Military revolution of 16th and 17th century

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Discuss the principle features of Military revolution, list the most important dynastic and religious wars of 16th and 17th century. What was the impact of wars, on the development of society, culture and politics?

Mar 2nd, 2015

The Military Revolution refers to a radical change in military strategy and tactics to result in significant changes in government. The concept was introduced by Michael Roberts in 1950 while concentrating on Sweden from 1560-1660 for major changes in the European way of war caused by the introduction of portable firearms. Roberts military technology associated with larger historical consequences, arguing that innovations in tactics, drill and doctrine of the Dutch and Swedes 1560-1660, maximizing the utility of firearms led to a need more troops trained and therefore for permanent forces. These changes, in turn had important political consequences at the level of administrative support and supply of money, men and provisions, producing new financial demands and the creation of new government institutions. "Therefore, Roberts argued, the modern art of war made possible and necessary-the creation of the modern state". In the 1990s the concept was modified and extended by Geoffrey Parker, who argued that the evolution of fortification and siege warfare caused the revolution. 

The concept of a military revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has received a mixed reception among historians. Christopher Duffy noted military historians and Jeremy Black has strongly criticized as misleading, exaggerated and simplistic. 

Origin of the concept:

Roberts first proposed the concept of a military revolution in 1955. On January 21 of that year gave a lecture at Queen's University of Belfast; later published as an article, The Military Revolution, 1560-1660, which has fueled the debate in historical circles for five decades in which the concept has been refined and continually challenged. Although historians often challenge the theory Roberts, who usually agree with your basic premise of European methods of warfare changed profoundly somewhere or during the Modern Age.


Roberts began his military revolution around 1560-1660 as the period in which linear tactics were developed to take advantage of weapons of increasingly effective gunpowder;  however, the chronology has been questioned by many scholars. Ayton and price have highlighted the importance of "Infantry Revolution" which will take place in the early 14th century, and David Eltis noted that real change for gunpowder and the development of a military doctrine according to that the change took place in the 16th century, not, as Roberts defended the late 16th century. Others have advocated a later period for military change. So Jeremy Black believes the key time period was that of 1660-1710, which saw an exponential growth in the size of European armies,  while Clifford J. Rogers developed the idea of ​​successive military revolutions in different periods, a first "revolution infantry" in the 14th century, second a "revolution artillery" in the 15th century, thirdly a "revolution fortifications" at 16, fourth revolution "firearms" between 1580 and 1630, and Finally, a fifth revolution, the increase in the size of European armies, between 1650 and 1715.  Similarly, Geoffrey Parker has extended the period of military revolution from 1450 to 1800, the period when Europeans managed supremacy over the world.  Some scholars have questioned the revolutionary character of evolution through four centuries.  Clifford Rogers has suggested that the military revolution can best be compared with the concept of "evolution punctuated equilibrium" (one original theory of biology), which means the longer short bursts of rapid military innovation followed by periods of relative stagnation.


Linear tactics:

Swedish Brigade deployed in six rows deep Company (each flag represents a company

Breitenfeld. Catholic formations (left) deep two companies are deployed, while Sweden (right) are deployed only a deep company

Alte Veste. Swedish assault columns deployed two deep Companies:

Shallow defensive formations are ideal for deployments, but are clumsy in offensive missions, the longest of the facade, the hardest to maintain order and cohesion, or perform any maneuver, especially roll; Gustavo Adolfo understood well that far from being ponderous, the columns of assault as those used by Tilly were indeed faster, more flexible, and the King of Sweden did use them when necessary, as in the battle of Alte Veste. Armies began to use thinner formations, but of a slow evolution, and subjected to tactical considerations. The guns were not so effective as to determine only the deployment of troops,  other considerations, such as the experience of the units' were also observed,  assigned mission, terrain, or the need for satisfy a required facade with a understrength unit. The debate on the front line of the column is performed through the 18th century to the Napoleonic era, with a temporary setback for deep columns in later campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. Ironically, reducing the depth cavalry formations was a more permanent change introduced by Gustavo Adolfo. In conjunction with a reduced dependence gun fire that had the net effect of favoring the shock action on firepower against the trend by Roberts defended.

Trace Italian:

Concept linear tactics Roberts played a critical early disciple Geoffrey Parker, who asked why the supposedly obsolete Spanish troops defeated the Swedes linear formations at the Battle of Nördlingen in 1634.  Parker instead suggested that the key development was the Italian trace appearance of fortifications in modern Europe. In this view, the difficulty of making such fortifications led to a profound change in military strategy. "Wars became a series of prolonged sieges," Parker suggests, and battles its way became "irrelevant" in regions where there was no trace italienne. Ultimately, Parker argues, "the military geography", in other words, the existence or absence of the Italian charts in a given area, the military strategy of how the early modern period, and lead to the creation of hosts larger, necessary to besiege the new strengths and fitting them. Thus, Parker made the birth of the military revolution in the 16th century also gives a new meaning, was not just a factor in the growth of the state, but was also the main factor, along with the "Naval Revolution" for the rise of the West on other civilizations. This model has been criticized on several grounds. Jeremy Black said it was developing the rule that allowed the growth in the size of armies, and not vice versa, and found guilty of "technological determinism" Parker.  More telling, the figures presented by Parker to support his idea about the growth of armies have been severely criticized by David Eltis as lacking consistency  and David Parrott has shown that the period of the Italian charts showed no significant growth in the size of the French armies  and that the last period of the Thirty Years' War showed an increase in the proportion of cavalry armies,  against Parker's thesis that the prevalence of siege warfare marked a decline in their importance.

The revolution of the infantry and cavalry decay:

Some medieval specialists elaborate on the idea of ​​a revolution happening infantry in the early 14th century, when in some important battles, as Courtrai (1302) Bannockburn (1314) or Halmyros (1311), the heavy cavalry was defeated by infantry;  However, it can be noted that in all the fighting was entrenched infantry or placed on rough terrain unsuitable for cavalry, as in other battles of the 14th and 15th century, which was defeated cavalry. In fact infantry had been victorious in the past in similar situations, for example in the battle of Legnano in 1176, but the ground infantry opened yet had the worst, as shown for example in the battle of Patay (1429) and the Battle Formigny (1450) in which English archery touted conducted easily down; However, the experience of battles as Courtrai and Bannock burn meant that the myth of the invincible knight disappeared, which was in itself important for the transformation of medieval warfare. More substance has the case of a "return of the heavy infantry" as Carey has appointed him. Piqueros, unlike other infantry, could be in the open against heavy cavalry. While requiring drill and discipline, individual training requirements were much lower than those of archers or knights, and changing knight in heavy armor to Foot soldier made possible expansion in the size of the armies of the end of the century 15 on wards as infantry could be trained faster and could be hired in large numbers. But that change was slow. The full development in the 15th century plate armor for man and horse, combined with the use of the arret (rest spear) that could support a heavy spear, ensured that the heavy cavalry remained a formidable warrior. Without cavalry, an army of the 15th century was unlikely to achieve a decisive victory on the battlefield; battle could be decided by archers and spear men, but a withdrawal could only be effectively cut or tracking cavalry. In the 16th century, light cavalry, less expensive and more professional gained ground, so that the proportion of cavalry armies actually grew steadily, so in the last battles of the cavalry of the Thirty Years War Infantry actually surpassed in number as never before since the high feudal era.

Another change that took place in the late 15th century was the improvement in siege artillery fortifications to make very vulnerable old style. But the supremacy of tactical offense under siege war would not last for long. Philippe Contamine As noted, by a dialectical process that can be found in all periods, progress in the art of siege was answered by progress in the art of fortification, and vice versa.  The invasion of Charles VIII of Italy in 1494 demonstrated the power of siege artillery; but in this region by the early years of the 16th century there were beginning to emerge fortifications that had been specifically designed to withstand artillery bombardment. The total impact of the 15th century "revolution artillery" was fairly quickly mitigated by the development of the bastion and the Italian charts. But military supremacy that possession of a powerful train conferred site contributed in no small measure to strengthen the royal authority found in some European countries in the 15th century after. 

Size of hosts:

The increase in the size of the army and its influence on the development of modern states is an important theory about the military revolution. There are several sources for the study of the size of armies in different periods.

Administrative sources:

By their very nature are more objective sources. From Napoleonic Wars European commanders had in their periodic reports to force removal of their units. Such reports of strength are the main source for research in the conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries, however, are not without problems, different armies have effective force in different ways, and in some cases the reports are inflated by the official commanding look good to their superiors. Another source was called meeting, no periodic reports of resistance ready for service personnel. Muster calls are the main source of the strength of armies before the 19th century, but by their nature lack continuity and are unsuitable for long analysis time period. They are, however, more reliable for the period and provide an overview of the strengths of the army and its variability source. Third, pay rolls offers another set of information. They are especially useful for studying the costs of the army, but they are not as reliable as calls meeting since only show payments, not real soldiers ready for service, and before the 19th century "ghost soldiers" men falsely enlisted by the official in order to obtain the fees for themselves, were very common. Finally, the Orders of Battle, lists without specifying force units are very important for 18th 16th, 17th and centuries. Before that period armies lacked the organization to deploy permanent units, so the battle orders usually consist of a list of the commands leaders. The exception would be the ancient Roman army, that from an early period developed a considerable military organization. An Order of Battle is not a reliable source military force, since the units in the field, or even in periods of peace, are rarely full authorized strength.

Narrative sources:

Modern historians make use of the large number of administrative sources available now, however things were very different in the past. The ancient writers too often give numbers without naming sources, and few cases where we can be sure that they are actually using any administrative source. This is especially true when speaking of the opposing armies, in which access to administrative sources was problematic in any case. Besides that, there are a number of additional problems concerning ancient historians; that could be very biased in their reporting, as inflating the number of enemies has been a favorite of all time propaganda resources. Even in presenting a balanced account, many historians have no military experience, which lacked the technical assessment to adequately evaluate and criticize their sources. Moreover, they had access to firsthand accounts and can be very interesting, although the theme of the numbers were rarely accurate. Historians consider ancient narrative sources to be highly reliable on the subject of numbers, so it is not possible to use them in a couple of administrative sources. The comparison between ancient and modern periods are therefore very difficult for.

Size of general armies:

A clear distinction must be made between armies Overall, ie the armed forces in general of a particular political entity, and field armies, tactical units able to move as a single force throughout a campaign. The growth in the size of armies has generally been considered by many scholars as a key issue of the Military Revolution. There are two main thesis was considered either a result of economic and demographic growth of the century 17 to 18 or the main cause for the growth of management and centralization of the modern state in the same period. However, some opponents of the general thesis have questioned these views, for example IAA. Thompson has pointed out how the growth in size of the Spanish army in the 16th to 17th centuries contributed rather the economic collapse of Spain and the weakness of the central government against regional rebellions , while Simon Adams has questioned whether there was any growth at all in the first half of the 17th century  Growth is clear, however in the second half of the 17th century, when the United embrace the task of recruiting and arming themselves their armies, leaving the commission system, prevalent until the end of the Thirty Years' War. The organization of a system of local and provincial militias around this period in several countries (and the growing importance of the local aristocracy, called "refeudalization of hosts," especially in Eastern Europe) contributed to the widening of the base labor of national armies, although foreign mercenaries were still a considerable percentage in all European armies.

Size of field armies:

This has been dictated through history by logistical constraints, mainly food supply. Before the mid-17th century, armies basically lived off the land. They had no supply lines; they moved to the offer, and often their movements were dictated by considerations of supply.  While some regions with good communications could supply large armies for longer periods, still had to disperse when they moved from these areas well supplied. The maximum size of the field armies remained under 50000 for most of this period, and reports of higher resistance to this number are always unreliable narrative sources and should be viewed with skepticism. In the second half of the 17th century things changed. The armies began to be supplied through a network of reservoirs connected by supply lines, which greatly increased the size of the field armies. In the 18th century and early 19th century, before the arrival of the railroad, the size of the field armies figures reached 100,000.

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