The Buzz

This Is What Napoleon Thought of Caesar

One fundamental change, however, is the advent of gunpowder projectile weapons. The Roman way of war relied on prepared field fortifications and deep formations. Modern artillery and musketry can blow these to bits; it forces soldiers to spread out and use natural terrain for protection. As a result, Napoleon claims that Caesar’s soldiers “would flee in disorder, abandoning their battlefield to these demigods armed with Jupiter’s lightning” if they faced a gunpowder army. But even this is not a “revolution in military affairs.” He emphasizes that the Romans also struggled against the Parthians, who used projectile weapons. And elsewhere, Napoleon claimed it would only take “one or two months” for an ancient general catapulted forward in time to understand the impact of gunpowder. The principles of war, he believed, are timeless.

Napoleon cannot resist a final comparison. While explaining modern battle is bloodier than ancient battle, he notes that ancient generals were “less exposed” than modern ones. “Today,” Napoleon, veteran of command in sixty battles, writes, “the commanding general is forced every day to face cannon fire… to reconnoiter, see, and command: the view’s range is not long enough for generals to be able to keep outside of the range of bullets.” He does not say this makes modern generals braver, but he clearly believes it. One wonders what Plutarch would have thought. Napoleon certainly did.

T.S. Allen is an officer in the U.S. Army. Follow him on Twitter @TS_Allen. The views presented here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Defense and its components.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Pages