OSMAN AND FRITZ

Seventy years after the siege of Vienna, two men personified the widening gap between Western civilization and its Muslim rival in the Near East. In Istanbul Sultan Osman III presided indolently over a decadent Ottoman Empire, while in Potsdam Frederick the Great enacted reforms that made the Kingdom of Prussia a byword for military efficiency and administrative rationality.

Viewed from afar, the Ottoman Empire still seemed as impressive an autocracy as it had been in the days of Suleiman the Magnificent. In truth, from the mid-seventeenth century onwards, the empire was afflicted by acute structural problems. There was a severe fiscal crisis as expenditure ran ahead of tax revenue, and a monetary crisis as inflation, imported from the New World and worsened by debasement of the coinage, drove up prices (as also happened in Europe).47 Under the vizierate of Mehmed Köprülü, his son Ahmed and his ill-fated foster-son Kara Mustafa, it was a constant struggle to cover the expenses of the Sultan’s huge court, to restrain the Janissaries, the once celibate Ottoman infantry who had become a kind of hereditary caste and a law unto themselves, and to control the more remote imperial provinces. Corruption was rife. Centrifugal forces were strengthening. The power of the landowning class, the sipahi, was in decline. Insurgents like the celali in Anatolia were challenging central authority. There was religious conflict, too, between orthodox clerics like Kadızâde Mehmed, who attributed all Ottoman reverses to deviations from the word of the Prophet,48 and Sufi mystics like Sivasi Efendi.49 The Ottoman bureaucracy had formerly been staffed by slaves (under the system of devşirme), often taken as captives from Christian communities in the Balkans. But now selection and promotion seemed to depend more on bribery and favouritism than on aptitude; the rate of churn became absurdly high as people jostled for the perquisites of office.50 The deterioration in administrative standards can be traced today in Ottoman government records. The census of 1458 is a meticulous document, for example. By 1694 the equivalent records had become hopelessly sloppy, with abbreviations and crossings out.51 Ottoman officials were well aware of the deterioration, but the only remedy they could recommend was a return to the good old days of Suleiman the Magnificent.52

But perhaps the most serious problem was the decline in the quality of the sultans themselves. Turnover at the top was high; there were nine sultans between 1566, when Suleiman the Magnificent died, and 1648, when Mehmed IV succeeded to the throne. Of these, five were deposed and two assassinated. Polygamy meant that Ottoman sultans did not have the difficulties of Christian monarchs like Henry VIII, whose struggle to produce a male heir required no fewer than six wives, two of whom he executed, two of whom he divorced. In Istanbul, it was being one of the sultan’s usually numerous sons that was dangerous. Only one of them could succeed as sultan and, until 1607, the others were invariably strangled as an insurance against challenges to the succession. This was hardly a recipe for filial love. The fate of Suleiman’s talented eldest son, Mustafa, was not entirely untypical. He was murdered in his father’s own tent as a result of successful intrigues by the Sultan’s second wife, his stepmother, on behalf of her own sons. Another son, Bayezid, was also strangled. At the accession of Mehmed III in 1597 nineteen of his brothers were put to death. After 1607 this practice was abandoned in favour of the rule of primogeniture. Henceforth, the younger sons were merely confined to the harem – literally ‘the forbidden’ – inhabited by the sultan’s wives, concubines and offspring.53

To describe the atmosphere in the harem as unhealthy would be an understatement. Osman III became sultan at the age of fifty-seven, having spent the previous fifty-one years effectively as a prisoner in the harem. By the time he emerged, almost wholly ignorant of the realm he was supposed to rule, he had developed such a loathing for women that he took to wearing iron-soled shoes. On hearing his clunking footsteps, the ladies of the harem were expected to scurry out of sight. Half a century of dodging concubines was hardly the best preparation for power. Royal life was very different in the lands that lay to the north of the Balkans.

‘The ruler is the first person of the state,’ wrote Frederick the Great in 1752, in the first of two Political Testaments written for posterity. ‘He is paid well so that he can maintain the dignity of his office. But he is required in return to work effectively for the well-being of the state.’54 Very similar sentiments had been expressed a century earlier by his great-grandfather the Elector Frederick William, whose achievement it was to turn the Mark of Brandenburg from a war-ravaged wasteland into the core of the most tightly run state in Central Europe, its finances based on the efficient administration of the extensive royal domain, its social order based on a landowning class that loyally served atop horses or behind desks, its security based on a well-drilled peasant army. By the time his son was acknowledged as ‘King in Prussia’ in 1701, Frederick William’s realm was the closest approximation in existence to the ideal absolute monarchy recommended by the English political theorist Thomas Hobbes as the antidote to anarchy. It was a young and lean Leviathan.

The contrast with the Ottoman system was exemplified by Frederick the Great’s favourite royal residence at Potsdam. Designed by the King himself, it was more a villa than a palace and though he called it Sanssouci – ‘Carefree’ – its royal master was anything but free of care. ‘I can have no interests’, he declared, ‘which are not equally those of my people. If the two are incompatible, the preference is always to be given to the welfare and advantage of the country.’

The simple design of Sanssouci served as an example to the entire Prussian bureaucracy. Strict self-discipline, iron routine and snow-white incorruptibility were to be their watchwords. Frederick maintained only a small retinue of staff at Sanssouci: six running footmen, five regular footmen and two pages, but no valet owing to the simplicity of his wardrobe, almost invariably a threadbare military uniform, stained with snuff. In Frederick’s opinion, regal robes had no practical purpose, and a crown was merely ‘a hat that let the rain in’.55 In comparison with his counterpart in the Topkapı Palace, he lived like a monk. Instead of a harem, he had a wife (Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick) whom he detested. ‘Madam has grown fatter,’ was how he greeted her after one of many lengthy separations.56 The contrast is there in the written record too. The minutes of the Prussian Royal Cabinet – page after page of crisply recorded royal decisions – are the antithesis of eighteenth-century Ottoman documents.

The poet Lord Byron once wrote to a friend: ‘In England, the vices in fashion are whoring and drinking, in Turkey sodomy and smoking, we prefer a girl and bottle, they a pipe and pathic [catamite] …’ Ironically, Frederick the Great, the pioneer of enlightened absolutism, might well have been happier in the Ottoman court as a young man. A highly sensitive and probably homosexual intellectual, he endured an austere, and at times sadistic, schooling under the direction of his irascible, parade-loving father, Frederick William I.

While Frederick William unwound with boorish drinking companions at his ‘Tobacco Ministry’, his son sought solace in history, music and philosophy. To his martinet of a father, he was ‘an effeminate boy, who is without a single manly inclination, who cannot ride nor shoot, and who, into the bargain, is dirty in his person, never has his hair cut, and curls it like an idiot’.57 When Frederick was caught attempting to flee Prussia, his father had him imprisoned in Küstrin Castle and forced him to watch the beheading of the friend who had helped plan the escape, Hans Hermann von Katte. His friend’s body and severed head were left lying on the ground outside the Crown Prince’s cell.58 He remained in captivity at Küstrin for two years.

Yet Frederick could not afford to repudiate his father’s passion for the Prussian army. As colonel of the Goltz Regiment (following his release from prison), he sought to hone his military skills. These were to prove indispensable as he strove to compensate for Prussia’s vulnerable geographical position, stretched as it was almost diagonally across Central Europe. In the course of his reign, Frederick increased the size of the army he inherited from 80,000 to 195,000 men, making it Europe’s third largest. Indeed, with one soldier for every twenty-nine subjects, Prussia was in relative terms the most militarized country in the world by the end of Frederick’s reign in 1786.59 And, unlike his father, Frederick was prepared to deploy his army beyond the parade ground in pursuit of new territory. Within months of his accession in 1740, he stunned the continent by invading and seizing the wealthy province of Silesia from Austria. The sensitive aesthete who had once struggled to remain in the saddle and who preferred the sound of the flute to the click of heels had emerged as an artist in the exercise of power: der alte Fritz.

How can one explain this transformation? One clue lies in Frederick’s early work of political philosophy, The Anti-Machiavel, one of a number of royal refutations of the Florentine Niccolò Machiavelli’s notoriously cynical user’s manual for rulers, The Prince. In his version, Frederick defends the right of a monarch to wage preventive war ‘when the excessive greatness of the greatest powers of Europe seems about to overflow its banks and engulf the world’, in other words to maintain the balance of power, ‘that wise equilibrium by which the superior force of some sovereigns is counterbalanced by the united forces of other powers’: ‘It is … better to engage in an offensive war when one is free to opt between the olive branch and the laurel wreath than to wait until those desperate times when a declaration of war can only momentarily postpone slavery and ruin.’60Frederick later described neighbouring Poland as ‘an artichoke, ready to be consumed leaf by leaf’ – and consumed it duly was when the country was partitioned between Austria, Prussia and Russia.61 Frederick’s seizure of Silesia was thus no spur-of-the-moment affair. Prussia’s expansion was to be like a mirror image of Ottoman contraction: the achievement of a new kind of power based on ruthless rationalism.

Frederick William I had hoarded money, squeezing every penny out of his extensive Crown lands, and bequeathing his heir a chest of 8 million thalers. His son was determined to put his treasure to use, not only to enlarge his domain but also to give it a capital worthy of a first-ranking kingdom. One of the first grand edifices in what he intended to be a splendid forum in the heart of Berlin was the State Opera. Next to it he built the magnificent St Hedwig’s Cathedral. In the eyes of the incurious modern tourist, these are little different from the opera houses and cathedrals to be seen in other European capitals. But they repay closer scrutiny. Unusually in northern Europe, the Berlin State Opera House was never connected to a royal palace. It existed not for the monarch’s personal pleasure but for the enjoyment of a wider public. Frederick’s cathedral, too, was unusual, as it was a Catholic church in a Lutheran city – built by an agnostic king, not grudgingly at the margins, but at the heart of the city’s grandest square. The portico of the cathedral is consciously modelled on the Pantheon – the temple to all the gods – of ancient Rome.62 It remains as a monument to Frederick the Great’s religious tolerance.

The liberalism of the decrees issued at Frederick’s accession is startling even today: not only complete religious toleration but also unrestricted press freedom and openness to immigrants. In 1700 almost one in every five Berliners was, in fact, a French Huguenot, living in a French ‘colony’. There were also Salzburg Protestants, Waldensians, Mennonites, Scottish Presbyterians, Jews, Catholics and avowed religious sceptics. ‘Here everyone can seek salvation in the manner that seems best to him,’ declared Frederick, including even Muslims.63 True, Jews and Christians were tolerated in the Ottoman Empire, in the sense that they could live there. But their status was closer to that of the Jews in medieval Europe – confined to specified areas and occupations, and taxed at higher rates.64

Invigorated by the combination of freedom and foreigners, Prussia experienced a cultural boom marked by the founding of new reading societies, discussion groups, bookshops, journals and scientific societies. Though he himself professed to despise the language, preferring to write in French and speak German only to his horse, Frederick’s reign saw a surge of new publications in German. It was under his rule that Immanuel Kant emerged as perhaps the greatest philosopher of the eighteenth century, his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) probing the very nature and limitations of human rationality itself. Living and working throughout his life at the Albertina University at Königsberg, Kant was an even more austere figure than his king, taking his daily walk so punctually that locals set their watches by him. It mattered not one whit to Frederick that the great thinker was the grandson of a Scottish saddle-maker. What mattered was the quality of his mind rather than his birth. Nor did it bother Frederick that one of Kant’s intellectual near-equals, Moses Mendelssohn, was a Jew. Christianity, the King remarked sardonically, was ‘stuffed with miracles, contradictions and absurdities, was spawned in the fevered imaginations of the Orientals and then spread to our Europe, where some fanatics espoused it, some intriguers pretended to be convinced by it and some imbeciles actually believed it’.65

Here was the very essence of that movement we know as the Enlightenment, which was in many – though not all – ways an extension of the Scientific Revolution. The differences were twofold. First, the circle of philosophes was wider. What was happening in Prussia was happening all over Europe: publishers of books, magazines and newspapers were supplying an enlarged market, thanks to a significant improvement in literacy rates. In France the proportion of men able to sign their own name – a good enough proxy for literacy – rose from 29 per cent in the 1680s to 47 per cent in the 1780s, though the rates for women (from 14 per cent to 27 per cent) remained markedly lower. In Paris by 1789 male literacy was around 90 per cent, female literacy 80 per cent. Competition between Protestant and Catholic institutions as well as increased state provision, high rates of urbanization and improved transportation – all these things together made Europeans better able to read. Nor was the Enlightenment transmitted purely through reading. The public sphere of the eighteenth century also consisted of subscription concerts (like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s in Vienna in 1784), new public theatres and art exhibitions, to say nothing of a complex web of cultural societies and fraternities like the Freemasonic Lodges that proliferated at this time. ‘I write as a citizen of the world,’ enthused the German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller in 1784:

The public now is everything to me – my preoccupation, my sovereign and my friend. Henceforth I belong to it alone. I wish to place myself before this tribunal and no other. It is the only thing I fear and respect. A feeling of greatness comes over me with the idea that the only fetter I wear is the verdict of the world – and that the only throne I shall appeal to is the human soul.66

Second, the principal concern of Enlightenment thinkers was not natural but social science, what the Scottish philosopher David Hume called the ‘science of man’. How scientific the Enlightenment actually was is debatable. Especially in France, empiricism was at a discount. The seventeenth-century scientists had been interested in discovering how the natural world actually was. The eighteenth-century philosophes were more concerned to propose how human society might or ought to be. We have already encountered Montesquieu asserting the role of climate in shaping China’s political culture, Quesnay admiring the primacy of agriculture in Chinese economic policy and Smith arguing that China’s stagnation was due to insufficient foreign trade. Not one of these men had been to China. John Locke and Claude Adrien Helvétius concurred that the human mind was like a blank slate, to be formed by education and experience. But neither had the slightest experimental evidence for this view. This, and much else, was the result of reflection, and a great deal of reading.

Where the Enlightenment scored easy points was in pitting reason against the superstitions associated with religious faith or metaphysics. In heaping scorn on Christianity, Frederick the Great was putting very bluntly what Voltaire, David Hume, Edward Gibbon and others suggested more subtly in their philosophical or historical writings. The Enlightenment was always most effective when it was being ironical – in Gibbon’s breathtaking chapter on early Christianity (volume I, chapter 15 of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) or in Candide, Voltaire’s devastating mockery of Leibniz’s claim that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’.*

Yet perhaps the greatest achievement of the era was Smith’s analysis of the interlocking institutions of civil society (The Theory of Moral Sentiments) and the market economy (The Wealth of Nations). Significantly, by comparison with much else that was written in the period, both works were firmly rooted in observation of the Scottish bourgeois world Smith inhabited all his life. But where Smith’s ‘Invisible Hand’ of the market manifestly had to be embedded in a web of customary practice and mutual trust, the more radical Francophone philosophes sought to challenge not just established religious institutions but also established political institutions. The Swiss Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract (1762) cast doubt on the legitimacy of any political system not based on ‘the general will’. Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de Condorcet, questioned the legitimacy of unfree labour in his Reflections on Negro Slavery (1781). And if a Prussian king could deride the Christian faith, what was to stop Parisian hacks from heaping opprobrium on their own monarch and his queen? The Enlightenment had a very long tail, stretching down from the rarefied heights of Kant’s Königsberg to the insalubrious depths of the Parisian gutter, home of such so-called libelles as Le Gazetier Cuirassé, edited by Charles Théveneau de Morande. Even Voltaire was appalled by the Gazetier’s scurrilous attacks on the government, calling it ‘one of those satanic works where everyone from the monarch to the last citizen is insulted with furor’.67

The irony of the Enlightenment’s half-intended revolutionary consequence was that it was itself a highly aristocratic affair. Among its leading lights were the baron de Montesquieu, the marquis de Mirabeau, the marquis de Condorcet and the arch-atheist baron d’Holbach. The lower-born philosophes all depended more or less on royal or aristocratic patronage: Voltaire on the marquise de Châtelet, Smith on the Duke of Buccleuch, Friedrich Schiller on the Duke of Württemberg, Denis Diderot on Catherine the Great.

Like other European monarchs, Frederick the Great did more than merely give intellectuals freedom from religious and other constraints. His patronage extended far beyond offering Voltaire a roof over his head at Sanssouci. In June 1740 – impressed by Maupertuis’ vindication of Newton’s hypothesis that the earth was an oblate sphere, somewhat flattened at the two poles – Frederick invited the Frenchman to come to Berlin and help found a Prussian equivalent of the Royal Society. This project suffered a setback when Maupertuis was ignominiously taken prisoner by the Austrians during the first Silesian War, but the project survived.68 In January 1744 Frederick created the Prussian Academy of Science and Belles-Lettres, amalgamating an earlier Royal Academy of Science and a non-governmental Literary Society established the year before, and persuaded Maupertuis to return to Berlin as its president – ‘the finest conquest I have ever made in my life’, as the King put it to Voltaire.69

Frederick was without doubt a serious thinker in his own right. In its insistence on the monarch’s function as a public servant, his Anti-Machiavel is a remarkably revolutionary document:

the true wisdom of sovereigns is to do good and to be the most accomplished at it in their states … it is not enough for them to perform brilliant actions and satisfy their ambition and glory, but … they must prefer the happiness of the human race … Great princes have always forgotten themselves for the common good … A sovereign pushed into war by his fiery ambition should be made to see all of the ghastly consequences for his subjects – the taxes which crush the people of a country, the levies which carry away its youth, the contagious diseases of which so many soldiers die miserably, the murderous sieges, the even more cruel battles, the maimed deprived of their sole means of subsistence, and the orphans from whom the enemy has wrested their very flesh and blood … They sacrifice to their impetuous passions the well being of an infinity of men whom they are duty bound to protect … The sovereigns who regard their people as their slaves risk their lives without pity and see them die without regret, but the princes who consider men as their equals and in certain regards as their masters [comme leurs egaux et à quelques egards … comme leurs maitres], are economists with their blood and misers with their lives.70

Frederick’s musical compositions, too, had real merit – notably the serene Flute Sonata in C major, which is no mere pastiche of Johann Sebastian Bach. His other political writings were far from the work of a dilettante. Yet there was an important difference between the Enlightenment as he conceived it and the earlier Scientific Revolution. The Royal Society had been the hub of a remarkably open intellectual network. By contrast, the Prussian Academy was intended to be a top-down hierarchy, modelled on the absolutist monarchy itself. ‘Just as it would have been impossible for Newton to delineate his system of attraction if he had collaborated with Leibniz or Descartes,’ noted Frederick in his Political Testament (1752), ‘so it is impossible for a political system to be made and sustained if it does not emerge from a single head.’71 There was only so much of this kind of thing that the free spirit Voltaire could stand. When Maupertuis abused his position of quasi-royal authority to exalt his own principle of least action, Voltaire wrote the cruelly satirical Diatribe du Docteur Akakia, médecin du Pape. This was precisely the kind of insubordinate behaviour Frederick could not stand. He ordered copies of the Diatribe to be destroyed and made it clear that Voltaire was no longer a welcome guest in Berlin.72

Others were more inclined to submit. An astronomer before he became a philosopher, Kant had first come to public attention in 1754 when he won a Prussian Academy prize for his work on the effect of surface friction in slowing the earth’s rotation. The philosopher showed his gratitude in a remarkable passage in his seminal essay, ‘What is Enlightenment?’, which called on all men to ‘Dare to reason!’ (Sapere aude!), but not to disobey their royal master:

Only one who is himself enlightened … and has a numerous and well-disciplined army to assure public peace, can say: ‘Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, only obey!’ A republic could not dare say such a thing … A greater degree of civil freedom appears advantageous to the freedom of mind of the people, and yet it places inescapable limitations upon it. A lower degree of civil freedom, on the contrary, provides the mind with room for each man to extend himself to his full capacity.73

Prussia’s Enlightenment, in short, was about free thought, not free action. Moreover, this free thought was primarily designed to enhance the power of the state. Just as immigrants contributed to Prussia’s economy, which allowed more tax to be raised, which allowed a bigger army to be maintained, which allowed more territory to be conquered, so too could academic research make a strategic contribution. For the new knowledge could do more than illuminate the natural world, demystifying the movements of heavenly bodies. It also had the potential to determine the rise and fall of earthly powers.

Today, Potsdam is just another dowdy suburb of Berlin, dusty in summer, dreary in winter, its skyline marred by ugly apartment blocks that bear the hallmarks of East German ‘real existing socialism’. In Frederick the Great’s time, however, most of the inhabitants of Potsdam were soldiers and almost all the buildings in Potsdam had some sort of military connection or purpose. Today’s film museum was originally built as an orangery but then turned into cavalry stables. Take a walk through the centre of town and you pass the Military Orphanage, the Parade Ground and the former Riding School. At the junction of Lindenstrasse and Charlottenstrasse, bristling with military ornamentation, is the former Guardhouse. Even the houses were built with an extra storey on top as lodgings for soldiers.

Military Labour Productivity in the French Army:

Rate of Successful Fire per Infantryman, 1600–1750

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Potsdam was Prussia in caricature as well as in miniature. Frederick’s adjutant Georg Heinrich von Berenhorst once observed, only half in jest: ‘The Prussian monarchy is not a country which has an army, but an army which has a country in which – as it were – it is just stationed.’74 The army ceased to be merely an instrument of dynastic power; it became an integral part of Prussian society. Landowners were expected to serve as army officers and able-bodied peasants took the places of foreign mercenaries in the ranks. Prussia was the army – and the army was Prussia. By the end of Frederick’s reign over 3 per cent of the Prussian population were under arms, more than double the proportion in France and Austria.

A focus on drill and discipline was widely regarded as the key to Prussian military success. In this respect Frederick was the true successor to Maurice of Nassau and the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, the masters of seventeenth-century warfare. The blue-clad Prussian infantry marched like clockwork soldiers at ninety paces a minute, slowing to seventy as they neared the enemy.75 The Battle of Leuthen was fought in December 1757, when the very existence of Prussia was threatened by an alliance of three great powers: France, Austria and Russia. True to form, the Prussian infantry surprised the long Austrian line, attacking on its southern flank and rolling it up. But then, as the Austrians tried to regroup, they encountered something far more lethal even than a swiftly marching foe: artillery. For deadly accurate firepower was as crucial to Prussia’s rise as the legendary ‘cadaver-like obedience’ of the infantry.76

In his early years, Frederick had dismissed artillery as a ‘pit of expense’.77 But he came to appreciate its value. ‘We are now fighting against something more than men,’ he argued. ‘We must get it into our heads that the kind of war we shall be waging from now on will be a question of artillery duels …’78 At Leuthen the Prussians had sixty-three field guns and eight howitzers as well as ten 12-pound guns known as Brummer – ‘growlers’ – because of their ominous rumbling report. The mobile horse-artillery batteries Frederick created soon became a European standard.79 Their rapid and concentrated deployment on an unprecedented scale would be the key to Napoleon Bonaparte’s later victories.

Weapons like these exemplified the application of scientific knowledge to the realm of military power. It was a process of competition, innovation and advance that quickly opened a yawning gap between the West and the Rest. Yet its heroes remain largely unsung.

Benjamin Robins was born with nothing but brains. Without the means to attend university, he taught himself mathematics and earned his crust as a private tutor. Already elected a member of the Royal Society at the age of twenty-one, he was employed as an artillery officer and military engineer by the East India Company. In the early 1740s Robins applied Newtonian physics to the problem of artillery, using differential equations to provide the first true description of the impact of air resistance on the trajectories of high-speed projectiles (a problem that Galileo had not been able to solve). In New Principles of Gunnery, published in England in 1742, Robins used a combination of his own careful observations, Boyle’s Law and the thirty-ninth proposition of book I of Newton’s Principia (which analyses the movement of a body under the influence of centripetal forces) to calculate the velocity of a projectile as it left the muzzle of a gun. Then, using his own ballistics pendulum, he demonstrated the effect of air resistance, which could be as much as 120 times the weight of the projectile itself, completely distorting the parabolic trajectory proposed by Galileo. Robins was also the first scientist to show how the rotation of a flying musket ball caused it to veer off the intended line of fire. His paper ‘Of the Nature and Advantage of a Rifled Barrel Piece’, which he read before the Royal Society in 1747 – the year he was awarded the Society’s Copley Medal – recommended that bullets should be egg-shaped and gun barrels rifled. The paper’s conclusion showed how well Robins appreciated the strategic as well as the scientific importance of his work:

whatever state shall thoroughly comprehend the nature and advantages of rifled barrel pieces, and, having facilitated and completed their construction, shall introduce into their armies their general use with a dexterity in the management of them; they will by this means acquire a superiority, which will almost equal any thing, that has been done at any time by the particular excellence of any one kind of arms.80

For the more accurate and effective artillery became, the less valuable were sophisticated fortifications; the less lethal were even the best-drilled regular infantry regiments.

It took Frederick the Great just three years to commission a German translation of Robins’s New Principles of Gunnery. The translator Leonard Euler, himself a superb mathematician, improved on the original by adding a comprehensive appendix of tables determining the velocity, range, maximum altitude and flight time for a projectile fired at a given muzzle velocity and elevation angle.81 A French translation followed in 1751. There were of course other military innovators at this time – notably Austria’s Prince Joseph Wenzel von Liechtenstein and France’s General Gribeauval – but to Robins belongs the credit for the eighteenth-century ballistics revolution. The killer application of science had given the West a truly lethal weapon: accurate artillery. It was rather a surprising achievement for a man born, as Robins was, a Quaker.

The Robinsian revolution in ballistics was something from which the Ottomans were of course excluded, just as they had missed out on the more general Newtonian laws of motion. In the sixteenth century Ottoman arms from the Imperial State Cannon Foundry were more than a match for European artillery.82 In the seventeenth, that began to change. As early as 1664, Raimondo Montecuccoli, the Habsburg master strategist who routed the Ottoman army at St Gotthard, observed: ‘This enormous artillery [of the Turks] produces great damage when it hits, but it is awkward to move and it requires too much time to reload and sight … Our artillery is more handy to move and more efficient and here resides our advantage over the cannon of the Turks.’83 For the next two centuries that gap only widened as the Western powers honed their knowledge and weaponry at institutions like the Woolwich Academy of Engineering and Artillery, founded in 1741. When Sir John Duckworth’s squadron forced the Dardanelles in 1807, the Turks were still employing ancient cannon that hurled huge stone balls in the general direction of the attacking ships.

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