European Warfare - War in Europe
Welcome to Study Guides!

European Warfare

soldiers on a wide field
The Ottomans attack Vienna (1683 AD)

Not long before 1500 AD everything medieval soldiers did in wars suddenly changed. First, Europeans learned how to make and use gunpowder from Central Asian scientists, and they put gunpowder into metal cannons. Once you had cannons, you could blow holes in thick castle walls and in soldiers' armor, and there was just no point to thick walls and metal armor anymore.

Second, around 1500 AD European rulers began to hire and pay armies themselves, out of tax money, instead of using the feudal system to force their lords to find soldiers and bring them to the war. European armies became more professional, better armed and better trained.

dead soldiers lying in the road
World War I

In the 1600s warfare shifted from land to the oceans, as the countries of Europe fought over who would capture which parts of North and South America, India, and China. Elizabeth's England had the strongest navy, but there were many sea battles especially between England and Spain. On land, soldiers began to use guns instead of swords, and to wear matching cloth uniforms. Their better training paid off: when the Ottomans attacked Vienna in 1683, the Austro-Hungarian Empire defeated them. At sea, also, the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals were all unable to defend their shipping lanes.

By the 1700s, only European armies could successfully fight other European armies. In the American Revolutionary War, the Americans won because the French army defeated the British one. Soon afterwards in India, the British defeated the French and got control of India. About 1800, Napoleon's French army took over Europe, but then he too lost to the British army at Waterloo.

But in the 1800s, Europeans didn't spend so much time fighting each other. European armies mostly fought in other parts of the world, conquering Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia, and forcing China to accept European trade. European armies won practically all of their battles, and they began to think that war was a pretty fun and easy game. Sadly, this turned out not to be true when European armies fought each other in World War I: trained European armies, with new European weapons including grenades and machine guns, killed millions of soldiers in just a few years. The leaders of Europe tried again, fighting World War II just a little later, this time adding tanks, airplanes and bombs, and again millions of soldiers - and millions of civilians - died. Europe was so much weakened that they had to stop conquering the rest of the world, and lost most of their African, Asian, and American colonies. Since 1945, Europe has been regrouping and building up wealth again, not fighting wars, or at least not fighting wars against other Europeans.

Greek Warfare
Roman Warfare
Medieval Warfare
Central Asian Warfare
Europe home home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Study Guides
  • Publisher:
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more? is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 26 April, 2017