The Wendish Crusade

            The people of Northern Germany known as the Wends were not one homogenous people but rather organized themselves in a tribal structure.   The tribes from the Saxon border west were the Wagrians, Polabians, Abotrites, Rugians, Liutizians, and Pomeranians.[1]  These tribes were loosely organized under local princes and there was no overall king or authority figure.   The Wends were polytheistic nature worshipers who had many shrines and temples throughout their lands.   The priestly class was the most influential next to the secular lords and the Wends were deeply superstitious even going so far as to avoid battle if the auguries were unfavorable.

            The Wendish Crusades were Crusades in name only, the Danes and Saxons used the Crusading name to mask a naked grab of the territory of the pagan Wends.   The Danes and Saxons had been encroaching on Wendish territory prior to the start of the Wendish crusades in 1147, but their gains had only been short-lived and limited to forcing some of the Wendish nobility to pay tribute.[2]  The Danes and Saxons who had only come to Christianity in the eighth and ninth centuries took wholeheartedly to the message preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) to fight the pagans “until such a time as, by God’s help, they be either converted or deleted.”[3]

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The Transformation of War Wrought by the Armies of the French Revolution and Napoleon

This is the text of a paper I wrote for my undergrad that I found yesterday while looking through the folders on my computer for something else and decided I would post here.   It is not the best writing I have ever done but I like and still agree with the conclusion I came to in it.

In the years before the French Revolution, warfare in Europe was moribund at best.   The wars of the period were dynastic wars fought to maintain the traditional balance of power and were generally limited in scale and scope.   The armies of this era were professional armies with an aristocratic officer class and private soldiers drawn from the lowest segments of society and subject to brutal discipline.   Desertion and looting were rife in the pre-revolutionary or old regime army’s, which partly explains the discipline, the other part of the discipline equation was the need for soldiers to execute their battlefield actions in concert to maximize the effect of their weapons. [1]  Lastly, pre-revolutionary eighteenth century warfare was characterized by small field armies, reliance on depots for supplies, mechanistic battlefield evolutions, and wars for limited gains.

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Are there similarities between the War in Vietnam and the War in Afghanistan? – Part 1

Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam were common during the Bush years but have slowed down considerably since he left office.  Perhaps there are political reasons for this and perhaps there is just comparison fatigue, I am not really which.  I bring this up because I had a conversation about this at lunch the other day and it got me thinking about it.  From a purely military perspective, it strikes me that while the war in Afghanistan is not synonymous with the war in Vietnam there are some parallels that it is perhaps a comparison worth exploring.   The story that brought the topic up is here: U.S., Afghans hope to rout expected Taliban offensive.

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The Fifth Crusade

            Pope Innocent III (p.1198-1216), who was perhaps the most ardent supporter of Crusade to hold the Papacy, issued the Papal Bull Quia maior in April 1213 calling for a new Crusade to recapture Jerusalem.[1]  This Bull set the standard for all future Crusading Bulls; in it, Innocent introduced many new concepts that widened the appeal of Crusading in Christendom.   This was the first time that the indulgence had been expanded to include those who could not go on Crusade, they could gain the indulgence by supporting the Crusade financially.   Innocent intended for this new Crusade to be led by the church and he worked tirelessly to see the Crusade come to fruition.

            The response to the new call for Crusade was tremendous throughout Europe except for France where the nobility was engaged in suppressing the Albigensian heresy.   Duke Leopold VI of Austria (1176-1230) led a large contingent from Austria on Crusade.   In Hungary, Andrew II (1205-1235) had taken the cross during the Fourth Crusade but had not fulfilled his vow so he now joined this new effort in its fulfillment.   A churchman Oliver of Paderborn the Bishop of Cologne gathered a large army in Northwest Germany, Holland, and Flanders, which he then led on the Crusade himself.   Oliver also wrote an account of the Fifth Crusade that is one of the most valuable sources extant.   Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (1205-1250) also took the cross promising to lead a massive army of Germans but he first had to cement the control of his empire.

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The Fourth Crusade

The Fourth Crusade started in 1202, when Pope Innocent III (p.1198-1216), seeking to build on the success of the Third Crusade preached a new Crusade to recover the Holy city of Jerusalem.   The kings of Europe were too involved in personal quarrels to participate, so the mantle was taken up by a group of the lesser, mostly French, nobility.

At first, the Crusade appeared to be going nowhere with the major monarchs of Europe either at war, as England and France were, or in flux as was the Holy Roman Empire, with rival claimants to the throne.   Thibault of Champagne (d. 24 May 1201) persuaded several members of the minor French nobility to take the cross, the most notable of whom, were Louis of Blois and Baldwin of Flanders.   These three lords decided at a council in early 1200 to send a delegation to Venice seeking transport to the Holy Land.   The Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo (1192-1205) agreed to transport the Crusaders and provide a fleet of fifty Venetian manned ships for the sum of 85,000 marks.[1]

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The Medieval Siege – Part 2

The weapons and techniques used throughout most of siege warfare are remarkably consistent with few innovations.   The notable new weapons were the trebuchet, Greek fire, and Cannons.

            Siege towers or belfries were common if unwieldy weapons used at sieges throughout the medieval period.   They were often made of wood and were built taller than the walls they would be used to assault.   Sometimes towers were wheeled or they could also be built on sleds so that they could be pushed up against the walls.   The most difficult part of using a tower was getting it up to the walls in the first place as most towns and castles were protected by ditches or moats.   These would have to filled in and leveled out before a tower could be moved into position.

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The Medieval Siege

The siege was the most common type of battle fought during the Middle Ages.   Medieval armies and commanders tended to avoid pitched battles unless forced into them by circumstances.   Medieval warfare and its concentration on sieges can thus be considered the ultimate in positional warfare as success usually lay with control of castles and strong points and the terrain they dominated.

In the early medieval period, there was not much in the way of new construction of fortifications and therefore not many examples of siege warfare.   As the peoples of Europe began to organize themselves and nations and strongmen emerged there was a renewed focus on defensive fortifications that led to the castellation of Europe beginning in the tenth century, which was substantially completed by the end of the twelfth century.  

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The Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 4

I was getting to the actual writing of a description of the fighting part of my thesis today when something hit me.  I was looking at casualty figures for the various actions and they are decidedly lopsided.   Most historians blame that on the Prussian possession of the Needle-Gun but I just don’t buy that, it’s too pat an explanation.   As I was thinking about it, it hit me that the Prussians and Austrians fought in completely different ways.

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The Spanish Reconquista: The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

            The capture of Salvatierra by the Almohad’s in 1210 provided the impetus for Pope Innocent III (p.1198-1216) to issue a general call for crusade in Spain and grant the remission of sins for those who would go to Spain and fight for Christendom.[1]  For several reasons including hostility between the Christian monarchs of Spain, a council was not convened until the spring of 1212 in Toledo; even so, the kings of Portugal and Navarre did not attend.   When the council met a plan of campaign was discussed and agreed on as well as timing for the campaign to begin.

            The main nobles that met at Toledo were Alfonso VIII of Castile (r.1158-1214), Pedro II of Aragon (r.1196-1213), Archbishops Amaury of Narbonne and Guillaume of Bordeaux, some minor nobility from southern France, and the masters of the Spanish military orders with representatives from the Temple and Hospital as well.   Alfonso VIII agreed to bankroll the Aragonese contingent because of the king’s debt, and he also provided mounts and money to some of the French contingents due to their poverty.[2]

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Book Review: The Campaign of Germany in 1866

       This work is the Official History of the 1866 Seven Weeks’ War prepared by the Prussian General Staff after the war. I got this book for use in my thesis and it probably would not be of interest to anybody except for hard-core history fans or specialists. That being said, it is one of the better official histories I have ever read.        It is readable and concise and includes a wealth of information. Perhaps the best part of this work from a historian’s perspective is that it is based on primary source documents that are no longer available because they were destroyed in the closing days of World … More after the Jump…

The Military Revolution?

I saw this piece (Warfare of the Future) on RCP today and it got me to thinking about the Nature of Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMAs) in general. I dont think there are a whole lot of people out there that are not in the military in into to military history that are very conversant with the idea of a RMA. The idea was first proposed by historian Michael Roberts in a series of lectures in England in 1955. It has gained currency among the current crop of thinkers in the worldwide defense community, especially think-tanks and weapon makers. The RMA is the current killer-app of defense thinking.

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What is Military History?

This is  probably a topic I should have tackled a few months when I started this blog; I have come to realize that i am in the minority when it comes to military history and my view of what it should be.   I guess the best way to describe myself is that I am a macro-historian and not a micro-historian.

What is Military History is a pretty good question from my perspective.   The definition determines how military history is written in the first place and to what uses it is put.   Modern military history arguably began with the reformers of the Prussian Army after 1805 and the creation of the Prussian staff system and most importantly the Prussian Kriegsakademie.   In its infancy, modern military history served a very simple purpose, to prepare military leaders for war by instructing them in the successes and failures of past military leaders.   The Kriegsakademie excelled at producing what would today be known as drums & trumpets type military history.  Â 

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