Sizes of the armies and the rise of the fiscal state


Helder Carvalhal


This chapter examines the relation between army size, state expenditure, and warfare culture in sixteenth-century Portugal. It directly tackles one of the components of the military revolution debate, more specifically the mounting size of armies and the financial efforts that states had to develop in order to muster and maintain a large number of effectives, sometimes along several battlefronts, during the early modern period. Using sixteenth-century mainland Portugal as a case study, the chapter argues that this country did not witness the same rate of growth in army size, nor were the necessary economic, social, and political conditions met in the first place. The reasons to explain such a lack of progress go beyond economic and demographic factors. Political and cultural aspects equally determined the survival of a relative archaism into the sixteenth century and beyond.

After a brief bibliographic review, a quantitative and qualitative analysis to three interrelated topics is offered, to demonstrate this argument. The first topic explores the relationship between the evolution of the number of effectives, the demographics, and military recruitment, to determine army sizes across the aforementioned period. Additionally, the recruitment capacity as against the evolution of demography is factored in, using several benchmarks. The second topic examines the state’s military expenditure. This attempts to determine whether resources were increasingly spent on warfare or whether, on the contrary, redistribution from the Portuguese Crown to the nobility continued to be privileged, affecting warfare. The third topic concerns warfare culture and its impact not only on military recruitment but also on matters of political decision-making, with obvious consequences on the main topic of this chapter. The results of this threefold analysis help clarify why, according to the point of view stated earlier, the army in sixteenth-century mainland Portugal never grew in size. Consequently, it falls short of meeting all of the traditional components for the existence of a Military Revolution. Instead, the Portuguese monarchy generally kept to a continuity which did not differ substantially from the period before. Therefore, military change was of little significance to sixteenth-century Portugal.

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