Eberhard Birk


An Austrian officer wrote about the Prussian infantry, acting according to linear tactics in the course of the decisive phase oft the Battle of Mollwitz on 10th April 1741, among other things: “I suppose I can say that never in my life have I seen anything more beautiful. They marched with utmost countenance and dead straight as if on the parade ground.” Against a backdrop of a battle account, hardly any period quotation is more suitable to illustrate so many details of the conflict between theory and practice of linear tactics within the framework of absolutist land warfare, determined by aesthetic pleasure and open exposure to enemy fire, by principles of leadership, economic resources and arming, by geometrical order and its disintegration, discipline, moral standards, and spiritual help. This also raises the question with what kind of morals the soldiers fought, whose experiences in wars, campaigns and battles where marled by factors such as stress, fear, injuries and death. Considering the analyzed patterns of assessment, reception and interpretation, one will find out that the introduction and upholding of linear tactics was a complex system, which must be investigated in a sophisticated manner, because it portrayed the demonstration of a determination of forms typical of that time. Image cultivation of court and army, colours and reputation of the regiment, production of an aesthetic appeal for both battlefield and war similar to that of life at court, the courtly and military nearness to the monarch, and the identity of both officers’ corps and aristocracy corresponded with similar or even identical operational workings: All of them, and art as well, served as order-political stabilizers of the political culture of absolutism comprising innumerable fields of action. Thus, linear tactics represented the military-functional derivation of the total typology of period identity and its ego-boost in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its establishment, upholding and forms of evaluation make it a reflection of political and social perceptions of order on military terrain.