(1) Mamluk ‘askari wearing laminated leather ‘hoop armour’ and a leather helmet. The thigh defences are based upon pictorial sources because there is not yet archaeological evidence for this form of armour.

(2a) The structure of a laminated leather cuirass based upon elements from several incomplete cuirasses.

(2b) The system of straps inside the cuirass which support the horizontal lames, showing how the straps go through to the exterior of the lowest lame.

(3a) The structure of a rawhide lamellar cuirass, based on the remains of two examples found in a tower of the Citadel of Damascus.

(3b) A single lamel showing the shaping of the upper and left edges when viewed from the front, but without any lacing.

(3c) External view of the lamellae overlapping upwards and to the left, with visible lacing.

(3d) Interior of the vertical edge of the lamellae showing the edging strip secured by rivets and additional lacing.

(3e) Attachment point for tassets, which are not included in this reconstruction.

(4a) Laminated leather helmet, based upon several examples found in a tower of the Citadel of Damascus. Part of the side is cut away to show (from outside to inside): the outer layer of gesso painted with several layers of orange-red varnish; a layer of pieces of roughly cut, thin cotton cloth, overlapping each other in irregular shapes; a middle layer of gesso; an inner layer of cloth; an inner layer of gesso; multiple layers of irregularly shaped, very thin leather and, finally, part of the interior. The dotted line indicates the complete outer profile.

 (4b) Iron ring, shaped washer, and inner part of rivet beaten over to hold chin-strap.

(4c) Interior of the helmet showing soft leather supporting segments.

(5) Partially gilded iron mace head.

(6a) Straight-bladed sword with an almost rounded tip and a single broad fuller groove, gilded bronze pommel, leather-covered wooden grip, gilded bronze quillons and sleeve over much of the grip.

(6b) Wooden scabbard covered in dark shark-skin sleeves of light brown soft leather around scabbard beneath suspension points, polished or gilded bronze or brass collars for the rings which take straps to the belt, polished or gilded chape with extension up the lower side of the scabbard.

(6c) Leather belt with gilded bronze buckle, buckle-plate, strap-end and stiffeners.

(6d) One of a pair of gilded bronze loops for the scabbard suspension straps, attached to the back of the belt by short leather straps.

(7a) Dagger with gilded or polished bronze grip and guard.

 (7b) Leather-covered wooden sheath with gilded or polished bronze mounts.


(1a) Horse armour, late 13th to 14th centuries, consisting of three cloth-covered, scale-lined elements covering the rear, front and neck of the animal. Circular heraldic medallions made of appliqué work cloth are sewn to the covering of the armour. The horse’s head is protected by an iron chamfron consisting of three hinged elements, covered with stained leather secured to the iron plates by a decorative system of lacing.

(1b) Detail of the structure of the corner of scale-lined horse armour with the decorative outer layer of cloth removed so that only the lowest three rows of riveted bronze scales are showing.

(1c) Interior of the corner of the scale-lined horse armour showing the main leather structural foundation, the large copper rivets securing the edging strip, the beaten heads of three of the four rivets holding each scale and the fourth rivet securing a scale that is not beaten flat but goes through a rectangular copper washer before being turned over.

(1d) Demonstration of the method of joining the sheets of horse armour beneath the animal’s neck.

(2a) Laminated 15th-century leather horse armour consisting of five main elements to cover the rear, sides, front and neck, plus a cloth-covered, three-panel steel chamfron for the animal’s head.

(2b) Schematic arrangement of the main elements of the horse armour and their constituent lames. The red box indicates the area shown in detail in 2c and 2d.

(2c) Exterior of the indicated upper corner of the chest armour showing the straps supporting the horizontal laminated leather lames.

(2d) Interior of the indicated upper corner of the chest armour showing a layer of quilted cloth to support this uppermost part of the horse armour.

(3a–3c) Decorated 15th-century steel chamfrons.

Medieval Islamic slavery was not based upon the master’s ownership of the slave’s body and labour, but upon a concept of patronage which, although not between equals, nevertheless imposed obligations on both parties. In somewhat idealized medieval Islamic legal terms, both parties were mawali (sing. mawla), a superior mawla and an inferior mawla, and their relationship was supposedly a sort of alliance. This ethical concept enabled slaves to have legal rights, almost as if they had been adopted as ‘foster sons’ by a master who accepted legal obligations as their ‘foster father’.

Study of the history and culture of the Mamluk Sultanate has suffered from Western scholars’ deeply engrained abhorrence of perceived ‘slave rule’. However, in reality, the medieval Islamic world had a distinctive basis of authority, especially in the Mamluk Sultanate where legitimacy of rule was a prize to be won, like any other. Rarely inherited by ties of blood, it could be confirmed by a ruler’s behaviour and piety, and by the effectiveness of his government. What is even less understood today is the degree to which women of the Mamluk elite played significant cultural and even religious roles as patrons.

In much the same way, the loyalty of leaders and troops could not simply be inherited by the successor of a preceding ruler. It had to be earned, or at least purchased, as political and military loyalty was much more fluid than in medieval European societies – hence the Mamluks’ largely undeserved reputation for disloyalty amongst many pre-modern European commentators. Loyalty was almost democratic, being based upon respect, obligation, fellow feeling and rewards. The Islamic chronicles also make clear that emotion played a major role as friendship was undoubtedly a major feature in group solidarity within mamluk society.

Scholars still wrestle with the question of whether the translation ‘slave’ – with all its associations for modern readers – is suitable for mamluk soldiers, even in the early years of their individual careers. In a mamluk context, the term ‘slave’ normally referred to an originally unfree status, not a current one. Furthermore, the word’s most common associations were with obedience and faithfulness, characteristics that reflected a patrimonial rather than a feudal society.

In practical terms this meant that elite military units within the Mamluk army might better be described as households rather than regiments. The great medieval Arab historian Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) echoed these positive attitudes when writing about mamluks:

It was by the grace of Allah … that He came to the rescue of the True Faith, … restoring in Egypt the unity of the Muslims, guarding His order and defending His ramparts. This He did by sending to them, out of this Turkish people and out of its mighty and numerous tribes, guardian amirs and devoted defenders who are imported as slaves from the lands of heathendom to the lands of Islam… They embrace Islam with the determination of true believers, while retaining their nomadic virtues, which are undefiled by vile nature, unmixed with the filth of lustful pleasures, unmarred by the habits of civilization, with their youthful strength unshattered by excess of luxury.

Who, then, were these troops? Christian Europe was regarded as unsuitable as a source for large numbers of ‘slave’ recruits, and until the 14th century European recruits were commonly regarded as physically ugly, habitually disloyal and generally unreliable. Sub-Saharan Africa had previously been a source of recruits for Egypt and North Africa. However, these were used almost solely as infantry because, as yet, Africans had virtually no cavalry tradition. Non-Islamic India could also be a major source, but Indian mamluks or ghulams were rarely seen beyond the Islamic states of India itself, neighbouring Afghanistan and eastern Iran.

In contrast, the steppes of south-eastern Europe, and central and inner Asia offered a suitable and substantial pool of potential recruits. As Sa’id al-Andalusi wrote of the Turks during the first half of the 12th century: ‘The Turks are also a nation having a large population (second only to the Chinese)… They distinguish themselves by their ability to wage war and by the construction of arms, and by being the ablest horsemen and tacticians.’

In the 10th century these Turks were well known to Muslim scholars such as al-Khwarazmi, who noted that the Turkic peoples of the western steppes had long been under Iranian cultural influence. In reality, this influence had been mutual, as there had been a prolonged Turkish influence upon at least the military aspects of Iranian civilization. At the same time, there may have been some differentiation between truly ‘enslaved’ recruits from more distant tribes who came via the Oghuz and Kipchaq states, and Oghuz or Kipchaq recruits who accepted the status of mamluk more willingly in the knowledge that it could open up glittering career prospects.

Kipchaqs had been widely employed as soldiers even before the Mongol conquest of the Kipchaq tribal states, having been seen in the Byzantine Empire, eastern Europe and the Islamic world. Following the Mongol catastrophe of the early 13th century, however, Kipchaq recruits were far more numerous and probably formed the bulk of those enlisted by the early Mamluk Sultanate. They came from an area known to Persian speakers as Dasht-i Kipçak (the Kipchaq Desert), steppe grasslands with a little agriculture and some urban centres. These steppes were crossed by several trade routes and the natives were thus in contact with a large part of the known world. Kipchaq culture, like that of the other Turkish-speaking steppe peoples, was characterized by a social system where patterns of loyalty and individual attachment were both personal and communal. These people were not territorial, and so it was relatively easy for a mamluk recruit to transfer his loyalties to a new person or community.

Although the mamluk phenomenon could be found across virtually the entire medieval Islamic world, the version that emerged in Egypt and produced the remarkably successful Mamluk Sultanate, might have had its primary origins in the Fatimid Caliphate. The Fatimids had ruled Egypt and dominated much of North Africa and Syria for several centuries before being overthrown in the late 12th century by Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. The Ayyubids took over and then refined the Fatimid military system, abandoning the recruitment of African mamluk infantry but greatly extending their recruitment of Turkish cavalry. Saladin’s successors thereby established a mamluk army that then replaced the ailing Ayyubid Sultanate with its own Mamluk Sultanate. To understand the Mamluk army one must first understand the fragmented Ayyubid armies from which it emerged. The term ‘askar could refer to the unit garrisoning, or paid, by a town, as it would have done for centuries, and these early ‘askaris would not normally be considered part of the military elite. The ‘askar of an Ayyubid ruler, however, consisted of professional, full-time ‘askaris. The most highly regarded of them were by this time largely of mamluk origin, though their numbers could still be remarkably small




Aztec warriors wielding macanas (macahuitl), which are oak swords or clubs fitted with rows of obsidian blades. Aztec warriors used these weapons to slash, inflicting long bleeding wounds, or sever, as when they decapitated a mare Cortés’s party brought.

Cortés did battle with thousands of Aztec warriors during his campaign of exploration in Central America. They were a fearsome people from warrior societies based around two predators – the eagle and the jaguar. Many dressed in the image of these animals to terrify enemies. Warriors could only join these societies if they had captured enemy soldiers or become renowned as great warriors through the rank and file of the Aztec military. Their weapon of choice was the macuahuitl sword, a club-like weapon with obsidian blades sticking out of the ends, which the warriors would use to beat their victims to death.

By far the single most important weapon used by Aztec soldiers was the macuahuitl, a kind of saw-sword carved of wood and affixed with an edge of obsidian razor blades and bitumen adhesive. Most examples were about three and a half feet (1.06m) long but others were of such size that they had to be wielded with both hands. It appears infrequently if at all in Mesoamerica during earlier times when war was more of an elite activity, so we presume that its widespread use among the Aztecs emerged in response to the need to arm and train large armies of commoners as quickly and efficiently as possible. During the Conquest, one Spaniard described seeing “an Indian fighting against a mounted man, and the Indian gave the horse of his antagonist, such a blow in the breast that he opened it to the entrails, and it fell dead on the spot. And the same day I saw another Indian give another horse a blow to the neck that stretched it out dead at his feet.” From such accounts we learn that the macuahuitl had little other purpose than to severely maim if not actually dismember the enemy. The Aztecs also employed a closely related weapon called a tepoztopilli as a halberd. These were carved from wood and featured a long, wide, wedge-shaped head fitted with a row of obsidian blades much like the macuahuitl. They varied in length from three to seven feet (1.06-2.13m) in length. Cuauhtli would have been assigned to wield such a weapon during his first battlefield experiences. It allowed him to stand at the rear of the line and shove or jab the weapon, harassing the enemy from a safe distance while the more experienced warriors fought in hand-to-hand combat at the front of the line.

Aztec Warfare



The Aztecs, who became established in central Mexico in the early 1300s and whose empire flourished from 1430 to 1521, made the last major weapons innovations. Under their empire, a preindustrial military complex supplied the imperial center with materials not available locally, or manufactured elsewhere. The main Aztec projectiles were arrows shot from bows and darts shot from atlatls, augmented by slingers. Arrows could reach well over a hundred meters-and sling stones much farther-but the effective range of atlatl darts (as mentioned earlier, about 60 meters) limited the beginning of all barrages to that range. The principle shock weapons were long, straight oak broadswords with obsidian blades glued into grooves on both sides, and thrusting spears with bladed extended heads. These arms culminated a long developmental history in which faster, lighter arms with increasingly greater cutting surface were substituted for slower, heavier crushing weapons. Knives persisted, but were used principally for the coup de grace. Armor consisted of quilted cotton jerkins, covering only the trunk of the body, leaving limbs unencumbered and the head free, which could be covered by a full suit of feathers or leather according to accomplishment. Warriors also carried 60-centimeter round shields on the left wrist. Where cotton was scarce, maguey (fiber from agave plants) was also fabricated into armor, but the long, straight fiber lacked the resilience and warmth of cotton. In west Mexico, where clubs and maces persisted, warriors protected themselves with barrel armor-a cylindrical body encasement presumably made of leather.

City walls and hilltop strongholds continued into Aztec times, but construction limitations rendered it too costly to enclose large areas. Built in a lake, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan lacked the need for extensive defenses, though the causeways that linked it to the shore had both fortifications and removable wooden bridges.

By Aztec times, if not far earlier, chili fi res were used to smoke out fortified defenders, provided the wind cooperated. Poisons were known, but not used in battle, so blowguns were relegated to birding and sport. Where there were sizable bodies of water, battles were fought from rafts and canoes. More importantly, especially in the Valley of Mexico, canoe transports were crucial for deploying soldiers quickly and efficiently throughout the lake system. By the time of the Spanish conquest, some canoes were armored with wooden defensive works that were impermeable to projectiles.

The Importance of Organization

Despite the great emphasis placed on weaponry, perhaps the most crucial element in warfare in Mesoamerica was organization. Marshaling, dispatching, and supplying an army of considerable size for any distance or duration required great planning and coordination. Human porters bearing supplies accompanied armies in the vanguard (the body of the army); tribute empires were organized to maintain roads and provide foodstuffs to armies en route, allowing imperial forces to travel farther and faster than their opponents; and cartographers mapped out routes, nightly stops, obstacles, and water sources to permit the march and coordinate the timely meeting of multiple armies at the target.

What distinguished Mexican imperial combat from combat in North America was less technological than organizational. More effective weapons are less important than disciplining an army to sustain an assault in the face of opposition; that task requires a political structure capable not merely of training soldiers, but of punishing them if they fail to carry out commands. Polities with the power to execute soldiers for disobedience emerged in Mexico but not in North America; those polities had a decisive advantage over their competitors.

In North America, chiefdoms dominated the Southeast beginning after 900 CE, and wars were waged for status and political domination, but the chiefdoms of the Southwest had disintegrated after 1200 CE, and pueblos had emerged from the wreckage. (We use the term pueblos to refer to the settled tribal communities of the Southwest, but chiefdom is a political term that reflects the power of the chief, which was greater than that exercised by the puebloan societies after the collapse around 1200 CE.) There too warfare played a role, though for the pueblos wars were often defensive engagements against increasing numbers of nomadic groups. The golden age of North American Indian warfare emerged only after the arrival of Europeans, their arms, and horses. But even then, in the absence of Mesoamerican-style centralized political authority, individual goals, surprise attacks, and hit-and-run tactics dominated the battlefield, not sustained combat in the face of determined opposition.

Further Reading Andreski, S. (1968). Military organization and society. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Ferguson, R. B., & Whitehead, N. L. (1992). War in the tribal zone: Expanding states and indigenous warfare. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press. Hassig, R. (1988). Aztec warfare: Imperial expansion and political control. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Hassig, R. (1992). War and society in ancient Mesoamerica. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Hassig, R. (1994). Mexico and the Spanish conquest. London: Longman Group. LeBlanc, S. A. (1999). Prehistoric warfare in the American southwest. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. Otterbein, K. F. (1970). The evolution of war: A cross-cultural study. New Haven, CT: HRAF Press. Pauketat, T. (1999). America’s ancient warriors. MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, 11(3), 50-55. Turney-High, H. H. (1971). Primitive war: Its practice and concepts. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. Van Creveld, M. (1989). Technology and war: From 2000 b. c. to the present. New York: The Free Press





Communist soldiers in Vietnam could be divided into three classes. There were the regular uniformed North Vietnamese Army troops who fought in established units and formations. Most NVA soldiers were recruited from the urban conglomeration around Hanoi or from villages in the rural paddy areas of the northern plains. NVA troops were no more naturally suited to the rigors of jungle warfare than were the city and farm boys drafted from Middle America. In addition to the NVA, there were regular VC troops who were full-time guerrilla soldiers. And last, there were local VC troops who stayed at home and fought a clandestine war at night and farmed by day.

The local VC varied widely in their military capabilities. In some areas they were highly regarded when they were well led, but for the most part, they were not considered a major threat. Their training was quite elementary and they were sparsely equipped with a variety of small arms, grenades and explosives. Their equipment ranged from captured American and old French equipment to Soviet pattern automatic rifles. In a fight, the local VC almost always lost. They did not have the training, the equipment or the numbers to do much damage, although on very rare occasions, they would mass to company and even battalion strength to strike at vulnerable positions. The local VC did a great deal of damage by laying booby traps and mines as well as pungi stake traps on likely enemy trails. The VC proved to be extremely cunning in this form of warfare and what they lacked in the traditional military skills, they more than compensated for in waging this type of combat. Local VC forces were also often used to act as a screen through which NVA or regular VC units would withdraw after a major action. They were particularly well suited to this task because of their intimate knowledge of the local area and their ability to blend in quickly with the populace. Perhaps more important than their military strength, the widespread presence of local VC cadres provided a compelling political alternative to the peasants of South Vietnam. The very fact that an indigenous VC organization existed served to divide the peasants loyalty and robbed the Southern forces and their allies of the overwhelming support they needed to be successful in this kind of guerrilla war.

The regular VC were in fact professional guerrillas. Forty percent of them were recruited or impressed in the South, endured a grueling march north to be trained and marched south again to serve in an area different from their home. The remainder were specially trained North Vietnamese. The regular or “hard core” or “main force” VC as they were often called were capably led by dedicated professional officers and NCOs. For the most part, their senior officers had experience fighting the French and all of them had been around war long enough to give them a healthy collective measure of battle experience. Like their local counterpart, most of the Southerners had the outlook of seasoned veterans before they joined. The regular VC soldier was stringently, but contrary to popular belief, not harshly disciplined by his leaders. Nonetheless, his morale fluctuated. In 1966, a thousand of them were defecting to the Americans or other allies every month. By 1968 their morale and discipline had improved dramatically and this desertion rate dropped to almost nothing.

The regular VC were physically and mentally tough soldiers. They were prepared to endure deprivation and their standard of field craft was extremely high. They could wait silently in a jungle ambush for long periods of time, carry heavy loads for long distances and spend hours silently stalking an enemy position. They were adequately trained when they arrived in their area of responsibility in the south and their training continued when they were not actively engaged on operations. As a rule of thumb, while serving in South Vietnam they received two thirds of their training in technical and tactical skills and one third in political propaganda. They spent a great deal of their time training at night and proved to be a very dangerous opponent after dark.

The regular VC soldier was well supported by an elaborate infrastructure. There were troops responsible for pay, supply services, training and political cadres, taxation of VC controlled areas and in some instances, primitive medical services. They had a definite organizational structure, clear rules governing promotion policies and even a precisely defined grievance system. However, it should be stressed that in the VC organization, there was no administrative fat and the ratio of fighting troops to service troops bore absolutely no resemblance to that of a modern Western army.

The regular VC was better equipped than the local VC although their equipment scales were extremely light. The standard weapon was the AK–47 assault rifle. They had light and medium mortars, grenades of Chinese and American manufacture, Soviet sniper rifles, light and medium machine guns, B40 rocket propelled grenades and various explosives and demolitions for use in the construction of mines and booby traps.

By 1968 there were between seventy and eighty thousand VC operating in South Vietnam. Many lived in villages within the allied area of influence; many more lived in rudimentary camps and villages in the jungle and others operated out of fantastically elaborate tunnel complexes. Some tunnel complexes were found to be as much as 30 kilometers in length. Most tunnel systems in South Vietnam had been developed according to a central plan and were prepared and improved on over several years.

Main force VC were by no stretch of the imagination paragons of austere military virtues. And certainly, unlike the way they were portrayed in their own propaganda, they were not stoic and essentially noble peasant warriors. They were tough, dedicated and cunning but they were also vicious and utterly ruthless with their own people as a matter of policy. For the VC, mass murder was an accepted tactic, not a disciplinary failing and in this respect they were altogether completely different from their American opponents. Throughout the war, the VC executed scores of thousands of Vietnamese civilians when they took control of an area. For years they waged a bloody and continuous program of assassination of village chiefs, local officials, schoolteachers and any other figures of importance who could have even the most remote connection with the Southern government.

The North Vietnamese Army was composed of long service conscripts, who unlike the American soldiers fighting against them, were in for the duration of the war. The NVA soldier was well trained and well disciplined. A considerable period of his training was spent inculcating in him enthusiasm for communist ideology and patriotic fervor. He was certainly a patriotic soldier and he took enormous pride in the fact that his army had already convincingly defeated the French. He was prepared to do the same thing to the Americans and what he considered to be their South Vietnamese puppets. Throughout the war it was often reported that the North Vietnamese soldier was an unwilling and sullen conscript who was kept in the army by brutally fanatical officers and NCOs, but the evidence against this view is overwhelming. Defections from the North Vietnamese Army were never great in terms of relative numbers and this was despite the hardship and privations suffered by the northern soldier.

The North Vietnamese soldier certainly must have suffered a great deal. We can only guess at what the NVA non-battle casualty rate was from disease, but living in the jungles of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia under the conditions that pervaded, it must have been very high. His discipline was extremely strict and the penalties for disciplinary lapses were savage and immediate. Nonetheless, this does not mean that he was motivated solely by fear of his leaders. To accept the viewpoint that the NVA Regular was a completely unwilling military slave is not consistent with his battlefield performance. His initiative, tenacity, courage and stamina were maintained for years in the face of appallingly heavy casualties.

From the time he began his trek south down the Ho Chi Minh trail the NVA soldier lived a life of danger coupled with severe physical and mental stress. He carried his assault rifle and personal ammunition, a water bottle, Chinese stick hand grenades, a spare khaki uniform, a plastic poncho, a hammock, pictures of his family and girlfriend and frequently, a diary. In addition he would also carry a heavy burden of ammunition or bulk supplies of food to be stockpiled in the south for future operations. Once in the south, he spent the largest part of his time hiding in the jungle or in hand dug caves and tunnels. On small unit patrol actions and ambushes he usually gave a good account of himself but when he was led forward for conventional offensive operations, he invariably suffered far greater casualties than he inflicted. Yet despite this, he soldiered on and eventually triumphed.



Individual Viking warriors known during the eighth through eleventh centuries for their ferocity.

The berserkers are one of the most interesting and least understood aspects of the Viking warrior society. These were individuals who fought in such a blinding fury that they lost all sense of self and became unconscious killing machines without dis crimination.

The term berserker has a disputed derivation. It has been suggested that it comes from the term “bare-sark,” meaning “bare of shirt,” or without armor. Many references to the berserkers mention their lack of body armor. The other primary suggestion is “bear-sark,” describing the wearing of animal skins. Bear skin would seem to be the logical choice of fur, but in some of the sagas the berserkers are called “Wolf Skins” or “wolf-coats” (ulfhedinn). The berserkers are often associated with the Norse god Odin, or Wodan, whose name possibly comes from the German “wut,” meaning “rage” or “fury,” and the Gothic “wods,” meaning “possessed.”

This kinship with the chief Norse god is illustrated in many of the legends concern ing berserkers. One is that, like Odin, they could alter their form and become animals, or at least assume wolf-like or bearlike qualities. Hrolf’s Saga describes the hero Bjarki taking the shape of a bear during battle and killing more men than any five warriors. Georges Dumezil, in Gods of the Ancient Northmen (1973), describes this phenomenon as the hamnigja, the spirit or soul of the animal appearing in dreams or visions as well as (so the Vikings believed) in reality. The berserkers were also reputed to have had an immunity to weapons, either naturally or through the performance of incantations. This quality is described in many of the sagas. It could possibly be explained by the thickness of the animal skins they wore as protection or their blind rage that dulled any feeling of pain or wounding. Either way, the sight of berserker warriors receiving what should be mortal wounds and continuing to fight certainly had a strong psychological effect on their enemies.

The berserkers may have belonged to a cult of Odin, whose practices and spells would have been revealed only to initiates. Emperor Constantine VII of Byzantium, who employed Vikings in his Varangian Guard, noted a dance his men engaged in while wearing animal skins. This could indicate the performance of cultish rites. Such a dance is also recorded in artwork on Swedish helmets, scabbards, and bracelets. A newly accepted member of the cult is sometimes described as having to undergo an initiation into a warrior band whereby he has to fight a bear. Such combats are also shown in artwork inscribed on Swedish helmets. In such a cult, a member probably would have learned the secrets of bringing on the fighting frenzy, and it has been suggested that the fury was a product of drugs or alcohol. One drug proposed to bring about this condition is the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita mucaria. Other researchers put the killing frenzy down to mental illness, epilepsy, or self-induced hysteria.

The appearance of the berserker was also important in instilling fear in the enemy. The animal skin itself, especially if the head was still attached and worn over the warrior’s head, could present a frightening sight. This, along with an already established reputation as shape changers, provoked fear in the berserkers’ own forces at times. Sagas tell of warriors who in the evening would become moody and quiet before going off by themselves, and many in camp saw in this hints of a werewolf. Berserkers are also often described as being particularly ugly, to the point of being mistaken for trolls. Whether this came from genetic makeup, or intentional actions to make themselves look worse, is unknown.

Once battle was joined, the warrior would go into his frenzy, called berserker- gang. The flow of adrenaline must have been immense, because the aftermath of the fight always left the berserker drained. Hrolf’s Saga describes it thus: “On these giants fell sometimes such a fury that they could not control themselves, but killed men or cattle, whatever came in their way and did not take care of itself. While this fury lasted they were afraid of nothing, but when it left them they were so powerless that they did not have half of their strength, and were as feeble as if they had just come out of bed from a sickness. This fury lasted about one day” (Fabing, 1956). The berserkers screamed like animals and showed incredible strength. This also over time could have contributed to their reputation as shape changers who turned into bears. Indeed, many of these warriors would assume a “bear name,” by adding “bjorn” or “biorn” to their given names, for example, Arinbjorn or Esbjorn. They also are reputed to have drunk bear or wolf blood in order to take on some of the animals’ characteristics.

The berserkers were admired as warriors, and in battle they were often the vanguard. Their ties to Odin gave their commanders some elevated status as well, for Odin was seen in many societies as patron of rulers and chieftains. However, the potential for killing their own comrades was great. This put the berserkers in a kind of social limbo, for killing ones’ fellows was looked upon in Norse society as the meanest of crimes. Thus, in many sagas the berserkers are portrayed as villains. They were often accused of raping maidens or even other mens’ wives. It is probably this factor that brought about the end of the berserkers. In 1015 King Erik had them outlawed, along with duels. Prior to this reform, berserkers often challenged men to duels and then killed them while in berserker-gang. They then took their victims’ possessions and families, as was allowed under Viking law. In Iceland, the church outlawed the practice as well, stating that if anyone went berserk they would receive three years’ banishment. Being a berserker was equated with being a heathen and practicing magic, neither of which a Christian church or society would allow. Finally succumbing to these civilizing pressures, berserker-gang came to an end in the twelfth century.

References: Dumezil, Georges, Gods of the Ancient Northmen (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973); Fabing, Howard D., “On Going Berserk: A Neurochemical Inquiry,” in Scientific Monthly, November 1956, vol. 83; Jones, Gwen, Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961)

American Revolution (1775-1781) American Indians

American war for independence against Great Britain Participation of American Indians in the Revolutionary War differed from that of previous colonial conflicts. In earlier wars-KING WILLIAM’S WAR (1689-97), QUEEN ANNE’S WAR (1702-13), KING GEORGE’S WAR (1744-48), and the FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR (1754-63)-the Indians often outnumbered the Europeans on whose side they were fighting. In the Revolutionary War, however, Indian warriors serving with American, British, and Canadian troops were a minority. Their battles were more often directed against frontier settlements rather than the enemy’s conventional armies.

In the north, Indian-white conflicts centered on New York and Pennsylvania. This was the homeland of the Iroquois, longtime allies of the British. The Revolutionary War, however, split the Six Nations. The ONEIDA and the TUSCARORA sided with the American rebels, thanks to the influence of Samuel Kirkland, a Presbyterian minister and teacher, and James Dean, agent to the Tuscarora. On June 12, 1775, the MOHAWK, SENECA, CAYUGA, and ONONDAGA all decided to join the British cause. In turn, traditional rivalries with the Mohawk drove the Mahican into the American camp.

In part this adherence to the British resulted from that nation’s promise to enforce the PROCLAMATION OF 1763, which banned further white expansion into Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. The efforts of the Mohawk chief JOSEPH BRANT, brother-in-law of the British Indian agent Sir WILLIAM JOHNSON, also proved crucial. In the fall of 1775, Brant and his Mohawk warriors helped check two American assaults on Montreal. In 1776 General Burgoyne arrived in Quebec, Canada. His command included 9,000 soldiers, which included an Indian auxiliary force composed mainly of Algonquin-speaking men from Canada. The next year the force moved southward to Lake Champlain in an attempt to isolate New England from the other colonies. In 1777 Brant gathered Indian forces to serve as auxiliaries in Major General John Burgoyne’s Hudson valley campaign. Burgoyne used the Indians’s ferocious reputation to terrorize the Americans, threatening to unleash the Indians on them if they resisted. Unfortunately for Burgoyne, the Indians proved just as uncontrollable as he had advertised, and in the end they helped unify his colonial enemies by killing several Loyalist settlers, including Jane McCrea, a woman engaged to one of Burgoyne’s soldiers. Burgoyne reprimanded the Indians and many of them deserted in response.

Most of the action on the northern frontier after Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga in September 1777 took the form of the hit-and-run raids in which the Indians excelled. From 1777 through 1779, Brant and Loyalist militia leaders led raids on Patriot settlements in New York’s Mohawk River valley, in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming valley, and in Cherry Valley (1778). One of the major battles was at ORISKANY CREEK (1777), where an American force that had tried to lift the siege of Fort Stanwix (1777) lost more than half their number in an ambush led by Brant. The Wyoming valley came under assault in late June 1778, when a force of 1,200 Canadian militia and DELAWARE and Seneca Indians killed and mutilated 300 of the 450 American defenders. The assault on Cherry Valley in November 1778 destroyed the entire settlement and brought retaliation from the American forces. In 1779 General George Washington sent a force of 2,500 men under John Sullivan in a raid through Iroquois territory that destroyed about 50 of their villages. This was a particularly brutal campaign-some claim planned as extermination-in which villages of sleeping women and children were burned in the middle of the night, prisoners were tortured, and bodies mutilated. The campaign ended in September, leaving many survivors to starve over the winter because their stores of grain and fruit trees had intentionally been destroyed.

General Sullivan’s brutal campaign left the Indians of New York desperate and looking for vengeance. General raiding continued throughout spring and summer 1780. On May 21, 1780, Sir John Johnson organized 400 Tories and 200 Indians to attack Johnstown and then Caughnawaga. Joseph Brant led 500 Indians and Tories in the attack on Canajoharie on August 1 and 2. Johnson, Brant, and Seneca chief Cornplanter joined to descend on the Scoharie Valley on October 15, then continued up the Mohawk Valley, burning everything in their path.

Things turned around that month, however, when Colonel Marius Willett’s small force of American militia held out fiercely against a Tory-Indian force under Captain Walter N. Butler. Willett followed Butler’s forces as winter began to fall. Low on provisions, a week from Oswego, with winter weather worsening, Willett claimed victory. The defeat of Butler meant the end of major assaults in this area. By the winter of 1781, the Iroquois and Loyalist threat in upstate New York had been largely quelled.

In the west, the SHAWNEE, Wyandot, Mingo, and some CHEROKEE launched raids on white settlements in Kentucky as early as July of 1775. By 1777 the Shawnee chiefs Black Fish and CORNSTALK had unofficially allied themselves with the British and had driven many settlers out of the territory. In the spring of that year they attacked the outposts of Harrodsburg, Boonesboro, and Saint Asaph. GEORGE ROGERS CLARK organized the remaining settlers’ resistance. He planned a series of attacks on British forts that would relieve Indian pressure on the white frontier settlements. Cornstalk, learning of the plans, traveled to Fort Randolph on the Ohio River to warn the Americans that any invasion of the Ohio Country would lead to massive retaliation by the Shawnee and their allies. The American commander imprisoned Cornstalk, his son Silverheels, and a companion in violation of the flag of truce. The three Indians were later murdered by angry settlers.

Clark assembled a force by the spring of 1778, and during that summer he moved against the British frontier forts of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. Both Kaskaskia and Cahokia fell to Clark’s 175-man militia without a shot. Clark took Vincennes in the early months of 1779 through a trick, or ruse de guerre-he convinced the British commander Henry Hamilton that his force was much greater than it really was. So convincing was Clark’s acting that some of Hamilton’s KICKAPOO and Piankashaw Indian allies deserted him and helped the Americans. The capture of the British frontier forts crippled the Indians’ capacity to raid in Kentucky and Ohio. Some members of the LENNI LENAPE (Delaware) tribe left the Ohio Country for good, moving to Canada and to lands west of the Mississippi. Other Indians were spurred to fight more desperately.

By the spring of 1780, the Ohio Country Indians were again attacking American settlements. On June 22, 1780, a combined force of 1,200 Indians, British regulars, and Canadian militia raided the settlement of RUDDELL’s STATION (1780) on the South Licking River. Although John Ruddell surrendered on the promise that his people would be spared, the British were unable to control their Indian allies. The settlers were massacred. In retaliation, Clark launched a campaign against the Shawnee, Mingo, Wyandot, and Lenni Lenape. He cornered them at Piqua Town and inflicted significant casualties. However, the Indians quickly recovered their strength and began raiding the Kentucky settlements again by 1781.

Although Indians in the South outnumbered colonists by a large margin-one contemporary estimated that Cherokees, CREEK, CHOCTAW, and CHICKASAW could have brought 10,000 warriors to help the British-they were never a significant factor in the American Revolution because the British did not use them effectively. When the war broke out, some Cherokee, encouraged by the Shawnee, launched a series of raids on the southern frontier. In August and September 1776, southerners fielded 6,300 militia and drove the Cherokee almost to Florida. Overwhelmed, the Cherokee traded land concessions for peace, signing away most of their territory east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Creek and some Cherokee continued to raid frontier settlements until October 7, 1780, when southern soldiers under JOHN SEVIER and Isaac Shelby defeated a strong Tory contingent at Kings Mountain and burned the Indian villages.

Hostilities in the west continued even as the British scaled down the war effort. The Virginia and Kentucky militia, exhausted by the demands of the war, proved unable to cope with the pressure of constant raiding. When the Lenni Lenape launched a particularly brutal series of raids in western Pennsylvania, Colonel David Williamson was dispatched to deal with the situation. Early in 1782, Williamson and 100 troops surrounded a band of peaceful Christian (Moravian) Lenni Lenape Indians at the Ohio mission town of Gnaddenhutten. He took all 90 men, women, and children prisoner and had them executed. The GNADDENHUTTEN MASSACRE (1782) was condemned by the Pennsylvania legislature, but no one took any action against Williamson. When other Lenni Lenape renewed their raids, Colonel William Crawford was dispatched on a second punitive expedition. On June 4, 1782, near the modern town of Sandusky, Ohio, a large band of Shawnee and Lenni Lenape surrounded Crawford’s force. Most of the soldiers ran away, but between 40 and 50, including Crawford, were killed or captured. The Indians avenged Gnaddenhutten by torturing Crawford to death. There were several more conflicts in Kentucky, including an American defeat at BLUE LICKS (1782).

Thus the Indians were less of a decisive factor during the American Revolution than they had been during the earlier colonial wars. The British and the Americans were largely unable to organize their Native American allies into effective irregular forces. Also, the frontier had shifted westward, and most of the major American settlements were out of reach of Indian raids. Despite the signing of the TREATY OF PARIS (1783), which officially ended the Revolutionary War, fighting on the western borders continued for years. In the Ohio Valley, for example, conflicts continued through the signing of the TREATY OF GREENVILLE (1795), and, due to the efforts of the Shawnee leader TECUMSEH in the WAR OF 1812 (1812-15), into the early 19th century.

Further Reading Axelrod, Alan. Chronicle of the Indian Wars. New York: Prentice Hall, 1993. Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. 500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.




‘‘Mamlūk’’ meant ‘‘owned,’’ or ‘‘slave,’’ with the special connotation of ‘‘Caucasian military slave.’’ This was because most early Mamlūks were Central Asian-Turkic or Caucasus slaves who were imported to Syria and Egypt by the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad to reinforce Arab tribal levies which were losing their military edge, and reputation, within the Arab empire. By convention, ‘‘Mamlūk’’ refers to the dynasty and military elites while ‘‘Mamlūk’’ is used for ordinary slave soldiers. By the 9th century the Abbasids accepted annual shipments of Mamlūks as tribute. A major expansion of Mamlūk service followed as Turks displaced Arabs and Iranians from military service within the caliphate. As the Muslim states became increasingly military rather than civilian-religious empires, Turkic-speakers and soldiers became the predominant political class—a position they retained in the Middle East for a thousand years. In 868 a Mamlūk dynasty was founded in Egypt, the first breakaway state from the unified empire of the caliphs. In Iran, too, Turkic-speaking slave soldiers dominated, culminating in the military slave dynasty of the Ghaznavids (962–1186). The Umayyad Caliphate in al-Andalus, with its capital at Córdoba until the early 11th century, employed northern and western European slaves captured as boys, castrated, and trained as Mamlūks. A Mamlūk dynasty ruled large parts of northern India for a time after 1206, but it was always weaker than its Middle Eastern counterparts as it lacked a ready source of new recruits. Training fell by the wayside and the Indian Mamlūks were compelled to share power with local civilians. A new bevy of Mamlūks were brought to Egypt by Salāh al-Dīn (Saladin, 1137–1193), who pushed aside the last Berber Fatamid caliph to rule in his name, then put his family on the sultan’s throne as the Ayyubid dynasty. He relied heavily on loyal Mamlūk soldiers. After crushing a Crusader army under Louis IX, a rebellion led by the Mamlūk general Baybārs overthrew and murdered the Ayyubid sultan, Turan Shah. The Ayyubids tried to elevate a female sultan— Shajar al-Durr—as a replacement but this garnered wider support for the rebels from Muslims who could not conceive of being ruled by a woman. Mamlūk-governed Egypt is conventionally periodized as the Bahri (River) Mamlūk era, 1250–1382, and the Burji (Citadel)Mamlūk period, 1382–1517.

In 1260 the Mamlūks defeated the Mongols in Galilee at Ayn Jālut. The next year the remnant of the Abbasid caliphate moved to Cairo (from Baghdad, which succumbed to the Mongols in 1258). This did not alter the fact of rule by Mamlūk sultans over Egypt and Syria. The Mamlūks actually benefitted from Mongol disruption of northern trade routes, which diverted goods into Mamlūk ships plying the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. The Mamlūks crushed the last Crusader state, besieging and storming Acre (including with suicide squads) in 1291. After that defeat, the Latins surrendered Tyre and all other strongholds without further fighting. To the south, the Mamlūks expanded into Alwa in southern Nubia, pushing that Christian state to relocate deeper south after 1316. Having tamed the last of the Crusaders, the Mamlūks governed Palestine and Syria until 1400, when they were beaten at Aleppo by Timur and Syria was lost to them. It was not recovered until Timur’s unstable empire fell apart after his death.

Timur’s unstable empire fell apart after his death. Since the children of Mamlūks were originally forbidden to become knights, the Mamlūk dynasty continually drew fresh supplies of Turkish-Russian slaves to renew military formations. This meant that the language of the Mamlūk ruling class was Turkic, with many slave soldiers also unable to speak Arabic. The later Mamlūk system was semi-feudal: an officer was granted land from which he drew revenue (he still lived in barracks in Cairo) to sustain himself and perhaps some soldiers, too. By this time recruitment had changed, so that Mongols, Circassians, Greeks, Turks, and Kurds were also to be found in Mamlūk barracks. After 1383 the Mamlūk sultans were usually also the main commanders. Although they sometimes trained as lancers and could fight as medium-to-heavy cavalry, the Mamlūk military specialty was mounted archery. They were trained to hit a small circular target at 75 yards’ range, five shots out of five, and to loose arrows at a pace of 6 to 8 per minute. They were originally formed to fight nomadic light cavalry and trained to equal or best the Bedouin in the skills of mounted archery. When fighting was hand-to-hand, heavier Mamlūk armor and weapons and superior discipline and training meant they usually prevailed. This militarily conservative system was superb and effective against the normal threats faced by Egypt: Bedouin from the desert, North African nomadic warriors, and distant Nubians. It remained to be tested against more modern forces gathering to the north in the Ottoman Empire.

Silver Shields


Johnny Shumate illustrations

In Alexander’s army, the Argyraspides (“Silver Shields”) were its most effective and ferocious component. Under Eumenes they were invincible and enjoyed a legendary reputation. The unit was broken up and largely dispersed by Antigonus, but the name had its attractions. It was adopted by the shock troops of the Seleucid armies, who served as the royal infantry, recruited as the elite of the army. They will have been set on justifying the expectations inherent in the name. Regimental pride was (and is) a powerful motive force, and the Argyraspides will have ensured that their nomenclature was instantly familiar.

The term argyraspides (`silver shields’) first appears as an alternative title for the hypaspistai at the Battle of Gaugamela (331) in Diodorus 17.57.2 and Curtius 4.13.27. Justin 12.7.5 (cf. Curt. 8.5.4) tells us that before the Indian campaign Alexander had the men’s arms overlaid with silver and he called the army the argyraspides after their silver shields, so the change in regimental title came, in fact, later. At Opis in 324 we first of all have mention of hypaspistai (Arr. 7.8.3); then Alexander is mentioned as having created a taxis of Persian argyraspides (Arr. 7.11.3). These same Persians, 1,000 in number, are called hypaspistai by Diodorus (17.110.1). At this stage, then, it seems that the two terms were still used interchangeably for the same regiment.

After the death of Alexander the argyraspides, commanded by Antigenes and Teutamus (Plut., Eumenes 13.2) are given the strength of 3,000 (Diod. 18.58.1, 59.3). Antigenes is first mentioned as a commander of the hypaspistai after the promotions of Sittacene in 331. It is mentioned that at the battle fought in Gabiene in 317 most of the argyraspides were aged 70 (Diod. 19.41.2, Plut., Eumenes 16.4), which would make them born about 387, and so aged 43 when the army crossed over to Asia in 334. This confirms that we are dealing with the same unit that changed its regimental title.

In the battle in Paraetacenae which took place in 317/6 between Eumenes and Antigonus, Eumenes stationed the Macedonian argyraspides, more than 3,000 in number, next to `the men from the hypaspistai’, more than 3,000, the whole force being commanded by Antigenes and Teutamus (Diod. 19.28.1, 40.3). It is evident from this passage that a new and numerically equivalent force of hypaspistai has been set up, which was quite separate from the argyraspides. It has been suggested that the Greek should be understood to mean that they are the sons of the hypaspistai, and further that these can be identified with the hypaspistai mentioned earlier as being disastrously defeated in Egypt in 321 under the command of Perdiccas (Diod. 18.33.6, 34.2). It has also been suggested that they are Asian recruits.


The situation in the Seleucid kingdom is less well understood. Seleucus had ended up with the ‘elite cavalry regiments of Alexander’s army: two Iranian regiments, the agema and Nisaeans, together with the Companions, as well as the Argyraspides or `silver-shields’. These units retained their regimental identities down to the second century. The phalanx seems to have been recruited from a class of `Macedonian’ citizens. These are presumably descendants of Macedonian troops settled in colonies in Asia. It has been argued that the Argyraspides was a permanently embodied regiment through which the young men passed for training. They were then placed in a reserve which formed the main body of the phalanx in time of war.

The Seleucid army contained the famous Argyraspides inherited from the army of Alexander the Great. These were presumably troops armed with the larger type of shield. A Seleucid regiment of Chalcaspides also features in the Daphnae parade in 166. The text of Polybius describing the parade is defective, and the text has been restored by Kaibel to make reference to a further Seleucid regiment of Chrysaspides `Gold-shields’, but the supporting evidence for this is flimsy. The Pontic army also included a regiment of Chalcaspides, who are described as advancing into battle with sarissas and locked shields (Plut. Sull. 16.7).