Army of the Holy Roman Empire

The Army of the Holy Roman Empire (German Reichsarmee, Reichsheer or Reichsarmatur; Latin exercitus imperii) was created in 1422 and came to an end when the Holy Roman Empire dissolved in 1806 as the result of the Napoleonic Wars. It must not be confused with the Imperial Army (Kaiserliche Armee) of the Emperor.

Exercitus Imperii
Country Holy Roman Empire
EngagementsOttoman–Habsburg wars
Northern Wars
Second Northern War
Scanian War
Dutch War
Nine Years' War
War of the Spanish Succession
War of the Quadruple Alliance
War of the Polish Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
War of the Bavarian Succession
French Revolutionary Wars
Napoleonic Wars
Nicholas, Count of Salm
Charles V
Johann Tserclaes von Tilly
Albrecht von Wallenstein
Raimondo Montecuccoli
Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg
Eugene of Savoy
Count de Mercy
Ludwig Andreas von Khevenhüller
Leopold Joseph von Daun
Ernst Gideon von Laudon
Franz Moritz von Lacy
Archduke Charles

The Army of the Empire did not constitute a permanent standing army which was always at the ready to fight for the Empire. When there was danger, an Army of the Empire was mustered from among the elements constituting it,[1] in order to conduct an imperial military campaign or Reichsheerfahrt during an Imperial War (Reichskrieg) or an Imperial Execution (Reichsexekution). In practice, the imperial troops often had stronger local allegiances than their loyalty to the Emperor.


Prompted by the threat posed by the Hussites, the Imperial Diet of 1422 held in Nuremberg created the Army of the Empire by demanding specific contingents of troops from the various parts of the Empire.[2] The Hussite Wars continued from 1420 to 1434, by which point the army had proved its worth. Over the next hundred years, the size of the Army was controlled either by the number of serving men being strictly regulated or by limits on the money that paid for it. At the Diet of Worms in 1521 a commitment was made to keep the strength at 20,063 infantry and 4,202 cavalry. This was later simplified to 20,000 and 4,000. The monthly cost of paying for an army of this size was known as the Römermonat.[3] The Imperial Register (Reichsmatrikel or Heeresmatrikel) determined the contributions of the individual states making up the Empire, the first being the Register of 1422.[4]

Contrary to popular belief, the Army of the Empire did not take part in the Thirty Years' War of 1618 to 1648. The Emperor participated in this war with the Imperial Army (Kaiserliche Armee) instead.[5]

The Constitution of the Army of the Empire (Reichsdefensionalordnung) of 1681 finally determined the composition of the army, fixing the contingents to be provided by the various Imperial Circles. The simple total strength (called in Latin the Simplum) was now fixed at 40,000 men, consisting of 28,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, including 2,000 dragoons (that is, mounted infantry). In emergencies, the size of the army could be increased by doubling or tripling the contingents.[6][7] Such multiples were called in Latin the duplum and the triplum.[8]

Nominal composition of the Army of the Empire in 1681[9][10]
Imperial Circle Cavalry Infantry
Austrian Circle 2,522 5,507
Burgundian Circle 1,321 2,708
Electoral Rhenish Circle 600 2,707
Franconian Circle 980 1,902
Bavarian Circle 800 1,494
Swabian Circle 1,321 2,707
Upper Rhenish Circle 491 2,853
Lower Rhenish–Westphalian Circle 1,321 2,708
Upper Saxon Circle 1,322 2,707
Lower Saxon Circle 1,322 2,707
Total 12,000 28,000

The figures for the contingents to be supplied by each Imperial Circle were little altered until the demise of the Empire. In practice, they were organized into a number of separate regiments. In some cases, money was provided instead of men to fulfil these military obligations to the Emperor.[11]


In 1804, the imperial forces originating from the lands of the new Emperor of Austria, a title created that year, became the Imperial and Royal Army (Kaiserlich-königliche Armee), which was defeated by the French at the battles of Ulm and Austerlitz in 1805.[12] In 1806 the victorious French organized much of the former empire into the Confederation of the Rhine, a grouping of client states of the French Empire, with a common federal army.[13]

See also


  1. André Corvisier, John Childs, A dictionary of military history and the art of war (1994), p. 306
  2. John Rigby Hale, John Roger Loxdale Highfield, Beryl Smalley, Europe in the late Middle Ages (Northwestern University Press, 1965), p. 228
  3. Thomas Robisheaux, Rural Society and the Search for Order in Early Modern Germany (2002), p. 177
  4. John G. Gagliardo, Reich and nation: the Holy Roman Empire as idea and reality, 1763-1806 (Indiana University Press, 1980), p. 36
  5. Vladimir Brnardic, Darko Pavlovic, Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years' War, 1: Infantry and Artillery (2009)
  6. William Coxe, History of the House of Austria, vol. 1, part 2 (1807), p. 1040: "Oct. 1681: This heterogeneous mixture was now avoided by assembling the troops according to vicinity of territory, and apportioning the contingents on the respective circles. By this system, arrangements were made for forming an army of 28,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, which could be raised to 80,000 or even 120,000 men by merely doubling or tripling the contingents."
  7. Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, vol. 62 (Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamt, 2003), p. 121
  8. Corvisier & Childs (1994), p. 306: "...when more men were needed, further troops would be called up, the Duplum, Triplum, etc."
  9. 'Pütter's Political History of Germany' in The Analytical review, or History of literature, domestic and foreign, on an enlarged plan, vol. 8 ([s.n.], 1788-1798, 1790), p. 527: "The division among the ten circles of the 40,000 men, consisting of 12,000 cavalry, including 2,000 dragoons, and 28,000 infantry, was rated in the following proportions..."
  10. Militärgeschichte - Zeitschrift für historische Bildung (issue of March 2006), table S. 7
  11. Robisheaux (2002), p. 220
  12. Robert Cowley, Geoffrey Parker The Reader's Companion to Military History (2001), p. 43
  13. Michael Hughes, Early modern Germany, 1477-1806 (1992), p. 182

Further reading

  • Vladimir Brnardic, Darko Pavlovic, Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years' War (2009)
  • John G. Gagliardo, Reich and nation: the Holy Roman Empire as idea and reality, 1763-1806 (Indiana University Press, 1980)
  • Winfried Dotzauer, Die deutschen Reichskreise (1383–1806) (Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 978-3-515-07146-8)
  • Max Jähns, 'Zur Geschichte der Kriegsverfassung des deutschen Reiches' in Preußische Jahrbücher 39 (1877)
  • Karl Linnebach, 'Reichskriegsverfassung und Reichsarmee von 1648 bis 1806' in Karl Linnebach, Deutsche Heeresgeschichte (Hamburg 1943, 2nd ed.)
  • Helmut Neuhaus, 'Das Reich im Kampf gegen Friedrich den Großen - Reichsarmee und Reichskriegführung im Siebenjährigen Krieg' in Bernhard Kröner, Europa im Zeitalter Friedrichs des Großen - Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft, Kriege (Munich, 1989), pp. 213–243
  • Martin Rink, Harald Potempa, 'Der Zusammenbruch des Alten Reichs (962-1806) und des alten Preußen im Jahre 1806' in Militärgeschichte March 2006
  • Hanns Weigl, Die Kriegsverfassung des alten deutschen Reiches von der Wormser Matrikel bis zur Auflösung (Bamberg, 1912)
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