Category Archives: MILITARY HISTORY
Like many premodern technologies, it is not known when or where the first trebuchet appeared. Unlike ancient artillery, which relied on torsion (twisting) to supply ballistic force, medieval trebuchets utilised a simpler lever action to propel projectiles. Like a seesaw, once one side of the lever was forcefully brought to the ground, by pulling on ropes (traction trebuchets) or a weight (counterweight trebuchets), a projectile – most commonly a stone – was released from a sling attached to the other side.
The rise of the Zulu empire under its warlike king Shaka (r.1816 -28) sent shock waves throughout southern Africa, triggering mass migrations of refugee peoples. Known as the Mfecane (`to be weak from hunger’), these upheavals completely rearranged the pattern of settlement in southern Africa and left vast areas depopulated. The Zulu belong to the Nguni, the most southerly branch of the Bantu-speaking peoples. As a result of the Mfecane the Nguni are now widespread throughout southern Africa, inhabiting Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa.
Such investments needed to be protected, and it is unsurprising that there should be a development in horse armour that parallels that of armour for the knight. It was by no means a total innovation; the late Roman army had used horses wholly covered in mail or lamellar armour for the catapbracti (literally ‘completely enclosed’) or klibanophoroi (meaning ‘camp oven’; a humorous reference to how quickly these fully armoured men and horses would heat up!), both of which were adopted from their Sassanid Persian neighbours who spanned the Middle East between second and seventh centuries. Whilst such armour continued to be used in small numbers in the Byzantine Empire, this practice had died out in Western Europe long before.
In the 1690s the English army’s matchlock musket (slow to load, clumsy to operate at the mercy of the elements) was replaced by a lighter weapon with a more robust firing system known as the flintlock. At the same time the old plug bayonet gave way to a socket version that fitted around the muzzle and enabled the gun to be fired. When allied to the new tactic of fighting three ranks deep and firing rolling volleys by platoons (18 to a battalion), these innovations made the English (later British) infantrymen the dominant factor on the battlefield.
Life at sea may not have been a particularly attractive prospect for a man in Georgian England, but it was always an option: The Royal Navy was constantly, chronically, in need of sailors. Its peacetime strength in 1792 was fifteen thousand men,but in five years it increased eightfold, and by 1813 the number stood at one hundred and fifty thousand- this in a nation whose population was only about 10 million. England’s navy may have been the envy of the world, but it was not at all uncommon for her warships to sail undermanned.