Military History

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Military History


The process of development of military affairs from ancient times to the present day.

(2) The science studying the wars and armed forces of the past and discovering the regularities of their development, a part of the discipline of history because it examines one aspect of the history of human society. At the same time, military history is a part of the science of war, as it studies and generalizes the experience of preparing for and conducting past wars. The major branches of military history are the history of wars, which reveals the purposes, causes, and character of actual wars and their course, results, and significance in the historical process; the history of the building up of armed forces, which studies the process of the creation, organization, training, and technical equipment in various armed services and combat arms; the history of the art of war, which does research on the development of and changes in form and instruments in the conduct of military actions; and the history of military thought, which investi-gates the development of military-theoretical views on the nature and character of war, the preparation and conduct of wars, and problems of military development and the art of war. Special branches of military history are military historiography, the study of military sources, and military archaeography.

The beginning of the accumulation of military-historical knowledge is to be found in distant antiquity. The earliest information on military events is encountered in literary works of the ancient Orient (sixth to first millennia B.C.). The works of historians of ancient Greece (Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, and Polybius) and ancient Rome (Livy, Tacitus, Appian of Alexandria, Dio Cassius, Ammianus Marcellinus, Diodorus Siculus, Flavius Josephus, Sallust, and Julius Caesar) contain extensive material on problems of military history. Writings on military theory appeared, and their authors attempted to generalize contemporary military experience. The ancient Chinese thinkers Sun Tzu and U Tzu wrote tracts on the military art, as did the military theoreticians of antiquity—Vegetius (The Military Institutions of the Romans), Frontinus (Strategematica), Onosandar (The Study of Strategy), and Mauricius (Military Art). During the feudal period a further development of military-historical knowledge took place. The works of Procopius of Caesarea, Agathias, and Leo the Philosopher por-tray the wars of Byzantium, and medieval chronicles contain much military-historical information. Western European military-historical thought of the 16th and 17th centuries was expressed in the works of Machiavelli, Vauban, Maurice of Saxony, Wallhausen, Feuquières, Puységur, and Folard. The transition from feudalism to capitalism gave rise to bourgeois military historiography, prominently represented in Western Europe by H. Lloyd, D. H. Bulow, Archduke Charles, A. Jomini, and K. Clausewitz.

The development of Russian military-historical thought from the 12th to the 17th centuries was reflected in the chronicles, with narrations about feudal wars in Rus’, the struggle of the Russian people against foreign invasions, the building up of armed forces, and the wars during the formation and consolidation of the centralized Russian state. This development can also be traced in historical stories and tales (The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, The Life of Alexander Nevsky, Zadonshchina, and others). In the 18th century there were attempts at the consistent description of separate wars, but military-historical works appeared only in the 19th century, and only then did military history emerge as an in-dependent branch of knowledge. Figures who played significant roles in the development of Russian gentry-bourgeois historiography in the 19th and early 20th centuries included A. K. Baiov, M. I. Bogdanovich, D. P. Buturlin, P. A. Geisman, N. S. Golitsyn, G. A. Leer, D. F. Maslovskii, D. A. Miliutin, A. I. Mikhailovskii-Danilevskii, N. P. Mikhnevich, A. Z. Myshlaevskii, A. N. Petrov, and A. K. Puzyrevskii. Naval historiography was represented by the works of A. V. Viskovatov, S. I. Elagin, F. F. Veselago, and N. L. Klado.

Over the course of many centuries an enormous quantity of military-historical material was accumulated and many books on the history of wars and the military art were written, but until the mid-19th century military history was not a science in the real sense of the word. Its representatives reflected the interests of the ruling classes and often distorted events, arbitrarily selected facts, and falsified history. Characteristic features of such works were the ignoring of the role of the popular masses and the exaggeration of the activity of monarchs and military leaders. Idealism dominated these writers’ views of the course of the military-historical process, and they did not discover the objective laws of the devlopment of military affairs and the military art. K. Marx and F. Engels laid the foundations for the true science of military history because they demonstrated that the development of military affairs is not determined by the activity of military leaders alone but primarily by the material conditions of social life. The immense contribution of Marx and Engels consisted of their original application of the dialectical method to the analysis of world military history and the scientific solution of its most important problems. In their works they demonstrate the origins of wars and military organization and reveal the direct connection between war and the foreign and domestic policies of the ruling classes. Their works serve as the foundation for Marxist military-historical science, which grew and gained strength in a fierce struggle with bourgeois military historiography. As Engels remarked: “Military history as a science in which the correct evaluation of facts is the only guiding principle is still very young and cannot yet boast an extensive literature. Nevertheless, it is an emerging field of knowledge, and every day it sweeps away, as a needless admixture, that shameless and stupid braggadocio which for a long time distinguished those works that called themselves historical only by virtue of their intentional distortions of every fact in their narrations” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 11, pp. 436-37). One of the first Marxist military historians was F. Mehring. V. I. Lenin made an invaluable contribution; developing the theory of Marx and Engels, he illuminated the problem of the origins and essence of wars as social phenomena and accurately classified historical types of wars, discovered factors determining a war’s outcome, and profoundly characterized a series of wars, particularly wars of the age of imperialism.

The emergence of Soviet military-historical science, developing through Marxist-Leninist methodology, is connected with the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution. The post-October works of V. I. Lenin laid the foundations of Soviet military historiography. In these works Lenin defined the role and place of military history in the system of knowledge and showed that it was necessary to a people for the construction of a new army and the defense of a country; he established the characteristics of the fundamental phases in the development of the Soviet Armed Forces and the events of the Civil War.

In the period of Soviet power an extensive literature on military history has been created in the USSR. Collective general works have been published, among them the five-volume History of the Civil War in the USSR, the six-volume History of the Great Patriotic War of the USSR, and Fifty Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR. The works of A. A. Svechin, E. A. Razin, and A. A. Strokov are great contributions to the science of military history. L. G. Beskrovnyi and P. A. Zhilin have written on the Patriotic War of 1812; E. Z. Barsukov, A. M. Zaionchkovskii, A. K. Kolenkovskii, N. G. Korsun, V. F. Novitskii, F. E. Ogorodnikov, N. A. Talenskii, and others, on the history of World War I; A. V. Golubev, A. B. Kadishev, N. E. Kakurin, N. F. Kuz’min, V. A. Melikov, and others, on the history of the Civil War; and E. A. Boltin, A. N. Grylev, V. M. Kulish, N. G. Pavlenko, S. P. Platonov, D. M. Proektor, A. M. Samsonov, V. A. Sekistov, and others, on the Great Patriotic War and World War II. V. A. Belli, L. M. Eremeev, I. S. Isakov, R. N. Mordvinov, and N. V. Novikov, among others, have written on the history of the navy and war at sea.

Marxist military historical science developed in a sharp ideological struggle with bourgeois military historiography. Since the end of the 19th century, bourgeois military historians (H. Delbriick, A. Schlieffen, B. H. Liddell Hart, J. Fuller, and M. Schwarte, authors of official histories of World War I, and particularly of World War II, published in Germany, France, Austria, the USA, Great Britain, and other countries), along with their perfections in the methods of research in military history, have written for the most part in defense of the aggressive policies of imperialism, policies responsible for the unleashing of two world wars and many local wars. These reactionary conceptions are particularly obvious in contemporary military historiography in the USA, West Germany, and Great Britain. Soviet military historians, while speaking against those who falsify history, at the same time support and widen contacts with progressive representatives of bourgeois military thought who strive to understand the objective content of the military-historical process and whose works assist the development of military history as a science.

The elaboration of problems in military history in the USSR is concentrated in a number of scientific institutions. For the most part, research was carried on in the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR (until 1935, the Staff of the RKKA [Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army]). Other institutions that have concerned themselves with military history are the Military-Historical Commission (1918-21), the Military-Historical Department (1924-46 and 1953—), the Military-Historical Administration (1946-53) of the General Staff, military-historical departments and groups with the main staffs of armed services, and subdepartments of the history of war and the military art at military academies. In 1967 the Institute of Military History was created within the Ministry of Defense. Various problems of military history are studied in civilian research and academic institutions. Military history is a required subject at military academies and schools. The Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal (Military-Historical Journal), an organ of the Ministry of Defense of the USSR, is the periodical publication concerned with problems in military history.


Engels, F. Izbr. voennye proizv. Moscow, 1958.
Lenin, V. I. O voine, armii i voennoi nauke. Moscow, 1965.
Karl Marks i voennaia istoriia. Moscow, 1969.
Mehring, F. Ocherki i istorii voin i voennogo iskusstva, 6th ed. Moscow, 1956.
Baiov, A. K. Istoriia voennogo iskusstva kak nauka. St. Petersburg, 1912.
Beskrovnyi, L. G. Ocherki voennoi istoriografii Rossii. Moscow, 1962.
Beskrovnyi, L. G. Ocherki po istochnikovedeniiu voennoi istorii Rossii. Moscow, 1957.
Leer, G. A. Metod voennykh nauk (strategii, taktiki, voennoi istorii). St. Petersburg, 1894.
Mikhnevich, N. P. Voennaia nauka i stepen’ tochnosti ee vyvodov, St. Petersburg, 1899.
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Russkaia voenno-teoreticheskaia mysl’ XIX i nachala XX vv. Moscow, 1960.
Svechin, A. A. Evoliutsiia voennogo iskusstva s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1927-28.
Strokov, A. A. Istoriia voennogo iskusstva, vols. 1-3. Moscow, 1955-67.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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