Conflict Technology as a Catalyst of State Formation: Urban Fortifications in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Detail from Stoob (1988). Details available on request.

Abstract: The rise of the modern European state coincided with the arrival of a new tech- nology, artillery, that rendered previous urban fortifications obsolete. We examine the role that this shift in offensive-defensive technological capabilities played in reshap- ing the political landscape of Europe using detailed data on the shifting locations of national borders and comprehensive data on city-level urban defensive technology, ar- tillery manufacture, and battles. We propose that the gunpowder revolution created a threat of foreign conquest that could only be mitigated at extreme cost. Cities and kingdoms agglomerated into national states with unprecedented political authority in order to better finance the newly necessary expenses of defense and coordinate the inter-city security cooperation which was far more efficient. Using our dataset of ur- ban fortifications we find that after the development of gunpowder technology, new urban fortifications were more likely to be located in areas where borders disappeared, closer to national borders, and were more likely to be the targets of conflict. These findings highlight the changing strategic significance of cities in an era characterized by the formation of modern nation-states.

Michael-David Mangini
Michael-David Mangini
PhD Candidate in Political Economy and Government

My research focuses on the political economy of international trade.