Armies are like prize fighters training for a bout: They reach a moment of supreme preparedness—muscles taut, reflexes swift, determination fixed at the highest pitch. But with a lull in activity they start growing flabby. This is what happened to [the Duke of] Parma’s invasion force [in 1587-8 C.E.]. All through that dismal winter, as the snows and freezing rains held the battalions in camp, the war machine began to disintegrate. Provisions were consumed at an alarming rate—Parma had to send the cavalry inland to scavenge—and budgeted funds began to give out. As spring passed, the men went unpaid and unfed, and they began to sicken and to desert. “We are bound to conclude that the delay is for God’s greater glory,” Parma wrote in exasperation to Philip, “but the Enterprise, once so easy and safe, will now be infinitely more difficult, and will incur a much larger expenditure of blood and trouble.”
— The Armada, pp. 70
Every captain in an early modern army held enormous power over the rank and file of his company. In absolute charge of discipline he could flog, fine, or otherwise humiliate his men whenever he chose; because he alone decided who should perform sentry guard and other onerous duties, the captain was free to victimize the men he disliked and excuse his friends…. [Without] interference from above, [a Spanish Empire] captain chose the two sergeants and eight corporals of his company (the cabos de escuadra or corporals were in charge of twenty-five men and received a wage-bonus of 3 escudos each per month), and he distributed at his pleasure 30 escudos of treasury bonus-pay among his men. As if this were not enough, the insolvency of the military treasury made the company captains into money-lenders and welfare-officers as well. Every company had a chest (caja) kept by the captain and used by him to advance subsistence wages (the socorro) to necessitous men when no money arrived from the treasury. The captains were also responsible for ransoming, re-arming, or re-horsing any of their men who had the misfortune to lose their liberty, their weapons, or their mounts. Naturally when the treasury did contrive to pay an [installment] of wages the captains expected to receive it first in order to deduct the sums already advanced “on account”. The scheme was excellent in principle, but it assumed that all captains were honest and scrupulous men. Of course they were not…. “The arrangements for paying the troops played right into the eager hands of the captains, who took full advantage of the generous opportunities afforded them.”
Corrosion from perspiration, skin oils, blood, and exposure to the elements are the problems we need to know well. In the case of carbon steel, these culprits can cause severe discoloration and rust very rapidly if neglected. I own swords that literally will rust before your eyes if left un-oiled. During a take giri (bamboo cutting) demonstration my students and I were performing, I had a drop of my perspiration land, unnoticed, on one of my Rapier (thrusting sword) blades. In just a few minutes, I was shocked to see a bright orange spot of rust on my hand-polished sword. This is a very serious problem the martial arts student must know how to combat. Even breathing on an un-oiled sword blade can begin the dreaded process of corrosion. The edge is the thinnest part of a cutting implement and the most vulnerable to neglect. If allowed to rust, a razor-sharp weapon will become dull in a short period of time. Genuine katana [are] famous for their polish and [mirror-like] finish. This is not for merely cosmetic appearance. Steel has microscopic surface irregularities that can collect moisture and corrosive elements. A finely polished blade has smaller irregularities and sheds blood much more easily than an unpolished one. Hence, the more corrosive agents that collect in the pores, the more tarnish and rust will accumulate.
Thank the gods for the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, else I could not have linked to the source blogpost.
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.
The establishment of permanent units hastened the almost universal adoption of the proprietary system, which had already begun to replace the vestiges of feudalism and of free companies. The permanent colonel was the proprietor of his regiment, accepted by the king as a permanent officer and authorized (personally, and through him his captains) to raise men. Initially, with armies being raised only for a campaign and disbanded afterward, the troops raised by the proprietary system were volunteers, more or less carefully selected from the available and willing manpower. But as the armies became permanent, the standing units were not disbanded and were kept up to strength by regular influx of recruits, usually provided by the crown. This, combined with the financial considerations in maintaining year-round units, gave the crown increasing rights of supervision over the administration and training of the regiments, and thus somewhat restricted the proprietary right previously exercised by colonels and captains.This proprietary system could be profitable. A commander was paid for the number of men he mustered, as well as for their weapons, equipment, and subsistence. In addition to the profit to be derived from economical exercise of his proprietorship (to say nothing of the possibilities offered by parsimony and fraud), an officer could sell his proprietary interest when he retired. Thus officers’ commissions were valuable, and could be purchased. This custom of purchase of commissions continued in some armies—notably that of England—long after the proprietary system itself had disappeared.
— The Encyclopedia of Military History, p. 527
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.
The Assyrian army in the Sargonid period had a potential magnitude of several hundreds of thousands of troops, although a call-up of the entire force for a campaign was extremely rare. Supreme command of the army rested with the king and, immediately under him, the “field-marshal”…. The army was divided into units of various sizes and types; but the basic division was the “company”…of fifty men under a “captain”…and this unit was in turn broken down into files of ten men. An officer carried a mace as a symbol of his authority.
The levying of troops was the primary responsibility of the captains, each of whom had a certain number of villages under his command, and the captains were in turn responsible to the provincial governor. By the Sargonid age there was also a standing army which was under the direct authority of the king, no doubt created as a counter-balance to the potential misuse of military power by the provincial governors. The king also had his own bodyguard of infantry and cavalry. The troops recruited within Assyria proper were spread around the empire as much as possible, since they were the most loyal, and they constituted the chariotry and cavalry divisions. The infantry consisted largely of foreigners, mainly Aramaeans. Some foreign groups became specialized units. For example, the Ituaeans, an Aramaic people, were entrusted with special tasks such as escort duty throughout the empire.
Garrisons and barracks were scattered over the empire, but the military headquarters was a massive armoury in the Assyrian capital. Here was stationed a large portion of the troops, animals, and equipment of the standing army, and there were, in addition, royal apartments for the king to occupy when he wished. At each New Year there was a grand inspection at the armoury when the king reviewed his troops and their equipment….
— The Cambridge Ancient History, volume III, part 2
…Raising money to pay the cost of war was to cause more damage to 14th century [C.E.] society than the physical destruction of war itself. The governing fact was that medieval organization by this time had passed to a predominantly money economy. Armed forces were no longer primarily feudal levies serving under a vassal’s obligation who went home after forty days; they were recruited bodies who served for pay. The added expense of a paid army raised the cost of war beyond the ordinary means of the sovereign. Without losing its appetite for war, the inchoate state had not yet devised a regular method to pay for it. When he overspent, the sovereign resorted to loans from bankers, towns, and businesses which he might not be able to repay, and to the even more disruptive measures of arbitrary taxation and devaluation of the coinage.
Above all, war was made to pay for itself through pillage. Booty and ransom were not just a bonus, but a necessity to take the place of arrears in pay and to induce enlistment. The taking of prisoners for ransom became a commercial enterprise. Since kings could rarely raise sufficient funds in advance, and collection of taxes was slow, troops in the field were always ahead of their pay. Loot on campaign took the place of the paymaster. Chivalric war, like chivalric love, was, as Michelet said of the whole epoch, double et louche (a provocative phrase which could mean “double and squinting” or “equivocal” or “shady” in the sense of disreputable). The aim was one thing and the practice another. Knights pursued war for glory and practiced it for gain.
— A Distant Mirror, p. 84
We can dimly make out what seems to have been an agricultural revolution in al-Andalus during this period [circa 1000 C.E.]. An increase in productivity was made possible by more intense exploitation of the land. Irrigation, in particular, enlarged the growing season of the year—you can raise four vegetable crops a year on well-tended irrigated land in Mediterranean Spain—and eased dependence on unpredictables such as the weather. Higher and more stable incomes were the result, and with greater prosperity came greater confidence….
More varied crops did more than just diversify gastronomy. (Think of the bleakness of a world without lemons or spinach.) A better, more varied diet means a healthier population. Hard wheat, the main constituent of pasta, grows in drier conditions than soft (bread) wheat and stores for a prodigiously long time because of the low water content of the grain. Al-Razi (d. 955) tells us that around Toledo it would keep in store without decay for upwards of sixty years; it was transmitted in inheritance from father to son like other property. Crops such as this helped to stave off the threat of famine. Prosperity meant earlier marriage, larger families, diversification, opportunity, leisure.
The Seljuk empire depended for its functioning on the granting of land, or the revenue that could be raised from that land, in return for annual tribute or military service to the Sultan. The fief, or iqta as it was called, was seen by the ruler as payment for services rendered and the grant was nothing like so absolute as in Western feudalism. The fiefs could be swapped around and all that mattered was that the changes should not be brought about in a way to cause anyone to lose face or, what amounted to much the same thing, money.
As the size of armies and the scope of battles increased, ancient armies had to master the task of logistically supporting these armies in the field. The logistical feats of ancient armies were often more difficult and often achieved more proficiently than in armies of the nineteenth century [C.E.], when the railroad, mass production of weapons, standard packaging, and tinned and condensed food made the problem of supply considerably easier. The need to support armies in the field for months, sometimes years, was a function of the rise of the imperium. Armies now had to conduct combat operations over far wider areas for longer periods than ever before.
Changes in the composition of military forces also added to the logistics burden. The development of the chariot required that the Egyptian forces maintain repair depots and special mobile repair battalions to ensure that the machines remained functional on the march. The Assyrian invention of large cavalry squadrons brought into existence a special branch of the logistics train to ensure that the army could secure, breed, train, and deploy large numbers of horses to support these new forces. This special logistics branch, the musarkisus, was able to obtain and process 3,000 horses a month for the Assyrian army. It was not until the time of Napoleon that Western armies could once again equal this logistical feat. The integration of chariots with cavalry also forced the Assyrian army to become the first to learn how to sustain 2 types of transport. Advances in siegecraft required that armies transport siege towers and engines within their baggage train, and artillery, introduced under the Greeks and brought to perfection under the Romans, added yet another requirement to transport catapults and shot. The need to manufacture, issue, and repair the new iron weapons in unprecedented numbers required yet more innovations in logistics. In the Assyrian army the production and storage of weapons became a central feature of the army’s logistical structure. A single weapons room in Sargon’s palace at Dur-Sharrukin contained 200 tons of iron weapons, and similar weapons warehouses were scattered throughout the empire. Of all the achievements of the ancient armies, those in the area of logistics often remain the most unappreciated by modern military planners.
— From Sumer To Rome, pp. 22-23
In the years immediately following foundation, a [Christian] military order [like the Knights Templar] consisted of a small group of brethren under the leadership of a master. At this stage little governmental machinery was needed. As property and recruits were gained, it became the norm to establish subordinate convents, both in frontier regions and elsewhere. If expansion was considerable, an intermediate tier of government between convents and the order’s headquarters was soon needed, as it became difficult for masters to supervise distant convents. Also, a system was needed by which resources and recruits could easily be channelled to frontier regions from other convents. Orders which fought on several fronts also required a military leader in each district. They adopted the practice of grouping the convents of a region into what were called provinces or priories. Although there were variations in detail, the leading orders adopted a three-tier system of administration.
The army relied mainly upon archers and pikemen, some very lightly armored, some protected by a cuirass and a conical helmet, and carrying a short sword for close fighting. Coordinated with this infantry was the cavalry, which at first fought from chariots. Later on, when the warrior rode the horse (about 700 [B.C.E.]), he had the infantryman’s bow and spear. Still later came the most original Assyrian contribution to the art of warfare, siege artillery. No fortified city could withstand the assault of Assyrian engines. A choice body of troops fought beside the king, but it was the foot-bowmen who wrought havoc on the enemy.
The Assyrian army’s power cannot be entirely explained by the bravery of the individual soldier, the competence of the king-general, or the sheer numerical strength so easy to attain in a country where every able-bodied man was subject to military service. Perhaps it is better explained by the theory that the Assyrians used iron extensively. Indeed something like a revolution in the metal industry apparently took place under Sargon II (722-705 [B.C.E.]) when he invaded Urartu and exploited its iron mines. Cunning, too, aided Assyrian armies: an efficient espionage and intelligence service was conducted by the royal governors and bureaucrats in the provinces and centered in the king’s palace. Frequently when the troops entered a country they were aided by carefully organized fifth columns.