Guerrilla Warfare avant la lettre: Northern Italy, 1792–97

  • Martin Boycott-Brown


According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘guerrilla’ first appeared in the English language in 1809. However, it is fairly obvious that the concept of the guerrilla, and the type of warfare associated with it, are much older than that. If we look at the definition of the phenomenon provided by The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which states that it is ‘an irregular war carried on by small bodies of men acting independently’ and that a guerrilla is ‘one engaged in such warfare’, we can see similarities with the type of military action that eighteenth-century military men often refer to as la petite guerre or klein Krieg, which was characterized by sporadic skirmishes, ambushes, and raids by small groups of lightly armed troops. However, this kind of fighting was normally carried out by men who were, at least technically speaking, soldiers. (In the case of the earliest Hungarian hussars and the first of the Austrian army’s Croats, there is at least some doubt whether they can properly be classed as ‘soldiers’.) Although the dictionary definition quoted above says nothing about the composition of guerrilla bands, it is probable that most people nowadays would not think of them as being made up of soldiers, but rather as consisting mostly of armed civilians, perhaps with a sprinkling of uniformed men.


Oxford English Dictionary Dictionary Definition Guerrilla Warfare Armed Resistance Country People 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Martin Boycott-Brown

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