Fighting Fire with Fire: Thermal Warfare in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Worlds

Fire was the easiest way of harrying and destroying territories, and could be done easily and quickly by small forces. Curated/Reviewed by Matthew A. McIntoshPublic HistorianBrewminate Introduction Early thermal weapons were used in warfare during the classical and medieval periods (approx 8th century BC until the mid-16th century AD) using heat or burning action to destroy or damage enemy personnel, fortifications or[…]

Ancient Roman Legions of the Parthian Wars

In search of glory and riches, seven legions were led in an unprovoked attack on the Parthians. Introduction Parthia had always been a thorn in the side of the Roman Empire. The initial campaigns by Crassus and Mark Antony were total failures, and although Trajan and Syrian governor Cassius made some progress in the 2nd century CE, both failed to eliminate the Parthians[…]

Legions of Ancient Roman Britain

As a result of the various crises that plagued the Western Roman Empire in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, the ability to control the island waned. Introduction After the Roman emperor Claudius (r. 41-54 CE) successfully conquered Britain in 43 CE, four legions were left there to maintain the peace: XIV Gemina, II Augusta, IX Hispana, and XX Valeria[…]

The Legions of Ancient Spain, Roman Africa, and Egypt

These four legions were a vital part of the empire. Introduction The legions of Spain, Roman Africa, and Egypt did not see the intensity of action that prevailed elsewhere in Europe. However, the presence of these four legions – VII Gemina, IX Hispana, XXII Deiotariana, and II Traiana Fortis – was still essential for the stability of the empire. Although often[…]

The Long History of Women Warriors

Women as warriors—or certainly hunters and not simply gatherers—have a long history reaching back thousands of years to pre-history. The American experience with true women warriors—not just our wonderful Hollywood Wonder Woman—has only recently begun. However, with the benefit of recent archaeological discoveries and re-examinations, we can say that women have been warriors—or certainly hunters—for[…]

Foederati: Subsumed by Ancient Rome and Bound to Defend It

Foederati were the tribes that were bound by a treaty to defend Rome but were neither Roman colonies nor citizens. Introduction Foederati were peoples and cities bound by a treaty, known as foedus, with Rome. In Republican times the term identified the socii, whereas during the Imperial period it was used to describe foreign states, client kingdoms, or[…]

Sons of Mars: An Historical Overview of the Military of Ancient Rome

The purpose for and use of the military shifted between the Republican and Imperial periods. Introduction The military of ancient Rome, according to Titus Livius, one of the more illustrious historians of Rome over the centuries, was a key element in the rise of Rome over “above seven hundred years”[1] from a small settlement in Latium to the capital of[…]

Battlefield O’ahu: Japan’s Opening Attack on Pearl Harbor

The attack came with no warning, as aircraft emblazoned with red disks bore down on the moored ships from all directions. Introduction Just before 8 am on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, many of the sailors aboard naval vessels moored in Pearl Harbor were getting ready for leave and preparing for church services. In a[…]

The Path to Pearl Harbor

When Germany and Italy declared war on the United States days later, America found itself in a global war. The Roots of the Conflict While Japan’s deadly assault on Pearl Harbor stunned Americans, its roots stretched back more than four decades. As Japan industrialized during the late 19th century, it sought to imitate Western countries[…]

Krak des Chevaliers: A Medieval Hospitaller Crusades Fortress

At its peak, Krak des Chevaliers housed a garrison of around 2,000, allowing the Hospitallers to exact tribute from a wide area. Introduction Krak des Chevaliers, also called Crac des Chevaliers, Ḥiṣn al-Akrād, literally “Fortress of the Kurds”), and formerly Crac de l’Ospital, is a Crusader castle in Syria and one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. The[…]

Greek Fire: An Ancient Byzantine Mini-Nuke

Weakened by long wars with Sassanid Persia, the Byzantine Empire’s development of Greek Fire came at a critical moment. Introduction Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire beginning c.672 CE. Used to set light to enemy ships, it consisted of a combustible compound emitted by a flame-throwing weapon. Some historians believe it could be ignited on contact[…]

Infantry in the Middle Ages

The relative inexpensiveness of the infantryman, combined with a shortage of manpower, provided incentives for expanding their use. Introduction Despite the rise of knightly cavalry in the 11th century, infantry played an important role throughout the Middle Ages on both the battlefield and in sieges. From the 14th century onwards, there was a rise in[…]

Dark, Bloody, and Savage: 20th-Century European Violence and Its Narratives

Examining major European twentieth-century narratives and interpretations that have seen it as an age of violence, terror, and genocide. Abstract This paper[1] looks at major European twentieth-century narratives and interpretations that have seen it as an age of violence, terror and genocide. Using examples from historiographical debate and the analysis of specific historical processes (including[…]

Ancient Etruscan Warfare and Their Conquest by Rome

The Etruscan armies of part-time soldiers proved to be no match for the more professional and tactically dynamic Roman army. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Etruscan civilization, which flourished in central Italy from the 8th to 3rd century BCE, gained a reputation in antiquity for being party-loving pushovers when it came to warfare, but the[…]

The Spartan Krypteia: A Form of Ancient Guerrilla Warfare

The nature of the krypteia very much reflects the roots of its name. By Brandon D. Ross Introduction The night was still, the moon hanging with translucent beauty in the blackness of the sky. Wraiths emerged stealthily from the shadows, swooping down upon the unsuspecting peasants on the beaten path. The moonlight glistened on the[…]

The Armies of the Crusades

The armies could have involved over 100,000 men on either side who came from all over Europe. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The armies of the Crusades (11th-15th centuries CE), which saw Christians and Muslims struggle for control of territories in the Middle East and elsewhere, could involve over 100,000 men on either side who came[…]

Knights in Medieval Europe

To reach this elevated status became more and more challenging as the Middle Ages wore on. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Knights were the most-feared and best-protected warriors on the medieval battlefield, while off it, they were amongst the most fashionably dressed and best-mannered members of society. To reach this elevated status, however, became more and[…]

Artillery in Medieval Europe

Artillery machines were used to good effect throughout antiquity and the medieval era. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Artillery weapons in medieval Europe included the mounted crossbow (ballista) and single-arm torsion catapult (mangonel), both similar to ancient Roman machines. As armies battled further afield such as in the Byzantine Empire and against the Arab caliphates, in[…]

Viking Raiding and Warfare

Viking warfare connected with the expansion of Scandinavian influence along the North Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. By Emma GroeneveldHistorian Introduction Viking warfare, along with its key component of raiding, is inextricably connected with the expansion of Scandinavian influence along the North Atlantic and into the Mediterranean in the Viking Age (c. 790-1100 CE), where the Vikings’ heavy use of[…]

Annihilation of a Roman Army – The Battle of Teutoburg Forest

A combined force of Germans annihilated a Roman army consisting of three legions. Introduction At the Battle of Teutoburg Forest (aka Battle of Varus), c. 9 CE, a combined force of Germans annihilated a Roman army consisting of three legions including three squadrons of cavalry and six cohorts of auxiliary troops. As some soldiers must have been left behind[…]

Cause and Effect: The Outbreak of World War II

What were the causes of the Second World War? Pinpointing the causes of a vast, global event like the Second World War is a challenging task for the historian. Events—especially enormous, multifaceted events—have multiple causes and multiple inputs. To help analyze the effects of those different inputs, historians often classify an event’s causes into different[…]

How World War I Changed America and Transformed Its Role in International Relations

The entry of the United States into World War I changed the course of the war, and the war, in turn, changed America. By Meredith Hindley The American Expeditionary Forces arrived in Europe in 1917 and helped turn the tide in favor of Britain and France, leading to an Allied victory over Germany and Austria[…]

Aerial Warfare during World War One

From Zeppelin airships to propaganda leaflet drops, exploring the significant role of aerial warfare in World War One – where it was used on a large scale for the first time. Introduction Aerial warfare was by no means a First World War invention. Balloons had already been used for observation and propaganda distribution during the[…]

Ancient Chinese Warfare: Confucianism and Absence of Glory

The absence of a glorification of war in China was largely due to Confucian philosophy and literature. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction In ancient China warfare was a means for one region to gain ascendancy over another, for the state to expand and protect its frontiers, and for usurpers to replace an existing dynasty of rulers.[…]

Behind the Rocket Cat: Animals in Warfare from Hannibal to World War One

War animals have been with us for a very long time. There’s a good chance you’ve come across the bewhiskered warrior above on the web: it’s been featured on the Guardian and ABC News. And for good reason: the image is the best combination of cats and history since those inky pawprints on the medieval manuscript. The so-called “rocket[…]

‘Werre’: Warfare in the Ancient World

Throughout history, individuals, states, or political factions have gained sovereignty over regions through the use of war. Introduction The word ‘war’ comes to English by the old High German language word ‘Werran’ (to confuse or to cause confusion) through the Old English ‘Werre’ (meaning the same), and is a state of open and usually declared[…]

The Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic wars illustrate how warfare, seemingly the most conventional object of history, defies history’s most conventional questions. Abstract Trying to locate the Napoleonic Wars as an event, or a constellation of events in time and space, only reveals the historical dislocations produced by war on a global scale. Like many of the wars of[…]

The History of Body Armor, from the Medieval World to Today

There has been a true arms race, where every advance in body armor has required a more penetrating round to overcome it, before these more powerful rounds are again defeated by better body armor. By Sam BocettaProfessor of EngineeringAlgonquin Community College Introduction When writing about the history of military weapons and equipment, most people tend[…]

Siege Warfare in Medieval Europe

Siege tactics were a crucial part of medieval warfare. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Siege tactics were a crucial part of medieval warfare, especially from the 11th century CE when castles became more widespread in Europe and sieges outnumbered pitched battles. Castles and fortified cities offered protection to both the local population and armed forces and[…]

Greek Fire: A Byzantine Weapon Lost to the Ages

The weapon ceased to exist by the time the Ottoman Empire finally conquered Constantinople in 1453. September 1, 718. With the clear motivation to defend Constantinople, Byzantine ships filled with anxious soldiers were surrounding the mainland. On the horizon, Arab Muslim forces, bringing with them a fleet of large and robust wooden ships, started to[…]