(p. xxix) Preface
(p. xxix) Preface
“War is the father of all things,” once wrote the philosopher Heraclitus (G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield. The presocratic philosophers2 [Cambridge, 1983], 193 = fr. 212), a sentiment echoed in Thucydides’ bitter reflection on the horrors of the Peloponnesian War: war is a “violent teacher” (3.82.2). The Romans knew this too, seen most clearly perhaps in a famous Tacitean appraisal of the Roman way of war: “they make a desert and call it peace” (Agr. 30.6), a reality demonstrated in archaeological finds uncovered in 1939 at Maiden Castle in Britain and in Spanish Valencia in 1995 (see further James, 110–11).
War and organized violence lay at the heart of much of life in the classical world. Whether between tribes or states, internal or civil, or wars waged to suppress rebellions, war was a very personal experience and battles were resolved by face-to-face encounters, violent and bloody for the participants. Nevertheless, warfare and its conduct took a wider relevance far beyond the battlefield. War often had significant economic, social, or political consequences. Battle casualties could have devastating demographic impact. The small Greek city-state or polis of Thespiae remained just that, small, after two great battles, Thermopylae (480) and Delium (424) left hundreds of its elite citizens dead. Yet war also brought power through the riches acquired and glory for those who survived. The conduct of war and military service could have, in a sense, positive demographic effects, as in Rome where entering the army could open the doors to upward social mobility. As the Roman community spread through the Mediterranean world, the army and service in it became an instrument of change: Roman citizenship acquired through military service resulted in extensive veteran settlements that encouraged and accelerated the process of Romanization.
Western literature begins with a story of two peoples—Greeks and Trojans—fighting over the life or death of a city. Homer and his story of men at war inspires the later writings of the Greeks, Herodotus and Thucydides, so shaping the writing of history into the modern era, no less than it influenced Virgil’s Aeneid. As states and communities grew in sophistication in both the Greek and Roman worlds, new and specialist books explored the making of war and related military practices and the stratagems of famous commanders came to be written.
Our contributors offer not only base narratives of these developments, but also vigorous interpretations surrounding the practice of war in classical Greece and Rome: readers should expect divergent views as the evidence is often incomplete and far from clear. Therefore the editors have not set out to impose a rigid (p. xxx) uniformity upon contributors or to produce an accepted view of warfare in the classical world. Instead we have tried to gather a significant variety of approaches and ideas and have aimed to accommodate traditional narrative presentation with innovative thematic chapters.
The volume’s introduction begins with the ancient sources for the writing of war, preceded by two broad surveys of ancient Greece and Rome. Yet the study of war in the ancient world has not remained static. Archaeology has yielded many new insights. A better understanding of the feared Roman sword, the gladius Hispaniensis, for example, explains the success of the legion, making clear too the ferocity of battle. Other examples of battlefield archaeology, as seen in the gruesome finds of late antique Roman and Persian siege tunnels, also sheds light on the conduct of ancient war. No less critical is an understanding of how the land, geography, and even animals affected the ancient practice of war, and a discussion of the environment concludes this preliminary narrative.
This prepares the reader for the second part of the Handbook, broad narratives of Greek and Roman societies at war. Older nineteenth-century handbooks studying war in the ancient world, those of H. Delbrück and H. Droysen, for example, focused on grand strategy and the movements of armies, paying little attention to the underlying structures of society. In the twentieth century military studies began moving away from this limited focus and this continues here: the nature and development of Greek hoplite warfare and its alleged connection with political and social developments; the gradual decline of the Successors of Alexander which witnessed the eclipse of the heavy cavalry that swept Philip and Alexander to victory and an ever more rigid phalanx that the Roman legion would consistently outmaneuver. Discussions include veterans and their life experiences after war, how wars were financed, and the role of slaves in war. Rome’s early history witnessed the consequences of military activity and state organization, while important developments in the military practices of the Republic accelerated with the age of Augustus and the Roman Empire.
The volume’s third part comprises thematic discussions that examine closely the nature of battle: what soldiers experienced as they stood, fought, and often died; how the wounded and sick were treated; the rearing and training of horses for war; the recruitment and life of the mercenary soldier. Treatment of military institutions and structures also appear here: discipline, intelligence gathering, the art of command, as well as examination of the rituals of war, including justice, and how these were conducted and perceived in the Greek and Roman worlds. Warfare in the classical world introduced Greeks and Romans to “Others” beyond their frontiers with whom they often clashed: the Persians remained the great threat to the Greek world until Alexander’s conquests destroyed their power; the movements of Germanic and Danubian peoples were to eventually overthrow the western Roman Empire; and Sasanid Persia was simply a more acute threat to Rome than the Parthian kingdom had ever been. So key is this later issue that two discussions of Rome’s eastern frontier are offered, the first detailing Iranian military institutions and society, which prepares the second (in the concluding section), a (p. xxxi) discussion of the exhausting slugging match between Rome and Persia, a struggle that opened the way to the Arabic invasions that ended the ancient world in the East. The discussions here are more technical in the sense that narratives of battles and wars generally do not appear. Instead, contributors have concentrated on specific issues relating to the nature of war and its consequences for those involved.
Finally, the concluding section offers exemplary test cases of Greeks and Romans at war. These discussions range from the failed Athenian expedition to Sicily, perhaps the greatest military operation and disaster in the classical Greek world, to the evolution of siege warfare that accompanied the Peloponnesian War and which became such a feature of Greek and Roman warfare afterward. No less critical was the leadership of the Theban Epaminondas who broke generations of Spartan power in an afternoon at Leuctra, or that of Demetrius the “Besieger,” so well known in the ancient world as the archetype of a military leader. Finally, and really in no need of defense, is an analysis of the Second Punic War, the “Hannibalic War,” that made Rome a world power the likes of which had not been seen before. These case studies provide detailed analyses while demonstrating at the same time their respective periods. Extensive background material will not be found in these discussions as introductory narratives will have already provided this.
In the concluding Epilogue, classicist Tom Palaima reveals that Plato’s oft-cited verdict that “only the dead have seen the end of war” is actually that of George Santayana on weary but ebullient war veterans at Oxford in 1922. Greeks and Romans regarded war with awe and dread, believing that war should give way to peace (Cic. Off. 1.23) and were only too happy to jump with joy when it came (Ar. Pax 538–40). In brief, an attempt to understand these contending responses to the beast called War lies behind this study of warfare in the classical world.
L. A. Tritle
Belfast and Los Angeles, March 2012 (p. xxxii)