Comment of the Day: Graydon 'Yup. Suleiman has a unified state; Suleiman has a sort of post-classical central bureaucracy able to make and sustain policy. Suleiman has a professional army. (And a less professional army.) And yet Suleiman couldn't quite take Vienna or make the conquest of Hungary stick; the result is not stable control of Hungary, but a hundred and fifty years of conflict which the Ottoman Empire eventually loses. This isn't the pattern Brad's talking about with Babur; that's an example of someone able not so much to achieve victory as to change the local rules of warfare in the process of achieving victory. Afterwards, the things which conferred power no longer do so. (Napoleon isn't usually thought of as an example but would be one.) Suleiman specifically and the Ottomans generally can't do that in Hungary; they're using the same rules the various European powers are using. They start with a significant advantage in application, but not a sufficient advantage; they haven't got the ability to change the rules...

...What's going on with Suleiman might be as simple as poor choice of objectives; a wiser commander would have attacked, not Vienna, but the reasons for a wider hinterland to defend Vienna. (It's an intersection of trade routes. If they're not effective trade routes, well. Give it some time, and things become much simpler.) It might be as simple as just not having a mechanism of legitimacy; there's no way to defeat people who can't give up. And destruction turns out to be much more work.

Armies get better by fighting; a good ruler doesn't want that. A strong central ruler must not allow that. Any conquest on the borders must be deliberate and carefully managed; successful, popular generals are a structural threat. The fragmented nature of Europe, the increasing importance of the New World, and the sheer lack of mediation mechanisms mean that the Europeans fight incessantly. They get better; they don't always get better at applicable things, but sometimes.

The Roman rise is an example of this, too; generations of warfare in the italic peninsula result in military capability not so much in arms (though there might be that, too; torsion catapults count) but in common understanding of war as an economic activity, a career, and a social norm. Export that and individually superior fighters lose. Caesar conquers Gaul.

#commentoftheday #2019-11-26