Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 362



R .G. G R A N T

foreword 6 charlemagne 64
;MVQWZ-LQ\WZ[;IU)\SQV[WV8I]TI:MOIV vikings and normans 68
-LQ\WZ.MZLQM5K,WVITL Era of the Crusades 72
heroes of the
royal crusaders 74
,M[QOVMZ)Ua7Z[JWZVM ancient world frederick barbarossa 76
+IZ\WOZIXPa5MZZQ\\+IZ\WOZIXPQK 1500 bce – 500 CE muslim warriors 80
;QUWV5]UNWZL the iberian reconquista 84
Asian Conflicts 86
8ZWL]K\QWV+WV\ZWTTMZ:MJMKKI;PWZ\ Greece and the Ancient Empires 12
+ZMI\Q^M<MKPVQKIT;]XXWZ\ nomadic warriors 88
leaders of the ancient empires 14
timur 90
)LIU*ZIKSMVJ]Za ancient greek commanders 16
japanese samurai 94
alexander the great 18
5IVIOQVO)Z\-LQ\WZ3IZMV;MTN Ancient Rome and its Enemies 24 Late Medieval Europe 96
)Z\,QZMK\WZ8PQT7ZUMZWL commanders of the punic wars 26
the hundred years war 98
)[[WKQI\M8]JTQ[PMZ4Qb?PMMTMZ national heroes 104
hannibal 28
:MNMZMVKM8]JTQ[PMZ2WVI\PIV5M\KITN rome from republic to empire 32
julius caesar 34
from zenith to decline 42
masters of
<7=+)6*773;4<, tribal warriors 44 innovation
;MVQWZ-LQ\WZ)TQKM8MMJTM[ Ancient Asia 46 1450 – 1700
-LQ\WZ[6I\I[PI3IPV)Ua;UQ\P ancient asian generals 48
The Muslim World 110
,M[QOVMZ[6QKS)^MZa8PQT.Q\bOMZITL knights and ottoman leaders 112
mogul leaders 114
8QK\]ZM:M[MIZKP<IU+P]ZKP East Asian Warfare 116
500 – 1450
;IZIPIVL:WTIVL;UQ\PQM[ japanese daimyo 118
8QK\]ZM5IVIOMZ+PZQ[\QVM>QVKMV\ china and korea 122
5IVIOQVO,QZMK\WZ-TTMV,]XWV\ Early Middle Ages 54
byzantine commanders 56
arab and turkish commanders 58
+76;=4<)6<; the christian west 62

First published in Great Britain in 2011 by

Dorling Kindersley Limited
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL

A Penguin company

Copyright © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
CD262 - 09/10

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be

reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior
written permission of the copyright owner.

A CIP catalogue record for this

book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-4053-3696-3

Printed and bound in Singapore by Star Standard

Discover more at
the Early French Revolutionary Naval Warfare
Gunpowder Era 124 and Napoleonic Wars 194 in the Age of Steam 270
conquests of the americas 126 generals of the french revolution 196 naval commanders 272
hernán cortés 128 napoleon bonaparte 198
the italian wars 132 napoleon’s marshals 204
the dutch revolt 136 napoleon’s adversaries 206 modern
spanish sea battles 138 duke of wellington 208
Bible, Pike, and Musket 140 Naval Warfare 212 1914 – present
commanders of the thirty 18th-century admirals 214
years war 142 horatio nelson 216
gustavus adolphus 144 World War I 280
the british civil wars 148 War in the Americas 220
british commanders 282
admirals of the anglo-dutch wars 154 rebels in the americas 222 french commanders 284
michiel de ruyter 156 us commanders 1800–1850 224 other allied commanders 288
german commanders 290
naval commanders of wwi 294
rulers and agents
A World in Turmoil 296
revolutionaries of empire
rebels and revolutionaries 298
1660 – 1850 1850 – 1914 interwar military strongmen 302

World War II 304

Europe in the Age of Louis XIV 162 European Wars 230 german generals 306
generals of louis xiv’s wars 164 the crimean war 232 soviet commanders 310
duke of marlborough 166 nation-building wars 234 allied commanders 314
royal commanders 170 helmuth von moltke the elder 238 bernard montgomery 316
us army commanders in europe 320
18th-Century Warfare 172 The American Civil War 242 george s. patton 322
european army commanders 174 confederate commanders 244 us commanders in the pacific 328
frederick the great 176 robert e. lee 246 air commanders 330
colonial wars 180 union commanders 250 naval commanders of wwii 334
the american revolutionary war 184 ulysses s. grant 252
george washington 186 Post World War II 336
frontiers and colonies 256
warfare in asia 192 post-war commanders 338
native american warriors 258 revolutionary fighters 340
african leaders 262 vo nguyen giap 342
imperial commanders 264 commanders in the israeli wars 346
the boer war 268 post-cold war commanders 348

index and Acknowledgements 352

Military commanders have been a diverse collection of individuals and their job has altered radically over
time through the impact of technological innovation and social and political changes. The men profiled
in this book range from all-conquering warriors to cautious dedicated career soldiers, from the rulers of
kingdoms and empires to ordinary citizens thrust by circumstance into the forefront of war. Some were
men who delighted in combat and slaughter, while others were often sickened by their own trade and
would agree with the Duke of Wellington that “next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained”.

Military command has always been, in all historical situations, a complex task. It is true that, during
the American Civil War, President Lincoln described General Grant as indispensable simply because
“he fights”. But this does not mean the conduct of battles is the sole essence of generalship. The military
commander has to look to the morale and training of his soldiers, and see that supplies are provided for
the men, their animals, and their machines. He must gather and sift intelligence before preparing coherent
plans and clearly communicating them to his subordinates. If he is cunning, he will ensure that battle is
only joined when his army has the advantage – a general who repeatedly wins close-run victories against
the odds is not doing his job properly. Bold risk-taking fighters, from Alexander the Great through
Richard the Lionheart to George Patton, have always caught the eye, but some of the most successful
commanders have been of an altogether different temperament – the intellectual and cultivated Moltke
the Elder, for example, or the cool and diplomatic Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Writing in the 1960s, Israeli general Moshe Dayan expressed nostalgia for “the good old days” when, at
the approach of battle, “the commander got on his white horse, someone blew the trumpet, and off he
charged towards the enemy.” Certainly it was possible for Alexander the Great to lead from the front,
charging the enemy at the head of his Companion cavalry. Even a more level-headed commander
of the ancient world, such as Julius Caesar, would have been close enough to the action to shout
encouragement to his fighting men. A location just behind the fighting zone remained the normal
battle position for a commander into the 19th century, when it was still just possible to survey a whole
battlefield with the aid of a telescope. But the increasing size of armies, the growing power and range
of weapons, and new means of communication, such as telephone and radio, imposed remoteness on
the field commander. By the early 20th century the German general, Alfred von Schlieffen, could foresee
a future in which “the warlord will be located… in the rear, in a house with spacious offices… seated in
a comfortable chair, in front of a large desk.” He could not have predicted that by 2001 it would be possible
for an American general to command operations in Afghanistan from a headquarters in Florida.

The managerial complexity of modern military command, regretted by General Dayan, has often made it
difficult to identify the individual to be credited as the commander of a particular operation. There was
no doubt whatsoever that Hannibal led the Punic army campaigning in Italy in the third century BCE, or
Nelson the British fleet at Trafalgar in 1805. But at Passchendaele in World War I, Canadian General
Arthur Currie held command under British General Herbert Plumer, who himself was under Field
Marshal Douglas Haig. In selecting entries for this book, an attempt has been made to identify hands-on
commanders of armies and fleets, excluding both those too bureaucratically high-placed for field
command and those too lowly to qualify. Military commanders who were also political leaders – the
majority, in fact, up to the 18th century – are included, but political leaders who interfered in military
operations, without being military commanders in their own right, are not.

Respect for military commanders as role models has declined in recent times. Heroes such as Alexander
the Great and Julius Caesar, once universally admired, have been the subject of revisionist biographies
focusing on their massacres and lust for power.Yet the men surveyed in this book showed many and varied
human qualities, including moral fortitude, decisiveness, resilience under pressure, physical courage, humane
concern for the welfare of their soldiers, and the ability to shoulder a great burden of responsibility. Our
societies may yet find that, in the future, they need the martial virtues more than they expect.

R. G. Grant
1500 BCE – 500 CE


HE CAMPAIGNS OF THE GREATEST GENERALS of ancient times – Alexander of

Macedon, Hannibal, Julius Caesar – have provided lessons in strategy and tactics
T to be studied and admired through millennia. At a time when no army enjoyed
a technological advantage, the human factor in warfare was paramount. It was
the commander’s ability to provide leadership, maintain morale among his troops, and seize
the initiative on the battlefield that determined the narrow margin between defeat and victory.

The first organized warfare known to history often aspired to imitate this model. Egyptian orders, but these had to be simple and
took place among the Mesopotamian city- pharaohs had themselves depicted as solo prearranged. Devolution of command was
states (in present-day Iraq) some 4,500 years charioteers slaughtering their enemies with essential. Generals of the Roman empire
ago. Rulers such as Sargon of Akkad and bow or mace. But in practice large armies benefited from experienced subordinates
Eanatum, king of Lagash, commanded small called for more detached management. The at lower levels of command – for example,
but effective armies that fought for control ruler’s war chariot was more likely centurions – who could be relied upon
of neighbouring states and scarce resources. to function as a command to execute plans faithfully and show
As other societies capable of large-scale platform behind the front initiative if required.
organization emerged in various regions line, screened off from
of the globe – around the shores of the attack by an entourage FRESH CHALLENGES

Mediterranean in Egypt, Greece, and Rome, of elite troops. Although commanders in the
in the Indus Valley, the river valleys of China, The technology ancient world were aware of
and central America – states expanded available for command the importance of logistics,
through warfare to create empires whose and control was basic out of necessity armies often
rulers commanded impressive armies. The and largely unchanging. lived off the land when on
pharaohs of New Kingdom Egypt (c.1570– Communication was campaign. A commander who
1070 bce) led armies that numbered in tens by messenger on foot waged campaigns over long
of thousands, while the Persian emperors or horse. The Greek distances had to overcome the
(c.500 bce) reportedly deployed several author Xenophon noted Sumerian helmet obstacles presented by poor
that a Persian ruler This helmet dates from c.2600 BCE and or non-existent road systems.
hundred thousand men.These figures were no
was found in excavations of the ancient
doubt exceeded in ancient Chinese warfare. generally positioned Mesopotamian city of Ur (in present-day Some empires, including
himself in the centre of Iraq). Forged from gold sheet, the ornate Assyria, Persia, and Rome, built
LINES OF COMMUNICATION the line of battle because curving relief mimics hair. impressive networks of roads
Large armies raised fundamental problems of “if he has occasion to and bridges. From 500 bce to
command. In simpler tribal societies the war dispatch any necessary rider along the lines, 500 ce commanders often faced the further
leader was the bravest and strongest fighting his troops will receive the message in half challenge of coping with warfare that was
man – a warrior who led his men weapon the time”. Signals by trumpets or by flags asymmetrical – that is, fought between
in hand. The rulers of the civilized empires could deliver additional basic battlefield armies and cultures with sharply different

approaches to combat. The large, complex of famous generals. Much of this was passed might be expected to know how to conduct
forces of the Persian empire were puzzled by down by word of mouth and by example – a siege and arrange infantry and cavalry for
the small, compact citizen armies of Greek learning on the job – but a substantial battle, to grasp the importance of surprise and
city-states. Generals of ancient Rome had literature of military history and theory also of reconnaissance to avoid being surprised
to learn to fight Celtic and Germanic tribal thrived. Analytical works such as the Chinese oneself, or to know how crucial it was to
warbands in Europe, and Parthian and thinker Sun-tzu’s Art of War (c.500 bce) and maintain supplies to one’s own army and
Sassanian mounted archers in Asia. the Roman writer Vegetius’s De Re Militari deny them to the foe. Only an exceptional
(c.400 ce) displayed penetrating insights into commander, though, would have the moral
RECIPE FOR VICTORY the fundamentals of warfare. But the art and intellectual qualities to translate such
Some of an ancient commander’s roles were of generalship probably gained more from knowledge into victorious campaigns.
religious – he had to make sacrifices and written accounts of actual conflicts, such
read omens before battle. But sophisticated as the Greek historian Thucydides’ account Tutankhamun in battle
practical traditions of military command also of the Peloponnesian Wars or Julius Caesar’s This scene from Tutankhamun’s painted chest, 14th
century BCE, shows the pharaoh in his war chariot firing
evolved, based on accumulated experience of commentaries on his campaigns. Through arrows at his enemies. The inscription calls him “the
warfare and reflection upon the performance study of such works any adept commander good god… who tramples hundreds of thousands”.

 500
1500 – 100 b CE



ROM AT LEAST 3,000 years ago western Asia and the eastern
Mediterranean was an area fought over by competitive

F empire-builders. The rulers of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and

Persia evolved highly organized, complex, professional armies
of impressive size capable of campaigning over long distances. In Greece, by
contrast, city-states developed small tight-knit citizen forces. The success of
the Greeks in combat against the Persians in the 5th century bce was one
of the turning points of European history.

Modern archaeology and research into the the city-states of Greece and in 338 bce they
inscriptions found on the monuments of ancient succumbed to conquest by a new breed of
Egypt make it possible to begin to reconstruct warrior from the north – the kings of Macedonia.
the strategy, tactics, and weapons of warfare Riding to battle at the head of their cavalry
from the 15th century bce. Under rulers such “Companions”, the Macedonian rulers also
as Thutmosis III (ruled 1479–1425 bce) and recruited and trained disciplined infantry forces.
Ramesses II (ruled 1279–1213 bce), Egyptian They found in Greece a cultural mission to fuel
armies campaigned from Syria in the north to their desire for conquest. Philip of Macedon
Nubia in the south. Records show that Thutmosis bequeathed to his son, Alexander the Great, the
won history’s first recorded battle at Megiddo ambition to attack and destroy the mighty Persian
(c.1457 bce), thanks to a carefully worked-out empire, a process that would carry Greek culture
battleplan. The kings of Assyria, whose empire to central Asia and northern India.

was based in northern Mesopotamia, took the Dying young, Alexander failed to leave a
exercise of military power to a new level unified empire, but his successor dynasties,

between c.900 and 600 bce, adding cavalry to including the Seleucids in Asia and the Ptolemies
chariots and perfecting the art of siege warfare. in Egypt, commanded armed forces on a truly

 500
But the Achaemenid Persian rulers surpassed all imperial scale during their internal squabbles.
their predecessors, conquering Mesopotamia, It was not until the 2nd century bce that the
Egypt, and Anatolia (present-day Turkey) in the rise of a new Mediterranean military power, the

6th century bce, thanks to the superb large-scale Roman Republic, rendered the Greek military
military organization created by Cyrus the Great. tradition obsolete.
The resistance of the Greek city-states to
control by the expanding Persian empire led
to the dispatch of a Persian punitive expedition
Greek hoplites to Greece in 490 bce, followed by a full-scale
Ancient Greek infantry, known as hoplites invasion under Xerxes I ten years later. The
(from hoplon, the type of shield they used),
fought in a tight phalanx formation, stabbing city-states, including Athens and Sparta,
overarm with their spears from behind a wall succeeded in uniting for long enough to resist
of shields. This impenetrable formation left the invaders, largely through their superiority
little scope for variety in battlefield tactics.
in naval warfare – as demonstrated at the battle
of Salamis in 480 BCE. They were also effective
on land because of their highly motivated
armoured infantry spearmen, or hoplites.

After defeating the Persians, the Greeks
fell to fighting one another in a series of
wars that chiefly set the naval power of
Athens against the land power of Sparta.
Over time these conflicts fatally weakened

Hoplite headgear
The Corinthian helmet, named after the
Greek city-state of Corinth, was worn by
hoplites who valued maximum protection
for head and face more than all-round vision.

THE RULERS OF THE ANCIENT EMPIRES of the clearest record of his military deeds. Tiglath-Pileser III
pharaonic Egypt, Assyria, and Achaemenid Persia is pre-eminent among the many battling Assyrian kings for
were military leaders who regularly campaigned founding a strikingly successful military system. The two
with their armies, although they also employed trusted centuries of the Achaemenid empire were framed at the
generals to lead forces on their behalf. Among the outset by the brilliance of its founder, Cyrus, and the
pharaohs Ramesses II stands out because he left behind defeat of Darius III at its end.

Extending borders
This statue of Ramesses II
was carved at Abu Simbel in
Nubia, a region in which he EGYPTIAN PHARAOH Hittite king, Mutwallah, who sent
campaigned to extend BORN 1303 BCE agents to misinform Ramesses about
Egypt’s southern borders.
DIED 1213 BCE the position of the Hittites. Believing
KEY CONFLICTS Nubian Campaign, his enemy to be far to the north,
Syrian Campaigns Ramesses let his troops spread out on

KEY BATTLE Kadesh c.1275 BCE the march. He encamped outside the
city of Kadesh while the rear of his
Ramesses II occupied the Egyptian army was still advancing. The Hittites
throne for 67 years from 1279 bce. He made a hidden flanking move, striking
carried out many campaigns in his the Egyptian rear with a mass chariot
long reign but his reputation rests on charge. Ramesses’ men were scattered
a single battle, at Kadesh, about 1275 and the enemy turned to attack the
BCE. There he set out to challenge the camp, threatening the pharaoh himself.
Hittites, an Anatolian people, for He reportedly led a counterattack on
control of Syria. He marched north his chariot, and drove off the host.
into the Bekaa Valley with his army His propagandists ensured that records
organized into four divisions, but was of the battle stressed his action in
almost undone by poor intelligence averting disaster, rather than the
and the superior generalship of the boldness that had led him into a trap.

KING OF ASSYRIA for Tiglath-Pileser’s expansionist
BORN Unknown ambitions. His ruthless campaigns
DIED 727 BCE established the Neo-Assyrian empire
KEY CONFLICTS Wars founding the and laid the foundation for famous
Neo-Assyrian Empire successors such as Sennacherib (ruled
KEY BATTLES Siege of Arpad 743–740 BCE, 705–681 BCE) and Ashurbanipal
Siege of Babylon 734 BCE (ruled 669–c.630 BCE).

Tiglath-Pileser III was a usurper

who seized the Assyrian throne in
745 BCE at a time of weakness and
disunity in the kingdom. He reformed
the Assyrian armed forces, creating a
well-supplied regular army in which
the infantry were mostly foreign
prisoners of war or mercenaries, and
the cavalry and charioteers were
Assyrian. Under skilled generals this
army provided a powerful instrument

Ruthless leader
Like other Assyrian rulers, Tiglath-Pileser III
was noted for his delight in the torture and
mass deportation of conquered peoples.

well as horses. The army was also KEY TROOPS

CYRUS THE GREAT capable of considerable engineering
feats, such as the canal to divert the PERSIAN
PERSIAN KING King Croesus. Cyrus seized Croesus course of the Euphrates during the IMMORTALS
BORN Unknown and his capital, Sardis, in c.545 BCE. Babylonian campaign. According to the chronicles of later Greek
DIED 530 BCE Babylonia, a resurgent empire in historians, the Persian Immortals were
KEY CONFLICTS Conquests of Media, Mesopotamia, was next – after his PUBLIC IMAGE elite troops who provided an imperial
Lydia, and Babylonia victory at Opis in 539 BCE, Cyrus Unlike the Assyrian kings who used bodyguard for Cyrus and his successors.
KEY BATTLES Sardis c.545 BCE, Opis 539 BCE declared himself “king of the four their reputation for massacre to Although the Persians did not leave records
corners of the world”. terrorize enemies, Cyrus projected an of their military structure, it was thought
Founder of the Achaemenid Persian Cyrus’s army was a multinational image of tolerance. For example, his that the Immortals always numbered
empire, Cyrus the Great ranks as one force of great size. It included Arabs sympathetic treatment of the defeated 10,000 troops – if one man died he was
of history’s greatest conquerors and and Armenians, and used camels as Lydians was widely publicized. But it immediately replaced, thus sustaining the
state builders. According to the was essentially because of his recent illusion of immortality.
Greek historian Herodotus, when victories that Babylon surrendered
Cyrus became ruler of the Persians almost without a fight. Herodotus
in 559 bce, they were dominated records that Cyrus died on campaign,
by their Iranian neighbours, the fighting the Massagetae in central Asia.
Medes. He not only threw off this
overlordship, but in 549 BCE took Tomb of Cyrus the Great
the Medean capital, Ecbatana. As Cyrus was buried at Pasargadae (in present-
king of the Persians and Medes, he day Iran), the original capital of his empire.
His tomb is a stark memorial to his greatness.
then attacked Lydia,
a rich Anatolian
empire ruled by

 500
a local difficulty to be handled by the Persian forces were shattered, however,
DARIUS III regional satraps. When he did respond and Darius had no option but to flee
to the invasion, advancing with his the battlefield to avoid capture.

PERSIAN KING posted far from the centre of power army into Syria in 333 BCE, he seemed Darius’s second great battle against
BORN Unknown as satrap (governor) of Armenia. But a to have manoeuvred Alexander into Alexander at Gaugamela (Arbela)
DIED 330 BCE rash of poisonings engineered by the a disadvantageous position, emerging proved just as disastrous (pp.22–23).
KEY CONFLICTS War against Alexander palace courtier, Bagoas, cut a swathe behind the Macedonians on the Fleeing to Ecbatana, Darius intended
the Great through the ruling elite and opened coastal plain at Issus. Darius drew to raise another army to continue
KEY BATTLES Issus 333 BCE, Gaugamela his path to imperial rule in 336 bce. up his army in a strong defensive the fight, but a rebellious subordinate,
(Arbela) 331 BCE When Alexander invaded the position then tried an outflanking Bessus, satrap of Bactria, held
Anatolian empire in 334 BCE, Darius move – tactics that might have him prisoner and
Sometimes military commanders are could be excused for treating this as succeeded against a lesser foe. The killed him.
truly unfortunate in the opponents
they encounter. This was undoubtedly
the case for Darius III, whose defeats
at the hands of a military genius,
Alexander of Macedon, brought
Achaemenid rule in Persia to an
inglorious end.

Known to us primarily from Greek
sources, Darius has inevitably been
presented in the most pitiful light,
yet there is strong evidence at least
for his physical courage. As a young The Alexander Mosaic
man he distinguished himself in This Roman mosaic from Pompeii
single combat against a champion put shows Darius III (right) being driven
away from the battlefield – possibly
forward by the Cadusii, an Iranian
at Issus – by his charioteer, as he is
mountain tribe in rebellion against threatened by the spear-wielding
the empire. His route to the Persian Alexander of Macedon (left).
throne was tortuous, for he was only
a minor scion of the royal family,


FIGHTING ON SEA AND LAND, whether who often fought on foot alongside fellow-citizens. The
against the Persians or against one another, the rise of the Macedonian king, Philip II, and his son,
ancient Greeks earned a formidable reputation as Alexander (later, the Great), transformed Greek warfare
skilful and tenacious warriors. In the city-state era, up to and political life. After Alexander’s conquests, Hellenistic
the 4th century BCE, their citizen armies were led by commanders had large, complex professional armies at
commanders who were “first among equals” – leaders their disposal and sought imperial power as their goal.

Spartans carried out a delaying KEY BATTLE

THEMISTOCLES action on land at Thermopylae, while
the Athenians led the naval defence SALAMIS
ATHENIAN COMMANDER triremes (warships) to meet the at Artemisium. Unable to command CAMPAIGN Greco-Persian War
BORN 524 BCE larger-scale Persian attack he foresaw the quarrelsome allies, Themistocles DATE September 480 BCE
DIED 459 BCE would follow. He devised the strategy used persuasiveness and cunning to LOCATION Straits of Salamis, Greece
KEY CONFLICTS First and Second Greco- with which Athens and its allied impose his own strategy, inducing
Persian Wars city-states met the invasion: the the Athenians to abandon their city When Persian ruler Xerxes occupied Athens
KEY BATTLES Marathon 490 BCE, Artemisium as indefensible and the allies to allow in 480 BCE, the Greek fleet lurked nearby at
480 BCE, Salamis 480 BCE him to position the fleet at Salamis. Themistocles initiated a plan to
Salamis, where enclosed waters destroy the Persians’ numerically superior

Described by the Greek would give the advantage to navy. He sent an agent to Xerxes to make
historian Thucydides as a his nimble triremes. Plying him believe the Greek fleet was about to
“natural genius”, Themistocles the Persian king, Xerxes, withdraw. Thinking his enemy on the run,
was the man most responsible with misinformation, he Xerxes sent part of his fleet to attack the
for the repulse of the Persian tempted him to send Greek anchorage and the rest to block the
invasion of Greece in 480 BCE. his ships into a prepared escape route to the west. As the Persian
A prominent politician in democratic trap.Victory at Salamis ships entered the enclosed waters of the
Athens, Themistocles took military saved Greece, but little Salamis strait, they were surprised by the
command in times of crisis. He thanks was given to Themistocles. Greek triremes with a series of savage
Voting tablet ramming attacks. The Persians lost around
served in the defeat of the Persians at An Athenian citizen scrawled Themistocles’s
He was eventually driven into exile
Marathon in 490 BCE, and persuaded by his political enemies, ending his 200 warships in the encounter.
name on this piece of pottery, voting for his
the Athenians to build a fleet of exile from the city of Athens. life, ironically, at the Persian court.

THEBAN GENERAL the left of his line in a powerful body
BORN 410 BCE some 50 lines deep, while his centre
DIED 362 BCE and right avoided combat, screened
KEY CONFLICTS The Theban Wars by cavalry and lightly equipped
KEY BATTLES Leuctra 371 BCE, Mantinea skirmishers. The Thebans crushed
362 BCE the Spartan right and weighed into
the rest of the enemy line from the
Of the many commanders who flank with devastating effect.
fought in the wars between Greek
city-states, the Theban, Epaminondas, GROWING OPPOSITION
was the most inspired innovator. The Epaminondas then pursued a subtle
Spartans had long been the dominant strategy of undermining Spartan
military power in Greece when they power by freeing the subject states
faced Epaminondas on the battlefield from which Sparta drew its slave
at Leuctra in 371 BCE. Greek-versus- workforce. His success inevitably led
Greek encounters were traditionally to the formation of alliances to oppose
trials of strength between bodies of him. In 362 BCE Epaminondas faced
hoplite infantry formed up in lines not only Sparta but Athens and the
eight ranks deep. However, at Leuctra Peloponnesian city of Mantinea. He
Epaminondas massed his hoplites on gambled on a pitched battle outside
Mantinea, where a repeat of his
strategy at Leuctra was successful once
The death of Epaminondas
Epaminondas died from a wound that he
more, and the enemy was driven from
sustained at the battle of Mantinea. His last the field. Epaminondas himself was
words are said to have been: “I have lived long fatally wounded leading the advancing
enough, for I die unconquered.” infantry and died soon after the battle.

cavalry, a body of Macedonian Philip also co-opted light horseman

PHILIP II OF MACEDON aristocrats who formed the king’s
personal entourage and were usually
from Thessaly into his forces. The
Greek city-states proved incapable
KING OF MACEDON led by him in battle. There was also of resisting Philip’s forces, although
BORN 382 BCE an aristocratic Macedonian infantry his campaigns cost him an eye in the
DIED 336 BCE elite, equipped like Greek hoplites, siege of Methoni.
KEY CONFLICTS Third Sacred War, but the majority of Philip’s infantry
War against Athens were light-armoured professionals SEEKING REVENGE
KEY BATTLE Chaeronea 338 BCE with long spears known as “sarissas”. At Chaeronea in 338 BCE Philip
Operating in a phalanx of great decisively defeated the armies of
Macedonia was a backward depth, they were trained to carry Athens and Thebes. He assumed
kingdom on the northern fringe out disciplined manoeuvres. In the leadership of the Greek cities and had
of the Grecian world when Philip course of expanding his kingdom, himself authorized to lead a campaign
came to the throne in 359 BCE. A of revenge against the Persian empire
ruler of exceptional energy and Gold victory medal in the name of Greece. His advance
vision, he created a world-beating Struck at Tarsus, Turkey, in the 2nd century guard had already crossed into Asia
army as the vehicle for his ambitions. BCE, this medal bears Philip’s portrait. The when Philip was assassinated by one
Its strike force was the Companion beard and furrowed brow signify maturity. of his bodyguards at Aegae.

his interests. His campaigns in Greece, failed to reduce the most stoutly
PYRRHUS OF EPIRUS where he was established as king of
the small state of Epirus, created a
defended Carthaginian strongholds
and alienated local Greeks through
KING OF EPIRUS AND MILITARY Pyrrhus of Epirus was a Greek reputation that travelled far. dictatorial policies. In 275 BCE he
ADVENTURER military adventurer who fought for In 281 BCE Tarentum, a Greek city returned to southern Italy for yet
BORN 319 BCE wealth and power in the unstable in southern Italy, asked Pyrrhus to another round against Rome. At
DIED 272 BCE Mediterranean world of the post- help defend it against the Romans, Beneventum, fighting an enemy that
KEY CONFLICTS Pyrrhic War Alexander era. As a young man he whose expansionist republic was was no longer shocked by elephants,
KEY BATTLES Asculum 279 BCE, Beneventum took part in the struggles between threatening the independence of the most he could claim was a draw.
275 BCE Alexander’s successors – the Macedon all the region’s cities. Pyrrhus, who Short of money and troops, Pyrrhus
Antigonids and the Ptolemies of would have barely heard of Rome, returned to Greece, where he seized
Worthy leader Egypt – switching sides as it suited doubtless sensed an opportunity for the throne of Macedon. However, his

Hannibal is said to have described Pyrrhus easy victories and personal conquest. campaigns were brought to an abrupt
of Epirus as second only to Alexander He arrived in Tarentum in 280 BCE end during street fighting in the city
the Great as a military
with 25,000 men and 20 elephants of Argos. An old woman threw a tile

– these animals already commonplace down on his head from a rooftop
in battles further east, but previously and a soldier severed his unconscious

 500
unknown in Italy. At first the strength head from his shoulders.
of his cavalry and the
shock effect of his

War elephant
elephants gave him The Greeks discovered the value of war
a comfortable win elephants through their encounters with
over the Romans the armies of Persia and northern India.
at nearby Heraclea.
But the following
year, at Asculum, he
was victorious only
at the expense of huge
losses. This is the battle
that gave rise to the term
“Pyrrhic victory”.

At this point, Pyrrhus was
distracted from the struggle with
Rome by a new invitation, to
aid the Greek cities of Sicily
against the Carthaginians. He
campaigned on the island for
three years and had himself
proclaimed king of Sicily, but




■ 340 BCE Aged 16, Alexander rules
Macedon as regent in the absence of his father,
Philip II; he crushes an uprising in Thrace. BORN 356 BCE
■ 338 BCE At the battle of Chaeronea KEY CONFLICTS Conquest of Persian Empire,
Alexander heads the decisive cavalry charge Invasion of India
that leads to the defeat of Athenian and KEY BATTLES Chaeronea 338 BCE,
Theban forces by the Macedonian army.
Granicus 334 BCE, Issus 333 BCE, Gaugamela
■ 336 BCE Alexander succeeds to the (Arbela) 331 BCE, Hydaspes 326 BCE
Macedonian throne after the assassination
of his father. Arguably the most successful military
commander of all time, Alexander
■ 335 BCE He has the city of Thebes razed of Macedon conquered an empire
to the ground as a punishment for rebelling
extending from Greece to India in
against his authority.
a life that lasted a mere 32 years.
His father, Philip II, ensured that he
was blooded in war at an early age.
At the battle of Chaeronea, the key
encounter in Philip’s campaign to
establish Macedonian dominance
over the Greek city-states, the
18-year-old Alexander was awarded
command of the left wing of Philip’s
THE BATTLE OF GRANICUS line of battle. He came through the

test with flying colours, the first to

■ 334 BCE Advancing with his army into force a breach in the enemy line.
Asia, Alexander’s personal leadership wins a
victory in his first encounter with the Persians
Alexander inherited from his
at the battle of Granicus (May). father the ambitious project for an
invasion of the Persian empire. As with siege equipment in support A city founded
■ 333 BCE Advancing across Anatolia into soon as his hold on the Macedonian and supply ships shadowing the army’s The building of the Egyptian city of Alexandria,
Syria, Alexander, though vastly outnumbered, throne was secure, he campaigned in moves along the coast. At the River fancifully depicted here by a Renaissance artist,
defeats the Persian ruler, Darius III, at the was decreed by Alexander in 331 BCE. He founded
the Balkans and Greece to quell Granicus in Anatolia, Alexander 16 cities bearing his name, most of them in Asia.
battle of Issus (November).
opposition before leaving for Asia. encountered an army assembled by
■ 332 BCE To halt Persian naval operations
the local Persian governor. It was
in the Mediterranean, Alexander continues ATTACKING PERSIA nearly his last battle for, recklessly Meanwhile the Persians delivered a
south along the coast to capture their ports. Alexander’s infamous destruction of leading the cavalry charge across the potentially deadly strategic counter-
His progress is delayed by hard-fought sieges the rebellious city of Thebes was the river, he was surrounded by enemies punch, employing Greek mercenary
of Tyre and Gaza. He eventually enters Egypt, first of many examples of his ruthless and almost killed. His boldness forces to thrust through the Aegean
where he founds the city of Alexandria (331BCE).
use of terror to deter potential revolt. nonetheless carried the day. towards Greece and Macedon itself.
■ 331 BCE Marching east from Egypt into
By 334 bce he was ready to cross the The fate of the expedition looked
the heart of the Persian empire, Alexander Hellespont into Persian-ruled Anatolia, most uncertain for a time. Some of DEFEATING DARIUS
encounters Darius III for the second time at heading an army consisting of some the Greek cities of western Anatolia When Alexander’s army marched
Gaugamela (October). The Persians are routed. 40,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. proved less than enthusiastic about into Syria in the winter of 333 bce,
The expedition was carefully prepared, being liberated by Alexander’s army. it was reasonable for the Persian
■ 330 BCE Alexander occupies the Persian emperor, Darius III, to believe that
ceremonial capital, Persepolis, which is
destroyed by fire. He claims the succession
Alexander at Issus the Macedonians were falling into a
In a relief from c.320 BCE, Alexander trap, for his much larger forces were
to the Persian throne on the death of Darius.
(left) is shown wearing the advancing westwards to crush
lion’s-head helmet of his
■ 329–327 BCE Alexander campaigns in the invaders. But Alexander
”ancestor” Heracles.
Sogdiana and Bactria in central Asia, taking a was confident that if he could
Bactrian bride, Roxana. bring the Persians to battle,
he would defeat them. The two
■ 326 BCE Alexander invades northern
India and defeats Parvataka (King Porus) at the armies met on the plain at Issus.
battle of the Hydaspes (July). Alexander wishes Darius adopted a prudent defensive
to advance further into India but his veteran posture; Alexander gambled on
Macedonian troops refuse to go any further. all-out attack. The superior
He is badly wounded during the siege of aggression of the
Multan (December).
Macedonian cavalry,
■ 325 BCE Alexander sends a fleet to explore
led by Alexander in
the Persian Gulf while leading his army back person, carried the
to Persia overland. day, driving in the
Persian left flank.
■ 324 BCE Alexander faces down a mutiny Darius fled to avoid
by the Macedonian veterans at Opis. capture, his army
■ 323 BCE His constant campaigning ends
totally shattered.
when he dies of a fever in Babylon (13 June). Alexander found the whole
eastern Mediterranean opened



up to conquest. Pressing south into killed another close companion,

Egypt, he was greeted as a successor Clitus the Black, during a drunken
to the pharaohs. For most leaders argument with him.
this would surely have been the Nothing sated Alexander’s thirst
moment for consolidation after an for military adventure. In 326 bce he
already impressive triumph. Alexander invaded northern India, overcoming
thought only of total victory over stiff resistance at the battle of
Persia. He forced Darius to give Hydaspes, where the Macedonians
battle at Gaugamela (pp.22–23), learned to counter Indian war
where the Macedonian cavalry elephants. Losses in the battle
again achieved a victory were severe and, soon after,
against great numerical odds. Alexander’s army refused
to follow him any further.
RULING STYLE The soldiers forced
Alexander continued to him to turn back
campaign, asserting his along the Indus to
authority over the the sea. En route
Persian empire’s Alexander suffered
provinces further to a severe wound
the east. His relations while leading an
with his followers, attack on Malli
changed by the scale near the River
of his success, became Hydraotes.
intermittently fraught. He finally
His style of command arrived back
had always been like in Persia in
that of a tribal warband 325 bce after a
leader. He fought harrowing desert
shoulder to shoulder march unwisely
with his companions, undertaken. His
and ate and drank with Bronze weapon mind was still full of
them (the latter to excess). Dating from the 4th plans for fresh campaigns
Yet his style of leadership century BCE, this type into Arabia and north
of arrowhead would
– as an “equal” with Africa, but his body had
have been used by
senior authority – sat Alexander’s forces. repeatedly taken vicious
uneasily alongside the punishment. Scarred
triumphant Alexander’s pretensions. with the marks of his numerous
He claimed descent from the god wounds, Alexander succumbed to
Heracles and the legendary hero a fever. He died at the palace of
Achilles. There were plots, rows, and Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon
mutinies. Alexander had his second- without having secured the
in-command, Philotas, executed, and succession to his empire.



The Macedonian aristocracy formed an elite battle by the king in person. Each horseman
body of horsemen known as the Companion was equipped with a long lance and a kopis
cavalry. Numbering several thousand, they – a short curved sword – and wore a metal
formed the royal entourage and were led into cuirass and helmet. The Companion cavalry
occupied the place of honour on the right of
the line of battle, while light cavalry from
Thessaly were positioned on the left. Alexander
used the Companion cavalry as a
shock force to deliver a killer blow,
typically aiming to charge into the
flank of the enemy line and target
the centre where the opposing
commander was stationed. Godlike features
An idealized marble portrait of Alexander
A MEDIEVAL ARTIST’S IMPRESSION OF depicts him as the god Apollo. This
ALEXANDER’S COMPANION CAVALRY Roman copy is based on a Greek original,
dating from around the time of his death.

“His life was one long
dream of glory.”
Iskander (19th century) by Abai Qunanbajuly.
This Kazakh poem reflects the high, even idealized,
repute of Alexander in central Asian cultures.

H is soldiers shouted out to Alexander

leader of men. The Roman historian
Plutarch described how, during a
hard desert march, some soldiers
brought Alexander scarce water in to lead them forward boldly…

a helmet. In full view of the army

he refused to drink, declaring that he
intended to share the sufferings of
declaring that they would not regard
his men. The army responded by
proclaiming that it would follow
such a king anywhere.
themselves as weary, or thirsty, or as
Alexander thoroughly understood
the effectiveness of such theatrical mortals at all, so long as
special care with morale-building
gestures in winning the support of gestures after battles, conducting
his men when conditions were hard.
He made the ordinary soldier feel
they had such a king.
elaborate funeral ceremonies and
distributing rewards to soldiers who
that he identified with their hardships, had performed well in combat. The
while at the same time stirring their fact that he usually had wounds of The Life of Alexander (C.100 CE) by
pride with a consciously cultivated his own gave greater force to the Plutarch, which describes an incident
image as their heroic and exceptional bond between the army and its that took place during the pursuit of
leader. He is also described as taking charismatic commander. Darius III after the battle of Gaugamela.

A lexander plunged into the river with 13 cavalry squadrons.

He was now advancing through a hail of enemy missiles
towards a steep and heavily defended bank, while negotiating
The Life of Alexander (C.100 CE) by
Plutarch, in which the historian describes
the opposed crossing of the River Granicus
by Alexander and his cavalry in May 334 BCE.

a current that swept his men off their

ALEXANDER’S NATURAL PLACE in melee, and was only saved by the
feet and pulled them under. His war was at the head of his cavalry. timely intervention of a companion.
This style of command, leading from Ancient historians often criticized
leadership seemed foolhardy and the front, was imposed on him by Alexander for his impetuousness and
his society and culture. The ruler his unnecessary risk-taking, though
reckless rather than prudent. Yet he of Macedonia was the leader of a sometimes they excused these faults
warband, required to prove himself on the grounds of his relative youth.
persisted and with great effort and and dominate his followers by the Yet Alexander was also an acute
evidence of his fighting prowess. judge of the psychology of warfare,
hardship reached the opposite bank of But Alexander’s boldness went recognizing that confident boldness
beyond this basic requirement. By would usually triumph in the face of
the river, which was wet and slippery leading a charge across the River an over-cautious enemy. Shock and
Granicus, to attack an enemy in a surprise were key elements in his
with mud. He was at once forced into strong position, Alexander seriously strategy and tactics, as he wrong-
put at risk his army’s key asset: footed opponents through his speed
a chaotic battle, man against man…… himself. He was nearly killed in the and unbridled aggression.

arsenal. His campaigns in the

uch country was
to use maximum force to achieve Indus Valley in 325 BCE have been
his aims. He showed no special characterized by some historians as

distinction between civilians and

combatants. He could show mercy
wasted, so that
respect for human life and saw little “genocidal”, but to Alexander such
laying waste was no more than a
suitable punishment for those who
every spot was filled
when it was politically desirable,
but terror was also a weapon in his
resisted his progress, and a practical
means of imposing his authority.

with fire and devastation

and… the number of persons killed reached many
myriads. By the destruction of these tribes, all their
neighbours were terrified and submitted Library of History (60–30 BCE) by
Diodorus Siculus, on Alexander’s

to Alexander. crushing of the Orietae tribe during

the Indus campaign in 325 BCE.

“No mortal on earth excelled

or equalled him.” Anabasis of Alexander (2nd century CE)
by Arrian, part of the historian’s final
assessment of Alexander’s career.

 500

Defeating great beasts

In the battle of Hydaspes, fought in India in
326 BCE , Alexander triumphed over Indian
ruler Parvataka (known as King Porus),
defeating his army of war elephants.

AFTER HIS HUMILIATING DEFEAT at Issus by keen on a second battle, marched from Egypt through Syria
Alexander in 333 BCE, the Persian ruler, Darius III, to the Euphrates. Darius sent cavalry under the satrap
resolved to fight the Macedonians again and crush Mazaeus to deny him supplies and fodder in the Euphrates
them. He assembled a considerable army from his Asian valley, so Alexander had to continue northeast to the
satrapies and waited in Mesopotamia for Alexander to Tigris. Darius awaited his enemy’s much smaller army at
come to him. In the summer of 331 BCE Alexander, equally Gaugamela (near Arbela) on the far side of the river.

Macedonian triumph
ALEXANDER A 17th-century painting shows Darius, standing
terrified in his chariot, as Alexander’s troops
victories.” Instead, he adjusted his hack their way towards him.
usual dispositions – infantry phalanx
in the centre, the Companion cavalry
on the right, a light cavalry left wing
– with measures to combat a possible
envelopment. On the wings, cavalry
and skirmishers would counter any
outflanking moves and a second line

of infantry was stationed to the rear,

ready to turn about and defend the
backs of the front line. Thus prepared,
Alexander crossed the Tigris unaware Alexander slept soundly that night.
of the position or size of Darius’s
army. After four days’ march along ALEXANDER TRIUMPHS
the river, prisoners taken in a clash The following morning he brought
with Persian cavalry revealed Darius his army down on to the plain, riding
was on a plain some 10km (6 miles) at the head of the Companion cavalry
distant, hidden by intervening hills. and supported by the best of his
Alexander set up a fortified camp and infantry. He led the whole army to
spent four days preparing for battle. the right, across the face of the Persian
On the evening of 29 September line. Alexander attacked the Persian
he drew up his army and advanced left with his Companions, while the
towards Gaugamela, intending to Persian cavalry tried outflanking
attack at dawn after a night march. moves but were beaten back.
But, on reaching the crest of the hills Amid the chaos of combat, utterly
above the plain, Alexander ordered a obscured by dust rising from the
halt. Probably the sight of the Persian dry plain, Alexander next turned his
campfires, revealing the full scale of heavy cavalry, with infantry support,
his enemy’s forces, made him hesitate. to strike towards Darius in the Persian
centre. As the Persian king fled,
PREPARING FOR BATTLE Alexander’s instinct was to pursue,
After inspecting the field the next but his horsemen were needed to aid
day, Alexander finalized his plans. his forces engaged in furious combat
He rejected a night attack, an obvious on other parts of the battlefield. The
tactic for an inferior force, saying, Persian army was scattered with huge
“Alexander does not steal his casualties.Victory was total.

Evening Alexander Night Alexander halts, Daytime Alexander and a After nightfall Aided Night At a council of war
orders his army to equip abandoning his plan for contingent of Companion cavalry by his seer, Aristander, senior Macedonians recommend

for battle and marches a dawn attack ride around the battlefield to Alexander carries out a night attack, but Alexander
from the camp towards inspect it for obstacles and the necessary sacrifices rejects this and opts for battle

the enemy’s position observe the Persian dispositions to the gods the following day

331 BCE: 29 SEPT 30 SEPT

Darius waits at his chosen battlefield, Evening Darius is informed Dawn Surprised by the failure of Evening Darius orders his

while cavalry scouts under Mazaeus by Mazaeus of Alexander’s the Macedonians to press home troops to stay armed and alert Night Accompanied by his
keep watch on Alexander’s camp, approach; the scouts pull their attack, Darius sends scouts for a second night, fearing that generals, Darius tours his
10km (6 miles) distant, from a hill back and Darius readies his to observe the arrangement of the Macedonians will launch a troops and offers them
between the two armies army for battle Alexander’s line surprise night attack words of encouragement

⑥ Terrified Persians, Uncertain: probably
among them Darius, ⑤ Alexander and
flee the battlefield the Companions near Arbela in the
① Persian cavalry under
surge through gap Kurdistan region
Mazaeus attacks the
in Persian line
Macedonian left of northern Iraq
CAMPAIGN Conquest of Persian Empire
DARIUS DATE 1 October 331 BCE
FORCES Strengths disputed by historians;
Persians: perhaps 95,000, about half cavalry;
Macedonians: perhaps 50,000, including
about 8,000 cavalry
CASUALTIES Persians: up to 50,000 dead;
PARMENION ④ Macedonian Companions Macedonians: less than 1,000 dead
phalanx advances in
oblique formation ALEXANDER

KEY ③ Persian cavalry raids ② Persian cavalry

Macedonian camp tries to outflank
Macedonian cavalry
Macedonian infantry Alexander’s right wing
Macedonian camp
Persian cavalry
0 km 0.25 0.5 Darius made no effort to prevent
Persian infantry
0 miles 0.25 0.5
Alexander crossing the Tigris. He
Persian chariots N
had already chosen his battlefield, a
broad, flat expanse where his superior
forces would be able to envelop
Alexander’s shorter line on both
flanks. His dispositions were long
prepared: a line of 2,000 chariots
in front of the army, massed cavalry
forces on the wings, and Darius
himself in the centre with his
bodyguard of infantry Immortals and meant that Darius’s force ended
15 war elephants. He had the surface up staying awake and battle-ready

of the plain flattened and cleared through two tiring nights.
to aid his chariots and horsemen. Alexander’s advance to the right
Despite the ill-omen of an eclipse of as battle was joined disconcerted

the moon on 20 September, Darius Darius, who understandably rushed
believed he must win if Alexander his cavalry force left to block this

 500
attacked him in daylight. His greatest manoeuvre. This opened up a weak
fear was a surprise night attack. point left-of-centre in his line into
Informed by his cavalry scouts of which Alexander thrust, forcing his

Alexander’s every move, Darius put way ever closer to Darius himself.
his troops on full alert as soon as Whether panicked by this threat or
the Macedonians broke camp on regarding himself as a vital strategic
29 September, but Alexander’s asset, Darius rapidly fled the field,
surprising delay before giving battle abandoning his army to its fate.



Dawn Alexander wakes after Mid-morning The Alexander leads a combined Alexander prepares
a sound sleep, dons his armour Macedonians march down cavalry and infantry charge to give chase to Darius,
and rides up and down the line, into the plain. Alexander leads against the Persian centre but pulls back to aid his
exhorting his troops to fight the from the right, pressing further where Darius is positioned centre and left, which
enemy bravely to the right as he advances are in difficulties


Darius sends his cavalry further left and As the Macedonian attack Persian troops break through to the
it clashes with Alexander’s flanking units. strikes home, Darius panics, Macedonian camp but are then savaged
Mazaeus leads a strong advance on his right. abandons his army, and flees by Alexander’s cavalry and infantry. The
Darius’s chariots charge without effect the battlefield on his chariot Persian army flees the field
500 BCE – 500 CE


OME DEVELOPED one of the most efficient fighting forces

in the ancient world, its army evolving from a citizen militia

R into regular professional legions. High command was mostly

entrusted to aristocratic amateurs – powerful politicians but
only part-time soldiers, often without training or much military experience.
Despite this haphazard system, commanders as inspired as Scipio Africanus
and Julius Caesar emerged in the course of Rome’s endless warfare against
enemies ranging from Carthaginians to Parthians to Celtic tribal warriors.

Roman commanders did not lead from the front Discipline was mostly excellent and lower level
in the reckless manner of Alexander of Macedon, officers could be trusted to display resolution and
but they did generally share most of the risks and initiative. Engineering skills were at a premium,
hardships of their men. Emperor Constantius, in seen in the construction of roads and defensive
355 ce, wrote that a commander should “inspire fortifications all across the empire in peace and
by example without being rash” and “go as a war, as well as in siege works on campaign.
brave man to lead other brave men”. Strategically the Romans were bold and
Commanders directed sieges and engineering aggressive in their expansionist phase, making
works in person, as well as carrying out the ample use of terror to ensure the submission
essential religious functions of sacrifice and the of their enemies. At a later stage they adopted
reading of omens. In battle their position was just a subtle diplomatic approach, as they became
behind the front line, ready to intervene where dependent on alliances and the incorporation

troops needed encouragement or support. In the of “barbarian” troops into their fighting forces.
words of a 1st-century ce writer, the general’s

chief duty was to “show himself to those in
danger, praise the brave, threaten the cowardly, The enemies the Romans encountered – when

 500
encourage the lazy… bring aid to the wearied”. not fighting one another – were varied indeed.
Tenacity was probably the most striking quality In the 3rd century bce the Carthaginians, based
of Roman leaders. A commander might be in north Africa, challenged the rising Roman

forgiven for losing a battle after an honourable Republic in the Punic Wars, a conflict that began
fight, but he was expected to regroup his forces as a contest for control of Sicily and ended as
and renew the campaign until he eventually won. a fight to the death between two civilizations.
Extending its power next into the eastern
THE POWER OF THE LEGIONS Mediterranean, Rome proved its superiority
Fighting on horseback The close bond that often developed between to the states that had succeeded to Alexander’s
Defeats at the hands of Hannibal’s cavalry led Roman legionaries and their immediate empire, but was often beaten by the armies of
Rome to strengthen its own mounted troops.
By the 2nd century BCE its cavalry force was commander, rather than the central government, western Asia – Parthians and Sassanids – which
made up of a mixture of wealthier Roman was one of the causes of the repeated coups and depended chiefly on mounted warriors. In
citizens (equites, or knights), contingents civil wars that scarred Roman history. Power in western Europe Celtic and Germanic tribes
from Rome’s allies, and mercenaries.
the Republic and the empire ultimately rested put up stiff resistance to Rome, inflicting the
with the legions. occasional severe defeat. Mounting incursions
Tactically Roman armies were limited to a by migrating Goths,Vandals, and the fierce Huns
small range of battlefield manoeuvres drilled into eventually put the western Roman empire
the troops, enlivened by the occasional ambush. under impossible strain.

Roman sword
At the height of Rome’s power in the 1st
and 2nd centuries CE Roman centurions
used short swords like this gladius,
designed for stabbing in close combat.

IN THE 2ND CENTURY BCE the Roman War began. Carthaginian general Hannibal crossed the
Republic and Carthage – a city-state in north Alps into Italy and defeated the Romans three times in
Africa – vied for dominance of the western major battles. Yet Rome fought on. In Scipio Africanus the
Mediterranean. From 264 to 241 BCE they fought for Romans found a military genius to match Hannibal and,
control of Sicily in the First Punic War. The Romans won, in 202 BCE, forced the Carthaginians to surrender. In a
but Carthage wanted revenge. In 218 BCE the Second Punic Third Punic War Carthage was utterly destroyed in 146 BCE.

CARTHAGINIAN GENERAL these tough soldiers soon mutinied.
BORN c.270 BCE Joined by Libyans and Numidians,
DIED 228 BCE they threatened to destroy Carthage.
KEY CONFLICTS First Punic War, Hamilcar was by far the most
Mercenary War effective Carthaginian general in

KEY BATTLES Siege of Drepanum 244–241 BCE, the brutal suppression of the uprising,
The Saw 239 BCE known as the Mercenary War.
Atrocities were common on both
Father of the famous Hannibal, sides – Hamilcar is said to have
Hamilcar was the commander of executed 40,000 rebels after the
Carthaginian forces in Sicily during battle of the Saw. He spent the final
the last crucial phase of the First Punic years of his life invading Hispania
War. From 247 BCE he waged a skilful (Spain) and endowing Hannibal with
campaign with inadequate forces. He a mission of revenge against Rome.
succeeded in tying down Roman
troops around Drepanum and was
Father and son
still undefeated when a Carthaginian
The young Hannibal (in a blue sash) swears
naval catastrophe ended the war. eternal enmity to Rome as his father looks on,
Hannibal negotiated passage for his as imagined by an 18th-century artist. Few
mercenaries to Carthage but, deprived Carthaginian historical sources survive to give
of his leadership and denied their pay, a contemporary view of such events.

foragers, but refusing pitched defeat at Cannae in 216 (pp.30–31),

FABIUS CUNCTATOR battle. Understandably, his tactic probably the worst military disaster
did not satisfy most Romans, in Roman history.
ROMAN CONSUL AND DICTATOR in June 217 BCE, it was to the since it meant the army doing Fabius’s military genius was now
BORN c.280 BCE sexagenarian Fabius that the nothing while Hannibal evident to all. He was elected as a
DIED 203 BCE panicking Romans turned plundered fertile terrain. consul for the next two years, and
KEY CONFLICTS Second Punic War for leadership. He was Discontent soon found a was to play a leading role in restoring
KEY BATTLE Tarentum 209 BCE made dictator, a six-month focus in Fabius’s second-in- Roman morale and rebuilding the
appointment that carried command, Marcus Minucius army. The war against Hannibal was
Quintus Fabius Maximus, known as extraordinary powers to Rufus. After a humiliating continued by others on the lines that
Cunctator (delayer) because of his cope with an emergency. episode in which Hannibal he had laid down. Denied the chance
war strategy, was an unlikely Roman Taking command of gave Fabius the slip under of a decisive victory in battle, the
hero of the long struggle against the Roman army, Fabius cover of darkness, Minucius Carthaginians’ position weakened
Hannibal in the Second Punic War. immediately adopted restored some Roman pride over time and Rome grew stronger.
A member of Rome’s aristocratic the delaying approach with a successful attack on
elite, Fabius had a minor military for which he is famed, Carthaginian forces outside FINAL TRIUMPH
reputation won as consul in 233 BCE, shadowing Hannibal’s Gerunium. Although only a Elected consul for the third time in
when he crushed the Ligurians, a army and harassing his skirmish, it confirmed the 209 BCE, Fabius achieved a last victory
tribal people from northern Italy general opinion that Fabius in the recapture of the major southern
and southern Gaul, and drove them was the wrong man for Italian city of Tarentum, lost to
Thoughtful leader
into the Alps. the task. At the end of his Hannibal three years earlier. He never
Fabius Cunctator was an unusually
If Fabius played any part in the First mild-mannered military commander,
six-month dictatorship he was led an army again, although he did
Punic War, it has not been recorded. with a gift for long-term strategic not reappointed and his tactics later oppose Scipio’s plan to invade
But when Hannibal destroyed an thinking rather than the cut and were abandoned. The Africa – fortunately for Rome, his
army led by Consul Gaius Flaminius thrust of the battlefield. result was the caution did not prevail.


ROMAN GENERAL were at a low ebb. In just four years CAMPAIGN Second Punic War to give battle. Hannibal tried to disrupt
BORN 236 BCE he extinguished the Carthaginian DATE 202 BCE
the Roman line with his elephants, but the
DIED 183 BCE presence in Iberia. A bold and LOCATION northern Tunisia
legionaries made gaps for the beasts to pass
KEY CONFLICTS Second Punic War charismatic leader, he pursued an The climactic battle of the Second Punic War through their ranks. The Roman infantry then
KEY BATTLES Ilipa 206 BCE, Zama 202 BCE aggressive strategy, using speed of was fought on 19 October 202 BCE at Zama attacked while their cavalry swept all before
movement to put Carthaginian forces in Tunisia. Despite having many hastily trained them on the wings. When the horsemen
Publius Cornelius Scipio, known as at a disadvantage. He took their main recruits, Scipio Africanus’s army was laying returned to hit the Carthaginians from the
Scipio Africanus, was the Roman base at New Carthage by assault in a waste Carthaginian territory, forcing Hannibal rear, the battle was won for Rome.
commander who won the Second surprise attack in 209 BCE, following
Punic War. He was 17 years old up with a victory over Hannibal’s
when the war began and fought in brother, Hasdrubal Barca, at Baecula.
an army commanded by his father, The Carthaginians responded by
also called Publius Cornelius Scipio, sending reinforcements into southern
at the River Ticinus in the opening Spain. This led to the major battle of
skirmish of Hannibal’s Italian Ilipa in 206 BCE, seen as Scipio’s tactical
campaign. He came through the masterpiece. Both armies consisted
battle of Cannae unscathed,
distinguishing himself in the rallying
of survivors after the Roman
debacle, but his career remained
in the shadow of his father
until the elder Publius was
killed in 211 BCE while
on campaign in Iberia.
Scipio took over his
father’s command under
unpropitious circumstances,
for Roman fortunes in Spain

Scipio’s demise
Although one of the greatest Roman

military commanders, Scipio Africanus
was poorly rewarded for his services
to the empire, forced into retirement in WHOSE WORTH WAS INCALCULABLE.

 500
Campania by his political enemies after LIVY, HISTORY OF ROME, 9 BCE
accusations of corruption.

of troops of various origins and
capabilities. Normal policy was for
both sides to arrange their battle
lines so that like fought like. But
Scipio unexpectedly switched his
formidable legion infantry from the
centre to the wings, where they
faced the Carthaginians’ least
effective troops. Manoeuvring with
consummate skill, these legionaries
smashed the Carthaginians’ line,
moving inwards from the flanks.

With Iberia conquered, Scipio
returned to Rome a hero. He
was elected consul and given
permission to lead an army to
Africa, where he planned to
threaten Carthage. Crossing to
Tunisia, he established himself
outside the city and refused to
be driven off. This brought
Hannibal back from Italy and to
his defeat at Zama, which forced
the Carthaginians to sue for peace.
Apart from supporting his brother,
Lucius, in the defeat of Antiochus III
of Syria in 190 BCE, Scipio carried out
no further military deeds of note.

CARTHAGINIAN GENERAL extreme. Along the way Hannibal’s Hannibal on the move
BORN 247 BCE army was harried by local tribes. The This representation of Hannibal by a 16th-
DIED 182 BCE crossing of the Alps was tough for century Italian artist attempts to capture the
exoticism of a commander from Africa. The type
KEY CONFLICTS Second Punic War men and animals, especially for
of elephants he used is disputed, though they
KEY BATTLES Cannae 216 BCE, Zama 202 BCE Hannibal’s war elephants. Only a may have been a small African forest species.
fraction of the forces that had left
Hannibal Barca was introduced to Spain finally reached northern Italy.
warfare at an early age, learning A first clash at the River Ticino Numidian horsemen, who drove the
military wisdom from his father, revealed the quality of Hannibal’s Roman cavalry into flight. An aura
Hamilcar. As a youth, he fought of success began to gather about
in the Carthaginian campaigns him, and local Celtic tribesmen
in Spain, which were effectively flocked to join his forces. The
a Barca family enterprise. He Romans intended to stamp on
inherited supreme command this invasion before it went
of the army in Spain in 221 BCE. any further. They shifted an
Roman sources also tell that he army north to confront
inherited his father’s burning Hannibal at the River
desire to avenge Carthage’s Trebia, but the Roman
defeat by Rome in the First leaders were tactically
Punic War (264–261 BCE). naive and over-
Whether or not Hannibal
deliberately provoked war

with Rome by attacking the

city of Saguntum in 219 BCE,
the daring invasion of Italy
that followed was well prepared, with
the route across Gaul and over the
Alps scouted in advance. Hannibal
Punic armour
took the Romans by surprise – they This gold Carthaginian breastplate,
had assumed that he would stay in dating from around the time of Hannibal,
Spain and await their counterattack. would have been worn by a senior
The journey was hazardous in the commander for ceremonial display.


Hannibal’s force in Italy was an amalgam
of mercenaries from Carthage’s north
African allies or tributary states and from
Spain. Each group had its speciality, whether
sturdy Libyan foot soldiers, nimble Numidian
horsemen armed with javelin and spear,
slingshot skirmishers from the Balearic
Islands, or Spanish hill tribesmen with
distinctive short swords. This multicultural
array was united by a common allegiance to
its charismatic general, who was supported
by a number of lieutenants drawn from
the Carthaginian aristocracy, including
Hannibal’s own relatives.

Cavalry tactics
The encounter at the River Trebia in December TIMELINE
218 BCE was Hannibal’s first significant victory
in his Italian campaign. His cavalry played a
■ 237 BCE Nine-year-old Hannibal
major part, provoking the Romans with a
accompanies his father, Hamilcar, on campaign
succession of attacks on their boundaries.
in Spain; he reportedly vows to fight Rome
with “fire and steel”.
Hannibal drew them into an
■ 221 BCE Hannibal takes command of the
attack across the river, then crushed
Carthaginian army in Spain after the death of
their wings with his cavalry, while his brother-in-law, Hasdrubal the Fair.
concealed troops emerged to strike
the advancing Romans from the rear. ■ 219 BCE Hannibal besieges and captures
The Roman legionary infantry had the Spanish city of Saguntum, an ally of Rome;
to smash through Hannibal’s centre the Romans respond with a declaration of
war on Carthage.
and abandon the battlefield to escape
being massacred. ■ 218 BCE Marching from Spain through
The Romans failed to learn Gaul, Hannibal leads an army across the Alps
from this reverse. The following year into northern Italy. He defeats the Romans in a
Hannibal moved rapidly south into skirmish at Ticinus (November) and in a larger
Etruria. For a second time a Roman encounter at Trebia (December).
army hastened north to give battle.
■ 217 BCE Hannibal loses the sight of an eye
Hannibal selected the perfect site for through an infection. He successfully ambushes
an ambush where the road passed the army of Roman consul Flaminius at Lake
Trasimene (24 June), killing some 15,000
Roman soldiers.

OF ALL THAT BEFELL THE ROMANS ■ 216 BCE Roman forces suffer
a catastrophic defeat at
AND CARTHAGINIANS, GOOD OR Cannae (2 August), but
Hannibal chooses not
to march on Rome,
BAD, THE CAUSE WAS ONE MAN AND instead establishing
himself at Capua.

Hannibal seizes

the city of
between steep hills and the shore point onwards, Hannibal’s campaign

 500
although a
of Lake Trasimene. The Romans lost its clarity of purpose. He had Roman garrison
marched into the trap and were achieved his original objective: the holds out in
massacred as Hannibal’s army moved humiliating defeat of Rome. But its citadel.

down from the heights, catching since the Romans would not make ■ 211 BCE Hannibal BUST FOUND
them with their backs to the lake. peace, Hannibal was left to campaign advances to the walls AT CAPUA
After this crushing defeat, Fabius around southern Italy for years, of Rome but is forced
Cunctator took charge, signalling making alliances and capturing or to withdraw south after failing to break the
a change of tactics. By refusing losing cities, winning indecisive Roman siege. Capua falls to the Roman forces.
to be drawn into battle, Fabius left battles, and somehow keeping his
■ 207 BCE Hannibal’s brother, Hasdrubal,
Hannibal with the task of keeping army united. The last chance of a
leads reinforcements to join him in Italy,
his army and its animals truly decisive victory was lost when but is defeated and killed at the battle of
supplied with food and his brother, Hasdrubal, commanding the Metaurus.
fodder for an extended a fresh invading army, was killed
period in hostile territory. At in northern Italy at the battle of ■ 203 BCE Hannibal is recalled from Italy

the end of the campaigning season Metaurus. Afterwards his head was to north Africa, where Roman general Scipio
Africanus is threatening Carthage.
Hannibal faced being trapped for the thrown into Hannibal’s camp.
winter on a plain that his troops had In 203 BCE, after 16 years in Italy, ■ 202 BCE Scipio’s army defeats Hannibal
already stripped bare of supplies. He Hannibal was recalled to defend at the battle of Zama (19 October); the
escaped only by slipping past Fabius Carthage against a Roman invasion. Carthaginians are forced to accept punitive
and his army at night, reportedly He faced Scipio Africanus at Zama peace terms.
creating a diversion using cattle with an army of raw recruits, while
with torches tied to their horns. the invaluable Numidian cavalry ■ 195 BCE Forced into exile by his political
enemies in Carthage, Hannibal becomes a
were now fighting for the Romans. general in the service of Antiochus III, the
FRUITLESS VICTORY Hannibal was defeated, and Carthage Seleucid ruler of Syria.
In the summer of 216 BCE Hannibal was forced to make peace on
and the Roman leadership, eager for humiliating terms. Hannibal spent ■ 190 BCE The Romans defeat Antiochus III
battle, engaged at Cannae (pp.30–31). the remainder of his life fleeing at the battle of Magnesia; Hannibal moves on
This proved the greatest triumph of Roman vengeance around the to avoid falling into Roman hands.
Hannibal’s career, but its aftermath Mediterranean. In his last battle in
■ 182 BCE While at the court of King Prusias
has puzzled historians, for Hannibal 190 BCE, he commanded the Syrian of Bithynia, Hannibal commits suicide, taking
made no effort to occupy and fleet of Antiochus III against Rhodes. a fatal dose of poison to avoid being handed
destroy the city of Rome, although it Finally, Hannibal chose suicide rather over to the Romans.
lay open to attack. Indeed, from that than submit to Roman captivity.

LOCATION legionary infantry. He saw that this
Apulia, southeast Italy tactic offered the potential to spring
CAMPAIGN a trap. Opposite the legionaries he
Carthaginian invasion positioned Spanish and Gallic foot
of Italy, during the soldiers – fierce tribal fighters but
Second Punic Wars (218–201 BCE) no match for the Romans – in close
DATE 2 August 216 BCE combat. On each flank of these
FORCES Carthaginians c.56,000; lightly clad troops he placed his
Romans c.86,000 disciplined Libyan infantry, wearing
CASUALTIES Carthaginians c.6,000–8,000 Roman-style armour and packed
killed; Romans c.48,000 killed, c.20,000 in dense formation. Both sides had
taken prisoner their cavalry on the wings.

At the start of August 216 BCE RESOUNDING VICTORY

Hannibal’s army faced a much larger When battle was joined, the Roman
force of eight legions led by the infantry beat a path forwards into the
Roman consuls Lucius Aemilius Carthaginian centre, where Hannibal
Paulus and Gaius Terentius Varro. had positioned himself. The opposing
Hannibal had captured a key supply heavy cavalry fought on the wing next
depot at Cannae, near the River to the river, the Carthaginians under

Aufidus (Ofanto), hoping to draw Hasdrubal breaking through to the

the Romans into attacking him. Roman rear. On the other wing
The Romans needed no urging to Hannibal’s swift Numidian horsemen
give battle, confident that they were chased the cavalry of Rome’s Italian
strong enough to defeat the invader. allies from the battlefield.
The Romans still appeared to be
TAKING POSITIONS winning the battle in the centre, but
On the morning of 2 August the as the legionaries pressed forwards,
Roman forces crossed the Aufidus Hannibal ordered his Libyans to
and took up a confined position turn inwards and squeeze the now
between the river and high ground. disorganized Roman infantry from
Although Hannibal could see that the flanks. The legions were already
this might prevent his superior being crushed by this attack when
cavalry outflanking the Roman line, Hannibal’s victorious cavalry charged
he also crossed the river and formed in from the rear, completing a double
his army for combat. envelopment. Few Romans escaped
Hannibal knew that the Romans the ensuing slaughter. Hannibal’s
would try to win the battle in the battleplan passed into history and
centre through the strength of their was admired by later commanders.

0 km 0.5 1
0 miles 0.5 1

② On the left Hasdrubal

routs the Roman cavalry,
then sweeps around the

rear of the Roman lines VARRO

⑥ The densely packed

Roman infantry is encircled
and slaughtered
④ The cavalry
⑤ Carthaginian infantry of the Roman
advances to close the trap allies is driven
around the Romans from the field


HANNIBAL ① Hannibal’s infantry

adopts a crescent formation,
KEY drawing the Roman infantry

into the centre

Hannibal’s infantry

Hannibal’s cavalry ③ In the centre

Hannibal orders his
Hannibal’s camp
infantry to execute
Roman infantry a controlled retreat
Roman cavalry
Roman camp Cannae

 500

A medieval view of Cannae

This 15th-century manuscript illustration
shows the combatants in medieval armour
but gives a realistic impression of the
closeness and brutality of the fighting.


DURING THE 1ST CENTURY BCE Rome political transformation was brought about through an
completed the transition from a citizen militia intermittent series of civil wars. The victor in the Roman
to an army of career soldiers recruited from the power struggles looked to be Julius Caesar until his rule
Roman poor. It also changed from a Republic headed was cut short by assassination in 44 BCE. It fell to his
by elected officials into a state governed by an emperor, successor, Octavian, to found the imperial system as
whose power rested ultimately upon the legions. This Emperor Augustus in 27 BCE.

of the great end Sulla and

MARIUS weight of
their packs.
Marius, each backed
by their loyal
ROMAN GENERAL confirmed when he saved Rome In the Social soldiers, fell into
BORN 157 BCE from a barbarian invasion by the War (91–88 bce) dispute over who
DIED 87 BCE Cimbri and Teutones, with victories against Rome’s should command
KEY CONFLICTS Jugurthine War, War against at Aquae Sextae and Vercellae. Marius rebellious Italian a potentially lucrative
the Cimbri and Teutones, Social War was noted as a commander who allies, Marius was campaign in Asia. Sulla

KEY BATTLES Aquae Sextae 102 BCE, shared the hardships of his troops on eclipsed by the rising seized military control of
Vercellae 101 BCE campaign. At Aquae Sextae he led his star Sulla. At the war’s Rome, then left for Asia,
army into battle sword in hand – after which Marius took
Born into an obscure provincial unusual for a Roman commander. the city with his army.
family, Marius made his reputation in He encouraged recruitment from the Marius brought rigour
He died soon after, but
the war against the Numidian king, poor, stressing professional training, to the Roman army and the power struggle
Jugurtha, in north Africa between fitness, and endurance. His men were campaigned relentlessly between Sulla’s allies
107 and 105 bce. His renown was known as “Marius’s mules” because in defence of Rome. and enemies continued.

Pompey did not try to defend Rome Presentation to Caesar

POMPEY but withdrew across the Adriatic to After Pompey was assassinated in
Egypt in 48 BCE, the perpetrators
Macedonia. There he unwisely gave
presented his severed head and his
ROMAN GENERAL much of the credit for crushing battle at Pharsalus and was routed. seal to Julius Caesar (shown here
BORN 106 BCE Spartacus’s slave revolt. Pompey was He fled to Egypt but, as he landed, wearing Egyptian dress). In
DIED 48 BCE made consul alongside Crassus the he was assassinated on the orders of response Caesar had the
KEY CONFLICTS Spartacus’s War, Third following year and became a popular Ptolemy, who feared Caesar’s wrath if assassins executed.
Mithridatic War, Roman Civil Wars hero. He confirmed his reputation by he gave refuge to the fleeing general.
KEY BATTLES Dyrrachium 48 BCE, clearing the Mediterranean of pirates
Pharsalus 48 BCE in an organized, wide-ranging naval
campaign in 67–66 bce. This was
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus is known followed by four years’ campaigning
as Pompey the Great, a name that in Asia. There he crushed Rome’s
reflects his high ambition and superior long-term enemy King Mithridates
military skills. Although from a rich of Pontus and took Jerusalem.
family, Pompey displayed the dynamic
opportunism of a self-made man. RISE AND FALL
Sulla’s return from Asia in 83 bce Returning to Rome in 61 bce,
reignited civil war with Marius’s Pompey celebrated a spectacular
former supporters. Pompey raised an triumph that marked the zenith
army at his own expense and led it of his fame. He then ceased
vigorously in support of Sulla. With campaigning, settling down
Sulla installed as dictator in Rome, to a commanding role in
Pompey’s reward was to command Roman politics as one of a
first in Sicily and then in north Africa, triumvirate with the wealthy
suppressing opposition to the regime. Crassus and junior partner
After Sulla’s retirement in 80 bce, Julius Caesar. The death
Pompey remained an active supporter of Crassus in 53 bce and
of the status quo against various the rise of Caesar through
revolts. For five years he campaigned his victories in Gaul set
in Spain, defeating the forces of the the scene for renewed
rebel general Sertorius. He returned civil war.When Caesar
to Italy in 71 bce in time to take invaded Italy in 49 bce,

Augustus in glory
AUGUSTUS The Gemma Augustea, a cameo carved for
Augustus, shows him as Jupiter, with the
ROMAN EMPEROR god’s emblematic eagle at his feet. On his
right sits the goddess Roma.
BORN 23 September 63 BCE
DIED 19 August 14 CE
KEY CONFLICTS Roman Civil Wars Octavian’s increasing rivalry with
KEY BATTLES Philippi 42 BCE, Actium 31 BCE Antony culminated in a public quarrel
in 33 bce and the triumvirate ended
Known as Octavian in his youth, the the next year. His conduct of the
Emperor Augustus was the adopted civil war after Antony and Cleopatra’s
son of Julius Caesar. Only 19 years defeat at Actium and the annexation
old when Caesar was killed in 44 of Egypt in 30 bce showed implacable
bce, Octavian was not expected to willpower, organizational ability, and
prove a major player in the ensuing a clear grasp of overall strategy.
power struggle. In 43 bce he
formed the second triumvirate (an A NEW TITLE
alliance of three men) with Marcus Republican forms were kept up, but,
Aemilius Lepidus and Caesar’s in effect, this victory made Octavian
right-hand man, Mark Antony. sole ruler of the Roman empire. He
His decision to join Antony in his was awarded the title “Augustus”,
campaign to avenge Caesar’s death meaning “revered” In 27 BCE.
put him in a subordinate role. When Augustus’s throne had been won
the pair faced Caesar’s assassins, Brutus in war and rested on the support of
and Cassius, at Philippi in 42 BCE, his the army. He turned the legions into
military inexperience was only too permanent formations with a strong
evident. He escaped capture when his THE TWO FAULTS THAT AUGUSTUS sense of identity, while ensuring they
camp was overrun by Brutus, but put were mostly employed far from Rome
up a determined defence while CONDEMNED MOST STRONGLY IN A and were well rewarded. Augustus’s
Antony routed the enemy. four decades of absolute rule brought
Over the following years Octavian’s MILITARY COMMANDER WERE HASTE expansion of the Roman empire and
ruthlessness and single-minded pursuit much fighting at the periphery, but

of power proved more crucial than AND RECKLESSNESS. he no longer campaigned in person.
his command skills, which could be SUETONIUS, THE TWELVE CAESARS, 121 CE However, this did not stop him taking
supplied by deputies such as Agrippa. credit for his legions’ victories.

 500
which hurled a grappling iron. the blockade of Antony and
AGRIPPA In 36 bce Octavian led an army Cleopatra at Actium, winning a
to Sicily, backed by Agrippa’s fleet. decisive victory. He continued to

ROMAN GENERAL AND ADMIRAL Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was a close Sextus sent out his own fleet to give serve Augustus to the end of his life,
BORN c.63 BCE companion of Octavian (the future battle, but Agrippa outmanoeuvred fighting in campaigns that stretched
DIED 12 BCE Emperor Augustus) from childhood. him and trapped him against the across the far-reaching corners of the
KEY CONFLICTS Roman Civil Wars A more gifted combat commander shore at Naulochus. Sextus’s fleet was empire – against the Cantabrians in
KEY BATTLES Naulochus 36 BCE, than Octavian, Agrippa was his almost totally destroyed. Agrippa went Spain, the Cimmerians in Crimea,
Actium 31 BCE right-hand man during the wars that on to command Octavian’s ships in and the Pannonians on the Danube.
followed Caesar’s death. He initially
campaigned on land, but in 37 bce
the threat posed by Sextus Pompeius,
youngest son of Pompey the Great, ACTIUM
turned him into a naval commander. CAMPAIGN Roman Civil War battle raged, Cleopatra was able to slip away
DATE 2 September 31 BCE to sea with her treasure-laden transport ships.
A SUPERIOR FLEET LOCATION Ionian Sea, off Western Greece
Antony abandoned the battle to join her,
Based in Sicily, Sextus had control The battle of Actium was the climax of the leaving his warships to be harried into
of the Roman fleet, which he used struggle between Mark Antony and Octavian surrender. Octavian pursued the fugitives
to blockade the Italian coast. Agrippa for control of the Roman world. Forces to Egypt, where both committed suicide.
responded by turning Lake Avernus commanded by Antony and the Egyptian
(near present-day Naples) into a naval queen, Cleopatra, were blockaded by Octavian
base, linked to the sea by a canal. In on land and by Agrippa at sea.
this safe harbour he built a new fleet Running short of supplies,
and trained crews in the use of heavy Antony led his fleet out of
on-board artillery, including rock- harbour in an attempt to
throwing catapults and the arpex, break through the
blockade and forge a
Thoughtful commander
passage to Egypt, but
Busts of Agrippa show a stern, resolute, Agrippa’s nimble war
and reflective commander. His loyalty to galleys savaged
Octavian and his devotion to duty never Antony’s larger
wavered, and he adapted his battle skills quinqueremes. As
to naval warfare with seeming ease.

Glorious Caesar
This 18th-century neoclassical statue of
Caesar reflects his status at that time as an
inspiration to European kings and generals.
He is crowned with a laurel wreath, symbol KEY BATTLE
of military triumph. BORN 13 July 100 BCE
KEY CONFLICTS Gallic Wars, Roman Civil War CAMPAIGN Roman Civil War
KEY BATTLES Alesia 52 BCE, Pharsalus 48 BCE, DATE 9 August 48 BCE
Zela 47 BCE, Thapsus 46 BCE LOCATION Thessaly, Greece

According to Caesar’s biographer, At Pharsalus Caesar defeated his great rival

Plutarch, the general was “the equal, Pompey despite being heavily outnumbered.
as a soldier and a leader of men, of He used his infantry against Pompey’s
any commander that has ever been”. cavalry, ordering them to thrust their spears
Born into a patrician (elite) family in into the horsemen’s faces. This routed the
Rome, as a young man Caesar served cavalry and was followed by a vigorous and
with the Roman army in Asia, but decisive infantry push that drove the
he was not driven by purely military Pompeians from the field.
ambitions. He came to generalship as
an essential element in a high-flying
Roman political career. In 59 BCE, on
the back of a successful governorship
in Spain, Caesar was elected consul
and persuaded by the two most
powerful men in Rome, Pompey
and Crassus, to join them in
an unofficial triumvirate

dominating Roman
politics. The following
year he was
appointed Rhine. In 55 and 54 BCE he even
proconsul sailed across the Channel in punitive
responsible for raids on the Celtic tribes of Britain.
territories that These campaigns were his personal
included Transalpine Gaul (roughly project – he had no mandate from
present-day France and Belgium). It Rome to wage aggressive war in Gaul.
was an appointment that promised Part of his motivation was financial.
glory and profit, an opportunity that The plunder enabled him to pay off
Caesar grasped to the full. his immense debts and to reward the
loyalty of his legionaries. But Caesar
A GROWING POWER also wanted to build a reputation as
Rome ruled only the south of an outstanding general to bolster a
Gaul, protecting its interests through future claim to political power, and
alliances with the Celtic tribes that he wrote eloquent memoirs of his
controlled the rest. These tribes were campaigns. However, his victories
often at war with one another and were accompanied by massacres and
with Germanic tribes pressing from enslavement – a deliberate use of
the east. It was a fluid situation that terror to subdue resistance.
provided Caesar with pretexts for
piecemeal military intervention that GALLIC DEFIANCE
in time built up into a full-scale The Gauls responded to the mounting
campaign of conquest. threat to their independence with
In his first year as proconsul, Caesar large-scale revolts. In the winter of
defeated the Helvetii, a tribe that was 54–53 BCE an uprising of the Belgic
trying to migrate from Switzerland, tribes led to desperate fighting.
and crushed Germanic forces led Caesar then confronted the even
across the Rhine by the warrior-king larger revolt of an alliance led by
Ariovistus. In the ensuing years Caesar Vercingetorix of the Averni tribe.
extended his military operations ever With no real superiority over the
wider, from the Atlantic to the Gauls, Caesar needed outstanding



Roman crested helmet in disengaging

Caesar’s legions would have worn helmets like
this bronze replica, which has guards to protect
to march off into TIMELINE
northern Greece, but
the cheeks. Roman helmets had a horse-hair
crest for decoration or to denote rank.
his situation looked ■ 80 BCE Serving with the Roman army in
desperate. Instead of Asia, Caesar is awarded the Civic Crown for
maintaining a policy bravery during the siege of Mytilene.
of attrition, however, Pompey
qualities to gain victory – speed of allowed himself to be tempted into a ■ c.72 BCE Caesar is elected as a military
tribune and possibly even serves against
movement, calculated risk-taking, decisive pitched battle at Pharsalus in
Spartacus in the Slave War.
endurance, and the ability to Thessaly, where Caesar’s superior
motivate his men under pressure. generalship carried the day. Even ■ 61–60 BCE Caesar is sent to govern part
After the siege of Alesia in 52 BCE, Pompey’s subsequent death in of Spain, where he carries out punitive actions
Gallic resistance was crushed. Egypt did not bring an end to against local tribes.
By 49 BCE, when his extended either the civil war or Caesar's
■ 59 BCE Caesar is appointed consul,
10-year proconsulship drew to campaigning. Caesar fought in
forming a political alliance of three men (the
an end, Caesar controlled Gaul Egypt to aid Queen Cleopatra, triumvirate), with Crassus and Pompey.
as a celebrated commander of who became his mistress, in her
loyal, battle-hardened legions. struggle to take the throne. He
He was in a strong position to crushed Pharnaces, king of Pontus,
claim high political office. But at the battle of Zela, which gave rise
in Rome, Pompey, the only man to his famous boast: “Veni,Vidi,Vici”
to rival Caesar’s reputation as a (“I came, I saw, I conquered”). In the
general, was plotting his downfall protected by a north African expedition against the
with the Senate’s backing. When large fleet. It was an Pompeians in 46 BCE, a desperate
Caesar led troops across the River intelligent move that forced Caesar struggle to establish an army on land
Rubicon, the border with Gaul, he to take an outrageous risk to recover ended in triumph at the battle of
was raising the standard of revolt. the momentum of his campaign. In Thapsus. Caesar regarded his final
January 48 BCE he ferried part of his victory over Pompey’s son at Munda COIN SHOWING CAPTURED GALLIC ARMS
FACING POMPEY army across to Macedonia. He could in Spain in 45 BCE as possibly the
Pompey boasted that he could easily not rely on supplying or reinforcing hardest-won of his career. ■ 58 BCE Made proconsul of Gaul, Caesar
recruit enough legions to crush the his men by sea against an enemy defeats the Celtic Helvetii at Bibracte and the
intruder, but Caesar was aggressive with naval superiority. Pinned down Germanic Ariovistus at the Vosges.

and decisive. In a lightning two- by six months of attritional warfare Assassination of Julius Caesar
Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March ■ 57 BCE Caesar defeats the Belgic Nervii
month campaign he occupied the outside the port of Dyrrachium, (15 March) in 44 BCE by a group of republican tribe at the battle of the Sambre.
whole of Italy. Pompey withdrew Caesar’s legions were weakened by

senators outraged by his adoption of the post
across the Adriatic to Macedonia, intermittent fighting, food shortages, of dictator-for-life. The assassination triggered ■ 55 BCE Caesar bridges the Rhine for the
where he could build up his forces and disease. In July Caesar succeeded a fresh round of civil wars.

 500
first time. He also mounts an expedition across
the English Channel to land in Kent.

■ 54 BCE A second, larger-scale invasion of

Britain reaches north of the River Thames, but
fails to establish a permanent Roman presence.

■ 53 BCE Crassus is killed at Carrhae while

invading Parthia, terminating the triumvirate.

■ 52 BCE Vercingetorix leads a rebellion of

Gallic tribes; Caesar is checked at Gergovia
but triumphs at the siege of Alesia.

■ 49 BCE Caesar crosses the Rubicon into

Italy, initiating a civil war against Pompey.

■ 48 BCE Crossing the Adriatic, Caesar is

worsted at Dyrrachium but crushes Pompey
at the battle of Pharsalus. Caesar pursues
Pompey to Egypt, where the latter is killed.

■ 47 BCE Caesar secures the Egyptian throne

for Cleopatra VII; he also defeats Pharnaces,
king of Pontus, at the battle of Zela.

■ 46 BCE A military expedition to Tunisia

almost ends in disaster at Ruspina, but Caesar
recovers to defeat Pompey’s supporters at the
battle of Thapsus.

■ 45 BCE Caesar achieves his final victory

over supporters of Pompey at Munda in Spain;
he becomes dictator-for-life.

■ 44 BCE Caesar is assassinated in Rome as

he prepares to embark on a campaign against
the Dacians and Parthians.

“He inspired an incredible
loyalty and affection in
his troops.”
The Life of Caesar (C.110 CE) by Plutarch.
The Greek historian contrasts Caesar with
Alexander the Great in Parallel Lives.

Caesar crosses the Rubicon

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BCE
he committed treason. A law prohibited any
general from traversing the stream with an
army – to do so made war inevitable.

The Twelve Caesars (121 CE) by Suetonius
t is a disputable point which was the more remarkable opens with a biography of Julius Caesar that
includes an analysis of his military strengths
when he went to war: his caution or his daring… and weaknesses.

Sometimes he fought after careful tactical planning,

sometimes on the spur of the moment –
THE EXAMPLES THAT SUETONIUS before attempting his first crossing
at the end of a march, often, or in offers of Caesar’s caution include, of the English Channel. To exemplify
in general, his use of reconnaissance Caesar’s daring, Suetonius tells how
miserable weather, when he would to avoid falling into ambushes, and the general crossed enemy lines in
in particular his careful gathering of disguise to join Roman troops in
be least expected to make a move. e information about British harbours Germany besieged by tribal warriors.

the battle fight in improvised formation

s the situation was
of the Sabis in which Caesar routed around their standards. The Nervii
the Belgian Nervii tribe on the were defeated with heavy losses.

While making camp, the legions

were surprised and nearly overrun
critical and no
banks of the River Sambre in 57 BCE. Caesar would not usually expect to
find himself in the front line of a
battle, but it was normal for him
reserves were available,
by tribal warriors attacking out of
the forest. Caesar and his legion
to be close behind, encouraging the
troops by his presence and urging
commanders rallied their men to them to give their best.
Caesar snatched a
shield from a soldier [and] made his way into the
front line… His coming gave them fresh heart

and hope; each man wanted to do his best under

the eyes of the commander-in-chief,

 500
Commentaries on the Gallic Wars
(C. 50 BCE) by Julius Caesar. Caesar wrote

however desperate the peril. his account of his campaigns in Gaul in

the third person.

A PHYSICAL CLASH BETWEEN a gritty intimacy of shared effort

I f Caesar’s troops gave ground he

would often rally them single-handedly,
catching individual fugitives by the
commander and a fleeing soldier
was not surprising given Caesar’s
relationship with his troops. This
was not a relationship distanced by
formal hierarchy, as was the case in
and hardship on campaign. Caesar
impressed the legionaries with
his physical endurance as well as
his mental qualities. When they
mutinied, as sometimes happened
other military forces, but had the during the civil war, he faced
throat and forcing them round to face them down in person. He always
addressed his troops as “comrades”,
the enemy again, even if they were The Twelve Caesars (121 CE) by Suetonius rather than as “soldiers”, to
is possibly here referring to an incident emphasize his identification with
panic-stricken…… during a clash at Ruspina in 46 BCE. these rough and rugged men.

“Caesar was powerful in

speech and action, audacious
in every way.” The Civil Wars (C.150 CE) by Appian.
A Greek born in Alexandria, Egypt, Appian
wrote extensively on Roman history.


IN 52 BCE ROMAN PROCONSUL Julius Caesar Romans on the march went desperately wrong. The
quashed a rebellion of tribes in Gaul led by discomfited Gauls sought safety on another unassailable
Vercingetorix, a chieftain of the Arverni. A Roman hilltop at Alesia. The setback at Gergovia had taught
attack on Vercingetorix’s principal forces at the hill fort of Caesar not to risk a frontal assault again. Instead, as he
Gergovia had ended in a sharp defeat for Caesar’s army. himself recorded, he laid siege to Vercingetorix’s army in
But a subsequent attempt by Vercingetorix to harass the order to starve the Gauls into submission.

Proud surrender
JULIUS CAESAR According to Plutarch, the defeated
Vercingetorix emerged from Alesia “on
skills as a battlefield commander. The horseback, wearing his most splendid armour
and with his horse richly caparisoned”. Julius
general and his legionaries had been Caesar accepted the surrender of the Gauls
placed on the defensive, and yet while seated in front of his camp.
Caesar’s approach was positive and
aggressive at all times. Every attack
from Vercingetorix’s men was met
with a savage counterattack.
As the conflict raged, Caesar

would ride to a high point within

the lines so that he could survey the
progress of the fighting. He would
Caesar’s legionaries excelled in the spot where trouble was developing
construction of field fortifications, but and direct his officers to lead reserves
the scale of the work he required of to strengthen those units that were
them to enclose the hill at Alesia was under the greatest pressure.
exceptional. About 18km (11 miles)
of ditch and earth-and-timber SURPRISE ASSAULT
ramparts were built, modified, and By his own account, at the climax
strengthened, under the general’s of the battle on 2 October, Caesar
instructions, to include turrets and headed a counterattack in person.
booby traps such as concealed The general gathered a force of
sharpened stakes. infantry and cavalry from a quiet
Caesar ordered a second, outer line sector of his siege line and led these
built to defend against a Gallic relief troops to the decisive point in the
force launching a counterattack. combat, his distinctive scarlet cloak
This was even longer, at around proclaiming his presence to friend
21km (13 miles). Between the lines and foe alike.
Caesar accumulated supplies for his To coincide with his attack, Caesar
forces, in anticipation of his besiegers ordered a second cavalry detachment
becoming the besieged. to ride around the outer siege line
and mount a surprise attack on the
STRONG LEADERSHIP enemy’s rear. The Gauls were put to
Once the Gallic relief force arrived, flight, suffering heavy losses under
the combats were fought along both dogged Roman pursuit. The
sides of the line and gave Caesar the following day Caesar accepted
chance to demonstrate his superb Vercingetorix’s surrender.

Caesar orders his men Caesar begins construction of Caesar places his infantry
to begin construction an outer ring of fortifications to on the defensive and sends

of a fortified siege line defend against the probable out his cavalry to conduct a
around Alesia return of Vercingetorix’s cavalry successful spoiling attack on

with a Gallic relief force the Gallic relief force

52 BCE 28 SEPT 29 SEPT 30 SEPT–1 OCT


Vercingetorix observes the arrival of the Night The Gallic relief

Vercingetorix sends away his Vercingetorix executes a Gallic relief force outside the Roman force launches an attack, but
Vercingetorix positions his cavalry by night to escape the collective decision to remove lines and places his men in forward Vercingetorix is slow to join
army outside the hill town siege, finding their way through women, children, and the positions, ready for a coordinated in engaging the Romans and
of Alesia, fortifying his camp the incomplete Roman line elderly from the town assault on the Roman defences the attack is repulsed

N ⑤ Gauls nearly Near Dijon,
③ Gauls discover weak point break through, but
in Caesar’s fortifications and east-central France

t in
are defeated by bu
attack en masse Roman cavalry Ra
④ Vercingetorix leads
Cavalry assault from inside the Caesar’s Gallic Wars
fortifications DATE July–October 52 BCE
⑥ Gallic army CAESAR
retreats in confusion, FORCES Romans: 45,000; Gauls: unknown
pursued by the Command CASUALTIES No reliable estimates
Romans. Many are camp
killed in the rout Cavalry
Cavalry Alesia Ose







① Caesar builds
② Roman troops
Roman siegeworks complete second set of fortifications
Roman fort/watchtower fortifications to counter around hilltop
the Gallic relief force town of Alesia
Roman camp
Gallic forces 0 km 1
efforts, however, and he prepared his
Gallic fortifications 0 miles 1
men for an assault on the Roman
fortifications by making ladders and
grappling hooks. But the besieged
Gauls had no effective means of
communicating with their relief
force commanders. When warriors
outside the fortifications mounted
a night attack,Vercingetorix’s men
inside the siege lines were as taken
by surprise as the Romans.
Vercingetorix at first used his cavalry
to harass the Romans as they built TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

their siege line, but in clashes with The Gauls’ major effort came on
Caesar’s horsemen the Gauls came off 2 October. As the relief force massed
much the worse. The chieftain then against the weakest point in the

dispatched his mounted warriors to Roman defences – a poorly sited
slip through the enemy line and ride camp – Vercingetorix dispersed his

 500
to their various tribes to seek help. men cleverly to overstretch the
The waiting period that followed defenders by pressing at many points
was desperate, with food supplies along the inner line. But even when

dwindling rapidly while the Roman they penetrated the fortifications, the
fortifications became ever stronger. Gauls could not hold on to their
The eventual appearance of a relief gains. The rout of the relief force
army outside the siege lines left Vercingetorix no option but to
stimulated Vercingetorix to fresh surrender the next day.



Caesar orders his officer Labienus to Caesar first sends subordinates Caesar directs a counter- Caesar orders his
reinforce the sector under attack from to repel Vercingetorix’s attack against the Gallic cavalry to mount
the relief force. He tours his inner incursion and then leads relief force. After fierce a pursuit of the
defensive positions urging the men reinforcements there in person. fighting the relief force is fleeing remnants
to resist Vercingetorix’s onslaught The Gauls are driven back repulsed with heavy losses of the relief force


12 Noon The relief force Vercingetorix changes his point

attacks a weak point in the of attack, concentrating on lightly
Roman line. Vercingetorix held sectors protected by steep Seeing the relief force
orders his men to sortie en slopes. His men penetrate the defeated, Vercingetorix pulls Vercingetorix rides down
masse to engage the Romans Roman defensive lines his men back into the town from Alesia to surrender
Emperor in action
Trajan’s Column was built in 113 CE to
celebrate the emperor’s conquest of Dacia.
Sculpted scenes show Trajan leading troops
and supervising legionaries and auxiliaries.


THE ROMAN EMPIRE REACHED its territorial civil wars between ambitious individuals with a following
limits during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, with among the legions. To defend the far-flung borders it
the Roman army showing ruthless professionalism became necessary to sacrifice unity and divide rule between
in the suppression of revolt and the expansion of frontiers. two or more emperors. The absorption of “barbarian”
But the military forces also intervened in Roman political Germanic tribes into Roman forces postponed the fall,
life, and from the 3rd century the empire was racked by but by 476 the empire in the west was at an end.

ROMAN GENERAL AND EMPEROR The capture of Jerusalem
BORN 30 December 39 CE This 15th-century Flemish portrayal of Titus’s
DIED 13 September 81 CE taking of Jerusalem shows the Romans as
armoured knights terrorizing the local people.
KEY CONFLICTS Roman Civil War,
Jewish Revolt
KEY BATTLE Siege of Jerusalem 70 CE Jerusalem, employing classic Roman
tactics. He rode forward in person
Titus Flavius Vespasianus saw military to reconnoitre the walls, led reserves

service in both Germany and Britain. to counter sorties by the defenders,

Aged 27, he accompanied his father, and terrorized his opponents by
the General Vespasian, to suppress a crucifying prisoners within sight of
revolt in the Roman province of the beleaguered city.When it fell,Titus
Judaea. When Emperor Nero died in ordered wholesale destruction of the
68 CE, there was a brief civil war from city, and slaughtered the population.
which Vespasian emerged victorious. After Jerusalem Titus was granted
He was declared emperor in 69. a triumph in Rome and an arch was
With his father now ruler, Titus erected in his honour. Titus briefly
was left to pacify Judaea alone. At the succeeded his father as emperor
head of four legions he laid siege to before his early death, aged 42.

Enemy weapon
TRAJAN Trajan’s enemies would have favoured
double-edged, ring-pommelled daggers
ROMAN EMPEROR campaigns in Dacia, an area like this Sarmatian weapon. The
wooden scabbard has oxidized, but
BORN 18 September 53 CE east of the Danube ruled by
the decorative gold mountings and
DIED 8 August 117 CE the warlike Decebalus. semi-precious stones have survived.
KEY CONFLICTS Dacian Wars, The first campaign inflicted
Parthian Campaign sharp punishment on the
KEY BATTLES Sarmizegetusa 106 CE, Dacians, who sued for peace. But for bravery, and accepting the
Ctesiphon 116 CE Decebalus broke the peace terms severed heads of his foe laid at his
and on the second campaign feet in tribute. Roman historian,
Although Trajan was born in Spain, Trajan achieved the total conquest Cassius Dio, emphasizes that
his father became a Roman senator of Dacia – including its “he always marched on foot
and he was brought up as part of the capital, Sarmizegetusa – with the rank and file of
Roman ruling elite. He showed an the death of its leaders, the army… and he forded
early aptitude for the military life and the enslavement or all the rivers that they did.”
and distinguished himself as a legion massacre of its population. Trajan returned to active
commander campaigning on the campaigning late in life, heading
Danube. His reputation as a general WAR MEMORIAL east to lead a large-scale invasion
led the army to support his adoption Trajan’s Column was erected of Parthia in 114 CE. He first
as heir to the imperial throne, which in Rome to commemorate annexed Armenia and pushed
fell to him in 98 CE on the death of his victory over the Dacians. further, taking the Parthian
Emperor Nerva. Between 101 and The monument’s scenes capital, Ctesiphon, and occupying
106 Trajan carried out two major depict him accompanying the the area in 116–17 CE. The
legions, drawing up plans with occupation did not last as Trajan
his senior officers, supervising faced a series of revolts in Parthia
Strengthening the empire
Trajan’s effect on the empire’s infrastructure
engineering works such as and internally. He died of natural
was total. He realized a vast building programme bridge-building, directing causes at Cilicia, returning from
in Rome and the provinces, creating new roads, sieges, carrying out religious the campaign, having extended
bridges, and aqueducts. ceremonies, rewarding soldiers Roman power to its limits.

young scion of the reigning imperial of confederate tribes at Argentoratum

JULIAN family, was declared Caesar (junior (present-day Strasbourg) in 357, he
emperor) in Gaul in 355. carried off a hard-won victory
ROMAN EMPEROR Julian faced an emergency on the against the numerical odds.
BORN c.332 Rhine frontier, where Germanic Julian was proclaimed Augustus
DIED 26 June 363 tribes, the Alamanni, were raiding (senior emperor) in 360 by his men,
KEY CONFLICTS Defence of the Rhine, deep into Roman territory. During who lifted him up on their shields.
Invasion of Persia 356–359 he led a series of punitive Fortunately, the ruling emperor,
KEY BATTLES Argentoratum 357, expeditions against them. When the Constantius, died before Julian was
Ctesiphon 363 Alamannic king, Chnodomarius, obliged to uphold his claim by civil
confronted him with a large army war. Sole ruler of the empire, in 363
By the 4th century CE the Roman he launched a campaign against the
empire could only be governed Sasanian Shapur II, invading Persia
Pagan ruler
and defended by dividing imperial Emperor Julian is known as the Apostate
with an army of over 80,000 and
power between several emperors, because during his short reign he sought to advancing to the capital, Ctesiphon.
each with regional responsibilities. de-Christianize the Roman empire, reversing He was forced to withdraw and was
Flavius Claudius Julianus, a fresh Emperor Constantine’s religious policy. killed fighting off enemy skirmishers.

ROMAN GENERAL emerged as military commander of
BORN c.358 the western empire, dominating the
DIED 22 August 408 ineffectual Honorius. The rest of
KEY CONFLICTS Roman Civil War, Roman- Stilicho’s life was a desperate struggle
Visigothic War to halt the breakdown of the empire.
KEY BATTLES Frigidus 394, Pollentia 402 Stilicho’s bitterest enemy was the
Visigoth warlord, Alaric. The Visigoths,
Flavius Stilicho rose to prominence a Germanic tribe, had fought with
under Emperor Theodosius I, ruler of Stilicho as allies of Theodosius at
the eastern half of the Roman empire. Frigidus, but after the battle Alaric

Stilicho’s father was a Vandal (of turned to plundering the empire
Germanic descent), but Stilicho rather than serving it. Stilicho led
himself was thoroughly Romanized an army into Thrace to confront

and made a prominent place for the Visigoths and defeated them in
himself at Theodosius’s court in Macedonia in 397. Four years later,

 500

Constantinople, even marrying into allied with the Ostrogoths under

the imperial family. His role as a their leader Radagaisus, Alaric
military commander dated from 392. invaded Italy. Stilicho gathered an
That same year Arbogast, the Frankish army in Gaul and in spring 402 led it
general in charge of the imperial across the Alps to attack the two tribes,
forces in the western empire, placed who had placed Emperor Honorius
his own candidate on the throne in under siege. At Pollentia Stilicho was
Rome. Stilicho organized and trained victorious, driving Alaric out of Italy.
an army for Theodosius, who led the But Stilicho was powerless to stop
force to Italy in 394, defeating the tribal invasions and military
Arbogast at the battle of Frigidus. revolts that swept through the western
empire from 406. He was deposed by
BARBARIAN INVASION his enemies, and in 408 captured by
The victory at Frigidus allowed Honorius and executed. Two years
Theodosius to reunite the eastern and later Alaric’s Visigoths sacked Rome.
western halves of the empire, although
they were again divided between his Stilicho the soldier
sons, Arcadius and Honorius, on his This resin replica carving may depict Stilicho.
death the following year. Stilicho, He holds the traditional arms of a Roman soldier
who had performed well at the battle, of the late empire – a spear and an oval shield.

THE INHABITANTS OF NORTH-WESTERN Resistance mostly failed not because of military inferiority
Europe encountered the Romans as ruthless but because of disunity – Celtic or Germanic warriors
conquerors, expanding through Gaul to Britain were as likely to fight for the Romans as against them. By
by 43 CE. The Celts and Germans were warlike peoples the 5th century CE, swamped by tribal migrations from the
and they produced leaders capable of taking on the east, Rome’s western empire had become a bloated target
Romans, who were by no means always victorious. to be preyed on rather than a dominant force to be feared.

defended; the Romans captured

VERCINGETORIX it after a siege and massacred its
inhabitants.Vercingetorix himself felt
GALLIC TRIBAL CHIEF conflict with the cautious Arverni bound to stand and fight when the
BORN c.82 BCE tribal leaders, who expelled him from Romans threatened Gergovia, and
DIED 46 BCE their key town, Gergovia, to avoid here Caesar suffered a rare defeat.
KEY CONFLICTS Gallic Revolt angering the Romans.Vercingetorix Vercingetorix showed unusual
KEY BATTLES Gergovia 52 BCE, Alesia 52 BCE amassed a band of followers, returned control over his forces, preventing
to Gergovia and seized control. them, pursuing the fleeing
The Arverni, a powerful tribe in During the winter of legionaries and exposing
what is now France’s Auvergne 53–52 BCE Vercingetorix’s call themselves to a counterattack.

region, initially cooperated with for rebellion was heeded by

Roman general Julius Caesar in most tribes across central and A COSTLY ERROR
his various campaigns in Gaul. western Gaul, and by a mixture of After this success,Vercingetorix
Vercingetorix, a junior member force and persuasion he won the made a serious error of judgement.
of the Arverni elite, may have command of an intertribal rebel Thinking Caesar was leaving, he led
fought as an ally of the Romans army.Vercingetorix called for his army out to harass the Romans.
against Germanic warriors in guerrilla warfare, denying the Caesar then threatened Vercingetorix,
58 BCE. But over succeeding Romans supplies by harassing who was forced to take up a defensive
years Vercingetorix came to be foragers and destroying crops and position on another hilltop, at Alesia.
alienated by the massacres and food stores. Although this strategy Defeated after an epic siege,
Gallic metalwork
enslavement imposed by Caesar was broadly accepted, the Gauls felt Found at the site of the ancient Gallic town
Vercingetorix surrendered. He was
on the tribes of Gaul. His they could not leave their key towns. of Alesia, this bronze helmet might have been held prisoner in Rome and exhibited
strident agitation for resistance Against his advice, Avaricum, the worn by one of Vercingetorix’s warriors. The in chains in Caesar’s triumph of
to Rome brought him into main city of the Bituriges, was Gauls were expert at metalworking. 46 BCE, after which he was strangled.

He returned, strengthened by allies,

ARMINIUS to ambush Varus among the trees and
annihilate the legionaries. Five years
GERMANIC TRIBAL CHIEF to the Roman intruders, and he later a Roman army found gruesome
BORN c.18 BCE plotted with other tribal leaders to evidence of this – heaps of bones and
DIED 21 CE rebel against the Roman presence. human skulls nailed to trees.
KEY CONFLICTS Roman-Germanic War In the summer of 9 CE, Roman According to the historian Tacitus,
KEY BATTLES Teutoburg Forest 9 CE, legate Quinctilius Varus led his forces, the Romans reacted at once to this
River Weser 16 CE including Arminius’s auxiliaries, on humiliation. Between 14 and 17 CE
campaign in central Germany. A Germanicus, nephew of Emperor
During the reign of Emperor tribal enemy revealed Arminius’s Tiberius, pursued Arminius to seek
Augustus much of Germany east intended treachery, but Varus did revenge, defeating the Cherusci chief
of the Rhine seemed in the process not believe him. As the Romans, at Idistaviso on the River Weser.
of absorption into the Roman empire. numbering some 10,000, marched Nevertheless the Romans abandoned
Arminius, a chieftain of the Cherusci towards their winter quarters through efforts to expand beyond the Rhine.
tribe, was prominent among the the mountainous Teutoburg forest, Arminius survived only to be later
Germans collaborating with the Arminius deserted with his warriors. assassinated by tribal opposition.
Roman army, as a trusted leader of
local auxiliaries accompanying the
legions. But like many Germanic
people, Arminius was in truth hostile THREE LEGIONS WITH THEIR GENER AL
Patriotic monument
In the 19th century Arminius came to be
celebrated as a German national hero, his
monument erected in the Teutoburg forest.

CELTIC TRIBAL LEADER and burned the Roman cities of
BORN Unknown Colchester, St Albans, and London,
DIED c.61 CE massacring their populations.
KEY CONFLICTS Revolt of the Iceni The Roman governor of Britain,
KEY BATTLES Camulodunum (Colchester) Suetonius Paulinus, hastened back
c.60 CE, Watling Street c.61 CE from campaigning in Wales to
confront Boudicca. His efficient
Queen of the Iceni, a tribe in eastern legion infantry destroyed the tribal
England, Boudicca was mistreated army. Boudicca survived the battle
by the Roman authorities after the but committed suicide soon after.
death of her husband, Prasutagus. She
raised a revolt in which the Iceni Boudicca’s chariot in London
were joined by their neighbours, The Celtic Britons used chariots to move
the Trinovantes. The rebels crushed warriors around the battlefield but did not, as
a detachment of the Ninth Legion legend suggests, have scythes on their wheels.

cities. Only his shock defeat at

Châlons prevented Gaul being
overrun. During 452 he struck into CHÂLONS
EMPEROR OF THE HUNS east. However, the wealth of Roman northern Italy; Rome lay defenceless CAMPAIGN Hunnic invasions
BORN 406 CE lands eventually proved too tempting. before him. Reportedly Pope Leo I DATE 451 CE
DIED 453 CE In 441–3 and 447 Attila rampaged rode out to parley with Attila and LOCATION Northeastern France
KEY CONFLICTS Invasions of the Balkans, through the Balkans and threatened persuaded him to withdraw. But the
Italy, and Gaul Constantinople. Four years later he spread of plague and famine in Italy During Attila’s invasion of Gaul he besieged
KEY BATTLES Châlons 451 CE switched his attention to Gaul. threatened to destroy the Hunnic Orléans. An army led by Roman general
With his fast-moving force of Hun army more certainly than any battle. Aetius, consisting largely of Franks and
In 434 CE the Huns, Asiatic nomads horsemen augmented by Ostrogoths Attila withdrew never to return, Alans, and of Visigoths under their king,
who had migrated into territory and other Germanic tribesmen, dying the following year in a Theodoric, interrupted the siege. Attila

along the Danubian frontier of the Attila swept away all before drunken stupor. However, he left withdrew to the Catalaunian Plains, near
Roman empire, came under the him, laying waste towns and behind him a terrifying Châlons-en-Champagne, where he gave
leadership of the charismatic Attila. reputation for savagery, battle. Theodoric was killed, but the

A ferocious warrior described by summed up in the Visigoths fought with ferocity, driving back
Papal triumph the Huns to their wagons. Aetius held off
his enemies as “keen of judgement”, informal title, “Scourge

 500
According to Christian legend, Attila’s
Attila at first accepted tribute of all lands”. from a costly final assault so Attila survived,
Hunnic hordes were turned back at the
payments from the Romans and River Mincius in northern Italy by Pope but he had suffered a serious reverse.
campaigned only in regions further Leo I armed only with the Cross.

350 BCE – 400 CE


WO MAJOR STREAMS FED into the military tradition of

ancient Asia: the nomadic tribes of the steppe were the world’s

T most accomplished warriors on horseback, while the settled

civilizations – China, northern India, and Iran – at times
achieved high levels of organization and technology. Sophisticated principles
of tactics and strategy evolved through centuries of continuous warfare, often
blending the tricks and stratagems of the steppe horseman with “civilized”
concerns such as provision of logistical support and the conduct of sieges.

Much of the warfare in ancient China resulted enduring myths and legends, such as the
from the tendency of central authority to Mahabharata epic poem. The unique Indian
disintegrate for long periods of time. During contribution to the development of warfare was
the Warring States Period (475–221 bce) and the taming of elephants for use as heavy chargers,
the Three Kingdoms Period (184–280 ce), the weapons platforms, and mobile command posts.
large armies of rival Chinese states fought for States such as the Maurya empire, which
supremacy within the country. The Qin and dominated much of the Indian subcontinent
Han dynasties saw eras of greater unity but from the 4th to the 2nd century bce, and
even these were not necessarily times of the later Gupta empire (320–550 ce) had
peace. China was always threatened by sophisticated armed forces. But India was
incursions of nomadic horsemen from the always liable to disruption by waves of
north and east, defending its land frontier invasion from the north, whether by

by building the famous Great Wall, which Macedonians and Greeks or by nomadic
began as a series of earthen fortifications in Scythians and White Huns.

the Warring States Period.
At their strongest, Chinese rulers were CAVALRY EMPIRES

 500
tempted into foreign campaigns to extend As the centre of military power from the
the borders of their empire; Han generals time of the Achaemenid Persian empire,
of the 1st century ce penetrated as far Iran was heavily influenced by the

south as Vietnam and as far west as the central Asian nomadic tradition of
Persian Gulf. Chinese commanders fielded warfare. Its armies tended to rely on
vast peasant infantry forces equipped with cavalry armed primarily with bows
crossbows and spears, and learned from serving as their shock troops.
the steppe nomads the use of cavalry. The Parthian Arsacid dynasty ruled
Infantry on the march Generals of the Three Kingdoms Period, Iran for more than four centuries from
The battle of Kurukshatra is the central such as Cao Cao and Zhuge Liang, 247 bce. It extended its rule over a vast
episode of the ancient Hindu epic
the Mahabharata. This scene, showing became legendary figures whose tactical area that included Mesopotamia and
helmeted infantry armed with arrows, is stratagems were endlessly studied and parts of central Asia. The Parthians
from a temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. discussed. During the Warring States were constantly at war, subduing
Period The Art of War, a treatise on various vassal states and resisting the
strategy and tactics by philospher pressure of infantry-based Roman
Sun-tzu, also held an important place armies along their western borders
in Chinese Taoist culture and is still with considerable success. The
regarded as a military classic today. Sasanians displaced them in 224 ce.
Fighting Rome and its successor,
EPICS AND ELEPHANTS Byzantium, in the west and
India never developed a tradition campaigning deep into central Asia,
of military operations on the scale the Sasanians ruled until 651 when
of China, although battles were the rise of Islam ushered in a new
central to the country’s era in western and central Asia.

Han dynasty weapon

This bronze spearhead from Han dynasty
China (206 BCE –220 CE) is decorated in a
macabre fashion – figures of captives
dangle from the spearhead.


AMONG THE MANY INTERESTING successful war leaders, and Shapur I, who reigned from
commanders of ancient China, Qin Shi Huangdi 241 to 272 CE, was notable as the founder of the dynastic
stands out for the scale of his achievement in empire. Yet none could claim to equal the scope of the
uniting the country, after many centuries of civil war, campaigns conducted by Shapur II. In Indian history the
under the rule of a single individual and a centralized great Maurya emperors have a special place as conquerors
bureaucracy. Many Sasanian rulers in Persia were of exceptional moral and spiritual distinction.

was the largest military operation, BIOGRAPHY

QIN SHI HUANGDI involving hundreds of thousands of
men. Unifying China under his rule,
CHINESE EMPEROR Zheng declared himself the First The Art of War is the most famous ancient
BORN 259 BCE Emperor as Qin Shi Huangdi. treatise on strategy and tactics. It may have
DIED 210 BCE A centralized administration and been written by Sun-tzu around the 5th
KEY CONFLICTS Wars of Unification, the concentration of military force century BCE, during China’s Warring States
Campaigns Against the Xiongnu in the imperial army allowed the Period. Nothing is known of Sun-tzu’s life,
KEY BATTLE Conquest of Chu 225 BCE emperor to pacify China, but his but his writings suggest a personal
general, Meng Tian, conducted knowledge of command in war. His precepts
Ying Zheng inherited the throne of campaigns against the Xiongnu call for a subtle indirect strategy designed

“to break the enemy’s resistance without

Qin, one of the kingdoms that had nomads on the northern frontier and
fighting”. He advises that the correct use
been vying for power in China for supervised work on the Great Wall to of deception, espionage, and disinformation
more than two centuries. Exhibiting shut out the steppe horsemen. The will allow an army to ”avoid strength and
remarkable organizational ability, he emperor’s death was followed by a strike weakness“. Further, a commander
improved the recruitment, training, brief period of civil strife before the should be “serene and inscrutable”, not
discipline, and equipment of the Qin Han dynasty was founded in 202 BCE. only exercising leadership through his moral
army, turning it into a vehicle for his and spiritual qualities, but also through
drive to conquest. In just 10 years more practical skills, such as ensuring that
Lasting reputation
from 230 to 221 BCE, he defeated all Despite having ruled as emperor for just 10
his soldiers are well cared for and are
six rival states – Han, Zhao,Yan, Wei, years, Qin Shi Huangdi remains one of the
appropriately rewarded for their efforts.
Chu, and Qi. The conquest of Chu most significant figures in China’s history.

Terracotta Army
Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s vast mausoleum
houses an army of thousands of terracotta
figures, which give a detailed impression of
the forces he must have commanded in life.



Sasanian ruler of Persia, Shapur II was

crowned while still in his mother’s strongholds. For 13 years war Shapur was more successful,
womb. Thus he ruled from birth to dragged on inconclusively, ended by capturing the Roman fortress of
death, a period of 70 years. He a peace in 350 that confirmed the Amida (Diyarbakir) on the River
inherited a crumbling empire status quo. Shapur did not give Tigris after a siege of 73 days.
that was suffering incursions up, however. Campaigning Emperor Julian counterattacked
from Arabs and central Asian in central Asia, he subdued in 360, leading an army as far as the
nomads, and had lost much of troublesome nomadic walls of the Sasanian capital Ctesiphon.
Mesopotamia to the Romans. warriors and obliged them But Shapur kept his nerve and
On coming of age, he first to accompany him as allies instituted a scorched-earth policy,
led an army on a punitive in a renewed offensive in the harassing the Romans mercilessly.
expedition into Arabia west. Thus reinforced, Julian was killed in a skirmish and
and then struck eastward Shapur was able to demand all
into Transoxiana and territory east of the Tigris in return
Afghanistan. With threats Royal regalia for allowing the surviving Romans
from these directions A bust possibly representing safe passage home. For the rest of his
Shapur II, excavated at
quelled, in 337 he ended reign, Shapur campaigned in central
Kish, shows the elaborate
a 40-year peace with regalia of the Sasanian
Asia, especially against the Kushans.
Rome, occupied Armenia, kings, including the typically By the time of his death in 379, the
and marched against crenellated crown. Sasanian empire stretched from
Rome’s Mesopotamian northern India to Mesopotamia.


FOUNDER OF THE INDIAN MAURYA EMPIRE of mind perhaps sustained by the INDIAN MAURYA EMPEROR The grandson of Chandragupta
BORN c.340 BCE high wages that they were paid in BORN 304 BCE Maurya, Ashoka was the ruler who

 500
DIED 290 BCE peace as in war. Although Magadha DIED 232 BCE expanded the Maurya empire to
KEY CONFLICTS Nanda War, Seleucid War was in northeastern India, roughly in KEY CONFLICT Kalinga War its greatest extent through military
KEY BATTLE Siege of Pataliputra c.310 BCE the area of modern-day Bihar and KEY BATTLE Kalinga c.263 BCE conquest. He is best known, however,

Bengal, Chandragupta extended his as a military leader who regretted the
Around 321 BCE Chandragupta rule far to the west and south. He practice of war. He made his views
Maurya established himself as the fought a war against Seleucus clear during a campaign against
ruler of the Indian kingdom of Nicator, Alexander’s former Kalinga, a state in eastern India.
Magadha, supplanting the long- general, who ruled the After a battle fought near the
established and powerful Nanda northwest of the Indian River Daya in around 263
dynasty. Although little historical subcontinent, taking BCE, an inscription records
evidence has survived of this conflict, from him an area that 150,000 Kalingans
it appears that Chandragupta took stretching from were deported and about
inspiration from Alexander the Great, Punjab and 100,000 killed. Even
whom he may even have met. His Kashmir north if these figures are
campaign against the Nanda was into Kandahar exaggerated, there was
probably fought using popular and Baluchistan. clearly savage slaughter.
guerrilla tactics. His forces drew a In later years Ashoka’s inscription
noose gradually tighter around the he led his expressed revulsion at the
Magadha capital, Pataliputra (now armies south suffering caused through “violence,
Patna), until the overwhelmingly into the Deccan. murder, and separation from their
superior Nanda army was defeated. Chandragupta’s armed loved ones”. In a reign that lasted
strength can be gauged 40 years, he does not seem to have
EXCELLENT MORALE from his gift of 500 disbanded his army or renounced
Once in possession of the resources elephants to Seleucus to the use of war. But his concern for
of a kingdom, Chandragupta seems seal their peace agreement defeated enemies became an official
to have used them to create a highly in 303 BCE – an astonishing morality, making him unique among
organized regular army, plentifully number of valuable animals for Asian rulers of the ancient world.
supplied with weaponry, chariots, a ruler to feel able to spare. In
war elephants, and horses. A Greek old age Chandragupta abdicated
Ashoka pillar
envoy to India, Megasthenes, was in favour of his son, Bindusara, These lions were carved to top the Ashoka
impressed by the high morale of bequeathing the most pillar, which records a visit by the Maurya
Chandragupta’s soldiers, whom he extensive empire seen in emperor to the sacred Buddhist site of
described as “of good cheer”, a state India up to that date. Sarnath, near Varanasi in India.
500 – 1450


HE WARRIOR ETHOS, THE BELIEF THAT WARFARE was the rightful occupation
of a man, flourished in the period known in European history as the Middle
T Ages. Members of ruling elites – kings, princes, and the hereditary aristocracy
– were destined from birth to command in war. Armed conflicts proliferated
and military adventures, from the crusades of Christian Europe waged by knights to the
conquests of nomadic Mongol horsemen, gave scope to the energies of gifted leaders.

Between 500 and 1450 cultures of great conduct of sieges to the choice of a good led to a heavy concentration of resources on
diversity flourished in different parts of the site for a battle – with due attention paid to building fortifications. Castles and town
world. From the Maya civilization in central terrain, the position of the sun, and the walls evolved into highly complex stone
America to the Ming empire in China, from direction of the wind. Commanders in all structures that could only be attacked with
the Vikings of Scandinavia to the samurai of societies, however, mostly learned their skills an elaborate array of siege engines, such as
Japan, styles of warfare were as varied as their on the job, seeing more or less constant catapults and movable towers.
practitioners. Broadly, though, most military activity from an early age in a world Both swords and armour improved
states had difficulty attaining the where, for men of their status, campaigns through progress in metalworking. By the
levels of military organization that were often a routine annual feature of life. late Middle Ages the suits of armour worn
had been achieved by empires in the by European knights offered an impressive
ancient world. Armies were smaller TACTICS AND WEAPONRY combination of protection and mobility.
and often temporary. In western Mounted warriors tended to dominate Crossbows and longbows increased in

Europe rulers who could not afford medieval warfare, whether they were effectiveness, while incendiary devices and
standing armies depended on heavily armoured European various weapons using gunpowder came
regional lords, who had a sworn knights or more lightly into use. Under skilful commanders, the
obligation to provide troops when required equipped Mongol horsemen combination of foot soldiers with cavalry
to form a royal army. The elite of these armed with bows. and the intelligent deployment of missile
troops were knights whose duty was to serve Widespread insecurity weapons produced battlefield tactics with
their lord and fight on their behalf. a measure of genuine originality.
There were no fundamental technological
breakthroughs to distinguish warfare in this The trebuchet COMMUNICATIONS
period from the ancient world. The military This medieval siege In terms of command and control, however,
engine was used for
textbook written by Vegetius in the late slinging projectiles technology had little or no progress to offer.
Roman empire, De Re Militari, continued to at, or over, enemy castle Communications on and off the battlefield
walls. Weighing as much
serve as an instruction manual for European as 140kg (350lb), it
remained primitive, and may have declined
commanders throughout medieval times, wrought much havoc. in places because of a fall in the level of
offering advice on subjects ranging literacy that reduced the use of written
from the laying of ambushes and messages. Orders were conveyed by a man

on horseback or on foot; banners or musical of Christian knights from western Europe Order of the Temple
instruments transmitted simple, prearranged to the eastern Mediterranean in the 11th to A fresco showing Christian Templar Knights in pursuit of the
fleeing enemy. Founded in around 1119, the Templar Knights
signals. Command was only possible because 13th centuries were in their way equally – identified by their white mantle with a red cross – were
armies were small. Maintaining supplies of remarkable military enterprises, although less among the most skilled horsemen of the medieval crusades.
food, fodder, and water tested a commander successful. But the greatest campaigns of
operating in unfavourable terrain or with an conquest were carried out by the hardy Established codes of honour suggested that
army too large to live off the land. nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples of commanders should fight in person, but in
central Asia. Their horsemen could outfight practice common sense dictated that these

500  1450
the armies of any settled civilization and, high-status figures keep out of harm’s way.
Campaigning involved leading troops across when inspired by ambitious leaders such Indeed, commanders tended to avoid
unmapped landscapes into encounters with as the Mongol Genghis Khan or the Tatar pitched battles because they carried too
enemies whose position and strength were Timur, they became unstoppable. Genghis’s great a risk of death or capture. Similarly,
mostly unknown.Yet great feats of conquest descendants for a brief period ruled a vast they rarely made costly assaults on castles or
were achieved and campaigns of some area from the Pacific to eastern Europe. city walls, preferring to apply pressure in a
complexity sustained over long distances. prolonged siege and achieve a negotiated
The explosion of Arab armies across Asia THE ROLE OF A COMMANDER surrender. By far the most common military
and north Africa and into southern Europe Empire-building was exceptional among activities were laying waste and plunder,
in the 7th and 8th centuries, inspired by the the military activities of the period. More which both intimidated enemies and were
new militant faith of Islam, was a remarkable commonly, warfare was a relatively endemic a direct source of profit. This was the often
exercise in the reshaping of the world by state, fought between traditional enemies in inglorious reality of an era in which military
military means. The crusades that sent bodies interminable and indecisive conflicts. glory was unreservedly admired.
500 – 1095




a time of slow recovery from the chronic insecurity that

F followed the breakdown of the Roman empire. The

Christian kingdoms of the Franks and Anglo-Saxons faced
up to the incursions of fierce raiders such as the Scandinavian Vikings. But
further east the tradition of Rome was continued by the Byzantine empire,
ruled from Constantinople, while the rise of Islam brought a new vitality to
the Mediterranean zone and west and central Asia.

In the 6th century it still seemed possible that modern-day Germany. Their greatest leader,
under Emperor Justinian the Roman empire Charlemagne, claimed the succession to the
might be restored to its full glory. Despite the Roman empire in 800, having himself crowned
brilliance of Justinian’s general, Belisarius, as emperor by the pope. But the Frankish empire
however, the attempt failed. The Byzantine was a fragile entity, prone to disintegration and
Empire instead found itself engaged in a long periods of civil strife. Power was largely
defensive fight for survival, dependent on the devolved to counts – local lords who in theory
unassailable walls of Constantinople to hold owed service to their king but often served
off aggressors. The greatest threat to Christian themselves. Their key fighting man, the knight
Byzantium came from the Muslim Arabs, whose with mail armour, shield, sword, and spear, was
religiously inspired campaigns destroyed Rome’s an effective warrior, but there was no financial
old enemies the Persian Sasanians, and narrowly system to support a full-time professional army.
failed to overrun the Byzantines. The Franks struggled, often in vain, to secure
By the mid-8th century Islam had been spread their borders against raiders and invaders.

500  1450
by the sword from Spain to Afghanistan. Coming
from opposite directions, Arab and Tang Chinese RAIDERS AND SETTLERS
armies clashed at the battle of Talas in central The most menacing incursion into western
Asia in 751. But the Arabs did not maintain their Europe was made by the Arabs, who overran the
military dominance of the Muslim world for Iberian peninsula and penetrated as far as central
long. Arab rulers recruited Turkish warriors from France in 732. Seaborne Viking warriors from
central Asia as slave soldiers to fight wars for them. Scandinavia carried out destructive coastal raids
The Turks soon produced military commanders from the 8th century and later settled as migrant
of high skill and ambition, such as Mahmud of conquerors through much of the British Isles and
Ghazni, and the formidable Seljuk dynasty, who northern France. The Anglo-Saxons, themselves
Anglo-Saxon warrior created their own Muslim empires in Asia. originally migrants into post-Roman Britain,
This decorative panel shows a horseman resisted Viking invasions with mixed success, but
wielding a spear and trampling an enemy
underfoot. It appears on a replica of a
THE CAROLINGIAN DYNASTY at their peak the Scandinavians created a brief
helmet found at the Sutton Hoo ship-burial In western Europe the Franks, originally a empire around the North Sea. Anglo-Saxon
site in eastern England. This rare and finely Germanic tribal people, emerged as a dominant England eventually succumbed to invasion by
wrought piece dates from the 7th century.
force, their warband leaders evolving into descendants of the Vikings – the Normans.
Christian kings. Under the Carolingian dynasty
they stamped their military authority on a large
area, including northern Italy and most of

Precious weapon
For the Vikings, a sword was a mark of status as
well as a much-prized weapon. This example from
1000 CE in York, England, has a rounded pommel
and double-edged blade attached to a crossguard.

WITH ITS CAPITAL AT CONSTANTINOPLE, person or by his generals, failed in a valiant effort
the Byzantine empire evolved out of the Roman to restore imperial rule in Italy, but were ultimately
empire in the East. During the early medieval successful in a centuries-long contest with the Persian
period it was by far the leading Christian military power, Sasanian empire. From around 630 CE to its fall in 1453,
reflecting its superior resources and level of bureaucratic the Byzantine empire stood in the front line of the
organization. Its armies, commanded by the emperor in confrontation between Christian Europe and Islam.

By this stage he had lost Justinian’s

BELISARIUS favour, and he withdrew into private
life in 551. Belisarius emerged for
BYZANTINE GENERAL He defeated a larger Sasanian army one final battle in 559, when
BORN c.500 at Dara in that year, but was beaten Constantinople was menaced by a
DIED 565 at Callinicum in 531 before being band of Huns. He led a few hundred
KEY CONFLICTS Byzantine-Sasanian Wars, recalled to Constantinople during men out of the city, ambushed the
Vandalic War, Gothic War peace negotiations. Huns, and put them to flight.
KEY BATTLES Dara 530, Tricamerum 533, It was fortunate for Justinian that Legend claims that the ungrateful
Rome 536, Constantinople 559 Belisarius was in the capital in 532, Justinian had his erstwhile
when rioters seized control of the general blinded and driven
The greatest of Byzantine generals, city. While the emperor cowered in to beg on the streets in
Belisarius rose to prominence by his palace, Belisarius led crack troops his final years. In reality,
sheer ability. He was born into an into the streets and subdued the it would seem that

obscure family in the Balkans and, rebellion through a ruthless massacre Belisarius died in
as a young man, served as a soldier in – as many as 30,000 citizens may dignity and comfort.
the Byzantine imperial guard. In 527 have been slaughtered.
Emperor Justinian entrusted him Belisarius was by then the obvious
with a command in the East, where choice to spearhead Justinian’s most Blind Belisarius
the empire faced incursions by the treasured project, the re-establishment An 18th-century depiction
Persian Sasanians. Belisarius did so of control over what had been the of the Byzantine general
reflects the legend that
well that by 530 he was in charge western Roman empire, now in
Belisarius was blinded
of Byzantine forces in Mesopotamia. the hands of “barbarians”. Belisarius and poor in old age.
landed in north Africa in 533,
defeating the Vandals at the battles of
Ad Decimum and Tricamerum, and
JUSTINIAN taking Carthage. In 535 it was the
Ruling the Byzantine empire from 527, turn of Italy, ruled by the Ostrogoths.
Justinian aspired to recover imperial control First taking Sicily, Belisarius moved
of the western Mediterranean, including north to seize Naples and then Rome
Italy and Rome itself. Despite the efforts of itself. But throughout these campaigns,
his generals Belisarius and Narses, this goal he had too few troops to occupy and
was beyond his resources and his empire control the territory he gained.
was in decline by the time of his death in
565. Justinian is also remembered for his SURRENDER IN ITALY
code of laws, which are the basis of civil law Witiges, the Ostrogoth king, finally
in many modern legal systems.
surrendered in 540. He may have
done so after Belisarius promised
to declare himself emperor of a
re-formed western Roman
empire, with the Ostrogoths
part of the imperial forces.
Their surrender delivered their
impregnable capital, Ravenna,
to the Byzantines, after
which Belisarius
reneged on his
promise for reasons
that remain unclear.
The reconquest did
not hold, and in 544
Belisarius was back in
Italy, battling a new
Ostrogoth leader, Totila.

BYZANTINE GENERAL imperial guard, but this was a court
BORN 478 rather than a military appointment. CONCEALED THE SOUL OF A
DIED 573 In 538 Narses was chosen to lead an
KEY CONFLICTS Gothic War army to reinforce Belisarius fighting STATESM AN AND A WARRIOR
Volturnus 554 military experience, but the ageing
eunuch was intended to control
Born in Armenia, Narses was a court Belisarius, whom Justinian distrusted, constant disagreements with troops – whom he soon led to an
eunuch in the Byzantine imperial rather than to win battles. Belisarius too disruptive of military important victory over raiding Slavs
palace in Constantinople. In 532, Yet Narses was to turn into an operations. But in the 540s he was and Huns in Thrace.
when riots threatened Emperor outstanding battlefield leader. His given a real command, in charge In 552 Narses led another army
Justinian, he was commander of the first visit to Italy was short, his of an army of Heruli – Germanic to Italy to fight the Ostrogoths once
more. Unlike Belisarius he was given
plenty of troops. Though a shrivelled
74-year-old, he provided them with
inspiration and organization. At
Taginae he defeated the Ostrogoth
leader, Totila, retook Rome, and
finally crushed the Gothic army at
a second battle in the foothills of
Vesuvius. Narses had regained Italy
in a single lightning campaign. In
554 he won another great victory,
defeating the Franks and Alamanni
tribes at Volturnus. He was still
defending Italy against Goths and
Franks in 562, when old age ended
his unlikely military career.

Ivory warriors

500  1450
A Byzantine army sets off on campaign in this
6th-century relief. Its foot soldiers carry spears
and shields, its horsemen lances.

BYZANTINE EMPEROR successful campaigns in Anatolia
BORN c.575 and Armenia. Beating off a siege of
DIED 11 February 641 Constantinople in 626, the next year
KEY CONFLICTS Byzantine-Persian Wars, he struck deep into Mesopotamia.
Byzantine-Arab Wars In December the Byzantine and
KEY BATTLES Nineveh 627, Yarmuk 636 Sasanian armies clashed at Nineveh.
The battle was a triumph for
Son of a Byzantine general, in 608 Heraclius, who allegedly killed the
Heraclius began a revolt in north Sasanian commander, Rhahzadh, with
Africa against the tyrannous Emperor a single blow of his sword. Chosroes
Phocas. Two years later he executed was overthrown by his own people
Phocas and took the throne. As and his successor sued for peace.
emperor, Heraclius began important Unfortunately for Heraclius, at
reforms, which included creating a this pinnacle of his success, Arab
class of Byzantine soldier-farmers armies inspired by the new religion
who held land in return for military of Islam posed a sudden threat. No
service. However, Heraclius struggled longer leading troops in the field,
to cope with attacks from Avars and Heraclius sent armies to resist the
Slavs in the Balkans and the Persian Arabs in vain, suffering an especially
Sasanian Chosroes II in the East. severe defeat at Yarmuk in 636. By
When the Sasanians invaded Anatolia, the time of his death in 641, the
threatening Constantinople, Byzantines had lost Egypt and the
Heraclius at first thought of Levant to the rising Arab tide.
abandoning the capital and
withdrawing to Carthage.
Battle of Nineveh
Instead, in 622 he began a The cruelty and chaos of combat is underlined
fightback. Of imposing in this 13th-century depiction of Heraclius’
physique and great personal victory over the Sasanians in 627. Heraclius
courage, he led his armies on fought in the thick of the 11-hour battle.


IN THE 7TH CENTURY ARAB FORCES inspired Finding that the Turkish tribesmen of central Asia made
by the new religion of Islam destroyed the Persian outstanding fighters, they enrolled them as slave soldiers,
Sassanid empire and almost overran the Byzantine or Mamelukes, a category known only in the Muslim
empire. In the next century Muslim rule extended from world. Islamicized Turkish warriors developed ambitions
Spain to Afghanistan. The Arabs converted conquered of their own and by the 11th century were ruling most of
peoples to Islam and integrated them into their armies. Muslim Asia and threatening Christendom’s eastern frontier.


BORN 592
DIED 642
KEY CONFLICTS Ridda Wars, Islamic
Conquest of Persia, Byzantine-Arab Wars
KEY BATTLES Firaz 633, Damascus 634,
Yarmuk 636

The most successful commander of

the early period of Arab expansion,
Khalid ibn al-Walid, made an effortless
transition from tribal warfare to
fighting major armies. He originally
opposed the Prophet Muhammad,
but after converting to Islam, he
became one of his trusted generals.
After the Prophet’s death in 632,
Khalid served under Caliph Abu
Bakr, suppressing an Arab revolt in
the Ridda Wars. He then fought in
Mesopotamia, trouncing the Persian
Sassanids in a lightning campaign
that ended in a resounding victory
at Firaz in December 633. Ordered
to the aid of Abu Bakr, who was
fighting the Byzantines in southern
Syria, Khalid led his army across the
Syrian desert and, after more victories,
captured Damascus in September 634.

During the siege of Damascus, Abu
Bakr died and was replaced by Caliph
Umar, who distrusted Khalid. Umar
removed Khalid from high command,
but he continued to play a leading
role in Arab operations. In August
636 he achieved his greatest victory,
routing a Byzantine army at the
River Yarmuk. Umar finally dismissed
Khalid in 638, after a religious dispute.

Deception at Yamama
This manuscript illumination shows an episode
from the Ridda Wars of 632. Khalid’s opponent,
Musailima, convinced him that the fortress of
Yamama was too well guarded to attack. In
reality his warriors were women in disguise.


TURKISH SULTAN in 1001 defeated Jayapala at Peshawar
BORN 2 November 971 (now in Pakistan), and between 1000 RESISTANCE… SLAIN EXCEEDED 50,000.
DIED 30 April 1030 and 1026 raided northern India at ARAB HISTORIAN AL-KAZWINI, ON MAHMUD’S DESTRUCTION OF SOMNATH

KEY CONFLICTS Campaigns in Central Asia least 16 times. Although Muslim zeal
and India justified these campaigns, plunder
KEY BATTLES Peshawar 1001 was the more obvious motive. his army could live off the land and Gujarat. In his later years, however,
Looting Hindu temples brought move swiftly, without the hindrance Mahmud was challenged by the
Mahmud of Ghazni was the son of Mahmud untold riches, reflected in of a supply train. He repeatedly rising power of the Seljuk Turks,
a Turkish slave soldier, Sebuktegin. the splendour of his capital at Ghazni. defeated his main opponents, the who by the time of his death in
After fighting in the service of the Mahmud’s campaigns in India Rajput princes, and in 1025 pushed 1030, had seized the cities of Merv
Persian Saminids, Sebuktegin rose to were usually timed to fit between the as far south as Somnath, site of a and Nishapur on the western edge
be ruler of the cities of Khorasan and harvest and the monsoon rains, when famous temple on the coast of of his empire.
Ghazni. Mahmud accompanied his
father on his campaigns from the age
of 14. In 996 Sebuktegin died and,
after a short war with his brother,
Ismail, Mahmud succeeded to his
father’s domains. The Abbasid Caliph
confirmed his rule over Ghazni and
Khorasan, and in return Mahmud
vowed to campaign in Hindu India
every year in the name of Islam. He
did not quite fulfil this promise but

Turkish warriors
Mahmud of Ghazni and his followers were
Turks, steppe nomads who had originated in
central Asia and moved south into Afghanistan.
Fighting on horseback with lance and bow,
they were fast-moving and ruthless.

500  1450
leading armies on incursions deep within a generation to the loss
ALP ARSLAN inside Anatolia, the heartland of the of virtually all Byzantine territory
Byzantine empire. in Anatolia to Seljuk warlords
TURKISH SELJUK SULTAN At this stage the Byzantines were who carved small states out of it.
BORN 1029 still a major military power. Emperor Alp Arslan was a superb military
DIED 1072 Romanus IV mounted campaigns that organizer as well as an outstanding
KEY CONFLICTS Byzantine-Seljuk Wars initially forced the Seljuk Turks back commander. In the territories the
KEY BATTLES Manzikert 1071 into Mesopotamia. But Alp Arslan Seljuks conquered, he instituted a
was a dauntless and subtle opponent. system of military service in return
In the first half of the 11th century When Romanus led a force north for land, an arrangement that placed
Tugril Beg, a Turkish leader, created of Lake Van in the summer of 1071, substantial armed forces at his
a tribal confederation known as the the Seljuk commander sensed the disposal. However, he did not live
Seljuks and led them on campaigns opportunity for a decisive victory. His long enough to exploit the potential
of conquest. In 1040 he proclaimed defeat of the Byzantines at Manzikert of his military reforms. He died aged
the Great Seljuk Sultanate, which was an epoch-making event. It led 42 while on campaign in central Asia.
established its rule over Mesopotamia,
Persia, and regions of central Asia. KEY BATTLE
Tugril’s nephew, Alp Arslan, won the
succession after the sultan’s death in MANZIKERT
1063. Alp Arslan’s name CAMPAIGN Byzantine-Seljuk Wars
meant “valiant lion” DATE 26 August 1071
LOCATION Manzikert (Malazgirt), eastern Anatolia
and he was a brilliant
military leader. In the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV marched
first year of his reign he eastwards, seeking to confront Alp Arslan’s
seized Armenia and Seljuks. The Turks withdrew in front of the
Georgia and was soon advancing Byzantine forces, refusing battle,
while their skirmishing horsemen harassed
them from the flanks. When the Byzantines
After the battle
Alp Arslan humiliates his prisoner, were weakened and exhausted, Alp Arslan’s
the Byzantine emperor, Romanus warriors fell upon them, surrounding the
IV, after the battle of Manzikert in emperor in the vanguard of his army. The rest
this 15th-century illustration from of the Byzantine troops fled, Romanus was
a French manuscript. In reality, captured, and most of those around him killed.
Romanus was well-treated by his
captors and later released.
The battle of Lechfeld
Otto I’s victory over the nomadic Magyars
is shown in this 15th-century illustration. A
chronicler remarked, ”Never was so bloody
a victory gained over so savage a people.”


IN EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE, the kingdoms Martel’s victory over Arab intruders and went on to
of the Franks and Anglo-Saxons were threatened establish an expansive empire led by Charlemagne. In the
by external rivals. Through defeating these 10th century, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire was
enemies, a leader won the prestige to rule and might then created under Otto I after he defeated the Magyars. The
take the offensive against pagan neighbours. The Franks kings of Wessex earned the right to lead the Anglo-Saxons
were unified under the Carolingian dynasty after Charles through Alfred’s resistance to Danish Vikings.

Charles extended his Charles the hammer

CHARLES MARTEL campaigns south to the A 19th-century sculpture
of Charles Martel shows him
Mediterranean, laid siege
as a figure of power. His
FRANKISH MAYOR OF THE PALACE Duke Eudo of Aquitaine, but the to the Muslim stronghold
pulverizing victories earned
BORN c.688 struggle was finally decided with a of Narbonne, and defeated him the nickname Martel
DIED 22 October 741 victory for Charles over Eudo and another Arab army at the or “Hammer”. He led the
KEY CONFLICTS Frankish civil wars, war Ragenfrid at Soissons in 718. battle of the river Berre. Franks like a king, while
against the Arabs Over the following two decades By the time of his death officially only holding the
KEY BATTLES Amblève 716, Poitiers 732 Charles stamped his authority on the in 741, he was ruling the rank of Mayor of the Palace.
Franks and campaigned against the Franks without the pretence
By the 8th century the Merovingian dynasties beyond the eastern of a puppet king and had laid
rulers of the Frankish kingdoms of Frankish borders, defeating Saxons, the foundations for the future
Neustria and Austrasia had become Frisians, and Bavarians. He built up Carolingian empire.
figureheads, with real power exercized a following of veteran warriors in

by their Mayors of the Palace. Charles these campaigns who served him
Martel was the illegitimate son of a well in the crucial test presented by
mayor, Pepin II. Pepin’s death in 714 the Arab incursion of 732. At the
precipitated a violent power struggle. battle of Poitiers (also known as the
Charles defeated his rival Ragenfrid battle of Tours), his steady fighters
at the battle of Amblève in 716 and turned back Muslim cavalry that
again at Vincy a year later. Ragenfrid had conquered Spain and might
fought on, forming an alliance with well have overrun France. In 736-7




CAMPAIGN Frankish-Muslim War
DATE 25 October 732
LOCATION North of Poiters, France

Abd al-Rahman, governor of Muslim Spain, led

an army of Arab and Berber horsemen into
Frankish territory. Charles Martel took
up a defensive position on a wooded hill,
his men dismounted and formed a tight
square. When the Muslim army attacked,
the Franks stood firm behind their shield
wall, hacking and stabbing with swords and
spears. Distracted by an attack on their camp
by Frankish scouts, the Muslims lost discipline.
Abd al-Rahman was surrounded and killed,
and the Muslim army withdrew.

The Alfred Jewel life. He sought refuge in the wild

ALFRED THE GREAT Found in Somerset, England,
this beautiful ornament,
Sedgemoor marshes, where he soon
established the fort of Athelney as a
ANGLO-SAXON KING OF WESSEX against the Danes only 6cm (2.5in) long, has centre for guerrilla warfare.
a Latin inscription that
BORN 849 with varying Perhaps surprisingly, Alfred’s royal
reads: “Alfred ordered
DIED 899 success. They me to be made.”
authority remained intact. In the
KEY CONFLICTS Danish-Saxon wars are credited spring, at his summons, three shires
KEY BATTLES Edington 878 with a victory supplied soldiers for a fyrd. He led
at Ashingdon in difficult. He could this army to confront the Danes
Alfred was the youngest son of Berkshire in 871, not match Danish on Salisbury Plain. In the battle of
Ethelwulf, king of Wessex. In 865, but Ethelred was sea power, so the Edington, Alfred appears to have out-
when Alfred was a youth, Wessex and routed at Basing south coast was manoeuvred his enemy, allowing his
the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in soon after and was open to attack by soldiers to rush down upon them
England – Northumbria, East Anglia, killed at Merton the their longships. On from a hill and drive them from the
and Mercia – were threatened by following April. Alfred land his army, the fyrd, field. Guthrum retreated with the
invasion when a Danish Viking “Great succeeded to the throne. was a part-time force remnants of his forces to Chippenham
Army” landed on the east coast. The assembled by regional lords where he was besieged by Alfred and
Danes first conquered Northumbria UNDER ATTACK at the king’s command. This starved into surrender.
and East Anglia and then turned to In the first years of Alfred’s meant the Danish army
attack Mercia. Alfred first saw action reign, the Danes tried to could advance deep into MILITARY REFORMS
with Wessex forces sent to aid the consolidate their other Wessex before Alfred’s forces Although this victory did not end
Mercians. In 870 Wessex itself was conquests, but in 876 they could gather. Even so, in 876, fighting with the Danes, Wessex was
invaded. By that time Alfred’s elder renewed their assault. Alfred a Danish invasion was resisted. never again badly threatened during
brother, Ethelred, was king. Ethelred had major weaknesses that The Danes seized Wareham and Alfred’s reign. This was largely because
and Alfred fought a series of battles made defending his realm Exeter, but each time were of the king’s military reforms. Alfred
evicted after Alfred arrived and reorganized the fyrd, so that a part of
besieged them. Meanwhile, their the army was always assembled. He
navy was scattered by a storm. The strengthened his navy with longships
BY DIVINE AID HE TRIUMPHED AND respite proved brief, however. larger than any the Danes possessed
Striking in the dead of winter, in and manned them with mercenaries.
OVERTHREW THE PAGANS WITH A January 878, the Danish King He built up to 30 fortified towns, or
Guthrum surprised Alfred at his royal burghs, as strongholds to block an
VERY GREAT SLAUGHTER. camp at Chippenham. With only his invader’s path. Alfred’s son, Edward
personal followers to defend him, the Elder, inherited a militarily and

500  1450
Alfred was lucky to escape with his culturally revitalized kingdom.

provoking them to give battle.

OTTO I The two sides eventually clashed at
the battle of Lechfeld (pp. 60–61) on
BORN 23 November 912
KEY CONFLICTS Magyar invasions The Magyar horsemen, armed
KEY BATTLE Lechfeld 955 chiefly with bows, encircled
Otto’s troops and looked
In 843 the Carolingian Empire the likely victors until
was divided, its easternmost part they were distracted
becoming the kingdom of East by plundering the
Francia. The father of the future German baggage train.
emperor, Otto I, Saxon Duke This gave Otto’s men an
Henry the Fowler, was opportunity to mount a
elevated to the throne of series of cavalry charges,
East Francia in 919. Otto inflicting such heavy
succeeded him in 936, losses that the Magyars
but faced a tough fight to were driven from the field.
assert his authority. Powerful The German nobles raised
dukes rebelled against royal Imperial crown Otto on their shields, which was
overlordship and even Otto’s This crown, shown with later embellishments, the traditional German manner of
own brother and son was made for the coronation of Otto I as proclaiming an emperor. Otto’s title
emperor, a ceremony conducted by Pope
campaigned against him. was confirmed by the pope in 962,
John XII on 2 February 962.
His authority might never thereby establishing the tradition that
have recovered but for the imperial crown would be worn
a wave of raids by the behind Otto. The dukes led forces by the king of the Eastern Franks.
Magyars, swift-moving to support him in an attack on the
nomadic horsemen from invaders, who were besieging
Title of distinction
Asia who were pressing across Augsburg. Otto placed his army, Otto I’s suppression of his rebellious dukes,
Germany’s eastern borders. To which consisted mostly of mounted combined with his decisive victory over the
oppose Magyar incursions, the armoured troops, between Augsburg Magyars at the battle of Lechfeld, earned him
German nobles closed ranks and the Magyars’ home territory, the nickname “the Great”.

FRANKISH KING AND EMPEROR and forcibly spread the Christian were requisitioned from landowners. KEY TROOPS
BORN 2 April 742 faith. Although Charlemagne had The army typically assembled in the
DIED 28 January 814 neither a standing army nor a spring and summer and fought FRANKISH CAVALRY
KEY CONFLICTS Campaigns against the bureaucracy, he still achieved in the autumn. Charlemagne Charlemagne’s cavalry were his principal
Lombards, Saxons, Avars, and Saracens a high level of organization always gathered intelligence troops. Retainers of the Frankish nobles, the
KEY BATTLE Roncesvalles 778 in the assembly and on the region where he armoured horsemen were obliged to turn up
supply of his forces. intended to fight and ready for military service when required by
Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, His chief nobles, prepared careful plans. the king. Equipped with a lance, sword, and
was the son of Pepin, the first king the counts, were He usually divided his shield, they fought mounted, relying on
of the Carolingian dynasty. Pepin’s responsible for raising forces in two or more stirrups and a high-backed saddle to
domains at his death covered most the various troops columns when maintain a stable seat in combat.
of present-day France, in addition to that he needed, with advancing into hostile
Belgium and parts of Germany. The equipment for each territory, presumably
sole ruler of this extensive kingdom man. The soldiers Talisman of Charlemagne
because a smaller
from 771, Charlemagne was above brought some food According to popular belief, this body of men would
all a war leader, expecting to take his with them, while jewel was found in Charlemagne’s find it easier to cope
army on campaign every year. He additional supplies tomb, opened c.1000. with problems of
is reckoned to have carried out 30
campaigns in person in the course
of his reign – undertaken to assert
his authority, expand his domains, THE KING… EXCELLED ALL THE

Charlemagne at Pamplona
In 778 Charlemagne took the Spanish city of
Pamplona by storm. A 14th-century artist has AND GREATNESS OF SOUL…
shown this event by portraying troops in the EINHARD, LIFE OF CHARLEMAGNE, C.820
armour of his time, rather than Charlemagne’s.

movement and supply. Pitched battles

were rare, campaigns consisting of
skirmishes, attacks on fortified
settlements, resisting or avoiding
ambushes, and much laying waste of
town and countryside.
Although in the first quarter-
century of his reign Charlemagne
commanded his army in person, he
was not a ruler known for prowess in
face-to-face combat. His real

Emperor’s relic
This reliquary bust of
Charlemagne at Aachen
Cathedral in Germany
is said to contain
his skull.

qualities lay in his leadership, Frankish weapon

organization, willpower, and The Carolingian Franks were renowned
for the high quality of their swords. A
ruthless persistence.
double-edged longsword like this one
Charlemagne fought ■ 768 On the death of his father, Pepin the
would deliver a powerful blow.
his wars against mainly Short, Charlemagne becomes joint ruler of the
inferior opposition around Franks with his brother, Carloman.
his extensive borders, but between the Arabs and the
even so success was not few, small Christian states that ■ 769 Charlemagne suppresses a revolt
by Hunald, Duke of Aquitaine, forcing him
guaranteed. He faced tough did exist gave Charlemagne an
to accept Carolingian authority.
resistance from insurgents opportunity to intervene. But
and his resources were the resulting expedition to ■ 771 The death of Carloman allows
overstretched against northern Spain in 778 was the Charlemagne to assert his rule as undisputed
multiple enemies. worst disaster of his career. king of the Franks.
At the end of an unsuccessful
ITALIAN CONTROL ■ 772 Charlemagne invades Saxony, seeking
foray to Zaragoza, he was
to bring the Saxons under Frankish control.
The campaign in which leading his army back across the
Charlemagne triumphed Pyrenees when the rearguard ■ 773–774 Charlemagne crosses the Alps
over the Lombard was ambushed and massacred and defeats the Lombards after a lengthy siege
kingdom of north Italy in at Roncesvalles. The death of of Pavia; he is crowned king of Lombardy.
773–74 exemplified prominent Frankish nobles in
decisive military action. this attack provided material for ■ 775–777 Annual campaigns in Saxony
lead to mass forced conversions to Christianity.
After marching across a famous medieval epic poem,
the Alpine passes in two The Song of Roland. The incident ■ 776 Charlemagne returns to Italy to
columns, the Franks was, in contrast, passed over in suppress a revolt by the dukes of Spoleto
who emerged on the silence by Charlemagne’s own and Friuli.
north Italian plain chroniclers – it was embarrassing
were too numerous for to have fallen into such a trap. ■ 778 Returning across the Pyrenees from
a fruitless campaign in Muslim Spain,
the enemy to take on. Later in his reign, the Franks
Charlemagne’s rearguard is cut off and
Charlemagne came to successfully occupied a defensive destroyed by the Basques at Roncesvalles.
a halt at the Lombard buffer zone south of the
capital, Pavia, and laid Pyrenees, including Barcelona. ■ 782–785 Widukind leads a revolt in
siege to the city until it Saxony. After three years’ fighting, Widukind
capitulated. Although SAXON REBELS surrenders and accepts baptism.
further campaigns in Italy Most of Charlemagne’s wars

500  1450
■ 788 Charlemagne deposes the Duke of
against the Lombards and were directed across the open Bavaria and integrates the region into his
Byzantines were needed, the eastern frontier of his domains, territory.
political settlement he imposed above all against the Saxons.
held firm, establishing Frankish These independent, pagan ■ 792 Charlemagne faces renewed rebellion
control of the northern half of people were repeatedly in Saxony; fighting continues until 803.
Italy. Campaigning in Iberia terrorized by Charlemagne’s
■ 796 The Franks capture the treasure of
proved tougher. While most of columns, but were always ready the Avars, precipitating the collapse of the
Spain was under Muslim to rebel again when the Franks Danubian Avar empire.
rule, divisions were distracted. Their resistance
angered Charlemagne, who was
guilty of an appalling massacre of
4,500 Saxons at Verden in 782. The
submission of the inspired guerrilla
leader Widukind in 785 did not end
resistance, but marked the point at
which it could no longer succeed.
By the 790s Charlemagne had
begun to delegate military operations
to his sons or to nobles. He was not
personally involved in destroying the
Avar khanate (nomads who dominated
the Danube Valley), but he did plan to
build a canal linking the Maine and CORONATION OF CHARLEMAGNE
Danube to facilitate the movement
of his troops – an engineering task ■ 800 On Christmas Day Charlemagne is
crowned emperor by Pope Leo III in St Peter’s
well beyond the Franks’ abilities. Basilica, Rome.
By 800, when Charlemagne
was crowned emperor by the ■ 801 Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious,
pope, the era of annual takes Barcelona from the Muslims; Charlemagne
campaigns was drawing to organizes the region as the Spanish Marches, a
a close, as was his personal defensive outpost for his empire.
command of army operations.
■ 813 To ensure the succession to his throne,
He had made his kingdom into Charlemagne crowns Louis the Pious as
an empire stretching as far south co-emperor. When Charlemagne dies the
as central Italy and Barcelona, following year, Louis succeeds him.
and as far east as the Elbe.
Ambush at Roncesvalles
The attack on Charlemagne’s rearguard in
the Pyrenees in 778 became the stuff of
legend from the 12th century, and was
depicted as such. The hero was Roland of
Brittany, shown here in golden armour.


THE SCANDINAVIAN VIKINGS first appear in – as well as their ferocity as fighting men – made them
European history as raiding warbands, pillaging formidable enemies. But the Vikings were settlers as well
the coasts of the British Isles and western Europe as warriors and their pagan warband leaders mutated over
from the late 8th century. Their longships carried them time into Christian kings. Settling in northern France they
across seas and along rivers as far afield as the Black Sea became the Normans, French by culture, but nevertheless
and the Mediterranean. Speed of movement and surprise quarrelsome warriors impelled to invasion and conquest.

baptized a and embarked on the mass

promised to stop
Christianization of the population,
enforced by torture and massacre.
VIKING KING raiding England But Olav’s rise to power
BORN c.963 around the British Isles, ranging in return for a alienated other Scandinavian
DIED 1000 from the Hebrides to the Scilly Isles. hefty bribe in gold rulers. In 1000 he was
KEY CONFLICTS Viking Invasions of England, He must have built up a substantial and other valuables. ambushed at sea by the
Viking Civil Conflict following for, in 991, he attacked the Bolstered with wealth combined fleet of Sweyn
KEY BATTLES Maldon 991, Svold 1000 east coast of England from Kent to and a prestigious faith, Forkbeard of Denmark,
East Anglia with 93 longships and an Olav now turned his Olav Eriksson of
A Viking raider who rose to be army numbering in the thousands. attention to Norway. Sweden, and the new
king of Norway, Olav Tryggvason is In 995 he overthrew Jarl of Lade. The battle
a figure whose historical existence A CHRISTIAN DEAL the Norwegian ruler, of Svold was hard fought,
emerges obscurely from the pages of At Maldon in Essex a local earl and Haaken, Jarl of Lade, Olav performing heroics

Norse sagas and Anglo-Saxon poetry. his thanes fought to the death in a aboard his great ship the
Allegedly a descendant of Harald vain attempt to repel the invasion. Long Serpent. Eventually
Fairhair, the first king of Norway, But the English king, Ethelred the Olav the warrior he was surrounded by
The king of Norway is depicted as
as a young man he led the typical life Unready, thought it more prudent a warrior in simple leather battle
his rivals and leapt into
of a Viking warrior. He served as a to do a deal with the Vikings, whose dress with wooden shield and iron the sea to avoid being
mercenary in Novgorod before motives were purely mercenary. In helmet in this 19th-century statue caught. His body was
leading his own warband on raids 994 Olav allowed himself to be by Hans Michelsen. never found.

BORN c.985
KEY CONFLICT Invasion of England
KEY BATTLES Ashingdon 1016, Helgea 1026 TO NOTHING THE POWER AND
In 1013 the young Canute joined MIGHT OF ALL OUR ENEMIES!
his father, King Sweyn Forkbeard of KING CANUTE, IN A LETTER, 1027
Denmark, on an expedition across
the North Sea. After decades of
raiding, the Danes had decided upon Canute sailed back to Denmark to however, the Scandinavian fighters
the conquest of England. With his assemble a new army and fleet drawn triumphed, inflicting a defeat from
son acting as his main lieutenant, from all parts of Scandinavia, and which Edmund could not recover.
Sweyn drove King Ethelred into returned to England in 1015. In December 1016 Canute was
flight abroad and claimed the crowned king of England.
English throne. After reigning HARDWON VICTORY He also soon became king
for five weeks, Sweyn died. The conflict that followed was of Denmark and, in 1026,
Canute was acclaimed king an arduous contest of fluctuating he decisively defeated the
by the Viking army in fortunes. Ethelred’s son, Edmund Norwegian king, Olav
England, but Ethelred Ironside, English king from April 1016, Haraldsson, and his
returned from exile to was a resourceful warrior. Canute Swedish allies in a
reclaim the crown. led his army on destructive marches Baltic battle at
across swathes of English territory, Helgea. This
exploiting the mobility provided by victory left
Godly Canute
King Canute was a friend
his fleet when necessary. But he failed Canute ruler of a
to the Church and is said to reduce London by siege and was North Sea empire,
to have visited Pope John several times bettered by Edmund in which he held until
XIX in Rome in 1027. the field. At the battle of Ashingdon, his death in 1035.

NORMAN WARRIOR confirm and extend his domains in
BORN c.1015 southern Italy. Robert’s ambition,
DIED 1085 however, craved a larger stage and
KEY CONFLICTS Byzantine-Norman Wars, he dreamed of becoming master of
Conquest of Sicily the Byzantine empire.
KEY BATTLES Civitate 1053, In 1081 Robert defeated the
Dyrrhachium 1087 Byzantine emperor, Alexius, at the
battle of Dyrrhachium on the Adriatic.
In 1047 Robert Guiscard, youngest Although distracted by involvement
son of a minor Norman family, set in fighting between the Holy Roman
out with a handful of followers to Empire and the papacy in 1085,
seek his fortune in southern Italy. Robert returned to his attack on the
Robert was cunning, fearless, and empire, but died in an epidemic on
physically impressive, a promising the island of Cephalonia. His eldest
combination for military success. In son, Bohemond, continued the
1053 he proved his fighting skills Norman drive eastwards as a leader
in the defeat of a papal army at of the First Crusade in 1097–99.
Civitate and, by 1061, he had made
himself Duke of Apulia and Calabria.
Invested by the pope
Robert’s next step was to invade Robert’s relations with the papacy were
Sicily, then under Muslim rule. The unfriendly at first. But over time, he aided the
Sicilian campaign sputtered on pope against the Holy Roman Empire, and was
for years while he also fought to appointed by him as Duke of Apulia and Calabria.


DUKE OF NORMANDY AND KING An illegitimate son of Duke Robert invasions of England: by Norwegian
OF ENGLAND of Normandy, William “the Bastard”, King Harald Hardrada and by William.
BORN c.1028 as he was known, inherited the The latter invasion succeeded, mostly

500  1450
DIED 9 September 1087 dukedom at the age of seven and his because Harald Hardrada’s attack had
KEY CONFLICT Conquest of England minority triggered the usual savage already fatally weakened Harold’s
KEY BATTLE Hastings 1066 contests between rival contenders army. But William certainly showed
for power – three of his guardians himself a forceful leader in organizing
were killed. William’s first struggles the invasion, at the crucial battle of
after coming of age were against Hastings, and in the subsequent brutal
his own kinsmen and rebellious suppression of English resistance.
barons, who had to be beaten into William spent most of his final years
acceptance of his authority. At in Normandy and died fighting the
Val-ès-Dunes in 1047, with the king of France, falling off his horse
help of the French king, Henri I, during a siege of the city of Mantes.
William defeated the rebels in battle
and by 1050 he was in possession
of his domains.


Ruthless in the pursuit of his
own interests, William practised the
medieval military arts of ravaging and
laying waste with determination.
He fought frequent wars with
his neighbours, challenging
Anjou for possession of
the county of Maine and
conducting a long feud
with Duke Conan of
Brittany. But he was also a
crafty diplomatist, winning
papal backing for his invasion
of England in 1066. The famous
Norman warrior cross-Channel venture was justified
As befitted a Norman by two alleged promises – by Edward
commander, William the Channel crossing
Conqueror was reputed
the Confessor to leave his throne to A medieval artist shows William’s army
to be a fine horseman William and by Harold Godwinson crossing to England in 1066. A seaborne
and a dauntless fighter to support William’s claim. Harold’s invasion was very much in the tradition of
in face-to-face combat. coronation in fact provoked two the Normans’ Viking ancestors.

LOCATION Anglo-Saxon army, consisting solely
North of Hastings, of armoured infantry, drawn up in a
southeast England tight defensive formation on Senlac
CAMPAIGN Norman Hill. William formed his own line
invasion of England with bowmen at the front, armoured
DATE 14 October 1066 infantry behind them, and cavalry
FORCES Normans: c.7,000 infantry and in three divisions to the rear. He
cavalry; Anglo-Saxons: c.9,000 infantry positioned himself in the central
CASUALTIES (estimates) Normans: 2,000 division with the Norman elite.
killed; Anglo-Saxons: 4,000 killed William’s bowmen went forward first
to open the fighting. They were
On 27–28 September 1066 William supposed to soften up the enemy, but
of Normandy led a fleet of around their arrows had little effect on the
700 ships across the Channel, with Anglo-Saxon shields and armour.
some 7,000 men and 2,000 horses
aboard. William’s opponent, Harold THE TIDE TURNS
II, had waited and watched for this Then William ordered a frontal
invasion all summer on England’s charge, his armoured infantry going
south coast, while William was in first with the cavalry following on.
penned into port in Normandy by Charging uphill took the steam out
adverse winds. But now the English of the Norman attack and the
king had marched north to face Anglo-Saxon shield wall held firm.
another invader, Harald Hadrada As the Normans fell back in some

of Norway. Thus William landed disarray, William, in their midst, tore

at Pevensey unopposed. off his helmet to prove he was still
alive and shouted for his men to rally.
DRAWN TO BATTLE Led by their duke, the horsemen
William may have been disconcerted turned and so did the tide of battle.
by the absence of Harold’s army, for The Anglo-Saxons had lost formation
he intended bringing the Anglo- so the Norman cavalry got among
Saxons to battle while staying close them, isolating and destroying them.
to his ships. He moved along the The rest of the battle was a grinding
coast to Hastings, where, on the attrition, with Harold’s men reduced
evening of 13 October, William’s to desperate defence until the
scouts informed him that Harold’s survivors fled at dusk. William had
army had at last arrived nearby. taken great risks, flinging himself
The following morning William into the thick of the fighting and
heard mass and then rode out to having several horses killed under
confront the enemy. He found the him. But Harold himself had died.

0 m 100 200
Lo ① In the early N
0 yds 100 200 nd morning Harold takes
up defensive position
at the top of the hill

⑤ Towards evening Normans

finally break the shield wall HAROLD
and Harold is killed
③ Repeated Norman
S enlac Hi ll attacks are repelled by the
Anglo-Saxon shield wall
④ Feigned Norman
retreats draw some
Anglo-Saxon troops
into breaking their line


KEY ns
Norman archers ② Battle starts with
Norman infantry Norm
volleys of arrows fired ans
Norman cavalry by Norman archers
Anglo-Saxon forces

500  1450

Bayeux Tapestry
Depicting the Norman invasion and the
battle of Hastings, the Bayeux Tapestry
accurately represents the Anglo-Saxons
on foot behind their shield wall and the
charging Norman knights on horseback.
1095 – 1300


N 1095 POPE URBAN II APPEALED for a crusade to rescue

Christian Byzantium from the threat posed by the Seljuk Turks,

I and to free the Holy Land from Muslim control. A mix of

religious enthusiasm, greed for land, and lust for adventure
drove thousands of knights from western Europe to undertake the perilous
journey to the eastern Mediterranean. In 1099 they captured the city of
Jerusalem, and crusader states were established in Palestine and Syria. The
Christian presence in the East was to endure for almost two centuries.

A Muslim counter-offensive was quick to develop, Hospitallers, first established in the Holy Land.
so that by 1147 a new Christian army was on These two orders developed superior training
its way from Europe to reinforce the crusader strategies, discipline, and leadership.
states. This Second Crusade, the first to be led
by European kings, was a dismal failure. The TACTICS AND TECHNIQUES
impressive victory of the Kurdish warrior Saladin The crusaders were skilled at building castles
over the Christians at Hattin in 1187, followed and fortifying cities; they also showed great
by his capture of Jerusalem, precipitated the Third expertise in the conduct of sieges. On campaign,
Crusade. Despite encompassing armies headed maintaining supplies, especially of water, was
by the three most powerful European rulers always a limiting factor. Crusader commanders,
– the kings of England and France, and the ruler who developed a healthy respect for their
of the Holy Roman Empire – this also achieved Muslim opponents, used foot soldiers as a screen
little. Holy war had become a feature of medieval against skirmishers and attempted to restrain their
European life, but the energies it released also headstrong knights from rash, premature charges

500  1450
found other targets. The Fourth Crusade in 1204 and pursuits that too often ended in disaster.
turned into an attack on the Byzantine empire Commanders on both sides avoided pitched
– Constantinople was sacked – while other battle unless they felt at a clear advantage or were
crusades were directed against heretics in Europe compelled to fight. In the long-drawn-out, subtle
or pagans around the Baltic. After the abject tactical game that resulted, the Muslims were
failure of the Seventh Crusade, led to Egypt always the likeliest long-term winners.
by the French king, Louis IX, in 1249, no
further serious challenge was made to Muslim
domination of the Middle East. The last of the
crusader states fell in 1291.
Christians against Muslims
The Christian knights wear the heavier TROOPS AND EQUIPMENT
armour in this medieval manuscript
illumination of a violent clash between The Christians brought to the East their own
charging crusaders and Muslim horsemen. style of warfare, unmodified by the region’s
alien terrain and hot climate. Their elite
fought as heavily armoured mounted knights,
despite the searing heat of summer that gave
the advantage to the more lightly clad
Muslim horsemen. Christian commanders
led a mix of feudal troops, tied to their
leader by an obligation of service, and
mercenaries paid for out of limited
financial resources. An important
contribution to the crusader forces
was made by the religious orders of
knights, such as the Templars and the

Crusader helmet
The pot helm, developed during the crusades,
offered maximum protection to the head, neck,
and face. However, the helmet restricted the
knight’s vision and was stifling in hot conditions.

THE FIRST CRUSADE WAS LED by nobles of two kings – Richard I of England and Philip II of
and members of royal families, but not reigning France – and the German emperor, Frederick Barbarossa.
monarchs. Its success, however, meant that some But this “dream team” brought only limited success, and
of the most powerful European rulers volunteered for later the crusading spirit was waning by the time the French
crusades. The Third Crusade, precipitated by the loss of king, Louis IX, led the Seventh and Eighth Crusades to
Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, attracted the participation Egypt and Tunis respectively.


BORN 8 September 1157
DIED 6 April 1199
KEY CONFLICT Third Crusade
KEY BATTLES Siege of Acre 1191, Arsuf 1191,
Jaffa 1192

Son of King Henry II and Eleanor

of Aquitaine, Richard I was leading local politics and sacked the city Crusader sword
A sword was part of the standard weaponry
troops at the age of 16. Tall, strong, of Messina. He was also delayed in
of a crusader knight, along with a lance,
and fearless, he had a natural aptitude Cyprus, which he seized from its

dagger, and mace. This heavy broad blade

for war. His courage earned him Greek ruler. Finally reaching the could hack through the light armour worn
the nickname Coeur de Lion, Holy Land in June 1191, Richard by most Muslim warriors.
or “Lionheart”. He proved his joined the crusader army that
skills against rebel barons, and was besieging Acre.
also fought against his father.
Inheriting the English throne FRUITLESS VICTORY
in 1189, Richard saw England Richard’s arrival galvanized the
as a source of military funding, Christian forces, weary from a long
and used the kingdom’s siege. Despite falling seriously ill, he
wealth to equip a crusade in directed the siege operations that
1190.The journey was slow brought the city to surrender in July;
and eventful. In Sicily he was also responsible for the
Richard intervened in massacre of the surrendered garrison.
Marching south from Acre, Richard
defeated the Muslim sultan, Saladin,
in a battle at Arsuf, but stopped short
of attempting the more difficult task
of seizing the holy city of Jerusalem
– the crusade’s main objective. The consequence. Richard needed to go Royal conflict
fighting settled home and made a peace with Saladin Richard’s battle with Philip II Augustus (left) at
down to low-level that left Jerusalem in Muslim hands. Gisors, northern France, was depicted after the
event as a symbolic duel between knights.
skirmishing and On his way back to England
sparring. In 1192, Richard was seized by his sworn
after Saladin seized enemies the Duke of Austria and the against Philip II Augustus, showing
Jaffa, Richard German emperor. His freedom was his usual reckless courage and tactical
retook the city. It bought with a huge ransom collected flair. He died after being hit by a
was a surprise assault in England. He spent the rest of his crossbow bolt during a minor siege
and he held it against life defending his domains in France at Chalus in central France.
counterattack, leading his
knights into the thick of
the fight. But such
Tribute to a king
A 19th-century statue of THAT THE SAR ACENS MIGHT BE
Richard stands outside
London’s Houses of
Parliament, a reminder
dauntless warrior king.
E R A OF T H E C R U S A DE S 75

eager to continue the consolidation and Flemish forces at Bouvines.

PHILIP II AUGUSTUS and expansion of his realm. He made
little progress until after Richard’s
Philip himself was nearly killed,
unhorsed by a Flemish foot soldier
FRENCH KING successfully against the English king, death in 1199, succeeding – he was saved by his fine armour.
BORN 21 August 1165 Henry II, winning large territories in then in taking most But his knights had the best of
DIED 14 July 1223 central France for the French crown. of Normandy from a fierce melee and won the
KEY CONFLICTS Third Crusade, He felt obliged to participate in the his successor, day. After these scares he
War of Bouvines Third Crusade with Richard I in King John. In did not risk his life again.
KEY BATTLES Siege of Acre 1291, the summer of 1190 – the two set general, Philip His long reign left French
Bouvines 1214 off together because neither trusted excelled at royal territories greatly
the other enough to remain behind. making war extended and the lands
Although lacking the dashing Philip reached the Holy Land first while avoiding of the English kings in
qualities of his contemporary, and contributed to the siege of Acre, the hazardous France much diminished.
Richard the Lionheart, Philip II but he was outshone when the more business of
Augustus became one of the most flamboyant Richard arrived. fighting battles. But
The king’s seal
successful French monarchs of Often ill and increasingly at odds in July 1214 he was Philip II is depicted holding the fleur de lys
medieval times. Inheriting the throne with the English king, Philip left for victorious in a desperately of France, encircled by the legend ”Philip, by
in 1180, early in his reign he fought home soon after the fall of Acre, contested encounter with German the grace of God, king of the French.”

Mameluke counterattacks. But for Tunis in north Africa. Landing in

LOUIS IX Louis’ situation at Mansurah became the summer heat, his army was soon
untenable as the Egyptians cut his decimated by disease. Louis was one
FRENCH KING the crusaders encountered Egypt’s supply line down the Nile. When he of the first to die. His last words were
BORN 25 April 1214 slave soldiers, the Mamelukes. attempted a withdrawal to Damietta, reportedly “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”
DIED 25 August 1270 Louis’ brother, Robert of Artois, led his army, weakened by disease, was
KEY CONFLICTS Seventh Crusade, a surprise attack on the Mameluke surrounded and captured. A king in captivity

500  1450
After his defeat in Egypt in 1250, Louis was
Eighth Crusade camp. At first the raid swept away all The king and his nobles were captured (on the left of the scene) and then
KEY BATTLES Damietta 1249, Mansurah 1250, before it, but Mameluke commander released in return for a huge ransom held prisoner at Mansurah. The ransom paid
Tunis 1270 Rukn ad-Din Baibars lured the and the return of Damietta. Louis to obtain his release was more than twice the
impetuous knights into a trap. The remained in the Holy Land for a total annual revenue of the French Crown.
Grandson of Philip II Augustus, the Christians were massacred, including further four years before finally
pious King Louis IX was a keen Louis’ brother. The king showed returning to France.
crusader, if an unsuccessful one. He his mettle by rapidly organizing a Louis did no further crusading until
embarked on the first and most defensive position with his remaining 1270, when he again set sail from
important of his two crusades in forces and then beating off fierce Aigues-Mortes, this time bound
1248, sailing from Aigues-Mortes in
southern France,
initially to Cyprus.
There he decided
to attack Egypt, the
heartland of the
Muslim Ayyubid
dynasty. In June
1249 Louis led a
bold opposed
landing on a beach
at the mouth of the
Nile and, defeating
the Muslims on the
sands, marched
onwards to occupy
the port of Damietta.
This was a triumph,
but Louis foolishly
rejected an Ayyubid
offer to trade Jerusalem
for Damietta. Instead,
after a prolonged
delay waiting for
reinforcements, he
marched south towards
Cairo. At Mansurah


■ May 1147 As Duke of Swabia, Frederick GERMAN KING AND EMPEROR
sets out with his uncle, King Conrad III of BORN 1122
Germany, on the Second Crusade. DIED 10 June 1190 LEGNANO
KEY CONFLICTS Second Crusade, Wars of CAMPAIGN War with the Lombard League withdraw from confrontation with a citizen
■ 25 October 1147 Marching through the Guelphs and Ghibellines, Third Crusade DATE 29 May 1176
Anatolia, the German crusader army is militia of foot soldiers armed with pikes. The
KEY BATTLES Siege of Milan 1162, LOCATION 30km (18 miles) from Milan, northern Italy
surprised and decimated by the Seljuk Turks imperial cavalry charged, with Frederick
at the battle of Dorylaeum. Legnano 1176 Challenged to battle by the Italian Lombard prominent in their midst. They might have
League, Frederick was outnumbered and his carried the day, but the emperor was unhorsed
Frederick I Hohenstauffen, known forces unbalanced – his army consisted almost by a pike and disappeared from view. Believing
as Barbarossa, was the dominant entirely of armoured knights, without infantry him dead, his knights wavered and allowed
European military and political figure support. However, he was not prepared to themselves to be driven from the battlefield.
of his time. He ruled as emperor for
35 years, stamping his authority on
Germany and campaigning tirelessly
to assert imperial power over Italy in
the face of resistance from the papacy
and Italian city-states.
Frederick’s military career began,
■ July 1148 After arriving in Palestine
as it would end, with a crusade. In
Frederick participates in the disastrous siege of 1147 as Duke of Swabia, he left for
Damascus. The Second Crusade is abandoned. the Holy Land with the German
army assembled by his uncle, King
■ 9 March 1152 Frederick is declared Conrad III.Young Frederick was a
King of Germany at Aachen. He claims to have far more dynamic, charismatic figure
been named by Conrad III on his deathbed as
than Conrad and, although lacking
his successor.
experience, soon attained a prominent
position among the German crusaders.

■ 18 June 1155 Crowned emperor by Pope

Adrian IV, Frederick restores papal control of When a flash flood inflicted heavy
Rome, hunting down Arnold of Brescia, a losses on the encamped army in
leading figure in the Commune of Rome. Thrace, only Frederick’s men were
able to avoid damage, having set up
■ 1158 Frederick invades Italy in the
company of Henry the Lion of Saxony and
their camp on high ground. he was one of the survivors. Then in Italy with the aim of reducing hostile
forces the city of Milan to recognize his However, Frederick participated Palestine he was party to the ill-fated cities to subjection, chief among them
authority after a siege; the Milanese soon fully in the subsequent disasters of decision to lay siege to Damascus, Milan. The style of warfare consisted
renege on the agreement. the campaign. When most of the which ended in ignominious retreat. almost exclusively of laying waste the
German knights were massacred, countryside and conducting long
■ January 1160 The siege of the Italian ambushed by Seljuk Turks as they EMPIRE AGAINST PAPACY sieges. It so happened that Frederick
town of Crema concludes with its destruction.
Frederick is excommunicated by Pope
tried to march across central Anatolia, In 1152 Frederick succeeded Conrad had the patience and ruthlessness, as
Alexander III in March. to the German throne, not by well as the heavy equipment, that
hereditary right but as the approved successful siege warfare required.
■ March 1162 After a long and bitter siege, Sleeping hero choice of powerful German nobles. Frederick’s conquest of both Milan
Milan surrenders and is destroyed by Frederick. Frederick drowned in 1190, Unlike his predecessor, he also and its ally, Crema, were notable for
but legend says he is not succeeded in having himself crowned ingenious siege techniques, making
■ 1167 Victory against the army of the dead. Instead he sleeps emperor by the pope. This was in use of wheeled towers, battering rams,
Commune of Rome at Monte Porzio in May beneath Kyffhäuser
is followed by the sack of Rome’s Leonine City, Mountain in
return for suppressing a rebellion tunnels, and catapults. But they were
on the west bank of the Tiber. But disease Germany and against papal authority in Rome. For also occasions of unspeakable cruelty,
brings campaigning to a halt and forces will awake the next 20 years, however, the papacy Frederick in his frustration having
Frederick to flee to Germany. one day to and the empire were in conflict, and prisoners hacked to pieces or strung
lead again. the politics of Italian city-states were up in front of his siege engines and
■ 29 May 1176 The Lombard League
polarized between Guelph supporters used as human shields. Starvation was
defeats Frederick at the battle of Legnano.
Afterwards the emperor is forced to make
of the pope and the pro-imperial the most effective weapon – and one
peace, recognizing Alexander III as pope. Ghibellines. From 1158 to 1162 that eventually brought both cities to
Frederick campaigned in northern surrender. Frederick razed Milan in
■ 1181 Invading Saxony, Frederick drives
out Henry the Lion, stripping him of his lands.

■ March 1188 Frederick takes up the cross

at Mainz Cathedral for the Third Crusade and
begins to assemble a vast army.

■ May 1189 He embarks on the crusade

from Regensburg, marching to Constantinople
months before the other crusading armies.

■ 1190 Entering Anatolia, Frederick

captures Konya from the Muslims (May), before
drowning in the River Saleph (10 June). His
army loses confidence and returns to Germany.
E R A OF T H E C R U S A DE S 77

1162, yet he lacked the resources to Pavia three days later to general
impose his will permanently on Italy. astonishment, the disaster at
His power base in Germany was too Legnano effectively
insecure, his presence constantly ended his ambitions
required to keep powerful nobles – to dominate Italy.
particularly Henry the Lion of Frederick made
Saxony – under control. And cities his peace with the
such as Milan had the wealth to papacy, and later
rebuild themselves and their citizen with Milan and the
armies once Frederick had left. other city-states.
Afterwards Henry
THE LOMBARD LEAGUE the Lion felt the full
Frederick had been at odds with weight of Frederick’s
Pope Alexander III since a disputed fury for failing to aid
papal election in 1159, in which he him. The emperor
had intervened. He grew increasingly invaded Saxony, exiled
desperate to oust Alexander, but Henry, and stripped
when he occupied Rome in the him of his lands.
summer of 1167, the result was a
catastrophe. The pope escaped and an THE THIRD CRUSADE
epidemic killed most of Frederick’s Frederick still had an overriding
army. Boosted by this, Milan and ambition: to lead a crusade. In
other Italian cities formed an 1189 he set out once more for the
alliance against him: the Holy Land. Like his uncle 40
Lombard League. The years earlier, Frederick chose
emperor had to slip back the overland route through the
to Germany in disguise to Byzantine empire and Anatolia.
evade his enemies. A proud After serious clashes with
man, Frederick was bound Byzantine forces, his crusaders
to seek revenge for this entered the Anatolian
humiliation. territory of the Seljuk
In 1174 Frederick Turks in spring 1190.
returned to Italy in His men were in poor
order to crush the condition, exhausted
Lombard League. by heat and thirst.Yet
But disagreements Frederick sustained
meant that Henry morale and even
the Lion refused Looted treasure succeeded in taking
to come to his aid The gilded, jewelled Shrine of the Three the Seljuk city of
and Frederick’s Kings in Cologne Cathedral reputedly Konya. The hardest
contains relics of the Magi, looted from
forces were too travelling appeared
Milan by Frederick in 1164.
small for the task to be over when he
on their own. The was drowned while
imperial invasion stalled in a failed crossing the River Saleph. Exactly
siege of Alessandria, and the Lombard how this happened will never be
League grew in confidence. In May known. Frederick’s body was rescued
1176 its militia foot soldiers crushed and inadequately preserved in
and almost killed Frederick at vinegar, and on their arrival at
Legnano. Although he narrowly Antioch the crusaders hurriedly
survived the battle, turning up in buried his rotting remains.



Restoring order
This 19th-century statue of Frederick stands
in Goslar, in Lower Saxony, Germany. Though
a ruthless campaigner, at home he strove to
bring peace to the disparate German states
with many concessions to influential and
powerful nobles.
Barbarossa’s submission
In 1177 Frederick had to make peace with
Pope Alexander III. This 16th-century
painting elevates the event into an
elaborate public display of homage.

EUROPEAN CRUSADERS WERE able to carve Muslims in holy war against the infidels. Of the warriors
out kingdoms in the eastern Mediterranean who led the defeat of the crusades, the most famous in
because of disunity and weakness among the Europe is Saladin, whose chivalrous relationship with
region’s Muslim states, more interested in fighting one Richard the Lionheart became legendary in the West. But
another than the alien intruders. A counterattack was in the Islamic world Baibars is the greater hero, revered
inevitable once strong leaders emerged capable of uniting for his victories over both Mongols and Christians.

In failing health, and with limited Islamic hero

SALADIN control over the varied elements
of his army, Saladin allowed the
This monument to Saladin
stands in front of the
citadel in Damascus,
AYYUBID SULTAN OF EGYPT AND SYRIA ill-informed of their movements, Christians to regain the initiative. Syria, a city that he
BORN c.1138 he allowed himself to be surprised at King Guy, freed after his defeat at ruled from 1174.
DIED 4 March 1193 Montgisard with his forces dispersed. Hattin, led a siege of Acre from
KEY CONFLICTS Ayyubid-Crusader Wars, The result was a massacre that Saladin 1189. Saladin failed to relieve
Ayyubid-Zengid Wars was fortunate to survive. He learned a the city before Guy was
KEY BATTLES Montgisard 1177, Jacob’s Ford lesson from this setback. For the rest joined by fresh crusaders
1179, Hattin 1187, Arsuf 1191, Jaffa 1192 of his career he would be prudent from Europe in 1191,
and patient, waiting for a chance to
Correctly known as Salah ad-Din engage his enemy on his own terms.
Yusuf ibn Ayyub, the warrior ruler Saladin took his
familiar to Europeans as Saladin was revenge two years

a Kurd born in Tikrit in present-day later in a campaign

Iraq. His family entered the service of that ended with the
the Zengid ruler, Nur ad-Din, in Syria total destruction of
and, from 1164, Saladin accompanied a crusader fortress at
his uncle, Asad ad-Din Shirkuh, on Jacob’s Ford.
a series of military expeditions to
Egypt. There he was initiated into TO JERUSALEM
combat, distinguishing himself in a It was not until 1183 that the
victory over the Egyptian Fatimids capture of Aleppo in Syria – a
on the banks of the Nile and crucial breakthrough in his
withstanding a lengthy siege in war with the Zengids
the ancient city of Alexandria. – at last freed Saladin
The two Kurdish warriors to focus on defeating
developed their own ambitions in the crusaders. He
Egypt, Saladin inheriting the marched on
position his uncle had Jerusalem, but
gained as vizier (high was frustrated
official) at the Fatimid when the
court in 1169. Two crusader army refused
years later he defeated battle on unequal terms.
the Fatimid caliph No such judgement was
and took power for exercised by King Guy, a
himself, founding the French knight who ruled
Ayyubid dynasty. After Saladin coin Jerusalem, when he faced
the death of Nur This Turkish copper dirham Saladin at Hattin in 1187.
ad-Din in 1174, from 1190–91 shows Saladin The Christian army was
seated and in his civic role
Saladin returned slaughtered and Jerusalem
as the dispenser of justice.
to Damascus where exposed to a siege it
he challenged the could not withstand.
Zengids for control of Syria. The Saladin entered the city on
ensuing struggle continued for over 2 October 1187, behaving with
a decade. While fighting his fellow humanity and decency towards the
Muslims in Syria, Saladin also defenders. This was policy as well as
undertook war against the crusader chivalry, for over the following years
kingdoms of Palestine. Control of a number of crusader strongholds
Jerusalem was the glittering prize surrendered when assured of good
he most sought. treatment. However, his decision
In 1177 Saladin invaded Palestine, to release aristocratic prisoners
sacking strongholds along the coast. allowed many to resume
Underestimating the Christians and battle against him.
E R A OF T H E C R U S A DE S 81


CAMPAIGN Ayyubid-Crusader Wars hills in summer heat, harassed by Muslim MAMELUKE SULTAN OF EGYPT AND SYRIA September 1260 the Mongols suffered
DATE 4 July 1187 skirmishers who prevented them seeking water. BORN c.1223 their first defeat, sometimes seen as
LOCATION Near Lake Tiberias, Palestine DIED 1 July 1277 a decisive turning point in history.
Near hills known as the Horns of Hattin, they
In the summer of 1187 Saladin threatened the were surrounded by Saladin’s far superior army. KEY CONFLICTS Mameluke-Crusader Wars, Baibars headed the Mameluke army,
Christian-held city of Tiberias, hoping to draw The thirsty crusader knights made repeated Mameluke-Mongol Wars with Qutuz in overall command. The
King Guy of Jerusalem into mounting a relief charges attempting to escape, but few broke KEY BATTLES Al-Mansurah 1250, Ain Jalut sultan did not live long to savour his
offensive. A crusader army advanced over bare through and the rest were killed or captured. 1260, Siege of Antioch 1268 triumph; on his way back to Cairo
he was assassinated, probably on the
The life of Baibars al-Bunduqdari orders of Baibars, who succeeded him.
was a triumph of talent and ruthless
ambition over lowly origins. A MERCILESS OPPRESSOR
Kipchak Turk enslaved at an early As sultan, Baibars imposed his rule
age, he became a Mameluke slave effectively on Syria. He fought more
soldier in the service of the Ayyubid campaigns against the Mongols and
caliph of Egypt. After first attracting ground down the crusader states,
attention for his role in a victory reducing major strongholds one by
over the crusaders outside Gaza in one. He showed none of Saladin’s
1244, Baibars led the crushing defeat chivalry towards those he defeated,
of the French King Louis IX’s indulging in pitiless massacre, despite
invading crusader army at al- promises of safety to those who
Mansurah in February 1250. surrendered. The capture of Antioch
The crisis of the crusader invasion in 1268 was followed by a particularly
led the Mamelukes to take power in shocking carnage, in which the entire
Cairo, but Baibars was still no more Christian population was killed or
turning the balance of forces against than a trusted general. When the enslaved. The crusader castle of the
him. He could only watch as Acre fell all-conquering Mongols threatened Krak des Chevaliers fell in 1271,
to the Christians, and he was defeated Syria and Egypt a decade later, but Baibars did not live to see the
by Richard the Lionheart’s army at Mameluke Sultan Qutuz ordered Christian presence in Palestine
Arsuf and the following year at Jaffa. Baibars to lead the counter-offensive. completely extinguished. He died
At Ain Jalut, north of Jerusalem, in either from poison or a fatal wound.

500  1450
Saladin’s grasp of strategy was still
good enough to deny the crusaders
a chance to retake Jerusalem, but he THROUGH YOU GOD HAS PROTECTED
sought a peace deal with Richard.
His famous gesture of sending fruit THE R AMPARTS OF ISLAM AND
and ice to the fever-struck English
king formed part of a diplomatic PRESERVED THEM FROM THE
offensive that secured the crusader
king’s departure in 1192. When PROFANATIONS OF THE ENEMY.
Saladin died shortly after, he was FAKHR AL-DIN IBN LUQMAN, EULOGY OF BAIBARS, C.1270

still in possession of the Holy City.

Krak des Chevaliers

The finest of all crusader castles, the Krak des
Chevaliers in Syria belonged to the military
order of the Hospitallers. Baibars captured
it in April 1271, battering
breaches in its thick walls
and taking it by assault.

IN AUGUST 1191 RICHARD THE LIONHEART slow stages, stopping to allow the supply ships that
of England led a crusader army south along the accompanied his army offshore to keep up. The Muslim
Palestinian coast from Acre towards Jaffa, which commander, Saladin, who had also been camped at Acre,
he intended to use as a base for retaking Jerusalem from followed the crusaders on higher ground inland, harassing
the Muslims. Aware of the dangers that heat and thirst them with skirmishing raids, all the while looking for the
posed to his armoured knights, Richard proceeded by right opportunity to launch a decisive attack.

Fearless leader
RICHARD THE LIONHEART Richard is shown in a heroic charge
in this 19th-century illustration of the
Richard’s response was to hold a battle of Arsuf, trampling the enemy
beneath the hooves of his horse.
tight formation, waiting for the right
moment to signal a coordinated
charge. This strategy required the
knights to remain passive while
arrows rained down on them,
killing many of their horses.


Finally discipline snapped and
groups of Hospitallers began to

Richard knew it was vital for his break formation and charge the
army to maintain discipline on the enemy, engaging in close-quarter
march. He placed a screen of foot combat. Finding himself unable to
soldiers, including crossbowmen, on halt the knights, Richard joined
the landward flank of his column, to them, in the words of a chronicler
shield the mounted knights, and gave “cutting down the Saracens like a
strict orders that the knights were reaper with his sickle”.
not to respond to provocation from The Muslims fled the carnage,
skirmishing enemy horsemen. only to turn again and resume their
On 7 September 1191, approaching harassing attacks. By plunging into
the town of Arsuf, Richard suspected the fray, Richard had lost overall
that Saladin intended to attack in control of his army, but his personal
force. He rearranged his column in example was an inspiration to his
preparation for battle, advancing with knights in finally driving off the
the elite Templars and Hospitallers in enemy. On the final balance of
the van and the rear respectively. casualties, Richard justly celebrated
When the Muslim onslaught began, a victory at Arsuf.



Dawn Expecting a Muslim The crusader army sets Riding in the centre of The Hospitallers at the Richard again refuses the
onslaught during the day’s march, off from camp. Richard the column, Richard rear come under intense Hospitallers permission to break

Richard tightens and strengthens rides up and down the keeps his knights in pressure. Richard refuses to formation, but the knights lose
the formation of his column line to inspect and disciplined formation, authorize a counterattack discipline and charge the enemy

encourage the troops continuing the march

1191: 7 SEPT

Saladin draws up his forces Around 9am Saladin launches Saladin sends his cavalry Saladin follows the progress of Many Saracen bowmen are
on a plain north of Arsuf, his skirmishers in a mass attack forward, swarming the battle from a hilltop, although killed, surprised by the crusader
between forested hills, and on the crusader column, hurling around the rear of the the view is obscured by dust knights’ charge. Close-quarter
waits for the crusaders darts and shooting arrows crusader line raised by the horses’ hooves combat becomes widespread
E R A OF T H E C R U S A DE S 83

Mediterranean Sea Holy Land, near
Arsuf N
⑤ Richard orders a series
of charges by his knights. Tel Aviv, Israel
These successfully drive
off the Muslims
③ Attacks on the rear of the CAMPAIGN The Third Crusade
column force crossbowmen
Templars to face backwards DATE 7 September 1191
FORCES Crusaders: under 50,000;
① Muslim Muslims: unknown
skirmishers launch RICHARD Hospitallers CASUALTIES According to Christian
constant attacks
on crusaders as chroniclers, Crusaders: 700 killed;
they march
Muslims: 7,000 killed

Crusader cavalry
Crusader infantry/ ④ Hospitaller
Crusader fleet ② Mounted archers
harass crusaders
knights break
ranks and charge SALADIN
Crusader baggage train from a distance
Muslim cavalry 0 km 0.5 1 would follow, swarming around the
Muslim infantry/skirmishers 0 miles 0.5 1 Christians to provoke them into an
undisciplined charge.
Unlike Richard, Saladin had
no intention of fighting in person,
instead observing the action from
a good vantage point at the top of
a nearby hill. The battle proceeded
broadly as Saladin had planned,
but not with the outcome he
had intended. The Christians did
Saladin had a clear tactical approach eventually break formation and
to defeating the Christian knights, charge in a ragged fashion, and
well protected by their chain mail. Saladin was able to respond with
He would provoke them into an a vigorous counterattack. Further

500  1450
attack on his forces during which attacks and counterattacks followed,
they would lose formation, allowing but the Christians ultimately had the
his lighter horsemen to infiltrate, better of the close-quarter fighting.
surround, and progressively destroy
them. After harrying the progress of LOSS OF PRESTIGE
Richard’s army with skirmishing Saladin did not lose control of his
attacks along their march from Jaffa, army, but each time he returned his
Saladin’s forces waited on the plain at horsemen to the fight they were
Arsuf. This plain had been chosen by again driven off with heavy losses.
Saladin as the location for battle The unsuccessful outcome of the
because it provided a good open battle was a serious blow to the
field for his cavalry, with the flanks Muslim commander’s prestige.
secured by woods and hills. The Christian victory was an
indecisive one, however, and resulted
BATTLE COMMENCES in Saladin reverting to harassing
Saladin’s plan was to concentrate tactics instead of engaging Richard
on the rear of the crusader column, again in open battle. Although
sending in first his foot skirmishers Richard went on to take Jaffa, he
– including both Numidians and was unable to capitalize on his gains
Bedouin – to attack with darts and take Jerusalem – the ultimate
and arrows. The mounted archers goal of the crusade.

Unable to restrain his knights, The crusaders become The crusaders drive off Richard leads a small The crusaders march on
who attack along the length disorganized in the melee. the Muslims in a series of group of knights to the to Jaffa in celebratory
of the line, Richard himself Richard temporarily loses piecemeal counter-charges; rear of the column and mood, and install
charges into the fray effective control Richard himself fights in once more drives off themselves in the city
the thick of the action the Muslims


Saladin sees his men turn Saladin succeeds in As the van of the crusader Saladin withdraws in good
and flee in the face of the rallying his fleeing troops column reaches Arsuf, the order to Ramleh, where he
charge of the armoured and mounts a spirited Muslims again attack takes up a blocking position
crusader knights counterattack the straggling rear on the road to Jerusalem


IN THE 11TH CENTURY the Iberian peninsula by militant Muslim dynasties from North Africa. In the
was unruly frontier country, where Muslim and 13th century the Christians gained the upper hand. The
Christian kingdoms sparred for advantage and kingdom of Portugal, founded by Afonso Henriques,
any man with a horse could forge a reputation as a knight. evicted the last Muslim rulers from its territory in 1149.
Clear-cut religious wars developed as Christian kingdoms A Muslim emirate lingered in Granada until 1492, when
led crusades to reconquer Iberia for their faith, countered Castile and Aragon founded the kingdom of Spain.

maverick during the Fearsome weapon

EL CID Reconquista. Indeed, his life
story shows the shifting
El Cid is supposed to have fought the
Almoravids with this sword, which
became associated with the dauntless
CASTILIAN MILITARY LEADER complexity of relations
nature of the man himself. It is currently a
BORN c.1040 between Spanish trophy of the Burgos Museum, Castile.
DIED 1099 Christian and
KEY CONFLICT Reconquista Muslim states
KEY BATTLES Graus 1063, Morella 1084, at that time. army of Aragon. El Cid
Siege of Valencia 1093–94 Son of a minor made a name for himself,
official at the reportedly killing one of the
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as Castilian court in Burgos, leading Aragonese knights in single
El Cid (“the Lord”), was a Castilian El Cid served in wars combat. Besides his martial prowess,
warrior who fought on behalf of fought by King Sancho II he proved an intelligent tactician and
both Christian and Muslim rulers in of Castile in the 1060s. In a natural leader of men. But in 1072

11th-century Spain, and later in life the most famous action of Sancho was assassinated and succeeded
fought chiefly for his own interests. this period, the battle of by Alfonso VI. El Cid had a difficult
He has achieved near legendary status Graus, Sancho was allied relationship with the new king and
as a Castilian national hero, despite his with the Muslim ruler of was eventually exiled from Castile.
ambivalent position as an honourable Zaragoza against the Christian He found employment at Muslim
Zaragoza, which he defended ably
against Christian attacks, again
defeating the Aragonese at the
battle of Morella in 1084.

The situation changed radically
in 1086 when the Almoravids –
fervently Muslim Berber warriors
from Morocco – invaded the Iberian
peninsula, reigniting the holy war
and defeating Alfonso VI at Sagrajas.
Alfonso recalled El Cid to his
court, but the general did not stay
for long. Assembling an army of
Christians and Muslims nominally
in the service of Castile but actually
owing personal loyalty to him, El Cid
embarked on a complex series of
campaigns against the crucial Muslim
city of Valencia. After a long siege
the city fell to El Cid in June 1094.
The ensuing ambush and defeat of a
counterattack outside Valencia in
December sealed El Cid’s independent
rule over the city. After his death in
1099,Valencia continued to be ruled
by his widow Ximena for three more
years, before falling to the Almoravids.

National hero
El Cid has been a legendary figure in Castilian
culture, celebrated since the 12th century in
epic poems and romances. This statue is
housed in the Castilian fortress of Segovia.
E R A OF T H E C R U S A DE S 85

KING OF PORTUGAL at the battle of Ourique. Almost
BORN 25 July 1109 everything is obscure about this
DIED 6 December 1185 triumph, which legend attributes to
KEY CONFLICT Reconquista the intervention of St James. After
KEY BATTLES Ourique 1139, the battle, Afonso’s soldiers are said to
Siege of Lisbon 1147 have declared him king of Portugal,
but the kingdom of León rejected this
In 1112 at the age of three, Afonso unilateral declaration of independence.
Henriques became titular monarch
of Portugal, part of the kingdom of LISBON UNDER SIEGE
León. The regency was assumed by In 1147 Afonso exploited a stroke
his mother, who sent Afonso into of fortune when a body of English,
exile and ruled with her lover, the German, and Flemish knights, who
count of Galicia. Aged 14, Afonso had embarked by sea for the Second
gave the first glimpse of his forceful Crusade, took refuge from a storm at
nature by bestowing a knighthood Porto. Afonso persuaded them to help
upon himself, rather than receiving him seize the Muslim city of Lisbon
the title from a figure of authority. in return for plunder and land. A
In 1128 he marched an army into four-month siege ensued, after which
Portugal and defeated the Galicians the Muslim defenders of the city were
and his mother at the battle of Sao starved into surrender and massacred.
Mamede. Now in possession of the The River Tagus marked the
government, he took the title of southern boundary of Afonso’s realm
king. Afonso aspired, above all, to for the rest of his life. In 1179 after
independence from León. many vicissitudes, Afonso at last gained
This goal inspired him to campaign the recognition of his independent
against his Muslim neighbours, hoping kingdom by Pope Alexander III.
that victories over the infidel would A man of vigour, reputed to be a
raise his prestige and win him the daunting opponent in face-to-face
support of the papacy. In July 1139 combat, he was still able to lead an
Afonso defeated five Muslim rulers army on campaign at the age of 75.

500  1450
Family tree
This tapestry represents the line of descent of
the Portuguese royal family from 1179, when
it was founded by Afonso Henriques.

forces with Alfonso in Toledo. The

ALFONSO VIII Almohads waited for the Christian
army in a strong defensive position
KING OF CASTILE AND TOLEDO southern Spain. In 1195 Alfonso on the plain of Las Navas de Tolosa.
BORN 11 November 1155 encountered an Almohad army
DIED 5 October 1214 under Yakub al-Mansur at Alarcos. IMPROVED TACTICS
KEY CONFLICT Reconquista The battle was a catastrophe for Alfonso had learned from the defeat
KEY BATTLES Alarcos 1195, Alfonso, his unsubtle tactics allowing at Alarcos. Instead of making a frontal
Navas de Tolosa 1212 his knights to be surrounded and approach, he led his army across a
massacred. The king escaped with his mountain pass to arrive on the plain
Alfonso VIII succeeded to the life and, in July 1212, had his revenge. behind the Muslims. When battle
Castilian throne as an infant and was The Almohad caliph, Muhammad III was joined, he withheld a cavalry
fortunate to survive as rival nobles al-Nasir, led a powerful army from reserve to throw into the fray at
battled over the regency. At the age north Africa into Spain. Pope the crucial moment and scatter
of 15 he emerged from seclusion to Innocent III declared a crusade to the enemy with the force of its
reclaim his heritage, and was keen resist the Almohad host and knights armoured charge. The victory
to lead Christian Spain in a religious flocked from northern Europe and marked the beginning of the final
war against the Muslims. Islamic the other Iberian kingdoms to join decline of Muslim influence in Spain.
radicals, the Almohads, had replaced
the declining Almoravids as rulers
of north Africa and Muslim
This bronze statue of Alfonso VIII stands in
Soria, a city that supported him during the THE CHRISTIAN FATALITIES AT
Reconquista. Married to Eleanor, daughter
of Henry II of England, Alfonso presided
over a cultured court and founded the first
Spanish university, at Palencia.
1200 – 1405


YING BETWEEN ANCIENT CENTRES of civilization in west

Asia, China, and India, the vast expanses of central Asia were

L inhabited by nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples, given to

raiding and banditry. Whether Mongols, Turks, or Tatars,
under the right leadership these fierce and hardy warriors proved the most
successful fighting men of medieval times. In the early 13th century Genghis
Khan laid the foundations for the world’s largest land empire; almost two
centuries later Timur the Lame was victorious from India to the Aegean.

The era of the Mongol conquests can be dated battlefield, using flags, smoke, and other signals
from 1206, when Genghis Khan established his to transmit commands. Physical prowess was
leadership over the steppe tribes. This enabled not at a premium – Mongol general Sübedei
him to form large armies for long-distance achieved some of his greatest victories when
campaigns that continued under his successors. past the age of 60 and too fat to mount a horse,
China was conquered in stages, the north coming while Timur was both physically disabled and
under Mongol control by 1234, the south in the elderly at the time of his major triumphs. Instead,
1270s. The drive across Asia to the west brought they possessed qualities of intellect and willpower.
Mongol armies as far as central Europe in 1241, Exploiting the ability of their mounted armies
where they defeated Christian forces at Liegnitz to move fast over long distances, the Mongols
and Mohi. The Muslim world suffered worse, often manoeuvred opponents into a hopeless
notably with the fall of Baghdad, capital of the position without engaging battle. They delighted
Abbasid caliphate, in 1258. in tricks and stratagems, such as the feigned
But the golden era of the Mongol empire was retreat, and deliberately employed terror as

500  1450
brief. By 1300 its leadership was fragmented and psychological warfare.
had lost the desire for conquest.Yet the memory
of Genghis’s achievement remained potent, and SAMURAI RESISTANCE
in the late 14th century the Tatar Timur the Lame, The Mongols were not always victorious.
claiming descent from the Mongol khan, revived In 1274, and again in 1281, Kublai Khan failed in
his imperial ambitions. His military feats were attempted seaborne invasions of Japan. Although
truly impressive, as was the scale of his massacres. a typhoon played the major part in the defeat
Those he defeated included the Mongol Golden of the second and larger invasion, the defensive
Horde (the western division of the Mongol efforts of the Japanese themselves were certainly
empire), the sultan of Delhi, the sultan of Egypt, a significant factor in Kublai’s failure to subdue
Mounted warriors and the previously invincible leader of the them. The Japanese had developed a very
Mongol horsemen outclassed most of Ottoman Turks, Bayezid. different military system, honed entirely in civil
their diverse enemies, including some who
deployed war elephants. The Mongols wars. Their warfare was dominated by the
were always open to innovation and STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE samurai, a military caste in some ways similar to
adopted military skills from other cultures. Mongol and Tatar successes owed much to the European knights, except that they were equipped
quality of their leadership. Their commanders with bows as well as swords. Although battle was
did not lead from the front. Rather they directed partly ritualized – with a role for single combat
operations from a vantage point overlooking the between leading samurai and acceptance of a
rigorous code of honour – fierce power struggles
were fought out between noble clans. The most
notable of these culminated in the Gempei Wars
of the 12th century, which resulted in the rule of
the Minamoto shogunate.

Decorative sword mounting

Only members of the Japanese Imperial Court
used the kazari tachi sword, a status symbol as
well as a defensive weapon. This mounting has
gold fittings and is inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

THE TWO GREATEST LEADERS of the the civilizations that they overran, the Mongol and Tatar
nomadic central Asian horsemen, the Mongol commanders were notable above all for the atrocities they
Genghis Khan and the Tatar Timur, both devoted perpetrated. But men such as Sübedei and Timur were also
much of their lives to subduing and unifying tribes under sophisticated masters of strategy and tactics, and Kublai
their leadership. Once united, the nomadic armies were Khan could not have conquered Song China without the
unmatched as an instrument for military conquest. For ability to organize warfare on an impressive scale.

their walled cities. He returned with Monument to power

GHENGIS KHAN a siege train in 1214 and captured A modern statue of Genghis Khan depicts
the founder of the Mongol empire as a truly
Zhongdu the following year, although
imposing figure. As leader of the steppe
MONGOL KHAN he extended his control over the the Jin were only fully conquered
tribes, he adopted his famous name, which
BORN c.1162 fragmented tribes until, in 1206, he under Genghis’s successors. means, appropriately, “supreme ruler”.
DIED 1227 was acknowledged as khan (ruler) of The Mongols also struck westwards
KEY CONFLICTS Conquest of the Tangut the united peoples of the steppe. into Muslim-ruled central Asia. The
Empire, Mongol-Jin War, Invasion of the shah of the Khwarezmian empire
Khwarezmian Empire ALLCONQUERING KHAN – which stretched from Iran to
KEY BATTLES Beijing 1215, Samarkand 1220 As Genghis Khan he harnessed the Uzbekistan – had executed a
energy of inter-tribal war to launch a Mongol ambassador, provoking
The founder of the Mongol empire campaign of conquest. His first target an invasion that crushed the
was originally named Temujin, the was the Tangut empire in western great cites of Samarkand and
son of the chieftain of one of the Xia (now northwestern China). First Bukhara. By the time Genghis

many nomadic tribes that inhabited invaded in 1209, the Tanguts were died in 1227, his armies had
what is now Mongolia. Temujin’s absorbed into the Mongol empire swept as far west as the
father was murdered when he was in the last years of Genghis’s reign. shores of the Black Sea.
a child and he grew up as a tough Further south lay the territory of the
survivor in a hostile environment. Jin dynasty, descendants of Jurchen
Success in the raids and skirmishes steppe horsemen who ruled
of endemic tribal warfare made him northern China from
the leader of a growing warrior band Zhongdu (now Beijing).
and allowed him to form valuable Genghis attacked them
alliances with tribal leaders. By in 1211 but was
establishing his authority over his blocked by the
friends and defeating his enemies, defences of


Every Mongol tribesman was a horseman
and a warrior. On their small, hardy mounts,
these nomadic tent-dwellers sustained
campaigns over thousands of kilometres
without a supply train. Their weapon was
the composite bow, which they used in
disciplined manoeuvres learned through
collective hunting of game. The indifference
of these warriors to the suffering or death
of their enemies was absolute.


MONGOL GENERAL Over the following decade, first
BORN c.1176 under Genghis and then under his CLOTH BLOCKS THE WIND.

KEY CONFLICTS Invasion of Khwarezmian campaigned in the east. He led

Empire, Mongol-Jin War, Kievan Rus, Poland the final defeat of the Jin dynasty
and Hungary through the capture of Kaifeng, the army of the Hungarian king, Bela IV, and massacred the Christian troops as
KEY BATTLES Kalka River 1223, Siege of Jin capital, following the loss of into confused flight with a frontal they fled. No army in Europe could
Kaifeng 1232–33, Mohi 1241 Zhongdu. This campaign showed his attack across a river – supported by have resisted the Mongols, but after
ability to deploy the full panoply of rock-throwing catapults used as field their victories they returned home
Born into an insignificant Mongol medieval siege-warfare techniques, artillery – and a simultaneous flank to elect a new khan and never
tribal family, Sübedei joined Genghis employing experts recruited from attack delivered from a concealed returned. Sübedei spent his last years
Khan at the age of 17, and became a China and conquered Muslim states. position. Sübedei’s horsemen pursued campaigning against Song China.
key figure in his early campaigns of
conquest. After the Mongols attacked MOVING WEST
the Khwarezmian empire in 1219, In 1237, when Sübedei was over
Sübedei was unleashed to show what 60 years old, he embarked on
he could do with an independent another series of major
command. Genghis ordered him campaigns in the west. He
to take 10,000 horsemen and track overran Russia, capturing the
down the fleeing Khwarezmian shah. cities of Kiev and Vladimir. In
The shah died before he could be 1241 he directed an invasion
caught, but Sübedei, finding himself of central Europe on three
in Azerbaijan, decided to explore lines of advance. As one army
further. Pushing west of the Caspian devastated Transylvania and
Sea he raided Georgia and then led another defeated the Christian
his men north across the Caucasus, knights at Liegnitz in Poland,
fighting local tribes, including the Sübedei attacked Hungary. At
Cumans, as he went. In May 1223 he Mohi on 11 April he drove the
fought a Russian and Cuman army
led by Mstislav of Kiev at the River
Kalka. Drawing the enemy in with Mongols versus Christians

500  1450
During the invasion of central Europe,
a feigned retreat, Sübedei turned directed by Sübedei in 1241, Mongol
and crushed them with a mixture horsemen proved superior to armoured
of cavalry charges and volleys Christian knights in both subtlety of
of arrows. manoeuvre and speed of movement.

contest control of the Yangtze and

KUBLAI KHAN its tributaries, as well as deploying
powerful catapults and primitive
MONGOL KHAN AND CHINESE EMPEROR gunpowder weapons in sieges. The
BORN 23 September 1215 fall of the key city of Xiangyang
DIED 18 February 1294 in 1273 was soon followed by the
KEY CONFLICTS Conquest of Song China, collapse of the Song state. In 1279
Invasions of Japan and Vietnam the last remnants of the regime were
KEY BATTLES Xiangyang 1268–73, destroyed at the naval battle of Yamen.
Yamen 1279, Bach Dang 1288
A grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai became ruler of all China and
Kublai grew up as part of an elite founder of the Yuan dynasty, but this
ruling empire that stretched from did not sate his appetite for empire-
Europe to China. Under Möngke, building warfare. He sent invasion
Great Khan from 1251, he was put forces south into Vietnam, Burma,
in control of northern China, taken and Java, and twice attempted to
from the Jin two decades earlier. invade Japan, in 1274 and 1281.
When Möngke died in 1259, These expeditions were far from
Kublai fought a war against his Mongol emperor successful, however. The Japanese
brother, Ariq Böke, for the title Kublai Khan ruled China as the founding ventures, involving the dispatch
of Great Khan. Kublai won, but emperor of the Yuan dynasty. The Mongol of large troop-carrying fleets, were
dynasty lasted for less than a century, and
the unity of the Mongol empire was replaced by the Ming in 1368.
beaten by a mix of vigorous samurai
was never fully restored. Indeed, resistance and bad weather. In
Kublai mutated from a Mongol Vietnam Kublai’s forces suffered a
khan into a Chinese emperor. densely populated southern China. series of defeats, culminating in the
Throughout the 1260s he Showing the usual Mongol gift battle of Bach Dang in 1288. In
campaigned on an expanding for bringing in foreign skills and reality, with Kublai’s takeover of Song
scale against the Song dynasty adopting new forms of warfare, China, the era of Mongol conquests
that still ruled prosperous, Kublai developed a river fleet to had reached its limit.

■ 1362 Fighting at the head of a small band TURCO-MONGOL CONQUEROR
of followers in tribal warfare, Timur is wounded BORN 8 April 1336
in a skirmish and made lame for life. DIED 18 February 1405 THE MOST
KEY CONFLICTS Tokhtamysh-Timur War,
■ 1366 Timur takes control of the city of Ottoman-Timurid War GREAT WARRIOR…
Samarkand as a subordinate ally of Husayn,
KEY BATTLES Kandurcha 1391, River Terek
emir of Balkh.
1395, Delhi 1398, Aleppo 1400, Ankara 1402 LORD TIMUR,
■ 1370 Timur defeats Husayn and captures
Balkh in northern Afghanistan, establishing Timur was born into a tribe CONQUEROR
himself in Husayn‘s place as a significant of Turco-Mongol horsemen in
regional ruler. Transoxiana, an area of central Asia OF THE EARTH.
roughly equivalent to present-day INSCRIPTION ON TIMUR’S TOMB,
■ 1386 Provoked by the incursions of SAMARKAND, C.1405
Tokhtamysh and his Golden Horde into Persia,
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. As a young
Timur begins a three-year campaign to the man he was the leader of a lawless
west, overrunning Georgia. band of fighters engaged in endemic
skirmishing between rival tribes and Tokhtamysh plundered northern
■ 1387 Timur campaigns in Persia and preying upon travelling merchants. Persia in 1385, Timur responded
Armenia. The Persian city of Isfahan is sacked He became known as Timur Lenk with his own destructive campaigns,
and 70,000 of its citizens killed.
(Timur the Lame) because of an destroying Shiraz and eventually
■ 1391 War breaks out between Timur and arrow wound that left his right arm taking Baghdad. The two warrior
Tokhtamysh. Timur wins an inconclusive victory and leg partially paralysed. leaders soon engaged in an epic
at the battle of the river Kandurcha. Timur rose to prominence through struggle for control of central Asia.
an ambitious emir (Muslim ruler), The outcome was decided at the
■ 1393 Timur occupies Baghdad. Two of Husayn of Balkh, who used the River Terek in 1395. Timur
Timur’s envoys are killed by the Mameluke
muscle provided by Timur’s band defeated Tokhtamysh in battle
sultan of Egypt.
to rise to power. Husayn was then and then laid waste his former
supplanted by his erstwhile supporter. territory with such efficiency

As ruler of Balkh and Samarkand, that the Golden Horde

Timur continued to campaign, but ceased to exist. Far from
by the age of 50, there was nothing satisfying Timur’s thirst for
to suggest he was destined for a warfare and conquest,
major role on the world stage.

ASIAN CONQUEST Sophisticated ruler

Timur is here depicted in 1774
Timur’s wider career of military
with the spear, sword, bow, and
aggression was triggered by rivalry shield of the steppe warrior. He
with his fellow nomadic warrior, had an astute, chess-player’s
Tokhtamysh, who had reconstituted mind and kept written
OTTOMAN SULTAN, BAYEZID I the Mongol Golden Horde. After records of his campaigns.

■ 1395 Timur destroys Tokhtamysh’s forces

at the battle of Terek and subsequently crushes
the Golden Horde.

■ 1398 Timur invades northern India,

captures Multan in the Punjab after a
six-month siege, and sacks Delhi, leaving
the city in ruins.

■ 1399 Timur begins a campaign of

extermination in Georgia, which is devastated
over the following four years.

■ 1400 Timur invades Syria, then ruled

by the Egyptian Mamelukes. He takes and
destroys the Syrian city of Aleppo.

■ 1401 Timur moves on to the Syrian capital,

Damascus, which he pillages and burns to the
ground. He meets the scholar Ibn Khaldun and
gleans information from him about Egypt.

■ 1402 At the battle of Angora (Ankara)

Timur defeats and captures the Ottoman
sultan, Bayezid I. He advances as far west
as Smyrna (Izmir) on the Aegean coast.

■ 1404 After returning to Samarkand, Timur

heads eastward for a campaign against Ming
China. He dies the following year.

total victory in central Asia was from settled populations to make and
followed by a series of breathtaking man battering rams and catapults, or
campaigns that ranged from Delhi to provide incendiary and gunpowder DELHI
Ankara in less than a decade. devices. He was adept at psychological CAMPAIGN Timur’s invasion of India field fortifications of trenches, spikes,
warfare, cunningly playing on his DATE December 1398 and ramparts to block the charge of
TIMUR’S HORDE enemies’ hopes and fears to weaken LOCATION Delhi, northern India
the pachyderms (elephants), and
The instrument of these campaigns, their resolve and divide them. To In 1398 Timur invaded northern India, incendiary devices were used to
Timur’s army, was at heart the those peoples he defeated, he was fighting the sultan of Delhi outside panic them. Hacking with their
traditional steppe nomad force, or no less than a nightmare of terror. the walls of his city. Timur’s soldiers sabres, Timur’s men drove the
horde, of tough mounted bowmen. were nervous of the sultan’s war Indians from the field. Delhi was
Within this highly organized OPPORTUNIST
elephants, but their leader created pillaged and laid waste.
force, each tuman (ten thousand Timur did not plan a grand strategy
men) was subdivided into for his campaigns, but was a raider,
thousands, hundreds, and striking in whichever direction a
tens. Timur controlled every challenge or an opening appeared.
detail of his army’s In 1398 he invaded northern India,
operations, from where the death of a long-ruling
the method of sultan of Delhi had left a
constructing a temporary weakness of
temporary camp political leadership. The
on the march to forces of the new sultan
the technique for were destroyed, as
building pontoon was the city. His
bridges. He was next target was
always on the the Mameluke
lookout for state of Egypt,
intelligence where another young, aggressive campaigns of Bayezid I, fortress of Angora (Ankara), they were
about his weak ruler had recently come sultan of the Ottoman Turks, had hot, thirsty, and exhausted. Timur
enemies and to power. Devastating Georgia won him the nickname Thunderbolt. controlled the scarce sources of water
distant lands en route, Timur marched into He had destroyed a powerful Christian on the dry plain, forcing Bayezid to
he might later Syria, a territory owing allegiance army at Nicopolis in 1396 and attack.The battle was hard fought, but
invade. When he to the Mamelukes. Defeating besieged the Byzantine capital, many Ottomans changed sides or fled.
met the Arab Ornate quiver an army of Syrian emirs at Constantinople. In summer 1402 Bayezid was imprisoned and died
historian Ibn Aleppo, he reduced the city Timur advanced deep into Anatolia, in captivity.Timur advanced to the

500  1450
All central Asian warriors
Khaldun at were first and foremost bowmen, to ruins. Damascus fared no evading Bayezid’s army marching east Aegean, seizing a Christian crusader
Damascus in carrying their arrows on their better. The Mameluke sultan to meet him. When Bayezid realized castle at Izmir, before returning to
1401, for horses in a quiver. led an army to defend the that the enemy was behind him, he Samarkand in triumph. He died two
example, he city, but fled precipitately, had to turn back. By the time his years later, having never fulfilled his
obtained a detailed description of unnerved by the size and ferocity of soldiers found Timur’s army near the final ambition to invade China.
Egypt, a likely future victim state. Timur’s forces. The city surrendered,
As well as the steppe warfare amid scenes of looting and massacre.
Conqueror's tomb
style of rapid movement Instead of pursuing the Mamelukes Timur had many fine buildings constructed in
and tactical trickery, down to their capital at Cairo, Timur his capital, Samarkand, including the tiled
Timur mastered siege now took on the only rival worthy mausoleum where he was buried. In life,
warfare, using experts of his own military prestige. The however, he followed the nomadic
tradition of his people, and only
made brief visits to the city.

“The scourge of god and
terror of the world.”
Tamburlaine the Great (1587) by
Christopher Marlowe highlights
Timur’s ambition and achievements.

H e was firm in mind, strong and

DESPITE SUFFERING from a serious east to the Altai region (present-day
physical disability, Timur was one of Russia), sacking and laying waste the
the most successful military leaders
in history. Paralysed down his right
land as he went.
Of his mental strength there was
robust in body, brave and fearless,
side as a result of an early wound, he
could ride a horse but was only able
never the slightest doubt.Timur’s keen
intellect and unshakeable willpower
like a hard rock… He loved bold and
to stumble short distances on foot,
otherwise needing to be carried.
were attested by all those who met
him. He was a first-rate chess player
brave soldiers, by whose aid he opened

Equally surprising is that his most

spectacular triumphs occurred when
and brought to military strategy and
tactics the sharp and calculating
the locks of terror and tore in pieces
he was in his sixties.
Yet despite this, Timur campaigned
mind of a potential grand master.
Astrologers formed part of his
men like lions……
in person at the head of his steppe entourage, but Timur ignored them
horsemen, enduring the hardships of when his estimation of a situation
From a manuscript (1436) by Ahmed Ibn
travel in all weathers across the vast contradicted their predictions. Arabshah, recounting his experiences as
expanses of Asia. His forays took him He was also implacably cruel and Timur’s servant. He was captured as a boy in
north into the Golden Horde and expected his soldiers to be the same. Damascus and taken to Samarkand.

B y cleverly feigning TIMUR ALWAYS TOOK great trouble the opponent into a trap. Battle
to bring his opponents to combat tactics often aimed to draw the
while they were at a material and enemy into an encirclement. The
flight, the hordes of psychological disadvantage. He
exploited the mobility of his forces
fast-moving and elusive horsemen
would shower their terrified victims

Timur opened up a path to achieve a greater chance of success

in numbers, taking advantage of
every possible means to divide or
with arrows while staying out of
reach of attempted counterattacks.
When the opponent had been
for the army of the sultan demoralize enemy armies. Timur’s
standard warrior was a mounted
fatally weakened, Timur’s skilled
warriors would close in for the final
archer equipped with a composite kill, seeking annihilation with sabre,
and permitted them bow, but his forces soon acquired
many other elements through his
spear, mace, and axe. However, there
was no expectation that Timur

to get well inside their conquests – from Indian elephants

to primitive flame-throwers.
The central Asian tradition of
would risk his own life in the thick
of the action. Observing the battle’s
progress from a safe distance, he
lines. Then they closed warfare was one in which cunning
and trickery were admired, especially
employed a range of visual and
sound signals to direct the

in and bore down upon the feigned flight designed to lure manoeuvres of his horsemen.

the sultan’s troops as though they Vita Tamerlani (1416) by Bertrando de

Mignanelli. An Italian merchant living in

were enclosed within a wall. Syria at the time of Timur’s conquests,

Mignanelli recounted how Aleppo was won.

F irst they seized their possessions

and then tortured them with whips,
knives, and fire… Often red hot irons
THE ATROCITIES for which Timur
was renowned went far beyond the
customary medieval practice of
permitting soldiers to indulge their
worst instincts at the expense of a
widely reported and have the fullest
psychological impact. Such measures
included raising pyramids of skulls
outside sacked cities or, at Damascus,
incinerating thousands of people
city taken by assault. It was a inside the Great Mosque. There is
were set on the flesh and they caused deliberate policy of terror by little doubt that Timur also took
Timur, designed to intimidate his personal pleasure in the terror that
the smoke to rise with an odour of roast enemies and dissolve their will to he inspired in others, once boasting
resist. He orchestrated dramatic that God had “filled both horizons
meat… Then he set fire to the city gestures that he knew would be with fear of me”.

of Damascus with all its buildings…

Sorrowful to relate, the whole of so great and large Vita Tamerlani (1416) by Bertrando de
Mignanelli. An appalled witness, Mignanelli
describes the destruction of Damascus by
a city was reduced to a mountain of ashes. s. Timur’s army in 1401.

“He is one who is

Arab historian Ibn Khaldun met Timur
during the siege of Damascus, later describing
the conqueror’s generous treatment of him.

favoured by Allah…”

500  1450

Loyal followers
This 17th-century Mogul painting shows
Timur during celebrations at Kan-i-Gil near
Samarkand. Despite his fierce reputation, he
inspired great admiration among his men.

MEDIEVAL SAMURAI were elite armoured fought between the Taira and Minamoto
warriors theoretically obeying a code of chivalry clans in 1180–85, ended in the foundation
– the bushido – and serving the Japanese emperor. of the military dictatorship of the shogunate.
In practice, by the 12th century the samurai had evolved The samurai generals of this period established
into warlord clans ruling provincial powerbases and idiosyncratic Japanese military traditions, including
competing for control of Japan itself. The Gempei Wars, ritual suicide as the correct response to defeat.

fighting withdrawal earned him

MINAMOTO YOSHIIE the name Hachimantaro – son of
Hachiman, the god of war.
JAPANESE SAMURAI Twenty years later, as a leader
BORN 1041 in his own right,Yoshiie fought the
DIED 1108 Later Three Years War against a
KEY CONFLICTS Early Nine Years War, northern clan, the Kiyowara. This
Later Three Years War conflict saw two incidents famous
KEY BATTLES Kawasaki 1057, Siege of in samurai legend.Yoshiie showed
Kanezawa 1086–89 his astuteness in spotting an ambush
by observing a flight of birds scared
Among the founders of the samurai by the hidden troops, and he displayed
tradition, Minamoto Yoshiie stands his aesthetic flair by engaging in an
on the cusp between history and exchange of verse with the Kiyowara

legend. As a young man he served leader in mid-battle.Yoshiie won the

alongside his father, Minamoto war, taking the fortress of Kanezawa
Yoriyoshi, in the Early Nine Years by assault after a long siege.
War, asserting imperial authority
over the Sadato clan in the northern
Expert swordsman
region of Honshu island. Minamoto Yoshiie displays the sharpness
His first battle, fought during a of his sword blade in a ferocious attack on a
snowstorm at Kawasaki, was a defeat, Go board. Samurai used two-handed swords
but his brave performance in the and never carried a shield.

Inland Sea. At Mizushima in 1183

TAIRA TOMOMORI he intercepted a Minamoto army
being ferried across, his samurai
JAPANESE SAMURAI Minamoto bodyguard, defeating fighting on the decks of oared galleys.
BORN 1152 them at the first battle of Uji and When the vanquished Minamoto
DIED 1185 killing the prince shortly afterwards. soldiers fled to shore, Tomomori’s
KEY CONFLICTS Gempei Wars Tomomori had further successes samurai caught them on horses they
KEY BATTLES Uji 1180, Mizushima 1183, in 1181, beating off a night attack by had carried on board.
Dan no Ura 1185 Minamoto Yukiie at Sunomata and The last battle of the war at Dan
pursuing him to Yahagigawa, where no Ura in 1185 was also at sea. Forced
Tomomori was the outstanding Taira the Taira forces again came off best. to fight a larger Minamoto fleet,
commander in the Gempei Wars. He When the tide of war turned against Tomomori nearly triumphed by his
was the son of the clan leader, Taira the Taira from 1183, Tomomori knowledge of local tides. But in the
Kiyomori, who had established the remained successful, making a skilful end he was defeated and, like many
first samurai government in Japan defence of fortresses around Japan’s of his warriors, committed suicide.
in 1160 and massacred or banished
the leaders of the Minamoto clan.
In 1180 the Minamoto attempted
a comeback, supporting another
candidate to the imperial throne,
Prince Mochihito. Taira Tomomori
hunted down Mochihito and his

Suicide of Tomomori
Defeated at the naval battle of Dan no Ura,
Taira Tomomori ties himself to an anchor and
plunges to his death, flanked by a retainer and
his mistress. Honourable suicide became one of
the salient features of the samurai tradition.

JAPANESE SAMURAI army on the coast some 50km
BORN 1159 (30 miles) distant and advanced on
DIED 1189 Yashima overland. The demoralized
KEY CONFLICTS Gempei Wars Taira once more fled to their boats.
KEY BATTLES Ichinotani 1184, Yashima 1184, In April 1185 Yoshitsune caught up
Dan no Ura 1185, Koromogawa 1189 with them at Dan no Ura. Although
they had a far superior fleet, the
Minamoto Yoshitsune, a superb Minamoto were wrong-footed as
swordsman always accompanied by the Taira held the advantage of the
his faithful warrior-monk Benkei, tide in their favour. But the tide
is one of the most popular samurai turned, the Taira were beaten, and
figures in Japanese literary and cultural the battle and the war ended in a
tradition. He was born in troubled mass suicide of the defeated.
circumstances. His father, Minamoto Yoshitsune had little chance to
Yoshitomo, had made himself head of enjoy his victory.Yoritomo, no doubt
his clan by parricide in 1156, fighting jealous and fearful of his militarily
in alliance with the Taira family successful younger brother, became
against his own father. In 1159, the his mortal enemy.Yoshitsune fled
year Yoshitsune was born,Yoshitomo into the hills and lived like a bandit
turned against the Taira in the Heiji with a small group of followers until
Rebellion, but was defeated and he was hunted down at Koromogawa
killed, along with his two eldest sons. and, cornered, committed suicide.
The baby Yoshitsune and his brothers,
Yoritomo and Noriyori, were spared
and exiled to different parts of Japan.
Yoshitsune was reunited with his Minamoto Yoritomo, the elder brother of
brothers at the start of the Gempei Minamoto Yoshitsune, lacked military talent
Wars in 1180. When Yoritomo, the but was cunning and ruthless. Defeated by
eldest, led an army against the Taira, the Taira at the battle of Ishibashiyama in

500  1450
Yoshitsune and Noriyori came to his 1180, he left the rest of the fighting to his
support. There is no definite record brothers. Once Yoshitsune had destroyed
of Yoshitsune’s life until 1184, when his rivals – both Taira and Minamoto –
he routed his cousin,Yoshinaka, in a Yoritomo took power himself. And to secure
Minamoto civil war.Yoritomo then his position, Yoritomo had his younger
authorized Yoshitsune to invade the brother hounded to his death. Yoritomo
became Japan’s first shogun in 1192,
Taira heartland around Japan’s Inland
ruling until his death seven years later.
Sea. Fast-moving and decisive,
Yoshitsune took as his first
objective the coastal fortress
of Ichinotani. He divided
his army, sending his brother
Noriyori to attack the
fortress from the front
while he led a smaller
force down a supposedly
impassable cliff to the rear.
The fortress was raided and
the Taira defenders fled to
their boats to escape by water.
After a pause to consolidate his
gains and build up his naval forces,
Yoshitsune followed the Taira to the
fortress fronting the beach at Yashima.
While the enemy waited for him to
close in by sea,Yoshitsune landed his


The outstanding general Minamoto
Yoshitsune embodied the samurai spirit.
Like all samurai of the Gempei Wars era his
was as much for display as protection.
1300 – 1456


he beginning of a problematic period in European warfare

was signalled at Courtrai, in Flanders, on 11 July 1302, when

T an army of Flemish weavers and tradesmen equipped with

staves, pikes, and bows defeated a mounted charge by French
armoured knights, killing a thousand noblemen. A shock to accepted notions
of social hierarchy and battle tactics, the upset at Courtrai indicated that
military commanders needed to rethink the way they fought wars if they
were going to keep abreast of a changing world.

The armoured knight was still the dominant who bequeathed to his successors a policy of
high-status figure in European armies throughout systematic reduction of French fortresses that,
the 14th and 15th centuries. But no army could in the 1420s, seemed to offer a prospect of final
be effective without making intelligent use of victory. But the French king, Charles VII, was
plentiful lower-class infantry – whether armed even more vigorous at adopting cannon, creating
with bows or pikes – and knights themselves a superior artillery train that reduced the
chose increasingly to fight on foot. Thus, for duration of sieges to days instead of months.
much of the Hundred Years War, fought by the Charles’s cannon not only destroyed medieval
French and English kings between 1337 and stone walls but, deployed in the field, allowed
1453, the English were dominant in pitched the French to turn the tables in pitched battles
battles because they had discovered a winning and drive the English from their territory.
formula for the deployment of densely massed
longbowmen and dismounted knights. NEW MILITARY AGENDAS
This led to famous victories at Crécy (1346), Warfare in the 14th and 15th centuries required

500  1450
Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415). The mental flexibility and freedom from prejudice.
French survived by adopting the strategic Charles VII had his cannon both built and
defensive. Protected by the walls of their fortified commanded in action by the brothers Jean and
towns, they could avoid battle and wear the Gaspard Bureau, specialists without the noble
English down, limiting them to laying waste blood usually considered essential for military
the surrounding countryside. command. Tactical innovation often came from
unexpected directions, such as the aggressive use
ADVANCED ARTILLERY of massed pikemen by the Swiss citizen militia,
The evolution of cannon during this period, or the deployment of gunpowder weapons by
from a peripheral novelty into an essential the maverick Czech Hussite general, Jan Zizka.
Clash of knights weapon, gave commanders another element of The new importance of infantry meant that the
The battle fought at Auray in Brittany in change to absorb into their strategy and tactics. common people had to be motivated and
1364, an episode in the Hundred Years War,
was a brutal clash between English and By speeding up siege warfare, cannon opened organized by leaders who knew how to appeal
French armoured knights supporting rival up the prospect of an end to strategic deadlock to their incipient nationalism. Nobles brought
Breton factions. in the Hundred Years War. They were used up to view war as a chance for the high-born to
intelligently by the English king, Henry V, earn glory had to be disciplined into accepting a
less flamboyant place on the battlefield. Mercenary
commanders leading bands of hardened, full-
time soldiers played a growing role in this
increasingly professionalized European warfare.

Lethal weapon
The poleaxe was a formidable weapon, wielded two-handed
by a soldier on foot. It had a spike for stabbing, an axe edge
for cutting, and a hammer for crushing blows.


FOR MUCH OF THE PERIOD from 1337 to culminating in their victory at Poitiers in 1356, but then
1453 the kings of England and France were at were frustrated by a tougher French defensive strategy.
war. The campaigns were fought predominantly King Henry V resumed English successes in 1415 against
on French soil, the English shipping troops across the an enemy weakened by factional warfare. However, the
Channel or launching raids from their base in Aquitaine. inspiration of Joan of Arc and the crafty practicality
They were successful in the early phase of the war, of King Charles VII gave final victory to the French.

French knights were brought down by terms at Brétigny in 1360. Among

EDWARD III his archers, then beaten in a melee. He other conditions, they ceded one-
took Calais after a year’s siege, a huge third of their country to Edward.
KING OF ENGLAND at Sluys in 1340, when he destroyed effort that involved shipping supplies However, he lived to see most of these
BORN 13 November 1312 a large French and Genoese fleet. Six to his army across the Channel. gains lost by his sons in his old age.
DIED 21 June 1377 years later he led an army of 15,000 Edward himself did not return to
KEY CONFLICTS Scottish Independence Wars, men to Normandy, sacking Caen and campaign in France until 1359, after
Attack on Caen
Hundred Years War ravaging northern France, forcing the the victory of his son, Edward the Edward III’s invasion of France in 1346 began
KEY BATTLES Halidon Hill 1333, Sluys 1340, French king, Philip VI, to fight a Black Prince, at Poitiers. Devastating with the taking of the city of Caen by assault.
Crécy 1346 pitched battle at Crécy. For Edward areas of northern France, he induced For five days, the victors sacked the city,
it was a triumph, as the charging the French to agree to onerous peace burning and plundering as they went.
Edward III was a powerful ruler who
stamped his authority on England.
The support of the nobility allowed

him to campaign abroad in security

and provided reliable lieutenants to
lead armies on his behalf. His first
military campaigns were against the
Scots, who had humiliated his father,
Edward II, at Bannockburn. He scored
a great victory at Halidon Hill in 1333
using innovative tactics. His knights
fought defensively on foot while the
Scots were felled by his longbowmen.


From 1337 Edward began to stake
his claim to the French throne, thus
sparking the series of conflicts that
became known as the Hundred Years
War. His aggressive campaigns across
the Channel brought a naval victory


The longbow was a simple weapon made
from a single piece of wood, but in the
hands of massed English and Welsh archers
it became a battle-winning technology. An
experienced bowman could shoot between
six and 12 arrows a minute. With several
thousand archers deployed, the effect was
similar to a machine gun. During Edward III’s
reign thousands of bows were stored in
armouries ready to equip the army on
campaign. The archer himself was an even
more precious resource, for the skill had
to be learned from childhood. The reign of
the longbow on the battlefield lasted from
Halidon Hill in 1333 to Agincourt in 1415.


ENGLISH PRINCE Aquitaine’s new ruler
BORN 15 June 1330 The Black Prince kneels before his father,
DIED 8 June 1376 Edward III, to receive the grant of the duchy of
Aquitaine. The king outlived his son by a year.
KEY CONFLICTS Hundred Years War,
Castilian Civil War
KEY BATTLES Poitiers 1356, Najera 1367 reputation he earned at Poitiers
was confirmed by his defeat of the
Edward, Prince of Wales, was the Castilians and French in a pitched
eldest son of Edward III. Known battle at Najera in Spain during 1367.
as the Black Prince because of his Edward was prepared to listen to
distinctive armour, he was described advice, but firm in his own decisions.
by the chronicler Jean Froissart as His battlefield style was tough and
“the Flower of Chivalry of all the ruthless rather than glory-seeking.
world”, and was undoubtedly an These were qualities he also brought
outstanding battlefield commander. to the chevauchée, a destructive ride
In 1346 Edward led through enemy territory,
a division at Crécy, pillaging and burning
where he fought on the way. He
alongside his also presided
father. He went over the
on to replicate massacre of
Edward III’s tactics Limoges in 1370,
from that battle where thousands
– dismounted troops were killed for having
arranged defensively switched allegiance to
– with his own army the king of France.
at Poitiers ten years By then Edward was
later (pp.100–01). Prince of Wales feathers
already suffering from
There Edward At Crécy the Black Prince purportedly a disease that would
achieved an even took his foe’s ostrich-feather emblem kill him before he
greater victory. The and German motto, Ich Dien (I Serve). acceded to the throne.

500  1450
KING OF FRANCE of the battle, but fell into English ENGLISH DUKE he led an extraordinary five-month
BORN 16 April 1319 hands and was imprisoned. Jean’s BORN 6 March 1340 march to Aquitaine through eastern
DIED 8 April 1364 treatment in captivity was an example DIED 3 February 1399 and central France. It was not a
KEY CONFLICTS Hundred Years War of perfect chivalry, however. He was KEY CONFLICTS Hundred Years War, success. The French king, Charles V,
KEY BATTLES Poitiers 1356 allowed to roam freely and given Castilian Civil War and his constable, Bertrand du
royal privileges. But the failure of KEY BATTLES Najera 1367, Lancaster’s Guesclin, strictly avoided battle and
The son of Philip VI, French king France to raise the vast ransom Raid 1373 the fortified towns along the route
Jean II first experienced war against demanded for his release meant that proved impregnable. Attempting to
the English as Duke of Normandy he died in captivity. The third son of Edward III, John live off the country, John lost half his
in the 1340s. Acceding to the throne of Gaunt inherited the title Duke of men to starvation and disease. His
in 1350 he attempted to reform the Lancaster through marriage. He had other major military venture was an
French forces. His Royal Ordinance the misfortune to become the invasion of Castile in 1386, where he
of 1351 set rates of pay for knights leading English commander as the claimed the throne in the right of his
and soldiers, and denied nobles the tide of war was turning in favour second wife. This was also a failure.
right to withdraw their troops from of France. Having fought under his
the battlefield on their own orders. brother, the Black Prince, at Najera
However, the king’s authority in 1367, John succeeded to the
was weak and contested. Jean dukedom of Aquitaine in 1371.
assembled a large army to face King Edward was desperate to
the English at Poitiers in 1356, reanimate his flagging war with
but his decision to attack with France but neither he nor the Black
most of his knights on foot proved Prince was fit to fight, so in summer
disastrous – as did his lack of control 1373 John crossed the Channel to
over his noble subordinates. He Calais at the head of a large army. In
fought bravely in the latter stages what is known as Lancaster’s Raid,

Jean the chivalrous Father of a king

A prisoner of the English, Jean II was During the reign of Richard II, John of Gaunt
allowed to travel to France to help raise was a dominant influence in English political
his own ransom, afterwards returning struggles. His son became king as Henry IV
honourably to captivity in England. seven months after John’s death.


LOCATION had assembled an army and sought three battalions, with longbowmen one behind the other, with a cavalry
East of Poitiers, to bring him to battle. Edward turned on the flanks. The prince himself spearhead of 300 men. As the French
central France back towards Aquitaine, hoping to took up position on high ground prepared to attack, Edward called on
CAMPAIGN Hundred avoid an encounter. However, on at the rear, with a clear view of the his troops to have faith in God and
Years War 17 September, outside Poitiers, a clash battlefield and at his disposal a obey their orders.
DATE 19 September 1356 between English and French cavalry cavalry reserve commanded by a
FORCES French c.15,000–20,000; announced that the enemy was near. trusted knight, the Captal de Buch. HANDTOHAND COMBAT
English c.8,000 The next day, knowing that he was The sight of the French army was The initial French cavalry charge
CASUALTIES French c.2,000 killed, c.2,500 heavily outnumbered, Edward found daunting. Not only did it outnumber was a disaster. Funnelled between the
prisoners; English unknown a defensive position on a wooded the English by two to one, but it also flanking archers, the French knights
slope, with hedges, vines, and marshy consisted almost entirely of armoured were brought down by arrows shot
In the summer of 1356 Edward ground that would inhibit a French knights, whereas many of the English at their horses and then butchered by
the Black Prince led an army from cavalry charge. He ordered his men were lightly armed foot soldiers. But English men-at-arms with sword and
English-ruled Aquitaine through to dig ditches and construct palisades. Edward had chosen a field that dagger. From his vantage point the
central France, laying waste and limited the number of troops the prince saw the first French battalion
looting French territory. At the River BATTLE LINES French could feed into battle at any come up on foot, but fall back after
Loire he learned that the French king, On the morning of 19 September one time, reducing the impact of prolonged hand-to-hand fighting. He
Jean II, supported by his son, the Edward drew up his army for battle, cavalry. The French knights were then saw the inexplicable flight of the
Dauphin, and the Duc d’Orléans, his knights on foot, divided into organized in three battalions on foot, second battalion, apparently panicked

by events in front of them into John Chandos, dispatched the Captal

quitting the field. The third French de Buch with his horsemen to circle
N 0 km 0.5 1
battalion, under Jean’s command, was behind the advancing French knights. Po
itie 0 miles 0.5 1
still an overwhelming mass of shining Then he mounted his own charger rs ① Majority of
armour and banners. and led his entourage into battle the French knights
dismount before
with a flourish of trumpets. Attacked JEAN II start of the battle
A TIGHTENING CIRCLE simultaneously by the Captal de

Weary English hearts wavered as the Buch from the rear, the French were ⑤ Cavalry charge, led
by the Captal de Buch,
French advanced to renew combat. driven back on themselves in an ORLÉANS outflanks the French left
The archers were short of arrows, so ever-tightening circle. Amid scenes Maupertuis

many threw down their bows and of massacre, Jean II surrendered and DAUPHIN ③ Initial French cavalry
took out their daggers. But Edward, was taken prisoner along with most charge halted by English
④ Successive longbowmen
advised by his experienced friend Sir of the surviving French nobility. French attacks fail
s on
② English form up
in defensive position
BLACK behind a thick hedge
English infantry
of Nouaillé
AND CRUEL AS A LION, TOOK THAT English longbowmen
French cavalry
Nouaillé Mo
DAY GREAT PLEASURE. French infantry



500  1450

The battle of Poitiers

This medieval portrayal tries to show the
effectiveness of the English longbowmen
– although in reality they would have been
far more numerous and shot at longer range.

BRETON KNIGHT AND CONSTABLE Auray and by the Black Prince at
OF FRANCE Najera. In both defeats Du Guesclin
BORN c.1320 was captured, but on both occasions
DIED 13 July 1380 thought worthy of a royal ransom.
KEY CONFLICTS Breton Civil War, Castilian Tough and ugly, once described
Civil War, Hundred Years War as “a hog in armour”, Du Guesclin
KEY BATTLES Siege of Rennes 1356–57, was appointed constable of France
Cocherel 1364, Auray 1364, Najera 1367, in 1370. He immediately justified
Pontvallain 1370 his position by routing the English
in a small-scale but significant
Born into an obscure Breton family, engagement at Pontvallain. From
Du Guesclin made a famous military then onwards he dominated the
career through sheer fighting skill. He English by using Fabian tactics –
was blooded in the succession war avoiding battle, disrupting supplies,
that tore Brittany apart in the 1340s and harassing the enemy in a war of
and 1350s, France and England attrition. Du Guesclin’s professionalism
supporting opposing claimants to turned the tide of the war back in
the dukedom. Impressed with his France’s favour, justly earning him
resistance to the English in the siege burial in the royal abbey of St Denis.
of Rennes, Dauphin Charles, later
King Charles V, took Du Guesclin into
Badge of office
royal service. His battle record was Du Guesclin is presented with the sword of
mixed. He was victorious against the office by Charles V, on his appointment as
Captal de Buch at Cocherel, but constable of France in 1370. This was the
defeated by Sir John Chandos at highest military office in the land.


KING OF ENGLAND Medieval ruthlessness
Henry V was a charismatic war leader and a GLORIOUS VICTORY WOULD HE BY
BORN Born 16 September 1386
subtle politician. He could be ruthless even
by medieval standards, as in the infamous
KEY CONFLICTS Hundred Years War massacre of French prisoners at Agincourt. HENRY V’S SPEECH AT AGINCOURT, ACCORDING TO HOLINSHED’S CHRONICLES, 1587
KEY BATTLES Agincourt 1415, Siege of Rouen

As heir to the English throne, the shipbuilding and equipping himself KEY BATTLE
future Henry V first commanded an with bombards – heavy cannon that
army at the age of 16 during Owain were becoming key to siege warfare. AGINCOURT
Glyndwr’s uprising in Wales. He Henry returned to northern France CAMPAIGN Hundred Years War
fought the rebellious Sir Henry in 1417. The defeat of the French at DATE 25 October 1415
“Hotspur” Percy at Shrewsbury Agincourt left the English largely free LOCATION Pas-de-Calais, northeast France
in 1403 and had to have an arrow from the risk of pitched battle. Henry
removed from his face. It was embarked on two lengthy sieges, at Henry V was marching towards Calais, with
therefore as an expert fighter, Caen and Rouen. Both were men depleted by exhaustion and disease,
scarred by battle, that Henry successful, and the fall of Rouen in when he was intercepted by a much larger
succeeded to the crown in 1413. 1419 left Paris exposed to an English French army. The English took up a solid
advance along the Seine. In 1420, defensive position between dense woods.
POLITICAL GOALS through military pressure and subtle Advancing over mud the French knights were
Reviving the English monarchy’s negotiations, Henry induced one overwhelmed by the English longbows, then
claim to the French throne, in August faction of the divided French elite set upon by men-at-arms and archers wielding
1415 Henry led an army across the to recognize him as regent and swords and axes. When his baggage train
English Channel. After taking the heir to the French throne. He was attacked, Henry massacred his prisoners
port town of Harfleur in a six-week campaigned in alliance with in defence. The French defeat was total.
siege, he was outmanoeuvred by the the Burgundians, reducing
French and forced to give battle, only one by one the fortresses
to win an unexpected victory at of the faction loyal to the
Agincourt. This triumph French Dauphin. His
encouraged the English king’s sudden death from
military and political ambitions. dysentery in 1422 was
Showing a firm a severe setback for
grasp of strategy, England, and the
he ensured naval French gradually
superiority gained the upper
by devoting hand over the
resources to ensuing decades.


FRENCH COMMANDER where Charles was crowned king
BORN c.1412 in July 1429. But her plan for an SHE ACTED SO WISELY AND CLEARLY
DIED 30 May 1431 immediate attack on Paris was
KEY CONFLICTS Hundred Years War blocked by cautious courtiers. By IN WAGING WAR.
KEY BATTLES Siege of Orléans 1429, September, when she did assault the TESTIMONY OF JEAN II, DUC D’ALENÇON, AT THE RETRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC, 1455

Patay 1429 city, the English and Burgundians

were prepared and her attack failed.
In 1429 French fortunes were at a low Joan was captured by the Burgundians
ebb.The English Duke of Bedford was at Compiègne in May 1430 and sold
claiming to rule France as regent for to the English. Tried for heresy, she
the child king, Henry VI; the English was burned at the stake in Rouen. A
and their Burgundian allies controlled rehabilitation trial in 1455–56 reversed
northern France and were besieging the verdict; she was canonized in 1920.
Orléans. In these dire circumstances
the French Dauphin, Charles,
cowering at Chinon, was ready to
listen to a peasant girl from Lorraine
claiming a holy mission to save France.
Joan of Arc, known in her lifetime
as Joan the Maid, joined a small
army sent to relieve Orléans.
Her confidence in her mission
was total. She dictated arrogant
letters to the English demanding
that they “return to the Maiden
… the keys to all the good
towns [they] took and violated
in France”. With no military
experience, Joan showed
an instinctive grasp of the
psychology of warfare.

500  1450
Joan’s arrival in Orléans inspired
the French soldiers with religious
and patriotic enthusiasm, which she
channelled into bold attacks that
reversed the moral balance of the
siege. Senior French commanders
who had learned caution through
bitter experience tried to exclude
her from decision-making, but her
ideas prevailed to spectacular effect.
In a series of sorties from Orléans,
the French seized English strongpoints
by frontal assault. The demoralized
enemy withdrew, ending in days a
siege that had lasted months.
Given command of an army with
the Duc d’Alençon, Joan then began
clearing the Loire Valley. Encountering
an English army at Patay, she broke it
up with a lightning attack before the
English could finish their defensive
plans. Success brought volunteers
flocking to the French ranks; towns
and cities opened their gates to Joan’s
army and pledged allegiance to the
Dauphin. She marched north through
Burgundian-held territory to Reims,

Maiden commander
In 1429 Joan of Arc, an illiterate village girl
inspired by religious visions, was provided with
armour, a horse, banner, and other knightly
equipment so that she could lead a French
army to the relief of the siege of Orléans.

EUROPEAN CONFLICTS in the later medieval international aristocracy of knights, they learned to mobilize
period saw more involvement of the common popular enthusiasm and make effective tactical use of
people in warfare, and a new role for outstanding lowborn foot soldiers. The reality of the lives of men such
commanders who embodied ethnic identities forged in as Alexander Nevski or Robert Bruce was more complex
struggles against foreign invaders or alien overlords. than the myths later built around their exploits suggest,
Although by birth these leaders were members of the yet their struggles contributed to the building of nations.

GRAND PRINCE OF NOVGOROD tribute. As a result, Novgorod and its
BORN 30 May 1220 lands were never occupied by Mongol
DIED 14 November 1263 forces, and Alexander was free to
KEY CONFLICTS Sweden-Novgorod War, combat another threat from the west.
Northern Crusades In 1240 the Swedes, competitors
KEY BATTLES The Neva 1240, of Novgorodians in the trapping and
Lake Peipus 1242 trading of fur, sailed up the River
Neva to crush their rivals. Alexander’s
The Russian national hero, Alexander defeat of their army brought him the
Nevski, was a younger son of Yaroslav, honorary title of Nevski.
prince of Vladimir. In 1236 Alexander He faced a sterner test two years

was invited to rule the prosperous later. The Roman Catholic Teutonic
city-state of Novgorod, near the Knights were campaigning annually
Baltic Sea, which had long been a to the east of Germany against pagans
major centre of trade. At first it was and Orthodox Christians. They
Alexander’s diplomatic rather than targeted Orthodox Novgorod, and



military skills that were called on to by 1241 much of its territory was in
protect Novgorod, as the Mongols the hands of the Livonian branch of
swept westwards to extend their vast the Teutonic Knights. Despite his
empire in 1238–40. Alexander victory on the Neva, Alexander had
obtained the city’s right to self-rule been exiled from Novgorod because
in exchange for paying a handsome of political disputes, but was recalled
to face the crisis.

Sainted Alexander BATTLE ON THE ICE

Alexander Nevski was venerated by Alexander led an army to frozen
Orthodox Christians from his death Lake Peipus, where he fought the
in 1263 and achieved official
sainthood in 1547. His victory
Livonian Knights on the ice on
over German knights was 5 April 1242. Alexander’s army was
invoked as propaganda larger but mostly consisted of foot
during Soviet resistance soldiers with bows or pikes. The
to the German invasion armoured Germanic knights charged
in World War II. into their midst, but were soon worn
down in prolonged hand-to-hand
combat. Alexander’s victory ensured
that Orthodox Russia was never
again seriously threatened by
German crusader zeal.
Still collaborating with the Mongols
in the interests of peace, Alexander
was rewarded by them with the title
of Grand Prince of Vladimir.


BORN 11 July 1274 BORN c.1400 Born in Wallachia, Hunyadi is
DIED 7 June 1329 DIED 11 August 1456 claimed as a national hero by the
Romanians as well as Hungarians.
KEY CONFLICTS War of Scottish KEY CONFLICTS Ottoman-Hungarian War
Independence KEY BATTLES Varna 1444, Belgrade 1456
KEY BATTLES Loudoun Hill 1307,
Bannockburn 1314 The son of a minor nobleman, János
Hunyadi rose on merit in the service
As Earl of Carrick, the young of the kingdom of Hungary. Fighting
Robert Bruce was a waverer in the Ottoman Sultan Murad II he proved
Scottish independence struggle. a flexible and imaginative general,
However, virtually forced to declare inflicting defeats on the Turks at
Symbol of the heart of Bruce
himself king in March 1306 after Robert gave instructions that after his death
Smederevo in 1441 and the Iron
murdering a rival, Robert became his heart be taken on crusade to expiate the Gates in 1442.
leader of resistance to the English. crimes of his lifetime. It never reached On the back of these victories he
At first a fugitive with a handful Jerusalem and was finally buried in Scotland. won papal support for a crusade to
of followers, he began an increasingly drive the Ottomans out of Europe.
ambitious guerrilla war, ambushing potential of his spearmen, fighting The only ruler to back Hunyadi was
patrols, destroying isolated fortresses, in the close formation known as a Władisław III, king of Poland and
raiding northern England, and laying schiltron. Confronted by the English Hungary. The Long Campaign, as it
waste the lands of his Scots enemies. king, Edward II, at Bannockburn in is known, was at first very successful,
A victory over a small English army 1314, Robert opened the fighting by but divisions in the Christian ranks
at Loudoun Hill in 1307 showed the killing an English knight in personal left Hunyadi with inadequate forces
combat. He chose boggy ground for to face Murad at Varna on the Black
the battle to disadvantage the English Sea in November 1444. The crusaders
Robert the knight mounted knights and – deploying were defeated and Władisław killed.
Depicted here in the his spearmen aggressively in a mass Hunyadi became regent of Hungary
Bannockburn memorial,
Robert I of Scotland was
push – drove the enemy from the and continued to resist the Ottomans
a feudal knight who field with heavy losses. Bannockburn for the rest of his life, dying of disease
became a guerrilla established Scottish independence, after the valiant defence of Belgrade
leader out of necessity. recognized by the English in 1328. against a Turkish siege in 1456.

500  1450
HUSSITE GENERAL circle, known as a Wagenburg. Inspired
BORN c.1376 by their faith – the troops entered
DIED 1424 battle singing hymns – Žižka’s army
KEY CONFLICTS Hussite Wars repeatedly won battles, most notably
KEY BATTLES Kutna Horá 1421, at Kutna Horá. Even after losing his
Malešov 1424 other eye in 1421, Žižka fought on
to further victories, dying of the
When Catholic forces set out plague after his final win at Malesov.
to crush Czech Hussite religious
reformers in the 1420s, the Hussite
resistance was led by Jan Žižka,
a veteran of many wars. With a
mainly peasant army at his disposal,
Žižka invented superbly effective
tactics for countering mounted
knights. He deployed cannon,
and soldiers armed with
crossbows and primitive
handguns, on crudely
armoured wagons. These
could be used offensively,
charging the enemy like
tanks, or chained together
in an impregnable defensive

One-eyed commander
Jan Žižka fought in Poland, Russia, and
Lithuania, losing an eye along the way,
before joining the Hussites around 1415.
He was involved in the defeat of the
Teutonic Knights at Grunwald in 1410.
1450 – 1700


ROM AROUND 1450 TO THE LATE 17TH CENTURY the task facing military
commanders grew in complexity. They had to respond to the increasing size of
F armies, a battlefield dominated by low-born foot soldiers, and a step change in
the effectiveness of gunpowder weapons. In Europe new technology made warfare
more costly. It may have also made it more destructive, but it certainly did not render it more
decisive, many conflicts extending over decades until sheer exhaustion ended hostilities.

The end of the medieval period in warfare consisted of little else. In pitched battles the cavalry with lances still fought on European
is often dated to the fall of Constantinople key issue was how, and in what proportions, battlefields. However, faith in the cavalry
in 1453. It was there that the Ottoman Turks to combine the different strategies and charge gradually dwindled in the face of
deployed giant cannon to demolish stone weaponry available to the commander. muskets, pikes, and cannon.
fortifications – structures that had resisted While fighting the Burgundians in the
aggressors for almost a thousand years. 1470s, Swiss infantry demonstrated the TAKING UP ARMS
However, more effective gunpowder weapons potential of massed pikemen, fighting in a Rearming horsemen with wheel-lock pistols
did not in themselves revolutionize warfare. disciplined tight formation. Other foot soldiers from the mid-16th century led briefly to
Innovative military commanders had to with firearms would later join the fray, their the abandonment of the charge in favour
discover ways of exploiting the potential arquebuses evolving into matchlock muskets of the caracole, in which a tight row of
of the new technology in battle as the crossbow slowly faded from military cavalrymen rode up to the enemy and
and siege – and find ways of discharged pistols, then withdrew to make

negating its effect when way for the next row.

used against them. But This manoeuvre was
it soon became clear abandoned in the 17th
that cannon would not 16th-century flanged mace century, as commanders such as Sweden’s
This mace may have been used by an armoured cavalryman, the
permanently dominate fortifications or bring ornate design showing the high status of its owner. The flanges,
Gustavus Adolphus sought to restore the
an end to siege warfare – on the contrary. or protruding edges, could damage or penetrate even thick armour. shock effect of charging cavalry as part of
an all-arms approach to battle.
BATTLEPLANS use. Wherever firearms were introduced, in The impact of cannon in pitched battles
In the 16th century the construction of Japan and Turkey as in Christian Europe, was initially limited by their poor mobility
low-lying star fortresses – with walls immune commanders found they were only truly and low rate of fire. Technical advances in
to shot and themselves defended by artillery effective fired in volleys by groups of men. both these aspects made them an integral,
– forced besieging armies to resort to lengthy Thus infantrymen had to be trained and though not dominant, part of battlefield
blockades and elaborate engineering works drilled, whether using musket or pike. forces by the early 17th century.
such as the digging of trenches and mines. Over time the proportion of musket-armed The traditional leadership and military
The conduct of sieges became a supreme soldiers grew and the ranks of pikemen skills of a hereditary ruling class, trained as
test of generalship and some European wars thinned. At first, medieval-style armoured mounted warriors in pursuit of personal

Inglorious warfare permanent regular armies, but the countries in 1571 and in Korean sea battles with Japan

1450  1700
Albrecht von Wallenstein (centre), a commander of the Thirty of Christian Europe struggled to finance in the 1590s. But seaborne cannon were
Years War (1618–48), raised troops at his own expense, recouping
the cost with profit in campaigns that devastated Germany. such forces and often chose to use troops most effective when combined with newly
raised and led by mercenary entrepreneurs. developed ocean-going sailing ships that
glory, proved evermore inadequate to the These were military businessmen who could circumnavigate the globe. Naval
demands of this fast-evolving warfare. became some of the leading generals of the commanders – some of whom were sailors
However, most commanders were inevitably age. Better organized states such as the born and bred, others generals drafted to sea
still drawn from that class. In 17th-century Ottoman empire and Manchu China had – evolved tactics for fighting ship-to-ship
Europe the study of warfare became more fewer problems financing their armies. actions. They fired cannon in broadsides
systematic and the first academies for Naval warfare was more readily transformed (firing all the cannons from one side of a
training officers appeared. Specialists in areas by the introduction of cannon because ships ship simultaneously), as well as mastering
such as engineering, artillery, and transport made excellent gun platforms. This was techniques of command and control during
provided commanders with the beginnings demonstrated in the galley warfare of the battles at sea. By the mid-17th century this
of an expert staff. The real need was for Mediterranean at the great battle of Lepanto was one area in which Europe led the world.
1450 – 1660



URING THE 15TH AND 16TH CENTURIES three great empires

were founded in the Muslim world: the Mogul in India, the

D Safavid in Iran, and the Ottoman extending from the Balkans

through the Middle East and north Africa. Under renowned
rulers such as Suleiman the Magnificent and Akbar the Great, the Ottomans’
armed forces were far larger than those of any contemporary Christian state.
At their best they combined the Asian nomadic warrior tradition with the
use of gunpowder weapons and efficient organization of men and resources.

Originally no more than a band of Turkish 17th century. Its army’s combination of musket-
warriors settled in Anatolia, the Ottomans began armed infantry – the janissaries – feudal sipahi
their rise to power in the late 13th century under cavalry, and state-of-the-art artillery, all serving
Osman, the founder of their ruling dynasty. with high morale and good discipline, made the
Exploiting the weakness of the Byzantine empire, Ottoman army probably the most effective
their forces crossed into Europe in the 14th fighting force of the time.
century, occupying the Balkans and encircling
the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. Christian INDIA AND IRAN
armies fell before the warrior sultans. Bayezid I, The founding of the Mogul empire in India in
known as the Thunderbolt, crushed a body of the 16th century was the work of invaders from
Christian knights at Nicopolis in 1396, and central Asia, descendants of the dreaded Timur
Murad II defeated Janos Hunyadi’s crusaders who rode into India to settle rather than to
at the battle of Varna in 1444. The fall raid. Most of their campaigning was against

1450  1700
of Constantinople to Mehmed II in inferior forces as they gradually extended
1453 completed the first phase of their rule across an ever-greater area of
Ottoman expansion. the Indian subcontinent, a process
that took almost two centuries.
WIDENING AMBITIONS The Moguls are generally
From the early 16th century the scope of the credited with introducing
Ottomans’ ambitions widened. Aspiring to cannon and muskets into India,
the leadership of the Muslim world, but they never trained their foot
they conquered Syria and Egypt, soldiers to the level of disciplined,
beating the Egyptian Mamelukes coordinated fire found in Ottoman
with their superior weapons – or European armies.
Massacre at Constantinople they had cannon and firearms, the The Safavids for a long time suffered
Mehmed II and the Ottoman Turks took Egyptians did not. In Europe they from similar weaknesses. Established as
Constantinople in 1453 after a siege. The
massacre that followed is depicted on a advanced as far as Vienna in 1529. rulers of Iran from 1501, they constituted a
16th-century fresco, partially defaced, at Remarkably, with no seagoing Shi’ite opposition to the Sunni Ottomans,
Moldovita Monastery in Romania. tradition, the Ottomans also became a whom they fought repeatedly for control of
major naval power, their fleet dominating Iraq and other contested territory between
the eastern Mediterranean. Their the empires. The Ottomans largely triumphed
activities soon spread into the western until Shah Abbas I came to power in 1587.
Mediterranean through the raids of the He radically reformed the Safavid army with
Barbary corsairs (pirates from the Barbary the help of European advisers, to make full
Coast) and access in and out of the north use of firearms and cannon.
African ports that acknowledged Ottoman Despite such openness to innovative
dominion. Despite setbacks at the failed European ideas, by the late 17th century
siege of Malta in 1565 and the naval battle all three empires were falling into relative
of Lepanto in 1571, the Ottoman empire decline, confronted with the long-term rise
remained an expansionist power into the of the European powers.

Mogul weapon
This steel khanjar dagger, with its recurved
double-edged blade, shows the influence of
Arab styles on the Moguls. High-status Mogul
warriors delighted in finely crafted weaponry.

THE SULTANS OF THE OTTOMAN Turkish the accession of a new sultan, up to the mid-16th century,
empire were first and foremost war leaders, who would be followed by the execution of all his brothers.
legitimized their rule by conquest. A young and And yet this ruthlessness was accompanied by a notable
active sultan might expect to lead his army on campaign efficiency of administration, enabling the Ottomans to
every year, setting out from his capital in the spring and support an imposing army and navy that terrorized
returning in winter. Theirs was a harsh world, in which Christian Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

in the Golden Horn inlet under the

MEHMED II walls of the city. The reward for all
this preparation was a successful
OTTOMAN SULTAN the previous century: the capture assault on 29 May 1453, in which
BORN 30 March 1432 of Constantinople. The Byzantine the last Byzantine emperor was killed.
DIED 3 May 1481 capital had survived numerous sieges Mehmed’s subsequent military
KEY CONFLICTS Ottoman Wars in Europe – the most recent in 1422 – but its career was not uniformly successful.
KEY BATTLE Siege of Constantinople 1453 walls had always proved impregnable. He notably failed to take the island
Mehmed first prepared a complete of Rhodes from the Knights of
Sultan Mehmed II is known as “the blockade of the city. He built Rumeli St John, but his ambition
Conqueror” because of his role in Castle on the European shore of the remained far from sated.
the final destruction of the thousand- Bosphorus to cut off the water route His obsession was to
year-old Byzantine empire. He first to the Black Sea. He also assembled complete the triumph

briefly occupied the Ottoman a fleet of warships in the Sea of at Constantinople

throne at the age of 12, in 1444. Marmara, isolating Constantinople with the conquest of
His father Murad II had abdicated from the Mediterranean. Rome. Mehmed’s
but rapidly returned to face a threat Exploiting the skills of a mercenary troops invaded
from Christian forces under Janos Hungarian, Mehmed constructed southern Italy
Hunyadi, which he defeated at an immense siege gun that had to but his sudden
Italian portrait
More interested in Europe than Asia, Mehmed II
Varna. Mehmed was still young when be drawn into position by a team death in 1481
aspired to be the successor to the Roman his father died in 1451. He brought a of a hundred oxen. He even had a terminated
emperors and had his portrait painted by youthful vigour to a project that had wooden track built to move ships this project
the Venetian artist, Gentile Bellini. preoccupied Ottoman sultans since overland so they could be floated prematurely.


TURKISH PRIVATEER AND OTTOMAN In 1533 Sultan Suleiman summoned expedition to retake Tunis in 1535.
ADMIRAL Kheir ed-Din to Constantinople to Unfazed, Kheir ed-Din recovered
BORN c.1478 take command of the Ottoman navy. quickly from this defeat. His attacks
DIED 4 July 1546 He masterminded a major expansion continued at such a level that the
KEY CONFLICTS Ottoman Wars in the of the fleet, which he then used to Christian states formed a Holy
Mediterranean capture the north African port of League to combat him.
KEY BATTLE Preveza 1538 Tunis. The emperor, Charles V, fought
back energetically, leading an UNBEATABLE FORCE
Born on the Aegean island of Lesbos, When the Holy League brought
Kheir ed-Din was the younger of two Kheir ed-Din to battle at Preveza in
brothers both known to the Christian 1538, his skilfully handled galleys were
world as Barbarossa (Redbeard). victorious against odds of three to
Based at Djerba, off the coast of one. In his last great raids of 1543–
Tunisia, they earned a fearsome 44, he ravaged the Italian west coast,
reputation as corsairs (pirates) preying operating in alliance with the French
on Christian shipping. But their king. François I let him use Toulon as
ambitions went beyond mere piracy. a base, to the scandal of Christendom.
They seized the port of Algiers and, Kheir ed-Din’s tradition continued
after his brother’s death in 1518, Kheir with his sons, two of them serving at
ed-Din gave the city to the Ottoman the battle of Lepanto in 1571.
empire. He was appointed its official
ruler, or beylerbey, in return. From this
Ottoman corsair
north African base he terrorized the Barbarossa is depicted by an Italian artist with
western Mediterranean, raiding the a trident, symbol of the sea god Neptune. The
coasts of Spain and Italy at will and Ottoman admiral was regarded with both
enslaving thousands of Christians. admiration and terror in Christian Europe.
T H E M U S L I M W OR L D 113


OTTOMAN SULTAN focused on war with the autumn, Suleiman was forced
BORN 6 November 1494 Christian West. He took the to withdraw to Constantinople.
DIED 7 September 1566 Balkan city of Belgrade – the In the 1530s the struggle with
KEY CONFLICTS Ottoman Wars in Europe, gateway to central Europe – the Christian world continued
Ottoman-Safavid Wars in his first campaign in at sea as Suleiman’s admiral
KEY BATTLES Siege of Rhodes 1522, 1521. The next year he Kheir ed-Din carried the
Mohacs 1526, Siege of Vienna 1529, mounted a siege of Rhodes, war to Italy and the western
Baghdad 1534, Siege of Malta 1565 the island fortress of the Knights Mediterranean. Suleiman was
of St John that had defied his distracted by the challenge of
The greatest of the Ottoman great-grandfather, Mehmed the Safavid Iran, leading his army
sultans, Suleiman I inherited Conqueror. Suleiman’s willpower on campaigns to the east and
from his father, Selim, rule and resources accomplished the capturing Baghdad in 1534.
of the Muslim Middle East, task, although Rhodes did not fall With the passage of time his
which included the recently until mid-winter. The surrender health deteriorated. He became
conquered countries of Syria of the knights was accepted by reclusive and had two of his sons
and Egypt. The new sultan the sultan in chivalrous fashion. executed for allegedly plotting
against him. Suleiman had long
GRADUAL DECLINE ceased campaigning in person
Potent image
In his younger years Suleiman I was Having secured the eastern when his forces suffered a
an imposing figure. He was tall and Mediterranean, Suleiman humiliating defeat at the siege
his physical presence was deliberately concentrated on further land of Malta in 1565. In response to
exaggerated by the wearing of outsize campaigns in Europe. In 1526 the this catastrophe the aged sultan,
turbans and fine kaftans. crushing defeat of a Hungarian for a last time, accompanied his
army at Mohacs brought him to army into the field. He died in
the border of Austria, the heart his tent during the siege of
of the Christian Holy Roman Szigeth in Hungary in 1566.
Empire. Three years later he put
the empire’s capital,Vienna, under Sultan’s weapon
siege, but the city’s defences held. Dating from 1533–34, Suleiman’s sword has
Facing critical supply problems a curved blade that reflects its Ottoman origins,

1450  1700
as the weather worsened into and is decorated with gold from Damascus.




CAMPAIGN Ottoman Conquest of Hungary defensive formation screened by horsemen.
DATE 29 August 1526 As the Hungarian knights charged, Suleiman’s
LOCATION Southern Hungary
horsemen gave way, exposing them to the
Suleiman led an army 100,000 strong to guns. Skirmishers simultaneously harassed the
invade Hungary, where he faced a smaller force knights from the flanks. At the critical moment,
under King Louis, in which armoured knights Suleiman ordered his cavalry forward, driving
predominated. He drew up his cannon and the Hungarians to flight. Louis was killed and
musket-armed janissaries in an unbreakable half of Hungary reduced to a tributary state.

THE MOGUL EMPERORS were Muslim Ottomans and, by the late 16th century, Indian craftsmen
conquerors from central Asia who imposed their were producing excellent matchlock firearms. Mogul
rule on the subcontinent through two centuries of engineers were skilled at road-building and conducting
warfare. After the initial campaigns of their founder, Babur, sieges. By the 18th century, however, signs of military
the Moguls built up an army far superior to any they fought. decadence were already apparent, with a bloated army
They learned to use gunpowder from the Europeans and the failing to update its tactics, weaponry, or command system.

MOGUL CONQUEROR Exploratory raids soon revealed
BORN 23 February 1483 that Ibrahim Lodi, the sultan of
DIED 5 January 1531 Delhi, was likely to prove a vulnerable
KEY CONFLICT Mogul Invasion of India opponent. In 1526, aided by his son,
KEY BATTLES First Battle of Panipat 1526, Hamayun, Babur defeated Ibrahim
Khanwa 1527, Ghaghra 1529 at the first battle of Panipat and took
over his sultanate. He used this as a
A direct descendant of the great base for extending his rule further
Turco-Mongol conqueror, Timur, across northern India.
Babur was originally the ruler of the

small kingdom of Ferghana, lying to OPPOSING FORCES

the east of Samarkand. Early in life At the time, the army of the Rajput
he was driven into exile and became confederacy, under the command of
the leader of a rootless warrior band Rana Sanga, was the most formidable
in search of a territory to rule. In enemy in Babur’s path. In March 1527
1504 he captured Kabul, but for a Babur defeated Rana’s cavalry and
long time the focus of his ambitions war elephants in a pitched battle at
remained the re-conquest of Ferghana Khanwa. He then took the Rajput
and possession of Samarkand. fortress of Malwa after a siege, the
It was not until 1519 that, frustrated defenders choosing to commit mass
in his campaigns in central Asia, suicide rather than surrender. Babur’s
Babur turned south to invade India. final victory was over a Bengali army
in May 1529, whom he prevented
from crossing the River Ghaghra. All
The emperor at rest
Founder of the Mogul empire, Babur is here
his victories in India were achieved
shown at rest during a hunt. He left perceptive against superior numbers through
memoirs, the Baburnama, recording his early rapid manoeuvre, discipline, and
struggles and later conquests. the intelligent use of artillery.


CAMPAIGN Mogul invasion of India
DATE 21 April 1526
LOCATION Panipat, north of Delhi

Babur was confident he could defeat the much

larger army of Ibrahim Lodi, sultan of Delhi,
by exploiting the weakness of its commander.
He placed his cannon and matchlock-armed
infantry in a defensive line behind wagons and
raised earthworks. On the wings he stationed
light horsemen with composite bows. Ibrahim
allowed himself to be provoked into making
a frontal attack. His vast mob of soldiers and
elephants were stopped in their tracks by the
gunfire, then enveloped by Babur’s fast-moving
horsemen whirling around their flanks. With
no decisive leadership, Ibrahim’s troops fell
into disorder and were massacred by the
main body of Babur’s cavalry.
T H E M U S L I M W OR L D 115


MOGUL EMPEROR Patta, but was finally taken by assault
BORN 23 November 1542 after a six-month siege amid scenes
DIED 27 October 1605 of massacre – by some estimates the
KEY CONFLICTS Wars of Mogul Expansion death toll was 30,000. Akbar was,
KEY BATTLES Chitor 1567, Ahmedabad 1573, however, acutely aware of the need
Patna 1574 to integrate Hindus into his Muslim
empire. He had statues of Jaimal and
When Akbar, grandson of Babur, Patta erected at Agra as a gesture of
succeeded to the Mogul throne as a respect, and many Rajput princes did
14-year-old in 1556, it was not clear eventually take service with their
whether the Mogul empire had a followers in the Mogul army.
glorious future – a lot of the territory
won by Babur had been lost by A DIVERSE ARMY
Akbar’s father, Hamayun. By creating Akbar’s attitude was typical of the
a powerful, well-organized army and manner in which he built his army
through tireless military campaigning, into a vast force, integrating separate
Akbar transformed this diminished bodies of men. Mounted archers
inheritance into a great empire. from central Asia were recruited
At first Akbar was under the under their chiefs, as were the forces
guardianship of Bairam Khan, but of Mogul warlords owing a form of
from 1560 took government and feudal service to the emperor. Akbar’s
military command into his own hands. own troops provided a core of artillery,
One of his earliest challenges was musketeers, and war elephants.
presented by the Hindu Rajputs at the The campaigns Akbar conducted
hill fortress of Chitor in 1567. The with this army, possibly numbering
fort was valiantly defended by the 200,000 men, ranged from the defeat
youthful Jaimal Rathore and Prince of the sultan of Ahmedabad in 1573
and the capture of Patna in Bengal
in 1574, to the conquest of Kabul in
Akbar and the Ganges
Akbar’s conquest of India brought him into
1581 and Kandahar in 1594. By the

1450  1700
contact with the Ganges. The emperor revered time of his death in 1605, Akbar’s
the river’s “water of immortality” and refused empire extended over the whole of
to drink from any other source. the north of the Indian subcontinent.

Pious emperor
AURANGZEB Aurangzeb was a strict Muslim who, late in life,
regretted many of his acts. On his deathbed he
MOGUL EMPEROR himself and his three brothers when reportedly said: “I have sinned terribly and I do
BORN 4 November 1618 Jahan became ill in 1657. Aurangzeb’s not know what punishment awaits me.”
DIED 3 March 1707 defeat of his father’s favourite son,
KEY CONFLICTS War of Succession, Dara, at Samugarh in May 1658, the Hindu population. In 1670 the
Deccan Wars was the triumph of an experienced Hindu Marathas of the Deccan went
KEY BATTLE Samugarh 1658 general over a novice. Outmanoeuvred to war with Aurangzeb under their
and outfought, Aurangzeb’s siblings leader, Shivaji. After two decades of
The last of the great Mogul emperors, were destroyed one by one, leaving fighting, the Moguls re-established a
Aurangzeb had to fight for his throne him to inherit the throne unopposed measure of control over the region,
and continued fighting for most of on Jahan’s death in 1666. but it was never complete.
his long reign. His career as a military At the close of the 17th century
commander began under his father, TERRITORIAL EXPANSION Aurangzeb could point to the extent
Shah Jahan, who gave him the task With the full resources of the empire of his empire as a measure of success.
of resisting pressure from the Iranian at his disposal, Aurangzeb campaigned No previous ruler had come so close
Safavid empire – by then forcing its tirelessly to extend its borders and to ruling the entire subcontinent. But
way into Afghanistan. Although his to suppress internal revolts, of which constant war left a trail of destruction,
campaigns there were not a success, there were many. These were in part and exhausted the emperor’s finances
they did prepare Aurangzeb for the provoked by his Muslim zeal, which without winning the allegiance of
power struggle that broke out between led to a policy of intolerance towards many of his subjects.


1560 – 1700




commanders in periods when changing technological or social

T circumstances demand rapid innovation in warfare, rendering

traditional tactics obsolete. In China and Japan in the 16th and
17th centuries, large-scale conflicts brought the dynamic deployment of mass
armies and the decisive use of gunpowder weapons. Leaders who could exploit
the new style of warfare, such as Japanese daimyo (warlord) Toyotomi
Hideyoshi and Chinese Emperor Kangxi, held the key to conquest.

The East Asian wars of this period fall into disciplined, and officered. It was more important
three groups. One is the series of conflicts that a commander show professionalism in the
between powerful daimyo (warlords) in Japan organization of supplies and in the movement
that ended in the unification of the country of large bodies of troops than skill with the bow
under the Tokugawa shogunate in the early or the sword. By this time it had even become
17th century. Another is the long sequence of unnecessary for a Japanese commander to be a
wars through which the Manchu steppe nomads samurai – the great Toyotomi Hideyoshi was
replaced the Ming dynasty as rulers of China, himself of peasant origins.
roughly between the 1620s and 1680s. Finally,
there are the wars fought in Korea, first in the RECENT INNOVATIONS