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Reviewed by:
  • Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology through History, and: Warfare in Inner Asian History (500–1800)
  • Jeremy Black
Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology through History. By Alfred Crosby. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 206 + xii pp. $26.00 (cloth).
Warfare in Inner Asian History (500–1800). Edited by Nicola Di Cosmo. Leiden: Brill, 2002. 456 + vii pp. $112.00.

Between them, these two books contribute much to military history. From the perspective of this journal, the Cosmo volume is more important, not only because it contains far more material, but also because the chapters measure up to the subject and the introduction, a verdict that can be delivered in the case of far too few edited volumes. This is largely because the individual case studies, although disparate in time and space and based on highly detailed research on often difficult sources that require formidable linguistic skills, range widely in seeking to draw out conclusions. The most important, which emerges repeatedly, is the need to avoid a simplistic account of nomadic warfare, in particular an analysis based on innate ecological advantages. Instead, the contributors emphasize the limitations of the nomads, the need to consider inter-nomadic warfare, the extent to which nomad skills and success varied and changed, and the role of nomadic military culture in facilitating the transmission of military ideas and technology.

After an effective introduction by Nicola Di Cosmo presenting the major themes, there are ten essays. David Graff considers strategy and contingency in the Tang defeat of the Eastern Turks, 629-630, specifically the Tang ability to emulate the operational behavior and cavalry forces of their opponents, with their emphasis on speed and surprise. The flexibility and skill of the Tang are again in evidence in Michael Drompp's analysis of the Uighur-Chinese conflict of 840-848, while Peter Golden ranges widely in considering war and warfare in the pre-Cinggisid [End Page 246] Western Steppes, in order to indicate common themes in nomadic warfare within a context in which the nomads oscillated between loosely or more tightly structured unions depending to some degree on external pressures. Golden suggests that, with few exceptions, nomads were not interested in large-scale conquests or the takeover of sedentary states. The latter, according to Golden, were better than the nomads at playing the "deadly game of divide and conquer."

Michael Biran examines the battle of Herat of 1240, an important, though exceptional, stage in inter-Mongol warfare that played a major role in defining the borders of the independent khanates. For both sides, the main weapon was the bow and arrow, and skill in using arrows was tactically crucial. Reuven Amitai questions John Smith's analysis of Mongol-Mamluk warfare in his study of Ghazan's 1299-1300 invasion of Syria. He argues that their fighting methods and quality were less different than Smith suggested, and also emphasizes the problems of Mongol logistics. Thomas Allsen considers the circulation of military technology in Mongolian Eurasia, specifically the transmission of the trebuchet to China and gunpowder weaponry to the West. He also argues that nomads were only slightly changed by their adoption of gunpowder weapons, whereas in the Latin West it was possible to integrate warriors from other strata of European society who could embrace new technologies. Furthermore, Allsen suggests that peoples with a long history of interaction with the nomads and their "cavalry revolution," such as Russians, were more reluctant to join the gunpowder revolution, while others on the Eurasian periphery, Europe and Japan, were protected from the nomads and able to press forward with gunpowder weaponry.

John Herman considers the difficulties the Mongols faced in translating successful advances into lasting control when campaigning in southwest China in the late thirteenth century. Nicola Di Cosmo demonstrates the role of political strategy in the Manchu success against the Mongol Ligdan Khan in 1619-1635. Changes in the character of steppe warfare arising from Manchu intervention are considered, although the evidence islimited.Peter Perdueindicates the crucial role of logistics in Qing success against the Zunghars and also points out shifts in generalship and strategy on both sides. Joanna Waley-Cohen shows how by the end of the eighteenth century military rituals...


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