In the early modern world three dominant cultures of war were shaped by a synergy of their internal and external interactions. One was Latin Christian western Europe. Another was Ottoman Islam. The third, no less vital for so often being overlooked, was east–central Europe: Poland/Lithuania, Livonia, Russia, the freebooting Cossacks, a volatile mix of variations on a general Christian theme.
William Urban’s fascinating narrative is an integrated account of early modern war at the sharp end: of campaigns and battles, soldiers and generals. Temporally it extends from the French invasion of Italy in 1494 to Austria’s Balkan victories culminating in the 1718 Treaty of Peterwardein. Geographically it covers ground from the Low Countries to the depths of the Ukraine.
That narrative in turn focuses Urban’s major analytical points: the replacement of ‘crowd armies’ by professionals, and the professionals’ integration into crown armies: government-supervised, bureaucratized institutions. The key to this process was the mercenary. Originally recruited because the obligations of feudal levies were too limited, mercenary forces evolved operationally into skilled users of an increasingly complex gunpowder technology in ever more complex tactical situations. By the end of the seventeenth century, soldiers were identifying with the states and the rulers they served.