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Chapter 1 starts with a critical juncture that installed a new pattern with the political surge of armies in many Arab states. Newly independent states engaged in the complex task of building their armed forces, also as a symbol of their newly gained sovereignty. During this foundational period, the complex processes of nation- and state-building went hand in hand with the politicization of the officer corps so that the army was propelled as the founder of new, postcolonial political orders and as a specific incubator, in control of real power and endowed with huge power resources. Within this general trend, some militaries were much more submitted to social trends and penetration by societies in the form of ethno-confessional or tribal dimensions, when compared with the relative closure of the Egyptian armed forces to society and its dynamics. Rather than their exhaustion in the framework of national armies, subsequent political developments witnessed their enhancement, as exemplified by Syria and Yemen. And, in this overall picture of heightened militarization in the Arab World, Tunisia appeared as the negative and exceptional case with its armed forces remaining a subservient part of the (civilian) Tunisian state and regime alike.
The history of war in the Scandinavian world is inseparable from the history of the Vikings. The stereotype of Norse violence, still prevalent today, was fostered by contemporary writers such as Alcuin, who lamented the strike on Lindisfarne in his native Northumbria (793 ce) as a pagan contamination of Christian society. ‘The heathens’, he wrote to the monks there, ‘have stained the sanctuaries of God, poured forth the blood of the saints all around the altar, laid waste to the house of our hope, and trodden upon the bodies of the saints in the temple of God as if they were dung in the street. What can I say except to lament in spirit with you before the altar of Christ and say “spare your people, Lord, spare your people, and do not give your inheritance to the pagans lest they might say where is the God of the Christians”?’ A century later, a horrified Abbo of St Germain-des-Près recounted how so many Viking longships went down the Seine to Paris that the river itself seemed to have disappeared. According to the view presented in medieval sources from the British Isles and France and replicated in modern textbooks and popular histories, Scandinavians were decidedly ‘other’ to the Europe they plundered.
In popular perceptions, the later Middle Ages loom large as the apogee of medieval chivalry, epitomised by the foundation of chivalric orders, such as the Order of the Garter, by instructional texts such as the Livre de Chevalerie of Geoffroi de Charny, and by the chronicles of Jean Froissart (c.1337–c.1405), written
From the late fourth century onwards, Christendom was assailed by a succession of invaders. The first wave consisted of Germanic tribes – Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Vandals – and their irruptions brought down the West Roman Empire. During the sixth century, Slavonic groups emerged in the territory north of the Danube that the Germanic tribes had evacuated and began incursions into the South-East European lands of the Byzantine empire. In the late ninth century, the old Roman province of Pannonia together with the Hungarian Great Plain was occupied by the Magyars, a Finno-Ugrian group, originally from Siberia, that had over the preceding centuries made its home on the western steppes. The Magyar settlement destroyed several nascent Slavonic principalities and was accompanied by extensive raids into the Balkans and Western Europe.
Early modern European warfare features prominently in several important discussions of early modern violence, notably the debate on the Military Revolution and its variants, as well as forming part of the standard narrative of state formation and the emergence of an international order based on sovereign states. While the dominant trend was towards establishing the state as a monopoly of legitimate violence, the patterns and practices of European warfare remained diverse, as were the ways in which they interacted with state and ‘international’ structures. The creation of permanent forces was slow and uneven, while their implications varied depending on whether they were navies or armies. This chapter contests conventional conceptual models, such as that of ‘limited war’ waged by allegedly disinterested ‘mercenaries’. It argues that efforts to impose tighter discipline arose from multiple political, cultural, social and religious impulses, and varied in effectiveness. War was certainly not limited in terms of its capacity for violence and destruction, but it nonetheless remained broadly within established Christian concepts of ‘just war’ directed by a ‘proper authority’ for legitimate ends. The risks inherent in military operations were an additional constraining factor, despite this period becoming known as an ‘age of battles’.
After the collapse of Rome Europe was dominated by relatively small powers. Its development, therefore, was different from that of China or some of the powers of the Middle East. Lacking continuous existence and permanent facilities armies depended on native skills which recruits brought with them. The retinues of the powerful, who could train and buy equipment, were at an advantage. In time they became predominantly mounted warriors, the knights. Infantry were never a negligible force, but without training they lacked the coherence to make their mass effective. In the later Middle Ages standing armies in Europe grew out of rising prosperity, the improving structures of a few states and the demands of continuous warfare. By contrast Mamluk Egypt developed a standing army by about 1240, while China always had one. The Mongols, by virtue of their way of life with its ‘native skills’, constituted a permanent army. Although improved metallurgy increased the supply of better weapons and armour, and experience in stonework led to better fortifications, the technology of war changed little. War remained up close and personal, an affair of plundering and, when battle became necessary, close-order formations fighting at close-quarters. Gunpowder, therefore, was a major challenge whose impact on war before the mid 15th century was limited.
For almost Chaucer’s whole life, England was at war. This chapter sets his own military career within the context of military activity. The principal conflict was between England and France (the Hundred Years War), with varying fortunes for both sides being revealed. It emphasises the significance of Scotland in this struggle, as the ally of France and thereby a thorn in the side of England. Large armies were sent to Scotland in 1385 and 1400. The heraldic dispute between Scrope and Grosvenor, in which Chaucer gave testimony, is linked to the 1385 expedition. The chapter also considers contemporary military organisation at the level of the army as a whole and of the individual soldier. It also looks briefly on the impact of war on politics and society in England.
What is ‘heresy’? One answer would be, ‘that which orthodoxy condemns as such’; though we may also wish to consider when conscious dissent invites such a condemnation. The main ‘heresy’ in late medieval England was that usually termed Lollardy, understood to be inspired by the radical theological thought of John Wyclif (1328-1384), which among other things emphasised the overwhelmingly importance of Scripture, and of lay access to Scripture, through vernacular translation. Orthodox repression of heresy began in the late fourteenth century and developed in various ways in the fifteenth. There are small traces of these much wider battles in Chaucer’s oeuvre, but it would be very hard to say quite how he saw them. We might instead see the fluidity of attitude toward aspects of religion in Chaucer as a sign of his times. ‘Dissent’ can encompass more than that which is solidly decried as heresy, and ‘orthodoxy’ can turn out to be more than one mode of religious thought and expression.
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