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Charney, Michael (2017) Firearms, Cavalry, and Ships: Military Ascendancy and the Internal Re-organisation of Imperial Administration in Pre-Colonial Burma. In: Sixth French Network for Asian Studies International Conference, 26-28 June 2017, Paris. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The introduction of firearms did not bring about a revolution in Burmese warfare or in the army (or navy) as it did in other places. While firearms were present in the Irrawaddy Valley for a very long time, although there is certainly strong debate over how early, until the eighteenth century (and even after) they remained poor, unwieldy, inaccurate, and overall not very useful in mobile warfare, that is, warfare in the field as opposed to stationary sieges. For centuries after their introduction, they caused no appreciable change to military organization at large, with the exception of the addition to royal manpower resources of a small unit of artillerymen whose organisation and settlement followed the prevailing village system. After the end of the sixteenth century, efforts to develop massed groups of musketeers that had been experimented with, probably using levies, had not yielded fruits on the battlefield in the moist climate and jungle terrain of deltaic Burma, Arakan, and Siam which reduced the meagre advantages of a sixteenth century musket altogether. But major change did occur in the 1760s and thereafter maintained momentum throughout the remainder of the dynasty. The Burmese army became a standing army that regularly watched for new technology, tactics, organization, and the like, experimented, and changed on a regular basis. The major stimulus for the military change in late eighteenth century Burma was not technological innovation, but the spectre of imperial rivalry and conquest, presented first by Qing China and then by the British. These two imperial rivals forced the Burmese court to reorient its military establishment towards deterring them from transgressing Burma’s frontiers, requiring the creation of a permanent and standing military organization around the royal capital. This paper discusses how this seemingly un-revolutionary change to military arrangements could have fairly revolutionary political results in the formation of indigenous imperial systems. Understood at the time as a necessary measure to provide stability and security of the kingdom in an uncertain political and economic climate, the decision taken was to shift the army from a mass of reservist cultivators to a standing army of permanent regiments concentrated in the royal capital.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Items (Paper)
Keywords: Burma, Myanmar, Warfare, Firearms, Gunpowder, Military Revolution
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of History
Date Deposited: 01 Aug 2018 06:51
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/26128

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