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Thread: The horror of ancient warfare

  1. #1

    Default The horror of ancient warfare

    I love ancient warfare. The history, tactics, the campaigns its so ancient, distant, its almost like fantasy. The battles such as Thermopylae, are noble, glorious, maybe even romantic.

    Are there any sources that paint the darker side of ancient warfare? The detail of the heat of battle? The unimaginable violence.

    What it was like to stand in the front line holding your shield tight and bracing for the impact of the charging Celtic enemy. To be at the front of the legion, your shield arm is almost numb, your so exhausted every thrust/ slash of your gladius is agony.

    What it must have been like to thrust your spear into the face of your opposing enemy, step over him and allow the men in the ranks behind you to finish him of, making sure he doesn't get back up.

    To have to hack through a mans desperately raised hands and forearms to deliver the killer head blow.

    To stand in the baking sun after a grueling, grinding battle, you so exhausted your nearly sick, dehydrated, light headed, covered in blood only to raise your aching head to see fresh enemy troops formed up and heading to your position.

    Is there any sources that identify the psychological impact that battle/war must have had on some soldiers?

  2. #2
    Guest desert's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Don't forget the smell of feces. Lots and lots of feces.

    TBH, that's the one thing I hate about ancient warfare. All the dead men with feces in their underwear and around their abdominal wounds. Smells really bad.
    Last edited by desert; 01-08-2009 at 01:00.

  3. #3
    Peerless Senior Member johnhughthom's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    I always think that loading screen of the Ptolemy guys finishing off the Seleukid guys really brings home the brutality that must have been ancient warfare.

  4. #4

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    I always think that loading screen of the Ptolemy guys finishing off the Seleukid guys really brings home the brutality that must have been ancient warfare.
    Same here....

    I think its a gripping piece of artwork. I'd love to see another showing a similar scene.

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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Quote Originally Posted by desert View Post
    Don't forget the smell of feces. Lots and lots of feces.
    That can be said about history in general because until very recently, you have animals pooping in the street, people pooping in the street, and people pooping else where and dumping it in the street.
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    Member Member Shylence's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    I think in the past people may have been slighty more desensitised,if thats how its spelt, to the violence Life was harsh and maybe it was just accepted.

    There were no lovely little (actully crap) Disney films to give to your children to make them learn how it all ends happliy ever after.
    As I walked through the Glenshane Pass I heard a young girl mourn
    The boy form Tamlaghtduff 'she cried 'is two years dead and gone'
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    Oh I'll never see the likes again of my young Francis Hughes ....

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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Quote Originally Posted by Conan View Post
    Same here....

    I think its a gripping piece of artwork. I'd love to see another showing a similar scene.



    On the other hand, bloody people we are. So much for people who would probably shit in their pants upon seeing a decapitation... But hey, at least I hated 300.

  8. #8
    EB:NOM Triumvir Member gamegeek2's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Yeah, I never watched the movie - total insult to what actually happened, and it seriously misinformed people - I had to give some talks to my friends about the crap that 300 threw at our minds.

    I also watched the History Channel documentary on Thermopylae, which is possibly the most historically accurate documentary on an ancient battle ever. See here - an amazing work that can appeal to both history buffs and "normal" people.
    Last edited by gamegeek2; 01-08-2009 at 02:06.
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    Guest desert's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Hmm, so you were talking about that documentary. Yep, I saw it a year or two ago. I liked all the stuff they had about Themistocles.

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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    I don't understand the hatred toward 300, at least people know what the Battle of Thermopylae (my browser spell check doesn't even recognize the word) is. Any attempt to find out more about it, will quickly reveal any glaring inaccuracies the movie has.
    Last edited by a completely inoffensive name; 01-08-2009 at 02:17.
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    Useless Member Member Fixiwee's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Quote Originally Posted by johnhughthom View Post
    I always think that loading screen of the Ptolemy guys finishing off the Seleukid guys really brings home the brutality that must have been ancient warfare.
    But have you noticed the guy in the back giving the other dude a massage? Take a close look, they are having a good time.

  12. #12

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Roman soldiers, and pretty much anyone capable of holding a tight and disciplined formation rotated often, so whenever they could the front ranks would give room to the fresher men in the rear ones and so on.

    Celtic warfare was very much reliant on charges. First a devastating attack swept on the enemy lines with the intent of quickly breaking a foe, and if that didn't happen maybe some prolongued fighting would ensue but there was a good chance that the least disciplined among the Celtic host would cause a chain rout. So the sight of fresh troops while you're exhausted and bloody is perhaps exaggerated and only happened when the enemy vastly outnumbered you.

    Yet there was a lot of room for other kinds of brutality, and the familiar stench of death. Maggot therapy was actually used due to the fact that American Civil War veterans would lie wounded on the field for days, causing maggots that eventually came or appeared to eat their necrosis and ironically heal them if they survived; in fact being hurt and not being able to walk was practically a death sentence due to disease and the likes.
    Last edited by A Terribly Harmful Name; 01-08-2009 at 02:27.

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    Legatus Member Tiberius Claudius Marcellus's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Quote Originally Posted by Conan View Post
    Is there any sources that identify the psychological impact that battle/war must have had on some soldiers?
    Take this as you will; but in the Old Testament of the Bible when Joshua and Moses were leading the Israelites into Canaan from Egypt, I believe it was decreed that all warriors had to stay outside the camp for 7 days as they were "ritually impure." I've read that modern sociologists believe this was more as a way to ensure that the men got most of their emotions/rage back in check before they returned amongst the unarmed populace.


    As a USMC M1A1 tank crewman and veteran of the 2nd Battle of Fallujah (Nov 2004) I'll tell you that killing a person is entirely life-altering (unless, presumably you're a psychopath).

    Seeing someone die is a change in itself. Imagine, if you can, a person - a mother/brother/father/son/sister/uncle/aunt/cousin/child (all of the above?) to someone else being alive, walking, talking, breathing, laughing, crying one instant, and then BAM a lifeless rag doll falling/tumbling whichever way gravity/inertia take them. It's unsettling in the least, and not even comparable to seeing an animal die.

    Now, imagine being the cause of that. Imagine that no matter what this person was doing to you or to others, he did have some good, redeemable virtues to him. He did take care of his family and friends. He was once a little tiny baby that made his parents hearts swell with joy at every coo and gurgle. He made some woman's heart flutter. He helped an old woman cross the street. That person, whatever combination of good/evil he was, is irreplaceably gone now and there's nothing you or anyone can do to take it back.

    I've seen people turn into the proverbial pink mist. I've seen an RPG go through a man's chest and leave a hole and like in the cartoons where he looked down and all his guts fell out, still alive as he hit the ground. I've looked into the eyes of a teenager who ran weapons in a vehicle past our blockade as I shot him in the throat (only because the round dropped over distance.)

    I would have to say that fighting in hand to hand combat would be the most frightening experience ever. I was lucky to be surrounded by 72 tons of depleted uranium and steel, and part of the greatest fighting force in history. True, as humans we have adrenaline, some have cultural expectations/acceptance of violence, and there is such a thing as going into a blood rage/seeing red/blacking out to the point where your body simply acts to survive without your mind comprehending what's going on; but still, you'd have to be pretty bad ass to go on doing this for years and years. Even though you dehumanize your enemy and it does get easier after the first one (hell, sometimes its like fish in a barrel and you and your buddies laugh your asses off as you see the enemy getting blown to pieces or gunned down like ducks in a carnival game) I'm sure there was a ton of moral justification going on in the hearts/minds of ancient warriors.

    Think about it and theorize all you want, I admit I still love playing this game and can imagine being in place in the battles; but it's a lot different in real life.
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Quote Originally Posted by Shylence View Post
    I think in the past people may have been slighty more desensitised,if thats how its spelt, to the violence Life was harsh and maybe it was just accepted.
    It would be more accurate, from an anthropological perspective, to say that we in the more industrialised nations have been sensitised to violence. Notice how brutally violent children (mostly boys, but girls also) try to be in their awkward, chubby little bodies. They have to be taught non-violence and co-operation, yet smacking someone and taking their stuff is totally natural.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shylence View Post
    There were no lovely little (actully crap) Disney films to give to your children to make them learn how it all ends happliy ever after.
    Too true. One need simply look at the original Brothers Grimm tales for that.

    Quote Originally Posted by a completely inoffensive name View Post
    I don't understand the hatred toward 300, at least people know what the Battle of Thermopylae (my browser spell check doesn't even recognize the word) is. Any attempt to find out more about it, will quickly reveal any glaring inaccuracies the movie has.
    If the ephors scene doesn't smack someone with the clue-by-four, nothing will.

    With the near-universal glorification of soldiery (if not warfare) in ancient times, I doubt you'd find many willing or able to speak negatively of it. Even the famous multiculturalist Megas Alexandros seemed to have no issues with battle itself.

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    Member Member Dutchhoplite's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Thucidydes comes to mind.
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  16. #16

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    for a realistic, though fictional, portrayal of ancient warfare, i recomend you check out the 'tides of war', by steven pressfield. it describes some very intense scenes of hoplite warfare. a must read for any EB fan.

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    Member Member geala's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    A book which deals a bit with the ferocity of an ancient war is "A War like no other" by Hanson about the Peloponesian War between Athens and Sparta and allies.

    Reading ancient sources one gets an impression of the inhumanity and cruelty of thinking of some old societies. For example in the Bible (e.g. Samuel) or in "De bello Gallico" from Caesar you find pretty examples for genocide, calmly reported with no sign of bad conscience. Genocide is of course not at all out of mode, but in modern times mostly tried to be concealed. A big progress in morality.

    Ancient battle descriptions are often a bit "low intensive", f.e. Xenophon. Thoukidides is a bit tougher but not as gory one might expect. The "Ilias" contains a lot about weapon against body and gives a vivid image of the merciless slaughter of bronze age battles. The book of Barry Strauss (don't know the English title, The Trojan War?) is a good research how the war could have been fought and how the fighters felt.

    If you would like to know something about weapons and wounds, ancient and medieval findings could offer at least some impressions. Think about the bone findings at Maiden Castle with skulls that bore several marks of sword slashes against presumably already wounded and fallen victims. Same with the Wisby findings of the battle of 1361 or that of Towton 1461, where mass graves were detected.

    That some cultural differences existed in the conception and adaption to the kind of war and its results you can see from the allegedly appalled reactions of the Greeks when they faced the sword wounds of their warriors hacked and stabbed to death in fights with the Romans. Such wounds seamed to be not the norm in Greek warfare before (because of the manner and technique of fighting).
    Last edited by geala; 01-08-2009 at 13:41.
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    Member Member Phalanx300's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Quote Originally Posted by a completely inoffensive name View Post
    I don't understand the hatred toward 300, at least people know what the Battle of Thermopylae (my browser spell check doesn't even recognize the word) is. Any attempt to find out more about it, will quickly reveal any glaring inaccuracies the movie has.
    Me neither, if anything it will interest people in history even more. Also, people will know at Thermopylae's existance, the existance of Sparta. A very vague picture, but better then those who know nothing.



    This movie was based on a comic book, made to entertain people. I really liked the movie, spoiling it because it isn't Historical is not worth it. You might as well discard all movies then.

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    Friend of Lady Luck Member Mooks's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Wouldnt be suprised if alot of ancient warriors were complete psycopaths by the time they were done. And also wouldnt be suprised if they met the warriors of today and called them pansys for being so concerned about killing people from a distance.
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  20. #20

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Actually they would most likely turn and run, or stand on their knees and cry and the sound and sight of our modern guns. Other than that given the fact that the modern professional soldier is very well trained and far better fed than even some ancient elites, they would probably stare at us, call us giants and weaken their resolve merely with it.

  21. #21

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Quote Originally Posted by Conan View Post
    Are there any sources that paint the darker side of ancient warfare? The detail of the heat of battle? The unimaginable violence.
    There are not many. Archilochus comes to mind. He didn't really write about the darker side of war, but his poetry sometimes mocked the supposed heroism of falling in battle (he was kicked out of Sparta for writing such poetry).

    Also, as time went on in the ancient world, violence and gore seemed to be stressed more. An interesting example is the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Unlike Trajan's, which had the Roman soldiers acting heroic, building fortresses and bridges and easily defeating the barbarians, Marcus Aurelius' shows prisoners and civilians getting executed, women and children being enslaved, heads getting chopped off, even Roman soldiers losing (yet luckily getting saved by a storm). I would say around this time, with the Golden Age of Rome waning and the barbarians closing in, warfare was seen and depicted in a much grittier and violent way.

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    "Technocrat Politician" Member C.LVCIANVS's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    To Salute Calvus Stolo.

    Mooks & Basileos: you got right both. See the impact of warfares on different cultures; spanish conquistadores vs pre-colombian americans, modern european vs stone age. Both were terrified by the counterparts: firearms, steel, horses panicked the natives; human sacrifices, cannibalism, ferocity & pagan rituals makes tremble the spaniards. WAR is an human invention; DEATH is in Nature.

    So that comes the Question: WHO is a psycopath?

    Answer: Me. Or better: Everyone doesn't understand this concept.

    Take it only as a fool's opinion.
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  23. #23

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Psychological pressure is one very interesting subject. Battles fought in melee were definitely not a nice place to be. But I read in some memoirs (sp?) that from at least US civil war the most devastating to psychic were not the actual melee, but rather artillery and later machine gun fire. It reached peak during I world war, with trench warfare, when terror never ended, as artillery was constant threat, just like stupid charges against MG's. On the other hand warfare in ancient times was a lot of marching and camping and only few battles, when the winning side soldiers often haven't seen any fighting. Only 1-2 first rows out of 6 (roman) - 32 (deepest hellenistic) were affected by the actual combat if the battle went well.

    Losses were also very small - 1 to 10% for the winner and to 20% for looser. I was shocked when I found out that in the Napoleonic period losses for the winner could be as high as 50%! And differences between winner and looser losses were often rather small.

    Good info can be found researching amount of volunteers to Roman army in II c BC. For example wars in Spain or in Liguria were extremely unpopular, while finding people to fight in Greece or for III Punic War was not a problem. Hard fighting in poor, mountainous terrain was not fun while rich lands, with consolidated rule that would be broken after 1-2 battles received flood of happy recruits.

    Edit: What's more, piercing or cutting wounds from ancient battles were much easier to heal than large calibre musket and rifle bullet, not to mention artillery or mine wounds. Greek surgeons were also very good.
    Last edited by O'ETAIPOS; 01-08-2009 at 21:19.

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  24. #24
    Legatus Member Tiberius Claudius Marcellus's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Quote Originally Posted by C.LVCIANVS View Post
    To Salute Calvus Stolo.
    Ave!
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    Rampant psychopath Member Olaf Blackeyes's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    Honestly the ancients would shit themselves at the sight of modern warfare, for many of the above mentioned reasons. They would also probably look at us like demons or some other monsters. I mean the ways that mordern men can kill each other are 50 times as horrific as what the ancients had access to. War for the ancients was many days of marching puntuated by minutes of terrors in battles that probably lsted a day or two at the MOST, while modern warfare is that your have nothing but death and carnage all over the place, you are never safe, wounds are far more invasive, infective and impossible to heal and if things get REALLY crazy we start launching world-ending weaps at each other. I mean seriously if you were an ancient dude and you got flung into teh future by some time portal or whatever and you saw how we fight youd probably go insane and have to be locked up in a mental hospital.

    EDIT: A Salute to Caluvs Stolo. Many thanks for fighting so i dont gotta get killed by lunatic terrorists or whatever. I mean the War in Iraq is stupid in my mind and you guys could be used a lot better in Afganistan or other places, but i respect you for fight for our freedoms and the freedoms of all of humanity (even though we dont deserve it) so many thanks!
    Last edited by Olaf Blackeyes; 01-08-2009 at 21:55.

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  26. #26

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    @ Calvus Stolo

    Since you were wondering about the importance of morals in ancient warfare, I have an interesting article for you. It's more from a culturological point of view, but can still answer your question. I just hope you have some sort of access to read this article.

    Runciman, W.G. 1998. Greek Hoplites, Warrior Culture, and Indirect Bias. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. December 1998, Volume 4: 731-751

  27. #27

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    The Battle of Avarair
    To quote Yeghisheh,

    "Both sides being thus prepared and seized with a mighty rage and burnt with a wild fury, rushed against each p150other. The loud cry on both sides sounded like the clash of clouds, and the thundering sound of the noises rocked the caverns of the mountains.

    "The countless helmets and the shining armor of the warriors glowed like the rays of the sun. The flashing thousands of swords and the swaying of innumerable spears seemed like an awful fire being poured down from heaven.

    "But who can describe the tremendous tumult caused by these frightful noises -- the clangor of the shields and the snapping of the bow strings -- which deafened everyone alike?

    "One should have seen the turmoil of the great crisis and the immeasurable confusion on both sides, as they clashed with each other in reckless fury. The dull-minded became frenzied; the cowards deserted the field; the brave dashed forward courageously, and the valiant roared. In a solid mass the great multitude held the river; and the Persian troops sensing the danger, became restless in their places; but the Armenian cavalry crossed the river and fell upon them with a mighty force. They attacked each other fiercely and many on both sides fell wounded on the field, rolling in agony.

  28. #28

    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    There was a very good description of the aftermath of the battle of Arausio (spelling?) in Colleen McCullough's First Man in Rome, which is the first in an EXCELLENT series of late republic historical fiction. Basically, it sucked. The lack of water killed some that might've survived.

  29. #29
    Member Member KozaK13's Avatar
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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    I can't remember where is saw it, but it was a skull with basically the face missing after an axe or pick blow. Though i think it was to do with medieval combat, im sure a man screaming, missing half his face would have been a common sight in ancient battles.
    Wounds would probably be different for diffferent combatants. Like lots of decapitations and dismemberments in celtic warfare considering thier penchant for slashing with long swords. Lots of stab woulds in roman warfare and then probably some nasty wounds to the throat, face and joints in hoplite warfare.

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    Default Re: The horror of ancient warfare

    I think ancient battles had their fair share of terror. For one thing sleeping in a fortified camp that might be set alight at night is no picnic. At the same time the ancients had their share of horrific experiences, imagine marching into an arrow storm, or watch a ball of slate from a Roman ballista slam into the ground and everyone get cut to shreds. Also, if you got cut you had about an even chance of survival if the wound was not a bad one.
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