Battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C.

The Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. was one of the biggest military disasters Rome ever suffered, ranking right up there with Cannae, The Teutoberg Forest, and Lake Trasimene.   The battle occurred in what is today Syria between a Roman army under Marcus Licinius Crassus and a Parthian (Persian) army under a general Surena.   In the battle, seven legions were destroyed and their Eagles taken and Rome did not trouble the Parthian Empire again for almost 50 years.

The battle was written about by both Livy and Plutarch.   The links are to translations of their texts.

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Are there similarities between the War in Vietnam and the War in Afghanistan? – Part 2

The last question that needs to be answered as concerns the parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam is why we are not pursuing a campaign of territorial conquest.   In Vietnam, the U.S. did not seek to gain and maintain control of territory; rather they sought to combat only the military forces of the insurgents.   That is why the now legendary “body count” was so important in Vietnam.   The same thing is not happening in Afghanistan, at least to the extent that the “body count” is important.   The metric I see being used to determine progress in Afghanistan in place of the “body count” is tracking how many attacks occur within delineated sectors of territory.   This metric is probably just as useless in determining victory or progress, as was the body count.   So many factors go into determining how many attacks occur in a given region that the actual number of attacks is meaningless.

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The Thirteenth-Century Crusade Against Novgorod

            Beginning in the thirteenth century the Swedes attempted to continue their expansion to the east into the territory of the Lapp people and the Orthodox Russians of Novgorod.   They harnessed the rhetoric of Crusade as they expanded to the east to gain more control of the Lapp people and exploited the fur trade, hunting, and fishing of the indigenous people.

            It was not just economic concerns that animated the Swedes and Norwegians to expand to control the far-northern trade, religion played a role.   The Catholic Swedes sought to extend the Latin Church’s influence to the east and north while the Orthodox Russians sought to do the same with their brand of Christianity.   Prior to the thirteenth century this impulse had went hand in hand with normal expansion, religious affiliation went hand in hand with political control, indeed religion facilitated control of subject peoples.[1]  Religious uniformity helped mask the differences among the various ethnicities that occupied the far north.

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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 Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 5

I finished Chapter 2 of my thesis last night, ten days later than I planned, but finished is finished right?  it was the chapter about the opening skirmishes and battles of the Königgrätz Campaign.   It was fun to write but difficult at the same time.   I essentially knocked out a twenty-page paper in two weeks where I normally wrote that much in a month being much more leisurely about it. Now I just have to work extra hard to catch up and get my paper done by the deadline for the rough draft, which is on February 20th.   I should be able to do it because the next chapter … More after the Jump…

The Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 5

I am now a little over half-way through writing my thesis at least going by the Outline I drew up.   I got to page 50 last night and am almost ready to start writing the chapter concerning the main battle at Königgrätz itself. I am actually behind on the time-line I set myself because I got hit with writer’s block earlier this week.   That is not the first time I have ever been blocked, but it is one of the worst episodes I have ever had.   I got over it pretty well tough and have punched out about ten pages since I fiured out a way forward. … More after the Jump…

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 Third Crusade

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched as a direct result of the loss of Jerusalem to the Muslims in October 1187.   The loss of Jerusalem was occasioned by the destruction of the crusaders at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187.[1]  Hattin was a disaster for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, most of the army was destroyed with only a small party led by Raymond of Tripoli escaping.   The king Guy of Lusignan (b.1150-d.1194) was captured as well the masters of the Templars and Hospitallers.   All the military monks were executed and most of the prisoners were sold into slavery.

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Book Review: Frederick the Great On The Art of War

Jay Luvaas is a professor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Pa.; he coauthored a series of Battlefield Guides of U.S. Civil War battlefields that became almost instant classics. He has authored several books of military history such as “The Military Legacy of the Civil War: The European Inheritance”, “The Civil War: In the Writings of Col. G.F.R. Henderson”, and “Napoleon on the Art of War”. He has also authored many articles in peer-reviewed journals such as Parameters, the Journal of the U.S. Army War College and the Civil War Times Illustrated. Professor Luvaas prefaces his work by pointing out that the book is not a straight chronological … More after the Jump…

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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