Make your own free website on Tripod.com
The Military Revolution Paper

Linking Military Revolution and State Formation


The Military Revolution has a clear objective. According to author Geoffrey Parker, that objective is “to illuminate the principal means by which the West acquired that first thirty-five percent [of the world] between 1500 and 1800” (5). Parker asserts that a revolution in military capabilities, which took place during that three hundred year period, gave the West the advantage needed to conquer this portion of the world and also gave rise to the formation of the state as a bureaucracy. This change transpired along a linear path. In general, the dramatic growth in army size first led to the organization of governments to administer military operations. Then bureaucracies developed in different states, empires, and areas because such organizations became necessary to effectively run the governments. These two phenomena, military changes and state formation, were mutually dependent and could not have occurred without each other. In order to justify this statement, explanations of military and state development must be given. Geoffrey Parker’s ideas, in conjunction with historical events, demonstrate that many early modern states formed as a result of an inextricable link between a revolution in the techniques of making war and the formation of government.

In the afterward of his book Parker gives the definition of revolution in a political sphere as an event that encompasses a “change in the location of political power” and “perhaps radical transformation of the process of government” (157). The military revolution Parker discusses does not directly follow the lines of a political revolution, but a change in the process of government is a common attribute of both events. Three major characteristics that represent the military revolution are a growth in army size, a revolution in tactics, and use of new technology.

The aspect of the military revolution that most influenced the governing of states was a rapid increase in the size of armies. Four basic speculations have been given as the reasons that armies grew quickly. First, the rise of “new monarchies” enabled states to create military bureaucracies capable of raising and maintaining large armies. Second, inter-state competition encouraged men to fight for the prosperity of their country. Third, states were engaging in many-fronted wars that required more troops in order to be competitive. Fourth, the creation of stronger artillery fortresses demanded numerous troops to defend the new strongholds.

The rapid size increase of European armies was the spark that led to state formation. States that formed adopted the task of raising, financing, and supplying the large military. Various approaches were utilized it raising armies. Hiring mercenaries was a common practice in Europe, and some countries specialized in providing soldiers for hire. Also it was not unusual to have men join by choice in order to obtain money or changes of scenery, however not all were willing to serve. How the state recruited the rest of its army depended on the actions it was willing to take. Soldiers of a defeated enemy were sometimes enlisted, criminals were selected to fight, and when the state needed them local men were conscripted against their will. After the army was assembled two other problems faced the state, how to finance and how to supply these troops.

Giovanni Botero wrote that “war has become as much a test of financial strength as of military power” (61). During the time that he lived financing an army during times of war was an expensive task. In some cases seventy-five to ninety percent of a state’s budget would go to the military. To reduce the amount paid by the state, the cost of fortification for each town was partially shouldered by the regional government and the community.

The most common way to supply an army with food, clothing, ammunition, and shelter was simply to take what was needed from the public. Since the peasants were usually unarmed and helpless against the armies, soldiers used the threat of violence to retrieve articles. This was the easiest way for soldiers to procure necessary items. When the state did supply the soldiers carrying enough food to last until more was available and equipment for cooking was a problem. One solution was campaigning near the sea or a navigable waterway that allowed supplies to arrive by water transport. Another answer involved following a set route while marching so stores could be strategically placed in the path of the soldiers.

While the size of armies was changing, the tactics they employed were becoming more ambitious and complex. Light infantry was implemented in battles. Artillery became light enough that men alone could carry them onto the field. With the discovery of volley fire, several rows of gunmen positioned to fire one after the other, the battlefields in Europe became wider to minimize incoming casualties and maximize outgoing fire. It is said that William Louis of Nassau was the first to suggest this technique for the military in a letter to his cousin in 1594. Siege warfare was predominant when an army attacked a fortress. These assaults could last for months before the fortification fell or the inhabitants surrendered.

During the course of the military revolution the rise of naval warfare can be found. The “Golden Age of Sea Power” took place between the discoveries of the 1490s and the railways of the 1840s. New types of ships were being built around the globe in order to give a country control of the oceans. These warships, for example the galeass, galley, or the frigate, were sturdier than their predecessors and could mount heavier guns on the decks. Fewer men were required to defend the new ships since their mounted guns were powerful. Eugenio Gentilini wrote “to hit the enemy at long distance cannot be the purpose of a navy” (96). According to this statement sailors were unwilling to abandon close-range fighting and boarding in favor of using cannons, that could destroy an enemy with little risk to the defenders.

Elements of new technology included components of firepower, better types of fortification, and vessels for naval warfare. Tactics of brute force gave way to the use of firepower in the fifteenth century. The experimentation with gunpowder weapons proved useful to European armies. Eventually a gun was used instead of a longbow for long range fire. Before smaller and more useful weapons were manufactured powerful siege guns were huge and unwieldy, but struck terror into the defenders. The invention of lighter and more mobile artillery made warfare less burdensome for the infantry because men alone could handle the guns used in the field.

Change in the architecture of fortresses is a prominent attribute of the military revolution. With the rise of siege warfare medieval strongholds could not repel firepower of the new artillery and fell quickly. In Italy architects perfected a new plan for fortification called trace italienne. Low, thick walls were accompanied by angled bastions for maximum defense. These new techniques were used to strengthen existing fortresses, but were expensive to accomplish. New armaments utilizing the new concepts were built within a short period of time for defense purposes, and as a result states had too many fortresses to man and too few troops to guard them.

Military revolution affected regions in various ways. Italians were the first to suggest changes in military architecture and tactics. In France the innovations of light infantry and light cavalry, mobile strategy divisions, correct topography, and a fully mobile field artillery gave the military an advantage. Attacks were more effective and losses were minimized. With a new navy, Holland assaulted enemy ports in Asia in order to usurp their foreign trade. As an explanation for his country’s actions, Governor Jan Pieterszoon Coen said that “trade cannot be maintained without war, nor war without trade” (132). The Japanese adopted European weapons quickly and more efficiently than their enemies, and became the great power of the Far East. China also embraced firearms from Europe when its borders were threatened. Many Muslim countries fell because they saw no need to change their present military strategies, and assuming new European weapons did not change their fate. The Ottoman Empire, however, changed its army to conform to new European military ways.

The result of the advances associated with the military revolution was the formation of states. Larger armies required more organized governments for administration. More organized governments became bureaucracies which managed the affairs of the united state which formed as an outcome. After these conditions were satisfied, states emerged in parts of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Portugal had an empire in India that needed defense, so the state organized to keep it protected. Holland was dependent on Asian trade that had to be secured through naval expeditions. Expanding their trading partners required the establishment of colonies. Spain had to defend its American interests and expand the area that it controlled. Muslim states wanted to clear the Indian Ocean of Europeans, so they organized their armies to accomplish this goal. Japan was a newly united country that wanted to expand. Korea was the first Japanese target and the Korean government had to organize to repel the attack. Prussia started as a small state, organized to fight wars, and grew in size as a result.

Not all states that formed were alike. A leap in army size led to the reorganization of government where the inherited administrative system became a more complex power. A governing bureaucracy was present in this case. On the other hand, the rapid increase in manpower of the military revolution led to the rise of absolutism. All ruling bodies that formed under these conditions faced financial dilemmas. “The concentration of such large armies and fleets strained to the limit the expanded economic, political, and technological resources which had permitted their creation” (154).

According to Parker, “the growth of an effective bureaucracy was an essential prerequisite for the creation, control, and supply of larger and better-equipped armies” (147). This statement suggests that a link was present between the formation of states and military change. In fact, Parker asserts that these two phenomena “fed upon each other, and indeed required each other (159). As explanation he reveals that the “Renaissance State” had a more efficient bureaucratic structure and improved methods for raising money, which preceded the military changes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Conversely mobilizing resources could give governments more power over their subjects. “Military activity and state formation have always been inextricably linked, and periods of rapid military change have usually coincided with major political innovations” (159). This account is offered as a justification for the connection found between states and their militaries.

Parker makes a more accurate description of the link between military revolution and state formation when he mentions a “double helix structure” (159). A simple rule of causation is not sufficient to explain the relationship between the two. The separate phenomena can be thought of as complex spirals that intersect at regular intervals over time, much like the structure of human DNA. This model still allows military changes to cause the formation of states, as given earlier by Parker, but also permits state unification to cause military revolution.

The West acquired control over thirty-five percent of the world’s land between 1500 and 1800. Geoffrey Parker speculates that a military revolution, taking place in those three hundred years, was the reason Westerners were capable of accomplishing this task. The purpose of The Military Revolution is to show how military innovation allowed the West to become the dominant world power. Parker also explains how the military changes caused the growth of states. Due to the military revolution armies grew in size and more organized systems of government were needed for their regulation. States originated in areas of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East when bureaucracies formed to manage the military. According to Parker, military revolution and state formation are linked through a complex system of mutual causation. One could not have occurred without the other. This statement has been proven through explanations of the revolution in military tactics and the development of states, along with Parker’s ideas and historical facts.