Military Power Comparison: East vs. West in the Early Modern Period

The Early Modern Period between 1500 AD and 1800 AD saw dramatic shifts in military strategy, technology and global influence. This epoch, marked by the Renaissance, the Age of Exploration and the beginning of colonialism, provides an interesting backdrop to study military contrasts and contests between Eastern and Western powers. How these civilizations compared with each other during this period?

Western Military Advancements

In the West, European nations were expanding their horizons intellectually and geographically. Discoveries of the New World and trade routes to Asia and Africa fueled both economic and military expansions. Western military innovations were shaped by gunpowder – the chemical change that changed warfare:

  • Naval Power: Western naval capabilities expanded tremendously during this period. Nations like Spain, Portugal, England and the Dutch Republic developed fleets that could project military power across oceans. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 is mentioned as the turning point which ushered England into a significant naval force.
  • Gunpowder Infantry: the introduction of the arquebus and later of the musket changed infantry tactics. The Spanish Tercio, a mixed formation of pikemen and shot, was particularly effective and influential, combining the staying power of pike formations with the destructive power of gunpowder.
  • Fortifications: the design of fortifications changed With the proliferation of artillery. Star forts were designed with angled bastions and lowered walls to resist cannon fire and to allow defenders to cover all approaches with gunfire.

Eastern Military Strengths

Meanwhile, in the East, big empires including the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal were pursuing their very own kinds of military innovation and expansion:

  • Ottoman Military: perhaps The most powerful military power in The Eastern world at this time was The Ottoman Empire. Its army was organized and its use of gunpowder, especially in sieges, was advanced. The Janissaries were elite infantry units which comprised the Sultan’s family troops and guards and were among the very first troops on the planet to use muskets in combat.
  • Siege Warfare: Eastern powers, especially the Ottomans, were masters of siege warfare. The great conquests of Constantinople in 1453 and later of Belgrade demonstrated the ability of cannons and siege tactics to overwhelm the most heavily fortified cities.
  • Cavalry Tactics: While Western powers were concentrating on infantry and naval power, Eastern empires retained large cavalry armies. The Mughals, for example, employed their well-trained cavalry in quick attacks and maneuvers that more heavily armed but slower European forces could not counter.

Convergences and Conflicts

The military engagements of this period between the East and West weren’t only battles but also attempts for dominance and prestige in the international arena. The struggle for control of trade routes and colonies often pitted European colonial powers against Eastern empires. As an example, the Portuguese battled the Ottomans in the Indian Ocean to control the spice business.


The Early Modern Period was crucial for developing military technologies and tactics. While Western powers adopted gunpowder weaponry and developed new naval and infantry tactics, Eastern powers were not far behind in organizational capability and military innovation, especially siege warfare and cavalry tactics. This era brought about many of the global power dynamics that would endure into the modern world. The comparison of East and West in this context reveals a complex military evolution with distinct developments and cross-cultural influences.

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