Reframing the Conversation on Medieval Military Strategy
By John D. Hosler
Pre-publication proof. Full article will appear in the Journal of Medieval Military History, Volume 16, 2018
Introduction: In 2010, Beatrice Heuser published a book entitled Thinking War: The Evolution of Strategy from Antiquity to the Present. In his review in the Journal of Military History, Andrew Lambert called the book “sophisticated and wise” – “epic,” even. But Heuser has little to say about the Middle Ages, covering the entire period in just four pages.
She argues that there was “little medieval literature of relevance” to her book because, “how to wage war…was…for a thousand years largely confined to the work of Vegetius.” Apparently, after De re militari, the next “text on warfare that is no longer either a historical treatise or a legal one, nor a copy of Vegetius,” is Bouvet’s 1385 Tree of Battles. She then asks the begged question: “Why was there relatively little writing on the way to wage war in the Middle Ages?” The answer she considers “perhaps the most conclusive” is that, because God determined the outcome of war, there was little use speculating how to influence it. She is thus compelled to conclude that there was little intellectual basis for strategy in the Middle Ages.
Heuser’s understanding of medieval religion is quaint, but her book and others like it uniformly stand on the purported absence of extant medieval strategic texts in the West (be they called manuals, treatises, or textbooks). Those manuals that did exist were textbooks of ancient works like Vegetius’s De re militari.
[…] The purported lacuna in the canon of strategic literature is the focus of this essay. This question of the history of strategy is a question of intellectual history: did medieval writers generate and transmit derivative and/or original ideas about how to wage war?