Relief of Ramses II located in Abu Simbel fighting at the Battle of Kadesh on a chariot.
Military history is composed of the events in the history of humanity that fall within the category of conflict. This may range from a melee between two tribes to conflicts between proper militaries to a world war affecting the majority of the human population. Military historians record (in writing or otherwise) the events of military history.
Military activity has been a constant process over thousands of years, and the essential tactics, strategy, and goals of military operations have been unchanging throughout history. As an example one notable maneuver is the double envelopment, considered to be the consummate military maneuver, executed by Hannibal in the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC ? over 2,200 years ago. This same maneuver was also described by the Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu, who wrote at roughly the same time as the founding of Rome. By the study of history, the military seeks to not repeat past mistakes, and improve upon its current performance by instilling an ability in commanders to perceive historical parallels during battle, so as to capitalize on the lessons learned. The main areas military history includes are the history of wars, battles, and combats, history of the military art, and history of each specific military service.
There are a number of ways to categorize warfare. One categorization is conventional versus unconventional, where Conventional warfare involves well-identified, armed forces fighting one another in a relatively open and straightforward way without weapons of mass destruction. "Unconventional" refers to other types of war which can involve raiding, guerrilla, insurgency, and terrorist tactics or alternatively can include nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare.
All of these categories usually fall into one of two broader categories: High intensity and low intensity warfare. High intensity warfare is between two superpowers or large countries fighting for political reasons. Low intensity warfare involves counterinsurgency, guerilla warfare and specialized types of troops fighting revolutionaries.
One method of dividing such a massive topic is by cutting it into periods of time. While useful this method tends to be inaccurate and differences in geography mean there is little uniformity. What might be described as ancient warfare is still practiced in a number of parts of the world. Other eras that are distinct in European history, such as the era of Medieval warfare, may have little relevance in East Asia.
The beginning of prehistoric wars is a disputed issue between anthropologists and historians. In the earliest societies, such as hunter-gatherer societies, there were no social roles or divisions of labor (with the exception of age or sex differences), so every able person contributed to any raids or defense of territory.
The introduction of agriculture brought large differences between farm workers' societies and hunter-gatherer groups. Probably, during periods of famine, hunters started to massively attack the villages of countrymen, leading to the beginning of organized warfare. In relatively advanced agricultural societies a major differentiation of roles was possible; consequently the figure of professional soldiers or militaries as distinct, organized units was born.
The first archaeological record, though disputed, of a prehistoric battle is about seven thousand years old, and it is located on the Nile in Egypt, in an area known as Cemetery 117. A large number of bodies, many with arrowheads embedded in their skeletons, indicates that they may have been the casualties of a battle.
Much of what we know of ancient history is the history of militaries: their conquests, their movements, and their technological innovations. There are many reasons for this. Kingdoms and empires, the central units of control in the ancient world, could only be maintained through military force. Due to limited agricultural ability, there were relatively few areas that could support large communities, so fighting was common.
Weapons and armor, designed to be sturdy, tended to last longer than other artifacts, and thus a great deal of surviving artifacts recovered tend to fall in this category as they are more likely to survive. Weapons and armor were also mass-produced to a scale that makes them quite plentiful throughout history, and thus more likely to be found in archaeological digs. Such items were also considered signs of posterity or virtue, and thus were likely to placed in tombs and monuments to prominent warriors. And writing, when it existed, was often used for kings to boast of military conquests or victories.
Writing, when used by the common man, also tended to record such events, as major battles and conquests constituted major events that many would have considered worthy of recording either in an epic such as the homeric writings pertaining to the trojan war, or even personal writings. Indeed the earliest stories center around warfare, as war was both a common and dramatic aspect of life; the witnessing of a major battle involving many thousands of soldiers would be quite a spectacle, even today, and thus considered worthy both of being recorded in song and art, but also in realistic histories, as well as being a central element in a fictional work. Lastly, as nation-states evolved and empires grew, the increased need for order and efficiency lead to an increase in the number of records and writings. Officials and armies would have good reason for keeping detailed records and accounts involving any and all things concerning a matter such as warfare that in the words of Sun Tzu was "a matter of vital importance to the state". For all these reasons, military history comprises a large part of ancient history.
Notable militaries in the ancient world included the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Chinese, Macedonians, Romans, Indians, Gandharas, and Qins, Xiongnu.
The fertile crescent of Mesopotamia was the center of several prehistoric conquests. Mesopotamia was conquered by the Sumerians, Akkadians, Persians, Babylonians, and Assyrians.
Egypt began growing as an ancient power, but eventually fell to the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Persians.
In Greece, several city-states emerged to power, including Athens and Sparta. The Greeks successfully stopped two Persian invasions, at the Battle of Marathon, where the Persians were led by Darius I of Persia, and Battle of Salamis, a naval battle where the Greek ships were deployed by orders of Themistocles and the Persians were under Xerxes I. The Peloponnesian War then erupted between the two Greek powers Athens and Sparta. Athens built a long wall to protect its inhabitants, but the wall helped to facilitate the spread of a plague that killed about 30,000 Atheninans, including Pericles. After a disastrous campaign against Syracuse, the Athenian navy was decisively defeated by Lysander at the Battle of Aegospotami.
The Macedonians, underneath Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, invaded Persia and won several major victories, establishing Macedonia as a major power. However, following Alexander's death at an early age, the empire quickly fell apart.
Meanwhile, Rome was gaining power, following a rebellion against the Etruscans. At the 3 Punic Wars, the Romans defeated the neighboring power of Carthage. The First Punic War centered around naval warfare over Sicily; after the Roman development of the corvus, the Romans were able to board Carthaginian ships. The Second Punic War started with Hannibal?s invasion of Italy by crossing the Alps. He famously won the encirclement at the Battle of Cannae. However, after Scipio invaded Carthage, Hannibal was forced to follow and was defeated at the Battle of Zama, ending the role of Carthage as a power. The Third Punic War was a failed revolt against the Romans.
Rome quickly took over the Greeks and were expanding into Gaul, winning battles against the barbarians. By the time of Marcus Aurelius, the Romans had expanded to the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Mesopotamia in the east. However, Aurelius marked the end of the Five Good Emperors, and Rome quickly fell to decline. The Huns, Goths, and other barbaric groups invaded Rome, which continued to suffer from inflation and other internal strifes. Despite the attempts of Diocletian, Constantine I, and Theodosius I, western Rome collapsed. The Byzantine empire continued to prosper, however.
In China, the Shang Dynasty and Zhou Dynasty had risen and collapsed. This led to a Warring States Period, in which several states continued to fight with each other over territory.
When stirrups came into use some time during the dark age militaries were forever changed. This invention coupled with technological, cultural, and social developments had forced a dramatic transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery. Similar patterns of warfare existed in other parts of the world. In China around the fifth century armies moved from massed infantry to cavalry based forces, copying the steppe nomads. The Middle East and North Africa used similar, if often more advanced, technologies than Europe. In Japan the Medieval warfare period is considered by many to have stretched into the nineteenth century. In Africa along the Sahel and Sudan states like the Kingdom of Sennar and Fulani Empire employed Medieval tactics and weapons well after they had been supplanted in Europe.
In the Medieval period, feudalism was firmly implanted, and there existed many landlords in Europe. Landlords often owned castles to protect their territory.
The Islamic empire began expanding, and under the Umayyads expanded to Spain in the west and the Indus River in the east. The Abassids then took over the Islamic empire. Eventually, the Abassids were defeated by the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols. At the Battle of Tours, the Franks underneath Charles Martel stopped short a Muslim invasion.
In China, the Sui Dynasty and other dynasties had risen, but the Mongols under Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan invaded and defeated the Chinese. The Mongolian empire continued to expand, but following the death of Kublai Khan it fell apart.
The adoption of the arquebus by European armies during the Italian Wars of the early 16th century brought an end to the dominance of armored cavalry on the battlefield. The simultaneous decline of the feudal system?and the absorption of the medieval city-states into larger nations?allowed the creation of professional standing armies to replace the feudal levies and mercenaries that had been the standard military component of the Middle Ages.
Some developments of this period:
* Field artillery
* Infantry drill
As weapons?particularly small arms?became easier to use, countries began to abandon a complete reliance on professional soldiers in favor of conscription. Technological advances became increasingly important; while the armies of the previous period had usually had similar weapons, the industrial age saw encounters such as the Battle of Sadowa, in which possession of a more advanced technology played a decisive role in the outcome.
Conscription was employed in industrial warfare to increase the amount of soldiers that were available for combat. This was used by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Napoleonic Wars.
Total war was used in industrial warfare, the objective being to prevent the opposing nation to engage in war. William Tecumseh Sherman's "March to the Sea" and Philip Sheridan's burning of the Shenandoah Valley are examples of total warfare.
In modern times, war has evolved from an activity steeped in tradition to a scientific enterprise where success is valued above methods. The notion of total war is the extreme of this trend. Militaries have developed technological advances rivalling the scientific accomplishments of any other field of study.
However, it should be noted that modern militaries benefit in the development of these technologies under the funding of the public, the leadership of national governments, and often in cooperation with large civilian groups, such as the General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin corporations, in the United States. And as for "total war," it may be argued that it is not an exclusive practice of modern militaries, but in the tradition of genocidal conflict that marks even tribal warfare to this day. What distinguishes modern military organizations from those previous is not their willingness to prevail in conflict by any method, but rather the technological variety of tools and methods available to modern battlefield commanders, from submarines to satellites, from knives to nuclear warheads.
Some of the military unit types and technologies which were developed in modern times are:
* Sappers and Miners
* Special Forces
* Naval Combatant
* Global Information Grid
* Active Electronically Scanned Array
* Network-centric warfare
* Space warfare
World War I was sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, leading to the mobilization of Austria and Serbia. The Germans joined the Austrians to form the Central powers; the French, British, and Russians formed the Allied powers. Following the Battle of the Marne and the outflanking attempt of both nations in the "race to the sea", trench warfare ensued, leaving the war in a great deadlock. Major operations by the Germans at the Battle of Verdun and by the British at the Battle of the Somme were carried out, and new technology like tanks and chlorine gas were used. Following the USA's entrance into the war, the Germans and their allies were eventually defeated.
World War II ensued after Germany's invasion of Poland, forcing Britain and France to declare war. The Germans allied with Italy and Japan quickly defeated France and Belgium. A hasty evacuation occurred at Dunkirk to save the Allied army from complete disaster. The Germans then attacked Russia and marched to take over the Russian resources, but were thwarted. Meanwhile, Japan had launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, leading the United States to join the Allied powers. In Europe, the Allies opened three fronts: in the west, after securing Normandy; in the east, aiding Russia; and in the south, through Italy. Germany eventually surrendered, upon which the Allies turned and focused troops to do island hopping. The dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the surrender of Japan and the end of the Second World War.
The Cold War then emerged, reaching the climax at the Cuban Missile Crisis. Hostilities never actually occurred, though the US did engage against communist states in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Gaining an accurate assessment of past military encounters may prove difficult because of bias, even in ancient times, and systematic propaganda in more modern times. Descriptions of battles by leaders may be unreliable due to the inclination to minimize mention of failures and exaggerate when boasting of successes. Further, military secrets may prevent some salient facts from being reported at all; scholars still do not know the nature of Greek fire, for instance. Despite these limitations, wars are some of the most studied and detailed periods of human history.
Homer, in the Iliad, described the Trojan War. However, the historicity of the Iliad is doubtful, as many historians believe that the Iliad is essentially legendary. Others believe that it is partly historical.
Herodotus (484 BC - 425 BC) wrote the The Histories. He is, along with Thucydides, often known as the "father of history". Thucydides (460 BC - 395 BC) is regarded as the first scientific historian by dismissing the notions of deities taking active part in history. Despite being an Athenian, he remained an impartial historian, taking advantage of his exile to research the war from different perspectives. To do such, he carefully examined documents and interviewed eyewitnesses.
Xenophon (430 BC - 355 BC) is most known for Anabasis, in which he records the expedition of Cyrus the Younger into Turkey. It was one of the first books centered around the analysis of a leader.
Julius Caesar (100 BC - 44 BC) authored several military books, such as Commentarii de Bello Gallico and Commentarii de Bello Civili, in which he comments upon his campaigns.
Some other more recent prominent military historians include:
* Hans Delbr?ck (1848-1929)
* Charles Oman (1860-1946)
* Basil Liddell Hart (1895-1970)
* John Keegan (1934)
* William Ledyard Rodgers (d. 1944)
* Lynn Montross (d. 1961)
* Cornelius Ryan
* R. Ernest & Trevor N. Dupuy (a.k.a. Dupuy & Dupuy)
* John Terraine (1921-2003)
* Victor Davis Hanson