The Military of Rome I

Rome now dominated southern and central Italy, including Etruria and the Greek cities. Northern Italy, of course, remained largely occupied by the Gauls, and the Gauls remained a menace. The process by which Rome had developed from a small military outpost on a river-crossing to become the dominant power of the Italian peninsula had been by no means swift or continuous. It had taken the greater part of five centuries, and during that time Rome itself had twice been occupied by a foreign power.

According to traditional stories, the last of Rome’s kings, Tarquinius Superbus, an Etruscan, had been expelled late in the sixth century BC after his son had villainously raped the wife of a noble kinsman. Etruscan armies under Lars Porsenna had attempted to restore Tarquinius but had been thwarted by the heroism of Horatius who, with two comrades, defended the Tiber crossing against them until the demolition of the bridge was completed. The Latin cities to the south had then combined to replace the exiled monarch on his throne, but had been defeated by the Romans at the battle of Lake Regillus (where the Romans were assisted by the gods according to the legend!).

Illustrated Etruscan tomb inscriptions, taken in conjunction with the existing legends, suggest that the underlying historical facts were very different. It is clear that Porsenna was not the friend but the mortal enemy of Tarquinius, his fellow Etruscan. He probably conspired with aristocratic, partly Etruscan elements in Rome to precipitate Tarquinius’ downfall, and then himself occupied Rome. He certainly advanced south of Rome, to fight the Latins and their Greek allies of Cumae – where according to one story Tarquinius ultimately took refuge. When the Etruscans were defeated by the Latin League at Aricia (as described by Livy), their fugitives were received and protected in Rome. Moreover, Livy stresses the friendship of Porsenna towards the Romans and his chivalrous respect for their way of life. One would guess that Rome had accepted the position of subject ally to Etruria. The Roman population, despite its Etruscan overlordship, was of course Latin; their Etruscan allegiances brought them into conflict with the other Latin cities, who were allied to the Greek maritime states – Etruria’s commercial rivals.

At Rome, Latin patriotic sentiment may have accepted Etruscan kings and welcomed their leadership against Etruria itself, just as English patriotic feeling in the Middle Ages accepted French-speaking Plantagenet kings as leaders against the French. The early Roman historians, however, did not like to contemplate their city as a mere catspaw in Etruscan dynastic politics, let alone a puppet state to be employed against their Latin brothers. Consequently, these chroniclers substituted history of their own invention, assigning fictional roles to historic characters.

As the strength of Etruria diminished, Rome asserted its authority over both the Etruscans and the Latins, but at the beginning of the fourth century BC the city was overwhelmed, after the disastrous battle of the Allia, by a vast horde of Gallic raiders. The Romans retreated into their citadel on the Capitoline Mount; they eventually bought off the Gauls, whose immediate interest was in moveables and not in land. Roman history records that the great Camillus, Rome’s exiled war leader, was recalled to speed the parting Gauls with military action, but this thinly veils the fact that the Gauls departed of their own accord, having obtained what they wanted. Livy blames Roman decadence and impiety for the disaster, but the Romans must in any case have been vanquished by sheer weight of numbers. Apart from that, they were never at their best when dealing with a strange foe whose weapons and methods of warfare were new to them.

Roman military history is chequered by catastrophes. Few great empires can have sustained more major disasters during the period of their growth. Nobody would deny that the Romans were a formidable military nation; yet the genius which enabled them eventually to dominate the ancient world was as much political as military. Their great political instrument was their concept of citizenship. Citizenship was not simply a status which one did or did not possess. It was an aggregate of rights, duties and honours, which could be acquired separately and conferred by instalments. Such were the rights of making legal contracts and marriages. From both of these the right to a political vote was again separable; nor did the right to vote necessarily imply the right to hold office. Conquered enemies were thus often reconciled by a grant of partial citizenship, with the possibility of more to come if behaviour justified it. Some cities enjoyed Roman citizenship without the vote, being autonomous except in matters of foreign policy. Even the citizens of such communities, however, might qualify for full Roman citizenship if they migrated to Rome; where this right was not available, citizenship could be obtained by those who achieved public distinction in their own communities.

■ The Roman Army in Early Times

Citizenship, of course, implied a military as well as a political status. For the duties which it imposed were, above all, military. The Latin and other Italian allies, who enjoyed some intermediate degree of citizenship, were in principle required to supply an aggregate of fighting men equal to that levied by the Romans themselves. In practice, the Romans relied on their Italian allies particularly for cavalry: an arm in which they themselves were notoriously weak. The Greek cities did not normally contribute military contingents, but supplied ships and rowers. They were known as “naval allies” (socii navales) because of this function.

Any army whose technical resources are comprised by hand-arms, armour and horses, will, at all events in the early years of its development, reflect an underlying social order. Combatants who can afford horses and armour will naturally be drawn from the aristocracy. Others will have little armour and less sophisticated, if not fewer, weapons. This was true of Greek armies and also of medieval armies. It was certainly true of the Romans, whose military class differentiation was defined with unusual care and with great attention to detail. The resulting classification is associated with the military and administrative reorganization of Servius Tullius, traditionally sixth and penultimate king of Rome. His name suggests a sixth-century date for the reforms in question, though some scholars think that the so-called Servian organization was introduced later than this.

The “Servian” infantry was divided into five property classes, the wealthiest of which was armed with swords and spears and protected by helmets, round shields, greaves and breastplates. All protective armour was of bronze. In the second class, no breastplate was worn, but a long shield was substituted for the round buckler. The third class was as the second, but wore no greaves. The fourth class was equipped only with spears and javelins; the fifth was composed of slingers. There is no reference to archers. The poorest citizens were not expected to serve except in times of emergency, when they were equipped by the state. However, they normally supplied artisans to maintain siege engines and perform similar duties.

The army was also divided into centuries (i.e., “hundreds”), as the citizens were for voting purposes. However, a century soon came to contain 60, not 100 men. The first property class comprised 80 centuries; the second, third and fourth class had 20 centuries apiece; the fifth class had 30. A distinction was made between junior and senior centuries, the former containing young men for front-line action, the latter older men, more suitable for garrison duty. A single property class was equally divided between the two age groups.

The cavalry was recruited from the wealthiest families to form 18 centuries. A cavalry century received a grant for the purchase of its horses and one-fifth of this amount yearly for their upkeep. The yearly grant was apparently provided by a levy on spinsters! In general, the financial burden of warfare was shifted from the poor on to the rich. For this imposition, the rich were compensated by what amounted to a monopoly of the political suffrage. Inevitably, it was felt in time that they were overcompensated, but that is a matter which must not detain us here.

During the early epochs of Roman history, as archaeological evidence indicates, Greek hoplite armour was widely imitated throughout the Mediterranean area. Italy was no exception to this rule and, as Livy’s description suggests, Rome was no exception in Italy. Greek weapons called for Greek skill in their use, and this in turn assumed Greek tactical methods. The Romans were in contact with Greek practice, both through their Etruscan northern neighbours, who as a maritime people were more susceptible to overseas influences, and through direct contact with Greek cities in Italy, notably Cumae. The Roman army, as recruited on the Servian basis, must have fought as a hoplite phalanx, in a compact mass, several ranks deep, using their weight behind their shields as well as their long thrusting spears. The light troops afforded by the fourth and fifth infantry classes will have provided a skirmishing arm, and the cavalry held the wings on either side of the phalanx. There were also two centuries of artificers (fabri) attached to the centuries of the first class, and two of musicians (made up of hornblowers and trumpeters).

■ The Military Reforms of Camillus

The next great landmark in Roman military organization is associated with the achievements of Camillus. Camillus, credited with having saved Rome from the Gauls and remembered as a “second founder” of Rome, was a revered national hero. His name became a legend, and legends accumulated round it. At the same time, he was unquestionably a historical character. We need not believe that his timely return to Rome during the Gallic occupation deprived the Gauls of their indemnity money, which was at that very moment being weighed out in gold. But his capture of the Etruscan city of Veii is historical, and he may here have made use of mining operations such as Livy describes. Similarly, the military changes attributed to him may in part, if not entirety, be due to his initiative.

Soon after the withdrawal of the Gauls from Rome, the tactical formation adopted by the Roman army underwent a radical change. In the Servian army, the smallest unit had been the century. It was an administrative rather than a tactical unit, based on political and economic rather than military considerations. The largest unit was the legion of about 4,000 infantrymen. There were 60 centuries in a legion and, from the time of Camillus, these centuries were combined in couples, each couple being known as a maniple (manipulus). The maniple was a tactical unit. Under the new system, the Roman army was drawn up for battle in three lines, one behind the other. The maniples of each line were stationed at intervals. If the front line was forced to retreat, or if its maniples were threatened with encirclement, they could fall back into the intervals in the line immediately to their rear. In the same way, the rear lines could easily advance, when necessary, to support those in front. The positions of the middle-line maniples corresponded to intervals in the front and rear lines, thus producing a series of quincunx formations. The two constituent centuries of a maniple were each commanded by a centurion, known respectively as the forward (prior) and rear (posterior) centurion. These titles may have been dictated by later tactical developments, or they may simply have marked a difference of rank between the two officers.

The three battle lines of Camillus’ army were termed, in order from front to rear, hastati, principes and triarii. Hastati meant “spearmen”; principes, “leaders”; and triarii, the only term which was consistent with known practice, meant simply “third-liners”. In historical accounts, the hastati were not armed with spears and the principes were not the leading rank, since the hastati were in front of them. The names obviously reflect the usage of an earlier date. In the fourth century BC the two front ranks carried heavy javelins, which they discharged at the enemy on joining battle. After this, fighting was carried on with swords. The triarii alone retained the old thrusting spear (hasta). The heavy javelin of the hastati and principes was the pilum. It comprised a wooden shaft, about 4.5 feet (1.4m) long, and a lancelike, iron head of about the same length as the shaft; which fitted into the wood so far as to give an overall length of something less than 7 feet (2.1m). The Romans may have copied the pilum from their Etruscan or Samnite enemies; or they may have developed it from a more primitive weapon of their own. The sword used was the gladius, a short cut-and-thrust type, probably forged on Spanish models. A large oval shield (scutum), about 4 feet (1.2m) long, was in general use in the maniple formation. It was made of hide on a wooden base, with iron rim and boss.

It has been suggested that the new tactical formation was closely connected with the introduction of the new weapons. The fact that the front rank was called hastati seems to indicate that the hasta, or thrusting spear, was not abandoned until after the new formation had been adopted. Indeed, cause and effect may have stood in circular relationship. The open formation could have favoured new weapons which, once widely adopted, forbade the use of any other formation. At all events, there must have been more elbow room for aiming a javelin.

Apart from these considerations, open-order fighting was characteristic of Greek fourth-century warfare. Xenophon’s men had opened ranks to let the enemy’s scythe-wheel chariots pass harmlessly through. Agesilaus used similar tactics at Coronea. Camillus was aware of the Greek world – and the Greek world was aware of him. He dedicated a golden bowl to Apollo at Delphi and Greek fourth-century writers refer to him. It is at least possible that the new Roman tactical formation was based on Greek precedents, as the old one had been.

■ Officers and Other Ranks

The epoch of Camillus also saw the first regular payments for military service. The amount of pay, at the time of its introduction, is not recorded. To judge from the enthusiasm to which it gave rise and to the difficulty experienced in levying taxes to provide for it, the sum was substantial. It was a first step towards removing the differences among property classes and standardizing the equipment of the legionary soldier. For tactical purposes, of course, some differences were bound to exist: for instance, in the lighter equipment of the velites. But the removal of the property classes produced an essential change in the Roman army, such as the Greek citizen army had never known. The Athenian hoplites had always remained a social class, and hoplite warfare was their distinctive function. The Spartan hoplites had been an élite of peers, every one of them, as Thucydides remarks, in effect an officer.

At Rome, however, the centuries of which the legions were composed were conspicuously and efficiently led by centurions, men who commanded as a result of their proven merit. The Roman army, in fact, developed a system of leadership such as is familiar today – a system of officers and other ranks. Centurions were comparable to warrant officers, promoted for their performance on the field and in the camp. The military tribunes, like their commanding officers, the consuls and praetors, were at any rate originally appointed to carry out the policies of the Roman state, and they were usually drawn from the upper, politically influential classes.

Six military tribunes were chosen for each legion, and the choice was at first always made by a consul or praetor, who in normal times would have commanded two out of the four legions levied; as colleagues, the consuls shared the army between them. Later, the appointment of 24 military tribunes for the levy of four legions was made not by the consuls but by an assembly of the people. If, however, additional legions were levied, then the tribunes appointed to them were consular nominations. Tribunes appointed by the people held office for one year. Those nominated by a military commander retained their appointment for as long as he did.

Military tribunes were at first senior officers and were required to have several years of military experience prior to appointment. In practice, however, they were often young men, whose very age often precluded them from having had such experience. They were appointed because they came from rich and influential families and they thus had much in common with the subalterns of fashionable regiments in latter-day armies. Originally, an important part of the military tribune’s duties had been in connection with the levy of troops. In normal times, a levy was held once a year. Recruits were required to assemble by tribes (a local as distinct from a class division). The distribution of recruits among the four legions was based on the selection made by the tribunes.

“Praetor” was the title originally conferred on each of the two magistrates who shared supreme authority after the period of the kings. The military functions of the praetor are well attested, and the headquarters in a Roman camp continued to be termed the “praetorium”. In comparatively early times, the title of “consul” replaced that of “praetor”, but partly as a result of political manoeuvre, the office of praetor was later revived to supplement consular power. The authority of a praetor was not equal to that of a consul, but he might still command an army in the field.

The command was not always happily shared between two consuls. In times of emergency – and Rome’s early history consisted largely of emergencies – a single dictator with supreme power was appointed for a maximum term of six months, the length of a campaigning season. The dictator chose his own deputy, who was then known as the Master of the Horse (magister equitum).

The allies, who were called upon to aid Rome in case of war, were commanded by prefects (praefecti), who were Roman officers. The 300 cavalry attached to each legion were, in the third century BC at any rate, divided into ten squadrons (turmae), and subdivided into decuriae, each of which was commanded by a decurio, whose authority corresponded to that of a centurion in the infantry.


The Military of Rome II

■ The Legions against the Phalanx

Rome had clashed with Philip V of Macedon when he cautiously allied himself with Carthage. Roman military commitments had then led to a compromise peace, but war was renewed two years after Zama. The Romans did not wish for a bad neighbour on the other side of the Adriatic, let alone one who often emerged as the ally and patron of pirates. Pretexts for intervention in Greek and Macedonian affairs were not far to seek. Since 273 BC, Rome had been on friendly terms with the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. Ptolemaic succession difficulties had now arisen, and with avid opportunism Philip had allied himself to Antiochus III, who ruled Syria – the rump of the Seleucid empire – in an attempt to seize the Ptolemies’ overseas possessions. As usual, in a struggle between the successor powers, would-be neutrals were reluctantly involved, and Rhodes and Pergamum, a Greek Asiatic kingdom of culture which had recently stemmed Celtic inroads and defied the Seleucids, appealed to Rome.

The Roman commander who eventually took charge in Greece was Titus Quinctius Flaminius, an ardent philhellene. He finally defeated Philip at the battle of Cynoscephalae in Thessaly (197 BC). Cynoscephalae in Greek means “dog’s heads”, the shape of local hillocks suggesting the name. The uneven ground seriously hindered the Macedonian phalanx, but heavy mist early in the day also hampered Roman mobile tactics. On both sides, the right wing was victorious, but the scales were tipped in Rome’s favour by a tribune whom history has not named. On his own initiative, he diverted 20 maniples from a point where victory was already assured, to surprise the enemy phalanx in the rear. Flaminius, thus victorius, was welcomed as liberator of Greece. Subsequently, however, in 183 BC, he appeared in a less generous light, attempting to extradite the aged Hannibal, who as a harmless exile now lived in the Asiatic kingdom of Bithynia. Hannibal took poison. Even Roman senators did not approve Flaminius’ action, condemning it as officious and harsh.

Rome’s terms with Philip were not unduly severe, but war already loomed with Antiochus, his eastern ally. The logic of Roman military expansion is clear enough. For the sake of security and trade, Rome wanted peace in the eastern Mediterranean, but since she could not countenance any power strong enough to act as peacemaker, she had to exert her own strength in this capacity. Antiochus neglected rather than suspected Roman power and he had, perhaps tactlessly, employed the exiled Hannibal in a military capacity. In the war which followed, Antiochus’ fleets were unable to resist the Roman grappling and boarding tactics which had destroyed Carthaginian naval supremacy. On land, he was defeated first at Thermopylae (191 BC), then at Magnesia near Sipylus (190 BC), in Lydia. This last battle proved decisive. The Roman legions, as at Zama, had the advantage of good allied cavalry support, provided here by Eumenes, king of Pergamum. In their desire to tempt Antiochus from his defensive position, the Romans exposed their right wing, but Eumenes’ attack anticipated and threw into confusion the outflanking movements by Antiochus’ heavily armoured cavalry. The Roman left wing was thrown back by a charge of Oriental horsemen under Antiochus’ personal leadership, but the victors in this section of the field continued their pursuit too long and left the central phalanx unsupported. The phalanx, stationed in dense formations, at intervals, with elephants filling the gaps, was broken when the Romans successfully stampeded the elephants and breached the line.

The peace terms which followed Magnesia reduced Antiochus to impotence as far as the Mediterranean was concerned. But Rome fought a third Macedonian war with Perseus, son of Philip V. The decisive battle which finally established Rome as arbiter of the eastern Mediterranean world came at Pydna in Macedonia (168 BC). The pikemen of the Macedonian phalanx were again at a disadvantage on broken ground and the Roman legionary swordsmen were able to exploit gaps in their ranks. Roman tactical flexibility was, on this occasion, well turned to account by the generalship of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, son of the consul killed at Cannae.

Rome’s victories in these eastern wars cannot be understood unless it is realized that the ponderous Macedonian phalanx of the second century BC differed completely from the original flexible and mobile phalanx of Philip II and Alexander the Great. With the growing tendency towards heavier weapons and armour, it in effect reverted in character to the rigid Greek phalanx of the fifth century BC. At Cynoscephalae, the phalanx, attacked by Flaminius’ tribune in the rear, had been unable to wheel about even to protect itself. This helplessness compares significantly with the alacrity of Alexander’s phalangists at Gaugamela, who faced sharply about to rescue their baggage train from a Persian breakthrough.

Ever since the days of Camillus, when the maniple formation had been introduced, the Romans, unlike the Macedonians, had developed consistently in the direction of flexibility. To this development, the genius of Scipio Africanus had given great impetus, and the commanders who fought Rome’s eastern wars in the second century BC had thoroughly absorbed his tactical principles.

■ Weapons and Tactics

The confrontation between the legion and the phalanx raises questions as to the comparative effectiveness of sword and pike. The pike, of course, had the longer reach, but the sword was a more manageable and less cumbersome weapon, giving greater opportunity for skill in its use.

At Pydna, the Italian allies serving under Aemilius Paullus hurled themselves with reckless heroism at the enemy pikes, trying to beat them down or hew off their points. But they sacrificed themselves in vain; the pike points pierced their shields and armour, causing terrible carnage. The phalanx was eventually shattered as the result of cool tactical judgment. Paullus divided his force into small units with orders to look for gaps in the pike line and then exploit them. The gaps appeared as a result of the rough ground which prevented the phalangists from moving with uniformity and keeping abreast. Forced at last by the infiltrating legionaries to abandon their pikes and fight at close quarters, the Macedonians soon discovered that their small swords and shields were no match for the corresponding Roman arms.

The Macedonian dynasts who relied upon the phalanx were perfectly aware of the dangers to which it was exposed and their awareness explains the hesitation to join battle that marked their encounters with the Romans. The phalanx was considered secure while it remained stationary. The Romans consequently tried to tempt it into action but, even so, had to beware lest in provoking an attack they rendered themselves too vulnerable.

Gaps, of course, might be opened in the enemy lines by the pilum. Something could be expected from the volley of weighted javelins with which the legions normally commenced a battle. But against this, the phalangists were heavily armoured: Perseus’ phalanx at Pydna drew its title of “Bronze Shields” from the round bucklers which his men wore slung round their necks and drew in front of them as fighting started. But wooded or uneven country was the legionary’s best chance against armies of the Macedonian type. The Romans had learnt their lesson as early as the battle of Asculum against Pyrrhus, where they had been able to withdraw nimbly before the intact line of the phalanx, only to rush in where ground obstacles created ready-made breaches in the pike formation.

A similar confrontation of sword and spear is to be found in Italy in 225 BC, when, in the period between the First and Second Punic Wars, Rome fought with invading Gauls at Telamon in Etruria. On this occasion the Romans were the spearmen and the Gauls the swordsmen. The Roman general, in fact, placed some of his triarii in the front line in order that their spears might blunt the Gallic swords: the Gauls, like the Italian soldiery at Pydna, tried to parry or hack away the spear heads. Gallic swords were sometimes made of very soft iron. In fact, Polybius tells us that the Gallic sword was so soft that after striking a blow the swordsman was obliged to straighten the bent iron against his foot. Incidentally, Plutarch tells the same story of poorly tempered Gallic swords in his Life of Camillus. The Gauls seem to have relied on carrying all before them at the first onset; this is understandable if their swords were rendered so quickly unserviceable. Perhaps the defect was localized in certain tribes where ironworking had not advanced beyond a primitive stage or where facilities for obtaining good weapons did not exist. At Cannae, although the Spaniards in Hannibal’s army fought with their short thrusting swords, the Gauls preferred their normal, unpointed, slashing weapons. However, there is no mention here of soft iron and the Gauls, so far from despairing when immediate victory eluded them, doggedly retreated in the face of Roman pressure, until Hannibal’s tactical plans matured. In any case, one feels that Hannibal’s astute generalship would not have permitted the use of soft iron weapons among his troops.

Polybius gives a graphic account of the Gallic invaders of 225 BC. Although the rear ranks wore cloaks and trousers, the huge men of the front line, with traditional bravado, fought stark naked save for their gold collars and armlets.

The sight was formidable, but the prospect of acquiring the gold stimulated Roman efforts to kill the wearer. The shields of these reckless fighters were not large enough to protect them; the bigger the warrior, the more exposed he was to the Roman pilum. The Roman legionary regularly carried two pila, one more slender than the other, perhaps for convenient reservation in the shield hand. The long, barbed, iron head was riveted so securely to the shaft that it would break rather than become detached from the wood. However, this very solidity was later felt to be a mixed blessing, for a spent missile, intact, could be recovered and used by the enemy. Technical measures were taken to neutralize the danger.

■ Sackers of Cities

Advantages cease to be advantages when one becomes too dependent on them. Rome’s dependence upon overseas power and wealth led to neglect of the old self-sufficient Italian economy. Roman overseas wars assumed the aspect of predatory exploits rather than peace-keeping missions; the struggles of the later second century BC characteristically terminated in the pitiless sack of cities rather than decisive battles followed by peace terms. When the Achaean League and its ally Corinth revolted against the Roman settlement of Greece, the Corinthians treated Roman senatorial ambassadors with disrespectful violence. After the short war which followed, the Roman consul Lucius Mummius razed Corinth and enslaved its inhabitants. Mummius was hardly a philhellene. For Greek art treasures, he displayed the enthusiasm of a collector rather than a connoisseur.

The same year (146 BC) had seen the destruction of Carthage, bringing the Third and last Punic War to its bitter end. The Carthaginians had recalled from exile an able general – another Hasdrubal – who organized their very solid defences. Against the 45-foot (13.7m) city walls, the Romans made slow progress. The Roman besieging army itself, at one time in grave danger, was saved only by the energy and resource of Scipio Aemilianus, son of Aemilius Paullus, victor of Pydna, and grandson by adoption of the Scipio Africanus who had defeated Hannibal.

When the Carthaginians were successful in running the Roman blockade by sea, Scipio built a mole across the gulf into which their harbour issued, thus cutting them off. The Carthaginians dug a canal from their inner (naval) harbour basin to the coast and put to sea with a full fleet, but the Romans defeated them in a naval engagement. The walls of Carthage were finally breached, Hasdrubal surrendered and was reserved for the day when Scipio triumphed as a victorious general in Rome, but his wife and children preferred to perish in the flames which enveloped the Carthaginians citadel and temples.

Another appalling siege was that of Numantia in 133 BC. For Rome, the capture of Numantia marked the successful culmination of a savage and often shameful war in which, after the elimination of Carthage, the Romans aimed to impose their rule on the native peoples of the Spanish peninsula. The siege operations at Numantia were, like those at Carthage, conducted by Scipio Aemilianus.

Scipio was something of an expert in sieges. Appian says that he was the first general to enclose with a wall an enemy who was prepared to give battle in the open field. It might have been expected that such an enemy would prove impossible to contain. But Scipio’s measures were very thorough.

Numantia was beset with seven forts and surrounded by a ditch and palisade. The perimeter of the circumvallations was twice as long as that of the city. At the first sign of a sally by the defenders, the threatened Roman sector had orders to hoist a red flag by day or raise a fire signal by night, so that reinforcements could immediately be rushed to the danger spot. Another ditch was built behind the first, also with palisades, after which a wall 8 feet (2.4m) high and 10 feet (3m) wide (not including parapets) was constructed. Towers were sited at 100-foot (30.5m) intervals along the wall, and where the wall could not be carried round the adjacent marshland its place was taken by an earthwork of the same height, thicker than the wall.

The river Durius (Duoro), on which Numantia stood, enabled the defenders to be supplied by means of small boats, swimmers and divers. Scipio therefore placed a tower on either side of the river, to which he moored a boom of floating timbers. The timbers bristled with inset knives and spearheads and were kept in constant motion by the strength of the current. They acted as a barrage, effectively isolating the city from any help which might reach it along the river.

Catapults and all kinds of siege engines were now mounted on Scipio’s towers and missiles were accumulated along the parapets, the forts being occupied by archers and slingers. Messengers were stationed at frequent intervals along the entire wall in order that headquarters might be informed immediately of any enemy action, whether by day or night. Each tower was furnished with emergency signals and each was ready to send immediate help to another in case of need.

Thus invested for eight months, the Numantines starved. They took to cannibalism, and at last 4,000 surviving citizens, now mere filthy and ragged skeletons, surrendered unconditionally.

■ Roman Camps

Excavations at Numantia have brought to light 13 Roman camps in the vicinity. Seven of these have been identified as Scipio’s. Others were those of his less successful predecessors in Spain. The Numantine excavations of Schulten testify in general to the accuracy of Polybius’ description of Roman camps, though some notable differences in internal arrangements and dimensions must be recognized.

A camp containing two legions with an equivalent strength of Italian allied contingents, commanded by a consular general, was normally built in the form of a square. A main road (via principalis), 100 feet (30.5m) wide, separated the headquarters of the general, with those of his paymaster (quaestor)3, staff of officers and headquarters troops, from those of the legionaries and attached cavalry. The via principalis issued on either side through gates in the camp wall. The headquarter section of the camp covered one-third of its total area. The remaining two-thirds was itself bisected by another road (via quintana), 50 feet (15.2m) wide, parallel to the main road. The word quintana indicated that it was adjacent to the tents of the fifth maniple and its attached cavalry. Both these roads were bisected at right angles by a third road, which ran to the general’s headquarters from a gate in the farthest wall. The headquarters (praetorium) was connected by a short road, on the other side, to a gate in the nearer wall.

Between the camp ramparts and the tents inside, a margin (intervallum) of 200 feet (6lm) was left vacant. This placed the tents out of reach of enemy missiles – especially fire darts. In exceptional cases, also, the camp could accommodate extra troops, and there was room to stow booty. Before the battle of the Metaurus, Claudius Nero had managed to smuggle his own legions into the camp of his colleague Livius without the enemy being aware of it. Hasdrubal only knew that he faced two consular armies instead of one when he heard the same trumpet call sounded twice in the same camp.

A Roman army never halted for a night without digging itself a camp. The perimeter was formed by a ditch, normally about 3 feet (.91m) and 4 feet (1.22m) wide. The excavated earth was flung inside to form a rampart, which was surmounted by a breastwork of sharpened stakes. For the purpose of constructing such a camp, each soldier on the march carried a spade, other tools and sharp stakes to set in the rampart.

In wartime, a Roman army encamped at a chosen spot for the winter. In this case, the camp comprised a more solid structure. The tents made of skin were replaced by huts thatched with straw. Each tent or hut held eight men, who messed together. Polybius’ account suggests that the huts or tents were laid out in long lines with streets between them, but the evidence of Numantia excavations points to the grouping of maniples round a square.

■ The Military Achievement of Marius

In the days when Marius had first served in North Africa, the nobiles were once more in precarious control of Roman politics. They were at least sufficiently in control to mismanage foreign wars. When Marius, a member of the equestrian class, declared his intention of standing for the consulate, his aristocratic commanding officer insulted him. However, Marius possessed ability, energy, wealth, influential family connections and a flair for intrigue. He became consul in 107 BC and superseded the general who had slighted him. However, no amount of intrigue could have raised Marius to the eminence for which he was destined if events had not conspired to demonstrate his very real military ability, both in the Jugurthine War and the campaigns against the barbarians.

A land-hungry Germanic tribe, the Cimbri, had left their homes in Jutland and together with other tribes, including the Teutones, whose name is remembered above all in this connection, had migrated southwards, carrying with them their entire families and moveable possessions. The Romans were alarmed and a consular army met the migrants in Noricum, a Celto-Illyrian area north-east of the Alps. In the ensuing battle the Romans were badly defeated. The Cimbri and their allies must have found that the Alps presented a more formidable barrier than the Rhône and they fortunately avoided Italy, moving westward into Gaul (Southern France), an area which was by now under Roman control. Several Roman armies attempted to eliminate the barbarian menace, but they met with a series of humiliating defeats culminating in a major disaster at Arausio (Orange) in 105 BC, which much disturbed Rome.

The campaigns against the migrants could be regarded as offensive wars. The German tribes were fighting in defence of the families they had with them, and the Romans had rigidly, though not unwisely, refused to negotiate or concede any right of settlement to the barbarians. After Arausio, however, the way to Italy lay open to the Germanic invaders and Rome was unquestionably on the defensive. A full state of emergency existed and in these circumstances Marius, who had recently emerged as conqueror of Jugurtha, was elected consul for the second and successive year (105 BC). Legally, ten years should have elapsed before his second election. Constitutional precedent required that the consul should be sponsored by the Senate. But the Popular Assembly, as the legislative body of the Republic, was free to do as it chose. In any case, the Romans rarely insisted on constitutional niceties where they conflicted with military expediency.

Marius gloriously justified his appointment. Fortunately, the Germans had not immediately attempted the invasion of Italy but moved westwards towards Spain. This gave Marius time to train his troops for the coming conflict. Much of his success may be attributed to good military discipline and administration. He was appointed consul for the third time before he came to grips with the enemy. He even had leisure to improve his supply lines by setting his men to dig a new channel at the mouth of the Rhône.

The Teutones and the Ambrones (another allied German tribe) parted company from the Cimbri and the Tigurini (a Celtic people who had joined them). While the former confronted Marius on the Rhône, the latter made for Italy by a circuitous march over the Alps. Marius restrained his men in their camp to allow them to become accustomed to the sight of the barbarians who surrounded them, calculating that familiarity would breed contempt. When the Teutones marched on towards Italy, bypassing his camp, he led his own men out and overtook the enemy near Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence). Here, he fought a battle on favourable ground and, making use of a cavalry ambush posted in the hills, completely annihilated the Teutones. Their allies, the Ambrones had already been slaughtered in great numbers in a fight at a watering place two days earlier.

Marius’ consular colleague in North Italy fared by no means so happily and was forced to withdraw before the invading Cimbri into the Po valley, leaving them to occupy a large part of the country. In 101 BC, Marius’ legions were brought to reinforce the north Italian army, Marius being now in his fifth consulate. A battle was fought at Vercellae (perhaps near Rivigo). The barbarians’ tactics were not utterly devoid of sophistication and had some success. Nor were the Germans ill-armed. Their cavalry wore lofty plumes on helmets grotesquely shaped like animal heads. Their breastplates were of iron and they carried flashing white shields, two javelins each and heavy swords for hand-to-hand fighting. The summer heat may have been in favour of the Romans, who were accustomed to the Mediterranean climate. Fighting was confused on account of a heavy dust storm. The Roman victory may be ascribed to superior training and discipline. Sulla, on whose account Plutarch relies, suggested that Marius’ tactics were mainly designed to secure glory for himself at the expense of his consular colleague. Sulla himself fought in the battle, but one would not expect his evidence to be unbiased. In any case, the entire Germanic horde was destroyed and Rome was spared a catastrophe that might have proved conclusive to its political existence. For unlike the victors of the Allia, three centuries earlier, the Cimbri were in search of land, not gold. The greatest threat presented by the northern barbarians lay in their numbers, estimated at a total of 300,000; some ancient historians thought that this was an underestimate. The Romans at Vercellae were a little more than 50,000 strong. At the same time, the barbarians’ great trek southward from Jutland, let alone their subsequent victories over Roman armies, cannot have been achieved without leadership. It is surprising that the names of the Germanic leaders are not at least as celebrated as that of Brennus.

■ Recruitments

The wars against the Cimbri and the Teutones are poorly documented. Marius emerges as both strategist and tactician, a leader possessing formidable discipline and great physical courage. Yet the secret of his success may well have lain in his ability as a military administrator and the intelligence of his military reforms.

One has only to consider his methods of recruitment. Constitutionally, these were outrageous and exposed him to the ever-increasing hostility of the Senate. But from a social and strategic point of view, they were precisely what Rome needed. Since the time of the Servian reforms, the poorest section of the population (proletarii) had not qualified for enrolment in the legions, except in times of grave national emergency. The name proletarii in fact signifies those who contributed only their children (proles) to the community – not their taxes or their military service. Plutarch suggests that only propertied classes were required in the army, since their possessions were some sort of a security for their good behaviour. In any case, it must have been felt that they had a greater stake in the society they defended.

At the time when Marius had been appointed by ‘the People’ to his first term as consul, Roman citizens were undergoing a process of proletarianization. The land, from which the farmer was being forced by low overseas corn prices, was brought up by wealthy absentee landlords, who were able to run their estates with the help of cheap labour, supplied by a multitude of enslaved war captives. Meanwhile, the small farmer moved into the city, where he could at least take advantage of the cheap and subsidized corn which often proved to be the price of his political support.

The Senate had ruled that extra levies should be raised for the Jugurthine War. Marius, finding the measure inadequate, and always ready to provoke the Senate, recruited not only volunteers and time-expired veterans – which it was open to him to do – but also offered enlistment to members of the proletariat who wished to go soldiering. Whereas previously the field for recruitment had been progressively narrowing as property requirements became harder to satisfy, Marius raised a strong army and at the same time produced one remedy for the problem of unemployment.

As long as he enjoyed the support of the People’s Assembly and its tribunes, the Senate could not check Marius’ recruiting activities. His methods, however, had an ominous aspect. Roman soldiers, though now members of a fully professional army, owed personal loyalty to the general who enrolled and employed them. This loyalty was enhanced by traditional Roman concepts of the semi-sacred relationship which existed between a protector (patronus) and his protégé (cliens): a relationship which in some contexts acquired legal definition. Marius became a patron to his veteran soldiers, securing for them, through his political associates, a grant of farmland on retirement. The day of private armies, when soldiers owed prime allegiance to their generals rather than to the state, was not far off.

■ Army Reorganization

At the battle of Aquae Sextiae, Marius gave the order to his men, through the usual chain of command, that they should hurl their javelins as soon as the enemy came within range, then use their swords and shields to thrust the attackers backwards, down the treacherous slope. The instructions to discharge javelins and then join battle with swords and shields is such as we might expect to be given to an army which had adopted the pilum and the gladius, but the offensive use of shields and the application of pushing tactics sounds like a reversion to the old fifth- and fourth-century phalanx as it had been used both in Greece and Italy. The probability is that the traditional manipular formation with its three-line quincunx deployment had generally been superseded. In the course of the preceding century, Rome had come into conflict with a wide assortment of enemies, variously equipped and accustomed, and the Romans were nothing if not adaptable. They were ready to improve and to adopt such tactics as suited the terrain and were most likely to prove effective against the type of enemy with whom they had to deal in any particular battle. There were no longer any routine tactics. The maniple which had been the unit of the old three-line battle front was in the first place a tactical unit (see here). Once it had ceased to be tactically effective, there was no reason for its retention. Marius recognized this fact and reorganized his army accordingly.

For purposes of administration a larger unit than the maniple was convenient; and in this, subdivisions were necessary. The legion was consequently divided into ten cohorts, and every cohort contained six centuries, each commanded by a centurion, whose titles, ranging from that of the exalted primus pilus to hastatus posterior, reflected differences of position on the battlefield, rank and seniority. Before Marius’ time, the cohort, notably as used by Scipio in Spain (134 BC), was often a purely tactical formation, employed to cope with special circumstances. On the other hand, it had originated as an administrative infantry unit among the Italian allies. Cohorts had been mobilized originally as 500 and 1,000 strong respectively. Each had been under the command of a praefectus. As a legionary unit, the cohort was 500–600 strong. Its division into six centuries meant that these were each somewhat under 100 strong, larger than the old manipular centuries, which had sometimes contained as few as 60 men.

Marius abolished the velites, the skirmishers of the ancient Camillan army; and with them, their characteristic arms of light spear and small buckler (parma) disappeared. The pilum was now used by all legionaries, and Marius introduced a change in its manufacture. In place of one of the iron rivets which had secured the head to the shaft, he had a wooden peg inserted. When the javelin impaled an enemy shield, the peg broke on impact and the shaft sagged and trailed on the ground, though still attached to the head by the remaining iron rivet. Not only was the javelin thus rendered unserviceable to enemy hands, but it encumbered the warrior whose shield it had transfixed. According to Plutarch, this novelty was introduced in preparation for the battle with the Cimbri at the battle of Vercellae. At the later date, in Julius Caesar’s army, as a further refinement, the long shank of the pilum was made of soft iron, so that it bent even while it penetrated.

Marius was at pains to be sure that every soldier in his army should be fit and self-reliant. He accustomed his men to long route marches and to frequent moves at the double. In addition to their arms and trenching tools, he insisted on their carrying their own cooking utensils and required that every man should be able to prepare his own meals. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote in the first century AD, describes the legionary as carrying a saw, a basket, a bucket, a hatchet, a leather strap, a sickle, a chain and rations for three days, as well as other equipment. If this was a legacy for Marius’ reforms, it is easy to understand why the men who patiently supported such burdens were nicknamed “Marius’ mules”. Campaigning in enemy country or where there was a danger of sudden attack, the Romans marched lightly equipped and ready for action at short notice, while the soldiers’ packs (sarcinae) were carried with the baggage train. Marius is also said to have introduced a quick-release system for the pack.

The Military of Rome III

■ Military Standards and Banners

Another of Marius’ innovations was the introduction of a single silver eagle (aquila), mounted on a staff, as a legionary standard. It is difficult to know just what significance should be attached to this change, because we have no clear information about the military standards which were previously in use. The eagle was a bird sacred to Jupiter. According to one source, there had previously been five legionary standards. Apart from the eagle, these exhibited the forms of wolves, bears, minotaurs and horses, and they were carried severally before the several ranks of the army in battle. But from Marius’ time, they were relegated to subordinate and ceremonial usages.

The legionary eagles were later made of gold and they were embellished with wreaths and other ornaments. In peacetime, they were kept in the state treasury (aerarium) at Rome, the old temple of Saturn. In wartime, they were carried with the legion and had a little sanctuary allotted to them in the camp. They were objects of quasi-religious veneration.

This quasi-religious function of the standards was in conflict with their practical purpose. In so far as the standard was a sacred object symbolizing the corporate existence of a military unit, it qualified for the care and protection of the soldiers whom it represented and could not properly be exposed to danger of capture by the enemy in battle. Its loss was, in fact, regarded as a great disgrace. The standard therefore had to be placed behind the front line and surrounded by troops who would defend it.

Schoolboys are – or used to be – familiar with Caesar’s anecdote of the standard-bearer who leapt down from his ship as it beached on the Kentish coast, with an exhortation to the hesitant legionaries to follow him if they did not intend the betrayal of their eagle into enemy hands. An earlier example of the same attitude occurs in Plutarch’s account of the battle of Pydna. On this occasion, a captain of one of the Italian contingents seized his unit’s ensign and flung it into the enemy phalanx. Thus blackmailed by the threat of dishonour, his men redoubled their efforts to break the phalanx. For, as Plutarch observes, the Italians in particular regarded it as ignominious to desert their standards.

If, however, the standard was a sacred object which required protection, it could not discharge its practical function – which was to serve as a rallying point. As such, its place was in the forefront of the battle. The legionaries could not be expected to look over their shoulders to discover where they should take their stand. The very name of the standards in Latin, signa, suggests that they were in fact signals, and as tactics became increasingly mobile and less uniform, the need for them increased. Incidentally, the Greeks of the fifth century BC had made no corresponding use of military standards in their compact phalanx battles.

A study of ancient references to the position of the standards on the battlefield suggests that they may have been located immediately behind the front line. They were thus protected, and yet at the same time sufficiently far advanced to serve as marking signals for the greater part of the army. On the other hand, the whole point of Marius’ innovation may have been to confer a single standard on the legion, which would serve its emotional needs, at the same time leaving the standards of the smaller units free to be used, without sentimental inhibitions, for practical purposes. By contrast with legionary standards, the old signalling staves of the maniples had embodied no sacred animals. They had exhibited the open palm of a hand on a raised spear, but were later decorated with garlands and other emblems. When maniples were absorbed into cohorts, the cohort took the leading maniple’s standard.

Similarly, the cavalry standards (vexilla), consisting of flags suspended from a kind of yard-arm and identifying units, would lose their more emotional significance with the adoption of the uniform legionary emblem. By Marius’ time, the Italian cavalry had largely been superseded by overseas cavalry forces (auxilia), who perhaps did not share the Italian veneration for standards and banners. The eagle remained a permanent symbol throughout later centuries of military development. But other forms of standard were also imitated from the usage of outlying peoples on Rome’s frontiers. An interesting example is the draco, which was a windsock of coloured silk, with the silver head and gaping jaws of a dragon.

The Italian captain distinguished by his gesture at Pydna had been a Pelignian. Marius came from Arpinum, a town which had enjoyed full Roman citizen rights since the beginning of the second century BC. Arpinum was not far from the territory of the Peligni, and Marius was perhaps acutely conscious of the importance of military standards and banners in terms of local sentiment. As an eminently practical commander, he must also have been aware of the difficulties which such sentiments created. It is possible to regard the silver eagle as his solution.

■ The Frontiers of Empire

The Roman navy, at such times as it could be said to exist at all, was always the junior service. However, Augustus was at pains to maintain it, for he needed to preserve lines of communication between Italy and the provinces. Of no small account were the naval forces whose allegiances had been transferred to him after the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, and he was able to establish fleets in the eastern and western Mediterranean and in the Black Sea. Other naval squadrons operated on the Danube, the Rhine and in the English Channel.

Campaigns in Illyricum, under Augustus’ destined successor, Tiberius, had safeguarded the route to the east by the Via Egnatia and Thessalonica, and the freedom of the Adriatic from pirates was further assured by the construction of the naval base at Ravenna. The Mediterranean in general was well policed under Augustus, and his was the last Roman administration to take effective measures against piracy.

Preoccupation with sea routes was the logical accompaniment of provincial road-building which proceeded under the Empire. Italy in the time of the Republic had acquired a good road system. Apart from that, the Via Egnatia, referred to above, and the Via Domitia, which led from the Rhône to the Pyrenees, were also Republican achievements. In Augustus’ time, new Alpine roads were made and communications facilitated with the Danube. The characteristically straight Roman roads, adhering where possible to high ground, were planned to satisfy military requirements. But at the same time, of course, they opened the way to trade and assisted official contacts.

The legions which in the first century AD extended and, later, defended the frontiers of the Empire were distinguished by names and numbers, though some of the numbers were duplicated. The names commemorated the patrons or creators of the legions, as for example the Legio Angusta, or else they referred to some event in regimental history, or marked a local connection, as in Macedonica or Gallica. Augustus’ army originally contained 28 legions. But three of these were annihilated in the great Roman military disaster of AD 9, when Augustus’ general, Publius Quinctilius Varus, was treacherously ambushed by the German chief Arminius in the Teutoburgian Forest. The numbers of these three ill-starred legions were as a consequence never allotted to Roman legions at a later date.

A Roman governor, in charge of an imperial province, ordinarily ranked as a legatos of the emperor. Legions apart auxiliary troops including cavalry contingents were an important element in the garrison of a province. Under Augustus, auxiliaries, which during the first century BC had been composed of foreign troops, once more began to recruit Roman citizens. This was in part because Roman citizenship itself had by now been conferred on many communities and individuals outside Italy. The social distinction being lost, auxiliaries tended to be integrated with legions. In permanent frontier stations auxiliary cavalry and infantry were posted at first from distant provinces. But as a matter of convenience, auxiliaries came to be recruited locally and the distinction between the legionaries and auxilia was accordingly once more obscured. However, military policy favoured independent cavalry tactics. From the reign of Trajan onwards, tribal non-Romanized units, known as numeri, were recruited; their role corresponded in some ways to that of auxilia in more ancient times.

The disaster which the Romans suffered in Germany under Varus was the result of an attempt to establish frontiers farther east, on the Elbe. Its effect was that Roman emperors were from that time onward content, as Julius Caesar had been, to rely on punitive and retaliatory action in order to assert a Roman presence on the Rhine. Augustus himself, at the end of his life, made it quite clear that his territorial ambitions were not unlimited. Defence, however, often entails offensive initiative, and he had been at great pains to secure the line of the Danube.

The most suitable location of frontiers was a question which left room for uncertainty, above all in the reign of an emperor of unbalanced mind, such as Gaius (Caligula) proved to be. His inexplicable vacillations could well have been damaging to Roman prestige, and the expansionist policies of the mild-mannered Claudius, who succeeded him, may have been necessary to ensure that enemies beyond the frontier were left with no illusions about the reality of Roman strength. Claudius, in need of a military reputation, added first Mauretania, then Britain to the Empire. Roman domination was carried farther by Trajan, who annexed Armenia and temporarily occupied much of Parthia. Rome, however, was never able to impose itself finally on the Parthians.

■ The Stabilization of Frontiers

The murder of Domitian in the year AD 96 was the outcome of domestic discord. Nevertheless, it gave great public satisfaction. Apart from his other shortcomings, the tyrant had failed to make adequate arrangements for a successor. The Senate appointed a new princeps, Marcus Cocceius Nerva, and Tacitus was pleased to see in this constitutional gesture a revival of Republican sentiment. Nerva was an old man at the time of his elevation. He was also childless, and after one year of power he appointed a loyal and able officer, Marcus Ulpius Traianus (Trajan), as his colleague and successor. The appointment was timely, for Nerva died early in the following year. Under Trajan, imperial expansion was renewed, and as one of Rome’s greatest soldier emperors, he was shrewd enough to nominate an equally great successor. The formal nomination and adoption which usually secured the imperial succession was much more satisfactory than the common hereditary process. It generally ensured that the successor would be a military commander, for with exceptions, one of which we have just recorded, none but a soldier could hope to survive. The Empire depended for defence and government upon military force. As for the principle of adoption itself, Roman reverence for legal forms lent it all the sanctity of a blood-tie. One may compare the relationship of patron and protégé (cliens), which we have already had occasion to notice.

Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus) who, as a connection by marriage, was Trajan’s ward and became emperor on his death, in many ways reversed the policies of his predecessor. But this does not prove that either he or Trajan was wrong. Times were changing. The steady westward migration of peoples in Asia and Europe meant that pressure on Rome’s frontiers was steadily mounting. Under Trajan, those frontiers had attained unprecedentedly wide dimensions. Hadrian saw the need for contraction and consolidation, and this policy was marked in vulnerable areas by the construction of fixed fortifications, signal posts and entrenchments. A line of forts linked by palisades, protected the intrusive salient of territory between the upper reaches of the Rhine and the Danube. Hadrian’s name is notably associated with the Roman frontier works across north Britain from the Tyne to the Solway. The line of forts and base camps, connected by a mural barrier, replaced an earlier linked chain of forts slightly to the south. “Hadrian’s Wall” was initiated as the result of the Emperor’s visit to Britain in AD 122; Hadrian spent a great deal of his reign in visiting outlying provinces. The Wall exemplifies the principles of Roman frontier defence as they existed in many sectors of the Empire. A chain of strong-points was connected by a well-defined communicating road (limes) along which troops could move with efficiency and speed.

Antoninus Pius (138–161), who succeeded Hadrian, presided over an epoch of comparative peace and plenty in the Mediterranean core of the Empire. But the price of social well-being was continual vigilance and preparedness on the frontiers. In Britain, Antoninus tried to advance the frontier – as he did in Germany – and built another wall in the form of a turf embankment on a cobblestone base, farther north, from the Forth to the Clyde. But the time came when this could no longer be defended, and after only 23 years it was decided to withdraw southwards once more and rely solely on Hadrian’s stone structure for the defence of Roman Britain.

The recourse to engineering skills in order to solve manpower problems had been Julius Caesar’s answer. Rome’s wars against the barbarians were a continual struggle against numerical odds, and with the help of technology the Romans strove to make good what they lacked in numbers. Twenty-eight legions had been all too few for Augustus’ original ambitions, and when he lost three of them in Varus’ disaster, he saw the need to reduce military commitments and shorten the perimeter of the imperial frontiers.

The military garrisons which manned frontier areas were (as a matter of policy on which we have already commented) not all nationally homogeneous. But they tended to form settled communities as a result of relationships with local women, and the resulting settled habits and lack of mobility in themselves constituted a disadvantage. However, legions were withdrawn from Britain at various dates during the centuries of Roman rule, to meet pressures in other parts of the Empire, and such withdrawals, even though the legions by this time were not all first-line troops, opened the way inevitably to northern or seaborne invaders to make incursions.

■ The Task of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who succeeded to the principate at the death of Antoninus Pius in AD 161, was also of a quiet and philosophic disposition, but unlike his predecessor he was faced with the necessity for continual warfare. The fact that he was able to meet the challenge of military duty with energy and unbroken resolve indicates some kind of spiritual triumph over his natural temperament, at the same time making him a practising as distinct from a purely academic philosopher.

War against Parthia (162–3) was only a prelude to barbarian incursions on the Danube front (166). It was already well recognized that responsibility for imperial defence was more than a single emperor could support. An emperor’s nominated successor, who now ordinarily received the title of “Caesar”, was also a colleague. Marcus Aurelius was not very fortunate in his colleague Lucius Verus, whose adoption derived from a decision of Hadrian. Marcus, showing perhaps poor judgment of character, arranged that the task of imperial government should be shared, and Verus, ruling as an equal on a collegiate basis, took command of the war against Parthia, which was won for him by his able officer Avidius Cassius.

The major cities of Parthia were captured, but this victory, like that of Trajan, though westward territories were annexed, could not lead to permanent Roman occupation of Parthia. The days were past when Romans and Parthians fought each other with characteristic national weapons and battles were a conflict of highly disciplined legionaries with incalculable swarms of mounted bowmen. Arrian, writing on military tactics in the time of Hadrian, testifies to the diversification of arms and armour and the variety of combatant methods employed by the Roman army at that epoch. Trajan’s Column and other monuments tell the same story. The Romans had among their own contingents heavily mailed horsemen on the Parthian model; nor did they lack archers who could retaliate against the Parthians. If they were never able to bring the Parthian Empire within the bounds of their own, this was probably because they lacked sufficient troops to hold what had been conquered. Such vast deserts were in any case ungovernable.

Lack of numbers also told heavily against Roman defence on the Danube, and it should be stressed that Rome was now seriously on the defensive in this area. Various barbarian tribes, forced westwards and southwards by migratory pressures, crossed the Alps and reached Aquileia at the northern extremity of the Adriatic Sea. Italy was threatened as it never had been since the days of the Cimbric invasion, but the barbarians did not capture Aquileia, lacking the equipment for assaults on fortified towns. Marcus Aurelius, despite the inferior ability of his colleague, was well served by his generals on the Danube front. Lucius Verus in any case died on active service in 169, and Marcus was left in sole command.

There seems to have been a good deal of collaboration between the German tribes of the upper Danube and the Sarmatians farther east. Roman armies, relying simply on mobility and speed, had to turn abruptly from one threat to another. The invaders were defeated in a series of arduous campaigns, forced back across the Danube and reduced to quiescence. But such warfare spelt an end to current methods of frontier defence and, in years which followed, Roman strategists had to think increasingly in terms of fortified zones rather than defensible lines.

Unfortunately, the manpower problem in the time of Marcus Aurelius became all the more critical on account of a devastating plague which the army brought back from its eastern wars. Sheer lack of manpower obliged Marcus to establish a German militia, settled within the imperial frontiers, as a way of combating German threats from without. Military service was the price of the land which the settlers occupied. As the frontiers became less distinct, so also did the definition of Roman nationality. The operations of Marcus Aurelius and his officers secured the line of the Danube, but in the large frontier province of Dacia to the north of the river, which Trajan had previously annexed, a right of way was granted to the barbarian tribes, allowing them to preserve communications with their eastward compatriots. In some sense, the Empire was now provided with insulating zones but – to press the metaphor – this insulation could become a semiconductor of extraneous forces.

Marcus Aurelius would probably have rendered the territory beyond the Danube more secure, but in AD 175 he had to meet the revolt of his eastern deputy Avidius Cassius. It would seem that Cassius had been deceived by a false report that Marcus was dead, and his dissident action hardly had time to gather impetus before he was murdered by one of his own centurions. Avidius Cassius would in any case have been a preferable alternative to the Emperor’s ineffective son Commodus, who eventually filled the role of official colleague and successor.

■ Septimius Severus and his Army

The principate of Commodus lasted 12 years, which should have been long enough to secure the succession, but Commodus did not allow the matter to trouble him. He was eventually murderer as the result of a conspiracy hatched by his Praetorian Guard commander, who had for some time shared the real power with other favourites, and at last decided that the present emperor was no longer necessary. During the next year, two emperors were proclaimed and then murdered, while the Praetorians tried to make up their minds. At last, they gave support to Septimius Severus, who commanded the Danube legions. The legions themselves, in fact, provided a firmer backing than Praetorian caprice.

Septimius had to fight for the imperial throne against other contenders, who were also supported by provincial armies. He was victorious in the ensuing struggle, partly because he commanded more troops than his adversaries and partly because he was nearer to Rome – still the key point. He temporarily came to terms with his northern rival Clodius Albinus, governor of Britain, recognizing him as a colleague. It is surprising that Albinus was deceived so easily. Septimius had time to march eastward and defeat his other opponent, Pescennius Niger, in a series of battles in Asia Minor and Syria. He was then in a position to renew hostilities against Albinus, who had advanced into Gaul and rallied the western provinces of the Empire in his favour. Perhaps Albinus also had been playing for time. The numbers engaged in the decisive battle near Lugdumum (Lyon) are reported as being equal, and the issue for long hung in the balance, but Septimius was completely victorious, deciding the battle by his use of cavalry as an independent arm.

Septimius Severus’ military ability was allied to shrewd political insight. On being proclaimed emperor, he had been quick to occupy Rome and disband the Praetorian Guard. He then re-established the Praetorians to suit his own convenience. In the past, the Praetorian cohorts had normally been recruited from Italy, but Septimius threw membership open to all legionaries. This meant in practice that Praetorians were picked from the Illyrian legions which had supported him. They continued to serve him admirably as an imperial corps d’élite in the course of his eastern campaign.

Having eliminated other imperial pretenders, Septimius undertook an effective punitive expedition against the Parthians, who had given support to Niger, his eastern rival. He also had to act promptly in Britain, for the province, stripped of troops by Albinus for his continental adventure, was badly exposed to Caledonian invaders from the north. But Septimius’ British campaign was incomplete and he was preparing to renew hostilities when he died at Eburacum (York) in AD 211.

Septimius Severus admired soldiers and believed in them, particularly in the soldiers of the Roman army. For him, their welfare was a paramount consideration, and one cannot help feeling that his attitude, despite its serious economic implications, was right. Roman civilization had come to depend completely on military power capable of defending the frontiers, and citizens who enjoyed the peace and comfort of metropolitan territories could at least be expected to support the defence effort with their tax contributions. Septimius, in fact, made sure that they did so.

Among other reforms which favoured the soldiers, he legislated that they should be able to marry legally while on service. This facility had not previously existed, though emperors in the past had given some sort of recognition to the relations which soldiers contracted with local women and to the children which resulted. Official attitudes on this subject seem to have been in conflict. On the one hand, the serving soldier was discouraged from forming local ties which might divert him from his principal allegiance to Rome. On the other, it was desired that he should feel at home in the army. The new legislation rectified anomalies. In any case Septimius’ son, colleague and successor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (known by the nickname of Caracalla) in subsequent years recognized the Roman citizenship of all freeborn provincials. The new constitutional enactment was not credited by an unimpressed posterity with generous motives, but regarded rather as a means of widening liability to tax. But it meant that civilians in general made a greater contribution to the defence budget. Of such a policy, Septimius would have approved.

Military and Civil Reorganization

The decade following Aurelian’s death was marked by another sequence of short-lived emperors. The year AD 284, however, saw the proclamation of the Emperor Diocletian (Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus) by troops in Asia Minor. Diocletian won the war against his rival and appointed Maximian (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus) as his colleague.

In 286, Diocletian permitted to Maximian the title “Augustus”, which indicated possession of the supreme power. From that time on, they ruled jointly, and in 293 each “Augustus” appointed himself a colleague who bore the title of “Caesar”. Four Imperial Headquarters, with their staffs, thus resulted. By regularizing procedures which had proved expedient in the past, Diocletian was in fact giving recognition to the inevitability of the collegiate principle. The Empire was too big for a single command. Troops might be transferred from Britain to the Danube in two months: perhaps less, if full use were made of Rhine river transport. But the Euphrates frontier was another matter. East and West were two Empires within a single civilization, and Diocletian wished to ensure that they should remain collegiate, not rival Empires. To some extent, their mutual independence was an accomplished fact which he was forced to recognise.

In re-establishing a co-optive procedure as the basis of imperial succession, Diocletian invoked another traditional expedient. Heredity notably in the family of Septimius Severus – based simply on blood-ties – had been productive of some grotesque results. Similarly, “praetorianism”, whether practised by the Guard itself or by the provincial legions, was simply an invitation to mutiny and murder. Because an emperor needed to be a soldier, it was too easily assumed that he needed to be nothing else. As in the first century AD, a blend of two principles was now expected to give best results. Co-option was confirmed by family affinities. The daughter of Diocletian and the step-daughter of Maximian married Galerius and Constantius, the two co-opted “Caesars”.

It was also arranged that the two “Augusti” should retire from office after 20 years and give place to their “Caesars”, who, assuming the supreme title, should appoint new “Caesars” as junior colleagues. Diocletian himself retired to his palace at Salonae (near modern Split in Jugoslavia). His choice of residence is itself significant. The imperial centre of gravity now lay in the Balkan peninsula and southeast Europe. Diocletian, like several of his imperial predecessors, had been of Balkan extraction. Rome was rapidly becoming no more than the ceremonial capital of empire. In practice, it was already merely a provincial capital, and the Senate was treated by Diocletian as if it were a body of town councillors. He never entered Rome during the first 20 years of his reign.

With his stern eye for realities and disregard for empty forms, Diocletian also realities and disregard for empty forms, Diocletian also relegated the old names of Republican magistracies to purely civil functions, and increasingly used distinct titles for military appointments. Like Septimius Severus, he realized that Rome’s greatest problem was one of recruiting, and he seems to have almost doubled the number of soldiers by increasing their pay. In order to do this, it was necessary to combat the monetary inflation which had long been associated with debasement of the Roman coinage. Diocletian went to the heart of the problem by exacting taxes in kind and maintaining his army with the proceeds.

Above all, Diocletian was an administrator and organizer, but it must not therefore be inferred that he was an “armchair” strategist. His reforms were worked out in the course of action and, like most Roman emperors who survived the first months of power, he had been obliged to fight for his position, suppress revolts and restrain barbarians. Maximian, his fellow “Augustus”, was an ambitious man, but he knew better than to challenge Diocletian on the field of battle.

Maximian, as Emperor of the West, had in fact his own military problems. Of these, the most intractable was presented by Carausius, a rebellious admiral of the British Channel fleet. Irrepressible, Carausius was for some time endured by the two “Augusti” as a kind of supernumerary colleague in Britain and north Gaul. Eventually, Maximian’s “Caesar”, Constantius, drove him from Boulogne and, continuing the war against Carausius’ murderer and successor, restored Britain to its former allegiance.

The Frankish Way of War

The kingdoms and peoples of Europe and North Africa just before the East Roman Emperor Justinian began his reconquest of the West.

On Foot or Horse?

It is generally accepted that (unlike the eastern Germanic tribes such as the Goths and Vandals), the Franks, Alamanni, Burgundians and other western Germans fought primarily on foot rather than on horseback. Although there is some truth to this, it is an oversimplification.

Many of the eastern Germans who lived for a while on the steppes of modern Ukraine would have had the space and pasture needed to raise and maintain good horse herds. These factors remained when some, such as the Ostrogoths, followed the Huns into the Hungarian Plain in the early fifth century. The open spaces where they lived would also have made horse-mounted mobility very important – almost essential. The western tribes who lived in relatively contained spaces in the forested and hilly lands on the east bank of the Rhine would have had less motivation or ability to develop cavalry armies.

That some Franks, Alamanni and Burgundians fought on horseback when they had suitable opportunities is indisputable. Various Frankish graves contain horse furniture and spurs while in some cases horses were interred nearby. Gregory of Tours’ account of Clovis’ son Theuderic fighting the Thuringians includes the detail that the Thuringians dug pits to disrupt the Frankish horsemen. The Franks of the sixth century – with the wealth of their conquests and the varied terrain of most of France at their disposal – would have had the opportunity to raise and maintain a substantial number of good cavalry mounts.

If an increasing number of Frankish, Alamanni and Burgundian warriors may have had the means to mount up in the first decades of the sixth century, they were still perfectly happy to fight on foot just as their ancestors had done. It may still have been their preferred way of fighting. Against the Thuringians a significant mounted force may have given the Franks an edge. Against the Ostrogoths and Romans in Italy – where every good solider was primarily a cavalryman – this would not have been the case.

In the centuries that followed, the Frankish warriors evolved into the finest cavalry of Western Europe – becoming the chivalry of medieval France. Most evidence suggests that this transition did not really start to take hold until the eighth century – well beyond the scope of this book. The evolution from tribal warriors on the Rhine to the rulers of France did, however, naturally transform the way the Franks fought. As they absorbed the last elements of the Roman army in northern Gaul along with the Alan and Sarmatian laeti, they would have found recruits who were more familiar with mounted warfare than their tribal ancestors. With all of Gaul at their disposal, along with the captured treasures of the Alamanni, Burgundians and Visigoths, the Franks of the sixth century would have had the wealth and land to equip their warriors with good weapons, armour and horses.

Frankish Weapons and Tactics

The Romans had no equivalent to the aggressive infantry tactics of the Franks. Sixth century Roman infantry were second-rate troops, more suitable for garrison duties rather than standing firm in line of battle. When they were deployed in battle, the Roman infantry usually had to be stiffened by dismounted cavalry as they were at Casilinum and in several other battles against the Goths. In such circumstances it would have made sense for the Franks, Alamanni and Burgundians to fight on foot to capitalize on the one advantage they had over the Romans rather than meeting them on terms in which the Romans had come to excel.

The modern historian Bernard Bachrach has postulated that the descriptions of Frankish tactics by Roman historians were distorted by the lenses through which they observed the events of their day. The offensive use of infantry would have been so surprising to them that they ignored everything else and concentrated their descriptions on the Frankish foot warriors. He has a point but probably overstates it. This is what the contemporary writers Procopius and Agathias have to say of the Frankish fighting methods:

Under the leadership of Theudibert [the Franks] marched into Italy. They had a small body of cavalry about their leader, and these were the only ones armed with spears, while all the rest were foot-soldiers having neither bows nor spears. Each man carried a sword, a shield and an axe. Now the iron head of this weapon [the axe] was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides, while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus to shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men. (Procopius)

A great throng of Germans came up and opened an attack by hurling their axes they slew many. (Procopius)

The military equipment of this people [the Franks] is very simple. They do not serve on horseback except in very rare cases. Fighting on foot is both habitual and a national custom and they are proficient in this. At the hip they wear a sword and on the left side their shield is attached. They have neither bows nor slings, no missile weapon except the double-edged axe and the angon which they use most often. The angons are spears which are neither very short nor very long. They can be used, if necessary, for throwing like a javelin and also in hand to hand combat, the greater part of the angon is covered with iron and very little wood is exposed. Above, at the socket of the spear. some points are turned back, bent like hooks and turned toward the handle. (Agathias)

In battle the Frank throws the angon. If it hits an enemy the spear is caught in the man and neither can the wounded man nor anyone else draw it out. The barbs hold inside the flesh causing great pain and in this way a man whose wound may not be in a vital spot dies. If the angon hits a shield it is fixed there, hanging down with the butt on the ground. The angon cannot be pulled out because the barbs have penetrated the shield. Nor can it be cut off by a sword because the wood of the shaft is covered with iron. When the Frank sees this situation he quickly puts his foot on the butt of the spear, pulling down so [his enemy] falls, his head and chest left unprotected. The unprotected warrior is then killed either by a stroke of the axe or a thrust with another spear. (Agathias)

Although Procopius says that the Franks did not carry spears, Agathias says that angons (javelins with long iron heads) were their primary weapons. The accounts are not entirely inconsistent. A charge by men on foot was proceeded with a volley of heavy throwing weapons – axes and/or javelins. This disrupted the enemy formation and the ability of the individual enemy warrior to defend himself. Then the Franks closed in for the kill. Such weapons and tactics would have been familiar to the ancient Romans if not their sixth century descendants.

These descriptions are perfectly consistent with the weapons and equipment found by archaeologists in Frankish graves. Many examples of relatively small, curved axe heads have been found, as have a number of long javelin shafts with conical armour-piercing heads which have small barbs at the base. The prominent iron shield bosses found in many Frankish graves would have been perfect for the warrior to punch into his opponent as he followed up the missile volley to finish his enemy off with a handheld weapon such as a short sword or a conventional spear.

A number of relatively conventional spearheads have also been found in Frankish graves which support Agathias’ statement that the Frank might finish off his opponent with a spear, contradicting Procopius who said that the Franks did not carry them. Archaeological evidence shows that a throwing axe (francisca) along with a short sword with a single edge (scramasax), were almost universal amongst Frankish warriors. Graves containing angon heads and long double-edged swords are almost always high-status warriors. A reasonable conclusion is that the best warriors, fighting in the front ranks, carried angons, franciscae and good swords, while lesser men may only have been armed with franciscae and short swords. This assumption helps to reconcile the apparently contradictory descriptions of Procopius and Agathias.

The sixth century descriptions of Frankish fighting methods are consistent with what Sidonius Apollinaris’ had to say of them in the previous century. Volleys of axes and spears preceded a charge into close combat with fast-running young men whirling their shields, anxious to be the first to reach the enemy.

Both Procopius and Agathias say that the Franks did not use bows, slings, or other longer-range missile weapons. When seen through the eyes of sixth century Romans whose mounted troopers were bow-armed and a substantial proportion of their infantry were too, this may well have seemed the case. Arrowheads and light javelin heads have been found in Frankish graves and an analysis of Alamannic graves shows that poorer men may have been archers while richer men tended to fight hand-tohand. It may be that such men would have fought to defend their home territory but were left behind on a major external expedition. In previous times the Franks and Alamanni were not averse to using missile weapons when it suited the terrain or their situation. At any time a number of men may have used bows in battle. Against the masses of bow-armed Romans in sixth century Italy it would have been even more pointless to bother with light missile weapons than attempting to meet the well-trained Roman cavalry on horseback.

So, what can we conclude from this?

The likelihood is that, after their conquest of Gaul, the Franks had a high proportion of good warriors who owned horses and could fight on horseback if the situation demanded it. Most, or all of them, could also fight effectively on foot in hand-to-hand combat and may even have preferred to do so – especially against enemies who had better cavalry. The Goths and Romans often dismounted to form a defensive line but the Franks also took the offensive when on foot. Indeed they seemed to prefer offensive tactics. Their throwing weapons and shields with prominent bosses seem most suited to a relatively loose attack formation which left enough room for each man to throw his axe or spear and punch forward with his shield as he charged into combat. When needed they could also call on men with bows to support them.

The Battle of Casilinum [Capua], AD 554.

At the Battle of Vouillé Gregory of Tours characterized the Visigoths `fighting at a distance’, while the Franks `tried to come to close combat’. This may be nothing more than a disparaging comment to contrast Visigothic cowardice with Frankish bravery. On the other hand, `fighting at a distance’ could describe hit-and-run tactics appropriate for men on horseback armed with javelins as well as spears. The Franks, armed and equipped with hand-to-hand weapons and very short-range missiles, would naturally have preferred `to come to close combat’ without bothering with preliminaries which would place them at a disadvantage. At Casilinum the Alamanni and Franks decided that their best option was to make a headlong charge on foot. They succeeded in piercing the Roman line but against an enemy with combined arms – foot, horse and archers – they were surrounded and cut to pieces. At Vouillé this tactic worked although we do not know how or why.

The headlong charge of the Franks came to be seen by the Romans as a characteristic of their way of warfare for centuries. A later sixth century Roman military manual (the Strategikon) has this to say of them:

The fair-haired races place great value on freedom. They are bold and undaunted in battle. Daring and impetuous as they are, they consider any timidity and even a short retreat as a disgrace. They calmly despise death as they fight violently in hand to hand combat. They are undisciplined in charging, as if they were the only people in the world who are not cowards.

Describing how Roman troopers were trained to use lances in a charge, learning from the Germans but maintaining better discipline, the Strategikon has this to say:

They (the front ranks) lean forward, cover their heads with their shields, hold their lances high as their shoulders in the manner of the fair-haired races. Protected by their shields they ride in good order, not too fast but at a trot, to avoid having the impetus of the charge breaking up their ranks before coming to blows with the enemy, which is a real risk.

Of course, these are generic descriptions of Germanic tactics and are not specific to the Franks. The Germanic Vandals, for example, fought exclusively on horseback by the sixth century and apparently had no tactic other than to charge into close combat. By the time the Strategikon was written, the Vandals were no more and the Ostrogoths had been defeated. The most important Germanic peoples, with whom the East Romans still had to deal with, were the Lombards and, of course, the Franks. The Lombards certainly had a sizeable force of mounted lancers. Many of them had fought for the Romans against the Ostrogoths and Franks. As the Strategikon was written at about the same time the Lombards were moving into Italy, it is more than possible that the description of the `fairhaired race’s’ tactical methods would have been influenced more by the Lombards than by the Franks.

In the years that followed, the East Romans came to call all Germans `Franks’, regardless of their origin. They were still renowned for their ferocious charge and increasingly it was on horseback. In the later medieval period, French armies were noted for the prowess of their mounted men at arms which often swept all before them.

Agathias wrote that the Franks did not wear armour and went into battle half-naked. This can be nothing more than a Greco-Roman stereotype of savage barbarians. From the time of Childeric in the mid fifth century, the Franks had access to Roman armouries and they also had talented smiths. Even if every man might not have been fully kitted out with helmet and body armour, the majority of a war leader’s comitatus of full-time retainers surely would have been. Graves of many high-status warriors contain helmets and some also have body armour. That lesser men were not buried with them does not necessarily mean they did not have access to armour. For a relatively poorer man such valuable items of equipment would likely have been passed on to his sons rather than being interred with him.

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.