CONFERENCE PAPER: The Fiscal-Military System in Early Modern Europe


A conference for invited speakers and an invited audience to be held at New College, Oxford on 1/2 September 2022. Organized by Professor Nino Luraghi (Wykeham Professor of Greek History), Professor Andrew Meadows (Fellow & Tutor in Ancient History),  Dr Alexander Morrison (Fellow and Tutor in Modern History), and Professor David Parrott (Fellow and Tutor in Early Modern History)

The key goal of this conference is to understand the mechanisms by which armies and navies are financed, and related to this, how and by whom that money is spent to recruit, feed and supply military forces. One aspect of this involves challenging the weary paradigm that “war made the state and the state made war” – the assumption that the expansion in the scale and complexity of warfare has always been synonymous with the growth of centralized, state-controlled administration and control.   Recent research across different periods and historical contexts has raised fundamental questions about both the organization and financing of warfare and emphasized the role of non-state actors in these areas: one group of seventeenth and eighteenth-century historians of Europe and the European colonial world has gone so far as to speak of the “contractor state” as a better description of the relationship between war-waging and the mobilization of resources to sustain it. New research has raised neglected issues about the mechanisms for funding warfare through developing exchange mechanisms, networks of mercantile and financial operatives, and the ability to shape and exploit local economies to sustain both temporary and permanent military presences. Other historians have taken more directly into account the role of army commanders and senior officers as actors in financing their own military ‘enterprises’, or have recognized the interconnected character of financial and supply mechanisms focused on key ‘nodes’ – cities and their hinterlands – whose operations routinely cut across state borders and political alliances even in wartime.

Meanwhile, the study of war in the ancient Mediterranean has moved increasingly away from the citizen-soldier paradigm, both in the case of the Greek polis and of republican Rome. Scholars are now considering the financing of war, on land and sea, as a much more as an ad-hoc kind of pursuit, in which state entities engage with and often employ military entrepreneurs, who offered know-how at the level of leadership but often also units of military contractors that could function as the core for larger armies. Bound up in this are questions around the invention and expansion of coinage as a monetary medium, and the role of military activity as a driver of economic development. While the importance of such phenomena was always obvious in the decades after the death of Alexander the Great, recent scholarship has been recognizing the impact of non-state military organizations both in polis-warfare of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE and in the wars of expansion of the Roman republic.

These and more areas have been the subject of recent innovative research, but there has been no attempt to bring this work and its findings together into a larger comparative context, looking for points of continuity and divergence across centuries and indeed millennia.  The conference aims to bring together the study of the ancient world and early modern and modern Europe, and to place Europe into a wider set of Eurasian comparisons, which would include case studies from the Ottoman Empire, Central Asia, Russia and China.

The programme includes:

Professor Peter Wilson, Chichele Professor of War, University of Oxford. 

The Fiscal-Military System in Early Modern Europe.