Farewell, mother Roma.
The shining columns,
The endless roads,
The mighty legions,
The peaceful fields.
Born in fire,
The light in darkness.
Farewell, mother Roma.
Never again will your sons return.
–A poem, inscribed in stone in the ruins of Appia
Good riddance, gluttonous whore! Victory Germania!
–An addendum to the poem, scratched in far cruder letters
– Prologue to Princeps’ Fury by Jim Butcher
As Frank Herbert pointed out, all human organizations carry within them the seeds of their own destruction. Mother Roma, a spectral figure beneath fluttering legionary banners, crooks her bony finger at us: “as I am now, soon you shall be,” she croaks. There is little evidence to contradict her, though we can certainly argue over just what she means by “soon.”
The level of industrial activity in Europe didn’t regain the heights it reached during the Roman Empire until perhaps the 17th century. The roads, bridges, aqueducts, and baths are only a small part of the picture. Rome’s societal organization and complexity also exceeded those of the societies which immediately followed its demise. They could no more field an army with the discipline and organization of the legions than they could build another Colosseum. Europe was reduced from a continent-spanning governmental and military order to a vast number of tribes and petty kingdoms. Transportation, communication, and trade were greatly reduced.
Men still warred; still spilled blood upon the earth for glory, loot, or self-defense. So it was, has always been, and likely shall always be. Still, there was progress. Some of the most striking examples of this were in the technology of war. Stirrups, the arched saddle, and advances in plate armor combined to make cavalry the king of the battlefield until the 16th century.
But it was not just technology that led to this change. The feudal social order of post-Roman Europe reinforced and was reinforced by the developments in cavalry technology to produce the weapons system and social class we know as the knight.
My purpose with this series of posts is to consider the shape of warfare in the dark age which will one day overtake our own civilization. My primary interest is in the realm of tactics and grand tactics, but to see what these might be like it will be necessary to consider many other matters, from logistics to politics. My guiding lights will be history and the Clausewitzian trinity of war, that is:
- The primordial passions of the combatants
- The operations of chance and probability
- The subordination of war to rational policy
Or, if you prefer: the tacit, contingent, and explicit.
War in this, the post-apocalyptic environment (for lack of a better term), will be fought for quite different reasons, and in quite different ways, depending on the cause of the collapse. The world after a major nuclear exchange will look very different from the one that results from a pandemic that kills a significant proportion of the human species, which will be very different from the world order born in a major global economic collapse. For the sake of ease of analysis, I will establish some boundary conditions.
First, I will focus on the aftermath of those cataclysms which have the potential to more or less totally disrupt and bring to an end our current social/political order, leaving only scattered remnants and the memory of past greatness.
Second, I will restrict my reasoning to a period long enough after the collapse of our civilization that new polities have started to emerge from the ashes, but before industry and administration have been restored to anything like their present scale or advanced state.
The first boundary is established partly because I don’t want to spend much time worrying about conflicts between small, roving bandit mobs. Also, by giving things time to gel I don’t have to consider the very immediate aftereffects of the calamity which directly ended civilization (these will differ greatly depending on what sort of calamity it was); thus, I can consider the world resulting from broadly similar catastrophe-scenarios with the same general framework and reasoning. The second boundary frees me from having to consider the details of the industrial order that will follow our dark age.
Succeeding posts will consider first the general political and strategic environment of the post-apocalyptic dark age. Then I will propose some possible outlines for what the tactics and technology of war might look like in that environment.