Category Archives: Ottoman

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