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Military history

Related subjects: Military History and War

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Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships. A conflict may range from a melee between two tribal groups to conflicts between national militaries, and a world war of coalitions affecting the majority of the global human population. Military historians record and analyse the events of military history, the product of which forms an important part of how societies and their leaders formulate future plans and policies for societal development.

While human conflict has been a constant factor in the process of human social evolution over thousands of years, its historical recording only spans six millennia. There is much agreement about when it began . Some believe it has always been with us, derived from conflicts with other species; others stress the lack of clear evidence for it in our prehistoric past, and the fact that many peaceful, non-aggressive societies have, and still do exist (See Otterbein, Fry and Kelly in bibliography below). In War Before Civilization, Lawrence H. Keeley, says that approximately 90-95% of known societies engaged in at least occasional warfare, and many fought constantly.

The essential subjects of military history study are the decision making processes of the belligerents, the society's willingness and ability to economically support war, the methods, strategic, operational and tactical used by the armed forces to achieve goals, and how these changed through the past 5,000 years of recorded history.

Through the study of history, the military command seeks to not repeat past mistakes, and improve upon its current performance by instilling an ability in commanders to perceive historical parallels during a battle, so as to capitalize on the lessons learned from the past. The main areas military history includes past conflicts, their sustainment, military command, application of doctrine known as military art art and science, and the application of technology in specific military services.

The discipline of military history is dynamic, changing with development as much of the subject area as the societies and organisations that make use of it. The dynamic nature of the discipline of military history is largely related to the rapidity of change the military forces, and the art and science of managing them, as well as the frenetic pace of technological development that had taken place during the period known as the Industrial Revolution, and more recently in the nuclear and information ages. How the change is studied, has as much to do with methods used by military historians, as the influence on these methods which are often biased towards being primarily European and technological, revolutionising how warfare is understood when compared to the previous history. This process has necessitated a periodisation of history to highlight the short spans of dramatic change between increasingly shorter periods of relative stability in development of military forces.


Historiography is the study of the record of military conflict to gain an accurate assessment of past conflicts that may prove difficult because of bias, even in ancient times, and systematic propaganda in more modern times. For this reason military history is periodised, creating overlaying boundaries of study and analysis in which descriptions of battles by leaders may be unreliable due to the inclination to minimize mention of failures, and exaggerate when boasting of successes when viewed at a later time. This is the reason for historiographical analysis, to allow an unbiased, contemporary view of records as the participants would have perceived the events.

One military historian, Jeremy Black in a recent work raised a number of issued 21st century military historians face as an inheritance of their predecessors: Eurocentricity, a technological bias, and fascination with technology, a focus on leading military powers and dominant military systems, the separation of land from sea, and more recently air conflicts, the focus on state-to-state conflict, a lack of focus on political "tasking" in how forces are used.

If the above challenges were not sufficient for the military historians, the limitations of current methodological approaches are further complicated by the lacking of record either destroyed, or never recorded for its value as a military secret that may prevent some salient facts from being reported at all; scholars still do not know the nature of Greek fire, for instance. Despite these limitations, wars are some of the most studied and detailed periods of human history.

The documentation of military history begins with the confrontation between Sumer (current Iraq) and Elam (current Iran) c.2700 BCE near the modern Basra, adn includes such enduring records as the Hebrew Bible. Other prominent records in military history are the Trojan War in the Homer's in the Iliad, its historicity challenged, The Histories by Herodotus (484 BC - 425 BC) who, along with Thucydides (460 BC - 395 BC), are often called "father of history"., the later being regarded as the first scientific historian by dismissing the notions of deities taking active part in history. His impartiality despite being an Athenian, allowed him to take advantage of his exile to research the war from different perspectives by carefully examining documents, and interviewing eyewitnesses. The approach centered around the analysis of a leader was taken by Xenophon (430 BC - 355 BC) in Anabasis, recording the expedition of Cyrus the Younger into Turkey. A comparative approach is made possible by the records of Julius Caesar (100 BC - 44 BC), for campaigns such as Commentarii de Bello Gallico and Commentarii de Bello Civili.

Some other more recent prominent military historians include Hans Delbrück (1848-1929), Charles Oman (1860-1946), Basil Liddell Hart (1895-1970), Martin van Creveld, John Keegan, William Ledyard Rodgers, Lynn Montross, Cornelius Ryan, R. Ernest & Trevor N. Dupuy (1916-1995), George F.G. Stanley (1907-2002), John Terraine (1921-2003), Victor Davis Hanson and Jeremy Black to name a few.

Technological evolution

Relief of Ramses II located in Abu Simbel fighting at the Battle of Kadesh on a chariot.

New weapons development can dramatically alter the face of war.

In prehistoric times, fighting occurred by usage of clubs and spears, as early as 35,000 BC. Arrows, maces, and slings were developed around 12,000 BC. Chariots, pulled by animals like the onager, ox, donkey, and later the horse, originated around 2,000 BC. The chariot was an effective weapon for speed; while one man controlled the maneuvering of the chariot, a second bowman could shoot arrows at enemy soldiers. These became crucial to the maintenance of several governments, including the New Egyptian Kingdom and the Shang dynasty.

Some of the military unit types and technologies which were developed in antiquity are:

  • Slinger
  • Hoplite
  • Auxiliaries
  • Hastati
  • Principes
  • Triarii
  • Velites

The infantry would become the core of military action. The infantry started as opposing armed groups of soldiers underneath commanders. The Greeks used rigid, heavily-armed phalanxes, but the Romans used mobile legions that were easily maneuverable.

Cavalry would become an important tool. In the Sicilian Expedition, led by Athens in an attempt to subdue Syracuse, the well-trained Syracusan cavalry became crucial to the success of the Syracusans. Macedonian Alexander the Great effectively deployed his cavalry forces to secure victories. In later battles, like the Battle of Cannae of the Second Punic War, the importance of the cavalry would be repeated. Hannibal was able to surround the Romans on three sides and encircled them by sending the cavalry to the rear of the army. There were also horse archers, who had the ability to shoot on horseback- the Mongols were especially fearsome with this tactic. In the Middle Ages, armored cataphracts continued to fight on horseback. Even in the First World War, cavarly was still considered important; the British mobilized 165,000 horses, the Austrians 600,000, the Germans 715,000, and the Russians more than a million.

The early Indo-Iranians developed the use of chariots in warfare. The scythed chariot was later invented in India and soon adopted by the Persian Empire.

War elephants were often deployed for fighting in ancient warfare. They were first used in India and later adopted by both the Persians and Alexander the Great against one another. War elephants were also used in the Battle of the Hydaspes River, and by Hannibal in the Second Punic War against the Romans.(The effectiveness of war elephants in a battle is a matter of debate)

There were also organizational changes, made possible by better training and intercommunication. Combined arms was the concept of using infantry, cavalry, and artillery in a coordinated way. The Romans, Swiss, and others made advances with this, which arguably led to them being unbeatable for centuries.

A Greek trireme

Naval warfare was often crucial to military success. Early navies used sailing ships without cannons; often the goal was to ram the enemy ships and cause them to sink. There was human oar power, often using slaves, built up to ramming speed. Galleys were used in the 3rd millennium BC by the Cretans. The Greeks later advanced these ships. In 1210 BC, the first recorded naval battle was fought between Suppiluliuma II, king of the Hittites, and Cyprus, which was defeated. In the Persian Wars, the navy became of increasing importance. Triremes were involved in more complicated sea-land operations. Themistocles helped to build up a stronger Greek navy, composed of 310 ships, and defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, ending the Persian invasion of Greece. In the First Punic War, the war between Carthage and Rome started with an advantage to Carthage because of their naval experience. A Roman fleet was built in 261 BC, with the addition of the corvus that allowed Roman soldiers onboard the ships to board the enemy ships. The bridge would prove effective at the Battle of Mylae, resulting in a Roman victory. The Vikings, in the 8th century AD, invented a ship propelled by oars with a dragon decorating the prow, hence called the Drakkar.

Fortifications are important in warfare. Early hill-forts were used to protect inhabitants in the Iron Age. They were primitive forts surrounded by ditches filled with water. Forts were then built out of mud bricks, stones, wood, and other available materials. Romans used rectangular fortresses built out of wood and stone. As long as there have been fortifications, there have been contraptions to break in, dating back to the times of Romans and earlier. Siege warfare is often necessary to capture forts.

Some of the military unit types and technologies which were used in the medieval period are:

  • Artillery
  • Cataphract
  • Condottieri
  • Fyrd
  • Janissary
  • Knight (see also: Chivalry)
  • Crossbow
  • Pikeman
  • Samurai
  • Sipahi

Bows and arrows were often used by combatants. Egyptians shot arrows from chariots effectively. The crossbow was developed around 500 BC in China, and was used a lot in the Middle Ages. The English/Welsh longbow from the 12th century also became important in the Middle Ages. It helped to give the English a large early advantage in the Hundred Years' War, even though the English were eventually defeated. It dominated battlefields for over a century.

A small English Civil War-era cannon

In the 10th century, the invention of gunpowder led to many new weapons that were improved over time. Blackpowder was used in China since the 4th Century, but it was not used as a weapon until the 11th century. Until the mid-15th century, guns were held in one hand, while the explosive charge was ignited by the other hand. Then came the matchlock, which was used widely until around the 1720s. Leonardo da Vinci made drawings of the wheel lock which made its own sparks. Eventually, the matchlock was replaced by the flintlock. Cannons were first used in Europe in the early 14th century, and played a vital role in the Hundred Years' War. The first cannons were simply welded metal bars in the form of a cylinder, and the first cannonballs were made of stone. By 1346, at the battle of Crécy, the cannon had been used; at the Battle of Agincourt they would be used again.

At the beginning of the 16th century, the first European fire ships were used. Ships were filled with flammable materials, set on fire, and sent to enemy lines. This tactic was successfully used by Francis Drake to scatter the Spanish Armada at the Battle of Gravelines, and would later be used by the Chinese, Russians, Greeks, and several other countries in naval battles. Naval mines were invented in the 17th century, though they were not used in great numbers until the American Civil War. They were used heavily in the First World War and Second World War.

The first model of submarine was invented in 1624 by Cornelius Drebbel, which could go to depth of 15 feet (5 m). However, the first war submarine as we presently think of it was constructed in 1885 by Isaac Peral.

The Turtle was developed by David Bushnell during the American Revolution. Robert Fulton then improved the submarine design by creating the Nautilus (submarine).

A 155 mm M198 howitzer firing a shell.

The Howitzer, a type of field artillery, was developed in 17th century to fire high trajectory explosive shells at targets that could not be reached by flat trajectory projectiles.

Bayonets also became of wide usage to infantry soldiers. Bayonet is named after Bayonne, France where it was first manufactured in the 16th century. It is used often in infantry charges to fight in hand-to-hand combat. General Jean Martinet introduced the bayonet to the French army. They were used a lot in the American Civil War, and continued to be used in modern wars like the Invasion of Iraq.

Balloons were first used in warfare at the end of the 18th century. It was first introduced in Paris of 1783; the first balloon traveled over 5 miles (8 km). Previously military scouts could only see from high points on the ground, or from the mast of a ship. Now they could be high in the sky, signalling to troops on the ground. This made it much more difficult for troop movements to go unobserved.

At the end of the 18th century, iron-cased rockets were successfully used militarily in India against the British by Tipu Sultan of the Kingdom of Mysore during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. Rockets were generally inaccurate at that time, though William Hale, in 1844, was able to develop a better rocket. The new rocket no longer needed the rocket stick, and had a higher accuracy.

In the 1860s there were a series of advancements in rifles. The first repeating rifle was designed in 1860 by a company bought out by Winchester, which made new and improved versions. Springfield rifles arrived in the mid-19th century also. Machine guns arrived in the middle of the 19th century. Automatic rifles and light machine guns first arrived at the beginning of the 20th century.

Also in the 1860s came the first boats that would later be known as torpedo boats. These were first used in the American Civil War, but generally were not successful. Several Confederates used spar torpedoes, which were bombs on long poles designed to attach to boats. In the later part of the 19th century, the self-propelled torpedo was developed. The HNoMS Rap

At the start of the World Wars, various nations had developed weapons that were a surprise to their adversaries, leading to a need to learn from this, and alter how to combat them. Flame throwers were first used in the first world war. The French were the first to introduce the armored car in 1902. Then in 1918, the British produced the first armored troop carrier. Many early tanks were proof of concept but impractical until further development. In World War I, the British and French held a crucial advantage due to their superiority in tanks; the Germans had only a few dozen A7V tanks, as well as 170 captured tanks. The British and French both had over several hundred each. The French tanks included the 13 ton Schnedier-Creusot, with a 75 mm gun, and the British had the Mark IV and Mark V tanks.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers performed the first controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight; it went 39 meters (120 ft). In 1907, the first helicopter flew, but it wasn't practical for usage. Aviation became important in World War I, in which several aces gained fame. In 1911 an aircraft took off from a warship for the first time. It was a cruiser. Take-offs were soon perfected, but deck landings on a cruiser were another matter. This led to the development of an aircraft carrier with a decent unobstructed flight deck.

Chemical warfare exploded into the public consciousness in World War I but may have been used in earlier wars without as much human attention. The Germans used gas-filled shells at the Battle of Bolimov on January 3, 1915. These were not lethal, however. In April 1915, the Germans developed a chlorine gas that was highly lethal, and used it to great effect at Second Battle of Ypres.

World War II gave rise to even more technology. The worth of the aircraft carrier was proved in the battles between the United States and Japan like the Battle of Midway. Radar was independently invented by the Allies and Axis powers. It used radio waves to detect nearby objects. Molotov cocktails were invented by the Finns in 1939, during the Winter War. The atomic bomb was developed by the Manhattan Project and launched at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, ultimately ending World War II.

During the Cold War, even though fighting did not actually occur, the superpowers- the United States and Russia- engaged in a race to develop and increase the level of technology available for military purposes. In the space race, both nations attempted to launch human beings into space to the moon. Other technological advances centered around intelligence (like the spy satellite) and missiles ( ballistic missiles, cruise missiles). Nuclear submarine, invented in 1955. This meant submarines no longer had to surface as often, and could run more quietly. They evolved into becoming underwater missile platforms. Cruise missiles were invented in Nazi Germany during World War II in the form of the V-1.

Periods of military history

The influence of technology on military history, and evident Eurocentrism are nowhere more pronounced then in the attempt by the military historians to divide their subject area into more manageable periods of analysis. While general discipline of history subdivides history into Ancient history (Classical antiquity), Middle Ages (Europe, 4th century - 15th century), Early modern period (Europe, 14th century - 18th century), Modern era (Europe, 18th century - 20th century), and the Post-Modern (USA, 1949 - Present), the periodisation below stresses technological change in its emphasis, particularly the crucial dramatic change during the Gunpowder warfare period. Periodisation is not uniformly applied through time and space, affirming the claims of Eurocentrism from regional historians. For example what might be described as ancient warfare is still practised in a number of parts of the world. Other eras that are distinct in European history, such as the era of Medieval warfare, may have little relevance in East Asia.

Prehistoric warfare

The beginning of prehistoric wars is a disputed issue between anthropologists and historians. In the earliest societies, such as hunter-gatherer societies, there were no social roles or divisions of labor (with the exception of age or sex differences), so every able person contributed to any raids or defense of territory.

In War Before Civilization, Lawrence H. Keeley, a professor at the University of Illinois, calculates that 87% of tribal societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65% of them were fighting continuously. The attrition rate of numerous close-quarter clashes, which characterize warfare in tribal warrior society, produces casualty rates of up to 60%.

The introduction of agriculture brought large differences between farm workers' societies and hunter-gatherer groups. Probably, during periods of famine, hunters started to massively attack the villages of countrymen, leading to the beginning of organized warfare. In relatively advanced agricultural societies a major differentiation of roles was possible; consequently the figure of professional soldiers or militaries as distinct, organized units was born.

Ancient warfare

The first archaeological record, though disputed, of a prehistoric battle is about 14000 years old, and is located on the Nile in Sudan, in an area known as Cemetery 117. A large number of bodies, many with arrowheads embedded in their skeletons, indicates that they may have been the casualties of a battle.

Much of what we know of ancient history is the history of militaries: their conquests, their movements, and their technological innovations. There are many reasons for this. Kingdoms and empires, the central units of control in the ancient world, could only be maintained through military force. Due to limited agricultural ability, there were relatively few areas that could support large communities, so fighting was common.

Weapons and armor, designed to be sturdy, tended to last longer than other artifacts, and thus a great deal of surviving artifacts recovered tend to fall in this category as they are more likely to survive. Weapons and armor were also mass-produced to a scale that makes them quite plentiful throughout history, and thus more likely to be found in archaeological digs. Such items were also considered signs of posterity or virtue, and thus were likely to placed in tombs and monuments to prominent warriors. And writing, when it existed, was often used for kings to boast of military conquests or victories.

Writing, when used by the common man, also tended to record such events, as major battles and conquests constituted major events that many would have considered worthy of recording either in an epic such as the Homeric writings pertaining to the Trojan War, or even personal writings. Indeed the earliest stories centre around warfare, as war was both a common and dramatic aspect of life; the witnessing of a major battle involving many thousands of soldiers would be quite a spectacle, even today, and thus considered worthy both of being recorded in song and art, but also in realistic histories, as well as being a central element in a fictional work. Lastly, as nation-states evolved and empires grew, the increased need for order and efficiency lead to an increase in the number of records and writings. Officials and armies would have good reason for keeping detailed records and accounts involving any and all things concerning a matter such as warfare that in the words of Sun Tzu was "a matter of vital importance to the state". For all these reasons, military history comprises a large part of ancient history.

Notable militaries in the ancient world included the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks (notably the Spartans and Macedonians), Indians (notably the Magadhas, Gangaridais and Gandharas), Chinese (notably the Qins Han), Xiongnu, Romans, and Carthaginians.

The fertile crescent of Mesopotamia was the centre of several prehistoric conquests. Mesopotamia was conquered by the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians. Iranians were the first nation who introduced cavalry into their army.

Egypt began growing as an ancient power, but eventually fell to the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs.

The earliest recorded battle in India was the Battle of the Ten Kings. The Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are centred around conflicts and refer to military formations, theories of warfare and esoteric weaponry. Chanakya's Arthashastra contains a detailed study on ancient warfare, including topics on espionage and war elephants. Alexander the Great invaded Northwestern India and defeated King Porus in the Battle of the Hydaspes River. The same region was soon conquered by Chandragupta Maurya after defeating the Macedonians and Seleucids. He also went on to conquer the Nanda Empire and unify Northern India. Most of Southern Asia was unified under his grandson Ashoka the Great after the Kalinga War, though the empire collapsed not long after his reign.

In China, the Shang Dynasty and Zhou Dynasty had risen and collapsed. This led to a Warring States Period, in which several states continued to fight with each other over territory. Confucius and Sun Tzu wrote various theories on ancient warfare (as well as international diplomacy). The Warring States era philosopher Mozi ( Micius) and his Mohist followers invented various siege weapons and siege crafts, including the Cloud Ladder (a four-wheeled, protractable ramp) to scale fortified walls during a siege of an enemy city. China was first unified by Qin Shi Huang after a series of military conquests. His empire was succeeded by the Han Dynasty, which expanded into Southern China and present day Korea and Vietnam. The Han came into conflict with the Xiongnu ( Huns), Yuezhi, and other steppe civilizations. The Han defeated and drove the Xiongnus west, securing the silk route that continued into the Parthian Empire. The Han Dynasty collapsed into an era of civil war and continuous warfare during the Three Kingdoms period in the 3rd century CE.

The Achaemenid Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great after conquering the Median Empire, Neo-Babylonian Empire, Lydia and Asia Minor. His successor Cambyses went onto conquer the Egyptian Empire, much of Central Asia, and parts of Greece, India and Libya. The empire later fell to Alexander the Great after defeating Darius III. After being ruled by the Seleucid dynasty, the Persian Empire was subsequently ruled by the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties, which were the Roman Empire's greatest rivals during the Roman-Persian Wars.

In Greece, several city-states emerged to power, including Athens and Sparta. The Greeks successfully stopped two Persian invasions, the first at the Battle of Marathon, where the Persians were led by Darius the Great, and the second at the Battle of Salamis, a naval battle where the Greek ships were deployed by orders of Themistocles and the Persians were under Xerxes I, and the land engagement of the Battle of Plataea. The Peloponnesian War then erupted between the two Greek powers Athens and Sparta. Athens built a long wall to protect its inhabitants, but the wall helped to facilitate the spread of a plague that killed about 30,000 Atheninans, including Pericles. After a disastrous campaign against Syracuse, the Athenian navy was decisively defeated by Lysander at the Battle of Aegospotami.

The Macedonians, underneath Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, invaded Persia and won several major victories, establishing Macedonia as a major power. However, following Alexander's death at an early age, the empire quickly fell apart.

Meanwhile, Rome was gaining power, following a rebellion against the Etruscans. At the three Punic Wars, the Romans defeated the neighboring power of Carthage. The First Punic War centered around naval warfare. The Second Punic War started with Hannibal’s invasion of Italy by crossing the Alps. He famously won the encirclement at the Battle of Cannae. However, after Scipio invaded Carthage, Hannibal was forced to follow and was defeated at the Battle of Zama, ending the role of Carthage as a power. The Third Punic War was a failed revolt against the Romans.

After defeating Carthage the Romans went on to become the Mediterranean's dominant power, successfully campaigning in Greece ( Aemilius Paulus decisive victory over Macedonia at the Battle of Pydna), in the Middle East ( Lucius Licinius Lucullus, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus), in Gaul ( Gaius Julius Caesar) and defeating several Germanic tribes ( Gaius Marius, Germanicus). While Roman armies suffered several major losses, their large population and ability to replace battlefield casualties, training, organization, tactical and technical superiority enabled Rome to stay a predominant military force for several centuries.

In 54 BCE the Roman triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus took the offensive against the Parthian Empire in the east. In a decisive battle at Carrhae Romans were defeated and the golden Aquila (legionary battle standards) was taken as trophy to Ctesiphon. The result was one of the worst defeats suffered by the Roman Republic in its entire history. Romans, whose armies consisted mainly of heavy infantry and only smaller cavalry contigents until then, after this defeat learnt the importance of cavalry from Iranians and eventually introduced it into their army, just as nearly a thousand year earlier the first Iranian to reached the Iranian Plateau introduced the Assyrians to a similar reform. Rome experienced numerous civil wars, notably the power struggles of Roman generals such as Marius and Sulla. Caesar was also notable for his role in the civil war against the other member of the Triumvirate (Pompey) and against the Roman Senate. The successors of Caesar - Octavian and Mark Anthony, also fought a civil war with Caesar's assassins (Senators Brutus, Crassus, etc). Octavian and Mark Anthony eventually fought another civil war between themselves to determine the sole ruler of the Rome.

By the time of Marcus Aurelius, the Romans had expanded from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Mesopotamia in the east and controlled Northern Africa and Central Europe up to the Black Sea. However, Aurelius marked the end of the Five Good Emperors, and Rome quickly fell to decline. The Huns, Goths, and other barbaric groups invaded Rome, which continued to suffer from inflation and other internal strifes. Despite the attempts of Diocletian, Constantine I, and Theodosius I, western Rome collapsed. The Byzantine empire continued to prosper, however.

Medieval warfare

When stirrups came into use some time during the dark age militaries were forever changed. This invention coupled with technological, cultural, and social developments had forced a dramatic transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery. Similar patterns of warfare existed in other parts of the world. In China around the fifth century armies moved from massed infantry to cavalry based forces, copying the steppe nomads. The Middle East and North Africa used similar, if often more advanced, technologies than Europe. In Japan the Medieval warfare period is considered by many to have stretched into the nineteenth century. In Africa along the Sahel and Sudan states like the Kingdom of Sennar and Fulani Empire employed Medieval tactics and weapons well after they had been supplanted in Europe.

In the Medieval period, feudalism was firmly implanted, and there existed many landlords in Europe. Landlords often owned castles to protect their territory.

The Islamic Arab Empire began rapidly expanding throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, initially led by Khalid ibn al-Walid, and later under the Umayyads, expanded to the Iberian Peninsula in the west and the Indus Valley in the east. The Abassids then took over the Arab Empire, though the Umayyads remained in control of Islamic Spain. At the Battle of Tours, the Franks under Charles Martel stopped short a Muslim invasion. The Abassids defeated the Tang Chinese army at the Battle of Talas, but were later defeated by the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols centuries later, until the Arab Empire eventually came to an end after the Battle of Baghdad in 1258.

In China, the Sui Dynasty had risen and conquered the Chen Dynasty of the south. They invaded Vietnam (northern Vietnam had been in Chinese control since the Han Dynasty), fighting the troops of Champa, who had cavalry mounted on elephants. After decades of economic turmoil and a failed invasion of Korea, the Sui collapsed and was followed by the Tang Dynasty, who fought with various Turkic groups, the Tibetans of Lhasa, the Tanguts, the Khitans, and collapsed due to political fragmentation of powerful regional military governors (jiedushi). The innovative Song Dynasty followed next, inventing new weapons of war that employed the use of Greek Fire and gunpowder (see section below) against enemies such as the Jurchens.

The Mongols under Genghis Khan, Ogedei Khan, Mongke Khan, and finally Kublai Khan later invaded and eventually defeated the Chinese Song Dynasty by 1279. The Mongol Empire continued to expand throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, but following the death of Genghis Khan, the Mongol expansion halted and the empire was divided among his successors.

In New Zealand, prior to European discovery, oral histories, legends and whakapapa include many stories of battles and wars. Maori warriors were held in high esteem. One group of Polynesians migrated to the Chatham Islands, where they developed the largely pacifist Moriori culture. Their pacifism left the Moriori unable to defend themselves when the islands were invaded by mainland Māori in the 1830s. They proceeded to massacre the Moriori and enslave the survivors. Warrior culture also developed in the isolated Hawaiian Islands. During the 1780s and 1790s the chiefs and alii were constantly fighting for power. After a series of battles the Hawaiian Islands were united for the first time under a single ruler who would become known as Kamehameha I.

Gunpowder warfare

After Gunpowder weapons were first developed in Song Dynasty China (see also Technology of Song Dynasty), the technology later spread west to the Ottoman Empire, from where it spread to the Safavid Empire of Persia and the Mughal Empire of India. The arquebus was later adopted by European armies during the Italian Wars of the early 16th century. This all brought an end to the dominance of armored cavalry on the battlefield. The simultaneous decline of the feudal system — and the absorption of the medieval city-states into larger states — allowed the creation of professional standing armies to replace the feudal levies and mercenaries that had been the standard military component of the Middle Ages. The period spanning between the 1648 Peace of Westphalia and the 1789 French Revolution is also known as Kabinettskriege (Princes' warfare) as wars were mainly carried out by imperial or monarchics states, decided by cabinets and limited in scope and in their aims. They also involved quickly shifting alliances, and mainly used mercenaries. Over the period of The long 19th century all military Arms and Services underwent significant developments that included a more mobile Field artillery, the transition from use of Battalion Infantry drill in close order to open order formations and the transfer of emphasis from the use of bayonets to the rifle that replaced the Musket, and virtual replacement of all types of cavalry with the universal Dragoons, or mounted infantry.

Industrial warfare

As weapons—particularly small arms—became easier to use, countries began to abandon a complete reliance on professional soldiers in favour of conscription. Technological advances became increasingly important; while the armies of the previous period had usually had similar weapons, the industrial age saw encounters such as the Battle of Sadowa, in which possession of a more advanced technology played a decisive role in the outcome.

Conscription was employed in industrial warfare to increase the amount of soldiers that were available for combat. This was used by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Napoleonic Wars.

Total war was used in industrial warfare, the objective being to prevent the opposing nation to engage in war. William Tecumseh Sherman's "March to the Sea" and Philip Sheridan's burning of the Shenandoah Valley are examples of total warfare.

Modern warfare

In modern times, war has evolved from an activity steeped in tradition to a scientific enterprise where success is valued above methods. The notion of total war is the extreme of this trend. Militaries have developed technological advances rivalling the scientific accomplishments of any other field of study.

However, it should be noted that modern militaries benefit in the development of these technologies under the funding of the public, the leadership of national governments, and often in cooperation with large civilian groups, such as the General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin corporations, in the United States. And as for "total war," it may be argued that it is not an exclusive practice of modern militaries, but in the tradition of genocidal conflict that marks even tribal warfare to this day. What distinguishes modern military organizations from those previous is not their willingness to prevail in conflict by any method, but rather the technological variety of tools and methods available to modern battlefield commanders, from submarines to satellites, from knives to nuclear warheads.

Some of the military unit types and technologies which were developed in modern times are:

  • Ammunition
  • Armory
  • Conscription
  • Grenadier
  • Sappers and Miners
  • Marine
  • Aviation
  • Rifleman
  • Special Forces
  • Naval Combatant
  • Global Information Grid
  • Active Electronically Scanned Array
  • Network-centric warfare
  • Supercomputer
  • Space warfare
  • Cyberwar

World War I was sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, leading to the mobilization of Austria and Serbia. The Germans joined the Austrians to form the Central powers; the French, British, and Russia formed the Allied powers. Following the Battle of the Marne and the outflanking attempt of both nations in the " Race to the Sea", trench warfare ensued, leaving the war in a great deadlock. Major operations by the Germans at the Battle of Verdun and by the British and the French at the Battle of the Somme were carried out, and new technology like tanks and chlorine gas were used. Following the USA's entrance into the war, the Germans and their allies were eventually defeated.

World War II ensued after Germany's invasion of Poland, forcing Britain and France to declare war. Germany quickly defeated France and Belgium, later aided by Italy. A hasty evacuation occurred at Dunkirk to save the Allied army from complete disaster. The Germany then attacked USSR and marched to take over the Soviet resources, but were thwarted. Meanwhile, Japan, who had already been at war with the Chinese since 1937, had launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, leading the United States to join the Allied powers. In Europe, the Allies opened three fronts: in the west, after securing Normandy; in the east, aiding the Soviet Union; and in the south, through Italy. Germany eventually surrendered, upon which the Allies turned and focused troops to do island hopping. The dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the surrender of Japan and the end of the Second World War.

Worsening relationships between wartime Allies developed into the Cold War, reaching a climax during the Cuban Missile Crisis at the same time as the Sino-Indian War. Hostilities never actually occurred, though the US-backed UN forces did engage against the communist states in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Recommended readings

  • Fry, Douglas P., 2005, The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence, Oxford University Press.
  • Kelly, Raymond C., 2000, Warless Societies and the Origin of War, University of Michigan Press.
  • Antiquity, Volume 70, Number 270, pp. 934–939, M. A. Littauer, and J. H. Crouwel, The origin of the true chariot, Antiquity Publications Ltd, 1996
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