Historical Ties: Mahan and EVE



In 1890, a United States Navy officer named Alfred Thayer Mahan published The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783. The book outlined Mahan’s theories on the Navy’s place in military strategy and how dominance of the seas would make or break great empires. It is doubtful that Mahan knew just how influential this work would be on the coming century. The text held high value among many political leaders, including Theodore Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. The Naval policy of most major powers in the first half of the 20th century was heavily influenced by Mahan’s work. Mahanian theory influenced many other writers, most notably the French Admiral Raoul Castex. Even today it is cited as a lesson the United States should not forget as it deals with rising Chinese naval power in the Pacific. Given its importance to real world naval strategy, how can we apply the theories of Mahan to warfare in EVE?

Mahan’s Theory

An undated photograph of Alfred Thayer Mahan. Image from Wikipedia.

When his fleet service with the United States Navy ended, Mahan became a lecturer at the Naval War College on naval history and tactics. It was here that Mahan not only had access to the Navy’s historical archives, but the encouragement from his superior to begin writing. Mahan theorised that dominant control of the sea was the deciding factor in what made or broke an empire. Mahan believed that the well-known strategy works of Antoine-Henri Jomini also applied to the sea. This was a revolutionary application of strategic thinking, as land-based forces were considered the pinnacle of military power. The goal of a navy, Mahan theorized, should be absolute control the seas. This would confer all the benefits of control, such as lines of communication and supervision of neutral trade, while denying those same benefits to the enemy. Accomplishing that goal would be done through control of major strategic points, such as straits and bases. Mahan stated that the only way to guarantee absolute control was to destroy the enemy fleet in decisive battle. The blockade is also a prominent feature in Mahanian theory, but comes secondary to the decisive battle.

A scene from the Four Days Battle during the Second Anglo-Dutch War painted by Abraham Storck.

What Mahan theorised, he was able to back up with historical example. Focusing on the continued dominance of the United Kingdom during the period of his work, Mahan was able to support his conclusions. The United Kingdom had enjoyed being a dominate power over other countries in Europe for a long time. Mahan noted that all foes, mainly the Dutch and French, proved unable to challenge the Royal Navy for control of the seas. This led to great disruptions in commerce and an inability to strike the British Isles. In time, a combination of these factors would lead to a victory for the United Kingdom. Further examples after the period he wrote would continue to support his theories, but the First World War revealed some flaws.

Revision to Mahanian Theory

A propaganda poster on the French involvment in the Dardanells Campaign of World War One. Source.

The experience of France in the First World War created a moment of reflection for French naval theorists. France had been a proponent of Mahanian theory before the start of the war. Yet, the Marine Nationale was never able to force the Germans into a decisive battle. Advances in technology such as common wireless communication, submarines, and aircraft changed the role the Marine Nationale played in the war. Admiral Raoul Castex wrote a five-volume work titled Théories Stratégiques. In these books, he modernized and expanded Mahanian theory to account for the practical experience of the First World War. Castex proposed that the Navy was no longer the sole arbiter of winning wars. Going forward, it would be the Navy in conjunction with other military and political forces that held the key to winning future conflicts. Proliferation of aircraft and submarines would lessen the effect that control of surface waters would have. Thus, it would be imperative for the Navy to work with the rest of a country’s military arms to ensure total control. While decisive battles would still play a role, the absolute necessity of such cataclysmic fights diminished. The general theme of Castex’s theory would be validated by the Pacific Theater of World War Two. The Pacific saw the use of combined arms by the United States and its allies emerge victorious over the more conventional Mahanian approach employed by the Japanese.

Application to EVE

Before discussing application of Mahanian or Castexan theory to EVE warfare, it is important to note two critical differences between EVE mechanics and real world realities. First, in EVE there exists ways to move goods with next to no possibility of interdiction, the jump freighter. Using jump freighters, commerce can continue to flow even in times of blockade. A notable example: one Imperium jump freighter service delivered many brand new Hurricanes right on the undock of Imperium staging during a massive battle. The jump freighters continued ariving even with hostile titans on the field. Something akin to this in the real world would be unthinkable. In EVE, a blockade is all but ineffective against jump freighter activity. Due to this, commerce cannot be interdicted on an organizational level. This makes it next to impossible to exercise influence in Mahanian fashion over commerce. Furthermore, EVE combat is a pure naval setup. While some classes of ships fit the niche occupied by submarines and aircraft, there is no separate second force analogous to armies. Combined arms in EVE has more to do with composition of forces rather than cooperation between different forces like ground troops and warships.

Considering these differences, both Mahanian and Castexan theory have somewhat limited, but influential application to EVE. The most applicable is controlling space through the use of strategic points. The geography of EVE creates many chokepoints and strongholds that can greatly shape the scope of PvP activity. Everything from large fleet battles to solo supercapital ganks to market competition is influenced by the geography of New Eden’s stars and stations. Every conflict is resolved when one side exhibits a suffocating control over the geography that cannot be matched. The establishment of Jita 4-4 as the premier trade hub is a great example of this. A combination of good missions and ideal location lead to it being home to a large population. In turn, this generated a large market. Over time, it became more difficult to sell things around Jita which feed back into more people choosing Jita as the place they would buy and sell. While the missions are now gone, the premier market hub remains as testament to how control of the geography determines the outcome. With citadels, CCP has given the players the ability to contest influence on the geography of space even more. While there are interesting market applications, the implications for controlling space carry extra Mahanian importance.

A Fortizar citadel under attack by multiple titans.

Establishing effective control of space outside of EVE’s sovereignty system has come under discussion within the Imperium. As mentioned in recent Fireside Chats, proposals are under consideration to control space via citadels. Under the proposed systems, citadels will represent major strategic points that are analogous to overseas bases in Mahanian theory. Much like their real world counterparts, the citadels would function as important points of power projection from the staging systems. They would also serve as defensive strongholds that unlike infrastructure prior to the war can defend themselves as well as supplement a fleet’s firepower. These citadels would need to be controlled through application of decisive naval force, both on offence and on defence. On defence, the sheer number of citadels will make invading a daunting task. On offence, they will provide a forward point at which fleets can gather, repair, and resupply. By altering the geography of space, citadels are changing warfare in nullsec. While the application of the same ideas in lowsec are different, the implications are just as powerful.


Despite the limitations of imposing a theory developed from real world naval action on a game set in space, most of the core principals of Mahan’s theories apply to EVE quite well. The control of space, in real terms not necessarily established by CCP, has always determined the victor in conflicts. From the establishment of the first market hubs to the current war in the north, EVE is full of examples that corroborate theories from both Mahan and Castex. The great powers of EVE might learn much from the application of both authors’ theories on real world conflicts. Perhaps one day, quoting Mahan or Castex to justify a strategy will become as notable–and as groan-inducing–as quoting Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in an EVE context is now.

Mahan’s work is available here via Project Gutenberg.

Castex’s work is available via the United States Marine Corps Library copy in a variety of formats.

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Robby Kasparic.

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