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War on the Eve of Nations. The challenge of historiography and sociology



The military history of Eastern Europe in the second half of the fifteenth century is drastically under-researched. The seminal treatises of Brian Davies, Robert Frost, Richard Hellie, John Keep and Carol Stevens3 pay attention primarily to the phenomena of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and treat warfare in Eastern Europe not as military history, with a chain of cohesive events of build-ups of forces and actions, but as discourse on some pivotal issues. Military actions are scarce in the studies, even though in military history every thesis about organisation and technique has to be verified through the study of actions.

The late start, the discourse structure and the scarcity of actions in the studies listed above have created aberrations. The military forms and practices under discussion emerge as if from nowhere, as historical orphans: they don’t have their own intrinsic development but are sculpted by influences from outside, primarily ones of Western origin. “There was a great deal of military innovations in Eastern Europe after 1550; much of it influenced by developments elsewhere.”4 The earlier fighting experiences which produced the forms and practices of the Eastern European military of the late sixteenth–seventeenth centuries are missing. The epoch of the fifteenth century is considered only as a mess of preconditions for some crystallisation that would happen later.

In fact, the second half of the fifteenth century was the epoch when the state- and nation-building of the key players of East-European history for two centuries ahead—Poland (or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) and Russia (or Muscovy)—were completed and their rivalry for hegemony in the subcontinent began. It was heavily influenced by the intervention of Sweden in the Eastern Baltic and advancement of Ottoman Turkey in the Northern Black Sea region. In the second half of the fifteenth century the peculiar military models of contenders were born and tested against different enemies, and against each other.

There is a lot of national, especially Russian and Polish, literature of military history or of general history with a strong military component, but it is especially centred on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and devoted to the legends of each author’s native nation. English language literature soars over national adherence; it also soars over time. It tends to study the Eastern European military from the second half of the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries in bulk. But the Early Modern Time in Eastern Europe was so volatile that bulk studies give rise to distorting generalisations, and the alleged lag or deviation of Eastern Europe from the process labelled as the Military Revolution in Western Europe are among them.

The concept of the Military Revolution is an example of sociological expansion into the field of historiography that tends to substitute historical studies with sociological models. The Military Revolution is one of the most prominent of the sociological “ideal types” developed as the tools for the study of the real phenomena according to the research technique of Max Weber. The Weberian “ideal type” is the pattern of social action devoid of complication and isolated as much as possible. The tool of the “ideal type” was invented by Max Weber as the “yardstick” to measure the real phenomena, to reveal the dominating trend, “to assist empirical cause-oriented inquiry” but never to dictate them.5 The “ideal type” is neither a reportage-style narrative nor analysis of real events and processes based on facts. It is “interpretative understanding” of reality.6 The Military Revolution, as it is modelled, never happened in reality, as well as never took the place of its subordinates, the “Gunpowder Revolution,” “Infantry Revolution,” “Rise of Regular Armies,” “Professional Soldiering,” etc. The concept of the Military Revolution is the “analytically independent societal domain,”7 its sophisticated “ideal types” help historians to segregate, study and generalise common and different in real events and processes, assess causation between real phenomena; and they are valuable as that. The concept of the Military Revolution is utilised in this book as an instrument to compare the military transformation of the Early Modern Time in Eastern Europe with the military development in Western Europe and discover a relation between different changes of warfare, technical, tactical, organisational, and such social and political phenomena as state-building, nation-building and international relations. The interaction of historical material of Early Modern Eastern Europe with the concept of the Military Revolution and its “ideal types” helps to upgrade them as research instruments and to understand better what happened in Western Europe as the Military Revolution’s referent pattern. However, it is not a concern of this book. Its concern in a field of the conjuncture of historiography and sociology is to produce and adapt the “ideal types” suitable to research and compare the military phenomena, events and processes of Early Modern Eastern Europe and adjacent regions that are highly heterogeneous and nonetheless have a common historical path.


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© 2013 Владимир Широгоров | разработка: Чеканов Сергей | иллюстрации: Ксения Львова