January 11, 2009

Fortress Netherlands

This scene is not unfamiliar in Dutch art. It shows soldiers gathering and playing cards, presumably in a garrison town. I found this aspect of Israel's history of the Dutch state one of the most interesting and thought I'd note down some of his arguments. Essentially the Dutch state from the 16th Century onwards was threatened over both its southern and eastern land borders by Spain: their response was to create vast fortresses across the country which protected those borders. Such garrison towns saw large numbers of soldiers gather together with ordinary civilians. As Israel notes this had an important effect on the Dutch army: leading to a focus on discipline. It also stimulated an economy within garrison towns that was dependent on the disposition of the troops- whether prostitution or gambling or legal activities- many townsmen and women relied on the troops for their own sustenance. This is interesting- and it emphasizes something which I think is always worth considering- the influence of large armies on the economies and cultures of the societies that they dominate and protect. I don't want to go beyond Israel's arguments because I am tired and incapable of critical thought- but I do think that his points are interesting enough for us to note- and apply in other situations.


James Hamilton said...

I understand that something similar might have been set up in pre-Conquest England - I think Francis Pryor mentions it in one of his books, but I can't recall whether or not he gives it support.

Gracchi said...

Yes there must have been an effect from that- and its yet another thing I need to read about!