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Theodore Ayrault Dodg
A history of the origin and growth of the art of war from the earliest times to the battle of Ipsus, B.C. 301, with a detailed account of the campaigns of the Great Macedonian
Copyright © Theodore Ayrault Dodg
Arcadia Press 2017
The basis of this history is the Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian of Nicomedia, who lived in the second century of our era. Arrian was surnamed in Athens the Younger Xenophon, because he occupied the same relation to Epictetus which Xenophon did to Socrates. This historian is by far the most reliable, plain and exact of all those who have told us of the great Macedonian. Arrian, though a Greek, was long in the service of the Roman state, having fallen into the good graces of the Emperor Hadrian, whom he accompanied to Rome, and who later appointed him prefect of Cappadocia. Under Antoninus Pius, Arrian rose to the supreme dignity of consul. He wrote several philosophical and historical treatises, among them an account of his own campaign against the Alani. Arrian was himself a distinguished soldier, and it is this which enables him to make all military situations so clear to us. Of the fifteen works which we know he wrote, the Anabasis is the most valuable.
Arrian had in his hands the histories of Ptolemy, son of Lagus, one of Alexander’s most distinguished officers, later king of Egypt, and of Aristobulus, a minor officer of Alexander’s. He also used the works of Eratosthenes, Megasthenes, Nearchus, Alexander’s famous admiral, Aristus, and Asclepiades, as well as had access to all which had been written before him, a large part of which he rejected in favor of the testimony of those who served under Alexander in person. He quotes from the king’s own letters, and from the diary of Eumenes, his secretary, which he appears to have had at hand.
Next to Arrian’s history comes that of Quintus Curtius, who wrote in the first century. Of ten books, the eight last are extant. This work is far behind Arrian’s in credibility. Curtius is somewhat of a romancer, though he gives local color, and occasionally supplies a fact missing in Arrian. But he is neither clear nor consistent. He draws his facts largely from Clitarchus, a contemporary of Alexander.
Plutarch (50 to 130 A.D.) is always interesting, and his short life of Alexander is just and helpful. Many stray facts can be gleaned in the other Lives.
Diodorus Siculus, a contemporary of Caesar and Augustus, in his Historical Library, gives us many items of worth. Out of his forty books, only fifteen have survived. Diodorus is suggestive, but must be construed in the light of other works.
Justinus, a Roman historian who lived in the second or third century A.D., wrote a History of Macedonia. This ranks with Diodorus in usefulness. The chapters relating to Philip and Alexander supply some gaps, and give an occasional glimpse into the character of these monarchs, lacking elsewhere. But one cannot rely on Justin unsupported.
Strabo’s Geography (first century) contains material which ekes out what we glean elsewhere, and there are in many of the old authors — Dionysius, Livy, Josephus, Frontinus, Ammian, and others — frequent references to Alexander which can be drawn from. Vegetius’ De re militari is somewhat mixed, but very valuable. Onosander’s Strategos can be put to use in explaining tactical maneuvers.
Polybius, one of the most valuable of all our ancient sources of information, military and political, in his Universal History, strays off to Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt, and we find some material in his pages. He lived in the third century.
There were numberless historians of Alexander. Very few have survived. Rafael Volteran quotes Clitarchus, Polycrates, Onesicritus, Antigenes Istrus, Aristobulus, Chares, Hecataeus Eritreus, Philip the Chalcidian, Duris the Samian, Ptolemy, Anticlides, Philo the Theban, Philip, Ilisangelus, Antisthenes, Meneehmus the Sicyonian, Nymphis of Ileraclea, Potamon the Mitylenaan, Sotericus Arsites, Arrian, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius. Plutarch quotes most of the above, and Callisthenes, Eratosthenes, Polyclitus, Hermippus, and Sotion, beside. Most of these authors did not long survive their own era; but they were known to those whose works have remained to us, and were by them accepted or rejected, according to the credibility of each. It may be claimed that Arrian furnishes us the main body of all histories of Alexander. Other sources are, as it were, appendices. And this, because the trained military mind of Arrian enabled him to distinguish clearly between what was valuable and consistent, and what was manifestly incredible or unimportant.
The early chapters, about the military art preceding Philip, come mainly from Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon. Cornelius Nepos draws a clever character, and we all know what a fund of riches Plutarch lays before us, available for all purposes, if not always exact.
So much for the facts. But the ancient authors rarely give more than just the bald facts in dealing with military matters. They tell us where Alexander went and what he did, with sketches of character and interesting incidents; but they furnish no clue to the special why and wherefore which the soldier likes to know; or if a clue, quite frequently a wrong one. What to us is clear, because the art which Alexander created has since been expanded by the deeds of the other great captains and elucidated by their commentators, was, even to Arrian, a sealed book. Arrian did not understand what Alexander did as Jomini would have understood it; for it needed the remarkable campaigns of a Frederick and a Napoleon to enable Jomini to compass the inner meaning of the art of war. This meaning we must seek in modern military criticism.
There is by no means a perfect sequence to the origin and growth of the art of war. Its continuity has been interrupted by periods of many centuries. But as all great soldiers have acknowledged their indebtedness to their predecessors, though they themselves have been able to improve upon the art, so it is interesting and instructive to study what these predecessors did, and see from what small beginnings and through how many fluctuations the art has grown to its present perfect state.
There have been many lives of Alexander written in modern times, some within this generation. Much of the best of military criticism has been devoted to this subject. It is hard to say anything about Alexander that some one may not already have said. But a good deal contained in this volume in the way of comment is new, and the author does not know of a life of Alexander, which, by the use of such charts and maps as abound in the histories of our own Civil War, makes the perusal of his great conquests an easy task. The military student is willing to devote his days to research; he should not rely on others; the general reader has no leisure for such work. He has a right to demand that his way should be made plain. The author has tried to do just this, while not neglecting the requirements of those who wish to dwell upon the military aspect of Alexander’s campaigns.
There is no mystery about the methods of great captains. A hundred years ago there was; but Jomini and his followers have brushed away the cobwebs from the secret and laid it bare. The technical details relating to war are intricate and difficult, nor are they of interest to the general reader. They take many years to learn. No officer, who drops for an instant his studies, can save himself from falling behind his fellows. Especially is this true to-day. This, however, relates chiefly to the minutiae of the profession. The higher the art of the soldier goes, the simpler it is, because it becomes part of his own individuality; but the captain must first have mastered every detail of the profession by the hardest of work. He must be familiar with the capacities and limitations of every arm of the service, and be able to judge accurately what ground each needs for its march, its maneuvers, and its fire. He must be so apt a business man as never to fail in providing for his troops, however fast he moves or however far from his base. He must be an engineer of the first class. Almost all great generals have been able to drill a company, or serve a gun, or throw up a breastwork, or conduct a reconnoissance better than most of their subordinates. Intimate knowledge of detail is of the essence. Ad astra per aspera.
Having reached the top, the captain’s work is less intricate in one sense. Nothing is more beautifully simple than the leading features of the best campaign of Napoleon. We may all understand them. But to few, indeed, has the power ever been given to conceive and execute such a masterpiece. A bare half-dozen men in the world’s history stand in the highest group of captains. The larger operations of war are in themselves plain, but they are founded on complicated detail. War on the map, or strategy, appears to us, in the event, easy enough; but to conceive and develop, and then move an army in pursuance of, a strategic plan requires the deepest knowledge of all arts and sciences applicable to war, and such exertion, mental, moral and physical, as is known to no one but the commander of a great army in time of war. The simple rests upon the difficult. What is treated of in this book is not, as a rule, the minutiae, but the larger operations, though details have sometimes to be dwelt on for their historical value. What is difficult to do may be easy to narrate.
There is no pretense to make this a military text-book. It contains nothing but what the professional soldier already knows. A military text-book is practically useless to the general reader. Even Jomini acknowledged that he could not make his books interesting except to professionals; and there are now enough good text-books accessible to those who wish to study the technical side of war. But it is hoped that the presentation may commend itself to those military men whose studies in their peculiar branch of the profession have led them in other directions, and who may wish to refresh their knowledge of Alexander’s campaigns, even if they do not agree with all the conclusions reached.
It is assumed by some excellent military critics that there are no lessons to be learned from antiquity. This was not what Frederick and Napoleon thought or said. It is certainly difficult to develop a text-book of the modern science from ancient campaigns alone; illustrations and parallelisms must for the most part be sought in the campaigns of the last three centuries. But it will not do to forget that Frederick’s victory at Leuthen was directly due to his knowledge of Epaminondas’ maneuver at Leuctra, or that the passage of the Hydaspes has been the model for the crossing of rivers in the face of the enemy ever since. All gain is bred of the successes and failures of our predecessors in the art; it is well to know what these were. While all the principles of the modern science of war are not shown in the old campaigns, because the different conditions did not call for their development, as well as because history is full of gaps, the underlying ones certainly are; and these can be best understood by tracing them from their origin. It is believed that when the series of volumes, of which this is the first, shall have reached our own times, the entire body of the art of war will have been well covered. This volume can include but a small part of it.
This is not a political history. If any errors in the description of the intricate political conditions of Alexander’s age have crept in, the author begs that they may be pardoned as not properly within the scope of the work. Time has been devoted to maneuvers and battles; politics has been treated as a side issue.
Individual prowess was a large part of ancient war. In Homeric times it was especially prominent. A narrative of Alexander is apt to abound in instances of his personal courage rather than of his moral or intellectual force. The former seemed to appeal more strongly to the ancients. The old historians deal almost exclusively in details of this kind, and in following them, one is instinctively led into giving much prominence to acts of individual gallantry. In olden days troops had to be led, and the commander-in-chief was called on to give a daily example of his bravery. Troops are now moved. Brisrades are mere blocks. While he needs courage as much as ever, the commander should avoid exposure to unnecessary risk. His moral and intellectual forces are more in demand than the merely physical.
Among very recent writers, the author desires to acknowledge his indebtedness to Prince Galitzin, whose just completed History of War is a well-digested and admirably classified work, drawn from all sources, ancient and modern. It has been laid under free contribution. Droysen’s History of Alexander is accurate, full and complete, but lacks the advantage of charts and maps. It has been equally utilized. From the middle of the last century, when Folard and Guishard began their commentaries and discussions on the ancient historians, up till now, there has been such a mass of matter published, often of highest value and often trivial, that its mere bibliography is tiresome. But there is no existing commentary on the great Macedonian, known to the author to be of acknowledged value, which has not been consulted. The facts, however, have been uniformly taken from or compared with the old authorities themselves. The labors and commentaries of many philologists, geographers and soldiers have now moulded the ancient histories into a form easily accessible to him who possesses but a tithe of the knowledge and patience they have so freely placed at the service of their fellow-man.
The earliest histories are but a record of wars. The seasons of peace were too uneventful to call for historians. The sharply defined events which arrest attention, because followed by political or territorial changes, have always been wars, and these have been the subject-matter of nearly all early writings. The greatest of poems would never have seen the light had not Homer been inspired by the warlike deeds of heroes; nor would Herodotus and Thucydides have penned their invaluable pages had not the stirring events of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars impelled them to the task. Xenophon, Arrian, Caesar, are strictly military historians; and the works of the other great writers of ancient history contain only the rehearsal of wars held together by a network of political conditions influencing these struggles. It is indeed peculiarly in the fact that war is now subordinated to peace that our modern civilization differs from that of the ancients; and but within a couple of generations can it be truly claimed that the arts of peace have assumed more prominence than the arts of war. So long as war remains the eventual arbitrament of all national disputes, so long must the arts of peace contribute to the art of war, and so long must this be studied, and an active interest in the deeds of the great captains be maintained.
The art of war has been created by the intellectual conceptions of a few great captains. It is best studied in the story of their triumphs. The memorizing of technical rules can teach but the detail of the art. The lessons contained in what the masters did can be learned only by an intelligent analysis of the events themselves; the inspiration essential to success can be caught only by assimilation of their methods. Nothing is so fruitful to the soldier as to study closely the character and intellect of these great men, and to make himself familiar with the events which they have illustrated. Few topics have greater interest for the layman. Less than a generation since, we Americans were a nation of soldiers. In four years something like four millions of men had worn the blue or gray. In the autumn of their life many of these veterans may enjoy the comparison of their own campaigns with those of the men whom all unite in calling the masters of the art. To such my work is principally addressed.
Strategy has been aptly described as the art of making war upon the map. Nor is this a mere figure of speech. Napoleon always planned and conducted his campaigns on maps of the country spread out for him by his staff, and into these maps he stuck colored pins to indicate where his divisions were to move. Having thus wrought out his plan, he issued orders accordingly. To the general the map is a chessboard, and upon this he moves his troops as players move queen and knight. Strategy is, in other words, the art by which a general so moves his army about the country in relation to but beyond the proximity of the enemy, that when he finally reaches him, the enemy shall be placed in a disadvantageous position for battle or other maneuver. The movements of an army in the immediate presence of the enemy, or on the field of battle, belong to the domain of grand tactics. Strategy is the common law or common sense of war. As the common law has arisen from the decisions of great judges relating to the common affairs of life, so strategy has arisen from the action of the great masters of war in the events they were called on to control. The word is very properly derived from strategos, the name given by the Greeks to the leader of a certain unit of service — to a general. It is not the army, nor the people, nor the territory, nor the cause which are the origin of strategic movements, though, indeed, all these bear their due part in the calculation. It is the head and heart of the leader which always have furnished and always must furnish the strategic values of every campaign. From his intellectual and moral vigor — in other words, his personal equipment — must ever come the motive power and direction.
Strategy has its rules, like every science. Until within a little over a century these have been unwritten. They are in principle inflexible, in practice elastic. They are but the tools of the trade, the nomenclature of the science; the “Barbara Celarent” of logic. The strictness or laxity of the maxims of strategy is measured by the ability of the general. The second-rate commander transcends them at his peril. For the great captain they vary as the conditions vary. The man who can rise superior to mere rules, and succeed, has always a spark of genius. But as these maxims are, like those of the common law, nothing but a statement of what is the highest common sense, the genius who makes exceptions to them does so because the circumstances warrant the exception, or because he feels that he can control circumstances. The great captain will never permit mere rides to tie his hands; but his action will always be in general, if not specific, accordance with them. The one thing which distinguishes the great captains of history from the rank and file of commanders is that they have known when to disregard maxims, and that they have succeeded while disregarding them, and because of their disregard of them. But in all cases their successes have proved the rule.
The first requisite of oratory, said Demosthenes, is action; the second, action; the third, action. In this generation of conversational speeches the saying is less applicable to oratory than to strategy and tactics. It is the general who can think rapidly and move rapidly; who can originate correct lines of maneuver, and unceasingly and skillfully follow them, who becomes great. The few instances of Fabian tactics are but the complement to this rule. They prove its truth. Fabius Maximus was in one sense as active as Hannibal. It was mainly in the avoidance of armed conflict that he differed from the great Carthaginian. How, indeed, could he follow each movement of his wonderful antagonist, — as he did, — unless his every faculty was in constant action? Incessant action is not of necessity unceasing motion; it is motion in the right direction at the right moment; though, indeed, it is the legs of an army, as much as its stomach, which enable the brain tissue and throbbing blood of the captain to conduct a successful campaign or win a pitched battle.
Strategy has been a growth, like other sciences. Its earliest manifestation was in the ruthless invasion by one barbarian tribe of the territory of another, in search of bread, metals, wives, or plunder of any kind. The greater or less skill or rapidity of such an invasion, by which the population attacked was taken unawares or at a disadvantage, meant success or failure. Thus grew offensive strategy. The invaded people cut the roads, blocked the defiles, defended the fords of the rivers, lay in ambush in the forests. The ability shown in these simple operations originated the strategy of defense. Often the strong, relying on their strength, showed the least ability; the weak, conscious of their weakness, the most. From such simple beginnings has grown up the science and art of war, which to-day, among the greatest nations, — saving always our own happily exempt America, — embraces all arts and sciences, and makes them each and all primarily subservient to its demands.
As with strategy, so tactics, logistics and engineering came to perfection by a slow growth in ancient and modern times. The tactics of organization and drill rose to a high degree among the ancients; the tactics of the battlefield were sometimes superb. Logistics were simpler, for armies were neither large, nor carried such enormous supplies of material. Engineering, as exemplified at the sieges of Tyre, Rhodes, and Alesia, has rarely been equaled in the adaptation of the means at hand to the end to be accomplished. War is scarcely more perfect to-day, according to our resources in arts and mechanics, than it was twenty odd centuries ago among the Greeks, according to theirs.
It is not, however, the purpose of these pages to discourse upon the art of war. It will be a far more pleasant task to tell the story of the great captains whose deeds have created this art, and through them, by unvarnished comment, to lay open to the friendly reader the rules and maxims which govern or limit strategy and tactics. And before coming to the first, — and perhaps the greatest of all, — Alexander of Macedon, it is proposed to describe briefly the armies antedating his, to say something about his predecessors in the art, and to give a short account of a very few of their campaigns or battles, in order to show what equipment this wonderful soldier possessed when, a mere lad, he undertook, as captain-general of the smallest and yet greatest nation on earth, Greece, the expedition against the stupendous power of the Persian empire, and thus placed the weight of the world upon his youthful shoulders. This cannot readily be done in a well connected historical narrative. Many noted wars and brilliant generals must be omitted. The instances and commanders to be quoted will be but typical of the rest, and will illustrate the gradual advance from unintelligent to intellectual warfare. A history of war must embrace all wars and battles, small and great. A history of the art of war may confine itself to narrating such typical wars and battles as best illustrate its growth.
The first reliable history of war may be said to have come to us from the Jews. The historical books of the Bible give us the earliest written glimpse into very ancient methods of warfare, as the Egyptian monuments give us the pictorial. This narrative was followed by the Iliad, which portrays the condition of war twelve hundred years before Christ. Herodotus (418 B.C.) next appeared, and by his faithful description of the Persian wars justly earned the title of Father of History; and following him closely came Thucydides (384 B.C.), who narrated the great political and interesting, though in instruction meagre, military events of the Peloponnesian War. Xenophon (360 B.C.) graphically, if sometimes imaginatively, described the deeds of the elder Cyrus, and capped all military-historical works in his wonderful Anabasis. The same character was kept up by Polybius, Diodorus, Dionysius, Arrian, Plutarch, among the Greeks, and by Caesar, Sallust, Livy, Tacitus, Nepos, among the Romans. That the works of all these and many other authors should deal mostly with war was a necessity. It was war which was, as a rule, the precursor of advancing civilization.
From the decline of Rome throughout the Middle Ages there was no history, properly speaking. Only chronicles and partial notes were kept; nor did history emerge from its hiding until the revival of learning and the arts in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was then patterned, as was everything else, on ancient models. The invention of gunpowder gave a new direction to war and its records, though the classical influence and a certain pedantry in historical work remained until the eighteenth century. The systems of war partook of this same pedantry, with the exception of what was done by a few great masters, and it was not until the French Revolution overturned all preconceived notions on every subject that the art of war, as we understand it, arose and throve. The worship of the ancient models gave way to a national sentiment, and the growth of scientific war became assured and permanent, as well as the fruitful study of what the great captains had really done. Military history had been but a record. It became an inquiry into the principles governing the acts recorded.
Prince Galitzin’s splendid work divides the history of war into four sections: —
A. Ancient War.
1°. Down to 500 B.C.
2°. From the beginning of the Persian wars, 500 B.C. down to the death of Alexander, 323 B.C.
3°. From the death of Alexander, 323 B.C. to the death of Caesar, 44 B.C.
4°. From the death of Caesar, 44 B.C. to the fall of the West Roman Empire, A.D. 476.
B. Wars of the Middle Ages.
1°, From A.D. 476 to the death of Charles the Great, A.D. 814.
2°. From A.D. 814 to the introduction of firearms, A.D. 1350.
3°, From A.D. 1350 to the Thirty Years’ War, A, D. 1618.
C. Modern Wars.
1°. The Thirty Years’ War, A.D. 1618 to 1648.
2°, Wars from A.D. 1048 to Frederick the Great.
3°, Frederick’s era to the beginning of the French Revolution, A. D. 1740 to 1792.
D. Recent Wars.
1°. From the French Revolution to 1805.
2°. Napoleon’s wars, A.D. 1805 to 1815.
3°. Wars since 1815.
Of these several periods the most important by far to the military student are those which contain the deeds of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, in ancient days, and those of Gustavus, Frederick and Napoleon in modern times. Few of the other great generals fall without these periods. To narrate the military achievements of these great masters, and incidentally a few others, and to connect them by a mere thread of the intervening events, will suffice to give all which is best in the rise and progress of the science of war. “Read,” says Napoleon, “re-read the history of their campaigns, make them your model; this is the sole means of becoming a great captain and of guessing the secret of the art.”
So long as man has existed on the earth he has been a fighting animal. After settling his quarrels with the weapons of nature, he resorted to clubs and stones, that is, weapons for use hand to hand and at a distance; and no doubt at an early day built himself huts and surrounded them with stakes, stones and earth, so as to keep away aggressive neighbors. Herein we have the origin of weapons and of fortification. As men joined themselves into communities, the arts of attack and defense, and their uses as applied to numbers, grew. The citizen was always a soldier. But often only a portion of the citizens required to be sent away from home to fight, and this originated standing armies, which became a well-settled institution when conquerors made themselves kings. As man invented useful arts, these were first applied to the demands of war. Bows and arrows, lances, slings, swords, breastplates and shields came into use, and horses were tamed and employed for war, first as beasts of burden, and then in chariots and for cavalry. Chariots and horses for cavalry were first adopted because they afforded the fighters a higher position from which to cast their weapons, as well as rendered their aspect more dreadful. Elephants and camels came into warfare for a similar reason. No doubt chariots antedated cavalry. Troops began by fighting in masses, without settled order, and the victory was won by those who had the bravest, strongest, or most numerous array. With better weapons came greater order. The best-armed warriors were placed together. The slingers could not do good work side by side with the pikemen, nor the charioteer or mounted man with the foot-soldier. Thus certain tactical formations arose, and as the more intelligent soldiers were put in charge of the less so, rank and command appeared. It was soon found that the light-armed, bowmen and slingers, could best use their weapons and most rapidly move in open, skirmishing order; that the heavy-armed, pikemen and swordsmen, could best give decisive blows when ployed into masses. The growth of army organization came about in a perfectly natural sequence, and grew side by side with all other pursuits.
Fortification originated in a similar manner. Tribes built their villages in inaccessible places, — on rocks or hills, — and surrounded them with ditches, stockades or loosely-piled walls. Such simple habitations gradually grew into fortified cities, and the walls and ditches increased in size and difficulty of approach. Inner citadels were built; and towers crowned the walls, to enable these to be swept by missiles if reached by the besiegers. The art of sieges was of much later and more formal growth. For many generations fortified cities were deemed inexpugnable, and artifice or hunger were resorted to for their capture. But gradually it was found that walls could be undermined or weakened or breached, or that they could be mounted by various means, and the art of besieging cities began to take on form.
As tribes grew into nations war assumed larger dimensions. As a rule, it was brute weight alone which accomplished results, but sometimes the weaker party would resort to stratagems to defend itself, — such as declining battle, and making instead thereof night or partial attacks, defending river fords or mountain passes, and falling on the enemy from ambush or from cities. Out of such small beginnings of moral opposition to physical preponderance has come into existence, by slow degrees and through many centuries, what we now know as the science of war.
Except the Phoenicians and Jews, the Oriental nations of remote antiquity were divided into castes, of which the most noble or elevated were alone entitled to bear arms, and to this profession they were trained with scrupulous care. The military caste in some nations was wont to monopolize all offices and political control; in others it wielded a lesser sway. The existence of such castes gave rise to what eventually became standing armies, and from the ranks of these were chosen the king’s body-guard, always an important factor in Oriental government.
The Phoenicians first employed mercenary troops. A paid force enabled the citizens to continue without interruption the commercial life on which their power rested. But such troops were of necessity unreliable. Egypt and Persia in later times employed mercenaries in large numbers.
In addition to these methods of recruitment, drafts of entire districts, or partial drafts of the country, were usual. These swelled the standing armies, caste or mercenary, to a huge size, but furnished an unreliable material, which, against good troops, was in itself a source of weakness, but which often won against similarly constituted bodies.
The methods of conducting war, in organization and tactics, were always on a low scale in the Orient. The origin of every military device is in the East; successive steps towards improvement were made in Europe by the Greeks and Romans. Despite that a certain luxurious civilization rose to a higher grade among the Orientals, the military instinct of these down-trodden races was less marked than among the freemen of the West. In one respect alone — cavalry — were the Oriental nations superior. This superiority was owing to the excellence of their horses and to the prevalence of horsemanship among them. In all other branches they fell distinctly below the Europeans.
The chief characteristic of the operations of the ancient Orientals was that of huge raids or wars of conquest, which overran vast territories, and often led to the conflict of enormous armies, to the extinguishment or enslaving of nations, or to long drawn-out sieges of capitals or commercial cities. In battles, it was sought by stratagem to fall on, and, by preponderance of force, to surround and annihilate the enemy. All such operations were accompanied by dire inhumanity to individuals and to peoples, by the shedding of blood and destruction of property beyond compute. But they have furnished no contribution to the art of war.
Assyrians, Babylonians and Medes. — The army organization of the Assyrians, Babylonians and Medes had a similar origin and much common likeness in form. Military service was the sole right of a certain caste, and among the Medes was looked on as the highest of pursuits. The standing armies consisted of the king’s body-guard, often very large; particular corps under command of nobles of high degree, which helped to sustain the centralized government; and provincial troops. The population was divided into bodies of ten, one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, each of which furnished its quota of men; and the army was itself organized on a decimal basis. A vast horde of nomads, mostly horse, and excellent of its kind, was wont to accompany the regular army, either for pay or in hope of plunder.
Infantry constituted the bulk, cavalry the flower, of the Oriental armies. For many generations after the Greek infantry had shown to the world its superiority over any other, the Oriental cavalry was still far ahead of that of Greece. The Greeks were not horsemen, nor their hilly country as well suited for horse-breeding as the level plains of Asia. It is a truism, however, that a nation of horsemen overrun, a nation of footmen conquer a country. The Greeks and Romans were examples of this.
The armament of the light troops consisted of bows and slings; they wore no defensive armor. The nobles and well-to-do, who served as heavy troops, were superbly armed and equipped. They bore a sword, battle-axe, javelins, pike and dagger, or some of these. Though few in number, the heavy-armed were the one nucleus of value. There was no idea of strategic manoeuvring; armies marched out to seek each other and fought when they met. The troops were ranked for battle by order of nationalities, generally in a long and often more or less concave order, so as, if possible, to surround the enemy. The foot stood in the center, the cavalry on the wings; the front was covered by chariots. The formation was in massed squares, often one hundred or more deep. The archers and slingers swarmed in the front of all, and opened the battle with a shower of light missiles. They then retired through the intervals between the squares of the advancing main line, or around its flanks, and continued their fire from its rear. The chariots then rushed in at a gallop and sought to break the enemy’s line, generally by massing a charge on some one point. These were followed by the heavy footmen, who, covered with their shields and pike in hand, under the inspiration of the trumpet, and led by bearers of insignia, such as birds and beasts of prey or sacred emblems, mounted on long lances like our battle-flags, sought to force their way, by weight of mass, into the breaches made by the chariots; while the cavalry swept round the flanks and charged in on the rear of the enemy. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting then ensued. The Orientals were far from lacking courage. It was mobility and discipline they wanted. That army which could overlap the enemy or had the stronger line — unless the enemy protected its front and flanks with chariots or chosen troops — was apt to win; and the beaten army was annihilated. Battles were generally fought on open plains. It never seemed to occur to these peoples to lean a flank on a natural obstacle, such as a wood or river. An unfortunate turn in a battle could not be retrieved.
The capital cities were splendidly fortified. Nineveh, Babylon, Ecbatana, had stone walls of extraordinary thickness and height. Those of Nineveh were still one hundred and fifty feet high in Xenophon’s time. Babylon had two walls, an outer one stated by Herodotus as three hundred and thirty-five feet high and eighty-five feet thick, and by Ctesias at almost these dimensions, and with a correspondingly wide ditch. The citadel was a marvel of strength, so far as massiveness was concerned. The art of engineering, as applied to sieges, was not highly developed. The mechanical means of the day were not as well adapted for besieging as for fortification, and the defense of a city was rendered desperate by the uniform penalty of its surrender or capture, which was death or slavery. The Assyrians are said to have fortified their temporary camps, generally in circular form.
Jews. — Among the Jews, every man over twenty years of age, with certain stated exceptions, was a warrior. The twelve tribes each furnished a corps, which, at the time of the flight from Egypt, was, on the average, fifty thousand strong. From this corps, in times of war, the needed number of recruits was selected by lot or rote. It was a draft pure and simple. Saul first established a body-guard. In David’s time (1025? B.C.) the number of Jews fit for war was one million three hundred thousand, and each tribe furnished twenty-four thousand men for active duty. One of these bodies served each month, under a captain who reviewed it, and was held responsible for its effectiveness. The whole body of two hundred and eighty-eight thousand men was a sort of landwehr, of which one twelfth was constantly under arms. The organization was on a decimal basis of tens, hundreds and thousands. Solomon largely increased the number of cavalry and chariots, and perfected their organization and discipline.
On the flight from Egypt the Israelites were in possession of no weapons. They partially armed themselves from those cast up by the sea after the destruction of the Egyptians. Their arms, during the later part of their wanderings, were bows, slings and darts. Until they reached the promised land, they had no forged weapons. The Philistines, or dwellers in Palestine, were better provided, and were familiar with both cavalry and chariots. At a later day the Jews acquired and used short, wide, curved swords and lances. But the sling always remained a favorite weapon, and in its use they were curiously expert. In the corps d’elite of the time of the Judges, which consisted of twenty-six thousand men who drew the sword, was a body of seven hundred left-handed slingers, who could cut a hair hung up as a target. So early as the time of Moses, even, the drill and discipline of the Jewish army was considerable. The method of battle was similar to that of other nations. The light troops in the van opened the battle in loose order; the heavy infantry in deep masses followed after. They fought under the inspiration of horns and battle-cries. They sometimes stood in three lines, light troops, main body ten to thirty men deep, and a reserve of picked troops. Martial insignia representing animals were usually carried in the ranks.
The Jews had great numbers to encounter. The Philistines came against Saul with six thousand cavalry, thirty thousand chariots, and foot like to the sands of the seashore in number. In the war against Hadadeser, son of Rehob, King of Zobah, David captured one thousand chariots, seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand infantry. Solomon kept on foot fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand cavalry. He had stalls for forty thousand chariot-horses, which probably included the equipages for the royal household and the army trains. These figures, compared with the numbers of chariots at Thymbra and Arbela, seem exaggerated; but they serve to show that the main reliance for the day was on chariots rather than on cavalry.
A careful military organization no doubt existed. We read in Holy Writ that David appointed Joab captain-general over his army, with twenty-seven lieutenants under him, and that his army was divided into three corps. There was clearly an established rank and command.
Under Moses, the Jews fortified their daily camp in form of a square. But permanent fortification of cities they only learned after conquering Palestine. Jerusalem was strongly fortified by David, on the method then usual among the Orientals.
Egyptians. — Thebes and Memphis appear to have had the earliest Egyptian military organization, but shortly after 1500 B.C. the first Pharaoh welded Egypt into one body. The warrior caste was at the head of society, second only to the priestly caste. Under the Sesostridae (1500-1200 B.C.) the army organization grew in effectiveness. The father of Sesostris, at the time of this great king’s birth, selected all the boys in Egypt born on the same day, and made of them a military school, out of which later grew Sesostris’ confidential body-guard. Among the number were many of his generals. Sesostris first gave rewards in land to his soldiers, as feudal kings did in later centuries, and obliged these dependents, as a consideration for their tenure, to go to war with him at their own cost, and always to be prepared to perform this duty. The Egyptian army was over four hundred thousand strong. The youths of the warrior caste were carefully trained. All records and traditions agree that the Egyptians were excellent soldiers. The chief punishment for breach of discipline was loss of honor, which, however, the warrior could, by signal acts of bravery, regain. By 1200 B.C. came the decline of the Egyptian power, and, under Psammeticus, mercenary troops from Asia Minor and Greece gradually supplanted the warrior caste.
Infantry constituted the bulk of the forces. Chariots were common, even in remote antiquity, as well as cavalry. These decreased in usefulness, however, as the canal-system of Egypt grew and left small room for manoeuvring. The weapons were the usual arms, — bows, lances, slings, axes, darts and swords. The Egyptian soldiers were light and heavy, irregular and regular. Some carried shields covering the entire body, and wore helmets and mail. The army had martial music, and the emblem of the sacred bull or crocodile was carried on a lance as a standard. Xenophon, in the Cyropaedia, describes their tactics at the battle of Thymbra. They stood in large, dense masses, very deep, often in squares of one hundred files of one hundred men, and, covered by linked shields and protruded lances, were dangerous to attack. The Egyptians fortified their camps in rectangular form, and built extensive walls to protect their borders. Sesostris erected one extending from Pelusium to Heliopolis. Their cities were fortified with walls of several stories. But, as with other nations at this period, the art of sieges was little advanced. Ashdod, though not strongly fortified, resisted Psammeticus twenty-nine years.
Sesostris is supposed to have had six hundred thousand infantry, twenty-seven thousand chariots and twenty-four thousand horse. He is said to have conquered Ethiopia, then crossed from Meroe to Arabia Petrea, and thence made excursions as far as India. He later sailed to Phoenicia, and overran a large part of Asia Minor. Sesostris is alleged to have conquered territory as far east as the Oxus and Indus, and to have levied contributions on the populations of these countries. But his conquests had no duration, even if what is related of him by tradition has a more than problematical basis of truth.
Persians. — Under Cyrus the warrior caste was not only the uppermost, but was hereditary, and at all times thoroughly pre. pared for war. Assuming the Cyropaedia to be exact, Cyrus undertook his great conquests with but thirty thousand men, which later increased to seventy thousand, and still ore by accessions from the conquered provinces. In all these provinces a kernel of Persian troops was stationed, but the local government was uniformly preserved. This proceeding testifies to the keen good sense of Cyrus, who left behind him contented peoples, under satraps closely watched by his own Persian officers. His course was later imitated by Alexander the Great, with equally satisfactory results. Cyrus subdued as large a part of Asia as Alexander did after him, holding the cities as points d’appui as he went along. During his lifetime, Persian discipline was excellent. After his death, contact with the luxury of the Medes destroyed much of his structure.
The Cyropaedia is, however, a sort of military romance, into which Xenophon has woven his own military experience and astuteness. It is full of exaggerated hero-worship. While its main features are correct, its details are unquestionably dressed up. But it has none the less as great value as it has charm.
The Persians fought mainly on foot. There were few horses in Persia proper. But Cyrus found cavalry necessary against the Asiatics, who had much which was excellent. He collected ten thousand horsemen from various sources, and at Thymbra used the body to good advantage. This was the origin of the superb Persian cavalry of later days. The foot had bows, slings, darts and small shields, to begin with, but gradually bettered these weapons as they hewed their way into Asia, and thereafter used battle-axes and swords, and wore helmet and mail. Thus, from what was at first but a species of light infantry grew up a later body of heavy foot, in addition to much that remained light. The Persian foot had been marshaled thirty deep; Cyrus reduced it to twelve ranks. The cavalry was divided in a similar manner, — the bulk was light horse, coming mainly from the nomad allies; a lesser part was heavy-armed. Cyrus also had scythed-chariots, and Xenophon describes at the battle of Thymbra the use of towers on wheels, filled with armed men, together with other curious devices, and camels carrying archers and catapults, — questionable but interesting assertions.
In the art of fortification and sieges the Persians had made little or no advance, but they learned something from the Medes and other Asiatics, and gradually acquired the use of catapults and rams. But stratagem, as at Sardis after the battle of Thymbra, had generally to be put into practice to capture towns, unless hunger speedily reduced them. Nebuchadnezzar besieged old Tyre thirteen years and failed to take it.
Cambyses, son of Cyrus, divided the male population of his kingdom into children, youths, men, old men. Each class had twelve chiefs, chosen from among the last two classes. Every lad of ten began his career by entering the first. Here he stayed till twenty; among the youths till thirty; among the men till forty; and until fifty-five he was in the last class. After this he was free from military duty. Each class had its special occupations and discipline. This distribution is rather curious than valuable.
The ancient Greeks borrowed the germs of all they knew of the art of war from the East, but with true national intelligence they rejected the useless and improved the valuable up to its highest utility for the conditions of their age.
The early Icings of Greece held both the civil and military power. Every freeman was a soldier, and was trained as such from his youth up. Bronze weapons were already familiar to the Greeks at the time of the Trojan war. The nobles and chiefs used thrusting pike, casting lance and sword, and left missile-weapons — bows and slings — to the less brave or expert. The Trojan chiefs did not disdain bows. Helmets, breastplates and large shields were likewise made of bronze. Fighting on foot and in chariots — the latter was the prerogative of the great — were the usual methods. There was no cavalry, for the hilly character of Greece (except Thessaly and Boeotia) was un suited to its evolutions, and neither, as a rule, were the horses good nor the men of Greece used to riding. The constant employment of chariots is all the more curious. From these two or four horse two-wheeled vehicles the warrior descended to fight, the driver meanwhile remaining near at hand. At best they were cumbrous and of doubtful value, except as a moral stimulant.
In the tradition of the Seven against Thebes, to assert Polynices’ claims as king, there are some traces of organization suggested. The city was besieged by posting a separate detachment opposite each of its gates, and by relying on hunger as an ally. But the Thebans made a sortie, slew the seven kings, and drove their forces away. Ten years later the sons of these kings captured Thebes, and placed Polynices’ son upon the throne.
At the siege of Troy (1193-1184 B.C.) we find clear evidences of organization. Agamemnon evidently had the legal power to compel the reluctant Greek monarchs to join him in an expedition based on a mere personal quarrel. Achilles had twenty-five hundred men, divided into five regiments of five hundred men each. The Greeks advanced to battle in a phalanx or deep body, shield to shield, and in silence, so that the orders of the leaders might be heard. But in front of the lines of the armies there always took place a series of duels between the doughtiest champions, — as it were a prolonged and very important combat of skirmishers before the closing of the heavy lines. But coupled with an admirable idea of discipline was the habit of plundering the slain, for which purpose ranks would be broken and often a decisive advantage lost. Prisoners were treated with awful inhumanity.
Camps were regular, and often fortified. The men used no tents, but camped in the open, building huts if long in one place. At Troy the Greek camp had a broad and deep ditch, palisades, or a wall made of the earth thrown up from the ditch, and wooden towers on the wall. Behind this the army camped in huts.
Fortification had advanced but little beyond the roughest work. The art of sieges was all but unknown. The ten years’ blockade of Troy amply shows the latter fact, as the constant fighting outside the town proves that little reliance was placed on the value of its walls by the Trojans. The Greeks did not surround the city, but sat down on the sea-coast before it and blockaded it, some hundred thousand strong. Troy was able to ration itself from the Mount Ida region. The Greeks were sadly put to it for victuals, and were compelled to detail half the army to the Chersonesus in order to raise breadstuffs. For nine years there was naught but insignificant small-war.
After the Greeks had wasted their time in isolated attacks on the Trojan territory until both sides were well-nigh exhausted, Nestor counseled concentration and the division of the army into bodies by race and families, in order to produce a spirit of rivalry and due ambition. It is evident that the troops knew how to deploy, for they filed out of the gates of their camps and then formed line of battle. The army had a right, center and left. The infantry stood in several ranks, — in front the least brave, in the rear the most brave, on the plan suggested by Nestor. And the army was marshaled on occasion in several lines; as, for instance, the chariots in first, and the foot in second line. To attack the Greek intrenchments. Hector divided the Trojans into five troops, so that success should not depend on one attack alone. Here is the crude idea of a reserve, as it were. Aristides names Palamedes, who was at Troy, as the inventor of tactics; but Nestor must evidently share the honor. The one thing which interfered with the successful use of tactics was the prolonged dueling part of the fray between the heroes of both sides. Of art in their warfare there was barely a trace. It was only in the tenth year, after heavy fighting, that Troy was taken, and it was without a siege, in the sense we understand it.
From the time of the Trojan war till the sixth century B.C. the Grecian states made gradual advances in military organization. The warrior’s was the highest duty in the state, as well as the precious privilege of the freeman. Religion, education and public games combined to train the youth to war. Religion taught that heroes became demi-gods; education was almost entirely confined to athletic and warlike exercises, training in patience and endurance, the inculcation of respect for superiors and elders and the love of country; public games afforded the bravest, strongest and most expert an occasion of exhibiting their skill and prowess, and of earning honor and repute. Chariot and horse races and athletic games monopolized these ceremonies. The latter comprised running, leaping obstacles, wrestling, throwing the lance and discus, boxing, the pancratium or boxing and wrestling mixed, and the pentathlium or an exercise combining all the others. The prizes were as a rule mere evidences of honor, but these were held to be far beyond material reward. A noted victor had statues erected, inscriptions cut and hymns sung in his honor, and was often maintained at the public expense.
The right and duty of war existed from the eighteenth to the sixtieth year, varying somewhat in different states. When war occurred, a draft of the requisite number was made by lot, or rote, or age. A given number of years’ honorable service yielded a citizen many privileges, and opened to him every civil office. Warriors crippled in battle were cared for by the state and highly honored.
About the sixth century B.C. the Greeks fought almost exclusively on foot. The hoplites or phalangites were the heavy, the psiloi the light, infantry. The former came from the best classes, and were armed with pikes up to ten feet long, short swords and large shields, and wore both helmet and breastplate, and sometimes greaves. The breastplate was often of leather, and everything being provided by each hoplite for himself made the arms and equipments as various as the tastes of the individuals. The psiloi had no defensive armor, and carried only bows and slings. Recruited from the poorer classes, they were of far less value in action than the hoplites, but some psiloi, like the Cretan bowmen, were celebrated for their accurate aim and the penetration of their arrows.
Chariots fell into disuse after the Trojan war. They were found to be unavailable among the rugged hills and vales of Greece. But cavalry began to take their place, at just what period is uncertain. Xenophon mentions cavalry in the time of Lycurgus. It was undoubtedly employed in the Messenian war, a century later. As an arm it was not good, excepting possibly the Boeotian horse, and especially that from Thessaly, on whose broad meadows had been bred an excellent race of stout, serviceable cobs.
The tactical disposition of troops was very various, but generally in earliest times was based on a decimal system like that of the East. The light troops covered the front and flanks of the army; and the hoplites were formed in a dense body, uniformly called a phalanx, which, however, at that time had no absolute rule of formation or numbers. Xenophon states that the unit of the then phalanx was a taxis (or lochos or century) of one hundred men, commanded by a captain, and ranged in four files twenty-four men deep, plus four officers, each file having four sections of six men each. Ten taxes made a chiliarchia, under a chiliarch, and four chiliarchias a phalanx. The names of the units of service were very various. Attacks were made in parallel order, but it was infrequently sought to lean the flanks and rear on obstacles which might prevent their being turned. Camps were pitched where they were secure from the nature of their location, and were rarely much fortified. The soldier carried no great burden, and the Greek armies were very nimble. The right flank was the post of honor. Marches were almost invariably by the right, and the flanks of the column of march were covered by the psiloi.
Engineering, as applied to fortification and sieges, still remained singularly crude. The latter were wont to be of long duration. They scarcely amounted even to blockades. Ithome was besieged eight years; Ira, eleven; Crissa, nine.