsula. The duke of Savoy possessed the Italian region of Piedmont and the French-speaking Duchy of Savoy along with the counties of Geneva and Nice. Venice owned Crete, Cyprus, Dalmatia, and many Greek islands. The Banco di San Giorgio, the privately owned bank of the republic of Genoa, possessed the kingdom of Corsica. Italian princes also held titles and fiefdoms in neighboring states. Indeed, the duke of Savoy could also claim that he was heir and a descendant of the crusader kings of Cyprus and Jerusalem. All of this confusion often remained a source of contention in Italian politics.

The Muslims became the greatest threat to security when the Arabs occupied Sicily in the ninth century. Later Muslim attempts to conquer central Italy failed as a result of papal resistance. Although the Norman conquest of southern Italy and Sicily removed the immediate threat. Muslim ships raided the Italian coast until the 1820s.

This conflict with Islam resulted in substantial Italian participation in the Cru- sades. The Crusader military orders such as the Templars and the Order of Saint John were populated by a great number of Italian knights. Italian merchants, too, established their own warehouses and agencies in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. Thanks to the Crusades, Venice and Genoa increased their influence as well. They expanded their colonies, their revenues, and their importance to the Crusader kingdoms. Their wealth exceeded that of many European kingdoms.

The fall of the Crusader kingdoms, the Turkish conquests, and the fall of Constantinople by 1453 led to two significant consequences: the increasing influence of Byzantine and Greek culture in Italian society, and the growing Turkish threat to Italian territorial possessions in the Mediterranean. The conflict between Italians and Muslims was complex. For centuries Italians and Muslims were trading partners. So the wars between the Turks and Venetians therefore consisted of a combination of bloody campaigns, privateering, commerce, and maritime war lasting more than 350 years.

Despite a common enemy, common commercial and financial interests, a common language, and a common culture, Italian politics remained disparate and divisive. For much of the fifteenth century the states spent their time fighting each other over disputed territorial rights. Although they referred to themselves as Florentines, Lombards, Venetians, Genoese, or Neapolitans, when relating themselves to outsiders, such as Muslims, French, Germans, and other Europeans, they self- identified as “Italians.”

The Organization of Renaissance Armies

The lack of significant external threats led to the reduction in size of Italian armies. The cost of maintaining standing armies or employing their citizenry in permanent militias was too expensive and reduced the productivity of the population. Italian city-states, duchies, and principalities preferred to employ professional armies when needed, as they were extremely costly to hire. Larger states, such as the Republic of Venice, the Kingdom of Naples and the Papal States possessed a limited permanent force, but the remainder of the Italian states had little more than city guards, or small garrisons. Nevertheless, Italian Renaissance armies, when organized, were divided into infantry and cavalry. Artillery was in its infancy and remained a severely limited in application. Cavalry was composed of heavy or armored cavalry, genti d’arme (men at arms), and light cavalry. Since the Middle Ages, genti d’arme were divided into “lances” composed of a “lance chief”—or corporal—a rider, and a boy. They were mounted on a warhorse, a charger, and a jade respectively. The single knight with his squire was known as lancia spezzata— literally “brokenspear,” or anspessade.

Infantry was divided into banners. Every banner was composed of a captain, two corporals, two boys, ten crossbowmen, nine palvesai, soldiers carrying the great medieval Italian shields called palvesi, and a servant for the captain. Generally the ratio of cavalry to infantry was one to ten. There was no organized artillery by the end of the fifteenth century, as it was relatively new to European armies.

An Evolution in Military Affairs, or the So-Called “Military Revolution”

Artillery was in its infancy during the fifteenth century, but in the early days of the sixteenth century, a quick and impressive development began. The Battle of Ravenna in 1512 marked the first decisive employment of cannons as field artillery. Soon infantry and cavalry realized the power of artillery and proceeded to alter their tactics to avoid or at least to reduce the damage. Moreover, the increasing power of artillery demonstrated the weakness of medieval castles and led to a trans- formation of military architecture. The traditional castle wall was vertical and tall and could be smashed by cannon-fired balls. In response, the new Italian-styled fortress appeared. Its walls were lower and oblique instead of perpendicular to the ground. The walls resisted cannonballs better, as their energy could also be diverted by the obliquity of the wall itself. Then, the pentagonal design was determined as best for a fortress, and each angle of the pentagon was reinforced by another smaller pentagon, called a bastion. It appeared as the main defensive work and was protected by many external defensive works, intended to break and scatter the enemy’s attack. The fifteenth-century Florentine walls in Volterra have many bastion elements, but the first Italian-styled fortress was at Civitavecchia, the harbor for the papal fleet, forty miles north of Rome. It was erected by Giuliano da Sangallo in 1519, but recent studies suggest that Sangallo exploited an older draft by Michelangelo.

The classical scheme of the Italian-styled fortress often referred to as the trace italienne was established in the second half of the sixteenth century. Its elegant efficiency was recognized by all powers. European sovereigns called upon Italian military architects to build these new fortresses in their countries. Antwerp, Parma, Vienna, Györ, Karlovac, Ersekujvar, Breda, Ostend, S’Hertogenbosch, Lyon, Char- leville, La Valletta, and Amiens all exhibited the style and ability of Giuliano da Sangallo, Francesco Paciotti, Pompeo Targone, Gerolamo Martini, and many other military architects, who disseminated a style and a culture to the entire Continent. The pentagonal style was further developed by Vauban and soon reached America, too, where many fortresses and military buildings were built on a pentagonal scheme.

This evolution in military architecture—generally known as “the Military Revolution”—meant order and uniformity. A revolution also occurred in uniforms and weapons. Venetian infantrymen shipping on galleys for the 1571 naval campaign were all dressed in the same way; and papal troops shown in two 1583 frescoes are dressed in yellow and red, or in white and red, depending on the company to which they belonged. Likewise, papal admiral Marcantonio Colonna, in 1571, ordered his captains to provide all their soldiers with “merion in the modern style, great velveted flasks for the powder, as fine as possible, and all with well ammunitioned match arquebuses . . . ” Of course, uniformity remained a dream, especially when compared with eighteenth- or nineteenth-century styles, but it was a first step.

Although a revolution in artillery and fortifications remained a significant aspect of the military revolution, captains faced the problem of increasing firepower. The Swiss went to battle in squared formations, but it proved to be unsatisfactory against artillery. Similarly, portable weapons could not fire and be reloaded fast enough, and it soon became apparent that armies needed a mixture of pike and firearms. The increasing range and effectiveness of firearms made speed on the field more important. It was clear that the more a captain could have a fast fire–armed maneuvering mass, the better the result in battle. Machiavelli examined this issue; he was as bad a military theorist as he was a formidable political theorist. He suggested the use of two men on horseback: a rider and a scoppiettiere—a “hand- gunner”—on the same horse. It was the first kind of mounted infantry in the modern era. Giovanni de’Medici, the brave Florentine captain known as Giovanni of the Black Band, adopted this system. Another contemporary Florentine captain, Pietro Strozzi, who reduced the men on horseback to only one, developed the same system. He fought against Florence and Spain, then he passed to the French flag at the end of the Italian Wars. When in France, he organized a unit based upon his previous experience. It was composed of firearmed riders, considered mounted infantrymen, referred to as dragoons.

The Swiss

The Swiss (on the left) assault the Landsknecht mercenaries in the French lines at the Battle of Marignano.

“As for trying to intimidate the enemy, blocks of thousands of oncoming merciless Swiss, advancing swiftly accompanied by what a contemporary called “the deep wails and moans of the Uri Bull and Unterwalden Cow*” or landsknechts chanting “look out, here I come” in time with their drums were posturing on a grand scale. Not to mention what 8 ranks of lowered pike-heads looked like when viewed from the receiving end…”

The modern scholars Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw tell us this about the Swiss mercenaries:

The French could boast the finest heavy cavalry in Europe in the companies d’ordonnance, permanent units raised and paid for by the Crown, in which the French competed to serve. For infantry, the French had come to rely heavily on Swiss mercenaries. In the 1490s, the reputation of the Swiss stood very high. They were a different kind of “national” army. A well-established system of training, organized by the governments of the cantons, resulted in a high proportion of able-bodied men having the strength and ability to handle pikes, halberds and two-handed swords, and the discipline to execute complex manoeuvres in formations of several thousand men.

Employers hired these men not only for their military skills but also because entire contingents could be recruited simply by contacting the Swiss cantons. Young men there were required to serve in the militia system, were willing and well-prepared to do so, and welcomed the chance to serve abroad. Alternatively, Swiss men could also hire themselves out individually or in small groups. It is clear that the Swiss were hard fighters and hard-headed businessmen as well. Their motto was: pas d’argent, pas de Swisse (no money, no Swiss).

Swiss mercenaries were highly valued through late medieval Europe because of the power of their determined mass attacks, in deep columns, with pikes and halberds. They specialized in sending large columns of soldiers into battle in “pike squares.” These were well-trained, well-disciplined bands of men armed with long steel-tipped poles and were grouped into 100-man formations that were 10 men wide and 10 men deep. On command, pike squares could wheel and maneuver so quickly that it was nearly suicidal for horsemen or infantrymen to attack them. As they came at their enemy with leveled pikes and hoarse battle cries, they were almost invincible.

These Swiss soldiers were equally proficient in the use of crossbows, early firearms, swords, and halberds. A These Swiss soldiers were equally proficient in the use of crossbows, early firearms, swords, and halberds. A halberd is an axe blade topped with a spike and mounted on a long shaft. If the need arose, they could easily lay their pikes aside and take up other weapons instead. They were so effective that between about 1450 and 1500 every major leader in Europe either hired Swiss pikemen or hired fighters like the German Landsknecht who copied Swiss tactics. The extensive and continuous demand for these specialist Swiss and landsknecht pike companies may well have given them the illusion of permanency. In any case, what it did show was that medieval and Renaissance warfare was becoming better disciplined, more organized, and more professional.

Swiss fighters were responding to several interrelated factors: limited economic opportunities in their home mountains; pride in themselves and their colleagues as world-class soldiers; and, last but not least, by a love of adventure and combat. In fact, they were such good fighters that the Swiss enjoyed a near-monopoly on pike-armed military service for many years. One of their successes was the battle of Novara in northern Italy 1513 between France and the Republic of Venice, on the one hand, and the Swiss Confederation and the Duchy of Milan, on the other. The story runs as follows.

A French army, said by some sources to total 1,200 cavalrymen and about 20,000 Landsknechts, Gascons, and other troops, was camped near and was besieging Novara. This city was being held by some of the Duke of Milan’s Swiss mercenaries. A Swiss relief army of some 13,000 Swiss troops unexpectedly fell upon the French camp. The pike-armed Landsknechts managed to form up into their combat squares; the Landsknecht infantrymen took up their proper positions; and the French were able to get some of their cannons into action. The Swiss, however, surrounded the French camp, captured the cannons, broke up the Landsknecht pike squares, and forced back the Landsknecht infantry regiments.

The fight was very bloody: the Swiss executed hundreds of the Landsknechts they had captured, and 700 men were killed in three minutes by heavy artillery fire alone. To use a later English naval term from the days of sail, the “butcher’s bill” (the list of those killed in action) was somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 men. Despite this Swiss success, however, the days of their supremacy as the world’s best mercenaries were numbered. In about 1515, the Swiss pledged themselves to neutrality, with the exception of Swiss soldiers serving in the ranks of the royal French army. The Landsknechts, on the other hand, would continue to serve any paymaster and would even fight each other if need be. Moreover, since the rigid battle formations of the Swiss were increasingly vulnerable to arquebus and artillery fire, employers were more inclined to hire the Landsknechts instead.

In retrospect, it is clear that the successes of Swiss soldiers in the 15th and early 16th centuries were due to three factors:

• Their courage was extraordinary. No Swiss force ever broke in battle, surrendered, or ran away. In several instances, the Swiss literally fought to the last man. When they were forced to retreat in the face of overwhelming odds, they did so in good order while defending themselves against attack.

• Their training was excellent. Swiss soldiers relied on a simple system of tactics, practiced until it became second nature to every man. They were held to the mark by a committee-leadership of experienced old soldiers.

• They were ferocious and gave no quarter, not even for ransom, and sometimes violated terms of surrender already given to garrisons and pillaged towns that had capitulated. These qualities inspired fear in their opponents.


For all of their deficiencies, knights proved their mettle against Byzantine and Muslim forces, and for nearly 250 years after the Battle of Hastings (1066) they were all but invulnerable to the weapons used by European infantrymen. At the Battles of Courtrai (1302) in the Franco-Dutch War and the Morgarten (1315) in the First Austro-Swiss War, however, Flemish and Swiss pikemen demonstrated that the proper choice of terrain allowed resolute foot soldiers to defeat French and Austrian knights respectively. By then the use of powerful crossbows and longbows also put knights at greater risk of death on the battlefield at the hands of commoner bowmen. The combination of archer and dismounted knight used by the English throughout the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) proved deadly effective against French knights. Men-at-arms responded to their new vulnerability by using plate armor for themselves and their horses, which were more likely than their riders to be killed in battle. Plate armor presented several problems. It was too expensive for the less wealthy nobles, so that the near equality in knightly equipment that had marked the previous era disappeared. Its weight required larger and more costly warhorses, which were slower and less maneuverable, allowing the men-at-arms to do little more than a straight-ahead charge. Despite defeat by the Swiss infantrymen in numerous battles throughout the fifteenth century, culminating at Nancy (1477) in the death of Charles the Bold (1433-1477), the duke of Normandy, armored horsemen remained a potent element, especially in the French army.

A full suit of Italian plate armour circa 1450.

Renaissance armor was not just a means of protection, but also a work of art. Some armor, like the suit shown here, had simple borders cut into the metal. Other pieces displayed elaborate images of saints or ancient heroes. The most expensive armor included designs in silver or gold.

Development of Armor.

Arms and armor changed significantly during the Renaissance, with improvements in one of them often leading to modifications in the other. New military tactics and techniques triggered some developments, while others were based on fashion. Armor and weapons were not simply tools of war; they also served important social and artistic functions.

The most popular form of armor during the Middle Ages was mail—sheets of interlocking iron rings. Though flexible and strong, mail did not protect as well as solid plates. In the 1200s armorers began making plate armor out of materials such as leather and, eventually, steel. The earliest plate armor protected the lower legs and knees, the areas that a foot soldier could easily attack on a mounted knight. Over time, armor expanded to cover more and more of the body.

By the early 1400s, knights were encased in complete suits of overlapping steel plates. A full suit of armor might weigh as much as 60 pounds, but its weight was distributed over the entire body. A knight accustomed to wearing armor could mount and dismount a horse fairly easily and even lie down and rise again without difficulty. A foot soldier wore less armor than a knight. He might have an open-faced helmet and a shirt of mail with solid plates covering his back and chest.

Armor changed again as firearms became more common. Rigid armor would crack when hit by a shot from a pistol or musket. Some armorers responded by making their armor harder, while others produced plates that would dent rather than breaking. However, the only really effective technique was to thicken the armor, which made it too heavy to wear in battle. As armor became less useful, soldiers tended to wear less of it. By 1650 most mounted fighters wore only an open-faced helmet, a heavy breastplate, and a backplate. By 1700 armor had all but disappeared from the battlefield.

Tournaments called for special armor. Since participants did not have to carry the armor’s weight as long as they would in battle, they wore heavier armor that offered them greater protection. Each specific event in a tournament required its own type of armor. Some contests involved battles between mounted knights, while others featured hand-to-hand combat on foot.

Most armor, even that worn in battle, was decorated in some way. The decoration ranged from etched borders around the edges of plates to detailed images of saints or ancient heroes. Some very expensive armor was inlaid with patterns in silver or gold. Highly decorated weapons and suits of armor were status symbols, worn only at court or on special social occasions.

Development of Arms.

Renaissance weapons fell into three basic categories: edged weapons, staff weapons, and projectile weapons. Edged weapons included swords and daggers. Renaissance swords often had thin, stiff blades to pierce the gaps between the plates in a suit of armor. The blades were usually straight and had two sharpened edges, although some swords featured curved or single-edged blades. Large swords swung with two hands were common among foot soldiers in Germany and Switzerland.

A staff weapon, a pole with a steel head, was used to cut, stab, or strike an opponent. Heavily armored mounted knights favored the lance, a wooden shaft 10 to 12 feet long with a steel tip. Foot soldiers, especially in Switzerland, often used the halberd, a 5- to 7-foot shaft with a head that had both a cutting edge and a point for stabbing.

Projectile weapons were designed to hurl objects at great speeds. The simplest of these, the sling, threw stones or lead pellets. Most archers in the 1300s and 1400s used the longbow. Both it and the mechanical crossbow could shoot arrows capable of penetrating plate armor at certain ranges. In the 1500s, firearms gradually took the place of bows.

The first pistols, called “hand cannons,” appeared in the early 1300s. They were little more than a barrel with a handle, or stock. The barrel had a chamber, or breech, that held shot and powder. The soldier loaded powder into the open end of the barrel (the muzzle) and packed it tight with a rod. The bullet went in after the powder. The gunner touched a lighted fuse to a small hole in the barrel to ignite the powder and fire the shot.

Over the next few hundred years, various improvements made firearms more reliable and easier to fire. The most important development was the invention of firing mechanisms, known as locks, in the 1400s. The simplest kind was the matchlock. It had an arm that held the lighted fuse. Pulling a trigger turned the arm, touching the fuse to the powder. Even easier to use was the wheel lock, which removed the need for a fuse. It ignited the powder by striking a spark from a piece of iron pyrite when the trigger was pulled. A variation of this, the flintlock, relied on flint to produce a spark.

Heavy cannons, or artillery, appeared about the same time as firearms. Artillery pieces were loaded and fired in much the same way as firearms, but they fired much larger stones and iron balls. The biggest artillery pieces were used for castle sieges. The largest gun ever built could hurl a 300-pound stone ball up to two miles. However, siege cannons weighed thousands of pounds and could not be moved easily. By the late 1400s, field artillery had been developed that could be mounted on wheels and transported. Cannons also became common aboard ships. Like armor, many cannons were highly decorated with designs or the owners’ coats of arms.


In 1756 native troops trained by, and attached to, the British army (named sepoys) were issued red uniforms, which created a very effective esprit de corps, and European-standard training and weapons were introduced readily to these units. The British forces were clearly separated into three East India Company entities by this time: the Bombay, Madras, and Bengal Armies, each with its own command and responsibilities. Some British army units were also present in the country, but the proportion of Indian to European soldiers remained high; at the time of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 the Bengal Army consisted of approximately 225,000 Indians and 40,000 Europeans.

Three major factories were established in India: at Bengal on the northeastern coast, Madras near the tip of the subcontinent, and Bombay on the western coast. It was the men hired to protect these three trading centers that were to form the basis of the military force operated by “John Compa- ny” and that finally became the Indian army. Bengal’s first troops were an ensign and 30 men along with a gunner and his crew hired in the late seventeenth century. At Madras, the watchmen and security guards were the basis of the military unit headquartered there. Most of the men recruited into these small units were native Indians who served under the leadership of Englishmen, a practice that remained in effect until Indian independence in 1947.

John Company was not the first to hire local men, however, for the French (also trying to establish an economic presence in India) first conceived of the idea. As the ruling Mogul Empire was in its final days and power vacuums existed across India, the French and other Europeans learned that even a small force trained in European tactics, armed with European weapons, and led by European officers could defeat Indian armies vastly superior in number. The first large-scale armies, therefore, were private ones raised by local princes and sultans to protect their territory and expand at the expense of their neighbors. French, as well as English, officers officially and unofficially offered their services to local rulers, not only to profit personally but to give their respective countries a foothold in local politics. This would provide them with leverage in trade con- cessions as well as physically challenge other European competitors, like the East India Company.

In 1748, the first regular European force in British service was officially formed from the three fledgling units raised by the three factories. They had now, however, established themselves to such an extent that the British government set up local administrations under the direction of officials sent from London, and the result was the presidencies of Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. To show their interest in maintaining the strongest presence in India, and certainly to intimidate the French, the British government sent a regiment of the British Army to serve with John Company, the Thirty-ninth Regiment of Foot(infantry).

If the First Carnatic War had seen indigenous forces coming to the aid of Europeans, however ineffectively, the Second witnessed the renewal of European conflict in India through the vehicle of indigenous power struggles. It is both fitting and ironic, therefore, that the dates of the Second Carnatic War (1749-1754) lie between those of the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War (1755-1763). The death in 1748 of Nizam ul-Mulk, the nabob of Hyderabad, precipitated the Second Carnatic War. Taking advantage of the confused political situation, Chanda Sahib moved against the pro-British Nabob of Arcot, and with the aid of French forces under the Marquis Charles de Bussy, easily overthrew him. Chanda was then challenged by Mohammed Ali, the slain nabob’s son, who was in turn supported by the British. Through 1749 and 1750, Ali was supported by Nasir Jang, who had succeeded his father as nabob of Hyderabad. For his part, Chanda received the aid of Muzaffar Jang, Nasir’s son, who in 1750 succeeded as Nizam after the murder of his father.

As the bloodshed within the palaces seemed to settle, matters came to a climax on the battlefield. In September 1751, Chanda laid siege to Ali at Trichinopoly, supported by 1800 Frenchmen under de Bussy. It was clear that if Ali fell, British interest in the region went with him. Yet it was equally clear that the British lacked the resources to break the siege. Ali therefore urged that what forces were available be used to attack Chanda’s capital at Arcot, thus forcing him to lift the siege on Trichinopoly. On 22 August 1751, 200 Europeans, 300 sepoys, and three cannon, under the command of Robert Clive, set out from Madras. Arriving on 1 September, they found Arcot deserted by its garrison. It was not until 22 September that Chanda’s son, Raza Sahib, arrived with 4,000 men, plus 150 Frenchmen, and opened a 50-day siege that failed to drive Clive from the citadel.

The loss of his capital inflicted great damage to the prestige of Chanda and his French allies. It likewise encouraged the British to go on the offensive. On 3 December, Clive, commanding a force of European and native troops, defeated superior numbers under Raza at the hard-fought battle of Arni. Chanda’s forces were not entirely broken, however, and in February 1752 Raza besieged Madras. Though the British succeeded in holding the city, at Kaveripak (28 February) Clive only narrowly averted annihilation when his forces were ambushed by Raza. Despite this, it was only a matter of time before Chanda’s forces were forced to withdraw from Trichinopoly, and his French allies were forced to surrender to the British at Srirangam (4 June 1752).

Defeat at Srirangam meant the end for Chanda Sahib. Captured shortly after the battle, Chanda was summarily strangled and beheaded. Though fighting would continue intermittently for the next year, with the recall of Dupleix to France in August 1754 both companies quickly agreed to end the war.

The units raised by European officers now fought each other not just for the local influence of a ruling monarch, but for European influence as well. The key battle in this conflict in India was Plassey in 1757, when British- led forces under Robert Clive defeated French-led forces in an engagement that determined the European dominance of India for almost two centuries. Although this broke French power in India and led to the eventual total withdrawal of the French from the subcontinent, it marked the beginning of serious expansion of the military forces in India. Although foreign competition was banished, local resistance to British expansion was widespread. Even where the Indian rajahs or princes did not actively antagonize the British, the overriding view of John Company was that peace was good for business. That meant that if a prince in a territory adjacent to British- dominated lands was oppressing his people or waging war against his neighbors, then British intervention was necessary to maintain order. By maintaining order from one province to another, the British expanded their influence across most of India. Expansion was never the official policy of the British government: It “just happened.” Thus, through the end of the eighteenth century, the armies of the presidencies grew.

By 1795, a general reorganization was needed to set up the Company’s army along the same lines as that employed by the British Army. In that year, some 13,000 Europeans lived in India, both civilian and military, while 33,000 Indians served in the Company’s armed forces. Three separate commands were retained, but this move established a regular army, although still owned and operated by a private business. In Bengal, the forces consisted of three battalions of artillery, three battalions of British infantry, four regiments of native cavalry, and 12 regiments of native infantry. In Madras, two battalions of British infantry, two battalions of artillery, four regiments of native cavalry, and 11 regiments of native infantry made up the contingent. All the forces accepted recruits from across India, as well as some Afghans. The stigma of fighting against one’s own people was no obstacle to these men, for most of them were misfits or exiles. In many cases the recruits were of the lowest castes in Hindu society and viewed the army as the only way out of a hopeless future. Most of the native cavalry units were made up of refugees from the private armies of defeated princes. For all of them, the promise of regular food and pay was something they could not achieve any- where else. Moreover, as India was so divided among ethnic, religious, and political factions, rarely did one fight “one’s own people.”

The turn of the nineteenth century incited a new fervor in British administrators in India to grasp a firm hold on the subcontinent, as the rise of Napoleon in Europe threatened European interests worldwide. When Napoleon conquered a country in Europe, he immediately assumed control of all its colonies. This gave him opportunities to harass British colonies around the world. This, in turn, gave the British the excuse to “temporarily” occupy the colonies of other European nations, especially those of the Dutch in Africa and the Far East, in order to deny them to the French. Troops of the Company’s army in those years served for the first time outside of India, establishing a precedent that lasted through World War II. Within India, French agents roused independent aristocrats to challenge British power, and they found sympathetic ears in the province of Mysore and among the Mahratta Confederacy in central India. Under the direction of Marquis Wellesley, the Governor-General of the entire colony, British-Indian forces commanded by Wellesley’s brother, Arthur (soon to be- come Duke of Wellington), along with those under Commander-in-Chief General Lord Lake, soundly defeated the native forces arrayed against them and established British control in the middle of India in 1803-1804. This experience brought Arthur Wellesley not only valuable command experience but official notice, both of which resulted in his transfer to Spain and victory against Napoleon’s armies in Europe. Another war against the Mahrattas in 1817 destroyed the remaining pockets of discontent.

In the period of relative peace that followed, the Company’s army was once again reorganized, and the new table of organization showed a vast increase in its size. Of particular interest in this larger, reorganized force was a huge disparity between the numbers of Indian regiments and British regiments, with the Indian infantry regiments outnumbering the British by nearly 24 to 1. In spite of this fact, all the Indian regiments had British officers. Also of note was the introduction of Indians to units of artillery. This had been avoided up until this time, as the British did not wish to share that decisive technology. But the need for artillery had proven so important that Indian units were organized. However, when the Sepoy Rebellion broke out in 1857, the Company had reason to regret their new policy of inclusiveness. In that rebellion, Indian artillery units in the rebel forces caused such great harm to the British and loyal Indian units that one of the first changes made after the rebellion was to ban all Indian artillery forces.

Through the decades of the 1820s through the 1850s the Company’s army continued to grow and fight within India, maintaining order. Service in the military now was not just an escape for black sheep, but had become a respectable profession. It was the only organization in India, until the opening of the Civil Service to Indian employees, that took recruits from any background and mixed men of all social and religious standing. The only caste system inside the army was that of rank and of the British overlords and the Indian subordinates. As new provinces came un- der British control or influence, the best soldiers of that region were incorporated into the Company’s forces. The army grew to include Mahrattas after the two wars against them, Sikhs after the two wars against them, and Gurkhas after the war against them-all in the four decades prior to 1857. The armies of the three presidencies enlisted men from every region and ethnic group in India. Men of ethnic and religious diversity recruited from a particular region usually served together. Furthermore, the Indians were not only trained in European tactics and weaponry, but they also wore European uniforms. Prior to the Sepoy Rebellion, most of the Indians wore the same red coats and white pants as their British counterparts. Later they adopted a variety of impressive and colorful dress uniforms. It was also in India, among the frontier units, that soldiers first began to wear khaki, a cloth that would come to be part of military dress worldwide.

The army of the East India Company lasted until the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. By that time it numbered more than 311,000 Indian troops and just under 40,000 British troops, both regular army and Company soldiers.