Items of militaria are objects of memorabilia with a direct connection to military history and can range from military insignia, medals, helmets and uniforms to maps, documents, weapons and vehicles.
Due to the wealth of items that can be considered ‘militaria’, most collectors will focus their collection on a certain area, such as a specific war or battle, weapons from a particular era or the uniforms of an individual army.
Sometimes the focus can be smaller still: many collectors may look for medals awarded to a single regiment, or historical wartime correspondence written on the front line.
The hobby of collecting militaria is also deeply linked to historical study.
Often items can offer an insight into history on both a global and personal scale, and militaria collectors generally have a favourite period of military history on which they focus.
Due to the large number of fake and reproduction items on the market (such as those produced for war re-enactment societies), research is also vital in establishing the value and provenance of an item.
While many people collect militaria as a hobby due to an interest in military history, others collect items such as high-value gallantry medals as a form of alternative investment.
The periods of military history are often separated by the advances and influence of the technology used during battle.
The first recorded documentation of warfare begins with the confrontation between Sumer (current Iraq) and Elam (current Iran) in c.2700BCE near the modern city of Basra.
Much of ancient history, such as the rise and fall of empires and civilisations, is documented and illustrated through warfare, and as cities grew the limited capacity for agriculture meant fighting over territory became a common occurrence.
Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia and China had notable militaries. Many of the artefacts that remain from this period are weapons and armour as they were created to stand the test of time (and battle). Many items of ceremonial weaponry and armour were also buried in tombs by these cultures, thereby ensuring their preservation.
Developments such as the chariot, the saddle and stirrups changed the pattern of warfare, as military tactics changed and the use of cavalry came into practice.
The earliest known record of stirrups was found in a Chinese Jin Dynasty tomb of about AD322. This development was followed by the widespread use of artillery, with weapons such as the catapult, onager, trebuchet and the ballista characterising much of medieval warfare.
The major advance which changed the nature of warfare was that of gunpowder.
The first documented record of gunpowder artillery used on the battlefield was on 28 January 1132 when General Han Shizhong of the Song Dynasty used primitive cannons known as ‘huochong' to capture a city. The use of such weapons spread to Europe by the 13th century, and major advances between 1420 -1430 led to the development of the cannon.
Hand-held gunpowder weapons soon came into use with the arquebus, later replaced by the musket in the 15th century.
As hand-held firearms became easier to use, countries began to rely less on professional soldiers in favour of conscription. Although it was used in one form or another during many periods in history, the concept of modern conscription began in France during the French Revolution and led to the creation of the Grande Armée which Napoleon Bonaparte used during the Napoleonic Wars to defeat smaller professional armies.
During this period of ‘Industrial Warfare’ further developments included the use of ironclads and dreadnoughts during naval battles, the invention of the combustion engine, which revolutionised every aspect of warfare from troop movement and deployment to easily-manoeuvrable artillery weapons such as mounted machine guns, and the invention of the aeroplane, which found military applications in both combat and reconnaissance.
All these developments, from conscription and mechanised transport to artillery weapons and aerial warfare, were used to their fullest during the first world war (1914 – 1918). 70 million military personnel were mobilised, and 9 million were killed due to the technological advancements in weaponry.
The second world war (1935 – 1945) marked the beginning of the period known as modern warfare, which runs to the present day. This period is marked by the development of cutting-edge technology for the primary use of the military, and has seen the development of the Atomic bomb, cruise missiles, the use of biological weapons, the reliance on electronic information gathering and ‘information warfare’.
The world’s most expensive items of militaria
The most expensive piece of militaria ever sold at auction is the Crosby Garrett Helmet, a copper alloy Roman military parade helmet discovered near Crosby Garrett in England in May 2010. The helmet, found by a metal detectorist in 67 pieces, was restored by Christie’s auction house and sold in October 2010 for a world record price of £2.3m.
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