Military History Coalition and Alliance War
Richard L. DiNardo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0108


Arguably coalition warfare is as old as civilization itself. The ancient Greek city-states combined to defend Greece against the Persian Empire, although the latter might also be construed as a collection of states acting under Persian auspices. The Peloponnesian War was fought between contending coalitions headed by Athens and Sparta, respectively. The China of Sun Tzu was made up of a collection of warring principalities, often caught up in a series of shifting alliances. Likewise, the Crusades could be considered to be a type of coalition warfare. For the purposes of this article, however, this bibliography will begin after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, when Europe was organized into recognizable nation-states. Thereafter, the history of international relations was marked by several countries combining efforts against another country aiming to attain regional or even world hegemony. Here it is worth noting that while the terms coalition and alliance might be used interchangeably, there are some rather nuanced differences between them. A coalition might be marked by being motivated by a goal shared by all of its members. An alliance might be described as a relationship between two or more countries, but each pursues its own interest more than a common goal. This would be the clearest way to define the difference between the Allies and the Axis in World War II. The nature of coalition warfare often skews the degree of attention given in studies of coalition or alliance warfare. For example, attention aimed at the Napoleonic Wars is often focused on the object against whom the coalition was directed, namely the French emperor. Although Louis XIV fought a series of wars against coalitions, most of the focus of studies written on the period is the Sun King and his army, exemplified by works such as Lynn 1999 (cited under the 17th Century). Often material on the coalition side can come in the form of biographies of leading commanders such as the Duke of Marlborough or the Duke of Wellington. This is especially true when it comes to the 17th or 18th centuries. The 20th century, in contrast, provides a much greater number of studies focused on coalition warfare, although, here again, more attention has been devoted to the Anglo-American side of the two world wars. While this article is by no means exhaustive, the hope is to provide the user with works that can serve as a starting point for further study on the subject.

The 17th Century

Coalition and alliance warfare in effect begins with the Dutch War, fought from 1672 to 1679. Although a number of powers were involved in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), its rather chaotic course precludes it from this article as it constituted more of a series of one-on-one duels between major powers that culminated in the last phase of the war as a confrontation between the powers of France and Spain. The Dutch War was rather different in that Louis XIV cobbled together an alliance with Britain’s Charles II against the Dutch Republic (Ekberg 1979). Once commenced, the war turned into a coalition affair from the other direction, as other European powers, most notably Austria, came to the aid of the Dutch and Britain switched sides (Redlich 1961). The war ended in a compromise peace. After the Glorious Revolution in Britain in 1688, William III began to organize a coalition against Louis XIV. The Sun King contributed to European fears by both internal actions (pursuing anti-Protestant policies with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685) and external actions (trying to extend French influence across the Rhine). All this resulted in the War of the League of Augsburg, also known as the Nine Years’ War (1689–1697). This struggle also resulted in a compromise peace, brought about more because of mutual exhaustion than anything else. Farther east, the most notable example of coalition warfare came in 1683. The renewal of the Turkish threat to Austria manifested itself in the siege of Vienna. The siege was lifted when the Turkish army was smashed by an army composed of contingents from almost every European power under the command of King John III Sobieski of Poland (Stoye 2007 and Barker 1968).

  • Barker, Thomas M. Double Eagle and Crescent: Vienna’s Second Turkish Siege and Its Historical Setting. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1968.

    An extended study of the siege.

  • Ekberg, Carl J. The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

    A fine work on the course of the Dutch War, and how it failed to achieve the Sun King’s foreign policy objectives.

  • Lynn, John. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714. London: Longman, 1999.

    An excellent survey of the period.

  • Redlich, Oswald. Weltmacht des Barock: Österreich in der Zeit Kaiser Leopolds I. Vienna: R. M. Rohrer, 1961.

    A good general history of Austria, including foreign policy, in the second half of the 17th century.

  • Stoye, John. The Siege of Vienna. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2007.

    The standard work on the great siege of 1683. Originally published in 1964.

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