Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘economics’


Cavalry Is an Expensive Military System

The cavalry revolution originated in the Middle East about 900 [B.C.E.] and had several implications. First, making war from a galloping horse was a dangerous occupation. In order to be effective, the warrior on horseback needed both hands free to wield a weapon; yet letting go of the reins seemed to guarantee that the fighter would end upon the ground, bruised and helpless. The only alternative was to guide the horse with one’s feet and legs, perhaps using the voice to direct a trained horse. Training both horse and rider took time and practice.

Moreover, a horse was expensive, and not everyone had the leisure time to practice. A horse could consume as much grain as 6 to 8 persons, and the owner was responsible for mating and training the animal. Furthermore, the horse was not very useful aside from its war-making capabilities: its meat and milk could not compare to the cow’s, and it could not pull a plow until the Europeans invented the horse collar about 1000 [C.E.] Therefore, civilized societies that utilized the horse extensively tended to have specialized fighters. In some cases, the warriors might be aristocrats, in others, slaves; but always the big question was how to pay for such an expensive military system.

William Wayne Farris, Heavenly Warriors, p. 15

The Immense Wealth of the Persian Kings

[The Persian quisling] Tiridates led Alexander [the Great] into a large building behind the palace of Xerxes [at Persepolis] that served as both an armory for the royal bodyguard and a repository for the king’s wealth. Diffused light filtered through a series of openings in the roof above and washed gently over the tons of gold and silver bullion that had been neatly and methodically stored there. Within the treasury building were 120,000 talents of bullion, the largest single concentration of wealth to be found anywhere in the ancient world.

Darius I had imposed a tribute of precious metals in addition to a tribute of goods on his satraps and on the subject nations of the empire. Instead of converting that tribute into coins that could then have been put into circulation, Darius and his successors had it melted and then formed into ingots of gold and silver. The bars were stored in the palace treasury, and when the kings of Persia needed to finance particular projects, wars, or adventures, the precious metals were cast into coins. It was Darius who had introduced the coining of money into the empire; hence, the Persian coin became known as the Daric. Until that time, the empire had been administered largely on the basis of barter.

Successive generations of Persian kings had dipped into the treasury and spent vast sums on themselves. Over the years, they had spent great amounts on administering and expanding the empire and had dispensed large sums in fighting, hiring, and bribing the Greeks. Yet no matter how much money the kings spent, every year at the New Year ceremony more came in to replenish and add to the royal coffers. In the treasury building at Persepolis, Alexander was shown the full measure of how wealthy the Achaemenid kings of Persia had been and how wealthy he had now become.

John Prevas, Envy of the Gods, pp. 18-19

For comparision, Alexander started his invasion of the Persian Empire with a war chest of only 70 talents of gold.

Decline of Medieval Iraq

Throughout the period of Abbasid glory in Baghdad (750-861 [C.E.]), the priceless oriental trade from India and China to Byzantium and Europe has passed up the Persian Gulf and through Baghdad to northern Syria. But the administration of Ibn Tulun in Egypt was so just and conditions in Iraq were so chaotic, that the merchants who handled the oriental trade decided to switch their route from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and Egypt. This was the beginning of the rise of Egypt and the decline of Iraq.

Sir John Glubb, Soldiers of Fortune, p. 24

Money and Manpower Wins Wars

In Book I of Thucydides’ history Pericles outlines the limitations of the Peloponnesian adversaries. They had no capital. Unlike the Spartiates, most of the allies in the Peloponnesian coalition were agrarians who needed to farm at precisely the time it was best to fight. In contrast, Athens was a sophisticated polis with vast sums of coinage in both circulation and as specie on reserve. Pericles’ adversary, King Archidamus of Sparta, agreed, and so warned his rural Peloponnesians that they were not equipped to fight a long, multifaceted war with even a seasonal militia. This new conflict, he warned, was quite different: “War is not so much a matter of men as of monetary expense.” He proved absolutely right.

The great irony of the war was that the very requisites for victory—an enormous fleet, money for rowers’ pay, and officers deployed overseas for long periods of imperial service—were inimical to the historic assumptions of rural and isolated Sparta, which heretofore had had no monetary economy. Persia finally filled the void, gave Spartan generals untold amounts of gold, and made up losses in men and materiel almost immediately. As long as Greeks were killing Greeks, the satraps of the Persian Empire were happy to subsidize the carnage.

Yet in the war’s aftermath, with the Persian subsidies gone, the implosion of the Spartan empire was directly attributable to its new financial responsibilities of administering a fleet and distant subject states that were so at odds with its old insular moral code. Money and manpower, not always just courage and class, quite literally won wars. The Peloponnesian War offered another bitter lesson, one that would also arise during the transition of Rome from republic to empire. Consensual government started in Greece as a limited enterprise. These constitutional states were predicated on a civic militia cloaked in amateurism and localism, and determined to protect the property of a minority of its citizens. But as the invective of Athenian conservatives from Plato to Aristotle illustrated, war over decades and across thousands of miles required mobilization, weaponry, and capital—and only the new resources of a more centralized and powerful state could meet those vast burdens.

Victor Davis Hanson, A War Like No Other, pp. 303-304

Emphasis mine.

Perpetuated Monopolies of the Aristocracy

The people who initially got control of economic resources immediately monopolized them. They could do anything they wanted thereafter provided that they remained a relatively homogenous and peaceful group. By and large they did remain homogenous and peaceful among themselves. They decided how to divide up the power, how to divide up the wealth, who should be king, and which family should become the royal dynasty. The instability in these societies usually came from external invasions by new peoples, who at various times pushed into these wealthy lands and gained control. Their control usually collapsed or was overthrown a few generations later by the old native aristocracy or by later invaders. But all invaders perpetuated the existing social structure, taking over the prerogatives of the old aristocracy.

Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages, p. 3

Decline of Cavalry in Western Europe

The role of cavalry had declined in the Spanish army because the Spaniards had increased their infantry partly at the expense of it. Since a properly armored heavy cavalryman could cost four times as much as a pikeman or arquebusier, a small decrease in heavy cavalry could finance a huge addition to the infantry and bring about a dramatic alteration in the proportions between infantry and cavalry. Though a large part of their cavalry consisted of traditional full-armored lancers, the Spanish did have cavalry that performed a light cavalry’s strategic duties of reconnaissance and attack on the enemy’s stragglers, foragers, convoys, and logistic installations. Usually mounted arquebusiers filled this role. Because of the difficulties involved in using the arquebus while mounted, these horse arquebusiers were really mounted infantry. They usually dismounted to use their weapons. But on at least one occasion, after the battle of Ceresole in 1544 [C.E.], mounted arquebusiers pursued retreating heavy infantry and, by dismounting to shoot and remounting to continue the pursuit, managed effectively to simulate the traditional Parthian or Turkish tactics of light cavalry.

Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, p. 192

The rest of western Europe copied this change from the Spanish, leading to the permanent decline of “pure” cavalry in warfare there.