Tag Archive | spain

Short post on Vienna trip

Just got back from a two-week excursion to central Europe, with a quick turnaround for other familial obligations.

But lest you think I was merely reading Georg Scherer’s sermons at a Viennese café while drinking my Wiener Melange (more like eating apfelstruedel mit schlagobers and reading reports of yet another act of hate/terrorism/gun violence in the U.S.), I was actually hard at work, traipsing across the historical flotsam and jetsam of what once was the crown jewel of the Austro-Hungarian empire. But that’s for another time.

To tide you over, in case you’re in Vienna over the next couple of months, and are interested in all things Karl V, the Kunsthistorisches Museum has a top-floor exhibit on Charles V’s capture of Tunis in 1535. There are apparently some tapestries of his successful North African campaign in the Prado, but Vienna has the “cartoons” (the paintings which were the basis of the tapestries) currently on display.

Detail from Vermeyen cartoon of Tunis 1535 campaign

Detail from Vermeyen cartoon of Tunis 1535 campaign

For a brief (English-language) overview of the exhibit, you can look here.

The KHM also has a (German-language) catalog of the exhibit. Which makes me think there really should be some art museum listserv to alert interested parties to military history-themed exhibits. Though something like this might be a start.


Sieges as they were meant to be seen

New article in Social Science Computer Review using GIS to analyze the 1714 siege of Barcelona.

Rubio-Campillo, Xavier, Francesc Xavier Hernàndez Cardona, and Maria Yubero-Gómez. “The Spatiotemporal Model of an 18th-Century City Siege.” Social Science Computer Review, November 17, 2014, 0894439314558559. doi:10.1177/0894439314558559.
The importance of terrain in warfare has often encouraged an intense relation between military conflicts and the use of techniques designed to understand space. This is especially relevant since the modern era, where the engineers who built and assaulted city defenses recorded the events with diverse documentation, including reports, diagrams, and maps. A large number of these sources contain spatial and temporal information, but it is difficult to integrate them into a common research framework due to its heterogeneity. In this context, geographical information science provides the necessary tools to explore an interdisciplinary analysis of these military actions. This article proposes a new approach to the study of sieges using a spatiotemporal formal model capable of integrating cartography, archaeological, and textual primary sources and terrain information. Its main aim is to show how concrete research questions and hypotheses can be explored using a formal model of this type of historical events. The methodology is applied to a particular case study: the French–Spanish siege of Barcelona that occurred in 1714. The protagonists faithfully recorded the development of the action, providing essential information for the model. Besides, different authors depicted the event as the paradigm of a city siege. For this reason, the model is also used to explore why real actions deviated from theoretical guidelines, clearly defined in different manuals. We use this scenario to explore two issues: (a) why the attackers chose to assault a particular city sector and (b) the factors that explain the casualties of the besiegers. We conclude that we need methodological tools capable of integrating heterogeneous information to improve the understanding of siege warfare that affected not only military conflict but also the shape of European urban landscapes.
That article includes some interesting discussion and insightful maps of the attacks, siege casualties, etc. Now if only somebody did it for every siege! I’ve got dibs on Douai 1710, if I ever take the time to play around with GIS.
With other military historians finally catching up with the serious study of Louisquatorzian siegecraft, I may need to dust off a few ideas I had in dissertation version 0.5 (all done in AutoCAD):
Siege batteries, Douai 1710

Siege batteries, Douai 1710


Casualties by approach by day, Douai 1710

Casualties by approach by day, Douai 1710

I also have the number of daily workers, so a casualty rate over the length of the siege could easily be calculated.

Douai 1710 trench work

Douai 1710 trench work

And, finally, a colorful map that emphasizes the importance of musketry for the defense:

Garrison volume of fire (theoretical)

Garrison volume of musketfire (theoretical)

Now I remember why it took me so long to finish my dissertation – because I wrote 1.5 of them instead of just one.

Do you read Spanish?

If you do, and if you were intrigued by the comments left by Björn in a previous post about Spanish siegecraft, you should check out a short article I published a few months back in the lavishly-produced Spanish popular military history magazine Desperta Ferro (moderno). The article surveys the nature of siege warfare in the Iberian theater during the Spanish Succession, and is based on yet more research from grad school, when I thought my dissertation would cover the sieges in all four theaters (silly me). Yet more research that never saw the light of day, till now.

Perhaps the article can best be summed up in the abstract:

Vauban y la guerra de los ingenieros por Jamel Ostwald (Eastern Connecticut State University). La imagen más extendida hoy día sobre la guerra de sitio en la Edad Moderna es la de una coreografiada y contenida partida de ajedrez en la que cada contendiente mueve mecánicamente sus piezas sobre el tablero según unas reglas estrictas, hasta que el rey es capturado sin apenas derramamiento de sangre. Sin embargo, a pesar de estos estereotipos contemporáneos, capturar una fortaleza alrededor del 1700 no era una operación mecánica que se desarrollaba con precisión científica. Más que seguir una fórmula concreta, los sitiadores de la Edad Moderna podían elegir entre un gran abanico de tácticas posibles y su misión era usar las herramientas a su disposición para tomar la plaza elegida tan pronto como fuera posible y al menor coste. Mapa de Carlos De La Rocha.

My own, English, summary: Sieges in Iberia were much more rudimentary, and desperate, than those in the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy.

The article includes a very nice map of the main sieges in the theater (drawn from the data in my Vauban under Siege), with graduated circles illustrating the location, side, duration, and result of the theater’s various sieges. Here’s my bare-bones 15-year-old attempt (with a few errors):

Spain siege lengths WSS

Hopefully an English version of the Desperta article (or at least the map) will come out sometime.



New publication:

Storrs, Christopher. “The Spanish Risorgimento in the Western Mediterranean and Italy 1707–1748.” European History Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2012): 555-577.


The reign of Philip V of Spain (1700–46) remains one of the most neglected in the history of that country, and in terms of its significance for the rest of Europe. Philip is widely regarded, on the one hand, as little more than the instrument of his wives – above all, Isabel Farnese – and, on the other hand, as a major innovator in Spain. This article seeks to show that Philip’s revanchist aspirations in Italy – and in Africa – after the losses incurred during the War of the Spanish Succession, and which ensured that Spain represented the single greatest threat to peace in Europe between the end of that conflict and the conclusion of the War of the Austrian Succession, were not simply imposed by his spouse. It also suggests that Philip’s ambitions were backward looking, and that in seeking to reconstitute his Habsburg inheritance, Philip drew on traditional institutions, practices and values at least as much as he innovated.

It seems almost single-handedly, Storrs is trying to keep interest in the 17C-18C Mediterranean alive.

Animating Maps

I spent several hours today playing around with animated GIFs. For those who aren’t among the technocenti (circa 1995), an animated GIF is a type of graphic file that allows you to animate its contents. You’ll see a fair number of them online, particularly if you read many blogs with animated cat icons. It’s a poor cousin to the more powerful animations and interactive websites available in Flash, which Steve Jobs declared war against about the time the iPad came out.

I’d dabbled with Flash before, and will again, but I wanted to keep my experimentation simple at first. So here’s my first attempt. I have lots of ideas for the medium-term future, but this will give you a sense of what they look like at their most basic.

Animated map of Allied holdings in Iberia, War of the Spanish Succession

(The blog may require you to click on the image in order to run the animation. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

I was able to easily export my Adobe Illustrator file into Photoshop and then use its Animation feature. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, because you need to rethink how you represent your content when you shift from static to animated, and essentially rethink your layering strategy.


  1. Do you find animations like the above effective?
  2. How would you improve it?
  3. Is animating a map like the above worth the effort, or is it better to just do a static map, such as:

    Static Version of Allied-held Territory in Iberia

Mapping the Military Past: A Personal Journey

Remember when I said that historians do a lot of work that rarely makes it to publication? What follows is a visually-illustrated history of my experience with mapping history. EMEMH that is.

Way back in the late 1990s, I took a course as a History grad student in Cartography. Even though the professor was horrible, it was one of the best courses I took because he taught us how to use a relatively new technology called a scanner – technically it was a digitizing tablet, because software back then couldn’t handle large raster images. You taped a paper copy of a map to the digitizing tablet, and used the digitizer ‘puck’ (calibrated with a wire grid marked out on the tablet) to digitize points and lines on the map. The resulting line and point positions would be imported into a CAD program (Computer-Aided Design, used by architects and engineers the world over), and you could then add other features to put whatever you wanted on the map. I think one of the assignments was to create a graduated circle map of Australia’s population.

While I had little interest in Australia per se, that cartography course opened up the possibility to make maps all by myself. I recall a friend of mine talking about making his maps by cutting out place names from a printed sheet of paper and pasting them onto a hand-traced map before photocopying the whole thing – remember tracing paper? That sounded like too much work for me (little did I know…), and I’m not artistically inclined enough to draw my own map like something you see in a fantasy novel, so the more I can have the computer do the work, the better. I purchased AutoCAD (thank you, educational discount) and over the remaining years of my graduate career slowly learned how to create my own maps. Here is the tale of my journey from cartographic novice to cartographic dilettante, may you glean some wisdom from it and share your own. Read More…

Reconquista Redux

In 1492, not only did Columbus sail the ocean blue, but on this date eight months earlier the Catholic monarchs of Spain (primarily the joint tenants of Castile and Aragon) gained a conquest that was far more significant to contemporaries: a final victory of Christendom over the Moors of Al-Andalus, or Muslim Iberia.

This was the culmination of a 500-year long conflict. The war between Iberian Christianity and Islam had begun with the advance of Muhammadan warriors who emerged out of the Arabian peninsula and swept across North Africa in the 7C. The Muslim Berbers extended these conquests further eastward, general Tariq ibn Ziyad invading Spain in 711 on behalf of his Ummayad Caliph. Tariq’s forces quickly defeated the Visigothic king Roderic (Rodrigo), and his victory would earn him a long-lasting tribute – one of the Pillars of Hercules, the city of Mons Calpe, was renamed Gibraltar in his honor, from the Arabic for “mount of Tariq.” Successive waves of Muslim forces would occupy the rest of the peninsula, and even push their way into southern France by the first third of the 8C.

For the next five centuries, Christian conquistadors would slowly reconquer this territory, bit by bit. Periods of major conflict alternated with periods of coexistence and even collaboration, as exemplified in the varied career of Spain’s famous gran capitán El Cid. Despite peaceful interludes, the Reconquista continued inexorably, assisted mightily by the collapse of Muslim unity, as Moorish politics fragmented Al-Andalus into a series of weaker taifa kingdoms. Distant Caliphs turned their attention elsewhere, and after these sprawling Caliphates collapsed, successor states in North Africa, such as the Almoravids and Almohads, turned their weapons on the Moorish rump kingdoms, replacing one ruling Muslim dynasty with another. By 1300 Muslim disunity had allowed Christian crusaders to recapture much of the peninsula, although Iberian Christians also had a tendency to collapse into civil war. Christian unity was hindered as well by the divisions between Portugal and Castile, peninsular competition which led to internecine struggles between these Catholic powers, aided by foreign intervention from the north. Over the centuries, however, the Muslim-Christian conflict dominated the peninsula, such that the omnipresent Muslim foe to the south gave Iberian Catholicism a distinct crusading flavor, a mindset buttressed by the local Military Orders of Calatrava and Alcántara. Constant raiding and frequent campaigns of conquest became so ingrained that Iberian Christian identity expressed this perpetual way of border war with a particular manifestation of their patron saint, St. James the Moor-Killer.

St. James the Moor-killer (Santiago Matamoros)

When a new war broke out in December 1481, the Emirate of Granada controlled only a slice of territory on the southern tip of the peninsula. The recent peace with their Spanish foe had barely lasted three years, in part because the politics of the Iberian peninsula had been upended a year later when the Aragonese crown passed to Ferdinand II (Fernando). His marriage a decade earlier to Queen Isabel of Castile now resulted in a union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile (ruled by Isabel since 1474). With Fernando eager for martial glory and his wife eager to extend Catholicism’s sway, with their domains full of restive nobles, and with the Papacy offering funds for a Crusade to erase the memory of the loss of Constantinople, a more united Spain saw its weakened southern neighbor as an enticing target. Not only had successional instability continued to plague the Nasrid state, but its naval support had eroded over the previous seventy years. Portuguese amphibious operations had captured numerous ports along the Moroccan coast, hampering Berber support for its northern Muslim neighbor. Nor could the rising Ottoman Empire provide assistance for this jihad, as its efforts were still focused further to the east. The Muslim thorn of Nasrid Granada was only waiting to be removed.

The famed dual Catholic Monarchs took the opportunity to unite their own fractious nobles in one last Iberian Crusade. A surprise Granadan attack on the town of Zahara inaugurated the final conflict between the two sides. The Spanish responded, and took advantage of the struggle among candidates for the succession of the Nasrid throne: this civil conflict alternated first between the father Abdul Hassan and his more pacific son Muhammad XII (known as “Boabdil”), and, after Abdul Hassan was incapacitated by a stroke, between Boabdil and his uncle Muhammad XIII (“El Zagal”). Going on the offensive in 1482, Spanish gunpowder artillery facilitated the capture of a dozen rocky castles and fortified towns; within five years Catholic forces had captured most of the remaining Granadan territory to the north and south of the capital city. At the same time, control of the capital city itself had shifted multiple times, with the Spanish first playing Boabdil off against his father, then siding with El Zagal against his nephew. Boabdil managed to outmaneuver his uncle with both direct and indirect Spanish assistance: he took advantage of Christian support in wresting control of Granada from his uncle, then looked on as the Spanish occupied El Zagal’s remaining territories, forcing him to flee to North Africa. He had defeated his internal enemies, but Boabdil’s brief counter-offensive in 1490 failed to expand his reach beyond the confines of his fortified capital city. He could only wait as Catholic forces tightened their noose around the capital.

The “siege” of Granada was, unlike earlier attacks, more a blockade than a proper siege. Spanish forces invested the capital city in late April, fought numerous skirmishes and individual duels throughout July, and finally settled down to wait out the garrison by constructing field works around the fortress. Soon after this new Santa Fé construction was completed, Boabdil secretly began negotiations. The Treaty of Granada was signed in late November; the city itself was handed over to the Catholic forces a little over a month later, on this day in 1492. The famed Alhambra, a palatial fortress complex, was also relinquished without resistance. As for the Granadans themselves, according to the terms of the treaty those Moors who chose to stay in Granada were promised toleration. Heavy-handed efforts at Catholicization, however, led to revolt within a few years, and this in turn led to suppression and the forced conversion of the Moriscos in Castile in particular. Their fate had already been predicted by Catholic treatment of Iberia’s Jews, who had themselves been forced to convert (becoming conversos) under the purges of the Spanish Inquisition. Philip II’s later crackdown throughout Spain led to yet another Morisco uprising in 1568. In the wake of its suppression, concerted efforts were finally made to evict the remaining crypto-Muslims, numbering several hundred thousand, from Spain between 1609-1614. Thus ended the official Moorish presence in Spain.

For those interested in a more detailed treatment of the events of the war, the overview in Nicolle can be supplemented by the more detailed study of Prescott/McJoynt. For reference, I created the following timechart (with Adobe Illustrator) to help trace the twists and turns. See the Symbol Key page for the key to the icons.

War of Granada timechart

As the above timechart indicates, this was a war of shifting alliances, and one waged primarily in raids and devastation, punctuated by the siege and capture of fortresses. Major set piece field battles were rare, outnumbered by surprise ambushes and skirmishes between parties. McJoynt highlights the hybrid form of warfare that emerged from this war: a combination of heavy men-at-arms dismounting to fight along their infantry troops, the use early handguns and the effective use of gunpowder artillery; the use of light troops for scouting, raiding and harassment; and the operations combining land and naval forces. He argues that this war provided a training ground for Spanish troops that they would later put to good use in the Italian wars against their French foes. Thoughts?

Since the Reconquista occurred over centuries, it makes it difficult to find a good map to illustrate the back-and-forth of the conflict, particularly the punctuated nature of the advance of Christian forces. The Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare has a few good maps, and Nicolle’s Osprey book has several more detailed operational maps for the final war. But despite the poor quality and Teutonic tongue, I still like this one best, largely due to the broad overview provided by its use of small multiples:

Reconquista and Italy

The commemoration of this event also allows me to share one of my favorite EMEMH charts, one that does an excellent job of illustrating the pace of Reconquest and the relationship between military victories and territorial/demographic conquest (my only quibble would be to iconically distinguish battle from siege):

Reconquista timeline (Garrido i Valls, "Enemies and Allies")

The final subjugation of the Moors has found renewed resonance today. First their cause enjoyed a wave of publicity in the 1990s after George Costanza sought to resurrect their cousins the Moops from historical anonymity. More seriously, declining European fertility rates and increasing Muslim immigration have exacerbated tensions in Spain, even leading to the caching of politically-incorrect Santiago Matamoros statues. These Iberian tensions increased with a 9/11-inspired war on radical Islamic terrorism. In the context of Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” visions of a tolerant multicultural Al-Andalus (la Convivencia) struggling against a violent intolerant Catholicism have clashed with the Islamicist dreams of a resurrected Caliph ruling over an expanded dar al-Islam, calls for a Re-Reconquista if you will. The conflict along the old Ottoman-Christian Mediterranean border has exploded once again, making knowledge of the Reconquista relevant some five centuries later.

Suggested Readings:

  • Garrido i Valls, Josep-David. “Enemies and Allies: The Crown of Aragon and Al-Andalus in the Twelfth Century.” In Crusaders, condottieri, and cannon: medieval warfare in societies around the Mediterranean. Edited by L.J. Villalon and D.J. Kagay. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
  • McJoynt, Albert. “An Appreciation of the War for Granada (1481-92): A Critical Link in Western Military History.” In Crusaders, condottieri, and cannon: medieval warfare in societies around the Mediterranean. Edited by L.J. Villalon and D.J. Kagay. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
  • Prescott, William. The Art of War in Spain: The Conquest of Granada, 1481-1492. Edited with an Introduction by Albert McJoynt. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1995.
  • Cook, Weston. “The Cannon Conquest of Nasrid Spain and the End of the Reconquista.” In Crusaders, condottieri, and cannon: medieval warfare in societies around the Mediterranean. Edited by L.J. Villalon and D.J. Kagay. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Revised version of his 1993 article in the Journal of Military History.
  • Mendoza, Diego Hurtado de. The war in Granada. London: The Folio Society, 1982.
  • Nicolle, David. Granada 1492: The Twilight of Moorish Spain. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005. Includes operational maps of the stages of the war. Unfortunately its map of the fall of Granada proper is one of those annoying three-quarter aerial views that cares more about the artistry and 3D shading than providing real information. And of course as befits the Osprey series, al-Malik is shown commanding a division, while Isabel and Fernando each command an Army Group (stupid modern army symbols).
  • Many Spanish works that I won’t mention here.