The Poster Child for the Western Way of War

Tags

, , ,

Two smiling women sitting in a wooded setting with bolt-action rifles, a man in a suit stands in the background
A rare moment of joy a terrible war from The Five Men of Velish (Velizh near Smolensk) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060022181 Why do WWoW theorists want you to know that partisans and insurgencies and hit and run are not western?

If you know the ancient writers, you must be puzzled why moderns often pronounce that ancient Greek armies were highly skilled and rigorously disciplined. Those writers make it clear that getting high-status Greek men to accept any kind of training and discipline was like getting them to pick a day to have a tooth pulled. Spartans accepted commands and corporal punishment and did a bit of drill, but no ancient writer describes them practising marching or fighting in peacetime. One reason why people say things which are contradicted by so many ancient texts is that they are using the ancient Greeks as an excuse to talk about their own culture, so they project things they love or fear about their own culture on the ancients.

Have a look at this quote from Professor Emeritus, Colonel (retired), Dr. Jonathan House who is talking about how the proud professionals of the German army got themselves spanked by the Red Army.

Germany, in fact, is the poster child for what we like to call the Western Way of War, the idea that a well-trained force can achieve rapid offensive decisive victory by superior discipline, manoeuvre, and equipment. Well, that works part of the time, but if you encounter somebody who is not willing to say he’s defeated, as the Soviets were not, and then you encounter somebody who in addition to that has all this vast terrain, then eventually your plan gets thwarted.

Dr. Jonathan House, “How the Red Army Defeated Germany: The Three Alibis,” 2 May 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zinPbUZUHDE 20:00
Continue reading

New Magazine Articles

Tags

, ,

three issues of Ancient Warfare and Medieval Warfare magazine spread out on a textured linoleum surface

The past year has been what it has been, but I have managed to publish a number of magazine articles on ancient warfare and medieval armour. They have siege engines! Military colonists! Tomb-robbing consuls! Late Babylonia! The ones on battering rams and equipping the king’s men have come out since October.

“The Achaemenid Empire’s Jewish soldiers: Serving the Great King,” Ancient Warfare XIII.5 (2020) pp. 34-37 (for sale from Karwansaray BV)

“The Amathus Bowl, ca. 700 BC: World of mercenaries,” Ancient Warfare XIII.5 (2020) pp. 24-25 (for sale from Karwansaray BV)

“Turning Your Back: The Late Reinvention of Backplates.” Medieval Warfare X.4 (2020) pp. 38-41 (for sale from Karwansaray BV) {backplates which span the whole back reappear in Europe in the 1410s after a thousand years of absence, and were not universal for a century more … why does this important area remain lightly protected?}

“Assyrian Battering Rams: A City-Breaching Buddy System,” Ancient Warfare XIV.3 (2021) pp. 14-19

“Equipping the King’s Men: Documents, Art, and Stories,” Ancient Warfare XIV.4 (2021) pp. 34-39 https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/ancient-warfare-xiv-4.html {if we combine all types of sources, a distinctive new picture of the armies of Darius and Xerxes emerges}

Max Weber vs. Eduard Meyer on Marathon

Tags

, , , , ,

For a long time I have been meaning to find the original citations for the great debate between sociologist Max Weber and historian and orientalist Eduard Meyer about the significance of the first two Persian invasions of Attica (the Athenians didn’t like to talk about the third Persian army and fleet which arrived a hundred years later and was welcomed with open arms). Jona Lendering mentioned it in his article on the significance of Marathon but when he was creating his site he was bullied into leaving out citations by teachers who were worried that their students would crib from it. I finally have the passage: Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 4th edition (Därmstadt, 1965), Bd. IV.2.3 p. 420 http://www.zeno.org/nid/20002751402 Meyer had just noted that Delos and many other sacred sites in Greece seemed to have a working relationship with the Persian kings by the beginning of the fifth century BCE. I will give the original German and then my translation.

Continue reading

Sir Charles Oman Almost Understood

Tags

, , , ,

In print and on this blog I have written a lot about how I think the basic debate in the study of Greek warfare from 1989 to 2013 was about whether we should read Greek writers as giving faithful glimpses at a timeless unchanging practice of warfare, or as class and civic partisans whose stories about the good old days were just as wishful as the ones we hear today. People who like to talk about abstract ideas often link the second approach to words like deconstruction and postmodernism and names like Eric Hobsbawm and Jill Lepore. But they were not the only thoughtful people to realize this, and in October I found some similar thinking in an unexpected place.

Back in 1924, Sir Charles Oman revised his history of warfare in Middle Ages after being introduced to the works of Hans Delbrück. Have a look at his new account of the battle on the Marchfeld between Austro-Hungarian and Bohemian forces in 1278, in one of the chapters which he says he specially reworked in response to the German historian.

Continue reading

Apropos of Nothing

Tags

, ,

Early in the pandemic, British History Online was free to access. And I remember reading an Anglo-Norman proclamation from Edward II or Edward III forbidding anyone whatsoever from bringing any daggers, swords, hatchets, bows and arrows, long knives, aketons, plates, steel caps, or other offensive or defensive arms into sight of the palace at Westminister to disturb the proceedings of Parliament. I wish I could find that again but it was not helpful for the specific topic I was researching.

Edit: see Mart Shearer’s comment below with an English translation of one of these proclamations

2020 Decade-Ender, or, the Isidore Option

Tags

, , , ,

a cloudy sky over distant mountains, closer mountains, a small castle in woods, and grassy farmland
The Brenner Pass, Schloss Ambras, and a crossroads downstream from Innsbruck.

So, it is 2020. It has been an odd year in an odd decade. And while I am tempted to just note who was king and the most exciting thing that happened in the heavens, I want to finish this section of my chronicle. The conjunction of Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter in May was exciting but there are other things to write.

Continue reading

Twelve Early European Fencing Manuals

Tags

, , ,

reprints of four early European fencing manuals on an ironing board covered with a colourful cotton print

Today anyone who wants to can download photos of almost all the European fencing manuals written before the 20th century, and often buy a convenient reprint or translation. But this makes it difficult to get a sense of the genre as a whole. Which manuals should someone who is just getting interested in the subject read first? How can we decide which texts our readers or listeners are likely to know, so that when we mention them it helps them understand? The last academic monograph on the subject, Sydney Anglo’s The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe (2000) is organized by themes so information on any one manual or tradition is scattered across different chapters.

So this week, I would like to give a short list of books which is representative of European fencing manuals before the middle of the 17th century.
Continue reading

Some Thoughts on “Fuzzy Nation”

Tags

, , , ,

Fuzzy Nation (by John Scalzi: Tor, 2011) is a fun quick read of a novel, and I hope it inspires more people to read H. Beam Piper. The author has the good taste to blog and to focus on what he loves about old science fiction not on proclaiming that he is morally and intellectually superior. But I found one difference between the original from 1962 and this book from 2011 revealing about cultural change in the past 50 years.

The Terro-Human Future History is a world where the United States ceases to exist early in the First Century Atomic Era, and human civilization is rebuilt in Latin America, South Africa, and Australasia. In the 7th century Atomic Era people think of the United States about as often as we think of the Timurids or Srivijaya, and the racial prejudices of the First Century Pre-Atomic have been dissolved by the result of seven centuries of intermarriage amongst the survivors. Piper had a romantic sympathy for the Confederate States of America, but he loved giving characters names like Themistocles M’Zangwe. Fuzzy Nation is set in a world where people go to Oxford and Duke, come from North Carolina, and allude to Andrew Jackson and Star Wars.

Both writers create imaginary cultures which have a few of their own culture’s quirks (Piper’s cocktail hours and tobacco smoking, Scalzi’s environmental impact statements and universal surveillance). But one writer assumed that not just the United States but the whole European great power system would vanish just like other mega-states and power systems have in the past, and the other made sure that the reader knows that in the far future Duke is still a place to go to law school and Oxford is a very prestigious university. I find that, as Mr. Spock would put it, fascinating. One novel tells readers that the customs of their tribe are not the laws of nature, and another promises that there’ll always be Chicago.

Fuzzy Nation is avaialble on Bookfinder (hardcover edition). If you enjoy my work, please support this site.

Cross-Post: FS Geibig Erscheint

Tags

, , , ,

In honour of his retirement from Veste Coburg, a Festschrift for arms-and-armour scholar Alfred Geibig has been published.

Contributions in English and ?German? are by Heiko Berger, Raphael Beuing, Dirk H. Breiding, Heiner Grieb, Heinz Huther, Armin König, Arne J. Koets, Stefan Mäder, Jürg A. Meier, Ingo Petri, Christopher Retsch, Mario Scalini, Tobias Schönauer, Jens Sensfelder, Wilfried Tittmann, Heiko P. Wacker, Roland Warzecha, Herbert H. Westphal, Bob Woosnam-Savage and Joachim Zeune.

Hieb- und stichfest – Waffenkunde und Living History. Festschrift für Alfred Geibig (= Jahrbuch der Coburger Landesstiftung, Bd. 63, 2019), Petersberg 2020, ISBN 978-3-7319-1027-5 (488 Seiten, 29,95 €, erscheint 12/2020)

You can order via email here: sgvcoburg@bsv.bayern.de and read the original German announcement here

What Did the Persians Do For Us?

Younger me would have been ever more excited, his David Macaulay books are coming to life! Repairing the piers of the foot bridge downstream from the Hofgarten on the river Inn, Austria in summer 2019.

The Centre for Ancient Cultures in Innsbruck is a glass and steel building full of carefully catalogued books next to a grain field and a car dealership. A block away on one street is a church, a block away along another is a Chinese buffet. Our building and its neighbourhood embody the heritage of the ancient Near East

Most of the crops and animals which fed and clothed Eurasia until the Columbian Exchange were domesticated in the Near East. Many of the trees in our orchards come from the mountains of central Asia through gardens in Iran. Writing has been independently invented at least four times, but it was Near Eastern Semitic-speakers who turned hieroglyphics into the aleph bet gimmel which became our alphabet. And it was people in the fertile crescent in the first centuries CE who turned Near Eastern texts and customs into the largest single family of religions today, and their descendants who kept the Fertile Crescent a place of great religious diversity until the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

Continue reading