Warfare takes place within natural contexts that humans can do little to affect.
Warfare takes place within natural contexts that humans can do little to affect. Whether in military action, gathering to fight, campaigning, or fighting in pitched battle, geographical factors such as terrain, food resources, water, weather, and climate have all played major roles in shaping the nature and conduct of organized human conflict. Natural features such as swamps or marshes, ore fields, natural harbors, and mountain passes, or human-made features such as roadways, cultivated fields, and cities have provided both the means for waging war and the targets of territorial aggressors.
Human interaction with the landscape shaped the course of warfare in China, the West, and other rather limited regions in the premodern world. Organized cultivation of the land provided rich stocks of food that attracted hungry nomadic peoples who took what they wanted and were able to take. Walled
Military technology and the changes in thinking and fighting that both drive its development and are in turn affected by it seem to have evolved most rapidly and thoroughly in regions of the world where geographical access encourages contact among varied human groups. Natural obstacles such as heavy forests, jungles, deserts, and mountains tend to insulate peoples from one another and place limitations on effective interactions among even neighboring groups. Where mobility is limited, advances in military technology (and, arguably, in all phases of technology) are likewise limited. Even far-ranging contact by sea, such as that of the Athenians, Vikings, or Polynesians, revolutionized neither the native peoples nor the colonizers. Across the face of the great Eurasian landmass, however, the use of metallurgy, wheeled vehicles, cavalry, and gunpowder technology spread and found ready acceptance along the way. Perhaps because the Western peoples–from Persia to Britain and from Scandinavia to the Sahel–remained in some form of sustained contact from the mid-first millennium
A range of shifting political and even religious foundations for warring societies may also have played a part in military development. In Mesopotamia,
Humans have certain needs for food and shelter that nature must supply. Historically humans largely have occupied a zone of the globe in which
Although cattle raids among the Irish, described in the Irish
Lands with valuable resources or connections to other such territories were brought under political and military control. This was one of the reasons for the Carthaginians holding onto Spain and its silver mines, and the Romans keen on attacking England to take control of tin. With trade and ultimately colonization, a society could transcend both its own home territory and its direct neighbors to draw upon far-flung resource centers. Early examples of such societies are the Polynesians, Greeks, Phoenicians, and later the Carthaginians. Seaborne Arabs sailed the Indian Ocean. In more modern times, the Spanish, Dutch, and English all expanded their territory to acquire resources. In each of these cases, expansion into immediately neighboring territories was unfeasible, undesirable, or thwarted, and maritime and naval technology opened distant doors.
The expansion of land-based empires relied upon superior technologies and skillful uses of them, and military organization that could allow operation at a distance from home
Seaborne empires require unobstructed sailing channels that connect the home ports to those of the colonies.
U.S. and coalition aircraft fly over the southwest Asian desert in 2003.
Throughout history, invading groups have been drawn to the rich ports of Mediterranean mercantile nations: Iberian pirates in the first century
Although the creation and maintenance of seaborne empires required resources and techniques of attack and defense rather different from those of land-based ones, the fundamental human needs for movement, provisions, and effective weapons remained the same. When peoples such as the Persians, Romans, Arabs, or Byzantines could manage the resources to afford both formidable armies and fleets over the long run, the power of their empires was awesome. For some, such as the fifteenth century Chinese, the matériel was there, but the will to project power and awe was not. For others, such as the Phoenicians and later Carthaginians, vulnerability of the home base spelled doom, while Athens and its empire suffered defeat in the Peloponnesian War (431-404
Armies that could not use ships to attain their goals were forced to use land routes to maneuver, within both their own and enemy territory. When in motion, the premodern army relied predominantly on human feet and legs, which could traverse a wide variety of terrain and cover great distances when provisions were at hand. Pack
After armies began using
Before horses were ridden, they were harnessed to light
Where the availability of grasses allowed, horses were eventually bred, raised, and used for cavalry, first perhaps on the Iranian Plateau around 1400
Arabs and Europeans adopted
When horsemen introduced themselves into areas previously lacking in horses, such as South Africa, the Americas, and Australia, the enhanced range and speed, as well as accompanying firepower, gave these invaders a huge advantage over local warriors. Nonetheless, areas of extreme heat or cold and mountainous, heavily forested, jungle, and swampy regions have all proven inhospitable as theaters of operation to bodies of cavalry.
In general, the same routes that provided the most direct pathways for merchants, pilgrims, diplomats, and migrating peoples also served the needs of campaigning armies. The paths of least geographical resistance have been trod for centuries, if not millennia. Just as cities are rebuilt time and again upon the ruins of their predecessors for reasons of geography, so battles will repeatedly occur on the same spots as armies vie to enter or defend territory that retains its importance. If the province of
Similarly, in northern France, conflict in that region in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) was only a harbinger of future wars: the Wars of Religion (c. 1517-1618), the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), and World War I (1914-1918), which have all involved fighting in a relatively small area of land. Nature has provided the obstacles to human movement as well as the highways along which the armies of the world have campaigned.
Warriors who developed their skills in these less accessible areas had often acquired tactics and weapons that complemented those of the larger armies they joined, as either allies or willing captives. In general, fighting men from these marginal regions were considered
The use of javelins, bows, and slings enabled irregular fighters to engage at a distance, ensuring a buffer that allowed for escape when necessary. The Chinese, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans all incorporated irregulars into their service, adding a needed dimension to their infantry and cavalry arms. The wilderness areas from which irregulars came also provided places of resistance and refuge in times of upheaval or invasion. The difficulty of operating either deterred incursion by regular armies, hampered it effectively, or led to disaster, as in
The difficulties of forcing large groups of foot soldiers to cross desert environments meant that battles in truly
In hotter zones periodic monsoons made military maneuvers all but impossible, and desert conditions affected the size, movement, and armament of military bodies. The
Ships at sea are far more vulnerable than land armies to occasional
It is similar, in some ways, to the divine wind that brought, according to legend,
The development of
More than 100,000 American and British soldiers landed on the Normandy coast of France during the D-day invasion of June, 1944, overcoming the challenges of an amphibious assault.
For Sunzi and his commentators, cities were, like other geographic obstacles, to be avoided by the campaigning army. When cities or large fortifications were not the objective, careful consideration had to be made in deciding whether to attack. Unlike mountains, forests, or marshes, cities and
Few premodern city walls were spared the experience of
Geography above all other considerations determined the locations of
Strings of forts marked the Incan and Roman frontiers, but the greatest expressions of the siege mentality were the great walls of the Roman emperors
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City-States and Empires Through Old Babylon
Sieges and Siegecraft: Ancient and Medieval
Armies and Infantry: Ancient and Medieval
Cavalry: Ancient and Medieval