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War on the Eve of Nations. The Layout of conflict. The triple maxim of a military in History
Entering 1500: A Guide to the Book
THE LAYOUT OF CONFLICT
The Triple Maxim of a Military in History
This book is action oriented. I believe that military history is centred around the actions: actions are the sense and the gist of military history. Military history is one of the few fields of history where each and every discourse is testable. The victory or defeat in the combat, operation, campaign and war is the supreme judge for all other themes studied by military history, including both primary topics—the numbers, composition, organisation, weaponry and command of forces—and indirect influencers—the economy, society, politics, administration, technics, conscience. All the discourses in this book, covering many direct and indirect phenomena of military history, are tested in warfighting.
This book covers the majority of the essential armed conflicts that took place in Eastern Europe in the period circa 1450–1500. They are treated as intriguing events, as a pool of information for discourse about military development and as the supreme judge over its conclusions. Occasionally the discourses soar above the immediate military events in order to generalise the crucial change on a larger scale and determine a general trend, but mostly they are inserted inside of the chain of actions to which they belong.
The sources for military history are over-attentive to some facts, events and phenomena and dismissive of others. Sometimes they are mute or spare about very important events, and sometimes they are eloquent and over-emphatic about events of negligible importance. It is erroneous to follow the sources’ rating of that importance, and it is impossible because different sources give different ratings to the same event. The action-oriented investigation offers the best yardstick available because it researches employment of the armed forces. “Force employment at the operational and tactical levels thus offers an especially promising avenue” to insight into the broader issues of “changing technologies and numerical balances” of forces, upper matters of “grand strategy, military strategy,” accompanying facts of “organizational adaptability, administrative skill, or politicomilitary coordination.”1
Another crucial rule of military history followed in this book is comparative research. The actions always have at least two sides and normally are more diversified than simplistic one side against another side confrontation. It’s never possible to understand the fighting by analysing only one side or some of the sides of the conflicts. Eastern Europe of the second half of the fifteenth century was a region of early nation-building and it was a region of coalitional confrontations. Even the civil wars immediately forerunning this period (the Lithuanian Civil War of 1432–40, the Moscow Dynastic War of 1425–53, the Turmoil in the Golden Horde of 1419–37) were fought internationally. The internationalisation of the domestic conflicts heavily influenced their political outcome and the military development towards which civil wars in history are extremely generous.
All sides of a conflict have to be scrutinised. Each of them has to be researched individually in order to understand it, then they have to be followed together in the conflict where the estimations are verified. A confrontation is the final controller and the prime tool of comparative research in military history. There are a lot of empirical data and generalisations about the development of national military models in this book. But all of them are pointed towards comparisons in confrontation. The outcome of the armed conflict sorts out and grades all of them unmistakably and undoubtedly.
This study involves the warfare models of five major Eastern European contenders of the second half of the fifteenth century: Lithuania, Moscow (Muscovy), Poland and the Khanates of Crimea and Kazan. Their military development and participation in armed conflict are described in detail. The warfare models of Moldavia, the Grand Horde, the Teutonic Order and its Livonian branch, the Republic of Novgorod and Sweden are studied to the extent that they participated in the military events and influenced the military development of the prime contenders. Information about Western and Central Europe, Turkey, Hungary, Walachia and the Central Asian state of the conqueror Tamerlane (Timur) is included to clarify some special topics, such as the development of European fighting techniques or the military organisation of the Turk-Mongolian world.
When the history itself grants the opportunity to compare national warfare models in their confrontations, this book closely follows it. The outcome of armed conflict properly labels the abilities of leaders and nations and the capacities of forces and commanders, reveals the trends and dictates the abstractions. When there wasn’t direct confrontation (as in the case of Poland against Moscow) the confrontations against the third contender or similar contenders, that had fought against both sides, are a source of facts and an instrument of measurement, as the confrontation of Poland and Moscow against the Tatar polities of the Crimean Khanate and Grand Horde. Generalisations are following the events and the conceptualisation of the period is saved for the conclusion of this book.
The third maxim of this book is the timeline. Time is “an absolute of warfare.”2 Victory and defeat in fighting are the twin scions of the omnipotent time schedule. It’s strange when historians of warfare follow their own loose time arrangement instead of the harsh timeline dictated by the history. Military development runs like a stream of the build-up of military power and swirls violently into the narrows of actions. It is erroneous to research any military phenomenon using data fished out from the whole range of the stream and mixed together, ignoring the changes from one fighting whirl to another. Overgeneralisations of the military phenomena produce historical narratives that distort the history like some fantasy saga.
It’s wrong to take the Crimean, Kazan, Lithuanian, Moscow, Polish warfare in the period from the middle of the fifteenth to the end of the seventeenth century as an immutable whole. Not only were they hugely different at the beginning and end of the period, but they changed abruptly throughout it, from war to war, campaign to campaign and frequently from fight to fight. Those changes are most important and interesting because their mechanics reveal the tendencies that could become a proper base for general conclusions about the transformation of warfare in the Early Modern Time.
The epoch of circa 1450–1500 was packed with fighting and with military developments. When they are narrated linearly, the sense of the great mutation in warfare of the main contenders that happened circa the 1480s may be lost. For this reason, this book treats some military events and some ranges of development retrospectively. When the source or inception of the new phenomenon is found, the book returns to the time schedule of the confrontation being analysed.
This study presents operational and organisational research of the military history of Eastern Europe in the second half of the fifteenth century, with the different participants from campaign to campaign. It includes analysis of both the armed conflicts and military models. Trends in the development of warfare of different nations are compared, with their conflicts analysed on three levels: tactical, operational and strategical. This study is distanced from the political matters of nation-building and states-building and of coalitional construction. These are generally accepted as ready-made phenomena; references to their making come only when it interacts directly with the military development and armed conflict.
The operational approach closes the gap between the proverbially backward East-European armies with their allegedly poor equipment and tactics, and the giant geopolitical changes they produced in the second half of the fifteenth century. The organisational approach helps a reader understand how the armies that consisted of the same men equipped with basically the same weapons as the backwater forces of recent Medieval Time and based on the same Late Medieval corporative societies achieved the results generally ascribed to later armies that were packed with firearms and the personnel of the common stock, shaped by bureaucratic management and belonging to absolutist regimes.