THE MILITARY REVOLUTION DEBATE
Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe
edited by CLIFFORD J. ROGERS
Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford
The Military Revolution: Origins and First Tests Abroad
JOHN F. GUILMARTIN, JR.
The origins of the Military Revolution, however defined, and the immediate consequences of its exportation abroad are clearly a matter of importance, nor only to military historians but to social and political historians as well. In his seminal work, The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500‑1800,1 Geoffrey Parker placed his topic in context by citing Daniel Hedrick to the effect that Europe controlled about 35% of the world’s land surface by 1800, a share which increased to 84% by 1914. Parker went on to argue, correctly in my view, that however important post‑1800 imperial expansion was, it was not the crux of the matter. What really counted was the way in which the first 35% was acquired, for it was there that Western Europe established its superiority.2
Parker began his inquiry at the turn of the sixteenth century, showing how European armies and navies learned to articulate more powerfully the new technologies at their disposal, notably gunpowder weapons and trans‑oceanic sailing vessels, and bend them to the process of imperial expansion. Here, I will press the logic behind Parker’s approach a step further. Using Clifford Rogers’ analysis of developments in the Hundred Years War3 as a point of departure, I will begin by examining the origins of the innovations in technology and tactics which manifested themselves so dramatically on a global scale after 1500. I will then turn to an assessment of the pivotal initial engagements which began around the turn of the sixteenth century between the beneficiaries of the Military Revolution and those beyond Western Europe upon whom they sought to impose their will by force of arms.
I decided to address the various cases in inverse order of the technological capabilities of the opponents of Western European arms. This not only produced the smoothest narrative flow, but – more important – generated more promising hypotheses. That, therefore, is the scheme I shall follow. To avoid becoming embroiled in definitional hair‑splitting, I will use the term Military Revolution not as a precise description of a discrete phenomenon, but as an accepted and useful label for a field of scholarly inquiry.4
There can be no doubt concerning the suddenness and importance of the transformation in war with which we are concerned. Viewing the world at the rum of the fourteenth century through the eyes of a widely traveled and well-informed contemporary – say a Genoese sea captain, a Papal envoy, an Arab merchant or an official of the Great Khan’s court – Europe was a backwater, unremarkable in cultural vitality, economic development or military might. By the turn of the sixteenth century that had changed dramatically or, more precisely from the standpoint of the world beyond Western Europe, was about to.
European mariners had reached the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean in vessels with serious commercial and military potential. Amerindian, Arab and Indian were learning to their dismay that these ships and the men aboard them posed military problems to which they had no effective solution. At the same time, the invasion of Italy in 1494 by the forces of King Charles VIII of France had initiated a series of developments which were to have momentous military consequences. The Wars of Italy, 1494‑1559 initiated by Charles’ invasion and the Spanish intervention it prompted, ended in strategic stalemate, but along the way European soldiers, smiths and military engineers developed methods of war on land far in advance of those practiced elsewhere. Within four decades of Columbus’ landfall at San Salvador, Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy and Vasco da Gama’s arrival at Calicut, these new methods of land warfare merged with European capabilities in trans‑oceanic navigation and warfare at sea to begin reshaping the political and economic face of the globe.
But as the fifteenth century gave way to the sixteenth, the Western European superiority at war was not yet apparent. This was in part because that superiority was just emerging; in part because it had not yet been tested beyond its point of origin; and in part because Western Europe’s neighbor to the east, the Ottoman Empire, had itself undergone a military transformation in the preceding half century, acquiring heavy siege guns, disciplined gunpowder‑armed infantry and a powerful fleet.5 In 1500, the Ottomans were in the process of administering to Venice a series of sharp defeats in a war of conquest, 1499‑1503, which cost the island republic most of her bases in the Morea and showed that Venetian mastery of the sea could no longer be taken for granted. Then, after turning east to contain the growing Persian Savafid threat, the Ottomans turned south to defeat the Egyptian Mamluks and absorb their empire in 1516‑17, dramatically expanding the geographic extent of their realm, their prestige and – far from least – their fiscal resources. The Osmanli sultans returned to the west in 1526, crushed the Hungarian monarchy at the battle of Mohács and were turned back from Vienna in 1529 by the narrowest of margins. With the exception of the Persian War, intended only to hold the Safavids at bay,6 these Ottoman wars of expansion were decisive, short and, insofar as we can judge, cheap. They were the last of their kind.
The Ottomans posed a continuing threat to the West, but their failure to take Vienna in 1529 proved to be their high‑water mark. Many decades would pass before Christendom ceased to fear the Turk, but expansion to the west and the attendant absorption of non‑Muslim lands, the raison d’étre of the Ottoman stare and vital to its social and economic health,7 to all practical intents and purposes ceased after Mohács. Conversely, Western expansion commenced with explosive suddenness at about the same time and proceeded with remarkable ease save in the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Despite their lack of demographic and economic resources, the Portuguese quickly established a rich maritime empire stretching from the Malabar Coast to Ormuz, the Straits of Malacca and the Spice Islands. After repelling local, Mamluk and Ottoman efforts to dislodge them, the Portuguese enjoyed a century of exclusionary dominance, yielding regional primacy to the Dutch and English only after‑ another century of struggle. During the same period Spanish conquistadors, fighting winds and currents, treacherous seas, distance and terrain as well as Amerindian arms, carved out an empire of immense size and wealth in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Peru.8 As with the Portuguese in the east, the main threat to Spanish power in the New World came not from indigenous arms but European interlopers. In short, the turn of the sixteenth century can be viewed as the beginning of an extended era in which the dominant polities of Western Europe, after checking the expansion of Islam in Europe – just how abruptly was not apparent until after the fact – determined by trial of arms how much of the rest of the world each would control.
On the surface of it, the enormous technological disparities among the opponents of Western expansion with whom we are concerned would seem to render direct comparisons among case studies of questionable value. The Andean armies which Francisco Pizarro and his men faced were armed almost entirely with wood and stone and lacked even an effective slashing weapon while contemporary Ottoman forces fought at no great technological disadvantage, if any. In fact, this seemingly disqualifying consideration strengthens the analysis and works to our advantage. From the Western European standpoint, the case studies involve situations where the same basic technologies, tactics and institutions were applied within essentially similar cultural frameworks. Examining how this was done against dramatically different foes under sharply differing circumstances should enable us to better appreciate the fundamental strengths, weaknesses and limits of accommodation of those who first brought the Military Revolution to bear beyond its point of origin. Comparing our case studies should thus enable us to distinguish between what was important and what was incidental.
As it developed, this scheme also provided a useful measure of just what the Military Revolution accomplished in terms of concrete strategic, operational and tactical capabilities at a pivotal time and – of at least equal importance–of what factors limited its exportability.
By treating Amerindian, Indian, Arab Muslim, North African and Ottoman military capabilities and effectiveness as dependent variables we should gain a better understanding of how the Portuguese, the Austrian Habsburgs, the Spanish and their Mediterranean client states, and the Venetians applied the fruits of the Military Revolution. This approach should also highlight the key cultural, political and economic factors which shaped the application of military force and forces at the pivotal first stage of European expansion. By considering the Ottomans, it might even point toward a more comprehensive understanding of just what the Military Revolution was and why it took root, grew and prospered, or died after a period of initial growth, where and when it did.
It is important to note in this regard that the use of the phrase “similar cultural frameworks” three paragraphs above is more than a vague generalization. Portuguese military culture, institutions and methods and those of their Spanish neighbors were formed in the same crucible: the 700 year Reconquista in which militant Christendom drove Islam from the Iberian peninsula. Nor was the influence of the Reconquista confined to Iberia. After the election of Charles I of Spain as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1529, the same Habsburg monarch controlled both Spain and Austria, causing exchanges of personnel and cross‑fertilization of ideas. When Charles was elected, German Landsknechts and gunners, the mainstay of Austrian Habsburg armies, had already been exposed to Spanish methods in the Wars of Italy for two decades. Spanish soldiers fought the Ottomans in the Balkans as well as the Mediterranean and were prominent in the defense of Vienna in 1529. At Lepanto Spanish infantes fought side by side with Landsknechts, Italian mercenaries in Spanish and papal service, and Venetian scapoli, and Lepanto was unusual only in scale. Habsburg emperors and Portuguese kings alike favored German gunfounders as purveyors of bronze ordnance.
Nor were exchanges of personnel and ideas within this community of arms confined to the land or to Europe. Among the men who sailed with Da Gama, Cabral and Albuquerque were men who had fought Moors and Turks in North Africa. The Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan fought under Alfonso de Albuquerque in the capture of Malacca and circumnavigated the globe for the King of Spain; among the survivors of his expedition was the gunner Hans of Lübeck. Francisco Pizarro traveled from Panama to Spain between his first and second expeditions to Peru to petition the Emperor Charles for rights to whatever conquests he might acquire. While in Spain he consulted with Hernán Cortés, conqueror of Mexico. Cortés was present in the Emperor’s suite when the imperial fleet met with disaster before Algiers in 1541... and offered Charles the soundest advice he was given on that unhappy occasion – to ignore the destruction of the fleet and attack the city – a circumstance which shows that lessons of war learned beyond the seas were considered relevant by some.
Before proceeding, it is worth noting that the increased communication among the various Western military communities noted above was a new phenomenon More than half a century ago Sir Charles Oman observed that the wars of fifteenth century Europe were waged in relative isolation from one another. They could, he said, “be described, not inaccurately, as being shut up in many water‑tight compartments”: the wars of the English and French, the wars of Castile against her neighbors, the wars of the Italian city‑states, the Hussite wars, the Ottoman‑Hungarian struggle, the Swiss Confederation’s wars of expansion, and so on.9 Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy and the Spanish response it evoked immediately and irrevocably ruptured the boundaries between three of these compartments and com promised the rest. The immediate result, addressed below, was that the premier military establishments of Western Europe learned an extraordinary amount from one another in a very short time. The emergence of the Iberian-Habsburg community of arms alluded to above, one in which Italian military professionals shared, was both a consequence of the rupturing of the boundaries and an important contributor to the accelerated learning process which it fostered.
The above schema has two defects: First, it emphasizes many points of detail which would not have seemed terribly important to contemporary observers; they are to us because we know who won. Second, as the perceptive reader will note, the Ottoman Turks do not fit easily into it. The frequent use of Western Europe rather than simply Europe in the preceding pages is evidence of the latter problem. The Military Revolution is generally understood as the product of a Europe to which the Ottomans were external, yet by the time they established their capital at Edirne (Adrianople) early in the fifteenth century the Ottoman Turks were arguably more a European power which happened to be Muslim than an “Eastern” (whatever that means) power which had gained a lodgment in Europe.10 In fact, the Ottomans paralleled and at times anticipated the Military Revolution, notably in the early adoption of individual gunpowder weapons and in the creation of an elaborate, efficient and well‑articulated bureaucracy dedicated to the prosecution of war. Moreover, there was a Muslim counterpart to the Christian community of arms outlined above: Ottoman soldiers and technicians seconded to the Mamluks were sent to the Red Sea to fight the Portuguese under an Ottoman commander, Salman Re’is, even before the Mamluks were overthrown; the famed North African corsair, Hayreddin Barbarossa, became Kapudan Pasha, Head Admiral of the Ottoman fleet; in the course of the sixteenth century, Janissaries were dispatched as far afield as Afghanistan and Algiers. But the Turks ultimately fell behind. Their failure to match the innovations which emerged from the Wars of Italy was pivotal, but that is apparent only with the wisdom of hindsight. It was not at all clear until late in the seventeenth century – if even then – that the Ottomans were following an unsuccessful trajectory.11
Knowing that the Turks lost in the long run, we tend to discount their successes, many of them quite remarkable. That the Ottomans would fail to anticipate the military challenges of the seventeenth century as well as they did those of the fifteenth and early sixteenth was by no means pre‑ordained or – more to the point – evident until well after the fact. On learning of the Ottoman victory at Mohács, perceptive and well‑informed observers might well have been inclined to dismiss Spanish victories in the New World and Italy and Portuguese successes in the Far East as peripheral and put their money on the Turk. They would have been wrong, of course, but, given the information at their disposal, why? I have no answer, only tentative hypotheses, but the question is an important one and the following examination pays particular attention to the Turks.
My analysis begins with developments in the technology and tactics of field warfare which began in certain regions of Western Europe around the turn of the fourteenth century and reached maturity in its last quarter. These developments merit the term Infantry Revolution. The pivotal actors were the English longbowman and Swiss halberdier and pikeman. Clifford Rogers’ formulation describing developments which came to fruition in the Hundred Years War12 fits with minor modification: before this revolution held armies were dominated, in tactical importance if not in numbers, by chivalric elites, specialists in mounted shock action who supported themselves on the proceeds of feudal land holdings and fought primarily to capture for ransom rather than kill. In consequence, battles tended to be relatively bloodless. Although missile troops were important in sieges, their role in battle was peripheral. After the revolution had run its course, the reverse was true on all points: field warfare was dominated by foot soldiers, commoners who served for pay and fought to kill; battles were bloody; missile weapons played an important role in battle and were at times decisive.
Perhaps the most important element of the infantry Revolution was the development by the Swiss of a combination of weapons and tactics which enabled infantry to deliver shock action with devastating impact and to maneuver in the field in the face of first‑class cavalry. The Swiss methods were based on compact mutually‑supporting bodies of infantry armed with pikes of twelve fret or more in length for the initial shock and halberds for counter‑attack if the pike charge were halted. The Swiss achieved their speed and cohesion by marching in step.13 Formations were normally square, but could be quickly altered to suit changing tactical circumstances, for example into an oval “hedgehog” to repel cavalry attacks from several directions. Though shock action was the essence of Swiss tactics, the pike squares were screened by crossbowmen, and later handgunners, to drive off enemy skirmishers and hold missile‑armed enemies at bay.14 Swiss methods, imitated by the German Landsknechts and refined by the Spanish, laid the foundations of the modern army.
Interestingly, the practices, i.e. the Ottoman Janissary Corps, the only Islamic infantry elite of consequence from Muhammad’s day until modern times, paralleled the infantry Revolution, but belatedly and only up to a point. We know little about the early history of the Janissaries, but there is evidence of an elite infantry component in Ottoman field armies as early as the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396.15 The Janissaries were early users of individual firearms, to which they were exposed by ex‑Hussite Bohemian mercenaries in Hungarian service at the Second Battle of Kossovo in 1449 if not before.16 Janissary musketry was a major factor in Selim I’s victories over the Safavids and Mamluks. Unlike Western infantry, however, the Janissaries never developed the ability to maneuver independently in the face of cavalry. Perhaps their system worked too well for too long and they became set in their ways.
The next precursor to European expansion was the development, between the last quarter of the fourteenth century and the last quarter of the fifteenth, of sailing vessels, navigational methods and systems of armament which made trans oceanic navigation technically feasible and economically remunerative. This revolution in seafaring emerged from the fusion of Atlantic and Mediterranean technologies to produce the ancestors of the early modern full rigged sailing ship.17 These developments extended to all the maritime nations of Europe, though the pace varied from region to region. The Iberians led the way and Portuguese and Spanish mariners reached Madeira and the Canaries early in the fourteenth century, but as a general proposition routine long‑range deep‑sea navigation was be yond the reach of Europeans prior to this revolution. After it had run its course the Iberians still led the way, but European mariners across the hoard possessed the wherewithal to traverse the oceans of the globe.
The details of this revolution need not detain us long. The caravels of the European voyages of Exploration, with hulls of Atlantic design and Mediterranean construction driven by a mix of Mediterranean lateen sails and Atlantic square sails, were an early product of that revolution. The three‑masted naos, of which Columbus’ Santa Maria is the most famous example, were another. From the nao came the carrack, lineal ancestor of the galleons of the mid‑sixteenth century and the ships‑of‑the‑line of the seventeenth and eighteenth which played so large a role in European expansion abroad. Developments in ship design and construction were backed by advances in navigational theory and practice in which Portugal led the way. At the turn of the fifteenth century, the best nautical charts were sufficiently accurate only for use in the relatively benign conditions of the Mediterranean.18 By the last decade of the century, the Portuguese possessed charts sufficiently accurate to, support navigation between known points on the Atlantic coasts when used by a skilled navigator in combination with dead reckoning and daily latitude determinations by cross staff.19 Of equal importance was the adoption and progressive development of gunpowder ordnance for use afloat: from this point on Chinese and Arab ships and mariners might rival their European counterparts in long range navigation, but they could not in fighting potential.
Guns were used on ships almost as soon as they appeared in Europe, but they were at first light pieces with little more power than bows. The first guns which had sufficient power to do serious structural damage to ships or seaside fortifications to be routinely mounted on ships were the main centerline bow guns of Mediterranean war galleys around the middle of the fifteenth century.20 The weight and recoil of heavy ordnance taxed the structures of ships and forced innovation, first evident in the appearance of sliding carriages for main centerline bow guns about 1500 and in the appearance of the lidded, watertight gunport on sailing vessels shortly thereafter.21 The latter development was of crucial importance in making it possible to permanently mount heavy guns low in the hulls of seagoing vessels where their weight would trot compromise stability. The early 1500s were a period of transition and the chronology is uncertain, but the evidence suggests that the first ships built with a main battery of heavy guns mounted low in the hull behind lidded, watertight gunports were laid down no earlier than the first decade of the sixteenth century.22 Change, however, was swift, at least in northern waters: based on iconographic evidence, lidded gunports were common by the 1520s and by the mid‑1540s lower gundecks fitted with them were the norm, at least in England.23
Next came a revolution in heavy gunpowder ordnance on land which began in the 1420s, apparently in France, England and Flanders, spread from there, and was largely complete by mid‑century. This series of developments, which Clifford Rogers has aptly termed the Artillery Revolution,24 produced powerful siege trains which drove the English from Normandy and Guienne, enabled the Hohenzollerns to consolidate their power in Austria at the expense of the Quitzows and allowed Mehmed II to take Constantinople.25 The Artillery Revolution was the product of connected developments in the techniques of positional warfare, gunfounding and powder manufacture, to name but a few. We do not fully understand how these developments played on one another, but the outlines are clear. The first indication was the progressive abandonment from about 1420 of high trajectory fire intended to damage structures inside fortress walls in favor of flat trajectory fire meant to bring down the wall itself.26 This development was associated with improved methods of cannon construction in the form of larger and more powerful guns with tubular barrels long enough to harness gunpowder’s propellant properties.27 The earliest of these were wrought iron bombards, made up of hoops and staves, whence the term barrel.28 The introduction of corned powder at about the same time was intimately bound up in the Artillery Revolution, for corned powder was more powerful – or at least more reliably powerful – than earlier “serpentine,” or dry‑compounded, gunpowder.29 Bronze-founders soon imitated the wrought iron designs, and by the 1440s and 50s ordnance of cast bronze was edging out wrought iron as the premier European ordnance.30
The next major transformation in European warfare was a revolution in siegecraft and fortification sparked by the power and mobility of the siege train which Charles VIII brought to Italy in 1494. The French guns were products of evolutionary refinement in design, lineal descendants of those which blasted the English out of Normandy and Guienne a half century before.31 That notwithstanding, they struck Italy with revolutionary impact: Guicciardini’s lament that the new French artillery did as much damage to the walls of a fortress in a few hours as their predecessors had done in a like number of days was a sober statement of reality.32 This was not a simple matter of destructive Fewer: shot for shot, the huge bombards of the mid‑fifteenth century were more powerful than the largest of Charles’ guns.33 What was new was the mobility of the French cannon, their numbers, the speed with which they fired and the skill of their‑ gunners.34
The French ordnance was superior for many reasons: the guns were cast of high quality bronze and were therefore light for the weight of ball they fired;35 the barrels were suspended in the carriages from integrally cast trunnions which made adjustments in elevation easy; the carriages were lighter and more efficient, with dished wheels for strength and stability and limbers for mobility; and the guns were pulled by teams of powerful, specially trained horses.36
In the event, the advantage which the French derived from the excellence of their artillery was short‑lived; its main historical importance stems from the revolution in fortification design it unleashed. The hallmark of this revolution was the trace italienne fortress with its sunken profile. The key events were the siege of Pisa in 1500, which demonstrated the power of defensive flanking fire and the ability of a sloping rampart of earth to absorb cannon balls; the siege of Padua in 1509 which showed the power of enfilade fire in the ditch against assault; and the unsuccessful Ottoman attempt at Corfu in 1537 which showed that a fortress built according to the lessons of Pisa and Padua and competently defended by a small garrison could not be quickly reduced even by the most powerful of foes.37 These examples contrast dramatically with the sack of Rome in 1527, where Charles V showed how easily a city devoid of the new fortifications could be taken. Rome was the last easy siege of consequence.
The developments just described amounted to a revolution in positional war fare although, as with the Artillery Revolution, it was preceded by an extended period of incremental development, a pattern which fits Rogers’ concept of punctuated equilibrium evolution.38 The revolution in positional warfare ended the expansion of gunpowder empires which the Artillery Revolution had sparked. It also provided an economical means of defense for European ports and factories overseas.
The revolution in positional warfare was paralleled by a revolution in tactics which I call the Combined Arms Revolution. A product of Spain’s intervention in Italy, it picked up where the infantry Revolution of the fourteenth century left off and, with regard to field artillery, where the Artillery Revolution of the fifteenth century ended. The outlines are too well known to merit detailed attention,39 but the gist of it is that the Spanish army under Gonsalvo de Cordova learned from defeat at the hands of a French army well supplied with Swiss pikemen at the Seminara River in 1495. The Spanish transformed themselves in remarkably short order from a predominately light cavalry force adapted to the arid, rolling terrain of southern Spain into a balanced force of pikemen, arquebusiers und cavalry which could take on any army in the world.40 Infantry was the key element. Gonsalvo increased the proportion of pikemen in his army and taught his infantry to maneuver in compact bodies, ready to repel cavalry or to charge home. Whether through his initiative or, more likely through initiative from below, crossbows gave way to arquebuses, which grew in size and killing power in response to Swiss and French armor. These reforms bore fruit at Cerignola in 1503 where the Spanish defeated an army much like that which had beaten them seven years earlier, though Gonsalvo’s intelligent use of the ground and field fortifications were also important factors.41 At Pavia in 1525 the concept of a balanced mix of shock and shot infantry – pikemen and arquebusiers formed into compact bodies – supported by enough cavalry to hold enemy skirmishers at bay and pursue a beaten foe was essentially in place. Tactical and administrative innovation went hand in hand in the emergence of the columna and the tercio, the first modern permanent fighting organizations of mixed arms.
When armies using Spanish methods were pitted against one another in battle, the results were frequently indecisive and invariably bloody, and in consequence most observers tended to miss the global implications of the revolution in tactics. In fact, where first‑class Western armies were involved the logical response was to avoid battle. The point was underlined by the outcome of Ceresole in 1544, where the Marqués del Vasto lost his reputation and half his army in a day.42 Far more portentous, however, was the ability of Spanish infantry to defend itself against cavalry on terrain favorable for mounted operations, a point grasped by perceptive soldiers. The contemporary French leader François La Noue noted with admiration the behavior of a Spanish force of 4,000 men under Alvaro de Saude which was compelled to retreat in the face of 18,000-20,000 Muslim cavalry during one of Charles V’s North African campaigns, probably that of 1535, Saude’s men, he reported, beat off dozens of charges, killing some 700 Muslims for the loss of only 80 men.43
Ironically, the larger implications of the Combined Arms Revolution can be seen most clearly in a battle which never occurred. After the Ottoman failure to take Vienna in 1529, Sultan Suleiman led his army west again in 1532. But Charles V and Ferdinand of Austria had assembled a large force before Vienna and Suleiman declined the gambit. Instead of following their traditional route up the Danube toward Vienna, the Turks turned west along the Drava, which led to nothing of importance, and ended the campaign with the reduction of the minor fortress of Güns.44 Suleiman’s refusal to engage the Habsburg army in 1532 marked the maturation of European methods of land warfare. Many years would pass before Ottoman imperial armies returned to the borders of Austria, and when they did it was in much less threatening fashion than in 1529.45 It was the developments which culminated in the indecisive 1532 campaign which Sir Charles Oman, writing over a century ago, termed the military revolution of the sixteenth century.46
THE SPANISH IN MEXICO AND THE ANDES, 1519‑39
The Caribbean cultures with which the Spanish first came into contact in the New World were neither technologically advanced nor particularly warlike.47 Armed with simple bows, atl atls, and stone‑tipped clubs and spears, they posed no real threat to bands of well‑armed Spaniards. The Spanish Encountered their first serious Amerindian military opposition in 1517 when a Caribbean slaving expedition under Herández de Córdova was blown off course and landed on the coast of Yucatan. Finding a civilization more advanced and richer that anything previously encountered in the New World, the Spanish reconnoitered ashore and were assailed by large numbers of warriors wearing quilted cotton armor and bearing stone‑tipped spears, bows and slings. Spanish swordplay, employed in concert with crossbow and arquebus fire, took heavy toll of the Amerindians but could not overcome the numerical odds.48 Driven back to their boats with loss, the Spaniards coasted southward and tried again in Campeche, only to be driven back again. In this second encounter, the Amerindians focused their attention on Córdova, wounding him with arrows. Some of the warriors bore two‑handed broadswords of wood edged with razor sharp flakes of flint or obsidian, the macahuitl.49 After further misadventures and a clash with Amerindians in Florida the expedition returned to Cuba.50
A second expedition went out the next year under Juan de Grijalva and achieved similar results, save that the Spaniards were better prepared and suffered fewer losses. At one point, Grijalva was able to exploit the Spanish qualitative military advantage as an entering wedge for negotiations and obtained gold artifacts in barter.51 It was a harbinger of things to come. Significantly, neither the Córdova nor the Grijalva expedition included horses. These initial encounters were preludes to the Cortés expedition of 1519.
We tend to approach the overthrow of the Aztec and Inca empires with a sense of inevitability, prompted by post‑conquest Nahua chroniclers who reported that the destruction of the Aztec empire was foretold by strange portents and gloomy prophecies.52 This perspective is essentially a historical. In fact, the Aztecs and Incas would have been overthrown by European arms sooner or later – the technological disparity was simply too great – but the success of the Cortés and Pizarro expeditions was anything but inevitable. The key question at issue is that of numerical odds. In certain instances, these were so overwhelming that victory, even in narrowly tactical terms, is difficult to explain in orthodox, military terms. A prime example is Cortés’ success in breaking out of Tenochtitlan, a city with a population reasonably estimated at no less than 100,000‑150,000,53 with a force of only 1,300 Spaniards, many of them sick and wounded, and 96 horses.54 Cortés’ 5,000‑6,000 Tlaxcalan allies no doubt played an important role in the breakout, but had no advantage over the Aztecs in weaponry or tactics.55 The Spanish and Tlaxcalans were not only badly outnumbered, they had to fight their way out of the city across unbridged causeways and down narrow streets pelted with missiles from the roofs of houses on either side. Equally remarkable was the victory a week later at Otumba of the survivors of the catastrophic retreat, 425 Spanish, of whom 23 were mounted, and 3,000‑3,500 Tlaxcalans, over an Aztec force which Cortés’ historian, Francisco López de Gómara, estimated at 200,000 strong.56 Even if Gómara exaggerated by an order of magnitude it was still a remarkable achievement. Francisco Pizarro’s success at Cajamarca in overwhelming the bodyguard of the Emperor Atahualpa, reasonably estimated at 5,000‑6,000 men, and capturing the Emperor himself with a force of only 62 mounted fighting men and 106 on foot is no less remarkable.57 So too was the defeat before Quito of an Inca army estimated at 50,000 strong by some 200 Spaniards under Sebastián de Benalcázar, 62 of them mounted, and 3,000 Cañari allies.58 Similarly, Cuzco was defended against the bulk of Manco Inca’s army for nearly a year by a force of only 190 Spaniards, eighty of them mounted.59 In light of these feats, the estimate by John Elliott that a combined Spanish force of as few as fifty infantry and cavalry could hold out against any number of Amerindians on level terrain unless overcome by sheer fatigue seems entirely reasonable.60
We must have some notion of the size the Amerindian forces to place such feats in context. Concerning the Aztecs, Spanish accounts assert that the conquistadors were hugely outnumbered except at the siege of Tenochtitlan – Gómara refers to “an infinity” of enemy dead at Otumba61 – but that is what we would expect them to say. Assuming that ten percent of the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan were physically fit males of military age, a conservative estimate, and that all were armed and fought, Cortés’ force fought its way out of the city against odds of between one and a half to one and three and a half to one. But warriors from other parts of the empire must have been present in at least equal numbers, raising the odds to between three and seven to one.
We are on firmer ground in the Andean case. The site of Cajamarca survives and John Hemming considers the estimate of the size of Atahualpa’s bodyguard given above credible based on examination of the layout and size of the town square where the pivotal ambush occurred.62 Though they lacked a written language, the Incas were numerate, and in the interval between Atahualpa’s capture and the outbreak of war, Hernando Pizarro observed the army of the Inca general Calcuchima and watched as his scribes counted it, ticking numbers off on the knots of their quipus, or counting cords.63 The Incas had two additional armies of the same approximate size in the field at the time, and it is reasonable to suppose that they had about 100,000 soldiers under arms.64 Though the numbers are uncertain, for the Spaniards received significant reinforcements and sustained significant losses during the seven years that it took to overthrow the Incas and to fight for the booty among themselves, it is unlikely that the Spaniards ever had as many as 1,500 men under arms at one time to oppose the Inca armies.
It is hardly surprising that in attempting to explain victory in the face of such odds historians at first turned to non‑military and even non‑rational explanations.65 A partial list includes the myth of returning white gods which presumably disarmed the Aztecs; terror of the unknown in the form of gunpowder weapons and horses which rendered warriors ineffective in battle; the ravages of European-introduced epidemic diseases, notably smallpox, which caused demographic collapse, shattering Amerindian faith in their gods and destroying their will to resist; and the prevalence of ritual forms of warfare revolving around the capture of prisoners among the Aztecs and their neighbors which left them tactically disarmed against the Spaniards, who fought to win.
Each of these explanations contains an element of truth, but none stands up under scrutiny. It is correct to point out that the Aztecs attached enormous religious importance to the sacrifice of captives taken in battle and that the desire to secure prisoners drove recruitment, promotion and tactics. This may have acted to the Aztecs’ detriment in the initial encounters, but by the siege of Tenochtitlan if not before they knew they were fighting a no‑holds‑barred struggle for survival. More to the point, it is evident from close comparison of the Mexican and An dean cases that the Aztecs gave the Spaniards a harder run for their money than the Incas, who fought to kill and to win. To be sure, smallpox raged in Tenochtitlan during the siege, but recent scholarship indicates that the disease was less virulent than historians have supposed and that notions of demographic catastrophe owe more to the apocalyptic visions of Franciscan friars than to eyewitness accounts.66 The defenders of Tenochtitlan continued fighting despite the epidemic and had to be rooted out, street by street and house by house, a task which taxed Spanish resources of endurance, weaponry and ingenuity. Beyond doubt, initial encounters with horses and firearms produced more than the usual quotient of fear among Amerindian warriors, but as I have said elsewhere even a cursory analysis shows that both Aztec and Inca adapted quickly and well to gunpowder and horses within the means available to them.67 Those means were terribly deficient, but both Aztec and Inca at times showed an uncanny sensitivity to Spanish vulnerabilities and never lacked the will and courage to exploit them. The returning gods story applies only to the Mexican case, is essentially unprovable one way or the other, and need not be invoked to explain Amerindian defeat.
Latin Americanists, perceiving the shortfall between tactical reality and earlier hypotheses, have correctly pointed out the importance of Amerindian allies to the conquistadors.68 Beyond doubt, neither Cortés nor Pizarro could have succeeded without the aid of numerous and well-motivated indigenous allies. But the ethnohistorians recognize that their explanation, though far more satisfying than previous hypotheses, is incomplete,69 for the Spanish acquired allies willing to fight alongside them only after they had demonstrated their overwhelming tactical superiority in the field.70 On what, then, did that superiority depend?
Sheer technological advantage was a crucial part of the answer. Probably the most important single Spanish advantage lay in the superiority of steel swords over hand‑held Amerindian, weapons. The macahuitl was a slashing weapon of awesome power, but to be effective required a time‑consuming full swing, giving an alert Spanish swordsman or mounted lancer the opportunity to deliver a quick thrust and recover. Andean stone‑headed clubs and spears were at an even greater disadvantage. Horses were essential to Spanish success, a fact reflected in the enormous value the conquistadors placed on the animals and the pains to which they went to care for them. Steel armor magnified the advantages of Spanish slashing and thrusting weapons and permitted greater aggressiveness in close combat. Except for helmets, however, the conquistadors mostly abandoned steel armor in favor of quilted protective garments of canvas or cotton in imitation of Amerindian practice and armor was not itself a major factor.
Spanish crossbows and arquebuses were superior to Amerindian missile weapons in range and lethality. Skilled Amerindian slingers could hurl stones with sufficient energy that a lucky hit could fracture a skull or snap a horse’s leg and the sling was the one indigenous weapon the conquistadors feared. On the whole, however, sling stones wounded whereas crossbow bolts and arquebus balls killed; the advantage therefore lay with the conquistadors. That having been said, the superiority of Spanish missile weapons took effect in a supporting role. Arquebuses and artillery were essential to the blockade and destruction of Tenochtitlan as were the cannon‑armed bergantines71 that Cortés caused to be built and launched on Lake Texcoco, but the Spanish could probably have overthrown the Incas without gunpowder.
But we are concerned with the sources of Spanish tactical advantage only as a means to an end, to determine how the Military Revolution influenced the outcome and vice versa. Addressing the most obvious hypothesis first, the conquistadors were clearly beneficiaries of the Combined Arms Revolution. Cortés’ and Pizarro’s men surely knew of the dramatic changes in the art of war forged by Gonsalvo de Córdova and his successors; by the time of the battle of Ravenna in 1512, Spanish infantry were fighting in balanced formations of shock and shot.72
Few of Cortés’ men and almost none of Pizarro’s were military professionals.73 They were, however, products of a society which had internalized military skills and values to a remarkable degree. Individualists to a fault, they understood the value of proper subordination and coordination in battle; factious in victory, they hung together in combat with instinctive cohesion. Though they were not organized in any formal military structure, in combat they were soldiers rather than warriors.74 An observation concerning the division of booty makes the point: the owners of horses received a larger share than footmen, but rider and owner were not necessarily one and the same.75 That the owner of a horse would yield his place in the saddle at the moment of combat to a better horseman who fought to receive a footman’s share of the booty speaks volumes for Spanish priorities and Spanish competence.
Analysis of initial Spanish‑Amerindian encounters suggests that the Military Revolution, however defined and broken down into subordinate revolutions, had deeper social and cultural roots than we have realized. On the most basic level, the terrible vulnerability of the bravest and most determined Amerindian infantry to mounted shock action shows dramatically by comparison how well European infantry had learned to cope with cavalry. Analysis of Spanish conduct in action against overwhelming odds in desperate and unanticipated circumstances yields a better appreciation of the tactical importance of shared and implicitly agreed upon standards of conduct and modes of behavior. These were an essential foundation for the Spanish techniques and tactical innovations which we associate with the Military Revolution. The point surely applies in some measure to other European beneficiaries of the Military Revolution as well. One student of European military techniques has asserted that “Europeans have shown themselves able to think and act more effectively as members of a group than those of any other civilization.”76 The statement stems less extreme in light of the conquistador’s behavior in battle than it otherwise would. We should add the remarkable ability of European fighting men to maintain cohesion in battle in the face of withering fire, with death and destruction falling around them.77 We tend to associate that ability with the reforms of Maurice of Nassau and the linear warfare of the Age of Reason, but our examination of the Spanish experience in the New World suggests that it has deeper roots.
THE PORTUGUESE IN THE INDIAN OCEAN, 1498-1517
The Portuguese effort in the east differed from that of the Spanish in the Americas in that it was government‑directed, underwritten by a sustained commitment of brain power, blood and treasure. That having been said, it is interesting to note that while Vasco da Gama’s fleet departed Lisbon well prepared to face the sea and armed enemies, Portuguese knowledge of the cultural and economic geography of the Indian Ocean was deficient. The Zamorin of Calicut’s scorn for the cheap cloth, hawks’ bells and trinkets which the Portuguese proffered as gifts makes the point. So does the comment made – in Castillian! – by a Tunisian merchant to the first Portuguese ashore in India: “May the Devil take you! What brought you here?”78 But the Portuguese recovered quickly and proved to he as good at diplomacy as they were at war, bearing in mind that their diplomacy was underwritten by successful coercion. It is fair to say that while the Portuguese could not have succeeded without important qualitative military advantages, those advantages were brought to bear with the aid of allies from the outset. The initial dealings between the Portuguese and the merchants and polities of the Malabar Coast were a reconnaissance. It was an important one in light of Portuguese ignorance. Put once the Portuguese had a grasp of local realities they responded with a well-modulated combination of negotiation and force which secured at least interim bases.
Unlike the Spanish in the Americas, the Portuguese in Asia were opposed by foes who enjoyed rough technological parity. When Vasco da Gama’s flotilla dropped anchor off Calicut in 1498, those who observed from the shore had weapons of steel, war horses and gunpowder; they also possessed ships and navigational methods capable of routine trans‑oceanic navigation. Their knowledge of the sciences – astronomy, mathematics and so on – was in no way inferior to that of the Portuguese. These factors notwithstanding, the Portuguese in a remarkably short time imposed their will on the commerce of the Indian Ocean, crushing in the process those who sought to frustrate their designs by force of arms. I will focus on two pivotal engagements, one at sea and one on land: the defeat off the Malabar Coast in the winter of 1502 by Vasco da Gama’s squadron of a combined Indian‑Arab fleet led by an official of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt fighting at the behest of the Arab merchant community and the Zamorin of Calicut, and the capture of Malacca by Alfonso de Albuquerque in 1511. In both cases, the decisive military engagement was preceded by, and in the latter case accompanied by, negotiations, skirmishes and applications of terror.
In the initial sea engagement, the Portuguese were heavily outnumbered in manpower and vessels – da Gama’s spies told him by ten to one – but employed ships which were at least equally seaworthy, more strongly built and far better armed with gunpowder ordnance.79 We know little in detail about the Portuguese ships, caravels and naos, save that they were well provided with cannon. The caravels were low‑lying, swift and exceptionally seaworthy, but were small and had limited carrying capacity The naos were larger and more capacious, stood higher in the water and were therefore harder to board, but were slower and less maneuverable. The Portuguese allocated their ordnance according to the tactical implications of these differences. Da Gama put his caravels and naos in separate squadrons so as to take advantage of the caravels’ greater speed and maneuverability without compromising formation integrity.
The Portuguese ordnance was probably mostly of wrought iron. From what we know of later developments, the largest Portuguese naval guns must have thrown stone balls of some thirty to forty pounds. These were apparently mounted on the caravels, whose upper decks were close enough to the water to confer most of the tactical advantages of a main gun deck as the term was later understood. The naos were armed with large numbers of lighter pieces in the upper works. All of the Portuguese vessels must have been well equipped with swivel‑mounted verços, antipersonnel guns firing over railings and through openings in the bulwarks. The heaviest Portuguese ordnance was reserved for use ashore. Whatever the details, the Portuguese ordnance was far more powerful and more effective than that of the Arab and Indian vessels.
While we cannot categorically rule out the possibility that some of the Portuguese vessels mounted a small number of heavier guns behind ridded Forts, the bulk of the Portuguese guns were surely light by the standards of European positional warfare, and the Muslim ordnance considerably lighter still.80 These suppositions are supported by analysis of an incident which occurred during the Muslim siege of the fortress at Cannanore in 1507 which also illustrates Portuguese skill in positional warfare and Muslim resourcefulness. The Portuguese reinforced the fortress with 24 pieces of artillery in anticipation of the siege81 and the place must have had a like number to begin with. Among them was a serpe, one of three such pieces brought from Portugal in Dom Francisco de Almeida’s fleet in 1505.82 We do not know what a serpe was, for terminology was in a period of transition and is frequently obscure, but it was clearly a large piece. Near‑contemporary Spanish usage suggests that it was a full cannon or the equivalent, that is a piece throwing a cast iron ball of 30‑50 pounds.83 The hypothesis is supported by the piece’s effect in action.
The Muslim ordnance was not heavy enough to threaten the fort’s earthen rampart and the Portuguese guns initially kept the attackers at a safe distance, unable or unwilling to rush the ditch and the palisade behind it. Then, after weeks of stalemate, the Muslims adopted the expedient of advancing behind large bales of cotton, each big enough to shelter two men. The attack was mounted at night and the Portuguese guns were ineffective against the bales, which absorbed their projectiles.84 By dawn the Muslims had established a continuous rampart of bales along the ditch behind which they mustered their guns and assault troops while filling the ditch with branches.
At this point, the Portuguese redeployed the serpe, no doubt originally mounted to defend against attack from the sea, and brought it into action with horrendous effect. Each shot filled the air with ripped bales and shattered bodies and the Muslims were driven back with heavy loss. Pieces such as the serpe were few in number and were considered exceptional with good reason. The other Portuguese guns were plainly markedly smaller, the bulk of them probably verços and the like.85
In the pivotal sea engagement the vessels of the Muslim fleet, dhows and praus, were either unable to close with da Gama’s caravels and naos for boarding or lay too low in the water for it to be feasible.86 The Indian and Arab vessels carried gunpowder weapons, but even the largest dhows, built shell‑first with flexible hulls, were too weakly constructed to mount heavy guns. The Portuguese seized the weather gauge at the start of the engagement, testimony to their ships’ sailing qualities; this enabled them to engage or disengage at will. The Portuguese squadrons apparently fought in line ahead using broadside fire to systematically devastate the more lightly constructed, heavily manned Arab and Indian craft.87 The victory was clearly decisive. Further resistance to the Portuguese at sea was either sporadic or dependent on external support.
The next serious challenge to the Portuguese came in 1508 in the form of an expeditionary force mounted from the Red Sea under Mamluk direction with Ragusan and Venetian technical assistance and based on a hard core of Mediterranean war galleys. Reinforced with a large number of local vessels provided by the Sultan of Gudjerat, the force, under Hussein Pasha, caught a Portuguese squadron at anchor in the River Chaul and attacked with overwhelming numerical superiority. The Portuguese held out for three days before being overwhelmed, eloquent testimony to the defensive power of their vessels and the effectiveness of their ordnance. Of three naos and five caravels engaged, only two caravels got away a circumstance which suggests that the critical determinant of escape was handiness under sail and that the Portuguese could defend the low-lying caravels as well as the tall naos. Whether because of a lack of direction or heavy losses and the need for repairs, Hussein’s squadron retired to Diu where it was caught in port and annihilated the following year by a Portuguese squadron under Almeida.
The capture of Malacca by an amphibious force under Alfonso de Albuquerque in 111 was in some ways even more remarkable. The city was a major commercial entrepôt, desired by the Portuguese for its rich trade and geographic location commanding the straits which served as the main conduit for trade between east and west. The city had no masonry fortifications, but its ruler, Sultan Mohammed, commanded a force of some 20,000 mercenaries supported by considerable numbers of bronze cannon – Portuguese sources say 2,000 to 3,000, most of which must have been small. Against this, Albuquerque could put seventeen or eighteen ships, including three war galleys, carrying 900 Portuguese fighting men and 200 Indian mercenaries.88 Albuquerque began his campaign with a mixture of intimidation and diplomacy anchoring his fleet in the roadstead to the sound of cannon and proclaiming the Portuguese protectors of the shipping there. The alternation of military action and negotiations which followed was complex. The Portuguese began by exploiting the diversity of the merchant community, promising better treatment to those who were resentful of the Sultan’s commercial exactions (the Chinese merchants had immediately approached Albuquerque for protection) and intimidating those who might be inclined to support him (several warehouses and Gujarati ships were burned). Albuquerque then attacked the bridge spanning the Malacca River which separated the two halves of the city by amphibious assault, briefly seized it – probably as a means of gauging Mohammed’s strength and demonstrating Portuguese strength on land to the merchant community – and then withdrew. The Portuguese returned to the bridge several days later‑ using a Chinese junk as an assault craft.
In the climactic assault, the Portuguese seized the bridge and overran the barricades which the Sultan’s forces had erected on either end, brought up artillery to enfilade the streets and began fighting their way into the town. At this point, the Sultan threw in his war elephants, leading the counterattack in person. Relying as much on pikes as on shot, the Portuguese repelled the attack throwing the elephants back in disorder. The Portuguese then held their position for a week during which growing numbers of the city’s merchants appealed to them for protection and were given flags to mark their houses to preserve them from looting. When the Portuguese renewed their attack, the Sultan had fled and the city was subjected to an orderly sack. Albuquerque followed up his victory by ordering a proper European‑style fortress constructed.89
Military success in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds is a common theme in the Iberian conquests, no less in the Portuguese than the Spanish case. While the numerical odds confronted by Da Gama, Cabral, Almeida and Albuquerque may have been less than those faced by Cortés and Pizarro, the disparity was still overwhelming and the technological advantage considerably less. As in the Amerindian case, historians have correctly pointed to the key role played by local allies in Portuguese victories, but attempts to explain the tactical superiority on which those alliances were based have been unconvincing. It is tempting to turn to psychological factors: shock of the unknown in the form of gunpowder and horses in the American case and Portuguese fortitude and ferocity developed in the intolerant crucible of religious war with the Moors in the case at hand. In the words of historian George Winius, “Only their brutality, learned in Morocco, and their reckless disregard for personal injury can account for their regular‑and baffling‑successes”90 To be fair to Winius, he is saying much the same thing as does Parker in emphasizing the relative lethality of European styles of warfare in comparison to Asian forms based on the use of slave soldiers.91
In truth, the Portuguese did make calculated use of what we would today consider atrocities to instill fear in their enemies; Vasco da Gama’s capture and mutilation of Arab merchants on his first voyage, burning them alive and sending their severed ears and noses ashore with the tide, is the classic example. But the idea that they were uniquely ferocious by the standards of the day is suspect, The Spaniards used atrocities in Mexico and Peru and the Amerindians replied in kind. Indeed, in the Mexican case the conquistadors must have been hard pressed to rise to Aztec levels of frightfulness: ceremonially extracting a prisoner of war’s living heart and eating it in view of his comrades, then tumbling his body down a temple staircase to be eaten sets a high standard even by modern norms. A veteran of the conquest of Peru explicitly compared the relative horrors of fighting Andeans and Muslims to the detriment of the latter: “I can bear witness,” he wrote, “that this is the most dreadful and cruel war in the world. For between Christians and Moors there is some well‑feeling, and it is in the interests of both sides to spare those they take alive because of their ransoms. But in this Indian war there is no such feeling on either side. They give each other the cruelest deaths they can imagine.”92 During the 1536‑37 siege of Cuzco, Hernando Pizarro, noting the importance of women employed for porterage, food preparation and other logistically essential tasks, ordered all captured Indian women killed. He also ordered the right hands of several hundred captured male non‑combatants cut off, then released them to spread fear and demoralization.93 Nor were the Ottomans loath to indulge in demonstrative terror on occasion: the fate of Antonio Bragadino, the Venetian commander of Famagusta in 1570-71, who was flayed alive and his straw‑stuffed skin paraded as a trophy, is a case in point.
Military analysis suggests that the Portuguese success in the pivotal early encounters sprung from a number of factors, none of which took effect or can be properly understood in isolation. The crucial factor was a decisive superiority in the technology of warfare afloat, notably ships capable of mounting effective gunpowder ordnance and sufficiently maneuverable to bring it to bear. Next in importance, though inseparable from the first factor, was the clear superiority of Portuguese ordnance. This encompasses not only the technical superiority of the guns and their greater numbers but also skill in employment. But none of these factors, essential as they were, would have counted for much had the Portuguese not had a clear vision of who they were and what they were about. They were notoriously fractious in victory and prone to pursue personal vendettas; but they worshipped the same God, obeyed the same monarch and stuck together in the face of adversity with impressive cohesion and solidity. That fixedness of purpose expressed itself not only in tactical cohesion, but in strategic design. The dispatch of an expeditionary force which, in 1541‑43, saved the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia from an expansive Muslim enemy which was using acquired Ottoman gunpowder technology is perhaps the most dramatic case in point but hardly the only one.
Portuguese steadfastness of purpose and cohesion had an essential counterpart in intellectual flexibility and diplomatic skill, for da Gama, Cabral and Almeida secured their ports and the logistical wherewithal to engage their enemies as much by negotiation as by force. Finally, though we are prone to forget it, the Portuguese were thoroughly competent in positional and held operations on land though, to return to the previous two points, their numbers were so small that they could engage in field operations only with the support of local allies.
HABSBURG CONTAINMENT OF THE OTTOMANS IN THE BALKANS, 1529-1606
Not having participated in the Combined Arms Revolution, Ottoman held armies fought at a potentially enormous disadvantage against their Western foes from the 1530s on. Moreover, the Turks did not adopt the trace italienne but remained attached to traditional notions of fortification. Logically, then, the Habsburgs should not only have contained the Turks, but rolled them back. In fact, the Ottomans clung tenaciously to their conquests and achieved a victory of sorts in the Long War of 1593‑1606. They began to lose large chunks of territory irrevocably only with the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, timing which supports Jeremy Black’s arguments for a later Military Revolution than that on which I have focused here.
Ottoman tenacity was aided by the strategic problems of their enemies to the west. Charles V’s distractions with German Protestantism, of which the Schmalkald War Of 1545‑46 is the most prominent example, gave the Turk a measure of relief. So did Charles’ wars with France, and his abdication in 1558 reinforced the westward shift in Habsburg concerns. Whatever assistance the Spanish Habsburgs might have given their Austrian brethren was almost entirely diverted by the demands of the Revolt of the Netherlands and the struggle to contain the Turk in the Mediterranean. That the Austrian Habsburgs accepted the partition of Hungary in 1568 and remained nominally at peace with the Ottomans until 1593 amounted to implicit recognition of changed priorities. Ironically, Suleiman’s more or less simultaneous military engagement with the Persians which continued until the Treaty of Amasia in 15,5 further reinforced the westward drift in Habsburg concerns by reducing the threat to Austria. These considerations, however, while of great underlying importance, do not explain the relative success of Ottoman arms.
In principle, a Western army should have been able to crush an Ottoman army in the field with major strategic gains ensuing, yet this did not happen until the relief of Vienna in 1683; Montecuccoli’s victory of St. Gotthard in 1664 led only to a truce in place. In principle the Turks were at a disadvantage in positional war fare, but this took effect mostly on the defense, as at Güns in 1532 where a small fortress with a garrison of 700 men withstood the Ottoman imperial army for twenty days.94 The reasons for Ottoman operational and tactical success were many, complex and interconnected. First, the Ottomans were favored by geography. The Danube and its major tributaries served as logistical highways, facilitating the movement of provender, materiel and manpower from base areas served by the Black Sea to campaign areas in the west. Each tributary served a discrete theater of operations: the Danube itself, central Hungary; the Thiess, Transylvania; the Maros, Moldavia; the Drava, Croatia; the Sava, Bosnia; and so on; yet all led back to the same source, convenient to Ottoman sources of supply.95 This gave the Turks enormous operational flexibility, the more so as, in contrast to the Spanish Road which connected Flanders with Habsburg base areas in Italy and the Mediterranean, their military roads along the rivers traversed areas under their political control.96 The advantages of access which the Danube system conferred were magnified by the richness of the Ottoman‑controlled Hungarian plain, which provided a nearby source of livestock and grain. Of more fundamental importance, the Ottomans had an elaborate and remarkably efficient system of irregular taxes in kind to support their forces in the field.97 Without going into detail, this system provided foodstuffs, other provisions, and the services of bakers, butchers, armorers, tailors, and so on, by means of a decentralized and largely self‑sustaining bureaucracy,98 and cavalrymen who supported themselves from the agricultural proceeds of their timar land grants were numerically the most important component of Ottoman field armies. The thrust of the system was to minimize cash payments from the center, an important consideration since the Ottomans lacked mechanisms of credit transfer and had to pay their troops with physical shipments of coinage.99 In sharp contrast to contemporary Western practice, the Ottomans took care to minimize the adverse impact of the passage of armies on the peasantry in regions under their control, thus enhancing the long term viability of their system. They compensated for their lack of sophistication in fortress design with earthworks, active defenses and the profligate use of manpower. Fortress garrisons in times of peace increasingly supported themselves as tradesmen.100
The Habsburgs were not only less careful than the Ottomans to protect the peasantry on which their logistics depended, they lacked prosperous agricultural areas near the theater of operations and had much less political and fiscal control over their logistic base. Campaigns were fought in frontier areas which had been denuded of provender by irregular Ottoman ghazi horse based in frontier fortresses and advancing Habsburg forces had to stay close to major rivers to remain in supply. The result was a war of siege and counter‑siege in which Ottoman numbers and logistical advantage were pitted against Austrian technique. Ottoman fortress architecture may not have been up to Western standards, but Ottoman soldiers were skilled in the minor tactics of positional warfare and the availability of water transport compensated for the unwieldiness of Ottoman siege guns.101 Only rarely could sieges be maintained though the winter and under the circumstances the Ottoman field army could generally avoid battle. The only major field engagement of the Long War, Kerestres in 1596, was an Ottoman victory fought far from Habsburg bases, circumstances which suggest just how reluctant Ottoman commanders in the field must have been to commit their forces to battle.102
The revolution in positional warfare and the Combined Arms Revolution played a major role in halting Turkish expansion in the Balkans. The Ottomans, however, retained advantages derived from geography and the excellence of their logistical organization which were enough to induce stalemate. Western expansion at Ottoman expense had to await later developments: the flintlock musket, the socket bayonet, the perfection of linear tactics and the increased size of armies around the turn of the eighteenth century
THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1510‑CIRCA 1580
The first serious clashes between the beneficiaries of the Military Revolution and their Turkish foes in the Mediterranean were preceded by nearly a century of Spanish and Portuguese expansion along the North African Muslim coast and by a parallel process of Ottoman expansion in the Aegean. The Portuguese seizure of Ceuta in 1415 is generally taken as the starting point of Iberian expansion in the west; Ottoman expansion by sea in the Mediterranean began with the construction of the fleet which supported Mehmet II’s attack on Constantinople in 1453.
The Portuguese and Spanish expanded into North Africa in the early 1400s at the expense of local Muslim dynasties which were unable to defend their cities against well‑financed Iberian armies with their disciplined, salaried infantry and gunpowder artillery, paralleling the final stages of the Reconquista in Spain.103 The inland topography, however, favored the lightly armed, highly mobile cavalry of the nomadic tribes of the Rif and Atlas and, as Andrew Hess has aptly put it, the terrain gobbled up armies.104 In consequence, the Iberians, taking advantage of their superior ship and siege technology, established themselves in outpost cities along the coast, a clear antecedent for later developments in the Indian Ocean. The challenge to the Iberians came not by land but by sea and was a logical consequence of the integration of gunpowder technology into the Mediterranean sys tem of maritime commerce and warfare. One of the early results of that integration was to convert the formerly marginal North African corsairs, who quickly mastered the new technology, into standard‑bearers of Islam. The first clash of consequence was an attempt in 1510 by the Barbarossa brothers, Oruç and Hayreddin, to drive the Spanish from a newly‑installed fortress blocking the port of the Muslim city of Bougie. The Muslims breached the wall with siege guns brought in by galley, but the ensuing assault was driven back with loss and the Barbarossas had to withdraw.105 Though a Muslim failure, the action was a harbinger of things to come, for as the Iberians were expanding at the expense of weak sultanates in the west, the Ottomans were learning from their Venetian enemies in the east. The first clear indication that the Ottomans had mastered the use of gunpowder ordnance at sea as well as on land came in the Battle of Zonchio in 1499, where massive stone cannonballs inflicted heavy damage on some Venetian ships and induced others to withdraw.106 This permitted the Turkish fleet to proceed with its cargo of siege guns, sappers and materiel to its objective, the Venetian fortress of Lepanto. The Venetian garrison surrendered on sighting the Turkish fleet.107
In the event, these initial clashes in the Mediterranean marked not the onset of new conquests, but the beginning of a new strategic balance. I have already noted the role of the trace italienne fortress in slowing Ottoman expansion; their pivotal repulse from Corfu in 1537 was symptomatic. The power of the new fortifications, however, was only part of the process. By the 1520s or 1530s, the Ottomans and their North African client states were as well adapted to the Mediterranean system of maritime commerce and warfare as were their Christian foes. That system, revolving around the symbiotic relationship between fortified port cities and squadrons of war galleys, was a highly efficient means of exploiting the available human and economic resources. It possessed, however, inherent characteristics which accommodated technological change in such a way as to produce strategic stasis. As late as the 1550s and ‑60s, fleets and squadrons of war galleys were a viable strategic means of projecting military power over long distances, and the Ottomans possessed important logistical advantages by virtue of their superior system of resource mobilization. The Ottomans also enjoyed the geographic advantage conferred by control of the northern coasts of the eastern Mediterranean,108 an advantage magnified on occasion by French cooperation, as in 1543-44 when the Ottoman fleet wintered in Toulon. But from the 1550s, as I have written elsewhere, the accumulated weight of gunpowder ordnance which a war galley had to carry to he tactically viable combined with a geometric increase in the number of oarsmen needed to provide the dash speed under oars essential for survival in combat to sharply reduce the amount of water and provisions per man which a galley could carry.109 The result was a progressive decline in the radius of action of galley fleets, accompanied by a sharp increase in operating costs accelerated by inflation.110
The unsuccessful siege of Malta in 1565 was the high‑water mark of Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean. Disastrous losses of experienced soldiers and seamen al Lepanto in 1571 followed. That the Ottomans were able to field a galley fleet in 1572 almost as large as the one they had lost the previous year was not a harbinger of Turkish resurgence at sea, for the human loss sustained at Lepanto could never be made good.111 It was, however, clear evidence of the impressive Ottoman ability to mobilize the resources needed to conduct galley warfare. The strategic relevance of that ability, however, was undermined by the declining strategic reach of galley fleets. The Turks and their Mediterranean enemies alike were overcome in the long run by progressive improvements in the commercial and military capabilities of North Atlantic sailing ships. Andrew Hess’ argument that the Turks won the Mediterranean Wars, which ended in 1580 with a Habsburg-Ottoman truce in the wake of decisive Portuguese defeat at Al’cazar in 1578, is compelling.112 Certainly, there can be no doubt concerning the decisiveness of Al’cazar, for the death of the Portuguese king there led to the absorption of Portugal by Habsburg Spain and the re‑direction of Iberian efforts elsewhere, with momentous long‑term consequences.
But Al’cazar also marked the beginning of the end for a dying system, for the Mediterranean was facing structural change imposed from without. This came in the 1580s in the form of broadside‑armed northern sailing vessels which began to enter the Mediterranean in sufficient numbers to cause major distress to the nations whose commerce they displaced and on whose merchant ships they preyed. It was not a simple matter of northern broadside sailing ships rendering the war galley obsolete and driving their Mediterranean competitors from the seas,113 for war galleys retained considerable military importance through the end of the seventeenth century. Moreover, certain of the Mediterranean states, notably Venice and the North African corsair principalities, showed considerable facility in the design and operation of sailing ships. In the final analysis Mediterranean power at sea was done in by exhaustion of timber reserves and a lack of economic strength and not by a lack of technological adaptability. If there is a useful hypothesis to be distilled from this, it is that the Ottomans adapted all too well to the Mediterranean system and in so doing irreversibly constrained their long‑term options. They were not the only ones to do so. The last enduring Ottoman conquest, of Crete in 1645‑1669, was won from Venice – which was following the same trajectory.
A number of common themes emerge from the above analysis. Perhaps most basic of these is the powerful influence of geography in shaping the development of institutions and technologies and influencing strategic and operational outcomes. Examples include the geographic peculiarities which fostered the development of an effective and highly specialized Mediterranean system of commerce and warfare al sea which, however, possessed inherent limitations which doomed it over the long run; the importance of Iberia’s location in fostering the fusion of Mediterranean and North Atlantic methods of shipbuilding and navigation; and the logistical advantages to the Ottomans of the Danube river system. On a more superficial level, the ability of Spanish fighting men to deal effectively with strange and unexpected terrain, climates and comestibles in Mexico and the Andes provides a commentary on their logistical competence we would not otherwise have.
The second theme is the importance of social structures in fostering or inhibiting military innovation. If, as I have argued elsewhere, the causes of war are deeply imbedded in the social fabric.114 the causes of victory are no less so. At first blush, this observation seems a statement of the obvious. But if the case studies have produced more questions than answers in this area, they have given that statement additional depth. We cannot say why, but it is evident from our examination of the Spanish in Italy, Mexico, and the Andes, and the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, that the Christian societies of Iberia produced combatants with truly unusual capacities for technical and tactical innovation and for adaptability cohesion and initiative in combat. Similarly, our examination of Ottoman military operations during their period of supposed decline points to a powerful underlying resilience and solidarity in their military institutions that few nonspecialists, at least, would have suspected. From the eve of the capture of Constantinople until their failure before Vienna in 1529, the Ottomans were highly receptive to military innovation, but then seem to have lost that capacity. The reasons for that failure are problematic, but, as with the reasons for Western success, were surely woven deeply into the social fabric.
The case studies highlight the importance of tactical and technological innovation, but in ways which emphasize the role of broad societal factors in fostering and adopting innovation. Why did it take root where it did and not elsewhere? The obvious hypothesis is the stimulus of defeat, a hypothesis given additional weight by the surprising capacity for tactical adjustment shown by Amerindians in fighting the conquistadors. That hypothesis fits English tactical innovations at the beginning of the Hundred Years War and the French development of siege artillery at its end; it clearly applies to the development of the trace italienne fortress and to Spanish developments in battlefield tactics in the Wars Of Italy. But the Iberian Muslims showed neither tactical nor technological innovation in resisting their Christian neighbors; nor, initially, did their North African co‑religionists. Indeed, the latter had to be shown the use of heavy ordnance by the Turks. I could go on, but these observations return us to the importance of the shaping role of the social fabric.
Finally, my analysis highlights the role of chance in shaping the Military Revolution. At any number of pivotal junctures the course of the Military Revolution was changed, in some cases dramatically so, by the decision of an individual or small group, by an unanticipated event, or by the outcome of a battle. I would argue that the outcomes in question were by no means pre‑ordained and might have been very different. Consideration of “What ifs?” is fascinating and addresses my own objection that my schema is structured by knowledge of the outcome. But we need not consider only the “What ifs?” to make the point. The decisions by Charles VII of France and Sultan Mehmed II to commit resources to the development, construction and use of heavy siege guns heavily influenced the course of the Military Revolution. Charles VIII’s decision to invade Italy and Ferdinand of Aragon’s decision to intervene in response may have had inconclusive strategic results, but their impact on the Military Revolution was enormous. Indeed, if we were to pick a single motivating impulse which set the course of the Military Revolution during the period with which we are concerned here, it would be that which emerged from those two related decisions. But that invasion might have come a decade earlier, and from the southeast rather than the northwest. To be more precise, it did come, but was not sustained. In 1480 Mehmed II threw an invasion force into Apulia and seized the nominally Byzantine city of Otranto. Mehmed died unexpectedly the following year and in the turmoil of the succession struggle the garrison was abandoned and forced to surrender. The throne fell to Bayezid II, who was forced to adopt a non‑aggressive policy in the Mediterranean until the death in 1495 of his brother Gem, who had fled to the west after being defeated.115 Without going into the laws and customs governing the Ottoman succession, this outcome appeared to be among the least likely. In almost any other scenario, the Turks would have maintained themselves in strength at Otranto and moved to expand their foothold, though how aggressively we can only guess. The first serious encounters of Spanish armies beyond Iberia would thus have been with the Turk rather than the French and Swiss, and Italian engineers would have had to adjust their fortress designs to Turkish rather than French methods. I leave consideration of likely outcomes to the reader, but with the reminder that the Imperial troops who faced down Suleiman I’s army before Vienna in 1532 did so on the basis of lessons which Gonsalvo de Córdova and his men had distilled from hard experience fighting the French and Swiss.
1 (Cambridge, 1988).
2 Parker, Military Revolution, 5.
3 “The Military Revolutions of the Hundred Years’ War” The Journal of Military History Vol. 57, No. 2 (April 1993), 241-278; reprinted with revisions above, chapter 3.
4 This approach was suggested to me by Theodore K. Rabb.
5 Andrew C. Hess, “The Ottoman Conquest of Egypt and the Beginning of the Sixteenth‑Century World War” International Journal of Middle East Studies Vol. 4 (1973), 62.
6 The Safavid alignment with the Shii sect of Islam, which enjoyed widespread support in eastern Anatolia, posed a serious internal threat to the Ottomans with which Selim I, The Grim, dealt in draconian fashion following his accession in 1512, Hess, “Ottoman Conquest” 67. The parallel with Charles V’s later problems with German Protestantism is inescapable.
7 The link between territorial acquisitions in the west and the health or the empire was timar, a system of land allocation, taxation, local rule and military manpower mobilization which was a central pillar of the Ottoman state. Timar was based on the award of non‑hereditary, feudatory land grants which gave the holder the right to collect agricultural taxes, normally in return for military service as an armored horse archer. Timar thus provided a decentralized, self supporting source of fighting manpower. In addition, timar holders performed important local governmental functions. The Ottomans, however, were perpetually short of cash and timar holdings were diverted to support administrative office holders, ladies of the harem and so on, particularly when the acquisition of booty from conquests began to fall off A steady influx of new land was therefore necessary to sustain the numbers of timariot cavalry, who were numerically the most important element in imperial field armies. By 1529, potential timar lands in Anatolia, Syria and Egypt had long since been apportioned, and in the east the seizure of conquered lands from Muslim owners posed legal problems. The continued acquisition of Christian lands in the west was therefore necessary for the continuing health of the state. For a concise explanation of timar, Norman Itzkowitz, Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition (New York, 1972), 40‑49; for the connection between the decay of the timar system and military decline, John F Guilmartin, Ir., “Ideology and Conflict: the Wars of the Ottoman Empire, 1453‑1606” The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars, Robert I. Rotberg and Theodore K. Rabb, eds. (Cambridge, 1989), 159‑60. Ottoman gains at the expense of Venice, 1537‑40 and 1570‑71, and the seizure of Chios from Genoa in 1566 yielded military and economic advantages but little land.
8 The distances speak for themselves; for the wind and current patterns which made communications in the Caribbean difficult, Paul E. Hoffman, The Spanish Crown and Defense of the Caribbean, 1535‑1585 (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1980), 5‑8. The Portuguese also faced enormous distances, but the extent of Spain’s conquests on land was without precedent.
9 Charles W. C. Oman, The Art of War In the XVIth Century (London, 1937), 3.
10 Norman Itzkowitz introduced me to this argument in his Ottoman history seminars at Princeton University, 1967‑68. Halil Inalcik states that “the center of gravity of the [Ottoman] state moved to Rumelia” that is from Asia Minor to Europe, when Edirne became the “main capital” of the divided empire after Tamerlane’s capture of Bayezid I at Ankara in 1402, “The Rise of the Ottoman Empire” The Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. I, P. M. Holt, Ann K. S. Lambton and Bernard Lewis eds. (Cambridge, 1970). 278-79. After defeating his rival princes and reuniting the empire in 1413, Murad I made Edirne his seat of government.
11 When western Europeans became aware of a significant and permanent diminution of the Ottoman threat is unclear, and I know of no systematic study of the question. German Protestants invoked the Turkish threat to good advantage in their negotiations with the Emperor long after Suleiman I’s repulse from Vienna. Stephen A. Fischer‑Galati, Ottoman imperialism and German Protestantism 1521‑1555 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1959).
12 Rogers, “Military Revolutions” 243‑44; above, p. 56. I have used the term Infantry Revolution to describe the development of infantry in Europe. 1200‑1500, “War, Technology of” Encyclopedia Britannica (1991), 539, too long a period to be described as a revolution in the usual sense, as noted by Roger, “Military Revolutions” 244 (above, p. 79), n. 12. Here I have adopted Rogers’ concept of a more tightly defined revolution beginning with the Battle of Courtrai, 1302, but place more emphasis on the Swiss.
13 Delbrück, Medieval Warfare, 588, notes that the Swiss undoubtedly marched to the cadence of a drum, but cautions that their notion of marching may have been quite different from modem ideas. Current orthodoxy holds that marching in step was abandoned in classical times and re‑introduced by Maurice of Nassau from about 1590. There is, how ever, iconographic evidence to the contrary: “Army on the March” a woodcut by the Housebook Master, probably dating from the late 1470s, reproduced in John R. Hale, Artists and Warfare in the Renaissance (New Haven, 1990), 8, shows six units of infantry, the first of which, though not in ordered ranks, is clearly marching in step to fife and drum while the rest are not (I disagree with Hale’s interpretation that all are “strolling”). The 1529 painting The Battle of Issus by Albrecht Altdorfer in the Alte Pinakotheck, Munich, shows a column of Landsknechts with pikes shouldered running in perfect step. The 1533 Melchior Feselen battle piece The Siege of Alesia, also in the Alte Pinakotheck, depicts formations of Landsknechts in less detail, but in ways which clearly suggest marching in step. Turning to tactical evidence, from Sempach in 1786 until Ceresole in 1544 the Swiss had no equals in dismounted shock action. A telling datum is that among late medieval and early modern specialists in pike combat, only the Swiss could successfully disengage from a lost battle, Steven Stein, “Pike vs. Pike: An Analysis of the Battles Between the Swiss and Landsknechts” unpublished Ohio State University term paper, History 625.01, Professor Guilmartin, Spring 1993. There was something very different about the Swiss, and before others began to imitate them the only likely candidate is marching in step. For the positive effect of close order drill on unit cohesion and battlefield discipline, William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force and Society since A.D 1000 (Chicago, 1982), 132-35, esp. 132 n. 12.
14 This is a brutal abridgment of some three quarters of a century of interrelated developments in which the Swiss transformed themselves from predominantly halberd-wielding infantry which required advantages of terrain and surprise to defeat armored chivalry to units armed predominately with the pike which could maneuver with confidence in the open field and run down any force in their path. For the rise of the Swiss, Delbrück, Medieval Warfare, 545‑597. and Oman, Middle Ages, 233-280.
15 Oman, Middle Ages, 148‑5; interestingly, the infantry in question were archers who fought in the center of the Ottoman array from behind a barrier of sharpened wooden stakes, much in the manner of contemporary English longbowmen.
16 Oman, XVIth Century, 356.
17 Björn Landström, The Ship: An Illustrated History (Garden City, New York, 1961), 78, terms this “the great revolution of the three masted ship.” Though some details have been superseded by archaeological findings, The Ship, 78-99, gives a useful summation. Roger C. Smith, Vanguard of Empire: Ships of Exploration in the Age of Columbus (Oxford, 1993), is an exhaustive account of the final stages of the process from an Iberian perspective.
18 The principal problem lay in the way in which cartographers handled variation, the angular difference between true and magnetic north. Cartographers at first compensated for the difference by distorting shapes and bearings on their charts so that navigation could proceed on the assumption that true and magnetic north were the same. On a local, Mediterranean, scale, this war workable: there are no tides in the Mediterranean and most long range navigation was conducted between mid‑March and mid‑October when high seas and strong winds were rare. In contrast to Europe’s Atlantic coasts, the bottom dropped off sharply in most areas, permitting safe navigation close to shore, and sheltered anchorages and beaches where ships could be dragged ashore were common. Under such conditions, the mariner could make landfall without knowing his precise location and determine his position from the contour of the coastline on his chart. then proceed on to his destination.
19 The chronology has not been established with precision, but it is clear that the Portuguese led the way and the Spanish were not far behind; T. H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (New York, 1964), 113‑14. By the time of Columbus’ first voyage, skilled Iberian navigators clearly understood variation, the difference between true and magnetic north, and had a growing appreciation of deviation, the difference between local and true magnetic north.
20 The date is an educated guess; see John F. Guilmartin, Jr., “The Early Provision of Artillery Armament on Mediterranean War Galleys” The Mariner’s Mirror, Vol. 59, No. 3 (August 1973), 259‑60: in 1481 the Real (Royal Galley) of Alfonso the Magnanimous of Aragon mounted ‘two bombards” by implication relatively large guns. Note, however, that in nautical usage “bombard” might designate a relatively small piece: Smith, Vanguard of Empire, 153 and 156‑61, citing early sixteenth century references to caravels mounting as many as ten lombardas and of a bombarda used to arm a ship’s boat. Kelly R. DeVries, “A 1445 Reference to Shipboard Artillery” Technology and Culture, Vol. it, No. 4 (October 1990), 818‑29, explicates the ordnance inventory of a Burgundian war galley which contains the earliest unequivocal references to shipboard artillery of known types of which I am aware, but the largest pieces are small breech loaders only four feet long which probably threw a stone ball of about three pounds.
21 The invention of the water‑tight gunport is traditionally attributed to a French shipwright from Brest, one Descharges, Frank Howard, Sailing Ships of War, 1400‑1860 (New York, 1979), 53, and, for a useful discussion of the earliest naval gun carriages, 38-39.
22 The earliest example for which a strong case can be made is Henry VIII’s warship Mary Rose, laid down in 1509, Margaret Rule, The Mary Rose: The Excavation and Raising of Henry VIII’s Flagship (London, 1982), 152, though ships were no doubt fitted, or retrofitted, with small numbers of gunports earlier than this.
23 Howard, Sailing Ships, 45-46; the key datum is the 1546 Anthony Anthony Roll, depicting the King’s ships in that year.
24 Rogers, “Military Revolutions,” 28 (above, p. 64).
25 Christopher Duffy, Siege Warfare: the Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660 (London, 1979), 2.
26 Rogers, “Military Revolutions” 264-272 (above, pp. 66-73). This is not to say that cannon were never used to bring down walls before 1420 or that cannon balls were never lofted over them thereafter; but, to cite the most prominent and probably most important example, the systematic use of battery to reduce English fortresses in the final stages of the Hundred Years War clearly war unprecedented in scope and pace.
27 Just how long that was is a matter of debate; suffice it to say that Rogers “Military Revolution” 267‑68 (above, p. 68), is correct in stating that barrels with bores 1 to 1.5 times their diameter were too short and that very large guns with bores three times their diameter were long enough. The question revolves around the internal ballistics of black powder, which differ fundamentally from those of modern propellants and remain incompletely understood, see John F. Guilmartin, Jr., “Ballistics in the Black Powder Era” British Naval Armaments, Royal Armouries Conference Proceedings I, Robert D. Smith, ed. (London, 1989), 73‑98.
28 For the definitive examination and technical analysis of surviving large bombards, Robert D. Smith and Ruth Rhynas Brown. Bombards: Mons Meg und her Sisters, Royal Armouries Monograph 1 (London: Trustees of the Royal Armouries, 1989).
29 The amount of propulsive energy in a given mass of gunpowder was the same whether or not the powder was corned, that is formed into grains, but the ballistic proper ties of corned powder differed dramatically from those of earlier serpentine powder in which the ingredients were ground to a fine powder and mixed dry, Guilmartin, Ballistics” 76.
30 Guns de cupro – presumably bronze – are recorded in European inventories from the mid‑fourteenth century, but these were very small pieces. The thesis that wrought iron hooped bombards sparked the revolution with which we are concerned here is supported by the fact that the earliest heavy bronze pieces of modern proportions were cast with narrow raised hoops and reinforcing rings in obvious imitation of wrought iron construction. The hoops and rings of a wrought iron gun of composite construction, heated and shrunk into place to internally stress the barrel, were structurally essential. The equivalent rings an a monolithic bronze barrel added nothing to strength of the piece.
31 Oman, XVIth Century, 49: Duffy, Siege Warfare, 8. Oman, XVIth Century, 49: Duffy, Siege Warfare, 8.
32 Duffy, Siege Warfare, 8‑9.
33 Although the difference was less than one might expect from the enormous disparity in projectile size. Impact energy, and therefore destructive effect, is a function of kinetic energy which increases with the square of the velocity, from Ke=½mv². Muzzle velocities higher than 250 m/sec are unlikely for the monster bombards and we know that the last muzzle‑loading smoothbore cannon in British naval service obtained muzzle velocities of 488 m/sec (1600 ft/sec) from powder which was essentially the same as that used by Charles’ gunners, Guilmartin, “Ballistics,” 93. Mons Meg, the enormous bombard on display in Edinburgh, threw a stone ball weighing about 150 kg, Smith and Brown, Bombards, 49. Given the above velocities, Mons Meg would have imparted only twice as much energy to its projectile as would one of Charles’ guns throwing a 20 kg ball and would have surpassed one firing a 12 kg ball by a factor of only 3.3:1 Reducing the velocity of the later guns to 425 m/sec would change the ratios to 2.6:1 and 4:1 respectively. These figures represent energy at the muzzle, and the cast iron balls would have lost less velocity to aerodynamic drag en route to the target than less dense projectiles of stone.
34 Frederick Lewis Taylor, The Art of War in Italy, 1494-1529 (Cambridge, 1981), 83‑89; quoting Guicciardini and Jovius Giovio, Istoria del Suo Tempo (Venice, 1581), states flatly that “in 1494 the Italians saw gun carriages for the first time;” see also Oman, XVIth Century, 49, and Duffy, Siege Warfare, 8.
35 In comparison with other iron-throwing guns. The barrels of stone‑throwing guns weighed a half to a third less than those firing an iron ball of the same weight, but stone balls were far more expensive. In addition, the external diameters of the barrels of stone-throwing guns were two to three limes larger, requiring heavier and more cumbersome carriages.
36 Duffy, Siege Warfare, 8‑9. Hitherto, artillery in Italy had been pulled by hired teams contracted for the occasion and heavy guns were customarily drawn by oxen.
37 Duffy, Siege Warfare, 15‑16. 192. For the Italian system of permanent fortifications, ibid., 25-34. Duffy’s analytical accounts of the sieges of Pisa and Padua, 15‑16, are particularly valuable. Italian engineers had experimented with all the essential elements of the trace italienne fortress before 1494, but did not apply them systematically and in combination until Charles’ guns forced the issue. Note that the trace italienne and sunken profile were at first not necessarily applied in combination. The fortress of Nettuno, built in 1501, was the first fortification designed from the outset with a complete trace italienne, but had high walls and a decidedly medieval profile, Horst de la Croix, Military Considerations in City Planning: Fortifications (New York, 1972), 44‑45, figs 62, 63.
38 Rogers, “Military Revolutions” 277 (above, p. 77).
39 Oman, XVIth Century, 51‑62 is the Basic text.
40 The army with which Gonsalvo landed in Calabria in 1495 was composed of 500 jinetes, javelin‑armed light cavalry; 100 men‑at‑arms; and 1,500 infantry, of whom “the majority” were Aragonese sword‑and‑buckler men, Oman, XVIth Century 52.
41 The Spanish use of terrain and held fortifications was so competent as to obscure the growing power of their tactical formations. Spanish infantry might have been able to stand up to a Swiss charge on level ground – if so they would have been the only ones who could – but we will never know: they were too smart to try!
42 A point which the Duke of Alba grasped more clearly than other generals of his day, William S. Maltby, Alba: A Biography of Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, Third Duke of Alba, 1507-1582 (Berkeley, 1983), 55‑6.
43 Cited by Oman, XVIth Century, 44.
44 Oman, XVIth Century, 678‑81, esp. 681 and 765 where the imperial tactical dispositions before Vienna are described. Güns is roughly halfway between the Drava and Vienna and it might appear from a superficial look at the map that Suleiman was driving on Vienna from the south, but considerations of terrain, time, logistics and space made this impossible in a single season.
45 Duffy, Siege Warfare, 201; the Ottomans campaigned to the west with limited objectives in 1540 and 1566, Suleiman dying in the held during the latter campaign. in 168, the Ottomans and Habsburgs concluded a peace treaty which lasted until 1593.
46 Charles W. C. Oman, The Art of War in the Middle Ages A. D. 378‑1515, rev. and ed. by John Beeler (Ithaca, New York, Ig53; first ed., Oxford, 1885), 162.
47 These were the Tainos. Generally pacific, their level of technology was roughly Neolithic. The neighboring Caribs were warlike, but were no more advanced technologically. See Irving Rouse, The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus (New Haven, Connecticut, 1992), 17, 18-19, 22‑23.
48 Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517‑1521, A. P Maudslay, tr. (New York, 1956), 7‑9; Diaz was an eyewitness.
49 Diaz, Conquest, 11‑18. Diaz, Conquest, 11‑18.
50 Diaz, Conquest, 14‑16; interestingly, Diaz described the warriors as “very big men,” suggesting that they benefited from a diet richer in protein than the Maya and Mexican warriors who were his standard for comparison.
51 Diaz, Conquest, 19‑28.
52 Miguel Leon‑Portilla, ed., The Broken Spears: the Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, Angel Maria Garibay K. and Lysander Kemp, tr. (Boston, 1962), 3‑12.
53 Charles E. Sharpe, To Shake the Foundations of Heaven: A Military Analysis of the Spanish Overthrow of the Mexia‑Aztec Empire, unpublished MA thesis (The Ohio State University, 1992). The size of the population of pre‑conquest Mexico is the subject of intense debate and Sharpe’s estimate is in line with population figures based on agricultural technology and the carrying capacity of the land, cited in Francis I. Brooks, “Revising the Conquest of Mexico: Smallpox, Sources and Population” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. XXIV, No. 1 (Summer 1993), 6‑7. Brooks’ calculations support the lower estimates and his opinion, 29, that as many as l00,000 may have died of smallpox in Tenochtitlan during the siege suggests that Sharpe’s figures are conservative. Francisco López de Gómara, Cortés: The Life of the Conqueror by his Secretary [Istoria de la Conquista de Mexico (Zaragoza, 1552)], Lesley Byrd Sympson, tr. and ed. (Berkeley, 1964), 16, states that Tenochtitlan had 60,000 houses “seldom containing fewer than two, three or ten inhabitants” each, suggesting a population of about 300,000.
54 Sharpe, Foundations, 177, 183-186.
55 Sharpe, Foundations, 196.
56 Sharpe, Foundations, 196‑98; Gómara, Cortés, 225. The size of the Spanish force is subject to debate; for the losses in the breakout from Tenochtitlan, see Gómara, Cortés, 221.
57 John F. Guilmartin, Jr., “The Cutting Edge: An Analysis of the Spanish invasion and Overthrow of the Inca Empire, 1532‑1539:) Transatlantic Encounters: Europeans and Andeans in the Sixteenth Century, Kenneth J. Andrien and Rolena Adorno, eds. (Berkeley: University of California press, 1991), 46. The size of the Inca force is from John Hemming. The Conquest of the Incas (New York, 1983), 39, citing a letter written by Hernando Pizarro shortly after the fact.
58 Hemming, Conquest, 153, 156‑58.
59 Hemming, Conquest, 191.
60 John H. Elliott, “The Spanish Conquest and Settlement of America,” Cambridge History of Latin America, Vol. I, Colonial Latin America (Cambridge, 1984; henceforth CHLA), 175‑76.
61 Gómara, Cortés, 225.
62 Hemming, Conquest, 39‑555: Pizarro’s estimate is the lowest cited or implied and, as Hemming notes, the numbers tended to increase with time.
63 Hemming, Conquest, 68.
64 Hemming, Conquest, 65. By comparison, the Tlaxcalans told Cortés that the Aztecs could put two to three hundred thousand men in the field, Gómara, Cortés, 122.
65 Sharpe, Foundations, 37‑57. for the historiography of the Mexican case; Guilmartin, “Cutting Edge” 41‑41, for early attempts to explain the Andean case.
66 Brooks, “Revising the Conquest” esp. 16‑29
67 Guilmartin, “Cutting Edge” 47.
68 Nathan Wachtel, “The Indian and the Spanish Conquest” CHLA, 210‑211, for an ethnohistorical perspective; see also Elliott, “The Spanish Conquest,” 174.
69 Wachtel, loc. cit.
70 The pivotal encounters were those between Cortés’ force and the Tlaxcalans; Gómara, Cortés, 97‑106 for the battle, and 114‑116 for the negotiations by which the Tlaxcalans allied themselves with the Spaniards against the Aztecs.
71 The bergantine was a small oared fighting vessel about the size of a modern lifeboat, but slimmer and probably a bit longer, which was reasonably swift under sail. The main armament of those used to blockade Tenochtitlan was probably a swivel gun in the bow most likely a verso.
72 Oman, XVIth Century, 130-149. The imperialists lost the battle, but not because of any deficiency in the Spanish infantry: the outnumbered Imperial cavalry was provoked into a premature charge by artillery fire from the flank and driven off by the French cavalry.
73James Lockhart, The Men of Cajamarca: A Social and Biographical Study of the First Conquerors of Peru (Austin, Texas, 1972), 22, makes the point explicitly with regard to the Pizarro expedition; he estimates that only three or four of the 168 Spaniards who fought at Cajamarca had European military experience and can be certain about only two.
74 Lockhart, Men of Cajamarca, 18, 18 n. 1, argues that the conquistadors were not “soldiers” as the term is commonly understood, and certainly not “troops” and that the application of these inaccurate labels has badly distorted our understanding of them and their motivation. From the socio‑economic perspective, Lockhart is clearly correct and his argument is a valuable corrective. My perspective, however, is military and tactical: my point is that whatever their social complexion and economic motivation, the conquistadors became soldiers in combat.
75 Guilmartin, “Cutting Edge” 54: in the division of Atahualpa’s ransom, horsemen on the average received twice as much as footmen.
76 David B. Ralston, Exporting the European Army: The Introduction of European Military Techniques and Institutions into the Extra‑European World, 1600-1914 (Chicago, 1990), 2.
77 McNeill, Pursuit of Power, 133. McNeill notes that this ability was demonstrated so routinely in the eighteenth century that we tend to take it for granted.
78 Bailey W. Diffie and George O. Winius, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire 1415-1580, Vol. I of Europe and the World in the Age of Expansion, Boyd D. Schaefer, ed. (Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1977), 181.
79 I have depended on the account of the campaign by Peter Padfield, Tide of Empires: Decisive Naval Campaigns and the Rise of the West, Vol. 1, 34811654 (London, 1979), 48‑52.
80 Artillery terminology was in flux and Portuguese usage was particularly complex, so I have used the generic term gun for anything larger than shoulder arms.
81 Geneviève Bouchon, ‘Regent of the Sea’: Cannanore’s Response to Portuguese Expansion, 1507‑1528, Louise Shackley, tr. (Oxford, 1988), 86‑89.
82 Bouchon, Regent of the Sea, 93, 93 n. 163.
83 In 1536, a cañon serpentino was mounted as the main centerline bow gun on one of the 23 galleys in Don Alvaro de Bazan’s squadron. The term serpentino served to differentiate the piece from other cañones, indicating that it was of a type no longer in general service, perhaps a wrought iron piece. All but two of the other galleys mounted a full cannon (cañon) or large culverin (culebrina grueso) in that position, so we may reasonably assume that the cañon serpentino was of equivalent size and power, the moreso since the galley in question was otherwise one of the more heavily armed, cf. Guilmartin, “The Early Provision of Artillery” Table II, 274‑7.
84 Fabrics and fibrous materials are generally effective against low‑velocity projectiles; however the events in question took place during the southwest monsoon, so the bales were probably water‑soaked. What effect that would have had is unclear: on the one hand, soaking would have increased the mass of the bales; on the other it would have reduced the shock attenuation effects of the cotton fibers and lubricated them, allowing them to move aside more easily, Peter N. Jones, letter to the author, August 17, 1993. My best guess, based on ones’ explanation of terminal ballistic considerations, is that soaked bales would probably have been a bit more effective against low velocity scatter shot and stone projectiles, but prone to shatter if hit by a sufficiently large, dense projectile at high velocity.
85 The matter is complicated by the fact that the Portuguese also had a camelo, a piece which fired a stone ball of 10‑15 kg (22‑33 lb.), Bouchon, Regent of the Sea, 94, 94 n. 166, and a 14.5 kg camelo in the Museu Militar, Lisbon, cast by Diogo Pires in 1518. It is hard to imagine that such a piece could not penetrate a bale of cotton, wet or dry, but that may have been the case; see the preceding note.
86 Dhow is a generic European term for the large, lateen rigged Arab sailing vessels of the Indian Ocean; at the time they were double enders and at least the smaller ones were of sewn construction. Prau, or prahu, from Malay for boat or vessel, is a similarly generic
term for relatively small local Indian and Indonesian sailing craft, generally fitted with a low lug sail; some had outriggers. Landström, The Ship, 212. 224.
87 Padfield, Tide of Empires, 48‑52.
88 Diffie and Winius, Foundations, 256.
89 Diffie and Winius, Foundations, 257‑59.
90 Diffie and Winius, Foundations, 214.
91 Parker, Military Revolution, 118-18.
92 Don Alonzo Enríquez de Guzmán, Libro de la vida y costumbres de don Alonso Enríquez de Guzmán (1543). C. K. Markham, trans., The Hakluyt Society, First Series, Vol. 29, 101, quoted in John Hemming, Conquest, 204.
93 Hemming, Conquest, 204.
94 Oman, XVIth Century, 680.
95 Caroline Finkel, The Administration of Warfare: the Ottoman Military Campaigns in Hungary, 1593‑1606, Vol. 14 in Beihefte Zur Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, Arne A. Ambros and Anton Schaendlinger, eds. (Vienna, 1988), 6465; map 125.
96 For the problems caused the Spanish by their lack of political control over their lines of communication, Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567‑1659 (Cambridge, 1972), 50‑79, cited in Finkel, Administration of Warfare, 64‑65.
97 Finkel, Administration of Warfare, 119‑208; see also G. Veinstein, “Some Views on Provisioning in the Hungarian Campaigns of Soleyman the Magnifrcent” Osmanistiche Studien Zur Wirtschaft‑und Sozialgeschichte In memoriam Vanco Boskoi, Hans Georg Majer, ed. (Wiesbaden, 1986), 177‑83. and the characterization of Ottoman methods by Virginia Arkan, “The One‑Eyed Fighting the Blind: Mobilization, Supply and Command in the Russo‑Turkish War of 1768-1774” The International History Review Vol. XV, No. 2 (May 1993), 231.
98 Finkel, Administration of Warfare., 130 ff.
99 Finkel, Administration of Warfare, 91‑93.
100 Duffy, Siege Warfare, 215‑18.
101 Duffy, Siege Warfare, 199‑204, 210‑219.
102 Oman, XVIth Century, 747-52. The victory was also something of a fluke: after breaking the Muslim center and driving it back, the imperial infantry became disordered looting the enemy camp and was taken in flank and destroyed by an uncommitted Turkish cavalry reserve.
103 Andrew C. Hess. The Forgotten Frontier: A History of the Sixteenth‑Century Ibero‑African Frontier (Chicago, 1978). i‑?, 19 to; Weston F. Cook, Jr., “The Cannon Conquest of Nāşrid Spain and the End of the Reconquista” Journal of Military History, Vol. 7, No. 1 (January 1993), 50‑54.
104 Hess, Forgotten Frontier; 54.
105 Hess, Forgotten Frontier, 61.
106 Frederic C. Lane, “Naval Actions and Fleet Organization, 1499‑1502” Renaissance Venice, John R. Hale, ed. (London, 1973),155. cites a letter by a Venetian commander exculpating himself for his ineffectiveness which “dwells on the impact, both physical and moral” of 150‑pound stone cannonballs striking his ship; these were apparently fired by shipboard guns.
107 Lane, “Naval Actions” 149‑54. for the campaign and battle.
108 See John H. Pryor, Geography, Technology and War: Studies in the Maritime History of the Mediterranean 649-1571 (Cambridge, 1988), esp. Ch. 7, “The Turks” 165‑196.
109 Guilmartin, Gunpowder and Galleys, 221-29.
110 Guilmartin, Gunpowder and Galleys, Fig. 11-14, 222-25.
111 Guilmartin, Gunpowder and Galleys, 23l.
112 Hess, “The Battle of Lepanto and its Place in Mediterranean History,” Past and Present, no. 57 (November lg32)1 72‑73.
113 As Hess, Forgotten Frontier; 14, n. l2, points out, this is the implication of Carlo M. Cipolla’s Guns Sails and Empire: Technological Innovation and the Early Stages of European Expansion 1400-1700 (New York, 1965).
114 Guilmartin, “Ideology and Conflict” 174‑75.
115 By Ottoman law and custom, each brother’s claim to the throne war equally legitimate, and Cem, who enjoyed support among tribal groups, posed a political threat to Bayezid as long as he lived, particularly after he fell into Christian hands in 1482, Hess, “Conquest of Egypt” 63‑64.