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Thread: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

  1. #1

    Default Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    That’s the question to all the EB historians and any who might know the answer. Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern. If you took an average grunt of a modern-day army and matched him against an ancient warrior, how would they match up?
    Naturally, I realize we have made significant advances in the discipline of physical fitness in the last 2,000+ years, but that is somewhat different than the degree of physical strength needed to merely survive in some ancient cultures. So, I’m curious. What do you think?
    And, no, I’m not asking the outcome of a battle if they were armed with similar weapons! If you handed an average infantryman of today the gladius hispaniensis and told him to fight with it, he’d be hopelessly outclassed; and if you gave a Roman legionary an M-16, he’d be dead before he figured out how to flick off the safety. But the degree of physical fitness—how would it compare? Thanks.
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    I would assume modern, though this is a pretty subjective question as it cannot be tested.

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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    I don't understand
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    The Rabbit Nibbler Member Korlon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Do you mean like if you gave both average soldiers some tasks to do? Bench press this, run this 100 meter sprint? And after which who would win?
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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Modern. Better nutrition and active sports science to ensure they're training the way they should be.
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  6. #6

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Just generally speaking. Ancient armies had to walk to battle, carry heavy armor and an equally heavy weapon and shield. Their weapons were often cumbersome to wield(think 21-foot sarissa), so the physical effort of fighting a battle was a lot different. Perhaps not more difficult, but very different. I mean, compare the wielding of a sarissa with the effort needed to squeeze the trigger of a rifle. I realize this is a difficult question, but that's why I posed it here. Thanks.
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    Member Member Cartaphilus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    There are indeed many differences between the different peoples of the Ancient World.
    We all know about the martial discipline and training of the Roman legionaries, and have some idea about the hellenic armies, but we only could make some guesses about how it would be for other peoples, the sources for them were scarce, and for example I don't know how the Saka or the Sabean armies were trained.

    And don't forget about nutrition, and height, etc.

    We knew that some men in the ancient world can fight in possible equal (or even superior) terms with the "super-heroes" of our time. But it is only a new (and funny) "what if" questioning who could be the winner, the emperor Maximinus Tracius or Chuck Norris (for example).
    Last edited by Cartaphilus; 05-20-2008 at 17:08.
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    Member Member The Wicked's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Well the ancient people were much stronger and durable than modern......
    I remember an experiment that some british (?) scientist made by using paddle athlets on a modern replica of a trieiris, and then they compaire the stats and the speed the athlets made with those of the ancient athenian war trieiris (i don't know were they find the ancient stats) and the results were that the ancient people kicked asses and especially modern asses ....... The ancients were stronger many times over the modern people

    "Alexander came by the statue of his father and spoke loud: `Youths of the Pellaians and of the Macedonians and of the Hellenic Amphictiony and of the Lakedaimonians and of the Corinthians... and of all the Hellenic peoples, join your fellow-soldiers and entrust yourselves to me, so that we can move against the barbarians and liberate ourselves from the Persian bondage, for AS Hellenes WE should not be slaves to barbarians."

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    Member Member Cartaphilus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    But we must not make the mistake of believe that the ancient men were all like Conan the barbarian.
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    Member Member The Wicked's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Hehehe no but they were badasses........

    "Alexander came by the statue of his father and spoke loud: `Youths of the Pellaians and of the Macedonians and of the Hellenic Amphictiony and of the Lakedaimonians and of the Corinthians... and of all the Hellenic peoples, join your fellow-soldiers and entrust yourselves to me, so that we can move against the barbarians and liberate ourselves from the Persian bondage, for AS Hellenes WE should not be slaves to barbarians."

  11. #11

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by The Wicked
    The ancients were stronger many times over the modern people
    Why? Because some rowers beat some others in a expierment which had results for the athernians from somewhere, probebly a biased historical account.

    And why would they be stronger, we are all hommo sapiens surely is depends on who more than when.

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    Vindicative son of a gun Member Jolt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Weren't they like Conan? Oh noes! All the things I ever believed in are no more!

    Anyways, the "Ancient Warrior" style varies greatly. And I have one good example of it (I suppose):

    http://www.livius.org/aj-al/alexande...ander_t74.html
    BLARGH!

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    The Rabbit Nibbler Member Korlon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    They live in an age of constant physical activity. What do we do these days? Sit on couches watching television. Sit on chairs using the computer. Work in offices, in chairs.
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    Member Member The Wicked's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by Korlon
    They live in an age of constant physical activity. What do we do these days? Sit on couches watching television. Sit on chairs using the computer. Work in offices, in chairs.


    Sadly yes...

    "Alexander came by the statue of his father and spoke loud: `Youths of the Pellaians and of the Macedonians and of the Hellenic Amphictiony and of the Lakedaimonians and of the Corinthians... and of all the Hellenic peoples, join your fellow-soldiers and entrust yourselves to me, so that we can move against the barbarians and liberate ourselves from the Persian bondage, for AS Hellenes WE should not be slaves to barbarians."

  15. #15

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Oh dear, someone read the opening post, he refers to soilders, both modern and ancient.

    Anyway, for general population, many people do exercise, but many do not do enough or eat to much.
    However a average roman slave, or similar, or even a poor citezen, faced the threat of starvation, disease, and many other dangers that we do not.

    And a modern day person who exercises regulary and eats well, has the benifits of both time lines.

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    Arrogant Ashigaru Moderator Ludens's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by The Wicked
    Well the ancient people were much stronger and durable than modern......
    I remember an experiment that some british (?) scientist made by using paddle athlets on a modern replica of a trieiris, and then they compaire the stats and the speed the athlets made with those of the ancient athenian war trieiris (i don't know were they find the ancient stats) and the results were that the ancient people kicked asses and especially modern asses ....... The ancients were stronger many times over the modern people
    Are you talking about the Olympias? Because I don't know of any other replica Trireme. IIRC the problem was that the rowers didn't quite fit in the benches. They were too tall. After they selected rowers (and got people who rowed for a hobby or as profesionals) they could get a decent turn of speed.

    That said: you have a point. In those days, most people would have to do back-breaking work for a living, without any of the technological devices we use to lighten it. Nowadays, or at least in the western world, physical excertion is getting so uncommon that it actually begins to be a health problem. Greek noblemen, on the other hand, prided themselves on being gentlemen of leisure, but that did give them plenty of time to shape up in the gymnasium.
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    The Rabbit Nibbler Member Korlon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by alatar
    Oh dear, someone read the opening post, he refers to soilders, both modern and ancient.
    Just trying to defeat your point about the who rather than when.

    Besides, regular soldiers these days have it much easier than soldiers of antiquity. The generals of the day could do much harsher things than we can, all to make the soldiers better. If we do the same things now, expect huge repercussions from the general public.

    Back then, what could soldiers do for fun? There really weren't many options apart from physical activities. I believe the intellectuals were quite strong as well. Today, I hear some soldiers even play video games on their spare time. I don't think they train that much either. Soldiers back in the day did so constantly on the march. Now it's just a couple weeks of learning how to shoot a gun and other such things.

    Heck, the marching aspect would probably have us beat. Now we just use planes and other vehicles to transport soldiers. Oh how great.
    Last edited by Korlon; 05-20-2008 at 18:31.
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    Member Member The Wicked's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by Ludens
    Are you talking about the Olympias? Because I don't know of any other replica Trireme. IIRC the problem was that the rowers didn't quite fit in the benches. They were too tall. After they selected rowers (and got people who rowed for a hobby or as profesionals) they could get a decent turn of speed.

    That said: you have a point. In those days, most people would have to do back-breaking work for a living, without any of the technological devices we use to lighten it. Nowadays, or at least in the western world, physical excertion is getting so uncommon that it actually begins to be a health problem. Greek noblemen, on the other hand, prided themselves on being gentlemen of leisure, but that did give them plenty of time to shape up in the gymnasium.



    Yes the olympias...

    "Alexander came by the statue of his father and spoke loud: `Youths of the Pellaians and of the Macedonians and of the Hellenic Amphictiony and of the Lakedaimonians and of the Corinthians... and of all the Hellenic peoples, join your fellow-soldiers and entrust yourselves to me, so that we can move against the barbarians and liberate ourselves from the Persian bondage, for AS Hellenes WE should not be slaves to barbarians."

  19. #19

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by Korlon
    They live in an age of constant physical activity. What do we do these days? Sit on couches watching television. Sit on chairs using the computer. Work in offices, in chairs.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ludens
    That said: you have a point. In those days, most people would have to do back-breaking work for a living, without any of the technological devices we use to lighten it. Nowadays, or at least in the western world, physical excertion is getting so uncommon that it actually begins to be a health problem. Greek noblemen, on the other hand, prided themselves on being gentlemen of leisure, but that did give them plenty of time to shape up in the gymnasium.
    This is more what I was talking about. Average physical life was far more active in those days. Of course, as with modern life, that depends on country. The West has developed a serious obesity problem which was not a factor in ancient days. However, Western soldiers are generally quite trim, and often do train hard. I recommend any book on the USMC or the Navy SEALs to anyone who thinks otherwise. However, I realize I'm talking about elite forces. Once again, thanks for the comments. I recently started a rigorous system of barbell training myself, so I was curious.
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by Korlon
    Today, I hear some soldiers even play video games on their spare time. I don't think they train that much either. Soldiers back in the day did so constantly on the march. Now it's just a couple weeks of learning how to shoot a gun and other such things.

    Heck, the marching aspect would probably have us beat. Now we just use planes and other vehicles to transport soldiers. Oh how great.
    You haven't done a lot of modern soldiering, have you?

    While we might not do as much back-breaking labor as soldiers in antiquity, we did plenty of on-duty exercising, and are encouraged to do a great deal of PT on our own time (at least in the Marine Corps). Sure, some play video games, but didn't legionaries play dice or something as well? They didn't spend all their time marching or erecting field fortifications.

    I also believe, though do not have the figures handy, that modern combat soldiers carry as much or more than many soldiers did in antiquity. Vehicles are great, and necessary to compete in today's fast-paced battlefield, but ammo is heavy. As are the weapons. Pulling a trigger isn't all a modern soldier does physically. We did our fair share of 20 mile marches while in garrison too. I believe that the physical rigors of modern soldiering are far greater than you might think. I'm not saying we're physically better, but I think we could compete.
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    There are far too many variables, diet, dicipline, toughness and medical care. All in all it probably balances out, more or less. After all, it's not like humanity has progressed at all in the last 2,000 years.
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    The Rabbit Nibbler Member Korlon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by Red_Russian13
    You haven't done a lot of modern soldiering, have you?

    While we might not do as much back-breaking labor as soldiers in antiquity, we did plenty of on-duty exercising, and are encouraged to do a great deal of PT on our own time (at least in the Marine Corps). Sure, some play video games, but didn't legionaries play dice or something as well? They didn't spend all their time marching or erecting field fortifications.

    I also believe, though do not have the figures handy, that modern combat soldiers carry as much or more than many soldiers did in antiquity. Vehicles are great, and necessary to compete in today's fast-paced battlefield, but ammo is heavy. As are the weapons. Pulling a trigger isn't all a modern soldier does physically. We did our fair share of 20 mile marches while in garrison too. I believe that the physical rigors of modern soldiering are far greater than you might think. I'm not saying we're physically better, but I think we could compete.
    Alright, I claim ignorance at this moment. Let's see what other people say...
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  23. #23

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Keep in mind that no human had been recorded as running a 4 minute mile until 1954.
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  24. #24

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    If you took an average grunt of a modern-day army and matched him against an ancient warrior, how would they match up?
    If you mean only physical fitness, how fast and strong soldier is I would bet my money on modern soldier.

    We have better healthcare and we have better diet and thus we can grow larger and stronger then people 2000 years ago. I dont think you would see any 'Conan barbarian' back then. They just didnt eat enough to develop and keep such big muscles (bigger muscles you get the more you have to eat each day ).

    On the other hand average person in ancient times was much more tougher then average person today. They had huge mortality rate compared to current times and this is just natural selection in working, only strongest could survive.
    But while this guys could withstand much tougher weather conditions this doesnt really translate to faster 100m lap.

    Dont assume that when equipment is getting lighten soldiers are carrying less weight. They carry the same weight, they just take more equipment, ammo etc with them.
    Last edited by LorDBulA; 05-21-2008 at 06:45.

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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by Korlon
    They live in an age of constant physical activity. What do we do these days? Sit on couches watching television. Sit on chairs using the computer. Work in offices, in chairs.
    We're supposed to be comparing warriors from the ages, not couch potatoes with ancient warriors.
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  26. #26

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    I have much respect and admiration for soldiers of all ages, and I have a particular respect for Roman soldiers. But as much respect as I have for the "hardness" and "bad-a**-ness" of Roman soldiers, I would have to go with modern soldiers.

    I understand the rigors of life in antiquity, and were this a comparison of average Romans and average Westerners (let me use Americans because this is who I'm most familiar with) I would pick the physical toughness of the ancient over that of the American, because even with advances in nutrition and such, we've become largely sedentary. But this isn't that discussion (which would just turn into a condemnation of modern lifestyles).

    No one can doubt that Roman soldiers were incredibly physically active, for the most part. While at war, they marched everywhere. Erected walled camps daily. Foraged for food when necessary. Combat was physical, and the Roman soldier must have been a pretty tough customer. Today's combat soldiers are the same, but different.

    Gone is the harsh discipline suffered at the hands of centurions. But modern NCOs can be particularly creative with punishments. Take for example, "field days." This means to clean your barracks and surrounding area. Failure to do so properly requires a revisit but with a twist. Now you get to move all the furniture from the room, or in squad bays, from the bays themselves and then meticulously clean the floor, ceilings, walls, and other crevices. Over and over again. Beating you with a cudgel this is not, but it deprives the Marine or soldier what he most craves: free time and smears his pride. It is particularly insulting to unit pride when the other units in your division are getting dressed up to go out and you're in PT gear (uniformed shorts and t-shirt) cleaning your barracks again. Anyway, harshness of discipline does not necessarily equal a physically fit soldier, nor a more motivated soldier. Today's techniques are as motivating, if not more motivating, than being beaten.

    Regarding modern fitness, I would contend that we were incredibly physically fit. In garrison, a Marine would be required to participate in unit PT three times a week. Usually this would revolve around a formation run of varying distance and difficulty. Routinely, we would run 5 miles, but on occasion, we'd stretch it out to 10 or so. Then we'd do pushups and sit ups and pullups and various creative exercises like moving sandbags from one end of an obstacle course to another. Sometimes we'd do the obstacle course a bunch of times, sometimes in uniform, sometimes in certain pieces of combat gear. Twice I served under commanding officers who were avid marathon runners, and we "paid the price" for that. Once, our general got so tired of our poor running skills (easily better than most civilians) that he took off on a three mile dash at a breakneck pace, then belittled us for being outran by a 52 year old, and then made those who dropped out enroll in a little bit of a remedial PT program.

    But promotion in the Marine Corps is tied to a number of things, particularly PT scores. This encouraged Marines to PT off-duty to increase their run times for PT tests, or the number of pullups or situps. Max score on a PT test is 300 (when I was in - got out in 2002). Max run time was three miles in 18 minutes, which netted you 100 points. Max pullups was 20. Max situps were 100 in 2 minutes. Each netted 100 points. I knew guys in my unit that could routinely run the three miles in 16 or so minutes. My personal best was 19.5-ish. I could knock out 100 crunches in 45 seconds (best in the unit) and 16-18 pullups. But I knew a guy who did 30 pullups in cammies and a loaded LBV (load bearing vest). A 285 or above was considered a first class PFT score and to score lower than that was to incur the scorn of your peers and your NCOs. Noone wants to have guys in their unit scoring 2nd or 3rd class PFTs, and to do so regularly is to kill your career.

    For other fun physical events were the ever-enjoyable exercises. By this I don't mean PT. The whole unit would "deploy" and play all the reindeer games associated with that. Loading up your gear (tents, computers, concertina wire, etc, etc, etc...) onto trucks, then marching around a training area for a long time with a full ruck. Sometimes we did march 20 miles. But sometimes it was 12-15. Then we got to set up the whole camp, just like the Romans. But what's worse is in a few hours, the "enemy" would find us, and we'd have to break camp and do it all over again. Once, we did this five times in two days, and 50% of the unit always got screwed out of their rack time because we had to move and they could just stay - they had to move too. We didn't march prolonged distances every day though, that I will concede.

    If you were to attend a joint-school, which would be attended by Army soldiers or Navy sailors or Air Force airmen, you'd best be a good PTer, or you weren't going at all. But woe unto the Marine who got selected to go to a joint-school and was shown up by a member of another service during PT. Don't get me wrong, it happened, but you might never live it down.

    Oh, anecdotally, in Okinawa one couldn't PT on black flag days - days where the heat and humidity was too high. This prevented heat casualties. Soldiers and Marines, all being rather equal in this regard (lazy - likely through the ages as well) hoped for black flag days. Someone might opine that this made Marines pansies or some such thing, because Romans would be training. On the contrary. It just meant that we got up at 0300 to PT rather than 0600; PT was not to be missed. And it meant we worked longer days because no one was getting off work until 1600 no matter the start of the day.

    I admit this is from the perspective of one person and is not indicative of the physical fitness of every serviceman and woman in the US military. Each branch has varying requirements and they all have their "10 percent-ers" who are fat, lazy, bags of sh!t.

    I hope this adds to the argument.

    Edit: I meant to mention the fact that modern logistical systems and advances in keeping quality food edible greatly reduced the risk of degradation of combat effectiveness due to poor nutrition on the battlefield. This must be considered I would think. Modern soldiers are able to maintain high physical fitness for longer periods.
    Last edited by Red_Russian13; 05-20-2008 at 21:14.
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  27. #27
    Member Member Cartaphilus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    I think that the modern soldier has a better physical training and a better "shape".
    But probably the ancient soldiers were tougher, because they had in far worse life conditions. Ancient armies were able to live of the field, plundering and eating what they found. Now this is unthinkable.
    I'm sure that they haven't war stress or similar mental problems as our toy soldiers. From the childhood they were familiarized with death in all its horrible and painful forms. They don't fear the blood and carnage.
    But now only one thousand soldiers die in Irak and a whole country (indeed, all Western countries) is questioning a war. This would be ridiculous for Hannibal or Caesar. They would laugh at our faces and despise us for sure. And they would be right. We are weak and deserve death and extintion. HAHAHA.

    Another basic word to understand how a soldier does his job is motivation. And motivation has different sources: dread, punishment, promises of glory and looting, or of a better life in the underworld, exaltation of nation values, etc.
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  28. #28

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Actually they wouldn't laugh cause we'd just have to show them the destruction of Hiroshima and they'd heel over and die at the power.

    They'd probably understand why we are so restrained; cause unlike them, a lot of nations have the ability to destroy the world.


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  29. #29

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Quote Originally Posted by Cartaphilus
    But probably the ancient soldiers were tougher, because they had in far worse life conditions. Ancient armies were able to live of the field, plundering and eating what they found. Now this is unthinkable.
    I disagree. Modern armies can and will forage for food (though plundering is strongly discouraged by most Western armies), and survival training provides the common soldier with skills necessary to live off the land to varying degrees. Granted, this is not generally needed because logistics have made it so vast numbers of men can be adequately supplied, for the most part.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cartaphilus
    I'm sure that they haven't war stress or similar mental problems as our toy soldiers. From the childhood they were familiarized with death in all its horrible and painful forms. They don't fear the blood and carnage.
    I see your point here, but take issue with it. Combat stress and the damage it causes was not wholly unknown to the ancients. If I recall, this is why commanders had the triarii sit or kneel and why they had space between engaged components of a legion and reserves. Additionally, the sights, sounds, and smells of the modern battlefield would completely psychologically wreck a legionary; that type of warfare would be beyond his imagination. Modern training acknowledges that the modern battlefield is tough mentally and attempts to mitigate this through realistic training. "Shell shock" and PTSD were relatively undiagnosed until WWI, but it is impossible to say that some form of psychological trauma didn't exist for Romans. Surely, they were far more inured to death as it was common, but the human psyche couldn't have changed so drastically to have allowed Romans and Carthaginians to escape fear of blood and carnage. I'm reasonably sure more than one legionary defecated and/or urinated himself, and it's entirely possible that he would have also experienced nightmares or flashbacks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cartaphilus
    But now only one thousand soldiers die in Irak and a whole country (indeed, all Western countries) is questioning a war. This would be ridiculous for Hannibal or Caesar. They would laugh at our faces and despise us for sure. And they would be right. We are weak and deserve death and extintion. HAHAHA.
    With this point, I largely agree (other than the last sentence, which I assume is jest). Were Caesar to have the resources we do, 4,000+ men lost over such a lengthy conflict would not have been disastrous. Although in fairness, the media has assisted in giving us a weaker stomach.
    From Theodotos I.

  30. #30

    Default Re: Physical Fitness: Ancient vs. Modern

    Which modern soldiers : Foreign legion ? French or Italian marine commandos ? US Marines ? green berets ? Swiss citizen-soldiers ? african tribal warriors ?

    Which ancient soldiers : celt or german rank & file ? Soldurii ? Antruscions ? Polybian legionaries ? Hellenistic hoplitai ? sparabaras ?

    Your question is ill asked.

    Let's say, do you want to compare the physical prowess of the modern foreign legion shock assault troops with that of the Makedonian hypaspistai or do you want to compare the average modern soldier to the average ancient soldier ?

    If it's the former, here is your answer : we can't compare. We know what the foreign legion is worth, we don't *know* what the hypaspistai are worth. We just have what the ancients wrote about them.

    If it's the later... well, i never met an averge modern soldier. I don' think such a being exists. And the problem for the ancient one is even worse.

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