Western tactics and Ottoman armies

A nice example and a warning that one should not expect much from borrowing innovations of an alien civilisation:

‘According to Brantome, Süleyman specifically recruited experienced infantry captains from the French Army in North Italy, probably in the 1530s (when sultan and French king were happily allied against Habsburg Spain). Was Süleyman just looking for a few more brave renegades – or was he seeking to reform the janissary corps on the model of the new infantry tactics of the West? In light of this latter possibility, it is fascinating to note that despite the presence of tens of thousands of experienced European veterans in all the major Mediterranean Muslim armies – in the army of the sharif of Morocco as well as that of the Turk – there is no evidence that any of the new tactics of the West ever entered an army of the East. Weapons technology spread, but not tactical technique. Assuming innovation was desired, the only conclusion possible is that the cultural barriers were simply too high for transmission to take place. This conclusion is reinforced by the record of later European experts hired to reform the Ottoman Army in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who found it almost impossible to enforce changes that went against the cultural grain.

Like many a Christian prince, Süleyman was personally fascinated by pistols, as were other well-placed Ottomans. According to a Habsburg ambassador, at mid sixteenth century a Turkish prince attempted to rearm his personal retinue with firearms, but horsemen refused to have anything to do with the weapons and so the attempted innovation, fascinatingly similar to contemporary cavalry experiments in western Europe, was a failure. Aristocratic distaste for firearms was also present in the West, but there it was a minority and reactionary sentiment. This was not so in Ottoman lands, where janissary slave soldiers adopted the new weapons, but the landed nobility remained aloof’. (Arnold, Thomas F. Renaissance at War. London: Cassell & Co, 2001. Pp. 119-121)


Filed under 16th century, Ottoman, War & society

6 responses to “Western tactics and Ottoman armies

  1. barrycjacobsen

    Victor Davis Hanson addressed this cultural aspect of war very well, in “Carnage and Culture”

    • I see books of that author quite often, but have never dared to touch any of them. When someone writes about millenium of wars in single volumes, that is suspicious…

  2. Carlos

    Hello, i discovered your blog while writing a little ficcional comic whose history took place in the XVI century. Just wanted to say that your blog is amazing! It’s Very intesting to read so much about the early modern era, especially in a world that only seems to come to this period to talk about XVI and XVII century pirates. They’re cool but…
    While writing this I noticed that this post is from 2014. Hope you post again :)
    That’s it. Just a compliment from someone who liked Your blog. Cheers bro

    • Thanks a lot! One of the reasons for abandoning the blog was an apparent lack of interest but now I think I’ll post something new sometime soon.

  3. Peter

    I really enjoy your blog!

  4. I love this blog- come back to us!

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