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The European Fiscal-Military System 1530-1870

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FMSystem (The European Fiscal-Military System 1530-1870)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-01-31

FMSystem transforms the conventional narrative of the violent rise of the European states system by revealing how belligerent competition also involved cooperation. States were not autarkic actors engaged in an inevitable Darwinian struggle for the ‘survival of the fittest’. Their emergence was co-dependent and entailed developing ways to obtain war-making resources from beyond their jurisdictions. This is the paradox of European history. Competition was only possible through cooperation with allies, neutrals and even enemies, because states have rarely obtained all they needed for warfare from their own populations, while governments have generally been unable to prevent their own subjects from aiding other powers.

This project adds a new conceptual framework to understand this process and broadens the research focus to include the role of non-state actors in minor as well as major countries. Its working hypothesis is that specific methods evolved around 1530 to enable European powers to obtain scarce war-making resources unobtainable in sufficient quantity or quality from their own subject populations. These methods constituted a ‘Fiscal-Military System’ lasting until about 1870 and profoundly affecting how the continent developed. The team of seven researchers are identifying the variety of war-making resources and assessing how far their availability was dependent on accessing external expertise and sources of supply. We are categorising resources into six types: (1) foreign military and naval personnel recruited into armies and navies, (2) individual experts hired for their specialist expertise and skills, (3) information and intelligence, (4) finance, including loans and credit, (5) war materials, including not only weaponry and munitions, but horses, food, and other assets when used to sustain warfare, and (6) transit rights across neutral territory or waters, and the use of facilities such as warehouses or ports.

The exchange of these resources is being mapped quantitatively using long-running sequential data like troop strengths and toll records, as well as examined qualitatively through six case studies examining how the transactions were arranged in urban ‘fiscal-military hubs’ functioning as centres of expertise, resource accumulation and production. One study looks at Amsterdam which emerged as the prime hub for transacting fiscal-military exchanges around 1580 and retained this pole position until the late 1790s. The second studies London which emerged as a secondary hub related to Amsterdam by 1689, but which eventually displaced it as Europe’s main centre by 1800. These two cities were distinguished by their role in facilitating exchanges between parties from across Europe. A third study considers Vienna which was the primary hub for Central and parts of East Central Europe. Two further studies examine Geneva and Genoa which both played vital roles in resourcing France and Spain and their respective allies. The other study encompasses the Baltic, examining how its important cities functioned within a regional context, as well as their connections to other parts of Europe.

The system was singular in European history, developing symbiotically with state sovereignty, before being dismantled as states consolidated their hold over their own populations and war-making resources. It evolved in parallel with state sovereignty from the 1530s, maturing around 1700 before being progressively dismantled as national states were consolidated between about 1790 and 1870. War-making was now fully nationalised, and the last elements of ‘private’ or semi-private extra-territorial violence were eliminated almost completely. The era of fully nationalised, modern warfare has proved historically comparatively brief, giving way around 1990 to a postmodern, increasingly post-national war making which is increasingly dependent on private military and security companies and in which armed non-state actors have assumed considerable importance. Contemporary conditions do not represent a ‘return of the mercenary’ or any other allegedly pre-modern forms, but nonetheless, an examination of the significance of early modern extra-territorial resource mobilisation can help us pose better questions about the present.

The project has five main objectives: to (1) examine how and why European states raised war-making resources from outside their own political jurisdictions, and to see how far this involved cooperation as well as competition with external partners; (2) identify the variety of war-making resources and assess how far their availability was dependent on access to external expertise and sources of supply, as well as seeing how this changed with political, military and naval developments over time; (3) reveal on a much broader scale than hitherto, the role of non-state actors in the history of war and the development of the European state system, rather than merely as agents of individual states and to assess whether war was more than just ‘business’; (4) decentre the conventional historical perspective by shifting the analytical focus away from political capitals, and from the sovereign state more broadly, and instead examining how fiscal-military transactions ran through urban ‘hubs’ functioning as centres of expertise and resource accumulation and production; and (5)
explain how and why this system emerged, developed and eventually came to be dismantled once states changed relations with their own inhabitants to make their long-desired autarky a more realistic political goal. This will assess the relative importance of military, political, economic, cultural and ideological factors at each stage of development.
The project team including our administrator have been recruited. We have established a Project website ( and developed engagement and dissemination using social media. We have published our working research bibliography as an open access resource. The project held its first workshop in October 2019 with a second organised for March 2020. Team members have presented papers in the UK, Netherlands, Germany and USA. Five research outputs are in press, while research for others is already well-advanced.
The team has capitalised on the economies of scale deriving from pursuing disparate yet interconnected strands of research simultaneously. This has enabled us to move further and faster together than if we had been working independently. We have critiqued existing concepts and built on those best suited for our analysis, notably those of the Fiscal-Military State and the Contractor State. We have already gone beyond what we had hoped for in compiling the long-running sequential data necessary to assess the scope, scale and character of fiscal-military exchanges, as well as map changes across time and space. Expanding this data across Europe for the entire timeframe is a major task ahead. We have discovered numerous interconnections between historical actors and are now pursuing the most informative through joint research across several case studies simultaneously. Each case study will produce a monograph or a series of articles, in addition to those already in press. The principal investigator will produce an overarching study of the entire system. The planned project conference will compare Europe’s experience with that of other parts of the world.