Is Hans Delbrück worthy of this praise?

by Scott Manning on February 14, 2014


Why should military historians care about Hans Delbrück? Like it or not, the legacy of Delbrück as a military historian is still strong even 85 years after his death.

Before we get into that, consider some of the praise heaped upon him by other military historians, dubbing him as

  • “the first modern military historian” – Arden Bucholz1
  • “the great German military historian” – Victor Davis Hanson,2 David Levering Lewis3
  • “the great military historian” – Donald Alexander Downs and Ilia Murtazashvili4
  • “a great pioneer military historian” – John Keegan5
  • “the greatest nineteenth-century military historian” – Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch6
  • “one of the greatest of all military historians” – R. C. Smail7
  • “perhaps the greatest of modern military historians” – Michael Howard8
  • “perhaps the greatest master in the history of warfare” – J. F. Verbruggen9

There are more, but it starts to get redundant. As for Delbrück’s work, historians believe it

  • was “a bold first step in the direction of a more sophisticated and scholarly brand of military history”10
  • is “the classic work” in the study of war11
  • “revolutionized the study of ancient and medieval warfare”12
  • “should be required reading for all military historians”13

Any historian may be content with his peers using “great” and “first” to describe his legacy, but in this case, the names behind the praise include prominent figures such as Michael Howard, the late John Keegan, and Victor Davis Hanson.

If that is not impressive enough, in 2012 West Point listed Delbrück alongside Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Thucydides in its Top Ten Military Classics, making him the only twentieth-century historian to receive such a recognition.

Yet with all this appreciation, understanding and quantifying Delbrück’s influence on the military history field becomes difficult, as most historians are content simply to heap on lofty praise and then move onto the next topic.

For now, we will do the same and provide a deeper look at Delbrück’s influence on current military historiography in the next article.


  1. Arden Bucholz, Delbrück’s Modern Military History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 1. []
  2. Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power (New York: Anchor Books, 2002), 166. []
  3. David Levering Lewis, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (New York: W. W. Norton & company, 2008), 173. []
  4. Donald Alexander Downs and Ilia Murtazashvili, Arms and the University: Military Presence and the Civic Education of Non-Military Students (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 298. []
  5. John Keegan, The Face of Battle (New York: Penguin, 1978), 31. []
  6. Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch, Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), 38. []
  7. R. C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 8. []
  8. Michael Howard, The Causes of Wars, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 191. []
  9. J. F. Verbruggen, The Art of War in Western Europe During the Middle Ages: From the Eighth Century to 1340, 2nd ed., trans. Sumner Willard (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1997), 2. []
  10. John E. Jessup, Jr. and Robert W. Coakley, A Guide to the Study of Military History (Washington: Center of Military History, 1988), 78. []
  11. Theodore Ropp, War in the Modern World (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 11. []
  12. Stephen Morillo and Michael F. Pavkovic, What is Military History?, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity, 2013), 35. []
  13. Brian Todd Carey, e-mail message, October 23, 2013. []

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