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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Thu Feb 25, 2021 at 05:31:25 AM EST) Reading, MLP, Me (all tags)
Reading: "The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes", "Batman: The Court of Owls", "Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece", "The Napoleon of Notting Hill". Me. Links.


What I'm Listening To
Listened to a Teaching Company course for the first time in a while, The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes by Kenneth W. Harl. Goes through the history of how steppe nomads have interacted with sedentary peoples for the last couple of thousand years.

Generally that's been raiding or conquering them as horse archers: the steppes allow much larger herds of horses than agricultural peoples can support which is a big military advantage. No settled peoples seem to have been able to deal with cavalry horse archer armies very well, though there are some tactics that are more effective than others: ultimately the cavalry can just ride away from any battle they can't win, and outmaneuver and cut the supply lines of the infantry. Even the elephant cavalry of India didn't seem to help.

However the cavalary advantage not the same as having large numbers overall: Attila the Hun defeated the Western Roman Empire but at most he had 800,000 people under his control while around 65,000,000 were in the empire. Kublai Khan ruled about a million people, the Song Empire he conquered about 120 million. The idea of nomadic barbarians overwhelming settled peoples with overwhelming numbers seems to be more of a fantasy trope than something that happens in the real world.

One thing that's not clear to me even after the course is how nomads manage to feed their horses when doing this kind of invasion. Usually a fighter needs a string of about 4-6 horses (grass-fed steppe horses are fairly small). Even a small army of 10,000 fighers would need about 50,000 horses all of which eat several times as much as a human. I still don't quite know how they fed all these horses given that the lands they were invading couldn't support that many, or whether the settled peoples could have disrupted however they did it.

Overall, a pretty good course, well presented and interesting.

What I'm Reading 2
Read a comic for free, Batman: The Court of Owls. This is volume 1 of a multi-part series. Actually really liked this one though in general I get bored by the more grimdark Batman comics. This one though seemed to have a decent set of villains, a good atmosphere, and some stark imagery. Liked it a lot.

What I'm Reading 3
Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece by Paul Cartledge. Non-fiction book covering the city that often gets overlooked in favour of Sparta and Athens.

To be fair, either Athens or Sparta dominated for a longer period than Thebes. Eventually though Thebes achieved a few decades of dominance. The famous Sacred Band (made up of same-sex couples) managed to defeat the Spartans head to head at the Battle of Leuctra. They then invaded Sparta and released the enslaved Helots in one region, basically halving the size of the Spartan state, after which Sparta was never a major power.

Not long afterwards of course Alexander's Macedonian empire basically ended the age of city-states. Alexander easily brushed aside the Spartans, and razed Thebes to the ground.

We do seem to be lacking the detailed information about Thebes that we had about Athens. We know at one point Thebes was an oligarchy, Cartledge suggests later on that it was probably a democracy, but we don't know for certain. The Theban statesmen-generals Epaminondas and Pelopidas are pretty interesting characters who I was previously unaware of.

At Leuctra Epaminondas broke with military convention where each army puts its best unit on the right: he put his best units opposite the Spartans in a very deep formation of 50 ranks. Going in headlong against the strongest part of the enemy is something Clausewitz is very keen on.

The writing style its a bit awkward with lots of caveats and bracketed comments, but overall it's pitched at a reasonable level and isn't too academic.

Pretty decent if you're interested in the ancient world.

What I'm Reading 4
The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton. Classic allegorical novel by Chesterton, his first novel from 1904. A century in the future the world has reached a state of boring stagnated peace and the King is chosen by lot. When a whimsical joker called Auberon Quin is chosen, he sets up elaborate medieval-style costumes, rituals and flags for the mundane London boroughs. To his surprise, Adam Wayne the Provost of Notting Hill takes this seriously and patriotically opposes by force a new highway through his beloved Pump Street.

Quite liked this one in the end, though Quin is a bit irritating in the early stages. The book expresses Chesterton's philosophy pretty well and has his usual paradoxes. However the theme that colour and excitement are better than boredom even if violence is involved hasn't aged well since 1904. 1914 to the present kind of make boredom seem a much more appealing option.

Overall though, a short and appealing read.

Me
Thankfully less than two weeks until home learning stops and the kid's back in school. Pretty desperate for it, was working and doing chores from 7:30AM to 10PM yesterday and that's not unusual. Really feeling at the edge now.

Lockdown is killing my health: have put on weight again and now on my second lockdown diet. Will need at least another month to get back even to the top of my normal healthy range.

Running is going a bit better. Started doing strides, a core routine, dynamic warmup and work on my weight form to overcome my recent problems, and do seem to be getting a bit faster again.

Links
Socioeconomics. History versus chronicles.

Random. Draw an iceberg and see how it will float. Determining the American vampire population.

Articles. ACOUP dismantles the "Universal Warrior" theory, parts 1, 2a, 2b, 3.

Sci/Tech. Putting sugar or water in the gas tank doesn't actually ruin the engine.

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With walls and towers were girdled round | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden)
On size of Mongol horse herd by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu Feb 25, 2021 at 12:45:48 PM EST
My guess was that there weren't more than 2 horses (literally ponies) per Mongol warrior. The number would be set in whatever passed for peacetime on the Siberian Steppe, so the only reason it would be higher was if they needed more mare's milk (a strong possibility) or routinely ate horsemeat.

What was the ratio of knights ruling over peasants? The Mongols (or whoever) could simply mass more force than any insurgent population could gather, and could roam around stomping any resistance flat. The catch was that any male Mongol was effective light cavalry (presumably dangerous with bow or spear) while your typical peasant partisan won't have the armor to stop the arrows. Probably the biggest issue for the Mongols was arrow production.

In the West, there was a similar action with the Vikings. The British, French, and Irish all easily outnumbered the Norse. And it wasn't like the Viking raiders were a majority of Norsemen. They seemed to be just the elite warriors plus ambitious young men (or those without a great place in Norse life). Viking longships could simply strike with overwhelming local numbers at will, and then plunder as they choose (then leave before any groups of lords showed up with their thanes). During 7-8th centuries (or so), once the resistance had been repeatedly crushed the Viking raiders could declare themselves the King of whatever coastal area and bring moderately adventurous Norsemen willing to emigrate for trade and warmth. While England may have outnumbered Denmark in wealth and population, Alfred the Great only barely kept England from becoming Danish (and I've heard the cultural difference of the old Danelaw (presumably York, Yorkshire, Northumberland) remains to this day.

Having a larger army than your enemy is important. Having a larger army on your enemy on the battlefield is critical. Both steppe nomads and Vikings took this to extremes.

Wumpus

Harl seems pretty sure about the string of horses by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Feb 26, 2021 at 03:53:31 AM EST
And I think ACOUP's Bret Devereaux agreed.

Viking mobility was definitely their key advantage. Once Alfred set up forts at critical points on various rivers he was able to shut down a lot of that.

Yes, steppe nomad horse archers generally depend on trade with sedentary peoples to get metal products like arrowheads, weapons and armour.
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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 ]
Fifty years of overnight success by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #3 Wed Mar 03, 2021 at 02:50:47 AM EST
As I recall, Kublai Khan took fifty years to defeat the Southern Song, and when the Song finally fell, it was to a military with significant combined arms capability including infantry, navy, and most crucuially, siege engines. It was also from settled agricultural territory in northern China, including large cities. It was a grinding war of attrition in the end. Not cavalry blitzkrieg all the way through.

The size mismatch effect you talk about fits with everything I’ve read though and the supply question is interesting. I believe many horse nomads also had significant numbers of other herd animals. Eg I was just listening to The History of China podcast episodes about the Han-Xiongnu wars. The Han managed to capture or disrupt a lot of Xiongnnu
cattle, which devastated one of the main sources of their wealth.

Cue Genghis singing a cover of Rawhide ...

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With walls and towers were girdled round | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden)