Boudicca: Queen of the Iceni

An ancient historian tells us that this queen of the Iceni “possessed greater intelligence than often belongs to women”. Not only that, she was taller than most, had a piercing gaze, her voice was harsh, and her general aspect was scary, from her waist-length, flaming red her down to her gold torque and colourful clothing.

That she was not only intelligent but also an extraordinary woman is quite obvious from the events that formed the rebellion that she led against the Romans. Whether she was tall and scary we cannot confirm, it may well have been simple rhetoric on the part of the historian to show the “wild” nature of the woman, whose description made her seem more like a male warrior, and who faced the much more orderly Roman legions. The only reason, it is claimed, why she was able to gather and lead an army, and kill 80,000 Romans, was because of her “great intelligence”.

Boudicca (or Boudica), who was born around AD 25, was a member of the aristocracy, and although she was perhaps not a member of the Iceni (exogamy was common among the Celtic elite), she did marry Prasutagus between AD 43 and 45, who was king of the Iceni until his death in AD 60.

There were many reasons why the Iceni (from southern Britain, present-day Norfolk) decided to revolt against Roman rule. All had been relatively quiet since the emperor Claudius’ Roman invasion and conquest of Britain in AD 43. Prasutagus, whose tribe was not directly under Roman control, knew that things might change and that he and his tribe might lose their independence, so he made a treaty with the Romans, as client-king, that allowed him to continue ruling the Iceni (there was a brief uprising in AD 47 when Ostorius Scapula, a previous governor, ordered the Iceni to disarm, citing a law which prohibited the possession of weapons except for hunting or for self-defense when on a journey).

But discontent among British tribes began to build. One reason was the attitude of veterans settled at Camulodunum (now Colchester), who were evicting legitimate property owners as if they were defeated enemies, not friendly subjects, and confiscating their property. Another reason was a temple built there to the deified emperor Claudius (between AD 56 and 60) as part of the newly-introduced imperial cult. Non-Romans, that is, the Britons, saw it as a citadel to perpetual tyranny, and as a reminder of the destruction of their own culture. A third reason was the arbitrary conduct of Roman administrators, and a fourth was excessive taxation (the Britons bitterly resented that abuse as well).

It was not only the Iceni and the Trinovantes who were unhappy with the Romans. In fact, one of the first things that Suetonius, the new governor of Roman Britain, had to do when he arrived at his post was to take his troops to the Isle of Mona (now Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales). The place was not only a centre for anti-Roman activities and generally a refuge for disgruntled Britons, but also a stronghold of the druids, who in the past had led rebellions against the Romans.

The island fell, all the Britons there were slaughtered, and the religious groves were razed to the ground. But not before the Roman legionaries wasted some time standing in awe, staring at the druids who, hands uplifted, were invoking their deities with unintelligible (to the Romans, at least) words, and staring also at women running through the ranks of the Britons. Ancient historians describe them in similar terms to Boudicca: they were wild. And they carried flaming torches, like raging Furies.

But for Boudicca and the Iceni, the last straw was all that happened to their tribe at the death of Prasutagus. The very wealthy king had had enough foresight to make a will, hoping to keep his kingdom and his family safe. He had left his kingdom jointly to the emperor Nero and his two daughters. But things did not turn out as he had hoped.

His will was ignored, because according to Roman law, royal inheritance could not be passed down to daughters. Also, the Romans and their emperor would not accept joint ownership with women. So the Iceni tribe was now going to be ruled directly by the Romans. The nobility lost their ancestral properties to confiscation, and Prasutagus’ relatives were treated like slaves. In addition, Roman financiers demanded the repayment of loans that they had made when Claudius was emperor.

As if that had not been enough, Boudicca was publicly flogged, as if she were a right-less slave and not a free woman allied to the Romans. Then she was forced to watch the rape and torture of her two daughters, who were about 12 years old.

So, Roman laws and customs aside, Boudicca’s people, and later their allies, considered her to be their natural leader. Taking up arms in rebellion (in AD 60) was their next step. First the neighbours to the south, the Trinovantes, joined in, then other tribes, until the Britons numbered about 100,000. They may well have been inspired by the Germanic prince Arminius, of the Cherusci, who had driven the Romans back in AD 9 at the Teutoburg Forest, slaughtering 20,000 of their troops.

So then, armed and dressed to kill, Boudicca and her daughters got on her small, light chariot, which had wicker screens for protection on all sides. They set out for Camulodunum (Colchester), former capital of the Trinovantes, now capital of the province, where Claudius’ temple was located.

The Roman veterans, desperate because there weren’t enough defenders at the place, asked the Roman procurator, Catus Decianus, for reinforcements, but he could only spare 200 auxiliaries. Boudicca and her troops destroyed the city, and Decianus, fearing for his life, fled to the continent (Gaul).

Next, the rebels proceeded to the Roman city of Londinium (London), a newly-established trade centre. Suetonius had by now finished his grim task at Mona, and marched to Londinium. But then he realized that (like Camulodunum) there were not enough troops to defend the settlement. All he had was the XIV legion, a few detachments of the XX legion, and some cavalry. The inhabitants begged him to stay and help, to no avail. He sacrificed the city to save the province. All those who stayed behind were slaughtered by the rebels. Londinium was burnt down. Verulamium (St Albans), northwest of Londinium, suffered the same fate.

Ancient historians delight in describing the atrocities allegedly committed by the Iceni and their allies. They are generally described as bloodthirsty barbarians, indeed worse than wild beasts, who had no intention of taking prisoners. We read that in Londinium, the rebels rounded up the noblest and most distinguished women, and marched them off to a grove sacred to the Celtic goddess of war and victory, Andraste. There they hung them up naked and cut off their breasts, which they then sewed to their mouths, making it appear like they were eating them. Their bodies were then impaled on sharp skewers. All this was done to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and generally wild behavior.

Since we don’t have the British side of the story, we must suppose that the rebels, fired up and ready for vengeance, committed the atrocities that were usual in ancient wars, although the cruel details offered by the ancient historian are suspect.

Suetonius, meanwhile, was gathering an army that amounted to 10,000 men. These were soldiers of the XIV legion, veterans of the XX legion, and a number of auxiliaries. He carefully chose a spot with good tactical advantages: it was one encircled with woods, with a narrow entrance, and protected in the back by a thick forest. There he could not be ambushed by the Britons. The enemy had no approach but from the front. To this date, experts are still uncertain as to the exact location of the battle that ensued, although it may have been fought at Mancetter, on Watling St in the west Midlands.

Boudicca brought an army of Briton rebels that may have numbered 100,000. One of the ancient historians tells us that they were so sure of winning that they had placed their families in wagons at the edge of the battlefield so that they could see the action. And in keeping with the intention of showing the Celts as savages, we read that there were many naked women running around frantically and screaming.

Although numerically far superior to the Roman forces, the Iceni and their allies did not have some of the advantages of the Romans, such as breastplates, greaves, and the short gladius. It appears that rebels only had a long slashing sword and a shield, and wore nothing except body paint and tattoos. In this kind of confrontation, that did not look good. As for Boudicca herself, we are told that, besides her spear, she had a shield and armour, but these were only “ornamental”. This is clearly not in keeping with her plans to lead her warriors by example.

When both sides were ready, and before the actual battle, each one of the leaders gave a speech to the troops. Boudicca, in her chariot, and with her daughters by her side, is said to have reminded the tribes about their lost freedom, and she made it clear that the Britons were superior to the Romans, if not in armour, then in bravery and hardiness.

Then Boudicca, who, as was common among the ancients, believed in divination, released a hare, which ran in a direction that was considered auspicious. She told the warriors that they would show the Romans that they were hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves. Then, raising her hands, she thanked Adraste for being on their side.

Next she reminded the Iceni and their allies that it was customary for them to be led into battle by women. But on this occasion she was not an aristocratic woman avenging her kingdom and her wealth. She was an ordinary woman, and a mother not only to her two children but also to the tribes under her command. She was out to avenge their lost freedom, and also the undeserved flogging she received at the hands of the Romans, as well as the violation of her daughters’ bodies.

She went on to say that they were fighting for a cause that was just both in the eyes of the Britons and of the deities, and that these were on their side. Further, she asked the rebels to look around and see for themselves that their numbers were superior to those of the Romans, which looked very encouraging. The Romans had certainly already realized their own small force. She finished by saying that she, as a woman, had already reached a decision: she would win, or else she would die. As for the men, she told them to make their own decision: if slavery suited them, it was their choice.

Map to indicate Boudicca’s movements against the Romans.

For his part, Suetonius told his men that he anticipated victory. He inspired them by saying that the Britons had more women than men fighting in their ranks (simple rhetoric intended to fire up the all-male Roman troops). Not only that, he added, they were savages, lacking discipline, and with no real weapons or training. So it should be easy to beat the rebels, despite the numerical disadvantage of the legions.

Then the battle began. The Romans attacked the approaching Boudicca and her Britons with volleys of javelins. As anticipated by Suetonius, their own position protected them well. Then the Romans advanced, and effectively used their shorter swords, perfect for stabbing in close-quarter combat; the Britons were crushed so close together that they could not use their longer swords (they were good for slashing, not stabbing). And in this setting, the chariots were completely useless.

The Britons who were not killed tried to flee. But the very wagons that they had placed at the edge of the battlefield, so that their families could see the action, obstructed their passage. Everyone was slaughtered; not even their cattle escaped. The numbers of British dead were 80,000. The Romans only lost 400 men, and more were wounded. However, in the three previous battles, at Camulodunum, Londinium, and, Verulamium, the Romans had lost 70,000 to 80,000, both citizens and allies.

As for Boudicca, she seems to have escaped and either killed herself with poison, or “died by sickness” (she was about 36). The historians cannot agree on what happened. If she did end her life, it was because she knew that a terrible fate awaited her. She may also have tried to avoid being chained and paraded in a triumph; after all, eighty years before, another queen, Cleopatra, also followed this route, and for the same reason. The Britons gave Boudicca a funeral worthy of a queen.

Unrest among the Britons continued, however, and Suetonius, with reinforcements from Germania, ravaged not only hostile tribes, but also some who had remained neutral. The emperor feared this might provoke further rebellion, so he replaced him with a governor who was more conciliatory, Publius Petronius Turpilianus.


William Bruce “Bill” Overstreet

Born in Clifton Forge, Virginia, on April 10, 1921, Overstreet interrupted his studies at West Virginia’s Morris Harvey College to enlist in the US Army Air Forces in February 1942. Months later, he became an aviation cadet and earned his wings in a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter.

Sent to Europe as a P-51 Mustang pilot with the 357th Fighter Group, Overstreet flew escort missions to protect heavy bombers on long-distance raids. Bill always had a smile and his eyes were the brightest blue you had ever seen, and his heroics during the war are no secret (flying under the Eiffel tower during a dog-fight, flying over 100 European missions, being shot down twice, escaping his captors, receiving the French Legion of Honor, etc). He would talk about his flight under the Eiffel tower, because he knew that is what people wanted to hear; however, he would always talk about the men who did not make it back.

Perhaps my most exciting wartime event happened in August 1944. My Mustang stayed hot on the tail of a Messerschmitt Me 109G over Paris. Obviously, the German pilot flew over Paris anticipating that the heavy German anti-aircraft artillery would solve his problem and eliminate me. We had a running dogfight, and I got some hits at about 1,500 feet. I was flying my P- 51C, the Berlin Express.

The German’s engine was hit and I persisted through the intense enemy flak. As a last resort, the Me 109 pilot aimed his aircraft at the Eiffel Tower and, in a breathtaking maneuver, flew beneath it. Unshakeable, I followed him underneath, scoring several more hits in the process. The German plane crashed several blocks away, and I escaped the heavy flak around Paris by flying low and full-throttle over the river. When asked what I was thinking when I flew under the tower, my comment has always been, “I’m not sure. I was a little busy.”

Peloponnesian War 431–404 BC

The Spartans marched slowly and to the music of many pipers in their ranks … So that the men could close on the enemy steadily and evenly and not fall out of formation.

The Peloponnesian War is the name given to the great conflict between Athens and Sparta and their respective allies that broke out in 431 BC and ended with the surrender of Athens in 404 BC. Warfare was not continuous: ten years of fighting (often called the Archidamian War after the Spartan king Archidamus II, who led the first three invasions of Attica) were concluded by the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC; eight years of uneasy peace and occasional clashes followed, during which the Athenians’ great Sicilian expedition was disastrously defeated (413 BC), before the peace was abrogated (also in 413) and the final phase, sometimes known as the Ionian War, began.

The Thirty Years’ Peace of winter 446/45 BC, which had ended the earlier period of sporadic warfare between Athens and Sparta, had removed all Athenian footholds from the Peloponnese and the isthmus of Corinth and appeared to regulate relations between the two states for the future. But the Athenians’ control of the subject allies that formed their empire was unimpaired and, when their continuing expansionism led them in 433 BC into actions over Corfu, Potidaea, and Megara that were not against the letter of the peace, but were seen by the Spartans’ most influential allies, the Corinthians, as against its spirit and hostile to themselves, the Spartans decided to go to war if the Athenians did not back down (late 432 BC). Despite some busy Spartan diplomacy, Pericles persuaded the Athenians to stand firm and hostilities began in spring 431 BC, with the Spartans widening the issues by demanding that the Athenians free their subject allies (Thucydides, 1. 139).

At the start the Spartans expected to achieve their aims quickly by invading Attica, provoking the Athenians into battle and defeating them, an expectation shared, says Thucydides (7. 28), by most other Greeks. But, although they led Peloponne-sian armies into Attica in five of the first seven years of the war and did a great deal of damage to Athenian agriculture, they could not draw the Athenians out to fight, an assault on their fortifications being out of the question. Meanwhile any hopes they had of challenging Athenian naval power proved groundless. Without the resources to build and man a large enough fleet, they tried to obtain Persian help, but the Persians were not interested so long as Athenian naval power was unimpaired, and the same factor deterred Athens’ maritime allies from rebelling and transferring their money and rowers to support the Spartans; in the first ten years of the war just one of them, Lesbos, revolted in 428 BC and in 427 BC learned the hard way that the Spartans could do nothing effective to help them. One area of the Athenian empire, the Chalcidice peninsula, was vulnerable to the Spartans’ land power, but they were slow to exploit this advantage, despite the fact that the Corinthians had been able to send a small army to the area in 432 BC to help Potidaea and that the Potidaeans did hold out under siege until winter 430/ 29 BC, while other smaller rebels nearby were never subdued. Eventually in 424 BC Brasidas did take a force to Chalcidice and, despite having only 1,700 hoplites, who were volunteers and liberated helots, won over a number of the Athenians’ allies and their substantial colony at Amphipolis.

The Athenians’ unassailable fortifications and their dominant fleet kept them safe from immediate danger provided that they avoided major battles on land, but, despite Pericles’ public confidence in their financial strength (Thucydides, 2. 13), they were not adequately funded for a long war. It is possible that Pericles, who evidently directed their strategy, planned to use the fleet for offensive operations and that the attack he led on Epidaurus in spring 430 BC was the beginning of them, but the onset of the plague at that moment put an end to any such notions. Lasting two and a half years, its severity was exacerbated by the congestion caused by refugees from the countryside, where the longest of the Peloponnesian invasions, lasting 40 days, was in progress, and it seems that overall the Athenians lost from it up to a third of their fighting men. In the short term their war effort was brought to a standstill and they unsuccessfully sent envoys to Sparta to negotiate terms for peace, before Pericles rallied them; he himself died of the plague in autumn 429 BC and thereafter, in Thucydides’ view (2. 65), his steadying influence was sorely missed. The Spartans, however, failed to exploit the Athenians’ difficulties and their recovery was spirited. They reacted vigorously to the revolt of Lesbos in 428 BC, raising 200 talents from the first ever property tax on citizens, and crushed it the following spring.

After some small-scale offensive operations in 427 and 426 BC, including the dispatch of 20 ships to support their allies in Sicily against the Syracusans, in the summer of 425 BC the Athenians won a major victory near Pylos in the southwest Peloponnese. A fleet of 40 ships en route for Sicily was used by the enterprising general Demosthenes to fortify a small peninsula. A Spartan attack on the fortifications failed, the Spartan fleet that entered the bay was defeated, and a Spartan force that was put on the island of Sphacteria at the bay’s entrance was cut off. The Spartans thereupon obtained a truce, so that they could send envoys to Athens about peace, and were evidently ready to ignore the interests of their allies on whose behalf they had claimed to go to war, in order to remove the Athenians and rescue their men. The Athenians, however, prudently demanded the concession of footholds on the isthmus and on Peloponnesian coasts that they had held before 446 BC as a guarantee that the Spartans would not renew the war within a few years once they had surrendered their advantage, and negotiations broke down. The Athenians then kept the Spartan ships that had been given as surety for the truce and later stormed Sphacteria, taking prisoner 292 hoplites, whom they held in Athens as hostages against any further invasions of Attica. Early the following summer (424 BC) they captured the island of Cythera, off the south coast of Laconia, and, using it and Pylos as bases for ravaging Spartan territory and as refuges for Spartan serfs, they had high hopes of victory; to pursue this, the previous winter they had decided to increase their revenue from their allies to about three times the prewar figure.

At this point, however, things went wrong for the Athenians. First, their 60 ships returned from Sicily unsuccessful after the Greek cities there had made peace with one another. Then an attempt to win over Megara, whose territory they had raided regularly since 431 BC, failed. This setback was not disastrous, but in the autumn an ambitious attack on Boeotia ended with a defeat in a pitched battle near the frontier close to Delium in which 1000 precious hoplites were lost. By this time Brasidas’ small army had reached Chalcidice and was winning over allied cities, and, when he had crowned these successes with the capture of Amphipolis, the Athenians agreed to conclude a one-year truce (spring 423 BC). Although it did not lead, as the Spartans hoped, to a permanent peace, there was little fighting in southern Greece when it expired. The Athenians concentrated on trying to recover lost allies in Chalcidice; first Nicias and then Cleon had some success, but, when the latter was defeated and killed in a battle outside Amphipolis, in which Brasidas also perished, they too were ready to compromise.

The treaty as agreed in spring 421 BC, the Peace of Nicias, provided inter alia for the return of prisoners, the withdrawal of the Athenians from Pylos and Cythera, and the restoration to them of Amphipolis and their revenues from Chalcidice, but its terms were never fully implemented. The Athenians gave back the prisoners from Sphacteria, but, because the Spartans could neither force the Amphipolitans to return to their control nor persuade other important allies, including Corinth and Thebes, to ratify the treaty, they kept Pylos and Cythera. In a flurry of diplomatic activity, which led to some renewed warfare, it looked at one time as if Sparta and Athens might combine against the former’s allies; and then that the Spartans might be defeated by a combination of the hitherto neutral Argives and other disaffected allies, Elis and Mantinea, backed to some extent by Athens; but the Spartans won a crucial battle near Mantinea in 418 BC and recovered the leadership of the Peloponnese, although the Argives remained allies of Athens.

Athenians had fought at Mantinea, but the peace remained in force with neither side eager to resume full-scale war. Nevertheless, the Athenians were still restless and, disinclined to do the hard work necessary to recover Amphipolis and their control of the north, their thoughts turned to Sicily, where, according to Thucydides (3. 86 and 4. 65), they had conquest in mind when sending the ships in 427 and 425 BC. In the spring of 415 BC, lured by an appeal from non-Greek Segesta, they voted to send a fleet of 100 triremes and an army to the island under Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus in the hope that they would conquer it and use its resources to achieve final victory over the Spartans at home.

Despite a slow and indecisive start, the recall of Alcibiades to face a charge of sacrilege and the death in battle of Lamachus, the Athenians in summer 414 BC were about to put Syracuse under siege and it seemed likely to surrender, but the arrival of Gylippus, sent out by the Spartans, on the advice of the exiled Alcibiades, to organize the city’s defence, turned the tide and in the winter the Athenians became more besieged than besiegers. Nicias recommended the recall of the expedition, but the people at home preferred to send substantial reinforcements (spring 413 BC). This was to no avail, because the Athenians failed to regain the initiative and, with the Syracusans establishing naval superiority and Nicias unwilling to agree to withdrawal without the people’s approval, the whole force was destroyed.

This defeat was catastrophic for the Athenians, not only for the losses of men, ships, and money, but also for its consequences in the Greek homeland. The Spartans had already declared the war renewed and established a garrison at Decelea in northern Attica that served as a base for year-round ravaging and a refuge for some 20,000 slaves over the remaining years of the war. They now began to send fleets into the Aegean, where the destruction of Athens’ naval power was encouraging its allies to revolt and the Persians to intervene in the hope of recovering control of the Asiatic Greeks.

The Athenians, however, despite internal discord, fought back, matching the Spartans almost ship for ship, limiting the revolts of allies and recovering some cities, while the Persians restricted their commitment to intermittent financial backing of the Spartan navy, even when in winter 412/11 BC the western satraps guaranteed their support in a treaty in which the Spartans recognized the Persian king’s right to rule over all the Asiatic mainland. The Athenians indeed survived a shortlived oligarchic revolution in the summer of 411 BC and their fleet, which had remained loyal to democracy and had shrewdly accepted Alcibiades back from exile to join its leaders, won two battles, in the second of which, off Cyzicus in the Propontis (Sea of Marmora) in the summer of 410 BC, all the Spartan ships were destroyed or taken.

A Spartan peace offer was now rejected and the Athenians pressed on with the recovery of lost allies, but the process was incomplete in 407 BC, when the arrival in the eastern Aegean of a competent Spartan admiral, Lysander, coincided with the Persian king’s appointment of his son Cyrus to take charge in the west and make effective his support of the Spartans. Lysander’s victory at Notium led to Alcibiades’ withdrawal into exile, an indication of continuing dissension at Athens. This again showed itself in 406 BC, when, after the Athenians had defeated Lysander’s successor off the Arginusae islands, eight of their victorious generals were prosecuted for failing to pick up the survivors in a storm and six of them were executed. Then in 405 BC Lysander was restored to the command, lured the Athenian fleet into the Hellespont (Dardanelles), and in a surprise attack took 170 of their 180 ships almost without a fight, as they were beached for the night near Aegospotami. It was the decisive blow. Up to this point the war could still have ended in stalemate or even victory for the Athenians, but these were their last ships and now Lysander cut their corn-supply lifeline, took over their allies, and expelled their colonists from the Aegean and then joined in the siege of Athens, which ended inevitably in surrender (spring 404 BC). Some of the Spartans’ allies wanted Athens destroyed, but Sparta was content to reduce the Athenians to the status of a subject ally, with most of their fortifications demolished and, soon after, their democracy replaced by a repressive pro-Spartan oligarchy.

The war has always been seen as a turning point in the history of ancient Greece. Both protagonists, the victors as much as the vanquished, were irremediably weakened. A serious shortage of manpower combined with defects of character and judgement to bring down the Spartans’ new Aegean empire within ten years and only Persian support enabled them to keep their control of the Peloponnese as far as 370 BC. The Athenians recovered remarkably and briefly were again the leading city, but they lacked not only the wealth, but also the vigour and dynamism of their 5th-century BC ancestors. Neither of these states nor the Thebans, whose strength and confidence grew significantly during the war, could effectively unite Greece against the expansion of Macedonian power under Philip II. In 338 BC he defeated the combined army of Athens and Thebes at Chaeronea and then could afford simply to ignore the Spartans’ refusal to join in his settlement of Greek affairs.

This was certainly a sorry episode in Greek history not only for the long-term damage it inflicted on Greek freedom, but also for the extremes of cruelty practised by some of its participants. In 427 BC the Spartans killed all the surviving defenders of Plataea, an ally of Athens, when they surrendered; in 421 BC the Athenians did the same to Scione, a rebellious ally; and in 416 BC, during the formal period of peace and following no known act of recent hostility by the victims, they attacked Melos and on its surrender killed all the men of fighting age and sold the rest of the population into slavery; in 413 BC the Syracusans butchered many defenceless Athenians in the final disaster and sent the rest to the stone quarries. Other atrocities were committed when within cities the partisans of the two protagonists clashed in bitter civil strife (stasis), most notably at Corfu in 427 BC.

In contrast to these barbarities were the admirable doggedness and heroism of the defenders of Plataea (429–427 BC) and especially the remarkably resilient spirit of the Athenians that enabled them to recover from the plague of 430–428 BC and the Sicilian disaster of 413 BC. Remarkable too were their continued public patronage and enjoyment of art and drama through the times of crisis right to the end. The Erechtheum on the Acropolis was built during the war and many of the surviving tragedies of Euripides, some of those of Sophocles, and 9 of Aristophanes’ 11 extant comedies come from these years, performed at public festivals at public expense. The war, however, provided the essential comic situations of Aristophanes’ Acharnians (425 BC), Peace (421 BC), and Lysistrata (411 BC), and the tragic consequences of warfare were vividly echoed in Euripides’ Troades (415 BC) and Hecuba (c. 424 BC). But its greatest contribution to the development of the Hellenic tradition was in inspiring Thucydides to write his history. With his strict sense of relevance and careful collection and treatment of information he set standards of objectivity and scientific analysis that no other ancient historian, Greek or Roman, could match, while at the same time being a master of dramatic narrative and at conveying the tragic quality of history.

Further Reading

Andrewes, A., “Thucydides and the Persians”, Historia, 10 (1961): pp. 1–18.

Brunt, P.A., “Spartan Policy and Strategy in the Archidamian War”, Phoenix, 19 (1965): pp. 255–280.

Cawkwell, George L., Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War, London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

de Ste. Croix, G.E.M., The Origins of the Peloponnesian War, London: Duckworth, and Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Kagan, Donald, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1969; reprinted 1989.

Kagan, Donald. The Archidamian War, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1974; reprinted 1990.

Kagan, Donald. The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Kagan, Donald. The Fall of the Athenian Empire, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1987.

Lewis, D.M. et al. (editors), The Fifth Century BC, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992 (The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 5, 2nd edition).

Meiggs, Russell, The Athenian Empire, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.

Thucydides, Works, translated by C. Forster Smith, revised edition, 4 vols, London: Heinemann, and New York: Putnam, 1928–1930 (Loeb edition).

Thucydides, Works. History of the Peloponnesian War, translated by Rex Warner, revised edition, Harmondsworth and Baltimore: Penguin, 1972.

Xenophon, Hellenica, translated by Carleton L. Brownson, London: Heinemann, and New York: Putnam, 1918 (Loeb edition; many reprints).

Xenophon. A History of My Times, translated by Rex Warner, revised edition, Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin, 1978.

Alcibiades 451/50–404/03 BC

Athenian general and politician

Born into a wealthy family, Alcibiades became the ward of Pericles and his brother Ariphron after his father Cleinias was killed at the battle of Coronea in 447 BC. Although he had fought at Potidaea in 432 BC, where he was wounded and his life saved by Socrates, his first datable political activity was in 420 BC in the immediate aftermath of the Peace of Nicias, which had ended the first phase of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides, 5. 43). While Nicias advocated that diplomatic pressure should be exerted on the Spartans to persuade their allies to conform to the treaty by carrying out agreed concessions to the Athenians, Alcibiades sought to exploit the Spartans’ difficulties with their allies, even at the expense of the peace. He won the argument and an alliance was made with the Argives and two of Sparta’s renegade allies, Mantinea and Elis, but he was unable to obtain sufficient votes to secure the necessary resources to support his policy: only 1300 Athenian troops fought at the battle of Mantinea in 418 BC, when victory enabled the Spartans to recover their lost allies and restore their domination of the Peloponnese.

Thucydides comments on Alcibiades’ youth in 420 BC; he reports that Nicias referred to him as “a young man in a hurry” in the debate on whether to send an expedition to Sicily in the spring of 415 BC (Thucydides, 6. 12). Alcibiades was handsome and eloquent, and his charisma had been enhanced by his success in the Olympic festival of 416 BC, when three of his seven entries in the chariot race were placed first, second, and fourth. His advocacy of the Sicilian expedition clearly contributed to the atmosphere of great enthusiasm and high expectations; Thucydides reports that in the end those opposed to the scheme did not dare to vote against it (6. 24). Nevertheless, his flamboyance and palpable personal ambition created mistrust, helped by the deviousness he had shown in an ostracism campaign, probably in 416 BC, when he had agreed with Nicias that they should protect one another by directing their supporters to vote against Hyperbolus (who was then ostracized) and then by a highly unusual proposal to appoint Alcibiades sole commander of the expedition (which was rejected in favour of his sharing responsibility with Nicias and Lamachus); and in the public hysteria that followed the sacrilegious mutilation of the many busts of Hermes on the streets of Athens, his enemies were able to link him with rumours of revolutionary plots to establish oligarchy or tyranny.

When the expedition reached Sicily and Nicias favoured a concentration on limited objectives, Alcibiades failed to support Lamachus’ proposal of a direct attack on Syracuse, the chief threat to Athenian interests, which might well have succeeded. Instead he forced Lamachus to back his own plan first to secure more allies, despite their having failed to receive the expected help from Thurii, Rhegium, and Segesta. Alcibiades’ policy was adopted with limited success, Naxos and Catane being won over, but Messana and Camarina refusing. At this point he was recalled to stand trial, but, knowing that his enemies at home had been poisoning minds against him since his departure, he eluded his escort at Thurii and fled to the Peloponnese, the Athenians sentencing him to death in his absence.

It is debatable how far Alcibiades’ recall affected the Athenian forces, because Nicias now supported Lamachus’ plan; after twice defeating the Syracusans outside their city, in the early summer of 414 BC he was completing a series of blockade walls around the town and had high hopes of its surrender. Alcibiades, however, had gone to Sparta and urged the Spartans to send help to Syracuse, emphasizing the extent of Athenian ambitions and their threat to the Peloponnese, and suggesting that the Spartans should at least send a competent general to organize its defence (Thucydides, 6. 91). The Spartans were persuaded and sent Gylippus, whose leadership of the Syracusans was a major factor in the disastrous defeat of the Athenians in 413 BC.

In 412 BC Alcibiades was influential in persuading the Spartans to send ships to the eastern Aegean in order to foment revolts among Athens’ allies; he himself helped to win over Chios and Miletus. Meanwhile, king Agis, whose wife he had seduced, persuaded the Spartans that he was unreliable and should be eliminated, but he took refuge with Tissaphernes, satrap of the Anatolian coastal provinces, whom he sought to turn against the Spartans, also hoping thereby to facilitate his own recall to Athens. He then tried to promote a sympathetic regime there by promising that the removal of democracy would secure Persian help; and, although negotiations between Tissaphernes and the Athenian envoys failed and the Persians made a treaty with Sparta, the move against democracy, which had started, succeeded, and a short-lived oligarchy was set up in summer 411 BC.

Ironically, Alcibiades’ exile was now cancelled by the commanders of the Athenian fleet at Samos, who refused to accept the oligarchy’s authority. On joining them he played important roles first in preventing them abandoning their position in the eastern Aegean to attack Athens, and then in victories over the Spartans in the Hellespont (autumn 411 BC) and off Cyzicus (spring 410 BC). This must have been the period in Thucydides’ mind when he said that “his conduct of the war was excellent” (6. 15), and he went on to recover Byzantium in 408 BC.

At this point (407 BC) Alcibiades thought that it was safe to return to Athens. There he received a warm welcome, his exile was officially rescinded, and he enhanced his popularity by organizing the annual procession to the festival at Eleusis to go by land for the first time since the Spartan occupation of Decelea in north Attica in 413 BC. There was still, however, according to Xenophon (Hellenica, 1. 4. 17), underlying mistrust of his ambitions and, when he briefly left the fleet in charge of his helmsman Antiochus, who was rashly provoked by Lysander and lost 22 ships, he was relieved of his command and prudently retired into exile. About a year and a half later Aristophanes in his Frogs had Dionysus say about him that the city “longs for and hates him and wishes to have him” (line 1425). But he was still in exile near the Hellespont in the late summer of 405 BC, when his warning to the Athenian generals of their folly in beaching their fleet at Aegospotami was disregarded and a surprise Spartan attack took all but eight ships almost without a fight and effectively won the war. After Athens’ surrender in 404 BC Alcibiades crossed to Asia, where he was soon killed, probably on the orders of Pharnabazus, satrap of Phrygia, at Lysander’s request.

Tradition held that Alcibiades was both the object of Socrates’ passion and his pupil, and this association, it seems, was much in the mind of Socrates’ accusers when they charged him with corrupting the city’s youth. Plato had him figuring prominently with Socrates in his Symposium and Alcibiades I (Alcibiades II is almost certainly not Platonic). Paired by Plutarch in his Parallel Lives with the Roman Coriolanus, he was taken up, like Coriolanus, by Shakespeare, who used him in his historically inaccurate Timon of Athens. He has continued to fascinate the modern world, notably as the central character of Peter Green’s novel Achilles His Armour (1955).


Born in Athens in 451 or 450 BC, Alcibiades was brought up by his guardian Pericles and was a pupil of Socrates. As a politician he was flamboyant but inconsistent, supporting first Athens, as one of the leaders of the disastrous Sicilian expedition, then Sparta. Losing the confidence of both, he fled to Persia but was subsequently recalled to direct operations of the Athenian fleet. Exiled again, he crossed to Asia after the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War and was murdered in Phrygia in 404/03 BC.

Further Reading

Ellis, Walter M., Alcibiades, London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Kagan, Donald, The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Kagan, Donald. The fall of the Athenian Empire, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1987.

Lewis, D.M. et al. (editors), The Fifth Century BC, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992 (The Cambridge Ancient History, vol.5, 2nd edition).

Plutarch, Plutarch’s Lives, translated by Bernadotte Perrin, 11 vols, London: Heinemann, and New York: Macmillan, 1914–1926 (Loeb edition; vol. 4).

Plutarch. The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960, reprinted 1975.

Thucydides, Thucydides, translated by C. Forster Smith, revised edition, 4 vols, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1928–1930 (Loeb edition; many reprints).

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War, translated by Rex Warner, revised edition, Harmondsworth and Baltimore: Penguin, 1972.

Xenophon, Hellenica, translated by Carleton L. Brownson, London: Heinemann, and New York: Putnam, 1918 (Loeb edition; many reprints).

Xenophon. A History of My Times, translated by Rex Warner, revised edition, Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin, 1978.

Curtis LeMay

Bash and notoriously intolerant of those who did not see matters his way, Curtis Emerson LeMay was one of the key architects of precision bombing and the air war over Japan. He is best known, of course, as the commanding officer of the 20th U.S. Army Air Force, two of whose B-29s and crews dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. LeMay’s influence over the conduct and course of World War II, however, began when he arrived in Britain and set about perfecting the precision bombing tactics that distinguished the American strategic daylight bombing mission from the nighttime carpet-bombing approach of the British. He greatly increased the effectiveness of strategic air raids in Europe by adopting what, on the face of it, seemed the extremely risky tactic of abandoning evasive maneuvering over targets and by also introducing meticulous target studies prior to missions. By these means, LeMay doubled the number of bombs placed on target. In addition to being the first (and so far only) commander to direct a strategic nuclear mission, LeMay deserves to be regarded as the father of precision strategic bombing in World War II and, indeed, in modern warfare.

He was Born in Columbus, Ohio, on November 15, 1906, into a struggling working-class family. LeMay came to grips with disappointment early in his life when, hoping that a military career would lift him out of poverty, he sought an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Failing to obtain the appointment, he enrolled in Ohio State University and began working his way through college. After completing the university’s ROTC program, LeMay entered the U.S. Army in September 1928 as a cadet in the Air Corps Flying School. He earned his wings on October 12, 1929 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve at that time, receiving a regular commission in the U.S. Army Air Corps in January 1930. He took advanced flight training at Norton Field in Columbus, Ohio, during 1931-1932 while he completed his civil engineering degree at OSU. Although he was on active duty with the 27th Pursuit Squadron, LeMay was seconded to the Depression-era CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), a vast public works relief program, where his civil engineering expertise would be of value. After this, he was assigned to fly as part of a program instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 by which Army Air Corps pilots were assigned to carry airmail. This was demanding, notoriously hazardous flying, and the program was soon discontinued because of a combination of a political patronage scandal and a high rate of accidents; nevertheless, flying the mail in all weather conditions allowed LeMay to hone his skills and his nerve as a pilot.

Promoted to first lieutenant in June 1935, LeMay attended an over-water navigation school in Hawaii Territory before transitioning in 1937 from flying pursuit (fighter) aircraft in the 27th Pursuit Squadron to flying bombers in the 305th Bombardment Group stationed at Langley Field, Virginia. Here LeMay put his over-water training to use by conducting exercises designed to demonstrate the ability of aircraft to find—and attack—ships at sea. During this period, LeMay also became one of the very first army pilots to fly the new Boeing B-17 bombers, the Flying Fortress, which, with the Consolidated B-24 Liberator and (later in the war) the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, would become one of the three great U.S. heavy bombers of World War II. LeMay was chosen to lead a flight of B-17s on a goodwill tour to Latin America during 1937-1938, when President Roosevelt was promoting his “Good Neighbor Policy” with the nations south of the border in a bid to improve hemispheric solidarity as a new European war loomed. When LeMay returned from the tour, he attended the Air Corps Tactical School (1938-1939) and, in January 1940, was promoted to captain and given command of a squadron in 34th Bomb group.

As war approached, Curtis LeMay was clearly on a fast track. He combined great natural and acquired skills as an aviator and was equally at home in fighter aircraft as in heavy bombers. His engineering background gave him a strong grounding in aeronautical theory, and he proved to be a highly effective commander as well as manager of resources. While he encouraged innovative thinking among those he commanded, he also enforced fierce discipline, which did not sit well with all fliers. He earned the distinctly unflattering nickname of “Ironpants.”

Promoted early in 1941 to major, he was a lieutenant colonel by January 1942 and, three months later, a full colonel. At this time, in April 1942, he assumed command of the 305th Bombardment Group in California and brought that unit to Britain as part of the Eighth U.S. Air Force. Once his unit was in place overseas, LeMay went to work perfecting precision bombing tactics. He proposed testing a highly controversial theory that the accuracy and effectiveness of bombing would be improved by ceasing to employ evasive maneuvers over targets. While everyone agreed that flying straight and level during a bombing run would certainly result in more accurate bombing, the objection was that far more aircraft would be shot down, especially by ground-based antiaircraft fire. LeMay argued that most bombers were intercepted by enemy fighters long before they even arrived over their targets, within range of ground-based antiaircraft artillery. He pointed out that all daylight strategic bombing missions were inherently high risk and high cost and that flying straight and level over targets would make the missions more effective and therefore better justify those inherent risks. Indeed, by reducing mission effectiveness, evasive maneuvers over targets reduced ratio of reward to risk. LeMay proposed to further add to mission effectiveness by introducing the practice of conducting careful target studies prior to each bombing sortie. It is a measure of LeMay’s leadership that he prevailed in gaining adoption of his controversial tactics. The gamble paid off, since LeMay’s approach more than doubled the on-target rate of the bombers under his command.

In June 1943, LeMay was assigned command of the 3rd Bombardment Division, which he led on the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission of August 17, 1943. This was another big, bold experiment, called a “shuttle raid” because it required flying from the airbase to bomb a distant target, continuing to a remote location for refueling and rearming, and then bombing a second target on the way back to the home airbase. LeMay led 376 bombers in sixteen bomb groups against German heavy manufacturing plants, including the plants at Schweinfurt that produced most of the ball bearings for the German war effort. While the Regensburg target was very heavily damaged, the Schweinfurt raid was largely a failure and, because the targets were so far from the bombers’ home base, the absence of fighter escort protection meant very heavy casualties. Sixty bombers were lost. Many of the others that returned had been damaged beyond cost-effective repair.

LeMay was less chagrined by the losses than by the fact that Eighth Air Force command vetoed his bid to follow up immediately with a second attack. He argued that the follow-on attack could finish the job on Schweinfurt but was overruled by higher authority, which countered that the Eighth had simply taken too many losses to fly out again so soon.

Despite the failure of the Schweinfurt raid, LeMay was promoted the following month to temporary brigadier general and then, in March 1944, to temporary major general. Holding this rank, he was transferred from the European theater to China to lead the 20th Bomber Command against the Japanese. In January 1945, he was transferred to the 21st Bomber Command, based on Guam. The great problem that confronted him here was the disappointing results of bombing missions executed by the new B-29 Superfortress high-altitude bombers. As usual, LeMay’s solution, based on careful study, was unconventional and controversial. The B-29s were designed to fly at very high altitudes—they were the Army Air Forces’ first pressurized bomber aircraft—and they featured four remotely controlled turrets, each with twin .50-caliber machine guns. LeMay modified the aircraft by ditching most of these defensive guns. This saved weight by eliminating the heavy weapons and their ammunition and by leaving gun crews behind. The weight savings allowed the aircraft to carry much heavier bomb loads.

Even more controversial were LeMay’s orders to fly against targets singly, rather than in formation. It was a strict article of strategic bombing to maintain tight formations to better defend against attack by enemy fighters. That LeMay abandoned this time-tested approach was bad enough, but he also ordered his crews to fly in and bomb at low level—a mere five thousand feet instead of the thirty thousand-foot altitude for which it was designed. The risk of falling prey to ground-based antiaircraft was thus apparently multiplied. LeMay countered that the heavier bomb loads would make each mission far more effective; that Japanese fighter defenses were rapidly dwindling, so that defensive guns were no longer worth their weight as an asset; and that flying low would increase the on-target rate tremendously while decreasing time over targets.

It is a testament to his command presence and his power to persuade that his crews swallowed their skepticism. After the very first mission, it became apparent that LeMay was correct. In the end, the greater apparent risk yielded a dramatic improvement in effectiveness—without (as LeMay had predicted) significantly increasing casualties among air crews.

Curtis LeMay soon earned an unparalleled reputation for performance. His 21st Bomber Command annihilated four major Japanese cities with incendiary bombs in a campaign of destruction that was, in fact, far more devastating than the subsequent atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like General Patton in the European ground campaign, LeMay, in the air, earned a reputation as an uncompromising leader who demanded maximum effort from his men but who produced outstanding results. Far from feeling exploited or demoralized, the members of his command were proud of their achievements.

As the war in the Pacific theater entered its late phase, LeMay was named to command the entire Twentieth Air Force (consisting of the 20th and 21st Bomber Commands) in July 1945. He was also made the army’s deputy chief of staff for research and development—a post he would hold through 1947. The assignment to drop the world’s first two atomic weapons was entrusted to him, partly because of his record as a combat commander, but also because of his sophistication in engineering and science. Pilots and crews under his command dropped “Little Boy,” a fifteen-kiloton nuclear weapon, over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and, three days later, “Fat Man,” a twenty-one-kiloton device, over Nagasaki. These two missions were war-winning and war-ending. Asked about any moral qualms he might have had concerning the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions, LeMay was coolly unsentimental:

As far as casualties were concerned I think there were more casualties in the first attack on Tokyo with [conventional] incendiaries than there were with the first use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The fact that it’s done instantaneously, maybe that’s more humane than incendiary attacks, if you can call any war act humane. I don’t, particularly, so to me there wasn’t much difference. A weapon is a weapon and it really doesn’t make much difference how you kill a man. If you have to kill him, well, that’s the evil to start with and how you do it becomes pretty secondary. I think your choice should be which weapon is the most efficient and most likely to get the whole mess over with as early as possible.


Curtis LeMay’s influence on U.S. military affairs, earned by his performance in World War II, made him the most powerful man in the Cold War U.S. air arm. In 1947, he was promoted to temporary lieutenant general in an air force just made independent from the army by the Defense Act of 1947. He was assigned to command U.S. Air Forces in Europe on October 1, 1947 and, in this capacity, was a key planner of the spectacular Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949, the archetypal Cold War air mission. It was yet another high-risk, highly demanding mission of monumental proportions. In an effort to block the creation of an independent, democratic West Germany with a capital, West Berlin, deep within Soviet-controlled East Germany, the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin. Fearing that the loss of West Berlin would ultimately mean the loss of all Germany to the Soviets, President Harry S. Truman ordered the new USAF to overfly the blockade by supplying the people of West Berlin by air. No city had ever been supplied exclusively from the air before, but over the course of 321 days, LeMay directed more than 272,000 flights over Soviet-occupied territory to provide West Berlin with thousands of tons of supplies each day. Failure would have meant a Soviet triumph—and failure always loomed as a real possibility. LeMay’s aircraft were flying round the clock in all weather, over potentially hostile territory. Nevertheless, on May 12, 1949, the Soviets were forced to concede that the blockade had failed, and they reopened West Berlin to Western traffic. East and West Germany were formally created as separate nations later in the month.

The Air Force recognized LeMay as a leader who achieved both the difficult and the nearly impossible and always on a grand scale. Accordingly, in October 1948, he was recalled to the United States as head of the newly created Strategic Air Command (SAC), which, until the development of land-based and submarine-based ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) systems, functioned as the United States’ sole delivery system for nuclear and thermonuclear weapons. Always an innovator, LeMay recognized that the Air Force’s inventory of B-29s was inadequate to serve as the nation’s primary atomic-age bomber. He led the Air Force into the jet age with the hybrid Convair B-36 Peacemaker (it combined six “conventional” piston engines with four jet engines), followed by the fully jet-driven Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress bombers. LeMay also pioneered the development of midair refueling, using large jet tanker aircraft (KC-135s). This not only greatly extended the bombers’ range, it allowed bomber patrols to fly twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. LeMay pioneered the tactics of continual high readiness, in which nuclear-armed aircraft were always in flight, prepared to retaliate against attack.

Despite being a consummate pilot himself, LeMay was not sentimental about manned aircraft. Many officers resisted the introduction of unmanned missiles, fearing that they would replace pilots and planes. By the 1950s, LeMay oversaw the introduction of ICBM weapons into the Air Force’s inventory of nuclear and thermonuclear delivery systems.

Curtis LeMay was promoted to general in October 1951, the youngest four-star general since Ulysses S. Grant. In 1957, he was named vice chief of staff of the Air Force and became chief of staff in 1961. During the 1960s, his hard-nosed, unyielding, and at times frankly racist conservatism brought him into conflict with the liberal administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. His relations with Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara were particularly strained and even bitter. As he met with increasing resistance, LeMay became increasingly irascible, extreme, and outspoken. On February 1, 1965, he retired from the Air Force, and as his political conservatism hardened during the turbulent late 1960s, he decided to become the running mate of the notorious segregationist former Alabama governor George Wallace in his failed 1968 third party bid for the presidency.

The association with Wallace, unfortunately, tarnished the image of this uncompromising commander, who demanded “maximum effort” from his air crews and from their aircraft, and who shaped the modern Air Force as the most strategic of the “triad” of services. No one, except for those directly involved in the Manhattan Project, had greater influence in ushering the world into the nuclear age than Curtis E. LeMay.

Hari Singh Nalwa

Hari Singh first participated in the capture of Kasur in 1807.

Battle of Sialkot in 1808 was his first battle with independent command. 17 year old Hari Singh Nalwa carried the day.

In the Battle of Multan a fire pot thrown from the walls of the fort fell on him and he was badly burnt and unfit for many months. Yet he was instrumental in the capture of the citadel.

In April 1819, the Sikh army marched towards Kashmir. On the morning of 05 July 1819, the Sikhs captured Kashmir. Two years later, as Governor of Kashmir, Hari Singh Nalwa put down the rebellion of the most troublesome Gulam Ali.

Hari Singh’s most spectacular success in the region of Hazara (now in Pakistan) came two years later in 1821. On the successful conclusion of his governorship of Kashmir, he departed from the Valley and crossed the river Kishenganga with 7000 soldiers. He traversed the hazardous mountainous terrain successfully, however when his entourage reached Mangal he found his passage opposed. Hari Singh Nalwa requested the tribesmen for a passage, but they demanded a tax on all the Kashmiri goods and treasure he was taking with him. A combined tribal force numbering no less than 25,000 gathered from adjoining areas and challenged Hari Singh Nalwa and his men. Despite being completely outnumbered, the Sardar stormed their stockades and defeated his opponents.

In 1822 the governors of Attock, Mankera, Mitha Tiwana and Khushab declared independence. Nalwa was summoned post-haste to join the Lahore Army already on its way towards the river Indus. The Maharaja and his army had crossed the Jehlum when Hari Singh Nalwa, accompanied by his Kashmir forces, joined them at Mitha Tiwana. The Sikhs commenced offensive operations in early November.

Nawab Mohammed Khan, had surrounded Mankera occupying 12 forts. The Sikh army captured these forts one by one and soon the only place that remained was Mankera itself. Earlier, the Nawab had actively participated in the reduction of Mitha Tiwana. The Tiwanas, now feudatories of Hari Singh Nalwa, were eager to return the favour. The force was divided into three parts—one column being under Hari Singh—and each column entered Mankera territory by a different direction; all three converged on Mankera town, with Nalwa’s force being on the west.

The fort stood in the middle of the Thal. It was built of mud with a citadel of burnt brick surrounded by a dry ditch. To make the central fortress inaccessible, no wells were permitted by the Nawab to be dug within a radius of 30 km. During the night of 26 November Hari Singh Nalwa, together with other chiefs established their positions within long gunshot range of the fort. They found old wells, which their men cleared and fresh ones were dug. On the nights of 6/7 December, they moved closer to the ditch. The ensuing skirmish was ferocious and resulted in considerable loss of life, over 25 days. Finally, the Nawab accepted defeat and the last Saddozai stronghold fell to the Sikhs.

In 1823 Azim Khan with an army moved to Naushera. Hari Singh’s immediate plan was to capture the Yusafzai stronghold to the north of the Landai, and the Khattak territory to its south. The latter was taken without difficulty however Jehangira in the north was a masonry fort with very strong towers and the Yusafzais offered tough resistance. Hari Singh entered the fort and established his thana there. The remaining troops re-crossed the Landai River and returned to their base camp at Akora. Mohammed Azim Khan had camped about ten miles north-west of Hari Singh’s position, on the western bank of the Landai, facing the town of Naushera, awaiting Ranjit Singh’s approach. The Sikhs had planned two battles on both banks of the Landai.

After Hari Singh successfully reduced the tribal strongholds on either side of the river, Ranjit Singh departed from the fort of Attock. He crossed the Landai River at a ford below Akora, and set up his camp near the fort of Jehangira. The famous commanders Akali Phula Singh and the Gurkha commander Bal Bahadur, with their respective troops, accompanied the Maharaja. The Barakzais merely witnessed the main action from across the river. Hari Singh Nalwa’s presence prevented them from crossing the Landai. Eventually, the invaders fled in the direction of Jalalabad chased by Hari Singh Nalwa and his men to the very mouth of the Khyber Pass.

Hari Singh Nalwa stood guard at the fort of Attock with the intention of keeping the Sayyid and his men from crossing the river until reinforcements arrived from Lahore. News had reached the Sikhs that the jihadis accompanying the Sayyid numbered several thousand. The battle between the Sayyid and the Sikhs was fought on 23 February 1827. The Sikhs charged at their opponents, routed them, and continued a victorious pursuit for six miles, capturing their guns, swivels, and camp equipment. The Sayyid suffered complete defeat despite his large hordes. He was compelled to retreat to the Yusafzai Mountains. 8,000 Sikhs had defeated 150,000 Mohammedans.

The occupation of the great city of Peshawar in 1834 was a reflection of Hari Singh’s formidable reputation. Eyewitness account reported that the Afghans simply fled and Nalwa occupied Peshawar without a battle.

In October 1836, Hari Singh made a sudden attack on the village of Jamrud, at the mouth of the Khyber Pass. The occupation of Jamrud was strongly contested, but it appeared that the place was taken by surprise. With the conquest of Jamrud the frontier of the Sikh Empire bordered the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains.

The news of the conquest of Jamrud alarmed Dost Mohammed Khan. General Hari Singh’s latest possession gave the Sikhs command of the entrance into the valley of Khyber.

Hari Singh’s lieutenant, Mahan Singh, was in the fortress of Jamrud with 600 men and limited supplies. Hari Singh was at Peshawar. He was forced to go to the rescue of his men who were surrounded by the Afghan forces. Though the Sikhs were outnumbered, the sudden arrival of Hari Singh Nalwa put the Afghans in panic. In the melee, Hari Singh Nalwa was grievously wounded. Before he died, he told his lieutenant not to let the news of his death out till the arrival of reinforcements, which was done. While the Afghans knew that Hari Singh had been wounded, they waited for over a week doing nothing, till the news of his death was confirmed. By this time, the Lahore troops had arrived they merely witnessed the Afghans fleeing back to Kabul. Hari Singh Nalwa had not only defended Jamrud and Peshawar, but had prevented the Afghans from ravaging the entire north-west frontier. The Afghans achieved none of their stated objectives. The loss of Hari Singh Nalwa was irreparable.

After the death of Hari Singh Nalwa, no further conquests were made in this region. The Khyber Pass continued as the Sikh frontier till the annexation of the Punjab by the British.

Lennart Torstensson

Lennart Torstensson (1603-1651) became one of Sweden’s greatest military heroes during the Thirty Years’ War. He led Swedish artillery forces at two notable battles in the early 1630s. For the next several years, Torstensson commanded vast numbers of troops during battles and sieges stretching from the forests of Silesia (now Poland) to the Danish peninsula to as far south as Vienna. In his native land he was the celebrated war hero called “Blixten,” or “lightning” in Swedish.

Torstensson was born on August 17, 1603 at his family’s castle, Torstena, in West Goteborg, the southern part of Sweden. Torstena was near Vanersborg, a town on Lake Vaner. Adopted as an infant and raised by his grandmother, as a result of his father’s forced exile, Torstensson was also brought up by a paternal uncle who paid for his schooling. He proved to be an intelligent youth, as well as disciplined and obedient. This attracted the attention of emissaries from the royal court in Stockholm. At the age of 15, Torstensson became a page in the service of King Gustavus Adolphus, a position also called squire of the chamber.

Three Decades of Bloodshed 1618 marks the onset of the Thirty Years’ War, a battle that pitted several German Protestant princes, allied with various European powers, against the Catholic Hapsburg dynasty and its powerful ally, the pope in Rome. The Holy Roman Empire, with its base in Vienna, held the lands of Austria, Spain, Bohemia, much of Italy, and the lower half of the Netherlands, as well as significant portions of Germany that were still Catholic. Gustavus Adolphus, then in his early twenties, was already considered to be one of Europe’s most dynamic young rulers and military commanders. His Lutheran beliefs, as well as blood connections to one of Germany’s Protestant princes, made him eager to ally against the Imperial forces of the Holy Roman Empire.

Torstensson’s career would revolve around these political goals of his king. Should Gustavus Adolphus succeed in leading the Protestant lands to victory, it was rumored that he might be installed as the first Protestant emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in its post-Hapsburg phase. Torstensson was likely privy, in the early 1620s, to some negotiations concerning Sweden’s future during missions to Germany and Holland in the service of the king. After a stint in the Swedish navy, Torstensson was promoted to the rank of ensign, after performing outstanding deeds as an aide to Gustavus Adolphus during a 1624 campaign in Livonia (present-day Latvia and Estonia).

New Era for Warfare

Torstensson fought alongside the king in several such battles against the Poles and Imperial Russia in the Baltic lands. In 1626, his leadership skills as head of a regiment in Gustavus Adolphus’s invasion of Prussia won him a promotion to captain. After another advancement to colonel and then a truce, Torstensson was made Great Master of the Swedish Artillery in 1629. He had no formal military training, save for practical battlefield experience. During this quiet interim in Stockholm he likely schooled himself in the new weaponry and techniques introduced recently to the Swedish military.

During his battle for the Baltic port of Riga, Gustavus Adolphus had introduced several new military techniques gleaned from a tour of Germany a few years earlier. The king read widely on military matters, and was eager to modernize Sweden’s army. He reduced the depth of the battlefield formation from ten to six ranks, for instance, and introduced several lighter pieces of artillery that were far easier to transport across long distances-and in the heat of battle, too. He also created a brigade designed for tactical moves, and instituted a strict policy of discipline and busy- work for his soldiers. When not fighting, they were expected to train. One of the fearsome techniques they perfected was the double salvo, in which the first row of men fired while on their knees, the second while crouching, and the third standing upright. Torstensson spent his army career both learning such deadly maneuvers, and then leading troops well-trained in them as well.

In June 1630, Gustavus Adolphus invaded Germany. Historians mark this act as the true escalation of hostilities in the Thirty Years’ War. France-largely Catholic, but foes to the Hapsburgs nevertheless-provided subsidies to help this new campaign. The army of Gustavus Adolphus, after allying with Saxony, scored its first major victory at Breitenfeld in September 1631-a battle in which Torstensson played a leading role. At the next major battle the following year at Lech, Torstensson again was integral to the Swedish victory.

Captured in Battle

At Nuremberg, Torstensson fortified the city so well that the generals of the Imperial side initially decided not to risk an attack. But on St. Bartholomew’s Day-August 24, 1632-an alleged deserter arrived and informed Gustavus Adolphus that the Imperial officers were about to give up. Accordingly, the king instructed Torstensson to lead the assault, but it was soon apparent that they had been disastrously lured into battle. In the ten-hour crisis, 5,000 casualties decimated the Swedish army, and Torstensson was taken prisoner by Bavarian regiments. He was incarcerated at a fortress in Ingolstadt, a city between Nuremberg and Munich. Little mercy was shown him, despite the luxurious treatment that high-ranking prisoners of war often enjoyed during such stints in enemy hands. He was held in a dank underground cell, where the saltpeter (a gunpowder additive) contamination of the soil ruined his health. He developed rheumatism, and then gout, characterized by painful flare-ups of arthritis. Attempts by Gustavus Adolphus to pay a ransom for Torstensson were initially rebuffed by the Bavarian prince. He was finally exchanged for a high-ranking Imperial minister in 1633.

While Torstensson was in Ingolstadt, Gustavus Adolphus had been killed on the battlefield at Lutzen in November 1632. Devastated by the loss of his mentor, Torstensson was able to make it to the Baltic port of Wolgast in time to join the ship carrying the king’s body back to Stockholm. He carried the state banner at funeral in the procession to the city’s Lutheran seat, Riddesholm Church. After recuperating for a time, Torstensson returned to Germany with a new force of 20,000.

During much of the 1630s, Torstensson and the Swedes battled Imperial forces or laid long sieges. As one of its top commanders, Torstensson also worked to stamp out the occasional mutinous uprising; conditions were often abysmal for soldiers, and they sometimes rebelled after long periods without pay or decent food. In one instance, a cache of letters was discovered in a stable-legendarily, the finder had been alerted by a kitten’s playfulness. In reading them Torstensson realized that one of his colonels had been corresponding with the enemy. A large contingent of his men was hoping to desert for better pay and food promised by the other side. Torstensson had the colonel arrested, tried for treason, and executed. With this act, his investigation into the mutiny was concluded. He believed that an example had been made, and that any further inquiries would only cause deeper rifts.

Advanced to Leader of Army

After the death of Johan Banér, his superior, Torstensson was named commander of the Swedish forces in 1641. The following year he led an assault into Silesia, and from there achieved a number of successes across Moravia and Bohemia. By now, however, Torstensson’s gout had become so acute that he could not even write his name, though he was not yet forty. During a second battle at Breitenfeld in 1642, both he and the Crown Prince, later crowned Charles X, were unhorsed by enemy fire. It was a terrible battle, and some Swedish soldiers abandoned their positions entirely. But in four hours, they slaughtered 5,000 enemy forces and captured 2,000. From there Torstensson and his army laid siege and plundered the city of Leipzig.

Recognizing the threat that Torstensson posed, the Imperial court in Vienna decided that he should be halted at all cost, and sent troops out to end his string of victories. A failed move by Sweden into Denmark occupied Torstensson and his forces for much of 1643-44. His health worsened. Sometimes he could not even ride, and had to be carried on a litter by his men. His wife, Beata, accompanied him in battle in order to care for him; he begged to be relieved of duties, but the reply from Stockholm, according to Edward Cust’s, Lives of the Warriors of the Thirty Years’ War, was worded in clear, though flattering, terms. “You have done all well, and we value your services so highly that we would gladly grant your desire, and release you from your arduous duties; but your success in war, and your authority in the army, more especially over the foreign soldiery, are so great, that we must beg you to endure your command with patience for some short time longer.”

Failed Bid for Capital

Battles in Bohemia were next on the anti-imperialist agenda; France had now joined Sweden in the all-out war to vanquish the power of the Hapsburgs. In January 1645, Torstensson led a force of 15,000 men into the decisive battle at Jankau (Jankov, Jankow), near Prague. There they emerged victorious, though it was a tenuous situation and even Beata fell into enemy hands for a brief period. From there, they advanced southward toward Vienna, and planned to conquer the capital city when reinforcements of Transylvanian troops arrived to help. They never did; the Transylvanian count had changed his mind and decided to remain on the Imperial side. Torstensson did manage to lay siege to settlements outside Vienna during several months in 1645.

When he learned that his army battalions outside Vienna were under attack, Torstensson marched back 2,000 citizens, burghers and peasants alike, as an advance army; nearly all of them died. It was summertime by then, and the unburied dead lay rotting in the fields, which made the threat of disease and pestilence great. Torstensson called an armistice so that his troops might bury them. The agreement was broached, and his army was attacked. A plague did break out, and an angry Torstensson ordered that villages be burned in retaliation. The fires were visible from the highest point in Vienna, the dome of St. Stephen’s church. The emperor then sent 35,000 troops to vanquish Torstensson and his 10,000 men.

Retirement Honors

His health in rapid decline, Torstensson relinquished command of his army on December 3, 1645. He spent the winter in Leipzig, but issued commands from his bed to Gustav Karl Wrangel, his handpicked successor. He sailed back to Sweden in September 1646, and was too ill to even present himself at court before Queen Christina. His son went in his place, and received from the Queen a decree naming Torstensson as Count of Orlala. He was also given the governorship of West Goteburg, and took up residence in the vital port city of Goteburg itself in May 1648. Torstensson traveled to Stockholm one final time, in October 1650, for the Queen’s coronation. The trip finally decimated his already-weak health. He was given quarters in the royal palace, where he died on April 17, 1651. A massive funeral was held in his honor, and cannon salvos resonated across Stockholm all day long as tribute to him. He was buried in the Riddesholm crypt, the resting place of Sweden’s kings, distinguished government ministers, and heroic military leaders.

Further Reading Cust, Edward, Lives of the Warriors of the Thirty Years’ War, John Murray, 1865. Parker, Geoffrey, The Thirty Years’ War, Military Heritage Press, 1984

Johan Banér, (1596–1641)

Swedish field marshal. Johan Banér was born in Djursholm Castle, Sweden, on July 3, 1596. His father and uncle were both beheaded in 1600 on a charge of treason against the Crown. Despite the fact that Gustavus Adolphus’s father had ordered Banér’s father executed, Banér developed a close friendship with King Gustavus Adolphus when the latter reinstated the Banér family following his accession to the throne in 1611. Banér entered the Swedish Army in 1615 and fought in the Swedish Siege of Pskov that same year during the Russo-Swedish War of 1613–1617. He then participated in the Polish-Swedish War of 1617–1629. Banér was promoted to cornet in 1617, to captain lieutenant in 1620, and to colonel in 1622. During 1625–1626 he commanded the fortress of Riga, and he then took part in a number of battles against the Poles. During 1629–1630 he was governor of Memel (Klaipéda).

In 1630 when Gustavus Adolphus entered the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) in Germany as the Protestant champion and to secure territory and influence for Sweden, Banér was a general and one of his chief lieutenants. In the Battle of Breitenfeld (September 17), Banér commanded the right-wing Swedish cavalry. Shortly thereafter he became Gustavus’s chief of staff. Banér took part in the capture of Augsburg and of Munich and distinguished himself in the Battles of the Lech (April 15–16, 1632). He was wounded in the unsuccessful Swedish assault on General Wallenstein’s camp at Alte Veste (September 3–4). When Gustavus moved on Lützen, he left Banér in command of Swedish forces in western Germany, where Banér opposed the imperial general Johan von Aldringen.

Banér was promoted to field marshal in February 1634. Acting in concert with a Saxon army, he invaded Bohemia and moved against Prague but was halted by the complete defeat of Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar and Field Marshal Gustav Horn in the Battle of Nördlingen (September 6, 1634). The ensuing Peace of Prague (May 30, 1635) placed Sweden in a dangerous position. In early 1635 Banér took command of all Swedish forces and won a victory in the Battle of Wittstock (October 4, 1636), restoring Swedish fortunes in central Germany. Swedish forces were decidedly inferior in numbers to those of their opponents, and Banér, after rescuing the garrison of Torgau, was forced to withdraw across the Oder River into Pomerania in late 1638.

In 1639 Banér’s reorganized Swedish forces again overran northern Germany, defeating the Saxons at Chemnitz (April 14, 1639) and even invading Bohemia and threatening Prague. Then, in a daring and highly unusual winter campaign in 1640–1641, Banér joined with French forces commanded by the Comte de Guébriant and attacked Regensburg, seat of the Holy Roman Empire, but was unable to capture the city. Harassed by imperial forces, Banér then withdrew to Halberstadt, where he died on May 20, 1641, probably from pneumonia contracted during the retreat. A bold general and a thorough disciplinarian who was nonetheless well respected by his men, Banér was a worthy chief of staff to Gustavus Adolphus.

Further Reading: Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years’ War. New York: Military Heritage Press, 1987. Steckzén, Birger. Johan Banér. Stockholm: H. Gerber, 1939.

The Battle of Wittstock

The Battle of Wittstock. The Swedish army prepares for its assault on the wood defenses of the Allied center and left flank before Wittstock.

Initial Swedish attack and Imperial realignment.

Swedish breakthrough and Imperial retreat.

The Battle of Wittstock fought just south of the small northern German town of Pomerania on 4 October 1636-was one of the most important in the Thirty Years’ War. 1 The battle was between a Protestant Swedish Army of fifteen thousand, comprised of nine infantry brigades and fifty cavalry squadrons, and their Catholic opponents, an Allied Army of some twenty thousand that included thirteen infantry brigades, seventy cavalry squadrons, and thirty-three guns. The Swedish Army was commanded by the very able General Johan Banér. The Allied Army, an alliance between Saxony and the Holy Roman Empire, had no commander. The battle was deployed on a ridge facing south and southeast with a six-ditch earthen defense system and a wall of linked wagons in the center; on the left was a wooded hill and further east the river Dosse. On the Allied right lay a heath and the large, dense oak forest of Heiligengrab. The imperial contingent under Marazinno held the Allied right; Saxony’s Elector, John George, commanded the center with the artillery; and a brave but not very competent Saxon general, Melchior von Hatzfeldt, was in com- mand on the left. The quality of the Saxon contingents was mediocre.

The overall Swedish position in northern Germany was in serious danger. The Elector of Saxony had joined the imperial cause, and the Swedes retained only a small bridgehead in the north. The Swedish force, screened by thick woodlands, advanced on Wittstock from the south and crossed the Dosse River. General Banér, despite his numerical inferiority, launched an attack on the center and both flanks, using the tree-covered hills to best advantage. Recognizing his opponent’s strength in the center, Baner’s ploy was to approach the enemy concealed by the sandy, tree-covered hills, to mount an attack on the hill on the Allies’ left flank, and then to move in on the centre, thereby weakening the Allies right flank and the right-side detachments of the center. At the same time a quarter of his force was to be deployed in a seven-mile ride encircling the Heiligengrab Forest to mount a surprise pincer attack on the Allied center and rear. The fighting on the Allies’ left of center proved very severe, and the cavalry force, led by a Scots officer named James King, was delayed on its ride first by the marshy terrain and then by the trees and roots in the forest, arriving to save the day only in the nick of time. The Swedish cavalry, pouring out from around the edges of the forest, managed to completely surprise its opponent, first easily disposing of the screen of one thousand German musketeers and then descending on John George’s and Hatzfeldt’s center and rear, capturing their artillery. Dusk and darkness prevented the Swedes from fully following up on their success, but their achievement was nevertheless considerable. The Allied force withdrew in some disorder, losing more men in Banér ‘s pursuit the following day.

Sweden’s important position in northern Germany and its military reputation were restored; the victory, both spectacular and historic, was described with little exaggeration as a classic case of good command and control. The Battle of Wittstock thus made Sweden one of the winners in a war in which many of the other countries involved were massive losers.