Infantry and Gunpowder

Through the middle ages, infantry was often relegated to an almost overlooked status in favor of the prominence of knights and the ideals of chivalry and cavalry.  In many battles, the full number of combatants was unknown since the infantry wasn’t even counted as part of the force.[1]  Between the end of the medieval age and the early stages of the gunpowder age, however, the infantry started to regain a position of recognition and importance on the battlefield along with (and occasionally instead of) their cavalry counterparts.[2]

Archers were often a deadly and terror-inducing infantry force, especially among the Muslim armies at the end of the medieval period.[3]  Although cavalry was used as a shock force the route the infantry and cavalry of the opposition, it is fair to say that in many medieval battles, the infantry did the overwhelming majority of the fighting.[4]  In addition to the infantry which faced opposition to the enemy’s ground troops, archers were incredibly useful for occupying and destroying the opponent’s cavalry forces and keeping the cavalry from approaching the front lines at full force.

It is indisputable that the gunpowder age completely changed the role of infantry in warfare and supplied ranged weapons that could devastate an opposing force either in the field or in a siege.  At the beginning of the gunpowder age, many people resented the fact that a “lowly foot soldier” with a firearm could take down a knight.[5]  Defensive structures and fortifications had to be updated against the rapidly advancing weapon technology.[6]  Italy in particular had to take the lead for developing defenses to counter heavier siege guns.[7]  Technological advancements focused in two specific directions – artillery and mobile handguns.[8]   Contrary to the medieval period, more and more European powers recognized the importance and prominence of infantry combined with guns over the traditional medieval cavalry.  The Spanish deployed formations that combined arquebusiers and pikemen for protection against enemy cavalry and infantry.[9]  The Spanish tercio formation formed a square shape that was incredibly difficult – if not impossible – to penetrate.[10]  Due to the importance of pikemen to defend the gunners, maintaining the standard for training of the pikemen was imperative for the unit’s ultimate success.

[1] Christon I. Archer, John r. Ferris, Holger H Herwig, Timothy H E Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 150.

[2] Ibid 150.

[3] Ibid 158.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid 220.

[6] Ibid 220.

[7] Ibid 224.

[8] Ibid 224.

[9] Ibid 239.

[10] Ibid.

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Case Study: Arsuf

Approaches to Combat: I thought this week’s module was fascinating – although I may be biased because I am fascinated with the history of the Crusades and the rise of Islam in general.  Arsuf is a battle I had heard about in passing, but I was unware of the details, and studying history from a tactical standpoint is new to me, but I really, really enjoy it.  Since Salah al-Din approached the battle with only light infantry and regular cavalry and Richard approached it with infantry and knights/heavy cavalry, I think that the inequality of not only the number of fighters but the methods that could be employed by those fighters certainly contributed to the eventual outcome – although this may not be a clear-cut victory in Richard’s favor as one may think.[1]  Salah al-Din’s strategy at the beginning of the battle seemed to be to lure the Crusaders into a trap by bombarding them with projectiles, hoping to draw them into a trap by attacking unprepared[2].  This tactic failed.  Richard, conversely, demonstrated patience and extreme foresight both before and during the battle.[3]  The discipline displayed by the Crusaders at the onset of this battle is admirable, to say the least.  Salah al-Din’s strategy of harassing and provoking the Crusaders not only did not prompt them to attack, but it also exhausted his own troops against a larger force.[4]  When the surge finally did occur, the Hospitallers were able to create a hole in Salah al-Din’s front line.[5]  Although Salah al-Din attempts to surround the charging knights, a second cavalry charge by the Knights Templar forces Salah al-Din to move back or else have his forces face encirclement.[6]

How did various Approaches determine the Battle’s outcome: Salah al-Din’s approach was a good one, given the previous displayed temperament of a lot of the Crusader forces he had faced in the Holy Land earlier.  In many previous battles throughout the Crusades, the Crusaders had been lured into battle, away from defensive structures, away from satisfactory food and water supplies and into the heat of the desert.  By attempting to provoke the larger Crusader force into battle against Salah al-Din’s smaller but lighter and faster force, Salah al-Din did indeed have a shot at success.  This failed however, due to Richard’s ability to adapt, adjust and use his superior numbers and heavier cavalry to his advantage.  The Muslim army exhausted itself in close combat by barraging the Crusaders with missiles constantly and were unable to sufficiently deflect the eventual charge.[7]

Disparity between Richard’s Victory and his ability to capture Jerusalem and why

Although the Battle of Arsuf seems like a clear victory for the Crusaders in terms of sheer numbers of casualties (7000 on the Muslim side versus 700 on the Crusader side), the outcome ultimately was not as cut and dry as sheer numbers would suggest.[8]  Richard was never able to capture Jerusalem, and although he never faced Salah al-Din in battle again, Salah al-Din aimed to prevent Richard from his ultimate prize by adopting a “scorched earth” policy, denying Richard the much-needed resources for besieging Jerusalem.[9]

[1] Webb, Jonathan, “Battle of Arsuf, 1191,” The Art of Battle.com, Internet, available from http://www.theartofbattle.com/battle-of-arsuf-1191/, accessed 17 January 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Athens and Sparta – Poleis Polar Opposites

The city-states of Classical Greece all fostered different virtues, styles of government, laws and standards for behavior. Two of the most well-known Poleis of Ancient Greece were Athens and Sparta, and the two Poleis could not have been more different in what they valued, what they placed their attention on for cultivation and how they viewed themselves and the rest of the world overall.  Understanding the differences between these two Polis highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of their systems, and can enable deeper understanding of the variations of Classical Greece as a whole.

Athens is proclaimed as the home of democracy and freedom.  Indeed, freedom was one of the highest virtues of Athenian society as well as loyalty, duty, patriotism, strength and opportunity.[1]  The seat of Grecian commerce, Athens followed an open-door policy, allowing foreigners to enter society and observe the Athenian way of life freely.[2]  Discussion was far preferable to mandate, and citizens were encouraged to make their votes heard.[3]  Rather than mimicking the societal structures of other Polis, Athens prided itself on setting the example for ideal society instead.[4]  As a society, beauty, prosperity and loyalty were lauded as the highest Athenian ideals.[5]

The Athenian preoccupation with freedom contributed highly to their overall success, despite their stronger, militaristic neighbors.  They placed tremendous value on education and the arts, and fostered a culture that allowed for trade, integration of ideas, and freedom.  Freedom led to prosperity and innovation and the encouragement of individualism, and the rich culture of Athens is known as the seed of Western thought.  Although the open-door policy led to a rich influx of culture and goods, Athens was susceptible to overindulgence, which would put them at a disadvantage on the battlefield.[6]  In addition, Athens preferred and took great pride in fighting alone, rather than allying with other neighboring Polis, which served them well a lot of the time, but also left them vulnerable to joint attacks from other Poleis who envied their prosperity, wealth and position.

By contrast, Sparta was a Polis that was run as a military barracks and not much of a society by Western standards at all.  It was totalitarian, and relied solely on the labor of the freemen and slaves in the neighboring towns and villages for its food, since Spartan citizens were forbidden from engaging in business.[7]  All of the focus in Sparta was on military strength, which required individual strength to maintain.  The Spartan State was the ultimate authority, and individualism was discouraged and even punished.[8]  Spartan virtues were strength, bravery, discipline, control, respect for the elderly and – above all else- obedience.[9]  The strict control that Sparta employed against not only its citizens but to the conquered people it enslaved addressed every part of life.  Husbands past their prime were expected to give their wives to younger, more virile men for the purpose of having more hearty children.[10]  Marriage should be reserved only for people in top physical condition, who could produce the strongest, healthiest children.[11]  Eugenics was encouraged, and infants that could not pass a physical inspection upon birth were killed outright.[12]  Male children who survived initial inspection were subjected to decade’s worth of training that emphasized pain, brutality and want where theft was encourage to supplement their meager food rations.

Sparta’s strengths were in its military capabilities, where decades worth of training, pain, brutality and determination fostered a near-fanaticism is Spartan Hoplites that made them incredibly formidable.  The rigid and strict control that Sparta tried to foster, however, was ultimately untenable and the society they attempted to create could not be indefinitely maintained.  With the threat of revolt from the slaves constantly looming in Spartan thought, it was inevitable that a moment of vulnerability, the delicate balance of fear and intimidation would crumble, and the Spartan way of life would be lost.

Athens and Sparta could not be more diametrically opposed in their values, their methods and their end results.  Although the Spartan military was a force to be reckoned with – even against far superior numbers as demonstrated at Thermopylae – but its system was untenable long-term, and history seems to suggest the freedom is more likely to win out in the end over tyranny.   These two diametric extremes highlight the variations available in Greek society in culture, highlighting the nature of variation as society advanced from the more primitive stone/bronze age and into the classical period.  While each system had its strengths and weaknesses, only one has lived on in history as the birthplace of Western virtues, ideals and values, and just as in the world of Ancient Greece, Athens has carried the day once more.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Behreandt, Dennis. “Freedom in Sparta And Athens:  The Stark Contrast Between Ancient Sparta and Athens Makes Abundantly Clear that Cultural Achievement Occurs Only Where Men Are Free.” The New American, 29 May 2006, 34+.

 

Painter, F.V.N. A History of Education.  New York, NY: D Appleton & Company, 1886.

 

Thucydides. Pericles’ Funeral Oration from the Peloponnesian War book 2.34-46. Fordham University. Internet.  Available from http://sourcebook.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/pericles-funeralspeech.asp.

 

Xenophon. “Xenophon on the Spartans.” Greek and Roman History – California State University. Internet.  Accessed 6 January 2016, available from http://www.csun.edu/~hcfl1004/sparta-a.html.

[1] Thucydides, Pericles’ Funeral Oration from the Peloponnesian War, book 2.34-46, Fordham University, Internet, accessed 6 January 2017, available from http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/pericles-funeralspeech.asp

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dennis Behreandt, “Freedom in Sparta And Athens:  The Stark Contrast Between Ancient Sparta and Athens Makes Abundantly Clear that Cultural Achievement Occurs Only Where Men Are Free,” The New American, 29 May 2006, 34+.

[4] Thucydides.

[5] F.V.N. Painter, A History of Education (New York, NY: D Appleton & Company, 1886), 39-56.

[6] Painter.

[7] Behreandt.

[8] Behreandt.

[9] Xenophon, “Xenophon on the Spartans,” Greek and Roman History – California State University, internet, accessed 6 January 2017, available from http://www.csun.edu/~hcfl1004/sparta-a.html

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

Warfare: East vs. West

In reading both the Strategemata and the Art of War excerpts, it is clear that although there is a common idea that warfare in the classical age consisted of two armies meeting in a field and going at each other until a clear victor emerged, warfare was more complicated and much more involved, both in Eastern and Western cultures. I myself have been guilty of imagining the armies of Greece and Rome both fighting in the aforementioned style, and thought little about other strategies that they may have employed in order to gain the upper hand.

Yet both the Strategemata and the Art of War share more similarities (at least in these segments) than they do differences, leading me to believe that warfare in both Eastern and Western cultures was more alike than it was different, despite the many preconceptions we in the modern West may attach to the classical world.

The Strategemata by Frontinus contains numerous examples of the necessity of concealing your plan from your enemy in order to take them by surprise and ultimately (hopefully) achieve victory on the battlefield.[1]  He praises previous leaders – even leaders of countries that opposed Rome such as Hannibal of Carthage in the Punic War – who were able to trick their opponents in order to create more favorable conditions in which to fight, and lauds the importance of well-crafted deceit to gain an ultimate advantage.[2]  Similarly, Frotinus also highlights the necessity of gauging what plans the enemy has for you in order to avoid falling into avoidable traps and retaking the advantage in battle.[3]  He lists numerous examples of this being carried out to perfection again, including both Roman and non-Roman leaders who valued the importance of foresight and used it to their advantage.[4]  Lastly, Frontinus demonstrates the importance for commanders to not insist on fighting in the same way with the same army composition at all times – that they must embrace an element of adaptability (like we saw last week in Assyrian warfare in the bronze and stone-age era) in order to give themselves the most advantages when approaching battle.  While open battle was a facet of warfare in both Greece and Rome in the classical period, it was not always simply so black and white.  Tactics, strategy, information and adaptability all played a pivotal role in the classical age, just like it did in the bronze and stone ages.

In Sun Tzu’s Art of War, similarly, Eastern battle strategy, intelligence, adaptability and stealth are also valued above pitched open battle, depending on the situation.[5]  More of a manual than a collection of examples of an overall point, the Art of War demonstrates Eastern mentality towards battle, highlighting the necessity to keep one’s enemies on their toes, attacking from where they least expect, identifying and taking advantage of weaknesses, and keeping yourself in the best possible position to achieve ultimate victory.[6]  Like the Strategemata, understanding an enemy’s plan and being able to identify both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in it is critically related to overall success or failure.  Going hand in hand with that, keeping your plans out of the hands of the enemy puts you in the best possible position to defend yourself, attack at the enemy’s weakest points and keep them from being able to counterattack you with strength.[7]

These types of strategies seem to cross hemispheric boundaries with ease, and seemed to evolve with warfare itself – in hindsight, of course it seems like common sense to place you and your forces in the best possible position while keeping your enemy at their weakest, so it’s little surprise that these examples dictating such practices and strategies survived the centuries to be passed on to us, even using intelligence, tactics and strategy similar to these examples in our modern military despite all the technological changes we have brought to light.

[1] Frontinus: The Strategemata,” Penelope.uchicago.edu, accessed January 8, 2017, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Frontinus/Strategemata/home.html.; “Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: Original, accurate, and complete translation of all 13 chapters,” Translated by the Sonshi Group, sonshi.com, 1999, accessed January 8, 2017, https://www.sonshi.com/original-the-art-of-war-translation-not-giles.html.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: Original, accurate, and complete translation of all 13 chapters: Chapter Six: Weakness and Strenght,” Translated by the Sonshi Group, sonshi.com, 1999, accessed January 8, 2017, https://www.sonshi.com/original-the-art-of-war-translation-not-giles.html.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid

Innovation, Adaptation and Technology in Ancient Warfare

Throughout this module, the thing that impressed and surprised me the most, which was repeated in the text several times was that success in ancient warfare wasn’t based so much on technological or even societal advancements but on the ability of ancient leaders to innovate with their armies and adapt, integrating what they had seen and learned on the battle field and then including it in their own forces later on.[1]  In Chapter one, while it discusses the composition, formation and economic policies behind some of the early empire armies in detail, it is clear that the forces that were willing to adapt and integrate, learning from people they had met in battle shared the most success, although all of their empires were eventually to fall for various reasons.  The other striking characteristic of ancient warfare in the stone and bronze ages is truly how little it changed over vast stretches of time.

While there were technological advancements in this several-thousand year period like the composite bow, the introduction and integration of cavalry and the use of early siege weaponry, the cavalry in most instances did not replace the earlier chariot, but was combined with it.  Similarly, the bow was integrated with slingers and spearmen, with some soldiers carrying weapons alongside their bows for defense.

Armies throughout this period became more organized, even armies that utilized the integration of forces from conquered foes.  They began utilizing standard formations rather than a pitched melee and strategy and strategic maneuvers began to play a role in not only field combat but siege warfare as well.  Socio-economically, city states that were able to manage vast empires by setting up systems of government that answered to a single overseeing authority were generally more successful due to the lack of modern communication technologies, although early message relays were set up by several leaders to facilitate communication.  Despite likely numeric inflation, the armies also grew larger over this period from Xerxes infamous Persian army that invaded Greece to China’s forces.  Defenses became stronger as siege weaponry emerged, enabling defending forces to withstand sieges for periods of years.

With the use and integration of iron, warfare began to change at the end of this period, although chariots were still being utilized alongside more organized cavalry forces, and socio-political changes resulting from increased population and urbanization began to influence warfare, leading up to the classical age to come when a shift in warfare was practically all but inevitable.

 

[1] Christon I. Archer, John R. Ferris, Holger H. Herwig and Timothy H.E. Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 9-61.