Steamroller conquests?

Malcolm Redfellow

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OK: more than a trifle tendentious, but a notion that has had me puzzling over the last few hours. I'll take advice from the assembled intellects here present ...

Before the twentieth century's harsh lessons, very few military planners reckoned for extensive and extended campaigning. It was more the case, 'It'll all be over by Christmas'.

Experience should have shown the error here. Very few first victories were decisive. Even Sedan (September 1870) was preceded by Metz and Beaumont — though taken together, that amounts to a decisive first encounter.

Obviously Hastings (1066) must count — after that it was all mopping-up operations. An equivalent that springs to mind is Guadelete, Tariq's defeat of King Rodrigo (AD712) which opened up Spain to the Berbers.
 


jmcc

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Perhaps the earlier conquests were decapitation and submission conquests. Most of the leading families would be eliminated and those remaining would submit to the new rulers. The people, in these earlier (feudal) conquests were an asset and it didn't really matter too much who was in power as they were on the lower rungs of that society's ladder.

The problems of logistics and transport basically had the rate of advance of armies limited to the horse and cart speed or the speed of the fastest troop ship. With the advent of the steam engine and rail system, transport did improve. It really only became a central element in planning towards the end of the 19th century.

Not being able to rapidly transport troops and keep them supplied helped limit some of these wars, kept some battles relatively small, and even made them almost seasonal. Another aspect is the ability to deploy forces beyond the immediate line of battle. Improving ships and navies helped with the transport issue but it was the invention of the airplane and its use to carry the battle beyond the battlefield that facilitated a far more sustained form of war. Advancing technologies also helped make wars of opposing ideologies far more destructive and moved civilians from being an asset that an invader wished to obtain to targets. It really depends on how you define steamroller conquests and whether it is a war of replacement or a war of subjugation.
 

between the bridges

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Subutai...
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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Perhaps the earlier conquests were decapitation and submission conquests. Most of the leading families would be eliminated and those remaining would submit to the new rulers. The people, in these earlier (feudal) conquests were an asset and it didn't really matter too much who was in power as they were on the lower rungs of that society's ladder.
I see where you are going.

Is another reading of that: all wars of conquest amount to the replacement of one aristocracy by another?

Any centralising authority, in any epoch or culture, can attempt authoritarian subjugation. Sooner rather than later, the result is slave revolts. And if the Master Race hasn't enough troops to suppress, it's Haiti. The wiser alternative, the safer way to sleep a-nights, is more benevolent rule through local magnates (though not by necessary definition a full-feudal system). The advantage is the central monarch has a regular flow of tax-income, at a minimal cost. So, as an aside, if the monarch is an islamist, don't convert all those unbelievers, because as infidels they pay taxes, and as faithful Moslems you are not allowed to tax them. As I read it, things began to go wrong in the Caliphate of Córdoba when the conversion-rate was so successful, the tax-revenue was less able to finance the 'establishment' and the defence forces.

Consider, in another dimension, Kipling's The Land:
"Hob, what about that River-bit ?" I turn to him again,
With Fabricius and Ogier and William of Warenne.
"Hev it jest as you've a mind to, but"—and here he takes command.
For whoever pays the taxes old Mus' Hobden owns the land.
 

Lumpy Talbot

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All wars must really have been sanctioned by land-owning barons in a way. Because they had the obligation to provide men for battles, trained or not, from the peasantry on their lands and their landholders who owed fealty to them.

And something that was critical everywhere was that wars should occur outside harvest time or everyone suffered. So spring once the thaw had set in, before sowing time, and the period while crops were growing were good times to go to war and they had a sunset clause for harvest time. No point in holding land if crops are to wither in the fields in an agrarian economy, no point in fighting somewhere else if your wife and children were to starve at home. Greece, Rome, Cyrus of Persia, they all had to take into account harvest season and supply lines.

So naturally they'd want to avoid seiges and protracted battle situations. Crucial to Alexander's military successes was separating a Macedoniany/Greek army from the farmsteads and taking them on a professional romp across Asia Minor where he had a clear policy on anything slowing him down. He was very forgiving to cities which opened the gates to him and brutal to those who didn't. After a while the word got around and city after city fell and tribal leaders bent the knee. The first blitzkrieg really by an army not tied to their farms.

The Hundred Years War and the Thirty Years War were a bit like Hollywood films. Lots of waiting around for two minutes action here and there. Once a war went beyond the harvest cycle it was always likely to linger for season after season with unchanging positions on the chess-board.
 

galteeman

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The potato allowed the Inca to put armies in the field for long periods and rapidly expand their territory because they were able to dehydrate it like smash potato and it would last 10 years.
The conquistadors were able to conquer a giant amount of territory in a relatively short period of time, Some people think now they were helped by the smallpox which spread before them and could wipe out up to 90% of a local population. It must have been an unbelievable experience to live in those times, one would surely think that the gods were out to get you.
 
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Lumpy Talbot

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Probably arguable from history that more men died from starvation and disease in armies than were ever killed in battle. Sieges were to be avoided at all costs because an army encamped, with the possible exception of the Roman Legions who knew from experience about battle-line sanitation to a certain degree, was just waiting to contract disease.

Just think of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow for one comparatively recent example.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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Probably arguable from history that more men died from starvation and disease in armies than were ever killed in battle.
Arguable? I'd hazard it's very well-proven. All the way down to the 20th century.
Just think of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow for one comparatively recent example.
Precisely! One of the original and best 'info-graphics' is Charles Joseph Minard's tracking (1869) of the attrition of Napoleon's army:

Untitled.jpeg
 

jmcc

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I see where you are going.

Is another reading of that: all wars of conquest amount to the replacement of one aristocracy by another?
Most are. The older wars were territorial but people in those territories were largely a commodity and slavery was widespread. Wars for resources also needed people to exploit those resources.

The important point is that steamroller conquests are probably a lot more difficult without proper logistics and transport. The defenders always had a major advantage in that their supply lines were shorter than those of the attacker so the attackers would need an overwhelming force (more troops with better weapons and tactics) to overcome the defenders. The attackers would also have to bring enough supplies to maintain their armies because foraging might be a problem if the defenders resorted to scorched earth tactics.

Just on that troops and weapons point, the Siege of Troy, if the approximate dates are right, seems to have occurred during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Bronze was difficult to produce as it needed copper and tin. Bronze armour and weaponry would have been expensive and restricted to the aristocracy or the champions. Iron, on the other hand, lent itself to mass production. Iron ore is also more common so it would be possible to kit out more armies with better weaponry where those relying on champions with only bronze armour and weaponry would be at a major disadvantage. In war, technological development and evolution is accelerated.
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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Steamroller as in both overwhelming and sustained?....in large part it’s about logistics as some have said above. However, one point additional point to make is that although modern armies are much more sophisticated in logistics than their ancient equivalents they also have a far greater logistical requirement and the ratio of the combat element to support is far higher than for ancient/mediaeval armies) and that the radical difference makes a significant difference on deployment.....armies reliant on locally sourced food and fodder had to keep moving in order to survive as a concentrated force whereas modern armies on the move require several multiples of supply versus those at rest. Pre-modern armies could be relatively self sufficient if constituted as a light and mobile but also disciplined and hard hitting force. Lumpy referred above to Alexander’s armies. A good example but I think a better one is that of the Mongol armies Genghis Khan and his successors of the 13th century. Within 50 years they had conquered most of Asia and a large portion of Eastern Europe. Marco Polo gives a great description of their self sufficiency on the march....

“When they are going on a long expedition, they carry no baggage with them. They carry two leather flasks and a small pot for cooking. They also carry a small tent to shelter them from the rain. In case of need, they will ride a good ten day’s journey without provisions and without making a fire, living only on the blood of horses; for every rider prices a vein of his horse and drinks his blood. They also have their dried milk which is solid like a paste.”

That relatively light logistical requirement combined with their terrifying reputation for extermination of anyone who refused to submit to their rule played a major part in their steamroller conquests in Eurasia.
 

galteeman

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Another example I recall of travelling light was Hannibal's army capturing cattle, and using their skins as cauldrons to make boil in the bag stew.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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Steamroller as in both overwhelming and sustained?.
Overwelming, certainly.

Sustained? That raises a completely different question. Are any conquests ever successful in imposing and maintaining a total hegemony? More likely, there emerges a new shared culture. To the great distress of our nativists, Anglo-Hibernicism rules, OK.

For an example we hit upon a remarkable literary continuity, relevant to that notion:
From 12BC, Horace has:​
Graecia capta ferum uictorem cepit et artes
intulit agresti Latio
Or, if you prefer a crude translation, and the historiographer's cliché:​
Captive Greece took captive her savage conquerer and brought the arts to rustic Latium
The Latin Vulgate renders Ephesians 4.7-8 in what must be a conscious imitation of Horace:​
7. uncuique autem nostrum data est gratia secundum mensural dationionis Christi
8. propter quod dicit ascendens in altum captivam duxit captivitatem dedit dona hominibus
So the The Wycliff Bible (late 14th century) does a straight version of that, in English:​
7 But to each of us grace is given by the measure of the giving of Christ [after the measure of the giving of Christ];
8 for which thing he saith, He ascending on high, led captivity captive, he gave gifts to men.
It persists into the Geneva translation (1599) — which the King James version pillages, intact:​
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
 

jmcc

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Just about a quarter through this lecture on Youtube.


It is actually quite good.
 

Lumpy Talbot

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No
I guess one thing has never changed about war since Ugg clumped Ogg over the head with a rudimentary hurley and stole his slice of Bison. It is still all about taking the other's guy's resources and eating them.
 


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