Conferences are asking after “the return of the condottieri”, television stations and scientific forums organise discussions on the subject of “the re-privatisation of war” and the re-mergence of the Middle Ages: It is hard to miss that the increasing use of private service providers in the preparation and conduct of war in recent years, not only causes a sensitive reaction among politicians, the media and the scientific community, but also invites historic associations. It is revealing that in this discussion trust in the advantages of private enterprise is for once not interpreted as the embodiment of modernisation and efficiency of increased rationality – in contrast to parallel discussions, like those on social reform – but is seen as a relapse into an archaic state considered overcome. Apparently, violence and war are among the last areas where government control and organisation are still regarded as modern, whereas private (enterprise) involvement is considered pre-modern or obsolete.
This is probably influenced by the fact that the “de-privatisation” of war in the course of the later medieval, early-modern formation of statehood and the state’s monopoly on power formed an important building block in interpretative models, which saw this process as progress in the sense of rationalisation and modernisation. All those entrepreneurs, by way of contrast, who knew how to employ their military skills for the accumulation of capital, or who deployed their capital on Europe’s battlefields, were considered representatives of an era of unbridled power, which had to be overcome.
Such teleological interpretations have proved far-reaching in their consequences for the course of historical research: Even though private military enterprise can be shown to have formed an essential part of the foundation for the significantly expanding warfare between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, a look at the state of research in this area reveals significant gaps and imbalances: detailed studies on the Later Middle Ages are more numerous than those for the Early Modern period, Southern Europe is significantly better researched than Northern and Western Europe, and approaches focussing on the history of individuals and families are much more common compared with systematic ones. Ideas on the processes involved in the creation of the state, strongly influenced by the theory of modernisation, have obscured the view of the significance, complexity and persistence of military entrepreneurship among historical research into the Early Modern period in particular, which with the exception of Redlich’s pioneering study from 1964/65 has shown hardly any interest in the entrepreneurial aspects of war. From this perspective even the almost proverbial ‘exception’ Wallenstein becomes a forerunner of the ‘absolutist’ state. However, medievalists, too, have not pursued the subject beyond the sixteenth century without asking the question whether the temporal endpoint of their research was informed by the mere convention of historical epochs or by factual considerations. Frequently it has been claimed, without real research based on comparative studies, that it was possible to clearly differentiate between the military commercial enterprise of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period and thus confirm the separation of epochs. It is therefore hardly surprising that there has not been a more intensive exchange on the common subject between medievalists and historians of the Early Modern period.
This unsatisfactory observation forms the point of departure for the planned symposium, which brings together representatives from various disciplines in an international context. The conference is concerned with the connection between military and entrepreneurial activities in the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period looking at the historic roots of a very current phenomenon. The symposium will consider military entrepreneurship as a lasting, epoch-spanning aspect, which cannot simply be included as a peripheral phenomenon, or a geographically limited side issue, into a pervasive as well as simplifying view of a linear development of military history, which led from the “medieval feudal armies” to the “professional armies of the emerging state“. On the other hand, breaks in the development of military entrepreneurship can only be identified by diachronic historical research rather than being derived from subject traditions. Initially it must be determined whether and to what extent military entrepreneurship can be harmonised with an idealised view of modernisation and the formation of the state. To this end the political, social, technological and economic conditions should be investigated, under which military entrepreneurship developed, established itself and prospered, as well as later diminished in importance – although without ever completely disappearing.
The concept of a ‘capitalisation of war’ may be helpful for a systematic approach, in which capitalisation should be considered in its widest sense. This can include individuals who offer material or personnel resources in order to generate profit: including money, weapons, technical apparatus, supplies, space, animals and humans. Competencies, too, can be capitalised, such as strategic experience, tactical skills or technical knowledge. Any profits earned can be re-invested into the conduct of war. However, this does not exclusively apply to material profits. Military entrepreneurship includes other forms of profit, other ways of generating capital. The involvement can win prestige and political influence, that is to say social capital; even actual authority can be achieved, secured or strengthened in this way. This, too, may be used as capital in the conduct of war. In short, every resource, which is necessary or useful in warfare, can be entrepreneurially deployed, resulting in a comprehensive capitalisation of war.
The subject will be examined systematically in three sections. The first step will consider the personnel and material resources, finances and logistics. Which resources are being commercially exploited, where do they come from and how are they used? What profits and losses are realised? How is capital organised and received, how is it offered? Which technological and social conditions determine developments?
The second step will focus more closely on the individuals concerned: which social profiles, career patterns, personalities, motives and contexts for action can be identified? Who are the military entrepreneurs? When and why is military entrepreneurship successful, under what circumstances does it fail? Where and under which conditions are conventions formed? Is military entrepreneurship a phase in life or can be seen as a form of existence?
The capitalisation of war has always attracted admiration and contempt, approval as well as criticism. Therefore, it appears instructive to give the representation, interpretation and perception of military entrepreneurship equal space in a third section. This will initially focus on the media used in representation: pictures and sculptures, architecture and interior design, literature and poetry, music, seals, coats of arms and inscriptions – all these things may be relevant here. Thereafter comes the question of perception and interpretation in philosophy, theology and historiography. It will be important to differentiate sharply between self-portrayal and self-interpretation of the military entrepreneurs, the contemporary external perception and later interpretation – this differentiation seems an obvious aspiration, which in practice often proves difficult to achieve.
The goal of the symposium is a presentation of a series of case studies and systematic investigations, which will provide on a historical basis a sharper outline of the profile of European military entrepreneurship between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, leading to questions about continuity and change in the form and function of this phenomenon.
In case of interest, please submit a paper proposal and a short outline (up to 1 page) until december 15, 2007.
Send comments and questions to H-Net
Webstaff. H-Net reproduces announcements that have been submitted to us as a
free service to the academic community. If you are interested in an announcement
listed here, please contact the organizers or patrons directly. Though we strive
to provide accurate information, H-Net cannot accept responsibility for the text of
announcements appearing in this service. (Administration)