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Medieval Warfare: History of the Art of War, Volume III

Medieval Warfare: History of the Art of War, Volume III - Hans Delbrück, Walter J. Renfroe Jr. Coverage of the development of the art of war from Charlemagne through the Burgundian wars, with focus on occidental processes and only incidental appreciation of oriental contributions, including the ill-fated Byzantines. Volume is concerned with how those groups that destroyed the Roman Empire had themselves become pacified and therefore vulnerable to renewed assaults by nomads, neo-barbarians, and so on--and because of the vulnerability, what steps were taken--and because of the steps, what results obtained.

Continues the technique of the first two volumes of interrogating source documents with rigor. There is virtually no quoted figure of army strengths, for instance, that is not dismissed as legendary or fantasy. It is conceded that some battle reports need no expert authority to preserve incredulity: the Poles at Tannenburg were reported to have brought 5.1 million guys, "thereby exceeding even the numbers given by the Father of History for Xerxes' army" (523).

Considers, likewise, the recurrent narrative, in accounting for a defeat, that some faction or other committed treachery, typically by untimely withdrawal, to be part of "the series of traitor stories that have been common since Marathon" (575); his discussion of Falkirk, contra Braveheart, notes in this connection that the Scottish knights fled (no treachery noted) and the Scottish foot, a reported 30,000 ("grossly exaggerated"), was exhausted by English archery and broken by English knights (not cavalry) (392-93).

Some cool antecedents noted: the ancient oath of the Germanic warrior transforms into an oath of personal loyalty of all males to the monarch (as it happens, Charlemagne) (27). We see then that the wehrmacht's oath of personal allegiance to the Fuhrer was not created ex nihilo (cf. Shirer, [b:The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich|767171|The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich A History of Nazi Germany|William L. Shirer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1331223772s/767171.jpg|1437584], II.7 at 247). We also see that the old carlovingian scara looks like a feudal SS--though of course Delbruck did not live to make the association (53-54). The sections on Charlemagne really shine overall because of the substantial appendix of military regulations captured for analysis. But there's plenty else of value: Italian statelets, Germanic imperials, Teutonic knights, Hussite war wagons.

Some oddities: decides that "the history of weapons and the construction of strongholds," originally part of the book's plan, must be left on the cutting room floor (635). The dialectic of weaponry and anti-weaponry in the period is interesting stuff, but Delbruck considers it to be not intrinsic. In a perceptive but brief chapter on the Turks, I was floored by one moment of casual dismissal: "Even before the Crusades had ended, the oriental world was overrun by the Mongols under Genghis Khan. But despite his mighty military deeds and those of Tamerlane, who followed in his footsteps, we can pass over both of them in our present context" (473).

The kindly reader will benefit immensely from a thorough historical knowledge of the German and French monarchies; Delbruck refers casually to regimes and persons, expecting readers to keep up. Much labor expended usefully here in tracing the development of knighthood as a military arm (as opposed to cavalry), and thereafter the shift from knight service to money payments, which meant that mercenaries arose to fight wars, rather than vassals. Subsequently, mercenaries remained after the conclusion of the war, so standing armies became necessary to deal with them. Whole thing ends, not because of gunpowder (which is treated in Volume IIII), but with the development of true infantry, within the meaning of Roman legions and Greek phalanxes, by the Swiss in their mountain fastnesses, and through whom the wheel is come full circle.

We find that the Arab and Turkish systems had developments similar to occidental feudalism, with knight service and property tied together and consequent pacification of the great mass of the toiling population, leading to the relative worthlessness of peasant levies and infantry falling into desuetude.

One of the best details, what I mentally noted as "regime insurance": "With the passage of time, there developed as a link between the feudal military system and the mercenary system the practice of concluding definite monetary agreements between great powers. [...] Henry I of England, son of William the Conqueror, concluded the first treaty of this type in 1103, with Count Robert of Flanders, who obligated himself to provide for the king 1,000 knights with three horses each, in return for 400 marks of silver annually. It was not valid against Robert's suzerain, the king of France. The count was to have his knights ready forty days after receiving notification" (316). One wonders which court had jurisdiction over disputes on these types of contracts.

Otherwise, thoughtful coverage of many famous battles: Courtrai, Crecy, Agincourt, Nikopol, Sempach, Bannockburn, Pillenreuth.