That difference is simultaneously real and illusory. The illusion arises from our growing inability to consider the war in non-material terms. Modern commanders can hardly imagine how their predecessors considered science and technology. A career officer in today’s militia expects the arsenal at his or her disposal to alter constantly over the course of a career. Before the last half of the 20th century, however, commanders fully expected to retire with the identical instruments they took up in their apprenticeship.
Even the terms “science” and “technology” are modern, both coined within the nineteenth century. A few premodern geniuses, like Michelangelo and Leonardo carver, mastered art and engineering to imagine weapons that were centuries before their time. Mechanics operated machines of war. Sailors were always mechanics operating the foremost complex machines of their age, be it the galley of classical Mediterranean warfare or the fully-rigged, side-gunned watercraft of the road within the early nowadays. Architects designed and erected fortifications, probably the foremost influential military technology before gunpowder.
One was about doing, the opposite about knowing. One was learned in apprenticeship, the opposite was gained by the study of data accumulated in an exceeding canon. But even as modern technology is more complex and independent than “applied science,” so are technics more subtle than simply craft knowledge. it’s perhaps more helpful to consider premodern producers of military instruments as “improvers,” the generic term that Robert Friedel applies to any or all those people within the last millennium of Western history who have manipulated the fabric world in search of higher ways to try to whatever it’s that folks prefer to do.
In short, the tools of war are evolving slowly throughout the course of human history, but only within the present time has there been an institutionalized and rationalized mechanism for continuously and systematically innovating military technology. Some tantalizing hints from the traditional and classical world place us nowadays in bold relief. One anonymous author from classical Greece offered the opinion that the sole real utility for third-order equations was to compute the trajectory of ballistae. During this instance, at least, military technology really was technology. The Byzantines made this the sole true secret weapon of the traditional and medieval world. “Secret weapons” as we now think about them were an invention of early modern Europe.
Kallinikos provides a fitting ending for this account. Such representations bring about the idea that “technological determinism” is at work. But altogether such instances, it’s well to consider a door. Who opened it and who passed through? Who was Kallinikos? Why did the Byzantines take up their new weapon? That relationship is defining, subtle, and evolving. Now, over ever, it drives innovation in warfare.