Denial of Change: The Military Revolution as Seen by Contemporaries

In: International Bibliography of Military History
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  • 1 University of Reading

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The introduction and spread in Europe of gunpowder came in the context of a wave of technological innovations, which – especially initially – masked the potential of and changes that eventually resulted specifically from gunpowder. Since Michael Roberts identified the latter as “Military Revolution”, historians have debated its dating, and whether it was an evolution and a revolution. But was gunpowder the cause of these changes, or itself one of a complex of interacting changes reflecting a change in mentality which embraced innovations and explored their potential? Significantly, this article shows that many contemporaries did not perceive gunpowder as the crucial or even the only cause of change. Many even denied that there was any progress at all, in keeping with an earlier and enduring mentality in which classical Antiquity was seen as an age superior to the present. Only gradually, symbolised by the “Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns”, did a new consensus emerge, acknowledging that the world had changed fundamentally since Antiquity, and that the changed instruments of war, as well as the state structures underpinning warfare, had become much mightier. Even then, technology was seen – and probably rightly so – as only one cause, not the only one.