From the ancient period to the present, courage and cowardice have been central to the experience and interpretation of war. Arguably no virtue, attribute, or quality has a greater impact on the outcome of military endeavour than courage. The evolution of weapons technology and tactics over the centuries and the sort of violence soldiers have faced on the battlefield has varied a great deal from conflict to conflict. Representations of battlefield courage, or lack thereof, have similarly changed significantly over time.
Identifying and investigating the sort of battlefield conduct that is either valorized as courageous or castigated as cowardly is a complex business that raises a series of challenging questions for the historian of war. The articles gathered together in this special issue consider European armies at war from the first century BC to the Second World War and attempt to go some way toward answering these questions. Each author approaches the subject from a different angle and, understandably, given the very broad chronological framework, a diverse range of methodologies has been employed. In each case, of the groups of combatants under review, courage and cowardice were central to their experience of combat and to the military and civilian interpretation of that experience.