Polish Armoured Divisions Post 1939 Part I

In 1941, the Polish-Soviet military convention permitted the formation of the `Polish Army in Russia’ under General Wladyslaw Anders. This decision launched one of the epic odysseys of modern warfare, worthy of Xenophon’s `Ten Thousand’. Polish refugees and deportees who had withstood the rigours of Stalin’s Arctic camps or of Siberian exile drifted into the collecting centres at Buzuluk on the Volga and at Yangi-Yul in Uzbekistan, and in March 1942, after endless obstructions by the Soviet authorities, crossed into British-controlled Persia. From there, the civilians were transferred to safety in India or Africa; the young men and women of military age were sent to Palestine for training. Many Polish Jews (Corporal Begin among them) opted to stay in Palestine, eventually to fight their British protectors and to launch the state of Israel. But the merger of the main body of Anders’s Army with Kopan’ski’s Brigade produced the `Second Corps’ which moved on to Cairo and joined the British Army in North Africa. In the next three years, fighting in the ranks of Montgomery’s Eighth Army, the Second Corps covered itself with glory-at Tobruk (1942), at Monte Cassino (1944), and at Bologna (1945).

Meanwhile, the Polish `First Corps’ of General Marian Kukiel was stationed in Scotland. At first, an excess of officers and too few men caused difficulties; and the island of Bute (known to the Poles as `the island of snakes’) was incongruously designated as a Polish political detention district. Later, through re-equipment and recruitment, five full divisions emerged. The Polish Parachute Brigade, under BrigadierGeneral Sosabowski, took part in the ill-fated landings at Arnhem. The First Polish Armoured Division of General Maczek played a crucial role at the Falaise Gap in the break-out from the Normandy beaches, and ended the War accepting the surrender of Wilhelmshaven.

No one can question the fact that the Polish Armed Forces, in total some 228,000 men under arms by 1945, set an outstanding example of duty and sacrifice in the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany. No Pole who loves his country can fail to honour their memory.

The unfortunate German-Polish War did not put an end to the Polish armoured forces. Many Polish soldiers having escaped to France, one ‘brigade polonaise’, with two battalions of R-35 tanks, was raised with them from April 1940 onwards. They fought gallantly during the French disaster and a number of them were, once again, evacuated to England. They formed, via an Army Tank Brigade and a reborn 10th Cavalry Brigade, the nucleus of an armoured division. Created in the spring of 1942, with Covenanter then Crusader III tanks, and later with Cromwell and Sherman tanks, the 1st Free Polish Armoured Division fought in Normandy, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Another Polish armoured brigade, formed in 1943 from personnel saved from Russian camps, had been engaged on the Italian front and later expanded into the 2nd Polish Armoured Division (2nd Warszawska Armoured Division). Both units were demobilised after the war.

Polish Soldiers

Some 100,000 Polish soldiers managed to evade capture and escaped through Romania, Hungary, and the Baltic states. Many eventually made their way to France and joined the Polish government-in-exile, which was headed by General Władysław Sikorski. Meanwhile, as early as May 1939, Polish and French officials had discussed the feasibility of forming military units manned by some of the half million Polish immigrants then living in France. By May 1940, the reconstituted Polish army in France had some 84,500 troops organized into two infantry divisions and a mechanized brigade. In addition, the Podhale Rifle Brigade fought in Norway and at Narvik, and the independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade was formed in the Middle East.

During the 1940 France Campaign, the Polish 1st Grenadier Division was destroyed fighting in Lorraine. The 2nd Rifle Division escaped into Switzerland, and its soldiers were interned there for the remainder of the war. Only some 30 percent of the Polish army managed to escape to Britain, where it again reconstituted and formed the Polish I Corps. That unit eventually consisted of the 1st Armored Division, the 4th Infantry Division, and the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. The parachute brigade’s most celebrated battle was its doomed jump into Arnhem to support the British there in Operation MARKET-GARDEN in September 1944.

1st Armored Division History

The Polish 1st Armoured Division (Polish 1 Dywizja Pancerna) was an Allied military unit during World War II, created in February 1942 at Duns in Scotland. At its peak it numbered approximately 16,000 soldiers. It was commanded by General Stanisław Maczek.

The division was formed as part of the I Polish Corps In the early stages the division was stationed in Scotland and guarded approximately 200 kilometres of British coast.


By the end of July 1944 the division had been transferred to Normandy. The final elements arrived on August 1 and the unit was attached to the First Canadian Army. It entered combat on August 8 during Operation Totalize. The division twice suffered serious bombings by Allied aircraft which accidentally bombed friendly troops, but yet it achieved a victory against the Wehrmacht in the battles for Mont Ormel, and the town of Chambois. This series of offensive and defensive operations came to be known as the Battle of Falaise in which a large number of German Wehrmacht and SS divisions were trapped in the Falaise pocket and subsequently destroyed. Maczek’s division had the crucial role of closing the pocket at the escape route of those German divisions, hence the fighting was absolutely desperate and the 2nd Polish Armoured Regiment, 24th Polish Lancers and 10th Dragoons supported by the 8th and 9th Infantry Battalions took the brunt of German attacks trying to break free from the pocket. Surrounded and running out of ammunition they withstood incessant attacks from multiple fleeing panzer divisions for 48 hours until they were relieved.

Falaise pocket

In accordance with the 1943 directive of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, the 1st Polish Armoured Division was not used in Operation Overlord but held in reserve. The division had struggled to reach its full establishment, and in 1943 Sosnokowski had stripped the infantry regiments in Scotland to fill it. On 1 August, the strength of the 1st Armoured Division was 13,000 officers and men, equipped with 381 tanks, 473 artillery pieces and 3,050 vehicles. 56 Its commander was General Maczek, who had led an armoured unit in Poland in September 1939 and in France in 1940. The insignia of the division was the helmet and Husaria eagle wings, which had been worn on the shoulders of the Polish soldiers who, under King Jan Sobieski, had stopped the Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683 and saved Christendom in Europe. The division was nicknamed `The Black Devils’. On 1 August, the day on which the Warsaw Uprising was launched, the 1st Armoured Division crossed the Channel. It was placed under the 1st Canadian Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Henry Crerar, and its objective was to assist in trapping the bulk of the German armies at Falaise.

Operation Totalise was the name given to the drive by the II Canadian Armoured Division, commanded by Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds, and the 1st Polish Armoured Division towards Falaise to cut off the German retreat to the Seine. It was launched on 7 August and began disastrously when the American bombers dropped their bombs on the Polish and Canadian front lines, killing 315 men. Attempts on the ground to alert the bombers to their error by throwing yellow smoke grenades came to nothing because the Americans were using yellow flares to mark their target.

A Canadian Spitfire pilot, after vainly trying to divert the first two waves of Fortresses that were bombing the gun lines, deliberately shot down the leader of the third wave to the accompaniment of tumultuous applause from the scattered, frightened soldiery below. The crew baled out.

Operation Totalise failed in the face of fierce resistance by the SS Hitlerjugend Panzer Division.

On 13 August, Operation Tractable opened with an attack by the Canadians towards Falaise and a drive by the Poles on the left flank towards Thun. Again American bombers bombed the allied positions, this time in the rear, causing 391 casualties. The Poles succeeded in breaking through the German defences and, on 15 August, the Polish reconnaissance regiment, the 10th Mounted Rifles, reached and secured a crossing over the river Dives near Jort. Further south the American army had reached Argentan. A Polish participant, Ryszard Zolski, recalled the tempo of the battles:

Falaise will be remembered as the most murderous battlefield of the invasion, where the might of the German Army clashed with the armies of America, England, Canada and Poland – where the Germans were determined to fight – not counting the cost, even to the last man. My God, how they fought – bravely and with determination, until at the end, hardly recognisable as human at all, only tattered remnants of clothing, flesh of men and horses, jumbled up with smashed armour, tanks and the like. Attack from the air, bombing, rockets, machine guns, together with our artillery, grenades and armour of every sort, finally annihilated their mighty army, and halted their retreat. Falaise – one of the most costly battles of the war, both in men and armament.

Maczek now split his limited forces: on 17 August he ordered the 24th Lancers, 10th Mounted Rifles and 2nd Armoured Regiment to advance towards Chambois, while the remainder of the division occupied a vital piece of high ground, Mont Ormel, also known as Hill 262 and `The Mace’.

The Poles had mixed fortunes on the road to Chambois, when the 2nd Armoured Regiment ended up in Les Chameaux, a few miles from Chambois, because their French guide had become disorientated in the dark. It was fortuitous because at Les Chameaux the Poles found and destroyed the rearguard of the 2nd Panzer Division before turning towards their target. On the way when they encountered a German motorised column in the dark:

The Germans halt their units and allow our column to pass. They even post a German soldier to regulate the traffic. He should be able to discern the American Shermans and those large white stars on the tanks and on my carriers. But it is still totally black. We just ride in front of the German column.

The 2nd Tactical Air Force flew sortie after sortie as Chambois `was delivered to the flames . . . The roads leading to it and the side streets were jammed with German armour already alight or smouldering, enemy corpses and a host of wounded soldiers.’ The Poles took so many prisoners that they struggled to spare enough men to guard them. On 19 August, the Poles linked up with the 90th United States Infantry Division. Lieutenant George Godrey noted of the Poles: `They were excellent fighters and very cold-blooded.’

The main body of the Poles was on `The Mace’, so nicknamed by Maczek because of its shape. This high, wooded escarpment overlooked the Chambois-Vimoutiers road along which the German forces were trying to escape eastwards under allied artillery fire. The Polish force expected an early reinforcement by the Canadian 4th Armoured Division under Major-General George Kitching, as they were rapidly running out of food and ammunition, despite receiving a limited resupply by a parachute drop, and they asked the Canadians to speed up their relief. Kitching, however, refused to do so and was sacked by Simonds. Then on 20 August, elements of Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd SS Panzer Division and of the 9th SS Panzer Division Der Hohenstaufen mounted an assault directly on the Mace: `Every combination of tactics was used: conventional infantry assaults, combined panzer and grenadier, unsupported Panther attacks, savage bombardments or no barrage at all.’ Second Lieutenant Tadeusz Krzyzaniak commented on the fighting:

Where are we? Where are they? In fact I know very well. THEY are in front of us, WE behind. At the same time, THEY are behind us, WE in front. Then it’s the opposite. Everywhere explosions, and everywhere blood: the blood of horses, the blood of others, and my blood.

All day the battle raged, with high casualties among both the attacking SS formations and the Polish defenders. Finally, on 21 August, the Canadians reached the beleaguered Poles and Ed Borowicz noted their reaction:

On the top of Hill 262 stands Lieut. Col Nowaczynski, the battalion commander, with the commander of the Canadian tanks, staring in silence at the battlefield. Over the khaki uniforms, at the emerald-blue lance pennons of the dead soldiers of the 8th Battalion, the disfigured faces, jutting jaws and teeth in deathly smiles, human parts – torsos, legs, bloodied stretchers, pieces of an anti-tank gun, and nearby a barrel of a broken mortar in the convulsive grip of a dead gunner. In the middle of a few blackened, smoking Shermans, on their turrets hangs a leaning torso, half scorched hands lying listlessly.

Tomasz Potworowski and a friend visited the scene a few days later and observed: `Already by then the Canadian sappers charged with clearing the mess had erected a sign on the “Mace” which read: “A Polish Battlefield.” Polish losses up to 22 August were 325 killed and 1,116 wounded or missing: this was 10 per cent of the division’s strength. Sosnkowski telegraphed his troops from London: `Your sacrifices will enable the rights of Poland to be established on an indestructible foundation.’ The Germans left behind 50,000 dead and 200,000 taken prisoner in the Falaise Pocket.


Polish Armoured Divisions Post 1939 Part II

Belgium and the Netherlands

After the Allied armies broke out from Normandy, the Polish 1st Armoured Division pursued the Germans along the coast of the English Channel. It liberated, among others, the towns of Saint-Omer, Ypres, Ghent and Passchendaele. A successful outflanking manoeuvre planned and performed by General Maczek allowed the liberation of the city of Breda without any civilian casualties (October 29, 1944). The Division spent the winter of 1944-1945 on the south bank of the river Rhine, guarding a sector around Moerdijk, Netherlands. In early 1945 it was transferred to the province of Overijssel and started to push along with the Allies along the Dutch-German border, liberating the eastern parts of the provinces of Drenthe and Groningen with towns such as Emmen, Coevorden and Stadskanaal.


In April 1945 the 1st Armoured entered Germany in the area of Emsland. On May 6 the division seized the Kriegsmarine naval base in Wilhelmshaven, where General Maczek accepted the capitulation of the fortress, naval base, East Frisian Fleet and more than 10 infantry divisions. There the Division ended the war and was joined by the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. It undertook occupation duties until 1947, when the division was disbanded, it and the many Polish displaced persons in the Western occupied territories forming a Polish enclave at Haren in Germany which was for a while known as “Maczków”. The majority of its soldiers opted not to return to now Soviet occupied Poland and stayed in exile.

Wilhemshaven 1945

The Germans resisted the Allies strongly on their own territory but slowly and surely the Allies advanced, and the Polish objective was altered to the important German naval base at Wilhelmshaven. From 19 to 29 April, the Poles fought hard to advance, as the terrain proved ideal for defence since it was extremely marshy with a thin layer of peat covering the tracks along which the tanks and armoured vehicles had to pass. The obvious routes that the Poles had to advance along meant that the Germans knew precisely where to place their defences.

The Germans were collapsing on all fronts and Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin on 30 April. On 6 May, Maczek attended a meeting between General Simonds and a German delegation led by General Erich von Straube. Simonds made it clear that only unconditional surrender was on offer. The 1st Polish Armoured Division was given the honour of occupying Wilhemshaven, and Colonel Antoni Grudzinski, second in command of the Polish 10th Armoured Brigade, noted the reaction of the Germans to this news:

An officer on my staff, a former student at Gdansk Polytechnic, translated every sentence into German. When the words ‘Polish Division’ were uttered by the translator, and as if by inattentiveness repeated, it seemed the Germans whitened and unease flashed in their eyes. I enquired if they understood – ‘Jawohl’ – they replied. I gave a sign that they might leave. But, a thought passed through my mind, ‘This is for September 1939’.

The Poles took control of Wilhelmshaven and accepted the surrender of 19,000 German officers, including a general and an admiral. Three cruisers, 18 submarines, 205 battleships and support vessels plus a vast array of artillery and infantry weaponry were taken into Polish custodianship. The division had lost 304 officers and 5,000 other ranks since August 1944. Despite all that Poland had suffered at the hands of the Germans, Maczek maintained strict discipline to ensure that the Poles did not take reprisals. This, despite the fact that the division had liberated a concentration camp at Oberlangen full of emaciated women POWs, members of the AK who had surrendered after the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising and had been held there without the protection of the Geneva Convention. On 19 May, General Anders visited Wilhelmshaven and Maczek had prepared for the visit by ordering the German population to sew Polish flags using white sheets and the red portion of the Nazi flags. The result was an impressive array of Polish flags on 25-feet-high posts shimmering along the avenue where the division marched past Anders.

Organization during 1944-45

10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade (10 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej) – Col. T. Majewski

    1st Polish Armoured Regiment (1 pułk pancerny) – Lt.Col. Aleksander Stefanowicz

    2nd Polish Armoured Regiment (2 pułk pancerny) – Lt.Col. S. Koszustki

    24th Polish Lancers Regiment (Armoured; 24 pułk ułanów im. Hetmana Żółkiewskiego) – Lt.Col. J. Kański

    10th Polish Dragoons Regiment (10 pułk dragonów zmotoryzowanych) – Lt.Col. Władysław Zgorzelski

3rd Polish Infantry Brigade (3 Brygada Strzelców) – Col. Marian Wieroński

    1st Polish Highland Battalion (1 battalion Strzelców Podhalańskich) – Lt.Col. K. Complak

    8th Polish Rifle Battalion (8 battalion strzelców) – Lt.Col. Aleksander Nowaczyński

    9th Polish Rifle Battalion (9 battalion strzelców flandryjskich) – Lt.Col. Zygmunt Szydłowski

    1st Polish Independent HMG Squadron (samodzielna kompania ckm.) – Maj. M. Kochanowski

Divisional Artillery (Artyleria dywizyjna) – Col. B. Noel

    1st Polish Motorized Artillery Regiment (1 pułk artylerii motorowej) – Lt.Col. J. Krautwald

    2nd Polish Motorized Artillery Regiment (2 pułk artylerii motorowej) – Lt.Col. K. Meresch

    1st Polish Anti-Tank Regiment (formed in 1945 from smaller units) (1 pułk artylerii przeciwpancernej) – Major R. Dowbór

    1st Polish Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (1 pułk artylerii przeciwlotniczej) – Lt.Col. O. Eminowicz, later Maj. W. Berendt

Other Units

    10th Polish Mounted Rifle Regiment (10 pułk strzelców konnych) (amoured reconnaissance equipped with Cromwell tanks) – Maj. J. Maciejowski

    HQ, Military Police,

    engineers (saperzy dywizyjni) – Lt.Col. J. Dorantt

    signals (1 batalion łączności) – Lt.Col. J. Grajkowski

    administration, military court, chaplaincy, reserve squadrons, medical services.


    885 – officers and NCOs

    15,210 – soldiers

    381 – tanks (mostly M4 Shermans)

    473 – artillery pieces (mostly motorized)

    4,050 – motor cars, trucks, utility vehicles, artillery carriers.

THE TANG, 618-907

The Early Tang: Challenges and Successes

Seizing on the Sui disasters, Li Yüan, a high-ranking Sui general, rose against the emperor and went on to establish the Tang dynasty. The men under his command on the day of his revolt totaled roughly 30,000, both infantry and cavalry. Like many of the generals who hoped to replace the Sui, he was able to enlist the aid of several thousand Turkish cavalrymen. By the time Li Yüan had captured the city of Changan, which was proclaimed the Tang capital, he had picked up an additional 200,000 men. Many of these were men who had deserted the Sui army during and after the disastrous Korean campaigns. Li Yüan divided this force into twelve divisions, each led by a trusted general, for there was still much fighting to come before China was securely in Tang hands.

These were true divisions, expected to be able to operate on their own with a full complement of various types of weapons and soldiers, both infantry and cavalry. In addition, the soldiers were allotted lands on which their families were to be settled. The production of these lands was to make the divisions self-sufficient in supplies, an institutional continuation of the Northern Wei and Sui military systems. Like the Sui founder, Li Yüan and his son and successor, Li Shimin, understood the importance of pacifying both China and the lands to the north. This was why Li Yüan took such care to settle large numbers of his soldiers on lands near to the steppes. Li Shimin, better known by his reign title of Tang Taizong, was particularly successful at this, using both military and diplomatic strategies to become not only emperor of the Chinese but Qaghan (essentially, “Emperor”) of the Turks as well.

Unlike members of the traditional ruling classes of southern China, but like Tang Taizong, many of the leading figures of the early decades of the Tang were very comfortable with steppe traditions such as hunting and the relative freedom of women-a result of the intermingling of Chinese and nomadic peoples during the period of disunion. Applying this knowledge, Taizong took advantage of disunion among the various steppe tribes to insinuate himself into their politics and feuds. The result was that many of the nomadic tribes became an arm of the Tang military system. Taizong thus solved-at least for a time-the main problem plaguing Chinese armies since the Zhou period: the lack of horses, needed to create a credible cavalry arm. The nomads made up the bulk of the Tang cavalry during the reign of Taizong, and they were called on at times to assist in his campaigns for the consolidation of Tang rule within China proper. Those few times steppe tribes refused to heed his orders, he sent Tang armies, aided by other steppe cavalry, to bring them to heel.

Taizong was accepted due to his adaptation to steppe traditions, especially his knowledge of steppe politics and military tactics. Frequently, he led his soldiers in person, often when outnumbered by enemy forces, reportedly having four horses shot out from under him during the course of his campaigns. He was also acquainted with the steppe military tactic of the feigned retreat, adapting this tactic successfully from its use with cavalry forces to use with primarily infantry forces.

Later Tang emperors were unable to maintain the sort of personal authority that was necessary to control the steppe nomads. But nomadic internal rivalries allowed the Tang dynasty to keep its northern frontier fairly secure for a few decades after Taizong’s death. Even after Tang control on the frontiers weakened later in the eighth century, the dynasty could often call on nomadic armies for assistance. But Tibetan invasions and the An Lushan Rebellion in the mid-eighth century, coupled with ongoing transformations of the Chinese economy and society, would finally destroy the almost symbiotic system of nomadic cavalry alongside settled Chinese infantry.

The Tang Army

The Fubing System The Tang dynasty, especially from the time of Tang Taizong, consciously worked to create a system whereby the dynasty was primarily defended by citizen-soldiers. Like the Han dynasty, the Tang was suspicious of large professional armies, believing that skilled professionals were much harder to control or to keep loyal than an army composed of free citizens. The Tang also believed that some skilled professionals were necessary, especially for the expeditions the dynasty planned in both the north and south and as a mobile strike force. As we have seen, the cavalry arm was primarily made up of nomadic horsemen who could be both used as a buffer and called on to assist in military expeditions. In the next section, we will discuss the skilled professional force that was kept near the capital. In this section, we will focus on the large forces of citizen-soldiers called the Fubing Army.

The term Fubing has been translated in various ways, the most common being “militia.” This is not satisfactory. Militia usually refers to men who are soldiers only part-time or part of the year; the rest of the time, they engage in their primary occupation. The members of the Fubing, however, were primarily professional soldiers, members of a standing army who spent all or nearly all of the year in military units, training or engaging in security duties.

The confusion in meaning comes from how the Fubing were recruited, and, sometimes, the Chinese sources from the Tang period are themselves unclear as to what the functions of the Fubing were. Nonetheless, in tracing the evolution of the Fubing, we learn that in the early Tang, at least up until the end of the eighth century, it was the most effective part of the Tang military, maintaining the security of the Tang frontier and assisting in several of the early Tang military expeditions. The Fubing commanders were some of the best in the whole Tang military.

Li Yüan established the capital of Tang China at Changan, located in the Guanzhong Province. As we saw earlier, by this time, he had over 200,000 men in his command. Although more fi ghting would be necessary to establish control over the rest of China, Li Yüan needed to ensure that the northern frontier was secure. To that end, many of these soldiers and their families were settled in agricultural communities. When additional soldiers were needed for his armies, Li Yüan had these families furnish them, along with their equipment and weapons. As these communities were expected to be self-supporting, the Tang court was spared a large expense. When this system-obviously extensively copied from the Sui military system-was expanded to include all ten of the provinces under Tang Taizong, the Tang had seemingly solved all three of the main Chinese military concerns. That is, there were military forces on the northern frontier to protect against nomadic threats; scattered military units were available for internal uses; and, because all these forces were self-supporting, there was little drain on imperial finances.

When the Fubing system was established, there were 623 communities, each with 800-1200 soldiers plus their families, making a total military force of well over 600,000. While the soldiers trained, their families were required to work their assigned lands, much as in the Sui and the Northern Wei earlier. But a key difference was that during the Tang dynasty, little private landownership was allowed in China, and all land was divided up according to a very complicated formula. This Equitable-Field system was implemented throughout the early Tang and was the basis for the Fubing military system. Those communities classifi ed as military were allotted a certain amount of land, which in the early decades of the Fubing system was quite large. In return for providing soldiers and supplying military needs, these communities were exempted from many taxes. Officers from the Imperial Guards in the capital were dispatched to the Fubing communities to oversee the administration of the lands and to lead the soldiers when necessary. This was to prevent local commanders from bonding too tightly with their men and gaining too much independent power, though lower-ranking officers usually came from within the ranks.

Recruitment was not by universal conscription, nor was it a strictly hereditary duty as under previous systems such as the Sui. Instead, roughly once every three years, officers of the Imperial Guards would circuit the Fubing communities and recruit, choosing on the basis of wealth, physical fitness, and number of adult males in a military household. Though the age of recruitment varied over time, generally a man was enlisted from age 20, and he would serve until age 60, when he could retire. Membership in the early decades was considered an honor, and those families with wealth and influence were able to get a higher proportion of their sons accepted. It is not clear how rigidly the physical requirements were enforced, but recruits were supposed to be in good health and were tested on physical strength. Those from frontier communities were also tested on their horsemanship.

After being accepted as a Fubing soldier, the new recruit and his family were expected to provide all of his rations, armor, and weapons. Groups of families were required to provide horses, mules, or oxen for use by the Fubing. This was a relatively cost-free way for the Tang to maintain a standing army, its only expense being the allocated land.

The three main duties of the Fubing were, in order of importance, garrison troops on the frontier, guardsmen in the capital area of Changan, and combat troops on expeditions. Local commanders of the Fubing were expressly forbidden to move their troops out of their camps without authorization from the court. There were exceptions in emergencies, but a commander who did move his men without prior approval had to notify the court immediately. Punishment for failing to follow these rules was exile or even death for the offending commander. Throughout the seventh century, the Fubing acquitted itself well along the frontiers and also maintained the Tang hold over the newly unified southern territories.

Guard duty in the capital area was considered a particularly important function of the Fubing by the Tang court. A complicated rotation system was devised to determine which Fubing units had guard duty and when. At any given time, there were tens of thousands of Fubing soldiers in various defensive positions in Changan and the immediate area. They were not the only military forces in the capital, but they were considered a check on the Palace Army that was supposedly the personal military force of the emperor.

Taking part in Tang military campaigns was the third duty of the Fubing. Rarely did the Fubing campaign on their own. Most often, they went into combat with large numbers of other Tang military units. The Korean campaigns, for example, were manned primarily by troops recruited from regions near Korea, but the Fubing were often the backbone of the expeditionary force. Also, an expeditionary force sent to subdue the kingdom of Nanchao (the present-day Chinese province of Yunnan) contained a large number of Fubing soldiers.

There is general agreement that through the 600s the Fubing were a competent, efficient military force that remained loyal to the Tang court. However, changes in Tang China’s economy and society in the early- to mid-eighth century led to the decline of the Fubing. The Equitable-Field system was without doubt the foundation of the Fubing military system, but in the early 700s, aristocratic families, government officials, religious orders, and others with influence were gaining effective private ownership of land. Many of the Fubing lands passed into private hands, and many military households saw their share of land reduced drastically. Service in the Fubing became less prestigious, and families increasingly saw classification as a military household as a burden and attempted various means to have their status changed to civilian. Many families attached themselves to Buddhist temples or religious orders as a quick way to relieve themselves of the burden of supplying the Fubing. Many others fled to newly reclaimed lands, becoming tenant-farmers or laborers on the lands of the wealthy in preference to service as a Fubing household, testament to how burdensome that service had become. Reports in the 740s told of massive desertions from the Fubing armies, at the same time that fierce Tibetan armies were raiding the northern and northwestern frontiers. The Fubing system was formally abolished in favor of a system of voluntary, recruited soldiers in 749.

The Palace Army In addition to the Fubing units that were expected to be composed of citizensoldiers, the Tang maintained a professional force at the capital of Changan, designed as the personal army of the emperor. This was the Palace Army, composed originally of those units used by Li Yüan in his revolt against the Sui dynasty. Often, this army is called the “Northern Army” because it was originally posted in a defensive position just north of Changan, as well as in the northern sector of the city. By Tang Taizong’s time, nearly all of the soldiers in this army were from noble or wealthy families located in the capital region.

At its height of effectiveness in the late seventh century, there were probably no more than 60,000 men in the Palace Army. In this early period, it was the core of Tang military strength and even included a cavalry element. Members of this army trained constantly together, and those who were tall and strong and showed ability at horse-archery were admitted to the cavalry, commanded mostly by specially recruited Turkish officers.

Other than some of the cavalry officers, most officers in the Palace Army came from the Imperial Guards. Indeed, most of the top Fubing officers were also Imperial Guardsmen. The Imperial Guards were recruited exclusively from the families of nobles and former high-ranking officials, and some have seen this as a modified version of the “hostage system” that had been used by the Han dynasty to maintain some measure of control over powerful families. As long as membership in the Imperial Guards was esteemed, there was a constant flow of competent, energetic officers for both the Palace Army and the Fubing. But by the late seventh century, the Imperial Guards- and therefore the Palace Army-had become involved in imperial succession struggles, and their effectiveness had diminished considerably.

The empress Wu (690-705) greatly expanded the Palace Army, enlisting men from outside the traditional recruiting grounds. This could have been an invigorating move that revitalized the military efficiency of the Palace Army; but, instead, a major unit of the Palace Army was used in 705 to depose the empress, and various other units later were frequently called on to assist in court intrigues. During the outbreak of the An Lushan Rebellion in 755, the Palace Army simply melted away as the rebel forces approached. Only 1000 of the supposedly elite force were left to accompany the emperor as he fled the capital.

The Decline of Tang Military Efficiency

New Frontier Armies Constant and growing threats from a newly unified Tibetan kingdom in the late seventh century demonstrated the increasing feebleness of the Fubing military system. The Tang relied to a large degree on their Uighur and Turkish nomadic allies, who by this time could no longer be considered even remotely under the control of Tang China. The Uighurs had been especially effective in assisting the Tang, but they did not come cheap. By the 670s, vast amounts of silk and other goods were necessary to buy Uighur assistance. When the payments slacked, the Uighurs would strike within China to exact payment and, since the Fubing garrisons were significantly weakened, their raids were often successful. To lessen reliance on the hired Uighur cavalry and protect the frontier, the Tang replaced the Fubing system with one of long-serving volunteer frontier armies, led by imperially appointed military governors possessing a good deal of civil as well as military authority.

For military encampments for these new troops, the Tang constructed massive fortresses across the three provinces that bordered the steppe frontier. The frontier fortresses were connected to and communicated with each other and the capital by post roads and beacon towers. In some cases, the fortresses were constructed on former Turkish territory. While the Turks were away in battle with tribes further west, the Tang army moved in swiftly to secure the area, constructing fortresses and denying the Turks some of their prime pasturelands. By the 720s, there were well over 65,000 soldiers with 15,000 horses stationed in Guanzhong alone, with comparable numbers in the adjoining two provinces.

This entailed an enormous expense, and, though the Tang was a fairly prosperous time in China’s history, this level of outlay proved difficult to maintain. Unlike the Fubing forces, these frontier armies were not self-supporting, nor could they be, with many of the soldiers posted relatively far north in lands less suited to settled agriculture. The difficulty of paying these forces prompted dangerous political arrangements. Taxing authority was given over to the military governors, who increasingly ruled independently of the court.

Until 750, the system appeared to be working. Tang China faced a series of ups and downs in terms of security along their frontiers, but none of the problems they encountered was very serious. Trade through the Tang possessions in Central Asia continued fairly smoothly, and the nomadic peoples on all fronts were, if not fully pacifi ed, at least not of serious concern. But the year 751 saw three major military disasters for the Tang. The first occurred at the Talas River on the western frontier, where a major Chinese force under the veteran Korean general Gao Xianzhi was decisively defeated by a combined Arab-Turkish force. Another Chinese army, on the northeastern frontier, led by the Turkish-Soghdian general An Lushan, was decisively defeated by a predominantly Khitan nomadic force. Then, a major Chinese army was defeated and wiped out in an invasion of the Nanchao kingdom in the southwest, leaving the Sichuan area of China vulnerable to renewed Tibetan attacks. The combination of defeats seriously destabilized the dynasty.

Transformation and Decline The Tang dynasty faced two big problems in trying to rebuild its military forces after the disasters of the mid-700s. First, although the large frontier armies did not fare well in combat against foreign forces, internally, their commanders continued to accrue tremendous independent power. The threat to central authority posed by military commanders and the great warrior aristocracy became acute in the 800s as commanders gained control of the civil government in their provinces and won the right to hereditary succession to their commands. In the end, independent warlords brought down the dynasty-a development that would significantly influence the military policy of the succeeding Song dynasty.

Second, the increasing demographic and economic influence of southern China in the empire as a whole had significant ramifications for the social and military structure. The south was even more unsuitable terrain for raising horses and maintaining cavalry traditions than the north of China. As a result, Chinese reliance on nomadic tribes for cavalry became even greater at the same time as the rulers of China became even more distanced from the culturally syncretic milieu that had produced the leaders of the early Tang. Thus, Chinese control over their nomadic allies waned, and cavalry warfare became more and more divergent from native Chinese military traditions. This, too, would fuel the Song reaction against great warrior aristocratic families, who most strongly embraced those traditions.

Events reached crisis proportions because of the independent power of military commanders. An Lushan, the most powerful Tang general and a court favorite, rebelled in 755. After seven years of chaotic fighting, the various rebel forces were finally defeated, but only with significant aid from nomadic Uighur horsemen, who became a problem in turn. A succession of emperors rebuilt a central army around the core of a loyal frontier army; this Shence Army was led by eunuchs, reflecting an effort to solve the problem of commander loyalty. Though temporarily successful-the Shence Army was instrumental in putting down another rebellion by military governors in 781-the institution had little success controlling the nomadic frontier because of its central location in the capital. Further, its power was steadily diluted by aristocratic infl uence, money shortages caused by the independence of the military governors, and involvement in court politics. Increasingly enfeebled, the Tang dynasty finally fell in 907, ushering in several decades of warfare that would accelerate the underlying changes in China’s political, social, and military structure.

The Persian [Achaemenid] Army

Persian military forces were drawn from all areas of the Empire, members of the elite corps as well as conscripts levied for local action or for major campaigns. Thus the label “Persian” is not to be understood as describing the ethnic makeup but rather the troops’ allegiance, fighting under Persian officials or commanders. As has been seen, however, the command structure was not thoroughly Persian by any means either, save at the very top of the hierarchy, including most satraps and of course the King himself. The Old Persian word kra may be translated either as “army” or as “people.” This reveals the army’s ultimate origin – among the Persians themselves, many of whom came to form the corps of the standing army – as it results in occasional confusion in modern translation. When kra appears in a text, it is not always evident to us whether the people as a collective group or the specific subset of the army is meant.

Herodotus gives a full and colorful account of the vast and diverse forces of the imperial levy, the full army and navy of Persians and subject peoples, when he tallies the vast forces that Xerxes arrayed against Greece in 480 BCE. Herodotus also names many of the commanders, an elaborate depiction of the peoples of the Empire with descriptions of their clothing and equipment (7.61–100). For example, both Persians and Medes were arrayed in felt caps, colored tunics over scale mail, trousers, wickerwork shields, and a variety of weapons. Ethiopians (Nubians) wore leopard or lion skins and carried large bows. Paphlagonians wore woven helmets and carried small shields and spears. That Herodotus’ entire portrayal better describes a parade than a battle array has long been understood. But it typifies the diversity of peoples and weaponry that the Persian commanders had to weld into an effective fighting force. Persian forces, both infantry and cavalry, were renowned for their use of the bow: a frequent tactic was the unleashing of storms of arrows from behind a shield wall or for horsemen to harry the enemy with volleys of arrows.

Scholars debate the effectiveness of the Persian forces’ armor and tactics especially in the context of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece in 480 and Alexander’s invasion of the Persian Empire in the late 330s. Herodotus (9.62) describes the final crush of the Persians against the Spartans at the Battle of Plataea in 479:

On the one hand the Persians were no less than the Greeks in courage

and strength, but the Persians were without shields and, beyond this,

were unskilled and not the equal of their opponents in experience.

This passage offers just one example of the persistent problems of source evaluation. When Herodotus says that the Persians were “without shields” (Greek anoploi), what does that mean? Were the shields lost in battle? Was this contingent of the Persian army simply not carrying shields? And which group was it, ethnic Persians or some other? Some translate anoploi as “without armor,” which adds another layer to the problem. The Spartans were the most (by far) professionalized Greek soldiers of their day, so even the elite corps of the Persian army would have had their hands full against them. Beyond the elite, levied troops from the provinces of course did not have the same sort of armor, weaponry, or tactics as did, for example, the Persian Immortals and similar contingents. Numerous other passages in Greek sources provide similar perspectives: heavily armed Greek infantry, fighting in tight phalanx formations, trumped the (as generally described in Greek sources) light armed, less experienced, inferior Persian infantry every time – except when they did not. It is difficult to sift the Greek stereotypes from the realities of individual battles. That the Persians were able to conquer and retain so much territory for so long testifies to their army’s effectiveness.

The elite Persian force, numbering 10,000 according to Herodotus (7.83), was called the Immortals. Whenever one of their number died or was wounded or ill, another would take his place so the number of the battalion always remained 10,000. They were the most effective, and feared, Persian infantry force, and clearly comprised elite members of Persian society: men of prominent families or high rank. One thousand of them had gold pomegranates on their spears, some of whom comprised the king’s personal bodyguard, and the other 9,000 had silver. Herodotus’ incidental detail that the Immortals were conspicuous for their gold (bracelets or other marks of status and honor), and that they were accompanied by wagons bearing concubines and many servants, indicates that we are not dealing with the rank and file. Prestige items are frequently mentioned in conjunction with Persian officers and nobles, a phenomenon that also fed Greek stereotypes of Persian effeminacy and weakness. But these items were more symbolic than practical and communicated entirely different messages – honor and status – in a Persian context.

Greek sources often highlight the prominence and skill of Greek mercenaries, and from that perspective it was only thanks to better trained and better equipped Greek professionals that the Empire was able to field any sort of worthwhile fighting force in the fourth century. This trope contributed heavily to the stereotype of the effeminate, decaying Persian Empire before its fall to Alexander the Great. And even though Greek mercenary forces were an increasing phenomenon in the fourth century, and certainly used by Persian commanders, their significance often seems overestimated in Greek sources.

Persian Arms and Equipment

Herodotus describes the arms and equipment of Xerxes’ army in some detail. The Persians themselves wore floppy felt hats, tunics and armour exhibiting a surface of fishlike iron scales, and trousers. They carried wicker shields. Their weapons were large bows, short spears and daggers which were suspended from the belts on the right-hand side. Thus equipped, they might or might not be mounted. Persian armies generally relied upon the large numbers of their horsemen and bowmen.

Apart from the Persians themselves, Herodotus gives particulars of the other national contingents which the Persian kings were able to mobilize, although the statistics on which he based his information may have referred to the potential fighting strength of the entire Persian Empire rather than to Xerxes’ expeditionary force, gigantic though this force unquestionably was. We hear of Assyrians and others with bronze helmets; but in general, the Asiatics were protected only by various kinds of soft headgear and they seem to have worn no substantial body armour. Apart from daggers, bows and arrows, their weapons included iron-spiked clubs, axes and lassoes.

Cavalrymen – especially cavalry officers – may have worn more protective armour. Masistius, the Persian cavalry commander who was killed in the early stages of the Plataea campaign, wore gold scale armour under his scarlet surcoat. When his horse was hit by an arrow, he defended himself vigorously on foot and could not be brought down by body blows. At last, the Athenians who surrounded him guessed the secret and struck at his face.

Persian archers, both mounted and unmounted, carried their arrows in a quiver slung on the hip. This practice differed from that of the Greek archers whose quivers were slung on their backs. The hip position was no doubt more expeditious when there was a requirement for rapid fire.

Herodotus refers to the war chariots of the Indian contingent, but there is no mention of these chariots being used in the fighting. Persian kings normally went to war in chariots, which were also employed by the Persians for hunting. The Greeks of the classical period used chariots only for sporting events. Generally speaking, by the time of the Persian Wars the war chariot had been replaced by the man on horseback. The change had no doubt been brought about by the improved efficiency of horses’ bits, which made it easier for the rider to control his steed.

The Persian High Command

The Persian numbers in the two invasions 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.

The Persian Fleet

No one who reads Herodotus’ narrative can underestimate the importance of the naval factor in the two Persian invasions. The Persians were an inland power and possessed no fleet of their own. It says all the more for the organizing ability of the Great Kings – Xerxes in particular – that they were able to muster such vast armadas. It also suggests that their knowledge of Greek seamanship and fighting power was such that they by no means despised the enemy with whom they had to deal.

The largest contingent of the Persian fleet consisted of Phoenician vessels, manned by Phoenician crews. Rather surprisingly, the Persians relied also upon ships and crews from the Greek Ionian cities which they had subjugated. Inevitably, they must have felt some doubts about the loyalty of the Greek contingents of their own fleet. On several occasions during the campaigns, the Ionian effort seems to have been half-hearted, and at the battle of Mycale the Ionian Greeks at last deserted their Persian overlords to aid their compatriots.

Artemisia, the Greek princess who ruled Halicarnassus (subject to Persian goodwill), was present herself on shipboard at the battle of Salamis, fighting on the Persian side. However, she seems to have joined either fleet as circumstances dictated at any particular moment, for when pursued by an Athenian vessel she deliberately rammed and sank another galley of her own contingent. The Athenians, thinking that she had changed sides, abandoned the pursuit and Artemisia made good her escape without further impediment.

The truth is possibly that Xerxes found it less risky to take the Ionian fleet with him than to leave it in his rear. On every ship there was a force of soldiers, either Persians, Medes or others whose loyalty was to be trusted. Persian commanders often took the place of local captains and Xerxes probably kept the leaders of the subject communities under his personal surveillance. Their position closely resembled that of hostages to the Persians.

Apart from the Phoenician and Greek naval contingents, there was in Xerxes’ fleet an Egyptian squadron which was to distinguish itself in the course of the fighting. We hear also of ships from Cyprus and Cilicia. Cyprus contained both Greek and Phoenician cities and the people of Cilicia were largely of Greek extraction. Whether the Cilicians felt any bond of sympathy with the Greeks of the mainland is another question, but only the links of empire united them with the Persians. The proportion of the total naval strength to that of the land army is recorded: the land forces, when counted by Xerxes at Doriscus in Thrace, were, according to Herodotus, 1,700,000 strong: the strength of the fleet is given with some precision as 1,207 vessels, not including transports.

Persian Naval Strategy

It is interesting that Xerxes reverted to his father’s original plan and decided to invade Greece from the north. He must have considered that his channel through the Athos peninsula eliminated the main hazard of this route. Clearly, he could deploy a much larger army in Greece if his land forces could make their own way along the coast. At the same time, the fleet keeping pace on the army’s flank contained transports which considerably eased his supply problem. The land forces carried a good deal of their own baggage and equipment with the help of camels and other beasts of burden. These did not include horses. It was not customary in the ancient world to use horses for such purposes and it is noteworthy that Xerxes transported his horses by sea on special ships. Horseshoes were unknown in the ancient centres of civilization, and it is possible that the Persian cavalry might have reached Greece with lame mounts if their horses had been obliged to make the whole journey by land.

Warships were, of course, necessary to protect both the transports and the land forces. Without naval defence, the Persian army would have been exposed to the danger of Greek amphibious attacks on its flank and its rear. Moreover, it was Xerxes’ hope that he would crush any Greek naval units immediately, wherever he met them.

He met them first at Artemisium, on the northern promontory of Euboea. Several actions were fought there, with varying outcome. The Greek position was well chosen. In the narrow channel between the Euboean coast and the mainland, the Greeks could not be enveloped by superior numbers. At the same time, they guarded the flank of Leonidas’ forces at Thermopylae. If the Persians sailed round Euboea to attack them in the rear, then the Persian land forces would be separated from their seaborne support. What took the Greeks by surprise was the enormous size of Xerxes’ force, which despite all reports far exceeded their most pessimistic estimates. It was possible for Xerxes to send one section of his fleet round the south of Euboea while he engaged the Greeks at Artemisium with the remainder. Such a manoeuvre entailed no loss of numerical superiority on either front. But summer storms gathered over Thessaly and aided the Greeks. The very size of Xerxes’ fleet meant that there were not sufficient safe harbours to accommodate all the ships; a considerable part of it had to lie well out to sea in rough weather. In this way many ships were wrecked. When a squadron was dispatched to round Euboea and sail up the Ruripus strait, which divides the long island from the mainland, this contingent also fell victim to storms and treacherous currents. The task assigned to it was never carried out.

Quite apart from the figures given by Herodotus, events themselves testify to the huge size of the Persian armada. Despite the heavy losses suffered at Artemisium, Xerxes’ fleet still enjoyed the advantage of dauntingly superior numbers when, late in the same season, the battle of Salamis was fought. Even after Salamis, the number of surviving ships and crews was such that the Greek fleet at Mycale hesitated long before attacking them.

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.

Command Structure of the Macedonian Army

The command structure of the Macedonian army was extremely complex, consisting of many separate layers of authority. At the highest levels it is quite well known; the same cannot be said of lesser ranks, but there are hints that suggest that, even at its lowest levels, it was as complex as the more powerful positions. As with many areas of Alexander’s empire, and particularly within the army, the command structure was continually evolving as new positions were created and others became obsolete. The most significant changes, however, were probably politically motivated. Alexander gradually changed the army from being that of Philip, through the influence of Parmenio and his family, to being his own, particularly after 331/0, when Parmenio’s influence had been removed.

Macedonian Heavy Infantry

At its lowest levels the command structure of the heavy infantry can be deduced from its gradations of pay. The smallest tactical unit of the heavy infantry was the dekas or ‘file’. As the name implies the dekas had once consisted of ten men, but at some point long before the reign of Alexander it had been expanded to sixteen. Of these sixteen men, twelve were rank and file with the other four being of superior status. Of these four, one was the dekadarch or file leader, one was a dimoirites or half-file leader and the other two were dekastateroi or half-file closers. Arrian tells us that the dekastateroi were paid the equivalent of one and a half the pay of a rank-and-file soldier, around forty-five drachmas a month. The dimoirites received double pay of around sixty drachmas a month. Bosworth seems to have made a slight error in interpreting this passage in Arrian, claiming that there were two dimoiritai and only one dekastateros, but Arrian’s text seems quite clear on this point.

Thirty-two decades formed a lochos, consisting of 512 men and being commanded by a lochagos. Three lochoi formed a taxis, which was the fundamental unit of the Macedonian heavy infantry, commanded by a taxiarch. Each taxis therefore consisted of 1,540 men, of whom 1,152 were rank and file and in receipt of the basic one drachma a day. Initially Alexander crossed the Hellespont with six taxeis, later expanded to seven around the time of the invasion of India. Therefore the command structure for a typical taxis of heavy infantry was:

  • Taxiarch
  • Lochagos (x3)
  • Dekadarch (x96)
  • Dimoirites (x96)
  • Dekastateros (x192)
  • Rank and File (x1,152)

The manpower indicated is, of course, paper strength, assuming that each taxis was at full strength. The six taxiarchs appear to have all been of the same rank with none holding superiority. Indeed there was no overall commander of the heavy infantry (excluding the one possible reference in Arrian discussed earlier) as there was for, say, the Companion Cavalry. This is because there really was no such organization as the ‘Macedonian phalanx’, the taxeis themselves frequently being used as separate tactical units, or in groups of two or three. This development came largely after 331 when the army entered northeastern Iran and smaller, more mobile forces were required.

Arrian makes a seemingly strange claim that:

On the right wing of the attacking force Alexander had the guards’ division under his personal command. In touch with them were the infantry battalions, forming the whole centre of the line and commanded by the various officers whose turn of duty happened to fall upon that day.

This is almost certainly evidence of a rotational system within the phalanx. It could be a reference to the order in which the taxeis appeared each day, and we are explicitly told in the sources that that the actual order of each taxis did rotate each day, or it could be that the minor commands within a taxis were rotated to give junior commanders more experience of slightly different roles.

The Macedonian heavy infantry appear to have undergone very few serious changes in the command structure over the course of the campaign. The huge numbers of reinforcements received between the great set-piece battles of Issus and Gaugamela seem to have been incorporated within the existing taxeis, presumably adding to the numbers of rank and file rather than to the officer corps. The first evidence for a seventh taxis does not appear until the time of the invasion of India, where Arrian names seven taxiarchs operating simultaneously.


At the time of the invasion of Persia, another of Parmenio’s sons, Nicanor, was the commander of the hypaspists. The hypaspists were the elite formation of the Macedonian heavy infantry and their tactical and strategic roles were many and varied. The hypaspists were organized into three chiliarchies of 1,000 men, each commanded by a chiliarch. This is true after 331 at least: before 331 it is uncertain. One of these chiliarchies was designated the agema, perhaps commanded by Alexander himself, or more likely by an unknown individual, as Alexander was usually with the Companion Cavalry during set-piece battles. The chiliarchs themselves were of markedly lower status than the taxiarchs of the heavy infantry, being more like a lochagos. This is at first sight rather surprising, considering that the hypaspists were the elite units of the heavy infantry, receiving only the very best of the new recruits into their ranks. We should remember, however, that, unlike the heavy infantry, the hypaspists had an overall commander, Nicanor, who was at a significant level within the command structure, ensuring that their status was considerably higher than that of an infantry taxis.

As with the rest of the army, the command structure of the hypaspists was significantly changed at the end of 331. The chiliarchies were subdivided into two new units, pentakosiarchies, thus adding an entirely new layer into the command structure, albeit a very lowly one. These new officers were again appointed by Alexander on the basis of merit rather than seniority, and again owed their allegiance to the king himself. We saw earlier how important this innovation was to the king, particularly later in his career as he became ever more paranoid.

Companion Cavalry

The numbers of the Companion Cavalry are not certain, although Diodorus gives the figure of 1,800 and most now accept the figure of 1,800 as at least being very close to the actual figure. We do know that by 333 the Companion Cavalry consisted of eight ilai (squadrons) of 200 men, each commanded by an ilarch. We have no information of from the beginning of his reign, but we do know that along with the general reorganization of the army in 331 an ile was further divided into smaller units. Arrian tells us ‘He also – this was an innovation – formed two lochoi (companies) in each cavalry squadron’.

Curtius hints at a reorganization, and confirms that commanders would from this time be promoted on the basis of ability and not of regional affiliations. However he does not mention the division of ile, preferring to concentrate on the hypaspists. From 331 the subdivision of ile was into two hekatostyes of 100 men; there is evidence that each ile was again subdivided into tetrarchia, of which there would have been four per ile. The tetrarchia is only recorded once in Arrian, at the turning of the Persian Gates in January 330, not before or after, but the unit was small enough that this is not surprising as they would mostly have operated in the larger units.

One of the ilai was given the title ile basilike, also frequently called the agema, or royal squadron: this unit was also of higher status than the rest. The royal squadron was of double strength and was charged with defending the king when he fought on horseback; they were his personal bodyguard in all of the set-piece battles. The overall command of the Companion Cavalry was in the hands of Philotas – until his execution in October 330, that is.

The ilarchs seem to have been relatively minor in rank, probably on a par with an infantry lochagos. Ilarchs are seldom mentioned by name in any of the sources and are never given separate commands of their own. The only one that achieved any level of distinction was Cleitus the Black, the commander of the royal squadron.

After the execution of Philotas in 330, the entire Macedonian cavalry was reorganized en masse. The basic tactical formation was now not the ile but the ‘hipparchy’. These new units are first recorded by Arrian during 329. Ilai do still appear in the sources but they become sub-divisions of a hipparchy, each hipparchy comprising a minimum of two ilai and thus 400 men. The ilai were also sub-divided into two lochoi, the commanders of whom were given the title lochagos, as with the commander of an infantry unit. Alexander appointed these commanders personally on a basis of merit rather than superiority, thus breaking with tradition. This was a policy that was entirely consistent with Alexander making the army loyal to him alone. This began to occur some time during 331 BC, probably after Gaugamela, when the last great batch of reinforcements arrived from Macedon. This was the beginning of the policy, that I have noted a number of times, of reducing the army’s ties of loyalty to its individual commanders, ultimately making them loyal to Alexander alone. Thus a new layer of sub-commanders was added in the command structure of the army, one which owed its loyalty directly to Alexander, to some extent breaking the link between the troops and their commanders. There are two possible reasons for this change. Perhaps Alexander came to the conclusion that the ilai were simply too small, at 200 men, to cope with the different style of fighting in the entirely different theatre that was to be their next challenge. The army would no longer be fighting set-piece battles, but would require far more mobility and flexibility as it moved into the northeast of Iran The second possible explanation was a desire on the part of Alexander to increase the relative superiority of the Companion Cavalry over the heavy infantry, each hipparch now being of a higher status than a lochagos.

The term ‘ile basilike’ also disappeared at this time and was replaced by the term agema, the nomenclature becoming the same as for the hypaspists. The actual number of cavalry hipparchies is unknown, but it is assumed that there were eight during the Indian campaign. The position left vacant by the death of Philotas was not directly filled. He was instead replaced by two men: Alexander’s life-long friend Hephaestion and Cleitus the Black. Both men were effectively of equal status within the command structure. Arrian gives the reason for this step as that ‘he [Alexander] did not think it advisable that one man – even a personal friend – should have control of so large a body of cavalry’.

Allies and Mercenaries

The Thessalian cavalry were without doubt the most important contingent of this aspect of the army. They were probably equal in number to the Companion Cavalry and very close to them in terms of quality. Overall command of this vitally-important unit was given to Alexander’s second-in-command, Parmenio. The command structure of the Thessalian cavalry was very similar to that of the Companions, being divided into ilai. They were not, however, allowed their own national commanders, but a senior Macedonian officer was appointed to command each unit. The Thessalian cavalry also had a unit which performed the same role as the royal squadron of the Companions; this was known as the ‘Pharsalian contingent’.

The other allied cavalry contingents, although considerably less important, were again organized along similar lines, being divided into ilai and each having a Macedonian commander. The appointment of a Macedonian commander at the head of non-Macedonian troops, be they cavalry or infantry, was the general policy of Alexander throughout his reign. Even the mercenary contingents were treated in exactly this same fashion, Menander being their overall commander. These Macedonian officers, however, were relatively unimportant in the overall command structure and few achieved any kind of distinction.

The fleets that accompanied the army of invasion were almost exclusively non-Macedonian, being provided by the member states of the League of Corinth. Each ship was captained by a native of the contributing city, and where a city-state provided more than one ship, they also supplied a ‘commodore’ for their particular contingent. As with other non-Macedonian units however, overall command of the fleet was with a Macedonian officer.


The term ‘bodyguard’ is quite a confusing one, as there appear to be two entirely separate groups within the army that carry this title. The first is an apparently-quite-strong detachment of heavy infantry. Arrian, three times, tells us that Alexander took with him the bodyguards and some of the hypaspists; this would seem to strongly suggest that they were not simply a detachment of the hypaspists, who were themselves often called ‘the guards’. Diodorus tells us that at the Battle of Gaugamela, Hephaestion ‘had commanded the bodyguards’. This passage again strongly suggests that we are not here talking about a detachment of the hypaspists, as at this time Nicanor was still their commander and only died later that same year. The bodyguards seem to have been a relatively minor force, perhaps of the order of a couple of hundred strong. The relative position of their commander within the overall command structure of the army is unknown; the only commander named is Hephaestion at Gaugamela, who was of course a very senior figure. Hephaestion’s seniority probably had more to do with his closeness to Alexander than the importance of the bodyguards as a military force: his successor after Gaugamela is never mentioned, for instance. This group could well represent a carry-over from a much older organization that pre-dated Philip’s reforms.

The group that most interests us here are the somatophylakes basilikoi, or ‘royal bodyguard’, originally seven strong, this number being rigidly maintained. The number was probably connected to their historical function of guarding the king’s tent. They were increased to eight in India, however, when Peucestas was promoted to this rank as a sign of gratitude by Alexander for saving his life during the attack on the capital city of the Malli.

The bodyguards occupied a position within the command structure that is difficult to define. The group as a whole formed part of Alexander’s immediate entourage, and seem certain to have been among his closest friends and most-trusted advisors. Membership of the bodyguard was obviously incompatible with any post that involved their being away from court for any length of time: both Balacrus and Menes were replaced as soon as they were assigned to the command of provinces. For reasons that seem less clear, inclusion within the bodyguard was also incompatible with a command within the army. Before Gaugamela, there is no recorded instance of a member of the bodyguard simultaneously holding a senior command. Bodyguards are occasionally reported briefly holding minor commands, such as Ptolemy, who commanded a joint force of hypaspists and light infantry during the siege of Halicarnassus, but this was rare. If any bodyguard were promoted to a senior command, he would immediately lose his title and be replaced. This happened, for instance, when Ptolemy became a taxiarch (this was not the famous historian and son of Lagos, but another very obscure individual: Ptolemy was a very common name in Macedonia). As a group they probably enjoyed the same status as a taxiarch, but did not, as such, occupy any position within the command structure. They were, however, still influential as they were among the king’s closest advisors.

This rather rigid system which applied to the bodyguard, as with almost everything else in the army, evolved considerably over time. After the death of Parmenio we hear of instances of bodyguards receiving senior, albeit temporary, commands. In 328, for instance, Alexander left four taxeis of heavy infantry in Bactria, along with their commanders. The remainder of the army was then divided into five columns, three of which were commanded by known bodyguards. The deaths of Parmenio and Philotas represent something of a watershed in Alexander’s career, as will be discussed below.

Evolution of the Command Structure

One of the major changes that occurred in the command structure over the course of Alexander’s reign was that the cavalry commands became increasingly important, relative to their previously-equivalent infantry commands. By the time of the death of Philotas Alexander was becoming increasingly disinclined to place such large numbers of men under a single commander; with this in mind he divided the command of the Companion cavalry between Hephaestion and Cleitus the Black. Individual hipparchs also became increasingly important in their own right, becoming roughly equal in status to the position of an infantry taxiarch. At the beginning of the invasion of India, the commanders of the heavy infantry who were most highly favoured by Alexander were promoted to command hipparchies of Companion Cavalry; namely Perdiccas, Craterus and Cleitus the White. This again illustrated that moving from an infantry command to that of cavalry was considered a promotion.

During this process, the royal bodyguard evolved into an important position within the command structure. Perdiccas was promoted to a hipparchy, from a taxis of heavy infantry, in 327; by 330 he also had the title of bodyguard. This was a dual function which was also enjoyed by Alexander’s favourite, Hephaestion. The Peithon who was a bodyguard by 325 is very probably the same Peithon who is attested as a taxiarch in 326/5. An infantry command was rare, however; members of the bodyguard were usually given commands within the Companion Cavalry, in alignment with its increasing importance. This desire on the part of Alexander to systematically downgrade the relative importance of the heavy infantry can perhaps be attributed to the fact that Alexander saw them as a potential, and increasing, problem. It was from the ranks of the infantry that the mutinies at the Hyphasis and Opis had come, and it would not be surprising if Alexander had deliberately aimed at increasing the prestige and importance of the cavalry relative to the infantry. This would have been to re-establish the situation that had existed before his reign, where the cavalry were clearly the units of greatest prestige. It is also likely that the heavy infantry had become less prestigious, simply because the army was engaged in northeastern Iran at this time and they were not as heavily involved in the fighting as they had been during earlier campaigns.

From 330, when Alexander entered the northeast of the former Persian Empire, he was faced with an entirely new situation: that of guerrilla warfare. This led to a willingness on the part of Alexander to divide his force, seemingly indiscriminately, between various commanders. Before this time if a second column was required it would consist of allied and mercenary troops, the Macedonians almost always staying with the king. As mentioned above, in 328 Alexander left four taxeis of Macedonian heavy infantry in Bactria and divided the rest of the army into five groups. These new commands were given to a fairly select group of Alexander’s closest friends: Craterus, Hephaestion, Coenus and Perdiccas were usually the first choices, with Ptolemy, Leonnatus and Peithon used where more columns were employed. When Alexander entered India, Hephaestion and Perdiccas were sent ahead to the Indus with a large force comprising around half of the Macedonians and all of the mercenary infantry.

One of the most important features of the changes in the command structure of the Macedonian army towards the end of Alexander’s reign was the increasing mobility of commands. Individual generals still kept their titles, but were expected to command entirely separate units as situations presented themselves. For example, in 327 three taxiarchs, Meleager, Attalus and Gorgias, were detached from their taxeis and were given the commands of a group of mercenary cavalry and infantry. They were then employed on diversionary movements along the river banks. Another example is that of Coenus, a taxiarch since 334, who was employed as a cavalry commander at the Hydaspes.

This move towards an increasing mobility of command was for two main reasons, the first being military. As Alexander entered the next phase of the campaign after 331, he increasingly met with an enemy that operated on significantly different lines from that faced early in the campaign. He was also faced with fighting in a new theatre and in different conditions, all of which required the army to be considerably more flexible than it had previously been.

There is surely a second, and in my opinion significantly more important factor at work here: namely politics. Alexander seems to have been becoming increasingly concerned about assigning large bodies of troops to a single commander indefinitely: there was for instance probably no overall commander of the heavy infantry, and the positions vacated by Parmenio and Philotas were never filled, the Companion Cavalry receiving co-commanders. Alexander increasingly detached individuals from their commands and gave them different assignments. He also employed new layers in the command structure and made promotions according to merit. These changes had a two-fold effect: the commanders became loyal primarily to him, since they owed their positions directly to the king’s favour; secondly, the focus of the army s loyalty was also the king, as their commanders often changed and their territorial origins slowly eroded. Alexander made himself the sole focus of every individual, whatever his rank, within the army.

The Price of Parmenio’s Support

Parmenio was probably the single most important political figure in Macedonia, apart from the king, during the reign of Philip; this is true of the early part of Alexander’s reign too. He, as well as various of his family members, was well entrenched at court and seems to have had political connections with both factions contending for the succession in the last years of Philip’s reign. Thus when Philip was assassinated, Parmenio was in a prime position to act as king-maker. He was in a position to offer the support of most of the lowland barons; this would leave Amyntas or any other potential rival with only the possibility of forming a coalition of the fringes of Macedonia and rebellious Greek cities. Parmenio was evidently a skilled political operator and knew well the strength of his position; Alexander was forced to pay a heavy price for Parmenio’s support, but in 336 he was in no position to argue. When the Macedonian army crossed the Hellespont into Asia almost every key command was held by one of Parmenio’s sons, brothers, or some other kinsman. We have already noted that two of Parmenio’s sons were commanders of the hypaspists (Nicanor) and the Companion Cavalry (Philotas), with Parmenio himself commanding the Thessalian cavalry and essentially being second in command of the whole army. Parmenio’s brother, Asander, probably commanded the light cavalry, and certainly received the satrapy of Sardis as soon as it was conquered. Parmenio’s supporters were also firmly entrenched in positions of power, men like the four sons of Andromenes and the brothers Coenus and Cleander. Many of the commanders of the army of invasion were little younger than Parmenio himself: when Justin tells us that headquarters looked ‘more like the senate of some old-time republic’ he is probably not exaggerating in his description, although it is a far from flattering one.

The Macedonian army down to 330 was at its very core Philip’s; they were his veterans and his commanders. Philip’s influence was always present, and frequently felt by Alexander in the form of Parmenio. This was a situation which Alexander could not tolerate indefinitely. He allowed the command structure to remain relatively unchanged whilst his success was still in the balance, but after Gaugamela Alexander began to make serious and sweeping changes to the army, changes which were made considerably easier by the assassinations of both Philotas and Parmenio. Some authorities have argued that Alexander was plotting for the best part of six years to remove Parmenio’s grip on the army, and see the final execution of Parmenio and Philotas as being the culmination of this plotting; this seems unlikely to be true. Why would he, for example, have left Parmenio in Ecbatana with a considerable part of the army and his treasury if he did not trust his loyalty, or if he was about to act against him? Alexander, on the whole, seems to have been more impulsive and spontaneous than this theory would give him credit for: it is more likely that Alexander seized his opportunity without having engineered it. Alexander was gambling that the army loved him more than they loved the old general, and he was right. Although the Thessalian cavalry perhaps did not take it well, they were not a significant part of the army after this, and indeed were disbanded entirely soon after. Following the death of Parmenio, Alexander would never again allow large bodies of troops to be commanded by any one individual for any length of time. Dissention was met with ruthlessness; the army had at last become his and his alone.

‘Marines of the Guard’

One of the more unusual units in the French army was the Marins de la Garde. While we English speakers have a tendency to anglicize their title to “Marines of the Guard”, as most readers probably know, “marins” in French really means “sailors”, so these troops are more properly referred to as the Sailors of the Guard. Their history dates back to the Consulate. The original battalion was raised in September, 1803. It consisted of 5 equipages, each composed of composed of 125 matelots (another French word for sailors), 1 trumpeter, 15 craftsmen and NCOs, 5 ensigns and was commanded by a Naval Lieutenant. The entire battalion was commanded by a Naval Captain (capitaine de vaisseau). 120 men from the unit were part of Napoleon’s escort at his coronation in December, 1804.

The Sailors proved very flexible. In Napoleon’s own words, as quoted in Infantry of the Imperial Guard  by Haythornwaite, “What should we have done without them? As sailors they have no way deteriorated, and they have shown themselves the best of soldiers. When occasion required they proved equally valuable, whether as sailors, soldiers, artillerymen or engineers; there was no duty they could not undertake.”

The corps d’élite of the new Imperial Army was, without the shadow of a doubt, the Imperial Guard. This celebrated formation evolved in a most haphazard and complicated fashion over the years, and here it will only be possible to mention the most important developments. Originally, it sprang from three sources—the personal escort (known as the Guides) of General Bonaparte commanded by Captain, later Marshal, Bessières, to which were added selected members of the Guards of the Directory and the Legislative Assembly. These three cadres were combined in late 1799 into the Consular Guard, and five years later underwent a final change of title in the year of the Emperor’s coronation. The Imperial Guard’s size grew enormously. At Marengo, the Consular Guard numbered only 2,089; by 1804 it had developed to comprise 5,000 grenadiers, 2,000 éite cavalry and 24 guns—or a total of some 8,000 soldiers in all; by mid-1805, this number had risen to over 12,000 men; no less than 56,169 Imperial Guardsmen were in service at the time of the Moscow campaign, but the all-time record was reached in 1814 when 112,482 soldiers could claim some type of membership of the Imperial Guard. Thus the corps d’élite developed from the size of a strong regiment to that of an army, but at the very end (“The Hundred Days”) it was down again to 25,870 soldiers.

The Imperial Guard eventually comprised three distinct sections. The original nucleus was the “Old Guard,” a force that eventually comprised foot grenadiers (the archtypical grognards) chasseurs, mounted grenadiers à cheval (known as grosse-bottes), the chasseurs à cheval (the “favored children”), dragoons, lancers, Mamelukes, gendarmes d’élite, besides Marines of the Guard and detachments of gunners and sappers. Then in 1806 was formed the embryo of what became known as the Middle Guard, made up initially of two fusilier regiments to which were eventually added (1812-13) two regiments of flankers, raised from gamekeepers and woodsmen, one and all noted as crack shots. Lastly, in 1809 there was founded the Young Guard, which mainly comprised regiments of light infantry, voltigeurs and tirailleurs. This last-mentioned formation consisted of the pick of each annual conscript class, and was a deliberate attempt to throw a more glamorous light onto the hated duties of compulsory military service; it was noted, however, that the Young Guard never fully attained the standard of the senior Guard formations.

The projected invasion of England brought about a new unit of the Consular (later Imperial) Guard on 17 September 1803: the Bataillon des matelots de la garde. They are nearly always called ‘Marines of the Guard’ in English, but the word matelot in French translates to ‘sailor’ in English. Calling them ‘Marines’ is understandable considering the very military appearance of these sailors, who wore shakos and were armed like elite soldiers. The battalion was 737 strong, divided into five crews. The unit soon marched away towards Ulm in 1805. In 1808 they were in Spain and many of the 300 present at Baylen were killed or wounded. Restructured and renamed Equipage des matelots de la Garde imperiale, and sent to the Danube in 1809, their strength was raised to 1,136 officers and men in 1810. They crossed the Niemen river into Russia in 1812, but only a third survived the terrible retreat. They then participated in the 1813 and 1814 campaigns. When disbanded on 30 June 1814, only 14 officers and 336 men were left. A small Equipage of 94, later 150, men was organised in the spring of 1815 but was disbanded after Waterloo on 15 August 1815.

The French Army – Middle of Sixteenth Century

The military establishment of 1552 needed to be ratcheted up by the demands of repeated campaigns. there are a number of sources which, while they do not always agree in detail, allow a general picture to emerge. These include the general army list drawn up after the German campaign, reproduced by Villars, two closely related lists of the army for the Metz campaign and estimates of the likely garrison of Piedmont. The Villars text is useful for its comprehensive survey of the entire kingdom outside Piedmont, though it lacks precise figures for the infantry. The army was thus listed as: first, the military household, then 1600 lances (notionally 4000 horse), 2940 light horse in 36 companies, 41 companies of `old French’ infantry (c. 12,300 men), 21 of new (6300), 7000 Swiss and four regiments of lansquenets, six companies of scots and one of English. The likely maximum for the infantry is 30,000. The garrisons of the kingdom itself included a further 400 lances, 290 light horse and 43 infantry companies (c. 12,000) with related formations. The garrison of Piedmont can be estimated at the same time 12-13,000 foot and five gendarmerie companies, though the infantry stood at 17,550 (16,000 effectives) in November 1554. The formations thus listed shifted around in the course of the campaign; the Swiss arrived late and were allocated to garrisons in France and Piedmont, as were the bulk of the light horse. the campaign lists for the army after the capture of Metz show around 36,000 men, to which the garrison resources of the kingdom should be added at 11,450 men. This seems to have been the maximum the crown could put together. A figure between 50 and 60,000 would therefore seem to be a good rough estimate for the entire military resources of the kingdom in 1552. the strength of the army for the royal campaign in Artois of August-September 1553 is known both from the detailed figures of Rabutin (9- 9,500 horse and 26-29,500 foot) and also from an official bulletin which suggests 12,000 horse and 30,000 foot. The official account almost certainly exaggerates the numbers of cavalry.

In 1557, with one army in Picardy facing the Spanish Netherlands army, another was despatched to Italy, commanded by Guise. French forces were thus again seriously divided. the disasters and triumphs of the year provide a good insight into the weaknesses of the French military machine. Estimates of the army on the northern front are difficult but cannot have exceeded 20,000 foot (French and German) and 6000 horse. at all events, fewer were present at the battle of Saint-Quentin, when a maximum of 20,000 French faced over 40,000 Habsburg troops. The army of the duke of Guise in Italy consisted of 20 ensigns of French infantry (4000), 6000 Swiss (24 ensigns), 500 men-at-arms in 7 companies and 600 light horse in 4.  Piedmont still needed at least a skeleton garrison of 10,000, though some Swiss troops were withdrawn after the battle. Re-equipping the army was vital. Infantry that in other times would not have been considered were recruited, while new armour and arquebusiers had to be rushed to the troops. Ten new gendarmerie companies were created. Guise brought back with him 1400 of his best arquebusiers, 9 French companies (1800) and 2 German and sent 10 more of French (2000) overland with the 6000 Swiss, the gendarmerie and light horse. He was therefore able to provide around 10,000 for the northern front and also to purge some of the inadequate troops taken on in the August crisis. However, there were now about 20,000 foreign troops on hand for whom there was little money to provide pay. Guise’s capacity to assemble a serious army for the siege of Calais was remarkable. a reliable source puts his army at 10,000 Swiss (in two regiments), 6000 lansquenets (2 regiments), an indeterminate number of French infantry (up to 10,000), 500 pistoliers and 500 men-at-arms, 3-400 light horse. An army of around 30,000 foot plus cavalry had been assembled by the end of December to replace that of 20,000 lost at Saint-Quentin.

in the aftermath of the defeat of Saint-Quentin, secretary Fresne recorded, a large number of French infantry were raised ‘of whom, though men were employed who at other times would not have been accepted, need made them necessary.’ These then had to be fully equipped with armour and firearms. A company that was drafted to La Capelle early in 1558 was entirely without arms.

Most observers agreed that the best French infantry of the old and new bands were the Gascons, observed in the Perpignan campaign of 1542 as ‘very fine.’ The reasons for this are still disputable and may be connected to social structures of the Pyrenees region and the frontier status of Gascony. In the crisis of 1557, when the estates of the little province of Comminges, near the Pyrenees, was called upon to find infantry, it certainly made an effective survey of the men with arms available, of whom there was a large number.

The aventuriers, through the development of the ‘old bands’, had effectively evolved into regiments by the 1540s. The term `regiment’ was applied initially to the Germans in the 1530s but, by the 1540s, many French infantry of the `old bands’ were effectively organised as such. Thibault Rouault was colonel of ten companies in Picardy in the mid-1540s and in Piedmont Jean de Taix commanded a similar formation. When he moved to Picardy, Taix seems to have absorbed Rouault’s command. Coligny had eight ensigns under his command as `colonel’ in Picardy during his campaign against the English at Boulogne. These were soon known as the `Chatillon regiment’ and moved, first, to Piedmont in 1551 and then back to France for the German campaign in 1552. The model taken was the `old bands’ of infantry amalgamated into larger groups like the Italians and German landsknechts (lansquenets). The first clear use of the term `regiments’ for French formations is often thought to be by Monluc, writing of the manoeuvres in Picardy in August 1558. In traditional military history, the creation of `regiments’ (of Picardy, Guyenne etc.) took place the advice of the duke of Guise in 1562, though it is clear that such formations already existed.

As for armament, France faced infantry armed with firearms at an early date. Louis XI’s francs-archers in Hainault met German `haquebutiers’ successfully in 1478 and it seems that in the 1470s a proportion of them were armed with spears, halberds and pikes; even some coulevriniers were expected. At Fornovo, the French infantry was covered by arquebusiers. Certainly, the Swiss in French service in Italy in 1500 were armed not only with pikes and halberds but also `hacquebutes.’Brantome, though he thought the French infantry was beginning to improve in the early 16th century, still took the view that at that time they were unwilling to adopt firearms and remained wedded to the crossbow. He thought that it was the shock of Pavia that led them to adopt firearms. The Parisian Nicolas Versoris reported that the defeat of Bayard’s army in Italy in 1524 `happened more as a result of the enemy’s firearms than anything else’ and French troops suffered greater casualties at Pavia in 1525 as a result of firearms. Yet it is clear that the crown was requiring the raising of companies of arquebusiers in the great cities by 1521. An Edict for Paris (March 1524) noted that, `considering … new war industries and inventions’, it was necessary to muster a company of 100 arquebusiers with the same privileges as the guard of archers and crossbow men, with the requirement to train once a week in order to inspire others to exercise.

Firearms developed rapidly in French infantry formations from the 1520s, bow- men still being common in 1521, and Piedmont provided an important impetus. When Francis I issued an ordinance for the French and Italian infantry in 1537, he specified a maximum of one quarter of any company to be armed with guns, though it seems that this was more a measure of control for the Italian companies, which were notably dominated by firearms, at around 70%. By the 1540s French infantry companies were also very heavily reinforced by firearms. Piedmont was the area in which this happened earliest, since local regulations assumed that campaigning there required a preponderance of firearms in a company, sometimes 80-90 against 30 pikes. The vidame de Chartres claimed that he had led north- wards a force of arquebusiers from Piedmont in the aftermath of Saint-Quentin because, in his opinion, the main advantage the enemy had was in his Spanish arquebusiers, whereas pike-men could be raised easily in France and Germany. By the end of the 1550s, then, arquebusiers were as common in the north, where the typical proportion in a company equipped with firearms was now half-and- half. However, the ordinance of December 1553, specified that there should only be 58 arquebusiers in a company of 280 of the new bands and 97 in a company of 270 of the old bands, while the garrison companies were to be one third arquebusiers. There were some problems in that infantry had carefully to balance the offensive capability of firearms and the flexibility of pikes. If there were too many arquebusiers in a company, they were exposed to attack. In a formation, the arquebusiers had to retire behind the pike square while reloading. Infantry with firearms required greater training and discipline and was also more vulnerable to breakdowns in the supply of powder and shot. Fourquevaux naturally approved of the arquebus, though only in trained hands. His doubts were raised by what he thought was the desire of too many soldiers to be arquebusiers, either for higher pay or to fight at a distance. He thought that there should be fewer and better. The effect was often just noise, since sometimes for 10,000 shots not a single enemy was killed. He also had some regard for archers and crossbow-men, who, he thought, could serve well in bad weather, when arquebusiers were out of action.


Unlike the earlier wars with France fought under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the war of 1557-1559 was not initially an Anglo-French conflict but a Franco-Spanish war in which England became involved as Spain’s ally. The English were reluctant combatants; Philip II of Spain, husband of Mary I, put pressure on the English government to join the conflict, but Mary’s council decided on war only after a series of French provocations. Although favorable to Spain, the outcome of the war was disastrous for England, which lost Calais, its only remaining continental possession.

The French royal House of Valois and the Spanish royal House of Habsburg had been intermittently at war with each other since 1519. The hostilities that began in January 1557 between Henri II of France and Philip of Spain constituted only the latest phase of that struggle. Although joint ruler of England, Philip could not automatically take the realm into war. The marriage treaty that united Philip and Mary in 1554 limited Philip’s authority in England and denied him English military assistance unless the English queen and council agreed to provide it. Although popular with the English nobility, who sought profit and advancement through service to Philip, the war was highly unpopular in the country at large. The English commons, and especially the merchants of London, did not relish fighting or paying for a war begun to further Spanish interests. Philip, therefore, made little progress in persuading his wife’s kingdom to enter the conflict until a number of threatening French actions, culminating with Stafford’s Raid, an apparently French-backed descent on the English coast by a dissident Englishman, convinced the council of Henri’s hostile intentions.

England declared war on France on 7 June 1557, and by late July an English force had joined Philip’s army at the siege of Saint-Quentin. On 10 August, the allies decisively defeated a French relieving force outside the town, which capitulated on 27 August. The English fought credibly, sustaining more than 200 casualties before returning home in November. The defeat at Saint-Quentin left Henri in need of a victory, which Francis, Duke of Guise, secured with a surprise attack that captured poorly defended Calais in January 1558. Having ignored warnings of Guise’s intentions, the Marian regime, already unpopular thanks to its policy of burning Protestant heretics, was further discredited by the fall of Calais. Although Philip won another victory at Gravelines in July 1558, the battle had little effect on the peace talks that had begun the previous May. The talks were stalled by the English demand for the restoration of Calais. However, the death of Mary and the accession of Elizabeth I in November released Philip from any obligation he felt to support English interests. As a result, Cateau-Cambrésis, which was concluded in April 1559, left Calais to France. Although bitterly disappointed, Elizabeth was forced by French hostility to remain on friendly terms with Philip.


Cateau-Cambrésis is a town in northern France where a treaty was signed ending the last English foothold on the Continent. On 2 April 1559, Henry II of France (ruled 1547-1559) accepted terms that brought the Habsburg-Valois Wars to a close. After a truce in 1556, war had resumed in 1557 and subsequent successes helped determine the nature of the peace. The Spanish forces that invaded France from the Low Countries in 1557 won an important victory at Saint-Quentin (10 August 1557), when a relieving army for the besieged fortress was heavily defeated. In the battle, the Spaniards made effective use of their cavalry, especially of pistoleers, in which they outnumbered the French. Philip II of Spain (ruled 1556-1598) organized the campaign that led to this victory and followed it up by leading the successful storming of Arras.

The following January, however, French forces bombarded Calais, England’s last foothold on mainland France, into surrender in a campaign characterized by bold French generalship: Mary Tudor, queen of England (ruled 1553-1558), was the wife of Philip II, and she had declared war on France in June 1557. The French pressed on to try to take Dunkirk by surprise attack, but they were defeated at Gravelines on 13 July 1558. The Spanish pistoleers again outnumbered their French counterparts; they both won the cavalry fight and hit the French pike, who were also affected by Spanish harquebus power.

Aside from being defeated in battle, Henry II was also bankrupted by the heavy cost of the war and alarmed by the spread of Protestantism in France. The ability of the Spaniards to advance into France meant that Henry could not finance his army by ravaging the Spanish Netherlands. The Religious Peace of Augsburg of 1555, in which Henry’s German allies had settled their differences with the Habsburgs, had also weakened Henry’s position. As a result, he accepted a treaty that left France bereft of what her monarchs had fought for since 1494. Spain was left in control of Milan, Naples, and Sicily, the key positions that established Spanish power in Italy, and that at a time when Italy was the center of the Christian world.

In addition, the French had to yield their positions in Tuscany, which was now securely dominated by the Medici rulers of Florence, allies of Spain, while Savoy and Piedmont, which France had seized in 1536, were returned to Duke Emanuel Philibert of Savoy, a Spanish client. The French, however, kept Calais, and this marked the end of the pursuit by English monarchs of territorial gains in France.

French failure ensured that there was no reversal in the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis of the removal (by treaties in 1525 and 1529) of Artois and Flanders from the suzerainty of the French crown. This was the first major retreat of the French crown from the frontier originally designated in 843 when Charlemagne’s inheritance was lastingly divided. The frontier between the Valois and Habsburg territories in the Low Countries had become that between France and the empire.

This settlement was not to be seriously challenged until the 1640s, in large part because of the weakness of the French monarchy after the death of Henry II following a jousting accident in 1559. This, indeed, ensures that Cateau-Cambrésis is well known, whereas earlier peaces between Philip II’s father, Charles V, and French monarchs, such as the Treaty of Madrid (14 January 1526), the Treaty of Cambrai (3 August 1529), and the Peace of Crépy (18 September 1544), are largely forgotten. However, had Henry lived, or been succeeded by another vigorous monarch, France would have tried to contest the settlement. Indeed, in 1572, Gaspar de Coligny, the Huguenot leader, sought to unite France behind a plan for intervening against the Spaniards in the Netherlands. This was preempted when Charles IX turned against the Huguenots, but the policy was to be resumed by Henry IV (ruled 1589-1610). Cateau-Cambrésis should therefore be seen as a stage, not a definitive settlement.