Friday, May 11, 2012

The Seeds of the Fall Of The Roman Empire Were Sewn In The Nascent Stages Of The Imperial System

         The Roman Empire was the greatest hegemonic power in Europe for about 700 years. The Roman Empire was greater than any of its European rivals in terms of population, military strength, wealth, technological development, and economy, yet in 476 AD the Western Roman Empire fell. The fall of the half of the Empire that had the city that started it all has been a subject of historiographical discussion for years. I do not want to argue what I view is the fundamental reason or theme why the empire fell, but rather discuss about three events that occurred in the early life of the empire that reflected the weaknesses in the imperial system that made a fall possible.

The first event that showed the weaknesses of the imperial system was the Battle of The Teutoburg Forest. The battle of the Teutoburg Forest was devastating for the Roman Empire in ways that may not have been immediately apparent. The Roman Republic’s Empire, and later Roman Imperial Empire, were driven by the idea of Imperium Sine Fine, or an empire without limits. There was a burning drive in the hearts of all Romans with ambitious aspirations to push the physical boundaries of the Roman Empire. Rome’s history began with conflict, and conflict continued to be at the core of Rome’s existence. Thus success in battle  proved to be the greatest source of legitimacy, and advancer of political ambitions.

War made Rome strong. Plunder taken from external threats meant more money in the Roman coffers. Success led to further success as plunder could be used to finance more powerful armies. Before the reign of the first Roman Emperor Augustus, a battle occurred that made the later defeat in the Teutoburg Forest all the more devastating.

Crassus, who many  believe was the wealthiest Roman ever, lived in a time that immediately preceded that formation of the imperial system. He lived in time where some of the most powerful figures in Rome’s history had been advancing the gradual push from a Republic to a dictatorship/imperial system. Crassus, Julius Caesar, and Pompey Magnus were heads of the Roman Triumvirate, a system that essentially divided the power of the Republic among the three men. All three were competing with each other to become the sole ruler of Rome. Julius Caesar had proven his worth by conquering Gaul, Pompey had a long and distinguished military career, and Crassus was known for his immense wealth and suppression of a slave revolt. Crassus wanted a great military victory that would enable him to surpass rivals Pompey and Caesar. Crassus decided to campaign against Rome’s most powerful enemy in the east, the Parthian Empire. The Parthian Empire covered an expanse that included much of the Middle East. Crassus suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Parthian forces and proved the difficulty of achieving Rome’s dreams of conquering the Middle East.

The Middle East proving to be too difficult an area to conquer, Rome turned northward to the land of Germania. Julius Caesar made the first incursions into Germania as part of his Gallic conquests. Romans knew little about the land but had encountered and thoroughly defeated peoples from Germania in the Cimbrian Wars. The lack of knowledge made Romans susceptible when fighting on the Germans home territory. Rome had been successfully campaigning deep into Germania until the disaster at the Teutoburg Forest. During the battle three entire legions were destroyed. The shame was such that the numbers of the three legions destroyed were never assigned again to any future legions. The disaster led to Augustus’s decision that the border of the empire should end with the Rhine River. This set the precedent for future emperors. Never was Germania seriously considered as a land that should or could be completely conquered by Rome. Instead, it became a land whose people were to be managed by Rome through trade and diplomacy.

The end of Roman expansion had a two dire consequences for the long term sustainability of the empire. First, the Roman Empire had relied on plunder from conquered lands to drive its economy. Conquering lands like Greece and Egypt made Rome very rich because looting the resources they provided to the empire proved to be extremely lucrative. Thus when conquest stopped, Roman economic expansion slowed and eventually stopped. The failure to grow the economy opened the door to destabilization on both the frontier and within the empire. Rome managed the barbarians sitting outside the empire in a variety of ways. It often paid off barbarian tribes to not attack, it paid rivals tribes to war with each other to blunt their capacity to war with Rome, and recruited mercenaries from barbarian lands. When Rome could not grow its economy due to the end of expanding the empire, the government needed to squeeze more resources out of its citizens rather than  from subjugating peoples from outside the empire. As a result of lavish imperial spending and several civil wars, the economy shrunk overtime. Rome had less and less money to pay off the barbarian peoples just outside the empire. With payments drying up, the barbarians turned to raiding Roman territory to recoup the lost income. This had an adverse cyclical affect where Rome could not pay its barbarian adversaries due to economic and political weakness, barbarians would raid to their recoup losses, Rome would have to deal with the threat, commit resources to the frontier rather than stabilizing the center, eventually have to pay off the barbarians in some kind of settlement, and finance this by levying crushing taxes on the citizens of Rome thereby contracting the economy even further.

The second reason setting a limit to Roman conquests doomed the empire in the long run was that political advancement was intertwined with military success. Once expansion came to a halt, military greatness could no longer be achieved through conquering new lands, but rather by defeating political opponents within the empire. The reward of defeating political opponents in armed conflict civil wars proved to be very lucrative for commanders. Thus civil wars eventually became commonplace. Civil wars are often the most destructive wars for the state because all military and economic losses are internal.

This last point, that Civil Wars were unendingly corrosive, feeds into the second event that doomed the fate of the Empire in the long run. Historians divide the Roman emperors into different dynastic eras. The first dynastic era was the Julio-Claudian dynasty. This dynasty began with Augustus and ended four emperors later with Nero. Emperors from the Julio-Claudian line drew legitimacy from their familial relationship with the greatest of Roman heroes, Julius Caesar. Once Nero died, the Julio-Claudian dynasty had no other heirs who could ascend to the throne. A power vacuum formed. For the first time since the beginning of the Principate, the Roman Imperial system, there was no clear heir to the throne. A civil war broke out among the most ambitious generals of the empire. Prior to this point civil wars were uncommon. The last civil war had occurred nearly 100 years prior. Although the period leading up to the fall of the Roman Republic featured a few prominent civil wars, the wars of Sulla and Marius, and the wars of the two triumvirates, the majority of the roughly 750 years of Roman existence lacked civil conflict. Since no clear delineation of succession had ever been formalized in the imperial system, once the last Julio-Claudian died, the only real solution for selecting a new emperor was through civil war. Four generals heading legions that were stationed in different regions of the empire vied for power. Three different generals rose to the imperial throne, yet each general viewed themselves as legitimate and the others as illegitimate rulers of Rome. Ultimately the strongest won out. Eventually a general heading the eastern legions, Vespasian, came out victorious.

This civil war so disastrous because it set a corrosive precedent for selecting new emperors whenever a clear successor was left indeterminate or whenever a seated emperor was considered illegitimate. In both nadirs of imperial power, the Crisis of the Third Century, and the long collapse of the 5th Century, Civil wars ran rampant. Usurpers sprung up constantly resulting in near constant civil wars when the Romans should have been focusing on rebuilding their society or defending their frontiers from barbarian invasions. Barbarians at these points did not all of a sudden become immensely powerful enough to conquer the empire. Instead they took advantage of the empire when it was at its weakest. Since Rome had defeated all of its most serious enemies except for the Sassanid Empire in the East, Rome was only weakest after civil wars.

Barbarians did not have designs on conquering the empire as a whole, rather they sought prized Roman lands to settle in. Barbarians knew the Roman society to be superior to their own in many ways and hoped Rome would cede them land and officially recognize their peoples. Eventually the empire broke up not because of any one great invasion but because at moments of weakness, Rome had to cede away chunks of territory that were never permanently re-conquered and eventually were completely lost. The Western Roman Empire grew so weak, it essentially ceded away its entire empire.

The third event that doomed the Roman Empire was the assassination of Caligula. Caligula was a cruel, despotic emperor. His rule was so poisonous that the Praetorian Guards, the personal army of the emperor whose sole purpose was to unequivocally protect the emperor, decided they needed to kill Caligula for the greater good of the state, but also themselves. The thought of killing either of  the two previous emperors  Augustus and Tiberius was outside the realm of consideration for the Praetorian. Although Augustus was loved, Tiberius was widely hated by many, yet the Praetorian never killed him. Caligula took the excesses of imperial power and evil to new levels imbuing many with a burning desire to murder the emperor. The reason this murder is so important to the eventual fall of the Western Roman Empire is that the murder of Caligula set the precedent that emperors  could be overthrown, even ones who were viewed as legitimate at the time of the ascendance to the position.

Once one legitimate emperor could be killed, any emperor could be killed. Usurpers were thus enabled to become a common occurrence because the Emperor’s position was neither supreme nor guaranteed. In fact any emperors position could be untenable. The constant threat of being murdered or usurped was a Sword of Damocles that hung over the head of every emperor after Caligula. Thus weakness shown by an emperor anywhere could be instant cause for removal. Therefore the importance immediate suppression of usurpers, which led to many civil wars, was paramount. Often times emperors waited on defeating advancing barbarians in favor of suppressing a usurper.

Emperors needed to be strong and enrich those who protected them. Septimius Severus’s last words to his children were “be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all the rest.” The attitude of enriching the those who protected the emperor above all else created inefficiencies in the Roman economy and political dynamic. Rather than seeking to enrich the people, emperors sought to enrich those who could protect their authority. One resolution to this situation enacted by Diocletian in the late 3rd century was to push the emperor outside the realm of accessibility by withdrawing from everyday dealings to create a sense of godlike remoteness. By the time of Diocletian imperial affairs were dealt with by members of an extensive bureaucracy rather than the emperor directly. For strong emperors like Diocletian the adverse affects of such an arrangement were mitigated.

Unfortunately the remoteness of emperors only grew over time. By the time of the 5th century, the emperors were so far removed from society as a whole that they became reduced to figureheads. The real people who held power was the magistri militum (plural of magister militum), or the head general of all Roman forces. The problem fostered dependency by the emperors who needed the support of the magistri militum to protect their lives. As a result, emperors lost the power to hold sway over these generals. Often times the magistri militum were of some form of Germanic descent and their interests were not always completely in line with those of empire as a whole. Germans were able to rise to the rank of Magister Militum because the Roman military increasingly leaned on German mercenaries to supply their forces. Thus their leaders were often the best candidates for military promotions. The lack of pure Roman descent made the magistri militum position untenable as well. In the case of the Magister militum Stilicho his failure to annihilate the Visigoths was attributed to his supposed pro-Germanic sympathies stemming from his Vandal ancestry. Although evidence pointed to the contrary, the perception led to prominent Romans calling for his execution. In situations like these, magistri militum may not see combating invading barbarians as the main threat to their power but rather combating dissenting Senators or generals. Furthermore, no strong emperors to took the reigns and turn the tide against the barbarians or the increasing powers of the magistri militum. In addition the magistri militum could not exert absolute power in the way an emperor could and were thus restrained even in their best efforts to curb the tide of barbarian invasions.

The three events of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the civil wars after the death of Nero, and the murder of Caligula all represent facets of why the Western Roman Empire eventually fell. For all of its greatness, Roman hegemony eroded as a result of these three events. Thus it is important to note that the end of empire can be sewn before it even reaches its peak.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Could The Mongols Have Conquered Europe?

The Mongolian army was a juggernaut, Nations as far as China to the heart of the Russian steppes crumbled under the Mongolian war machine. Not even the great empires of the Middle East could stop Mongolian might. In spite of the diversity of forces Mongols armies faced, numbers, wealth, and distance could not slow the Mongolian hordes to a halt.

Mongolian success was built on mobility, communications, and adaptation. Horses were the core of the Mongolian war machine. Horses were revered in the Mongol warrior culture. Tracing back to their nomadic roots, horses were the only thing Mongolians could depend on for survival. Whether it was enabling them to hunt, pursue an enemy, flee from a battlefield, or move on to greener pastures, Mongol soldiers were one with their horses. Mongols armies did not have the fastest or strongest horses. Mongol horses allowed their riders to travel the farthest distances the fastest over extended periods of time. As a result their military structure was horse-centric. An Horse-centric military enabled the Mongolians to travel faster with greater flexibility than their enemies.

Practicality rather than formalities guided the Mongol war machine. Unlike in Europe where retreat was seen as a sign of weakness, the Mongolians used false retreats, or feints, to their utmost advantage. Such false retreats were could be performed because of the speed of lightly armored Mongol cavalrymen. The Mongols understood the advantages their horses provided them. The Europeans failed to understand the burdens of their heavy armor. Another disadvantage for Europeans was that their ideologies about war played into the hands of the Mongols. For centuries, victory in a European battle meant engaging your opponent until they retreated and culminating the victory by mowing down fleeing enemies.

The Mongols intentionally engaged in skirmishing with Europe’s slow, lumbering forces. After brief fighting the Mongol commander would call for a retreat, and the Europeans would give chase. The lightly armored Mongol horses could outrun the heavy European cavalry that was pursuing them. The trap would been set. Mongolians fled to stretch the European forces thinly, severing the cavalry from the infantry. The cavalry would be ambushed by forces lying in wait while the Mongols who had been fleeing turned around to cut down the overwhelmed European cavalry. After destroying the cavalry, the trailing infantry became isolated. The infantry would succumb to a rain of arrows and cavalry charges.

The forces Hungary, Poland, and Russian principalities were no match for the professional Mongol armies. Many soldiers in European armies were men-at-arms, ready to fight when called on. Unlike the Mongols who had been on campaign for years, Eastern European soldiers were not as experienced in warfare. The training of the Mongols instilled a discipline that enabled them to execute their commanders’ orders with optimal efficiency. Thus difficult maneuvers such as feigning retreat and ambushing could be confidently ordered by Mongol field commanders. Unprofessional European troops were often less reliable. As a result the Mongols tried to make the battle fields chaotic with such complex maneuvers as filling the sky with a volley of arrows, in such rapid succession that European accounts of the battles often reported significantly more Mongol troops in battle than were actually present.

At the time of the Mongol invasion, Europe was weak. Hungary, Poland, and Russia had not established themselves as great powers in the early 1200’s. Abutting these lesser powers was the Holy Roman Empire. It was one of the largest European land empires, dominating most of Central Europe. The Holy Roman Empire at the time of the Mongol invasion was engulfed in feud that plagued many European monarchs dating back the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The power struggle centered around who held authority over Christendom, the secular kings, or the leader of the Church, the Pope. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II’s resulting war with the Pope drained the resources and vigor of Central Europe’s greatest power.

A weak Holy Roman Empire meant a weak Europe. The Holy Roman Empire was supposed to be the backstop for the Eastern European kingdoms and principalities who became the victims of the Mongol invasion. Hungary and Poland both petitioned the Holy Roman Empire for support against the Mongols. Such appeals were denied. The dominant ferocity of the Mongol hordes sent shockwaves throughout Europe. If the Eastern European kingdoms fell, the weakened Holy Roman Empire could fall, and France would be next in line for a Mongolian invasion. France had legitimate concerns about fighting the Mongolians. Along with Polish and Hungarian forces, a small French Templar contingent, one of Europe’s stronger units, had gotten slaughtered in a battle against the Mongolians.

To many European nations, no kingdom or principality seemed out of reach for the Mongolians. The Mongolians coordinated a campaign that could fight on multiple fronts in Poland and Hungary while simultaneously, venturing as far as the Dalmatian Coast. Such grand and complex operations could be effectively conducted since the Mongol courier system was an unmatched means of transporting pertinent information. Light, fast horses, and posts all over Mongol held land made the courier system so effective. With such superior coordination and communication, the Mongols proved they could thrust deep into Europe. A mere sixty miles separated the Mongols from Venice.

Shortly after the Mongols penetrated deep into Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe, the unconquered forces had to turn around. The lead of the Mongols, Ogedei Khan died. Mongol tradition stipulated that all the great Mongol chieftains must be present for the election of the new khan. Thus the generals in charge of the European campaign, Subutai, Batu, Mangku, and Kuyuk had to return to Mongolia for the election. Europe was saved, but not by any great military feat, but by a political procedure. After the next Khan was elected, the Mongolians, enriched from their Russian and European campaigns settled down in what is currently Russia, content with their success.

Could the Mongolians have conquered Europe? If so, to what extent would have a successful conquest meant? Would a successful conquest meant going all the way to the Mediterranean or Atlantic Ocean? Or to closer frontiers such as the Danube or the Rhine?

There are many factors they need to be assessed in determining how effective could a Mongol conquest be. First the Mongols must be assessed on how successful they were fighting European armies. The two major battles involving Mongol armies versus combined European forces, Mohi, and Leignitz, were decisive victories for the Mongol hordes. Tactically and strategically the European armies could not match the speed, flexibility, and coordination of Mongol forces.

Conquering and pacifying great kingdoms became standard procedure for the Mongols. On their way to Europe, the Mongols had conquered the great empires of Kwarizam, the Kievian Rus, and the strong barbarian tribes of the Cumans and Pechenegs. This was all done while campaigning against the great power of the Far East, China’s Song Dynasty. All along the way the Mongols incorporated the many Turkic peoples who lay between Mongolia and Europe, into their military.

The Mongols were able to pacify the peoples of their conquered lands through first fear, and then acceptance. When Mongols laid siege to a city, a skill learned from combating the Song Dynasty, devastation ensued. Mongols understood if they could raze a city and its population to the ground so completely, other cities would surrender without a fight. Mastery of siege warfare made the cities of Europe vulnerable to Mongolian armies. One Europe’s defensive strengths, densely packed cities, became one of its liabilities.

Central Europe’s terrain may have been what saved the Europe from complete conquest. One reason the Mongolians’ had such a massive empire was because they terrain they conquered was conducive to Mongolian horse-centric warfare. Much of the Mongol dominions were part of the Central Asian steppes. The steppes are flat grasslands that allow for optimal mobility and enough grassland for horses to feed on. Central Europe is more rugged than the steppes. Rugged terrain, rolling hills, rivers, dense forests and the Alps all limit the mobility and resources for horses. Horse-centric Barbarian tribes dating back to the fall of the Western Roman Empire such as the Huns struggled when crossing through present day Germany because of the rugged conditions and poor conditions for grazing. Much like the Mongolians they dominated the Russian steppes but became slowed in the heart of Central Europe.

Mongolians could have mitigated some of the problems fighting in Central Europe by establishing vassal states or alliances with principalities in the region. Mongol conquests brought a large portion of the silk road under Mongolian control. Venice, an emerging maritime power, depended heavily on the Silk Road’s commerce. Venice, dependant on the Mongolians for commerce, may have entered into an alliance or become a vassal state of the Mongolians. Had such an alliance happened the Mongolians would have had access to the Adriatic and a base of support in the heart of Central Europe. In addition the wealth and prominence of Venice could have added strength and legitimacy to Mongol conquests. It cannot be assumed Venice would have accepted Mongolian terms, but reasons abound as to why they may have wanted to enter into an alliance.

The Mongolian armies were tactically better than European armies. European armies had two fundamental flaws that left them particularly vulnerable to the Mongolian armies. One flaw was the lack of professional armies in weaker European states. Men at arms were ready to fight at a moments notice, but this does not mean they were prepared to fight. Poor training led to poor cohesion on the battlefields. Undisciplined men at arms were hard to control on the battlefields. This resulted in European commanders not having the ability to effectively counter the precisely executed tactics of the Mongols. The second flaw pertained to wealthier European armies. European armies of the Middle Ages preferred heavily armored forces to light forces. In uniform linear battles this had its advantages. Against the speed of Mongol attacks and retreats, European armies lacked the fluidity to effectively respond. Mongol tactics were about hitting and running, creating gaps in enemy lines by drawing out the enemy, and crushing exposed weak points with overwhelming force. Light Mongol cavalry could execute and adjust to such complex maneuvers whereas heavily armored European armies could not.

The Mongol army was far superior to anything Europe fielded at that time. Furthermore Europe was incredibly fragmented in the 13th Century, leading to an inability to direct an effective coordinated attack against the Mongolians. Mongol armies were more professional, flexible, and tactically and strategically superior to their European counterparts. Europe had the numbers to defend itself, but it lacked the coordination and the will to put aside their differences to stop the onslaught. Although some nations did band together, as in the case of Hungary and Poland, the powerhouses of Europe, such as France and the Holy Roman Empire, did not throw their lot behind the lesser powers who were succumbing to the Mongols. European armies proved again and again the Mongolian army was far too fast and well trained to be conquered on the battlefield.

Conquering Europe presented many obstacles to the Mongolians. Europe was the farthest extent of western Mongolian conquests. Although Mongols were resourceful in re-supplying themselves in conquered lands, Central Europe presented many problems. The land was not conducive for a horse centric army. Unlike the steppes of Russia, good grazing land was sparse. This explains why after the Mongols returned for electing a new Khan post-Ogedei, the Mongols pulled back from conquered Eastern European lands and remained largely in Russia. Another obstacle would have been European resistance. Europe was significantly more densely populated than the Russian steppe which meant sieges would have been required more frequently. Sieges are long and arduous. Although Mongolians could conduct effective sieges it eventually would have been a drain on their resources. Sieges could also slow the pace of the fast moving Mongolian hordes to a stand still, thus eliminating their greatest tactical advantage.

Mongolians could have conquered Europe but on a limited basis. Mongolians in an open battle could have defeated any European power it came up against. On the other hand, the rigors of campaigning in Europe would have been too hard on the overextended Mongols. The only way Europe could have been effectively conquered by the Mongols would have been by establishing alliances or vassal states with other European nations. The Mongolians could not have conquered Europe alone. Establishing alliances or vassal states would have relieved pressure from the constantly campaigning Mongol army. I think that had Ogedei’s death not ended their campaign significant chunks of Germany, Austria, and Croatia, and Italy could have come under Mongol control. It is hard envisioning the Mongols making it all the way to the Atlantic because the terrain and armies of France and the Holy Roman Empire would have slowed down the fast paced Mongol hordes to the point where further conquests may not have been worth the cost. The question to be asked is how much conquest would have satiated the Mongols? The Mongols seems to have been content with the wealth Russian and Eastern European conquests brought them. In the wake of Ogedei’s death the Mongols pulled back, saving Europe’s armies from an enemy it could not match.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Alexander's Lost Dream

After the battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, the back of the Persian Empire had been broken. Shortly thereafter King Darius, the leader or Persia was killed by a satrapy and relative, Bessus. A satrap was a local kingdom whose loyalty lay with a greater power. In this case it was Persia, later loyalty would be to Macedonia. With only remnants of the Persian army remaining and a few indignant satrapies remaining the gates to the east were essentially wide open. Although Bessus claimed himself king, he was merely a thorn in Alexander’s side. What lay beyond Bessus was a vast new world. It was the true prize for the conquering Alexander. It could have been Alexander’s dream. Yet it would also be the site of his greatest disappointment. This was where his invincible army came up against an immovable force that finally led Alexander to turn around.

The death of Darius did not bring an end to the Persian-Macedonian Wars. With Darius out of the picture, Bessus proclaimed himself king. Alexander was never content with coming to any peaceful conclusion of the war with Persia. In his mind, the Greek world had suffered mightily at the hands of the Persians in the two previous Greco-Persian Wars. It was Alexander’s duty to exact revenge. In Alexander’s mind, this could not be achieved until the entirety of the Persian Empire was conquered with him at the reins. Previously in the war, peace had been offered by the King Darius. The entire Persian Empire west of the Euphrates was guaranteed for Alexander. This was not enough. The Hellenes had suffered too much at the hands of the Persians in their long, heated rivalry. Plus in Alexander’s mind, land west of the Euphrates had been spoken for as a result of a series of Persian defeats in that region. Alexander wanted it all and there was no Persian force that could stop him.

One of the renegade provinces that shared in Bessus’s desire to stand up to Alexander the Great was the satrapy of the Persian province Persis. The leader of Alexander’s opposition was named Ariobarzanes. The battle was fought in a valley known as the Persian Gates. Valleys are great defensive locations. This was especially true when facing Alexander. Alexander relied heavily on using his infantry to approach from one angle to keep enemy forces at bay, while his highly mobile cavalry could come around and entrap or smash through enemy forces. This tactic became known as the hammer and anvil strategy. The hammer and anvil strategy was used with repeated success for Alexander as in the battle of Issus. The narrowness of a valley prevented the type of mobility open plains of Issus had allowed. The Persians effectively held the valley for roughly a month. It took a local to show Alexander a way around the valley for the Macedonians to deal the final crushing blow to the entrapped Persians.

The last of the major Persian resistance was defeated and only little of the remaining known world was left to be conquered. The known world according to the Hellenes ended at the farthest extent of the Persian Empire, eastern India. It is believed that little or nothing was known by the Greeks about anything east of the Persian border. With Persian resistance out of the way, nothing was stopping Alexander from approaching the edge of the world.

Upon entering what is today Pakistan, Alexander was able to achieve the surrender of many local chieftains. Alexander had proven himself a great conqueror and was thus able to secure their submission. Many of the local chieftains who met with Alexander in the satrapy of Gandhara agreed to Alexander’s terms, but a few refused. The hill tribes of the Aspasioi, the Kambojas, and Assakenoi remained independent. These tribes put up a fierce resistence against Alexander. According to one source the Assakenoi were able to field 38,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 30 elephants against Alexander in one battle.

The tribes also chose not surrender right away but rather take defensive positions in cities all along Alexander’s path of conquest. So fierce was the resistance that the enraged Alexander burned down the defensive cities of Massaga and Ora. Alexander was eventually able to move past these tribes with the help of local leaders who supported Alexander. Alexander enticed supportive local leaders with land as in the aftermath of the Siege Aornos, a well fortified city.

Victory allowed Alexander to move further east into the region of Punjab. With the support of a local Kingdom known as the Taxiles, Alexander advanced past the Indus River towards the Hydaspes River. At the battle of the Hydaspes River, the local King Porus fielded a large army to meet Alexander’s advance. Porus’s army included a mix of infantry cavalry, chariots, and war elephants.

The forces of Porus took up a strong position along the Hydaspes River bank. Alexander’s forces sat on the other side of the side of the river. Alexander was required to come up with innovative maneuvering schemes to cross the Hydaspes to meet the challenge of King Pours. Essentially what Alexander had to do to win the battle was leave a portion of his army on the river banks as a diversionary force. King Porus’s forces, waiting on the other side of the river bank could see Alexander’s forces remaining stationary. At night Alexander would create sounds of movement to make King Pours think Alexander was readying for attack. The attack never came. King Porus began to disregard the sounds of battle preparation . Because nothing had ever amounted from Alexander’s diversionary sounds, King Porus disregarded the diversion the day of the attack. King Porus waited for a direct crossing.

Secretly Alexander personally took troops further down the river, to a spot where there was an island in the middle of the river. There Alexander could land his forces to springboard an attack on the other side of the river. The island landing allowed for a shorter and safer transportation required to cross the river. Alexander with his small diversionary force hoped to draw King Porus away from the river banks allowing for the bulk of the Macedonian army waiting on their side of the river, to cross. The diversion worked and King Porus was trapped. Despite falling victim to Alexander’s trap, King Porus and his men fought on bravely. So well did King Porus’s units fight that it actually impressed Alexander. In the aftermath of the battle Alexander befriended the imposing, some say 7 foot tall King Porus and allowed him to rule his former territory and more provided by Alexander, so long as acknowledged he ruled under Alexander.

It is important here to note why Alexander found his dream in the Indian subcontinent. Alexander was first and foremost a conqueror. This why he did not settle for peace deals against Persia. Alexander’s conquering nature is why he decided to cross over India into the first place. Alexander wanted to be ruler of the known world. Alexander loved conflict, and loved using his military genius to overcome great odds to defeat his opponents. Over the years Alexander had won so many hard fought victories despite often being outnumbered, taken many “impregnable” cities and fortresses, and allowed no natural obstacles stand in his way. In his mind, he and his army were invincible. India, with its huge population and its largely unknown nature provided a place where Alexander could outwit, outfight, and conquer indefinitely. For all that Alexander was, one thing he was not was restive. Until the day he died Alexander had designs on conquest. Yet it is these designs for unending conquest in the face truly insurmountable odds that made Alexander’s troops do the one thing no commander could in the field could do: put an end to his conquests.

What was it about India that made the Macedonian army who’s spearheading advance had never been dulled finally decide enough was enough? For one thing Alexander’s troops had been on a non-stop campaign from the years 335 BC until the battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC. Alexander’s army had proven too successful. Home was far away and the inspiration of Alexander could only do so much the deeper into foreign lands the army got. Secondly, tribes on the Indian subcontinent had proven themselves worthy fighters. Resistance was always fierce and they were able to field diverse armies that included elephants. Elephants were crucial because the hammer and anvil strategy required the crushing power of cavalry to act as the anvil. Elephants with their grandiose size and loud cries scared horses. Thus Alexander when fighting forces that included elephants had to factor how to draw away the elephants from his own cavalry.

The greatest threat to Macedonian advance was the people who lay ahead in India, the one’s Alexander had not even warred with yet. The empires of the Nanda and the Gangaridai were truly the immovable objects that Alexander’s army could not defeat. It would have been nearly impossible for the depleted forces of Alexander’s armies match the rested and waiting armies of these two empires. This is saying a lot for an army that repeatedly pushed the boundaries of what impossible meant. According to the ancient historian Plutarch Alexander’s forces were, “violently opposed to Alexander’s,” furthering campaigns against the Nanda and Gangaridai. After years of campaigning Alexander’s army had roughly 20,000 men left to fight. The Nanda-Gangaridai Alliance could field a total of an estimated 294,000 troops. Nanda-Gangaridai forces were comprised of 200,000 infantry, 80,000 cavalry, 8,000 chariots, and 6,000 war elephants. If estimates regarding the size of the Indian armies and Roman armies are true, the Indians could field a substantially larger army than Rome could during the reign of Augustus. It is difficult to verify these numbers. What can be said for certain is whether or not these numbers are accurate it was believed by the soldiers that the Nanda-Gangaridai forces were on the order of this size. Furthermore both empires were known for having huge populations and since much was not known about their lands it was hard for Alexander’s army to know how great resistance could have been. In addition Alexander’s troops had just completed a war with the Persian Empire who fielded colossal armies as well and all they had to show for it was continued conquests. The men were tired and their opponents were too strong, too fierce, and too well equipped.

Ultimately Alexander’s dreams lived and died in India. India was the place where he could try to conquer endlessly. Alexander loved the competition and the thrill of beating the odds. His army though could not stand by his dream. They had to put an end to the conquests. Alexander believed his army was invincible, yet his army knew they met their match. Alexander was so angered by the end of his conquests that upon turning around from India some believe Alexander made his forces take the more difficult path back to Babylon as punishment. Many soldiers died along the way. Alexander never lost his dream of unending conquest. If he could not do so far from home in India, he would conduct his conquests a little closer to home. Had Alexander been able to fulfill his dream, he would have undoubtedly altered the course of history. Alexander had his eyes set on the three places that would come to dominate the period from after his death until the Middle Ages. Alexander had his eyes set on Rome, Carthage, and the Arabian peninsula. Alexander passed away before he could conduct those campaigns. It was Alexander’s insatiable appetite for conquest that made him great, but it also caused the mutiny exposing a dissatisfied army as Alexander’s Achilles heal. The realities of maintaining a military limited Alexander’s unsatisfiable dream.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Eagle

Having recently watched the movie The Eagle, I wanted to write an article on Roman Legionary Standards. The premise of The Eagle is that the ninth legion, stationed in Britain, ventured north of Hadrian’s Wall, was ambushed and defeated. In the process of the legion being mostly wiped out, the Roman Standard was taken from the legion. The son of the centurion who lost the standard seeks to redeem his family’s honor by recovering the standard his father lost. The main character, Marcus Aquila, ventures beyond the Wall and searches throughout northern Britannia for the lost Eagle Standard. Marcus goes to great lengths, putting his life on the line throughout the movie, but eventually recovers the standard. Although this story is fanciful, it is not entirely outside the realm of truth. The purpose of the movie is to show no matter how great the lengths, a true Roman would do almost anything to recover a lost standard.

It is important to understand what exactly the standard was and why it was so important. A Roman Standard was a staff with an animal that had great mythological importance attached atop it. After the military reforms of Gaius Marius, the standard would exclusively have an eagle sitting atop the staff. The Eagle standard was removable from the staff. This can be seen in The Eagle as Marcus Aquila only recovers the Eagle. Standards had multiple functions in battle. One function was to serve as a rallying point for Roman soldiers. Another was to serve as the symbol of the power of Rome. The standard symbolized many Roman virtues such as honor, ambition, and strength. Since the standard was the symbol of Roman honor, its loss meant not only the loss of the battle, but the loss out Roman dignity by way of the legions who fought the battle.

The loss of a standard would be considered catastrophic for Romans. It could be as devastating if not more devastating than the casualties sustained in battle. The late Republican army, early Imperial army believed in the notion of Imperium sine fine. This meant the empire without end. Roman armies from the Second Punic War on marched throughout the Mediterranean and into mainland Europe relatively unfettered. Although the were some strong enemies, eventually all were crushed. Therefore the standard embodied the unending advance of Rome wherever it was carried. Such conquests bred an air of invincibility among the people and armies of Rome. Thus the loss of a standard went completely against the notion of Imperium sine fine, and meant that people could call into question Roman invincibility. This could not be tolerated. Being superior was central for what it meant to be Roman. The superiority of Rome made citizens happy to be Romans, and outsiders envious of Romans. Therefore if the standard was lost, Roman superiority was lost, and faith in the Roman system was lost.

The battle of Carrhae and its aftermath embodies the Roman obsession with Legionary Standards. During the battle of Carrhae, the wealthy member of the Triumvirate Crassus was defeated by a Parthian army. Seven Roman Legions were sent into disarray. As a result the Parthians captured seven Roman Standards. This humiliated Rome. The name of Crassus became synonymous with Roman shame. It became the goal of Julius Caesar and later Marc Antony to recover the lost standards. Marc Antony in 37 BC marched with an estimated 100,000 Roman and allied troops into Parthia for the sole purpose of recovering the lost standards of Carrhae. Antony found himself entrenched in a prolonged quagmire against the Parthians and had to turn back. Although Antony’s foray against Parthia did not end until 30 BC, the official end of the war was in 20 BC. In 20 BC the sole ruler of Rome, Augustus, was able to negotiate, not recapture through battle, the return of the seven lost Standards from the Parthians. The honor associated with returning the standards was so great that it was treated as if the Romans had won a war to regain them.

Standards proved to be very symbolic for the Roman people. The standard was the symbol of an unending empire. Standard symbolized the Roman notion of being the self-designated leaders of the world. The ambition to be great was a common thread throughout the long history of Rome. This ambition was rooted in the strong sense of honor Romans had about being Roman. Thus although it may seem frivolous today to worship such an object, to Romans, honor was everything. Thus there was no sacrifice that was too high pay to protect the symbolic honor of Rome, the standards.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Paratroopers Over Crete

The German invasion of Crete was very famous because it the first primarily airborne invasion of a territory. Crete is an island in the Mediterranean. The British Navy ruled the Mediterranean. The Germans needed a new way to attack Crete. Ultimately this new method was looked on largely as a failure, but the lessons learned from the invasion would later be used against the Germans throughout the war.

Paratroopers were the spearhead of the German invasion of Crete. Crete is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. It was a crucial base for British naval and supply operations in the Mediterranean, especially for the North African theater. British naval superiority in the Mediterranean made a large scale invasion of Crete quite risky. To bypass the British naval advantage, the Germans used paratroopers to attack Crete. Although the island was successfully taken by the Germans, it was a faulty strategy to attack Crete with exclusively paratroopers because it was too costly and inefficient expense of men and materiel.

Paratroopers are not meant to provide the core of large scale military operations. Their purpose is to act as quick strike units ahead of a larger force. Often time paratroopers are tasked with blowing up rail lines, communication lines, or bridges. The most famous paratroop operation of the war was the German invasion of the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael. A small unit of German Fallschirmjäger (elite paratroopers) landed gliders on top of the fort and around the fort to knock out the defensive guns and bridges that threatened the German blitz through Belgium. Since airborne invasions were so new, the Allies were caught by surprise. A force of roughly 500 Germans was able to defeat a force nearly twice that size, while also conquering a fort that was thought to be impenetrable.

Success bred hubris for the Nazis. Rather than taking the lesson that paratroopers are best used in small scale, quick operations, the senior Luftwaffe commanders believed the success of the Eben-Emael could be replicated on larger scale attacks. Crete was not a fort with only 1000 defenders. Rather it was an entire island with tens of thousand of troops. Nazi opposition comprised of the Commonwealth, Greek, and Cretan partisan troops. Past success of German paratroopers combined with German air superiority made Nazis confident they could bypass British Naval Superiority and overcome Crete’s defenses.

The flaw in the Nazis invasion of Crete was the failure to understand that paratroopers were not common infantry. They were superior. Paratroopers required more training than infantry because they conducted special tasks. The Fallschirmjäger used in the invasion were elite units that worked best in small operations. Infantry are meant for large scale operations because they require less training and there are more of them. Therefore infantry are more expendable. Units with large amounts of training are not expendable. Training costs and time associated with training are too valuable. Thus infantry have a comparative advantage in conducting such large scale operations versus elite paratroopers. Losses in infantry units can be easily absorbed because those units are replaceable. Losses in the Fallschirmjäger were not easily replaced. Therefore expending Fallschirmjäger was a costly endeavor for the Nazis.

Airborne units are subject to the elements more so than most units. Air currents can blown airborne units off target. Such occurrences were prevalent throughout WWII. Amphibious landings on the other hand are relatively more direct and reliable for getting units to their targets. An exclusively airborne invasion was a risky endeavor because if enough units were to become scattered it left those units highly susceptible to Crete’s defenses. Furthermore communication among scattered units is extremely difficult to maintain. The only way the island could have been taken was with a concerted effort that required effective communication and coordination.

Unfortunately for the British Commonwealth forces, and Greek units, communication was even worse on their side. Counterattacks were not effectively coordinated. Superior force numbers could not overwhelm the specialized German units. Fallschirmjäger were able to regroup and capture airbases required for resupply. Part of the confusion on the British side resulted from believing a sea borne invasion was still on its way and needed to be accounted for. Thus maximum counterattacks could not be mounted against the airborne German units.

The attack was not easy for the German paratroopers though. Since Crete was a small island it was hard for paratroop units to land behind enemy lines and outflank the enemy. Paratroopers in Crete became more like frontline units. Yet the airborne units were not properly supplied to act as frontline units. The German paratroopers were supplied with lighter artillery pieces because this was all airborne operations could accommodate. Furthermore the means of supply for the paratroopers was flawed. Rather than letting the troops jump with their rifles and MP 40 submachine guns, the paratroopers were to jump with only handguns, knives, and grenades while the rest of the weapons would simultaneously be parachuted in. The idea behind this was to prevent the paratroopers from losing their weapons in the jump. This plan failed and battles sprung up over paratroopers trying to recover their gear. The light artillery pieces used by the paratroopers were insufficient for taking the island. Thus the Nazis had to devise complex parachuting schemes to land heavy artillery pieces, while the German Navy drew up risky plans to land heavy artillery on the island.

The German air superiority held the battle together for the Nazis. Allied defenses could be bombed. This helped balance the lack of proper weapons for the paratroopers. Air superiority also meant a constant stream of resupply for the paratroopers. Eventually poor coordination and the prospect of a unending supply of German paratroopers proved too much for the British. The key defensive city of Heraklion was captured by the Germans and this sealed Crete’s fate.

In assessing the flaws in the German paratroop invasion of Crete it is important to see how the invasion fits into the Grand Strategy of the Nazis for WWII. The Invasion of Crete occurred in late May early June of 1941. Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia, took place in late June. The German attacks on Greece and subsequently Crete were a distraction for the Germans. The distraction of capturing these two would have grave implications for Operation Barbarossa. The invasions delayed invasion of Russia forcing it to begin ever closer to the for middle Russian winter. Nazi high command should have recognized not only was this the main theater, but the only theater the Nazis should have diverted complete attention towards.

Furthermore to determine the success of the German invasion, the implications of the victory must be analyzed in the cold, calculated manner Eisenhower used in assessing whether the Philippines should be immediately invaded after it was captured by Japan. His analysis was one, does taking that objective win the Allies the war, and two does not taking the given objective lose the Allies the war. If both answers are no, such an invasion should be avoided. Therefore did taking Crete tip the balance of the Mediterranean in the Germans favor. No. Would have not taking Crete lost them the war in the Mediterranean. The answer is no as well. Other factors were at play. The British still held Malta and Gibraltar as key naval, air, and supply bases for the Sea. Also neither the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) or Luftwaffe were able to assert control over the Mediterranean after the airbases in Crete were captured.

In addition the motif for Britain’s struggle and success in the war was living to fight another day. The British were able to use their navy to evacuate their troops from Crete as they had at Dunkirk and in Greece. Eventually Britain’s naval superiority ensured that they could continue to supply their campaign in places like North Africa while the German units would often have to rely on scrounging together materiel or hope to capture Allied supply bases. Crete was a costly endeavor and became magnified by the fact that losses were exclusively among airborne units. Hitler decided never to use airborne units in such attacks for the rest of the war, while the Allies learned from the mistakes of the Germans. When the final invasion of Europe did come paratroopers were a key part of the Allied invasion. The Allies figured out how to beat the Nazis at their own game, sealing their fate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How The Machine Gun Changed Warfare

Desire for rapid fire has dated back millennia. Ancient commanders wanted an increased rate of fire from bows, and modern generals wanted a higher rate of fire from rifles. Due to slow, manual loading times of rifles from the 18th and 19th centuries only a few rounds could be expected to be fired a minute. Despite the best generals plans, war is chaotic. Rapid fire was needed on the battlefield in order to better control it. The machinegun changed the nature of war from a focus of offensive maneuvering to managed, defensive positioning.

In warfare prior to the advent of the machine gun, war was about maneuvering. The purpose of war was to shift troops to a spot where the enemy was most vulnerable. War was fought in formations that often were positioned with a distinct front, rear, and sides. Often times attacks directed at the sides, the flanks, would be the goal. This is because a forward facing military unit would have to shift around to best deal with attacks on its sides. This could often cause chaos and routes as made famous by Hannibal’s double envelopment at Cannae.

As late as the Civil War flanking was a primary means of achieving battlefield success. The tactics of this era dictated lining up in a line of hundreds to thousands of men, and shooting across a field from a distance of roughly a football field. Because of the linear formations, opposing units would often try to maneuver towards the opponents flank where the line of fire would be greatly thinned out. The only way to engage such flanking was to turn entire units around to meet the threat. As a result many battles of the Civil War resulted in opposing sides simply trying maneuver towards the opponents’ sides.

The one thing that was constant in warfare from Ancient Times up through the Civil War was the act of engagement. To best engage and overwhelm one’s flanks to achieve a total victory, a commander needed to smash through their enemy’s lines. This could result from a frontal or flanking assault. Bows and arrows were not enough to achieve such a hammering blow and neither were guns during the Civil War Guns could only shoot so far and so fast. To outflank an opponent infantry needed to engage the opposing flanks in hand to hand combat. Cavalry would be used to outmaneuver the opponent at faster speeds. Often at the climax of battle there would be an ordered charge to try and smash through the ranks of the enemy.

Technology from the Civil War onward until World War I shifted. Rather than being meant to aid in maneuver, it was meant to slow down maneuvers. Trenches were used towards the end of the Civil War in the battle for Petersburg. Barbed wire emerged as a threat to charges because of its ability to maim its victims. Mines were used to make swaths of land deadly to cross.

The machine gun reversed the equation of maneuver guaranteeing success. The machine gun with its high capacity to carry rounds prevented maneuvers from occurring. Because it could cut down so many men so quickly, units did not have the time to reform to outmaneuver their opponents. Stagnation on a battlefield with a machine gun means death. Adding to this, large groups of men charging at a fixed machine gun could be mowed down by one gun alone. In ten seconds a German Maxim machinegun could accomplish what 33 well trained soldiers in the Civil War could fire off in one minute. Charges became obsolete because in the 15 seconds it took to charge 100 yards over torn up Earth, 150 men could be killed by one gun. Add that the men would have to avoid mines, potholes from artillery tearing up the Earth, and cutting barbed wire along with overcoming any other defensive earthworks to prevent such a charge and the effect of the charge was negated.

Trying to use the tactics of a bygone era could not work in the new defensive oriented world of World War I battlefields. Part of the reason the war was such a stagnant war was because a revolution had happened under the noses of the generals of Europe, and they missed it. The generals failed to adjust. Trying to use old maneuvering tactics like charges to take trenches failed. Men were mowed down. Then new technology was invented to deal with defeating the superiority of defense but it was in its infancy. Such new technology could not stand up to the defensive technology that had been gradually produced over the 70 years prior to the war.

Mass movements with infantry largely became obsolete because there was no good way to protect or bypass the defensive schemes where machine guns were the prominent component of defense. As a result taking land became nearly impossible because defenses were impregnable. Soldiers had not protection from the hail of bullets.

War only shifted back to having an offensive conscience when technology was developed that was impervious to bullets and could bypass it. This came in the form of the tank and the plane. Armored tanks could withstand the bullets of machine guns and speed past them. Planes, such as dive bombers, once an enemy position was located could target the position and drop a bomb on it. It took the revolution of the Blitzkrieg to shift war back from defensive to offensive minded. Yet the technology was never truly present in necessary quantity to alter the battlefield of World War I. If it was used, the intrinsic implications of such technology was lost on most generals during World War I. World War I is remembered for its stagnation and there is not greater culprit for this then the machine gun.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The First Cold War

Britain and Russia have long been key players on the European stage. Their joint victory in the Napoleonic Wars propelled both to become preeminent powers. Russia’s role in Europe was to be the great Bear of the East whose sheer man power and size made them one of the most formidable Empires on the continent. On the other hand, Britain exerted its power on the continent through domination of the seas and industrialization to exercise its naval superiority in conflicts all over the globe. Both Empires had aspirations that extended beyond their boundaries. Both were fundamentally different. As a result a Cold War of conflicting interests permeated the 19th Century. Only once a power could compete with Russia’s manpower and Britain’s industrial might would the two rivals be pressured to unite and curb the influence of the new European behemoth: a unified German Reich.

The Napoleonic Wars were a shock to the power structure of Europe. The Revolutionary drive for Republican governments all over Europe was the great fear of the conservative powers of Eastern Europe and the more comparatively liberal Britain. The conservative powers of the East included Prussia, the Austrian Empire, and the Russian Empire. Their governments were conservative because the will of the monarch was absolute. The ideas of the French Revolution were completely counter to this form of rule. Although Napoleon ended up making himself monarch, the spirit of the revolution, that the lower classes would overthrow the upper classes scared nobility all over Europe. The primary purpose of the absolute monarch was to maintain order. Monarchs were believed to have been given the divine right to rule and thus were the only ones fit to rule. On the other hand rule by the people was the embodiment of disorder and chaos. The leaders of Europe were terrified.

Although Britain was a parliamentary government, Britain had its own reasons to oppose the Revolution. Britain believed that the French revolution was not legitimate because it was not the place of the people to overthrow a legitimate government. Both being ideologically opposed to the revolution, Britain and Russia were galvanized to ally against Napoleon because his conquests upended their own designs to control Europe.

After years of hardship and thousands of casualties the French beast was subdued. The future of Europe was determined by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The Congress hoped to ensure a lasting peace on the continent through a balance of power. Britain in the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo showed their versatility as both the strongest naval power in Europe and powerful army. Despite initial French success, Russia’s defense in depth strategy eventually repulsed the Grande Armée resulting in the turning point of the Grande Armée’s dominance. Britain and Russia being key players in battles and campaigns that turned around the war made them the top two powers to survive the Napoleonic Wars. The Napoleonic Wars expanded the powers of Russia and Britain. Europe was left up for grabs. Uncertainty created much controversy.

The uncertainty of Europe’s future in the aftermath of the war created the first crisis of the Russian-British Cold War. Although Britain was in the midst of forming the largest overseas land empire in history, Britain did not want to commit troops to the European continent. Rather they sought to control Europe through diplomacy and a balance of powers. Britain feared any one power becoming too strong in Europe. Britain did not want its power to be rivaled. Britain used diplomacy and other nations as surrogate nations for achieving Britain’s goal of balance of power on the continent. On the other hand Tsar Alexander of Russia saw himself as the guarantor of security on the continent. Thus he felt he could exert his powers to further those means.

One of the first flashpoints of the British-Russian Cold War was to determine the post-war fate of Poland. Poland had once been a great kingdom, but at the end of the 18th Century it had been partitioned among the Russian Empire, the Prussian Empire, and the Austrian Empire. After the Napoleonic Wars Russia set its sights on acquiring all of Poland. One thing to note about the Congress of Vienna is there were a lot of backroom, informal deals made between participating powers. Prussia and Russia made a private deal with regards to the Polish Question.

Russia wanted to acquire all Polish lands. Russia wanted to set up a Polish Kingdom within its lands that would nominally be its own state, but in reality would be loyal to the Russian Tsar. Poland would be given a certain level of autonomy, but would essentially be a puppet state. In return for guaranteeing all Polish lands, Prussia wanted to acquire all of the German State of Saxony.

Although Prussia and Russia were happy to approve of these concessions, the other parties of the Congress were not. Britain, France, and Austria all felt threatened by Prussia and Russia’s power plays for land. They had to stop it. As a result France, Britain, and Austria all agreed they would go to war if the Russian/Prussian plan went into effect. Russia and Prussia got word of the designs of their opposition. Prussia and Russia blinked. A new deal was structured to maintain the hard won peace in Europe. Russia received most of Polish lands and establish Congress Poland, and autonomous state that accepted Tsar Alexander I of Russia as its ruler. Prussia received 40% of Saxony. It is important to notice Britain’s role in the negotiations. Britain had emerged as the strongest power on the continent after the war, but had been drained of many resources from fighting. In fact none of the countries on Europe were ready to go to war over Poland and Saxony. Britain had to ensure the balance of power in Europe to ensure its own safety. Britain bluffed the Russians and Prussians into believing war was an option.

A recurring problem in the burgeoning Cold War was the Eastern Question. The Eastern Question related to the decline of the once great Ottoman Empire. In the 16th and 17th the Ottoman Empire was one the most powerful Empires in the world. The empire had expanded deep into Europe. The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic Empire that seemed to threaten all of Christendom with its rapid advances from the 1300’s to 1500’s. Eventually the juggernaut was slowed and stopped. Because the Empire failed to modernize, it began to decay, and then began losing ground to the rapidly advancing European powers. Everyone knew the Sick Man Of Europe was destined to fall. The question was a matter of when, how quickly, and who would pick up the pieces when it did finally fall.

Britain and Russia both appointed themselves as guarantors of different aspects of Europe. This sewed the seeds for a lasting Cold War. Russia saw itself as the guarantor of Europe and the primary protector of Christian people’s within the Ottoman lands. Russia was a Slavic Nation. It also practiced Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In the aftermath of the Ottoman overthrow of the Byzantine Empire, Russia saw itself as the Third Rome, and thus the protector of Eastern Orthodox interests. Since many of Ottoman Domains were once Byzantine domains, Russia felt it was be the patriarch to Eastern Orthodox peoples. Furthermore, many of the Christians under Ottoman reign were ethnically Slavic, resulting in Russia believing it had dual faceted connection with the Christian peoples under Ottoman control.

Britain claimed itself the guarantor of the Mediterranean. During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain took control of islands like Malta as staging bases for operations in the Mediterranean. Britain used its powerful navy to patrol and exert control over the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean was crucial for British commerce. The importance of securing the Mediterranean increased with the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt. The canal linked Britain to its most prized possession, India. Britain gained so many resources from India that protection of trade routes to India was a top priority. Finally Britain also had interests in managing the decay of the Ottoman Empire.

As a result, British and Russian interests were often in conflict in South Eastern Europe. Greece was a crisis point for the two powers. Greece had been under Ottoman control for hundreds of years. In 1821 a revolt broke out against the Ottoman Empire. The revolt was led be people in Greek lands. At first Europe was unhappy with the idea of Greek Revolution. Balance of power was always on the minds of European leaders. They did not want to the decay of the Ottoman Empire to result in chaos. In August of 1822 Britain changed its stance. Britain began supporting the Revolution. One reason for this is although Russia had also denounced the revolution, Britain feared Russia might unilaterally become involved in a war in favor of the revolt. Such a move would either increase Russian territory or allow for the establishment of a pro Russian puppet state. For Britain, this was unacceptable.

The British threw their support to the Greeks. This first came in the form of openly supporting the Greek Revolution. Next the British offered loans to the Greeks to fund the revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Britain formed such strong ties with the participants of Revolution, a pro-British political party was formed among the revolutionaries. This group pushed for a more active British role in the Revolution.

As the war went on, Britain and Russia desired to see an end to the conflict. The two powers always tried to push for balance on the continent. The two along with other members of the Concert of Europe began talks with the Ottoman Sultan. A series of naval engagements ensued between the Ottoman Empire and Egypt against the French, British, and Russians. Negotiations with the Ottoman Empire were on and off based on the fortunes of the naval battles. Eventually Britain and Russia agreed to allow a third party, France to commit an army to the Greek Revolution. With the support of the major European powers, the Greeks were able to liberate themselves of the Ottomans.

In the course of settling the Greek issue, Russia became so frustrated with the Ottomans, they declared war. This began the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829. Russia pushed hard from the east on the Ottoman territories in Southeastern Europe. The war furthered the notion that the Ottoman Empire was the Sick Man of Europe. Russia laid siege to many cities in present day Bulgaria and Serbia that were in Ottoman control. The Russians won many of their battles. At no point did the Ottomans seem like a serious threat to Russian advances. Russia began making its way down to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. The war was over. The Ottomans had to sue for peace.

The Russo-Turkish War profited the Russian Empire immensely. Russia secured autonomy for Serbia under Ottoman control. Serbia was a fellow Slavic, largely Christian nation under Ottoman control. Thus as guarantor of these types of peoples, Russia had seen it as its duty to free the Serbians. Intervention was not entirely altruistic. Such intervention ensured a lasting alliance between the two nations. Russia also expanded its possessions to increase its coastal lands along the Black Sea. Turkey also accepted Russian control of what is now Georgia and some parts of Armenia. Russia also gained the right act as an Eastern Orthodox guardian of the peoples of Wallachia and Moldavia. The provinces remained under Ottoman sovereignty. To counter Russia’s gains, Britain and France pushed for an independent Greek state. This was distinct from earlier proposal of making Greece an autonomous state within Ottoman control. Since Russia had just displayed it could exert its dominance over Southeastern Europe, making Greece an independent nation prevented the need for Russia to further intervene on the Greeks’ behalf. This acted as a counter to Russian gains.

Around the time of the Greek Revolution, British and Russian society were fundamentally different. Britain was the world leader in industrialization. A strong middling class began to arise out of the industrial revolution. Britain’s focus on its naval hegemony was an extension of its commercial interests. Britain had an empire to be commercially strong, and had a navy to protect its trade. Britain needed the best military technology because industrialization was rooted in efficiency.

Russia on the other hand relied on manpower. Thus the Russian military was a reflection of Russian society. Russia was highly agricultural where Britain was more industrial and commercial. Wheat production was a key export to Russia’s economy. Russia relied on serfs to produce and harvest the empire’s wheat. In the same vein, Russia’s military strength relied on its large surplus of people it could employ to fight. Russia was always slow to industrialize and modernize its army. It believed its strength in numbers could overwhelm any opponent on land. Thus with the Russian focus on infantry based superiority, and the British focus on naval based superiority, the two had fundamentally different approaches in dealing with military conflicts.

It is important to note the changing of dynamics in European diplomacy at this time from when the Napoleonic War ended. During the Congress of Vienna, Russia, in partnership with Austria and Prussia established the Holy Alliance. This was meant to protect the conservative principles of an absolute monarch exerting absolute control over the state. Britain and France, having more liberal views of government were being pushed closer and closer to each other.

All powers in Europe but especially Britain and Russia tried to play off each other when it came to the Ottomans. At different times, the powers would see it beneficial to prop the Ottoman Empire. Other times it would be more beneficial to let the Empire decay and either pick up or manage the pieces.

Russia began to see that it could profit from propping up the Ottomans. Russia exported large amounts of grain to the Ottomans. The two were economically linked. The Ottomans realized they were subject to the will of the Russian Empire. An agreement had to be made. The Ottomans gave the Russians free passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean in 1833. This agreement left the door open for Russia to have a naval presence in the Mediterranean. Britain could not accept another major power in the Mediterranean. Adding to these fears, the agreement for free passage was supposed to be a secret agreement between the Russian and Ottomans, but was leaked. Before the completion of the Suez Canal the route of exchange to India began in Lebanon. Thus securing the eastern Mediterranean was crucial for Britain.

Maintaining the Ottoman Empire also benefited Russia because if Russia allowed for the Empire to decay a series of problematic situations could arise. One possibility, highlighted by the Greek Revolution, was that all the nationalities under Ottoman control would rise up and try to form their own nations. A series of chaotic revolts occurred in 1848. Many were nationalistic in nature. This left an indelible impression in the minds of Europe’s leaders. Such revolts were to be avoided at all costs.

Russia wanted to prop up the Ottomans to prevent Britain and France from picking up the pieces of the decay. The two had shown their power to intervene in Greece. Britain’s navy allowed for Britain to strike anywhere in the Mediterranean at any time. For the less technologically advanced Russia, transport of troops to fronts was a long, slow task. Thus Russia could not allow the faster moving Britain to take advantage of on any potential decay of the Ottoman Empire.

An agreement known as the Straits Agreement of 1841 helped act as a catalyst for war. In this agreement the major European powers agreed to close free passage through the Turkish Straits connecting the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Because this benefited Britain by essentially keeping the Russian naval threat out of the Mediterranean an exchange was secured. Russia secured a promise from the European powers that no one of nation would hold exclusive sway over the Ottoman Empire. Although this curbed Russian expansion it sewed the seeds for their discontent.

The Cold War between Britain and Russia became a hot war with the onset of the Crimean War.
The Crimean War rose out of disputes as to who was the protector Christian interests in the Holy Land. This issue at hand was who regulated which Christians could visit different Holy Sites. France claimed it was the protector of Christians in the Holy Land. Since an agreement in1774 Russia had secured claims to Christians in the Holy Land. The conflict over who had claims over the Holy Land’s Christians was rooted in a centuries old struggle between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Russia was unhappy with France’s claims to Christian sites in the Holy Land. As a result it sent emissaries to the Ottoman Sultan to dispute France’s claims. To leverage their demands, Russia moved troops to Danubian border provinces within the Ottoman Empire. France and Britain saw this as Russia trying to exert control over the Ottomans. Seeing this as a violation of the Straits Convention, the powers moved to block such control. Russia was not able to achieve its desired diplomatic goals.

To counter the Russian threat the Ottomans moved its own troops to the Danubian border. It also amassed troops in the Caucus region. The Sultan declared war on Russia on October 23, 1853. Nicholas I’s response was to send a Russian fleet to destroy the Ottoman fleet at Sinop. The more advanced Russian fleet demolished the Turkish fleet. Britain and France feared Russia would move to exert control over the Eastern Mediterranean. War was declared. The dream of the Congress of Vienna was shattered.

The Crimean War resulted in a quagmire. No real gains had been made on either side. Although the British, French, Ottoman alliance was successful using its more modern technology to move troops to the battlefield, it was difficult to deal with the size of both the Russia army and territory. The Allies came out slightly ahead in the war. The allies captured the key city of Sebastopol which brought Russia to the table. The experience left a sour taste in the mouths of each belligerent nation’s people and a peace had to be agreed upon.

Russia, having lost the war, was adversely affected by the Treaty of Paris in 1856. Russia lost its claim to special protection of Christians within the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand the Ottomans had to improve how they treated their Christian subjects. Looking to ensure continued Mediterranean hegemony, Britain and France forced Russia to destroy their Black Sea fleet. All prewar boundaries were restored. Finally with the Eastern Question still left unresolved by conflict, the powers again agreed not to intervene in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire. The war made Russia turn inward for a time, but the Cold War did not end.

Within 22 years of the end of the Crimean War, Russia was on the move again. In 1877 a second Russo-Turkish war broke out. Nationalism in the European lands of the Ottomans was threatening to boil over. The provinces of Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania all proclaimed their independence from the Ottoman Empire. Russia, seeing potential allies in the formation of independent Slavic states, helped to foment revolutionary fervor in the Ottoman’s European possessions. Russia also fought the war to make up for the damage of prestige resulting from the loss of the Crimean War. The revolutions with the support of the Russian Empire was too much for the Ottomans to handle. Initially the great powers allowed Russia to prosecute the war. The Ottomans had committed such heinous atrocities against the Christian population of Bulgaria as punishment for the uprisings that Europe largely backed Russia’s intervention.

Eventually European powers stepped in to resolve the Russo-Turkish War. Britain convinced the Russian’s to accept a truce from the Ottomans. Despite their acceptance, Russia continued to move as if it was going to sack the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. Britain again fearing a Russian power grab sent their fleet to the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia understood the lightly veiled threat. A Congress of Berlin was convened in 1878 to settle the war.

Again a balance of power needed to be struck in Europe. The power of the Ottoman Empire was reduced as most of its former Slavic territories either formed independent nations or joined either the Austro-Hungarian or Russian Empire. Russia increased its territorial holdings as a result of its victory. Russia felt though it did not get all it deserved. Russia wanted the creation of an independent Principality of Bulgaria. Russia liked the idea of having a Slavic buffer state in the old Ottoman lands. The Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottomans at the end of the war established the Principality, but the Congress reversed the Treaty. Bulgaria was to remain under Ottoman influence. Britain feared this new state could one day threaten their access to the Turkish Straits due to their proximity. At the end of the Congress, Russia felt short changed. Russian hatred began to brew against the newly formed Germany because of their instrumental role in mediating the results of the Congress. Britain, to balance Russia’s increased influence in the Balkans was given control of Cyprus, an Eastern Mediterranean island.

The Russian-British Cold War of the 19th Century had many theaters world wide. Across Asia there were many theaters where the rivalry played out. Prior to the Crimean War intrigue was in the Asian air. In the early 19th Century Britain had begun expanding it trading interests in China. Russia due to China’s proximity sent spies to understand Britain’s intentions in the region. The British aware of the Russian presence sent their own spies. The two spied on each other to figure out each other’s intentions. This battle for information was known as the Great Game. There was even some speculation that Russia wanted warm water ports in India. This would mean Russia crossing over Afghanistan and threatening Britain’s crown jewel of India. Rudyard Kipling wrote novel based on all the Russian-British intrigue in Asia. Although there is some controversy as to whether Russian intentions were to move into Afghanistan and India, and whether the British believed it, it is undeniable that at the very least the myth of mutual suspicion was in the air at the time of Kipling’s 1901 novel.

One of the final episodes of the Russian-British Cold War was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Russia again was seeking a warm water port in the east. Russia wanted to expand into Manchuria gain such a port. The Korea Peninsula was a possession of Japan and feared Russia would continue down to the peninsula. War broke out. The war between Russia and Japan foreshadowed the slow war of attrition World War I would turn out to be.

Japan had developed its military and navy proving a difficult enemy for the larger Russian military to defeat. When Russia’s eastern forces could not defeat the Japanese outright, the Russians sent their Baltic Fleet around the globe to aid their eastern counterparts. The Baltic Fleet could have tipped the balance of the war. Britain had entered into an alliance with Japan. To aid their allies, some British ships were dispatched to follow the Baltic Fleet. The whole way to the east the British were informing the Japanese of the Russian fleet movements. When the fleet did arrive to the theater of war Japan knew the Russians were coming. The Japanese were prepared. The Japanese destroyed the Russian fleet. This turned this tide of the war against Russia. The poor performance, troubled economy, and low civilian morale for the war caused revolts in 1905 that would be similar to the revolts that toppled the Russian Empire in 1917.

The Revolution of 1905 almost brought Russia to its knees. Russia could not afford to be in a race for global supremacy anymore. It needed to focus all its efforts on holding its empire together. Russia realized that towards the end of the century Britain was no longer its greatest threat, especially if Russia could not afford to compete over expansion could.

The new emerging rival on the continent was Germany. While Russia and Britain had competed with each other for global expansion, Prussia through a series of wars unified all the German states. Germany was able to combine the industrial might of Britain with the manpower of Russia. France had been steamrolled by the ascendant Prussia in 1871, and realized it needed to better protect itself. The greatest form of protection France could achieve was sandwiching Germany between two competing powers. Thus France sought to form a military alliance with Russia in 1892. This provided the precedent for Britain’s agreement with Russia. The Anglo-Russian Entente was signed in 1907.

Britain also feared that Germany’s navy was beginning to openly rival Britain’s. Germany made it clear its sights were set on empire. Germany’s rapid industrialization allowed for it to outpace Britain’s older industrial complex. With all the German states under its belt, Germany had become one of the most populous European nations. Germany seemed to meld all the best aspects of Russian and British military advantages into their own military. The army was considered the best in Europe. Their commanders were considered the best in Europe. The Prussians/Germans had one a series of wars against European powers like France and Austro-Hungary. By the dawn of the 20th Century, Germany was on a roll. Finally with the formation of the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, Germany seemed to have no limits. Britain and Russia began to set aside their differences because the power of an unchecked Germany could overturn the century’s hard fought balance of power. Ultimately, it did.