Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Operational art – as the term is used in this essay – falls somewhere between strategy and tactics, and concerns the business of war-fighting in most of its aspects save the purely political or logistical. The word ‘strategy,’ in the sense of grand strategy, probably did not enter European vocabulary until the end of the eighteenth century. However, as Hew Strachan recently pointed out, even if the practice did not have a label, it certainly existed long before the eighteenth century. The term ‘tactics’ had ancient origins, of course, and was well understood in our period, even if the available weapons and types of soldiers using them were in some areas undergoing radical change. Even excluding grand strategy and the tactical handling of troop formations in combat, operational art is a formidably wide field and this essay's discussion is limited to three inter-related aspects: developments in the nature of military command and its tools of communication, the heavy weapons available to commanders in the field and in siege warfare, and what was known in all of Europe's principal languages as ‘small war’.
Two of these topics relate to significant changes. Mapping techniques and other aspects of post-medieval communications transformed the ability of commanders to envisage the landscape of war. The development of gunpowder artillery produced a weapon that – literally – expanded the tactical landscape.