Battle of Panion

An axis of exploitation had surfaced when the Macedonians and the Seleucids matched each other’s eagerness to take advantage of the stumbling Empire centred at Alexandria, whose assets also included Cyprus, Hellespontine Thrace, Samos, and much more south from Ephesus along the south coast of Anatolia. Threats to the places in Asia Minor and on the blue Aegean waters had been played out for some time, but now Antiochus could taste old ambitions unsatisfied, and this would bring the thunder of war to the very borders of Egypt itself. Philip and Antiochus were up to complete partition in 204, if we are to believe Appian, but far more likely is that both had limited ambitions; the former having his eyes on just what he could pick up around the Aegean while the latter wanted what he always had, the Lagid Levant.

The Seleucid army moved in strength in 202, with the royal regiments, mercenaries, local auxiliaries and elephants. They were intending a serious conquest, no mere foray. Their achievements are not detailed but were impressive, bringing Seleucid power to the margins of Egypt, although this was not the first occasion he had reached so far and last time it had ended at Raphia. The whole enterprise may have taken up two campaigning seasons, starting in 202. With the southern offensive accomplished sure and steady, it was only in the winter at the end of 201 that they pulled the main army back, leaving garrisons to hold the towns they had taken, while the leadership and royal regiments returned to Antioch.

The Ptolemaic ship of state had been navigating stormy waters since Tlepolemus took the helm, and despoliation in Thrace and Anatolia had undermined what little muscle there was in this playboy’s administration. But it was the invasion by Antiochus that eventually unseated him. Although affable and brave, he could not match what the despised Agathocles and Sosibius had managed in 217. So in another coup, of which we know nothing, there was a change at the power seat behind the child throne of Ptolemy V. The new man was Aristomenes, an Acarnanian officer of the royal bodyguard, who started up the greasy pole by playing sycophant in the entourage of Agathocles, but who, once given his chance at the head of things, showed great quality. Support by Scopas, the Aetolian marshal, must have been both crucial in his power bid and in maintaining supremacy afterwards. He had been, for a while, a key player in the military. Indeed, he had been perceived as enough of a threat for Agathocles to send him off on a recruiting mission when he was getting rid of rivals a couple of years before. Since then, he had returned and become a key performer in the intrigues that played out in the Alexandrine court. In the new arrangement, the Acarnanian guardian shored up the home administration while the Aetolian took responsibility for the Levantine front.

This was back to field command for Scopas, and it would eventually end in one of the decisive battles of the era. Even before the Social War, he had been one of the most significant of those leaders that had steered the fortunes of the Aetolian League. Always a front-foot fighter, he had started that war with an invasion of Thessaly, and in the twenty odd years since, he was a stalwart of the war party that took on Macedonia, the Achaeans and the rest of Symmachy. Perhaps, in the end, that had contributed to his undoing in Aetolia; associated with a couple of wars that had ended not so well and had driven many of his people into deep debt. Scopas had been strategos in 205/4, after the wars, and with another old warhorse, Dorimachus, he tried to propose reforms. The radical debts cancellation they pushed was not unheard of as a solution, and the reason was the same; to give relief to the infantry class that filled the army, not to mention some personal debts of his own. But, this was always a potentially dangerous road, as was made all too plain when his services were dispensed with by the people after being outmanoeuvred, and his reforms scuppered by a man called Alexander, who had recently held office as hipparch and was clearly on the up in the politics of the League. Like many a Greek before with a military reputation, when rebuffed at home, he took service in Egypt.

Polybius, for some reason, directs considerable ire at Scopas for being the epitome of greed, saying: `he delivered his soul for money’. He castigates him for not being satisfied with his lot and compares him to a dropsy sufferer: `the thirst of the sufferer never ceases and is never allayed by the administration of liquids from without, unless we cure the morbid condition of the body itself, so it is impossible to satiate the greed for gain.’ A charge that could be levelled at many a condottiere in the Hellenistic Age.

He clearly retained clout in Aetolia, as when he was sent back to recruit, 6,000 infantry and 500 cavalry enrolled under his standard. Apparently, even then, he had to be pulled up short, or he would have emptied the country of soldiers altogether. It was with this considerable force, plus what the Lagid military had already mustered, that Scopas now marched.

It began as a winter war. Scopas reoccupied Coele Syria in the winter of 201/200 and retook most of what had been lost, including Jerusalem. The counter strike reached up as far as the Golan Heights, towards the Lebanon valley, and along the coast to Sidon. It comes over as something of a promenade, so perhaps Antiochus’ previous triumphs had not been so complete, or perhaps many places still cleaved loyally to the Ptolemies and sprang back into their arms when they arrived in the region in force. Certainly, Scopas took some Jewish leaders back to Egypt to firm up Ptolemaic influence amongst those people. But finally, it was always down to who won on the battlefield, and so in the following spring of 200, Scopas was back in force and pushing on towards Lebanon. But this year would be no walkover; Scopas found himself faced with the main Seleucid army, with the Great King at its head and battle took place on the road from Lebanon to Palestine at Panion.

Some have suggested the numbers involved in this encounter as approaching the magnitude of those at Raphia. But this is problematic, as that was the culmination of an extraordinary Ptolemaic effort, and there is no evidence that this was the case before Panion. Certainly, Scopas had recruited in Greece, but we do not hear of the wholesale purchase of warlord and mercenary service that occurred in 217. Still, both sides must have been present in great force. The Ptolemaic army that navigated the well-trodden roads east from Pelusium would have comprised a large phalanx: those Thracians and Galatians who had been stalwarts in the Ptolemaic army for decades, the Aetolians and elephants too.

Josephus explains that Panion, although near, is not actually the source of the Jordan and, ever affable, lets us know that fishing is good in the area. The site of the battlefield is reasonably clear, despite the fact that our main source Polybius is once more sidetracked. Here, instead of giving the details of the battle, he devotes most of his description to a refutation of his source and contemporary, Zeno of Rhodes. Criticizing him for sacrificing accuracy for style, Polybius raises many pertinent points for a military historian, but somewhat spoils the effect by obsessing about a number of matters. The best example is his insistence that Antiochus had only one son at the battle, despite Zeno’s clear statement that there were two. Young Royals frequently appear on the battlefield in command roles, supported by more experienced officers, so Polybius’ obduracy on this issue is difficult to understand. Fascinatingly, Polybius actually wrote to Zeno, pointing out his geographical errors. Zeno, showing admirable forbearance beyond the point of duty, thanked him courteously for his criticism but replied that he had already published his work and it was too late to change anything. His real feelings may well have been considerably different. Be that as it may, Polybius’ account does give us something of an idea of the terrain and flavour of the encounter.

Antiochus had advanced down the ancient Damascus-Egypt road and descended the Golan Heights to Panion, where he camped with the river to the west, between him and Scopas. Antiochus deployed at sunrise on the day of battle, and initially the Seleucids anchored the right of their battle line on the lower slopes of an adjacent mountain, presumably north of Panion. This force consisted of mixed infantry and horse, but it was just an outpost, and the main right wing was below on the plain. Most likely, the rest of the army formed conventionally, with the phalanx in the centre and another cavalry wing on the left, with the river across the front of the whole force. From this initial posting, the Great King had sent forward his elder son `just before the morning watch’ to occupy high ground that commanded the enemy camp, possibly a spur west of Panion, and the river above the open plain that lay south of there and east of the 1949 Israeli and Syrian armistice line. Then, at the signal to advance, the Seleucids lined up to offer battle and crossed over the river. Their dressing remained largely predictable; the phalanx of heavy-armed pikemen were in the centre and the cavalry took position on the flanks. One side, under the command of the king’s younger son, also called Antiochus, probably was on the right, the position of honour. Who commanded on the left is uncertain, but in front of the whole – right, centre and left – were the elephants with their guards of archers and slingers, and there must have been a considerable number, probably as many as the 102 present at Raphia. Antiochus had lost some at that encounter, but equally had garnered many more during his recent anabasis to Bactria and India. And, more than this, an officer named Antipater led out the Tarentine light horse as a skirmish line in front of the elephants; `while he [Antiochus] himself with his horse and foot guards took up a position behind the elephants.’

So, the king himself was leading from the front of the phalanx with the Companions and footguards, a location for a commander-in-chief we do not hear of in any other encounter, and which would appear impractical as he might be crushed between friend and enemy when the phalanxes clashed. So, perhaps it should be understood that when the centres stepped forward to enter combat, these glittering staff men with their escorts would slip back through avenues left by the pike men before they closed up again for hostilities.

Scopas, a veteran now, on the other side, was well aware of what was afoot and broke his men out of camp at the double. He, too, deployed his well-drilled phalanx in a great block in the centre and presumably ranged his horsemen either side. The Ptolemaic army, too, must have had its elephant corps; after all, they won at Raphia, and had had nearly twenty years to recruit from Sudan to fill out the ranks of the veteran animals who had died of wounds or old age. But how many and how they fared in battle we do not know, although it is reasonable to assume, as at Raphia, that they did not do well against their bigger Asian cousins.

Events commenced on the Seleucid right, as was so often the case, and here Antiochus, the younger, had Cataphracts as his spearhead. They were armoured all over but without a shield, which most Hellenistic horsemen had started using over the third century. Again, their strength is unknown, but what is certain is that they must have been picked up by Antiochus III in the east as they are not heard of in the army before. Whatever the exact composition of this force, it was successful in routing the Ptolemaic wing opposite. Certainly, here Zeno’s account as filtered through Polybius is difficult if, is as claimed, he says that they are firstly on level ground then charge downhill. What is clear, though, is that the heavy mailed fist on the right of the Seleucid line swung to hit. They drove off the horse opposite commanded by Ptolemy, son of Aeropus, but some of his men from the left side of the battle line did not flee but stayed and fought for their lives.

But here Polybius, in criticizing Zeno, does ask a question that is relevant to virtually all accounts of ancient warfare. It is never explained how the main phalanxes got at each other when in the initial layout there might be any number of other troops between them, elephants, light infantry or cavalry, unless, as was possible with Antiochus III and his staff, the phalangites were drilled to form lanes for them to exit down.

Already, after the bloody initial coming to blows of the sarissa-men, the Seleucid phalanx was being forced back by the more agile Aetolians. Whether these are the same Aetolians mentioned as making a good fight of it after Antiochus the younger had swept away the Ptolemaic left flank, is not clear, but whoever they were, presumably they were not phalangites but thureophoroi/ peltasts, so typical of Aetolian soldiery, who perhaps had attacked the Seleucid phalanx in the flank when they were engaged in the front by the Egyptian phalanx.

These men were sweating in their armour, unable to face about while controlling their long pikes and under fire from men with javelins, who might also come in sword-in-hand on their unshielded side. They were saved by a charge of elephants, which were deployed behind the Seleucid phalanx; `while the elephants received the retreating line’ and tore into the Aetolians.

Zeno is quizzed as to how this is possible, as he previously placed all the elephants at the front of the phalanx, and he is equally taxed on how they could have been effective because the two lines were mixed together, and the animals could not tell friend from foe. This second could be contended in any encounter including elephants, and indeed, not infrequently they did fatally fail to discriminate at all between the enemy and their own side. Any imaging of this fighting between the huge animals must include tens of light infantry from their escorts skirmishing in the dust around their feet that presumably generally precluded anything but the most rudimentary recognition of who was who. Hard tasking from a man who is far from completely inculpable in this kind of thing himself. He also questions how some Aetolian cavalry, presumably on the Lagid right, could be frightened by elephants, as he assumes these Aetolians must be in the centre. This is all tendentious stuff, as it is possible there was more than one group of elephants; a group held on the flank may have panicked the Aetolian horse.

This heaving mass of men and animals in the centre of the battle could not seem to achieve a decision. Many fell wounded or exhausted in the summer heat, but the phalanxes were presumably evenly matched in numbers and quality, because it needed something else to separate them. And it came from the younger Antiochus, who returned from pursuing the enemy left, which his armoured troopers had trounced so soundly. The hot taste of glory meant that they plunged ahead to cut the enemy down, but enough officers among them kept cool heads and were able to make the decisive impact. Sufficient of them drew rein to allow a sizable force to cohesively form behind the unprotected rear of the Ptolemaic phalanx.

There are two different versions of Scopas’ part in the attack, the first being: `when he saw the younger Antiochus returning from the pursuit and threatening the phalanx from the rear he despaired of victory and retreated.’ So when Antiochus the younger’s troopers crashed murderously into the back of the enemy line, the Aetolian was already looking to save his skin. Yet also, Zeno says: `the hottest part of the battle began, upon the phalanx being surrounded by the elephants and cavalry, and now Scopas was the last to leave the field.’ Whether he was the first or last to flee once the Lagid phalanx had both enemy cavalry and elephants trampling down their rear rank, the contest was over.

A different description of the encounter has been effectively argued that sees the combat developing as a fight of two halves, separated by the river. The benefit of this explanation is it does have a role for Antiochus’ eldest son, who is envisaged holding the left of the Seleucid line on a hill to the east of the river, and this also being the sector in which the Aetolians are seen off by the elephants. And it very satisfactorily clarifies how Scopas both leaves the field as soon as the enemy gets behind the main phalanx and also fights to the very end. In this account, he leaves the left section of his army, when it is clear they are not going to win, and goes over the right side to try and make a difference there, and when it goes against him on that side too, he battles to the end in an effort to extricate the remains of his army and get them on the road to Sidon. But this account still accepts that the key victory that overwhelmed the Ptolemaic phalanx occurred on the small plateau west of the river. While this thesis is perfectly arguable, it is based on assumptions that we do not feel confident to make, and we find errors of reporting and transcribing just as likely to be enlightening on the inconsistencies in the story of the affray. Either account would fit what little we know, and our thinking is based on the fact that it would be very unconventional for a battle in this era to be fought in two parts separated by a river. But, then again, anybody interested in the world of the Hellenes and their heirs knows unconventionality is far from being unheard of. And, if an argument of numbers is made, then accepting that the sides were considerably smaller, perhaps a half or two thirds those at Raphia, this would allow all the combat to take place in the northern area west of the river, on the plateau, which it could not have done if the manpower had really been equivalent to the fight in 217. Whatever the exact details, the outcome was clear. `Antiochus overcame Scopas, in a battle fought at the fountains of Jordan, and destroyed a great part of his army.’

While 10,000 got away and followed Scopas to find refuge in Sidon, Antiochus was not going to let the fruits of this victory slip away. He chased them down with all the energy at his command. And, after the siege-lines were drawn round Sidon, it soon became clear that there was no absolute steel in the defence, and although the government at Alexandria sent a force under four `famous’ generals to relieve them, the attempt failed, and Scopas and the remnants of the Panion army were left to work out their own fate. It took empty bellies inside of Sidon to ensure an outcome, but Scopas at least ensured he got back to Alexandria as part of the deal. It is probable that as the siege had moved to its conclusion his eyes had become more and more focused on what was happening back in Alexandria. He was not egregious, but certainly egotistical, and looked now to the priority of securing of his own power base there.

After this triumph, the Seleucid army now marched south, intent on making their presence permanent in this region that had changed hands so often in the past decades. Antiochus took the Batanaea region, Abila and Gadara, Greek cities east of Jordan, and then the Samarians and Jews submitted. He had to fight to take the citadel of Jerusalem from its Ptolemaic garrison, but the king was clearly pleased with the Jewish authorities for their cooperation and solicitude in looking after his men and elephants.

After this, it was onto the siege of Gaza, another of those epics of which we get only the faintest echo: `It seems to me both just and proper here to testify, as they merit, to the character of the people of Gaza.’ Polybius admired this people’s fidelity to the Egyptians who had ruled them for so long. Their overlord had been vanquished in battle, but they still defended their walls, despite there being no prospect of succour from Alexandria. It was a pattern; the Gazans had stood firm to the end against Alexander the Great 130 years before. But the latest besieger was irritated, not impressed, by their tenacity, and even knowing himself to be in a line with the Great Macedonian, did not mollify him, and Antiochus destroyed the place as soon as he took it.

Scopas still had some juice in the tank, as would be expected for a man with his extraordinary career. Back at Alexandria, despite disasters in the Golan Heights and at Sidon, he had loyal regiments at his back, which was what counted. He was still well connected in the military, certainly best of friends with the officer in charge of the elephant hunts that recruited for the royal herds, and he apparently had access to the royal money as well. All this in a few years overcame any loss of confidence due to Panion, and he made a bid for supreme power in about 196. But Aristomenes did not have a pedigree in Agathocles’ court for nothing. He was too sharp for the general, and had him arrested and tried in front of all the Greek diplomatic officials, including Aetolians, in the capital. Like Socrates, if lacking his cachet, he too was given a cup of poison to take him away from the troubles of a world in turmoil.

The Battle of Panion

The Battle of Fort Panion


The Age of Light-Armed Greek Warrior I

The Peloponnesian War ended in 404 and closed out the fifth century with a surprise attack. Lysander, the Spartan, tricked the Athenians at Aegospotami, by attacking their vessels at a regular hour and then calling off his fleet. Once this had become an established procedure, the Athenians dropped their guard after the Spartans dispersed. Then, when most of the Athenians had scattered according to their usual pattern, he returned, attacked and slew the rest, and captured all their vessels. The fourth century was thus ushered in with the defeat of the Athenian Empire and a Spartan hegemony that took its place and lasted until the Battle of Leuctra in 371. Sparta found itself engulfed in the so-called Corinthian war from 395 until 387 against a coalition of four allied states: Thebes, Athens, Corinth and Argos, which were initially backed by Persia. Then the Boeotian or Theban war broke out in 378 as the result of a revolt in Thebes against Sparta; the war would last six years.

There was obviously no shortage of warfare in the fourth century, and all sides continued to fight with hoplites, but the conditions of military life were slowly changing. Gone was the era of short military campaigns that took place only during the summer after the harvest. Cities were now attacked by night, fighting took place year-round, and atrocities were committed against civilians. The prolongation of campaigns and a change in tactics set the stage for the professionalisation of Greek armies. Whereas hoplite warfare had not necessarily called for very elaborate training, the use of missiles and the tactics of staging ambushes required training at a higher technical level. When light-armed troops were utilised everything depended upon movement. Rapid changes of position, sudden strikes, speedy retreats and ambushes were all operations that needed to be carefully prepared with accurate intelligence. Because such operations had to be well directed and executed with speed and determination, it could mean training one’s own troops or hiring well-trained mercenaries.

The change from militiamen to paid fighters meant a change from amateurs to professional soldiers. Foreign mercenaries were expensive and could not usually be hired in large numbers, but citizens could be recruited and trained to perform the same specialised functions provided by foreign, light-armed mercenaries. Athens’ overseas expeditions in the fourth century were all carried out by mercenaries.

Light-Armed Troops and Peltasts

An increasingly important role was played by light-armed troops in the fourth century, and they became a significant factor in the conduct and the outcome of battles. Although hoplites mattered most in set battle on a large scale, war on land now had a place for other arms and other methods than those of the hoplite phalanx. Smaller tactical units gave a new manoeuvrability that had been impossible in traditional hoplite lines. These new troops became effective in gaining tactical advantage, usually through a sudden, surprise assault. Small striking forces became especially important in fifth-column operations.

There were several types of light troops, the most common being archers, slingers and peltast-javelin men.8 The peltasts became the most effective of the light-armed troops. Peltasts were a sort of mean between the extremes of heavy and light-armed men. They had all the mobility of light-armed troops, and yet sufficient offensive and defensive armour to cope, with a fair amount of success, with small bodies of hoplite troops (i.e. those not in set-piece battles). Using peltasts would increase the ability of Greek armies to stage surprise attacks and ambushes. The name peltast comes from the fact that they were armed with a pelte (Thracian shield). In place of a dagger, they might also carry a kind of scimitar, a curved sabre known as a machaira, which could be used to deal slashing blows. Peltasts were not much help in stopping a hoplite force head on; their main use was to protect the flanks of an advancing hoplite army against attacks from the light-armed troops of the enemy. The majority of Greek states had an organised body of light-armed troops. Athens was an exception until this was changed by commanders such as Iphicrates and Chabrias.

Although their weapons might seem simple, these light troops were specialist soldiers. Their way of fighting entailed a higher degree of specialisation than the relatively straightforward, spear-and-shield techniques of hoplites fighting in formation. The accurate use of missile weapons was a skill acquired and maintained only by regular and constant practice. For this reason, light-armed troops tended to be professionals. At first, they were foreign mercenaries recruited in Thrace, Crete and Rhodes; later, they were natives recruited locally from city-states. Athens was the first to transform some of the poorer citizens into light troops.

The Athenian general Iphicrates is credited by two ancient sources – Diodorus and Cornelius Nepos – with reforming the equipment of his hoplites. These military reforms have long been the subject of scholarly debate, but what is clear is that they were much better equipped to stage ambushes. Iphicrates did away with the large hoplite shield – the aspis – and replaced it with the smaller pelta. He also lengthened the sword (xiphous) and the spear (doratos). Of course, there were peltasts in use long before this time in other regions of Greece, but now the reform was coming to Athens.

The defeat of the Athenian hoplites by light-armed cavalry and peltasts at Spartolus, the successful defence by Acarnanian slingers of Stratus against Peloponnesian hoplites, or the destruction of Ambraciot hoplites by Amphilochian light-armed, not only reinforced the lessons learned from the experience in Aetolia and Sphacteria but also carried them still further. From the last phases of the Peloponnesian war and, continuing into the fourth century, armies began to contain significantly higher numbers of specialised troops than Classical ones had fielded. This included the growth of a corps of archers, the addition of light-armed troops, the rise of mercenary troops recruited largely from abroad, and the development of cavalry.

Generalisations about mercenary service can be misleading. It is commonly assumed that mercenary soldiers did not become a significant factor of Greek social and political history before the fourth century. In fact, however, Greek mercenary soldiers had been serving in armies of southeast Mediterranean powers since the Archaic Age. The reasons for soldiers becoming mercenaries and their terms of service vary. In Crete, for example, one would cite demographic developments and military traditions as well as socio-economic crisis. Another accusation that dogged military operations was that the systematic use of mercenaries encouraged a selfish inertness at home, a dangerous licentiousness in the free companies abroad, and that it diverted the energies of the ablest citizens from patriotic objects to the baser pursuit of plunder and military fame. The fact is, however, that soldiers did not take up this line of work because it was so lucrative. Service in places such as Persia and Egypt might be lucrative, but service in Greece proper was not. Soldiers in the fourth century accepted military service knowing that there was no money in it for them unless they looted, stole or won booty.

Hoplite Armour and Hamippoi

Another military innovation that occurred in the fourth century was the lightening of the hoplite panoply. Some hoplites were still sporting extensive metal armour in the mid-fourth century, but the overall trend of the Classical period seems to have been a progressive lightening of hoplite armour. This made hoplites more mobile and thus better able to cope with the challenges of difficult terrain, enemy skirmishers and ambushes. Lighter panoplies were also cheaper. Konrad Kinzel suggests that this enabled more citizens to equip themselves as hoplites and enjoy the attendant political status that went with this type of fighting. But were these troops really hoplites any more? Nick Sekunda also describes the shift in the use of armour plate in the late fifth century. He seems to think that armour all but disappeared as the Spartans were depicted wearing only a pilos helmet and tunic, no cuirass, greaves, etc. and Boeotian hoplites were all but naked. Does this indicate a change in battlefield tactics? The availability of materials? And were these soldiers still considered ‘hoplites’, i.e. heavy infantry? It certainly contributed to them being more mobile and able to counter attacks by light-armed soldiers.

Another military innovation of the fourth century was the introduction of hamippoi, a type of light-infantry corps that ran behind cavalrymen. The hamippoi were trained to fight alongside the cavalrymen. They would go into battle holding on to the tails and manes of the cavalry horses. Hamippoi were particularly useful in a straight cavalry fight, where they would hack at the enemy horsemen. One of their signature manoeuvres was to slip underneath the enemy horse and rip its belly open with a dagger. This certainly suggests that service in the hamippoi was not for the faint-hearted. In his pamphlet On the Duties of the Hipparch, Xenophon recommends that the Athenians raise a corps of such men from among the exiles and other foreigners in Athens, who had special reason to be bitter against the enemy. Xenophon saw their value as being able to deliver a surprise as he points out that they could be hidden among and behind taller mounted troops.

Hamippoi were first mentioned serving in the forces of the Syracusan tyrant Gelon, where his 2,000 cavalry were accompanied by an equal number of hippodromoi psiloi or psiloi who run alongside the cavalry. Hamippoi are found in the Boeotian army during the Peloponnesian war. When the Spartan army was reorganised some time after the Battle of Mantinea in 418, the 600 skiritai were not folded into the ranks of the morai but were converted into the hamippoi and fought alongside the 600 cavalry.

In short, as the fifth century progressed into the fourth, the trend was to lighten the armour of the hoplites and add soldiers from the lower classes, who could perform various new duties that required greater speed and manoeuvrability. This made ambushing more difficult and less likely if each side had mobile troops that could improvise.

The Generals in the Fourth Century

The need to develop specialised, light-armed troops encouraged the rise of professional generalship in the fourth century. The proper handling of such troops required something more than amateur leadership. Fourth-century generals had to recruit different types of soldiers, who used different types of weapons and tactics. W. K. Pritchett dedicates a chapter of the second volume of his comprehensive work, The Greek State at War, to this new breed of general. Their careers were made possible by the changing political and military circumstances, and new operating conditions dictated some new fighting techniques. The military commanders in the late fifth and early fourth centuries had to conduct military operations more and more independently, relying on their own skill and talent. They developed increasingly strong ties with their army rather than just their polis. The independence of fourth-century commanders was a function of long-term service abroad and of operating independently of their home authorities. How much freedom they enjoyed in the field can probably never be precisely determined, but those who were elected or appointed to office by the larger city-states seem to have discharged their functions with as much loyalty as similar officials in the fifth century.

Another motivation for the increased use of novel techniques and stratagems was that fourth-century military forces were sent out without being provided with money. The generals were expected to raise funds by plunder, by contributions from allies or even by foreign service. They and their troops seem to have had unlimited permission to plunder the enemy’s country. In the fifth century, mercenaries had been dismissed when the state lacked funds, but conditions had greatly changed in the fourth century. A great number of the stratagems that are collected in Polyaenus and assigned to Athenian generals of the fourth century have to do with the raising of money to pay their troops. Six of the stratagems preserved in Polyaenus on Jason of Pherae, for example, deal with means for securing funds.

Even with these new troops, staging an ambush was no easier to accomplish in the fourth century than it was in the fifth. Naturally, it was best done with soldiers who were trained by their leaders in the skills needed for such operations. This is where the light-armed troops, especially peltasts, excelled. Light-armed troops, unlike hoplites, were trained to be highly responsive and flexible. They had to be able to close with the enemy and kill quickly. Light infantrymen could be used to destroy the enemy on his own ground, make the best of initiative, stealth and surprise, infiltration, ambush and night operations. Iphicrates trained his light-armed troops by staging fake ambushes, fake assaults, fake panics and fake desertions so his men would be ready if the real thing happened. Light infantrymen were not tacticians; they could not respond mechanically to a set of conditions on a battlefield with a pre-determined action like a phalanx. Whoever led the ambush had to know how to use initiative, understand intent, take independent action, analyse the field of operations, collect intelligence and make rapid decisions. Initiative meant bold action and often involved risks. Initiative by the tactical leader may have been independent of what higher commanders wanted done to the enemy. The men such leaders worked with were soldiers trained to fend for themselves through hardship and risk in hostile, uncompromising terrain. Such operations built a greater degree of teamwork and skill than other types of infantry formations as a result of the stress put on adaptability, close-combat skills and independent action.

Fourth-Century Ambush

Greek literature in the fourth century contains much more information on ambush than its fifth-century counterpart. Even didactic works such as Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, while wholly removed from the context of real events, give lessons about commanding a Greek army. The ambush against the forces of Gadatas42 is a classic use of clandestine communications and the laying of an ambush among a cluster of small villages. We can also see a classic deception operation, where soldiers are arrayed along with the baggage train and the women to make their force seem larger than it is. Any enemy attack would have to make a wider circuit around them and thereby thin out their own lines.

We cannot always be sure of the dates or even the historicity of certain stratagems, but they all seem to describe generic situations that crop up again and again. One of the most common ways to stage an ambush, for example, was to attack an army on the march. Polyaenus gives an undated example of the detection of such an ambush. While leading his army, Tissamenus saw many birds flying above a particular place, but not settling on the ground, and he concluded that they shrank from settling because they feared men lying in ambush. After investigating the spot, he attacked and cut down the Ionians who were waiting in ambush. This is a much repeated story, with several Roman commanders using the same tactic.

Another piece of good advice was to be ready for an ambush whether you were expecting one or not. Polyaenus tells a story about Arxilaidas the Laconian who, around 370/69, was about to travel a suspicious road with his army. Pretending he had advance intelligence which he did not, he ordered them to advance prepared for battle because the enemy lay in ambush. But by chance a large ambush was discovered. He attacked first and easily killed all those in ambush, outsmarting them by his advance preparations.

Playing on the known habits of barbarian tribes was another common practice. Polyaenus relates several stratagems used by Clerachus against the Thracians, which presumably date from a time just prior to his entering the service of Cyrus. All illustrate the frequency of Thracian nocturnal attacks. This practice, according to Polyaenus, enabled Clearchus the Spartan to set an ambush for one of the local Thracian tribes, the Thrynians. He withdrew a little distance with a number of soldiers, and ordered them to hit their shields, as was the Thracian habit, putting all the Greeks in camp on alert. When the Thracians attacked, they expected to find everything in camp peaceful and quiet, but the Greeks were ready for them and they were beaten off with severe losses. When the Thracians sent envoys to negotiate a peace, Clearchus had the bodies of a few dead Thracians cut up and strung from trees. When the envoys asked about the meaning of the spectacle, they were told that a meal for Clearchus was being prepared! Such antics as these caused people to question the ethical aspects of Clearchus’ conduct, but his military qualities are beyond dispute. He displayed great military insight in critical situations and this meant using whatever tactics worked.

The instances of surprise attacks, night marches and ambushes gathered in this chapter show how common ambushes had become in Greek warfare. This included not only light-armed troops but also hoplites being used for manoeuvres off the regular battlefield. Against hoplites, the function of peltasts was so often harassment, and the night was the most advantageous time. Isocrates equated peltasts with pirates.

Pursuing a fleeing army was a tactic that also became more common because of the mobility of light-armed troops. Plutarch tells us that the Spartans thought it ignoble for the Greeks to kill men who were fleeing, and adds that this policy made enemies more inclined to run away than fight. The practical reason for doing this, however, was not a lack of morality but rather a tactic to avoid the kind of thing that happened after the Battle of Haliartus in 395. The Thebans pursued the Spartans into the hills, where the Spartans immediately turned on them and attacked back with javelins and stones. They killed more than 200 Thebans. Practicality played a bigger part in Greek military policy than moralising.

The shock over the effectiveness of these new soldiers and their new tactics became apparent when a detachment of peltasts won a brilliant victory over Spartan soldiers at Lechaeum in 394. The commanders Callias and Iphicrates, looking down from the walls of Corinth, could see an approaching mora of Spartan soldiers. The Spartans were not numerous and were not accompanied by any light-armed or cavalry. The Athenans commanders determined that it would be safe to stage an ambush with their own peltasts. They could aim their javelins at the Spartans’ unshielded side when they passed. Callias stationed his hoplites in the ambush not far from the city walls, while Iphicrates led the peltasts in an attack, knowing if they lost they could retreat more quickly. The Spartan commander ordered a group of the youngest soldiers to pursue the assailants, but when they did so they caught no one, since they were hoplites pursuing peltasts at a distance of a javelin’s cast. Besides, Iphicrates had given orders to the peltasts to retire before the hoplites got near them. Then, when the Spartans were returning from their pursuit, out of formation because each man had pursued as swiftly as he could, Iphicrates’ troops turned around and not only did those in front again hurl javelins at the Spartans but others on the flank also ran and attacked them on their unprotected side.

Having lost many of their best men, with their returning cavalry’s support, the Spartans again attempted to pursue the peltasts. Yet when the peltasts gave way, the cavalry bungled the attack by not pursuing the enemy at full speed but, rather, kept an even pace with the hoplites in both their attack and their retreat. Finally, not knowing what to do, the Spartans gathered together on a small hill about two stades distant from the sea and about sixteen or seventeen stades from Lechaeum. When the Spartans in Lechaeum realised what was happening, they got into boats and sailed alongside the shore until they were opposite the hill. The men on the hill were now at a loss as to what to do; they were suffering dreadfully, and dying, while unable to harm the enemy in any way, and in addition they now saw the Athenian hoplites coming at them. At this point they gave way and fled, some throwing themselves into the sea, while a few made it to safety to Lechaeum with the cavalry. The total dead from all the skirmishes and the flight was enormous; the Spartans had lost half their number in a skirmish with Iphicrates’ peltasts.

Iphicrates, the ambusher, had to beware of ambushes himself. Polyaenus reports that the Spartan harmost (military governor) set an ambush that caught Iphicrates off-guard while he was marching towards the city of Sicyon in 391. Iphicrates immediately retreated by a different, short, trackless route. He selected his strongest troops, fell on the ambushers suddenly and killed them all. He admitted that he made a mistake by not reconnoitring the area, but he exploited his prompt suspicion of an ambush well by quickly attacking the ambushers.

Iphicrates won several successes in the Corinthian war, such as the recapture of Sidous, Krommyon and Oinoe from the Spartans. Several scholars have seen the similarities in the tactics used by Iphicrates’ peltasts and those that the Aetolians had used against Demosthenes, or that Demosthenes in turn used against the Spartans on Sphacteria. The success of Iphicrates was a suggestive sign of the future which might be in store for the professional peltast. The fact that they could defeat the Spartans boosted their ego and was a blow against Spartan prestige. As Parke describes it:

This success of the peltasts … was sufficient to make Iphicrates’ name forever as a general. Moreover it conferred on this type of light-armed troops a reputation for deadliness in battle which they had never before enjoyed in popular estimation. To this new esteem may be attributed the frequent appearance of peltasts in all armies, especially in the Athenian, during the next half-century. Henceforth, they become the typical form of light-armed troops and superseded the less-clearly specified, earlier varieties.

Ambushing, at what some commentators consider ‘inappropriate times’, now became a habit. Of course, what other time than ‘inappropriate’ could an ambush be? Several surprise attacks are attributed to Iphicrates by Frontinus. In one, Iphicrates attacked a Spartan camp at an hour when both armies were accustomed to forage for food and wood.

Another ambush on which Xenophon provides fairly detailed information took place in 388 in the Hellespontine region. The Spartans sent Anaxibius to Abydos as harmost (military governor) to relieve Dercylidas. He immediately took the offensive against the Athenians and their allies. The Athenians feared Anaxibius would find a way to weaken their position, and sent Iphicrates with eight ships and 1,200 peltasts to the Hellespont. First the two commanders just sent raiding parties against each other, using irregulars. Then Iphicrates crossed over by night to the most deserted portion of the territory of Abydos, and set an ambush in the mountains. He ordered his fleet to sail northwards along the Chersonese in order to deceive Anaxibius into believing they had left the area. Anaxibius suspected nothing and marched back to Abydos, but made his march in a rather careless fashion. Iphicrates’ men in the ambush waited until the vanguard of hoplites from Abydos had reached the plain, and at the moment when the rearguard consisting of Anaxibius’ Spartans started coming down from the mountains they sprang the ambush and rushed to attack the rearguard. Anaxibius’ army formed a very long and narrow column and it was practically impossible for his other troops to hasten uphill to the aid of the rearguard. He stayed where he was and fought to the death with twelve other Spartans. The rest of the Spartans fell in flight. Only 150 hoplites from the vanguard still managed to get away but only because they had been in the front of the column and were nearer to Abydos. This makes the probable percentage of losses in the middle of the column somewhere between that of the totally destroyed rearguard and the twenty-five per cent of the vanguard. Iphicrates went back to the Chersonese with a successful operation behind him. This carefully planned ambush, and indeed Iphicrates’ victory, have been compared to a successful guerrilla operation. With the defeat and death of Anaxibius, the danger for Athens of Sparta getting supremacy in the Hellespont was over. Iphicrates continued to operate against the Spartans in these parts until the Peace of Antalcidas, after which he entered the service of the Thracian kings. When Iphicrates left for the Hellespont in 388, Chabrias succeeded him as commander of the peltasts in Corinth. Because he had served under Thrasyboulus in the Hellespontine region, he was probably trained in the use of peltasts.

The Age of Light-Armed Greek Warrior II

Route of Cyrus the Younger, Xenophon and the Ten Thousand.

Xenophon and the Anabasis

The Greeks also came to realise that hoplite warfare, although well adapted to the peculiar circumstances of fighting within their own country, was not capable by itself of facing circumstances of warfare outside Greece, or even in the lesser-known parts of Greece itself. One of the few mercenary armies about whose composition we have exact information is Xenophon’s Ten Thousand. Xenophon’s Anabasis provides an unparalleled wealth of information on Greek mercenary service overseas in the fourth century, and how mixed continents of Greek hoplites and peltasts worked together. The tactics and fighting methods of the peltasts in the service of Athens and Sparta differed in no way from those of the peltasts on the march of the Ten Thousand.

The Peloponnesian war had produced large numbers of exiles who were forced to hire out as mercenaries, and ten thousand such soldiers found themselves recruited by Cyrus in his bid for the throne of his brother Artaxerxes. Many of Cyrus’ troops had a background in non-traditional combat. Non-hoplites including peltasts, archers, slingers and cavalry made up almost a fifth of Xenophon’s army. Xenophon’s men developed a great proficiency at night marching, and the light-armed enabled them to set up ambushes and pursue a fleeing enemy. On the defensive side, the use of light-armed and peltasts allowed Xenophon’s army to safeguard its routes and protect against ambushes set for them.

Because Xenophon and his men were travelling through unknown territory, one use of ambush was to capture intelligence assets: ‘When the enemy was giving us trouble, we set an ambush. It allowed us for one thing to catch our breath, but besides, we killed a number of them, and we took special pains to get some prisoners for this very purpose – of being able to employ them as guides, men who knew the country.’

We see the intelligence gathering structure of the Ten Thousand very clearly in Xenophon’s Anabasis. After having quartered their troops in local villages, Democrates of Temnus was sent with a body of troops during the night to the mountains. The Greeks had heard that late-arriving stragglers had seen fires, suggesting a Persian presence. Democrates was sent because he had the reputation of having made accurate reports in many similar situations. Intelligence gatherers need to be brave, able to act alone without panicking and be accurate in their assessments. Indeed, Democrates is described as being able to discern what ‘facts were facts’ and what ‘fictions were fictions’.

When Democrates returned, he reported that he had not seen fires, but rather he had captured an intelligence asset – a man with a Persian bow and quiver, and a battle axe of the sort that Amazons carry. When this man was interrogated about where he came from, he replied that he was a Persian and was on his way to the camp of Tiribazus to get provisions. They asked him for information about the size of Tiribazus’ force and for what purpose it had been gathered. The prisoner replied that Tiribazus had his own forces plus Chalybian and Taochian mercenaries, and that he himself had made his preparations with the idea of taking a position at the next mountain pass, which had the only road through which the Greeks could be attacked. Once the generals heard this information, they decided to bring their troops together in one camp. They left a garrison behind under the command of Sophaenetus the Stymphalian and set out at once using the captured asset as a guide. As soon as they crossed the mountains, the peltasts pushed ahead of the hoplites and charged the enemy camp. The Persians were taken by surprise and simply fled. Some were killed, and twenty horsemen were captured as was Tiribazus’ tent with its silver-footed couches, drinking cups and his staff. Once the hoplites heard what had happened, they thought it better to go back to their own camp before it could be set upon by the Persians. They sounded the recall trumpet and went home.

We also see this type of operation when light troops set an ambush and captured ‘some of the stealing rascals who are following us’. From these fellows they learned about passages through the mountains. Knowing the geography was of crucial importance since attacking the Greeks in ravines or when crossing over bridges was a common Persian tactic.

Xenophon planned an operation that depended on taking the enemy by surprise. The mercenaries were faced with an enemy holding a mountain pass. Since the bulk of the mountain was apparently undefended, Xenophon suggested a night attack on an unoccupied section of it as a diversionary tactic. He goes on to say that in his opinion such a tactic would be perfectly feasible, since they would be neither overseen nor overheard.

When faced again with the difficulty that a pass was occupied, this time by the Chalybians, the Greeks mounted a night operation. Xenophon proposed that the mountain tops dominating the pass should be occupied by a separate detachment, which they did at night using hoplites and light-armed. The following day when the Chalybians marched up the road to the pass, the Greeks on the mountain top attacked them by surprise. Most of the Chalybians were blocking the road, but part of them turned to fight the Greeks higher up. The Greek hoplites and light-armed defeated their adversaries and gave chase. Meanwhile, the peltasts, who acted as shock troops, rushed towards the Chalybians in the pass. Normally in this type of ambush, hand-to-hand fighting would ensue, but when the Chalybians saw that their men in the mountains had been defeated they fled, leaving the pass free for the Greeks.

Not only was setting ambushes useful, but the mere faking of an ambush could be effective. As the Greek army descended to Trapezus, a Greek city in Colchian territory on the Black Sea, they were afraid of being pursued by the tribe of the Drilai. They pretended to set an ambush. Ten Cretan archers, commanded by a Mysian, attracted the attention of the enemy by flashing bronze peltai in the sun. The Drilai, thinking this was an ambush, kept at a safe distance. When the Greek army had gotten far enough away, the Mysian received the signal to run with his men at full speed to join them. Although the Mysian himself was wounded running down the road, his companions, who had sought cover in the wood bordering the road, carried him with them. The Cretan archers kept shooting at the enemy from a safe distance and thus reached the safety of the Greek camp.

After a voyage along the coast, the Greeks arrived at Heraclea, a Greek city on the border with Bithynia. Here the army split up. The Arcadians sailed straight to the Greek port of Calpe, disembarked at night and advanced against some Bithynian villages about thirty stadia inland. The Thracian Bithynians were completely taken by surprise and a large number of people were captured along with their cattle. It should be noted that these raids were done by hoplites with Thracian peltasts on the defensive.

While the Greeks were crossing to Europe, they enlisted with Seuthes, king of the Odrysian Thracians. Seuthes had been operating in the territory of the Thynians with a comparatively small army consisting of peltasts and horsemen. He feared a night attack from them, but with the Greek mercenaries he felt he could launch a surprise attack on them instead. At Xenophon’s request, the hoplites marched at the head during the night, followed by the peltasts. Seuthes brought up the rear with his horsemen, instead of riding in front. At daybreak, Seuthes and his horsemen rode out ahead to reconnoitre; he wanted to stop any wayfarers from warning the villagers. The rest of the Greeks waited, and followed the tracks of his horses. Since they found no footsteps in the snow on the mountains, they assumed they were not being tracked. Seuthes launched his surprise attack on the villages over the mountains. The initial surprise attack was successful. The Thynians, however, after being driven from their village, returned at night and attacked the Greeks. They threw javelins inside the houses, tried to break off the points of the Greeks’ spears with clubs, and set the wooden houses on fire. At dawn, the reassembled troops of Seuthes and Xenophon advanced back to the mountains. As the Thynians begged for mercy, it was left to Xenophon to decide whether or not he wished to take revenge on the Thynians for their night attack.

On a number of occasions the decision was made to capture a position by craft rather than by a pitched battle. Xenophon records a jocular exchange where the Spartans are accused of being trained as thieves from childhood, and they in turn accused the Athenians of being thieves of public funds. If the comparison of military trickery to stealing reveals any moral qualms on the part of officers of the Ten Thousand about using such tactics, it never prevented them from using them.

Most of the rules of ambush and surprise remained the same in the fourth century. Weather could still thwart even the best night operation. Such was the case in a night operation planned by Thrasyboulus in 403. He set out with seventy followers from Thebes and occupied the fort at Phyle, a fortress with a commanding position. The Thirty Tyrants set out from Athens to retake the fort, bringing with them 3,000 hoplites and the cavalry. The weather was fine when they set out, but heavy snow fall fell during the night. Thrasyboulos saw it as a direct intervention of the gods on his behalf. The subsequent Athenian retreat was impeded by the snow, and descending from their rocky fortress the exiles inflicted further losses on their opponents, and they captured a large part of the baggage.

Night Marches and Assaults

Night marches and surprise attacks continued to be common in the fourth century. Indeed, it was said that once the Arcadians decided to march somewhere, nothing could prevent them – not nightfall nor storms, nor distance nor even mountains. In 390, an important military event occurred when Iphicrates invaded the territory of Phlius. He set an ambush while plundering the territory with a few followers. The men from the city came out against him in an unguarded way, but he killed so many of them that the Phliasians, who had previously rejected having Spartans within their walls, sent for the Spartans and put the city and the citadel under their protection. Thus a previously democratic Phlius that had displayed both political and military dissidence towards Sparta in the late 390s now remained loyal to Sparta for the rest of the Corinthian war.

In 378, the Thebans, afraid that they would be the only ones at war with Sparta, hatched a plot. Pelopidas set up an ambush as a deception in order to deceive the Spartans into attacking the Athenians. He and Gorgias chose Sphodrias, a Spartan, who was a good soldier but had weak judgement and was full of senseless ambition. They sent to him one of their friends who was a merchant with money, and planted the idea that he should seize Piraeus, attacking it unexpectedly when the Athenians were off their guard. It was set up as a night attack. Sphodrias was persuaded, took his soldiers and invaded Attica by night. Sphodrias underestimated the distance and by dawn found he was only at Eleusis. There, the hearts of his soldiers failed them and his design was exposed. Plutarch says they saw light streaming from certain sanctuaries at Eleusis and were filled with ‘shuddering fear’. Having lost the advantage of surprise, they turned back and abandoning the attack ravaged the countryside a little, then retired ingloriously to Thespiae. This once again illustrates the necessity of using brave men for night missions.

Surprise can be deadly even when it is not planned. In 378, both the Athenians and the Spartans were operating with a contingent of peltasts in their service. The Spartan Cleombrotus marched with his troops to Plataea, taking a different route from the one through Eleutherae, which the Athenian Chabrias was guarding with his peltasts. In the Cithaeron mountains, Cleombrotus’ vanguard, made up of peltasts, came upon a contingent of 150 of Chabrias’ peltasts. The latter were taken completely by surprise and nearly all of them were killed.

Using peltasts is not a silver bullet, nor does it give one a monopoly over the use of surprise. Once a surprise attack is used, your enemies copy your tactics. In the spring of 376, Cleombrotus marched again with an army to Boeotia. Once again his peltasts went ahead to occupy the tops of the Cithaeron mountains overlooking the road. This time, however, the area had already been occupied by the Thebans and the Athenians, who were more alert than Chabrias’ peltasts had been two years before. When Cleombrotus’ peltasts reached the top of the mountains and were at close quarters with the enemy, the latter emerged from the ambush and killed about forty fleeing peltasts. Because of this disaster, Cleombrotus believed it was impossible to enter Boeotia, and therefore turned back without having effected his purpose.

Aeneas Tacticus reports a particularly deadly ambush in 376, in which failure to learn from one set of ambushes caused another set. The Triballi, a tribe from the area of mid-Danubian Thrace, made an inroad into the country of the Abderites and set ambushes, then started raiding the country around the city. The Abderites held them in contempt because of previous successful operations against them and made a hasty attack from the city with great force and eagerness. But the Triballi drew them into the ambushes. On that particular occasion, it is said that more men perished in a shorter time than had ever been the case, at least from a single city of similar size. The others, not having learned of the destruction of their compatriots who went out first, rushed to the rescue, cheering each other on, but fell into the same ambushes until the city was bereft of men.

Xenophon reports a night march with a double layer of secrecy in 371, during the truce brokered by Jason of Pherae after the Battle of Leuctra. When news had been brought of the truce between Sparta and Thebes, the polemarchs announced to their men that they should all be packed up after dinner because they intended to set out during the night in order to ascend Mt Cithaeron at dawn. Right after the men finished dinner, however, and before they could take any rest, the polemarch ordered them to set out, and as soon as it was dusk they led them away, taking the road through Creusis, because they were relying more on secrecy than on the truce. They proceeded with very great difficulty because they were withdrawing at night, in fear, and by a hard road, but arrived at Aegosthena in the territory of Megara.

In 370, relations between Orchomenus and Mantineia were strained. Sparta supported Orchomenus and dispatched Polytropus as general to Arcadia with 1,000 citizen hoplites and 500 Argive and Boeotian refugees. Agesilaus waited for Polytropus to join him with his mercenaries. The Arcadians marched against them and Polytropus fought off the attackers but perished in the fight. Diodorus estimated the number dead at 200. If horsemen from Phlius had not arrived just in time to stop the Mantineans from pursuing them, many of the mercenaries would also have been killed. Agesilaus thought the mercenaries would not join him now that they had been defeated, so he marched on Mantinea without them. Armies were sometimes easily surprised even by their own allies. A few days later, after a night movement, the horsemen from Phlius and the mercenaries who had slipped past Mantinea appeared in the Spartan camp early in the morning, causing great confusion at first because the Spartans thought they were the enemy.

In 370, the Thebans invaded Laconia. They crossed the Eurotas river by Amyclae and after four days the Thebans and Eleians advanced in full force along with the cavalry from the Phocians, Thessalians and Locrians who were serving in this expedition. Although the Spartan cavalry formed against them, they were very few in number. To help counter this imbalance, however, the Spartans had set an ambush with about 300 of the younger hoplites, which they hid in the Temple of the Sons of Tyndareus (The Dioscuri). When the Spartan cavalry charged, these men too sprang their attack and forced the enemy back. Eventually, the Thebans decided not to make another assault on the city, so departed on the road to Helos and then Gytheium, where the Spartans had their dockyards. The ambush gave the Spartans enough of an edge to achieve their objective of saving the city.

Night operations became a necessity in 366 during the Theban invasion of Phlius. The Phliasians survived by buying supplies from the Corinthians. But they had to provide a military escort for those who had to pass through enemy lines to get the supplies. While Chares was in Phlius, they asked him to convey their non-combatants (proxenoi) into Pellene. Having left the men at Pellene, they then went to the market, made their purchases and loaded up as many of the animals as they could, and departed by night trying in this way to avoid ambush by the enemy. Xenophon praises their endurance and patience, and admires them for pulling off this dangerous night operation to bring supplies to their hard-pressed city.

Another night attack in 362 is related by several ancient historians. Two groups of Arcadians came to blows, each side sent for outside help. The Tegeans called in the Thebans under Epaminondas, and the Mantineans sought help from both Athens and Sparta. Epaminondas was advancing with his army not far from Mantinea when he learned from local inhabitants that the entire Spartan force was plundering the territory of Tegea. Supposing that Sparta was stripped of soldiers, Epaminondas planned a night attack and set out towards the city. He ordered his troops to take their supper at an early hour, and a little after nightfall led them out straight to Sparta.

The Spartan king Agesilaus, however, anticipating the cunning of Epaminondas (Diodorus) or being informed by a deserter (Polybius), made preparations for a defence. He sent out some Cretan runners and got word to the men he had left behind that the Boeotians would shortly appear in Sparta to sack the city. They should not fear because he himself would come as quickly as possible with his army to bring aid to them. According to Diodorus, Epaminondas set out at night and took the city (Sparta) at daybreak. Polybius says he took the city by surprise. Epaminondas was disappointed in his hope, but after breakfasting on the banks of the Eurotas and refreshing his troops after their hard march he continued on to Mantinea, which would be left without defenders because the Spartans had run home to defend their city. He once again organised a night march and reached Mantinea about midday and found it undefended.

This is an interesting story because Diodorus and Polybius have Epaminondas shown attacking at night. This is in contrast to Polyaenus, where Epaminondas is portrayed as cultivating a reputation for never attacking before sunrise. It is thus difficult to appraise the historical value of the stratagem, because the only attested example in the historians of Epaminondas’ activity by night in the Peloponnesus is his march to Sparta.

Assaults and Escapes from Walled Cities

Assaults and escapes from walled cities were already an important part of warfare at the end of the Peloponnesian war. There are numerous examples of deceptions and tricks, in particular in the assaults on cities, where peltasts were used to great advantage. Much activity, therefore, was expended in the fourth century assaulting cities, or gaining access by stealth.

Storming towns at night was often a successful tactic. In 408, King Agis of Sparta was in Decelea with his army when he learned that the best Athenian troops were engaged in an expedition with Alcibiades. He led his army on a moonless night to Athens with 28,000 infantry, one-half of whom were picked hoplites and the rest were light-armed troops. There were also attached to his army some 1,200 cavalry, of whom the Boeotians furnished 900 and the rest had been sent with him by the Peloponnesians. As he drew near the city, he came upon the outposts before they were aware of him and easily dispersed them because they were taken by surprise. He slew a few and pursued the rest within the walls.

In 405, Diodorus claims Dionysius of Syracuse covered a distance of 400 stades and arrived at the gates of Achradine in the middle of the night with 100 cavalry and 600 infantry. Finding the gate closed, he piled upon it reeds brought from the marshes and burned the gates. His troops entered the town and captured the cavalry trying to defend the city. They were gathered in the marketplace, surrounded and cut down. Then Dionysius rode through the city slaughtering anyone who resisted.

Later in 404, Dionysius of Syracuse treated with humanity the exiles who returned, wishing to encourage the rest to return to their native land too. To the Campanians, he awarded the gifts that were due and then dispatched them from the city, having regard to their fickleness. These made their way to Entella and persuaded the men of the city to receive them as fellow inhabitants, then they fell upon them at night, slew the men of military age, married the wives of the men with whom they had broken faith and possessed themselves of the city.

From the same book of Diodorus we have an example of gates being opened by treachery in 395 at Heraclea. Medius, the lord of Larissa in Thessaly, was at war with Lycophron, tyrant of Pherae. After getting reinforcements of Boeotians and Argives, Medius seized Pharsalus where there was a garrison of Spartans; he sold the inhabitants as booty. After this, the Boeotians and Argives parted company with Medius. They seized Heraclea in Trachis, and on being let in at night within the walls by sympathisers they put to the sword the Spartans whom they seized, but they allowed the other Peloponnesian allies to leave with their possessions, no doubt in an attempt to weaken the Spartan alliance.

Plutarch, in his Life of Pelopidas, reports a plot from 379 when Thebes was garrisoned by the Spartans, to open city gates and stage a surprise attack. The Theban exiles took twelve men disguised as hunters, in short cloaks and leading hunting dogs. They entered the city at different points during the day. The weather changed to wind and snow. They made their way to the house of Charon, where they were changing into their armour when a messenger came from the polemarchs summoning Charon. At first, they thought they had been discovered. While the storm continued, a messenger from the Athenians brought a letter with details of the plot to Archias (the polemarch?). Instead of reading it, Archias, who was drunk, put it under his pillow and went to sleep. When the time came for the attack, the exiles went out in two bands, one under Pelopidas and one under Charon. They broke into various houses and killed leaders, raided shops for arms and at the break of day had control of the city without ever having engaged the 1,500-man garrison. Even Plutarch says that it was not easy to name a case where such a small number of men, so destitute, have overcome enemies so numerous and powerful. The subsequent political change was momentous. This is a clear of example of ambush as a force multiplier.

Mercenary service in Sicily found its high point under tyrants such as Dionysius of Syracuse. We see him using them during the siege of the Siceli at Tauromenium. Dionysius took advantage of the winter storms when the area about the acropolis was filled with snow. He discovered that the Siceli were careless in their guard of the acropolis because of its strength and the unusual height of the wall, so he advanced on a moonless and stormy night against the highest sectors. After many difficulties, both because of the obstacles offered by the crags and because of the great depth of the snow, he occupied one peak, although his face was frosted and his vision impaired by the cold. Still he was able to break through to the other side and lead his army into the city. The attempt, however, still did not work. The Siceli stormed out against him and pushed out the troops of Dionysius. Dionysius himself was struck on the corselet in the flight, sent scrambling and barely escaped being taken alive. Since the Siceli pressed upon them from superior ground, more than 600 of Dionysius’ troops were slain and most of them lost their complete armour, while Dionysius himself saved only his corselet. After this disorder, the Acragantini and Messenians banished the partisans of Dionysius, asserted their freedom and renounced their alliance with the tyrant.

Diodorus reports that in 397, when Dionysius was besieging the Motyans, he made it a practice to sound the trumpet towards evening for the recall of his troops and break off the siege. So once he had accustomed the Motyans to this practice, the combatants on both sides retired as usual. He dispatched Archylus of Thurii with the élite troops, who waited until nightfall then placed ladders against the fallen houses. Using these to mount the walls, they seized an advantageous spot, where they admitted Dionysius’ troops. When the Motyans realised what was taking place, they rushed with all eagerness to the rescue, but they were too late. They fought fiercely but, in the end, the Sicilian Greeks wore down their opponents by the weight of their numbers.

In Rhegium in 393, the Carthaginians fled into the city after a loss of more than 800 men, while Dionysius withdrew for the time being to Syracuse; but after a few days he manned 100 triremes and set out against the Rhegians. Arriving unexpectedly by night before the city, he put fire to the gates and set ladders against the walls.

At Corinth in 392, Praxitas, the commander of a Spartan mora garrisoned at Sicyon, entered the long walls that connected Corinth to its port at Lechaeum, through a gate opened by the two Corinthian defectors, and he established a palisaded camp as they waited for reinforcements. On the second day, the Argives arrived in full strength along with the mercenaries under Iphicrates. Although outnumbered, the Spartans fought bravely, and then followed their victory with the taking of Lechaeum.

From Egypt in 362/1 we have the story of a night escape from a city. Having lost many men in their attack on the walls, the Egyptians then began to surround the city with a wall and a ditch, shutting in Agesilaus and his men. As the work was rapidly nearing completion by reason of the large number of workers, and the provisions in the city were exhausted, Tachos despaired of his safety, but Agesilaus, encouraging the men and attacking the enemy at night, unexpectedly succeeded in bringing all the men out safely.

Similarly, Diodorus reports an attack on the walls of Syracuse in 356/5. Nypsius, the commander of the mercenaries, wishing to renew the battle and retrieve the defeat with his army, which had been marshalled, during the night unexpectedly attacked the wall that had been constructed. And, finding that the guards had fallen asleep in a drunken stupor, he placed the ladders that had been constructed in case they were needed against the wall. The bravest of the mercenaries climbed on the wall with these, slaughtered the guards and opened the gates.

Another unsuccessful assault on a siege wall occurred in 357/6. Dionysius plied his mercenaries with strong wine and sent them on a dash against the siege wall around the acropolis. The attack was unexpected, and the barbarians, with great boldness and loud tumult, began to tear down the cross-wall and attack the Syracusans, so that no one dared to stand on the defensive, except the mercenaries of Dion, who first noticed the disturbance and came to the rescue.

Warfare in the Fourth Century

Despite the anecdotal form of many of our sources, we can see that warfare had changed in the fourth century. As G. T. Griffith pointed out many decades ago, it is not easy to imagine a time when soldiers were not a special class of men who made fighting their profession. The Greeks of the fifth century had no need for professional soldiers. The payment of a wage to fighting men ran contrary to the ideology of the citizen-soldier, i.e. hoplites. They were recruited from a class of men who could arm themselves and fight at their own expense. When Greek cities went to war, every man did what he could. As wars increased in number and intensity, however, the professionalisation of warfare followed. Thucydides writes that before the Peloponnesian war the Athenians devoted their bodies to their country. Later, patriotic enthusiasm would decrease and fighting was left to professional soldiers who received wages.

The use of public finance to pay soldiers transformed warfare by making it possible to mobilise more manpower for longer periods of time and so wage war on land and at sea with an intensity and persistence that had not been feasible in earlier generations. Military service became less and less remunerative especially because of the steep increase in the cost of living in the fourth century. From then on, wages had to be complemented with booty.

Athens had used mercenaries during the greater part of the fourth century and used them more freely than any other Greek city-state. Yet the Greeks were conscious of the incompatibility of their autonomy and the presence of foreign troops in a polis.

The rise of Hellenistic monarchies, combined with a large supply of mercenary soldiers available, meant that professionals and the techniques of war that they could bring with them would be many and varied. Battle became much more costly as the spirit of competition gave way to the desire for complete destruction. Wars were now made up of raids, commando attacks and guerrilla warfare whose heroes were peltasts and these techniques came to rival open combat.

There were always those who waxed poetic about the ‘fair and open battle’ of the past. Xenophon, in the Cyropaedia, has a character urge an attack upon a small and vulnerable group of enemy soldiers. Cyrus overruled him and said it would be better to wait for them all to assemble. If less than half of them are defeated, they will say the Greeks attacked because they feared to face the great mass of the enemy. If they do not feel defeated, there will be another battle. But is this really the Greek attitude towards fair play in war or a just nostalgic remembrance of times past when hoplite armies gathered their full forces on a plain, almost as if by appointment? Or, one might ask, what happened when the Greeks were faced with opponents who did not recognise the ‘rules of the game’? As the Athenians expanded their empire overseas, they found themselves fighting more frequently, in unfamiliar terrain as longer conflicts replaced seasonal and occasional clashes. Professionalism spurred on by the increase in scale, occurrence and duration of conflicts rendered operations more technical. Diversity of terrain favoured a new emphasis on cavalry and light infantry. It became necessary to co-ordinate different types of armed contingents and this made battles more complex than the head-on collisions of phalanxes. Mercenaries with professional skills, often recruited from non-Greeks, supplemented or replaced citizen levies. Generals did not just lead a charge; they had to out-think as well as out-fight the enemy.

Using light-armed troops and mercenaries for ambush was one of the strategies the Greeks adopted. As Griffith points out: ‘The mercenaries of the fourth century became standardised to a type, the type evolved by Iphicrates, i.e. the Iphicratean peltast.’ He believed they became so widespread that actual Thracians were driven from the market. There appears to be no mention by ancient authors of Thracian peltasts in the seventy years before Alexander. Griffith suggests that their disappearance was due to the improved Greek peltast.

Thus, when new circumstances arose, they demanded new experiments from the inventiveness of the Greeks. The Greeks had learned to make an efficient army suitable for service in other lands. Hoplites had to be supported by good light-armed troops and, if possible, by cavalry. The first half of the fourth century developed the military art along these lines, and the Greek hoplite force, in conjunction with these new groups using the tactics of surprise, speed and ambush, became one of the most effective military forces.

Fourth-century authors speak of deception, surprise and ambush constantly. It is clear from the works of Aeneas Tacticus that ambush was always considered a dangerous possibility. Aeneas assumes that ambushes will be a danger, and he recommends that defenders set their own ambushes. He tells a cautionary tale about how some officials used the citizens’ desire to ambush the enemy to bring in mercenaries and take over the city. He even recommends that defenders attack the invaders when they are drunk or when they are preparing dinner. He gives examples of disinformation leaked successfully to the enemy and anecdotes about tricks used to capture cities. He gives detailed instructions on how an army should sally from a town when enemy troops were in the surrounding area. He instructs that hoplites should leave town in separate formations in marching order since, if unordered groups leave in succession, there was a danger that each group would fall into an enemy ambush. Aeneas recommends that to avoid ambushes the available horsemen and light-armed precede the hoplites in order to reconnoitre and occupy the dominating positions in the area, so that the hoplites can be informed of the enemy’s movements in good time and hence avoid unexpected disasters.

Xenophon gives exactly the same advice about troop order. Both Aeneas and Xenophon were generals with extensive field experience. They were basing their advice on practice. It is not difficult to find examples. We see this when Agesilaus’ horsemen, during his campaign in Asia Minor, were riding to a hill in order to survey the terrain and they unexpectedly came upon Persian horsemen. With the order by which the horsemen and peltasts marched ahead followed by the hoplites, it is obvious that the peltasts and horsemen were always the first to engage with the enemy. Another example of this marching order can be seen in Xenophon’s Anabasis. His troops are in the territory of the Thracian enemies; in front of them are the Bithynians. He sends horsemen ahead and orders the peltasts to the hill tops and ridges. The practice at the end of the fifth century seems to have been the same as the fourth century, when Aeneas Tacticus was writing (c.360–350). Xenophon and Aeneas Tacticus have so much in common that classicist David Whitehead plausibly suggests that the two men knew each other and spoke together. The Greeks in Xenophon’s day considered deceiving enemies normal behaviour. Certainly, surprise attacks and ambush came under this heading. The Greeks were still using animal metaphors for ambush as they had in the Iliad. When Xenophon talks about men who deceive the enemy, he compares it to using decoy birds to lure birds into an ambush.

Fourth-century commanders such as Agesilaus became admired by later writers. Most of Frontinus’ examples are Roman, but among the Greeks he mentions one Spartan figure prominently. Of the twenty-one stratagems he cites, nine are attributed to Agesilaus. Polyaenus goes even further. For him Agesilaus was the central character and his thirty-three exempla extend over his entire career as a general.

Scholars like to point out that light-armed troops did not play a decisive part in any battle on Greek soil, except in two cases during the Peloponnesian war where hoplites were caught on ground unsuited to their formation and their tactics. This misses the point, however, that having light-armed troops made it easier to set up ambushes, spring surprise attacks at night or dawn and fall upon hoplites when they least expected it and were ill-prepared. The fact that hoplites themselves were lightening their armour suggests that they saw the changing conditions of warfare as the fifth century progressed.

Whatever sneering may have been done against light-armed troops before or during the Peloponnesian war, it soon became clear to commanders of Greek armies serving abroad in the fourth century that they could not reply solely upon heavily armed hoplite troops. Hoplites need the support of effective bodies of men whose armour rendered them more mobile. The demand for various types of light-armed soldiers had become greater as the Peloponnesian war progressed, and in the fourth century this need got greater as Greeks fought overseas against native troops skilled in these ways of fighting. Archers, javelin men, slingers and, above all, peltasts were found to be necessary. The predominance of a solely hoplite army was gone. The fourth-century Greek army had been remade as a co-operative effort by trained hoplites, peltasts and cavalry, many of them mercenaries and all obedient to a general.

G. B. Grundy was correct when he warned against reading into the fourth century a wholescale racial decay, physical and intellectual, and perhaps we might add moral because of the types of warfare used. Many writers believe the fourth century saw a ‘change in the ethos of warfare’, i.e. a moral decay. What we are seeing rather are military changes that reflect the reality of warfare in an age of overseas warfare, increased professionalism in the armies, the development of new fighting techniques, the development of a new leadership and the ability of the Greeks to divorce themselves from the hoplite paradigm. These were all brought changes to Greek warfare, but we can discuss them without suggesting that their world had become degenerate.

The idea that cleverness in warfare is ‘a luxury’ may be an opinion held by armchair historians, but not by generals in the field. Such attitudes are often attributed to great commanders such as Agesilaus and Alexander, but the fact remains that these commanders were expert military tricksters. Moralisers could continue to claim that victory by guile was no victory at all, but when an ambush killed all its targets the dead were very much defeated. A pass taken, information gained, an enemy surprised and defeated were all good things for both the general and the men in the field.


The early origins of the Hittites are not entirely certain, but it is likely the people we call Hittites arrived in Anatolia about 2000BC and came from Europe as part of a broader migration from the Black Sea region and Pontic steppe. In diplomatic correspondence of the Late Bronze Age the realm is the land of Hatti (Khatta in Egyptian).

Army of the Hittite Old and Middle Kingdom 1680 BC – 1380 BC

The Hittite kingdom from its foundation by the semi-legendary Labarnas possibly circa 1680 BC, until the accession of Suppiluliumas circa 1380 BC. In 1595 BC Mursilis I broke the power of the Amorite states of Syria and overthrew the First Dynasty of Babylon and carried away its gods. However, he was murdered before he could consolidate his conquests, leaving power vacuums to be filled by the rising Human powers. The numbers of chariots attested in armies before 1500 BC never exceed 80. The kingdom declined after 1500 BC until it was restored to Empire during the reign of Suppiluliumas from 1380 BC.

Army of the Hittite Empire 1380 BC – 1180 BC

The Hittite empire from the accession of Suppiluliumas circa 1380 BC. Mitanni was acquired as a vassal state circa 1348 BC. Syria was incorporated into the empire circa 1340 BC. The empire was crippled by the “Sea Peoples” invasion of the 1170s and then finished off by their old enemies the Gasgans. We use Syrian here to include all the states allied or feudatory to Hatti in that general area, such as Canaanites, Phoenicians, Retennu, Ugaritics and Khaaru. At the battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC, Hittite chariots and those of their allies from Arzawa, Masa and Pitassa had three-man crews, comprising shieldless driver, shieldless spearman (who probably also had a bow) and shield-bearer. Against lighter chariots these would attempt to come to close quarters where their long spears and larger crew would have the advantage. Since they apparently came as a surprise to the Egyptians, we assume they were a recent innovation. A Hittite army would still include 2-man chariot types, including Syrian chariots with driver and archer, and Anatolian types with driver and a single spearmen or javelinman. In Syria, tactics were based on the offensive use of chariotry, with infantry adopting a supporting role, depicted deployed in the rear in deep rectangular blocks of tight-packed troops with spear in one hand and sword in the other, described in the Egyptian account of Kadesh as teheru, a term they also used for their own elite troops. Only officers and chariot runners are shown with shields. Spears are often shown as long and used two-handed. In Anatolia, the Hittite infantry were well suited to counter the troublesome Gasgans in the rugged terrain of the Empire’s periphery. The duties of Hittite scouts included eliminating enemy scouts. A Ugaritic fleet landed a Hittite force to attack Cyprus.

The Hittite first arrived in Anatolia around the time of 2000 B.C. Before their arrival, this region was already inhabited by other groups of people. These groups initially resisted the militaristic advances of the Hittite people, though were eventually overpowered and succumbed to their advances. Within several hundred years, the entire region was under the control of the Hittite king.

This time period is best defined as the later stages of the Bronze Age. The majority of the world at this time utilized bronze as a major resource for tools, weapons, and other everyday items. Bronze was a readily accessible material that was the product of easily workable elements that were quite common. The advantage to using bronze was that it was extremely malleable and did not take extreme heat to be manufactured. The downside to bronze was that it did not keep a sharp edge for long periods of time and was not a very sturdy metal.

These shortcomings of bronze are magnified one hundred fold when you consider that some of the key items made from metal at this time period were related to military needs. Swords, armor, and shields all used bronze in their construction. If an army’s sword became dull or their armor suffered damage, it would be a massive priority for these items to be repaired immediately.

What the Hittite had that other cultures in the region did not was the knowledge of how to make iron. The Hittite had learned the secretive process for extracting iron from rocks containing iron ore. That is not to say that other cultures had not attempted to do the same, but the Hittite were able to understand the best methods for increasing the heat in their forges to a massive degree in order to separate the ore from the base rocks. This concept alone is the main reason that the Hittite was able to unify their nation and expand it to neighboring borders.

The Hittite used this new found metal as a way to create stronger weapons. Their swords, shields, and armor were all crafted using iron as opposed to bronze. The iron was more durable and held a sharper edge over a longer period of time. Considering that many of the military campaigns fought throughout this time were hand-to-hand combat, this gave the Hittite a massive edge over their competitors. The Hittite used these stronger, sharper weapons to continually expand their empire and to overcome rebellions within their own borders.

The Hittite conquered the then existing city-states of the region and unified them all under one authority using their iron weapons and other military technology. At that time, many of these city-states were at war with one another. With the introduction of iron, the Hittite were able to improve not just their military capabilities, but also the tools related to daily functioning.

The Hittites were an agriculturally based society.  They relied heavily on farming and herding as a means to support their empire’s development and sustainability. With the inclusion of iron, farmers were able to begin using iron plows that allowed them to till land that had previously been unusable due to soil conditions. It allowed the Hittite to increase dramatically their output of crops and to support their ever-growing empire.

Another piece of technology that the Hittite utilized was the chariot. The Hittites were not the only race in this region to have access to horses and chariots. What made the Hittite’s use of these weapons unique was how they constructed their chariots. While one or two soldiers may have used a standard chariot, the Hittite designed their chariots to be used by three soldiers. So why would this be advantageous? Consider this notion.

A chariot needs to be driven by at least one person. If the driver of a chariot must focus all of their efforts on controlling the team of horses, how many arrows can they fire? How can they best defend themselves against the swords of an enemy? The Hittite chariots fit three soldiers. This allowed one man to drive the chariot and allowed two more to work effectively as soldiers and focus their efforts on warfare.

The Hittite used these chariots extremely effectively. One of the ancient cultures most connected to chariots is the Egyptian culture. The size advantage of the Hittite’s chariots is what helped them to overcome Egyptian advance into their territory.

The combined effects of Hittite designed chariots and iron made weapons were what gave the Hittite the power to unify their home region of Anatolia and expand their empire. At the height of their power and control, the Hittite king held influence over land that would encompass modern-day Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. Hittite raids were also successful at striking targets far from their home range as a means of destabilizing neighboring states and allowing the Hittite to gain further influence among their neighbors.

While the Hittites understood the process of making iron, their empire existed fully within the Bronze Age. It wasn’t until the empire’s final demise that the Hittite let their secrets of iron working escape their empire to other cultures. This action is what truly ushered in the next age, commonly referred to as the Iron Age.

One of the key portions of accessing records concerning these secretive Hittite people is actually through one of the most well-known books in existence. The Hittites are continually referenced in the Old Testament of the Bible. In fact, biblical references about the Hittite abound. One of the Old Testament’s most famous characters is said to have interacted with the Hittite. Abraham, a foundational individual from ancient times, is said to have purchased a cave from a Hittite in which his wife, Sarah, was buried. This was massively significant, as, before this, Abraham had been engaged in a life that was defined by wandering from region to region. This notion is very similar to the details relating to the origins of the Hittite. Remember that prior to settling in the area then known as Anatolia, the Hittite were wandering people consumed primarily with agricultural development.

So what then happened to the Hittite? To fully answer this question, you should consider some of the factors the Hittite needed to ensure continued success as an empire. The Hittite were susceptible to disease same as any other ancient race. While they did rely on ancient medicines as a means to ward off certain infections, they were not immune to the diseases that commonly ravaged entire nations. An outbreak of plague decimated much of the land and left many dead. Without sufficient manpower to operate the needed positions within the empire, tasks began to go unfinished. These unfinished tasks compounded over time and began a snowball effect that eventually led to the failure of needed systems within the Hittite culture.

Another issue for which the Hittite empire was at fault was the continued cost of unending military campaigns. The Hittite were continually attempting to gain full control over the lands of Syria and beyond. These city centers were far from their home where the Hittite people had the strongest support base. As the Hittite attempted to wrest the control and gain continued support over these lands, they inadvertently overtaxed their own networks of supply and support. Too much was taken for too long and eventually the Hittite found themselves at odds with continuing this unsustainable war effort.

The final cause of the downfall of the Hittite empire can be found in the exact same issue by which they came to the lands of Anatolia. Outsiders whom they called the ‘sea people’ began arriving in untold numbers to their homelands. These people were eventually successful in ousting the Hittite, from their native lands and forcing them to flee to lands to the south where they were forced to settle in new lands and cultures. Their assimilation did not maintain the same success as their initial foray into the lands of Anatolia as they were unable to unify any sort of centralized government in these new lands and had to instead, accept the ways of these new lands.

The modern day historians and scholars divided their kingdom into three periods initially.

1)  The Old Kingdom – 1700-1500 BCE

2)  The Middle Kingdom – 1500 – 1400 BCE

3)  The New Kingdom or the Hittite Empire – 1400-1200 BCE

1) Old Kingdom:

Historians claim that the Old Hittite Kingdom began in 1700 BCE when Hittite King Anitta of Kussara sacked Hattusa. Even though King Anitta conquered the city it was referred as ‘land of Hatti’ because it was a powerful land since 2500 BCE. The king had burned the city and cursed everyone living in it. He even cursed anyone who attempts to build it again. But soon, another king Hattusili I from Kussara, re-built the city. It was his symbolic expression to establish the prominence of Hattusa. Scholars have found an ancient document – ‘The Edict of Telepinu’ which belonged to the 16th century BCE. It states that King Hattusili was a brave warrior and ruled over a vast empire. There is a passage which claims that Hattusili aimed to unify his kingdom and he was largely successful at it. However, his sons rebelled and used their power and resources entrusted to them for the rebellion. Towards the end when Hattusili was on his deathbed, he chose his grandson as heir to his kingdom. However, the grandson turned out to be an ineffective leader. He invaded other regions merely for loot and not establishing political control over the region.

2) The Middle Kingdom:

Telepinu was the last ruler of the ‘Old Kingdom’. A very long phase of bad rule between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ kingdom is known as the ‘Middle Kingdom’. No clear records are available about which ruler held the throne for how long. Historians assume that there is an obscurity of data as the Hittites must have been attacked constantly. It is only from the rule of Suppiluliuma, the proper records about the ‘New Kingdom’ are available for study.

3) New Kingdom:

The New Kingdom is also is known as the Hittite Empire begins with King Suppiluliuma I who was crowned in 1344. He dominated the region of the Middle East around the 14th century BC. He is said to have ruled for about four decades and was known for his improved defenses. There were extended city walls and enclosed area that spread over 120 hectares. Under his rule, the kingdom expanded to the farthest northern Syrian cities. Suppiluliuma I died of the plague and was succeeded by Arnuwanda II, who too died from the plague. Automatically, the reign fell into the lap of his younger brother Mursilli II. While no one took this new king seriously and considered him to be a child, they were taken aback when he displayed his exemplary skills as a statesman.

He conquered several tribes which threatened his kingdom and was the first one to secure the Hittite borders. The last ruler of the Hittites’ empire was Tudhaliya IV. Around this time, the Assyrians were strengthening their army and gaining political control. They challenged the Hittites and defeated Tudhaliya IV, which resulted in the decline of the Hittite Empire.

Hittites can be credited for setting up peace treaties and alliances. This civilization established pacts with their neighboring regions to maintain cordial relations and diplomacy. So, if you look at this civilization carefully, it has set up an example in international politics.

Campaign Against the Pirates, 66-67 BC

The lembos (Lat. Lembus, Plautus, Mercator, I, 2,81 and II, 1,35) was an Illyrian fast ship, probably originally used in piracy and very important for the Romans for its carrying capacity of men, equipment and booty. It could be open and aphract, with a strong ramming capacity and rowed at two levels (biremis). From this the liburna was developed.

Pompey, ordered to clear the seas of pirates, had full authority over the entire Mediterranean and Black Seas, and all land within 80km (50 miles) of the sea. He raised 500 ships, 120,000 soldiers and 5000 cavalry. He then divided this force into 13 commands. The only area left (deliberately) unguarded was Cilicia. Pompey took a squadron of 60 ships and drove the pirates from Sicily, into the arms of another squadron. Then he swept down to North Africa, and completed the triangle by linking up with another legate off the coast of Sardinia, thus securing the three main grain-producing areas that served Rome. Pompey then swept across the Mediterranean from Spain to the east, defeating or driving pirates before him. The remnants duly gathered in Cilicia, where Pompey had planned a full assault by both land and sea. A few pirate strongholds were destroyed, and there was a final sea battle in the bay of Coracesium, but thanks to Pompey’s clemency, most pirates surrendered easily.

POMPEY THE GREAT DEFEATS CILICIAN PIRATES, 66 BC It was Pompey the Great who was to crush the Cilician pirates and give freedom and security to the waterways of the Roman Republic. To do this, Pompey received from the Senate, after long debates, extraordinary powers in 67 BC: the proconsular power (Imperium Proconsolare) for three years throughout the Mediterranean basin to the Black Sea with the right to operate up to 45 miles inland. Fifteen legates were put under him with the title of propraetores and 20 legions (120,000 men) and 4,000 riders, 270 ships and a budget of 6,000 talents. In a rapid and well-organized campaign he defeated the pirates. Two months sufced to patrol the Black Sea and root out troublemakers; then it was the turn of Crete and Cilicia (App., Mithridatic War, 96). The pirates were destroyed in their own territories and they surrendered to Pompey a great quantity of arms and ships, some under construction, some already at sea, together with bronze, iron, sail cloth, rope and various kinds of timber. In Cilicia 71 ships were taken for capture and 300 for surrender. This scene shows an amphibious operation of Pompey the Great’s fleet against the pirates. The main Roman ship is a `Three’. The burning Cilician ships are two myoparones.

The early period of Roman expansion was marked by a succession of wars with neighbours near and far. First there were the other states in Italy and then Carthage. When Carthage was beaten, the Rome turned its gaze to the east. Macedonia, Greece and then Pontus (modern Asiatic Turkey) fell to Rome over a number of years. But it was while Rome was focused on these wars that piracy raised its head in the eastern Mediterranean.

For many years, the island of Rhodes had used its navy to suppress piracy in order to protect her position as a transit port in the lucrative east-west trade. However, Rhodes fell foul of the Macedonian kingdom and appealed to Rome, who sent a force of quinqueremes to defend her ally. The combined force compelled the Macedonians to sue for peace. Under the treaty, the Romans gained the small island of Delos, which they returned to Macedonia on the condition that it was run as a free port with no taxes or dues on goods entering or leaving. Unfortunately for Rhodes, the presence of this offshore tax haven undermined the revenues from her trade and the island and her navy went into long-term decline. With Rhodes no longer able to police the waters of the Mediterranean, the pirates spread their depredations beyond the eastern Mediterranean. Ports and coastal towns were sacked, shrines desecrated and cargoes, crews and ships taken at sea. The goods, ships and their crew were then sold off at various markets. Wealthy captives were held to ransom.

The ordinary merchants of the ancient world sailed in ships far simpler in design than the warships of the period. Such ships could not afford the expensive oarsmen of the warship and had to rely instead on the single main mast and single square sail with the optional refinement of bowsprit and second, smaller square sail. Later ships added a triangular sail above the main for extra propulsion. The merchant ships could be as much as 60m (200ft) in length, possibly with more than one mast, but were more usually just 30m (100ft) long and 8m (26ft) in beam, drawing just 3m (10ft) of water and carrying loads of around 100-150 gross tons. Built for capacity rather than speed, they were not fast – perhaps 5-6 knots if the wind permitted. Crews were kept to a minimum since they ate into the profits: 10-15 men were usual on a medium-sized ship; less on a smaller ship and more on a larger one.

While the sail-powered merchantman was dependent on the wind for speed, the oarpowered warship or pirate ship was unhampered by head winds or rough seas. Since the square sail meant the merchantman would sail fastest heading down wind, the pirate tactics were simple: cruise into the wind so that any prey coming the other way would find it next to impossible to escape. Alternatively, the pirates would lurk behind headlands for a quick spurt to catch any passing trader. Fear and intimidation were the best weapons to induce a quick surrender. Faced by a pirate ship apparently bristling with armed men and with no way to escape, most merchant ships would be forced to capitulate. The pirates could then use their oars to spin the ship around and bring their bows up to the victim’s stern, where it was safe to board. The crew would be bundled below and well trussed up and the pirates would install their own crew to sail the prize for home.

So widespread and powerful did the pirates grow that when the rebel leader Spartacus and his army of ex-slaves became trapped in the toe of Italy in 72 BC they negotiated with the pirates to evacuate the whole army – some 90,000 men, women and children – by ship. The pirates were then paid even more by the Roman politician Crassus not to fulfil the contract. The problem with piracy reached such a pass that two Roman Praetors, together with their staff, were captured by the pirates. Another squadron attacked Rome’s port at Ostia and sacked other towns in the region.

Pompey’s Appointment

In many ways, the Roman elite benefited from the pirate’s activities. For those who could afford to buy, piracy kept the price of slaves low and supply plentiful. On the other hand, it did interrupt trade. So the wealthiest classes in Rome, who needed to buy slaves to work their estates, benefited while the lower, merchant classes and their workers suffered. In 69 BC, however, the pirates excelled themselves and plundered the island of Delos. It comes as no surprise, then, that the consul Metellus was voted an army to reduce the pirate base in Crete. He headed off and set about his task, rounding up some pirates and settling down to besiege others in the main pirate base on the island.

In 67 BC, the Roman tribune Aulus Gabinus presented a bill to the Peoples’ Assembly to appoint the most famous general of the age, Pompeius Magnus – better known as Pompey – to sweep the pirates from the seas once and for all. The ramifications were enormous. Clearing the Mediterranean of the pirates would greatly ease the lot of the ordinary man. Indeed, prices in the markets of Rome fell significantly simply at the presentation of this bill. The Roman citizens, the plebs, were right behind the idea. However, the wealthy ruling classes, the senators and, to a lesser extent, the knights were almost universally against the bill. The one notable exception was Julius Caesar. Ever the populist, he supported the motion. It was passed.

Pompey had already enjoyed a very distinguished military career. He had first been appointed commander of an army at the age of 24, supporting Sulla’s side in an earlier civil war. Although he was occasionally accused of cruelty, he proved so successful during campaigns in Sicily and in Africa that he was acclaimed ‘Great’ by Sulla. He even asked for and was granted a triumphal procession that should not have been permitted given his youth and junior rank. No sooner had Sulla died than another civil war loomed and Pompey found himself in Spain, leading an army against Sertorius. Although he was supported by a second army under Metellus, it was Pompey who gained a second triumph. It was a truly remarkable achievement.

The resources initially proposed for Pompey in this next task were huge. They comprised some 200 ships plus oarsmen, sailing crew and marines totalling over 40,000 men. He was to be given 15 legates (military commanders), an unlimited treasury, and unlimited powers over the whole of the Mediterranean and up to 7km (4.5 miles) inland. However, the vote was postponed for a day and when the final amended version was passed the Assembly voted through an even bigger force. This consisted of no less than 500 ships, 120,000 infantry and 5000 cavalrymen, 24 senior military commanders and a pair of quaestors (magistrates responsible for military finances). Against this, however, the pirates were reputed to have 1000 ships at their disposal and bases both large and small all around the Mediterranean.

Pompey versus the Sea Pirates 67 BC

The pirates needed to avoid contact with more powerful military elements so that they could continue to extract plunder from less well defended ports and communities in the Mediterranean, while the Roman squadrons sought to round up the pirates and bring them to a very rudimentary justice. Pompey chose to divide the Mediterranean into discrete areas and conquer each in turn, starting in the far west off the coast of Spain. This drove the pirates steadily towards the southern shore of Turkey and the final bloody confrontation happened near Soli, in modern-day southern Turkey. There, Pompey’s assault routed the pirates, destroying their strongholds in the area. Although hailed as a great victory Empire, it was not successful in the long term. Just a few years later in Sicily, Anthony and Octavian had to combine to combat Pompey’s son, who had turned to piracy.

Planning and preparation are key to the success of any enterprise and Pompey’s orders were decisive. The Mediterranean was divided into 13 areas and each one was allocated a commander and a force appropriate to the threat in that area. Pompey retained direct control over a reserve of 60 of his best ships – almost certainly quinqueremes with well-trained crews. Starting with the waters west of Italy, the local commanders restricted the seaborne movements of the pirates and forced them ashore, where they were destroyed. It took only 40 days to sweep these seas clean of the menace. Those pirates that escaped, made their way back to bases along the inhospitable Cilician coast in what is now Turkey.

The greatest threat to Pompey’s success came from inside Rome. The general’s wide powers were both envied and feared, especially by those who benefited most from the activity of the pirates. The consul Piso, safe within the walls of Rome, went so far as to countermand Pompey’s orders, paying off some of the ships’ crews. While Pompey’s fleet sailed south around the foot of Italy to tackle the pirates in the Adriatic, Pompey himself hurried back to Rome. There, his friend and supporter Gabinius had already started the process of dismissing Piso from his position as consul. This would have been a dreadful and permanent stain on his family honour and reputation. Having got his crews back, however, Pompey had the bill withdrawn, and thus Piso lwas let off. Meanwhile, Rome had been transformed – the markets were full of foodstuffs from all over the Mediterranean and prices were almost back to normal. From Rome, Pompey made his way to Brundisium on the east coast of Italy and took ship for Greece and the final part of the war.

Some of the more cut-off pirate squadrons surrendered to Pompey, who confiscated their ships and arrested the men. He stopped short of having the pirates crucified – the normal form of execution for such a crime (all the survivors of Spartacus’ rebellion had been crucified). Thus encouraged, a large number of pirates also sent a message of surrender from Crete, where they were sitting out a siege by Metellus. Pompey accepted their surrender and despatched one of his own commanders, Lucius Octavian, with instructions that no one should pay heed to Metellus but only to Octavian. Mettelus was understandably livid and continued the siege. Octavian, following Pompey’s orders, now masterminded the defence of the city on behalf of the pirates. Eventually the city – and Octavian – were forced to surrender. Metellus humiliated his rival in front of the assembled army before sending him back to Rome with a flea in his ear.

Pompey’s rehabilitation worked. Around 20,000 former pirates were eventually settled in underpopulated inland areas like Dyme in Achea, on the northern coast of the Peloponnese, and Soli, in what is now Turkey. However, a substantial body of the miscreants occupied the mountain fastnesses of Cilicia with their families. The inevitable battle with Pompey’s men took place at Coracesium in Cilicia in 67 BC. That there was a battle and that the pirates lost it is about all that is known. Pompey’s victory was not surprising, however. The trained and experienced men of Pompey’s army and navy, with their proper equipment, were more than a match for the undisciplined pirates. It is worth recording that among the spoils of war after that last battle were 90 ships equipped with bronze-headed rams.

Barbarian Invasion on the Danube

In the winter of 375/6, rumour reached Rome’s Danube frontier that heavy fighting was under way in eastern Germania north of the Black Sea. Ammianus Marcellinus reports: ‘In the beginning the news was viewed with contempt by our people because wars in those districts were not ordinarily heard of by those living at a distance until they were either over, or had at least died down for a time.’ You could hardly blame the imperial authorities for not taking the matter too seriously. The migration of the Goths and other Germani in the mid-third century had prompted a political reconfiguration that had led to a hundred years of relative stability in the region. Moreover, the trouble then had come from the north-west (present-day Poland and Byelorussia), not the north-east (modern Ukraine). The last time the north-east had posed a problem was when the Sarmatians had swept all before them in the fifty years either side of the birth of Christ, three centuries earlier. But the Romans quickly learned the error of their ways.

In the summer of 376, a vast throng of people – men, women and children – suddenly appeared on the north bank of the River Danube asking for safe haven in Roman territory. One source, not our best, reports that 200,000 refugees appeared beside the river; Ammianus, that there were too many to count. They came with innumerable wagons and the animals to pull them, presumably their plough-oxen, in the kind of huge procession that warfare has generated throughout history. There were certainly many individual refugees and small family groups, but the vast majority were Goths organized in two compact masses and with defined political leaderships. My own best guess is that each was composed of about 10,000 warriors. One group, the Greuthungi, had already moved a fair distance from lands east of the River Dniester, in the present-day Ukraine, hundreds of kilometres from the Danube. The other comprised the majority of Athanaric’s Tervingi, now led by Alavivus and Fritigern, who had broken away from their former leader’s control to come here to the river.

If the size of the immediate problem for Roman frontier security was bad enough, the refugees’ identity was even more ominous. Though the first reports had concerned fighting a long way from the frontier zone, the two large bodies of Gothic would-be immigrants camped beside the river were from much closer to home. The Tervingi, in particular, had been occupying lands immediately north of the Danube, in what is now Wallachia and Moldavia, since the 310s at the latest. Whatever was going on in the far north-east was no local skirmish; its effects were being felt throughout the region north of the Black Sea.

The Romans quickly learned what lay behind all the mayhem. Again in Ammianus’ words: ‘The seed-bed and origin of all this destruction and of the various calamities inflicted by the wrath of Mars, which raged everywhere with extraordinary fury, I find to be this: the people of the Huns.’

Ammianus was writing nearly twenty years later, by which time the Romans had a better understanding of what had brought the Goths to the Danube. Even in the 390s, though, the full effects of the arrival of the Huns were far from apparent. The appearance of the Goths beside the river in the summer of 376 was the first link in a chain of events that would lead directly from the rise of Hunnic power on the fringes of Europe to the deposition of the last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, almost exactly one hundred years later. None of this was even remotely conceivable in 376, and there would be many twists and turns on the way. The arrival of Goths on the Danube marked the start of a reshuffling of Europe-wide balances of power, and it is to this story that the rest of the book is devoted. We must begin, like Ammianus, with the Huns.

From the ‘Ice-Bound Ocean’

The origins of the Huns are mysterious and controversial. The one thing we know for certain is that they were nomads from the Great Eurasian Steppe. The Eurasian Steppe is a huge expanse, stretching about 5,500 kilometres from the fringes of Europe to western China, with another 3,000 kilometres to its north and east. The north–south depth of the steppe ranges from only about 500 kilometres in the west to nearly 3,000 in the wide-open plains of Mongolia. Geography and climate dictate the nomadic lifestyle. Natural steppe grasslands are the product of poorish soils and limited rainfall, which make it impossible, in general terms, for trees and more luxurious vegetation to grow. The lack of rainfall also rules out arable farming of any sustained kind, so that the nomad makes a substantial part of his living from pastoral agriculture, herding a range of animals suited to the available grazing. Cattle can survive on worse pasture than horses, sheep on worse pasture than cattle, and goats on worse than sheep. Camels will eat anything left over.

Nomadism is essentially a means of assembling distinct blocks of pasture, which between them add up to a year-round grazing strategy. Typically, modern nomads will move between upland summer pasture (where there is no grass in the winter because of snow and cold) and lowland winter pasture (where the lack of rain in summer means, again, no grass). In this world, grazing rights are as important in terms of economic capital as the herds, and as jealously guarded. The distance between summer and winter pasture needs to be minimal, since all movement is hard both on the animals and on the weaker members of the human population. Before Stalin sedentarized them, the nomads of Kazakhstan tended to move about 75 kilometres each way between their pastures. Nomadic societies also form close economic ties with settled arable farmers in the region, from whom they obtain much of the grain they need, though some they produce themselves. While part of the population cycles the herds around the summer pastures, the rest engage in other types of food production. But all the historically observed nomad populations have needed to supplement their grain production by exchanging with arable populations the surplus generated from their herds (hides, cheese and yoghurt, actual animals and so on). Often, this exchange has been one-sided, with the arable population getting in return no more than exemption from being raided, but sometimes the exchange has been properly reciprocal.

Nomadism, or part-nomadism, has never been the preserve of any particular linguistic or cultural population group. Across the Great Eurasian Steppe many peoples have, at different times, adopted nomadic lifestyles. In the first three centuries AD the western end of the steppe – from the Caspian Sea to the Danube – was dominated by Iranian-speaking Sarmatian and Alan nomads. These had ousted Scythian nomads, also Iranian-speaking, in the last two or three centuries BC. By the sixth century AD at the latest, Turkic-speaking nomads were dominant from the Danube to China, and a Mongol-speaking nomad horde would cause untold devastation in the high Middle Ages. Other population groups, too, took to nomadism. The Magyars who arrived in central Europe at the end of the ninth century spoke – as their Hungarian descendants still do – a Finno-Ugrian language that suggests they may have come from the forest zone of north-eastern Europe, the only other region where such languages are spoken.

Where the Huns fit into this sea of cultural possibilities is unclear. Ammianus Marcellinus knew more about them than did our other Roman sources, but he didn’t know much. His best shot is that they came from beyond the Black Sea ‘near the ice-bound ocean’. They were not literate, so leave us no records of their own to go on, and even their language affiliation is mysterious. Failing all else, linguists can usually decode basic linguistic affiliations from personal names, but even this doesn’t work with the Huns. They quickly got into the habit of using Germanic names (or perhaps our sources preserve the Germanicized versions or Germanic nicknames given them by their Germanic neighbours and subjects), so that the stock of properly Hunnic personal names is much too small to draw any convincing conclusions. They were probably not Iranian-speaking, but whether they were the first Turkic-speaking nomads to explode on to the European scene, as some have argued, remains unclear. With such pathetic sources of information, Hunnic origins can only remain mysterious, but a little spice has been added by a famous controversy over whether the Huns were in fact the nomadic Hsiung-Nu, well known from imperial Chinese records.

In the centuries before and after the birth of Christ, the Hsiung-Nu – under the leadership of their Shan-Yu5 – harassed the north-west frontiers of Han China, extracting from it huge quantities of tribute in silks, precious metals and grain. They also contested the control of some of its important western territories, particularly the Tarim Basin where the Silk Road (which started to operate in the last century BC) reaches China. Under pressure from Han armies, they split in AD 48 into northern and southern branches. The southern Hsiung-Nu were subsequently brought into the Chinese orbit, becoming an important force within the imperial system. The northerners remained external, independent and highly troublesome until AD 93, when the Chinese government paid another nomadic group, the Hsien-Pi, to launch a devastating attack upon their homelands. Many northern Hsiung-Nu (reportedly 100,000 households) were absorbed into the victorious Hsien-Pi confederation, but others fled ‘to the west’. That’s the last we ever hear of the northern Hsiung-Nu in the Chinese records.

The Huns we’re concerned with appear suddenly in Roman records in the third quarter of the fourth century. The problem inherent in the superficially attractive equation of these people with the Hsiung-Nu is this: we have gaps between the Chinese and Roman records of nearly 300 years (AD 93 to about 370) and 3,500 kilometres to account for. Moreover, the Huns known to the Romans had a completely different form of political organization from the Hsiung-Nu’s. After AD 48, both branches of the latter had their own Shan-Yu, but the Huns arrived in Europe with a multiplicity of ranked kings and no sign of one dominant figure. The surviving ethnographic descriptions – such as they are – also raise objections. The Hsiung-Nu customarily wore their hair in a long pony-tail; the Huns did not. The two groups used similar weaponry, and bronze kettles are customarily found among their archaeological remains. Given this, there may be some connection, but it clearly won’t do just to say that the Hsiung-Nu had started running west in AD 93 and kept going until they hit Europe as the Huns. The Great Eurasian Steppe is a vast place, but it didn’t, even then, take 300 years to cross. Equally, like most nomadic empires, that of the Hsiung-Nu was a confederation, comprising a smallish Hsiung-Nu core and many other subject groups. The ancestors of our Huns could even have been part of the confederation, therefore, without being ‘real’ Hsiung-Nu. Even if we do make some connection between fourth-century Huns and first-century Hsiung-Nu, therefore, an awful lot of water had passed under an awful lot of bridges during 300 years worth of lost history.

Roman sources also give us only a very general idea of what brought the Huns to the fringes of Europe. For Ammianus, it was enough just to point out that they exceeded ‘every measure of savagery’ and ‘were aflame with an inhuman desire for plundering others’ property’. The most commonly repeated story in the Roman sources claimed their landing up at Europe’s gates was partly an accident. Some Hunnic hunters, out after game one day, trailed a hind through a marsh into new lands of which they had previously been ignorant. This kind of tale rubbed off on early twentieth-century commentators, who tended to suppose that the Huns had for centuries been engaged in nomadic wanderings in different parts of the Eurasian Steppe, and one year just happened to wander on to the fringes of Europe. But this was before anthropologists understood quite so clearly that nomads do not wander around at random, but move cyclically between carefully designated pastures. Given that grazing rights are a key element in nomad subsistence, and guarded so jealously, shifting from one set of pastures to another could never be an accident.

Unfortunately, we can only guess at the motives behind the Huns’ decision to shift their centre of operations westwards. The story of the hind concludes with the hunters telling the rest of the Huns of the wonders of the new land they’d found, and Ammianus, too, picked out the motive of economic gain. The idea that it was the wealth of the northern shores of the Black Sea that attracted Hunnic attentions is perfectly plausible. While less extensive, the grazing lands of the western steppe are rich, and have attracted many a nomad group over the years. The area north of the Black Sea was occupied by client groups of the Roman Empire, who benefited economically from different relationships with the Mediterranean world, and there is no reason to doubt that Huns also felt its call. At the same time, in the case of some later nomad groups for whom we have more information, a move on to the western edge of the steppe was often associated with the desire to escape a more powerful nomad confederation operating towards China. The Avars, who would have much the same kind of impact on Europe as the Huns, but two centuries later, were looking for a safe haven beyond the reach of the western Turks, when they appeared north of the Black Sea. At the end of the ninth century, likewise, the nomadic Magyars would move into Hungary because another nomad group, the Pechenegs, was making life intolerable for them further east. In the case of the Huns, we have no firm indication that a negative as well as a positive motivation was at work, but we can’t rule it out. Further east, in the later fourth century, the Guptas were pushing on to the Silk Road from northern India, and by the early to mid-fifth century the Hephthalite Huns were ruling the roost somewhere between the Caspian and Aral Seas. As early as the 350s, this reconfiguration of the balance of power was reverberating further east on the steppe, causing the Chionitae to move into the fringes of the Persian Empire, east of the Caspian Sea.8 It may also have played a role in the Huns’ decision to shift their grazing lands westwards.

Mysterious as the Huns’ origins and animating forces may remain, there is no doubt at all that they were behind the strategic revolution that brought the Goths to the Danube in the summer of 376. It is normally assumed that at that time they were fleeing from Huns who had suddenly exploded en masse on to the northern Black Sea littoral. It is further assumed that these Huns were virtually breathing down the Goths’ necks as they scrambled for the Danube in the hope of securing asylum inside the Empire, and that, once the Goths had reached Roman territory, the Huns immediately became the dominant power in the lands adjacent to the river. This is what you will find stated more or less explicitly in most modern accounts: Huns arrive suddenly (375/6); Goths leave in panic for the Empire (376); Huns become dominant beside the Danube (from 376).

This pattern is based on the account given by Ammianus, who paints a highly convincing picture of Gothic panic: ‘The report spread widely among the other Gothic peoples that a race of men hitherto unknown had now arisen from a hidden nook of the earth, like a tempest of snows from the high mountains, and was seizing or destroying everything in its way.’ We need to look past the rhetoric, however, at what Ammianus is actually telling us. After first subjugating the Alans, the Huns then started attacking the Gothic Greuthungi. The resistance of the Greuthungi was led by Ermenaric, who eventually gave up and seems to have allowed himself to be ritually sacrificed for the safety of his people. Ammianus’ wording is a little vague, but the reflex, documented among several ancient groups, to hold their political leadership responsible for the fate of the group, is an interesting one. When times got tough, it was seen as a sign from the gods that the old leader had offended them and needed to be sacrificed in propitiation of the offence. Ermenaric was succeeded by Vithimer, who carried on the fight but was eventually killed in battle.

At this point, control of the Greuthungi passed to two military leaders, Alatheus and Saphrax, who ruled in the name of Vithimer’s son Vitheric. Having decided to retreat to the banks of the River Dniester, they were met there by a force of Tervingi under Athanaric. But Athanaric was now attacked from the rear by some Huns, who had found an alternative ford over the river, and retreated back to his heartlands closer to the Carpathian Mountains. There he attempted to stem the Hunnic tide by constructing a fortified line against them. In my view, this was probably the old Roman walls on the River Olt, the Limes Transalutanus. But the plan came to naught. The Tervingi were harassed by more Hunnic attacks as they worked on the defences, which damaged their confidence in Athanaric’s leadership. Most of the Tervingi broke with him at this point, and under new leaders, Alavivus and Fritigern, came to the Danube to request asylum inside the Roman Empire. The Greuthungi of Alatheus and Saphrax opted for a similar strategy, following the Tervingi to the river.

Some of these events unfolded very quickly. From the death of Vithimer in battle, the action is pretty continuous down to the arrival of both Tervingi and Greuthungi on the banks of the Danube. Even in its entirety, this sequence needn’t have occupied any great length of time. If, as seems likely, the Goths arrived sometime in late summer or early autumn 376, then Vithimer’s death need be placed no more than a year before. In principle, even a few months would have been sufficient for the intervening events, which would place Vithimer’s death between mid-375 and early 376. Given that a good time for agriculturalists to move on is after they’ve taken in the harvest, it was perhaps most likely late summer or early autumn 375 that the Greuthungi took to the road.

This somewhat breathless last act, however, followed a more measured drama. It is impossible to date precisely, because Ammianus gives us only vague indications of time; but what he does tell us is suggestive. He states, first of all, that Ermenaric resisted the storm brewed up by the Huns ‘for a long time’ (diu). We also hear that Ermenaric’s successor Vithimer fought ‘many engagements’ (multas . . . clades) against the Huns until he was killed in battle. There is obviously no way to be sure how long all this took, but the swift denouement which followed Vithimer’s death clearly ended a longer struggle, and it was the Greuthungi’s decision to move that precipitated the final crisis. How far back in time the preceding struggle might have gone on is a matter of judgement, but the nature of Hunnic operations does have a bearing on the argument.

To secure their entry to the Empire, first of all, Gothic embassies left the banks of the Danube to seek out the emperor Valens and put their case. Valens, however, was in Antioch – which meant a round trip of over 1,000 kilometres; even so the ambassadors were not deterred. Once they reached Antioch, the two parties had to confer and decisions had to be made, then communicated back to the Roman commanders on the Danube. All of this must have taken well over a month, during which time the mass of Goths continued to sit beside the river, more or less patiently, waiting for the green light to cross. There is no record of any Hunnic attacks upon them during this period. Furthermore, the Huns who attacked Athanaric came in small groups, sometimes weighed down by booty: raiders, therefore, rather than conquerors. The Huns’ political organization at this date didn’t run to an overall leader but comprised a series of ranked kings with plenty of capacity for independent action. When he was trying to fend off the Greuthungi’s Hun-generated military problems, for instance, Vithimer was able to recruit other Huns to fight on his side. In 375/6, there was no massive horde of Huns hotly pursuing the fleeing Goths: rather, independent Hunnic warbands were pursuing a variety of strategies against a variety of opponents.

What was happening, then, was not that a force of Huns conquered the Goths in the sense we normally understand the word, but that some Goths decided to evacuate a world that was becoming ever more insecure. As late as 395, some twenty years later, the mass of Huns remained further east – much closer, in fact, to the northern exit of the Caucasus than to the mouth of the Danube. And it was other Gothic groups, in fact, not the Tervingi or Greuthungi, who continued to provide Rome with its main opposition on the Lower Danube frontier for a decade or more after 376. The Romans had to deal with a heavy assault on the same front launched by a second force of Greuthungi under one Odotheus in 386; and still more Goths – perhaps the leftover Tervingi who hadn’t followed Alavivus and Fritigern to the Danube – were operating somewhere in the Carpathian area at much the same time.


The final and decisive Egyptian battle in Asia, a turning point equal to that of Megiddo under Thutmose III, took place in year five of Ramesses II at the city of Kadesh in central Syria. Yet this was the second northern campaign of Ramesses II because a preparatory advance had occurred one year earlier. A stela of the king, set up at the Nahr el Kelb on the southern coast of Lebanon, probably bears witness to Ramesses’ first preparations for the major war. We can presume that the Pharaoh followed the earlier practice of his father (and Thutmose III) in first assuring control over the coast before marching inland. Noteworthy is the presence of Sherden “mercenaries” within the Egyptian army at Kadesh [Qadesh] in the king’s fifth regnal year. They are referred to in the main inscriptions that recount this war as well as in the reliefs. The latter differentiate these warriors from the Egyptians by means of their round shields, long swords that are wide close to the haft, and their cap-like helmets surmounted by two prongs and a small sphere. Because the Egyptians had fought some of these sea pirates at the mouths of the Nile earlier than the fourth year of Ramesses, it seems reasonable that not a few had now become a staple ingredient within the Egyptian military. Their absence in the battle reliefs of Seti supports this contention.

Ramesses II ordered an account of the Battle of Kadesh to be inscribed and drawn on the walls of various temples. Abydos, probably the earliest, reveals only the lowermost portions of the war owing to the fragmentary condition of the temple. At Karnak two versions are still extant while at Luxor three may be found, although one of them presents only the two main narrative accounts. The king’s mortuary temple to the west of Thebes, the Ramesseum, has two versions as well, and Abu Simbel in Nubia presents a more condensed version.

The importance of the detailed account, the so-called “Poem,” and its shorter companion, the “Bulletin” is balanced, if not dwarfed, by the pictorial record. Indeed, the latter may be said to provide the fullest visual information concerning the Egyptian military in Dynasty XIX. As noted earlier, all campaigns were divided into various portions. By and large some of these episodes are present in all of the temples. On the other hand, Ramesses wished to highlight four main events in this campaign: the camp and the war council, the battle itself, the spoils and captives, and the second presentation at home to the gods.

Note once more the war council. In the narrative of the Megiddo battle this was a prominent portion of the account, and the same may be said for the opening section of Kamose’s war record. But the reason for Ramesses’ interest lies in the fact that, after the king settled down in his camp to the west of the city of Kadesh, he received news that the Hittites were close by and not far away in Aleppo as he had originally thought. After the spies of the Hittites were beaten and forced to tell the truth, the attack of the numerous enemy chariots occurred. The pictorial representations cover these two interlocked events as well as the arrival of the Pharaoh’s fifth division, the Na`arn. The latter traversed southern Syria by foot, undoubtedly leaving the ports of the Lebanon in order to meet up with the king and his four main divisions, all of which had advanced northward through the Beqa Valley. If this elite division left Tripoli, to take a case in point, then approximately 121 km would have been traversed before they met up with Ramesses. Hence, it would have taken them more than 9 1/2 days to reach their destination, providing that there were no delays. Although this is not a long duration, the coordination of the Na`arn with the king’s other four divisions is remarkable, and one is left with the feeling that Ramesses earlier had been in communication with these additional troops, probably by messenger, in order to effect the juncture of the Na`arn with his army. If these men had arrived earlier they would have been isolated. If they came later, then the entire composite army would been prepared as a large unit at least one day after Ramesses’ arrival at Kadesh. The coincidence is too great to allow for chance.

The second episode draws together the attempt of the king to hasten his other divisions that had followed the first where he was at the front. The all-mighty king is carved in superhuman size charging on his chariot against the foe and, of course, shooting his arrows. Since this portion is highly detailed, I shall leave it for a more detailed analysis below. The remaining two episodes are more straightforward but present interesting details of their own.

Globally, Ramesses II intended to retake the city of Kadesh which had switched sides after the withdrawal of the large Egyptian army under Seti I. His strategy was a simple one: march to the city and take it. From the background to the eventual combat it is clear that Ramesses with his four divisions did not intend to meet the Hittites. The “Poem” begins the narration at the departure from Sile, and then continues with the arrival at a royal fortress in the “Valley of Cedar.” There was no opposition in Palestine; combat was expected only in Syria. He is then described as crossing the ford of the Orontes, which was south of the city and at a point where the river coursed in a westward direction, perpendicular to the march of the king.

Earlier, Ramesses had received false information from two Shasu at the town of Shabtuna (modern Ribla), who stated that his Hittite opponent, Muwatallis, with his army, was in Aleppo, north of Tunip. In other words, the king felt that he could reach Kadesh unopposed and settle for a battle or a siege. A series of background points can now be made. The first is the simplest, and one that I have referred to on more than one occasion. The war was known to all and sundry. Both the local princes in Palestine and Syria as well as the leaders of the two great states of Hatti and Egypt could not hide their feelings, their war preparations, indeed their war aims. The journey of Ramesses, though not rapid by today’s standards, nonetheless covered the same number of miles per day as, for example, Thutmose III did when approaching Megiddo. The march was thus ca. 12.5 miles/day and no lengthy delays occurred. If we allow about 10 days from Sile to Gaza, and then about 12 days to get to Megiddo, we can place him in central Palestine about three weeks after his departure from Egypt. He left Egypt approximately at the close of March to early April, following the practice of his Dynasty XVIII predecessors. On day nine of the third month of the harvest season he was at Shabtuna south of Kadesh, and about one month had passed. (The departure from Sile is dated exactly one month before the arrival at Shabtuna.) At this point he received the false news that the Hittites were not around the city of Kadesh. The Egyptians were approximately 14 km from Kadesh. Ramesses then advanced, and it would have taken at most half of a day for the first division to set up camp opposite the city.

More details help to elucidate the final stages of the march to Kadesh. In the morning the king awoke and prepared his troops for the march. Sometime after that the army reached Shabtuna. This would have taken time. Ramesses’s extended army was composed of four divisions, all marching separately and behind one another; the advance would have been slow. The temporary halt at Shabtuna did not last long. Moreover, the king discussed with his commanders the oral evidence of two Shasu “deserters” who falsely reported that the Hittites were not at Kadesh but away in the north. Again, we can assume the passing of time, at least one hour, but probably more. One line of the “Poem” (P 60) states that a distance of 1 Egyptian iter separated that ford south of Shabtuna from the position of Ramesses when the second division (Pre) was crossing the Orontes. The distance from the ford to the camp, or even to Kadesh, was at most 16.5 km. To march it would have taken 3/5 of a day. We cannot but assume that the time when Ramesses settled peacefully in his camp must have been in the afternoon. One final point needs to be brought into the discussion; namely, the length of the Egyptian iter. There were two: a larger one of about 10.5 km and a smaller, of approximately 2.65 km. It is evident that the former was employed here.

We can perhaps better understand why the Egyptian monarch failed to take cognizance of the Hittites. According to the Poem the latter were “concealed and ready to the northeast” of Kadesh. The first division of the Egyptians was at the northwest of the city, settled beside a local brook that was so necessary for the animals and men. They had pitched the tents, and from the scenes of relaxation the army had already settled down for the day. However, as one relief caption indicates, they were not completely finished with the preliminary tasks of pitching the camp (R 11).

But no attack by Ramesses was planned on day nine. The city of Kadesh was not directly approached. Indeed, the king settled down on the west, across the Orontes, and arranged his camp for the arrival of the following divisions. We must assume that either he expected a military encounter with the enemy forces stationed within Kadesh on at least the following day or that he intended a siege of the citadel. The second alternative is a secure and economical way to victory, provided that time is not of the essence. Such a blockage prevents additional men from supporting the enemy, and eventually the lack of food and water becomes a major problem for the defenders. Yet in this case there is no evidence that Ramesses immediately proceeded to invest Kadesh. Indeed, he was somewhat removed from that citadel. The topography of the region indicates that west of the city and around the Orontes there was a relatively level plain, one suitable for chariot warfare. The Egyptian camp and the advancing three other divisions were well placed to suit their purposes. If this analysis is accepted, then we may very well wonder if once more the possibility of a “pre-arranged” battle was understood. That is to say, soon after dawn on the following day, the clash of the Egyptians and the foes within Kadesh was expected, provided that no surrender took place.

The Hittites, as all now know, were hidden. The less detailed but highly useful account of the “Bulletin” twice says “behind” Kadesh whereas the “Poem” is more specific, locating Muwatallis, the Hittite monarch, and his army at the “northeast of the town of Kadesh.” This report also uses the word “behind” but adds that the enemy’s chariots charged from the “south side of Kadesh” and broke into the second division of Pre that was still marching north to meet Ramesses. Either the Pharaoh had not used advance chariotry or scouts of his own to size up the strategic situation at Kadesh, and this appears the correct solution, or the Hittite king arrived after any Egyptian scouts had left. Considering the location of the enemy, the depictions of their camp, and the prepared state of Kadesh, the second alternative must be rejected. But the crucial question remains: how could Ramesses have not seen or heard the enemy?

Armies such as Muwatallis’ had horses, and we know that his chariots and troops were prepared. Do not horses neigh and create dust clouds by their moving hooves? How can one hide them? Was the grass very high? Or was the enemy simply too far away for traces of their presence to be noted? Evidently, the Egyptian king had not sent a reconnaissance party across the river to the east. This may have been due to the fact that his first division was just on the point of settling down, and that the sun had begun to dip faster in the mid afternoon. Nonetheless, Ramesses thought that the coast was clear because the two Shasu had deceived him concerning his opponent’s whereabouts. Was the hour of the day a factor? We have calculated, albeit in a tentative way, that before Ramesses reached his desired spot a considerable amount of time had passed. Sunset occurred around 6 p. m. local time, and we would doubt if evening twilight had already occurred at the point when the Hittite chariots were sent directly across the Orontes. The Poem helps us further when it states that Muwatallis and his soldiers were hidden “behind” Kadesh. The mound and the city itself therefore provided the necessary cover.

A few additional remarks concerning this deception can be offered, not in order to excuse the mistake of the Egyptian monarch, but rather to indicate how armies that are at close quarters are unable to perceive each other. It may be possible to surprise small forces but with large ones it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain. The Baron de Jomini observed “As armies at the present day [1838] seldom camp in tents when on a march, prearranged surprises are rare and difficult, because in order to plan one it becomes necessary to have an accurate knowledge of the enemy’s camp.” Surprisingly, this sentence fits neatly with the tactics of Muwatallis. He allowed Ramesses to settle down, or at least to begin pitch the tents, before he moved his forces across the river. In addition, he waited for the second division of Ramesses to advance sufficiently so that he could smash it and hence isolate the first division at the camp.

Muwatallis must have known about the Na`arn, the fifth division, when he sent his chariots ahead. As stated before, these armies had reasonable knowledge of the strategic goals of their enemy. In the case of the Hittites, their basic situation was better than the Egyptians. They already held the area and had sufficient reconnaissance to enable them to understand the enemy’s advance. If so, they should have known of the incoming fifth division. Muwatallis was also able to send two Shasu south to meet up with the main Egyptian force. He realized that his plans had succeeded. Otherwise, Ramesses would not have acted the way he did.

The numbers of chariots said to have been employed by Muwatallis belie the truth. Once more we meet nice rounded integers: 2,500 in the first wave, the one that reached the Egyptian camp, and another 1,000 later on. We could add the 19,000 and an additional 18,000 teher warriors said by the Egyptian account to have remained with their leader. But let us return to the force of chariots. As the Hittites followed a system of three men to a chariot in this battle, 7,500 men are implied. Following the data, we arrive at an area of 27,941 m2; in a square the sides would be 167 m or about 548 feet, 10 percent of a mile.

These calculations have avoided any other soldiers in the Hittite army. Even though the Hittite chariots were somewhat different from the Egyptians’, their length (including the horse) was about the same. The only other problem is that with three men in the vehicle the width would have been greater. Hence, we ought to increase our result by a few meters although we cannot assume that the chariots were set up neatly in a square. The type of fighting as well as the width of a chariot arm would have depended upon the area in which they could maneuver. We cannot assume that the chariots attacked en mass with no depth. For the original 2,500 the space would not have allowed it.

If a camp for a Roman legion totaled 6,000 men, then the area would be approximately 60 acres. For a mere 7,500 men we have 75 acres or .12 miles2. Muwatallis certainly did not require such a large area because the city of Kadesh could have supplied him with provisions. The Hittite monarch had already camped there before Ramesses arrived, and his tactical situation was excellent. But given the figures of the enemy troops in the text, especially those of the 37,000 teher warriors, it would have been remarkable if the Hittite king could have not been observed from a distance. We must discount all of the numbers in Ramesses’ account of the battle of Kadesh.

Yet this does not mean that the battle cannot be analyzed. In particular, we have to ask ourselves: what was the original intention of Muwatallis when he sent his chariots across the Orontes? The lack of footsoldiers is the key. He did not intend to fight for a long time. The infantry were kept behind. Hence, the purpose of the attack was to run through division number two, that of Pre, and to get to the camp of his foe as soon as possible. Muwatallis also knew that the Pharaoh was just settling down. He did not delay, for that would mean that the Egyptians could assemble with double the number of troops. Considering his action, we may suppose that he felt, with about 75 percent of the enemy army still marching north, the odds were certainly in his favor. Nonetheless, he did not commit himself to full force: additional chariots were left behind.


The Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II (green) bordering on the Hittite Empire (red) at the height of its power in c. 1279 BC.

The Hittite chariots attack the Ra division.

Ramesses counterattacks.

Final phase of the battle

At this juncture there are a series of imponderables. Was the second group of Hittite chariots, fewer in number than the first, a strategic reserve or only the remaining ones that Muwatallis had? We do not know. In addition, what happened to the division of Pre? If most of the Hittite chariots sped quickly upon the Egyptian camp, then it would appear that they did not bother to wipe out that division. For if they did, the time element would have been squandered. From the pictorial evidence we must conclude that the enemy burst through the marching column of Egyptians, sped north, and although killing some of the soldiers, did not bother to stop. It was sufficient to give them a mauling; the aim was not to liquidate the vast majority of the second division. Strategically, Muwatallis’ goal remained focused upon the camp of Ramesses.

The attack of the enemy chariotry upon the second division of Pre took place south of Kadesh. Major Burne assumed that these men were, at most, about 2.4 km from Ramesses’ camp. This might be discounted as it is based on his analysis of the size of the king’s main army (20,000 soldiers). More useful, however, is his argument that the enemy crossed a ford south of Kadesh. This seems reasonable; otherwise the chariotry could not have easily gotten through the waters. But should we argue that the front of the Hittite chariot line was relatively small because of the width of the ford? Most certainly, the scenes of later carnage at the Orontes as well as those of the Hittite attack indicate that the passage was not difficult.

The number of Hittite chariots that reached Ramesses’ camp also remains a thorny issue. Most certainly, the Pharaoh was able to dispatch some of his high officials south in order to warn the remaining divisions of what was transpiring. Actually, only the third division (Ptah) is specifically mentioned; the situation of the fourth (Seth) is left aside. Allowing the distances assumed by previous historical research, one interesting question is whether those men reached the actual melee at the Orontes or not. One additional remark indicates that the enemy forces reached Ramesses with Hittites and peoples from Arzawa, Masa, and Pidassa (P 85-6). Can we assume that at some point the enemy had organized itself into four groups?

Yet they were repulsed. Subsequently Muwatallis sent another, albeit smaller, wave of chariots westward, and we must credit Ramesses for being able to repel all of them. This might have appeared impossible. But the Pharaoh, with the troops of the first division and the relief support given to him by the arrival of the contingents of the Na`arn, found his resources sufficient to repulse the advancing enemy chariots. His success must have depended upon three factors. The first was the number of Hittite chariots that reached the camp, the second the presumed destruction of the division of Pre, and the third the possibility that many Hittite chariots were still fighting against those Egyptian troops. Indeed, one relief caption notes that the Hittite king had also sent forward some of his infantry. The latter would have arrived at the battlefield somewhat later than the faster-moving chariots, and they may have ended up only on the immediate west side of the Orontes.

The type of combat appears to have been mainly based upon chariots. Else, Ramesses could not have repelled the attacks of his enemy. The roles of the Pharaoh’s footsoldiers and those of Muwatallis are not described. Because the reliefs show the king’s attack in a chariot, a common theme of New Kingdom war representations, we cannot evaluate the service that the Egyptian infantry performed at Kadesh. All that we are left with is an assumption of the size of both armies, and that is based upon the evidence of the texts (Hittite chariotry and teher footsoldiers) and the probable size of an Egyptian division (5,000). All of these figures are open to question.

If Muwatallis sent 2,500 chariots and if Ramesses had the same number in his first division, then unless the former were held up by the carnage of Pre, the Pharaoh’s immediate success makes sense. With an additional 1,000 chariots on the enemy side, and the lack of reinforcements from the third division of Ptah, the Hittites would have had a numerical advantage. Moreover, the relief captions note the presence of Hittite infantry. All in all, unless we argue that the second division was not massacred, or that it held up the Hittite charge, one is thrown back upon the role of the Na`arn in the fifth division. Earlier Egyptologists had noted their crucial presence, and we cannot but follow their analyses.

One lengthy caption in five versions refers to a pictorial representation of arriving infantry and chariotry. These are the Na`arn, and with them the king was able to charge into the foe. Although they might have been tired from marching, by no means were they exhausted. In fact, they were ready to fight like Pickett’s men. Unlike General Lee, Ramesses immediately used them, and with this advantage in chariots – we assume double that which he first had – the enemy was repulsed. Did Muwatallis have some idea that the Na`arn were nearby, and thereby decided to attack the Egyptians as quickly as possible before these reinforcements could have come into play?

Even though much ink has been spilled in analyzing the battle, some details can be reconstructed. The account of the second day, however, has left everyone in suspense. It is only given in the account of the Poem, but the high-blown verbiage is impenetrable, or not of any use to the military historian. I believe that further combat took place, “prearranged,” so to speak. The king was able to marshal his ranks. Hence, at daybreak of the following day the two armies met once more. Granted that this section of the Poem is short, it nonetheless provides some support for my contention that often battles were fought on plains, normally soon after dawn, with the tacit agreement of both war leaders.

When we turn to the scenes of this battle, many useful military details can be ascertained. We see the Na`arn arriving. They are Egyptians, and hold their long shields in the same manner as the natives, whether on foot on in a chariot. The third men in the enemy chariots hold spears or javelins. Sherden are present acting as a guard around Ramesses on the occasion when he ordered the Hittite scouts to be beaten. Clearly, these men served as an elite guard whose duty was primarily to their liege lord. The Hittite parallel is the group of teher warriors who surrounded Muwatallis. The same set-up was carved for Ramesses’ camp except here more specific details are conveyed, even to the point of indicating the relaxed mood of the Egyptian troops. In the enemy camp pack animals are shown. The oxen of the Hittites pull wagons with six spokes; donkeys are also laden with provisions. The similarity to the Egyptian camp is self-evident.

Returning to the Egyptian army, a series of significant military aspects can be noted. The army of the Na`arn marched as follows: first a line of chariots, then soldiers, and then another line of chariots. This point, hitherto unnoticed, provides a useful estimate for the size of a brigade. In particular, three chariots lead the force. Behind each of them are two columns of ten men. There are thus forty footsoldiers and twelve men on the chariots, making a grand total of fifty-two. Was this the way that Egyptian armies were organized when marching, or do the reliefs follow artistic license? Whatever are our conclusions, it appears from the Kadesh scenes, but not from the literary narrative of the Megiddo battle, that the Egyptian army used oblong squares.

At Abydos we see a column of fifteen men proceeding in front of one chariot. Further to the forward position there is another group of chariots. Clearly, the arrangement is different. Can we assume that the artists worked to a specific pattern, one that depended upon a predetermined artistic interpretation rather than solely upon the actual events? Furthermore, in these reliefs there is a bottom row of marching chariots, apparently serving as a protective wing for the footsoldiers. But when we survey the approach to battle, the system alters. Abydos shows the following. When marching in normal order, normally two men are placed on the side of, or within the protection of, one chariot. But as we near the expected danger zone the two footsoldiers are now depicted with shields, and they have raised them for protection. Finally, there is the charge of the chariots, and, as may be expected, the infantry disappear because the rapidly moving vehicles have outpaced them. The onslaught is also indicated by the upward direction of the horses: a true charge into the fray is present.

Version L1 at Luxor reveals the same pattern but also with a contrast. The number of Na`arn footsoldiers appears to be six or seven. R1, one of the Ramesseum variants, has ten men between the two sections of chariots, yet they are marching with at least seventy footsoldiers. Its companion (R2) does not help us very much. But all accounts indicate that the Egyptian counterattack was made up of chariots; the soldiers on foot must have followed soon after. The precise if limited pictorial subsections dealing with the army of Ptah likewise are useful for our analysis of Egyptian marching order. Two speedy officials reach this division, and at Abu Simbel we see two distinct sectors of the group. One is composed of archers and the others of spearmen. The latter are identical to the marching Na`arn at Abydos. In a Luxor version (L1) the lagging division is led by five standard-bearers and the division leader. Behind all of them are three footsoldiers preceding a chariot.

Other subtle contrasts among these pictorial representations show that a hard and fast rule concerning the number of combat soldiers per subsection in a division is impossible to determine. Yet we can notice the variances in tactics. When marching, for example, the footsoldiers were protected by chariots. This is most clearly seen with the Na`arn. The advancing division of Ptah, for example, is shown in a more relaxed mode. Because the footsoldiers and the standard-bearers are at the head of the division with the division leader in front of them, it is evident that they did not expect any danger. So we must separate out those representations that indicate a relaxed but careful march from the advance to combat, the immediate attack, and the actual melee.

The mopping up of the Hittite attack is not recorded. Instead, the oversized figure of Ramesses on his chariot plunges into the Hittite host of chariots. But there are many ancillary points worthwhile indicating. Above all is the repulse to the Orontes. This is most evident by the specific details of Hittite dead in the river and the figure of the luckless prince of Aleppo rescued from the waters. Evidently, Ramesses’ charge pushed the chariot divisions of the enemy backward. If the full power of the first chariot wave had reached the Egyptian camp I feel that this would have been impossible. It would have taken some time for the Pharaoh to recover from his initial surprise and to prepare his troops for combat. But with the arrival of the Na`arn Ramesses had on hand an additional chariot force ready for battle. They must have seen the attack of the Hittites, and we believe that not many of the enemy’s chariots had attained their desired aim. In other words, the king’s division of Amun plus the Na`arn first blunted and then ended the tactical superiority of Muwatallis. Hence, Muwatallis had to send another wave of chariots forward in order to hold his own lines.

But this support failed. The evidence of Egyptian success may be read from the captions that accompany the figures of many Hittites. There is little doubt that the names and titles of these men were written down by the military scribes who accompanied the king. Enemy charioteers as well as troop-captains and a shieldbearer are listed together with two brothers of Muwatallis and two chiefs of the enemy’s teher. A dispatch-writer and a “chief of the suite” of Muwatallis may also be found. Note that these are all prominent men; none are mere footsoldiers. This befits the type of military action that took place in which high-ranking men were responsible for the carnage. We can assume that after the battle these men were identified, but their names and titles could only have been determined with the help of the enemy. Whether this list was drawn up with the aid of captured Hittites or, following the melee, with the assistance of Muwatallis, is unclear. Perhaps after the subsequent fighting on day two an official list of enemy dead on both sides was determined. As the dead Hittites were prominent men I cannot but conclude that their bodies were examined, their names recorded, and the corpses sent back to the camp of the foe.

On the second day the result of the carnage must have been clear to all. Ramesses had won the battle; his tactics were superb. On the other hand, he was forced to withdraw from the field because he was unable to dislodge the Hittites. Losing the strategic aim of the campaign, Ramesses left the field having failed to take Kadesh. No wonder, then, that the Egyptian monarch was forced to return to Asia soon thereafter. Hence, additional wars of Ramesses in Syria are known from various sources in Egypt. The accounts are mainly pictorial and their representations stereotypical. From the scanty data that is preserved it is clear that the Egyptian king personally went into Syria at least twice. He fought there in his eighth and tenth regnal years, but if the advances of the Egyptian army are impossible to determine, it is easy to conclude that Ramesses went by land. On one occasion we read that he fought without donning his armor at Dapur, a very heroic situation that further reinforces our opinion of the king as a doughty war leader. In addition, there appears to have been more fighting in the Trans-Jordan. Here as well the evidence is merely one of place names and generalized artistic representations. Whether or not a general uprising took place within Egyptian-held territory is a moot point. A war directed against incursions from the east does not provide automatic support for this hypothesis. The towns captured by the Pharaoh in year eight include Palestinian ones, but the presence of Yeno`am again indicates a zone in the east close to the Trans-Jordan. In year ten a stela was erected at the Nahr el Kelb, thus once more emphasizing Ramesses’ interest in Syria or at least at his northwest border. A further one erected in Beth Shan in the king’s eighteenth regnal year is purely rhetorical. By and large, the undated war scenes are hard to place into a chronological framework, although those referring to a Trans-Jordanian war can be securely set into the king’s early second decade.

Later in the reign of Ramesses II, most probably in his third decade as Pharaoh, the peaceful relations between Egypt and the Hittites had grown to such an extent that diplomatic marriages took place. On two occasions the Hittite monarch, Hattusilis III, sent one of his daughters to the Egyptian court. The intense political activity between the two states may be read on the various cuneiform tablets that are still preserved. But within Egypt, in particular at the Delta capital of Avaris, Egyptian-Hittite interconnections are overt. Recent archaeological discoveries at Qantir, located just opposite the capital of Avaris, have allowed us to reconstruct the military setting of this northeast Delta capital. Shield molds with Hittite motifs explicitly indicate that a foundry was established there for the production of these defensive weapons. Archaeologists have concluded that Hittites themselves were producing and repairing Hittite shields. This leads to the supposition that there were Hittite “mercenaries” or guards at Avaris. Tools of these foreigners were also discovered, further proving that the large site of Avaris-Qantir was the major military center in the northeast. Parts of chariots such as fittings, harness pieces, bronze foundries, javelins, arrow tips, horse bits, short swords, projectile tips, scales of coats of mail, and even stables indicate the warlike nature of the capital. A large number of vast buildings point to a chariot garrison that contained an exercise (or training) court, adjoining workshops, and horses’ stables. It has been estimated that, at the minimum, 350 horses could have been housed. But whether this was done for contingents within the entire Egyptian army, or solely for the foreigners, must remain an open question. None of the later battle reliefs of Merenptah or Ramesses III point to any Hittite sector of the native war machine.