The Nation State

The development of the nation-state across Europe such as France and Belgium revolutionized politics and warfare.  Key to the nation state was the ability of the king to centralize power and create a civil bureaucracy and professional military.  These militarizes were expensive and war could easily bankrupt a country.  To improve revenue the states developed methods to prevent local officials from gaining access to taxes.  However, the most important steps were mercantilism, the national banks such as the Bank of England, and the introduction of parliaments.  These parliaments were meant to integrate wealthy non-nobles, especially merchants, into the state’s political structure.  A strong sense of self was also very important for these relatively small countries to maintain themselves and not simple disintegrate.

The Global War to Control Trade

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the European powers fought a global war over control of the worlds ocean-borne trade.  The development of Mercantilism in Europe revolutionized economic relations.  In Mercantilism, governments control trade and use it to pressure other countries economies.  Much of the European expansion and warfare at this time was carried out by chartered companies, which employed their own armies and navies.  Commerce, raiding, and the seizing of fortified trading posts played an important role in these wars.  Wars were fought over the silver trade, the fur trade, and especially the highly lucrative slave plantations and the slave trade.  Both piracy and smuggling grew in this period.  Much of it controlled by these companies.

The Wooden World

The so-called Wooden World of the 18th century represented a global society based on seafaring.  Warships ranged from sloops, with perhaps a dozen cannon, to a first-rate ship of the line with a hundred or more.  These ships known as Men-of-war required educated officers and a skilled crews willing to live in the horrendous conditions on board.  The cramped space, spoiled food and rationed water being only a few of the difficulties.  Thus, a specialized culture of seamen was needed from which to draw crew.  Sailors where drawn from around the world, and crews where integrated.  A special naval culture developed, which was as cosmopolitan as its reputation for being vile.  European states developed naval schools and research institutes.  Non-Western cultures did not adopt fully-rigged warships, although they had the resources to do so.  This was perfectly rational since it was not their traders who where threatened on the high seas.  They let Europe pay the high bill for such navies.


Around 1500 A.D. Fernandez Gonzalo de Cordoba organized companies of matchlockmen and pikemen into units called columns.  In which the pikemen protected the matchlocks against cavalry and while they reloaded.  The French adopted this and renamed it a regiment.  In the French army there were 500 men in a company and three companies in a regiment.  Drill or the timed action of reloading in standardized steps meant that volley fire was possible.  Massed volley fire was much more effective than sporadic individual fire and made the pikemen’s job much easier.  By 1650 with the adoption of the plug bayonet armies could dispense with pikemen completely.  Cannons were also organized into units, only these were called batteries.  What differentiated the European regiments from other 17th and 18th century units around the world was its incessant drill.  Roll call became a part of the routine and soldiers also practiced marching which developed into the military parade.  Barracks separated soldiers from the general population as a whole, which fostered discipline and developed a distinct military culture.  Regiments had names and/or numbers, and a sense of competition with other regiments was fostered.  While loyalty to the Monarch or State was stressed through oaths and ceremonies, distinctive regimental flags and uniforms, as well as tradition and song, developed.

Religious Turmoil

The 16th and 17th centuries where a time of much religious turmoil.  In Europe it was the time of the Protestant Reformation.  The Ottoman empire in the middle east was suppressing other Islamic sects such as the Shi’ites.  Even India saw many religious wars between Muslim and Hindu factions.  The conquest of the Mughal emperors brought Muslim rule over most of the India subcontinent.  Like the first rulers of the Ottoman Empire, the early Mughal rulers were very tolerant and cosmopolitan.  Also like in the Ottoman Empire this tolerance did not last long.  They destroyed Hindu temples, forcibly converted Hindus to Islam and killed many who resisted.  This led to the rise of Sikhism as a dominate sect.  Originally a peaceful movement, when the persecution began the sixth Sikh Guru, Har Gobind militarized Sikhism in response to these assaults.  This time also saw continued fighting between Europe and the Ottoman Empire.  The fighting was centered in north Africa and southern Spain.


By the 15th century, European domination of global trade had resulted in the rapid spread of European military technology east.  The matchlock and cannon replaced earlier Chinese-derived models.  The new guns, using corned gunpowder, had a revolutionary impact on anywhere they went.  One of the greatest was on the steppe peoples.  The new weapons especially the cannon, were very effective against cavalry.  As they had in Europe, these weapons brought an end to the reign of the armored horseman on the battlefield.  After the 16th century there were no more successful steppe invasions of a settled region.  The expense of gunpowder armies for the East was immense.  The production of weapons required not only a source of iron but foundries as well.  Foundries had not been a problem for Europe.  Since they were needed to produce bells for churches, Europe had already had the infrastructure.  This was not the case in the East.  Another cost was the needed infrastructure to produce corned gunpowder on an industrial scale.  But the fact that a peasant equipped with one of these weapons could defeat an armored noble propelled there spread.  The increased expense of war required more complex bureaucracies to collect taxes, manage the purchase of weapons and powder, and pay soldiers.  These weapons also decreased the power and influence of the nobility and strengthened that of centralized monarchies.  By the beginning of the 17th century, four great empires stretched across the East.  They had spread using the peasant to defeat the noble and the cannon to break any stronghold.


Europeans used the new geographical knowledge and navigational technique developed during the Renaissance to try to circumvent Muslim control of trade with China.  They constructed the galleon, a new kind of ship that was capable of making the very long voyages.  The Portuguese dominated the route down and around the tip of Africa.  In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed west hoping to find an alternate route.  The Spanish explorers only gradually realized that they had found a new continent.  Hernan Cortez was sent in 1518 from the island of Cuba to the mainland.  He was supposed to build a settlement and establish trade with the Aztec Empire.  Cortez had other ideas.  Historians still argue over how small Spanish armies managed to conquer the Aztec and Incan Empires.  Both diseases  such as Smallpox, and the immense superiority of the Spanish steel weapons and armor, where significant factors.  Another key factor was the highly stratified nature of the native society.  Once the ruling class was defeated and co-opted, the Spanish were able to simply take over the work obligations imposed on the peasantry.  Equally important was that the Spanish did not try to suppress the native aristocracy.  They ruled through it, often marrying into it.  Though ineffectual, the native population did offer perpetual resistance to Spanish rule for decades to come.