WAR FROM ROME TO THE FALL OF FEUDALISM
The Roman Empire that was created through the exploits of Alexander the Great was to big to manage as one and was split into two east and west empires that mirrored each other politically, but not religiously. The Byzantine Empire, eastern Rome, established its capital at Constantinople in 330 A.D. founded by Constantine and the Orthodox Christianity severed its ties from the Church of Rome.
The Byzantium Empire surrounded its capital with huge walls capable of resisting any attack and sought to hire native-born barbarian mercenaries to protect the borders of the Eastern Empire. The basic combat soldier was a horse rider and expert bowmen. Under Justinian’s cavalry general, Belisarius, the Byzantium Empire took back control of the Vandal kingdom and southern to central Italy. This would be the end of the Byzantium’s offensive campaign.
The defensive campaign of the Byzantine Empire held strong, and naval superiority was strengthened; weaponry on vessels were invented like the “sea fire”, thought to be a petroleum based flame-thrower. The defensive military structure preserved the Byzantine Empire until the seventh century. After the northeast properties of Syria and Egypt fell under the control of the Persians, Heraclius fought back to gain control of the land from the barbarians, which held no stock in the maintenance or lines of communication. In 626 the territory was regained to pre-war status under the Byzantium Empire.
The Arabs charged with religious zeal from Mohammed conquered quickly over the Persians and were welcomed at Egypt and Syria. Egypt and Syria greeted the Arabs as liberators that promised toleration of religion rather than doctrinal disputes from the church at Constantinople. With these two key ports the Arabs had opened the East Mediterranean by 1641. The Muslims were unable to defeat the Byzantine Empire on land and move to the sea for victory, which allowed the Arabs control of Egypt across North Africa and into Spain by 1717.
The Franks, a composition of Germanic tribes, established themselves in Western Rome, but economic decay forced them to allow eastern outposts of the Arabs and Byzantines in Western Europe. The financial situation of the empire forced the Frankish king to provide for himself and very little money was left over to contribute to the funding of the empire as well as the military soldier.
Charles Martel solved this problem by giving a portion of land to a “vassal”, a soldier, in exchange for an oath of lifelong duty. When the soldier could no longer serve, his land was given to someone else that swore an oath of service. Charles’ son, Charlemagne, further implemented that if the portion of land was to small, a few landowners could gather as a team and supply the empire with one soldier. Charlemagne was able to expand his empire and convert new citizens to Christianity at the same time.
With the decline in naval power, the surrounding waters were left open to the mercies of the Vikings. This added to the already menacing Magyars in the ninth and tenth century, which were seeking good grazing land and easy plundering. The government was unable to protect the landowners and the lords of the land developed a feudal system and built castles to protect against the outsider’s threat. Feudalism was based on the cavalry rather than the infantry and a castle rather than a phalanx. The people that were unable to protect their land surrendered it to a lord that could. The Franks feudal arrangement was based on an empire fighting to stay away from anarchy; the British feudal scheme was comparable with a few variations.
The Brits under the Norman monarchy remained loyal to the crown.
From the feudal aristocracy spawned the crusaders that were bound by morals of chivalry, or a code of honor. The crusaders brought with them hope to regain the land lost to the Muslims, including the holy land, and take back control with adventure and glory. The difference between the crusaders and the feudal system was that the crusaders were all volunteer and not bound to service in order to have protection from the lord of the land. Eventually the idea of feudalism was in decline, because the political and military scheme was based on a preservation method while the government was weak.
An economic revolution caused the breakdown of the feudal array and many people broke easily from the hold of the lords and became city-states, others petitioned with the crown to fight against the feudal governors. The economic conditions of Italy allowed them to sponsor, by lending money, to France and England in order to regain a military presence.
With the invention of the crossbow, the mounted knight became obsolete. The only way to survive as a knight was to wear extremely heavy armor. The longbow, which was superior to the crossbow because of the rate of arrow deployment, was a requirement by the Edward I for every household, and militia would be called upon when needed.
During the Hundred Year War the longbow was spotted quite often, and it was discovered that the bowmen could be placed in the rear but must have protection in case the opposing force reached them. The Hundred Year War brought about changes to military and political tactics. Feudalism was changed to professionalism and armies were no longer compiled solely of only one type of fighter, but a combination of capable fighting forces from ground to mount and to bowmen and soon to artillery.
The Swiss were able to counter almost any type of ground or mount force with the Pike. The pike was a combination of a spear, an axe, and a hook. The Swiss used the weapon fighting in columns of three. The person in front could knock the horse rider down and the person behind could continue with the deadly task. This weapon proved to be the most effective weapon on the ground because of its speed and capabilities.
The invention of gunpowder found its way into the artillery cannons in the fourteenth century, but this job was very dangerous because of the unpredictable reaction of the fired explosives. The early production of gunpowder was hampered by the cannon’s slow rate of fire, inability to travel swiftly, lack of aiming capability, and confusion on the mixture. The barrels were one to three inches in diameter and some were even mounted on the bottom of carriages. The development of gunpowder is momentous in history, because it marks the invention of modern warfare.
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Massachusetts:Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1998). Chap 1-10
Preston, Richard A., Alex Roland, and Sydney F. Wise. Men
In Arms: A History of Warfare and its interrelationships
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Thomson Learning, 2001). Chap 4-7
Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World: An Illustrated
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