Brian L. Davies


Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe 1500 -1700, Routledge, London, 2007, 256 pgs. index, bibliography, footnotes, 2 general maps, no illustrations.
- review by John Sloan


Reviewer's comment -
One may compare this book with Alexander Filjushkin's book, Ivan the Terrible: A military history; and Carol Stevens' book, Russia's Wars of Emergence 1460-1730. They obviously overlap in subject matter, but in many respects they are complementary. I recommend that they all three should be studied together.

The author makes extensive use of Russian sources as well as Western and Polish. But there is a lack of Turkic language sources. The narative and analysis is from the Russian point of view. The Polish, Crimean Tatar, Ottoman Turkish, and Cossack positions are described but the reader gets the feeling it is all based on Russian reporting about these actors. He describes the Polish-Lithuanian border defenses and their efforts to control the steppe. He describes Cossack society and includes a brief description of the Crimean Tatars. He identifies the principal Tatar invasion routes. The main purpose of the Tatar raids was to capture slaves and livestock. The economy of Crimea depended on slave trading. They usually tried to avoid battle, except for two major campaigns to attack Moscow. The khan would call up groups of tribal warriors, but local tribal leaders were independent and would conduct their own raids. The khan's full army could reach 80,000 warriors with 200,000 horses, but usual raids were conducted with 20,000 men. The khan depended on the tribal beys and mirzas who controlled most of the warriors. And these high-ranking family leaders played a major role in internal Crimean politics. When the Ottomans conquered Crimea (from Italians and others) the local economy was altered along with the power of the khan.
The author has a big task in covering two centuries of complex interactions of all these groups. But at least by focusing on the warfare for the steppe he avoids having to deal extensively for the other wars in which these major powers were engaged during this period. He gives due attention to the leaders of all parties and describes their motives and objectives - but from the Russian view point. He makes a good point in noting that the Russian military term 'polk' at this time is often mistranslated as 'regiment' Instead he prefers the term 'corps'. The Russian army of 1500 was mostly cavalry, armed in Turkish fashion. It was called up for service in an adhoc manner. He discusses the methods used for mobilizations. These included pomest'e service, conscription, and volunteers plus Cossacks.
The focus is on the warfare for the steppe, so great attention is given to detailed descriptions of Muscovite border defense structures (such as the abatis line - Zaschniaia cherta) He gives verbal descriptions of fortification methods. (See Konstantin Nossov's two books - Russian Fortresses 1480-1682, and Medieval Russian Fortresses AD 862-1480 for much more detail). The author explains army organization, command and control, order of battle, mobilization, and logistics. However, as is typical in books about the medieval - early modern Rus and Muscovite army, one notes with disappointment a lack of information about how these various components of the armed forces were trained.


Chapter 1 - Colonization, Slave Raiding and War in the 16th Century


Chapter2 - Muscovy's Southern Border Land Defense Strategy


Chapter 3 - Belgorod Line


Chapter 4 - Ukrainian Quagmire


Chapter 5 - Chyhyrin (Chigrin) Campaigns and Wars of the Holy League


Chapter 6 - The Balance of Power at Century's End


Return to Xenophon. Return to Ruscity. Return to Rushistory. Return to Ukraine.