In the 16th century a little-known naval genius helped fend-off a Japanese conquest by use of a unique and effective weapon of war: the Turtle Ship!

In the last decade of the 16th century, the ambitious and capable warlord of Japan,Toyotomi Hideyoshi conceived a plan to invade Ming China, a doddering empire; and to place the Japanese Mikado upon the Celestial Throne in Beijing. As a springboard to this, Hideyoshi planned to first conquer Korea; which stood between the two powers and acted as a stepping-stone.

The Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98) were extremely well prepared, enormous undertakings. In two waves, 300,000 fierce, battle-hardened Samurai warriors and supporting foot soldiers (Ashigaru) crossed the intervening Tsushima Strait and fought their way up the Korean peninsula. Initially the Japanese made great progress, defeating the Korean defenders at every encounter.

The Japanese had three advantages in this war. First, their Samurai were among history’s greatest warriors. Superbly trained and disciplined, they were possessed of an indomitable fighting spirit that knew no surrender. They wielded matchless swords and other bladed weapons, of a quality and cutting-power never equaled. Both on foot and as cavalry, man-for-man the Samurai had no equal. The second advantage Hideyoshi’s forces enjoyed was the widespread use (and expertise with) the matchlock arquebus. These had come into use in Japan through contact with the Portuguese; and during the last decades of the Sengoku Period had become a decisive weapon on the battlefield. The final advantage the Japanese armies enjoyed was the vast experience in war gained by a century of civil war: the Japanese troops were all veterans of numerous campaigns and battles; whose tactics were battle tested.

To counter this, the Korean defenders had a decisive weapon of their own: the Turtle Ship!

Developed and deployed by Korea’s brilliant admiral, Yi Sun-sin, the Turtle Ship (known among the Koreans as Geobukseon) was a coastal defense galley; but one possessed of some unique features. First, it was a ship whose sides and deck were covered-over; to protect the crew from missile bombardment. The roof, shaped vaguely like the shell of a turtle, was also covered with spikes to counter the Japanese’s favorite naval tactic: to board and clear enemy ships with their ferocious Samurai. It is also possible (though disputed) that the Turtle Ships were plated with iron, hexagonal plates; at least on the roof. The earliest (contemporary) accounts, including Admiral Yi’s own documents, don’t mention iron plating. However, if they indeed did possess metal armor it would make them history’s first “iron clad” warship.

These were not perfect warships, however…

(To continue, go here)


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On a hot and dusty plain eight miles from the Roman city of Adrianople, on August 9, 378 A.D., the elite field army of the Eastern Roman Empire and a tribal army of refugee Visigoths fought one of the most celebrated battles in western military history. The results would reverberate for centuries.

The Goths had been enemies of Rome for centuries.

Originating in Sweden (the southern region of which is still to this day called East and West Gautland, i.e., “Gothland”), this Germanic people had migrated in the early Christian Era onto the plains of western Ukraine and northern Romania. Under their greatest king,Ermaneric, the Goths created a powerful kingdom in the mid-4th century.

The broad rivers of Ukraine flow southward, draining into the Black Sea. Throughout the 3rd Century A.D., Gothic longships sailed down these alluvial highways, and from the Black Sea raided the civilized communities along its shores. Passing through the Bosporus and into the Aegean, they brought fire and sword to the ancient towns and cities of Greece and Asia Minor. Athens, Corinth, Argos, Olympia and Sparta: all felt the fury of the Goths. Troy and Ephesus on the coast of Asia were also sacked and pillaged. In the latter, the Great Temple of Diana, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”, was finally destroyed for all time.


Perhaps presaging the sentiments of northern Europeans who centuries later faced the depredations of the Viking “Northmen”; Romans living along the Aegean Coast might well have prayed for deliverance from the “furore Gothicnorum”, the fury of the Goths!

On land, the Goths were equally formidable. In 249 an army of Goths and other barbarian warriors under the Gothic king, Cniva, crossed the lower Danube; raiding into the Roman province of Moesia. After nearly 2 years, they were brought to bay by the Roman EmperorDecius, near the town of Forum Terebronii (modern Razgrad, Bulgaria). On swampy ground, the advancing Roman heavy infantry and cavalry bogged down; and were overcome by showers of Gothic javelins and arrows. Decius was killed, becoming the first Roman emperor to be slain in battle.

This defeat by the Goths made a deep impression on the Romans, and though the Gothic menace abated after their crushing defeat at the hands of the Emperor Claudius “Gothicus”at the Battle of Naissus in 269 A.D.; they remained a “boogie man” in the minds of later Romans.

Then, in the 4th Century of the Christian Era, a greater “boogie man” stormed out of the vast steppes of Central Asia: the Huns!


These nomadic herdsmen had been driven from the borders of China centuries earlier by the Han Chinese. (It is the subject of a great deal of scholarly debate as to whether or not the Huns are the same people as those known in Chinese sources as the Xiongnu. To date there is no consensus on this question.) Over a century, the Huns drifted ever westwards, across the “sea of grass” that covers the Eurasian hinterland. Along their westward trek, they subjugated or displaced other nomadic tribes. In (approximately) 370 A.D., after defeating the Alans, they entered the lands of the Goths.

The Goths, whose armies were still primarily composed of javelin or bow armed infantry, were no match for the swift-moving Huns, armed with the powerful and deadly composite bow. Like that of all Asiatic steppe nomads, Hunnic warfare was based upon “the Great Hunt”: herding or luring the enemy (like wild game) onto killing grounds; where they could be worn down by elusive swarms of horse archers. Once the enemy’s numbers were depleted or physical exhaustion had set in, the Huns would close with the enemy and finished them off with lance, sword, or lasso (which the expert Hun herdsmen used to rope and drag their foemen to their deaths).


The Gothic Kingdom of Ermaneric was overthrown, the old king committing suicide in despair. Rather than submit, the Gothic nation fled westward. Led by Fritigern, the Goths found themselves refugees pushing against the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire.

In 376, the Roman authorities agreed to allow the Goths to take refuge within the Empire. The Romans were interested in settling these warlike people along the frontier province ofMoesia, an area devastated by earlier Gothic raids. There they would repopulate the province and act as a buffer against future “barbarian” incursions. This arrangement was a common one the Romans employed throughout the empire, enlisting tribes as foederati: tribal warriors allowed to settle on Roman territory in return for military service.


Under the terms of the agreement, the Goths were to refrain from plundering Roman towns and farms; while for their part the Romans were to supply the refugees with needed food and other essentials. Unfortunately, as was all too often the case, local officials were both corrupt and short-sided. According to the contemporary historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, these Roman officials cheated the Goths and drove them into rebellion.

For the next two years, the Goths pillaged throughout the southern Balkans, as various Roman commanders attempted to deal with them with varying degrees of success.

In the summer of 378, the Eastern Roman Emperor, Valens, arrived back in Constantinople after several years of campaigning in Armenia against the Persians. He decided to take the field against the Goths in person ; and bring about a “final solution” to the Gothic menace.


Valens had every reason to anticipate complete success. Early in his reign, in 369, he had won a short war against the Goths along the Danube. That summer, his general (theMagister Peditum) Sebastianus had enjoyed success against Gothic detachments in Macedonia and Thrace by use of guerrilla tactics. Based on these successes, the Goths may not have seemed to Valens to be so formidable a foe.

The two armies met 8 miles from the town of Adrianople (modern Edirne). There the Goths had arranged their camp on a hill facing southward, overlooking a broad plain. Their wagons formed an outer defensive perimeter, called a “wagonberg”, atop the hill. This Gothic camp was not just filled with the booty taken over three years of pillaging in Roman territory; it was the home to a nation on the move: the wagonberg sheltered the warrior’s families as well. Not enough has been made by commentators concerning the morale effect that defending their families and their only homes must have had upon the Goths in the coming battle. Certainly knowing that defeat would mean death or enslavement for their loved-ones and an end to their people must have lent a desperate strength to Gothic arms.

Cognizant of the significance of possible defeat, and of the strength the Emperor had arrayed against them, the Goths sent emissaries of peace on both the 8th of August, and again on the day of battle, the 9th. Knowing that only a decisive defeat of the barbarians could guarantee an end to Gothic raids, and perhaps with the example of Claudius Gothicus to draw upon, Valens rejected these overtures. However, negotiations on the 9thtook up much of the day; and the battle did not commence till late in the afternoon.


The Roman army of the 4th Century A.D. bore little resemblance to that which had followed the eagles under Caesar or Trajan…

(To continue reading, go here)

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On the morning of August 2, 216 B.C., perhaps the largest Roman army ever assembled prepared for battle on the dusty plain of Cannae, in southeastern Italy.

Commanding this mighty force were both of the elected Consuls for that year: Lucius Aemilius Paullus and his junior colleague, Gaius Terentius Varro. It was unusual for both Consuls to operate in the same theater of war, much less the same battlefield. But these were extraordinary times. They faced an enemy who had for two years triumphed on Roman soil, destroying two Roman armies in battle, killing a Consul of Rome in the process:Hannibal Barca. They were determined that here they would bring him to a final, decisive battle; one favorable to Rome.

The Second Punic War was in its third year. Since its beginning, the war had thus far been one long catalogue of disaster for the Romans.

When war had been declared by the Senate of Rome against its bitter rival, Carthage, it was expected in Rome that this war would follow the same victorious course that the First Punic War had taken a generation before. Namely, that Roman fleets would sweep the sea of Punic opposition; Roman armies would land in Africa; and Carthage would be forced to submit.

But Hannibal, Carthage’s leading statesman and general, had other ideas.


Hannibal Barca (Hannibal: “Grace of Baal”; Barca: “The Thunderbolt”) was the son ofHamilcar Barca, the most successful Carthaginian general in the otherwise stunningly unsuccessful First Punic War. He’d grown to manhood in his father’s camp, surrounded by soldiers. He had learned well the lessons his capable father had taught him; and one of these was an undying hatred for their Roman enemies. Upon a sacred alter, the sons of Hamilcar had all sworn an oath to bring destruction to Rome.

Hannibal took command of his late father’s Army in Spain at the age of 26. Now, five years later, he had fulfilled his father’s wishes, taking the war to the enemy and visiting woe upon the Romans.

At the outbreak of hostilities in 219 BC, he had seized the initiative; leading an army from his base in Spain across the wild, barbarous lands of the savage Gauls. Against all odds he had succeeded in getting his army across the snow covered Alps, to debouch into the plains northern Italy.


There he had defeated the Roman forces that came to stop him: first in a cavalry skirmish at the Ticinus River; then at the River Trebia, where he inflicted a truly major defeat upon aRoman Consular army. After these victories, the Celtic tribesmen of the Po Valley rallied to the Carthaginian standard, joining forces with Hannibal and restoring his depleted numbers.

The following year, he inflicted a third disaster upon Roman arms. At Lake Trasimene, the Consul Flaminius fell into a carefully prepared ambush; the Consul and most of his army perishing along the fog-shrouded shore.

All Rome was stunned by these incredible events: Two armies destroyed, a Consul slain: Rome had suffered defeats before, but not since early in the last Punic War had Roman arms suffered such humiliation.


After the disaster at Lake Trasimene, the Senate turned the conduct of the war over to a temporary dictator, Quintus Fabius Maximus; who soon won the nickname of Cunctator(“The Delayer”). He had a different, decidedly “un-Roman” strategy in mind. Roman notions of generalship in the mid-Republic were “Nelsonian”: no Consul could do much wrong who brought his legions to battle against the enemy. But three defeats in two years was quite enough to convince Fabius Maximus that something new was called for against this wily foe.

During the rest of that year, Fabius kept his army just out of reach of Hannibal’s, hovering on its rear and flanks; harassing and delaying the Carthaginian progress through Italy. These tactics constrained Hannibal’s movements and demonstrated to the Italian allies that Hannibal was not free to march where he willed.

But this “Fabian Strategy” of harassment and delay was too un-Roman for the hawks in the Senate. The more bellicose members clamored once more for a decisive confrontation on the battlefield. It was intolerable that an enemy army should defy Rome with impunity on Italian soil.

The following year, the Romans elected as one of the two Consuls Terentius Varro, an outspoken leader of the anti-Fabian faction in the Senate. Varro promised to bring Hannibal to battle and destroy him once-and-for-all. To accomplish this mission, the Senate gave both Consuls of 216 permission to unite their forces into super-army, and crush Hannibal!


On the morning of the 2nd of August this massive double-Consular army, nearly 80,000 strong, deployed on the dusty Apulian plain, near the village of Cannae…


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(This is the first part in a series on the militaries of the Macedonian Successor states; which grew out of the Wars of the Diadoci that followed the death of Alexander the Great. For the next century after his death, these kingdoms were defended by armies that represented the greatest fighting forces in the Hellenistic World. Each differed from the other in fascinating ways, as will be shown.)

Of all the Successors of Alexander the Great none came closer to reuniting his empire thanAntigonus Monophthalmus (“One Eyed”) and his son Demetrius Poliorketes (“the Besieger”). For a brief time (circa 315 BC) Antigonas controlled all of Alexander’s Asian Empire. This led his rivals to unite against him: Ptolemy in Egypt; Lysimachos , Satrap of Thrace; Seleucus, who from Babylon took over the eastern Satrapies while Antigonus was occupied in the west; and Cassander, son of the late Antipater “the Regent”, who ruled Macedon.

While Antigonas held his own in Asia, he dispatched Demetrius with an Army to Greece to establish control and to war against Cassander in Macedon and the Aegean. From Athens, where he was worshiped as a “Savior God” after reestablishing democratic governance, Demetius extended Antigonid control throughout central Greece. Using the excellent port of Piraeus as base for the large Antigonid fleet, he soon controlled all the Islands of the Aegean as well. Advancing into Thessaly in 302 BC, Demetrius was preparing for a final showdown with Cassander when he was recalled to Asia to support his father on the eve of the Ipsus Campaign. Demetrius left garrisons of mercenaries to hold the key fortresses. The bulk of his field army was brought to Asia to fight beside his father.

Tetradrachma of Demetrius Poliorcetes 

The Battle of Ipsus (301 BC) was the perhaps the greatest battle of the Successor Wars (we have no figures for the number of combatants who fought at Corupedion in 281 BC, but it is likely to have rivaled the earlier battle). In this fight, Demetrius commanded his father’s right-wing cavalry; meant to deliver the decisive charge that would break the coalition left-wing cavalry, and attack its phalanx from behind. Antigonus was undone when Demetrius, after routing and pursuing Lysimachus’ horsemen from the field, was prevented from returning to the battle by Seleucus’ elephants; which interposed themselves between Demetrius and the battle. (Diodorus claims that Seleucus brought 480 elephants of the 500 he supposedly received from Chandragupta in return for ceding the Punjab (1). Bar-Kochva argues persuasively for a number closer to 150 elephants (2). In either case, the coalition used their elephant force to decisive effect.) The elderly Antigonas was slain amidst his crumbling phalanx, while Demetrius retreated with some survivors to Ephesus.

For the next 4 years Demetrius, reduced to a freebooter, relied upon the strength of his fleet. From Athens, he controlled nothing more than the islands of the Aegean. After Cassander’s death in 297 BC, however, Cassander’s sons fell out and civil war divided theAntipatrid family. Demetrius took advantage of the chaos by first supporting and then murdering one of the contenders; then making himself King of Macedon in 294 BC.

Over the next few years, Demetrius succeeded in making himself the dominant power in Greece, reestablishing strong garrisons at Corinth (the Acrokorinth, the mountain-top citadel towering over the city, was the strongest fortress in Greece); Chalcis on the Island of Euboea; and at his newly-built fortress in Thessaly, Demetrias (near modern Volos). These fortresses (which in the next generation came to be called “the fetters of Greece”) supported a network of lesser garrisons Demetrius established.

The Arcocorinth towers over the ruins of Ancient Corinth. In the Hellenistic era, it was the strongest fortress in Greece, and one of the key Macedonian garrisons during the early Antigonid period; one of the so-called “Fetters of Greece”.

Demetrius was an unpopular king with the Macedonians. Raised in Asia at the Imperial Court of his father, he was ill-equipped to deal with the prickly and plain-spoken Macedonians. In 288 BC a coalition of Pyrrhus of Epirus and Lysimachos of Thrace invaded the country; and the Macedonian soldiers deserted him. Demetrius fled, taking to the sea again for a time, raiding his enemy’s possessions. Then, while campaigning in Cilicia against the Seleucids he was captured (285 BC), and remained under “house arrest” until his death by natural causes three years later.

Demetrius left to his son, Antigonas Gonatas (possibly meaning either “Knock-Knees”, “Armored Knees”, or simply a man of Gonnoi in Thessaly) little more than a few loyal garrisons in Greece; his powerful fleet having deserted to Ptolemy in Egypt upon Demetrius’ capture. However, Antigonas proved an exceptionally patient and crafty statesman; exploiting every opportunity to his advantage. He had also learned his military lessons at the feet of his mighty grandfather and father, proving a very able general as well.(As a ruler and statesman, he perhaps owed even more to his mother, Phila, the wise daughter of Antipater; whom he resembled in both looks and farsightedness).

When the Celts invaded Macedon and Greece in 279 BC, they slew the Macedonian king,Ptolemy Keraunos (the murderer of Seleucus); leaving Macedon kingless and desperate. Antigonas led a force of mercenaries against the barbarians; ambushing and defeating a branch of the invading tribes at Lysimachia in Thrace (277 BC). After this victory, Antigonas was acclaimed king of Macedon; and held the throne against many threats and contenders for the next 38 years.

He found Macedon destitute and its manpower exhausted by losses and migration (Macedonian soldiers were highly sought-after mercenaries in the armies of the other Successor Kingdoms; and most who went abroad never returned, dying in service or settling down as kleruchs in their new homelands). Throughout his long reign Antigonas relied on mercenaries, allowing the Macedonian population a generation to replenish. He maintained his hold on Greece by establishment of client-tyrants in the various cities; and by strong garrisons at Athens, Corinth, Chalcis, and Demetrias. He also painstakingly rebuilt the Antigonid fleet, with which he drove the Ptolemies out of the Aegean with the naval victories at Kos and Andros, 258-248 BC. (Tarn suggests that the famed Winged Victory of Samothrace was a dedication by Antigonas following one of these two victories).

Antigonas left his successors a strong, stable, modest kingdom. Unlike the other Successor states, the Antigonids never aspired to empire; instead content to hold the Macedonian homeland, and to dominate Greece and the Aegean. The army that they fielded was relatively small (only in its last days attaining a measure of the strength it had enjoyed in the days of Philip II and Alexander, prior to the Asian conquests); though its quality was highly respected in the Hellenistic world.


The Macedonian phalanx of the Antigonid Kingdom was famed throughout the ancient world; and while other Successor kingdoms had their own “Macedonians”, these were primarily kleruchs, military settlers, descendants of the Graeco-Macedonian veterans of Alexander and his Diodachii and their Asian/Egyptian wives. The ancient world put great stock in blood, and only Macedon could field true Macedonians of pure blood. (The Macedonians were larger and heartier than the average Greek, an important factor when it came to the “push of pike” that was a feature of phalanx warfare.) Until finally defeated by the Romans, the Macedonian phalangite was considered the premiere heavy infantryman in the world.

Phalangite of Philip II and Alexander. Though his equipment differed in some particulars from the later Antigonid phalangite, his sarissa changed little over the ages, except for length (growing longer with time). 

Unlike the armies of the other Successor Kingdoms (and of Alexander himself) in which cavalry and light troops comprised the majority of the army, the phalanx was the largest component of the Antigonid army. Against the Romans at Kynoscephalae, Philip V’s army was 62% phalangites (the phalanx never exceeded 40% of the troop totals in Alexander’s day). Under his son, Perseus, who took pains to reestablish a balanced force structure, the phalanx shrunk proportionately to 49% of the army; still a far higher proportion than in other Successor armies.

The phalanx was divided into three divisions, or Strategiai, each commanded by aStrategos. These divisions were the Peltastoi, the Chalkaspides, and the Leukaspides. The first provided the “standing army” for the kingdom; while the other two were “reserve” formations. The strength of each fluctuated on campaign (and these divisions may in fact have been ad hoc), but a “paper strength” of 5,000 has been suggested.

The Peltastoi (“Peltasts”, named for the small bronze shields they carried; not to be confused with the 4th century light troops of the same name) were the elite of the army. They were likely comprised of younger men, doing their “hitch” of regular army service before returning to civilian life and the ranks of one of the other two, reserve Strategiai.

Antigonid bronze infantry helmets

Within this body was an elite force, the Agema (which means “Vanguard”; and to whom Livy gives the colorful unit name of Nicatores, “The Conquerors”, “chosen for their strength and enduring energy” (3); though all of the Peltasts were crack troops. At Sellasia in 222 BC Antigonas Doson had 3,000 Peltasts. At Kynoskephalai in 197 BC Philip V had only 2,000 (though in 219 BC this unit had numbered 5,000; the difference in strength perhaps reflecting losses in earlier battles against the Romans). At Pydna in 168 BC the number had risen again to 5,000; of which 2,000 were the Agema, or “Conquerors”.

Unlike the army of Philip II and Alexander, their was no body of elite light infantry Hypaspists. The term “hypaspists” was used in Antigonid Macedon only for members of the King’s inner circle and bodyguards. It has been suggested, however, that either the Peltasts as a whole or the Agema within this corps could perform the same functions as the hypaspists of Alexander’s army. Which is to say, that they were a multipurpose force; capable of being dispatched on light infantry missions, or taking their place in the line of battle as a division of the phalanx.


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On June 20, 451 on a broad plain in the Champagne region of France, Attila the Hun, “the Scourge of God”, engaged in his greatest battle. The fate of western civilization lay in the balance.

In Chinese history, the Huns are tentatively identified as the nomadic peoples known in their histories as the Hsiung Nu (“Fierce Slaves”). In the Second Century A.D., the Chinese Han Empire drove the Huns away from their borders in a series of campaigns. The Huns then began their long migration westward, ever searching for fresh pastures for their sheep; and new peoples to plunder and subjugate.

Modern scholarship theorizes that the Huns were not ethnically one people, but a confederation of Mongolian and Turkic nomadic clans. By the time they entered European history in the 4th century, these peoples had fused into one cultural group.

The Huns were first-and-foremost mounted horse archers. From infancy, male children were taught to ride by being placed on the backs of sheep, to prepare them for a life in the saddle. They practiced daily with their primary weapon, the powerful and deadly composite bow. To make themselves appear more ferocious and terrifying to their enemies, their cheeks were slashed with knives and allowed to scar.

19th century depiction of the Huns; showing them as nearly sub-human barbarians!

Like all nomadic horsemen of the Asiatic steppes, the Huns made war as a grand hunt. Spreading out over hundreds of miles, columns of fast-riding raiders would scour the lands of an enemy, plundering outlying farms and driving refugees before them. Their victims were lassoed like sheep or cattle; to be yoked and sold as slaves. In the course of their raids, the Huns were particularly known for their sadistic brutality. Like the later Mongols, they seem to have used terror as a weapon.

Mounted on swift and hardy steppe ponies, the Huns used their superior mobility to keep just out of reach of slower, heavier opponents; all the while wearing them down with a storm of arrows. Only when the enemy was sufficiently weakened by archery would the Huns close in with lance, lasso, and sword to finish them off. Like many nomadic armies of the steppes, the Hunnic nobles fought as heavily armored cavalry lancers. These were a force of last resort, used to deliver the final, decisive charge when the enemy was deemed weakened and on the point of breaking.

Hun light horseman preparing to lasso Alan warriors, 4th century AD

Legend has it that the Huns crossed the swampy lands around the mouth of the Volga River in pursuit of stray sheep. Their, on the western side of the river, they encountered the Goths; who under Ermanaric had established a large Gothic Kingdom in southern Russia. The Goths and the other Germanic tribes of Europe they subsequently encountered, had no adequate response to their mobile tactics. The Huns appeared like demons from some previously unknown dimension of Hell. Every tribe and nation in their path was either conquered or sent fleeing before them.

These defeated survivors of early Hunnic expansion were either absorbed into the Hunnic Empire as oppressed subject peoples; or driven west into the Roman Empire to the west as dangerous refugees. It was fear of the Huns that forced the Visigoths into the Eastern Roman Balkans, leading to the Battle of Adrianople; a demoralizing defeat for Roman arms, and to the death of the Emperor Valens with much of his Army.

In the generation after Adrianople, the Huns settled in the devastated Roman province of Pannonia (modern Austria and Slovenia, and parts of Hungary), and in the lost province of Dacia (roughly modern Romania). They had come a long way from their original home, north of the Great Wall of China.

From this base of operations along the Roman border, the Huns conducted large scale raids into the Balkans and into lower Germany. Eventually, the Romans found it more expedient to simply bribe the Huns to leave them alone, by payment of an annual tribute.

The southern German tribes were not so fortunate. Most of these were incorporated into the Hunnic Empire as subject nations; forced to send their best warriors to serve as “canon fodder” for their Hunnic masters; and to furnish the beds of Hunnic lords with young women.

The Romans  found the Huns to be effective mercenaries. During the early decades of the 5th century, one particular Western Roman commander used his personal connections with the Hunnic court to fill the ranks of his Household Bucellarii with Hun warriors: Flavius Aëtius . Aëtius had been sent to the Hunnish court as a diplomatic hostage early in his life. There he had made friends with many influential Hunnic lords. When later in his life he rose to prominence as a soldier, he used these friendships to recruit the deadly Hun light horsemen into his bodyguard and into the ranks of the Roman army as foederati.

Aëtius ’ Hunnic retainers and mercenary soldiers gave him an effective fighting force with which to battle Rome’s chief enemies at that time: the Goths, Vandals, and Franks. These Germanic “barbarians” had invaded the Western Roman Empire in the first decade of the 5th century [1], settling in large portions of North Africa, Gaul and Spain. The Western Roman government was often engaged in low-intensity border war with these interlopers. It was in just such skirmishes that Aëtius’ Huns were most effective.


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Napoleon Bonaparte bestrode his world like a colossus. Rising amidst the bloody chaos of the French Revolution, he established a new order; and left France a mythic hero to surpass Charlemagne.

Napoleon began his career as a young officer of artillery. He first made his mark in 1794 as the commander of the artillery during the Siege of Toulon. The following year he saved the Republican government (The Directory) from a Parisian mob, by unleashing artillery fire into the crowd (the “whiff of grapeshot”). He was rewarded with command of the French Army operating against the Austrians in northern Italy; all this at the age of 27.

Once in command of his own army, the young Bonaparte went from victory-to-amazing-victory, never looking back.

After defeating the Austrians in Italy (1796) and conquering Mameluke Egypt (1798), he returned to France to take over the reigns of government as First Consul of the Republic. After defeating the Austrians in Italy again in 1800 at the Battle of Marengo, his popularity and political dominance over France were assured. In 1804 he crowned himself Emperor of the French (L’Empereur des Français). At the head of a well trained and drilled “Grande Armee”, he went on in the next eight years to conquer an empire surpassing that of Charlemagne. At its peak, the Napoleonic Empire spanned Europe from the Tagus to the Nieman; from Straits of Messina to the Skagerrak.

But after the disastrous Russian Campaign of 1812, which resulted in the destruction of theGrande Armee, Napoleon faced a determined coalition of hostile nations; financed by the wealth of the British Empire and determined upon his overthrow. In the battles of 1813-1814, he was continually beaten and forced to retreat; ultimately to the very outskirts of Paris. Despite a brilliant defensive campaign by the now-aging Emperor, the will amongst his Marshals to continue the struggle eroded away; and one-by-one they surrendered to the Allied armies invading France. Napoleon was forced to abdicate. In 1814, according to the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, he was granted a genteel exile upon the Island of Elba, near Corsica, the place of his birth. After his departure, the Bourbon monarchy was restored, backed by allied armies that ringed the country.

In February of 1815, in response to growing national disaffection with the Bourbon government and the arrogance of the returning expatriate aristocracy, as well as a belief that the Allies were planning to violate the treaty and exile him to a small island in the South Atlantic; Napoleon returned from exile. Marshal of France Michel Ney was dispatched with forces to arrest the exile. Ney promised the King he would bring “the Ogre” back to Paris in a cage. Instead, he and the veterans he commanded rallied around their former master; and the Bourbon’s once again fled France. Returning to Paris, Napoleon was once again firmly in place as Emperor of the French.

Immediately the Allied Powers prepared to invade France. For the next 100 days, Napoleon’s fortunes and the map of Europe lay in the balance, as events hastened toward the climatic battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Though he attempted, in a flurry of diplomatic correspondence, to assure the Allies of his peaceful intentions; their armies were massed along the border, preparing to invade France and drag the “Ogre” from his throne.

Showing a level of energy and organizational genius reminiscent of his earlier years, Napoleon quickly raised an army of veterans (many of which had spent the latter part of his campaigns as POWs in England, or stuck in isolated garrisons, and returned to France remembering still the glorious triumphs of the past). When his peace overtures were spurned, the Emperor decided to strike first, before the Allied armies could move in concert against France. He targeted first those nearest to Paris, the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian armies in Belgium. He knew that the British and Prussians were widely dispersed, and could be defeated in detail. Further, that the British at least were of dubious quality; as much of Wellington’s Peninsular War veterans had been sent to America for the (disastrous) New Orleans Campaign; while many of the Dutch-Belgians had once been part of his own army, whose willingness to fight for their new masters was questionable.


The combined British, Dutch-Belgian and Hanoverian forces in Belgium numbered some 93,000, scattered in bivouacs across the southern part of the country. They were of mixed quality, but most were inexperienced and unreliable (particularly the Dutch troops, under the Prince of Orange). They were commanded by the redoubtable “Iron Duke”, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Wellington had

been enormously successful in defeating some of Napoleon’s best Marshals in Spain. But he had never crossed swords on the battlefield with the master himself. Napoleon had scant respect for Wellington, who he disparagingly called “the Sepoy general”; a reference to Wellington’s early career commanding British forces in India. Wellington for his part had the utmost respect for Napoleon as a commander: “His presence on the (battle) field made the difference of forty thousand men.”

The Prussians in eastern Belgium were commanded by crusty old Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, an old foe who Napoleon had faced during the campaigns of 1813-1814. He was a dogged, aggressive, and determined (if an unimaginative) commander. Blücher had a deep and abiding hatred for Napoleon and the French; due to the perceived humiliation Napoleon had inflicted upon his nation in 1806. On the approach to Waterloo, he commanded his men to take “No prisoners! Show no pity! I will shoot any man I see with pity in him.” His forces in Belgium numbered 116,000, and were headquartered about Namur.

Napoleon’s Armee du Nord, numbering 128,000 men, was qualitatively the best army he had commanded since the debacle in Russia in 1812. Many of them were veterans of the victorious campaigns of Marengo, Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena and Auerstedt; some perhaps even remembered battling at the foot of the Pyramids! Thousands of these had spent the last few years in garrisons throughout the empire, in Spain, or as prisoners of the Allies; and having missed the bloody defeats of recent years, remembered only Napoleon’s invincible days of old. They were well rested, and ready to reclaim the lost glories of their youth. The cavalry, in particular, had benefited from the brief peace of 1814, and were more numerous and better mounted than any Napoleon had at his disposal in the terrible campaigns of 1813-1814.

But though his troops were first-rate, and the Emperor seemed at the start of the campaign to have regained the vigor of his earlier years, many of the advantages once enjoyed by the French were no more….


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If you loved the first list, here is Deadliest Blogger’s list of favorite military quotes, part two:

“Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar, on the very brief campaign against the Pontians.

“When the situation is obscure, attack!” – General Heinz Guderian

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” – Sun Tzu

“Naipierw pobijemy, a potem policzemy!” (First we kill them, then, we count them) – Attributed to an anonymous commander of the Polish Winged Hussars

“Few men are born brave. Many become so through training and force of discipline.” – Flavius Vegetius

“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” – General Robert Edward Lee

“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” – Winston Churchill, when questioned during Operation Barbarossa how he, a life-long anti-communist, could call for support of Stalin.

“We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means. What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means.” – Carl Von Clausewitz

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” – JRR Tolkien

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. – Sun Tzu

“In war truth is the first casualty.” – Often attributed to Aeschylus

“During war truth is so precious she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” – Winston Churchill

“”A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.” – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., on the value of hard training.

“The art of concentrating strength at one point, forcing a breakthrough, rolling up and securing the flanks on either side, and then penetrating like lightning, before the enemy has time to react, deep into his rear.” – Gen. Erwin Rommel, on the definition of Blitzkrieg (“Lightning War”); as he practiced it in France, 1940

“War is the province of chance.” – Carl von Clausewitz

“I shall return!” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur, on departing from the Philippines in 1942

“I have not yet begun to fight” – John Paul Jones

“Molon labe!” (Come and take them!) – Leonidas of Sparta, in response to the Persian demand that the Spartans at Thermopylae lay down their arms.

“Nuts” – General Anthony McAuliffe, Dep. Commander 101st Airborne Division at the Battle of the Bulge, in response to the German demand for the surrender of Bastogne.

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