Prince Maurice at the Battle of Nieuwpoort by Pauwels van Hillegaert. Oil on canvas.
The army of Maurice of Nassau at Nieuport, 1600, in ‘battalions’. Note the English regiments of the de Veres in the advance guard
In 1568 the Dutch began their long battle for independence from Spain and would remain at war intermittently for 80 years. The problems faced by the young Dutch republic played an important role in the military reforms that would take place there over several decades to come. Although many of these reforms centred on infantry organization, drill and tactics, the nature of warfare in the Netherlands would be one of many more sieges than battles.
The name most often associated with the Dutch reform movement is Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625). He was the son of William the Silent who had been one of the main leaders of the Dutch revolt. In 1584, at the age of only 17, he became Stadthalter of Holland and Zeeland. In 1590, he was made captain-general of all of the Dutch forces and was then in a position to undertake his reforms.
Like many of the military men of his age, Maurice hoped to emulate the military establishments of antiquity, in particular the Romans. Maurice read military manuals from antiquity, in particular those of Vegetius, Aelian, and the Taktika of the Byzantine emperor, Leo, as well as the works of contemporary commentators such as Justus Lipsius. What emerged for Maurice was an emphasis on regular standing forces and the importance of discipline and drill. But within the context of classical antiquity, Maurice also saw the importance of making more effective use of the constantly improving technology of gunpowder weapons.
One of the most important changes instituted by Maurice was the creation of a standing army. The army was still made up primarily of foreigners serving for pay. Some of these were mercenaries in the traditional sense, while others were foreign troops sent by their monarchs to serve under Dutch command and at Dutch expense (notably fron1 England). In 1603, for example, the Dutch army consisted of a total of 132 companies. Of that number there were 43 English, 32 French, 20 Scottish, 11 Walloon, 9 German and a mere 17 Dutch. The main reason for the preponderance of foreigners was the relatively small population of the Netherlands, combined with the need to keep an army in the field almost constantly for 80 years. Maurice recognized that keeping these companies in his service all year round, rather than discharging them in the off-season or at the end of a campaign, would make the Dutch army a more effective fighting force in the long run.
The maintenance of this standing army also allowed Maurice to initiate new standards of discipline and drill. In this, Maurice was aided by his cousins William Louis and John, counts of Nassau. Maurice and his cousins oversaw the standardization of drill, and equipment, so that all the troops in Dutch service would be using the same methods regardless of their origin. The length of the pike and the armour of the pikemen, as well as the length and calibre of firearms were all standardized. Perhaps more important was the codification of drill at this time in the ‘Dutch Discipline’. All words of command as well as the manual of arn1S for both the pike and arquebus and musket were regularized. In 1607 Jacob de Gheyn’s Wapenhandelinghe was published – a complete manual of arms for pike, arquebus and musket illustrated with 116 plates, accompanied by the appropriate commands and a commentary.
Maurice also modified the military organization and tactics of the Dutch infantry. Once again Maurice turned to antiquity for inspiration. He hoped to replicate the flexibility of the Roman legion by creating units based upon the cohort to replace the large unwieldy regiments and tercios of his own time. To that end, he reorganized each Dutch regiment into two or more battalions. In theory, each battalion was to be 550 men, the same size as a cohort in Vegetius’ antique legio, and was made up of 250 pikemen and 300 men armed with firearms, 60 of which were to form a line of skirmishers. The pikes were to form in the centre of the battalion with arquebusiers and musketeers on the wings.
Moreover, these units drew up in fewer ranks than the earlier regiments and tercios; figures vary but the pikes seem to have been between five and ten deep and the shot between eight and 12 ranks deep. The shot were trained to use countermarch fire, a tactic inspired by Aelian. In this formation the files of shot had intervals between them wide enough for a man to march.
The first soldiers in the file would fire a volley and then do an about face, marching back through the intervals and join the rear rank, all the while going through the drill to reload their weapons. This would be followed by the men of the second rank and then the third and so on. By the time men from the front rank returned to their original position, they would be reloaded and ready to fire another volley and start the drill all over again. This method of firing required great discipline but created a constant volume of fire from the unit. When threatened by cavalry, the arquebusiers and musketeers would retire behind 26 the pikes without disrupting the formation. In battle, the Dutch usually formed their battalions in three lines of battle. These lines could be staggered to resemble a chequerboard so that the battalions in the individual lines could support one another. This bears a striking resemblance to the Roman acies triplex of a legion drawn up in similar formation. Maurice laid the foundations for the early modern standing army based on constant drill and a high standard of discipline. He also developed a system of tactics that truly integrated pike and shot in a coherent fashion. Ironically, throughout the two decades of conflict with Spain, Maurice was only twice able to take his army into battle (both were victories), yet found himself participating in no fewer than 29 sieges.
The topic of the Roman army in imperial Egypt has two faces. Structurally, the army was certainly one of the most homogeneous organizations in the Roman empire—if not the most homogeneous. Much of what there is to say about it therefore applies equally to the formations stationed in other regions of the empire. For instance, we find in the whole empire the same types of unit with the same strength of numbers and the same structure: the large infantry divisions of the Roman army, the legions, which in the early principate still consisted fundamentally of Roman citizens, and the units recruited originally from non-Romans, namely the auxiliary troop formations (auxilia), whether cavalry (ala), infantry (cohors), or mixed (cohors equitata). There were general, empire-wide rules concerning the length of service for soldiers, their pay, and the privileges that they were entitled to at the end of their service, though the members of different types of unit did receive different benefits (FIRA III 171). Furthermore, their senior officers consistently came from the two small and relatively exclusive leadership classes: the army and legion commanders normally came from the approximately 700 senatorial families of the empire, and the majority of the other senior officers, particularly the commanders of auxiliary units, came from the second rank of the empire, the equestrian order, which numbered about 10,000 men in the whole Roman world. An important factor in preventing the various provincial armies from drifting apart was the fact that these senior officers often originated in other provinces than Egypt and had served in further provinces—something that applied only to some of the middle-ranking officers, the centurions and decurions. The more varied experience of the senior officers helped to enforce consistency across the empire, as did the constant transfer of whole units or major parts of such units from one province to another (from the time of Hadrian only by way of exception in the case of legions).
The first element specific to the province of Aegyptus, as was also the case in every province of the empire, was the composition of the garrison, and in particular the units stationed there and their military engagements. Also specific to the exercitus Aegyptiacus (the Latin designation for the ‘army of Egypt’) were a few institutional regulations dating from Octavian’s conquest and the form he gave to the province’s administration. And finally, two kinds of source, namely the papyri and ostraca, are specific to the province. Although there are bodies of evidence of this kind from other parts of the empire—for instance, from Dura Europos, a few forts in northern Africa, and particularly Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall—there is not nearly as much evidence as for Egypt.
The history of the garrison in the province, and of the military engagements in which it was involved, has been an essential part of research on the Roman army in Egypt since it began (Lesquier 1918: 1–114; Daris 1988, 2000a, b, 2005; Speidel 1988). Papyri tend to come from villages in Middle Egypt, particularly at the peak of the empire, and therefore only rarely reflect political–military events beyond the local level. Thus, our knowledge of military events in this province has increased little beyond the first comprehensive study by Lesquier, despite all the additional papyri published in the course of the last century. Inscriptions, too, rarely give information about such events. Therefore, it is not surprising that even in the case of legions stationed in the province, a number of important questions remain unanswered: for instance, during Augustan times, which legion, apart from the legiones III Cyrenaica (Wolff 2000) and XXII Deiotariana (Daris 2000b), was stationed in the province, at what place, and when was it withdrawn? This is significant, as answers to these questions would make it clear for how long after the administration of the first two prefects, C. Cornelius Gallus and Aelius Gallus, the Romans were thinking of a policy of further expansion, and where, during the early years of the province, the Romans saw the greatest danger.
By 23 CE at the latest, the core of the province’s garrison was reduced to the two legions named above. They were stationed together in Nikopolis near Alexandria. Under Augustus, the three and then two legions had been stationed at Nikopolis, at Babylon (Sheehan 1996), and perhaps Thebes (Maxfield 2009: 66; see in this context I Syringes 1733). At the beginning of the second century, the number of legions stationed in Egypt was further reduced: shortly after August 119, the legio III Cyrenaica was transferred out of the province (BGU I 140), and the same papyrus provides the last piece of evidence for the existence of the legio XXII Deiotariana. No later than 127/8, the legio II Traiana arrived in the province, and constituted the core of the provincial army for the next two centuries (Daris 2000b; Sänger 2009). The reason our knowledge of these legions’ history is so incomplete is that only a few papyri from Alexandria survive. Likewise, we know so little of the archaeology of the legionary and auxiliary camps at the peak of the empire because they were built over or flooded, in addition to the lack of archaeological interest that prevailed for many years with regard to Roman period sites.
For the history of the auxiliary units stationed in Egypt, the key sources are documents that scholars refer to as military diplomas. These are inscriptions on bronze recording the award granted to auxiliary soldiers after their period of service of twenty-five or twenty-six years, whereby they received Roman citizenship and the so-called connubium, the right to a form of marriage that gave children of the union the status of Roman citizens. The wording of the diplomas includes a list of all the units whose soldiers were entitled to privileges, which was usually all or almost all the auxiliary units in a province (sometimes there were no soldiers with twenty-five or twenty-six years of service in a unit). Six such documents concerning soldiers of the Egyptian army have been published, covering the period between 83 and 206 CE (in chronological order: CIL XVI 29; RMD I 9; CIL XVI 184; Eck 2011; see further the very fragmentary diplomata RMD III 185; V 341). These documents show that in the late first and the second century, the total number of auxilia stationed in the province remained fairly constant, though it was perhaps raised slightly in the last quarter of the second century: there were three to four alae (cavalry units with a full strength of approximately 500 men) and about seven to ten cohortes (units of about 500 infantry, or, in the case of the so-called cohortes equitatae, about 600 men, of which about 120 were cavalry). On the basis of all the relevant documentation, it is evident that a number of units were part of the garrison of the province for decades, or even centuries (see also Stoll 2009: 424). Thus, for instance, we can trace the ala Apriana from the years 37/40 CE (P Lips. II 133) until 268/70 (SPP XX 71), and the cohors II Ituraerorum equitata from 39 CE (ILS 8899) up to the Notitia Dignitatum, an administrative handbook of the late fourth or fifth century (Eastern part: XXVII 44).
Such an unchanging composition of the auxiliary garrison is not found in the first decades of the principate, when some of the auxiliary units had not even been firmly established and troops were moved in the course of the conquest of large areas. After the first decades of Roman rule, however, there is relative consistency in military concentration, with Nikopolis near Alexandria (Stoll 2009: 421) taking prime place. At first two legions were garrisoned there, then one, together with auxiliary units, mostly alae; in addition, there was the Alexandrian fleet, the classis Alexandrina. The choice of this centre appears to have had two aims (Alston 1995: 36–7). On the one hand, it meant that the prefect had a reserve at his main place of residence, ready to be put into action; cavalry in particular could be sent out quite easily in all directions. On the other hand, it meant that troops were available to suppress uprisings in the city of Alexandria, which was regarded with suspicion, and with good reason (Haensch 1997: 219–21). When seen in this context, the 8,000 soldiers stationed at such a megalopolis in the second and third centuries were not a large force.
A second important centre, though by no means so heavily guarded, was the southern entry point to Egypt, the region of the First Cataract around Syene and Philae. It appears that at least three auxiliary units were permanently stationed in this region (Speidel 1988; see also Locher 1999: 280–1; Maxfield 2000, 2009: 67–9; primary sources: especially Strabo 17.1.12, 53; ILS 8907). In addition to protecting Egypt from enemy attack from the south, they were probably also intended to prevent possible uprisings in the Thebaid.
We have little precise information about where the remaining units were stationed (Alston 1995: 33–6; Maxfield 2009). We cannot even tell whether all the units were actually garrisoned in specific military installations. It is in any case clear that a significant number of the soldiers from these units were detailed for service in smaller outposts. How far such outposts were sent has recently been shown by an inscription found on the island of Farasan at the outlet of the Red Sea (AE 2004: 1643 = 2005: 1639; most recently Speidel 2009c: 633–49). The life of these soldiers in their outposts (praesidia) has been greatly elucidated through the numerous finds and the publication of ostraca by Hélène Cuvigny (2003, 2005 in particular). These finds are the result of surveys and excavations on the road from Koptos to Myos Hormos and the Red Sea, and in the quarries of Mons Claudianus, carried out by Cuvigny and her team (Fig. 5.2). The ostraca illustrate very clearly the daily life of these soldiers, who were charged with protecting the road from attacks by nomads, and with controlling the quarry labourers and giving them technical help. We know less about the soldiers, particularly the beneficiarii and the centuriones, whose task it was to maintain peace and order in the settlements of the Nile Valley. From the beginning of the second century, they were additional representatives of state authority alongside the competent officials of the civil administration, in particular the strategos, who governed each nome or district (see particularly Rankov 1994; Nelis-Clément 2000: 214–17, 227–43, 413–14; Palme 2006, 2008).
DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF THE EGYPTIAN ARMY
In many respects, what can be said about the Roman army in the province of Egypt is only a local adaptation of what was typical of the Roman army in general. But the army in this province did quite clearly exhibit certain individual features: while the highest military commanders throughout the empire—that is, the governors and the commanders of the largest military units, the legions—came from the senatorial class, in Egypt these commanders, were members of the second rank of the empire, the equestrian order. As with the office of prefect, Octavian, who feared a power challenge or usurpation, decided that the government of this province would fall to men of the equestrian order and not, as was customary, the senatorial class. He probably saw in this ruling, promulgated in the most formal way as a lex, an additional guarantee that Egypt could not once again be made into a centre of resistance to him—and for a time, this was undoubtedly correct (Eich 2007: 382–3; Jördens 2009: 46–51). But it would have gone against all notions of the relations between ranks, on the part of both ordines, if he had put senatorial legion commanders under an equestrian governor. Thus, the legion commanders could only come from the ordo equester.
This provision caused differences not only in rank and prestige among these high-ranking commanders, but also in the extent of their experience. These legion commanders had had very different military careers from those of the senatorial legion commanders, who could appeal at best to experience which they had obtained during their very short tours of duty as military tribunes, when they were frequently not in sole command. But the equestrian commanders of the legions in Egypt were raised to equestrian rank apparently only after lengthy careers as centurio and primipilus II, the highest centurion rank (for an early example, see AE 1978: 286; cf. AE 1954: 163). It remains an open question whether this difference in social origin and military experience caused differences in military leadership of the large units, because neither in Egypt nor in other provinces do we have insight into everyday military leadership, in the narrow sense. In these questions, Egypt does not offer more insight into everyday reality than other provinces, because the legions were soon concentrated in Nikopolis and were thus in a part of the province for which we have papyri only in exceptional cases. We therefore know almost nothing about the ways in which the prefect and the high-ranking equestrian officers under him went about their military functions—to what extent, for instance, they carried out manoeuvres.
We do, however, know that the army in this province had a more Greek-speaking character than those in other provinces: in the first century, when two legions were still stationed in Egypt, at least one of the commanders in charge of both legions, and also presumably of all the auxiliary formations in the province, was designated in an official Latin inscription as praefectus stratopedarches, Latinizing the Greek term for the head of the camp (AE 1954: 163; cf. P Wisc. II 48). The same function could apparently also be designated praef(ectus) ex [er] citu qui est in Aegypto (CIL III 6809 = ILS 2696).
We also find two other cases where the titles of officers in this provincial army mix Greek and Latin. In Egypt, as in other provinces, the prefect relied on soldiers detailed from the army as an essential part of his staff. In the second century there was an equestrian official with the title archistrator at the head of the stratores, those responsible for the horses of the prefect’s staff (AE 1929: 125 = TAM III 52). We also find a very similar title for the head of another department of the prefect’s office, at this same time: there was an equestrian commander titled archistator in charge of a formation of apparently several hundred men, so-called statores– soldiers who, on the basis of their designation, were prepared to take on tasks of all kinds (AE 1958: 156; cf. P Oxy. II 294; XXXVI 2754). We know of no parallels for such Latin–Greek titles elsewhere in the Roman army. It is of fundamental importance that we find these titles in memorial inscriptions erected in provinces other than Egypt. Documentation specific to this individual province therefore has no relevance, and thus one cannot argue that we find no comparable peculiarities merely on account of the poorer state of preservation in other provinces. Titles where Greek and Latin are mixed can probably only be explained by the fact that in the exercitus Aegyptiacus, and especially in the staff of the praefectus Aegypti, Greek was significantly more common than in other provinces, even eastern ones (Haensch 2008).
The statores were an exceptional institution in another respect as well. Only the praefectus Aegypti, among all the governors of the principate, had at his disposal a body of soldiers of this kind. In the Republican period, one does find statores, but under quite different officials. In the imperial army they only survived either as a unit of the troops of the city of Rome, in which case they were commanded by the praetorian prefects, or as individual functionaries (there may have been two or three of them) assisting equestrian auxiliary commanders, that is, commanders of smaller units in the Roman army. Clearly the fact that the functions of prefect of Egypt and of praetorian prefect originated from the middle equestrian officer corps meant that these functionaries retained conditions typical of equestrian officers, although they had become much more important than them. The equestrian rank of archistrator (and archistator) is equally exceptional and may be explained only in terms applicable to the province of Egypt and to the city of Alexandria. In all other provinces the head of a governor’s stratores was only a centurio. Presumably the great number of equestrian officials in Egypt and the many Alexandrian notables of equestrian rank meant that it was felt necessary to raise the rank of important officiales serving under the prefect. A third unique institution—the existence of an agrimensor (land surveyor) praefecti Aegypti (SB III 7183 = FIRA III 142), for whom there was no known parallel in any other provincial governor’s staff—may be explained by the need for a surveyor of this type in a province where the arable land changed with each flooding of the Nile.
The Calais garrison of over 1,000 men was England’s only standing army. The town was a vital Yorkist base in the winter of 1459-60, and Calais troops formed the core of the Yorkist army which invaded in June 1460. However, Andrew Trollope, a Calais commander and renowned soldier, refused to fight Henry VI (October 1459) and became a leading Lancastrian captain until his death at Towton. The government also paid the wardens of the northern marches (usually from the rival Neville and Percy families) to retain a few hundred soldiers, but their private forces were more important. French and Burgundian rulers supplied mercenaries to back invasion in 1470-71 and 1485-87. Their importance grew as noble participation in the wars declined after 1461. The major source of soldiers was noblemen’s retainers and tenants. The Percys and Nevilles could field up to 10,000 men each for short periods, many of whom were experienced in border warfare. The Yorkist lord Hastings raised 3,000 men in 1471, and the Stanleys fielded large contingents between 1485 and 1487. The reluctance of tenants to serve far from home, and the nobles’ ability to pay them were the main limitations.
At Towton (1461), seventy-five per cent of lords and much of the gentry fought on the Lancastrian side. The Yorkists had fewer lords, but they were the wealthier. Armies became smaller in later wars. At Bosworth, twenty-eight of thirty-five lords failed to turn out for Richard III. Experience taught them it was safer to wait and accept the victor, who could then summon soldiers from towns and counties: in 1455, Coventry equipped 100 archers for Henry VI, and sent the same number with Warwick to Towton. However, by 1470-71, their daily wages had to be raised by fifty per cent to attract recruits.
The largest armies fought at Towton, over 20,000 men on each side; Edward may have had 9,000 at Barnet (1471), Warwick more; at Bosworth, Richard heavily outnumbered Henry Tudor’s 5,000 men, although Sir William Stanley’s army redressed the balance, and not all of Richard’s army was engaged. Archers predominated, outnumbering “men-at-arms by seven or more to one. English archers were highly rated in Europe. In the civil war battles both sides had them and they were less influential than in the Hundred Years’ War, their main function being to cover the men-at-arms and to break up defensive formations. However, their absence compromised the Yorkists at Edgecote. Other footmen were armed with bills (poleaxes). The elite men-at-arms, all landowners, were encased in expensive armour. Nearly all battles of the civil wars became slogging matches in which the men-at-arms on foot played the dominant role, though cavalry were also used, as at Towton, Tewkesbury, and Bosworth. Most armies had field artillery, although this was used only at the start of battles because its rate of fire was relatively slow; mounting it in field defences went out of fashion after 1460. There were few sieges in the civil wars, although Edward IV possessed an impressive siege train. The English made little use of handguns, and the mercenary gunners from the Continent made little impact in the wars.
The main goal in the civil wars was political power rather than control of territory, so the campaigns of the Wars of the Roses were brief and ended in battles. This was not due to lack of military skill; many of the nobles who commanded in the 1450s had experience in the French wars, and younger captains like Somerset, Warwick, and Edward IV, who learned from experience, were capable soldiers. It was desirable to limit campaigns to avoid causing damage by foraging, and to reach a conclusion before the levies dispersed. Analysis of the campaigns of 147071, for which there is detailed evidence, shows that both sides manoeuvred skilfully. York (in 1459) and Warwick (in 1461) paid dearly for failure to reconnoitre. Edward IV’s handling of his men before Barnet and at Tewkesbury also shows some tactical skill and, in contrast to the English experience in the French wars, it was often the attackers who won battles.
Sources rarely refer to the crucial role of logistics. To invade Scotland in 1481, 500 carts were requisitioned to carry supplies, and more would ferry provisions from Newcastle. In civil wars such preparations were impossible, and the mobility of armies suggests that there were no large wagon trains. Armies carried a few days’ provisions and equipment in wagons. In 1459, the Yorkists used wagons for protection at Blore Heath and Ludford Bridge. In 1460, London furnished Yorkist transport. Supplies were purchased or seized from towns, depending on their lord (Stamford, Wakefield, and Ludlow were York’s towns) and the state of discipline. The best sources were the largest towns like London (1461), York (1470), and Bristol (1471). Requisitioning and looting were often indistinguishable, but living off the country meant dangerous dispersal (as the Yorkists found in December 1460), while plundering alienated the population. Margaret kept her northerners, who had a bad reputation, out of London in February 1461 in deference to fears of pillaging, thus leaving the city open to Edward.
An army on the march was preceded by light horse called ‘scourers’, harbingers, or aforeriders whose tasks included arranging billets and victuals, and scouting. Accurate reconnaissance gave Edward a crucial advantage in 1470 and 1471, whereas the failure of York’s and Warwick’s scouts (December 1460 and February 1461) resulted in defeat. Contact between opposing harbingers provided knowledge of the enemy’s location, and thus sending aforeriders in one direction, and the main body in another was used to deceive the enemy by Warwick in March 1470, and by Margaret in April 1471.
It was in 1526, the traditional invasion road that led into the Balkans was taken once again by the Ottomans. Most such annual campaigns had culminated in the siege of some Danubian fortress town, but this year was to be different. For the Hungarian army composed of King Louis II, his bishops, magnates, nobles and knights, had advanced to give battle.
The opposing forces
In the 1526 campaign the Ottoman army may have numbered some 60,000 provincial cavalry (the Rumelian and Anatolian troops) and standing forces (janissaries [the sultan’s elite infantry troops], cavalry and artillery) and perhaps a not her 40,000-50,000 irregulars and auxiliaries. Due to the long, four-month march, rainy weather and sieges, a good portion of this army must have been lost by the time it reached Hungary. Thus the estimate of Archbishop Pál Tornori, commander-in-chief of the Hungarian army, who, based on intelligence he received, put the whole fighting force of the sultan’s army at about 70,000 men, seems more realistic than the exaggerated figures of 150,000 to 300,000 men suggested by later historians. However, even this more modest estimate suggests a considerable Ottoman numerical superiority. Since the Croatian and Transylvanian forces, numbering some 10,000 to 15,000 men each, could not join the king in 1526, the Hungarian army that met the Ottomans south of Mohács – near the intersection of modern Hungary, Croatia and Yugoslavia – was only about 25,000 to 30,000 strong. A similar Ottoman superiority can be seen with regard to firepower: whereas the Ottomans deployed some 200 cannons, mainly small-calibre ones, the Hungarians had only about 80 cannons.
The Fall of Petervarad and Ujlak. The Ottoman Army Reaches the Drava
As already mentioned, on June 19, during the advance along the valley of the Morava, Grand Vezir Ibrahim was instructed by the sultan to capture Petervarad. According to Ottoman sources the castle was a “stumbling block” along the “highway of the holy struggle” by which we must understand that it closed off access to the Danube, hampering the movements of the fleet. Moreover, it could endanger the supply lines if by-passed and left in the rear of the Ottoman armies. Thanks to reconnaissance conducted by Bali Beg, the Ottoman high command obtained the following correct information about the Hungarians: on July 8 the king was still in Buda, over 1,000 troops were stationed at the castle of Petervarad, and the “accursed priest”, Tomori, was in the vicinity with 2,000 soldiers.
Ibrahim launched the siege of the castle on July 14 with the Rumelian army, the 2,000 janissaries assigned to him, the 150 artillery pieces, and the flotilla. Once under the castle they immediately started constructing the siege trenches and battery positions and soon, together with the artillery, launched a barrage. On July 17the Anatolian army joined the besiegers. The garrison of the castle held out bravely and made a few sallies. It repelled the assaults of the Ottomans repeatedly and inflicted on them significant losses. The Ottomans were able to take the castle on July 28 only after undermining and blowing up one of the bastions and storming it through the breach. With only a handful of men on the northern bank of the Danube Tomori could not come to the rescue of the defenders. By this time the troops of the bishop of Pecs, of the chapter of Esztergom, and of the abbey of Szekszard were all in his camp, to be joined later by Peter Perenyi and his banderium; yet his forces still numbered no more than 4,000.
It seems the Ottoman command wanted to present the union of the forces from Croatia and Transylvania with the royal forces by dispatching the army of Ibrahim with extraordinary urgency from Petervarad to Ujlak, the siege of which was launched as ear]y as August 1. It was undertaken with the same generous expenditure of materiel as that of Petervarad. The defenders of this much weaker castle were compelled to surrender in a week.
In the meantime, smaller units captured the castles of the Sremone by one, sometimes even without a fight, because the garrisons fled rather than await the arrival of the enemy. Thus the road towards the Drava lay open. Touching upon Sotin, Vukovo, and Borovo, the army reached Eszek on August 14. The ships arrived there at the same time or shortly thereafter, as we know from one of Burgio’s reports. The fact that the Ottomans began to build the bridge “in a great hurry” as soon as they reached Eszek also indicates important it was for the Ottoman command to advance as rapidly as possible. The bridge was ready by the 19th; the crossing began on the 21st, went on continuously, and was completed by the23rd. The bridge was dismantled or burnt down while the army was on its way to the river Karasso.
After the fall of Petervarad Tomori moved to Bacs. A few days later he proceeded to the mouth of the river Karasso and, crossing the Danube, stopped somewhere in the area of Baranyakisfalud and Hercegszollos, sending only smaller patrols on detail to the Drava.
Where to Fight the Battle? Conflict between Court and Notability
We have already mentioned that since the Hungarian government was well aware that it would not be able to hold up the Ottomans either at the Sava or at the Drava, it decided to fight a pitched battle. It may be assumed that Mohács had been selected as the battlefield from the start. The letters of Louis II indicate that he wanted to move further southward, leaving Tolna behind, and we also know that in the last week of June the palatine asked the king to send money and troops to Mohács.
It is possible, however, that the king accepted this p]an only under pressure from the military council; in reality, along with his immediate entourage, he wanted either to avoid battle altogether, or to fight it much further to the north, awaiting the arrival of the forces from Croatia and Transylvania and of the foreign mercenaries. Naturally this line of thinking implied that the southern parts, or an even larger portion of the country, would have to be forfeited. It is impossible to arrive at a precise assessment of these different intentions because of the contradictions and the chronological inaccuracies in the sources available to us. At any rate all signs indicate deep divisions between the court and the nobility.
To begin with, the king’s decision to wait so long in Buda needs tobe explained. He left on July 20, according to Burgio, on the 23rd, according to Brodarics. He was supposed to have reached Tolna three weeks earlier. Presumably the reason for the delay was not merely that it took a long time to form the royal banderium because of a lack of funds, as Burgio maintains, or that the nobility likewise reached Tolna with considerable delay, but also the fact that the king and his entourage were becoming increasingly convinced that no battle must be fought before uniting all possible forces. Some nobles seem to have got wind of this dilatory plan, which caused unrest in their ranks. After describing the king’s lack of preparedness, Burgio’s report of July 5 read:
My opinion is rather that His Majesty will retreat, and we will end up by losing even the areas on this side of the Drava…. It cannot be denied that His Majesty’s life is in danger. If they do not go down to the battlefield he will fall into the hands of his own subjects, and that could end only badly, for no one would hesitate to blame him and his advisers for the fall of the country. But if His Majesty does go down to fight all the way to the Drava, he would be poorly equipped and ill prepared and I dare say that in addition to the dangers from the enemy his own subjects would also present a threat, because everyone is dissatisfied with him. Especially the voivode Szapolyai and his followers are against him and–it is strongly suspected–they are in cahoots with the Turks. So his Majesty will have no other recourse than to flee the country.
It is curious that Burgio wrote this report after the session of the diet at which the nobility unanimously backed the king, granting him plenipotentiary powers and leaving 0lerboczi in the lurch. Either Burgio was wrong or, if not, there was a sudden change in the mood of the nobility. The only thing one can think of is that the court’s military projects had aroused the distrust of the nobility. Incidentally, there is no foundation to Burgio’s remark about Szapolyai’s attitude and intentions. From our point of view what matters were the hesitations of the king: should he remain in Buda or go to war?
Nor can we know which party, the court or the nobility, was responsible for the delay of the assembly at Tolna. Brodarics wrote that the king advanced towards Tolna slowly, hoping that others would “join him along the way.” This, however, seems most unlikely, if only because most of the nobility, coming from different regions of the country, would not use the Buda-Tolna road. We also know from Burgio that the Palatine himself told the king that the nobility would go to war only once the king was on his way. In Burgio’s report of July 8 we again find hints that the court wanted the king to remain in Buda. Although the royal banderium was not yet outfitted, in Burgio’s opinion, “it would be better for the king to proceed than to await the arrival of the Turks in Buda.”
These clues jibe with the reluctance shown by the king to get involved in battle, and the fantastic project of a campaign against Bulgaria and Serbia which he entertained during these very weeks; only in the days immediately preceding his departure from Buda did he definitely give up on this project. Some light is shed upon the secret intentions of the king by Burgio’s report of August 5:
The king told me he will go down to Tolna and will prevent the Turks from crossing the Drava. Failing this he would like to withdraw to Slavonia, for two reasons: first, because the bishop of Zagreb and the ban of Croatia, Ferenc Batthyany, are in Slavonia and he considers them his most loyal men, and because this is where he has least to fear from the intrigues of his subjects, moreover, because in this province he and Archduke Ferdinand have a good many castles….
The king reached Tolna on August 6 and remained there until the 13th. .According to Brodarics, “they held protracted debates” there. Once again the palatine was instructed to hurry and to reach the Drava before the enemy to prevent his crossing. Some magnates, however, refused, while others referred to their privileges and their right, as great lords, to fight only under the banner of the king; in short, the idea of defending the Drava line was dropped. The palatine had already reached Mohács, while the others remained behind talking about privileges. Brodarics tells us that the king declared in the general assembly:
“I can see that everyone is using my person as an excuse…. I accepted this great danger personally exposing my own life to all the fickleness of fortune, for the sake of the country and for your welfare. So that none may find an excuse for their cowardice in my person and so that they would not blame me for anything, tomorrow, with the help of God omnipotent, I will accompany you to that place w here others will not go without me.” Then the king issued orders to set off on the following day, although there were some who, well aware of the dangers involved, tried to dissuade him from this undertaking, but in vain.
Burgio, on the other hand, provides the following account:
the king sent Ambrus Sarkany from Tolna to Eszek to defend the castle and prevent the Turks from throwing a bridge across the Drava, by way of troops he ordered part of the papal infantry to accompany him. His Majesty also sent down Count Palatine Istvan Bathory, along with some lords, their banderia, and the soldiers from the provinces, while the archbishop of Kalocsa, who is now at Bacs, is to cross the Danube and join Sarkany and Bathory as well.
Two days later he wrote: “The only news since the thirteenth, when I wrote my last letter, is that His Majesty ordered those lords and noblemen from the provinces he had dispatched to Eszek previously, but had not gone, finally to get on their way; and now indeed they are moving.”
There is diametrical contradiction between the accounts provided by Brodarics and by Burgio; according to the latter the noblemen finally agreed to go–although almost certainly they did not go to the Drava, as we shall see. The problem common to both accounts is that there could have been no serious intent of defending the line of the Drava: as we have seen, at this time the Ottomans were much closer to the Drava than the Hungarians at Tolna. Thanks to his reconnaissance, Tomori knew with almost hourly precision where the Ottoman forces were and which way they were heading. Of course the court was kept duly informed.
While it is true that Brodarics knew precious little about military affairs, he was surely not that inept at comprehending military discussions. The debate must have been about whether or not to fight the battle. After all, in his very first sentence Brodarics states that the “king’s continued advance” was also mentioned. The last sentence of the king’s outburst–“I will accompany you to the place here others will not go without me”–points clearly to the fact that the main issue was whether to advance to meet the enemy, and not whether to defend the Drava. The contradiction is so blatant that one cannot help suspecting that Brodarics was silent about the essence of the debate because by describing the scene in such pathetic tones he meant to erect an immortal monument to the tragic fate of the young king.
Whatever was debated in Tolna, major decisions were not made until the discussions at Bata on August 16. The king summoned Tomori, who was stationed at the Karasso, and appointed him together with Gyorgy Szapolyai as commanders-in-chief, with the proviso that should Janos Szapolyai and Frangepan arrive, they would take over. The council also reached final decision about fighting the battle at Mohács. We know this partly because, according to Brodarics, “the leaders left” right after the debate “in order to designate a camp site near the town of Mohács.” Here we must add that it was probably not just a matter of finding a camp site, but rather to reconnoiter thoroughly the prospective battlefield and its vicinity. We also know, from Ottoman sources, that it was at Batathat they decided to fight the battle at Mohács. Suleyman’s clerk noted on August 19: “A scoundrel came here [to Eszek] from Buda, and brought the news that ‘at the fifth stage after crossing the Drava, you will meet with the evil king.” The battlefield was actually five days’ march from the Drava, and the Ottomans indeed reached it five days after their crossing.
It was also decided that the troops along the Karasso would be brought up to Mohács. After Tomori and Perenyi explored the field at Mohács they went to the Karasso. A strange scene took place there. It is reported by Brodarics as follows:
After he arrived here and called together his soldiers and the commanders of his units, he informed them about the king’s wish to pull back the camp, which was also his own wish. The soldiers, however, grumbled and objected to pulling back just when they were within reach of the enemy. They felt they had to confront the enemy and fight bravely, as true men ought…. They also insisted they knew that the formerly courageous and invincible army of the Ottomans had perished, first at the battle of Belgrade and then at the siege of Rhodes…. Let them isolate the king and all the brave warriors from the cowardly mass of priests and other war-dodgers bent on softening the king, so outstanding in body and in spirit, whom they wanted to spoil with their cowardice and their unmanly advice, in order to turn the brave youths into their own image.
Several insights may be gained from this scene. First, it shows the lack of discipline among the soldiers, a lack, one should point out, which mirrored the anarchic conditions prevailing in society at large. Second, the soldiers, inspired resolve to fight is noteworthy. We already spoke of the high morale of the troops, especially those fighting in the border areas, and how superior they felt to the Ottomans. This morale was not due to lack of self-criticism or to overconfidence, but rather to an awareness deriving from the successful skirmishes fought in the border areas over several generations. The reference to the losses suffered by the Ottomans in the battles of the preceding year is also striking. Burgio’s report of May30 had already made the same claim, almost word for word:
The archbishop of Kalocsa advises the king to leave for the border areas immediately, and he encourages everyone by saying that the Turkish army is large in numbers only, but is not well trained, the troops being too young and inexperienced in war because the Turks lost the flower of their soldiery on the island of Rhodes (where they had been fighting against the Knights of Saint John), as well as in other wars.
This assessment must have originated with Tomori, the very Tomori who had felt that the struggle against the overwhelming power of the Ottoman Empire was hopeless and tried to talk the kinginto signing a peace. Most likely he meant to compensate for the news regarding the might of the Ottomans; while he could not increase the effectiveness of the Hungarian forces or improve its equipment, at least he could enhance its morale. We shall see that he would try to do so again at a critical moment.
From all this follows that the debates at Tolna centered not on the defense along the Drava, but whether or not to engage the enemy in a decisive battle, and, if so, when and where. We have seen the negative effect the court’s hesitation had on the mood of the nobility. The reports on the discussions at Tolna only exacerbated matters. The troops knew about the proposed delay, for–as we know from Brodarics’s communication–the discussions were held in a “populous assembly.” Thus when Tomori tried “to persuade them”—as Brodarics puts it–to draw back further, the troops were convinced that the king’s point of view had prevailed in the discussions and, even when Tomori assured them of his own commitment to the order, refused to follow.
Hence the forces under the command of Tomori and Perenyi remained by the Karasso, while the other part of the army marched southward to the field at Mohács, where more and more units were gathering. The king himself remained at Ujfalva, immediately to the north of Mohács. Then late one night the camp at Mohács, and eventually the king himself, received a report from reconnaissance that the bulk of the Ottoman forces had already crossed the Drava;at the same time the lords at the Mohács camp requested the presence of the ruler in order to discuss what was to be done. All this must have taken place in the night of the 23rd to the 24th, for we know the army of Rumelia and the janissaries of the sultan were onthe northern side of the river by the dawn of the 23rd; only the army of Anatolia and the baggage train had yet to cross. The person bearing the news must have left at this time; since his path was difficult, often across the swampy terrain, even a good horseman must have needed 12-14 hours to cover the distance of 70 km separating the Drava from the Karasso, and from there 20-25 km more to Ujfalva.
The battlefield was bordered by the marshes of the Danube from the east and by a plateau 25 to 30 m (82-98 ft) high from the west and south. The Hungarian command planned to charge against the much larger Ottoman army in increments as it descended from the steep and, given the heavy rainfall in the weeks before the battle, slippery plateau.
Facing southwest, the army lined up in two echelons. On the right and left wings of the first echelon stood the Hungarian heavy cavalry, facing the Rumelian and the Anatolian timariot cavalry of the sultan respectively. The 10,000strong Hungarian infantry stood ten ranks deep in the middle facing the janissaries. Louis II stood in the second echelon behind the Hungarian infantry, whereas Süleyman, guarded by his central cavalry, stood behind the janissaries. Ottoman cannons were placed in front of the janissaries.
However, this battle order evolved only gradually. The Hungarians initiated the combat when only the Rumelian army was on the plain. Süleyman and his cavalry were still descending from the plateau and the Anatolian troops of the right flank were further behind. The skirmishes of the light cavalry forces were already underway when the Hungarian artillery opened fire at the Rumelian army about to camp on the plain. It was followed by the cavalry charge of the Hungarian right flank that broke the resistance of the Rumelian cavalry. But instead of chasing the fleeing enemy, the Hungarians set out to loot. By then, the janissaries had arrived at the bottom of the terrace and inflicted major destruct ion on the Hungarians with their volleys. Although the Hungarian infantry and the left wing fought bravely, they were unable to break the obstacles erected in front of the cannons and janissaries and were slaughtered by janissary volleys. Contrary to general belief, it was not the Ottoman cannons (which shot beyond the Hungarians) but the insurmountable wall and firepower of the janissaries that figured decisively in the Ottoman victory.
The consequences and historical significance of the battle
Such a grave defeat had not been inflicted on the Hungarian armed forces since the battle of Muhi in 1241 against the Mongols. The king, most of the magnates and prelates, about 500 noblemen, 4,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantrymen perished. Hungary also lost its century-and -a-half-old struggle to contain the Ottoman advance into central Europe, More importantly for Europe, the battle led to the direct confrontation of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, for a group of Hungarian aristocrats elected Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, younger brother of Charles V, as their king (1526-64). However, Ferdinand was able to control only the north-western parts of Hungary, for the middle and eastern parts were under the rule of Janos Szapolyai, also elected king of Hungary (1526- 40), whose pro-Ottoman policy temporarily postponed the clash. Szapolyai’s death in 1540 and Ferdinand’s unsuccessful siege of Buda in the spring and summer of 1541 triggered the sultan’s campaign which led to the Ottoman occupation of central Hungary, and turned the country into the major continental battleground between the Habsburgs and Ottomans.
The political vacuum caused by the slaughter of the Hungarian nobility on the field of Mohács would take some six years to sort itself out. The Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand (Charles V’s younger brother) and Sultan Suleyman each tried to absorb chunks of the ancient kingdom of the Magyars. This dispute over Hungary would culminate in the Ottoman siege of Vienna, which still echoes through the European subconscious, although the essential truth was that the two opponents were geographically too far apart to do each other much damage. It took the Ottoman army four months to march from Istanbul to Vienna in 1529, so there were only two weeks left for the actual siege. When you compare this with the six months that it took the Ottomans to reduce the city of Rhodes, the seriousness of the attack on Vienna is put in perspective. There was, however, another time for the Ottomans to show the Austrians how efficient they were as an army of engineers. The siege trenches were cut in double-quick time and artillery batteries established, but then it was time to pack up tools and return home. Nor was there any great disparity in armaments or siege-craft between the two sides. If anything, the Germans alone had a slight technical edge over the Ottoman janissaries, for they were the acknowledged world leaders in mining and smelting.
The Gallic sack of Rome can be best described as a catalyst for Rome. Although the arrival of the Gauls can possibly be credited with a few developments in its own right, most notably the use of the heavy javelin, its biggest impact was in accelerating a number of existing trends in Roman society. This included bringing the community, and particularly the local clans, together into a single, cohesive whole and unifying them all under the banner of Rome. Although this process was well under way previously, the Gallic sack seems to have demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the archaic way of life, and particularly the clan-based approach to war, was no longer a viable option. In the aftermath of the sack, Rome did everything she could to increase her manpower and develop a military model to protect against further attacks. This included incorporating new peoples into her citizen body (and military ranks) via the creation of new tribes and municpia, along with the full-time reversion to the consular tribunate and eventually the creation of the consulship.
Rome’s increased internal unity and cohesion also allowed a more concerted approach to land acquisition and ownership, generally exploited through the creation of ager publicus, which gradually developed into a territorial empire. Evidently initiated to satiate the Romans’ increased appetite for land, but tempered by the desire to maintain her manpower reserves and control both the territory and those occupying it (in contrast to previous practice), Rome very quickly carved out a massive Central Italian empire during the course of the fourth century BC. This led the city into increased conflicts with a number of Italian peoples, including the other Latin communities and tribes, as her aggressive and expansionist policies started to impact upon them. This ultimately resulted in a series of wars against the Latins, Samnites, Etruscans and Greeks of Magna Graecia in the second half of the fourth century BC, which further shaped Rome’s military and imperial designs.
The fourth century BC also saw the introduction of some new military equipment in the Roman army, which seems to have come from two different sources. The first source was local, and was perhaps a result of an increasing number of urban, and probably ‘middle class’, men engaging in warfare under the banners of the consular tribunes, and later consuls. These men, although by no means poor (arguably analogous with the zeugitae or ‘hoplite-class’ in Greece), were not from the wealthiest segments of society either and also had very little previous connection to warfare. As a result, we can probably link to these soldiers the increasing use of simple but functional helmets, like the increasingly popular montefortino type, and a general ‘democratization’ of military equipment across the board. Associated with this is the use of a new type of heavy javelin, which makes it appearance in Central Italy at this time. Prior to this time, javelins are rather hard to identify in the archaeological record. Although spears had most likely been thrown for centuries, if not millennia, in Italy, for the most part they were of the ‘multi-purpose’ variety – spears which could be used as either a thrusting weapon or a thrown one. During the course of the fourth century BC, however, there is increasing evidence for purpose-designed heavy javelins being used throughout Italy – a development which may be associated with the growing number of Gauls in the peninsula. Although by no means unique to the Gauls, the type of heavy javelin which appears in the fourth century BC in Italy is very close to the type of weapon favoured by those living in the modern-day regions of southern Austria and southern France, just the other side of the Alps. It is therefore probable that this military development arrived with the Gallic tribesmen in Italy and was slowly adopted by the Italic peoples.
The fourth century BC marked a major turning point in Rome’s relationship with the Latins. All of the developments of the previous century, including the rise of more cohesive polities/communities, the decline of the region’s mobile clans/gentes, the increased importance of land and agriculture and the arrival of the Gauls, served to break apart any regional unity which had previously existed and created new, more localized divisions. Rome and the Latins still shared a culture and a language, but they no longer shared a single vision for regional security. Rome, in the north, found herself increasingly in opposition to the communities in the south of Latium, who seem to have viewed the Samnites (and perhaps Rome herself) as a far greater threat than the Gauls. Each community in Latium seems to have developed its own distinct identity, which led to an increasingly fractured and factionalized region and ultimately resulted in a final war between Rome and those Latin communities who felt most threatened by her rise to power, generally those located in the southern half of the region. Rome’s victory over these communities, and the resultant settlement of 338 BC, allowed for a reinterpretation of the relationships in Latium which took into account the changing political situation. Rome emerged as the undisputed master of Central Italy and had at her disposal a huge reserve of manpower through the creation of a number of municpia as well as a series of alliances.
This situation changed the Roman army forever. First, it gave Rome a reserve of men which allowed the city to compete with the major Hellenistic powers around the Mediterranean. Without the settlement of 338 BC, Rome would have probably never defeated the Samnites in the final decades of the fourth century BC, let alone a force like that led by Pyrrhus in the early third century BC. The creation of so many new citizens, albeit most of them without voting rights, gave Rome the resources to fight in major conflicts and to come back from defeats time and again. Second, the fourth century BC and the rise of cohesive polities in Latium, most notably at Rome itself, allowed greater strategic vision and planning. With more cohesive communities came the ability and motivation to invest in military infrastructure – roads, colonies and navies. This type of expenditure would have been unthinkable under the more flexible model of the fifth century BC, where Rome’s leaders and Roman warfare seems to have had only an ephemeral connection to the city. But with the rise of a Roman nobility, which maintained links to the community for generations, and an increasing realization by the community that warfare could benefit everyone and not just the soldiers involved – generally through the creation and use of ager publicus – war became a community endeavour. Finally, the settlement of 338 BC and Rome’s conquest of Central Italy created a situation where continued conquest and warfare was almost unavoidable. While the principle of ‘defensive imperialism’ as the main cause of Rome’s expansion has been rightly criticised by scholars such as W.V. Harris and Nathan Rosenstein, Rome’s new position in Central Italy did make conflict likely. Rome’s involvement in Campania had already drawn her into conflict with the Samnites and this would continue for another fifty years. Rome was also increasingly involved with the Greek communities of Magna Graecia, which would ultimately lead to the arrival of Pyrrhus. So while Rome might not have been an entirely reluctant and defensive conqueror, the city also had quite a few new borders and interests to protect.
The late fourth and third centuries BC saw Rome’s armies and envoys venturing further and further afield, for increasingly diverse reasons and interests, the core themes of integration and a developing civic identity are still evident and arguably still driving much of Rome’s military expansion and development.
Rome’s wars during this period, from the mid-fourth century to the mid-third century BC, have been the subject of intense study and debate – particularly during the past fifty years. Beginning with Rome’s great conflict with the Samnites (most notably the Second Samnite War or The Great Samnite War), and followed by Rome’s war against Pyrrhus and the first conflict with the Carthaginians, the city’s foreign interactions during this period were influenced heavily by her new alliance structures and her purported desire to defend the interests of her allies against foreign enemies. Rome’s histories for this period are therefore often framed in terms of a ‘defensive imperialism’, where Rome is portrayed as the reluctant conqueror – being dragged into war after war by her allies, arguably against her will or in pursuit of a greater strategic security. These wars are therefore seen as iura bella (‘just wars’), or defensive wars, although once Rome became involved in a conflict, however reluctantly, the city pursued it to the end – throwing the entirety of her resources into it. It was this dedication to warfare on the part of the Romans, the ability and determination to return to the battlefield time and again after defeats to Pyrrhus or to build a fleet from scratch in order to engage with the Carthaginians, which is often thought to be the secret to their success in this period. That, and an increasingly evolved army which learned from and adapted to each enemy it fought. Or at least this is what the Romans later claimed.
This simple motif of Rome as the reluctant conqueror has rightly been challenged in recent decades, with W.V. Harris and more recently Nathan Rosenstein both presenting the case for Rome being anything but an unwilling or unenthusiastic participant when it came to war.1 Warfare formed an important part of elite identity going back to the early Iron Age, and Rome’s aristocracy – although increasingly sophisticated and urban – retained a strong martial character throughout the Republican period. However, the tension between the Roman elite’s desire to engage in warfare for personal reasons and the evident awkwardness and unpreparedness which seems to have marked the city’s approach in the aftermath of this warfare has generally defied a single explanation. Rome’s apparently ad hoc approach to empire in the middle Republic suggests that a grand strategy was lacking during this period. But at the core of Rome’s foreign interactions, underpinning her reaction and response to the requests of her allies and driving the ambitions of her elite, were a set of cultural principles with their origins back in the Archaic period. As a result, although this period clearly represents a new stage and period in Roman warfare and the development of empire, it also needs to be understood as a continuation of previous practices and the result of the same forces which led to Rome’s consolidation and her domination over the Latins. The present chapter will endeavour to lay out some of these principles (although a full treatment would require an entire volume – indeed perhaps several! – on its own).
Our understanding of the development of the Roman army as a fighting body, and as a social and cultural institution, has also been revised in recent years. The nature and characteristics of the Roman army during this period have been a subject of interest since the time of Livy, as this period marks the first time that the surviving literary accounts offer anything which resembles a real description of battlefield tactics and organization (Livy 8.8, discussed in detail later, being the most obvious example). This period is therefore generally recognized as the point of origin for not only Rome’s territorial empire, but also the Roman army which won it – the so-called manipular legion – although what made the Roman army so different during this period is sometimes hard to determine. Rome’s historians all held that the Roman army, at its core, had remained remarkably stable and static during the Republic. The Servian Constitution, supposedly set out in the late Regal period, created the wealth and age-based framework whereby Rome’s population was divided up, equipped and organized into a civic militia. While many superficial details changed during the following centuries (most notably the equipment), and sometimes quite quickly, the core principles which underpinned the army were thought to have remained roughly the same. What made the army so successful was therefore thought to be the way in which it changed its superficial aspects – its equipment, formation and tactics – in response to different enemies and situations. And as Rome faced off against more and stronger opponents during the late fourth and third centuries BC, these enemies were thought to have shaped the Roman army – like a whetstone on a sword edge – into the supreme fighting force which ultimately conquered the entirety of the Mediterranean world. However, this development narrative has been slowly revised as the major changes which are evident in Roman society during the sixth, fifth and fourth centuries BC have also been applied to the army, and as military change is more clearly understood. It was once thought, based on military models produced during the Enlightenment, that armies acted rationally and could change their tactics and equipment as easily as one might change a set of clothing. However, an increasing body of sociological and anthropological work has revealed that these types of superficial changes are subject to the same social and cultural rules which govern other aspects of society – and indeed these rules are arguably more important in the sphere of warfare. Military changes very rarely occur in response to the simple arrival of a new technology or approach, but are instead dictated by a range of principles which actually favour conservatism over innovation. The emergence of the manipular legion of the fourth century BC, although most likely a response to new stimuli, was therefore also probably part of a much longer sequence of development in Rome.
In early republican days, each legionary was expected to provide his own uniform, equipment and personal weapons, and to replace them when they were worn out, damaged or lost. After the consul Marius’ reforms, the State provided uniforms, arms and equipment to conscripts.
The tunic and personal legionary equipment remained basically unchanged for hundreds of years. By Augustan times, the legionary wore a woolen tunic made of two pieces of cloth sewn together, with openings for the head and arms, and with short sleeves. It came to just above the knees at the front, a little lower at the back. The military tunic was shorter than that worn by civilians. In cold weather, it was not unusual for two tunics to be worn, one over the other. Sometimes more than two were worn—Augustus wore up to four tunics at a time in winter months.
With no examples surviving to the present day, the color of the legionary tunic has always been hotly debated. Many historians believe that it was a red berry color and that this was common to legions and guard units. Some authors argue that legionary tunics were white. Vitruvius, Rome’s chief architect during the early decades of the empire, wrote that, of all the natural colors used in dying fabrics and for painting, red and yellow were by far the easiest and cheapest to obtain.
Second-century Roman general Arrian described the tunics worn by cavalry during exercises as predominantly a red berry color, or, in some cases, an orange-brown color—a product of red. He also described multicolored cavalry exercise tunics. But no tunic described by Arrian was white or natural in color. Red was also the color of unit banners, and of legates’ ensigns and cloaks.
Tacitus, in describing Vitellius’ entry into Rome in July AD 69, noted that marching ahead of the standards in Vitellius’ procession were “the camp-prefects, the tribunes, and the highest-ranked centurions, in white robes.” These were the loose ceremonial robes worn by officers when they took part in religious processions. That Tacitus specifically notes they were white indicates that he was differentiating these garments from the non-white tunics worn by the military.
The one color that legionaries and auxiliaries were least likely to wear was blue. This color, not unnaturally, was associated by Romans with the sea. Pompey the Great’s son Sextus Pompeius believed he had a special association with Neptune, god of the sea, and in the 40s to 30s BC, when admiral of Rome’s fleets in the western Mediterranean, he wore a blue cloak to honor Neptune. After Sextus rebelled and was defeated by Marcus Agrippa’s fleets, Octavian granted Agrippa the right to use a blue banner. Apart from the men of the 30th Ulpia Legion, whose emblems related to Neptune, if any of Rome’s military wore blue in the imperial era, it would have been her sailors and/or marines.
Whatever the weather, and irrespective of the fact that auxiliaries in the Roman army, both infantry and cavalry, wore breeches, Roman legionaries did not begin wearing pants, which were for centuries considered foreign, until the second century. Some scholars suggest that legionaries wore nothing beneath their tunics, others suggest they wore a form of loin cloth, which was common among civilians.
Over his tunic the legionary could wear a subarmalis, a sleeveless padded vest, and over that a cuirass—an armored vest. Because of their body armor, legionaries were classified as “heavy infantry.” Early legionary armor took the form of a sleeveless leather jerkin on to which were sown small ringlets of iron mail. Legionaries and most auxiliaries continued to wear the mail cuirass for many centuries; there was no concept of superseding military hardware as there is today.
Early in the first century a new form of armor began to enter service, the lorica segmentata, made up of solid metal segments joined by bronze hinges and held together by leather straps, covering torso and shoulders. This segmented legionary armor was the forerunner of the armor worn by mounted knights in the Middle Ages. By AD 75, a simplified version of the segmented infantry armor was in widespread use. Called today the Newstead type, because an example was found in modern times at Newstead in Scotland, it stayed in service for the next 300 years.
On his head, the legionary wore a conical helmet of bronze or iron. There were a number of variations on the evolving “jockey cap” design, but most had the common features of hinged cheek flaps of metal, tied together under the chin, a horizontal projection at the rear to protect the back of the neck, like a fireman’s helmet, and a small brow ridge at the front.
First- and second-century legionary helmets unearthed in modern times have revealed occasional traces of felt inside, suggesting a lining. In the fourth century, the Roman officer Ammianus Marcellinus wrote of “the cap which one of us wore under his helmet.” This cap was probably made of felt, for Ammianus described how he and two rank and file soldiers with him used the cap “in the manner of a sponge” to soak up water from a well to quench their thirst in the Mesopotamian desert. By the end of the fourth century, legionaries were wearing “Pamonian leather caps” beneath their helmets, which, said Vegetius, “were formerly introduced by the ancients to a different design,” indicating the caps beneath helmets had been in common use for a long time.
After a legion had been wiped out in AD 86 by the lethally efficient falx, the curved, double-handed Dacian sword, which had sliced through helmets of unfortunate Roman troops, legion helmets had cruciform reinforcing strips added over the crown to provide better protection. It was not uncommon for owners of helmets to inscribe their initials on the inside or on the cheek flap. A legionary helmet unearthed at Colchester in Britain had three sets of initials stamped inside it, indicating that helmets passed from owner to owner. In Syria in AD 54, lax legionaries of the 6th Ferrata and 10th Fretensis legions sold their helmets while still in service.
During republican times, Rome’s heavy-armored troops, the hastati, wore eagle feathers on their helmets to make themselves seem taller to their enemies. By the time of Julius Caesar, this had become a crest of horsehair on the top of legionary helmets. These crests were worn in battle until the early part of the first century, before being relegated to parade use. The color of the crest is debatable. Some archaeological discoveries suggest they were dyed yellow. Arrian, governor of Cappadocia in the reign of Hadrian, described yellow helmet crests on the thousands of Roman cavalrymen under his command. The feathers of the republican hastati were sometimes purple, sometimes black, which possibly evolved into purple or black legionary helmet crests.
The helmet was the only item of equipment a legionary was permitted to remove while digging trenches and building fortifications. Helmets were slung around the neck while on the march. The legionary also wore a neck scarf, tied at the throat, originally to prevent his armor from chafing his neck. The scarf became fashionable, with auxiliary units quickly adopting them, too. It is possible that different units used different colored scarves. On his feet the legionary wore heavy-duty hobnailed leather sandals called caligulae, which left his toes exposed. At his waist he wore the cingulum, an apron of four to six metal strands which by the fourth century was no longer used.
THE LEGIONARY’S WEAPONS
The imperial legionary’s first-use weapon was the javelin, the pilum, of which he would carry two or three, the shorter 5 feet (152 centimeters) in length, the longer, 7 feet (213 centimeters). Primarily thrown, javelins were weighted at the business end and, from Marius’ day, were designed to bend once they struck, to prevent the enemy from throwing them back. “At present they are seldom used by us,” said Vegetius at the end of the fourth century, “but are the principal weapon of the barbarian heavy-armed foot.” By Vegetius’ day, a lighter spear, with less penetrating power, was used by Roman troops.
The legionary carried a short sword, the gladius, its blade 20 inches (50 centimeters) long, double-edged, and with a sharp point for effective jabbing. Spanish steel was preferred, leading to the gladius becoming known as “the Spanish sword.” It was kept in a scabbard, which was worn on the legionary’s right side, in contrast to officers, who wore it on the left.
By the fourth century, the gladius had been replaced by a longer sword similar to the spatha carried by auxiliary cavalry from Augustus’ time. The legionary was also equipped with a short dagger, the pugio, worn in a scabbard on the left hip, which was still being carried into the fifth century. Sword and dagger scabbards were frequently highly decorated with silver, gold, jet and ceramic inlay, even precious stones.
The legionary shield, the scutum, was curved and elongated. Polybius described the legionary shield as convex in shape, with straight sides, 4 feet (121 centimeters) long and 2½ feet (75 centimeters) across. The thickness at the rim was a palm’s breadth. It consisted of two layers of wood fastened together with bull’s hide glue. The outer surface was covered with canvas and then with smooth calf-skin, glued in place. The edges of the shield were rimmed with iron strips, as a protection against sword blows and wear and tear. The center of the shield was fixed with an iron or bronze boss, to which the handle was attached on the reverse side. The boss could deflect the blows of swords, javelins and stones.
On to the leather surface of the shield was painted the emblem of the legion to which the owner belonged. Vegetius, writing at the end of the fourth century, said that “every cohort had its shields painted in a manner peculiar to itself.” While Vegetius was talking in the past tense, several examples suggest that each cohort of the Praetorian Guard may have used different thunderbolt emblems on their shields. The shield was always carried on the left arm in battle, with a strap over the arm taking much of the weight. On the march, it was protected from the elements with a leather cover, and slung over the legionary’s left shoulder. By the third century, the legionary shield had become oval, and much less convex.
The inconclusive, unpredictable, and expensive nature of large campaigns, low-level border conflicts and raids (kleinkrieg) gained importance and became the essential part of the battle environment and lifestyle of the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier after the long reign of Süleyman. This situation was exaggerated by frontier populations, which consisted of thousands of mercenaries who sought employment through war. Within certain limits both sides tolerated these raids and conflicts within. Occasionally, events spiraled out of control, however, provoking large campaigns. The Long War (Langekrieg) of 1593 to 1606 was a good example of this type of escalation. In 1592, the governor of Bosnia, Telli Hasan Pasha, increased the level of raids and began to conduct medium-sized attacks against specific targets by using his provincial units only, although he probably had the tacit support of some high-ranking government officials. Initially, he achieved a series of successes but suffered a decisive defeat near Sisak in which nearly all his army was wiped out and he himself was killed. The new Grand Vizier, Koca Sinan Pasha, used this incident as well as a popular mood inclined toward war to break the long peace.
The ambitious Sinan Pasha began the war eagerly but did not show the same enthusiasm during the actual start of the military campaign. The army mobilization was very slow and haphazard after long decades of inaction on the western frontier and from the repercussions of the draining and tiring Iranian campaign. Consequently, the campaign season of 1593 was wasted, and real combat activity only began in 1594 when the Ottomans easily captured Raab (Yanik) and Papa. However, a joint revolt and defection of the Danubean principalities of Wallachia, Moldovia, and Transylvania negated these gains and put the army in the very difficult position of facing two fronts at the same time. Moreover, the revolt threatened the security of the Danube River communications, which was essential for the supply of the army. The Wallachian campaign of 1595 to suppress the revolt ended with a humiliating defeat and huge loss of life. In the meantime, Habsburg forces captured the strategic fortress of Gran (Estergon).
The ever-resourceful Ottoman government immediately reacted to the consequences of these disasters, which had damaged especially the morale and motivation of the standing army corps. A new campaign was organized, and the reluctant sultan, Mehmed III, was persuaded to lead the expeditionary force in person. The presence of the sultan gave a big boost to army morale, and it advanced to the main objective, the modern fortress of Eger (Eğri), in good order. The Ottomans demonstrated their pragmatism and receptivity once again by applying the same effective siege artillery tactics that their Habsburg enemies had used against Estergon, and Egğri capitulated on October 12, 1596.
After the successful resolution of the siege, the Ottoman army had to face the relief force. Initially the Ottoman high command underestimated the danger and sent only the vanguard to deal with them. After the defeat and retreat of the vanguard, however, it decided to advance and attack the enemy with the entire army. The Habsburg army was deployed mainly in well-fortified defensive wagenburgen formations and it controlled all the passes in the swampy region of Mezökeresztes (Haçova). Even though captured prisoners had revealed the enemy strength and intentions two days before, the Ottoman high command insisted on an offensive strategy after spending only a single day passing through the swamps and thereafter deploying immediately into combat formation. The entire Ottoman first line joined the assault on October 26. The daring Ottoman plan failed, the assaulting units were stopped by massive firepower, and were then routed by Habsburg counterattacks. Fortunately, the Habsburg units gave up pursuit to loot the Ottoman camp. The day was saved at the very last moment with the daring counterattack of auxiliary units and cavalry against the Habsburg flanks and rear. As the disorganized and looting Habsburg soldiers panicked, the retreating Ottoman units immediately turned around and joined the auxiliary units. The Habsburg army suffered huge casualties in the following mayhem, and the Tatars decimated the remainder during the pursuit.
The Ottoman high command ended the campaign and returned to winter quarters instead of exploiting the advantage gained by these two victories. The reason was understandable considering the command elements of the army in this campaign. Except for a few operational level commanders, none of the military or civilian members of the high command (including the sultan) had the knowledge, experience, or courage to lead the army forward. This failure is contrasted by the strong performance of the standing army corps and provincial units, which executed their combat tasks properly and in some cases better than in previous campaigns. The Habsburg side also had the same leadership problems as well as other structural problems, such as mercenaries and the conflicting interests of regional magnates. The outcome of this mutually inarticulate strategic vision was to drag the war out into a series of seasonal campaigns launched against each others’ fortresses.
The Long War continued on for 10 more years, during which both armies, the Habsburgs especially, avoided large-scale battles. Because of the unpredictability of the outcome of pitched battles, both sides focused more on smaller battles revolving around key fortresses. After the disastrous year of 1598 in which Yanik was lost and the Ottoman army suffered numerous difficulties caused by harsh weather, the balance began to tip to the advantage of the Ottomans. Repeated attempts by the Habsburgs to capture Buda (Budin), the capital of Ottoman Hungary, failed whereas the Ottomans captured the mighty fortress of Kanisza (Kanije) and managed to keep it against all odds. The rebellious Danubean principalities, likewise, could not withstand the sheer weight of the war and one by one gave up. An unexpected revolt of the Transylvanians against the Habsburgs effectively wiped out the remaining chances of Habsburg success, while the Ottomans reconquered strategic Estergon. Once again, however, the Ottomans were unable to exploit their success effectively. This time it had nothing to do with the government or the strategic direction of the war but, rather, because of the collapse of the eastern frontier defensive system against a new Safavid offensive and the immediate security threat of renewed popular revolts (Celali). The Long War concluded with the Zsitvatorok peace agreement of 1606, which itself was the outcome of mutual exhaustion and other urgent issues.
Even though the Ottoman government failed to achieve a complete victory in the Long War it still gained considerable advantage by retaining such critical territorial conquests as Kanije and Eğri. This forced the Habsburgs to spend large amounts of money and time to build up a new defensive line against the Ottomans. Another advantage occurred with the influx of large numbers of western mercenaries, who introduced new weapon systems, tactics, and techniques into the Ottoman military. The Ottoman military benefited greatly from these new innovations, thanks to its receptivity and pragmatism. For the first time in Ottoman history, the government enlisted groups of mercenaries who had deserted from the Habsburg camp. The most well-known example involved the desertion of a French mercenary unit in the Papa fortress to the Ottoman side on August 1600. Afterwards, they served on various campaigns during the Long War, and some of them continued to serve well after the end of war. Even though this was extraordinary and not representative of a generalized trend, it demonstrates that the Ottoman government of the seventeenth century was far from being the reactionary and conservative organ that is still a commonly held conviction about its identity today.
Moreover, the length and difficulty of the war forced the Ottoman military to the limits of its capabilities and drastically transformed it. In order to meet the requirements of war, the Ottoman government had to reorganize the empire’s financial system and to recruit or mobilize all available manpower. The obvious outcome of the financial reorganization and enlargement of eligible population groups to the privileged Askeri class not only changed the face of the military but also had a huge impact on Ottoman society as a whole. Moreover, the increased need for musketeers further weakened the traditional military classes, especially the Sipahis and other cavalry corps.
From every aspect, the Ottoman military ended the war with a completely different army. Instead of mounted archers in loose formations, the army employed infantry with firearms in deep formations of several rows of men. Instead of a regionally based provincial army, a salary-based standing army supported by provincial mercenaries became the dominant military organization. Moreover, that army was becoming highly evolved as an institution that had formalized ranks, corps of specialists, training, and battlefield flexibility. Therefore, it can be safely said that the classical period of the Ottoman military effectively ended with the signing of the Zsitvatorok agreement on November 11, 1606.
The core of an army in Anglo-Saxon England was the king’s military household, whose members served their lord in return for reward, by the seventh century increasingly given as landholdings. Nobles and royal officers had their own households, which could be summoned to the army. Young warriors served a form of apprenticeship in these households before they married and settled on their lands. In another parallel development with Francia, changes occurred in the methods of raising armies in England in the eighth and ninth centuries. At the time when the Viking “Great Army” appeared in England there may have been a problem with increasing amounts of land being donated to the Church, both by kings and by aristocratic families. In the late seventh century Bede had claimed that this was diminishing the amount of land providing warriors in Northumbria. It may be that ecclesiastical land was held by the family in perpetuity, rather than being dependent on good service to the king. Alternatively, many earlier landholdings were also held in perpetuity, but the granting of them by charter, which made them “bookland,” enabled a lord to bequeath it to a person or persons of his choice rather than being compelled to divide it amongst his inheritors.
Charters of late eighth-century Mercia and Kent make it clear that there were three common obligations to the king: fortress work, bridge work, and military service. Church lands were obliged to provide labor services such as repair of fortifications and bridges, even if they were exempt from military service. Whether any were totally exempt is unclear. Kings like Offa of Mercia began to specify in their charters that Church lands were not exempt from military service, in order to maintain their military manpower. Offa used the obligations to create a network of forts and probably the Dyke on the frontier with Wales as well. By the ninth century these charter practices had spread to Wessex. It seems that it was around the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth centuries that kings began to specify the amount of military service required from a given amount of land: for instance, a Mercian charter of 801 says the owner of a thirty-hide estate should provide five men to the army, in other words one man per six hides, or more likely the owner and five men, one man per five hides. The five-hide unit is referred to in early eleventh-century tracts on social status as a designation of thegnhood. It also appears frequently in the listed military service requirements in the Domesday Book of 1086, but the variations it records in military obligation between shires tell us that this was not a universal standard throughout England. Notably, the five-hide shires largely correspond with those of Wessex and western Mercia. Given these variations, it seems unlikely that the obligations of Edward the Elder’s time were identical to those of Edward the Confessor’s, even if there was considerable continuity.
Many of the Wessex charters purporting to be ninth-century are forgeries. However, the reference made in many of these to two decimations of land by King Æthelwulf in 845 and 855 may have a basis in truth, as the ASC and Asser’s Life of Alfred also refer to the 855 decimation. The object was to provide a tenth of his lands to the Church, but probably also to give lands to thegns, who were the mainstay of his army. He, Alfred and Edward the Elder almost certainly built upon the one man per five hide requirement when they reorganized the military defenses and forces of Wessex and Mercia. Both Asser and Hincmar of Reims say that Church lands were exempt from military service in Æthelwulf’s kingdom. It is likely that the increasing Viking threat brought about some of these changes in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. When they overran most of Northumbria, East Anglia, and a large part of Mercia, and almost defeated Wessex as well, the Vikings gave the impetus for even more far-reaching reforms by Alfred of Wessex. The basis was the construction of a series of burhs, so that no one lived more than a day’s journey from one. Each had an administrative district that was to provide its garrison and maintain its defenses. The Burghal Hidage, a document which dates from the reign of Alfred’s son Edward the Elder, indicates that each hide was responsible for defending and maintaining approximately 4 feet of wall. This appears to correspond well to the length of many of the known burh ramparts and their districts. In all likelihood the system, which Edward and his sister Æthelflæd extended into Mercia as they reconquered land from the Danes, was little changed from that instituted by Alfred after his victory at Edington (878).
Alfred also wished to have an army available at all times. According to the ASC: “The king had divided his army into two, so that there was always half at home and half out, except for those men who had to hold the burhs.” The entry is made under 894, but the reform, if it was more than a temporary arrangement, was presumably carried out before this and after Edington. It is more likely to mean a division of the army into three, rather than the two parts normally envisaged, in which case a man liable to service would spend a third of the year on his land, a third garrisoning the burh of his district and a third with the field army. As Guy Halsall points out, apart from making a reasonable demand on the thegn’s time, this would enable the assembly of the field army straight from the burhs, rather than from innumerable individual landholdings. This would save time and mean that the men of each district were already familiar with each other and had probably trained together in preparation for field service. The ASC entry of 917 mentions burhs as assembly points for armies. While garrisoning the burhs men could also carry out fortress and bridge work. Both the ASC and Asser mention on several occasions that these men rode horses. This is additional evidence that these men were a select levy (fyrd). The levy of one man per hide of the Burghal Hidage must have been something else, perhaps called up in situations of imminent danger. Alternatively, they functioned as a “support force” for the real warriors, sequestered on the basis of the burghal system. Each man was supposed to provide twenty shillings for two months’ maintenance in the event that he was called up: this was presumbly the payment raised from the five hides for the support of the warrior (the ‘man’), perhaps on the basis of one per hide. Æthelstan’s Grately law-code states that “each man” should have two mounted men per plow (sylh). The latter would have been a heavy burden, even if the sylh referred to is equivalent to the Kentish sulung of the Domesday Book, which was two hides, rather than a single hide or even less. Again it may refer to the support for the “man” (warrior), who needed to be mobile to keep up with the army. Æthelstan needed to respond to threats further afield and more often than any of his Anglo-Saxon predecessors.
Even the warriors who remained “at home” might be called upon to fight if their lands were threatened. The Vikings were a mobile enemy who could strike at various points along the coast with little warning. In late 893 three ealdormen, Æthelred of Mercia, Æthelhelm of Wiltshire and Æthelnoth of Somerset, raised the garrisons and the “king’s thegns who were at home near the burhs” to attack a Viking army encamped at Buttington by the River Severn. The problem is that the terminology used by those who wrote our records is rarely precise enough to tell us exactly who was being called up to fight—for instance, the other folc who joined the garrison of London to defend it in 895 need not be read as “common folk,” but as men required to do service as soldiers who were not “on duty” at the time, or as commoners who aided in various capacities other than combat. London appears not to have been included in the Burghal Hidage, perhaps because it was on the boundary between former kingdoms. Despite the problems and uncertainties, we can be sure that it was the wealthier men who were expected to serve as warriors. Thus the military system required the service of a large proportion of the male population of England, but the fighting was (preferably) done by a minority. As in the case cited in Germany above, when “support troops” did encounter the enemy they were not up to the task. For instance, ceorls working on a fortification proved totally incapable of defending it against the Vikings in 893.
Whatever the exact functioning of the system, what we do know of it does not suggest a mass peasant levy. There are no signs of exemption for harvesting periods and the like, which suggests that the levy was not primarily made up of those who labored on the farms. The need to cultivate the land cannot have been the primary reason for leaving some of the men subject to the levy at home for half the year, as this would still have seriously depleted the agricultural labor force when it was most needed. The idea was presumably that some thegns remained at home to keep order and ensure that normal farming activities could be maintained without internal disorder or external attack. At the same time the system ideally provided a fighting force that was sufficiently large as a field army, but not so large that it could not be provisioned for any length of time.
Alfred’s (or Edward the Elder’s) reforms represent an attempt to exact military service from a wide class of landowners. As in the case of the contemporary Franks, in the burhs and on campaign the troops are likely to have been commanded by officers of the royal household. The reform therefore represents a significant shift from a system in which the king was largely dependent on the highest nobility, who were summoned by him and then turned up with their households and any other men they chose to bring, which they then commanded. We know that there was some opposition to Alfred’s reforms: in the 870s there had been some who preferred to submit to the Danes, and there must have been many landowners who were displeased with the measures he took after Edington. It was presumably the scale of the threat to Wessex that enabled Alfred to carry out his reforms, which may have involved seizure of Church property as well.
Alfred’s reforms did not make the king less dependent on the nobility, but created a greater bond between many of them and his court. Those who served the household directly were provided for and in return would have owed service. Others may have been granted land in return for service. All this increased the status of the king. However, as Richard Abels made clear in his work on lordship and military obligation, many nobles were “sub-contracted” to raise fyrdmen in districts where they, and not the sheriff or other exactor of royal service, had jurisdiction. One such was the Bishop of Worcester, who held one hundred of three hundred hides at Oswaldslow in this way “by a constitution of ancient times” when the Domesday Bookwas compiled. Elsewhere abbots and other churchmen, as well as thegns, had similar rights, if generally over less lands and inhabitants.
There were thus two groups of fyrdmen: those who held their land of the king by book-right and had rights of jurisdiction by royal favor, and those who held land as a loan from another lord or under his seignory. The first category of fyrdman was heavily punished for not attending a summons by the king, usually with loss of his possessions. Although the word fyrdwiteappears in the Laws of Ine, it is not clear what this means, and no reference to it as a fine for failure to perform fyrd service (or as a commutation of it) imposed by the king occurs before Cnut’s time. Thereafter the term appears only rarely, suggesting that its use was infrequent. The second category of fyrdmen was not directly the king’s concern: all that concerned him was that the lord who was obliged to provide a certain number of men per hide fulfilled this provision one way or another. Abels emphasized that the situation in Worcestershire may not have been typical of England as a whole, but there are indications that it was similar to some other shires, if not necessarily the majority. There would have been important consequences of such a system—firstly, many of the king’s most important lieutenants would have had to command their own contingents in the battle line and could not have stayed close to the king, and secondly, a considerable number of those provided by lords with their own jurisdictions may have been mercenaries, paid for to make up the quota for their hides, but not necessarily levies of the hides. Such commands would also have perpetuated the existence of regional contingents that had a distinct identity and perhaps ancient privileges as to position in the battle line. John of Salisbury claimed that the men of Kent held the right to strike the first blow, and the men of London the right to protect the king.
The “men of London” may in fact have been the housecarls. This group of warriors has attracted a great deal of attention, without any certainty as to who they actually were and how they served the king. They have been seen as a form of military brotherhood like the Jomsvikings (in any case of doubtful historicity) or as an early standing army. Alternatively, it has been suggested that there was little difference between them and other thegns. There is no doubt that the term “housecarl” is of Scandinavian origin, and that Cnut’s conquest altered the nature of the king’s household. Even in Domesday Book sixteen of the eighteen thegns recorded as landowning housecarls had Scandinavian names, but this does not necessarily mean that that a new type of guard corps was imported wholesale to help Cnut maintain his rule over a conquered land. The question may simply be one of a change in terminology, as we know that previous English kings maintained royal thegns, for which “huskarl” may have been a translation. Domesday Book may similarly have used “housecarl” simply as a synonym for royal thegn. Like Cnut, his predecessors as king had sometimes had to use their followings to enforce their rule, and some of these were Scandinavians, at least at the courts of Edgar and Æthelred II. If not quite to the same extent as in heroic poetry such as The Battle of Maldon, chroniclers such as Asser probably gave a somewhat idealized view of the relations between Anglo-Saxon kings such as Alfred and their followings, representing them in terms of gift exchange rather than the hiring of soldiers. The import of men from “outside” had advantages, as they had no link to vested interests in the kingdom.
Housecarls, perhaps like the royal thegns before them, appear to have had a special relationship with the king and his immediate entourage. For instance, the “housecarls of her son the king” protected Queen Emma in 1035, and they were used to impose taxes by King Harthacnut in Worcestershire in 1041. As such they were provided with high-quality equipment, would have been well trained and must have lived within close proximity of the court. In this sense they were an elite and may have received a royal stipend, but their status need not have differed significantly from earlier royal household thegns who served as soldiers.
Despite the great outpouring of material that stresses supposedly pan-Celtic traits in warfare, religion and culture generally, it is debatable whether the remaining Celtic-speaking regions of the Viking Era—Ireland, the Pictish and Scottish kingdoms, Strathclyde, Wales, and Brittany—had much more in common with each other than they did with their Germanic neighbors, except their linguistic affinity. The evidence for military organization in all these regions in the early Middle Ages is sparse, but there is enough to show that there were many similarities with Frankish and English kingdoms.
The military household of the Welsh kings was the teulu, rendered familia in Latin, like the households of their English and later Norman neighbors. In early sources such as the Triadsand the Gododdin, we also find gosgordd: if not the same as the teulu, it may have been the household generally as opposed to the personal bodyguard. Here the term teulu will be used to mean “household.” As in the case of other early medieval households, the size of the teulu must have varied. Literary references sometimes give numbers in the hundreds, while the Brut says that Gruffudd ap Llywelyn lost 140 men of his teulu in 1047, clearly not all of them. However, even if this was not an exaggeration, it must be noted that he was a ruler of exceptional power (in Wales) at this time. Earlier sources give lower numbers—for instance, the ASC mentions that Brocmail of Powys fled the field at Chester with his fifty men. At Mynydd Carn in 1081 Trahaearn ap Caradog was killed alongside twenty-five of his teulu when many had already died in the battle, which indicates a similar strength.
Like the households of other Viking Age rulers, the teulu could include men of all ages and social rank, including leading nobles, with the probable exception of unfree bondmen. The members had horses, although their equipment may have varied according to wealth, and many had “squires,” such as the daryanogyon (shield-bearers) who attended uchelwyr, the aristocracy. These positions became offices, and were certainly of pre-Norman period origin. The teulu could also include foreigners, hostages from the households of other nobles or rivals, and, like the Frankish households, sons of nobles sent to receive training. Gruffudd ap Cynan seems to have employed an exceptional number of Irishmen, but it is not certain that these were thought of as teulu members: for instance, they are probably the “pirates” blamed for excessive ravaging in the Life of St. Gwynllyw.
The person responsible for mustering the teulu was the penteulu (head of the teulu), who was supposed to accompany the king at all times except when sent on a specific errand. Naturally, the office of penteulu had great prestige and the laws list many privileges, including a larger dwelling than others and a share of the proceeds from judicial proceedings paid to the king. Other members were appointed subordinate commanders of the llu, the military levy, should it be summoned. The teulu maintained the tradition of the comitatus, and Welsh poetry reflects the same traditions as Old English “heroic” poetry—it was supposed to stand by its lord to the last, as indeed Trahaearn’s seems to have done at Mynydd Carn. On the other hand the Triads describe the two war-bands which abandoned their leaders on the eve of battle as earning everlasting infamy. Since the teulu was also supposed to follow its lord even if he rebelled, this gave any lord the power to mount a rebellion, with consequent disruptive effects on Welsh society. A Welsh ruler had to secure the support of his nobles (uchelwyr)—as elsewhere in Europe, whatever the laws said about a king’s rights to summon his nobles and their followings, their support had to be earned. Many Welsh rulers ran into trouble while trying to impose their will on their subject lords. In 984 Einion ab Owain of Deheubarth was killed trying to do so.
As noted, the usual word for the general levy was llu, but a variety of other terms were used for “army,” such as byddin. Usually the levy was drawn only from certain districts, but Gruffudd ap Llywelyn may have been able to assemble a host from the whole of Wales at the height of his power, if this is what John of Worcester meant by “his whole realm.” Numbers are almost impossible to assess. Historia Gruffudd vab kenan gives figures that appear realistic, the highest being in the hundreds. Davies estimates his army as something under 1,000 in 1075, as he is said to have had 160 men of Gwynedd and numerous foreigners (perhaps 500), especially Irish and Danes, and suggests that the rival armies at Mynydd Carn were each over 1,000 men. Earlier, at the height of his power in 1055, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn had enough men to trouble the English and to force Edward to assemble the host of all England.
Although Wales was never unified, it did undergo a process of reduction of the number of kingdoms in the early medieval period, as happened everywhere in Europe. Several scholars have found evidence of a change in military organization around the beginning of the Viking Period: for instance, the abandonment of some political centers, including hill-forts. In poetry of this period there are hints that free men (eillion) were being called up for service. In the laws supposedly codifed by Hywel Dda (d. 950) freemen have to attend musters and pay duties. Not all the codes imposed this duty on free men, and while some spoke of a “levy of the land,” this must in practice have been selective, as in Anglo-Saxon England. Presumably the king called up those he needed. The Brutiau claim that Maredudd ap Bleddyn gathered “about four hundred kinsmen and comrades and a teulu of theirs” for a campaign in 1118. The same source makes one of the very rare references to a general levy (of Meirionnydd) in 1110, which may even have included bondmen. With the exception of one referred to in the Life of St. Cadog (a fifth-century saint), all general levies are recorded as meeting with defeat. Bondmen had certain duties to construct encampments for the king’s men and to provide pack-horses (and supplies?), but it is unclear whether they were expected to fight or not.
In Wales mercenaries (alltud—“aliens”) were certainly used in many armies. Apart from the Irish mentioned above, John of Worcester mentions Viking mercenaries employed by Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in his attack on England in 1055. The laws also mention the billeting of armed foreigners on the local populace.
There is little evidence that Church lands were exempt from military service in Wales. There are hints that the early medieval clas church functioned in a similar way to the Church in Ireland, its senior men maintaining retinues and providing military service. Given the amount of land owned by the Church and the limited resources available to any ruler, exempting it would have made the raising of forces almost impossible. Most claims to exemption are made in later saints’ lives and many of these are dubious.
The armor worn in France throughout the medieval period was directly derived from that worn in the Migrations Period by the leaders of Germanic war bands, and its basic structure, which included a shield, helmet, and coat, changed little between ca. A. D. 100 and 1150. In the early period, the shield (Lat. scutum, OFr. escu) was normally constructed of wood covered with leather and reinforced with strips of bronze or iron centered on a hemispherical metal boss that covered the grip. Down to ca. 1000, the shield was usually ovoid or round and about three feet in diameter. A round shield of similar construction continued to be used by infantry into the 15th century, but a longer and narrower shield of Byzantine origin, shaped like an elongated almond, was introduced in the 11th century for use by heavy cavalry and predominated from ca. 1050 to 1150. The normal type of helmet (MHG helm, OFr. helme, MidFr. heaume) in the period before 1150 took the form of a more or less convex cone, most commonly constructed from four or more triangular sections of metal or some other hard material bound by iron bands. It was usually supplied with a nasal bar and until ca. 750 with hinged cheek plates as well.
The coat was almost always made of mail (OFr. maille), a mesh of interlocking iron rings of uniform size. The names most commonly given to the mail coat in the period before ca. 1300 were derived from the Old Germanic word *brunaz ‘bright’: Lat. brunia, OFr. brunie or bro(i)gne. Down to ca. 800, no protection for the neck was generally worn, but in the 9th century it became customary to wear a mail hood with attached shoulder cape over or partially under the mail coat and under the helm. This caped hood was apparently known as the halsbergen ‘neck guard’ in Frankish and by a derivative word variously spelled halberc, halbert, (h)auberc, etc. in Old French. This word (in English in the form “hauberk”) has been applied since at least the 17th century to the mail coat or brogne itself, but this was an error of the antiquarians, and historically it had designated only the caped hood as long as the latter was still in use—that is, until the 14th century. The hood proper, which was often attached directly to the brogne, was called the coiffe, and from the 12th century onward the brogne with attached coiffe was called an haubergonne.
Helmets and mail coats were expensive, and before ca. 800 they were worn only by kings, nobles, and their most distinguished companions-in-arms. In the 9th century, however, they came to be distributed to the ordinary members of royal and noble military retinues, newly named vassals, and from ca. 950 they were to be characteristic of knights, who were always expected to appear for battle in the most complete and up-to-date armor.
The period 1150–1220 saw the first major changes in the form of armor used in France since the Frankish conquest. Most of these changes were in the direction of increased protection for the body, already begun with the adoption of the long shield. In the late 12th century, the sleeves of the brogne were extended from the elbows to the wrists and finally acquired attached mittens. Mail leggings, or chausses, though occasionally worn earlier, similarly came into general use among knights ca. 1150 and were worn to ca. 1350. Also ca. 1150 began the custom of wearing a surcoat (OFr. surcote, cote a armer)—a loose, generally sleeveless cloth coat probably borrowed from the Muslims— over the coat of mail. The surcoat was universally adopted by ca. 1210 and worn thereafter until ca. 1410. Throughout this period, it was commonly emblazoned with its wearer’s heraldic “arms,” but these new ensigns were primarily displayed on the shield— which between 1150 and 1200 also lost its traditional boss, between 1150 and 1220 was made progressively shorter and wider, and between 1200 and 1250 was given an increasingly triangular shape through the leveling of its upper edge.
Although the traditional conical helm continued in use until ca. 1280, several new forms emerged in this period that were destined to supersede it. The most important were the flat-topped “great” helm, which between 1180 and 1220 evolved to enclose the whole head in a cylinder of steel pierced only by slits for seeing and holes for breathing, and the close-fitting hemispherical bascinet, which emerged ca. 1220. The great helm survived with little further structural change from 1220 to 1400, and from ca. 1300 its apex was often provided with a distinctive heraldic “crest” (cimier) of wood or boiled leather, worn primarily in the tournaments to which, by 1380, the helm was restricted. The bascinet was at first worn under the helm and over the coif of the mail hood, but from ca. 1260 the hood was increasingly replaced with a mail curtain (the camail or aventail) suspended from the outside of the bascinet, and the bascinet thus augmented gradually replaced the clumsy great helm as the principal defense for the head in real warfare. In consequence, the bascinet became steadily larger and more pointed, and acquired in the last decade of the 13th century a movable “visor” (vissere) to protect the face.
The eight decades between ca. 1250 and ca. 1330 witnessed a major change in the history of European armor, stimulated in large part by the development of weapons capable of piercing mail: the gradual introduction of pieces of plate (at first of whalebone, horn, and boiled leather, as well as of the iron and steel that ultimately prevailed) to cover an ever larger part of the mail. By 1330, every part of the body of a knight was normally protected by one or several plates, including a poncholike “coat of plates” concealed by the surcoat. By 1410, the various pieces of plate, including a breastplate and backplate instead of the earlier coat of plates, were all connected by straps and rivets in an articulated suit, or “harness,” of polished steel. After ca. 1425, this “white” armor was usually worn without a surcoat or any other covering.
The adoption of elements of plate to protect the body steadily reduced the importance of the shield, which between 1250 and 1350 diminished steadily in size until it was only about 16 inches in height. Even this diminished shield was finally abandoned between 1380 and 1400. A new form of shield called the targe, of similar size and structure but roughly rectangular in outline, concave rather than convex, often deeply fluted and cusped, and provided with a notch, or bouche, for the lance, was introduced in the same two decades, but it was used primarily in tournaments, and knights of the 15th century seem to have done without any shield in battle.
The only offensive weapons commonly borne by the Frankish warriors who seized power in Gaul in the 5th century were the lance, or framea, of sharpened ash; the barbed javelin, or ango; and the throwing ax, or frankisca. The lance or spear, whose more expansive form, equipped with an iron head, was destined to displace the sharpened form and survived with little basic change until the end of the Middle Ages and beyond—for many centuries the only weapon generally available to ignoble as well as noble warriors.
Kings and the leaders of war bands also carried swords, usually of the long, straight, double-edged type called in Latin spatha, first developed by the Celts of Gaul ca. 400 B. C. and later borrowed by Germans and Romans. As the Old French use of espee for “sword” suggests, the spatha (whose blade was ca. 30 inches long) was ancestral to most of the later forms of sword developed in western Europe, of which some thirty-three types and subtypes have been recognized by scholars, four of them antedating A. D. 600. Around 600, the Frankish king and nobles temporarily abandoned both spatha and frankisca in favor of a machete-like single-edged sword called a saxo, whose 18inch blade permitted it to be used for stabbing and even throwing as well as slashing; but under Viking influence the spatha, which the Scandinavians had continued to use and develop, was reintroduced into Frankish lands and quickly became the principal weapon not only of the rulers and nobles but of the rank-and-file members of the new heavy-cavalry units ancestral to the knights of the 10th and later centuries.
Lesser weapons were also employed by knights after 1050. Special forms of ax, hammer (bec), mace, club, and flail were introduced in the 12th and 13th centuries to supplement the sword, but it was only after 1300 that these were both fully developed and commonly used. Most knights and squires also carried a stiff dagger on their sword belt after ca. 1350. All of the knightly weapons were used by the nonknightly combatants who could acquire them, but among the base-born infantrymen a number of weapons scorned by the knightly class were also employed. The simple bow, despised by most Germanic tribes outside of Scandinavia, was little used in France outside of Normandy before the 14th century, when six mounted archers were included in the “lance,” or standard tactical unit of the royal army. The crossbow, or arbaleste, was reintroduced into France ca. 950 and was commonly used thereafter to ca. 1550, primarily by special infantry units placed from ca. 1200 to 1534 under the overall authority of a grand master of the crossbowmen (arbalest[r]iers). After ca. 1350, the bow and crossbow were supplemented on occasion by a primitive handgun. In addition to these projectile weapons, the infantryman of the 14th and 15th centuries had at his disposal new forms of polearm, which were in essence lances with special forms of head.
Playing a major role in medieval warfare, artillery evolved parallel to the art of fortification. Although Roger Bacon introduced gunpowder to the West ca. 1260 and the English used cannon at Crécy in 1346, it took a further century of experimentation before cannon supplanted trébuchet (i. e., tension) artillery. Improvement of explosives, projectiles, and guns was impeded by the difficulties in obtaining adequate amounts of matériel and equipment. But by 1400 cannon had come into regular use, and the final campaigns of the Hundred Years’ War made their superiority unmistakable. Either protecting sappers or breaching walls themselves, they became an indispensable tool in sieges. In response, defense tactics and military architecture changed rapidly after 1450. Governments were compelled to modernize fortifications, and every town was driven to acquire artillery for its own defense.
Following French use of artillery at Formigny (1450) and Castillon (1453), where cannon were shown to be useful on the field as well as in siege warfare, the Valois monarchy led the way in the perfection of technology, in the development of an institutional infrastructure, and in the exploitation of the full potential of the new arms. Gaspard Bureau, maître de l’artillerie for Charles VII, formed a permanent force of cannoniers that grew steadily thereafter. Limited range, inadequate rates of fire, and immobility limited reliance on artillery for the remainder of the 15th century, and cannon remained auxiliary to cavalry and infantry in the army of Louis XI. Only the triumphs of Charles VIII, who made dramatic use of artillery in Brittany and in the Italian campaign of 1494, removed all doubt that only armies with adequate artillery could hope to prevail in modern warfare.