Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe


MilitaryRevolution in Early Modern Europe

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Theessay will discuss the question, “What was revolutionary about the&quotMilitary Revolution&quot in early modern Europe?” and notethe change that occurred as a result, of the military revolution inearly modern Europe. The revolution in this essay is the change thatoccurs in the military structures across different armies of variousemerging states and monarchies of the European continent. Referenceis made to various military history authors. Excerpts fromhistoriographieshave also been cited.


Militarystructure and tactics in early modern Europe was at a phase of changewhere traditional tactics were still being employed by some armieswhile others tried to modernize their armies. Technologicaladvancements played a major role in the development of armor, weaponsand change of field tactics and deployment. What was revolutionaryabout &quotmilitary revolution&quot in early modern Europe? Thechanges experienced thereafter in government structure, technologicaladvancements the change of military culture and professionalism inthe military was affected.

Beforethe modernization in Europe, army structure, cavalries and infantriesrelied on swords, javelins, shields and a set of bows and arrows1. The cavalries had the privilege of riding on horseback. Thehorsemen carried a double-edged sword, a Visigoth axe and a javelinsuitable for them to carry. The infantry was divided into variousgroups, ill-equipped with single-edged swords and a javelin. Asection of infantry was made up of archers carrying various types ofbows the long bow, short bow or crossbows and acted as support.Personal protective clothing or armor was comprised of a brass chestplate worn with chain vesting and a cup-shaped helmet to protect thehead.

Thearmor however was not fully effective as it did not protect thesoldier from harm during close combat. The brass plate covered thefront part of the torso but left out the arms and lower body, leavingthe soldier vulnerable to injuries. Depending on the force of thearrows shot, javelins or axes thrown, the armor was penetrable. Atclose quarters, the armor would shield its wearer from extensivesword and javelin stabs without the use of a shield. Due to the longhours a battle was fought, the armor became an impediment to theinfantry as it weighed down on tired soldiers and affected theability of troops. Militaries constituted of smaller groups ofsoldiers and mercenaries were hired by the Kings or Counts, who wouldafford to pay for the services. Armies were maintained on acontractual basis only paid after engaging in battle and recalledwhen the need to defend their locality arose.

Militaryrevolution in early modern Europe however saw a period of change inmilitary tact, structure and effectiveness of attacks staged. Thechange determined whether or not armies would be successful or failin the battlefield. Deployment strategies traditionally based oncircular attacks and charging gradually changed into more tacticaland carefully planned sieges2.

Inearly modern Europe, the battlefield plan was based on thearrangement of connected groups of infantry soldiers. Prior to‘modernization’ in early Europe, the groups were stationed insquare formations made up of pikemen surrounded on all four sides bymusketeers in knee deep trenches3. The strategies were to disable the advancing army’s front wall andlet the pikemen attack and destabilize the force. Small armies faceda risk losing battle to armies with larger numbers. Speed alsomattered in how effective an army would defeat its opponent. A fastand agile army was at an advantage of winning the battle although astalemate was most likely possible if the opposition had equal musclepower.

Beforethe modernization, deployment occurred on a single-time basis wherescouts would be sent to survey the enemy before an attack ensued.Scouting gave a mild advantage as information would be on theapproximate number of men in the army.

Theaccuracy of gathering the information however was not reliable asarmies also relied on mercenaries. At the beginning of every attack,quick and agile armies would have the upper hand although theopponent would not suffer much harm as the tactic used, the squareformation did not have enough power to destabilize the opponentfully. The effectiveness however of shifting from square formationsto the circular and linear attack formations saw a clear change inhow battles can be fought4.

Therevolution saw armies deploy infantrymen in shallow, linearformations and do away with the old squares that consisted of fortyto sixty men deep. Adoption of the linear formation made it easy forthe musketeers and pikemen in the infantry to play their roleseffectively. The reduced numbers of men in the linear formation alsoallowed armies to provide a high rate of the firepower each linearinfantry unit bore.

Firinga musket took a considerable amount of time. Armies took care of thisdelay through use of drills use to increase the rate of balls fired.Maximum firepower would be through use of volley mechanisms bymultiple ranks that would shoot simultaneously, therefore,intimidating the enemy and destroying the enemy fronts5.Volley action effectively enabled the armies to break enemy frontlines and gave room for the pikemen to attack.

Thelinear formation gave battle commanders the power effectively to planthe battle and considerable time to release the reserves whichincreased rates of success in the battlefield. The cavalry unit ofthe army was also affected by the military revolution. Revolution ofthe military however saw continued use of the horse by the cavalryunit. Equestrianism became an important part in executing quickattacks against enemy lines. The Spaniard army traditionally employedthe use of the ‘caracole,` a major unit comprised of successivecavalry ranks who charged towards enemy front lines while dischargingthe musket balls from their pistols. The front line would then rideaway divisively from the mid section giving room for a successiveattack starting from the mid-section of the linear unit6.

TheReconquista battles that occurred over a period of about 690 yearsalso answer the question, what was revolutionary about the “militaryrevolution” in early modern Europe? Changes in the militaryformations and adoption of “modern artillery” were helpful inhelping the Spaniards drive out the Muslim invaders.

Therevolutionary effect of the ‘military revolution’ was such thatarmies employed the use of direct charge as was evident with theDutch and Swedish armies. Traditionally, deployment of troops intothe battlefield was done using the square formations consisting of40-60 men. The square trooping had pikemen fronted by musketeers whowould clear enemy barricades and front lines, giving room for pikemento attack a tactic that was adopted by armies of emerging kingdoms.

Thecannon conquest of Nasrid, Spain, is a battle that was decisively wonusing cannon ball bombing and gun powder. Ferdinand and Isabella ofSpain had adopted gun artillery into their armies which gave themsuccess on the battlefield.7An account of how change in military tact was revolutionary to signalthe end of the Reconquista as stalemates in battle were odd due tothe decisive nature of warfare during the end times of theReconquista battles. A change in use of cannons other than usingmanpower only to seize localities is an example of how revolutionarythe military revolution was during the period.

TheSwedish army employed the tactic of attacking directly into enemyfrontline formations. During close combat, sabre mounted at the tipof the musket barrel was an effective weapon. The Swedish army isthe first army to incorporate the use of horses with the then modernweapons ranging from long range guns to cannons. The Swedish horseartillery troop achieved extensive success in the battlefield due totheir ability to tow cannons into the battle field8. Availability of equestrian services means that armies can havemassive firepower at their disposal showing how revolutionary the“military revolution” was.

Newwarfare tactic, battlefield formation shows how revolutionary the&quotmilitary revolution&quot is at the time. The use of horsescoupled with musket or flint guns gives an army an upper hand if itwere to go against other armies using swords. Use of cannon guns waseffective in penetration of barricades setup by other armies

Militaryrevolution in early modern Europe was revolutionary to a high extent. Change is seen notable in areas such as government formation, stateformation, and re-acquisition of previously captured lands frominvading armies. Evident to this effect, is the Reconquista wars ofregaining control of parts of Spain from Muslim invading armies.

Militaryrevolution helped preserve and create a national identity in statesthat were previously divided due to wars either internal orexternal. Political agendas would also be pushed further using themilitary by its leaders. Traditionally Counts and Kings relied onmercenaries to boost their army numbers. The mercenaries wereavailable to fight in any battle for the individual who would pay themost.9

Armiesbecame a tool for enforcing political agendas. A Count would pushanother into battle if he had an agenda to acquire more territories. The strategy adopted by rulers of the period also gave theircommanders powers to request for an increase in the numbers oftroops. The more numbers an army had, the more powerful it wasleading to a rise in numbers from about 30,000 men to over 100,000men. The developments occurred over a period of about 70 years.

Aroundthe year 1632, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden had an army of about170,000 men. Increasing force numbers in the military requiredchange in administration. Maintenance of the army on a large scalemade the traditional structures unworkable. Recruitment of troopsalso changed as governments developed ways to increase and maintaintheir armies.

Traditionally,governments or rulers only paid their armies based on the number ofbattles they fought. Ability to wield military power to push orachieve a political agenda changed the seasonal army maintenance intoa fulltime career. The “military revolution” is high such that itis influencing professionalism in the military: A change seasonalmaintenance and dependence on mercenaries to maintenance of fulltimearmies10. Therecruitment of army personnel and acquisition of equipment dictatedthe state to form accounting and administrative structures to handlethe issues. Armies became part of society on a permanent basis, andthe forces were integrated into society. The society itself adoptedthe law and orderly manner in which the military operated on.

Therevolutionary effect of the “military revolution” incorporatedthe need for law and order into society. What was revolutionary aboutthe “military revolution” in early modern Europe was the factthat it brought change in the public financial system. Maintaining alarge number of men serving in armies, governments had to developmechanisms to obtain funds from the public.

Traditionally,taxes were paid but governments required proper structures ofcollecting taxes and working mechanisms of managing funds throughpublic financial management. Governments and wealthy individualssetup banks and financial arms that serviced credit and debt amodern element of governance. Growthin size of armies is a revolutionary effect of the militaryrevolution which led to the formation of financial, administrativestructures. Centralisation of administrative functions to cater formilitary needs saw formation of the state.

Adoptionof these systems however was slow due to the maintenance of armies byprivate individuals who were contracted by the state. Privateindividuals then built garrisons on most areas of Europe for privatemilitary firms to maintain troops. The garrisons were maintainedthrough funds obtained from the public through additional taxes fromlocal communities who were under threat of the militaries in theirmidst. Developmentsin the structures around Europe occur as a result, of growth inmilitary numbers to cater for maintenance of troops.11 The military contractors required the government to repay them formaintaining the militaries at their disposal which had led to thegrowth in numbers. Due to the distribution of garrisons, territorieswere easily acquired and defended when the need arose. The level ofchange, therefore, can be attributed to the developments occurringacross Europe as a result, of military influence12.

Developmentsin various monarchies as a defence mechanism against invasions arerevolutionary effects of the &quotmilitary revolution.&quot Italianprinces built citadels fortresses to ward off and defend theircities against Spaniard armies.

Thecity of Lucca and Rome were fortified necessary steps to ward offinvaders. The level of construction required led to the rise of newbuilding technologies and advancements as a result, of armiestargeting various establishments. Fortification of towns usingcitadels placed at vantage points led to the growth of cities due toa sense of security the inhabitants enjoyed13.

Thechanges associated with the military revolution in early modernEurope affected the political and social structure of society duringthe period. What was revolutionary about the “military revolution”in early modern Europe is the shift from dependence of traditionalweapons javelins, bows and arrows to use of cannons, flint andmusket guns.

Thedevelopment of firepower also changed how battles can be fought andwon decisively. Development of nations due to unifications of statesalso occurred as a result, of the &quotmilitary revolution.&quotModern Europe, therefore, experienced change, as a result, of therevolution and fusion of law and order became part of society. It is,therefore, conclusive to note that the revolutionary effect of the“military revolution” did have an immense effect of the politicaland social developments in early modern Europe.


Cook,Weston F. Jr., `The Cannon Conquest of Nasrid Spain and the End ofthe Reconquista,` Journal of Military History, vol. 57, no. 1, Jan1993, pp. 43-70

Feld, M.D. `Middle-Class Societyand the Rise of Military Professionalism: The Dutch Army, 1589-1609,`Armed Forces and Society, vol. 1, no. 4, Summer 1975

Kingra,Mahinder S., `The Trace Italienne and the military revolution duringthe Eighty Years War, 1567-1648,` Journal of Military History, vol.57, no. 3, July 1993, pp. 431-446

Hammer,Paul E. J., `Introduction,` in Paul E. J Hammer (ed.), Warfare inEarly Modern Europe 1450-1660, (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007)

Pepper,Simon, `Sword and Spade: Military Construction in Renaissance Italy,`Construction History, vol. 16, 2000, pp. 13-32.

Potter,David, `the International Mercenary Market in the Sixteenth Century:Anglo-French COMPETITION in Germany, 1543-50,` English HistoricalReview, vol. 111, 1996

Roberts,Michael, Essays in Swedish History (London: Weidenfeld &ampNicolson, 1967)

1Hammer. The adoption of advanced weaponry took a while. Casualties were excessive, and most battles ended in a stalemate due to lack of clear power based on the weapons employed.

Hammer, Paul E. J., `Introduction,` in Paul E. J Hammer (ed.), Warfare in Early Modern Europe 1450-1660, (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007)

2 The revolution started with the beginning of modernization of Europe the renaissance period which saw a shift of reliance on traditional tools to machinery. Adoption of cannons and gunpowder occurred during this period.

Hall, Bert S. and Kelly R. DeVries, `Essay review – The military Revolution revisited,` Technology and Culture, vol. 31, no. 3, July 1990, pp. 500-507

3 Battle tactics as Hammer opines were still centered on traditional warfare setups. Soldiers were at a high risk of dying or getting injured on the battlefield.

Hammer, Paul E. J., `Introduction,` in Paul E. J Hammer (ed.), Warfare in Early Modern Europe 1450-1660, (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007)

4 The level of revolution of &quotthe military revolution&quot in early modern Europe decisively is high as Rogers opines. The change is evident, in structure and tactic.

The “military revolution” Rogers, Clifford J., `The Military Revolutions of the Hundred Years` War,` Journal of Military History, vol. 57, no. 2, 1993, pp. 241-278

5 The “military revolution” Rogers, Clifford J., `The Military Revolutions of the Hundred Years` War,` Journal of Military History, vol. 57, no. 2, 1993, pp. 241-278

6 Slow advancements in technology sees a continuous use of horses in battle towing artillery carts and the riding musketeers

Phillips, Gervase, `&quotOf Nimble Service&quot: Technology, Equestrianism and the Cavalry Arm of Early Modern European Armies,` War and Society, vol. 20, 2002, pp. 1-21.

7 Cook, Weston F. Jr., `The Cannon Conquest of Nasrid Spain and the End of the Reconquista,` Journal of Military History, vol. 57, no. 1, Jan 1993, pp. 43-70

8Roberts, Michael, Essays in Swedish History (London: Weidenfeld &amp Nicolson, 1967)

9 Potter, David, `The International Mercenary Market in the Sixteenth Century: Anglo-French COMPETITION in Germany, 1543-50,` English Historical Review, vol. 111, 1996

10 Feld, M.D. `Middle-Class Society and the Rise of Military Professionalism: The Dutch Army, 1589-1609,` Armed Forces and Society, vol. 1, no. 4, Summer 1975

11Kingra, Mahinder S., `The Trace Italienne and the military revolution during the Eighty Years War,1567-1648,` Journal of Military History, vol. 57, no. 3, July 1993, pp. 431-446

12 Pepper, Simon, `Sword and Spade: Military Construction in Renaissance Italy,` Construction History, vol. 16, 2000, pp. 13-32.

13 Kingra, Mahinder S., `The Trace Italienne and the military revolution during the Eighty Years War,1567-1648,` Journal of Military History, vol. 57, no. 3, July 1993