Month: October 2023

Month: October 2023

Why Do Armies March through Gaza?

a line drawing of Palestine, Syria, and south-eastern Turkey with coasts, rivers, ancient cities, and dotted lines indicating roads
The roads of Palestine in the Achaemenid period, after Graf 1994: figure 1

On another site, someone asked why armies have been marching through Gaza for thousands of years. I don’t have anything useful to say about Hamas’ torture, murder, and kidnapping of about a thousand unsuspecting elders, civilians, children, and tourists, or the Israeli government’s blockade of water, food, and medicine to the several million civilians in Gaza in response to the murders and kidnappings, but I can talk about geography and ancient warfare.

My regularly scheduled post (about Vitruvius and the design of forts during the Roman Principate) will come out next week instead! When commenting, keep in mind that my site is not the place for people to share angry opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I will moderate accordingly. Because I will not have time to moderate or respond to comments until Tuesday 31 October, comments on this post will not be enabled until then.

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Short Swords and Arming Swords

In an earlier post I talked about how some people in 15th and 16th century England and France thought that a sword for war should be shorter than was ideal in an unarmoured duel. This week I would like to return to that and talk about how the medieval concepts of “short sword” and “arming sword” are closely related.

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Ancient Greek Armies Were Part of Ancient Greek Society

a terracotta model shield painted with a red crab on a white background
Crab! A Boeotian Greek model of a shield in the British Museum, museum number 1895,1026.5 under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Responses at the International Ancient Warfare Conference 2023 made me wonder whether something I take for granted is obvious to other people interested in ancient Greece.

Today our armies are parallel societies or total institutions. They take in individual recruits, separate them from their prior friends and relations, and teach them everything they will need while they are isolated from their civilian associates. They re-organize these recruits into a new hierarchy of units for both everyday and tactical purposes (people in the same platoon both live and fight together, at least in the field). Armies like the army of Classical Athens were nothing like this and yet they fought.

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What Are ‘Big Idea’ Books?

Over on the group blog Crooked Timber there is a retrospective post on David Graeber’s Debt ten years after they hosted a discussion of the book on the blog. The post and comments say something very important about ‘big ideas’ books which scientists mostly take for granted, but might not be obvious to curious, clever people who are not active in research:

I think the best way to understand Graeber is as a writer of speculative nonfiction. He is often wrong on the facts, and more often willing to push them farther than they really ought to be pushed, requiring shallow foundations of evidence to bear a heavy load of very strongly asserted theoretical claims. But there is value to the speculation – social scientists don’t do nearly enough of it. Sometimes it is less valuable to be right than to expand the space of perceived social and political possibilities. And that is something that Graeber was very good at doing.

Henry Farrell
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