Month: August 2021

Month: August 2021

Some Thoughts on Rose Mary Sheldon’s “Ambush” (2012)

a neoclassical painting of the Trojan Horse from the cover of Rose Mary Sheldon's book "Ambush"
Rose Mary Sheldon, Ambush: Surprise Attack in Ancient Greek Warfare (Frontline Books: London, 2012) ISBN-13 978-1-84832-592-0 BookfinderBiblio

There is in all of us a repugnance, is there not, for hit-and-run tactics, for skirmishing and ambush? Does there not hide a feeling, however illogical and poorly thought-out, that direct assault between men who, in Brasidas’ words, “stay their ground” is somehow more “fair” and certainly more “noble” an opportunity to show a man’s true character and test it before his peers?

VDH, The Western Way of War (1989) pp. 13, 14

I know what manner of men you are in valour; what need have you to tell the tale of it? For if now all the best of you were being chosen beside the ships for an ambush, in which the valour of men is best discerned– there the coward comes to light and the man of valour, for the colour of the coward changes ever to another hue, nor is the spirit in his breast checked so that he sits still, but he shifts from knee to knee and rests on either foot, and his heart beats loudly in his breast and he imagines death, and his teeth chatter; but the colour of the brave man changes not, nor does he fear excessively when once he takes his place in the ambush of warriors, but he prays to mix immediately in woeful war- not even then, I say, would any man make light of your courage or the strength of your hands. For if you were struck by an arrow in the toil of battle, or struck with a thrust, not from behind in neck or back would the missile fall; but your chest would hit it or your belly, as you were pressing on into the dalliance of the foremost fighters.

Iliad 13.275-286 (cited for a different purpose in WWoW p. 96 / ch. 8)

Ambushes are murder and murder is fun!

Anglo infantry training chant, 1960s-present

In my first book, I said that ancient historians had not really addressed the broader problems with Hanson’s The Western Way of War in print for the general public (pp. 38 and 351 for those of you following along at home). They often share concerns in private, but in public they were much more comfortable talking about the estoerica of infantry combat than about the Greek exceptionalism and breezy generalizations about the orient which motivated Hanson’s book. John Lynn is a specialist in the wars of Louis XIV not Iphicrates or Cao Cao! But one ancient historian has in fact done that work. Rose Mary Sheldon wrote a book on ambushes in ancient Greek warfare and wrapped it in a plea to soldiers and policymakers that wishful thinking about the past will lead to terrible things in the future.

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We the People

Old Iranian kāra- and spada-, Greek laos, Latin populus, German Heeresvolk, Babylonian uqu “the militarily and therefore politically significant part of the community” –

Manning, Past Approaches, Future Prospects (2021) p. 138

In my first book, I touched on something which is obvious to military historians but might not be as clear to other kinds of people. When people from the Iron Age to the 19th century spoke of <the people>, they meant the militarily and therefore politically significant part of the society. Political change had to be literally fought for- if not by revolution then by a new section of the population doing something so conspicuously useful in war that the people who ran things had to give them a voice. One reason why combined-arms tactics were harder in practice than theory was that they required integrating the poor with stones and darts, the middle sort with bows and spears, and the rich with horses and swords. Often, the thing which was tactically advantageous was politically disadvantageous for the people who were currently living easy on others’ work. The French lost the battle of Coutrai in 1302 because their crossbowmen and javelin-men were breaking up the Flemish pikemen on their own, and the French lords decided that they needed to charge so they could say they had really won by themselves. French aristocrats lost battle after battle which was unfortunate for individual aristocrats, but aristocrats as a class kept control of French society at the expense of the peasants and the burgers. There was a vicious political battle after 479 BCE about whether working-class rowers or leisured hoplites had saved Hellas from the Mede. People who seized power often disarmed their opponents and dissolved their militias. That might make society as a whole less able to defend itself, but it made the losers in the power struggle less able to defend themselves against the winners.

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Evaluation of the Japanese Armed Forces on the Basis of the Fighting in China since July 1937

In June 2020, I read my first primary source from WW II in a language other than English. This is a Fremde Heere Ferner Osten “Evaluation of the Japanese Armed Forces on the basis of the fighting in China since July 1937” published in April 1938. Like many German texts from the National Socialist period,... Continue reading: Evaluation of the Japanese Armed Forces on the Basis of the Fighting in China since July 1937

New Book: A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire

About ten years after the initial proposal the Companion to the Achaemenid Empire has been published! This two-volume, 110-chapter companion covers all aspects of the Achaemenid empire. Whereas previous surveys have been written by a single author, this book is the product of 92 researchers including Elspeth Dusinberre, Bruno Jacobs, Amélie Kuhrt, Robert Rollinger, David Stronach, and Caroline Waerzeggers. Bringing such a project to completion during a period of rapid change in publishing, a pandemic, and a turbulent situation in several rich countries was no small task for the organizers. The price is very appropriate for a European vision of the Achaemenids: 365 Euros. In 2015, there were plans for a cheaper softcover edition printed in thousands of copies, but those plans may have changed.

My chapter is the first comprehensive history of research on the Achaemenids in western Europe. With my co-author, we covered research in English, French, German, and Italian by chronological development, by country, and by themes such as numismatics.

There is a complete list of chapters and authors on Wiley’s Online Library.

This project is bittersweet because the Lie is becoming strong in Gandara and Ionia is on fire. I completed my chapter in 2015 and last revised it in December 2019, and I am not sure what the printed version of the chapter will look like. In a few months, I have gone from having most of my research in press to having almost nothing in press. But getting any version of such a project out is a great deed for the editors and their assistants.

Jacobs, Bruno / Rollinger, Robert (eds.), A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Two volumes. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World No. 2 (John Wiley & Sons, 2021) ISBN-13 ISBN: 978-1-119-17428-8 Wiley (with publisher’s description) – Wiley VCHBookfinder

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I Love Giovanni dall’Agocchie

Marozzo’s version of coda longa stretta as restored and colourized by Heidi Zimmerman of Draupnir Press

About ten years ago, I discovered that I loved Giovanni dall’Agocchie’s fencing. It seems like people don’t talk very much about why they love the arts that they do. Online I see more accusations that the old masters taught something impractical or complaints that someone today is WRONG IN THE SALLE. So this week, I would like to talk about his gentle and humane approach to the art of defense.

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