Consequences of Königgrätz


Battle of Königgrätz, by Georg Bleibtreu. Oil on canvas, 1869.

While there is general consensus about the momentous consequences of Königgrätz, there is no agreement about why the battle went the way it did. Historians continue to debate whether it was Prussian competence or Austrian incompetence that accounted for the outcome. The safe answer, which has the added advantage of being true, is that it was a bit of both.

There is no question that Benedek played his hand badly. He failed to decisively attack the Prussians when they were at their weakest, while wending their way through the passes of the Giant Mountains. He then failed to take advantage of his initial success at Königgrätz on the morning of July 3. Until the early afternoon, the Austrians had a large numerical advantage over their Prussian opponents. If Benedek had gambled on an all-out offensive, he might have been able to crush the Elbe Army and the First Army before the Second Army arrived. Failing that, Benedek should have retreated while the going was still good. Instead he stayed in place, leaving his right flank dangerously exposed, and suffered the consequences. Moltke later commented that “[n]o one, of course, dreamed” that the enemy would open themselves up in this fashion.

The needle gun further contributed to the Austrian defeat. Time after time, their superior breechloaders allowed small Prussian units to maul more numerous adversaries. Fransecky’s heroic 7th Division never could have held its pivotal position in the Swiepwald were it not equipped with rapid-fire rifles. As Friedrich Engels wrote afterward: “It may be doubted whether without [the needle gun] the junction of the two Prussian armies could have been effected; and it is quite certain that this immense and rapid success could not have been obtained without such superior fire, for the Austrian army is habitually less subject to panic than most European armies.”

Railways also helped determine the outcome. In just twenty-one days, the Prussians transported 197,000 men and 55,000 horses. Their rapid concentration and advance caught the Austrians off guard. The whole conflict lasted just seven weeks. The war against France four years later took slightly longer, because the French people refused to admit they were beaten, but the major combat was also relatively brief, in large part because the Prussians once again were able to transport and concentrate troops more rapidly than their foes.

Of course, railroads and guns do not operate themselves. The human factor must never be lost sight of. Observers generally agreed on the superior motivation and training of Prussian troops. An English journalist found that, in contrast to the peasant conscripts who made up the Austrian ranks in 1866, the Prussian “rank and file are men of education, who know what they are fighting about, not mere machines drilled to mechanical perfection.” They were thus “more in earnest, more thoughtful, more willing to risk their lives for a principle, whether false or true, more imbued with a sense of duty.”

Prussian commanders were also more thoughtful and more earnest than their Austrian counterparts. Above all, the genius of Helmuth von Moltke towered over the battlefield. As a reward for his service, the chief of staff was awarded a large cash grant by his grateful king, which allowed him to purchase a thousand-acre estate in Silesia. A few years later, his victory over France would earn him promotion to field marshal and the title of count. All those accolades were fully deserved. It is true that Moltke’s plans did not work perfectly in 1866; the General Staff did a particularly poor job of meeting the army’s logistical requirements. But Moltke and his “demigods” were far ahead of anyone else in harnessing industrial technologies to the demands of warfare. Their only rivals in this respect were Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and the other Union leaders who had marshaled superior manpower, factories, railroads, and riches—though not superior technology per se (the North and South had roughly comparable weapons)—to crush the Confederacy. But their knowledge was lost after 1865, when the United States disbanded what had been for one brief moment the most powerful army in the world, whereas the German Army continued to develop Industrial Age warfare in accordance with Moltke’s high-risk credo: “Great successes in war cannot be gained without great dangers.”

The most important military innovation associated with Königgrätz—and the most lasting—was the superb planning that went into the Prussian victory. War had become too complex to be managed by one person, even a great captain like Napoleon, Frederick the Great, or Helmuth von Moltke. A whole management system was now required, and all across Europe, states copied the Prussian model of the General Staff. All of the continental armies adopted such Prussian innovations as staff rides, war games, and, above all, the writing of complex war plans in peacetime. Many even imitated Prussia’s spiked helmets. The Prussians still retained an edge, however, because no other general staff enjoyed the kind of unfettered power that theirs had. This advantage proved much more lasting than any technological edge, which did not—could not—last long in an age of frenetic weapons innovation.

Within days of Königgrätz, every army in Europe was rushing to buy its own breech-loading rifles, many of them superior to the thirty-year-old needle gun. Four years later, when Prussia went to war against France, its infantrymen were at a disadvantage in small arms. The French were armed with a newer breech-loader called the Chassepot that had three times the range of the needle gun. They even had a primitive machine gun called the Mitrailleuse, capable of firing 150 rounds a minute, though they were never able to make very effective use of it. Just as Austrian infantry had been slaughtered charging Prussian rifles in 1866, so Prussian infantry was slaughtered charging French rifles in 1870. Prussia prevailed anyway, ironically enough, because of its artillery. While its cannons had been inferior in 1866, they were superior by 1870. Having seen that muzzle-loaders were outdated, the Prussians scrapped them after 1866 and reequipped their entire force with Krupp’s breech-loading rifled cannons made of cheap and durable cast steel. France continued to rely on old bronze muzzle-loaders. Better artillery gave Prussia a crucial edge in 1870 that allowed its gunners to annihilate the French army from long range.

Such technological flip-flops were to become common in the Industrial Age, when plummeting manufacturing costs allowed a state to completely reequip an army of hundreds of thousands within a relatively short period. No army could now afford to wait twenty years or more to field a new weapon, as the Prussians had waited for the needle gun. It was even more unthinkable that any army could rely on the same gun for a century and a half, as the British army had relied on the Brown Bess from the 1690s to the 1840s. In the Industrial Age inventions could transform the battlefield within months.

In those circumstances it proved impossible for any state to develop and maintain a lasting technological edge over equally sophisticated adversaries. Europe was swept by arms races in the decades before World War I, but no power gained an enduring advantage. By 1914 all the major combatants had repeating rifles, machine guns, quick-firing artillery, railroads, telegraphs, and all the other inventions that had transformed warfare.

They also had large conscript armies to operate those weapons. Following Prussia’s victories in 1866 and 1870–71, every major European state except Great Britain copied the Prussian system of putting a large portion of its young men through military training, conscripting them for a few years of active-duty service, and then keeping them in reserve for wartime. Just as Prussia had been subdivided into military districts, so too France, Russia, Italy, and other states were subdivided to facilitate mobilization. And just as Prussian mobilization plans had been drawn up by officers schooled in its War Academy, so other European states set up staff colleges of their own (France’s École Supérieure de Guerre was founded in 1880) to bring their officers up to Prussian standards.

Finnish Forces in Barbarossa I

_10_ Finnish Soldiers during Barbarossa



The OKW was given the responsibility under the Barbarossa Directive to make the necessary arrangements to put Romanian and Finnish contingents under German command. There is no evidence that this was seriously tried with respect to Finland. Command and command relationships were discussed during the Finnish delegation’s visit to Germany in May 1941. The Germans wanted General Falkenhorst to command the forces in north and central Finland while Mannerheim would command in the south.

German planners had previously assumed that Mannerheim would be given overall command in Finland. This is reflected in the OKW directive on April 7, 1941. That idea was now dropped, and their chance of bringing Mannerheim, a rather independent individual, under their control was lost as well. In doing so the Germans disregarded another well-known warning of their military philosopher and theorist Clausewitz that the worst situation is where two independent commanders find themselves operating in the same theater of war.

Ziemke and Erfurth speculate that this change came about because of an OKW desire to command in an active theater of operations. There was probably another and more practical reason. Hitler became exceedingly worried about the security of northern Norway and the iron and nickel mines in Sweden and Finland after the British raid on the Lofoten Islands in March 1941, and began a major force build-up. Mountain Corps Norway was an integral part of the defense of north Norway and Hitler and the OKW may well have been reluctant to place a good part of this area under Finnish command. Falkenhorst was still the German armed forces commander in Norway and it made some sense to also have him as commander in central and northern Finland.

Mannerheim wrote after the war that he received indirect feelers—from General Erfurth to General Heinrichs—about assuming overall command in Finland. There is some confusion in the sources as to when these feelers were made. Mannerheim gives the time of the offer as June 1941 while Erfurth places it in June 1944. Mannerheim writes about the 1941 offer that he was not attracted by the idea and gives as his reason a reluctance to become too dependent on the German High Command. Mannerheim does not mention the 1944 offer in his memoirs but Erfurth writes that Mannerheim replied to it on June 29, 1944, with the statement that he was too old to take over the additional responsibilities that the position of commander in chief of all forces in Finland would entail. The 1944 offer, if made, was probably an attempt to tie Finland firmly to Germany at a time when it was beginning to go its own way.

In addition to failing to settle on an overall commander, operations in Finland came under two separate German headquarters. The German commander in chief in northern and central Finland, whose main focus was on isolating Murmansk, reported to the OKW after Hitler’s changes to the command structure following the Lofoten raid in March 1941. OKH—responsible for operations on the Eastern Front—was left to deal with operations in southern Finland. The axiomatic belief in both Germany and Finland that the looming war would be short was probably the greatest contributing factor to this deficient command arrangement. This short-war scenario undoubtedly made many feel that no elaborate command structure or long-range plans were necessary.

There was no joint German–Finnish campaign plan much beyond the initial attacks. The loose and informal nature of the coalition, the lack of long-range planning, and an ineffective command structure posed increasing problems as the war dragged on. These massive violations of long-standing military principles could have been rectified by Hitler and the OKW, but they failed to act.

Finnish Forces in Barbarossa II



The development of a staff study by Group XXI (Army of Norway) for operations in Finland based on Directive 21. The study was expanded by Marshal von Brauchitsch on January 16 to include examining the feasibility of a German–Finnish southeast drive in the area of Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega, and the White Sea. The Army of Norway was asked to make recommendations for supply operations and command relationships. This study, begun in late December, was completed on January 27, 1941, and given the code name Silberfuchs (Silver Fox).

The Finnish Army would carry the main burden of the attack. The bulk of their forces would be concentrated in the southeast for an attack east of Lake Ladoga towards the Svir River. The Finnish Army was to defend the frontier north of Lake Ladoga with relatively weak forces, and additionally was responsible for the security of the coast and the Åland Islands. The staff study assumed that the overall command in Finland would be given to the Finns because they were providing the preponderance of forces.

The planning and preparation for Renntier was not wasted, but expanded by making it part of the operations assigned to Mountain Corps Norway. The main German attack was a drive from Rovaniemi through Salla to Kandalaksha on the White Sea. This drive would cut the Murmansk Railroad and sever lines of communication between Soviet forces in Murmansk and on the Kola Peninsula from the rest of the Soviet Union.

The forces allocated to the main drive consisted of one German and one Finnish corps. The German corps—XXXVI Corps—consisted of two infantry divisions and SS Kampfgruppe Nord reinforced by a tank battalion, a machinegun battalion, an antitank battalion, an artillery battalion, and engineers. Kampfgruppe Nord would provide security for the assembly of the two infantry divisions. Part of the German forces would turn north when they reached Kandalaksha. In conjunction with one reinforced mountain division advancing from Pechenga towards Murmansk, the forces that turned north would destroy the Soviet forces on the Kola Peninsula and capture Murmansk.

The Finnish corps—III Corps—consisted of two divisions (3rd and 6th) plus border guards. Its main mission was to launch a secondary attack on the German right flank against Ukhta (Uhtua) and then on towards Kem (Kemi) on the White Sea. This drive, if successful, would also cut the Murmansk Railroad. The bulk of the German forces advancing on Kandalaksha would turn south after reaching that town and link up with the Finns in the Kem area for a joint drive southward behind the left wing of the main Finnish Army.

The operations proposed in the Silberfuchs staff study assumed that Sweden would allow German troops and supplies to cross its territory from Norway to Finland. It was planned that five divisions (later increased to seven) would be left in Norway for its defense and that the Army of Norway would supply all German units. This would involve large supply, construction, and transportation assets and many of these would have to come from Germany.

The OKH Operation Order

The German Army issued an operation order at the end of January for operations in Finland using the Army of Norway staff study as its basis. Hitler approved the order on February 3, 1941.

The OKH order assigned the defense of Norway as the highest priority of the Army of Norway. Only forces over and above the requirement for the priority mission would be used in Finland where the mission of German forces was limited to the defense of the Pechanga area until Finland entered the war. At that time the order laid out two possible courses of action. The first was that proposed in the Army of Norway staff study, while the second would come into being if Sweden refused transit of troops. If this materialized, the Germans would launch an attack through Pechenga with the mission of capturing Murmansk.

As far as the mission of the Finnish Army, some disagreements had developed and certain things remained unresolved. Finnish participation in the planning had been indirect and remained so because Hitler’s order on February 3, 1941 specified that all potential allies should be brought into the planning process only when German intentions could no longer be disguised. The Army order gave the Finnish Army the mission of covering German deployments in central Finland and the capturing of Hanko. The Germans wanted the bulk of the Finnish Army to undertake offensive operations towards the southeast when German Army Group North crossed the Dvina River. The Germans accepted offensives on both sides of Lake Ladoga as long as the main effort was made on the east side of that lake. The Finnish Army was expected to make a sweep around the eastern shore of the lake and isolate Leningrad by affecting a junction with Army Group North in the Tikhvin area.

Fernando VI (1746–59), King of Spain

Portrait by Louis Michel Van Loo

The Franco-Spanish fleet commanded by Don Juan José Navarro drove off the British fleet under Thomas Mathews near Toulon in 1744.

Fernando VI (1746–59) ascended to the throne at the age of thirty-three, mature and well trained in the business of government. As the second son of Felipe V and his first wife María Luisa Gabriela of Savoy, Fernando was not first in line for the throne, but upon the premature death of his older brother Luis I in 1724, he became the heir, ahead of his half-brothers Carlos and Felipe. Historians often consider Fernando VI as the first “Spanish Bourbon,” not only because he was born in Madrid, but also because his government chose not to continue the reliance on France that had characterized the long reign of his father. Open to question is whether that was a useful strategy for Spain at the time.

In contrast with the active and warlike stance of Spain under his father and stepmother, Isabel Farnese, Fernando consciously chose the pursuit of peace as the best way to serve his people. He shared his father’s ability to recognize talent among the pool of potential advisers at court; he appointed a series of competent men to the highest posts in his government and let them do their jobs without royal meddling. The king set the tone and direction of his administration, but he felt no need to try to control every aspect of government.

Fernando’s wife Barbara of Braganza, the Portuguese ruling dynasty, set the tone for the cultured court life in Madrid and in the other palaces of the realm. Because both the king and queen had a passion for music, orchestral and vocal performances and multimedia spectacles occupied an important place in court entertainments. Domenico Scarlatti, the son of Alessandro Scarlatti, had served as the queen’s music tutor in Portugal and came to the Spanish court with his royal patroness. He spent the rest of his life serving the royal couple and writing hundreds of compositions for them. The queen also patronized Father Antonio Soler, a notable Spanish composer who studied with Scarlatti. To organize the elaborate spectacles and outings that defined the life at court, the royal couple hired Carlo Broschi, the famous castrato singer better known as Farinelli. As the court traveled from palace to palace on a regular annual round, taking advantage of the seasonal attractions in each venue, Farinelli made sure that they had sufficient amusements to distract them from the tedium of daily life and political responsibilities.

These distractions were of particular importance for the king, who lived under the same cloud of depression that had haunted his father. Also like his father, Fernando depended heavily on the loving support of his wife. In the arcane language that historians use to describe that dependence, he was uxorious, a characteristic often attributed to the Spanish Bourbon kings as a whole. When it became clear, after years of devoted marriage, that the royal couple would have no heir, both the king and queen felt the lack of children keenly. The lavish entertainments that they sponsored at court can be seen, at least in part, as an attempt to fill the emptiness in their lives.

Court culture included an affinity for the mathematical and scientific interests of the Jesuits as well as the early stirrings of the Spanish Enlightenment, most notably in the writings of the Benedictine monk Benito Feyjóo. Lamenting that Spain had fallen behind its European neighbors in intellectual pursuits, Feyjóo argued tirelessly for a new spirit of inquiry, particularly in the sciences. Although his writings met with strong criticism from traditionalists, Feyjóo enjoyed the steadfast support of the king.

Although Fernando sent his stepmother Isabel Farnese into retirement at the palace of La Granja, he did not entirely abandon her quest to recover territories in Italy lost in 1714. His half-brother Carlos had inherited the duchies of Parma and Piacenza in 1731, when the Farnese line died out. Carlos conquered Naples in 1735. That same year, the Habsburg emperor ceded the kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Sicily and Naples) to Spain, in exchange for Parma and Piacenza. Carlos reigned as king of the Two Sicilies from 1735 to 1759, and Fernando regained the duchies of Parma and Piacenza for his half-brother Felipe by allying with France in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–8).

Thereafter, Italy ceased to be the major focus of Spanish foreign policy, and the Bourbon “Family pact” with France no longer defined Spain’s relations with its European neighbors. The main proponent for this new posture was José de Carvajal y Lancaster, a Spaniard of Anglo-Portuguese origins on his mother’s side and one of the king’s foremost advisers on foreign affairs from 1746 to 1754. He held the posts of Secretary of State and president of the Junta de Comercio (Trade Committee), as well as serving as the head of the Council of the Indies. After the War of the Austrian Succession ended, Carvajal moved away from the pro-French policy of his precursors. Although England continued to pose the most serious threat to the Spanish Empire, Carvajal followed the Portuguese example by choosing cordiality rather than confrontation with England as the best way to protect Spain’s interests abroad.

The king and Carvajal also worked to end friction with Portugal regarding the borders between Spanish territories in South America and Portuguese Brazil. By the Treaty of Limits in 1750, Spain and Portugal agreed to a frontier that many Spaniards branded as too favorable to the Portuguese. In effect, the treaty abandoned considerable territory in Uruguay to Portugal, bordering on the missions that the Society of Jesus had established in Paraguay among the Guaraní people. Despite the crown’s support for missionary activities in the American empire, officials in Madrid faulted the Jesuits for managing their missions largely without regard to the crown’s interests and supervision. The dramatic story of Portuguese harassment of the Jesuit missions and their eventual dismantling serves as the basis for the 1986 film The Mission.

Predictably, the Jesuits were angry about the terms of the treaty, and many members of the Spanish elite agreed with them. Among their supporters, the Jesuits could count the marquis of La Ensenada, who had continued as a key adviser to the crown during the reign of Fernando VI. Like José Patiño before him, Ensenada held responsibility for numerous government ministries, dealing with finance above all, as well as war, the navy, and the Indies. The responsibilities of Ensenada and Carvajal overlapped at several points, and they disagreed about many aspects of Spanish policy, both in Europe and abroad. For example, Ensenada was pro-French, as well as pro-Jesuit, whereas Carvajal remained wary of both of those positions.

Conspiracies at court swirled around Ensenada in the aftermath of the Treaty of Limits, and he encountered royal displeasure for corresponding about its terms with King Carlos of Naples, Fernando VI’s half-brother. In 1754, Ensenada’s enemies brought about his fall from favor, an outcome that the English ambassador Benjamin Keene claimed as his doing. Even though Ensenada’s career ended in disgrace, he accomplished a great deal during his decade in power, including the negotiation of a new agreement with the Vatican: the Concordat of 1753. Settling a series of jurisdictional disputes between the papacy and the Spanish crown, the Concordat clarified and arguably increased the role of the crown in the religious life of Spain.

Perhaps the most important legacy of Ensenada’s tenure in office was his focus on the need to strengthen the Spanish economy and rebuild Spanish shipping capacity for both military and mercantile needs. Like his rival Carvajal, he thought the crown should play a major role in building up all the resources of the state, both human and material. With a growing population and a strong economy, Spain could defend its interests in Europe and abroad. The government inquiry called the “Catastro de la Ensenada” set out to survey the landed wealth of the kingdom, preparatory to instituting a single tax (“Única Contribución”) based on wealth. That inquiry, carried out by the system of intendants reinstalled in 1749, remains the most important source of information on the Spanish economy in the mid eighteenth century. Much as Ensenada had hoped, the Catastro suggested that both the population and the economy were indeed experiencing impressive growth. Tapping into that growth in the guise of tax reform met resistance, however, from the large landowners who would have paid most of the new tax. Faced with their resistance, the “Única Contribución” never came into effect.

Instead of general tax reform, Ensenada had to settle for piecemeal revisions of existing taxes. He also instituted other reforms that contributed to the goals of a stronger Spanish economy with an enhanced military capability. For example, he set up seed banks (pósitos) that helped poor farming families survive through lean times without depleting their seed for the next planting. As for the military, after years of preparatory work, in 1748 his office published a thoroughgoing new set of naval regulations for ship construction, manning, and general administration.

Key to Ensenada’s naval reform was the creation of three large naval districts, with headquarters at Ferrol on the north coast, Cartagena on the Mediterranean, and Cádiz on the southern coast west of Gibraltar on the Atlantic. Moreover, Ensenada was able to install a marine registry (matrícula), based on economic incentives, which his precursors had planned but had not implemented. With the registry in place, the government could ensure a steady supply of crewmen for the navy, based on a strengthened merchant marine, and without relying on coercion or violence to enlist them. With the support of the king, Ensenada had been able to secure huge resources for the navy, even with the country at peace, and new ship construction up to the early 1750s aimed to make Spain into a formidable naval power once again. Jorge Juan y Santacilia pioneered the new science of hydrography to study how ships moved through water, and Spain’s new warships took advantage of the best in modern design and the best materials available.

With both Carvajal and Ensenada out of power after 1754, government reforms lost their momentum in all spheres. Ricardo Wall, a mediocre bureaucrat of Irish ancestry, became the dominant adviser to the king. Although some historians consider him pro-English, he seems to have lacked any clear vision for the direction of Spanish foreign policy. Some of Ensenada’s appointees stayed on in the government, presumably with their pro-French and anti-English sentiments intact. In the growing rivalry between France and England, the neutrality that Wall and the king seemed to favor was not necessarily a bad choice. Even though England still posed the greatest threat to the empire, France had been an unsteady ally. Only through avoiding a renewal of warfare could Spain hope to concentrate on continued economic growth.

When warfare broke out in 1756, Fernando VI refused to participate, even though the stakes clearly included control of overseas territories. Most of Europe would know the conflict as the “Seven Years War,” whereas North American historiography would call it the “French and Indian War.” Spain would call it the “First Anglo-French Maritime War,” denoting both its major antagonists and its global character. In the fluid diplomatic climate of the times, the war featured a “diplomatic revolution,” in which France allied with Austria rather than Prussia, and England allied with Prussia rather than Austria. Although England wanted a Spanish alliance as well, Spain probably benefited from her neutrality in the short term, not least because the Spanish monarchy was in serious disarray in the late 1750s.

Queen Barbara of Braganza died in 1758, and her death afflicted the king beyond all reason. He soon sank into the same black depression that had claimed his father at the end of his life. By the time Fernando died in 1759, madness reigned. Both King Fernando and Queen Barbara are buried in the Convent of the Royal Salesians in Madrid, on the street that bears the queen’s name near the National Library.

Although his reign lasted only fourteen years, Fernando VI continued the Bourbon reform program, as well as the royal building program begun in his father’s reign. That was possible because the king appointed capable men loyal to the interests of the crown and of the Spanish state. Like other European monarchies at the time, Spain had developed an identity apart from that of its monarch, so that government business and the loyalty of the citizenry did not depend as heavily as they had in the past on the person of the king. That was fortunate, given the king’s battles against mental illness. Despite those battles, however, Fernando worked hard to be an enlightened king to his people and to keep Spain out of the wars that dominated the mid eighteenth century and drained his neighbors’ treasuries. That was a difficult posture to maintain, however, because Spain was a second-rank European power with a first-rank global empire, viewed by its rivals and allies alike as an attractive prize.

Carlos III’s Reign

Portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs, c. 1761

Though Fernando VI’s reign saw the end of French tutelage, the latest intellectual currents from France and elsewhere circulated among the Spanish elite and characterized Spain’s version of the Enlightenment. Spain adopted the enlightened passion for scientific investigation, governmental reform, and social justice that affected much of the rest of Europe. However, Spanish intellectuals rejected the anti-religious and anti-Spanish stance that marked the writings of Voltaire and others. These characteristics of the Spanish Enlightenment would continue into the reign of Fernando’s successor, though Spain’s foreign policy would change dramatically.

Fernando’s half-brother Carlos had spent all of his adult life in Italy, first as duke of Parma and Piacenza (1731–5) and then as king of the Two Sicilies (1735–59). Nonetheless, it had been obvious for some time that he was the most likely successor to the Spanish throne, given that Fernando VI and Barbara of Braganza had no children. Carlos and his queen, María Amalia of Saxony, whom he married in 1738, left Naples for Madrid with mixed feelings. The kingdom of the Two Sicilies boasted a huge and elegant capital city, a strong economy, and a manageable size. The Spanish capital at Madrid was presumably much less attractive – even though Carlos had been born and raised there – and carried with it the burdens of a global empire.

Groomed to be a ruler by his father Felipe V and his mother Isabel Farnese, Carlos had received an excellent education and knew Spain well because of the wide travels of his parents’ court. He remained in close touch with the Spanish court after he moved to Italy, and he presumably did not agree with the neutral foreign policy that Fernando and his advisers pursued. From Carlos’s point of view, England was the enemy. Quite apart from England’s continued possession of Gibraltar and the island of Menorca, English forces posed the greatest threat to Bourbon interests in the Mediterranean and to Spanish interests in the Americas. When he left Naples to take up the crown of Spain in 1759 as Carlos III, he moved Spain away from neutrality and toward an active foreign policy aimed at thwarting English ambitions.

The world war that began in 1756 had seen Spain on the sidelines, anxious to avoid taking part. In 1761, however, Carlos’s government signed a third so-called “Family Pact” of alliance with Bourbon France and entered the fray, in what Spaniards would call the First Maritime War against England. The timing could not have been worse. After more than a decade of relative inactivity, Spanish naval forces were not prepared to confront the English. They failed to regain Gibraltar at home and lost Havana and Manila overseas, two of the key ports of Spain’s global empire. However, in the complicated negotiations that ended the war in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, Spain regained Manila and Havana and gained Louisiana from France, while losing the colony of Sacramento in Uruguay to Portugal and Florida to England. The settlement of the war saw France defeated and left England in effective control of the eastern part of North America, but Spain’s American empire remained largely intact. Analysts at the time and thereafter credited that outcome less to Spanish diplomatic efforts than to the bungling of the English Foreign Minister and to general misgivings about England’s power. Carlos of Spain certainly shared those misgivings and spent the rest of his reign working to blunt English power, especially in the Americas.

At home in Spain once again, Carlos would continue the personal style and policies that had made him revered in Italy, extending the enlightened reforms of Fernando VI in Spain. Carlos was devoted to his wife and family, and did not remarry after María Amalia’s premature death in 1760, just a year after they moved to Spain. Like many other monarchs, he was fond of hunting, both as exercise and to escape the formalities of court life. In his case, hunting also served a therapeutic purpose, helping to relieve the melancholy that ran in the family. The great Spanish artist Francisco Goya y Lucientes painted Carlos in a hunting pose early in his career, and it remains one of his most engaging portraits, with the king smiling shyly and guilelessly at the viewer. Despite the necessary trappings of monarchy, he seems to have been a man of modest and unpretentious demeanor, highly intelligent, pious, and hardworking.

Modern Spaniards continue to rank Carlos III as one of the best rulers that Spain has ever had – a king conscious of his power, but determined to use it to further the well-being of his subjects. Many historians agree with that assessment and consider him the most genuine and effective enlightened ruler in all of eighteenth-century Europe. When he took up the crown of Spain, Carlos announced to the president of the Council of Castile, “I want to apply the law so far as possible to favor the poor,” and in many other ways he exemplified the movement of enlightened reform sponsored by a powerful monarchy. At the same time, the king’s conservative habits and sincere piety helped to deflect criticism from Spaniards who feared reform as detrimental to their interests.

Among his other virtues, Carlos III was an excellent judge of character. He chose his ministers for their ability rather than their lineage or political connections, though several of his best appointees came from distinguished families. He brought the marquis of La Ensenada, who had already served the first two Spanish Bourbons, back into royal service. He retained Ricardo Wall as Secretary of State (1759–63), even as he shifted Spain’s foreign policy away from Wall’s pro-English stance. He also fostered the careers of a number of men who distinguished themselves in the various branches of government. An astute diplomat, the count of Aranda (Pedro Pablo Abarca de Bolea) became the architect of Spain’s newly active foreign policy. The count of Campomanes (Pedro Rodríguez Campomanes) specialized in economic policy, tackling the difficult issue of agrarian reform. Perhaps the greatest among them, the count of Floridablanca (José Moñino) shaped overall domestic policy during the last half of the reign.

Carlos III and his ministers aimed at a thorough overhaul of Spain’s economic structures, in order to foster a growth in production and trade that would support the rising population. All over Europe, the eighteenth century saw an increase in the number of inhabitants, both rural and urban, and every state faced the challenge of feeding them. To fail that challenge could easily lead to social unrest, as public officials well knew. The problem was particularly acute in Spain, where even now only one-third of the land is suitable for farming on a regular basis. The scarcity of arable land was one reason for the great importance of migratory herding in Spain. Since the Middle Ages, flocks of sheep totaling several million animals grazed on land unsuitable for agriculture, and shepherds moved them around seasonally, both to take advantage of optimal conditions for winter and summer forage and to lessen conflicts with farmers during the growing season.

Conflicts nonetheless arose and became particularly acute when population growth necessitated an expansion of cropland. At those times, notably in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, the organization of flock owners known as the Mesta faced pressure from farmers and from the government to yield some of their traditional rights to grazing lands. Like other modern bureaucrats, Carlos III’s reform-minded ministers viewed agriculture as the basis for a prosperous economy and used government power to expand farming at the expense of herding. They viewed the traditional privileges of the Mesta, as well as the privileges of other corporate bodies, such as artisan guilds, as no more than obsolete impediments to economic growth. Government ministers were not alone in urging reforms and were joined by a wide swath of educated Spaniards well versed in the best new ideas. To encourage elite opinion in favor of the reform program, the government supported universities and philanthropic societies such as the Amigos del País (lit., friends of the country), a movement founded in the Basque country with enthusiastic groups of local reformers all over Spain. Like similar movements throughout enlightened Europe, the Amigos met to discuss the latest books about agriculture, commerce, science, and culture. With royal support, the Amigos also established schools for both boys and girls, with comprehensive curricula that included artisanal skills as well as standard academic subjects. A few of the societies also decided to admit women.

On balance, it is fair to say that the economic reforms had a salutary effect on the population as a whole, but they were not without cost. For example, whereas the government founded hospitals, schools, asylums, and almshouses all over the country, it also clamped down on vagrancy and begging, in effect restricting the movement and activities of thousands of impoverished citizens. In order to increase peasant landownership, the government attacked the Mesta and large landowners, and reforestation plans and irrigation schemes inevitably overruled traditional uses of Spain’s natural resources at the local level. In some of the most visible initiatives, the government brought in foreign artisans and businessmen to found factories for the production of luxury goods that were formerly imported. These included factories for fine glass at the palace of La Granja, and for porcelains at the palace of the Buen Retiro in Madrid; cotton velvet in Ávila, leather goods in Seville and Córdoba; and a variety of fine machinery, watches, optical instruments, and other items. Some of these efforts were profitable, others were not, and they went hand in hand with government efforts to restrict the power of traditional artisan guilds.

Not surprisingly, the reform program faced opposition from everyone affected adversely by these initiatives, not only the large flock owners of the Mesta and officials of guilds, but also ordinary people who relied on custom and traditional privileges to earn a living. Also in the economic sphere, the government sponsored savings banks and benefit societies to update traditional forms of savings and insurance. In order to pay for the array of new initiatives and reduce government debt, Carlos and his ministers organized the Bank of San Carlos, which sold bonds that traded at face value.

In the cultural sphere, in addition to traditional activities such as sponsoring art and music, the crown reformed education and added to the university curriculum new scientific developments, such as the physics of Sir Isaac Newton. The king and his ministers also worked to raise the educational level of the clergy and to curb the remaining power of the inquisition, which was increasingly anachronistic by the eighteenth century.

Taken together, the changes in the first years of Carlos III’s reign moved forward rapidly on a broad front and aimed to bring about a thorough restructuring of Spanish life. Not surprisingly, the changes generated considerable opposition on a broad front as well. The pace of reform approached a crisis after the government eliminated ceiling prices on grain in July 1765. In the traditional economy, ceiling prices shielded the poor from the rising cost of food in times of harvest shortages. As bad luck would have it, the harvest of 1765 came up short. With price ceilings removed and the population rising, the harvest shortfall led to exponential increases in the cost of food in the ensuing months, affecting poor city dwellers above all. Sermons against artificially inflated prices in Madrid and other cities added to the dangerous mood of the people in the spring of 1766, particularly among the working classes.

Matters came to a head over a seemingly minor incident. In an ill-timed move to discipline the rabble, the king’s Minister of the Interior, the Italian marquis of Squillace (Sp. Esquilache), decided to ban the long capes and broad-brimmed hats favored by the street toughs of Madrid. These majos had long preoccupied the forces of law and order, who argued that their hats could mask their identities and that their capes could conceal weapons and stolen goods. Following the decree on March 10, 1766, Squillace ordered a table set up in the Puerta del Sol, the heart of Madrid, on Palm Sunday. Officials stationed at the table stopped men in the prohibited costume, cut off their capes, and pinned up their hats in the three-cornered style fashionable among the well-behaved classes. Not surprisingly, this set off a riot in Madrid, and disturbances soon spread to cities and towns throughout Castile. The twentieth-century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla immortalized the incident, known to Spanish history as the “Mutiny of Esquilache,” in his ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, which neatly captures the complex nature of the uprising.

Another element in the unrest was the crown’s religious policy. The king and his ministers were pushing beyond the Concordat of 1753 to assert royal authority, known as regalian rights, over the Roman Catholic Church in Spain, in opposition to the power of the pope. In Spain and elsewhere, the Society of Jesus led the defense of papal authority, which challenged royal authority. Carlos III and other contemporary monarchs viewed the Jesuit opposition as disobedient at best and potentially traitorous at worst. In the aftermath of the “Mutiny of Esquilache,” royal officials blamed the Jesuits for inciting the riots, and Carlos III expelled the order from Spain and its empire in 1767. The Spanish action was part of a broader assertion of royal authority all over Europe that induced the pope to abolish the order in 1773. They would not be reinstated until 1814.

In the short term, government forces put down the riots and restored social peace. The king dismissed Squillace in April and appointed the count of Aranda to oversee the broad program of agrarian reform. The defenders of tradition in the countryside had opposed Squillace, and presumably cheered his dismissal. They fared even worse, however, under Aranda, a freemason steeped in the principles of physiocracy, which held that a country’s prosperity depended on the well-being of small farmers. Aranda drafted a royal decree of May 2, 1766, that gave the government authority to sell municipally held lands in Extremadura that were not cultivated, in order to make them available to land-hungry farmers. The decree applied to other areas in Castile in the next few years. Although small farmers often lacked the resources to purchase the lands put on the market, and herding interests suffered, there is no question that the decree increased the supply of available farmland and set a precedent for other reversals of traditional patterns of landholding.

After the “Mutiny of Esquilache” the pace of internal reforms slowed in Spain, which some historians have attributed to royal wariness. Carlos III and his ministers had realized that too much change, too fast, could lead to dangerous social instability. Given the continued activism of Spanish foreign policy, internal peace was essential. Hostile diplomatic negotiations with Great Britain (1766–71) over the Falkland Islands (Sp. Malvinas) off the coast of Argentina brought the countries to the brink of war, and Spain did go to war with Portugal in 1776–7, winning back Uruguay. By then England was fighting to retain her colonies in North America in the face of a rebellion that began in 1776. Although Carlos III was pleased to see England in a difficult situation, he was reluctant to support the rebels openly, given the danger of inspiring rebellion in the Spanish colonies. France had less to fear from aiding American rebels, however, and poured considerable resources into that effort. Spain entered the war against England in 1779 as an ally of France, in what Spanish historians call the Second Maritime War (1779–83).

The man in charge of Spanish operations in Louisiana, Bernardo Gálvez, led three regiments of soldiers and militiamen against British forces on the Gulf coast, winning a victory critical to the success of the American rebellion. He also organized the Spanish naval victory at the battle of Pensacola Bay in Florida. Because of these successes, Spain was able to demand the return of Florida and the Mediterranean island of Menorca from the British when the war ended in 1783. King Carlos had also hoped to regain Gibraltar, but Britain would only trade that piece of territory for all of Spain’s other gains, a trade that the Spanish government could not accept. Bernardo Gálvez became the count of Gálvez for his efforts in the war, and thereafter served as the Spanish governor of Florida and as viceroy of Mexico. Galveston Bay on the Texas Gulf coast was named after him.

The count of Aranda negotiated the Treaty of Versailles (September 3, 1783) that ended the successful American Revolution and the war that it engendered. Despite Spain’s support for the revolution, Aranda had no illusions about the likely future of the former British colonies. As he wrote to Carlos III in 1783, “This Federal Republic was born a pygmy and needed the support of Spain and France to achieve independence. The day will come when it will grow into a giant and forget the benefits received from the two powers and will think only of its own enlargement…Then it will aspire to the conquest of New Spain.”

Aranda was not far wrong. Nonetheless, the last years of Carlos III’s reign saw the Spanish Empire in the Americas at its apex, with territorial claims running from Tierra del Fuego to the Bering Strait. In the far west of North America, Carlos’s government continued to sponsor an active program of expansion and settlement to add substance to those claims. Moving north from New Spain, soldiers, citizens, clerics, and bureaucrats founded a series of fortified presidios, towns, and missions in the king’s name. Every major city in California, and many cities and towns in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas, owe their origins to those foundations. The history of the United States has traditionally neglected the Spanish legacy of law and settlement across the southern tier of the country, although these so-called “Spanish borderlands” are increasingly finding a place in that history, as new generations of historians revisit and revise old views.

Back in Europe, Spain experienced an upsurge of piracy in the western Mediterranean at the end of Carlos III’s reign, sponsored by the leaders of Algiers and Morocco. Although Spanish fishermen, merchants, ship owners, and even coastal farmers had suffered from such piratical attacks for centuries, the activity increased in the late eighteenth century, perhaps related to population pressures in North Africa. The Spanish crown had to spend large sums to combat it, and even sent expeditionary forces against Algiers in 1784 and 1785, to little effect. Nonetheless, by the end of Carlos III’s reign, there is no question that Spain stood higher in prestige and economic clout than it had in the late seventeenth century. That is the legacy of the Bourbon reforms and of the active foreign policy pursued by Felipe V and Carlos III.

The War of Austrian Succession: 1740-1748 – In Italy


The death of the Chevalier de Belle-Isle, Battle of Assietta.

In October 1740, Emperor Charles VI died. In his youth he had held title as the Archduke Charles, claimant to the Spanish crown and for whom the Habsburgs waged the War for the Spanish Succession. He left a single heir, his daughter the Archduchess Maria Theresa.

The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy. Charles VI, however, negotiated with the ruling houses of Europe and the magnates of his monarchy to accept Maria Theresa as his legitimate and rightful heir and the next empress. Having secured domestic recognition of his daughter’s right to succeed him, he also acquired international recognition embodied in the document, the Pragmatic Sanction. It did not work. As soon as he died, the Bavarian and Saxon electors competed for the crown; and King Frederick II of Prussia, newly ascended to the throne, rejected Maria Theresa’s legitimacy and invaded Silesia, wealthiest of the Habsburg territories. France did not enter the war, but a French auxiliary corps was dispatched to central Germany in accordance with the Treaty of Westphalia, “to defend German liberties.”

The Spanish royal family decided the war offered an opportunity to reclaim Milan. Prince Philip of Bourbon, the youngest son of Philip V and Elizabeth Farnese, needed a crown; and Milan, along with Parma, suited him. A Spanish army landed in Tuscany-a neutral-and marched north to the Padana Plain. Then, Philip V asked his son Charles VII of Naples to return the army he lent him in 1733 to the Neapolitan and Sicilian thrones. Neapolitan troops marched north to join the Spanish army.

France too required allies. They requested Piedmontese permission to cross the Alps and march on Milan, but Charles Emmanuel III did not want to involve his state in this conflict. He realized that, in case of a French and Spanish victory, Piedmont would be caught between the Bourbons. It meant the end of any autonomous policy and of any possible dream of expanding his power in Italy. Moreover, he threatened the approaching Spanish army that if it entered the Padana Plain, his army would its his route to Milan.

At the same time, Britain perceived the precarious situation as a threat to the Balance of Power. Piedmont and Austria were alone against much of Europe, save Russia. London therefore committed its resources to the Habsburg cause. Charles Emmanuel received a £250,000 annual subsidy to keep his army on a war footing. Then, a British squadron entered the Mediterranean under Admiral Matthews, ordered to act in support of Charles Emmanuel. The British ships entered Naples harbor with some five thousand marines. Charles VII knew it. He had no fleet and very few men to defend the city because his army had marched north. So, when Matthews presented an ultimatum: recall all his regiments with the Spanish army, or the city would be shelled and the marines landed, Charles VII had little recourse but to accept the terms.

The defection of Naples eased Charles Emmanuel’s army action against the Spanish in the Padana Plain. Not wanting to face isolation, the Spanish withdrew through the Papal States along the Adriatic coast. Soon after, Charles Emmanuel countermarched rapidly to meet a second Spanish army entering Savoy via France. He won the campaign, but it was clear that the war was becoming harder to manage.

In 1743 the Spanish threatened Piedmont with two armies. Charles Emmanuel possessed no more than 42,000 men and could use only half against each Spanish army. Nonetheless, he crushed Prince Philip’s army, marching from France, at Casteldelfino. Simultaneously, the Piedmontese with their Habsburg allies fought and defeated the second army under de Gages at Camposanto, on the other side of Italy and pressed it to the Neapolitan-Papal States border on the Adriatic coast, where it sought refuge from the Neapolitan king.

In the autumn of 1743, Britain joined Piedmont and Austria in a formal league. The treaty signed in Wörms widened the scope of the conflict from Europe to Asia, Africa, and America, where it was known as King George’s War.

The 1744 campaign was hard fought. Unfortunately, Maria Theresa wanted Naples because, according to the Peace of Utrecht, it should have remained in Habsburg hands, yet the War of Polish Succession had reversed that agreement.

Charles Emmanuel warned the Austrian ruler that this would only increase the strategic dilemma. Why expand the conflict when victory was not in sight? Regardless of the free advice, she ordered her army to destroy de Gages’s Spanish army still waiting on the Neapolitan frontier. Charles VII of Naples, aware of the Austrian menace, declared war and once again united his troops with his father’s army.

An Austrian army marched south, passing through the Papal States from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian coast. Charles VII gathered the Spanish and Neapolitan army and encamped near Velletri, south of Rome. The Austrians attacked in August and were repulsed with great loss.

The defeat forced the Habsburgs to abandon central Italy in November. The Neapolitan-Spanish army followed on their heels, arriving in northern Italy. What a present for Charles Emmanuel, who had his own troubles.

In fact, France officially entered the war in that same year. A French army united with Prince Philip’s army passed the Alps, defeated the local Piedmontese resistance, and besieged Cuneo. Charles Emmanuel tried to relieve the city, but failed. He then directed the militia against the enemy’s ordnance and supply lines and, thanks to these guerrilla tactics and to Cuneo’s resistance, the Bourbon armies raised the siege and withdrew to France to take winter quarters.

In the early days of 1745, Genoa entered the conflict. The Most Serene Republic sought neutrality, just as Venice had done for the third time in forty-five years. Unfortunately, while Venice could defend its neutrality with 40,000 men, Genoa could not; and, moreover, Britain and Austria promised to give Charles Emmanuel the Marquisate of Finale, a little imperial fief in Liguria owned by the republic as a feudatory of the empire. Charles Emmanuel desired it as a port, an additional window to the Mediterranean.

In order to protect its territory, Genoa signed a treaty in Aranjuez and joined the Bourbon alliance. It was a disaster for Charles Emmanuel. The Genoese accession to the League provided the Spanish-French army with an opened route from France through Genoese territory, and now they could mass the army from France with the army from Naples via Velletri, adding to it 10,000 Genoese troops. This was the real disaster as it increased the powerful Bourbon army to 90,000 men.

As the war in Flanders continued, Charles Emmanuel received no support from Austria.

He had a mere 43,000 men. Maneuvering them well to avoid battle, he lost many fortresses but preserved his army. Despite this, he was compelled to accept an armistice in December 1745. Fortunately, Prussia accepted peace terms offered by Austria, allowing Vienna to send 12,000 men to Italy. It was not an impressive army, but enough to permit Charles Emmanuel to take the field upon the expiration of the armistice. In the spring 1746 he attacked and the Bourbons were defeated. Milan was reconquered, Piedmont liberated, and Genoa overrun by the Austrians. The Piedmontese army occupied western Liguria and the French and Spanish fled, abandoning the republic.

While Charles Emmanuel prepared an invasion of southern France, he sent a regiment to support the Corsican revolution against Genoese rule.

Genoa found itself under occupation and threatened with destruction if it did not pay 3 million scudi to Austria. Subsequently the city revolted, and the Austrian garrison was ejected. Charles Emmanuel halted his operations against France and marched to support Austrian operations against the city. The Genoese fleet, supported by coastal defenses, prevented the British fleet from shelling Genoa, but the Austrian and Piedmontese armies cut the city off from the outside world by land, while the French supplied its ally with men and material by sea.

In the spring of 1747, a new French army marched along the Mediterranean coast. Charles Emmanuel ordered his troops to hold Nice, but soon he knew that another French expeditionary force was approaching the Alps from the west. If they crossed the Alps, they could effectively threaten Turin.

Charles Emmanuel had no troops to stem the invasion. He scraped together what troops he could find. On July 19, 1747, at Assietta Hill, 30,000 French with artillery attacked 5,400 Piedmontese and 2,000 Austrians. At sunset, the French had lost 5,800 men and left more than 600 wounded to the victorious defenders. General Count Bricherasio lost only 192 Piedmontese and 27 Austrians; it was clearly a triumph.

Assietta Hill was the last battle of the war on the Italian front. A peace was signed on October 30, 1748, at Aix-la-Chapelle. Everything remained as it was before the war, except that Prince Philip of Spain obtained the duchy of Parma and Charles Emmanuel received from Maria Theresa two West Lombardy provinces, Vigevano, and Anghiera County, and a part of the territory of Pavia, setting the Milanese-Piedmontese border along the Ticino River.

The Spartan Anomaly


Sparta was the one city-state in Greece that deviated from the pattern of warfare described above. By the sixth century BCE, the Spartans had established the only real standing army in Greece, training hoplites who can be classified as professionals. Sparta’s deviation from the norm stemmed from a war fought in the eighth century in which Sparta had defeated neighboring Messenia. Sparta had then reduced many of the citizens of that region to the status of serfs, called helots. The helots, who lived quite a distance from Sparta, had to turn over half of their produce to their Spartan masters. In the middle of the seventh century, the helots, emboldened by a Spartan defeat at the hands of rival Argos, rebelled against Spartan control. The uprising by the Messenians nearly ended in defeat for the Spartans, but they were able to put down the rebellion. Afterward, Spartan attitudes hardened, and the Spartan system of the classical period developed.

The Spartans reduced the helots to the status of slaves of the state and allotted land and helots to work it to each Spartan. As a result, rather than serving part-time as citizen-farmers, the Spartans could spend their time training for war, preempting the threat of another war with Messenia or Argos. The Spartans also made use of terror to control the helot population and make them more docile servants of the state. For example, the Spartans annually declared war on the helots so that Spartans could kill helots with impunity. Even more frightening was the work of the Krypteia, the Spartan secret police. All men under age 30 served for two years in the Krypteia. Under certain circumstances, most likely when a helot revolt threatened, these young men were sent out armed only with a dagger and a supply of rations. They were to kill every helot they met, and they sometimes sought out particularly strong helots to slay.

In order to create the army necessary to enforce this system, the Spartans began preparing young men for war virtually at birth. All male Spartan newborns were inspected by the elders of their tribes; those deemed unfit were thrown into the gorge of Mount Taygetus. Those deemed fit lived at home until age 7 and then entered the agoge, the Spartan way of life. They were taught to live on modest rations and to endure being left alone, and they learned dances that involved the weapons of a hoplite to accustom them to moving to the sound of the flute (phalanxes marched in time to flute playing). At age 12, training became more intense-boys were deprived of food and encouraged to steal rations, since this would prepare them to live off the land (stealing was fine-but those who were discovered were whipped for having been caught). To prepare for the rigors of campaigning, the boys received but a single thin cloak to be used year-round and slept on a bed of reeds. At age 18 or 20, the young men joined a mess of about fifteen men. They would live in the barracks with their messmates until age 30, at which time they could start their own households (they could marry at 20 but still lived in the barracks).

This harsh system allowed the Spartans to create a superlative hoplite force. The Spartans organized their phalanx into companies and regiments unknown to other phalanxes and had a more formal command structure than anything seen elsewhere in Greece. They drilled in special maneuvers that made the Spartan phalanx much more effective and flexible on the battlefield. And the harsh training gave the Spartans a fearsome reputation as doughty soldiers capable of enduring hardship in silence.

There was, however, a price for this system: a perennial shortage of manpower. Some of this was made up for by the inclusion in the Spartan army of perioikoi (literally, “those who dwell around”), members of nearby towns who had surrendered control of their foreign policy to the Spartans in return for protection. They governed themselves but followed Sparta’s lead in foreign affairs. Sparta also had allies organized into a confederation known as the Peloponnesian League, although Spartan control of the league varied greatly. The nature and extent of Sparta’s manpower problems have been debated-there was probably no shortage of actual Spartans, just of ones well off enough to contribute to the mess and thus serve in the phalanx-but it was severe enough that at times the Spartans promised helots freedom and rights in exchange for military service, often far from home.

The Peloponnesian War, 431–404 BCE

The growth of Athenian power troubled the Spartans. Sparta was the status quo power in Greece. It had led, at least in name, the allies in the war against Persia in 480-79 BCE, and it was the dominant power for at least twenty years thereafter. But as Athens’ power grew, the Spartans’ position was jeopardized. Tensions were heightened by the obvious political difference between democratic Athens and monarchical Sparta, a difference central to the internal politics of many of both cities’ allies. Thucydides explicitly states that Sparta was motivated by fear when it began the great Peloponnesian War in 431. When Corcyra, an Athenian ally, and Corinth, a member of the Peloponnesian League, went to war in 431, mediation failed, both leagues lined up behind their allies, and the war began. Some still opposed war: The astute Spartan king Archidamus noted that Sparta might need to go to war with Athens, but not at this time-if it did, it would be a war Spartans would leave to their children. He was proved right, as the changes in Greek warfare latent since the end of the Persian Wars transformed the limited engagements of the sixth century into a long and bitter conflict in which the customs of earlier Greek combat went by the boards.

Winning Strategy

The Peloponnesian War saw numerous actions both on land and at sea, and in these actions, the impact of the Persian Wars can be seen. Strategically, the Greeks had learned much from the war with Persia, and both alliances planned and executed complex strategies. The war’s complicated alliances dictated operations on several fronts at once. The Athenian strategy formulated by Pericles at the beginning of the war would have been impossible sixty years earlier: He succeeded in convincing the Athenians to abandon Attica and remain within the walls of Athens, her fortified naval arsenal at Piraeus, and the famous Long Walls that connected them, relying on the fleet for supplies. He hoped that after two or three years the Spartans would give up when they could not draw the Athenians into a hoplite battle. Unfortunately, Spartan resolve lasted longer than Pericles anticipated, and something of a strategic stalemate developed between Spartan land power and Athenian naval power.

Subversion of allies and conversion of neutrals became important tools in the conflict; the correspondingly increased need to securely hold allies in place led both sides, especially Athens, into increasingly brutal measures against revolts and resistance. Both sides also looked farther afield for ways to break the stalemate. This proved disastrous for Athens when its expedition against Syracuse in 415-13 resulted in a major defeat for both its fleet and its army. Still, Athenian forces recovered in the years after Syracuse and remained more than a match for Peloponnesian forces at sea. But Sparta brought Persian naval forces and money into its war effort in 408, and a series of naval victories combined with a near-constant land siege of Athens brought the war to an end in 404.

Thutmose III


Widely considered a military genius by historians, Thutmose III made 16 raids in 20 years. He was an active expansionist ruler, sometimes called Egypt’s greatest conqueror or “the Napoleon of Egypt.” He is recorded to have captured 350 cities during his rule and conquered much of the Near East from the Euphrates to Nubia during seventeen known military campaigns. He was the first Pharaoh after Thutmose I to cross the Euphrates, doing so during his campaign against Mitanni. His campaign records were transcribed onto the walls of the temple of Amun at Karnak, and are now transcribed intoUrkunden IV. He is consistently regarded as one of the greatest of Egypt’s warrior pharaohs, who transformed Egypt into an international superpower by creating an empire that stretched from southern Syria through to Canaan and Nubia. In most of his campaigns his enemies were defeated town by town, until being beaten into submission. The preferred tactic was to subdue a much weaker city or state one at a time resulting in surrender of each fraction until complete domination was achieved.



During Hatshepsut’s ascendancy Egypt’s position in Asia may have deteriorated because of the expansion of Mitannian power in Syria. Shortly after her death, the prince of the Syrian city of Kadesh, stood with troops of 330 princes of a Syro-Palestinian coalition at Megiddo; such a force was more than merely defensive, and the intention may have been to advance against Egypt. The 330 must have represented all the places of any size in the region that were not subject to Egyptian rule and may be a schematic figure derived from a list of place-names. It is noteworthy that Mitanni itself was not directly involved.

Thutmose III proceeded to Gaza with his army and then to Yehem, subjugating rebellious Palestinian towns along the way. His annals relate how, at a consultation concerning the best route over the Mount Carmel ridge, the king overruled his officers and selected a shorter but more dangerous route through the ‘Arunah Pass and then led the troops himself. The march went smoothly, and, when the Egyptians attacked at dawn, they prevailed over the enemy troops and besieged Megiddo.

Thutmose III meanwhile coordinated the landing of other army divisions on the Syro-Palestinian littoral, whence they proceeded inland, so that the strategy resembled a pincer technique. The siege ended in a treaty by which Syrian princes swore an oath of submission to the king. As was normal in ancient diplomacy and in Egyptian practice, the oath was binding only upon those who swore it, not upon future generations.

By the end of the first campaign, Egyptian domination extended northward to a line linking Byblos and Damascus. Although the prince of Kadesh remained to be vanquished, Assyria sent lapis lazuli as tribute; Asian princes surrendered their weapons, including a large number of horses and chariots. Thutmose III took only a limited number of captives. He appointed Asian princes to govern the towns and took their brothers and sons to Egypt, where they were educated at the court. Most eventually returned home to serve as loyal vassals, though some remained in Egypt at court. In order to ensure the loyalty of Asian city-states, Egypt maintained garrisons that could quell insurrection and supervise the delivery of tribute. There never was an elaborate Egyptian imperial administration in Asia.

Thutmose III conducted numerous subsequent campaigns in Asia. The submission of Kadesh was finally achieved, but Thutmose III’s ultimate aim was the defeat of Mitanni. He used the navy to transport troops to Asian coastal towns, avoiding arduous overland marches from Egypt. His great eighth campaign led him across the Euphrates; although the countryside around Carchemish was ravaged, the city was not taken, and the Mitannian prince was able to flee. The psychological gain of this campaign was perhaps greater than its military success, for Babylonia, Assyria, and the Hittites all sent tribute in recognition of Egyptian dominance. Although Thutmose III never subjugated Mitanni, he placed Egypt’s conquests on a firm footing by constant campaigning that contrasts with the forays of his predecessors. Thutmose III’s annals inscribed in the temple of Karnak are remarkably succinct and accurate, but his other texts, particularly one set in his newly founded Nubian capital of Napata, are more conventional in their rhetoric. He seems to have married three Syrian wives, which may represent diplomatic unions, marking Egypt’s entry into the realm of international affairs of the ancient Middle East.

Thutmose III initiated a truly imperial Egyptian rule in Nubia. Much of the land became estates of institutions in Egypt, while local cultural traits disappear from the archaeological record. Sons of chiefs were educated at the Egyptian court; a few returned to Nubia to serve as administrators, and some were buried there in Egyptian fashion. Nubian fortresses lost their strategic value and became administrative centres. Open towns developed around them, and, in several temples outside their walls, the cult of the divine king was established. Lower Nubia supplied gold from the desert and hard and semiprecious stones. From farther south came tropical African woods, perfumes, oil, ivory, animal skins, and ostrich plumes. There is scarcely any trace of local population from the later New Kingdom, when many more temples were built in Nubia; by the end of the 20th dynasty, the region had almost no prosperous settled population.

Under Thutmose III the wealth of empire became apparent in Egypt. Many temples were built, and vast sums were donated to the estate of Amon-Re. There are many tombs of his high officials at Thebes. The capital had been moved to Memphis, but Thebes remained the religious centre.

The campaigns of kings such as Thutmose III required a large military establishment, including a hierarchy of officers and an expensive chariotry. The king grew up with military companions whose close connection with him enabled them to participate increasingly in government. Military officers were appointed to high civil and religious positions, and by the Ramesside period the influence of such people had come to outweigh that of the traditional bureaucracy.