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By TheophileEscargot (Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 09:31:17 AM EST) Reading, Listening, MLP (all tags)
Listening: Great Battles of the Ancient World. Web.

Latest TTC course was Great Battles of the Ancient World by Garrett G. Fagan: same chap who did the Rome course.

Wasn't sure it would work beforehand: thought it might rely too much on diagrams, and might get a bit boring with just descriptions of battles. However, he avoids concentrating too much on details of the battles, and basically tells the story of the evolution of warfare in the ancient Mediterranean.

The sparseness of the ancient sources is a help here, since it's very unclear what actually happened in many battles. Fagan repeatedly complains about the poor sources. They generally omitted stuff that everyone knew, like how people actually fought, in favour of formulaic descriptions of the enemy being routed. They also overstated the roles of prestige units: if the aristocracy fought in chariots they talked about chariots; if the dominant class fought as hoplites, they stressed the important of hoplites.

When the descriptions are most detailed they often don't actually make sense. For instance Livy has detailed descriptions of how he thought Roman legions fought, but he has skirmishers somehow positioned behind the main lines.

The result is that we know remarkably little of how Roman legions or Greek hoplites actually fought. The consensus view is that hoplites fought in close formation, but Fagan believes they may actually have been positioned about six feet apart.

Despite this, Fagan does a good job of presenting everyone's best guesses. He also puts quite a bit of effort into attacking a theory presented by Victor Hanson and others that the Greeks invented a unique "Western way of war" which was different and superior to everyone else's. He demolishes it very effectively, practically jumping up and down on the little pieces, but I'm not sure he needed to spend that much time on it.

Overall, a very good course.

Some things that surpised or interested me.

  1. Once one side got an advantage, casualties for the losers were incredibly heavily: more died in one day at Cannae than the bloodiest day of the battle of the Somme.
  2. The ancient Greeks were very poor at sieges, basically just trying to starve their opponents out. This is despite the Assyrians and other Eastern civilizations having sophisticated siege warfare
  3. Philip and Alexander revolutionized things by creating the Macedonian Phalanx. This was 16 deep instead of the usual Greek 8, had longer underarm spears to be held in both hands. It was tightly integrated with cavalry who would drive the enemy against the phalanx.
  4. Alexander's adoption of siege tactics and artillery also seems to have been very helpful to him while conquering the known world.
  5. The Achaemenid Persian Empire was very decentralized: it liked to retain local rulers as satraps, and they were even allowed so much independence they were allowed to fight small wars with their neighbours. So a Persian victory against Greece would not have affected civilization that much: the Ionian cities under Persian control were allowed to continue as normal.
  6. These days, we do know where Alesia is.
Predator Rap (6 min):

Tech. LondonProfiler maps census data.

Rick speaks about the RickRoll. Will this end the joke, or just mutate it into more virulent forms?

Random. Most mindwarping Eighties cartoons.

Articles. Cliffhangers. IRA nostalgia:

Secondly, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Loyalists and Republicans became engaged in a series of murderous tit-for-tat attacks, in which atrocities by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) became especially savage and indiscriminate. Loyalists would simply gun down Catholics at random. A terrified Catholic community implored the IRA to call a ceasefire as a consequence. In previous Peter Taylor programmes, former UVF and UFF members have boasted that it was they who beat the IRA by killing people at random. I fear it is an awful truth.
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Cohorts all gleaming in purple and gold | 13 comments (13 topical, 0 hidden)
Yarrr by Rogerborg (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 11:04:17 AM EST
Pare what we know of ancient warfare down to primary sources, and it comes to a pamphlet.  With big borders.  Limit yourself to verifiable primary sources - if, for example, you get to wondering how the Peloponnesian Wars apparently exterminated half of the planet - and you've got a postcard.  And it's mostly address.

Of course, honesty doesn't give historians much to do, so there's a certain degree of... padding.

Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.

Run away! by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #2 Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 11:05:29 AM EST

Breaking formation and legging it was a really bad idea right up until the introduction of breech loading infantry arms. Cavalry is pretty much useless against tight infantry formations, but it is really hard for an individual on foot to deal with an opponent on a horse. If that individual has dumped his weapons, and probably any armour if they had any, and has his back to the horseman it's just target practice.

Pretty much any wound from a well swung cavalry sword is going to be disabling although not necessarily immediately fatal, and being run down by upwards of half a ton of horse with flailing hooves isn't going to do you much good either. Once you're down then there's a bunch of infantry coming up on you, and their main interest is seeing if you have got any food or valuables on you, and making sure you don't come back next year. No MASH units until Napoleon, if you were on foot you're not worth keeping alive for ransom, and why waste food?

Well said by anonimouse (4.00 / 1) #11 Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 05:13:26 AM EST
If you were injured in battle, you had a small chance of seeing a doctor or having some first aid provided you were on the winning side. If you were left lying on the battlefield by the losing side, the only thing the winning side was interested in was cutting your throat and looting your corpse.

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
[ Parent ]
Advantage by anonimouse (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 11:12:51 AM EST
I'm not sure why the facts surprise you.
  1. Once one side gets an advantage, it is able to exploit the advantage in one part of the line of battle to create a weakness in all. When a line sees a group running away, it is more likely to start running, and it becomes a simple chase where an organised army is hunting down a disorganised mob. Casualties are bound to be heavy.
  2. I think a factor is that Greek terrain is not conducive to moving the machinery of siege warfare.
  3. I don't think the Macedonian Phalanx was really any better (or worse) than any other phalanx. Alexander won battles because he creatively used his other forces to support the phalanx. The phalanx on its own is very vulnerable to more mobile armies. The Roman army, with its principles of rotating troops in the front line and flexible formations, was a far more revolutionary concept.
  4. If it weren't for Persian Satraps, atreides would have to invent them. :-)
  5. What does surprise me about Alesia (and Rome) is how population levels fluctuated over the centuries. Rome went from 1.5 million down to 20,000 before recovering. Alesia went from several tens of thousands to just 600 today. (Mind you, it's believed that Caesar killed about a million Gauls, so that may have had something to do with it).

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
Cannae isn't unique by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #4 Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 11:23:44 AM EST
I think it's somewhat surprising that warfare with spears and swords is more deadly than warfare with guns.

I think the Macedonian phalanx has to be considered significantly better than the Greek phalanx. Longer spears, professional instead of part-time troops, a two-handed underarm grip, twice the depth and tight integration with cavalry add up to quite a big difference.

It's hard to judge how revolutionary the Roman legion was when nobody really knows how it operated. Fagan points out that in the Renaissance using similar edged weapons they tried to recreate Roman tactics of line relief through gaps, but nobody could get them to work. They may just have been parade-ground maneuvers that the writers observed but nobody used on a battlefield. It seems to have been pretty effective however it worked though.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
War with guns by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #5 Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 01:34:36 PM EST

Once the guns can shoot more than once most battles take place from cover, trenches, foxholes and small fortifications, making it more like seiges than the army vs army battles of the stuff with sharp edges era. There's less inclination to go chasing after opponents as it's a lot easier to for them to turn round and pop off a few shots to encourage you to stay in your trench.

[ Parent ]
Did he give any reason for the difference? by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 03:47:20 PM EST
Is it just a matter of being able to break off better when you've already started at a distance?

It is a interesting detail.

[ Parent ]
It was basically just bigger by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #7 Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 09:53:54 PM EST
But as anonimouse says, the integration with other units was another big factor.

Check your email, depending on how interested you are.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Got it. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #10 Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 04:39:47 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Would the Persians allowed a democratic Athens? by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #8 Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 03:47:26 AM EST
I know they were fairly tolerant by ancient standards but they prefered oligarchies or monarchies as they were easier deal with as the number people that neded to bullied or bought off was lower.

Hard to say by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #9 Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 03:53:13 AM EST
I don't think there were any other democratic cities around at the time, so we don't really know how the Persians would have dealt with them. Don't see why they would have treated with them any differently as long as the tribute came in though.

[ Parent ]
Thought I was going to get Rick Rolled again then by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #12 Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 01:31:04 PM EST
Instances have been increasing lately, and I have it in my head all the time

It's political correctness gone mad!

Worse by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #13 Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 08:58:30 PM EST
I'm using that SuperRickRoll link now. Hoped someone would click on it.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Cohorts all gleaming in purple and gold | 13 comments (13 topical, 0 hidden)