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Harry J. Fletcher




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PostPosted: Fri 23 Oct, 2009 12:25 pm    Post subject: Excellent Book on Hoplite Battle         Reply with quote

I have recently finished reading an excellent book on Hoplite Battle which describes the armor, weapons, chaos of battle and the aftermath as well as the leadership and tactics involved. It is the decisive infantry battle from which western warfare has evolved.

The title is THE WESTERN WAY OF WAR Infantry Battle in Classical Greece by Victor Davis Hanson published by the University of California at Berkeley. Victor Hanson is Professor of Classics at California State University, Fresno California. It is available from Barnes and Noble online for $21.95 plus shipping.

For those who study the evolution of western warfare this book is an excellent foundation for that study.

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John Toh





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PostPosted: Thu 26 Nov, 2009 9:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting book, but something seems amiss. While the Greek hoplite way of war may have been an impetus, I don't see it as being carried through to modern times. It seems there is another school that attempts to avoid standing toe-to-toe to fight through the ages - armored knights, fortresses, bow, firearms, and the nails in hoplite fighting coffin - long range artillery, armor, and air power. Still thought-provoking.
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Mike Arledge




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 4:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

John Toh wrote:
Interesting book, but something seems amiss. While the Greek hoplite way of war may have been an impetus, I don't see it as being carried through to modern times. It seems there is another school that attempts to avoid standing toe-to-toe to fight through the ages - armored knights, fortresses, bow, firearms, and the nails in hoplite fighting coffin - long range artillery, armor, and air power. Still thought-provoking.


I have read just about all of VD Hanson's works, they are thorough and engaging, and in my opinion probably pretty accurate. I think Mr Amt has poinsted out though on other forums that the panoply weighs far less than Hanson estimates... He is not without his detractors, and he can be grousy at times and keep referring back too often to his family vinyards in California.

Regarding the decisive battle arguments. I think he is spot on there. While castles and sieges etc are ways to mitigate your risk in battle, they do not deflect from the idea that to DEFEAT a foe, the western world sees a true defeat as met on the battlefield, even if that battlefield is behind a castle wall.

Mike J Arledge

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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 6:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hanson is interesting, but be careful when he starts talking about things later than 330 BCE and cultures other than ancient Greece. He's written some pretty ignorant things about Persian armies for example.

If you feel like another book, Hans van Wees' "Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities" has a different take on hoplite warfare. Both have their good sides and their bad sides.
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Sat 28 Nov, 2009 4:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

John and Sean,
You're absolutely right -- most scholars reject Hanson's theories about a "Western Way" of warfare, and with good reason. The criticisms are summarized nicely in Morillo w/ Pavkovic 2006 p83, 85:
http://forensicfashion.com/ReferencesInPrintEnglish.html

"Though Hanson's conclusions about Greek tactics, strategy, and especially the development of 'civic militarism' have been questioned by other Greek specialists, ... [w]hat attracted much wider attention and dispute was the claim Hanson built on his examination of Greek hoplite warfare: that the Greeks had established a 'western way of war' characterized by face-to-face combat (as opposed to the more indirect and missle-oriented tactices of 'oriental' warfare) and supported by political-military systems built on citizenship (as opposed to subjection) and a resulting 'civic militarism.' This style, he claimed, remained a constant characteristic of western combat and led to the triumph of western civilization globally. ..."

"[...] That Greece and Rome qualify only as 'spiritual ancestors' or modern western powers is a conclusion that necessarily emerges not just from Hanson's omission of Byzantium from the list of western powers, but from the major substantive problem military historians find with Hanson's thesis: the place of the Middle Ages in his argument. Or more accurately, its lack of a place. Hanson posits Greeks as the creators of a continuous, connected tradition of civic militarism that made western powers more effective militarily -- 'more effective killers' -- than their rivals. But no historian of Imperial Rome or of medieval military history would accept Hanson's characterization of western 'civic militarism' as applying to the Roman Empire or medieval Western Europe, nor would the history of Western European military conflict between 400 and 1400 supply much support for the superiority of a 'western way of war.' ... Without continuity between classical Greece and the modern West, Hanson's argument loses much of its force."



Seen in the larger context of Hanson's political writings, his "Western" theory seems more propagandistic than academic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Davis_Hanson
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Harry J. Fletcher




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PostPosted: Sat 28 Nov, 2009 10:54 pm    Post subject: Continuity of Theory         Reply with quote

While I agree that the medeival period could be construed as a period lacking the citizen/warrior connection one could argue that the levy was a citizen/warrior tradition albeit a somewhat spurious one. The peasant derived the benefit of the protection of the Lord and even the King and so owed service to the region and to the realm.

As for the Romans, citizenship was a requirement for service during the Republic and for enlistment as a professional legionaire later in the time of the Empire. It can and should be argued that the later Roman Army was a professional army and I would agree which seems to put paid to the citizen/ soldier concept.

However if we examine the Classical Greek period, were not the Spartans a professional army? Was not citizenship a requirement for service? In fact the essence of the Phellopenesian wars was oligarchy versus democracy which pitted Sparta against Athens. But the armies on both sides were still citizen soldiers.

Granted that in the medeival period batlles rarely decided anything since it was the strategic locations that decided matters. These locations were controlled by Castles which dominated the surrounding area. Contrary to popular opinion Castles were not usually reduced by seige and then stormed because the cost to the attacker would have been simply too costly. Yes, the castle was beseiged but storming was seldom necessary. The Lord of the Castle or Knight or whoever was in charge would simply agree with the attacker to surrender the castle on a certain date if the seige was not raised by his leige Lord. This meant a battle with the army seeking to raise the seige and if the beseiger lost he was driven off and the seige was raised. If the Leige Lord lost and was driven off then the castle was surrended as agreed and the castle garrison had fulfilled their obligation to their leige Lord.

As for land battle itself in the medeival period, it was not the lopsided heavy cavalry charge against poorly armed levy troops as many would assume. Yes the levy were poorly trained and equipped but they also wanted to live so staying together and forming a sheild wall was good life insurance, and utilized the natural instinct of people in fear of their lives to bunch together. Their spears would deter a cavalry charge so the question of how to counter this mass of men arose. Missile troops especially archers were the answer. These archers could shower the massed infantry with arrows andserve to reduce the enemy infantry formations while protecting the heavy cavalry. Once the enemy infantry mass broke then the heavy cavalry charged. Of course the enemy had heavy cavalry too and also missile troops so the whole battle was kind of a combined arms excercise. One problem was the knights' disicipline. They could not be controlled since their social status thus their economic wherewithall depended upon getting in and demonstrating valor and fighting skill not to mention taking enemy knights prisoner for ransom. If a knight fought well and was noticed he was usually rewarded by his leige Lord or King. Sometimes knights would disregard an infantry line that was about to break and instead wildly charge the enemy heavy cavalry or kinghts for glory and rewards leaving to their own infantry the task of winning the actual battle unnoticed, unsung, and unrewarded.

This is why I beleive that the western way of war evolved from the Greek Hoplite Phalanx, it was a head on collision of a mass of men killing each other until one side or the other breaks and runs. This has always been the western way of war, a war fought by citizen soldiers.

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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Nov, 2009 11:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Harry J. Fletcher wrote:
While I agree that the medeival period could be construed as a period lacking the citizen/warrior connection one could argue that the levy was a citizen/warrior tradition albeit a somewhat spurious one.


Hi Harry,
Rather than stretch the definition of "citizen" to such a degree that it becomes meaningless ("spurious"), it would be better simply to discard Hanson's definition of "Western" since it doesn't fit the evidence anyway. Looking at the evidence as it is, there's just no coherent argument that the "West" practiced/practices war in a "Way" that's:
(1) internally consistent, or
(2) exclusive to the "West."

See John Lynn's Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (2003) for a comprehensive and definitive refutation of Hanson's thesis.
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2009 8:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ruel A. Macaraeg wrote:
Quote:
Harry J. Fletcher wrote:
While I agree that the medeival period could be construed as a period lacking the citizen/warrior connection one could argue that the levy was a citizen/warrior tradition albeit a somewhat spurious one.


Hi Harry,
Rather than stretch the definition of "citizen" to such a degree that it becomes meaningless ("spurious"), it would be better simply to discard Hanson's definition of "Western" since it doesn't fit the evidence anyway. Looking at the evidence as it is, there's just no coherent argument that the "West" practiced/practices war in a "Way" that's:
(1) internally consistent, or
(2) exclusive to the "West."

See John Lynn's Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (2003) for a comprehensive and definitive refutation of Hanson's thesis.


Cheers!!!

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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Dec, 2009 6:54 am    Post subject: Re: Continuity of Theory         Reply with quote

Harry J. Fletcher wrote:
One problem was the knights' disicipline. They could not be controlled since their social status thus their economic wherewithall depended upon getting in and demonstrating valor and fighting skill not to mention taking enemy knights prisoner for ransom.


Balderdash. Levels of discipline among medieval men-at-arms varied widely, just like in most other periods and places in history. For every instance of uncontrolled, uncoordinated charges (say, Crecy) we have one of men-at-arms obsessively keeping a tight formation and working in concert (such as German mercenaries in 14th-century Italy), or even of French knights waiting patiently while their serjeants went on ahead to provoke the enemy's chivalry into a rash attack (Bouvines). And of course cases that are neither one or the other like Arsuf.

Finally, the example of the Byzantines really put me off Hanson's theory for good. There's no chronicler who can be more Western or more Greek in the 6th century Empire than Procopius, and yet he had endless praise for the virtues of the horse archer. Yes, the horse archer! Who was proudly described as skirmishing the Vandals and the Goths to death thanks to the Goths' lack of a comparable mounted archery capability!

I could never take Hanson's macrohistorical analyses seriously after that.
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Harry J. Fletcher




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Dec, 2009 6:00 pm    Post subject: To Deny History Is Not To Refute HISTORY         Reply with quote

That the discipline of Knights and their control as a fighting force should be lauded is to deny the very essence medieval society. The discipline of Knights or I should say lack of discipline is accepted fact but nevertheless I shall point several key battles for the edification of the few who continue to deny this.

the battle of Bovines fought 27th July 1214 is paramount example of the indiscipline of heavy cavalry. Several French Princes allied with King John of England with their army against King Phillip II and his army. The heavy cavalry rushed into battle against the army of Phillip II without waiting for their main army which outnumbered Phillip's. End result was a defeat and a victory for Phillip II.

The battle of Peipus where a crusader army of Danes and allies under von Boxhoved of Tartu in April 1242 numbering about 1000 charged a retiring Russian army of 5000 under Alexandre Nevksi across Lake Peipus and the heavy cavalry was overwhelmed in their charge and their entire crusader army defeated. Rather a rash action in anyone's book but such was the faith in heavy cavalry.

I could discuss the battle of Bannockburn but I will pass on that for now and move on to Crecy fought on 26 August 1346 when the French army under King King Phillip VI with 30,000French troops intercepted an English army of 9,000 under King Edward III who was marching to link up with his Flemish allies (what is now Belgium). Repeated French charges against the English cost the French 10,000 casualties by English archery as opposed to only 100 for the English. The result was that the French army collapsed and scattered being defeated by a much inferior force.

Should I go on with more examples? Againcourt? You mentioned Arsuf...a classic case of King Richard the Lion Heart having to reign in his knights to keep them from charging, wearing out their horses, and becoming caught too far from the main body of the army for help. When Arsuf was almost reached the knights charged anyway but by sheer luck the saracens had been lulled into thinking they would not charge and the charge when came as it did was complete surprise and routed the muslim army of Saladin in that instance. It was only sheer chance that it succeeded, was against Richard's orders and could have just as easily resulted in failure and a loss of a valuable element of Richard's force.

I could say more but history says it better as do the historians. It only makes sense from the perspective of the knights to be a somewhat undisciplined element in the medeival army.

Regards

Harry

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Dec, 2009 4:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

and there are just as many or more exmaples of cavalry fighting in disciplined ranks. Hastings is probably themost well known example. The battles where cavalry is undone by arrow volleys can't be used as evidence since the discipline of the cavalry is irrelevant. English longbow tactics were specifically developed to disrupt a disciplined cavalry charge.
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Dec, 2009 6:05 am    Post subject: Re: To Deny History Is Not To Refute HISTORY         Reply with quote

Harry J. Fletcher wrote:
That the discipline of Knights and their control as a fighting force should be lauded is to deny the very essence medieval society. The discipline of Knights or I should say lack of discipline is accepted fact but nevertheless I shall point several key battles for the edification of the few who continue to deny this.


No, I'm not "lauding the discipline of knights" or anything of that sort. I'm just pointing out that it's totally absurd and unrealistic to assume that medieval men-at-arms were either universally undisciplined louts or always a disciplined tactical juggernaut. The knights or men-at-arms or whatever you call them existed over a span of more than five hundred years and in at least a whole contingent so it would be silly to assume that only a single universal paradigm of tactical behavior existed among them all. In fact, we have plenty of evidence of the medieval tension between the needs for discipline and for individual valor, often within the same text that lauded both deeds of individual daring and formations so tight that something thrown at them (an apple, a stone, whatever) wouldn't fall to the ground without hitting a man of horse--often within a few lines from each other. So there were extremely well-disciplined men-at-arms, and also examples of extreme lack of discipline among men-at-arms, as well as all sorts of things in between. To deny this variety would be to deny the fact that the men-at-arms were (first and foremost) human.
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Dec, 2009 9:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The religious fighting Orders like the Hospitaliers and the Templars where known for being very disciplined and very effective because of it in battle.
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Harry J. Fletcher




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PostPosted: Sat 12 Dec, 2009 10:30 pm    Post subject: Back On Track         Reply with quote

This discussion seems to have taken a side road as discussions do so I want to add this to reiterate what I have said. The Knight's social and economic circumstances were directly dependent upon rewards from a social superior. This was how a leader recruited followers, with the expectation of the allocation of the spoils and rewards for their service. Granted a strong leader by shear force of personality, courage, and ability to command respect such as Richard the Lionheart could impose discipline for a time.

Now to get back on track with the premises of the Western Way of War, one of the prerequisites was that the Kings and leaders fought in the front ranks to command respect and to LEAD! This was true in classical Hoplite warfare and it was true in Medeival warfare. The second premise was that men in the ranks had an obligation to the community, their city, their King, Lord, fyrd or what have you. Knight, man at arms, and commoner, all had a social responsibility for military service. The third premise of the Western Way of War is the head on clash of men until on side or the other breaks and runs. There were missile troops in Hoplite warfare as noted in the book which as the reason for the dash at the enemy line so as to reduce casualties by missiles before contact was made. But it is the clash of two opposing sides which makes the ultimate difference.

Decisiveness of battle can only be acheived if each side agrees to accept the result. An army can be defeated on the field but can be reconstituted to fight another day. In Hoplite warfare this was much harder to do since the combatant armies were citiy states and had only a finite number of men for service. Ultimately, this led to the decline of Sparta. It is the strategic effect of battle which wins wars so if an army can be destroyed and not brought up to strength again for a generation then this would be considered to a strategic victory. In medeival warfare depriving an enemy of a strategic feature such as a castle, port, river crossing, etc. could be viewed a step toward crippling that army and step toward a strategic victory.

I may be in deep water here but in my opinion in the American Civil War the South lost irrevocably when Grant beseiged Vicksburg. This seige could not be raised and Vicksburg surrendered on July 4th 1863. The Mississippi River was of such vital importance to the South that its lost sealed the Confederacy's fate. Lee's invasion of the North was designed to releive pressure on Vicksburg and divert troops to the east. This would not have happened even if Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had won at Gettysburg. Lee simply didn't have the strength to besiege Washington had he won, he would have exhausted his supplies, and he would still have had to worry about Mead attacking his rear.

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PostPosted: Sun 13 Dec, 2009 1:40 pm    Post subject: Re: Back On Track         Reply with quote

Harry J. Fletcher wrote:
Now to get back on track with the premises of the Western Way of War, one of the prerequisites was that the Kings and leaders fought in the front ranks to command respect and to LEAD! This was true in classical Hoplite warfare and it was true in Medeival warfare.

Really? In many medieval battles the ruler commanded from the rear. Usually he positioned himself with the reserves.
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Harry J. Fletcher




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Dec, 2009 3:51 pm    Post subject: Yes Really! Leadership By Deed Made for a Strong Monarchy         Reply with quote

It seems that a lot of people have their own ideas of how things were done in medeival warfare but in terms of leadership it was crucial that leaders lead from the front by example as it were, (1) to command respect, (2) to instill confidence in those who follow them into battle, (3) to maintain political stability. Most importantly, a King who did not lead in battle was seen to be weak and ultimately to be deposed by the nobility and replaced with a stronger leader given the sanction of the Church. The Church benefited by the power of the King who protected it. The King benefited from the sanction of the Church which gave legitimacy to King's reign...GOD's blessing as it were. The trivirate of the middle ages was the church, the throne, and the nobility. A strong monarch kept the nobility in check while the Church and Nobility kept a strong monarch in check. A strong monarch with the aid of the church kept the nobility in check.

I am amazed at the misconceptions people have about how things were done and the continual exceptions which are brought out to make their weak argument. One only has to study history and patterns to draw conclusions not just isolated incidents. The ideas I present in my arguments are widely accepted by historians as they are substantiated by fact and wide academic acceptance. If my critics don't accept this then I suggest that they take their arguments to the academic arena for debate. Oh well, I guess the sun orbits the Earth and the world is flat

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PostPosted: Sun 13 Dec, 2009 5:00 pm    Post subject: Re: Yes Really! Leadership By Deed Made for a Strong Monarc         Reply with quote

Harry J. Fletcher wrote:
It seems that a lot of people have their own ideas of how things were done in medeival warfare but in terms of leadership it was crucial that leaders lead from the front by example as it were, (1) to command respect, (2) to instill confidence in those who follow them into battle, (3) to maintain political stability. Most importantly, a King who did not lead in battle was seen to be weak and ultimately to be diposed by the nobility and replaced with a stronger leader given the sanction of the Church. The Church benefited by the power of the King who protected it. The King benefit from the sanction of the Church which gave legitimacy to Kings reign...GOD's blessing as it were. The trivirate of the middle ages was the church, the throne, and the nobility. A strong monarch kept the nobility in check while the Church and Nobility kept a strong monarch in check. A strong monarch with the aid of the church kept the nobility in check.

I am amazed at the misconceptions people have about how things were done and the continual exceptions which are brought out to make their weak argument. One only has to study history and patterns to draw conclusions not just isolated incidents. The ideas I present in my arguments are widely accepted by historians as they are substantiated by fact and wide academic acceptance. If my critics don't accept this then I suggest that they take their arguments to the academic arena for debate. Oh well, I guess the sun orbits the Earth and world is flat


Very harsh and unwarranted tone.

Additionally, (I'm speaking as an undergrade) simply claiming that something is true because historians accept it is bunk, historians are fallible and one only needs to look on jstor to see arguments raging amongst historians about everything.

Finally history is about specific instances, not rules of thumb, cite your sources but don't just claim things as being self-evident because nothing is.

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Dec, 2009 12:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two to start off with. At Crecy, Edward III stayed with the reserves to direct the battle and sent his son to the front to "earn his spurs". At Poiters his son stayed at the rear to command until he judged the time right for a decisive cavalry charge, in which he participated.
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PostPosted: Mon 14 Dec, 2009 4:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Adding to that, Emperor Alexius Commenos I said that the safest and most effective place for a commander to be was in the middle of the army
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PostPosted: Mon 14 Dec, 2009 7:06 pm    Post subject: Re: Back On Track         Reply with quote

Harry J. Fletcher wrote:
Now to get back on track with the premises of the Western Way of War, one of the prerequisites was that the Kings and leaders fought in the front ranks to command respect and to LEAD! This was true in classical Hoplite warfare and it was true in Medeival warfare.

That's a good example of the flaws in Hansen's ideas about western culture. I think Hanson would say that Greeks and Romans are definitely Western, while the Achaemenid Persians are very non-Western. Lets look at where generals in those three cultures tended to place themselves.

Where was a Greek general during battle? In the front ranks near the right of his army. And where was a Persian general during battle? In the front ranks near the center of his army. Not much difference there ... And where was a Roman general? Ideally somewhere in the rear where he could command, except during emergencies where he would come forward to inspire his men. For each of the things which Hanson thinks is distinctively Western, you can find lots of other cultures which practiced it, and several Western cultures which didn't.
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