January, 2015

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Marching Down The Ages: The Development Of The Modern Military

Hi TM Readers,

When you see soldiers on parade, you can’t even guess at the long history that he/she marches with. To some, the military has always been with us. It’s a belief that is hard to deny. After all, armies have marched up and down the land for near on five thousand years now. However, today’s armies are a completely different beast than their ancestors. In the old days, the concept of the military was still in a very primitive form.

This can be seen in the way battles were prosecuted in those ancient times. Armies were mishmash of people drawn from all over. It would be correct to say that the first armies were pretty much an extension of that hoary old trope of ancient history: the barbarian horde. Groups banding together for protection were an obvious answer to this. Primitive tactics decidedly focused on quantity than quality and that is what often decided these early battles.

The next development in military history focused on quality – there’s just only so much you can do with piling people on top of each other and see who’s the winner. Stone tools developed into bronze which is tougher, lighter and a lot more durable than the earlier stone. This, of course, changed the battlefield once again. Now, a man with superior tools like bronze armor and steel sword could fight off more men and the balance of quantity and quality to the side of quality. Of course, quality is expensive and the resources to create them were scarce.

This correspondingly changed the focus of the military on giving everyone something to hit the other guy to a more focused approach by training people into the actual art of fighting. This was the birth of the warrior and we can see this development’s impact in a thousand historical records and dramatizations. This emphasis on personal skill is reflected in the popularity of personal combat and duels in the early years of recorded history. The Iliad, though fanciful, can be considered as a fairly good reflection of what early war was like with larger-than-life champions leading and encouraging men in battle.

The earliest glimmerings of what can considered be a modern army can be seen in the Roman legions and the Greek hoplites. Before Rome and Greece, most armies were more like drafted rabble supported by a few elite than actual trained units. Greece’s hoplites were citizen-soldiers and all volunteers. They formed the backbone of the one of the ancient world’s most formidable military formation: the phalanx. All thoughts of single combat and personal glory were thrown away for the good of the whole when using this formation. You can’t exactly do anything heroic when you can only move forward, but still it was brutally effective.

It was, after all, hoplites that defeated the hordes of Persia during Persia’s Greek invasion. This discipline, organization and fellowship can also be seen in the way a Roman legion was formed and operated. Rome took Greece’s idea of hoplites and expanded it into more mixed force, with archers and cavalry supporting a Roman infantry legion. The legions were also the world’s first professional armies as they were all formed by full-time paid soldiers and not just citizens shanghaied into fighting a war.

The Dark Ages were a step back to personal combat, but the Renaissance and Enlightenment once again put the soldier into the fore, as mercenary armies marched across the land. Cromwell revived the concept of the professional army with his New Model Army and this piece of military development stayed as it proved its effectiveness in the English Civil War. Uniforms, new tactics and new weapons were developed for this type of warfare and the world has never been the same since.

So when you look at soldier, you are looking at more than just a man who’s part of an army but a member of a military tradition that is as old as history.