Wednesday, February 01, 2012

More on Harald

Having received a gratifyingly positive response to my previous post, I thought I would say a little more about  my first novel, then do another post on my second. 

There are a couple of places in Harald where I mention tactics my protagonist is using to solve the problem of raising an army. One is a scene where he mentions having captured the Emperor's tent, presumably after defeating an Imperial army that the Emperor was accompanying. He talked some of his people into lugging the tent over the mountain pass that separates Kaerlia, where the battle was, from the Vales, and sets it up in his back pasture. One of the people he is telling the story to responds:
"Just what every meadow needs."

"Don't laugh. Silk hangings, tent poles banded with gold. By the time the story spread a bit, every highborn in the Imperial army had gold tent poles and chests full of silver and jewels. Made it easy to raise troops the next time."
 The other is a bit more complicated. Harald forces a large body of cavalry loyal to Iskander, one of the two princes who are competing to be their father's heir, or possibly to replace him, to surrender, and auctions off their horses to the local plains nomads. In a later campaign, he defeats a different cavalry force, loyal to the Emperor. His nomad allies return home with the horses captured in that battle—and offer to sell them to Iskander. The bargaining is between one of Harald's sons and Iskander's son Kiron, who earlier spent some time as a guest/hostage at Haraldhold.
"Name Kiron. Speak for Commander, Governor. Know you Valestalk, Tengu?"

"Getting better, but I still speak your language better than you speak mine."

A long pause.


"In the flesh. Got bored with rabbits."

"This is your army?"

Niall shook his head:

"My brother Donal is war leader for Fox Clan at the moment, four hundred clan brothers. Eagle, Bear, half this end of the plains sent someone along for the ride. Some day you try to get a couple thousand Westkin, fourteen clans, all moving in the same direction. Make running the Empire feel like a vacation."

"And you came along to … "

"Just now, to sell some horses. Thought your father might be interested; heard he was a few short. Cavalry mounts. Trained. Even have the right brand."

"How many horses--trained cavalry mounts with the Imperial brand--are you prepared to sell us? Assuming we can agree on a price."

Niall looked at him, considered.

"Sure you want to know?"

Kiron nodded.

"Four thousand. Don't expect you'll want all of them. Give you a good price, though. Market, this end of the plains, not what it used to be."
It occurred to Kiron that raising and supplying an army off the resources of a mountain farm presented difficulties to which Harald, being Harald, found his own unique answers. This one had a certain wild logic to it.
There is another feature central to the novel which is not exactly economics, although I think it is related both to my being an economist and to my being a libertarian. The central problem of the first half of the book is the attempt by a new and inexperienced king, badly advised, to convert his father's allies into subjects. Part of the reason is that he sees political structures in terms of a table of organization, a formal hierarchy, and is afraid that anyone not in allegiance to him cannot, in the long run, be relied on. 

He is opposed by Harald, the leader of one of the allies, who sees political structures in terms of personal relationships. The alliance was put together by the previous king, who first dropped his father's unenforceable claim to rule the Vales then did everything he could to help the Vales when they were faced with a famine. In the wars with the Empire, he put Harald in charge of the allied army not because Harald had any particular rank but because he was the best commander available. And the alliance was held together in part by the close personal friendship between the king, Harald, and the Lady Commander of the Order. 

During the conflict between Harald and the new king, it becomes clear that one of the most powerful of the provincial lords, the feudal level just below the king, is a de facto ally of Harald's even though nominally obedient to the king. And part of the point of the first half of the book is that Harald's real objective is not to defeat the king but to educate him, and so to recreate the old alliance.

Incidentally, for anyone interested, the book can be bought on Amazon, downloaded free from the Baen free library, or downloaded free as podcasts from the book web page.


Jonathan said...

Thanks for the links! I got a Kindle for Christmas, so I now have "Harald" on my Kindle as well as on paper.

Anonymous said...

but Rome won in the anarcho-capitalist society withstood the mighty armies of Rome. for 5 centuries Rome ruled all that existed and would have conquered china if it were not for the great deserts and mountains in their way.

it is impossible to defeat a 100 000 strong force (a typical roman army which would have been fielded when facing against significant opponents) by blocking their supplied. this is because to block a 100 000 soldiers would have required an army much bigger than 100 000 and the technology of the day would not allow that. thus the only choice available was either to straight up fight or watch your city burn and submit to Rome.

also Rome actually had an army which could fight the WHOLE year without having to worry about going home and tending to their crops. the anarcho-capitalist society you describe would have had to return home for harvest and would have certainly had to be at their farms for most of the year. in this area Rome used specialisation: most citizens took care of their own business while paying a small part of their income for specialists to defend and expand Rome.


David Friedman said...

Rome, like all other societies that no longer exist, lost in the end.

So far as Anonymous' view of the irrelevance of logistics to large armies, he might want to read Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army; its author is one of the people my novel is dedicated to.

Anonymous said...

No, i am sorry but you entirely misunderstood me.

what i meant was that Harald's small army full of farmers who had to be at their farms most of the time could NOT block a 100 000 strong army of Rome.

at most Harald's army could contest the Romans for a month, maybe two. EVEN IF Harald manages to build an army big enough to block Roman supplies (like Pompey did with Caesar) it would have had to be disbanded for the harvests and other farming activities. Harald did not have a means of saving food and supplies for a long campaign or going into debt for a long campaign because he would have had no one to trade with: Rome controls the sea. Rome on the other hand taxed its citizens so it had unlimited funds for the army.

It was the same problem with the Greeks. before the delian league the greeks could only really have a war which lasted for one day: your farmer-soldiers leave their land, fight a battle and return to their farms. it was only with the advent of taxes (instituted by the Delian League and Peloponnesian League) that wars could be fought over an extended time period.

There was only one person who even came close to beating Rome and that was Hannibal and his army was a conventional army similar to the army of Rome. Rome won because it could put army after army into the field and absorb any losses it suffered.

Harald stands no chance against Rome: he may beat them once, or twice, or 10 times but in the end Rome will come back until it won.

Rome beat everyone all the time everywhere, it fell in the end because of internal reasons, not because anyone won against Rome on the battlefield.

i am sorry but there is no way to beat a large, well trained and well supplied conventional army apart from using another large, well trained and well supplied conventional army.

i am sorry Dave, I am officer in the British Army and I know all about logistics but in the end you still need to go out there and destroy the enemy.

i am not an admirer of Rome, i think their ways were cruel and savage and they were responsible for many war crimes and even genocides. i am an admirer of truth and the truth is that it takes Rome to beat Rome.

also alexander the great was at a head of a conventional army fighting in a conventional way.

i am a classical liberal and i often flirt with anarcho-capitalism but i have never seen an example of an anarcho-capitalist defence force which really managed to win time after time against conventional forces (please note for any bloody yank out there: NVA may have used unconventional tactics and strategy but it was a conventional force paid for by taxes and trained and supplied in conventional ways).

i will look up that book you recommend.

i am sorry Dave.

David Friedman said...

"There was only one person who even came close to beating Rome"

Varus, Varus, where are my legions?

As you may have noticed, they still don't speak a romance language in the Teutoberger Wald.

The (this time Byzantine) legions also had some difficulties later near Adrianople.

Getting back to the situation in my novel, which I'm guessing you haven't read (no reason you should have, but it means you are to some extent extrapolating from rather limited information).

The legions are heavy infantry--very good heavy infantry, virtually unbeatable in a simple face to face battle. Harald's people are cataphracts. As with the vikings, military equipment and training are basically at the individual, not the national, level.

The system may have originated, as with the vikings, for the purpose of raiding their neighbors, but the relevant neighbors are, as of about the past thirty years, now allies, so it no longer has that function. But being a trained cataphract still provides employment as a caravan guard, perhaps for other small scale functions, perhaps even as mercenaries in service of the Empire or its enemies somewhere not too close to home. And there may still be occasional feuds, in which military ability is useful. So Harald can raise a sizable force of trained and equipped troops, provided they are willing to come.

The result of the different arms is that the empire has a clear superiority in infantry, but an inferiority in cavalry, where they are relying on hired auxilia. As the best Imperial general explains to a grandson of the emperor currently getting his education as part of the general's staff:

"First rule: If nobody makes any mistakes, infantry can beat cavalry but can't catch it. Remember that; it's important."

"We have the best infantry; why don't we always win?"

"One reason is that we make mistakes. The other is that soldiers have to eat and drink--if they didn't, we'd rule the world by now."

Kiron looked puzzled. The commander gave him a moment to think before he went on.

"Infantry controls any place but not every place. As long as the enemy has the cavalry, everywhere we aren't is theirs. That includes all the places supplies have to cross to get to our army. Try to hold the whole supply line, get too thin, they concentrate, break you."

Also, the Romans didn't have unlimited resources, nor does my Empire. As Adam Smith pointed out, one advantage barbarians have is that, because of much less division of labor, most of their population is free for parts of the year when agriculture isn't being done, so they can raise a large army at low cost for sizable periods of time. Their civilized opponents have to actually pay, in lost production, to keep an army in the field. Hence, as Smith argues, in classical antiquity barbarians were routinely a threat to civilized peoples--whereas nowadays (18th c.), because warfare is much more capital intensive, it's the civilized people who are a threat to the barbarians. That's less relevant in my case, since Harald is fighting a defensive war and so can't choose his timing, but it's relevant to your more general point.

Finally, Harald isn't fighting the Empire all by himself. His allies are the kingdom of Kaerlia, roughly speaking early Norman England, with a feudal levy of the equivalent of knights as well as some other forces, and the Order, mounted light archer/lancers, a sort of medieval equivalent of dragoons--archers on foot, lancers mounted. And, sometimes, plains nomads, lightly armored horse archers.

It's pretty clearly implied that what has tipped the balance is the fact that Harald himself is, like Hannibal, an extraordinarily competent commander. But even without that, things would not be as simple for the Empire as you seem to imagine.

David Friedman said...

Incidentally, wouldn't a 100,000 be pretty big for a Roman army? That's about 16 legions, supposing they were all full strength which they usually weren't, although the auxilia would make up in numbers for legions at less than full strength. The whole Roman military establishment, as best I recall, was only thirty legions, spread all around the periphery of the empire. I believe Caesar started his conquest of Gaul with five legions.

David Friedman said...

"at most Harald's army could contest the Romans for a month, maybe two. EVEN IF Harald manages to build an army big enough to block Roman supplies (like Pompey did with Caesar) it would have had to be disbanded for the harvests and other farming activities. Harald did not have a means of saving food and supplies for a long campaign or going into debt for a long campaign because he would have had no one to trade with: Rome controls the sea."

1. He doesn't have to block them for several months--men can die of thirst in a few days, and be severely weakened by hunger in a week. So he only has to cut off their supplies for a relatively short time. As you would see if you read the book, that's what he does in several different cases.

2. Harald isn't fighting Rome, and there is no sea on the map, although something like the Mediterranean is somewhere further south, where the Empire originated. His trade is by land, and the Empire only borders him on the north.

3. The Vales are not an anarcho-capitalist society, they are a semi-stateless society like saga period Iceland.

Anonymous said...

I presume you base your idea of cavalry being stronger than roman soldiers because of Battle of Carrhae. but that was only a single, isolated episode which involved some rather unlucky command decisions. and i must remind you that romans had cavalry, quite a lot of it, much of it from spain. but that is a minor point.

i simply do not see how a small force can prevent a huge roman army from going and taking a water source or a port. of course this is because i have not read your book in which i am sure you show exactly how a small force can defeat a large army :). also note that a very large army can carry its own supplies for several months (Hannibal crossed the Alps and carried everything he needed including elephants).

but my main point is that i am afraid i do not believe you that barbarians (at least the peaceful ones who only farm and hunt and do not depend on theft and pillage for their resources) can spend extended times away from their farms unless they had slaves or some kind of a banking/trade system which would allow them inter-temporal trade i.e. which would allow them a reserve of resources to fight a war.

i take your point about your mercenary forces: they would have had their own equipment, and yes if they feel nationalistic they would fight for free but they still need food. since barbarians live at subsistence level they would not have enough food to feed a large army indefinitely (which is how long the Romans would fight for).

Artos is wrong: Rome did rule the world: Pax Romana.

100K army for Rome would have been very easy: they raised hundreds of thousands to fight Hannibal. and the grand strategy of Rome was that either the enemy is too far away to worry about or we keep on sending armies to fight them until we defeat them.

I take your point that your book is a work of fiction and the Empire is not Rome. but I think you wrote your book to show that it was possible for an anarchist society (which iceland was close to, at least according to some libertarians) to build an effective defence force. so surely you would want to point to real historical episodes to prove your point. otherwise your work of fiction is not all that convincing and is rather utopian. (proof by contradiction).

i have not read your book so i am speculating. never the less i do not believe that Rome could have ever been defeated by anything but a large tax funded army (or themselves). the only episode in history which comes close to an anrcho-capitalist society truly beating a large conventional army is the Winter War (finland versus USSR) in that the Fins used tactics which anarcho-capitalist would have used. but the Winter War's outcome was the result of the great purge, badly organised and badly equipped and most importantly badly drilled russians and the terrain the Finds had (forests favour defenders and any large force will necessarily be broken up into easily manageable chunks which well drilled small units, which fins had, can take out one enemy unit after another). The Red Army of 1945 would have easily swept the fins away in the Winter War if they were fighting instead of the shambolic Red Army which actually fought the fins.

i am sorry if i am being patronising but i think your way of thinking about war is based on early medieval warfare where armies were no large than few thousand and war was nothing more than a brawl. Rome was a very different cup of tea as is war today.

in any case, i am not at all convinced that a capable defence force can ever be created by an anarcho-capitalistic society unless they have VERY favourable terrain (mountains) or powerful allies.

it is true i have not read your book. i am sorry.

i look forward to one day reading your book.

William Friedman said...

Except that as he already pointed out, Rome didn't rule Germany, despite at least one significant attempt. Barbarian tribal forces ambushed an army of multiple Roman legions, cut it to pieces, and massacred it.

Further, Pictish raiders drove the Roman border back in Britain. Again, a disorganized tribal society beating all the troops Rome could at that time safely supply.

You haven't read the book, but the empire Harald is fighting is, at least later in the book, dealing with some civil strife and can't afford to send every soldier in the empire at Harald simultaneously.

Which is why I feel justified in using the Pictish example as well as the German one.

Jonathan said...

I don't think Harald is a serious attempt to show how an anarchy could defend itself; it's just a novel that plays with the idea half-seriously. If you want to be serious about it, you'd have to set the story in the present or future, to make it relevant.

Vernor Vinge wrote a story set in the future about an anarchy defending itself ("The Ungoverned"), but again I think he was playing with the idea rather than proposing a serious solution.

David Friedman said...

"I presume you base your idea of cavalry being stronger than roman soldiers because of Battle of Carrhae."

I didn't say that cavalry was stronger than Roman soldiers. I said it was more mobile. The infantry can take any one location--the problem is controlling all of the territory across which their supplies have to move.

"but I think you wrote your book to show that it was possible for an anarchist society (which iceland was close to, at least according to some libertarians) to build an effective defence force."

You are mistaken; that's not what the book is about or why I wrote it. It may be your obsession, but it isn't mine.

There are serious difficulties in criticizing a book without first reading it.

Incidentally, the legionaries in my story are not "Roman soldiers;" if they were they would do rather less well than, in my story, they do. They are what Roman legions might have become if they had to adapt to fight against medieval knights or the equivalent. I didn't say anything at all about Carhae--my two references were to the Teutoberger Wald and Adrianople. The latter was a cavalry vs infantry battle, and one consequence was a shift by the Byzantines away from infantry.

"100K army for Rome would have been very easy: they raised hundreds of thousands to fight Hannibal."

Source? When the Empire was well established, some centuries after that, the entire legionary establishment consisted of thirty legions, with a nominal strength of 6000 men each. That's a theoretical total, for the whole empire, of 180,000 legionaries.

"also note that a very large army can carry its own supplies for several months (Hannibal crossed the Alps and carried everything he needed including elephants)."

Source? I again refer you to Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, which goes into some detail on logistical constraints in classical antiquity. The author calculates the limit as the share of an army that consists of pack animals approaches 100% of how far the army can travel without resupply. In the most favorable case--water and grazing sufficient for men and beasts freely available--it's less than a month.

Incidentally, elephants don't have to be carried--they carry themselves. And stuff.

I think, by the way, that your view of medieval warfare is not very accurate.

Jonathan said...

I'm currently reading Harald again, I think for the third time, having just got it on the Kindle. It makes a good story; I think the persistent but minor problems are the abbreviated mode of speech (less readable than normal dialogue) and some difficulty in remembering who all the minor characters are.

The book has plenty of convincing period detail that gives a good impression of what it would be like to live in that kind of society at that level of technology.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why you need to start turning sarcastic and borderline vitriolic as soon as someone challenges you David. you are not the only expert on war.

it was a communication error of mine, obviously i meant that the elephants crossed the alps on their own legs.

i am afraid i am basing my knowledge of ancient war on lectures at Sandhurst.

to be honest it is common knowledge that Hannibal crossed the alps. he carried most of his supplies with him. he DID NOT get resupplied from carthage for all of the journey after spain but rather either traded or stole what he needed. just like Harald's Empire would do. this is what i mean by a small army not being able to block a large army. even if they are blocked they can simply go to Harald's minor cities and take their supplies from there.

and the source for the size of the Roman Army during major wars, i think this is common knowledge: look at the army sizes during the Punic Wars (each battle was fought by 40k to 50k armies) after which the romans having usually lost had to quickly build another army. also look at Caesar's civil war (rome's armies were 60k to 70k).

in fact your point about Caesar conquering France with a small force serves to illustrate my point: small near-anarchist societies (which the Celts were by some accounts) simply were no match for Rome. Also note that Caesar beat the germans: he corssed the Rhein and marched arround germany cowering all the germanic tribes around the area.

i am afraid Battle of the Teutoburg doesn't really show anything: Herman the German was a soldier of Rome and trained his army to fight in the Roman way, also Varus was not a military leader but a politician who made some bad tactical decisions and if you look at the actual battle you will see that Herman the German tricked the Romans because he was in fact acting as a guide, guiding the romans into an ambush until he finally rode off. Caesar or any other good Roman general would not have made such mistakes.

this is going around in circles:
*I think that Armies of Rome would have easily crushed Harald and you do not.
*I think there are real historical episodes which prove my point. you seem to ignore them.

sorry but i stand by my view that medieval war was just a brawl between very large street gangs.

you have made some interesting point which i will follow up. i hope i've made some points for you to consider too.

i think its best to leave this conversation as it stands and accept each other's points. and i should stop because i feel like i am going to get hammered for not reading the book and prejudging it too much, which is a very fair point.

Matthew said...

I wanted to add to this discussion that the elephants of Hannibal did not make it to Italy. They couldn't cross the mountains, which is why, even though Hannibal took on all comers in the Italian peninsula, he wasn't ever able to capture major forts and cities. He basically wandered around Italy for a while, swatting away legions as they were sent at him.

And Rome never sent "hundreds of thousands" of troops at Hannibal, certainly not at one time. They raised many armies of soldiers, but even altogether I doubt they hit 100,000. Someone with more drive than I might track the number down.