Soldiers, traders and engineers. Military and urban society in early modern Europe (1500-1800)

Since  Roman times, militarization has played a central role in the foundations of urban Europe.  According to what is referred to as the new military history and its leading authors, Michael Roberts and Geoffrey Parker, militarization was a major factor behind the rise of the early modern states.  Innovations in firearms and new tactics also led to more sophisticated, technically oriented training and to the rise of large standing  armies. In the public sector, increasing military expenses brought about reorganization in administration (e.g. a population census) to strengthen  taxation. Furthermore, temporary recruited mercenaries were replaced by professionals with technical education. One result of this military revolution was the enlarged planning and construction of military bases, fleets, docks, transport communications, arsenals and magazines and barracks. This militarization had a profound socio-economic impact on urban societies. The founding of garrisons in the cities had a profound effect on municipal politics, culture and policing (Denys & Bragard 2006).

However, one can ask, what was the militarizing impact of a single Swedish tenure soldier of the 18th century on his rural community? Compared to the thousands of soldiers living in barracks of crowded European towns, a tenure soldier in his cottage (torp) was vice versa civilianized by the surrounding  peasant community.

The densely populated urban concentrations formed the core of the economic and intellectual networks. Moreover, military bases and installations of the early modern period were often located near towns, or frequently formed, as a matter of fact, the heart of urban centers, and therefore  had a perceptible and direct influence on urban societies. In many cases, the military can be seen as an engine of the demographic and economic growth of towns and their geographical expansion to the rural hinterlands. Some of these towns, such as 18th century Helsinki-Sveaborg, can be characterized as a “military-civic twin-town”. It has been argued that this type of urban variant often formed a creative milieu (Borsay), a fertile ground for instance for the diffusion of innovations. Among these can be identified not only technical, but also social and cultural novelties (Clark).

The power politics, armament and wars of the dynamic 18th century played  a central role in the lives of the people throughout Europe. The construction, maintenance and transportation needs of the armed forces and garrisons formed, in many cases, the most important element of the transactions of the burghers.  The general growth of demand extended the radius of urban trade deeper into the agrarian hinterlands (Clark & Lepetit). In the rural zones surrounding the towns, this led to legislative modifications, resource allocations for example  in the form of a new kind of parceling out of land (Swed. storskift) and to urban and overseas migration. Gradually, the urban innovations, habits and for instance  even the fashion were adopted in the rural areas as well.

 Mikko Huhtamies

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