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Battle Seeking:

The Contexts and Limits of Vegetian Strategy

Over the last decade or so a consensus has formed about the general shape of medieval strategy.
Although R.C. Smail showed as long ago as 1956 that medieval strategy could be analyzed on its own terms,

books and articles by Bernard Bachrach, John Gillingham, and others also showed that medieval strategy
could be seen as following many of the fundamental precepts of Vegetius, the late Roman writer on military
Thus, without getting into the question of whether medieval strategy was always or even often self-
consciously Vegetian,
we may take the term Vegetian strategy as convenient shorthand for the general
contours of much medieval strategy.
I shall outline the characteristics of this consensus view more fully in a moment. For now, it suffices
to say that the patterns of Vegetian strategy were based largely in limitations imposed on medieval
commanders by resources, transport technology, and geography. As these same factors constrained
commanders in ancient and classical times Vegetius was, after all, a classical author Vegetian strategy also
characterized much classical warfare. Indeed, because the conditions governing Vegetian strategy arose from
the natural world and human interaction with nature (geography, agricultural productivity and seasonality, and
so on), it is easy to take the patterns of Vegetian strategy as natural. In support of this claim one could
point out the similarities between the strategies advocated by Vegetius and those advocated by Sun-Tzu, the
great Chinese military analyst who wrote a good 600 years before Vegetius.
To cite only two cases:

R.C. Smail, Crusading Warfare 1097-1193 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956).
See, for example, Bernard Bachrach, Fulk Nerra, Neo-Roman Consul (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); John
Gillingham, Richard I and the Science of War in the Middle Ages in War and Government in the Middle Ages, eds. Gillingham and J.C.
Holt (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1984) and William the Bastard at War in Studies in Medieval history Presented to R. Allen Brown, eds.
Christopher Harper-Bill, Christopher Holdsworth and Janet Nelson, (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1989); P. Flavii Vegeti Renati, Epitoma Rei
Militaris, ed. Alf nnerfors (Stutgart: Teubner, 1995) with selected translation available in Roots of Strategy, ed. T.R. Phillips (Harrisburg,
PA: Stackpole Books, 1985).
As is argued explicitly and consistently by Bachrach: e.g. The Practical Use of Vegetius De Re Militari During the Middle
Ages, The Historian 47 (1985), 239-255; for opposing views cf. Stephen Morillo, Warfare under the Anglo-Norman Kings 1066-1135
(Woodbridge: Boydell, 1994), 118, n. 89 and Michael Prestwich, Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 186-187.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1963). The similarities are most
striking in precisely those areas most universally conditioned by the natural and agricultural constraints of the pre-modern world. Sun
Tzu does not, of course, anticipate the specific organization and training of the Roman legion in Vegetius (though both stress
organization and discipline), but then medieval commanders had no use for those sections of Vegetius either, sections whose utility
did not become apparent until John and Maurice of Nassau, whose governments abilities to raise and train troops in the Roman
manner far exceeded any medieval governments.
Vegetius: The main and principle point in war is to secure plenty of provisions and
destroy the enemy by famine.
Sun Tzu: Hence the wise general sees to it that his troops feed on the enemy, for
one bushel of the enemys provisions is equivalent to twenty of his; one
hundredweight of enemy fodder to twenty hundredweight of his.
Vegetius: Good officers decline general engagements where the danger is common,
and prefer the employment of strategem and finesse to destroy the enemy as much
as possible in detail and intimidate them without exposing our own forces.
Sun Tzu: Thus, those skilled in war subdue the enemys army without battle.

That European warfare continued to follow Vegetian patterns well into the 18
century further supports the
apparent naturalness of Vegetian strategy.

I will not argue with Cliff Rogers emendation of the usual formulation of Vegetian warfare
elsewhere in this issue: the Vegetian avoidance of battle has been overstated.
But Vegetian patterns that
were still somewhat battle averse, especially on the defensive,
evidently remain a correct description of much
medieval warfare. But in important ways Rogers criticism of the Vegetian paradigm does not go far enough.
What I propose to do is to examine the contexts and limits of Vegetian strategy, for if the history of human
culture teaches us anything, it is that what seems most natural is often highly constructed, socially and
culturally. Some of the contexts and limits I shall examine may be obvious, but some arent, and we need
reminding, I think, of all of them because classical and medieval sciences of war, as Vegetian strategy has
often come to be called in the new consensus, are also cultures of war. Recognizing this is important, for
while the consensus view describes much medieval warfare, it does not describe it all, and exceptions to such
a natural pattern would seem to call for explanation. This paper will sketch the outline of a general theory
of pre-modern strategy, and attempt to place Vegetian patterns within that more general analysis.

Vegetius in Roots of Strategy, 128, 143; Sun Tzu II.15 (p. 74), III.10 (p. 79).
See, for example, Martin van Creveld, Supplying War : Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1977); Christopher Duffy, The Fortress in the Age of Vauban and Frederick the Great 1660-1789 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,
Cliff Rogers, The Vegetian Science of Warfare in the Middle Ages, above, [pages xx-xx]. I want to thank Cliff for
generously allowing me access to several drafts of his paper . I hope we have both benefited from exchanges which are reflected in
our respective footnotes. See below, [page xx], for further comments on Rogers criticisms of the Vegetian paradigm in medieval
historiography. See also the perceptive comments of John France, Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300 (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1999), 150-151, who notes the lure of decisiveness and the contexts of conquest and civil war as encouraging
generals to risk battle, though he does not fully explain why these contexts promote battle seeking. My own formulations of the
Vegetian paradigm do recognize a place for battle in a generals tool kit; see Morillo, Warfare under the Anglo-Norman Kings, passim.
Rogers, Vegetian Science of Warfare, [page xx]: the side which could win by simply relying on the Vegetian strategy
of harassment and defense behind fortifications would often choose to do so.
Vegetian Strategy
The major strategic principles embodied in what is called Vegetian strategy are logistical. Above all,
they reflect the limited productivity of traditional agriculture and the seasonal patterns of both that agriculture
and the availability of wild fodder for horses. Vegetius advises commanders to live, as far as possible, off the
enemys land.
Offensive campaigns should seek to support themselves by foraging and pillaging in enemy
territory, activities which not only supply ones own forces but deny the opponents own resources to him. If
carried out widely and often enough, the devastation directly undermines the enemy forces economic
capacity for continued resistance, and threatens the political coherence of enemy territory by exposing the
inability of its leaders to protect its constituent parts.
What is the defense to do in reply? One indirect response is to launch ones own attack into the
territory of the raiders, hoping to draw them back into defense of their own land. More direct responses
include shadowing the invading army closely enough as to prevent their foraging. Short of supplies and
frustrated by a lack of booty from plundering, the invaders, it is hoped, go home. But ultimately, Vegetian
strategy assumes the centrality of fortifications in the defense of territory. Even if raiders pillage their way
through some of your land, if you keep your hold on the forts you keep your hold on the land and people and
live to fight again another day. Thus, the second major activity attackers engage in is besieging fortifications.
This again often resolves into a logistical battle. Can the besieging army keep itself supplied longer than the
besieged strongpoint can? If the defenders can keep an army in the field in addition to a garrison in the fort,
this army might again stay close enough to the besiegers to hamper their foraging and so drive them off.
Given a vital fortification, a determined and well-supplied besieger, and a determined relief army, a
battle might result. But a final feature of Vegetian strategy, and the one that earned it the opprobrium of
armchair generals weaned on Clausewitz, is its somewhat limited use of battle as a tool in warfare.
Battle, in
the contexts Vegetian strategy assumes, was often an indirect path to goals more directly reached by pillaging
and sieges. Furthermore, it was a risky option: the vagaries of chance could steal from a superior force in one
day what it had worked weeks or months to obtain. Though an attacking force, especially, might seek battle
for strategic reasons, such battle seeking was closely constrained by considerations of topography, tactical
systems, relative force, and so on; on the defensive, only dire necessity constituted a good reason for actively
seeking battle without overwhelming advantages of terrain (including fortifications) or force.

Vegetius in Roots of Strategy, I, 128.
E.g. Charles Oman, History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages (1924), 2:201.
Cf. Rogers, Vegetian Science of Warfare, [page xx].
Logistical warfare; a central role for fortifications; a resulting paucity of battles: Vegetian strategy in a
nutshell. Again, as long as we avoid the question of intentionality that is, of whether Vegetius was the explicit
teacher of such patterns to medieval commanders it is widely agreed that this pattern describes much
western medieval warfare, ranging from the career of William the Conqueror to many campaigns of the 100
Years War, from Fulk Nerras Anjou to the Syrian frontiers of the Crusader States. As a quick reading of
On Skirmishing Warfare shows, Byzantine defensive strategy from the seventh to the mid-tenth century
was certainly Vegetian, as ambush, trickery, denial of supplies and counter-raids all precede offering battle in
defense of Byzantine territory. As the Byzantine author notes, When the situation is such that they cannot
confront the enemy directly, they may employ this method, and they will preserve both themselves and their
country from harm.
Much Islamic warfare, especially against the Byzantines and the Crusader States,
conformed to this pattern, as did the warfare of many of Byzantiums other neighbors and its successor in the
area the Ottomans.
Apparent exceptions, such as Saladins battle seeking strategy of the 1180s or Edward
IIIs campaigns in France,
appear on closer analysis to be the result of force disparities and other special
circumstances that made battle seeking sensible at least for one side in a basically Vegetian context. Looking
even more broadly, most Chinese warfare, whether on the frontiers or internally, also followed Vegetian
patterns (though a Sino-centrist might wish to call this Sun-tzu-ian strategy).

Given Rogers criticisms of the Vegetian paradigm for describing medieval warfare, however, several
further comments concerning some of his points may be necessary, though his general point that the place of
battle in the paradigm has been unduly de-emphasized is certainly correct, as noted above.
First, the place
of battle in the paradigm. Rogers claims to find a logical flaw in the theory, in that if, as Vegetius advises,

Skirmishing in Three Byzantine Military Treatises, ed. G.T. Dennis, 137-239, quote on 147; see also Mark Whittow, The
Making of Byzantium, 600-1025 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 175-181.
Whittow, Ch. 8 and 327-335; Patricia Crone, The Early Islamic World in Kurt Raaflaub and Nathan Rosenstein, eds.,
War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: Asia, The Mediterranean, Europe, and Mesoamerica (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1999), 309-332; Rhoades Murphey, Ottoman Warfare 1500-1700 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999).
Cliff Rogers, War Cruel and Sharp (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2001), makes a convincing case for Edwards battle
seeking as a central component of his strategy in France. See below, [page], for further analysis of Edward IIIs campaigns.
Thomas Barfield, The Perilous Frontier (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992); Edward L. Dreyer, Early Ming China: A Political History,
1355-1435 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982).
And his corollary, that the role of infantry has been overemphasized, is also on target. Rogers notes the important
tactical and operational roles mounted troops played (Rogers, Vegetian Science of Warfare, [page xx]). The central problem with
analyzing the roles of infantry and cavalry in medieval warfare, however, lies not in tactical or operational factors, but in the
intersection of such factors with social structure, an intersection often obscured by our terminology for troop types which almost
unconsciously imposes modern categories inappropriately on medieval data. See Morillo: Milites, Knights and Samurai: Military
Terminology, Comparative History, and the Problem of Translation, in Richard Abels and Bernard Bachrach, eds., The Normans and
Their Adversaries at War. Essays in Memory of C. Warren Hollister (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2001). In short, it is not the role of cavalry
but the role of a knightly military elite who usually rode horses that is underplayed by an undue emphasis on the role of men on foot.
one should do whatever ones enemy wishes one not to do, and ones enemy wishes to avoid battle, then
one should seek battle.
This criticism confuses, I believe, ends and means. Yes, there will be times when
this logic holds true, but there will also be times when Vegetius injunction applies to larger strategic goals,
towards which battle is only a tool. In such cases, one could conceivably not seek battle and still be doing
what a similarly battle shy defender would not want one to do. My enemy wishes me not to besiege crucial
town X. I move to besiege town X. He wishes to drive me off, and so threatens one of my castles. Perhaps
I then retreat to defend my own castle; perhaps this operational dance results in an exchange of castles, as in
1094 when William Rufus moved against Robert Curthoses stronghold at Bures. Robert responded by
moving against Williams garrison at Argentan, and both places changed hands.
In these and other cases,
battle need not enter the equation, and yet each of us is trying to do what the other wishes us not to do.
Second, the theory of Vegetian warfare, at least as I have written about it, recognizes a place for
battles in the conduct of campaigns. Yes, I characterize it as a risky last resort, and so the conduct even of
battle seeking generals proves it to be: before engaging in battle, such generals tried other means to secure
their ends, and tried to secure every advantage of terrain, weather and numbers before entering into combat.
And yet, certainly, battle was an option, a tool in the generals toolkit. It was often closely associated with
sieges, in which activity attackers engaged more frequently, I think, than battle-seeking.
As I wrote in
Warfare under the Anglo-Norman Kings, if an enemy were in the process of attacking the realm, and in particular
if it were threatening or actually besieging a friendly stronghold, the field forces moving to oppose them had
three courses of action available to them to lift the siege: threaten or disrupt the besiegers supplies, threaten
him with battle, or bring him to battle.
In other words, sometimes battle was a normal part of the
medieval generals repertoire.
And note that second option: threatening battle. Many of Rogers examples can be interpreted not as
battle seeking behavior but as battle threatening behavior. Now if one is fairly certain that ones enemy will
refuse battle on the terms offered, threatening battle can in fact be part of battle avoiding behavior. And if,
by chance, stupidity, or miscalculation ones enemy accepts on ones own terms, then the risky last resort has
become worth the risk. In other words, seeking battle only when one has the advantage of terrain,

Rogers, Vegetian Science of Warfare, [page].
Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum, ed. T. Arnold (Rolls Series, 1879), 217.
This is one point on which a simple empirical investigation might prove worthwhile but has not systematically been
Morillo, Warfare under the Anglo-Norman Kings, 106. Rogers, Vegetian Science of Warfare, n. 19, is correct that ravaging
(or undertaking a siege, which he doesnt mention) could in fact be a means of provoking ones foe into a battle on ones own terms.
topography, weather, or numbers preferably all of the above plus any others, such as better morale or a
superior tactical system (such as Edward III employed), one can muster is a perfectly comprehensible
corollary of the principles of Vegetian warfare.
What about the advantages of battle that Cliff points out, that battles put people and cities under
subjection to you?
Well, of course they could. Let me quote myself again.
Field forces could take hostile castles and cities in several ways. Perhaps the
most effective way was to come into the field unopposed by enemy field forces.
This carried the threat to the strongholds of a siege without hope of relief or
distraction of the attacker, a situation properly construed as hopeless in most cases.
How did armies achieve unopposed occupation of the field of war? often, if the
field of war were to be possessed alone, enemy armies had to be defeated in

Two points to stress here. First, the advantage of clearing the field by battle works only if ones siege
techniques are up to the job of exploiting the advantage. I assumed this in the context of Anglo-Norman
warfare, but the difference between the post-battle strategies of Edward III and Henry V illustrate the
difference this factor can make.
Second, this was a high risk, high gain strategy, and many commanders
were, rightly or wrongly, averse to taking the risk, preferring a slower, less risky but also possibly less
rewarding path. William I, except at Hastings, generally preferred to move directly against enemy
strongholds. In fact, he sometimes managed to achieve the same result as a successful battle would have
given him simply through sheer speed of action, as when he invaded Maine in 1073, appearing in the field so
rapidly that no enemy field force opposed him and the countys castles rapidly surrendered to him.
some including of course William at Hastings were willing to take the risks, for as Rogers notes, battle
could well be as decisive in the Middle Ages as in other periods.
But of course, the decisiveness of
medieval battle is not really at issue,
and only proves the riskiness of it.
Now what about that riskiness? Does the admission that battle could be decisive undermine
Gillinghams claim that battle could be unprofitable for the winner and disastrous for the loser?
Well, yes,

Rogers, Vegetian Science of Warfare, [page].
Morillo, Warfare under the Anglo-Norman Kings, 103.
Though the differences between the two kings war aims also played a part in this divergence.
OV, 2: 306-08.
Rogers, Vegetian Science of Warfare, [page].
At least between Rogers and myself, as we agree that it was a potentially decisive element of medieval warfare.
Rogers, Vegeetian Science of Warfare, [page].
in some cases. Again, it depended on how the battle was decisive, how decisive it was, and whether the
winners had the means to exploit the victory. But it is not logically impossible, as Rogers claims, for both
conditions to hold. I fight a battle to drive off an invader who has already ravaged much of my land. I win,
and kill the opposing leader in the process. But the effort leaves me unable to exploit my victory. I have lost
revenue from the ravaging; I have perhaps lost the loyalty of some of my followers, who go unrewarded for a
hard campaign and may have seen their own lands ravaged; in short, I have not profited from the battle,
except to limit further losses. And yet the battle has been a disaster for the invaders, the survivors of whom
go home leaderless and in turmoil. It is especially a disaster for the dead leader, who may thereby have
endangered his dynastic line even if his kingdom survives. Or another, concrete example. The English not
only win at Poitiers, they capture King John of France: A disaster for the French. Yet the French do not lose
the war, and the English attempts to exploit the victory draw them into an unprofitable occupation of
territory and a period of expensive stasis following the Treaty of Bretigny.
There is, in short, nothing
inherently illogical about the theory of battle avoidance as a central feature of Vegetian warfare, though the
conditions in which this risky last resort could be undertaken have, as Rogers rightly points out, been

A General Theory
Thus, the Vegetian paradigm, modified to recognize a regular place for battle, does describe much
medieval European warfare, as well as much warfare beyond Europe throughout the pre-modern world.
Again, Vegetian strategy describes a cross-cultural and apparently natural way of waging war in the conditions
of pre-modern economics and technology. There are a significant number of exceptions to such apparently
natural and cross-cultural patterns, however, exceptions that take place within conditions of nature and

Rogers in fact makes a convincing case that Edward did achieve almost all his war aims in 1360 (War Cruel and Sharp,
passim), and further claims (Vegetian Science of Warfare, n. 37) that including the post-1369 phases of the 100 Years War in a
judgement of Edwards results is logically similar to arguing that the Western Front offensive of 1918 was not decisive because the
Germans launched another bid for world domination in 1939. This raises interesting philosophical, methodological and
historiographical problems too complex to go into fully here. For one, it raises the problem of what we mean by decisive in
referring to either a battle or a campaign (see Morillo, ed., The Battle of Hastings: Sources and Interpretations, [Woodbridge: Boydell Press,
1996], xv-xvii, for a discussion of the meaning of decisiveness). No battle or campaign of the 100 Years War was decisive in the
way Hastings was, for instance, as Williams victory in 1066 not only effectively won the war, it precluded any further war along
similar lines. This points to the problem of deciding whether Edwards victory in 1360 could be considered a stable basis for a really
lasting peace: did it eliminate the issues of contention that had led to the war in the first place? It is not unreasonable, I think, to say it
did not: only a complete takeover of France by the English monarchy or the complete expulsion of English lordship from French
territory could have done that (though the concepts of French and English in such a claim admittedly risk anachronism).
Similarly, it is not in fact completely unreasonable to say from a broad, global and long-term perspective that the Western Front
offensive of 1918 was not decisive for precisely the reason Rogers cites. It certainly was not as decisive as the Allied victory in 1945,
for example.
agriculture that might be expected to reproduce the patterns. Some occur in other societies than those
already mentioned, though in the same broad time frame; some occur within the societies and times just
outlined. What accounts for these exceptions, which are far more non-Vegetian than those cited by Rogers?
For his paper leaves the underlying assumptions of Vegetian warfare intact. Those underlying assumptions
are, briefly, as follows. First, that we can engage in a rational, materially based analysis of strategy, and that
this is what medieval commanders did. Second, that the material basis of strategy consisted of land; that is,
that warfare was territorial, or about the possession of castles, cities, and so forth. And third, that in making
these analyses, state interest is paramount; or, put another Clausewitzian way, warfare is politics by other
means, politics being construed as the dynamics of relationships between sovereign states.
Whether these underlying assumptions really apply to all medieval (or pre-modern) warfare is open to
question, however. Rather, I think there is a general principle that constitutes the often unexamined context
of Vegetian strategy and explains the major exceptions to it.

In brief, here are what I see as the prerequisites for the appearance of Vegetian strategy in the pre-
modern world. First, that the entities involved in warfare are settled societies. This should be obvious, since
territoriality plays such a central role in the patterns of Vegetian strategy, but some thinking about the
implications of this condition can lead in productive directions. Second, that the entities involved in warfare
lack an agreed on context for dispute resolution. Such a context can consist either of universally accepted
cultural norms that govern conflict, or it can reside in a superior power capable of enforcing cultural norms
and/or legal rules. As we shall see, superior power can mean an entity which acts as the ultimate practical
broker of military might, or an entity that constitutes the exclusive source of legitimacy within a system. The
practical result of any sort of agreed on context for dispute resolution is to render warfare in important ways
non-territorial; if such contexts do not exist, territoriality tends to become central and leads to Vegetian
In other words, Vegetian strategy is the natural mode of pre-modern warfare only when the
warfare occurs between sedentary (that is, agriculturally based) military actors engaged in foreign or external
wars, that is wars that cross political (and often cultural) boundaries. In addition, Vegetian strategy usually
(though not always) requires warfare that is guided by grand strategies of territorial aggrandizement or
conquest and defense thereagainst, within a geopolitical context that does not allow for flight by an entire

While I shall focus as much as possible on exceptions within medieval western European military practice, I shall also
draw upon non-European cases where they provide striking comparative data or make a point more clearly than European cases
might. In addition to this practical matter of evidence, however, I also wish to make a philosophical point about the benefits of
studying medieval western European warfare comparatively and in the global context of its times.
military-political entity as an option. In different ways, these preconditions are the implications of

Non-Vegetian Warfare: A Selection of Counter-Examples
I shall try now to both explain and illustrate this principle via a set of counterexamples to Vegetian
patterns of strategy. With variations, all these counter-examples follow a pattern of warfare that is non-
Vegetian in specific ways. First, non-Vegetian wars do not revolve around fortifications, which tend to be
either absent, rudimentary, or ignored in the main activities of campaigns. We immediately face a cart-horse
problem here. It might be that the absence of knowledge or techniques for effectively fortifying strongholds
is a prior condition, that then precludes the emergence of classically Vegetian strategy in certain areas. I
think, however, that in almost every case examined below, effective fortifications (and thus Vegetian strategy)
were possible. Indeed, in most cases they existed, or had existed, or quickly came into existence when
conditions changed. Instead, the very strategic contexts and choices that made warfare non-Vegetian in these
cases also accounts for the lack of fortification. That is, lack of fortifications was a strategic choice.
It tended to accompany the other non-Vegetian feature of these counter-examples: that battle
seeking strategies dominated their warfare. Offensive campaigns aimed at meeting and destroying defending
forces directly (though pillaging and plundering were certainly a consistent concomitant of invasions, for both
logistical and psychological reasons). Likewise, defensive forces sought to meet and defeat in battle any
invading force. It is important to note that this is not the sort of one-sided battle seeking one finds with
some frequency in medieval warfare,
in which the ability (indeed expectation) of one side to refuse battle
marks the still essentially Vegetian nature of the warfare. For if a battle seeking commander can be fairly sure
that his opponent will seek to avoid battle, then his battle seeking behavior does not seriously violate
Vegetius prescription to avoid battles he gets the benefit of appearing bold and aggressive with little of the
Rather, non-Vegetian warfare looks very different indeed. Consider, for example, the campaign and
battle of Barnet in April 1471. Edward VI, having returned from a brief exile in Flanders, gathered his
Yorkist supporters and marched on London. The Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker) gathered Lancastrian
forces at Coventry and immediately pursued. After gaining entrance to the capital, Edward immediately

The sense in which I am using territoriality is limited to warfare that was directly about possession of landed wealth,
that is in which armed force was the deciding factor in possession. John France, Western Warfare, says that warfare in this period was,
therefore, nearly always proprietorial, or at the least influenced by proprietorial considerations (2). While this is generally true,
possession of land could be decided in ways that did not depend (at least directly) on warfare, and there are some instances, discussed
further below, in which warfare was not, centrally or even primarily, about possession of landed wealth.
As Rogers abundantly illustrates.
turned about and marched out to attack Warwicks force, though he was outnumbered by perhaps 9,000 to
12,000; the attack was launched in a heavy fog and, after a confused conflict in which each sides right wing
overlapped the others left, resulted in a complete victory.
An earlier phase of the Wars of the Roses had
witnessed six significant battles fought between September 1459 and March 1461, culminating in the bloody
carnage at Towton, a battle fought in a blinding snowstorm.
In short, non-Vegetian warfare was dominated
by two-sided seeking of battle to the exclusion of other aims, often to the point of both sides actively seeking
and agreeing on a mutually acceptable flat and open space on which to fight it out, calculations of numerical,
meterological and topographical advantage be damned.
Why did such exceptions to Vegetian patterns indeed to the apparently sound advice Vegetius
offers in favor of avoiding battle arise? There are two groups of cases to consider. The first set of
exceptions involve steppe nomads, and is relatively straightforward to explain. The second set involves
settled societies.
Warfare among steppe nomads was non-Vegetian for the simple reason that steppe nomad societies
were not territorial in the way sedentary societies were. Obviously, fortifications were impossible for societies
built on mobility. And possession of land for a nomadic tribe did not mean the same thing as it did for rulers
of sedentary societies. The latter aimed at control over the administrative apparatus, however developed, that
often resided in fortifications and that connected rulers to their source of wealth, a subject peasantry farming
the land. For nomads, possession of land meant actual occupation of grazing land so as to feed the source of
their wealth, animal herds. Thus, in warfare between nomadic tribes, a territorial attack meant moving the
present occupiers off coveted grazing land; defense meant direct resistance to such an attack. Nomadic
groups could also hold in reserve the option of flight to other lands should an attack prove too difficult to
resist, and could furthermore join their attackers in an alliance that had few if any permanent administrative
For nomadic warfare was often almost totally non-territorial, in that warfare was a tool for
establishing dominance hierarchies among tribes, an activity in which assassination and gift-giving
complemented warfare. In these sorts of territorial or dominance disputes, battle was the clear and swiftly
sought arbiter.

Anthony Goodman, The Wars of the Roses, (London: Routledge, 1981), 78-80.
Goodman, 41-53.
Whittow, Making of Byzantium, 19-25, has a good summary with references of steppe nomadic geography, social and
political structure, and style of warfare. One of the features that distinguished Genghis Khans unification of the steppes from earlier
steppe empires was his invention of a new tribe system that replaced old tribal divisions, a form of permanent administrative
consequence, but one very different from what would happen in sedentary societies. See David Morgan, The Mongols (Cambridge,
The world view bred on the steppes tended to carry over in nomadic attacks on sedentary neighbors,
as invading steppe armies preferred meeting (and beating) opposing armies directly when they aimed at
conquest or widespread plunder. The Mongol invasions of Russia and Eastern Europe can serve as an
example of this.
Only when the defenders retreated to fortifications (in good Vegetian fashion) were
nomadic invaders forced either to give up conquest in favor of simple plundering, or, if trickery could not
gain them a city, to adopt sedentary siege techniques (usually by conscripting sedentary engineers). At that
point, they became part of the natural Vegetian web of sedentary strategy, as they effectively became a
sedentary army for the duration and in the vicinity of any siege warfare they conducted.
Thus, war between settled societies was a precondition for Vegetian strategy. Under what conditions
did warfare involving settled societies become non-Vegetian?
Simply, if warfare took place within a closed cultural or political world that in one way or another
established rules that governed the meaning and practice of conflict, Vegetian strategy had no role to play. I
see three main ways in which such rules appeared: as agreed norms in a cultural world; as agreed norms in a
political system; or as legal rules within a political system. The existence of such norms or rules obviated
Vegetian strategies by rendering warfare non-territorial, either directly or indirectly. Directly, such norms or
rules could dictate that warfare was not, in fact, about territory, but was about prestige, hierarchy, or
elimination of rivals. Indirectly, such norms and rules could make possession of territory contingent not
upon occupation protected by fortification but upon legal or moral title conferred by some central authority.
I shall illustrate each of these and show the similarities in the sort of warfare each produced.
By agreed norms in a cultural world, I mean those areas in which warfare took place between entities
which were independent politically, but which shared a culturally agreed on set of assumptions about how
warfare was conducted, what it meant, and what it could decide. An good example is polis warfare in the
Hellenic world, especially before the Persian wars. Victor Davis Hanson has shown that the tradition of face-
to-face combat between phalanxes used to settle disputes between Greek city-states served the function of
limiting campaigning and therefore economic disruption:
Ultimate victory in the modern sense and enslavement of the conquered were not
considered an option by either side. Greek hoplite battles were struggles between
small landholders who by mutual consent sought to limit warfare (and hence killing) to
a brief, nightmarish occasion [emphasis added].

Denis Sinor, "The Mongols and Western Europe" in A History of the Crusades, vol.3, (Madison, 1975).
Victor Davis Hanson, The Western Way of War. Infantry Battle in Classical Greece (New York: Knopf, 1989), 4.
In other words, city-states in conflict tacitly agreed to a large scale version of the lets step outside and settle
this system of dispute resolution, producing mostly localized and increasingly ritualized warfare in a fairly
balanced system of poleis.
Combat rarely resulted in large scale transfers or conquest of land, and
compromised the political independence of the losing side only indirectly.
Note that the rules of this
system were nowhere written down, nor was there an overarching power that could enforce them. Note also
how the system broke down. First, the Persian invasions introduced a player who did not know the rules.
The result was the first emergence of large coalitions of poleis and the first real use of strategy by the Greeks.
The subsequent growth of the Athenian Empire, both as a direct result and continuation of the Persian
invasions and because Athens came to rely on naval power, further violated the tacit norms, whose
bankruptcy was fully revealed in the Peloponesian Wars. In the absence of these cultural norms limiting
conflict, it fell to the Macedonians and then the Romans to impose peace on Hellas.

A very similar system of tacit cultural norms seems to have governed the world of Aztec warfare.
Campaigns took place only at certain times of the year, according to apparently stereotyped patterns, and
operated at greater or lesser levels of ritualism ranging from Flower Wars to full scale invasions of conquest.
Unlike in Greece, conquest and political independence were at stake. Despite this, the constraints of the
cultural system were such that no real equivalent of Vegetian strategy emerged in the Mexican world. Battle
seeking predominated. Fortifications were effective when used because breaching them was difficult given
the limited siege technology available, scaling was expensive in manpower, and sieges were logistically difficult
to maintain. Fortifications were seldom used, however, because, even if they were effective, the city could
not be divorced from its wider social networks.

The presence of agreed norms in a political system is the second condition that could inhibit the
emergence of Vegetian patterns. Kamakura Japan (1185-1333) provides an excellent example of this
The civil government in Kyoto headed by the emperor was accepted as the only source of

Kurt Raaflaub, Archaic and Classical Greece in Raaflaub and Rosenstein, 140.
The gradual creation by Sparta of a dominion in the Peloponnese is the only real exception to this pattern, and happened
in such a way as not to seriously undermine the cultural system: Sparta was in some ways recognized as a political and military
exception. Raaflaub, Archaic and Classical Greece, 131.
Raaflaub, Archaic and Classical Greece, 147; Charles D. Hamilton, The Hellenistic World in Raaflaub and
Rosenstein, 165-166.
Ross Hassig, The Aztec World in Raaflaub and Rosenstein, 361-381, quote on 378; in more detail Hassig, Aztec Warfare
(Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1988).
For general overviews of the Kamakura political and military systems and the warrior culture that dominated them see
Paul Varley, Warriors of Japan as Portrayed in the War Tales (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994); Stephen Turnbull, The Samurai.
A Military History (London: Osprey, 1977); Morillo, Guns and Government: A Comparative Study of Europe and Japan, Journal of
World History 6 (1994), 75-106.
legitimacy within this political system; what it legitimated was possession of income rights based on landed
estates called shoen. The military government in Kamakura backed up the civil authority and with it
constituted a greater central authority. Thus, for a clan to gain land, income, and power it had to exert
control over this combined central authority. Battle seeking strategies made perfect sense in the context of
factional struggles for control over central authority. Since occupation of any particular piece of land itself
meant very little, almost nobody built fortifications of any size or complexity and consequently no one tried
to remove rivals by besieging them or ravaging their land. There was no their land that was specifically
identifiable, there were no castles to besiege. Instead, legitimation of income possession by the central
government was universally accepted, and with no castles to take, a faction had to seek battle in order to kill
its enemies so that the income rights those enemies held could be reassigned. The result is illustrated
abundantly in war tales such as The Tale of the Heike:
That day, Lord Kiso grasped a rattan-wrapped bow and sat in a gold-edged
saddle astride his famous horse Oniashige [Roan Demon], a very stout and brawny
animal. Standing in his stirrups, he announced his name in a mighty voice. You
must have heard of Kiso no Kanja in the past; now you see him! I am the Morning
Sun Commander Minamoto no Yoshinaka, Director of the Imperial Stables of the
Left and Governor of Iyo Province. They tell me you are Ichijo no Jiro from Kai.
We are well matched! Cut off my head and show it to Yoritomo! He galloped
forward, shouting.
The warrior who has just announced his name is their Commander-in-Chief,
Ichijo no Jiro said. Wipe out the whole force, men! Get them all, young retainers!
Kill them!

Here both the ritualized name calling, part of an individualistic mode of combat, and the intent to kill sit side-
by-side with the official titles and offices that reveal the central role of imperial political legitimation within
the political system. In general Kamakura warfare featured battle seeking strategies and warfare that
combined some highly ritualized elements such as name calling and ritualized exchanges of arrows before
battle with an unusually high level (by western European standards in the same centuries) of killing of elite
warriors by elite warriors, including the prevalence of hara kiru, a form of suicide that dressed fatality itself in
ritual. And as Wayne Farris notes, A few expert warriors dominated the battlefield, fighting in a colorful,
highly ritualized way. Such a military system presupposed a general agreement regarding what war was all about.

The Tale of the Heike, ed. And trans. Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 291-292.
W. Wayne Farris, Japan to 1300 in Raaflaub and Rosenstein, 66 (emphasis added). And see S. Morillo, Cultures of
Death: Ritual Suicide in Medieval Europe and Japan, The Medieval History Journal (forthcoming, 2001) on the connection between
killing and strategy in Kamakura Japan.
One might say that this is simply a case of civil war, and civil war tends to be non-Vegetian. I think
this gets it backwards. Civil war tends to be non-Vegetian because civil war tends to happen within a political
system with agreed norms or agreed legal rules (my next case, which I will get to in a moment). But not all
civil wars conform to this condition. The way the Kamakura system of tacitly agreed norms broke down is
instructive in this regard. The Kamakura regime ended in a civil war between two factions of the Imperial
family that lasted from 1336 to 1392. This division of the imperial symbolic position undermined its ability to
legitimate dispute settlements, and the war turned not only very messy and confused, but Vegetian, in that
fortifications sprang up, and the weaker side resorted to ambushes, logistical warfare, and guerilla
campaigning. The Muromachi regime (1336-1467) that emerged managed briefly to hold the vestiges of the
political system together, but after the Onin War of 1467-77 Japan broke into fully independent states
engaged in warfare that conformed pretty closely to Vegetian patterns, though the cultural legacy of the
Kamakura age contributed, along with other factors, to keep battle seeking more common than it might
otherwise have been.

The boundary between my first two conditions, agreed norms in a cultural world and agreed norms
in a political system, are fuzzy, as what constitutes a political system is often a matter of cultural agreement.
By way of illustration, I think Anglo-Saxon warfare can be analyzed in either way. Why did Anglo-Saxon
England not follow the same trajectory of castellation as the Continent, especially after 950 or so? Not
because the Anglo-Saxons were backwards in military science or ignorant of effective methods of
fortification, but because, even in the period of multiple Saxon kingdoms, the set of kingdoms formed either
a cultural world, or even a political system headed by a high king (whether actual or only potential), that
agreed on battle as the honorable mode of dispute resolution. Long warfare with the Vikings, who avoided
battle to focus on easy plunder, upset this system in ways similar to the way the Persians disrupted the Greek
system (including provoking political unity, though in the Anglo-Saxon case through the elimination of all the
native kingdoms save Wessex, as opposed to the Persian stimulation of Athenian empire building). Alfreds
burgh system was the Vegetian aspect of the Saxon response: a network of fortified cities designed to restrict
and Viking raids and provide bases for the fyrd, the Saxon field army.
But the continuing importance of this
field army in Alfreds system shows that the king retained the Saxon tendency to battle seeking even as he
waged a somewhat more Vegetian style of warfare. Contrast the Saxon response with the contemporary anti-
Viking strategy on the Continent, Charles the Balds fortified bridges. Though designed, like the burghs, to

Morillo, Guns and Government, 86-87; Turnbull, 89-106.
Richard Abels, Alfred the Great. War, Kingship and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England (London: Longman, 1998), 194-218.
restrict Viking mobility, they did not house substantial numbers of troops, nor was there a French field army
comparable to the fyrd backing them up and seeking battle with the invaders, as Charles realm was already
devolving into fragmentation, private castellation, and Vegetian battle-avoiding strategy.
And the
reunification of England under the West Saxons aborted its Vegetian tendencies once the Vikings were
defeated: unified Anglo-Saxon England reverted to its unfortified battle seeking ways, though for somewhat
different reasons than before the Vikings, reasons that will bring us below to the third condition that often
produced non-Vegetian warfare, legal rules in a political system.
Agreed norms, political and especially cultural, since they operated either in the absence of a central
authority or under one that could not militarily impose judgements, tended to be policed by notions of
honor, face, and prestige. These were not just diplomatic coin to be expended in a strategy guided by rational
material analysis,
but cultural realities in and of themselves. In fact, the imperatives of honor, demanding
immediate and decisive responses to affronts, could conflict pretty directly with the rational guidelines of
Vegetian strategy. Much medieval warfare can profitably be read as manifesting a tension between the honor-
based and therefore battle seeking imperatives of a European-wide cultural system whose ultimate rationale
was let God decide in trial by battle, and the territorial based and therefore Vegetian imperatives of a
divided European political universe. The cultural system was too weak for its norms to dominate, but strong
enough to complicate many approaches to strategy that might have profited from a more purely Vegetian
approach. Philip Augustus conduct of the Bouvines campaign is a good example of this tension, as the king
seemed to move, sometimes by sheer force of circumstance, between one approach and the other; even if he
did not actively seek the battle that resulted, he accepted (and subsequently exploited) it terms reflecting the
culture of trial by battle.
Philip VI of France faced this dilemma even more acutely during Edward IIIs

Carroll Gillmor, The Logistics of Fortified Bridge Building on the Seine under Charles the Bald, ANS 11 (1988), 87-
Cf. Rogers, Vegetian Science of War, [page], who does analyze these notions in such terms: Loyalty was one of the
basic currencies of power. Another basic element of a lords power was his honor or prestige, and implementing a Fabian strategy
could be costly in this coin too. While certainly correct from one perspective, this analysis underplays, I believe, the independent
role factors such as prestige could play in strategic decision making, drawing such decisions outside the realm of purely material (and
often, state-centered) analysis.
See France, Western Warfare, 169-172; Georges Duby, The Legend of Bouvines. War, Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages,
trans. Catherine Tihanyi (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). Of course it is true that honor is a flexible notion, and that
what confers honor or prestige can vary from culture to culture honor need not compel face-to-face battle seeking. Ambushes,
feigned flights, night attacks, and other trickery could all be honorable actions in a variety of warrior traditions, including the steppe
nomadic, the Japanese, the Byzantine, and even the western European: William Marshals career abounds in ambushes (see David
Crouch, William Marshal: Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219 [London: Addison Wesley, 1993]). This was because
the ultimate measure of honor and prestige was, usually, success, and such tactics raised the chance for victory. But, especially in the
western European tradition with the influence of legal trial by battle, direct affronts to ones face required a face-to-face response,
in both the literal and figurative senses of the term.
invasions of 1339 and 1340, as his rationally calculated avoidance of battle conflicted with strong demands on
the part of his aristocracy that he defend his own honor and by extension that of France.
The fate of
Harold Godwinson also comes to mind here. A number of modern commentators have criticized Harold for
responding too eagerly to Duke Williams ravaging of the vicinity of Hastings, leaving himself open to
Williams attack or perhaps choosing himself to attack. Analyzing Williams battle-seeking strategy in 1066,
Gillingham says Of course it takes two to make a battle. It may be that, as I have suggested elsewhere
(Gillingham, Richard I, 85), Harold was adopting the standard defensive strategy [moving close enough to
limit Williams foraging without actually offering battle]. Or it may be that, encouraged by his success in the
Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold himself wanted to repeat this new and intoxicating experience.
But of
course, Harold may well have been seeking battle not to repeat a new and intoxicating experience but
because the lands being ravaged, as part of his patrimony, raised a strong demand for an immediate response
based in honor and prestige, a demand that Harold would have seen from the perspective of a political
system in which battle seeking was more the norm than on the Continent, as I have just noted. The Vegetian
response of trapping William on the Hastings peninsula and starving him to death may never have occurred
to him or, if it did, could have appeared dishonorable.

Resolution of this tension tended to move, over the medieval centuries, towards the Vegetian side of
the equation, because the more European polities became territorially based, the more Vegetian their
strategies became and the farther they moved from the cultural system, probably Germanic and tribal in its
origins, that encouraged trial-by-battle-motivated battle seeking. Arguably, the warfare of strongly territorial
and 18
century Europe was more Vegetian, despite the presence of gunpowder weaponry,
than the
warfare of the weakly territorial Germanic kingdoms of the early middle ages. Or at least, the assumptions
behind the Merovingian sources narratives seem to indicate the normality of battle seeking motivated by
questions of honor and guided by divine judgement. An example from among many in Gregory of Tours:
The widow of Clovis I, Clotilda, urges her sons to war with the Burgundian rulers Sigismund and Godomar
because the of formers palace murders, saying be angry, I beg you, at this insult to me, and avenge with a
wise zeal my mother and fathers death. Led by Chlodomer, the Franks march to an immediate battle with

Rogers, War Cruel and Sharp, Chs. 7 and 9.
Gillingham, William the Bastard at War, 158 n. 107.
On Hastings, see Morillo, Warfare under the Anglo-Norman Kings, 163-168; and The Battle of Hastings: Sources and Interpretations
(Woodbridge: Boydell, 1996).
Especially at the height of what Christopher Duffy calls the Old Fortress Warfare between 1660 and 1715: Duffy, The
Fortress in the Age of Vauban, 1-63; also Van Creveld, Supplying War, 37: eighteenth-century armies lived as their predecessors had
always done, by taking the bulk of their needs away from the country.
the Burgundians in which Sigismund, the divine vengeance attending on his footsteps, is captured.
Godomar rallies the Burgundians and regains his kingdom, however. Chlodomer then oversteps his role as
divine avenger by killing Sigismund an apparently rational act designed to prevent an uprising in his rear,
but one warned against by abbot Avitus before marching again against Godomar. Thus, Chlodomer wins
the ensuing battle but is killed in the pursuit; the Franks crushed the Burgundians and reduced their country
to subjection, but shortly after Godomar again recovers his kingdom.
Thus, we are presented with warfare
that features battle seeking behavior on both sides, motivated by notions of personal honor and bravery. And
though possession of landed kingdoms is apparently at stake, the ease of Godomars recoveries (as well as the
actions of the Franks in killing men rather than taking fortifications) indicates that what really matters is
possession of the loyalty of men. In such a weakly territorial context, as in Kamakura Japan, battle seeking
and abundant killing made perfect sense, despite their irrationality from a Vegetian perspective.
So strong territoriality corresponded with Vegetian warfare. Or at least, coming back to my basic
principle, strong territoriality corresponded to Vegetian warfare when the polities involved fought external
wars. The final condition that can lead to exceptions to Vegetian patterns is the existence of a system in
which the legal rules of a polity govern and legitimate landed possession. Such conditions almost assume a
strong territorial state, but the very strength of the state is what makes warfare within the polity only indirectly
territorial. Here, the example returns us to England.
I noted above that the reunification of Anglo-Saxon England
aborted its Vegetian development.
But this was not because the earlier world of tacitly agreed norms had been reestablished, though the earlier
traditions certainly contributed to the formation of the post-Viking strategic consensus. Rather, possession
of land and other matters of dispute were now policed by a relatively strong central authority.
That is, the
aristocracy of Anglo-Saxon England looked to the central authority to protect their domestic titles to landed
estates. A centralized legal system short-circuited any impetus towards private castellation, and Vegetian
strategy had no soil in which to take root. The same royal power also protected the kingdom as a whole,
though of course the warrior aristocracy constituted in themselves a significant part of the royal governments

Gregorio di Tours, La Storia dei Franchi, ed. Massimo Oldoni, (Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 1981): III.6 (v1, 218-220),
translations adapted from Gregory Bishop of Tours, History of the Franks, trans. Ernest Brehaut(New York: Norton, 1969), 55-56. In
the immediately following episode, Theodoric leads the Franks against the Thuringi, which again results in an immediate battle: III.7
(v1, pp 220-22);.
Or as Kelly DeVries would properly say, Anglo-Scandinavian England: see The Norwegian Invasion of England in 1066
(Woodbridge: Boydell, 1999).
James Campbell, The Anglo-Saxon State (London: Hambledon, 2000) demonstrates clearly the power, sophistication, unity
and wealth of the late Anglo-Saxon state. For the specifically military implications of royal control see Richard Abels, Lordship and
Military Obligation in Anglo-Saxon England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
military forces against outside invaders.
But the centrally controlled, battle-seeking system that served the
kingdom well internally and in disputes along its Celtic frontiers had, by its nature, a peculiar bi-polarity
against major foreign invasions: it could marshal more significant forces than many weaker Continental
polities could (as it did in 1066, defeating at least one major invader in Harald Hardraada
), but if it were
defeated at the top (as it was by Cnut by 1016 and by William of Normandy in 1066), the victor stood a good
chance of assuming control of the system from the center, roughly the same goal that internal disputants
aimed at.
The Norman conquest in 1066 introduced castellation to England, as the conquerors subdued their
new realm through ravaging and a purely Vegetian display of territorial and logistical brute force.
patterns continued to predominate along the Welsh and Scottish borders of the kingdom, later in the Norman
invasion of Ireland, and above all on the frontiers of Normandy. Within England, Robert of Bellemes 1102
revolt against Henry II, the Civil War of Stephens reign (which, however, saw more battle-seeking behavior,
at Lincoln and Wilton, than proved prudent for either side), and the Young King Henrys rebellion of 1173-
74 against his father Henry II were all conducted in Vegetian style Henry IIs success at not fighting battles
is often cited in defense of the Vegetian nature of medieval warfare. And Stephens reign shows that not all
civil wars are non-Vegetian. But the Vegetian interlude within the kingdom in fact did not last long, because
the long periods of peace that intervened in the 12
century, as well as the nature of the settlements imposed
after the Civil War by Henry II, in the years following 1154, reinforced and resulted from the foundations of
royal power laid in the Anglo-Saxon period. Increasingly from Henry Is reign and progressing rapidly after
1054, law what evolved into the Common Law became the arbiter of disputes about estate possession.

By 1215 the relationship of the various parts of the political community within the political system had been
considerably clarified, and the government as a whole was even stronger, even if Magna Carta formalized
nascent restrictions on the king himself. Thereafter, warfare within England was not (directly) about landed
possession, but instead was about influence over the central authority that guaranteed possession of landed
estates. The result was warfare that was non-Vegetian because conflict was bounded by the legal rules of the
political system. As in Kamakura Japan, contestants for control of the central authority sought each other out

As for example at Maldon in 991, where Earl Byrhtnoths forces displayed all the battle-seeking, non-Vegetian impulses
based in both honor and royal duty the Anglo-Saxon military system bred.
DeVries, Norwegian Invasion.
Gillingham, William the Bastard at War, 159.
John Hudson, Land, Law and Lordship in Anglo-Norman England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) is the best
starting point for investigating this process. See also C. Warren Hollister, Henry I, (Yale University Press, 2001), esp. 349-369, who
emphasizes the role of Henrys imposition of peace in England on stability of landholding.
to settle dominance directly. The stark contrast between the castle-centered, logistical approach Henry I took
in subduing Robert of Bellemes rebellion in 1102 and Edward Is battle-seeking 1265 Evesham campaign
against Simon de Montfort, in which castles played only a minor role, shows just how far the parameters of
strategy had been transformed by the evolution of central authority in England.
By the Wars of the Roses,
castles played almost no role and opposing forces sought each other out even in snow and fog for decisive,
face-to-face contests for possession of the only thing that mattered, control of royal government and the
legitimacy it conveyed. Even pillaging was limited. And just as in Kamakura warfare, the battles of the Wars
of the Roses featured copious killing of nobles by other nobles as factions attempted not to take over land
but to eliminate rivals for control of the central authority. But unlike in Japan, possession of the central
authority here carried with it the ability to muster the force necessary to coerce cooperation within the system
and the legitimacy to use it. Thus, from 1215 until the last Stuart uprisings in the 18
century, warfare within
England was both rare and, when it happened, characterized by battle seeking strategies aimed at eliminating
rivals for control of a central authority whose presence and role were uncontested.

Warfare outside England was of course another matter. There is no more Vegetian conquest than
Edward Is subjugation of Wales. Many English campaigns in Scotland were Vegetian: forays such as William
Is in 1072 designed to inflict some damage and intimidate the Scots, with no expectation of battle (even
sieges were infrequent); most Scottish campaigns into England were likewise glorified plundering raids that
earned the Scots an evil reputation south of the border.
And the French side of Edward IIIs campaigns in
France is perfectly comprehensible from a Vegetian perspective.
As for Edwards side, if we accept, as I
think we should, Rogers reinterpretation of Edwards intentions that he did actively seek battle several
thoughts come to mind. Perhaps Edward was simply a bad strategist who failed to follow sound Vegetian
advice. But since he not only sought but fought and won his battles and thereby gained most of his war aims
at least temporarily,
this seems unconvincing. Perhaps he sought battle only with every advantage of terrain

1102: C. Warren Hollister, The Campaign of 1102 against Robert of Belleme in StudiesPresented to R. Allen Brown.
1265: Nicholas Hooper and Matthew Bennett, Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare; The Middle Ages 768-1487 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996), 67-69. The behavior of the rebels also illustrates the change, as Robert, in Vegetian fashion, holed his forces
up in his castles and eventually fled to Normandy, while Simon actively sought battle in 1264, leading to his victory at Lewes, and
though attempting to avoid Edward in 1265 still based his strategy on a field army capable of giving battle.
The contrast between the battle-seeking of the 17
century Civil War in England and the Vegetian nightmare that
prevailed for much of the Thirty Years War is another example of the English political condition.
Matthew Strickland, War and Chivalry. The Conduct and Perception of War in England and Normandy, 1066-1217 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1996), 291-329.
As Rogers admits: Rogers, Vegetian Science of War, [page]; though note also the tension I suggested between Philips
Vegetian inclinations and the demands to defend his honor raised by the European cultural system: above, 16 and n. 48.
See above, 7 and n. 28, on the problem of deciding whether Edwards battle-seeking strategy ultimately worked.
he could get to exploit his weapons system, in other words, within an essentially Vegetian context.
he was torn between what he saw as the imperatives of honor and the guidelines of Vegetius. Or, most
interestingly, perhaps his battle seeking strategy is evidence, given what Ive said above about political
systems, that Edward really did think of his invasions of France as personal disputes with rival claimants to
the French throne to be settled in the time-honored English tradition of fighting on the battlefield for
possession of the central government, in which case his immediate operational problem (skillfully overcome
in 1346) and his long-term dilemma was that his opponents did not play by the rules.
This leads me to two points I want to stress by way of conclusion. My first point has to do with the
predictive or analytic power of a theory. I hope by presenting the contexts of Vegetian strategy in such
general and fundamental terms by getting at the underlying assumptions of Vegetian warfare that it
becomes possible to reanalyze aspects of the past in new and enlightening ways. For example, if I am right
about the preconditions for the emergence of Vegetian patterns in warfare, then the presence of Vegetian
warfare should in turn predict a lack of agreed on norms of warfare or of accepted legal rules and arbiters
thereof in the region being examined. For instance, unlike warfare in England, warfare in Capetian France
tended to be Vegetian even when foreign players were not involved; or, put another way, most warfare
within France had the character of foreign wars. In other words, this theory provides another way of
seeing and analyzing a long-accepted difference between England and France in the middle ages: England was
from fairly early on a unified kingdom (the universal acceptance of whose government as final arbiter created
conditions for non-Vegetian warfare); France was a kingdom stitched together by foreign conquest, which
reminds us of the very recent and constructed nature of French nationality and culture.
My second point has to do with the role of culture in warfare. I have tried to show that strategic
decisions happen in cultural contexts, and that different contexts make some strategies more useful than
others. This may seem a simple point, but it is too easy to slip into analysis of warfare purely in terms of
materialist rationalism, state interest (as opposed to the individual, familial, dynastic and class interests of
rulers and elites), and realpolitique, and so misunderstand what the historical actors we study were really about
(or at least what they thought they were about, which matters a lot.) Warfare is not just politics by other
means, as Clausewitz said, it is also culture. Or if it is politics, pre-modern politics includes a lot more than

This is the implication of Rogers analysis in War Cruel and Sharp, where Edward is shown, while seeking battle, to have
maneuvered carefully to arrive at a battle field and tactical situation of his own choosing: 235-6. Crecy was not, in other words,
Towton or Barnet. I think this possibility accounts for a good deal of Edwards battle seeking: it was reasonable within a Vegetian
just statecraft, and so might as well be culture in many cases. This is not to say that medieval strategists were
irrational, though as in any age not all medieval generals were good strategists. It is to say that their rational
concerns often included notions of personal honor, prestige, religious imperatives, superstition, and so on
that we do not readily recognize as relevant to strategy, especially in the context of statecraft. My analysis of
the assumptions underlying Vegetian strategy is therefore designed to remind us that cultures of war played
a major implicit role in sciences of war, even when they werent explicitly obvious.

Stephen Morillo
Wabash College