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Ancestral Voices: The Influence of the Ancients on the Military Thought of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries Author(s):

Donald A. Neill Source: The Journal of Military History, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 487-520 Published by: Society for Military History Stable URL: . Accessed: 22/06/2011 12:22
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Ancestral Voices: The Influence of the Ancients on the Military Thought of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Donald A. Neill

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoilseething, As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing, A mighty mountainmomently was forced; Amidwhose swift half-intermittedburst Hugefragmentsvaulted like reboundinghail . .. And 'mid this tumult Kublaheard fromfar Ancestralvoices prophesyingwar! -Samuel TaylorColeridge, KublaKhan

The Renaissance Revisited seething," the Renaissance resonated across Europe from the rise of Petrarch in the mid-fourteenth century, to the Enlightenment of the itself, like Coleridge's metaphorical mountain, eighteenth-imposing all aspects of religious, social, scientific, political, and philosophiupon cal thought, and scattering fragments of long-forgotten wisdom about like "rebounding hail." In many ways, the period represented a coming of age: a waxing dissatisfaction with the patronizing Christian interpretation of man as inherently sinful and the world as a wheel of pain for the unrighteous; the slow growth of the sense of human "self," of a destiny not foreordained; and a new appreciation of the intrinsic worth of Man. Novelist Jostein Gaarder summarizes the intellectual revolution of the era: "Throughout the whole medieval period, the point of departure had always been God. The humanists of the Renaissance took as their point of departure man himself."'
1. Jostein Gaarder,Sophie's World (Sofies verden), trans. Paulette Moller (New York:Berkley Publishing Corp., 1996), 200.
The Journal of Military History 62 (July 1998): 487-520 ? Society for Military History

FROM the chasm of the Dark and Middle Ages "with ceaseless turmoil


A. DONALD NEILL Barbara Tuchman further eulogizes that: the secularism of the era, noting

Under its impulse the individual found in himself, rather than in God, the designer and captain of his fate. Hiis needs, his ambitions and desires, his pleasures and possessions, his mind, his art, his power, his glory, were the house of life. His earthly passage was no longer, as in the medieval concept, a weary exile on the way to the

spiritualdestiny of his soul1.2 Art and music, philosophy and government, science and warfare underwent a gradual but profound transformation. Man, grown weary of the Tantalan quest for salvation, had decided to supplement it with the pursuit of knowledge, discovery, and wealth-all expressions of a graduially emerging individualism. It is generally accepted that scripts faithfully preserved by the Christian monasteries, supplemented by knowledge retrieved from the exotic hinterlands of Palestine, Egypt, and Persia, and in many cases expanded upon by the considerable scientific accomplishments of the Muslim Moors, served to kindle the intellectual conflagrations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and led eventually to the voyages of discovery, the development of the printing press, the Protestant secession, the explosion of the humanist arts and, in the Enlightenment, to the "Age of Reason." Revealed knowledge lay therefore at the heart of all contemporary scientific, philosophical, and artistic endeavour, the rediscovery of the wisdom of Athens and Rome serving as the fundament upon wvhich Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Galileo, and Copernicus stood to achieve the pinnacle of their respective arts and sciences. The explosion of the humanist ideal was effected by myriad developments, discoveries, and re-discoveries during the fifteenth century: the invention of printing immensely extended the access to knowledge and ideas; advances in science enlarged understanding of the

universe and in appliedscience suppliednew techniques;new methods of capitalist financing stimulated production; new techniques of navigation and shipbuilding enlarged trade and the geographical horizon; newly centralized power absorbed from the declining medieval communes was at the disposal of the monarchies and the growing nationalism of the past century gave it impetus; discovery of the New World and circumnavigation of the globe opened unlimited visions.3 Increasing populations added to the tax base, which made more funding available for voyages of discovery, which in turn opened up new vistas 2. BarbaraW. Tuchman, The March of Folly from Troy to Vietnam (New York: Ballantine Books, 1984), 52. 3. Ibid., 57-58.

Ancestral Voices for trade and exploitation, which in turn poured more capital into the national economies. This newfound wealth and scientific wherewithal led to the increasing availability of monies disbursable upon military pursuits, which facilitated the vast increase in the size of armies necessitated by the tactical and technological pressures of the era. Henry V led ten thousand men to Agincourt in 1415, a "horde" which Turenne, two centuries later, would exceed by an order of magnitude, and Napoleon, at his pinnacle, by two orders. The "rebirth" paradigm Analyses of the Dark and Middle Ages suffer from a regrettable dearth of reliable historical record, hence the problem with analyses of the intellectual impact (or lack thereof) of this period on the Renaissance. Gutenberg's press multiplied by ten thousand times the number of books available in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, so that what had previously been unobtainable at any price gradually came within the reach of the slowly expanding literate class. A glut of rag paper4 and the ability to print books much more rapidly than even the most ardent monastic copyist, are alleged to have exhausted quickly the supply of printable contemporary wisdom, and the scions of Gutenberg turned to the ancient scholars, soldiers, poets, and kings as a means of generating income. The growing availability of ancient wisdom is assumed to have sparked an intellectual revolution, and the soldiers, scientists, and kings of Europe, we are led to assume, merely "picked up" where their ancient forebears had left off centuries before. This thesis is central to conventional interpretations of the history of the Renaissance. The contemporary Roman Church held as one of its central tenets that nothing could be created or destroyed save by the hand of God; and thus knowledge, if it came not from God, must therefore have come from someone in the past ... to whom God had at that time vouchsafed it. Citing "the Ancients" as a source of inspiration offered many an easy escape from accusations of heresy, and thus we can assume that the Church would have been less uncomfortable with emerging wisdom if an "Ancient" origin could be plausibly claimed. Galileo, in point of fact, brought condemnation (and house arrest) upon himself by refuting the accepted, erroneous, Aristotelian model of the universe. The "rebirth paradigm" carries over into the study of military history and conventional explanations for the military reforms of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. George Dyer has argued that
4. Paper produced, science historian James Burke has suggested, from the discarded clothing of victims of the Black Death which struck Europe in the midfourteenth century.



"What the European states were really doing in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was reinventing the infantry armies of classical antiquity,"5 while John Keegan notes that It is ... usually claimed that two of the most important military reformersof the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries,Maurice of Nassau and GustavusAdolphus,were consciously influenced in the making of their armies by what they had learnt about the RomanLegionfrom Caesar'sGallic War.6 Henry Guerlac goes even further in his support of the influence of the Ancients; in his view, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Antiquity was still the great teacher in all that concerned the broaderaspects of militarytheory and the secrets of militarygenius. Vegetius and Frontinus were deemed indispensable;and the most Le popularbook of the century, Henri de Rohan's Parfait capitaine, was an adaptationof Caesar'sGallic Wars.7 And yet we must question the validity of the "rebirth paradigm." To what degree did the resurrected philosophical works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Seneca; the military treatises of Xenophon, Julius Caesar, and Flavius Vegetius; the scientific efforts of Pythagoras, Archimedes, and Galen; the historical works of Thucydides, Homer, Virgil, and Pliny; or even the "Frogs" of Aristophanes underlie the later accomplishments of Giordano Bruno, Gustavus Adolphus, Galileo Galilei, Erasmus, Spinoza, Martin Luther, Cervantes, Rabelais, and Thomas More? Did the military adaptations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries mimic the scientific and cultural leaps through which Copernicus and Titian added the methods of their antecedents to the fruits of their own genius? Or was the gradual resurgence of large, standing, professional infantry armies attributable to some other outgrowth of the Renaissance and Enlightenment not directly related to restored historical knowledge? Some authors disagree with the "rebirth paradigm." Michael Roberts, in his short treatise on warfare between 1560 and 1660, argues that "this period . . . seems to ... have witnessed what may not improperly be called a military revolution."8 Keegan expands on this theme in the opening discussion to his case studies in The Face of Battle:

6. John Keegan, The Face of Battle (London: Penguin Books, 1988), 62.

5. GwynDyer,War(London: BodleyHead,1986), 55.

Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton, N.J.: 8. Michael Roberts, The Military Revolution, 1560-1660 (Belfast: Queen's University Press, 1956), 4.
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7. HenryGuerlac, "Vauban: Impactof Scienceon War," PeterParet,ed., The in

PrincetonUniversity Press,1986), 71-72.

Ancestral Voices A great deal of controversyhas flowedroundthe issue of exactly how influentialclassicalwriterswere on Renaissancemilitaryaffairs.Vegetius, a late Romanauthor,is known to have been widely read. But F. L. Taylor[in TheArt of Warfarein Italy, 1494-1529] came to the conclusion, after reviewingwhat authorsthe Condottierimight have studied, that "the influence of classical history and literature was mainly academic. We view the warfareof the Renaissance through the academic medium of contemporaryhistorians and teachers and are consequently apt to form an exaggeratedopinion of the effect of theoretical writingson militaryoperations."9 A question therefore lies before us: Were the military theorists of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment moved to flights of genius by their times, their tools, and their fellows-or by the example and intellectual birthright of their ancient forebears?

The problem The temporal context of the following examination, therefore, is seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France; the individuals, Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707) and Hermann Maurice, Comte de Saxe (1696-1750); the domain, ars bellicus; and the question, whether conventional wisdom is correct in asserting that the military thought as expressed through the works of these gentlemen is attributable primarily to their study of the ancients (in particular, Vegetius's De Rei Militarii), or rather to the realities of the temporal context in which they lived, worked, fought, built, and wrote. I shall address the subject in two phases: first, a broad-brush examination of the military mechanism of the Roman Empire through the eyes of the theoretician and historian Vegetius, followed by a brief survey of the evolution of warfare from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance to the European Enlightenment; second, a more in-depth look at the principal themes of the military literary works in question, accompanied by an analysis of the probable nonderivative sources of their concepts. I hope that this methodology will demonstrate that the military achievements of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France were only superficially attributable to the works of the ancients; and that the contributions thereunto of Vauban and Saxe were, as Roberts suggests, "the product of military logic"10 rather than the echo of ancestral voices emphasizing the military wisdom of a bygone age.

9. Keegan, Face of Battle, 61-62. Emphasis added. 10. Roberts, Military Revolution, 19.



The Mirror of Memory

Fabrizio: ... without the principles adopted from the ancients, men of the greatest experience in military affairs say that the infantry is good for little or nothing ... Cosimo: Which method of arming would you recommend, the German

or the Ancient Romanone? Fabrizio:The Roman,without a doubt. -Machiavelli, Arte della Guerrall If you wouldtake the pains but to examine the wars of PomFluellen: pey the Great,you shall find, I warrantyou, that there is no tidin dle-taddlenor pibble-pabble Pompey'scamp . . .
-Shakespeare, Henry

Virgil recounts in vivid prose the founding of Rome by the defeated exiles of Troy. Through the centuries of Mycenaean, Athenian, and Hellenistic Greece, the citizens of the Italian peninsula remained relatively inward-looking. It was only a century after the death of Alexander that the denizens of Rome arose in might and began the struggle to carve out an empire. Between the destruction of Babylon in 689 B.C. and the fall of Rome itself in 476 A.D., the Romans fought more than a hundred major wars, campaigns, and battles-in excess of ten for every century of her existence. Until the defeat and destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C., arguably each of Rome's wars was a war for national survival; from that date forward to the early Christian era, each was, with few exceptions, a war of expansion; and from thence to its fall, each of Rome's wars was a battle against imperial entropy and the encroachment of chaos from beyond the frontiers of empire. It has been postulated by authors as temporally disparate as Edward Gibbon and Paul Kennedy that empires intrinsically lack stability and are capable only of expansion or contraction; if this is true, then once having achieved the maximum extent of its empire, Rome may have been ineluctably destined for dissolution. Two authors of vastly different backgrounds and eras recommend themselves to this study. The first is Julius Caesar (c. 100-44 B.C.), the general and statesman who, over a nine-year period from 58 to 50 B.C., conquered the entirety of modern France, Belgium, and Switzerland, seized parts of Germany and Holland, and twice invaded Britain. His best-known work, De Bello Gallico, describes this campaign and offers considerable insight into Caesar's military thought, concepts of leadership, and-if only peripherally-his considerable political acumen; Kee11. Niccol6 Machiavelli, The Art of War, trans. Ellis Farneworth (New York: DaCapo Press, 1965), 47. 12. William Shakespeare, The Life of King Henry the Fifth, in W. J. Craig, ed., Shakespeare: Complete Works (London: Magpie Books, 1993), 488; Act IV, Scene I,
69-72. 492 * THE JOURNALOF

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gan notes the study's wide availability throughout Europe during the Renaissance: Although Caesar'sCommentaries [De Bello Gallico and De Bello Civili] had only recently been rediscovered, they had achieved a wide popularityin fifteenth-centuryItaly and were being translated into other European languages by the beginning of the sixteenth (French, 1488; German,1507; English, 1530).13 The second author, Flavius Vegetius Renatus, wrote De Rei Militarii in the failing years of the empire that Caesar had helped to build. A theoretician and historian rather than a soldier, his work is of greater significance to this present study because it spells out his vision of the Roman army at the height of its power half a millennium before his own birth, and is a description of the military machine of the Roman Empire rather than a campaign chronology. For this reason, we will concentrate on Vegetius the theorist rather than on Caesar the general in this present work.


The Romansowed the conquest of the worldto no other cause than continual militarytraining,exact observanceof discipline in theircamps and unweariedcultivationof the other artsof war. -Flavius VegetiusRenatus14

In 212 A.D. Caracalla, with the declaration Civis Romanus sum, conferred Roman citizenship upon every free-born subject within the empire. Eight years later, the Goths invaded Asia Minor and occupied the Balkan peninsula; and in 285, only four decades after its millennial anniversary, the empire was sundered into its Eastern and Western halves.15 An empire that had subjugated the Egyptians and the Greeks and occupied the biblical lands, the Iberian peninsula, and the northern reaches of the Gauls and the Celts, had only two hundred years of existence left to it. Although two centuries is today considered a relatively long period in the life of a state, the downfall of Rome had already been foreshadowed in the degeneration of its once near-invincible armies, the
13. Keegan,Face of Battle, 62. 14. Thomas R. Phillips, ed., in his preface to Vegetius, The Military Institutions of the Romans (De Rei Militarii), trans. John Clark (Harrisburg,Pa.: Military Service Publishing Co., 1944), 13, 112. 15. Although it would be reunited in the early fourth century by Constantine, it would fragment again in 340, this time permanently. Arguably,given the subsequent sack and fall of Rome, the rise of Islam, the intellectual heritage of Byzantium, and all of the myriad other results of this event, the division of Empire was one of the most significant developments in Western history.



slow but implacable advance of the eastern barbarian nations, and the fatal arrogance of imperialism. This was the Rome of Vegetius, who is believed to have lived and produced his prescriptive manual during the final quarter of the fourth century. Vegetius appears to have been a Roman of relatively significant rank, albeit in the civilian rather than military sphere. Although the details of his life are obscure, it is generally accepted that his practical military experience, if indeed he had any at all, was at best limited; his works consist largely of the collected arguments of historians and other military theorists rather than his own observations. Writing apparently for the eyes of the emperor Valentinian (371-392) in much the same fashion that Machiavelli produced The Prince for his prospective Medici patron, Vegetius's work appears to have been a textbook example of advice which came too late to be of any use. The legions that Caesar employed to great effect in the conquest and garrisoning of Gaul represented the apex of Roman republican military evolution: citizen infantry, recruited, trained, and equipped by Roman citizens, and led by long-service veterans. The vast expansion of the empire, however, led inevitably to an increase both in the amount of territory to be garrisoned and the variety of subject peoples that were available to serve as auxiliaries, each possessing their own peculiar military attributes. Conventional wisdom and historical record alike suggest that the requirement for additional soldiery coincided both with the growing availability of "barbarian" troops and the waxing desire of the Roman citizenry to enjoy the fruits of their struggles for empire. The end result of these trends was a gradual increase in the percentage of foreign troops within even the Roman national legions relative to the numbers of citizen infantry, a trend that was even more pronounced in the "allied" legions. Of even greater consequence was the increase in relative numbers of light, unarmoured, stirrupless cavalry and the decline in infantry of all sorts. The stolid line of disciplined, trained infantrymen, whose flights of javelins and follow-up attacks with the short sword had rarely failed to break the lines of less disciplined troops, was no more; and Phillips suggests that by the time Vegetius put pen to parchment, "the decay of the Roman armies had progressed too far to be arrested by [a] plea for a return to the virtues of discipline and courage of the

The absorption of barbarian troops, such as Gauls, Iberians, and Celts, and the supposed unwillingness of the Roman citizenry to defend what they had won, however, do not tell the whole story of the evolution of the legions from infantry to cavalry. By the third and fourth centuries,

16. Phillips in Vegetius, Military Institutions, 2.

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Ancestral Voices horsemen were slashing at the edges of the empire: the Goths along the shores of the Black Sea (257) and throughout Greece (268); the Marcomanni in Bohemia (270); the rise of the individual German kingdoms (c. 300); the victory of the Persians in Armenia (350); and the Huns' invasion of Europe (360) and Russia (376). The catastrophic defeat of Valens by the Visigoths at Adrianople (378), the worst reverse suffered by a Roman army since Cannae, convinced the emperors that the solidity of the line of heavy infantry armed only with the pilum and the gladius was no longer sufficient to meet the surging cavalry attacks of the barbarians. The solution chosen was the incorporation of greater numbers of cavalry troops and longer-range missile weapons within the legions. For both of these, it was necessary to go beyond the Roman citizenry, who had comparatively little experience with either the horse or the bow. This was accomplished-but only at the cost of the infantry that had been the backbone of the legions. Oman notes that by the early fifth century, The day of infantry had in fact gone by in southern Europe;they continued to exist, not as the core and strength of the army,but for various minor purposes-to garrisontowns or operate in mountainous countries. Romanand barbarianalike threw their vigourinto the organizationof their cavalry.17 In short, Rome adopted the cavalry and missile-launching capabilities of her enemies, but without the solid skill base thereof, employing mercenaries rather than cultivating the "cavalry nation" that the Huns, the Goths, the Persians, and later the Mongols were to display,18 while at the same time critically weakening the one arm of the legions in which, until then, Rome had been unsurpassed. The result was a series of defeats that gradually ate away the territory and strength of the empire, until in the time of Vegetius it is arguable whether, as Phillips suggested, the legions could in fact have been salvaged. Vegetius's chief contentions, arguments, and maxims were, in hindsight, representative more of common sense and historical argument than actual military experience. He had little of the latter, but was well acquainted with the former two; and to his credit, he was apparently able to draw on and synthesize the writings of his predecessors in order to distill an appreciable quantity of useful advice.

17. C. W. C. Oman, The Art of War in the Middle Ages, ed. John H. Beeler (Ithaca, N.Y.:Cornell University Press, 1990), 10. 18. Victor Davis Hanson describes, in The Western Way of War:Infantry Battle in Classical Greece (New York:Knopf, 1989), the fundamentally dichotomous nature of oriental (slashing) and occidental (shock) warfare during the classical Greek period.




Vegetius's manual, however, describes a legion that did not exist in his time and which, perhaps, never existed save as the Platonic ideal of his imagination. It is reputed to have been influential in the campaigns of the Count of Anjou (1092-1143), Henry II of England (1133-1189), it has been suggested, and Richard Coeur de Lion (1157-1199)-who, carried the tome with him to the Holy Land. His works have been lauded by Montecuccoli (1609-1680) and the Austrian Field Marshal Prince de Ligne (1735-1814). "A manuscript by Vegetius was listed in the will of Count Everard de Frejus, about 837 A.D.,"19according to Phillips, who describes the publishing history of the work. He notes that approximately 150 manuscript editions date from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, and that the first printed edition appeared in Utrecht in 1473, to be followed rapidly by printings in Cologne, Paris, and Rome. The first printed English edition was produced by Caxton in 1489,20 antedating by two centuries the accomplishments of Vauban and Saxe. Vegetius's advice, theories, and maxims were, therefore, readily available to the military thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment; and, in the manner translated by the American military during the Second World War, certainly seem applicable to modern warfare. However, it must be borne in mind that the tactical methodology of the legion-armed as it was with javelin and short sword and offering shock through steadiness rather than firepower-differs vastly from that forced upon European warfare by the appearance of the firelock. This critical difference will be discussed at greater length further along in this paper.

The cavalry interregnum The gradual paring away of the Western Roman Empire by the Franks, Huns, and Visigoths that culminated in the fall of Rome in 476 has been credited largely to the superiority of the light barbarian cavalry over the inept auxiliary cavalry and debased light infantry of the later Roman Empire. The cavalry lesson was not lost on the European successors to Rome, and over the next half-century, the development of scale, chain, and later plate armor; the improved breeding of large, heavy horses; the invention of the stirrup; and the emergence of the feudal system of governance (which concentrated limited capital in the hands of scattered warlords and kings) led to the development of the armored class of elite warrior. Warfare devolved even further from the dissolute practices of the later Romans and the disorganized raiding of the eastern European and Asiatic horsemen into a contest involving two distinct
19. Phillips in Vegetius, Military Institutions, 1. 20. Ibid., 1.
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(and grossly mismatched) groups: the poorly armed, equipped, and trained serf-based infantry, and the exquisitely equipped, well-trained, and aloof noble cavalry. As the peasant infantry of the time was, without a twenty-to-one advantage, generally incapable of harming the heavily armored cavalryman; and the cavalryman-for reasons of prestige, honour, and perhaps most importantly, prospects of ransom-unwilling to engage the infantry, battles tended to consist of a prolonged fight between the ill-equipped serfs, either preceded or followed by a selective melee between the mounted heavy cavalrymen. This state of affairs persisted from the time of Charlemagne well into the terminal decades of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1457), when the mounted horseman was gradually unseated by a combination of factors. The first of these was his relative vulnerability while on foot; a man wearing some seventy pounds of armor, equipped with heavy muscle-powered weapons and possessed of extremely restricted vision and breathing arrangements could, if isolated from his fellows, be easily overwhelmed and dispatched by an unencumbered peasant armed with a dagger-the fate of the bulk of the dismounted French knights at Agincourt (1415). Although proof against the lighter missile weapons encountered during the various crusades (light javelins and even light composite bows), the knight had become vulnerable to close-range fire from the Welsh longbow and the crossbow-the latter a weapon which, although expensive, required little training to operate and which could easily transfix an armored man at a range in excess of one hundred meters. He was further vulnerable to the emerging power of gunpowder arms which, although finicky and expensive like the crossbow, were also easy (if unsafe) to operate, and possessed the added quality of a noisy and violent discharge. But the most significant threat to the armored knight was the reintroduction of disciplined, formed infantry armed with a variety of polemounted weapons such as the bill, fauchard, guisarme, bec-de-corbin, lochaber axe, and the dreadfully effective Swiss pike and halberd-all of which were designed to keep the knight at a distance and dismount him from his horse, the source of his mobility and striking power; and, while prone and helpless, to penetrate his armor with relative ease. The same weapons (and to a lesser extent, the two-handed sword and battle-axe) served, through leverage and the reduction in cross-section of the cutting or penetrating edge of the weapon, to puncture even the heaviest and most expensive plated armour of the era. Once the vulnerability of the armored man to "stand-off" infantry weapons such as the pike and the halberd had been demonstrated repeatedly in battle, armor began gradually to disappear from the field, although it did retain a hallowed place in the tilting contests of European monarchs well into the six-




early twentieth century). Deprived of its invulnerability and shock value, cavalry was once again relegated to the support role it had played in the Greek and early Roman armies: messenger, reconnaissance element, and pursuit force. Through the fourteenth, fifteenth, and early sixteenth centuries, the halberd complemented the pike and, for a brief time, the phalanx reemerged as a dominant formation for infantry. As Roberts notes, "The pike was 'queen of the battlefield'; the millennial ascendancy of cavalry was broken."21 The demise of the mounted, armored horseman-the "flower of chivalry"-was due less to the quirky, expensive, and unreliable hand-gun than to the offensive value of the "can-opener" halberd, and the defensive value of the pike.22

Infantry renascent Interestingly, Oman in Art of War in the Middle Ages draws a pointed comparison between the soldiery of Imperial Rome and Renaissance Switzerland. After contending that there are but two means of vanquishing any particular foe-either through shock corps-a-corps or missile fire-and offering the Swiss pikeman and the English and Welsh long bowman as the respective medieval epitomes of these two methods,23 Oman suggests that, in their e'lan, ferocity in the defence of their homelands, cruelty in the conquest of foreigners, sheer bloodthirstiness, and "moral guilt," the Swiss closely mimicked the action and capabilities of the Roman legions. However, Oman's comparison lays little emphasis upon the rigorous training and fierce discipline of the legions, suggesting instead that the "free herdsman of the Alps" was something of a natural soldier who, the pike or halberd once thrust into his willing hands, was capable of falling on the foe not only with gusto, but with precision and professional deliberation. He further credits their tactical mobility and speed of movement on the march to their rejection of encumbering armor24-the same decision, Vegetius argues, that ultimately cost the legions their superiority as heavy infantry. Finally, the pike phalanx, as previously noted, itself fell victim to the concentration of manpower that gave it both its relative invulnerability to cavalry and its massed ability to inflict "shock."

21. Roberts, Military Revolution, 6. 22. Richard A. Preston and Sydney F. Wise, Men in Arms (New York:Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979), 92-95. 23. Oman, Art of War, 73-74. 24. Ibid., 80. It should be noted, however, that the Swiss pikemen did retain the helmet and cuirass.

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The development and employment first of siege and then of fieldtransportable artillery (the former by Charles VIII, the latter by Gustavus and Maurice) and the widening distribution of the arquebus soon reversed the resurrection of the pike phalanx, there being no more appropriate target for the wildly inaccurate early field artillery and largebore hand-guns than an enormous block of tightly-packed soldiery.25 Infantry began to adapt to the increasing prevalence of gunpowder on the field of battle. For the first time, infantry bodies, armed with a combination of the arquebus for firepower and the pike for defence, were able to conduct offensive operations against other, similarly armed bodies-an innovation briefly epitomized by the Spanish tercio. What then began to determine the difference between victory and defeat was the skill and speed of the arquebusier in reloading and discharging his weapon, and the steadiness of the soldiers in the face both of fire and the disciplined, menacing approach of a forest of eighteen-foot pikes. Roberts's inference that the pike-and-arquebus combination immediately obviated cavalry is somewhat exaggerated; in fact, more than two hundred years were required to effectively relegate cavalry to a secondary role on the battlefield. The introduction of first the arquebus and then the matchlock musket into the pike formations was a slow and gradual one, and did in fact coincide with the slow and gradual disappearance of the heavily armored knight; however, like most military institutions, the knight's actual disappearance only occurred long after he had been rendered militarily irrelevant by the polearm. Jones argues that the waning need for a stand-off weapon to compete with the knight's lance led to a gradual decrease in the length of the pike, and that the growing proportion of musketeers to pikemen led equally to the growing recognition of the offensive capability of such formations. However, the need to coordinate the fire of the arquebusiers led to linear rather than phalanx-like formations, and the linear pike-and-arquebus formations soon proved to be relatively immobile and difficult to manoeuvre on the the traditional four-sided Swiss pike battlefield and tended-unlike squares-to offer vulnerable flanks to slashing attacks by emerging sword-and-pistol cavalry. Unable with a pike-musket phalanx to effectively exploit a penetration or pursue a broken enemy, the Europeanshad at last reached the identical tactical situation as the Alexandrianand Roman armiieshad.... The linear system and
the battalion's lack of an all-round defence capability made the infantry particularly vulnerable to cavalry attacks on its flanks. And, 25. Martin van Creveld, Technology and War from 2000 B.C. to the Present (New York:Free Press, 1991), 91. Van Creveld states that "It was with artillery that the French finally blasted the Swiss phalanx from the battlefield at Marignano in 1515."


DONALD NEILL A. unlike Roman heavy infantry, the musketeers could not protect themselves against shock action by sabre-armedcavalry. By comparison with the Romans, they lacked the level of articulationthat had often enabled Romanheavy infantryto manoeuvreso as to present a front to heavy cavalry.26 Jones further argues that the conscious and somewhat slavish adoption of Roman tactical methodology by Gustavus Adolphus and Maurice of Nassau in the early seventeenth century contributed heavily to this lack of adaptability, and attributes the prolonged importance of cavalry to the "intrinsic weapon-system advantage" of pistol and sabre over pike and musket, a less-than-convincing argument given the difficulty of reloading a pistol on horseback, and the questionable shock effect of sabre- over lance-armed cavalry. He then argues, more convincingly, that what turned the tide in favour of the infantry was the invention of the bayonet, which enabled each musket-armed soldier to, in effect, serve as his own pikeman, thus simultaneously increasing both the firepower and the defensive capability of the battalion. Increasing the cumulative firepower of an infantry body of the era could be accomplished in three ways: by increasing the proportion of muskets to pikes; by increasing the rate of fire; and by increasing the shock effect of musketry. The first was accomplished by the elimination of the pike and its replacement first by the plug, and later by the socket, bayonet, an invention attributed to Vauban; the second, by incessant training and harsh discipline; and the third, by the practice of firing in controlled volleys. Of these innovations, the second-training and discipline-rapidly took on paramount importance as it became apparent that victory in a contest between close-ordered troops exchanging volley fire would go to the side which maintained its discipline and regularity of fire the longest: Battlelosses were bound to be severe when soldiers advancedshoulder to shoulder,halting at the word of command to trade volleys at distances suited to duelling pistols. Only an iron discipline could nerve men to keep on reloadingand firingwhile they stood firmamid the heaped-up bodies of writhing or motionless comrades. Only years of drill could school them to close up their tattered ranks and march forwardwith the bayonet at that slow and solemn pace of eighty steps a minute.27 Creveld in Technology and War agrees, and suggests that

26. Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World (New York:Oxford University Press, 1987), 249. 27. Lynn Montross, War Through the Ages, 3d ed. (New York:Harperand Brothers, 1960), 336. 500 *

Ancestral Voices

conditions pertainingto both safety and effectivenessdemandedthat [gunpowder]weapons be used in a precisely coordinated fashion. This required great concentration and a wall-like steadfastness under fire, qualitiesthat took years of trainingand a ferocious discipline to inculcate.28 This tactic of massing fires-imposed by the inherent inaccuracies, complexities of loading, and slow rate of fire of the musket, to say nothing of safety considerations-put a premium on high states of training and ruthless discipline. Fortuitously, a model for such training and discipline was readily available in the works of Vegetius and other historians of Imperial Rome. The question of the "rebirth" of infantry in the Renaissance therefore leads us to wonder whether the need for drill, training, and strict discipline imposed by the musket would have led to the types of formations and operations that Vegetius recommended even had he not written his book. Roberts argues that in attempting to find a solution to the problem and promise of the musket, Maurice[of Nassau]and his cousins, inspiredby a study of Vegetius, Aelian, and Leo VI ... attempted to return to Roman models in regardto size of units, order of battle, discipline, and drill. ... [and of noted that] the sergeant-major Maurice'sarmy [had to] be capable of executing a great number of intricate parade-groundevolutions, based on Romanmodels.29 It is readily apparent that Maurice and his contemporaries, as well as those both antedating (Machiavelli) and following (Saxe) their military heyday, drew some degree of inspiration from Roman writings. The next section will, in examining the contributions of Saxe and Vauban to the military art, attempt to determine whether ancient writings merely complemented, or actually furnished, the military thought of the French Enlightenment.

Giving Fire The militaryrevolutionof early modern Europepossessed a number of separate facets. First, the improvements in artillery in the fifteenth century, both qualitativeand quantitative, eventually transformed fortressdesign. Second, the increasingreliance on firepower in battle- whether with archers, field artillery,or musketeers-led not only to the eclipse of cavalryby infantryin most armies, but to

28. Creveld, Technology and War, 94. 29. Roberts, Military Revolution, 7, 10.



new tactical arrangements that maximized the opportunities of giving fire.31

The "devilish cannon" And the nimble gunner with linstock now the devilish cannon touches, And down goes all before him! -Shakespeare, Henry V31

The foregoing citation from Parker's Military Revolution demonstrates his agreement with the proposition that tactical innovations flow from technological developments rather than the reverse. While the general thrust of this essay thus far accords with this sentiment, it seems likely on closer examination that the flux and flow of military thinking vis-a-vis technical innovation is less a one-way street than a Marxian thesis-antithesis-synthesis interaction in which competing doctrines and technologies, rather than nullifying each other, establish a modus vivendi-for lack of a better term-and result in a wavelike transformation of the battlefield, displaying "troughs" and "crests" as tactics and technologies alternately gain and relinquish momentary advantage. The best illustration of this principle is the ages-old dialectic between warhead and armor. This competition led through the early and high Middle Ages to a gradual increase in both the thickness of personal armor protection and the amount of body surface protected, and resulted, by the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, in genuinely impressive technical solutions to the nettlesome problem of armor-plating a flexible human body. Despite the fact that the longbow, the cranequin- or windlass-operated crossbow, and eventually the hand-gun were capable of penetrating this armor protection, each of these weapon systems possessed inadequacies that ensured that armor would not be instantly swept from the battlefield, but would in fact endure centuries after the introduction of weapons capable of defeating it. This would seem to indicate that, the continual evolution of military technologies notwithstanding, the advantage they confer to the side which possesses them has historically been less than the difference between the relative capabilities of two armies (including the relative talents of two commanders). As Creveld suggests, Frederick II (like countless other successful generals) almost certainly owed his successes more to his tactical innovations than to any minute differences between the personal firearms borne by his soldiers and those borne by the enemy.32
30. Geoffrey Parker,The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800 (New York:Cambridge University Press, 1988), 24. Emphasis added. 31. Shakespeare, Henry V, 480; Act III, Chorus. 32. Creveld, Technologyand War, 97.
502 *

Ancestral Voices The introduction of firearms into general use was neither sudden nor did it have an immediately tumultuous effect upon the battlefield. Although both the French and English possessed cannon at Agincourt, contemporary accounts thereof make no mention of their use in action. Machiavelli even argues against them in his Discourses, stating that they were inconsequential and ineffective on the battlefield. And yet that same year, as Gat notes, and six years prior to the appearance of Arte della Guerra, the guns of Francis I broke the dreadfulSwiss infantryon the battlefield of Marignano(1515). And only a year after Machiavellidismissed the significance of the new arquebuses, sarcastically remarkingthat they were useful mainly for terrorizingpeasants, the Spanish arquebusiersinflictedon the Swiss infantryits second great defeat at the Battle of Bicocca (1522).33 The gradual rise in proportion of muskets over polearms during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that, in combination with light field guns, had eliminated the Swiss pike phalanx from the battlefield bore simultaneous witness to the rapid expansion of gunpowder artillery. The vast expense of the casting and boring processes necessary to the production of great guns virtually ensured that the creation of an artillery arm would be a military option open only to the monarch of a large and wealthy state. This fact in turn ensured that the larger monarchies would have at their disposal the means of reducing the fortified places of the smaller, and led eventually (albeit indirectly) to the consolidation of the European absolute monarchies. It had another, related effect as well; the ease with which the high, narrow curtain walls of medieval castles were battered apart by flat-trajectory cannon prompted, over the period beginning with Henry V's 1415 siege of Harfleur and carrying through to Vauban's day, the gradual transformation of the fortified place, whether field redoubt, military garrison, or walled city. The invulnerable fortress
So twice five miles of fertile ground Withwalls and towers were girdledround. -Coleridge, KublaKhan Fortressesare the buttressesof the crown. -Montecuccoli

With the introduction of heavy cannon, a number of requisite architectural adaptations rapidly became apparent. First, the fortress had to be capable of mounting heavy guns. This necessitated a broadening of
33. Azar Gat, The Origins of Military Thought from the Enlightenment to Clausewitz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 5.



the tops of walls and towers to hold carriages and permit recoil and the loading of the guns, as well as a thickening of support members to withstand the weight of cannon and absorb the shock of recoil. This led to a broadening and general flattening of towers, as well as the vast thickening of their walls, pilasters, and other supporting structures. Second, the fortress had to be strengthened against gunfire. During the wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it was observed that, where only a few dozen or hundred strikes by the immense stone and iron balls of siege guns were necessary to reduce a stone wall to rubble, thickly banked, wood-faced earthen walls were often capable of withstanding thousands of impacts while retaining their defensive properties. This suggested the adoption of earthen ramparts rather than stone machilocation, which had a tendency to shatter and produce unpleasant shrapnel-like effects. The third element was the relatively flat trajectory of cannon and musket shot over ranges of less than two to three hundred meters. Where a cannon ball shot from a high tower would have a greater range than one shot from ground level, the latter would sweep the earth before it and therefore would be more likely to cause casualties among assaulting infantry, particularly after the adoption of grape and canister shot and the introduction, also by Vauban, of grazing and ricochet fire. This also resulted in a relative lowering of the walls of fortresses, an innovation which further reduced the profile of the structure and made it even less vulnerable to enemy siege guns; and engendered the construction of a long, gently sloping plain or glacis around the fortress, offering no cover to an advancing force. Finally, in order to take advantage of enfilade fire, parallel rather than perpendicular to the ranks of an assaulting formation, it was necessary to ensure that the front of each gun position could be covered by mutually supporting fire from other gun and musket embrasures. The gradual combination of these innovations-broader, flatter, heavier works; the substitution of packed earth and wood for stone; the reduction in height of gun towers; and the redesign of fortresses to allow flank shots and converging fire-over a period spanning two centuries gradually increased the defensibility of fortresses to the point where their capture either by storm or siege became a particularly thorny proposition. The result, as Guerlac points out, was that by "the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century, warfare often appears to us as nothing but an interminable succession of sieges."34 These sieges required the employment of thousands of infantrymen for circumvallation and contravallation of the besieged stronghold, as well as for the occasional frontal charge to test the mettle of its defenders. The new forms of fortress construction often baffled medieval
34. Guerlac in Paret, Makers of Modern Strategy, 73.
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Ancestral Voices mining techniques, as the process of tunnelling under walls, shoring with wooden beams, and then firing the supports was less than effective against thick, broad-based ramparts of packed earth; and the groundsweeping effect of round-shot, grape, and canister at ranges of up to five hundred yards rendered the glacis an extremely unhealthy place for an assaulting force. Within one hundred yards of the fortress, the volley fire of musketeers would be added to that of the gunners, and still closer in the addition of impeding or canalizing obstacles served to break up the momentum of an attack and render the attackers even more vulnerable to the fire of the defenders. The tactical problem for the attacker, then, became one which the trench fighters of the First World War would later come to ponder and which, in fact, would be a major spur to the development of the tankhow to cross the "last three hundred yards" in the face of massed gunfire. The cost in human life of this type of operation was such that it tended to rapidly deplete both the manpower and the morale of the assaulting army, a solid footnote to Sun Tzu's admonition that "the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities."35 The supremacy of the fortified place was symptomatic of the aforementioned eternal struggle between warhead and armor, but was not to last. In the late seventeenth century, a Frenchman of humble originspeasant, foot-soldier, lieutenant of infantry, and later Marshal of France-would capture the imagination and the heart of Louis XIV, both by providing a cost-effective solution to the problem of siege warfare, and, paradoxically, by continuing until his dying day to contribute to the intricacies of the problem itself.


Gower: The Duke of Gloucester, to whom the order of the siege is given, is altogether directed by an Irishman ... Fluellen: ... he has no more directions in the true disciplines of the wars, look you, of the Roman disciplines, than is a puppy dog ... Gower: Here 'a comes; and the Scots captain, Captain Jamy, with him. Fluellen: Captain Jamy is a marvellous falorous gentleman, that is certain; and of great expedition and knowledge in th'aunchient wars ... by Cheshu, he will maintain his argument as well as any military man in the world, in the disciplines of the pristine wars of the Romans. -Shakespeare, Henry V36

35. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, ed. James Clavell, trans. Lionel Giles (New York: Dell Publishing, 1983), Chapter III. 37. Shakespeare, Henry V, 481; Act III, Scene II, 72-91.



Unlike either Vegetius or Saxe, both of whom penned explicit volumes on the conduct of war as they saw it, Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban wrote little in the way of elaborate treatises, instead expressing his military thought through two media: his extensive correspondence with a variety of personalities, notably with his patron, Louis XIV, and through his impressive array of architectural achievements. His collected writings were in fact only published between 1842 and 1845, in three volumes entitled Oisivetes de M. de Vauban. His technical accomplishments were, however, most impressive; over the thirty-year period of his professional activity, he personally designed a great number of new fortresses and oversaw the improvement, in line with his theories of fortification, of literally thousands of others. In all this time, he produced only a single treatise on siege craft, another on the defence of fortresses, and a short paper on mining operations. He conducted nearly fifty sieges throughout this period, all of which were brilliantly successful, and from which evolved his method of operation known as the "scientific siege" and characterized by his system of "triple parallels." Vauban's siege technique was slow, deliberate, utterly certain, and parsimonious of human life-the latter characteristic endearing him to his strangely humanist patron and his soldiers alike. The method began with the circumvallation and contravallation of the fortress in order both to cut off the defenders from outside aid and to protect his own forces from counterattack.37 He then constructed a long trench, or "parallel" (so known because of its orientation relative to the exterior works of the fortress) just beyond the maximum effective range of its guns. He then sapped forward in a number of "zigzag" approach trenches, so oriented as to prevent the enemy from enfilading them. At a given distance, a second parallel would be constructed to permit the horizontal movement of troops, guns, and supplies, while from the approaches, battery positions, complete with ramparts, would be constructed to enable his siege guns to engage the fortress, sweep its ramparts, and attempt to disable its guns. From the second parallel, additional approaches would be constructed to a third parallel, along with additional battery positions to bring the siege artillery even closer to the besieged fortress to pound the defending batteries further. From the third parallel, generally well within enemy cannon and musket range, tunnels would be dug and the outer works and ramparts prepared for demolition with explosive charges. At
37. It should be noted that the apparent similarities between Vauban's techniques of circumvallation and contravallation, and those employed by Caesar at, for instance, Alesia, are only cosmetic. Caesar'slegions built the standard rampartedwall with wooden palisade and circumferential towers; Vauban'sdefensive works consisted of trenches, redoubts, and batteries. The two systems of fortification and siege were predicated on unique tactical principles derived from entirely different weapon systems.
506 *

Ancestral Voices this point, the besieged force was generally offered the opportunity to surrender; if this was refused, the mines would be detonated and the assaulting parties would charge across the demolished ramparts and into the fortress, generally at a grave cost in human life despite the weeks of pounding by the besieger's batteries.38 As it was possible to calculate the rate of digging of which the work parties were capable; and from that the length of time it would generally take to construct the parallels, approaches, batteries, and mines; and since the maximum range of the enemy cannon could be measured, Vauban boasted that he could calculate to the hour when an enemy fortress would fall. The inexorable nature of his siege methodology led, interestingly, to the evolution of a surrender convention; once the third parallel had been constructed and the mines charged, the commander of the fortress would generally accept an offer of terms, and was usually accorded the right of departure bearing arms, with drums beating and colours flying, certain in the guarantee that the population he had defended would be spared. This spectacle became so commonplace during the years of Vauban's ascendancy that picnic parties of French nobles often turned out to witness the departure of the vanquished force. This convention was less the result of nobility and altruism than common sense; fortress commanders generally surrendered before the final assault because victorious troops who had been forced to attack a welldefended fortress and suffer hideous losses in so doing were unlikely thereafter to be well disposed towards the defenders and the local populace, and their commanders less likely to prohibit or prevent acts of rapine, pillage, murder, and arson. The surrender convention therefore avoided undue unpleasantness for the attacker, the defender, and the defended. Vauban is best known, however, for having turned his understanding of geometry, architecture, and gunnery to the science of fortification. Over his career he built small but impregnable redoubts, redesigned fortresses, rebuilt walled cities, fortified large cities, and constructed defensible harbor sites. His methods of fortification centred upon the ballistic characteristics of heavy cannon and the matchlock musket. His aim was to encircle the defended locality with an interlocking web of relatively flat cannon trajectories out to maximum effective range, and reinforce this at close range with interlocking musket trajectories designed to inflict further damage on a force that actually managed to approach the walls. In order to accomplish this, he improved walls and ramparts and invented numerous types of outworks (the ravelin, the demi-lune and the "covered way" among them) designed to enable the
38. It was for this reason-their expected casualty rate-that the assaulting battalions generally received the wry nickname of "ForlornHopes."



defenders of the fortress to achieve interlocking arcs of enfilade fire while remaining behind the overlapping fire of mutually supporting positions. His achievements in this regard were exceptional and received international acclaim; "Vaubanian" fortresses began to spring up elsewhere on the Continent, and even appeared as far away as North America and India. His defensive methodology remained unchallenged until the development of internal ricochet fire, known otherwise as the "German method," in the early nineteenth century. Even Governor Frontenac of Quebec consulted Vauban on the plans for the fortification of that city.39 His contributions to the arts of siege and fortification reversed themselves once again in his later years. By the turn of the eighteenth century, he had become a strong advocate of the replacement of the matchlock musket by the flintlock (the wheel-lock never having gained wide distribution due to expense of construction, complexity, and cost of maintenance) in order to increase the reliability of the primary infantry weapon system. He resolved the problem of the plug bayonet-which gave the infantryman the unpalatable choice of being able to either fire or repel a charge, but not both-through the invention of the socket bayonet, which allowed the soldier to do both simultaneously and, incidentally, completely obviated the pike. He attempted to perfect a method for recruiting troops as a precursor to national conscription, a policy for which Saxe would later express considerable support; and he made inroads towards developing a workable pay system, an important innovation in an era when the pay of soldiers was a chancy thing. This latter was a surprising failing, given the extensive incidences of mutinies by unpaid troops during the Thirty and Eighty Years' Wars, and Augustus's avoidance of similar catastrophes within the legions through the implementation of a reliable pay system.40 One equally significant outcome of his siege methodology was the "professionalization" of the military engineers, in much the same fashion as Gustavus and Maurice had "professionalized" the artillery, transforming their role from an arcane art into a military science. Montross notes that Vauban was responsible for the organization of "the first engineering corps of uniformed soldiers whose operations were combined

39. In a letter written at Quebec, 20 September 1692, in Louise Dechane, ed., La correspondance de Vauban relative au Canada (Ottawa: Ministere des affaires culturelles, 1968), 14. 40. Michael Grant, The Army of the Caesars (New York: Charles Scribner's, 1974), 55-59. Also noted by Grant in his The Twelve Caesars (New York:Charles Scribner's, 1975), 60-61. This point was also underscored by John English in Marching Through Chaos: The Descent of Armies (New York:Praeger, 1997). 508 *

Ancestral Voices with those of other arms" in the conduct of the scientific siege.41 His methodology had an additional and historically significant strategic impact; by concentrating on the taking of fortresses, most of which for reasons of transportation lay along important river routes, Vauban's method enabled the monarchy to avoid exhausting, time-consuming, and costly movement by road of large bodies of troops, by simply taking strategic choke points with mechanical precision and on a predictable time-line. This policy must have appealed greatly to Louis XIV, who by all accounts was possessed of a pragmatic as well as frugal turn of mind. Vauban's strategic outlook was similarly portrayed in his treatise on fortress defence, which stated that a defensive network should offer two fundamental characteristics: first, it should close to the enemy all points of entry into the kingdom, and second, it should facilitate attack into enemy territory. Fortresses, he insisted, should never be designed solely for defence. Guerlac, in his review of Vauban's military contributions, has suggested that the latter may have drawn certain of his principles from Blaise de Pagan (1604-1665) and the main ideas from Lesfortifications du comte de Pagan (1645), which were grounded in the growing effectiveness of cannon in both the offence and the defence; and from Maigret, whose Treatise on Preserving the Security of States by Means of Fortresses suggests a number of important characteristics of strategic defences, all of which can or should control key routes into the kingdom; dominate bridgeheads on great rivers; control important internal communications lines; provide a base for offensive action; serve as a refuge for the local populace; offer a fortified seaport for trade or reinforcement; stand as a frontier city; and supply the sovereign with a place to store treasure.42 Of these, Vauban agreed explicitly with the first and fourth roles, and spent the majority of the latter half of his career seeking to redesign France's strategic defences along the lines of this philosophy. Although it is unlikely that he was familiar with Sun Tzu's aforementioned admonition regarding the folly of attacking fortified places, Vauban's career is a curious admixture of innovations proving the ancient Chinese strategist both right and wrong. Near the end of his career, Vauban slowly drew back from his plans to create an enormous and complex network of strategic fortresses across the French countryside and began instead to advocate the creation of camps retranches to fill the interstices between the existing fortifications. This may have been the result of a number of influential factors. One was likely the enormous cost of building large and complicated citadels, which, despite his liking both for Vauban and his strate41. Montross, War through the Ages, 339. 42. Guerlac in Paret, Makers of Modemrn Strategy, 87.



gic aspirations, must have begun to concern Louis; and another, the vast increase in the proportion of infantry in the French army as a result of Vauban's infantry-intensive methodologies. An infantry regiment manning an "entrenched camp" could offer as significant a pause to an attacker as a regiment manning a vastly more expensive fortified citadel, and either location would be able to meet the strategic requirements of denying entry and supporting offensive action. Ironically, although there is no evidence in Vauban's work to support such an allegation, the camps retranches philosophy came to resemble closely the ancient Roman practice of the construction, by the legions, of simple fortified camps along their lines of march to serve as way-stations, a defended locality for choke points, and a place of refuge in the event of a reverse. This may be additional support for the notion that an idea that continues to make military sense will be perpetuated regardless of who originates it. Finally, the "entrenched camp" idea may also reflect Vauban's slow disillusionment with fortification and his growing belief in the importance of the individual infantryman, to whose effectiveness he had made so many contributions. Guerlac suggests this evolution may have been a sign that the "great engineer, toward the close of his career, was led gradually to lay more emphasis upon armies and less upon fortification";43 that, having invented the key to unlock fortresses, Vauban gradually turned his attention back to improving the effectiveness of the individual soldier. His latter-day strategic evolution towards advocacy of the entrenched camp over the citadel may have been rooted in his origins as a common musketeer. It is in any case reminiscent of a Japanese adage dating from the early Tokugawa Shogunate, to the effect that "the soldier is the castle."


I am not particularlywise, but the great reputationsof Vaubanand Coehorn do not overwhelmme. They have
fortified places at enormous expense and have not made them any stronger. -Maurice De Saxe44

In the late sixteenth century, the ratio of infantry to cavalry in the French Army was approximately two to one. A century later, immediately following the heyday of Vauban and just preceding that of Saxe, the infantry-cavalry ratio had increased to five to one. This evolution was a reflection of many variables peculiar to the times, not the least of which were the aforementioned decline in the dominance of the battlefield by
43. Ibid., 90. 44. Marshal Hermann Maurice de Saxe, Reveries on the Art of War, trans. and ed. Thomas R. Phillips (Harrisburg,Pa.: TelegraphPress, 1944), 89. 510 *

Ancestral Voices the horseman; the unsuitability of firearms to the cavalier (it being difficult, if not impossible, to reload a wheel-lock pistol on the back of a trotting destrier); and the infantry-intensive nature of the scientific siege, which had for most of Vauban's career been the dominant form of combat, as well as the one most certain of outcome and least expensive in personnel. Mastery of the infantry, long a subordinate arm, had become of paramount importance to the metier of the general-although rank nomenclature had, in England at least, recently been cemented to reflect otherwise.45 At the turn of the seventeenth century, Turenne had been the undisputed master of the arms of France. His successor in the title of Grand Marshal would prove his superior as well. Maurice de Saxe was arguably one of the most successful generals of the era of musketry; he was certainly one of the most ambitious and flamboyant. He reached his peak of military glory between 1745 and 1748, the latter half of the War of the Austrian Succession, during which period he captured Ghent, Brussels, and Maastricht and won the battles of Lauffeld, Rocroi, and Fontenoy, the latter reportedly through a feat of personal physical courage that won even the grudging admiration of his enemies-all of these victories accomplished, as Montross puts it, "with an indolent ease."46 Where Vauban concentrated his intellectual efforts on rendering cities impregnable and then proving that they were not, Saxe disdained heavy, immobile fortifications, preferring the rapid movement of infantry and cavalry in the offence, and depending for the strengthening of his defences on the rapid construction of mutually supporting field fortifications and hasty obstacles to reinforce his infantry formations. An assiduous student of the writings of both the Romans and his more immediate predecessors (he cites Montecuccoli extensively in his Reveries sur l'Art de la Guerre), Saxe was of the opinion that harsh training and iron discipline were of greater value than firepower or numbers and would remain for the foreseeable future the decisive factor in battle. When he died in 1750 at fifty-four years of age, two equally memorable epitaphs were uttered by the nobility of France: Madame de Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV, eulogized his lack of character with the phrase "The only pleasure he takes in the society of women can be summed up in the word 'debauchery.' It is only on the battlefield that he is great." Louis, his patron, was more complimentary; upon learning of the loss of Saxe, he is reported to have lamented "I have no generals,
now; only captains."47 45. The command structure of the English military had since the 1660s included a Captain-Generalof the Army, a Lieutenant-General of the Cavalry, and a SergeantMajor General of the Infantry. 46. Montross, War through the Ages, 380. 47. Saxe, Reveries, 3-4 and 10 respectively.



While Saxe relied heavily on the writings of Vegetius, there is an important difference between the two men; where Vegetius was a theoretician and historian with little or no military experience, writing about events and soldiers that antedated him by half a millennium, Saxe was an experienced combat veteran who, by the time he penned his Reveries, had been a soldier for all of the twenty-three years since he had first fought under Prince Eugene at Malplaquet in 1709. His work and Vegetius's diverge in two significant areas: Saxe's includes gunpowder rather than muscle as the primary engine of destruction in war, and Saxeunlike Vegetius-includes important insights and anecdotes which could only have been gained through extensive experience in long military

A reader familiar with Vegetius who peruses Saxe's Reveries will be immediately struck by the similarities in structure, phrasing and tactical methodology between the two books. This is not surprising, as Saxe continually credits the Romans and their assiduous historians for the source material underlying his tactical innovations. He even goes so far as to suggest a redesign of the French Army along the lines of the legion, and employs such terms as "cohorts" to describe his short battalions. Where Vegetius detailed an inventory of fifty-five ballistae and ten onagri as support weapons for the legion, Saxe refers to the use of a siege train of heavy cannon (presumably twenty-four-pounders), drawn by oxen rather than horses (as Vegetius's onagri are drawn by oxen rather than horses), and proposes the invention of what he terms an amusette, a heavy breech-loading musket mounted on a swivel and drawn by horses-"an accompanying gun for the infantry," in effect a gunpowder analogue for the ballista.49 In the same chapter, he proposes that the troops should be accompanied by wagons loaded with tools and materials for the quick construction of field fortifications, precisely as Vegetius suggests the legion would have done. Saxe further advocated the reintroduction of the half-pike (thirteen feet in length, as opposed to the eighteen-foot Swiss pike) to the soldier's basic load, which would be advanced by the third and fourth ranks in order to allow the first and second to load and fire in relative safety. He advocates the introduction of an effective breech-loading musket (more
48. Of particular note is the paragraph he devotes to inspecting the baggage of his troops for accumulated bric-a-brac: "It is necessary from time to time to inspect the baggage and force them to throw away useless items. I have frequently done it. One can hardly imagine all the trash they carry with them year after year. The poor horse has to carry everything. It is no exaggeration to say that I have filled twenty wagons with rubbish which I have found in the review of a single regiment." (Saxe, Reveries, 62-63). Such an observation could only have been made by an experienced campaigner. 49. Saxe, Reveries, 11, 38.
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than a century before one was to become available), and the division of cavalry between the true light cavalry reconnaissance and pursuit troops, and heavier skirmishing troops, whom he terms "dragoons." As slavishly as he follows the work of Vegetius (and at times it appears he was writing with a quill in one hand and a copy of De Rei Militarii in the other), Saxe departs radically therefrom where his own tactical experience so dictates. He admits that the principal difference between his theoretical army and that of his Roman antecedents is gunpowder, but hastens to argue that the musket is less significant on the battlefield than might be expected, asserting that vastly more casualties are caused by the firing, bayonetting, and sword-strikes which follow the sundering of the enemy's ranks than by the opening musket volleys.50 He states instead that drill and discipline are more fundamental than firepower: the former to enable the infantry to fire as rapidly and accurately as possible (interestingly, he repudiated volley fire, insisting rather that each marksman should be free to fire at will); and the latter, to enable both the infantry and the cavalry to carry out a bayonet or sabre charge in good order and without losing cohesion. He even calls the ancients to witness in this argument: "The prodigious success which the Romans always gained with small armies against multitudes of barbarians can be attributed to nothing but the excellent composition of their troops,"51but hastens to add that this was due not to their ethnic homogeneity, of which there was none, but to the excellence of their training and the rigidity of their discipline. He further invokes Roman wisdom in dressing and feeding the soldier, recruiting and paying him, providing him with music while marching or at labour, conditioning him through constant physical exercise, organizing him into small, flexible groups rather than large, unwieldy phalanges, and encouraging him with personal leadership and example. Saxe considered himself the intellectual successor to the Roman historians, and, in the chapter entitled "Formation of the Legion," goes to extreme lengths to carry his theorizing into adapting the cohort, maniple, and legion formations to firearms and the half-pike. He even divides his infantry into the younger, more lightly-armed men, whose role is to act as skirmishers (although he does not go so far as to call them velites), and older, veteran soldiers, whom he equips with armor, musket, pike, and shield, in
50. "AndI have never seen, and neither has anyone else, I believe, a single discharge [volley] do enough violence to keep the [charging] troops from continuing forward and avenging themselves with bayonet and shot at close quarters. It is then that men are killed, and it is the victorious who do the killing." Saxe, Reveries, 33. Only a lead-from-the-frontgeneral could make such an assertion. Interestingly, Saxe, with this statement, proves himself one of the intellectual forebears of the Baron de Jomini, ardent proponent of elan. 51. Saxe, Reveries, 19-20.



close resemblance to the veteran triarii of Vegetius. Finally, he suggests that each soldier receive a military identification mark on his right hand, inscribed with Indian ink. Vegetius, of course, also prescribed the "military mark"-although he would have applied it with a branding iron, and does not specify which of the recruit's hands was to be marked.52 But what is significant in Saxe's blatant imitation of Vegetius's writings is that while Saxe advocated copying the latter's formations and ideas in exquisite detail, he pointedly ignored Vegetius's tactics. There is no mention by Saxe of anything even remotely resembling Vegetius's "'seven formations" for attack and defence, for making use of open ground or obstacles, and for maximizing the power of cavalry and infantry. Instead, Saxe offers a number of maxims regarding the use of terrain, interlocking and overlapping arcs of fire for musketry, his amusette, and cannon, and the proper design and spacing of redoubts to reinforce infantry positions with fire while leaving open gaps for operations by cavalry. In short, Saxe has adopted from Vegetius only those elements of Roman military theory which either ease the administrative pressure of supporting a large army in the field, or facilitate the handling of large bodies of men and animals-principles and concepts which antedate the Romans by millennia, and for which scattered records today exist, describing (if rather sketchily) the military campaigns of Sargon the Great, the battles of the Egyptians against the Hyksos, the chariotfight at Megiddo, and the biblical campaigns recounted by General Yadin. The same principles are in use today, perhaps indicating a timelessness based less on the alleged brilliance of the military thinkers of Imperial Rome than on physical necessity imposed by the capabilities and limitations of the human form, the strengths of materials, the diurnal character of homo sapiens, patterns of weather, topography, and agriculture, and a host of other variables. This argument, governing the "chicken-and-egg" question of whether tactics determine capabilities or vice-versa, is of sufficient venerability that it is unlikely to be resolved here. However, given the conventional wisdom favoring the former viewpoint, it is appropriate to assemble arguments supporting the latter-to wit, that capabilities determine operational methodology. Keegan, for example, offers a powerful anecdote on the origins and purpose of specialized infantry drill: Christopher Duffy, who was lucky enough to spend some weeks teaching Yugoslavmilitia the elements of Napoleonicdrill for a film enactment of Warand Peace, described to me the thrill of comprehension he experienced in failing to manoeuvre his troops successfully across country "inline" and of the comparativeease with which he managedit "in column,"thus provingto his own satisfactionthat
52. Vegetius, Military Institutions, 17-18.
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Ancestral Voices Napoleonpreferredthe latter formationto the formernot because it more effectively harnessed the revolutionaryfervour of his troops (the traditional "glamorous"explanation) but because anything more complicated was simply impracticable.53 Napoleon's use of the column for movement across broken country echoes the practice of the Roman legion as described by Vegetius. The march formation of the army (one or two legions plus auxiliaries), as described in Book Three of De Rei Militarii, consists of a mixed infantry/cavalry vanguard led by a reconnaissance element consisting of light cavalry, skirmishers, and pioneers; followed by the main body of the infantry, the baggage train, and a mixed infantry-cavalry rearguard. The whole is surrounded by a cavalry-based flank guard, and Vegetius even notes that the most experienced soldiers should be placed in the rearguard so as to be able to react promptly to any enemy attack. This is precisely the same combined arms march formation used in modern mechanized armies. Vegetius antedates us by more than fifteen hundred years, and Saxe by more than two hundred; and yet the combined arms operations of infantry and cavalry operate in a similar fashion on the march, although Vegetius's men were equipped with javelins, short swords, ballistae, and light cavalry, Saxe's with muskets, sabres, and siege cannon, and our own with main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and long-range anti-armor missiles. If there is a common thread of ideas linking us to our ancestors, is it absurd to postulate that similarities between their operations and our own are due less to slavish plagiarism of their writings than to the fact that what worked for them, regardless of changes in military technology, by-and-large also works for us, not because we have consciously imitated their methods, but because the method itself is founded upon something deeper and more durable that is relatively resistant to changes in technology? Saxe is an excellent illustration of this notion, simply because his writings differ so little from Vegetius's own work; the former diverges from the latter only in Saxe's requirement that the elements he adapts from his predecessors be applicable to a battlefield ruled by gunpowder. It is unfortunate that Saxe wrote when he did; had he lived another hundred years (or even fifty), he would have seen the power and rate of fire of musketry amplified to the point where his arguments in favour of the pike and the bayonet charge would have been obviated. In proposing a return to the pike, he was arguing for the reintroduction of a weapon which had already been swept from the battlefield, and for the implementation of a system of conscription, training, and discipline that would never be possible even in France under an absolute monarchy. A half-century after his death, the greatest of French despot-generals
53. Keegan, Face of Battle, 32-33. Emphasis added.



would continue to accomplish tactical miracles even after the exquisitely trained Grande Armee had been decimated and replaced by a vast army of poorly trained, poorly disciplined, poorly fed, unpaid, and ill-equipped troops fired by revolutionary fervour and little else. His achievements are perhaps the most eloquent refutation possible of Saxe's advocacy of the theoretical Roman model he attempted to adapt from Vegetius. Napoleon, the epitome of the rational soldier, used column formations and other concepts theoretically derivable from the ancients because they worked, not because of their hoary intellectual credentials. In short, Saxe advocated the resurrection and employment on the battlefield of only those elements gleaned from the ancients which were applicable to the wars of eighteenth-century France, and ignored those which were not-and for this we accuse him of deriving his excellence from his antecedents. We attempt the same today, and congratulate ourselves on our originality. Conclusion: Through a Glass Darkly As a caveat to this discussion, one must first be prepared to acknowledge the weaknesses of the source materials at hand. Caesar, a consummate politician, wrote his works for political purposes to enhance his own stature at home. Vegetius, a military neophyte, was describing in De Rei Militarii not the military institutions of which he may have had personal knowledge, but those of a half-millennium earlier and of which his knowledge was apocryphal at best. Vauban left a vast array of correspondence but only limited descriptions of his theories and principles; and Saxe, by his own admission, wrote his little book "in a fever" over a period of thirteen nights, and even goes so far as to caution the reader against taking him too seriously. There is none of the reasoned objectivity displayed by Thucydides; the simple, almost point-form notations of Sun Tzu; or the astute, cynical analysis of Machiavelli in any of the works in question. While this is not necessarily a crippling factor in this present study, it is incumbent upon the reader, as it is upon the researcher, to carefully consider the source when evaluating its import. This said, the first deduction which may be drawn from the foregoing discussion is that technological change had a considerable influence on the battlefield following the Renaissance. While it may be stated with some certainty that Saxe in his Reveries attempted to follow Vegetius as closely as possible, it must also be acknowledged that he only did so where the adoption of Roman formations and tactics complemented, or at least did not interfere with, the formations and tactics dictated by the weaponry in use in France in the early seventeenth century. This point is more telling when we consider that Vauban, who had equal access to

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the works of the ancients, made no reference to them either in his theoretical developments, his siege techniques, or his architectural accomplishments, as the siege warfare of the Romans would have been entirely unsuited to similar activity in the era of gunpowder. Caesar, for example, built his palisades to repel hordes of spear- and axe-wielding Gauls, not to absorb the repeated strikes of hundred-pound stone balls hurled with terrific force on a flat trajectory. The siege techniques of Vauban, both in the offence and the defence, were dictated entirely by the ballistic characteristics of large- and small-bore guns; thus any resemblance they bear to the siege techniques of the Romans is at most coincidental. It may therefore be fair to deduce first, that the influence of the ancients held sway only where their principles were complemented by the new realities of gunpowder combat (e.g., in the areas of training, discipline, drill); but that also, their writings had little or no impact where their principles were no longer relevant (e.g., in the areas of fortification, siege warfare, the employment of cavalry, and the importance of dispersion on the battlefield). A second point which merits attention is the intellectual frenzy of the times. During the Renaissance and for three centuries thereafter, familiarity with the works of the ancients was "chic" in much the same sense that the ability to discuss art and theatre is today considered essential for the socially aspiring. The passion for all things Roman extended from the arts to political life, science, history, and the military sphere as well. As Keegan notes, "By the end of the eighteenth century, the Neo-Classical revival had made fashionable an outward assumption of Roman symbols, to express an attitude which was already internalized."54The argument that all things Roman were adopted for reasons of fashion rather than because they made any particular military sense is a telling one. Keegan, in a further discourse, goes on to accuse the imitators of Rome of slavishly implementing ideas which they little understood, because comprehensive explanations thereof were simply not available; nobody really knew what a legion was like, because no one at the time of the Enlightenment had ever seen or fought in one; and no one in ancient Rome had made a credible attempt at describing them in intimate detail. Mauriceof Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus may have believed that, given money, time and effort, they could recreate armies in the image Caesar had revealed to them. Modern classical scholars, increasinglyinclined to fret at the lack of real understandingof the inner life of the Legions which the Ancients have left them, suspect that they were far more complex, fickle and individual in their behaviourthan Caesar lets on. If this is so, then Mauriceand Gus54. Ibid., 63.



tavus were chasing a chimera. Certainly no military institution of which we have detailed, objectiveknowledgehas ever been given the monumental, marmoreal,almost monolithicuniformityof character which classical writers conventionallyascribe to the Legions.55 In short, in their passion to imitate that which had been recently rediscovered, the military "Romanophiles" of the Enlightenment were following a model for a military force that may never have existed in reality, and which in any case was so poorly described in the available literature as to raise considerable doubt about the veracity of accounts of its miraculous performance on the field of battle. This is akin to attempting to build a Model "T" Ford with no other knowledge of the vehicle than a black-and-white photograph. And yet the passion for vanished Rome persisted; even Napoleon's cuirassiers wore helmets resembling those of the legions, and his troops-in conscious mimicry of the glories of empire-bore the Roman Eagle with their regimental colors. Aspirants to Roman glory, they had succeeded in capturing the form of their model, but the substance escaped them. This may be due to the fact that no reliable account of the "substance" of the legions has ever been found to exist. As a third point, we should recall the argument presented above to the effect that, in the wave-like fluctuation of ascendancy between technology and tactics in continental warfare, the difference between the two has invariably been less than the difference between the soldierly qualities of the opposed forces and the tactical capabilities of their respective commanders. This is, in point of fact, both an argument in favour of the influence of the ancients and an argument against it; as Creveld notes, there is no doubt that Frederickthe Great'sobliqueorderowed more to his reading about the exploits of the ancient Theban general Epaminondas [at Leuctra]than to any minute differences that may have existed between the muskets employedby his troops and those of his enemies.56 However, it is also an argument in favor of the present thesis in the sense that the influence of the ancients only makes itself felt with significance when all other factors have been rendered equal. Had Frederick's troops been equipped with the assegai, or those of his opponent with breechloading rifles, it is doubtful whether the tactical precepts of Epaminondas (or anyone else) would have led to victory. This is not to suggest that I am in agreement with the comments of Sir Roger Williams in his Briefe discourse of Warre (1590), to the effect that "the introduction of geometric fortifications, and of the firearms
55. Ibid., 67-68. 56. Creveld, Technology and War,97.
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that made them necessary, revolutionized warfare to such an extent that nothing valuable [is] to be learned from past precept."57 Far from it. It is, however, necessary to measure that which we wish to adopt against the yardstick of contemporary utility, and weigh the evidence of our predecessors within the context of the times in which they lived, fought and wrote. Azar Gat argues this point well in the conclusion to his volume: what people think cannot be separated from the question of how they think, or from the circumstances in which they operate and to which they react. Militarytheory is not a general body of knowledge to be discovered and elaborated,but is comprised of changing conwhich are developed in response to varyingchalceptual frameworks lenges, and which always involve interpretation.58 Michael Mallet more accurately summarizes the influence of the ancients than does the bulk of conventional wisdom: The fifteenth-centurycaptain learnt the art of war as an apprentice to an established condottiere, not from books. He may have been gratifiedto learn fromone of the humanists in his entouragethat his tactics resembledthose of Caesar in Gaul, but it is unlikely he consciously intended it to be so. It was not a study of the Romanrepublican army which produced a revived interest in infantry but the practicalnecessities of fifteenth-centurywarfare.59 Throughout Saxe's days of glory during the War of the Austrian Succession, the infantry demonstrated a dominance of the battlefield that had been conceived with the rout of the French at Agincourt, improved by the Swiss, mastered by the French, and which would later be epitomized by the Prussians under Frederick II. It would remain essentially unchallenged until the first ominous appearance of the tank during the twilight of the First World War, a reign of more than five hundred years. Even then and thereafter, infantry would continue to have a disproportionate impact on the battlefield; and today, in an era of man-portable "brilliant" antiarmor weapons, the individual infantryman is arguably even more effective against the armored cavalryman than the bowbending peasant who so humbled the French nobility in October 1415. The study of the wars of Vauban and Saxe is the study of infantry reborn-the retaking of the battlefield by the arm which had unwillingly, perhaps accidentally, ceded it to cavalry with the collapse of Rome. The new-found power of the foot soldier, conferred in equal parts by the military potency of gunpowder and the training and discipline that had been the hallmark not only of the Romans but of nearly every successful mil57. Quotedin Parker, MilitaryInnovation,6.
58. Gat, Military Thought, 254. 59. Quotedin Keegan, Face of Battle, 62.



itary force since the fall of Jericho, would serve him well through the wars, misfortunes, and military innovations that lay ahead; and is convincing evidence to support the assertion that the lessons of history, however valid, can never be considered other than according to our own interpretation of their utility to the world we know. If there is a lesson to be drawn from this analysis, it is that the "rebirth paradigm" is convincing only if one accepts the hypothesis of military revolution over that of military evolution. In light of the history of European conflict between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the absolute monarchies, it would seem that the military developments of the Enlightenment were more the result of the normal course of military innovation and counter-innovation-in short, simple evolutionary adaptation-than to some sudden and thunderous change attributable to the rediscovery of the military genius of the ancients.