Determining Early Modern Army Strength: The Case of Electoral Saxony
by Lucian E. Staiano-Daniels

ABSTRACT: Although armies grew larger during the seventeenth century, size estimates are often inaccurate. This article uses diverse sources to produce accurate troop counts for Electoral Saxony during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), concluding that its army was large only briefly. It also discusses Saxony’s overlooked role in this war. This research suggests that the military revolution thesis should be revised: army sizes did not necessarily stabilize at higher levels and war did not necessarily “make the modern state.” Saxony went to war using traditional means of raising revenue: different states responded to their challenging environment differently.

The main content of this article appears in the October 2019 issue of JMH. Due to space considerations, the supporting data is presented below, rather than in the pages of the Journal.

Appendix

Strength numbers for all Saxon mercenary forces from 1618 to 1625 are listed in Table 1, cavalry strengths from 1631 to 1651 are in Table 2, infantry strengths from the same period are in Table 3, and dragoons from 1632 to 1651 are in Table 4. Each row in these tables depicts a single unit. Militia, garrison troops, feudal levies, the personal guards of important figures, and the two “old Saxon” regiments that Saxony paid for in the Imperial army after 1635 are not included.

The numerical values in these tables are the unit strengths for particular days. If a month for a particular unit contains asterisks rather than a number, that means that no data survive for that month for that unit, but the unit is still in being. To save horizontal space, months or years for which no data survive for any unit are not listed at all; for instance, Table 3 has only one month listed for 1643, because the only surviving troop count for infantry from that year was made in July. Because the tables are published online instead of on paper, the values are presented in full detail, tracking fluctuations in regimental strength day by day.

Seventeenth-century units were frequently named after their commanders (in the case of the Ungar Regiment of dragoons/cavalry, their captain’s nickname). When a unit changed commanders, it changed names as well. These units are listed under the names they had at formation, which may not be the same as the names they had later.

These tables not only contain strength information, but also note some events like exceptionally damaging battles, a bad campaign, or an Oberst quitting to go into the service of the Elector of Brandenburg. These details are included to give the flavor of daily life in the running of a seventeenth-century unit or allow an attentive reader to track the slow roll-out of a troop surge, but are not necessary to the comprehension of my argument.

When the numbers in these tables are added up, we obtain the approximate total strength of the Saxon army throughout the Thirty Years’ War, which is graphed in the article. Those values are the result of extrapolation. Although on several occasions the entire Saxon army or a branch of it counted its troops all at once (such as the cavalry before the battle of Wittstock in September 1636, or the entire army in March 1637), for much of the war data survive for only a few units each month. Fortunately, complete data sets exist for 1618–19 and 1631, which provide starting figures for Saxon troop strength in two different stages of the conflict. A running total of approximate troop counts after these years is obtained by adding the most recent surviving unit numbers, updating them each time a value changes.

Table 1: Strengths of Saxon cavalry and infantry units from 1618 to 1625. Cavalry values are given in number of horses, infantry values in number of soldiers. Sources: SHStADr 11237 10831/1 Churf. Durchl. Zu Sachsen etc Erste und Andere Kriegsverfassung Nach entstandener Unruhe im Königreich Böhmen; SHStADr 11237 10831/2 Kriegs Verfaßung de Anno 1618 usq Anni 1650 vol II; and muster rolls from the 1620s and late teens from SHStADr 11237 series 10839, 10840, and 10841.

Table 2: Strengths of Saxon cavalry units from 1631 to 1651. Values given in number of horses. Units listed under their names at time of mustering, and in the order in which they appear in SHStADr 11237 10831/1. Sources: SHStADr 11237 10831/1 Churf. Durchl. Zu Sachsen etc Erste und Andere Kriegsverfassung Nach entstandener Unruhe im Königreich Böhmen; SHStADr 11237 10831/2 Kriegs Verfaßung de Anno 1618 usq Anni 1650 vol II; and Roland Sennewald, Das Kursächsische Heer im Dreissigjährigen Krieg 1618–1648, 549–80; muster rolls from the 1640s (several documents from SHStADr 11237, series 10841).

Table 3: Strengths of Saxon infantry units from 1631 to 1651. Values given in number of soldiers. Units listed under their names at time of mustering, and in the order in which they appear in SHStADr 11237 10831/1. Sources: SHStADr 11237 10831/1 Churf. Durchl. Zu Sachsen etc Erste und Andere Kriegsverfassung Nach entstandener Unruhe im Königreich Böhmen; SHStADr 11237 10831/2 Kriegs Verfaßung de Anno 1618 usq Anni 1650 vol II; and Roland Sennewald, Das Kursächsische Heer im Dreissigjährigen Krieg 1618–1648, 549–80; muster rolls from the 1640s (several documents from SHStADr 11237, series 10841).

Table 4: Strengths of Saxon dragoon units from 1632 to 1651. Values given in number of dragoons. Units listed under their names at time of mustering, and in the order in which they appear in SHStADr 11237 10831/1. Sources: SHStADr 11237 10831/1 Churf. Durchl. Zu Sachsen etc Erste und Andere Kriegsverfassung Nach entstandener Unruhe im Königreich Böhmen; SHStADr 11237 10831/2 Kriegs Verfaßung de Anno 1618 usq Anni 1650 vol II; Roland Sennewald, Das Kursächsische Heer im Dreissigjährigen Krieg, 280; muster rolls from the 1640s (several documents from SHStADr 11237, series 10841); and strength tables from the 1640s (SHStADr 11237 10841/13).

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