Early modern warfare

Early modern warfare is associated with the start of the widespread use of gunpowder and the development of suitable weapons to use the explosive, including artillery and firearms; for this reason the era is also referred to as the age of gunpowder warfare (a concept introduced by Michael Roberts in the 1950s).

This entire period is contained within the Age of Sail, which characteristic dominated the era's naval tactics, including the use of gunpowder in naval artillery.

All of the Great Powers of Europe and the Middle East were actively fighting numerous wars throughout this period, grouped in rough geographical and chronological terms as

Hohenfriedeberg - Attack of Prussian Infantry - 1745
"Attack of the Prussian infantry", 1913 historical painting by Carl Röchling depicting the battle of Hohenfriedeberg of 1745

Use of gunpowder before the 16th century

Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba
A Mongol bomb thrown against a charging Japanese samurai during the Mongol invasions of Japan after founding the Yuan Dynasty, 1281.

The earliest existent Chinese formula for gunpowder is recorded in the Wujing Zongyao manuscript published by 1044,[1][2] while the fire lance, an early firearm, was used by Song Chinese forces against the Jin during the Siege of De'an in 1132.[3][4][5] The earliest surviving bronze hand cannon, dates to 1288, during the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty of China.[6][7] Gunpowder warfare was used in the Mongol invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281, specifically in the form of explosive bombs[8] fired from catapults against enemy soldiers. Japanese scrolls contain illustrations of bombs used by the Yuan-Mongol forces against mounted samurai. Archaeological evidence of the use of gunpowder include the discovery of multiple shells of the explosive bombs in an underwater shipwreck off the shore of Japan, with X-rays providing proof that they contained gunpowder.[9]

Siege orleans
An early depiction of artillery, in an illustration of the Siege of Orleans of 1429, by Martial d'Auvergne (1493).

In 1326, the earliest known European picture of a gun appeared in a manuscript by Walter de Milemete.[10] In 1350, Petrarch wrote that the presence of cannons on the battlefield was 'as common and familiar as other kinds of arms'.[11]

Early artillery played a limited role in the Hundred Years' War, and it became indispensable in the Italian Wars of 1494–1559. Charles VIII, during his invasion of Italy, brought with him the first truly mobile siege train: culverins and bombards mounted on wheeled carriages, which could be deployed against an enemy stronghold immediately after arrival.


Beginning of polygonal fortifications

Model of city with polygonal fortifications

The period from 1500–1801 saw a rapid advance in techniques of fortification in Europe. Whereas medieval castles had relied on high walls to keep out attackers, early modern fortifications had to withstand artillery bombardments. To do this, engineers developed a style of fortress known as the trace italienne or "Italian style". These had low, thick, sloping walls, that would either absorb or deflect cannon fire.

In addition, they were shaped like stars, with bastions protruding at sharp angles. This was to ensure that every bastion could be supported with fire from an adjacent bastion, leaving no "dead ground" for an attacker to take cover in. These new fortifications quickly negated the advantages cannon had offered to besiegers.

A polygonal fort is a fortification in the style that evolved around the middle of the 18th century, in response to the development of explosive shells.

The complex and sophisticated designs of star forts that preceded them were highly effective against cannon assault, but proved much less effective against the more accurate fire of rifled guns and the destructive power of explosive shells. The polygonal style of fortification is also described as a "flankless fort". Many such forts were built in the United Kingdom and the British Empire during the government of Lord Palmerston, and so they are also often referred to as Palmerston forts. Their low profile makes them easy to overlook.

In response to the vulnerabilities of star forts, military engineers evolved a much simpler but more robust style of fortification.

An example of this style can be seen at Fort McHenry in Baltimore in the United States of America, the home of the famous battle where The Star-Spangled Banner was penned by Francis Scott Key.


The power of aristocracies vis à vis states diminished throughout Western Europe during this period. Aristocrats' 200- to 400-year-old ancestral castles no longer provided useful defences against artillery. The nobility's importance in warfare also eroded as medieval heavy cavalry lost its central role in battle. The heavy cavalry - made up of armoured knights - had begun to fade in importance in the Late Middle Ages. The English longbow and the Swiss pike had both proven their ability to devastate larger armed forces of mounted knights. However, the proper use of the longbow required the user to be extremely strong, making it impossible to amass very large forces of archers.

The proper use of the pike required complex operations in formation and a great deal of fortitude and cohesion by the pikemen, again making amassing large forces difficult. Starting in the early 14th-century, armourers added plate-armour pieces to the traditional protective linked mail armour of knights and men-at-arms to guard against the arrows of the longbow and crossbow. By 1415, some infantrymen began deploying the first "hand cannons", and the earliest small-bore arquebuses, with burning "match locks", appeared on the battlefield in the later 15th century.

Decline of plate armour

Plundring av en stad
Assault on a town, early 17th century

In virtually all major European battles during a period of 250 years (1400 to 1650), many soldiers wore extensive plate armour; this includes infantrymen (usually pikemen) and almost all mounted troops. Plate armour was expected to deflect edged weapons and to stop an arquebus or pistol ball fired from a distance, and it usually did. The use of plate armour as a remedy to firearms tended to work as long as the velocity and weight of the ball remained quite low, but over time the increasing power and effectiveness of firearms overtook the development of defenses to counteract them, such that flintlock muskets (entering use after 1650) could kill an armoured man at a distance of even 100 yards (though with limited accuracy), and the armour necessary to protect against this threat would have been too heavy and unwieldy to be practical.

The flintlock musket, carried by most infantrymen other than pikemen after 1650, fired a heavier charge and ball than the matchlock arquebus. A recruit could be trained to use a musket in a matter of weeks. Since the early muskets lacked accuracy, training in marksmanship was of little benefit. Operating a musket did not require the great physical strength of a pikeman or a longbowman or the fairly rare skills of a horseman. Unlike their arquebus predecessors, flintlock muskets could neutralize even the most heavily armoured cavalry forces.

Since a firearm requires little training to operate, a peasant with a gun could now undermine the order and respect maintained by mounted cavalry in Europe and their Eastern equivalents. Although well-smithed plate-armour could still prevent the penetration of gunpowder-weapons, by 1690 it had become no match for massed firearms in a frontal attack and its use ended, even among the cavalry. By the end of the 17th century, soldiers in the infantry and most cavalry units alike preferred the higher mobility of being completely unarmoured to the slight protection - but greatly lessened mobility - offered by wearing plate armour.

Transition to flintlock muskets

The arquebus, in use from 1410, was one of the first hand-held firearms that were relatively light (it still required a stand to balance on) and a single person could operate one. One of these weapons was first recorded as being used in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, although this was still very much a medieval battle. The term musket originally applied to a heavier form of the arquebus, which fired a shot that could pierce plate armour, though only at close range. In the 16th century it still had to be mounted on a support stick to keep it steady. The caliver was the lighter form of the arquebus. By 1600, armies phased out these firearms in favour of a new lighter matchlock musket. Throughout the 16th century and up until 1690, muskets used the matchlock design.

However, the matchlock design was superseded in the 1690s by the flintlock musket, which was less prone to misfires and had a faster reloading rate. By this time, only light-cavalry scouting units, "the eyes of the army", continued to wear front and back armour plates to protect themselves from distant or undisciplined musket-equipped troops.

While soldiers armed with firearms could inflict great damage on cavalry at a moderate distance, at close quarters the cavalry could slaughter the musket-armed infantry if they could break their formation and close to engage in melee combat. For many years infantry formations included a mix of troops armed with both firearms to provide striking power and pikes to allow for the defence of the arquebusiers or musketeers from a cavalry charge. The invention of the bayonet allowed the combining of these two weapons into one in the 1690s, which transformed the infantry into the most important branch of the early modern military—one that uniformly made use of flintlock muskets tipped with bayonets.

Nature of war

1645 - Siege of the city of Hulst (situated in the Dutch province of Zeeland) by Frederick Henry. Sieges dominated warfare of this era

This period saw the size and scale of warfare greatly increase. The number of combatants involved escalated steadily from the mid 16th century and dramatically expanded after the 1660s. For example, the King of France could field around 20,000 men in total for his wars against Spain in the 1550s, but could mobilize up to 500,000 men into the field by 1700 in the War of the Spanish Succession. Moreover, wars became increasingly deadly in this period. This may in part be attributed to improvements in weapons technology and in the techniques of using it (for example infantry volley fire).

However, the main reason was that armies were now much bigger, but logistical support for them was inadequate. This meant that armies tended to devastate civilian areas in an effort to feed themselves, causing famines and population displacement. This was exacerbated by the increasing length of conflicts, such as the Thirty Years' War and Eighty Years' War, which fought over areas subjected to repeated devastation. For this reason, the wars of this era were among the most lethal before the modern period.

For example, the Thirty Years' War and the contemporary Wars of the Three Kingdoms, were the bloodiest conflicts in the history of Germany and Britain respectively before World War I. Another factor adding to bloodshed in war was the lack of a clear set of rules concerning the treatment of prisoners and non-combatants. While prisoners were usually ransomed for money or other prisoners, they were sometimes slaughtered out of hand - as at the battle of Dungans Hill in 1647.

One of the reasons for warfare's increased impact was its indecisiveness. Armies were slow moving in an era before good roads and canals. Battles were relatively rare as armies could manoeuvre for months, with no direct conflict. In addition, battles were often made irrelevant by the proliferation of advanced, bastioned fortifications. To control an area, armies had to take fortified towns, regardless of whether they defeated their enemies' field armies. As a result, by far the most common battles of the era were sieges, hugely time-consuming and expensive affairs. Storming a fortified city could result in massive casualties and cities which did not surrender before an assault were usually brutally sacked -for example Magdeburg in 1631 or Drogheda in 1649. In addition, both garrisons and besiegers often suffered heavily from disease.

Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle at Breitenfeld
Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle of Breitenfeld. Adolphus was perhaps the greatest military innovator of this era

The indecisive nature of conflict meant wars were long and endemic. Conflicts stretched on for decades and many states spent more years at war than they did at peace. The Spanish attempt to reconquer the Netherlands after the Dutch Revolt became bogged down in endless siege warfare. The expense caused the Spanish monarchy to declare bankruptcy several times, beginning in 1577.

The changes in warfare eventually made the mercenary forces of the Renaissance and Middle Ages obsolete. However this was a gradual change. As late as the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), most troops were mercenaries. However, after this conflict, most states invested in better disciplined and more ideologically inspired troops. For a time mercenaries became important as trainers and administrators, but soon these tasks were also taken by the state. The massive size of these armies required a large supporting force of administrators. The newly centralized states were forced to set up vast organized bureaucracies to manage these armies, which some historians argue is the basis of the modern bureaucratic state.

The combination of increased taxes and increased centralisation of government functions caused a series of revolts across Europe such as the Fronde in France and the English Civil War. In many countries, the resolution of this conflict was the rise of monarchical absolutism. Only in England and the Netherlands did representative government evolve as an alternative. From the late 17th century, states started financing wars through long term low interest loans from national banking institutions like the Bank of England. The first state to take full advantage of this process was the Dutch Republic.

Battle of Heiligerlee 1568, showing the deployment of infantry bearing pikes and muskets, cavalry and artillery

This transformation in the armies of Europe had great social impact. J. F. C. Fuller famously stated that "the musket made the infantryman and the infantryman made the democrat." This argument states that the defence of the state now rested on the common man, not on the aristocrats. Revolts by the underclass, that had routinely been defeated in the Middle Ages, could now conceivably threaten the power of the state. However, aristocrats continued to monopolise the officer corps of almost all early modern armies, including their high command.

Moreover, popular revolts almost always failed unless they had the support and patronage of the noble or gentry classes. The new armies, because of their vast expense, were also dependent on taxation and the commercial classes who also began to demand a greater role in society. The great commercial powers of the Dutch and English matched much larger states in military might. As any man could be quickly trained in the use of a musket, it became far easier to form massive armies. The inaccuracy of the weapons necessitated large groups of massed soldiers. This led to a rapid swelling of the size of armies.

For the first time huge masses of the population could enter combat, rather than just the highly skilled professionals. It has been argued that the drawing of men from across the nation into an organized corps helped breed national unity and patriotism, and during this period the modern notion of the nation state was born. However, this would only become apparent after the French Revolutionary Wars. At this time, the levée en masse and conscription would become the defining paradigm of modern warfare.

Before then, however, most national armies were in fact composed of many nationalities. For example, although the Swedish Army under Gustavus Adolphus was originally recruited by a kind of national conscription, the losses of the Thirty Years' War meant that by 1648 over 80% of its troops were foreign mercenaries. In Spain, armies were recruited from all the Spanish European territories including Spain, Italy, Wallonia and Germany. The French recruited soldiers from Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere as well as from France. Britain recruited Hessian troops until the late 18th century. Irish Catholics made careers for themselves in the armies of many European states (See the Flight of the Wild Geese).


Schlacht am Weißen Berg C-K 063
The Battle of White Mountain in Bohemia (1620)—one of the decisive battles of the Thirty Years War

Column - This formation was typically used while marching, although with sufficient will and mass it was effective at breaking through line formations, albeit with heavy casualties.

Line - A simple two- or three-rank deep line formation allowed most muskets to be brought to bear and was the most commonly used battle formation. Often the first rank would kneel after firing to allow the second rank to fire.

Square - This formation was used against cavalry. Bayonets would be fixed, the first line would kneel with their muskets angled upward (much like a pike.) The second and third lines would fire at the cavalry when it came close. This formation was very ineffective when faced with combined cavalry and infantry, or artillery fire in the case of plain squares.

Skirmishers - Skirmishers were not a common infantry unit until late in the 18th Century. Light infantry would advance and be the first to fire to draw the enemy to attack, while also probing the flanks. In later eras, sharpshooters would not only target common soldiers, but also officers so that the men were without leadership.

Orłowski Husaria's attack
Winged Hussar


Battle of Lutzen
The death of King Gustavus II Adolphus in cavalry melee on 16 November 1632 at the Battle of Lützen

The rise of gunpowder reduced the importance of the once-dominant heavy cavalry, but it remained effective in a new role into the 19th century. The cavalry, along with the infantry, became more professional in this period but it retained its greater social and military prestige than the infantry. Light cavalry was introduced for skirmishing and scouting because of its advantage in speed and mobility. The new types of cavalry units introduced in this period were the dragoons or mounted infantry.

Dragoons were intended to travel on horseback but fight on foot and were armed with carbines and pistols. Even orthodox cavalry carried firearms, especially the pistol, which they used in a tactic known as the caracole. Cavalry charges using swords on undisciplined infantry could still be quite decisive, but a frontal charge against well-ordered musketeers and pikemen was all but futile. Cavalry units, from the 16th century on, were more likely to charge other cavalry on the flanks of an infantry formation and try to work their way behind the enemy infantry. When they achieved this and pursued a fleeing enemy, heavy cavalry could still destroy an enemy army. Only a specialised cavalry units like winged hussars armed with long lances could break pikemen lines, but this was rather an exception. After wars with Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, when he fought often against superior mounted troops, King Gustavus II Adolphus started using successfully cavalry melee charge more often instead of caracole like during Battle of Breitenfeld. The cavalry charge remained an important part of battle tactics for the rest of 17th century and until the modern area, and its shock value could be decisive when implemented properly.

However, the power formerly wielded by a heavy cavalry-focused army was at an end. For the first time in millennia, the settled people of the agricultural regions could defeat the horse peoples of the steppe in open combat. The power of the Mongols was broken in Russia and, no longer threatened from the east, Russia began to assert itself as a major force in European affairs. Never again would nomads from the east threaten to overrun Europe or the Middle East. In the Siege of Kazan (1552), Russia had employed cavalry, infantry armed with arquebus (Streltsy), artillery and sappers, while the Khanate of Kazan had only employed cavalry. The use of sappers proved decisive.

The one exception to this was the Ottoman Empire, which had been founded by Turkish horsemen. The Ottomans were some of the first to embrace gunpowder artillery and firearms and integrated them into their already formidable fighting abilities. As European infantry became better armed and disciplined, by about 1700, the Ottoman forces began to be regularly defeated by the troops of the Austria and Russia.

Naval warfare

Battle of Vigo bay october 23 1702
The Battle of Vigo Bay of 1702, part the War of the Spanish Succession (anonymous contemporary painting)

The spread of European power around the world was closely tied to naval developments in this period. The caravel for the first time made unruly seas like the Atlantic Ocean open to exploration, trade, and military conquest. While in all previous eras, European navies had been largely confined to operations in coastal waters, and were generally used only in a support role for land-based forces, this changed with the introduction of the new vessels like the caravel, carack and galleon and the increasing importance of international waterborne trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The new caravels were large enough and powerful enough to be armed with cannons with which they could bombard both shoreline defenses and other vessels.

Islamic empires

Ottoman Empire

Tarasnice from the Hussite wars (1419-1434)
Dardanelles Gun Turkish Bronze 15c
The bronze Dardanelles cannon, used by the Ottoman Turks in the siege of Constantinople in 1453
Grand Turk(36)
Muskets and bayonets aboard the frigate Grand Turk

The Ottoman Empire had been one of the first Middle Eastern states to effectively use gunpowder weapons and used them to great effect conquering much of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans. In the 17th century the state began to stagnate as more modern technologies and strategies were not adopted. Specifically, the Ottoman Empire was slow to adopt innovations like boring cannon (rather than casting them in a mold), making the conversion from matchlock firearms to flintlocks, and the lightening of field guns and carriages.[12]

In part this was because the military elite had become a powerful force in the empire and change threatened their positions. David Nicolle theorizes that one contributing factor to the Ottoman reluctance to adopt the flintlock musket, despite its superiority over the matchlock ignition system, was the dusty climate of much of the Middle East which could cause problems with reliability.[13]

Overall, the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 18th centuries has been assessed as a third-tier military producer, that is a producer which copies existing technologies, but does not capture the underlying process of innovation (first-tier producer) or adaption (second-tier producer).[14] Other research, though, complicates that view. A Chinese military manual published in 1644 compared Ottoman and European firearms in the following manner:[15]

Firearms have been in use since the beginning of the dynasty, and field armies in battle formation have found them convenient and useful to carry along...Since muskets have been transmitted to China, these weapons have lost their effectiveness...In battle formation, aside from various cannon such as the "three generals", the breech-loading swivel gun, and the "hundred-league thunder", nothing has more range or power than the Ottoman musket. The next best is the European one.

The fact that Ottoman firearms were considered by 17th-century Chinese writers to be superior to European firearms demonstrates that the Ottoman Empire was at least a second tier producer of muskets during this period. However, some claim that the 'European' firearms the Chinese researcher tested were actually Japanese arquebuses based on fifty-year-old Portuguese models. The design of the Ottoman matchlock is substantially different from that of the European variety and it in turn influenced the matchlocks produced in both Safavid Persia and Mughal India.

15th century

The Ottoman Empire was one of the first states to put gunpowder weapons into widespread use. The famous Janissary corps of the Ottoman army began using matchlock muskets as early as the 1440s.[13] The army of Mehmed the Conqueror, which conquered Constantinople in 1453, included both artillery and foot soldiers armed with gunpowder weapons.[16] The Ottomans brought to the siege sixty-nine guns in fifteen separate batteries and trained them at the walls of the city. The barrage of Ottoman cannon fire lasted forty days, and they are estimated to have fired 19,320 times.[17]

16th century

The 16th century saw the first widespread use of the matchlock musket as a decisive weapon on the battlefield with the Turks becoming leaders in this regard. The first of these campaigns was the campaign against the Persians in 1514 under Yavuz Sultan Selim, or Selim the Grim. Armed with gunpowder weapons, his army defeated the Persians at the Battle of Chaldiran.[18] After his victory over the Safavids, Selim turned his attention towards the Mamluk dynasty in Egypt. The decisive battle of his campaign against the Mamluks, and the battle which highlighted the importance of the musket in the Ottoman military, was the Battle of Raydaniyah, fought in 1517. There, Selim outflanked the entrenched Mamluk artillery, and attacked the Mamluk forces with his Janissaries. The Janissaries, armed with firearms, destroyed the Mamluk army, armed mostly with traditional swords and javelins.[19]

Reference was made by João de Barros to a sea battle outside Jiddah, in 1517, between Portuguese and Ottoman vessels. The Muslim force under Salman Reis had "three or four basilisks firing balls of thirty palms in circumference".[20] This was estimated to be a cannon of about 90 inch bore "firing cut stone balls of approximately 1,000 pounds (453 kg)".[20]

After the death of Selim, he was succeeded by his son Suleiman the Magnificent. During his reign, gunpowder weapons continued to be used effectively. One important example is the Battle of Mohács in 1526. During this battle, Ottoman artillery, and Janissaries armed with muskets, were able to cut down charging Hungarian cavalry.[21]

17th century

Although the cannon and musket were employed by the Ottomans long beforehand, by the 17th century they witnessed how ineffective the traditional cavalry charges were in the face of concentrated musket-fire volleys.[22] In a report given by an Ottoman general in 1602, he confessed that the army was in a distressed position due to the emphasis in European forces for musket-wielding infantry, while the Ottomans relied heavily on cavalry.[22] Thereafter it was suggested that the janissaries, who were already trained and equipped with muskets, become more heavily involved in the imperial army while led by their agha.[22]

By the middle of the 17th century, the continued reliance of the Ottomans on over-heavy ordnance had been made out by European officers as a liability. Raimondo Montecuccoli, the Habsburg commander who defeated the Ottomans at Battle of Saint Gotthard commented on Ottoman cannon:

This enormous artillery produces great damage when it hits, but it is awkward to move and it requires too much time to reload and site. Furthermore, it consumes a great amount of powder, besides cracking and breaking the wheels and the carriages and even the ramparts on which it is placed ... our artillery is more handy and more efficient and here resides our advantage over the cannon of the Turks.[23]


Soon after the Ottoman Empire, two other Muslim gunpowder empires appeared: the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Mughal Empire in India. They both began in the early 16th century but later collapsed in the 18th century.

The refusal of their Qizilbash forces to use firearms contributed to the Safavid rout at Chaldiran in 1514.[24]

Despite this initial reluctance, the Persians very rapidly acquired the art of making and using handguns. A Venetian envoy, Vincenzo di Alessandri, in a report presented to the Council of Ten on 24 September 1572, observes:

They used for arms, swords, lances, arquebuses, which all the soldiers carry and use; their arms are also superior and better tempered than those of any other nation. The barrels of the arquebuses are generally six spans long, and carry a ball little less than three ounces in weight. They use them with such facility that it does not hinder them drawing their bows nor handling their swords, keeping the latter hung at their saddle bows till occasion requires them. The arquebus is then put away behind the back so that one weapon does not impede the use of the other.

Mughal Empire

Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire on the Indian subcontinent, employed firearms, gun carts and movable artillery in battle. In particular, he used them at the first Battle of Panipat (1526) to defeat the much larger forces of Ibrahim Lodhi, the last ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. Other battles he fought using gunpowder weapons include the Battle of Khanwa in 1527 against Rana Sanga, and the Battle of Ghaghra in 1529.

His descendants also employed gunpowder weapons in their expansion of the Mughal Empire, such as Akbar the Great at the second Battle of Panipat (1556) against Adil Shah Suri and Hemu of the Sur Dynasty. In 1582, Fathullah Shirazi, a Persian-Indian developed a seventeen-barrelled cannon, fired with a matchlock.[25]

Mughal musket

Mughal musketeer.

The Adventures of Akbar artillery

Mughal Army artillerymen during the reign of Akbar.

Officer of the Mughal Army, c.1585 (colour litho)

Mughal matchlock rifle.

Kingdom of Mysore

The first iron rockets were developed by Tipu Sultan, a Muslim ruler of the South Indian Kingdom of Mysore. He successfully used these iron rockets against the larger forces of the British East India Company during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. The Mysore rockets of this period were much more advanced than what the British had seen, chiefly because of the use of iron tubes for holding the propellant; this enabled higher thrust and longer range for the missile (up to 2 km range). After Tipu's eventual defeat in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and the capture of the Mysore iron rockets, they were influential in British rocket development and were soon put into use in the Napoleonic Wars.[26]


The Ethiopian–Adal war was a military conflict between the Ethiopian Empire and the Adal Sultanate from 1529 until 1543. The Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi (nicknamed Gurey in Somali and Gragn in Amharic (ግራኝ Graññ), both meaning "the left-handed") came close to extinguishing the ancient realm of Ethiopia, and converting all of its subjects to Islam; the intervention of the European Cristóvão da Gama, son of the famous navigator Vasco da Gama, helped to prevent this outcome. Many historians trace the origins of hostility between Somalia and Ethiopia to this war. Some historians also argue that this conflict proved, through their use on both sides, the value of firearms such as the matchlock musket, cannons, and the arquebus over traditional weapons. Imam Ahmed was the first African commander to use cannon warfare on the continent during the Adal's conquest of the Ethiopian Empire under Dawit II.

Ottoman cannon end of 16th century length 385cm cal 178mm weight 2910 stone projectile founded 8 October 1581 Alger seized 1830
Ahmed Gurey's pioneering use of cannons supplied by the Ottomans figured prominently in his Conquest of Ethiopia.[27]

East Asia


Japanese arquebus of the Edo era (teppo)

In Japan the pattern of military development was somewhat different from that in Europe or the Middle East. Soon after contact with Portuguese traders in the year 1543, firearms were adopted in the nation and an era of gunpowder warfare followed for several decades, culminating at the famous Battle of Nagashino in 1575, where volley fire was introduced. The Japanese under Toyotomi Hideyoshi also used firearms against the Koreans and Chinese during the Imjin War of the 1590s, which proved effective, yet the Chinese and Koreans matched this with farther-range cannon fire.

Once the Japanese home islands were unified in the early 17th century, the Tokugawa shogunate launched an effort to solidify the power of the feudal samurai class and banned the use and manufacture of all firearms (as well as repairs to feudal castles). Between the seventeenth and late 19th centuries Japanese warfare remained medieval and its society feudal in nature.


Western arquebuses and matchlocks were imported into Vietnam during the 16th century. The raging and lengthy wars between Le and Mac dynasties, and later Trinh and Nguyen clans invoked an arm race between the opposing factions. Gunnery and marksmanship rapidly spread across the country and soon Vietnamese musketeers became famous within Asia as masters of firearms.

VN rifles
Goa-style arquebuses were probably widespread in Vietnam during the 17th century

See also


  1. ^ Needham, Joseph (1986), Science & Civilisation in China, V:7: The Gunpowder Epic, Cambridge University Press, p. 118-124, ISBN 0-521-30358-3.
  2. ^ Ebrey, Patricia (1999), Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 138, ISBN 0-521-43519-6.
  3. ^ Needham, Joseph (1986), Science & Civilisation in China, V:7: The Gunpowder Epic, Cambridge University Press, p. 222, ISBN 0-521-30358-3.
  4. ^ Chase, Kenneth Warren (2003). Firearms: A Global History to 1700. Cambridge University Press, p. 31, ISBN 978-0-521-82274-9.
  5. ^ Peter Allan Lorge (2008), The Asian Military Revolution: from Gunpowder to the Bomb, Cambridge University Press, pp 33–34, ISBN 978-0-521-60954-8.
  6. ^ Chase, Kenneth Warren (2003). Firearms: A Global History to 1700. Cambridge University Press, p. 32, ISBN 978-0-521-82274-9.
  7. ^ Needham, Joseph (1986), Science & Civilisation in China, V:7: The Gunpowder Epic, Cambridge University Press, p. 293, ISBN 0-521-30358-3.
  8. ^ Stephen Turnbull (19 February 2013). The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281. Osprey Publishing. pp. 41–42. ISBN 978-1-4728-0045-9. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  9. ^ Delgado, James (February 2003). "Relics of the Kamikaze". Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America. 56 (1).
  10. ^ Kelly 2004:29
  11. ^ Norris 2003:19
  12. ^ Jonathan Grant, "Rethinking the Ottoman Decline: Military Technology Diffusion in the Ottoman Empire, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries", Journal of World History, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1999) 179-201 (182)
  13. ^ a b Nicolle, David (1995). The Janissaries. Osprey. p. 22. ISBN 1-85532-413-X.
  14. ^ Jonathan Grant, "Rethinking the Ottoman Decline: Military Technology Diffusion in the Ottoman Empire, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries", Journal of World History, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1999) 179-201 (181)
  15. ^ Chase, Kenneth (2003). Firearms: A Global History to 1700. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-521-82274-2.
  16. ^ Nicolle, David (2000). Constantinople 1453: The end of Byzantium. London: Osprey. pp. 29–30. ISBN 1-84176-091-9.
  17. ^ Nicolle, David (1983). Armies of the Ottoman Turks 1300-1774. Osprey. pp. 29–30. ISBN 0-85045-511-1.
  18. ^ Kinross, Lord (1977). The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. HarperCollins. pp. 166–167. ISBN 0-688-08093-6.
  19. ^ Nicolle, David (1983). Armies of the Ottoman Turks 1300-1774. Osprey Publishing. p. 31. ISBN 0-85045-511-1.
  20. ^ a b Guilmartin 1974, Introduction: Jiddah, 1517
  21. ^ Kinross, Lord (1977). The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. HarperCollins. pp. 186–187. ISBN 0-688-08093-6.
  22. ^ a b c Khan 2004:5–6
  23. ^ Jonathan Grant, "Rethinking the Ottoman Decline: Military Technology Diffusion in the Ottoman Empire, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries", Journal of World History, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1999) 179-201 (191)
  24. ^ Khan 2004:6
  25. ^ Clarence-Smith, William Gervase, Science and technology in early modern Islam, c.1450-c.1850 (PDF), Global Economic History Network, London School of Economics, p. 7
  26. ^ Roddam Narasimha (1985). Rockets in Mysore and Britain, 1750-1850 A.D. Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine National Aeronautical Laboratory and Indian Institute of Science.
  27. ^ Jeremy Black, Cambridge illustrated atlas, warfare: Renaissance to revolution, 1492-1792, (Cambridge University Press: 1996), p.9.


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External links

Battalion (Sweden)

A Swedish battalion during the mid 17th century up to the mid 18th century was the smallest tactical unit in combat. The 600 man unit was formed, temporarily, at the inception of a battle by joining four foot companies from a foot regiment of eight companies. The commander of the regiment, an Överste (Colonel), led the first battalion and his deputy, an Överstelöjtnant (Lieutenant Colonel), the second battalion. Battalion commanders and all other officers marched in front of the formation. Non-commissioned officers (underofficers) marched beside and behind to prevent desertion, and to replace officers who were killed. In addition to his principal duties, senior officers, such as Majors, the Överstelöjtnant and Överste, also commanded a company. So that the Överste could focus on the operations of his regiment and first battalion, command of his company was delegated to a Kaptenlöjtnant. During battle, each officer, except the Fänriks, was in charge of a portion of his company. Underofficer (NCO) ranks comprised Furir, Förare, Fältväbel, Sergeant and Rustmästare.

Burmese–Siamese War (1547–1549)

The Burmese–Siamese War (1547–1549) (Burmese: ယိုးဒယား-မြန်မာစစ် (၁၅၄၇–၄၉); Thai: สงครามพม่า-สยาม พ.ศ. 2090–2092 or สงครามพระเจ้าตะเบ็งชเวตี้, lit. "Tabinshwehti's war") was the first war fought between the Toungoo Dynasty of Burma and the Ayutthaya Kingdom of Siam, and the first of the Burmese–Siamese wars that would continue until the middle of the 19th century. The war is notable for the introduction of early modern warfare to the region. It is also notable in Thai history for the death in battle of Siamese Queen Suriyothai on her war elephant; the conflict is often referred to in Thailand as the War that Led to the Loss of Queen Suriyothai (สงครามคราวเสียสมเด็จพระสุริโยไท).

The casus belli have been stated as a Burmese attempt to expand their territory eastwards after a political crisis in Ayutthaya as well as an attempt to stop Siamese incursions into the upper Tenasserim coast. The war, according to the Burmese, began in January 1547 when Siamese forces conquered the frontier town of Tavoy (Dawei). Later in the year, the Burmese forces led by Gen. Saw Lagun Ein retook the Upper Tenasserim coast down to Tavoy. Next year, in October 1548, three Burmese armies led by King Tabinshwehti and his deputy Bayinnaung invaded Siam through the Three Pagodas Pass. The Burmese forces penetrated up to the capital city of Ayutthaya but could not take the heavily fortified city. One month into the siege, Siamese counterattacks broke the siege, and drove back the invasion force. But the Burmese negotiated a safe retreat in exchange for the return of two important Siamese nobles (the heir apparent Prince Ramesuan, and Prince Thammaracha of Phitsanulok) whom they had captured.

The successful defense preserved Siamese independence for 15 years. Still, the war was not decisive. The next Burmese invasion in 1563 would force a Siamese surrender in February 1564, and make Ayutthaya a vassal state of Burma for the first time.

Chaika (boat)

A chaika (Ukrainian: чайка, chayka, Polish: czajka, Serbian: шајка / šajka, Slovene: šajka or plitka) was a wooden boat that could have a mast and sail, a type of galley, used in early modern warfare and cargo transport by the:

Zaporozhian Cossacks in the 16th–17th centuries in Ukraine on the Dnipro River and the Black Sea.

Serbs in the 16th-19th centuries on the Danube, known as Šajkaši, under Kingdom of Hungary, Austrian Empire and Habsburgs.

Slovenes from the 16th to the early 20th century on the Drava River.


Chairachathirat (Thai: ไชยราชาธิราช), or Chai reigned 1534–1546 as King of the Ayutthaya kingdom of Siam. His reign was remarkable for the influx of Portuguese traders, mercenaries, and early Modern warfare technology.


A fifer is a non-combatant military occupation of a foot soldier who originally played the fife during combat. The practice was instituted during the period of Early Modern warfare to sound signals during changes in formation, such as the line, and were also members of the regiment's military band during marches.

These soldiers, often boys too young to fight or sons of NCOs, were used to help infantry battalions to keep marching pace from the right of the formation in coordination with the drummers positioned at the centre, and relayed orders in the form of sequences of musical signals. The fife was particularly useful because of its high pitched sound, which could be heard over the sounds of battle.

The usual allocation of fifers in a battalion during the Early Modern warfare period varied from five to eight. The field music regimental bands, particularly of the high prestige units such as the guards had as many as 32 (in the Preobrazhensky regiment) or more fifers.Some fifers, as part of the fife and drum corps that accompanied Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet, were present at important national historical events, such as the reading of the Governor's Commission on 2 February 1788 at Sydney Cove.

Heavy infantry

Heavy infantry refers to heavily armed and armoured infantrymen that were trained to mount frontal assaults and/or anchor the defensive center of a battle line. This differentiated them from light infantry which are relatively mobile and lightly armoured skirmisher troops intended for screening, scouting, and other roles unsuited to the heavier soldiers.

Heavy infantry typically made use of dense battlefield formations, such as shield wall or phalanx, multiplying their effective weight of arms with weight of numbers.

Heavy infantry were critical to many ancient armies, such as the Greek hoplites, Macedonian phalangites, and Roman legionaries. After the fall of Rome, heavy infantry declined in Europe, but returned to dominance in the Late Middle Ages with Swiss pikemen and German Landsknechts. With the rise of firearms during early modern warfare, dense formations became too hazardous. By the early 18th century, heavy infantry were replaced by line infantry armed with muskets and bayonets and having no armour.

Honours of war

The honours of war are a set of privileges that are granted to a defeated army during the surrender ceremony. The honours symbolize the valor of the defeated army, and grew into a custom during the age of early modern warfare. Typically a surrendering garrison was permitted to march out with drums beating and flags flying, after which they would become prisoners of war.


Jauhar, sometimes spelled Jowhar or Juhar, is the act of mass self-immolation by women in parts of the Indian subcontinent, to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by any foreign invaders, when facing certain defeat during a war. Some reports of jauhar mention women committing self-immolation along with their children. This practice was historically observed in northwest regions of India, with most famous Jauhars in recorded history occurring during wars between Hindu Rajput kingdoms in Rajasthan and the Muslim armies. Jauhar is related to sati, and sometimes referred in scholarly literature as jauhar sati.Kaushik Roy said that the jauhar was observed only during Hindu-Muslim wars, but not during internecine Hindu-Hindu wars among the Rajputs. Hawley however disagrees and states it was present before them and was likely started by the actions of the Greek conquerors.The term jauhar sometimes connotes with both jauhar-immolation and saka ritual. During the Jauhar, Rajput women committed suicide with their children and valuables in massive fire, to avoid capture and abuse in the face of inescapable military defeat and capture. Simultaneously or thereafter, the men would ritually march to the battlefield expecting certain death, which in the regional tradition is called saka.Jauhar by Hindu kingdoms has been documented by Islamic historians of the Delhi Sultanate, and the Mughal Empire. Among the oft cited example of jauhar has been the mass suicide committed in 1303 CE by the women of Chittorgarh fort in Rajasthan, faced with invading army of Khalji dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The jauhar phenomenon was also observed in other parts of India, such as in the Kampili kingdom of northern Karnataka when it fell in 1327 to Delhi Sultanate armies.


Korpralskap is a Swedish/Finnish military unit of 25 men split into four rote with six man each that existed during the 17th and 18th century—quite similar to a platoon today. The unit was led by a Korpral and in turn consisted of four rotes of six men each. Each rote was led by a rotemaster.

A foot (infantry) company consisted of two piker and four musketeer korpralskaps.

Line (formation)

The line formation is a standard tactical formation which was used in early modern warfare.

It continued the phalanx formation or shield wall of infantry armed with polearms in use during antiquity and the Middle Ages.

The line formation provided the best frontage for volley fire, while sacrificing maneuverability and defence against cavalry. It came to the fore during the Age of Reason, when it was used to great effect by Frederick the Great and his enemies during the Seven Years' War.An infantry battalion would form "in line" by placing troops in several ranks, ranging in number from two to five, with three ranks being the most common arrangement. Each rank was approximately half a metre apart from the next, and soldiers in a rank were positioned closely to each other (usually within arm's length), with just enough room to present their weapons, fire, and reload. The line formation required that the troops be well-drilled and constantly supervised by officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

In 17th- and 18th-century European armies, NCOs were positioned to the rear of the line. They were equipped with long polearms, which they used to "dress" or arrange the ranks, a practice which included pushing down the weapons of any soldier who was aiming too high, as well as ensuring that the rank remained well-organized and correctly placed. Movement in line formation was very slow, and unless the battalion was superbly trained, a breakdown in cohesion was virtually assured, especially in any kind of uneven or wooded terrain. As a result, line was mostly used as a stationary formation, with troops moving in columns and then deploying to line at their destination.

In addition, the line formation was extremely vulnerable to cavalry charges, from the flanks and rear, and these attacks usually resulted in the complete breakdown of cohesion and even destruction of the unit unless it was able to "form square".

During the Napoleonic Wars, the British Army famously adopted a thin two-rank line formation. This was adopted to compensate for their lack of numbers and to maximize their fire frontage. The British continued to use a two-rank line until the late 19th century. The famous "Thin Red Line" of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment at the Battle of Balaklava successfully held against a Russian cavalry attack, a rare occurrence.

A loose line formation called a skirmish line is used by many modern forces during assaults as it enables maximum firepower to be directed in one direction at once, useful when attacking an enemy position. It also enables the use of fire and movement.

Modern warfare (disambiguation)

Modern warfare generally refers to post-World War II military history.

Warfare of the modern era more generally:

Early modern warfare

18th-century warfare

Napoleonic Wars

Industrial warfareModern Warfare as a proper noun:

Modern Warfare (band), punk rock band from Long Beach, California

"Modern Warfare" (Community), episode of the television series CommunitySeveral video games in the Call of Duty series of first-person shooters:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, released 2007

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Nintendo DS), first-person shooter companion of above game for the Nintendo DS

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, 2009 sequel to Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – Mobilized, a first-person shooter companion of above game for the Nintendo DS

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, released on November 8, 2011

Mongol invasions of Japan

The Mongol invasions of Japan (元寇, Genkō), which took place in 1274 and 1281, were major military efforts undertaken by Kublai Khan to conquer the Japanese archipelago after the submission of Goryeo (Korea) to vassaldom. Ultimately a failure, the invasion attempts are of macro-historical importance because they set a limit on Mongol expansion and rank as nation-defining events in the history of Japan.

The Mongol invasions are considered a precursor to early modern warfare. One of the most notable technological innovations during the war was the use of explosive, hand-thrown bombs.The invasions are referred to in many works of fiction, and are the earliest events for which the word kamikaze ("divine wind") is widely used, originating in reference to the two typhoons faced by the Mongol fleets.

Northern Wars

"Northern Wars" is a term used for a series of wars fought in northern and northeastern Europe in the 16th and 17th century. An internationally agreed nomenclature for these wars has not yet been devised. While the Great Northern War is generally considered to be the last of the Northern Wars, there are different scholarly opinions on which war constitutes the First Northern War.Depending upon what date is chosen for the starting point, the Northern Wars comprise:

The Russo-Swedish War (1554–1557), "First Northern War" according to Arvo Viljanti

The Livonian War (1558–1583), "First Northern War" according to Klaus Zernack

The Northern Seven Years' War (1562–1570), "First Northern War" according to some Polish historians

The Russo-Polish or Thirteen Years' War (1654–1667), "First Northern War" according to some Russian historians

The Second Northern War (1655–1660), "First Northern War" according to traditional Anglo-Saxon, German, Russian and Scandinavian historiography

The Scanian War (1674–1679), also called "Swedish-Brandenburgian War" by German historians

The Great Northern War (1700–1721), also "Third Northern War" or "Second Northern War"

Order of battle

In modern use, the order of battle of an armed force participating in a military operation or campaign shows the hierarchical organization, command structure, strength, disposition of personnel, and equipment of units and formations of the armed force. Various abbreviations are in use, including OOB, O/B, or OB, while ORBAT remains the most common in the United Kingdom. An order of battle should be distinguished from a table of organisation, which is the intended composition of a given unit or formation according to the military doctrine of its armed force. As combat operations develop during a campaign, orders of battle may be revised and altered in response to the military needs and challenges. Also the known details of an order of battle may change during the course of executing the commanders' after action reports and/or other accounting methods (e.g. despatches) as combat assessment is conducted.

Push of pike

The push of pike was a particular feature of late medieval and Early Modern warfare that occurred when two opposing columns of pikemen (often Swiss mercenaries or Landsknechte) met and became locked in position along a front of interleaved pikes. During push of pike, opposing blocks of pikemen would advance with their pikes "charged" horizontally at shoulder level to jab at one another until bodily contact was made. The two sides would then push physically until one or other of them gave way. The push of pike would continue until one of the opposing formations routed or fled, which would generally lead to massive casualties. Each man pressed on the one in front, and so sometimes the formations would crush against each other and many pikemen would have to fight in closer melee combat. The Italians referred to this as 'Bad War' after seeing Swiss pikemen become locked in thick combat, where because both formations refused to back down both sides lost huge numbers of men in the bloody melee. Rodeleros along with the Doppelsöldner were used in order to break push of pike engagements. The push of pike played an important role in the English civil war as one-third of the infantry consisted of pikemen. Pikemen often cut down the lengths of their pikes in order to make them more manageable. This habit had on many occasions disastrous consequences as the side with the longest pikes had the advantage during push of pike.

Shield wall

The formation of a shield wall (scildweall or bordweall in Old English, skjaldborg in Old Norse) is a military tactic that was common in many cultures in the Pre-Early Modern warfare age. There were many slight variations of this tactic among these cultures, but in general, a shield wall was a "wall of shields" formed by soldiers standing in formation shoulder to shoulder, holding their shields so that they abut or overlap. Each soldier benefits from the protection of his neighbours' shields as well as his own.

Swedish field artillery (early 18th century)

A Swedish foot (infantry) regiment during the 17th and 18th century was split into two battalions at the inception of a battle and light field artillery was usually put in the gaps that appeared between those battalions. This sort of artillery was categorized as regimental artillery.

Women in war

The experiences of women in war have been diverse. Historically women have played a major role on the home front. By the 18th century, some women accompanied armies assigned combat missions, usually handling roles such as cooking and laundry. Women worked in munitions factories (6000)Nursing became a major role starting in the middle 19th century. The main role in World War I (1914-1918) was employment in munitions factories, farming, and other roles to replace men drafted for the army. Women played an important role in making the system of food rationing work. World War II (1939-1945) marked a decisive turning point, With millions of women handling important homefront roles, such as working in munitions factories and otherwise replacing drafted men. Volunteer roles expanded. The most romantic new change was millions of women in regular military units. Typically they handled clerical roles so that men could be released for combat. Some women (especially in the Soviet Union, Germany, and Britain) were assigned limited combat roles, especially in anti-aircraft units, where they shot down enemy bombers while at the same time being safe from capture. Underground and resistance movements made extensive use of women in support roles. Reaction set in after 1945, and the roles allowed to women was sharply reduced in all major armies. Restarting in the 1970s, women played an increasing role in the military of major nations, including by 2005 roles as combat pilots. The new combat roles were highly controversial for many reasons including differences in physical capabilities of the sexes and issues of gender identity for both women and men.

Women in warfare (1500–1699)

Active warfare throughout history has mainly been a matter for men, but women have also played a role, often a leading one. While women rulers conducting warfare was common, women who participated in active warfare were rare. The following list of prominent women in war and their exploits from about 1500 AD up to about 1700 AD.

Only women active in direct warfare, such as warriors, spies, and women who actively led armies are included in this list.

For women in warfare in what is now the United States during this time period, see Timeline of women in war in the United States, Pre-1945.

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