Why Should One Study Ancient/Classical Greek And Roman Warfare
Ancient, Classical Greek and Roman warfare should be studied as warfare has always been a common part of life as it has always has been. To understand modern warfare and revolutions in military affairs or even the current political situations, a background in ancient warfare can help explain many factors as the connection is axiomatic in contemporary studies of the history of warfare. Even though, we are supposed to learn from our mistakes in history we do not. Studying the ancient or classical Roman times certainly tells us how selfish and cruel man can be and never learn form history.1 Wars carried out thousands of years are being compared to those carried out in the 20th century, for example, the Korean War was compared to the Peloponnesian War, and the current ‘war on terror’ has revived the study of the Crusades.
So what can we include in the Ancient World? Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylon, Persia, Byzantium and Turkey are certainly included as well as figures like Alexander, Plato, Virgil, Socrates, Aristotle, Caesar, and Homer. Ancient Civilization did not begin in what we think of as the West. It did not start in Paris or Berlin or London or Prague or Brussels or Stockholm. It grew out of the Mediterranean breezes, the sun and desert of Northern Africa, the Persian and West Asian lands. To study Ancient Civilization is to travel – across parts of Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It is a linking voyage, not a reducing trip. It broadens ones mind and gives depictions of peoples, ideas, patterns, developments, organizations and most importantly wars.2
War pervaded the ancient world, from the clash of the great Bronze Age chariot armies in the Near East at its beginning to the battles that marked the dissolution of the western Empire at its end. Even at times of peace the specter of war haunted most- as Plato makes one of the speakers in his Laws say, “What most men call peace is merely an appearance; in reality all cities are by nature in a permanent state of undeclared war against all other cities” (626A). Yet while military narratives and the struggles for power among individuals, cities, and states had long been the stock-in-trade of ancient historians- a practice stretching back to the founders of Western historical tradition, Herodotus and Thucydides- scholars of antiquity had focused rarely and then only selectively on how the experience of war and the needs of military organization affected and were affected b their broader social milieus3. Their understanding also goes back to the roots of Western political theory for example Aristotle.
Classical warfare is vital to study as it removes ignorance about many issues of our world. Studying how empires grew and took over huge regions is all the more vital as the United States has been called the new ‘Colossus’ because of its ever- growing power politicaallly and economically. The power of the Empires that conquered most of what we know of as Europe and ruled it needs to be understood as this is not a new phenomenon, i.e the USA increasing its influence and power. Our ‘civilised’ Western world adopted political strategies, diplomacy, and philosophy from ancient civilisations such as the Roman Empire and is not Western European found.
Even the Pentagon consults Ancient and Classical warfare authors and specialists in conducting its own staregies and warfare. One may think why study such an old era? But there are many incentives to do so. One of them being that problems that consist in modern times more or less consisted in ancient times. We learn from them how they combated such problems and how they did it.
The Roman Empire was one of the greatest military powers the world had ever seen. They conquered a large portion of the civilized world. They did it by using superior weapons and tactics. The success of the Roman Army lies within its structure and organization as this affected all of its activities; the unit’s formation and the individual’s battle and motivation of the soldier. It is the effects of these factors that determined its military performance. Modern armies have adopting the ways of ancient warfare and armies in nearly all aspects- discipline, weaponary, tactics and even the organisation of the army. Ancient and classical warfare from Rome to Greece has given us a lot of knowledge.
And the wonderful range of things to think about? Culture, archaeology, art, music, theater, books and writing, language, philosophy, politics, peace and war, life and living. Psychology, sociology, history, geometry and astronomy and biology, building and architecture and engineering. Economics and geography, women and men and children, farming and town planning, rivers and deserts and mountains, gods and goddesses. Birth and death, magic and mystery, aspiration and despair, palaces and mud huts, the freedom to rule empires, and the chains of everlasting slavery. Poetry, logic, weaponry, sports, courage and cowardice, love and hate, and genius.
There is an average of twenty ongoing wars in the world at any given time. Some are internal civil wars, others are between nations. This includes the evolution of conventional and nuclear warfare, the potential effect of a nuclear war and why it is necessary for nations to fight war.
War is an indispensable part of civilization an is found at every chapter of human history. It is the culmination of the basic survival instinct when provoked. In the early centuries, traditional warfare employed the use of hoplite soldiers and cavalry who met at a scheduled location and fought reciprocally.
Thucydides is a figure whose presence is still felt due to his masterful book on the The Peloponnesian War. From Hobbes to the French Revolution, this book has been influential. During the Victorian era, ancient history, Arnold maintained was in reality “a living picture of things present” and hence ideal reading for statesmen and citizen alike.4 Finally I agree with general G. Marshall who said that he doubted “whether a man can think wit full wisdom and deep convictions regarding certain of the basic international issues of today without reviewing in his mind Thucydides’ ‘The Peloponnesian War’ and the fall of Athens”.5
The literature on ancient and classical warfare is already vast and growing all the time. Scarcely a year goes by without several volumes appearing devoted to some aspect of the Roman military, ranging from the strictly academic to the more popular. We know more about the army than almost any other section of Roman world and Roman society.6 The army played a vital role in Rome’s history. The Roman Empire was conquered held by it. The Republic fell, and the Participate was created, in a series of civil wars made possible by the willingness of professional Roman soldiers to fight each other. Almost all successful Roman statesmen were also soldiers.
The interest shown in the Roman army is understandable in this context. There is also a widespread popular interest in all period’s f military history which has grown up out of all proportion In the Western World since the Second World War. Yet there is a peculiar fascination with the Roman army which goes beyond this interest in warfare. This fixation is based on the institution itself.7 The Roman army, with its clearly organized structure and uniformity of dress, equipment, and tactics, was something apart. No comparable force had ever been seen in Europe, and perhaps the world, before, and nothing like it was seen again for nearly a thousand years after Rome’s fall.8 Throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa the army left tangible signs of its presence in the roads it had built and marched on, the forts and camps it had lived in, and the monumental frontier barriers it had defended, notably the Hadrian’s Wall.9 Our image of the Roman army is one of massive organisation; rigidly discipline might, and, most of all, incredibly modernity.
It is surprising to see the similarities of premodern times and our day in the characters of politicians but there is a deep contrast between premodern times and our own day lies the culture of warfare. Under premodern conditions, it was obvious that war was a rational, if violent, means to attain ends- that was was politics by other means. Everyone was an unwitting Clausewitzian in the ancient and medieval world. If modern times, by contrast, needed a Clausewitz (or Sun Tzu) to explain the point of war, it is not because we moderns are more saintly than our ancestors. Rather, it is a war between capitalist states is self-defeating. The modern way of becoming wealthy, rooted in early modern notions of scientific innovation and technology created the capitalism that began coming into its own in Clausewitz’s day. Modern warfare is unprecendently lethal. Today, warfare is wasteful and expensive, as the cost of killing a human being in modern warfare is reaching astronomical levels even as the world’s population explodes.10
Nowadays, the leading industrial states are, on one hand, divesting themselves of mass citizen armies for lean professional militaries while, on the other, chipping away at their sovereignty by joining international trading leagues in which bankers have as much say as politicians, peacekeeping forces more use than armoured divisions.
Which is not to say that the times of war have passed. As evidence of pre-modern warfare shows, war is likely to continue forever. For one thing, even a high-tech economy depends on natural resources, which remain tempting prizes of war, as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and its oil fields demonstrates. More important, many, if not most people around the world continues to live, as it were, in a pre-modern condition. Left out of the prosperity of globalism, they are indifferent to the tut-tutting of the IMF, and think nothing of going to war against their tribal, religious, or ideological enemies. Rwanda showed us how quickly and efficiently thousands can be killed in a “backward” state. A third point and perhaps the most important is that even prosperous people go to war to maintain their prestige.
The study of pre-modern warfare shows us how much we have progressed and how little, and how much the nature of man-vain, fearful and selfish-remains the same even as his culture transmogrifies. Lastly, as the planets’ population is now measured in billions not millions, the age-old quest to eat for one more day may, even in an era of high technology, returns to haunt us. There is no reason to doubt hungry peoples will fight to take land and food from the weaker.11
It is therefore important to study classical and ancient warfare as it can explain today- but most importantly there is a lot to be learnt form history. From the Athenian times to present, people have proven amazingly willing to die rather than permit the rule of another tribe. It is hard to imagine that changing.
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