Hellenistic Military Developments I

To speak of military developments in the Hellenistic period is to assume that significant changes in warfare or technology justify a separate category called “Hellenistic.” To a great degree, this speaks of military developments in the Hellenistic period is to assumption is false. In fact, the most significant developments in Greek warfare took place in the course of the fourth century. To the world of Dionysios of Syracuse, Iphikrates of Athens, and Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedonia belong the credit for revolutionizing warfare in the areas of mercenaries, infantry, the use of cavalry, and siege weapons. If we argue, with respect to warfare, that the Hellenistic world begins not at the death of Alexander the Great in 323, but with the accession of his father Philip in 359, then we would be truer to the annunciation of a new age. For the most part, the Greeks continued traditions existing in the Classical period but simply magnified them into what one scholar aptly described as “gigantism”: large professional (mercenary) armies, greater specialization of arms and armor, terrifying machines of war, and huge ships. War was still settled the “old-fashioned way” – by men fighting men on the battlefield, but it was no longer the exclusive province of the citizen army of the Classical polis. Warfare in the Hellenistic period belonged primarily to the professionals and to the technical experts. And it was certainly the business of kings.


In the Classical period, when faced with a military crisis, Greek city-states called out their able-bodied citizens [and resident aliens (metics) in Athens] over 18 years old to form ranks in a hoplite phalanx, a closely packed, serried formation of men each carrying a nonthrowing thrusting spear and armed (ideally) with a round shield (hoplon, from whence comes the name “hoplite”), helmet, greaves, and breastplate. They might also carry a short sword. Having chosen wide and level ground to maneuver masses of troops (which explains the number of important battles fought in the plains of Boiotia and Thessaly), they marched against their enemy, who was similarly equipped and arranged. This was hoplite warfare. This style of warfare continued into the Hellenistic period, but in the course of the fourth century, it underwent a number of changes, primarily due to the reforms of Philip II of Macedonia. These reforms would lead to a new kind of phalanx, termed the “Macedonian,” and would eventually be adopted by most Hellenistic states (on this, see following discussion). The principle, however, remained the same: mass formations of armed men pushing against each other in the front ranks and thrusting with spears for a lethal blow.

In the course of the fourth century, there also occurred an increasing reliance on and recruitment (xenologia: Diod. 18.58.1; 19.57.5) of professional soldiers, mercenaries, called either xenoi (foreigners) or misthophoroi (men-for-pay). The use of mercenaries was not a new phenomenon in the Greek world; in fact, as early as the Archaic period, Greeks had served as paid soldiers to Assyrian, Egyptian, and Persian royal employers, but these were in relatively small numbers and for a limited term of service. The large number of mercenaries that appeared at the end of the Peloponnesian War and into the fourth century seems to usher in a new age of military thinking. We might mention, for example, Xenophon’s famous account (Anabasis) of 10,000 Greek soldiers in the ill-fated Persian expedition on behalf of the usurper Cyrus; the huge numbers of mercenaries hired by Dionysios I of Syracuse to fight the Carthaginians for possession of Sicily and to advance his imperial ambitions (Diod. 14.41.4; 43.3); and the mercenaries of the Athenian general, Iphikrates in the early fourth century and those Athenian condottieri who followed his lead, Chabrias, Chares, and Apollodoros (Paus. 1.29.7). Even the fourth century Spartan king, Agesilaos, sold his services twice as a mercenary captain. In 372, Jason of Pherai created a huge army, supported by 6,000 mercenaries, to sustain his power in Thessaly. The Phokian generals, Philomelos, Onomarchos, Phayllos, and Phalaikos seized Delphi and its famous oracle in the Third Sacred War (356-346) with the assistance of mercenaries and dared anyone to take it back. Onomarchos and Phayllos became infamous [and impious for plundering Apollo’s sanctuary and melting down gold and silver dedications for coin to pay the mercenaries (Diod. 16.56.5-6)] for offering high wages, one and half to two times the normal rate. Philip II of Macedonia defeated the Phokians, liberated Delphi, and entered into southern Greek affairs with a shiny new Hellenic pedigree. Phalaikos, under the terms of a truce with Philip, was allowed to withdraw to the Peloponnese with his 8,000 mercenaries (Diod. 16.59.2-3).

Tainaron, on the southern tip of the Peloponnese, became famous in the late fourth century as a recruiting center and clearinghouse for mercenaries and their prospective employers. For example, during the Lamian War (323-322), the Athenian Leosthenes commanded up to 8,000 mercenaries recruited at Tainaron (Diod. 18.9.1-3); Aristodemos, general of Antigonos Monophthalmos, secured permission from the Spartans to recruit 8,000 stratiotai in 315 (Diod. 19.60.1); and in 303 Kleonymos, son of the Spartan king, Kleomenes II, enrolled 5,000 mercenaries in response to an appeal from Tarentum in southern Italy for military assistance against hostile Lucanians and Romans (Diod. 20.104.1-2).

In the wars of the Alexander’s generals and throughout the third century, mercenaries were ubiquitous. Kings and cities sought out the services of mercenaries for their armies or garrisons. The market lessons of Philomelos and Phayllos were not lost on the successors of Alexander the Great. In 318, Eumenes, locked in a fierce struggle with Antigonos Monophthalmos, sent his trusted friends throughout Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean as recruiting agents, offering top drachma (axiologous misthous) for soldiers. According to Diodorus, the pay was so attractive that “many from the Greek cities” joined up. Then, as now, money speaks. When Antigonos and Demetrios Poliorketes invaded Egypt in 306, Ptolemy bribed their soldiers to defect in such numbers that it posed a threat to the entire expedition (Diod. 20.75.1-3).

If one reads selected passages from Isokrates (Panegyricus 115, 168) and Demosthenes (First Philippic 24), one might conclude that the arrival of the professional soldier in significant numbers led to the demise of citizen armies and the end of the Greek city-state. Some Greeks did react negatively to these developments, but most of the evidence is situated within the context of Athenian rhetoric or comic stereotypes of New Comedy and its adaptors in the Roman world. We have argued elsewhere that Menander’s nuanced and often sympathetic portrait of mercenary captains in his comic plays bears little resemblance to the exaggerated, cartoon character of Pyrgopolynices in Plautus’ Miles Gloriosus.

No one, not even Demosthenes, in the fourth century b. c. seriously questioned the military necessity of hiring professional soldiers to augment a city’s own military forces. Aineias Taktikos, probably an Arkadian general from Stymphalos writing in the 350s (How to Survive a Siege), warns of the danger of maintaining more mercenaries than citizen troops because of security concerns (12.2-5), but he takes it as a given that professional soldiers have become a regular element in offensive and defensive military operations. Both the risks and benefits were fully appreciated by Dionysios, tyrant of Syracuse, fifty years earlier. In 406, he won the tyranny by introducing great numbers of mercenaries into the city, inciting as much fear in the Syracusan population as did the enemy Carthaginians (Diod. 13.96.1-4). Yet, later in 396, having conquered the Carthaginian city of Motya with the services of these mercenaries, he faced a mutinous group of them and was forced to buy them off with grants of land once belonging to Leontinoi. He then proceeded to recruit other mercenaries to maintain his power (Diod. 14.78.1-3).

Athens manned its garrisons in part with mercenaries as early as the mid-fourth century and this practice continued into the Hellenistic period. For example, IG ii2 379 (dated to 321/0 or 318) mentions a strategos epi tous xenous in charge of to xenikon and “may represent our earliest Attic inscription documenting a force of foreigners in service to Athens and the administrative apparatus to manage it.” In 319/18 the Athenians voted honors for a mercenary captain, and an inscription dated to 298/7 records xenoi serving with Athenian citizens at the garrison at Sounion (IG ii2 1270). Foreign units (tagmata) even competed under their commanders, Homilos, Demeas, Isidoros, and Pyrrhos, in two events designated for ethne in the agonistic program of the Athenian Theseia in the second century.

Inscriptions from Greek cities throughout the Hellenistic world document the presence of mercenaries in garrisons, either serving as the instruments of control by a king or maintained by the cities themselves. One of the most informative (albeit problematic) documents detailing conditions of mercenary service is recorded in a treaty (dated 263-241) between Eumenes I of Pergamon and his mutinous mercenaries serving at Philetaireia and Attaleia. The negotiated clauses of the inscription include access to low-cost grain and wine, guaranteed leave, back pay, guardianship of orphans, and duty-free rights to leave Pergamene territory. In this treaty, we have concrete proof of the ability of a selfrepresenting group of mercenaries to leverage concessions from their employer or have him face the military consequences. Aineias Taktikos had warned of such dangers a hundred years before, as Dionysios of Syracuse experienced firsthand.

Groups of soldiers found their way into strategic military settlements, particularly in the territories of the Seleukids, and sometimes blended into the landscape through grants of citizenship. In Egypt, the early Ptolemies established Greek mercenaries on plots of land (kleroi) with the requirement that these “cleruchs” would serve in the army during times of war. At other times, they farmed their lands. They were subject to taxation. Although legally owned by the king and reverting back to him on the death of the cleruch, by the end of the third century the allotment had become hereditary property. The Hellenistic kings needed manpower, and the mercenaries were ready and willing to fill this need.

Some Athenians were receptive to mercenary service and appear in the armies of the Successors between 315 and 301; for example, in 315, Ptolemy sent the Athenian Myrmidon to assist Asander, Macedonian satrap of Karia, in his struggles against Antigonos Monophthalmos (Diod. 19.62.2-5); in 312, Kassandros appointed the Athenian Lysandros as commander of Leukas (Diod. 19.88.5); in 308, “many Athenians” enlisted in the army of Ophellas (Ptolemy’s governor of Cyrene) in his campaign against Carthage (Diod. 20.40.6); and Athenian citizens accompanied Demetrios Poliorketes to Cyprus in 307 and shared in his defeat at Ipsos in 301. Some of the captured Athenians chose to enlist in the army of the victor, Lysimachos, rather than return home when ransomed.

Hellenistic Military Developments II


As mentioned earlier, in the Classical period, the style of warfare was dominated by the heavy-armed infantryman, the hoplite. The other arms, cavalry and light-armed troops (psiloi), along with ethnic specialists like Rhodian slingers or Cretan archers, were subordinate to the hoplite and the phalanx. The clash of hoplite armies decided the day. It is fair to say that heavy infantry was still the order of the day throughout most of the Hellenistic period, and the Hellenistic kings were keen to recruit sufficient numbers for their armies. The Macedonians, particularly Philip II, are credited with reforming the hoplite phalanx by a change in arms and armor. Principally, this meant the introduction of a smaller, lighter shield and a much longer thrusting spear, the sarissa. The sarissa came in different lengths at different times, from 15-18 ft at the time of Alexander to 21 ft in the second century (Polybios), and carried a small iron head and butt-spike. It was thus much longer than the traditional hoplite spear and required two hands to wield it. The ranks of soldiers were sixteen rows deep, the first five ranks able to project their sarissai beyond the front line. The rows from six to sixteen held their spears aloft and provided cover from enemy projectiles. The approaching Macedonian phalanx must have been a terrifying sight!

It has been suggested that Philip adopted and adapted a new military arm that was introduced into the Greek world in the late fifth and early fourth century, the peltast. Of Thracian origin, the peltast could be classified as light infantry; he carried a small shield (pelte), wore little body armor, and carried two throwing javelins for fighting from a distance. He had proven his worth in the Amphipolis campaign in 422 (Thuc. 5.10.9), but an army of peltasts, under the command of the Athenian general Iphikrates, surprised the military experts by destroying a contingent of 600 Spartan hoplites near Corinth in 390 (Xen. Hell. 4.5.11-18). Twenty years later, Jason of Pherai had a very large contingent of peltasts in his army (Xen. Hell. 6.1.19). Philip II’s Macedonian phalanx may then have constituted a body of “Iphikratean peltasts,” although now equipped exclusively with a long thrusting spear.

If the peltast inspired changes in Greek warfare in the fourth century, a uniquely Hellenistic innovation occurred approximately 100 years later. A new kind of infantryman appeared in Hellenistic armies, the thureophoros, named after the long oval shield he carried, the thureos. Scholars have suggested two origins for this kind of shield, both western: 1) the scutum used by Oscan peoples that Pyrrhos encountered during his campaigns in southern Italy in the 270s, and 2) the shield used by the Gauls during their invasions of Greece and Asia Minor at about the same time. The thureophoros could fight at a distance with javelins or close in with his sword, machaira. This multitasking gave him greater versatility than the phalangite. This type of shield was adopted by the Achaian and Boiotian Leagues during the early third century and is amply attested in gymnasiarchal victor lists on Samos (IG xii. 6. 179- 183) and in the athletic program of the Athenian festival of the Theseia in the mid-second century. The Attic inscriptions preserve the names of the victors for mock combat, the “hoplomachia en thureoi (kai machaira),” among various age classes of Athenian teenagers and ephebes.

We close this section by mentioning briefly an elite infantry force, the epilektoi, that appears in inscriptions in the late fourth century and into the Hellenistic period. They are attested in Athens, the Boiotian League, and the Achaian League. One Attic inscription records a decree by a contingent of epilektoi, who volunteered for service with Demetrios Poliorketes around 303. Affiliated by tribe and commanded by a tribal taxiarch, they appear to be an elite subset of the citizen hoplites, more highly trained, presumably, and serving as a quasi-permanent city militia, analogous perhaps to the ephebes. The Attic inscriptions are contemporaneous with the ephebic reforms reported in Aristotle’s Athenaion Politeia. They represent an increase in military specialization and professionalism among the hoplite ranks in the late fourth century, perhaps rising to the skill level of the mercenaries. The fact that they issued decrees is a sign that they enjoyed a distinct civic self-identity. The military designation continues well into the Hellenistic period. The tribal competitions for the Athenian epilektoi (euandria [manliness] and euhoplia [good maintenance and use of arms] categories) appear in the Theseia inscriptions of the mid-second century.  


In the Archaic and Classical periods, there were only three states that could claim to be genuine cavalry powers, Macedonia, Thessaly, and Boiotia, in great part because of the aristocratic nature of their societies and the availability of horse-breeding (hippotrophia) land. By the middle of the fifth century, democratic Athens had also created a respectable cavalry force of 1,000 men (with 200 horse archers) to match its imperial ambitions. Other Greek states, including Sparta, relied on the strength of its hoplite armies or light-armed specialty troops. Sparta, in fact, did not feel the need to create a cavalry force until 424, seven years into the Peloponnesian War. The effectiveness, if not the necessity, of cavalry in support of infantry was not lost on contemporary observers, and this attitude spilled over into the struggles of the Greek city-states in the first half of the fourth century. Xenophon, probably a member of the Athenian cavalry in his youth, wrote two military treatises, The Cavalry Commander and On Horsemanship, which emphasize the importance of careful maintenance and training of horse and rider. The goal was to create a more effective fighting force. It is well known that Philip II and, even more so, his son Alexander elevated the cavalry to high military importance, in both quality and quantity, greater than the Greek world had experienced and, to a certain degree, greater than the Macedonian kings who followed in the Hellenistic period. Alexander made his Campanion Cavalry a serious strike force, all the while continuing to emphasize the central role of the Macedonian phalanx. He also may have equipped some of his cavalry with a sarissa- similar to that held by the phalangites – and so identified as sarissophoroi wielding a thrusting lance of up to 15 ft.

Prior to the Macedonian rise to power in the mid-fourth century, cavalry (with the exception of horse archers) was fairly uniform in appearance. Ideally, the horseman carried a javelin (or two) and sword, wore high boots, a Boiotian-style helmet, and a breastplate (thorax), and rode without the benefit of stirrups or a saddle. Apparently, cavalrymen in the fourth century did not carry a shield; this piece of armor does not appear to have been adopted until the third century.

In addition to the “regular” cavalry of the Classical period, there developed in the late fourth century and Hellenistic period variations of lighter and heavier cavalry. The heaviest cavalry were called kataphraktoi, which meant literally “fully armored rider and horse.” To maneuver with this extra weight required a bigger and more powerful horse than those common in the Greek world; the cataphracts should remind us a little of the knights of the Middle Ages (except the latter had the benefit of stirrups!). This type of cavalry was almost certainly borrowed from the eastern provinces of Alexander’s empire, in the Iranian regions. The first Hellenistic king to incorporate cataphracts into his armies appears to have been the Seleukid Antiochos III at the end of the third century. There is no reference to them in his cavalry forces at the battle of Raphia in 217, but under the direct command of the son of Antiochos, they defeated the Aitolian cavalry of Ptolemy V at Panion in 200 (Polyb. 16.18.6-8). In 192, the envoy of Antiochos to T. Quinctius Flamininus could boast of them (Livy 35.48.3) and they figured prominently in Antiochos’ army at the battle of Magnesia in 190/89 against the Romans (Livy 27.40.5, 11). In fact, numerically (3,000 on each flank) they represented the largest distinct cavalry contingent on the field. His defeat at the hands of the Romans apparently did not discourage their use in the armies of his successors. In the grand military procession at Daphne in Syria in 165, Antiochos IV Epiphanes included 1,500 cataphracts (Polyb. 30.25.9).

The cataphract will appear again in the armies of the Pontic king, Mithridates VI Eupator (120-63) as he attempted to expand his empire into Asia Minor and Greece in the early decades of the first century. This led to three wars with Rome. In fact, there may have been Pontic cataphracts stationed in Athens and the Peiraieus during the First Mithridatic War. Later in the first century, the Roman general Lucullus faced Armenian cataphracts, and they will survive as a potent cavalry option in the east hundreds of years later. But one point is important to emphasize: They were absent from the armies of Classical Greece and were only embraced by the Seleukid and Pontic kings whose realms touched on eastern lands once part of Alexander’s empire.

We now turn to two specialized troops of light cavalry, the prodromoi and the Tarentines. They appear for the first time in the fourth century and continue to be attested both in literature and inscriptions into the second century. The prodromoi, as the name implies, functioned as a light-armed mobile advance force, as skirmishers, scouts, couriers, and so forth. In his hippic treatise, The Cavalry Commander, written in the 360s, Xenophon advised the hipparch to equip his prodromoi well and to train them diligently in the use of the javelin. (1.25). These troops were included in the annual review of the Athenian cavalry by the Council of Five Hundred (Ath. Pol. 49.1). They are clearly citizens and must represent a special troop recruited outside of the regular cavalry. It has been plausibly suggested that these prodromoi were introduced to replace Athens’ corps of 200 mounted archers, the hippotoxotai, deployed in the fifth and early fourth centuries. A recently published inscription from the Athenian agora shows that, in later fourth century or early third, the prodromoi could act as a civic corporate entity, issuing a decree in honor of the two cavalry secretaries (grammateis). In addition, references to prodromoi appear on lead cavalry tablets found in the Athenian agora and the Kerameikos (ancient cemetery) as late as the mid-third century. This means that the Athenian prodromoi are attested during the period from ca. 360 to ca. 260, thereby bridging the Classical and Hellenistic periods.

We also hear of prodromoi serving in Alexander’s army, but it is difficult to know whether there is any direct connection between the two other than the name. Alexander deployed four squadrons of prodromoi in his early campaigns. Arrian reports on their various military activities: reconnaissance (3.7.7), leading the charge at Granikos (1.14.5- 7), and participating in the major battles at Issos (2.9.2) and Gaugamela (3.12.3). They were an advanced strike force before the final battle with the Persian king (3.8.1-2) and pursued the king afterward (3.18.2, 3.20.1, 3.21.2). Apparently, they carried a sarissa and are referred to in our sources as sarissophoroi. The use of this special weapon should distinguish them from the Athenian prodromoi, who were customarily equipped with the javelin (Xenophon).

The other light cavalry force in this period was known as the Tarentines. They threw the javelin at the enemy from a distance and were sometimes armed with a sword and a shield (Arrian Tactica 4.5-6). They probably did originate in the southern Italian city of Tarentum, but by the Hellenistic period, the term had come to mean a particular type of cavalry or fighting style, regardless of the ethnic composition of the troop. They figure prominently in the wars of the successors, emerging as a regular element in the armies of Antigonos Monophthalmos and his son Demetrios Poliorketes. In the decisive campaigns between Eumenes and Antigonos in 317-316, Antigonos fielded 2,200 of them “particularly skilled in ambuscade” (Diod. 19.29.2). Diodorus also mentions an advance guard of 100 Tarentines accompanying Antigonos’ own bodyguard of 300 horsemen (19.29.5). On the eve of the battle at Gabiene in 316, Antigonos sent his Median lancers (longchophoroi), 200 Tarentines, and all of his light infantry to intercept Eumenes’ elephants before they linked up with his army, and later during the battle, he dispatched the same Median cavalry and Tarentines to seize Eumenes’ baggage train, with the goal of forcing Eumenes to withdraw (Diod. 19.42.2-3). In the Gaza campaign of 312, Demetrios was guarded by 100 Tarentines divided into three troops (Diod. 19.82.2). Sources attest the presence of Tarentine cavalry in the armies of Sparta, the Achaian League, Elis, and Antiochos III the Great at the end of the third century.

Tarentines are also amply documented in Hellenistic Athens, first as mercenaries, later as a citizen cavalry corps. An inscription dated to the third century (IG ii2 2975) records a dedication by the Tarantinoi from the spoils of war (which enemy or war we cannot tell), and in his Stratagems, Polyainos 3.7.4 places Tarentine horsemen in Athens during the tyranny of Lachares (300-295). In 1994, a new inscription was uncovered in the Athenian agora that records a decree by a foreign mercenary troop of Tarentines in honor of the Athenian hipparchs and phylarchs in 281/0. Because we know from another inscription that the canonical Athenian cavalry of 1,000 had fallen to 300 men at this same time, it is quite likely that the 500 cavalry sent by Athens to confront the invading Gauls at Thermopylai in 279 (Paus. 10.20.5) included this Tarentine mercenary force numbering 200. By the middle of the second century, the Athenians had created a citizen cavalry force modeled on the Tarentines. Tarantinoi are mentioned in the festivals of the Theseia and the Pythais to Delphi, along with their commanders, the Tarantinarchs. It is clear that this specialized force was distinct from the regular cavalry of Athens, whose numbers cannot be securely calculated in this period. The Athenians, by their own experience with mercenary Tarentines and the value attached to their services by other Hellenistic Greek states, must have concluded that they ought to establish their own citizen force of them. We have also suggested elsewhere that these mounted javelin men may have been intended to supersede the prodromoi, who had themselves replaced the hippotoxotai in the fourth century. 59 The tactical role of an advance strike force is shared by all three.

Hellenistic Military Developments III


In the Classical period, particularly in the fifth century, the premier warship was the trireme. A long, sleek, light ship, it was rowed by 170 oarsmen and staffed by 30 marines, archers, and sailors (with a helmsman) to make a total ship’s crew of 200. It was equipped with a bronze ram on the prow to punch a hole in enemy ships or smash through their oars. There are still some questions about the interior arrangement, but most historians of ancient naval warfare believe that the “three” in trieres refers to three banks of oars manned by one oarsman each and staggered one on top of the other. In recent years, a full-scale replica of an ancient trireme has been constructed and put to trial tests in the Aegean Sea with crews of volunteer rowers. The top speed in these trials has been around nine knots. The Olympias now sits in dry dock in the Peiraieus harbor of Athens.

In the fourth century, Greeks began to experiment with larger, heavier ships. Dionysios I of Syracuse is credited with having introduced a “four” and “five,” that is, a quadrireme and quinquereme (Diod. 14.42.2-3). In the naval records of Athens, quadriremes appear as early as 330/29, quinqueremes not until 325/4. In the Athenaion Politeia (46.1), Aristotle assumes the existence of both triremes and quadriremes, but there is no mention of quinqueremes at the Athenian naval facilities in the Peiraieus. On the eve of the Lamian War (323-322), the Athens voted for the preparation of 40 quadriremes and 200 triremes (Diod. 18.10.2; revised text). At the battle of Salamis in Cyprus in 306, the Athenians contributed 30 quadriremes to Demetrios Poliorketes’ forces. It is probable that the new “five” simply added two extra oarsmen to the three-bank (trireme) configuration, but that the “four” was reduced to two banks of oars manned by two rowers each, thus forty-four oars on each side. In rapid succession at the end of the fourth century, naval architects began to build bigger and bigger ships, the largest one actually used in battle being a “ten.” The greater size facilitated a larger complement of fighting soldiers on the decks along with platforms for artillery (more on this follows). Boarding became as important as ramming, as the heavier warships relinquished speed and mobility for fighting and fire power. The trireme survived in the arsenal of Rhodes, a formidable Hellenistic naval power, and eventually formed the core of the imperial fleet of Rome.

The new look of naval warfare in the Hellenistic period can best be illustrated by one of our best-documented naval battles: at Salamis on Cyprus in 306 between Demetrios Poliorketes and Ptolemy I Soter. Ptolemy had 140 (or 150) warships, the largest being quinqueremes, the smallest quadriremes. Demetrios, leaving ten of his quinqueremes to continue the siege of Salamis, sailed out to meet Ptolemy with a fleet mostly composed of quinqueremes, the largest of the rest including “sevens.” In fact, his own flagship was a “seven.” Having equipped his ships with bolt and stone-throwing artillery, Demetrios advanced rapidly on Ptolemy’s lines, hurling arrows and stones as they came within range and then javelins and arrows as they drew closer. The rams then struck home. General melee ensued, men leaping aboard the other ships and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. By all accounts, Demetrios fought bravely on his flagship and drove back Ptolemy’s lines. On the other wing, Ptolemy had defeated those opposing him with his heaviest ships, the quinqueremes, but the rest of his forces were in flight or destroyed. This great victory inspired Antigonos and Demetrios Poliorketes to proclaim themselves “kings.” The rest of the Successors followed suit within the year.

Demetrios continued to up-size his ships. He had a “thirteen” in 301 (Plut. Demetr. 31.1; 32.2) and later “fifteens” and “sixteens” (Plut. Demetr. 20.4; 43.3-4). Plutarch characterized Demetrios’ vessels as genuine warships (Demetr. 43.5), but the same cannot be said for the gargantuan ship of Ptolemy IV Philopator in the late third century – the “forty.” Plutarch dismisses this ship for what it was, an expensive toy, intended purely as a cipher for royal power, not war (Demetr. 43.4). It is a perfect example of gigantism and self-indulgence, paradigmatic of the Hellenistic kings. Athenaios (5.203e-204d) tells us that it was 420 ft long, 57 ft wide, 72 ft high, and manned by 4,000 rowers, 400 sailors, and 2,850 soldiers. This amounts to over 7,000 men, far greater than the crew numbers for a modern aircraft carrier! As far as we know, it never saw military action.

A monster grain ship was built at about the same time in Syracuse. Again, Athenaios provides a detailed description (5.206d-209e). It was a “twenty” commissioned by Hieron II, tyrant of Syracuse, and built by the genius engineer, Archimedes (who had to invent a windlass to launch it). It required enough timber to build sixty quadriremes! The officers’ cabin could hold fifteen couches, and like a modern cruise ship, it had a gymnasium, promenade, and a library. In spite of these (and other) creature comforts, it was still a warship, complete with eight towers (pyrgoi) for artillery and a parapet for a catapult (lithobolos) that could hurl a 180 lb stone or a bolt of 18 ft long! It had an effective range of 600 ft and was invented by Archimedes himself. The ship was also equipped with other clever and nasty machines of war attached to the masts. Appropriately, it was named “Syracusia.” There was only one problem, however; it was too big to safely dock at harbors around the Mediterranean, so Hieron decided to offer it as a gift (along with grain) to Ptolemy (III) – and renamed it “Alexandris.” It was pulled up on shore at Alexandria and presumably never moved again.

It is worth noting briefly that the term cataphract came to be applied to a covered warship, with decks and sidescreens to protect the rowers. This seems to be an inevitable development in the age of heavier ships, greater numbers of fighting men on board for close fighting, and artillery. The astonishing variety of warships is a hallmark of the Hellenistic world; for example, the grand fleet of Ptolemy II Philadelphos included 2 “thirties,” 1 “twenty,” 4 “thirteens,” 2 “twelves,” 14 “elevens,” 30 “nines,” 37 “sevens,” 5 “sixes,” and 17 “fives” (Athenaios 5.203d). The number of quadriremes and lower were twice this amount. His struggles with the Macedonian king Antigonos Gonatas over control of the Aegean in the mid-third century and the maintenance of his far-flung thalassocracy in Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean demanded naval supremacy. His financial resources, as with the other Hellenistic kings, made it all possible. The Greek city-states simply could not compete at this level.


Without much exaggeration, the only truly novel military arm in the armies of the Hellenistic world was the war elephant. It did not appear in the armies of the Archaic or Classical Greek city-states. It belonged to the world of the Far East, to India (or later the continent of Africa), and it is not surprising that the most enthusiastic co-opters of this beast were the Seleukids, who had the most immediate access to them. Seleukos I Nikator kept 500 of them at Apameia (Strabo 16.2.10; C752). The Seleukids even put the symbol of the elephant on their coins. The association between elephants and the Seleukid kingdom even made its way into Roman comedy, when the braggart mercenary captain Pyrgopolynices, recruiting for a certain King Seleukos in Ephesos, boasts of his martial achievements by claiming to have defeated an elephant in India by striking it on the foreleg with his fist (Miles Gloriosus 24-30)! The military use of elephants in Hellenistic warfare was confined to the period from the death of Alexander to the battle of Magnesia(190/89).68 Alexander had first fought them in the army of Poros at the Hydaspes River in 326. In the campaigns of Eumenes and Antigonos Monophthalmos in 317-316, both combatants fielded elephants, and at Ipsos in 301, Seleukos’ large elephant corps screened off Demetrios’ cavalry, victorious over Seleukos’ son, Antiochos, from returning from their pursuit in time to save his father. This proved to be the decisive turning point of the battle.

In 280, at the battle of the Siris River in southern Italy, Pyrrhos chased off the Roman cavalry, their horses terrified by his twenty elephants. A similar result is documented only five years later in Asia Minor. In 277, a large force of Gauls invaded the territories of the Seleukids. Antiochos I responded with a hastily organized army, including sixteen elephants, some peltasts, and light-armed troops, and met the Gauls at an unknown site in 275. Facing him were 20,000 Gallic cavalry, 80 scythed chariots, and 160 two-horse chariots. Deploying eight of his elephants in the center to deal with the chariots, he positioned the other eight on the wings to attack the cavalry. According to our principal account, neither the Gauls nor their horses had seen an elephant, and terrified by the sight and sounds of the charging beasts, fell back in panic on their own infantry lines before they had even engaged. It was utter chaos, as chariots ripped apart their own troops with their cutting scythes. The elephants trampled those who could not flee. It became known as the “Elephant Victory.” Antiochos decorated the war trophy with a carved elephant.

These two episodes demonstrate that elephants carried tremendous shock value when encountered for the first time, but they could also be neutralized by a well-disciplined and experienced army. Alexander the Great commanded such an army at the Hydaspes, and the Romans were not slow to adapt. At the final battle with Pyrrhos at Beneventum in 275, they pelted his elephants with javelins and drove them back into their own ranks. This sealed the victory and persuaded Pyrrhos of Epiros to seek adventures closer to home (Plut. Pyrrhos 25.2-5).

Polybios provides us with a vivid account of elephants in combat and the comparative fighting abilities of the Indian elephant versus the African (5.79-86.6). The Seleukid king, Antiochos III, invaded Egypt and met the forces of Ptolemy IV Philopator at Raphia in 217.74 Antiochos fielded 102 Indian elephants, and Ptolemy had 73 of African origin. Both kings initiated the battle with their elephants (5.84.1). Some of Ptolemy’s elephants fought bravely against the much larger Indian elephants of Antiochos, head to head, tusk to tusk, pushing to force the opponent to give ground. Those who turned to flee were gored. Most of Ptolemy’s elephants, however, could not stand the smell and trumpeting of the Indian elephants, nor their superior size and strength, and fled without engaging (5.84.2-7). This reaction threw them back on their own ranks in confusion. Polybios comments dismissively about the lack of fighting spirit of the African elephant, but considering the numerical superiority of Antiochos’ elephant corps and their greater physical size, his comments seem unfair. In spite of the victory of Antiochos’ elephants, he still lost the battle. Polybios reports that Antiochos lost five elephants, Ptolemy, sixteen; most of the rest were captured (5.86.6). This battle has also become famous for Ptolemy’s use of 20,000 native Egyptian troops, rather than Greeks or Macedonians, who were trained in Macedonian phalanx tactics (Polyb. 5.82.4). This marks a turning point in Ptolemaic history.

The last significant elephant force appearing in a Hellenistic army is at the battle of Magnesia-ad-Sipylum in 190/89 between Antiochos III and Rome. Antiochos had a force of fifty-four elephants, the Romans, only sixteen. The Seleukid king also fielded scythed chariots and camels with Arab archers. It was an incredibly diverse and mixed ethnic force (characteristic of Hellenistic armies generally), outnumbering the Romans and their Pergamene allies, but still it failed to achieve victory. The Roman legions again showed their superiority over the Macedonian phalanx. The elephants apparently played no critical role in the outcome in spite of their great size, head armor, and towers manned by a driver and four soldiers (37.40.4). In fact, Livy remarks that the Romans were accustomed to fighting elephants in their African wars, either by stepping aside and hurling their spears from the side, or by approaching perilously close they hamstrung them with their swords (37.42.5). The Romans had learned well since the Pyrrhic wars. Even in flight from the field, Antiochos’ troops suffered from deadly and disorderly encounters with their own elephants, chariots, and camels (37.43.9; App. Syriaca. 35). Fifteen of his elephants were captured.

The mention of scythed chariots deserves a few words. There had been war chariots in Greece during the Mycenaean period, and they do appear as swift vehicles of transport to and from the battlefield in the Homeric epics. They were also used in processions and panhellenic contests for the elite in the Archaic and Classical periods, but as a weapon of war they did not survive the Bronze Age. They were well suited to the flat, open plains of Egypt and the Near East, but not to the rocky and mountainous terrain that typifies most of Greece. In the end, the high cost of maintenance made them showy symbols of centralized royal authority, not of city-states. Present in the Persian armies that faced Alexander, the war chariot was embraced by Seleukos I (Plut. Demetr. 48.2) and by his successors into the second century. We have already encountered them in the army of the Gauls in 275, and they were still being deployed by Mithridates VI of Pontos in the first century. The second century Panathenaia of Athens lists the “war chariot” as a festival event (armati polemisterioi), with King Eumenes II of Pergamon winning in 170/69, and two Athenians – both attested as cavalry commanders in the contemporary Theseia – in 166/5 and 162/1 respectively.

Arguably, the war chariot ought to have been more effective on the battlefield, but Alexander had shown how to neutralize them at the battle of Gaugamela. It is perhaps telling that, at the battle of Magnesia, Antiochos had expected his chariots to create panic in the Roman lines, but just the opposite occurred. Eumenes forced the scythed chariots, positioned in the front ranks of Antiochos’ army, to flee by sending his cavalry, his swift Cretan archers, his light armed slingers, and his light infantry to attack the horses in open formations and shower them with missiles from all sides. Eumenes’ mobile troops easily avoided the panicked and disorderly charges of the scythed chariots. They fell back on their own cataphracts. This action was the first step toward victory for the Romans. The panicked flight of the chariots incited the auxiliaries stationed next to them to flee, and this exposed the whole line, particularly the cataphracts, to the attack of the Roman cavalry (Livy 37.41.6-42.42.1-4).

Hellenistic Military Developments IV

Military Technology

In terms of military technology, the fourth century must be viewed as revolutionary, and the many clever and deadly machines so closely identified with the Philip II, Alexander the Great, and Demetrios Poliorketes set the standard for the rest of the Hellenistic period. But they were not the first to recognize the practical value of siege machines and artillery. To Dionysios I of Syracuse goes the credit for the invention of the catapult (katapeltikon) in 399 (Diod. 14.42.1). Some have questioned this testimony, whereas others have accepted it at face value. What is certain is that Dionysios built mighty machines of war to expel the Carthaginians from western Sicily. He was fully aware of the Carthage’s deadly use of siege towers and battering rams against the Greek cities of Selinous, Akragas, and Gela in the years from 409 to 406.

Dionysios was a quick student and only needed the right opportunity to try out his new bolt-shooting catapult and his own siege machines. In 397, he attacked the island fortress of Motya, the Carthaginian base of operations in western Sicily (Diod. 14.47.4-53.5). Dionysios’ “engineers” (architektones) began the construction of a mole to the island, as Alexander the Great would do at the siege of Tyre in 332. When a Carthaginian relief fleet arrived, they were forced to withdraw under the missile onslaught of Dionysios’ archers and slingers stationed on the ships and his land-based catapults. Diodorus comments that this weapon caused “great distress” (megalen kataplexin) because it was a new invention (to protos eurethenai, 14.50.4). Finally, his mole finished, Dionysios brought up war machines of every type, battering rams, and siege towers, six stories high, equipped with gangways to drop down on the houses. His arrow-throwing catapults – which did not seem to have been placed inside the siege towers as they would later be by Demetrios Poliorketes – kept the defenders off the walls (Diod. 14.51.1-7). Finally, the fortifications were breached, and the city fell. In the siege of the Greek city of Rhegion in 388, Dionysios constructed a great quantity of siege machines (mechanemata) and of such unbelievable size that they shook the walls (Diod. 14.108.3).

Having introduced the catapult and siege warfare on a massive scale, Dionysios’ military thinking was apparently not readily adopted by the city-states of mainland Greece. Aineias Taktikos, writing in the 350s, confirms the use of large siege machines (megala mechanemata), now equipped with catapults (katapaltai, 32.8), but fails to suggest that the besieged city defend itself with its own artillery. Perhaps he assumed it. In any case, a technological breakthrough will occur at about this time – the introduction of the torsion catapult, perhaps by Philip II of Macedonia. The old catapult (gastraphetes) drew its power from a composite bow, whereas the new catapult used vertical torsion springs of corded human hair or sinew. When the bow was drawn back, the springs were twisted tighter and tighter. After the arrow was released, the springs returned to their former static position. The torsion catapult generated significantly greater striking force.

Philip II of Macedonia is generally credited with having introduced the torsion catapult in the 340s, and even if this cannot be decisively proved, there is no question that he was committed to advanced military engineering, and this fascination was passed along to his son, Alexander, and to the Successors, notably, Demetrios Poliorketes, Pyrrhos, and Agathokles of Syracuse. Military engineers now begin to be identified as individuals, Polyidos the Thessalian and his students Diades, who invented mobile siege towers (Vitruvius 10.13.3), Charias, Poseidonios, Epimachos of Athens, and Hegetor of Byzantion. The sieges of Perinthos and Byzantion in 341/085 were a portent of things to come: Philip constructed 120 ft siege towers, taller than the city towers, rocked the walls with battering rams, and mined long stretches of the walls. He deployed a wide assortment of catapults (oxybeleis) and rained arrows down on the defenders on the battlements. Fortunately for the Perinthians, they were able to receive reinforcements of men, arrows, catapults (katapeltas) from Byzantion to counter Philip’s siege weapons. Diodorus (16.74.5) tells us, however, that Philip had prepared a plentitude of arrows, siege machines (mechanon poliorketikon plethos), and other devices to carry on the siege. Perinthos could not be taken, however, and Philip initiated a second siege at Byzantion to cut off the supply route. In the end, the arrival of a coalition fleet led by Athens forced Philip to break off both sieges.

Heavy artillery catapault of the type probably mounted by Demetrius on his mighty siege engines used in his attack on Rhodes, which is thought to have been launched from Loryma Sound.

This military setback did not discourage Philip from developing his siege machinery, and the most obvious success story was his son’s siege of Halikarnassos in 334 and of the Phoenician island fortress of Tyre in 332. His mole, reminiscent of Dionysios’ at Motya in 397, allowed him to deploy siege machinery by land, whereas his catapult-mounted ships attacked the walls of Tyre by sea. Here, as at Halikarnassos, a new type of catapult was deployed, a stone thrower (petrobolos). This allowed the besieger to breach the walls themselves or destroy buildings within the walls, not just chase off the defenders from the battlements. A catapult was constructed to accommodate a specific weight of stone ball, and preserved examples range from 4.4 kg to 65.5 kg. Examples of catapult balls have been found at Rhodes, Pergamon, Tel Dor, and Carthage. The mother of all petroi weighed 78 kg (or over 170 lbs)! This megalithic monster belonged to Demetrios Poliorketes.

Aristotle, the teacher of Alexander and friend of the Macedonian court, recognized that a new age of warfare had arrived in the late fourth century. In his Politics, he comments that it is essential to possess the strongest fortifications to survive the new inventions in missiles (i. e., catapult bolts) and siege machines (tas mechanas . . . pros tas poliorkias, 7.10.6; 8). He cautions that, as attackers develop new machines of war, so must the city defenders. The Greek word repeatedly used in the text is a derivative of the verb eurisko, “to discover,” or “to invent.” It was the ancient equivalent of the arms race. Certainly, he has Philip and Alexander in mind with these remarks. In his narrative of the great siege of Rhodes, Diodorus would say the same things about Demetrios Poliorketes: “Demetrios deeply worried the Rhodians; not only by the size of his siege engines and the magnitude of his army, but also by the king’s energy and ingenuity in sieges. For, being “mechanically inclined” [eumechanos] and devising many things beyond the art of master builders, he was called “Poliorketes”; for he displayed such superiority and force in his attacks that it seemed that no wall could withstand them” (20.92.1-2). Diodorus continues: “For it was in his time that greatest weapons [bele] were perfected and engines [mechanai] of all kinds far surpassing those that had existed among others; and this man launched the greatest ships after this siege, and after the death of his father” (20.92.5, Loeb trans.).

The military exploits of Demetrios for the years 307-303 amply justify this praise. During the campaign to liberate Athens from the control of Kassandros’ agents in 307, Demetrios besieged his garrison on Munychia in the Peiraieus harbor. For two days, his catapults hurled arrows and stones at the troops defending the battlements and finally cleared the wall for a full-scale assault. Munychia quickly surrendered (Diod. 20.45.5-7).

We have already discussed Demetrios’ great victory over Ptolemy’s fleet off Salamis in Cyprus in 306 and his use of ship-borne catapults, but he also besieged the city by land with artillery, notably arrow-shooting and stone-throwing catapults of all types (katapeltas oxybeleis kai lithobolous pantoious) [Diod. 20.48.1]. The most famous siege machine was the helepolis, literally, “city-taker.” It stood 135 ft high and was mounted on four large wheels. In each of its nine stories, Demetrios placed artillery: the largest stone-throwing catapults on the lower levels (capable of hurling a stone of over 170 lbs); in the middle levels, the largest arrow-shooting catapults; and in the upper stories, the lightest of the stone-throwing and arrow-shooting catapults. It required 200 men to operate these artillery pieces within the tower. He cleared the parapet walls with a barrage of stones and arrows. The defenders of Salamis gained a temporary reprieve by burning down the siege engines with fire arrows shot from the walls. Demetrios’ naval victory, however, sealed its fate, and the city surrendered.

In 305, Demetrios began the great twelve-month siege of Rhodes. In addition to a huge army, he had at his disposal a huge supply of armaments for the siege. He equipped the prows of his ships with arrow-shooting catapults (oxybeleis) [20.83.1], as he had done at Salamis the year before. He also refitted (armored?) the lightest of his ships with planks and port shutters, and put long-range arrow-shooting catapults on deck, along with some Cretan archers. Directing his attack at the harbor, Demetrios fastened together two cargo ships and built two tortoise-shaped sheds (chelonas) on their decks to house and protect his arrow-shooting and stone-throwing catapults. The Rhodians responded with artillery of their own and equipped cargo ships with a large number of arrow-shooting and stone-throwing catapults of all sizes (20.85.4). The contest for control of the harbor went on for eight days, Demetrios destroying the Rhodian artillery on the mole with his heavy stone-throwing catapults (Diod. 20.87.1), but finally he was forced to withdraw. After a week, Demetrios furiously attacked the Rhodian harbor fortifications again, this time with a combination of fire-arrows, stone-throwers, and arrow-shooters (20.88.1-3). The Rhodians counter-attacked with three of their best ships, ramming two catapult ships of Demetrios. The Rhodians were eventually able to retake the mole and open the harbor. Reinforcements and supplies then arrived from Ptolemy I and Knossos.

The Helepolis at Rhodes

Demetrios shifted his siege operations to the land walls. He constructed another mobile helepolis, “a city-taker” siege tower, even grander than the one he had deployed at Salamis (Diod. 20.91.2-8). This monster was 120 ft high, weighed 360,000 lb, and was invented by the Athenian Epimachos (see also Chapter 12 in this volume). It was fitted with iron plates on three sides to counter the Rhodian catapults and was punctuated with shuttered apertures for the artillery pieces. Mounted on eight huge solid wheels, it required 3,400 men to move it. It was the terrifying size of these siege engines that prompted Diodorus’ attribution of “Poliorketes” to Demetrios (see previous discussion).

At this point in Diodorus’ narrative, we learn that the Rhodians dispatched naval squadrons to attack Demetrios’ ships and cut off his supply lines. One of these squadrons seized a convoy of cargo ships bringing materiel for Demetrios’ siege machines and captured eleven “renowned engineers” (technitai ton axiologon) who were specialists in missiles and catapults (katapeltas, Diod. 20.93.5). This, too, is a sign of the times – military science and its practitioners were invaluable to warfare. It is no accident that our fullest sources for military technology come from Hellenistic writers like Ktesibios of Alexandria (mid-third century), Biton (third century), Philon of Byzantion (ca. 200), the Roman Vitruvius (late first century), and in the Roman period, Heron of Alexandria (ca. 62 a. d.). This continues a tradition of military manuals appearing in the fourth century (see previous discussion).

As for the helepolis at Rhodes, Demetrios filled his nine-story siege tower with heavy and light stone-throwing and arrow-shooting catapults (Diod. 20.95.2), as he had equipped his helepolis at Salamis (20.48.3, see previous discussion). With this siege machine, Demetrios was able to destroy the strongest of the towers (constructed of ashlar blocks) and shatter the curtain wall, effectively cutting off movement along the parapet. Heartened by the arrival of relief ships from Ptolemy, the Rhodians positioned all of their arrow-shooting and stone-throwing catapults on the wall to direct their artillery fire and fire arrows at the helepolis (20.96.3). Some of the iron plates broke loose, exposing the siege tower to fire, and Demetrios was forced to withdraw his machine to a safe distance. Diodorus records (20.97.1-2) that when Demetrios ordered his men to gather up the spent missiles on the battlefield, they recovered eight hundred fire arrows (pyrophoroi) of various sizes, and not less than 1,500 catapult arrows! We learn from Vitruvius that Diognetos, the military engineer of Rhodes, devised a plan to neutralize the helepolis: they flooded the approach to the walls during the night, and the tower became stuck in the mud the next day (10.16.7). The goal of a besieged city was always to keep the siege machines as far away from the city walls as possible; this could also be achieved by dry moats (or a series of them as at Epipolai on the heights above Syracuse), fire arrows, or counter artillery fire from the walls and towers. Eventually, Demetrios was forced to come to terms with the Rhodians.

One might expect that Demetrios’ reputation suffered from his failure to take Rhodes, but his epithet, “Besieger,” was secure. For example, in 303, one year later, Demetrios attacked Ptolemy’s garrison at Sikyon, and the garrison withdrew to the acropolis. When Demetrios paused in bringing up his siege machines, the garrison “in panic” (kataplagentes) at the prospect of the coming assault, surrendered and sailed back to Egypt (Diod. 20.102.2). In the same year, Demetrios moved his war machines against the garrison on the heights of Acrocorinth. He intimidated them into surrendering by his deadly siege weapons and his reputation as a master of siege warfare (eumechanos) (Diod. 20.103.2). The Macedonian tradition of siege warfare continued on in the family of the Antigonids: In 217 Philip V campaigned against the city of Phthiotic Thebes in the region of Thessaly. In his train, Philip V assembled 150 arrow-shooting catapults and 25 stone-throwers (Polyb. 5.99.7).

After the siege of Rhodes, probably the most famous one was that of Syracuse in 213-211 by the Roman general Marcellus. The long-reigning ruler, Hieron II, had devoted much attention to the fortifications of the city. His chief military engineer was the famous Archimedes, a native son of Syracuse. Much of the sophisticated fortifications at Euryalos on the Epipolai plateau may have been his handiwork, although earlier phases under Agathokles and even Dionysios I are probably preserved. It is generally accepted that as artillery became more and more powerful in the mid-fourth and third centuries, the defensive fortifications of Greek cities had to respond with equal sophistication and innovation. These changes included larger and more massive towers, the replacing of great circuit walls with outworks and tall towers with artillery batteries, the indented trace, higher and thicker double-faced walls with solid rubble fill to resist heavy artillery and to support defensive catapults, and replacement of vulnerable crenellated parapets by a solid screen wall or covered parados. The massive five-pillar artillery bastion at Euryalos is one of the best-preserved examples, and some of the most elaborate (and appealing) city walls come from the late Classical and Hellenistic periods. F. E. Winter aptly observed, “It is easy to understand why the Hellenistic period as a whole affords no real parallels to the sensational achievements of Philip II and Alexander the Great. Long-developed techniques of attack and defense had simply played each other to a standstill.”

In the siege of Syracuse, we learn of a number of siege innovations on both sides, for example, a full description of the sambuca deployed by the Romans to attack the sea walls (Polyb. 8.4.2-11). For the Syracusans, Archimedes directed the defenses with a series of clever devices: various-sized stone-throwers and arrow-shooters, heavier for long range, then lighter for closer action. He pierced the walls with loopholes and stationed archers and “scorpions” (skorpidia), small catapults, to shoot through them. Archimedes countered the sambucae with special cranes that swung over the walls and dropped heavy stones on top of them. Other pulley and crane devices lifted up the prows of the Roman ships with an iron claw and capsized them into the water (Polyb. 8.5-6.1-7). By land, Syracuse’s arrow-shooting and stone-throwing catapults inflicted great damage on the Romans, the effect of Hieron II’s money and Archimedes’ genius. The Romans now desisted from direct assault and invested Syracuse for eight months. The city fell only when an unguarded wall was scaled at night (Polyb. 8.37.2-11). Marcellus included catapults, ballistas, and other engines of war in his triumph (Livy 26.21.7).

For other Greek cities, we have epigraphical evidence of catapult use and training. Athens appears to have had catapults as early as the mid-fourth century. During the Lykurgan period in Athens (335-322), Aristotle (AthPol. 42.3) reports that the two-year ephebic program included training in hoplite combat, archery, the javelin, and the catapult (katapalten). Although the ephebic program was reduced to one year at the end of the fourth century b. c., these young men still continued to practice in the use of the catapult down to the end of the second century. Inscriptions from 321/0, 318/7, and 306/5 record catapults or parts of them in the storerooms. Still other inscriptions, spanning 200 years of the Hellenistic period, honor the artillery trainer, the katapaltaphetes, and at least in one case, we can trace the careers of several generations of Athenian artillery instructors from the same family, for example, Pedieus of Oia. From the nearby island of Keos (Kea), an early third-century inscription instructs the gymnasiarch to lead his ephebes out for practice in the javelin, archery, and the catapult three times a month, reminiscent of the training in Athenian ephebeia. A catapult and 300 arrows for the practice sessions are to be supplied by the Council and a competition with prizes organized. Finally, there are inscriptions from the gymnasion at Samos that record victor lists in arrow-shooting and stone-throwing catapults in the late third and second centuries.

Continued support for ephebic training by Hellenistic cities tells us that citizen militias still functioned in a world of professional soldiers, mercenaries, and the great and diverse standing armies of the competing kings. Recent scholarship has argued that the city-state and its institutions did not “decline” or disappear during the Hellenistic period; the polis lived on, still cherishing its autonomy and independence. In this world of near-constant war, the independent Greek cities and the leagues maintained their military readiness, either for local and regional struggles or to leverage concessions from the kings. The ephebeia and the Hellenistic gymnasion continued to convert young men into soldiers. The quasi-military festivals, like the Theseia or Panathenaia in second-century Athens, showcased and encouraged the military ethos of their citizens. And they hired mercenaries to man their garrisons and to augment their citizen forces, just as they had done in the past. In the end, the military developments of the Hellenistic period were extensions and expansions of the great age of military innovation in the fourth century. Gigantism and specialization were but stages in a process that defies sharp historical periodization.


In the end, it didn’t make much difference what incredible war machines or specialized and diverse arms the Hellenistic kings deployed on the battlefield; the wars were still won by the Romans. By the middle of the second century, they had eliminated the Antigonid kingdom and emasculated the Seleukid kingdom. Ptolemaic Egypt was not absorbed into the Roman Empire until 30, but Egypt was a de facto dependency of Rome as early as 169. The question has always been, why didn’t the Hellenistic kings do better against the Romans? Fortunately, we possess an acute analysis from Polybios who knew both systems firsthand. After the battle of Kynokephalai in 197, the preeminent Hellenistic Greek historian pauses in his narrative to compare the Roman legion to the Macedonian phalanx (18.28-32). His explanation has become commonplace: on clear and level ground, with no physical obstructions to break up the tight formation, the phalanx should be irresistible. But on uneven and obstructed terrain, the Roman legion was more flexible, could operate efficiently in smaller divisions (maniples), and its soldiers were more adaptable to the varying conditions. There are of course other factors, but one can only wonder how Alexander the Great might have fared at the battle of Magnesia or Pydna. It has recently been argued that the Hellenistic kings did try to respond to changing military realities by reforming their infantry more along Roman lines in the 160s, but it was obviously too little, too late. The Hellenistic world now belonged to Rome.

Aztec War of the Flowers

War itself was viewed by the Aztecs as a part of the natural rhythms. These rhythms were felt to permeate every level of existence and only by keeping in step to them could an individual and (more importantly) a tribe or city survive and prosper. Each day was seen as a battle between the sun and the earth. The sun losing every sunset and gladly sacrificing himself to the earth, so that men could prosper. Many of the workings of nature were viewed as being reflections of the rhythm of the war between the opposing natural and spiritual forces. War then took on a religious and ritual nature that both limited it in extent and made it part of the spiritual life of the community with strong metaphysical overtones. Rituals arose around the conducting of wars and to vary from them would have caused the war to lose its very reason for existing. On the more mundane level wars were fought for Revenge, Defense, or Economic reasons. A common cause for the formal declaration of war was that a city’s merchants were being discriminated against or attacked. (These merchants normally doubled as each city’s intelligence force and so were often harassed in times of high tensions.) Behind all political and economic justifications was always the strong force of the religious nature of war, and a never ending need for captives to sacrifice.

A common proximate cause for war was the failure of a vassal state to pay the tribute demanded. It is surprising to discover, but true, that in a system where tribute was one of the key ingredients, no system (such as hostages) was ever devised to guarantee the payment of tribute from a previously conquered area. If tribute was refused the only alternative was to go to war again.

The process of declaring war was long and elaborate. Followed in most cases, it left no room for the deviousness common in Aztec wars. The procedure to be followed was set in a series of real, but ritually required, actions. The actual declaration of war involved three State visits, often by three allied cities planning to attack. The first delegation called on the chief and nobles of the city. They boasted of their strength and warned that they would demand some of the nobles as sacrifices if the war ensued. The group would then retire outside the city gate and camp for one Aztec month (20 days) awaiting a reply. This was normally given on the last day and if the city or coalition did not accept their terms, token weapons were distributed to the nobles. (This was so that no one could say they defeated an unarmed foe.)

The second delegation would then approach the city’s leading merchants. This second delegation would describe the economic “horrors” of a defeat, comparing them badly to the terms offered, and generally trying to persuade the merchants to get the chiefs to surrender. This delegation then also retired for a month to await a reply. Should this also be negative a third and final delegation would arrive. This group was to talk to the warriors themselves. They would harangue a mass meeting with reasons why they should not fight and tales of the horrors of battle. Once more they would ask for the city to meet their terms (normally a virtual surrender or the loss of some territory) and then retire to a camp for the ritual one month wait. Finally, after all of this, the armies (having had plenty of time to assemble) would meet in a battle. Here any deception was acceptable and a cunning general as valuable as a courageous one.

The leadership of the Aztecs was the same in times of peace and war. Between wars the officers served as the administration, judiciary, and civil service of the city. Heading this organization was the Supreme War chief or Tlacatecuhtli. This was the position held by the unfortunate Montezuma in Tenochtitlan when Cortes arrived. Each clan was assigned to one of four phratries each having its own leader called a Tlaxcola who served as their divisional commander in wartime, and on a council with the other three that ran the actual administration of the city in times of peace. The head of each clan served as a regimental commander and was known as a Tlochcautin. In peace he would serve in a role similar to the English Sheriff. Below the clan level was a unit of approximately 200 to 400 men. This was the equivalent of our company and was really the largest unit over which any tactical control could be held once a battle began. The smallest regular unit was the platoon of 20 men. This organization was rigidly observed by the major cities and was such an integral part of Aztec culture that the symbol for ’20’ was a flag such as each platoon had.

The military techniques of the Aztecs were inferior to those of Europe or China at that time. This is probably due primarily to the fact that while ritually involved and religiously important, war was less developed as a social solution in pre-conquest Mexico. This was caused by several factors, the major one being that the population density of the area was much less than in other parts of the world. In the period immediately preceding the Spanish only one area had really felt the pinch of overpopulation. This was the area around Lake Titicocca occupied today by Mexico city. Here is where the powerful and most warlike cities developed. Even then their tradition of war (as opposed to individual combat) was only a few hundred years old as opposed to thousands in other lands. The result was that while having a warrior attitude and with war deeply ritually ingrained in their culture, the techniques of battle were still quite unsophisticated and basic.

One reflection, of the undeveloped nature of Aztec wars was the absence of any sort of drills. Units acted as a group only during civil duties, or during the several religious ceremonies that they assembled for each year. The tactics of a battle then most often resembled the mass or swarm tactics of biblical times.

Another factor mitigated in favor of only limited military activities. This was the fact that it was extremely difficult for an army to engage in an extended campaign. Since the army was also the work force, a campaign during the planting and harvest seasons was prohibited. This is especially true since the agriculture was not so efficient as to be able to support the massive priests hierarchy and a standing army of any size. Nor could an army live off of the country, since it was likely that the area they would travel through would be inhabited by several city states that were not involved in the war and were independent of those involved. This meant that it was necessary not only to set up supply depots along any proposed route, but also to negotiate permission to trespass on other cities’ lands.

The marginal nature of the agriculture was also such, that sieges that lasted any length of time were virtually impossible. The besieging army would as likely starve as the besiegers. The result of this was that formal walls and other fortifications were rare. In their place canals (useful in trade also) were often used with portable bridges. Many cities were also located in easily defensible terrain such as on a mountainside or on the end of a narrow isthmus. There has also been no evidence that siege weapons of any sort were developed or used to any extent. Despite all of the problems listed the Aztecs were able to wage campaigns over a wide area of Mexico. Most often these were fought with armies made up chiefly of local allies with a contingent of Aztecs to stiffen them. In some cases it is recorded that the Aztecs were forced to engage in the laborious technique of having to subdue each of the towns and cities on their route.

The weapons and tools of the Aztecs were basic and simple in nature. Rather than developing new variations of weapons the efforts of the Aztecs went into elaborate decorations on them. There were four main weapons used by the Aztec warrior. A wooden club with sharp obsidian blades was used. Javelins were common and often used with a throwing stick called an atl-atl. The bow and arrow was also found in most armies as was a heavy javelin or lance for in-fighting. Occasionally a clan would have a tradition that caused some of them to employ the sling or spears. Axes were used as tools, but do not seem to have been a regularly used weapon.

The bulk of the weapons in a city was kept in an arsenal called the Tlacochcalco or roughly the “house of darts.” One of these was found in each quarter of a city and held the weapons for five clans (one phratrie). These arsenals were always located near the chief temples and were designed with sloping walls that enabled them to serve as a fort. The Tlacochcalcos served as the headquarters, assembly points and rallying points for the defenders of a city. Religious ceremonies were also held there by the military leaders and “Knights.”

The shields of the Aztecs were wickerwork covered with hide. Most were circular and elaborately painted and decorated. Skins and feathers were also often attached to augment their beauty. The warriors who used the clubs carried shields, but those using the large javelin or lance were unable to as they needed both hands to employ their weapon. Body armor was made of quilted cotton hardened in brine. This was quite successful against the weapons used by other Aztecs, (and useless against crossbows and steel swords). This cotton armor was in fact quickly adopted by the conquistedores as being effective enough and much cooler than their own metal armor. The quilted armor was often dyed bright colors, brocaded and embroidered with intricate designs and symbols.

Wooden helmets were worn by some warriors and the chiefs, (who rose to chief by being outstanding warriors). These quickly became elaborate and bulky. It was often necessary for them to be supported by shoulder harnesses. Most headdresses or helmets were stylized animals or protecting deities. The more elaborate the helmet the more renown the warrior in battle. There is mention of copper helmets in a few codexs, but none have been found and in any case would have been extremely rare. Metal working for tools and weapons was not advanced and obsidian was the basic (and effective) material.

As during comparable periods on other continents the Aztecs wore no uniforms. Each side would identify itself with a prominently worn badge or insignia. This often would be elaborated to show also the rank of the wearer. With the myriad of colors in the cotton armor and the elaborate helmets an Aztec battle was a kaleidoscope of swirling colors. A young warrior was taught the use of weapons as part of his schooling. (All males were soldiers.) All boys were required to either be tutored or to attend the Telpuchcalli or public school. Later, in lieu of unit training and drills, a new warrior was attached to veteran for his first battles. This program was actually quite similar to the apprenticeship or squire systems developed for the same purpose in medieval Europe.

The tactics and weapons of the Aztecs were greatly influenced by the goal of their wars, captives and whatever tribute or land demanded. It was the ultimate sign of ability in a warrior to bring back from a battle a live enemy suitable for sacrifice. Warriors then often strived not to kill their enemy, but to knock him out or deliver a non-fatal, but disabling wound. A victory was valued then by the number of enemies captured, not killed. To this end warriors were trained rigorously in individual combat, with little emphasis on formations or teamwork. The best warriors were admitted to select societies of “knights.” Only the most skillful (as judged purely by the number of captives taken) were allowed to enter. These were known as the Knights of the Eagle, the Knights of the Ocelot (Tiger), and a less common group the Knights of the Arrow. Helmets depicting their namesakes were often worn and ceremonial costumes that copied their coloration were worn in ceremonies and into battle. These orders performed dances and participated in rituals at the Tlacochcalco. They also participated in the mock battles of sacrifice. These Knights received large shares of land when conquered territories were divided between the warriors. (This practice gave an occupation force a way to support itself.)

A warrior who was slain in battle or sacrificed after a defeat was guaranteed entry into a special warriors heaven. This was to be found in the East and a special heaven for women who died in childbirth was in the West (they were felt to have sacrificed themselves for a potential new warrior). To die in these ways was the greatest honor a defeated warrior could receive. (Non-warriors and cowards were sold into slavery.) To some it was the culmination rather than the ruin of the lives. There is recorded the story of Tlahuicol who was a Tlaxclan chief. Having been captured in battle he was given the honor of the mockgladitorial sacrificial combat. This meant that he was chained to a large round stone representing the sun and given wooden weapons, (no obsidian points or edges), and attacked one at a time by members of the Knights of the Eagle. In single combat he managed to kill a few and wound several more. The combat was stopped and Tlahuicol was offered the choice of the generalship of the Tlaxclan army or to be the sacrifice in their highest ritual. He choose to be the sacrifice, viewing it probably as the greater honor.

These sacrifices were viewed then not as a punishment (criminals were killed or enslaved, but never sacrificed), but as an opportunity to give their final great contribution to their communities. It was believed that the sacrifices were needed to prevent the wrath of the gods and bring anything needed such as the rain or spring. Perhaps the only close honor was to obtain a prisoner in battle.

A typical Aztec battle consisted of both sides coming upon each other, quickly forming up to charge and then rushing at each other amid fierce cries. Quickly this would break down into many combats between individuals and small groups. Both sides would contend, until one seemed to be gaining an advantage. The other would then break and run, avoiding capture to minimize their enemy’s victory. Often the defeat and capture of a major chief was enough to cause the morale of one side to break.

Many stratagems were used. Feints and deception were common, especially in the battles between the major cities. It was a common maneuver for one side to fake a route and then lead their pursuers past a second force in hiding. This force would then fall on the rear of their pursuers while the routing force rallied. A cunning war chief was considered as valuable as a courageous one. Whoever won, sacrifices were assured and the gods appeased.

If there was no war occurring, then an artificial war was instituted to assure sacrifices and give the warriors an opportunity to prove their skills. This was incongruously named the “War of Flowers.” Though it was an artificial war those participating in it fought a very real battle. Many died and many more were captured for sacrifice before one group would concede defeat.

Invited to participate were the best Knights and warriors of two or more rival states. The best warriors contended to be able to participate. If he won, a warrior would gain in renown throughout the cities. If he was killed, the warrior was given the honor of cremation. Reserved only for warriors, cremation guaranteed entrance to the special warriors’ heaven. Finally, if defeated and captured a warrior was given the supreme honor of being sacrificed. So popular were these Wars of Flowers that some were repeated annually for years.

The institution of war among the Aztecs evolved into something quite different from that which we perceive. It was foremost a means by which an individual could serve the all important tribe or city. It was an inherently ritualized and mystic event of deep-meaning and necessity. It was the only means by which captives needed to appease their bloodthirsty gods (actually it was the hearts they tore out and offered still throbbing). In a truly collective, military society it was the one area where an individual could gain renown and prestige.

Lockheed A-12

The Lockheed A-12 was a reconnaissance aircraft built for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by Lockheed’s Skunk Works, based on the designs of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. The aircraft was designated A-12, the 12th in a series of internal design efforts for “Archangel”, the aircraft’s internal code name. In 1959 it was selected over Convair’s FISH and Kingfish designs as the winner of Project GUSTO, and was developed and operated under Project Oxcart.

The CIA’s representatives initially favored Convair’s design for its smaller radar cross-section, but the A-12’s specifications were slightly better and its projected cost was much lower. The companies’ respective track records proved decisive. Convair’s work on the B-58 had been plagued with delays and cost overruns, whereas Lockheed had produced the U-2 on time and under budget. In addition, Lockheed had experience running a “black” project.

Three years and seven months after first flight in April 1962, Lockheed and the CIA declared the A-12 ready for operational use at design specifications. The period thus devoted to flight tests was remarkably short, considering the new fields of aircraft performance under exploration. As the A-12s reached each higher Mach number, the support contractors continued correcting defects and making improvements. Everyone concerned gained experience with the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of the vehicle.

With approximately 1000 individuals assigned, a mix of air force, CIA, many varied Contractors such as Car Co, David Clark, EG&G, EK Kodak, Firewel, Honeywell, Magnavox, Perkins Elmer, Pratt & Whitney (aka United Aircraft Co), Ree Co, Sylvania (Blue Dog ECM C&J Engineering (parts supply , Hughes, Hamilton Standard, and of course Lockheed personnel all being involved in some manner or form. That these companies were involved, or what services they performed was probably never known by the vast majority of those assigned to the Area.

The air inlet and related control continued for a long time to present the most troublesome and refractory problem. Numerous attempts failed to find a remedy, even though a special task force concentrated on the task. For a time, there was something approaching despair, and the solution, when finally achieved, they greeted with enormous relief. After all, not every experimental aircraft of advanced performance has survived its flight testing period. The possibility existed of OXCART also failing despite the significant cost and effort expended upon it.

A few dates and figures will serve to mark the progress of events. The year 1963 ended with 573 flights totaling 765 hours, and nine aircraft in the inventory.

On 20 July 1963, the A-12 flew for the first time at Mach 3. In November, it reached Mach 3.2, the design speed, and reached 78,000 feet altitude. The longest sustained flight at design conditions occurred on 3 February 1964; lasting ten minutes at Mach 3.2 and 83,000 feet. The end of 1964 totaled 1,160 flights and 1,616 hours flight time with eleven aircraft available, four of them reserved for testing and seven assigned to the detachment.

Stating the record another way, the A-12 reached Mach 2 after six months of flying; Mach 3 after 15 months. Two years after the first flight the aircraft flew a total of 38 hours at Mach 2, three hours at Mach 2.6, and less than one hour at Mach 3. After three years, Mach 2 time increased to 60 hours, Mach 2.6 to 33 hours, and Mach 3 time to nine hours. Only the test aircraft flew any Mach 3 time. The detachment aircraft remained restricted to Mach 2.9.

As may be seen from the figures, most flights lasted a short duration, averaging little more than an hour each, longer flights unnecessary at this stage of testing. Everyone felt the less seen of the A-12, the better, and short flights helped to preserve the secrecy of the proceedings. It remained virtually impossible for an aircraft of such dimensions and capabilities to remain inconspicuous. At its full speed, OXCART required a turning radius of no less than 86 miles, and at times up to 125 miles. There was no question of staying close to the airfield; its shortest possible flights took it over a vast expanse of territory.

The first long-range, high-speed flight occurred on 27 January 1965. One of the test aircraft flew an hour and fifteen minutes above Mach 3.1 for 2,580 nautical miles total range, at altitudes between 75,600 and 80,000 feet.

The year 1965 saw the test site reach the high point of activity with all the detachment pilots Mach 3.0 qualified. Completion of construction brought it to full physical size with a site population of 1,835. Contractors worked three shifts a day. Lockheed Constellations flew daily flights between the factory in Burbank and the site. The C-47 flew two flights a day between the site and Las Vegas. Now officials began considering how and when and where to use OXCART in its appointed role.

A-12s Lost at Area 51

Following Collins’ crash, the program during this phase lost two more aircraft. On 9 July 1964, Article No. 133 made its final approach to the runway. At an altitude of 500 feet and airspeed of 200 knots, it began a smooth, steady roll to the left. Lockheed test pilot Bill (Dutch 50) could not overcome the roll. At about a 45-degree bank angle and 200-foot altitude he ejected. He swung down to the vertical in the parachute at the same time his feet touched the ground, for what must have been one of the narrower escapes in the perilous history of test piloting.

The primary cause of the accident was a frozen servo for the right outboard roll and pitch control. No news of the crash ever filtered out.

On 28 December 1965, Aircraft No. 126 crashed immediately after takeoff and was destroyed. Detachment pilot Mele Vojvodich (Dutch 30) ejected safely at an altitude of 150 feet. Like what happened to Bill Park, Vojvodich’s parachute opened at the same time his feet touched the runway. He suffered a sprained ankle.

The accident investigation board determined that a flight line electrician had improperly connected the yaw and pitch gyros had in effect reversed the controls. This time Mr. McCone directed the Office of Security to investigate the possibility of sabotage. While discovered no evidence of sabotage, they found indications of negligence. The manufacturer of the gyro earlier warned Lockheed of the possibility of connecting the mechanism could engage in reverse. No one acted or even an elementary precaution such as painting the contacts different colors. Again, no publicity occurred related to the accident.

Besides the pilot narrowly escaping death, the accident proved spectacular in another way. The A-12 aircraft required a special fuel with a high flash point and thermal stability. The fuel, JP-7 (Jet Propellant 7), required a radioactive Cesium additive as a stealth feature to reduce the radar signature of its exhaust plumes. Everyone referred to the additive as Panther Piss.

The fuel also used triethylborane (TEB) to ignite the engines. This additive ignited when it met the air. TEB produced a characteristic green flame seen during engine ignition. When Mele Vojvodich’s plane crashed on the runway at Groom Lake, ice covered the runway. The crash released the triethylborane that ignited as it spread beneath the ice. By the time the rescue vehicles could respond, the burning TEB covered a large area beneath the ice near the crash site.

At the time of Vojvodich’s crash, Col Slip Slater (Dutch 11), commander of the 1129th SAS at Groom Lake was in California visiting his daughter during the Christmas holiday, leaving Colonel Holbury in command at the facility. Maj Harold Burgeson was on duty at the Ops building when the accident occurred. Hearing that Mele had just crashed, he headed for the Ops vehicle at a dead run. Just as he reached the outside gate, Col Holbury screeched to a halt in his staff car, picked him up, and they went to the site together. After assuring that Vojvodich was OK, they looked at the wreckage before going to see him. The aircraft was grossly out of trim. Project Test Pilot, Denny Sullivan was in another station wagon monitoring the take-off and narrowly missed Mel when he drove to the crash site.

Maj Roger Andersen was on duty in the command post monitoring the tower frequencies during take-off when he heard the aircraft crash and rushed out on the lakebed. He saw Vojvodich land quite close to where the plane crashed. He witnessed one of the fire trucks narrowly miss running over Vojvodich in its rush to get to the fire.

The accident occurred about dusk, and the fire trucks arrived on the scene quickly. One of the fire trucks rushed quite close to Vojvodich standing and watching the thick black smoke and orange flames boiling from the wreckage. The fire trucks gained control of the flames coming from the wreckage. About that time, Andersen saw fuel from the crash area flowing out onto the lakebed and getting under a thin layer of ice. The TEC ignited on its own and continued burning under the ice with an eerie greenish white flame, looking like a large votive candle as darkness set in at Groom Lake.

Vojvodich merely sprained his ankle when he bailed out, escaping death by inches. When he returned home to Los Angeles, his wife, Carol, asked him about his limping. He told her that he sprained his ankle playing tennis.

Major Burgeson served as a member of the accident board where the Lockheed team determined the SAS connections accidentally reversed, causing the plane to misinterpret the pitch and yaw signals. A few days later, base commander Colonel. Slater, the project pilots, Major Burgeson, and Lockheed test pilot Bill Park went to Beale AFB to check the cable reversal out in Beale’s new simulator for the SR-71. Mele Vojvodich and a colonel from Wright-Patterson AFB accompanied them.

During Project OXCART, one of the air force and CIA’s most loyal defenders of their careers was BGen Jack C. Ledford. On August 1958, General Ledford received an assignment to deputy chief of staff for weapons effects and tests, Headquarters, Defense Atomic Support Agency, Washington, DC.

He left this position in 1961 to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, graduating with distinction in August 1962. Washington during his tour of duty, he earned a master of business administration in management from The George Washington University.

In September 1962, he served as an air commander with the 1040th Air Force Field Activity Squadron at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, DC. Following that, he became the Director of special projects, Headquarters Air Force, making him the director of the Office of Special Activities, DD/S&T for Project Oxcart at Area 51.

Ledford was newly assigned to the CIA and leading OSA in 1962 when he took the request to the Special Group to get authorization for the 14 October 1962 flight over Cuba. He met stiff resistance, however, held his ground against the “do-nothing, worry a lot crowd.” Everyone acted apprehensive after a SAC U-2 strayed slightly over Russia and the CIA lost a U-2 over China that summer.

Bobby Kennedy came to his rescue and insisted on a vote up or down. The Special Group approved the mission and caught the Russian missiles in Cuba. The rest was history.

When Mele Vojvodich bailed out on takeoff, Jack Ledford and Dr. Albert D. “Bud” Wheelon, Ph.D., Director for Science and Technology at CIA immediately flew to Los Angeles and picked up Kelly Johnson en route to Area 51.

On the way up, Johnson started bitching bout the quality of the CIA’s operational pilots.

General Ledford took issue, and it ended up with Wheelon breaking up a fistfight between General Ledford and Kelly Johnson in the plane’s small cabin as they headed to Groom Lake.

Ledford always stood up for his people and good reason. It turned out that Kelly Johnson’s people caused the crash by inserting the two augmentation rate gyros in backward on Vojvodich plane. (The author, TD Barnes [[Thunder), CIA pilot Frank Murray (Dutch 20), and Roger Andersen attended General Ledford’s funeral in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Wheelon attended as well and told this story as part of his eulogy for the general.

While about fuels, another occurrence comes to mind. In 1958, Shell Oil vice president Jimmy Doolittle arranged for the company developing the fuel for the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret Lockheed A-12 spy plane. The A-12 needed a low-volatility fuel that wouldn’t evaporate at high-altitude. Manufacturing several hundred thousand gallons of the new fuel required the petroleum by products Shell commonly used to make Flit insect repellant, causing a nationwide shortage of that product that year.

In July 1966, Lockheed made a fourth launch attempt from M-21 (60–6941) with 60–6940 flying chase. Thus, the second A-12 converted to an M-21 for launching the D-21 departed Groom Lake on 30 July 1966. Lockheed Test Pilot Bill Park piloted the aircraft, and Lockheed engineer Ray Torrick the LCO flew back seat for launching the drone.

The mother ship and drone went feet wet at Point Mugu, California and launched the drone over the Pacific. Following launch, the drone pitched down and struck the M-21 Mothership, breaking it in half. Pilot Bill Park and LCO (Launch Control Officer) Ray Torrick stayed with the plane a short time before ejecting over the Pacific Ocean. Both made a safe ejection. However, Ray Torrick opened his helmet visor by mistake, and his suit filled up with water which caused him to drown.

This terrible personal and professional loss drove Kelly Johnson to cancel the M-21/D-21program. This accident also prompted water survival training by the A-12 pilots based at Groom Lake. Under the supervision of 1129th SAS commander, Col Hugh Slater, the pilots, wearing their flight suits, lifted high above the waters of Lake Mead on a parasail towed by a United States Coast Guard whaler. Colonel Slater quickly aborted the training when some of the fully suited pilots almost drowned after dropping from the parasail into the water.

In January 1967, while returning to Area 51 from a routine training flight, A-12 Article #125 crashed near Leith, Nevada. A faulty gauge had allowed the jet to run out of fuel 70 miles short of Groom Lake. Walt Ray (Dutch 45) ejected, however, failed to separate from his seat, killing him on impact with the ground. Walt Ray had married only three months earlier.

Capt Charlie Trapp was in Las Vegas with the UH-1 helicopter when he received a call that Walt Ray was missing. He gathered his crew and a Nellis flight surgeon and started the search. Dark mountain terrain and high winds made it difficult. The H-43 searched from Area 51. They called off the search because the H-43 was low on fuel and there was no sign of fire nor were emergency radio signals heard. They rescheduled first light ops for the next day. He took an F-105 pilot and flight surgeon with him and his Pararescue jump crew. The F-105 pilot thought he knew the approximate crash location.

They flew the UH-1 to the area and found the A-12 very soon after arriving. The drag chute had deployed. They deployed the PJs to search the area and the aircraft and discovered that the ejection seat and Walt were missing.

They searched the rest of the day without success and planned the next day’s search with several agencies. They started at the point of impact and searched back along the flight path. Trapp’s UH-1 crew flew past Ray that morning and did not see him due to shadows caused by the low sun angle. Later in the day, the C-47 crew saw a sun reflection from his suit or visor, and they directed us to the site where they landed and picked up Ray. He was still in his ejection seat. They took him to Nellis and his new bride, Diane.

They later returned to search for the canopy and the camera–it took 15 days to find them using horses as well.

The Loss of Pilots Continued

On 27 September 1967, James S. Simon, Jr., flew chase for a night sortie of the TA-12, the two-seat A-12 trainer affectionately called the Titanium Goose, flown by CIA pilot Jack Layton and air force pilot Harold Burgeson. As the TA-12 approached the south end of the runway, Simon’s F-101B struck the ground and exploded near the south rim pad.

Layton, Dutch 12, the pilot occupied the front cockpit and Burgeson, the instructor pilot the rear. Jim Simon, the chase pilot, flew the F-101B (56–0286). After the trainer had become safely airborne and all systems checked normal, Simon routinely flew around in the local area to await their return.

Layton and Burgeson completed their mission and returned to Groom Lake where Layton started an instrument letdown for a full stop landing. During the letdown, Burgeson called the chase and informed Simon of their return with no problems. Simon asked for their position, and Burgeson gave it to him, again stating all systems normal and the A-12 trainer not needing any assistance. Simon responded that he wanted to find them at least.

Layton turned the trainer on final approach and received clearance for a full stop landing. In the cockpit, neither could physically see the wings or engines. On short final, a sudden explosion occurred off the trainer’s right wing. Layton and Burgeson saw the flash and felt the concussion. Layton instinctively stop cocked the right engine, lit the left afterburner, and said, “Burgie be ready to bail out.” Burgeson replied, “That was not us, Jack. It was the chase. If you keep this thing flying straight, I will restart the right engine.” Burgeson got the engine started, and they circled for a landing. Both avoided looking at the fire as they approached the runway and Layton made a smooth landing. Until they called for landing clearance, the tower operators thought it was A-12 trainer aircraft that crashed.

No one ever knew for sure what caused the crash. What the pilots knew was that joining up with a dark, unlit airplane on a night at final approach airspeed is not easy. The aircraft contacted the ground in a flat attitude near the South Trim Pad of the Groom Lake landing strip. The manner of crashing suggests that Simon got a little low and flew into the ground. They could only speculate that he might have overshot a little and dropped down for clearance or that something in the cockpit, such as a warning light distracted him. This was speculation that served no useful purpose. In any case, that night the OXCART project lost an exceptional officer, an excellent pilot, and a good friend. Simon left a spouse and three sons. Simon’s widow never remarried and remained in their Las Vegas home until she died in 2006.

Also in 1967, Operation BLACK SHIELD meteorologist Weldon “Walt” King was TDY from Groom Lake to Kadena when killed in an F-101 VooDoo during a weather flight. He met with bad weather during which he lost the tail of his aircraft. King survived bailing out only to have the plane crash on top of him.

The air force lost the third YF-12A on 24 June 1971 in an accident at Edwards AFB when a fire broke out while Lt Col Ronald J. Layton and systems operator William A. Curtis approached the traffic pattern. A fuel line fracture caused by metal fatigue enveloped the entire aircraft in flames on the base leg, forcing both crew members to eject from Article 936 on moments before it crashed and burned near Barstow, California.

An impressive demonstration of the A-12’s capability occurred on 21 December 1966 when Lockheed test pilot Bill Park flew 10,198 statute miles in six hours. The aircraft left the test area in Nevada and flew northward over Yellowstone National Park, thence eastward to Bismarck, North Dakota, and on to Duluth, Minnesota, where it then turned south and passed Atlanta en route to Tampa, Florida. The plane turned northwest and headed towards Portland, Oregon and then southwest to Nevada. Again, the flight turned eastward, passing Denver and St. Louis. Turning around at Knoxville, Tennessee, it passed Memphis in the home stretch back to Nevada. This flight established a record unapproachable by any other aircraft; it began at about the same time a typical government employee started his workday and ended two hours before his quitting time.

Tragedy befell the program during a routine training flight on 5 January 1967 when the fourth aircraft was lost, together with its pilot. The accident occurred during descent about 70 miles from the base. A fuel gauge failed to function properly, and the aircraft ran out of fuel only minutes before landing.

The pilot, Walter Ray, ejected but died when he failed to separate from the ejection seat before impact. The air force located the wreckage on 6 January and recovered Ray’s body a day later.

Through air force channels, the air force released a story to the effect that an air force SR-71, on a routine test flight out of Edwards Air Force Base, was missing and presumed down in Nevada. The announcement identified the pilot as a civilian test pilot, and the newspapers connected him with Lockheed. Flight activity at the base again suspended during an investigation of the causes both for the crash and for the failure of the seat separation device.

It is worth observing that none of the four accidents occurred in the high Mach number, the high-temperature regime of flight. All traditionally involved problems inherent in any aircraft the OXCART was by this time performing at high-speeds, with excellent reliability.


The president received a briefing on 20 July 1959 by Mr. Dulles, General Cabell, Mr. Bissell, Land, General White, Secretary McElroy, Drs. Killian, and Kistiakowsky. The president approved the study’s approach toward gaining intelligence on the Soviet Union and instructed Mr. Bissell to work with the Bureau of the Budget on the funding essential to the continuation of the effort. The choice of contractors hinged on the final design proposal submissions.

A meeting between Mr. Bissell and the Bureau of the Budget personnel on 22 July 1959 ended with the understanding that necessary financial arrangements were forthcoming to carry on the program.

Now the one major step of which design proposal to pursue remained before entering a full-scale development agenda. Lockheed and Convair had both submitted new proposals mid-August 1959. Both were unstaged aircraft differing only in external configuration. Both proposed aircraft would reach an altitude of 90,000 feet, fly at Mach 3.2 with an approximate 4,000-mile range. Both had a similar size, weight, and aerodynamic performance and preferred the P&W J58 engine over the General Electric Corporation J 93 which lacked higher cruise altitude of the J58.

17 August 1959 Comparison of general, characteristics.


Aircraft designation A-12 KINGFISH

Speed Mach 3.2 Mach 3.2

Range (total) 4120 nm 4000 nm

Range (at altitude) 3800 nm 3400 nm

Cruise Altitudes Lockheed Convair

Start 84,500 ft. 85,000 ft.

Mid-range 91,000 ft. 88,000 ft.

End 97,600 ft. 94,000 ft.


Length 102 ft. 79. 5 ft.

Span. 57 ft. 56. 0 ft.

Gross Weight 110,000 lbs. 101, 700 lbs.

Fuel Weight 64, 600 lbs. 62,000 lbs.

Lockheed’s designer, Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson, creator of the U-2 called his new vehicle the A-11. Its design exhibited many innovations.

The designation changed to A-12 to distinguish it from the A-11 designator, for the all metal version proposed initially. Small scale testing predicted the Convair being slightly better at S-Band frequencies.

On 20 August 1959, the joint DOD/air force/CIA source selection group chose the Lockheed design. Initial development, exclusive of engine costs, went to Mr. Bissell at project headquarters with the continuation of the Lockheed arrangement beyond initial development. Continuing the project was contingent on the success of design changes in the A-12 reducing the radar cross section.

The two factors favoring the choice of Lockheed were its substantially lower bid and the company’s experience from the U-2 program. Lockheed was already geared to launch into another highly classified program. It had handled the U-2 program without attracting undue attention in the industry and still possessed a reservoir of labor with the necessary security clearances and was readily available. Lastly, everyone was confident in Mr. Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson and his ability to produce a new vehicle as he had done with the U-2.

The A-12 program was ended on 28 December 1966 — even before Black Shield began in 1967 – due to budget concerns and because of the SR-71, which began to arrive at Kadena in March 1968. The twin-seat SR-71 was heavier and flew slightly lower and slower than the A-12.

The Byzantine Successor States, 1204-1261

The Fourth Crusade left the Byzantine world in utter confusion. Since the empire had never been a Greek national state and violent successions were nothing new, at first many provincials failed to see that what had happened was a foreign conquest, and not a somewhat irregular revolution. The Crusaders promptly chose an emperor who was to assume control over the Byzantine church, bureaucracy, and provinces as the successor of Alexius IV Although the better-informed Byzantines and Venetians realized that the old empire was gone, not even they knew quite what was going to take its place.

In March 1204, before the Crusaders and Venetians made their final assault, they had agreed to let a college of six Crusaders and six Venetians choose a new emperor. The emperor elected was to receive a quarter of both Constantinople and the empire as his domain. The forces of the Crusaders and the Venetians would each receive half of the remainder to hold 25 fiefs in vassalage to the emperor. If a Crusader was elected emperor, as everyone assumed would happen, a Venetian was to be patriarch of Constantinople. After taking the city, but apparently before electing an emperor, the Crusaders and Venetians divided the land among themselves. In broad outline, the partition put the imperial domain in Asia Minor and some of Thrace, the crusader fiefs in Greece, and the Venetian fiefs in the islands, some ports, and Epirus.

In May the electors did choose a Crusader emperor, but not Marquis Boniface of Montferrat, who had led the Crusade and expected to be elected. Boniface had already moved into the Great Palace, attracted some Byzantine supporters, and arranged to marry Isaac II’s widow Margaret-Maria. He had earlier family connections with both the Angeli and the Comneni, and was a man of energy and ability. But the Venetians wanted an emperor who would be easier to control, and joined with some French and German Crusaders to outvote Boniface’s Italian followers. They selected the thirty-one-year-old Count Baldwin of Flanders, who was duly crowned.


At first Baldwin, whom Byzantines called the Latin emperor, held only Constantinople and its immediate hinterland. The rest of the empire was subject partly to its bewildered Byzantine governors, and partly to a bewildering crew of rebels and deposed emperors. Alexius V reigned at Tzurulum in eastern Thrace. The previously deposed Alexius III was at Mosynopolis, from which he controlled western Thrace and the region of Thessalonica. Kaloyan of Bulgaria ruled to the north of the two Alexiuses. The rebel magnate Leo Sgurus held the parts of Greece around Nauplia, Corinth, and Thebes. Crete was apparently held by the men of Boniface of Montferrat, whom Alexius IV seems to have granted it in pronoia during his brief reign.

Rhodes was under another Byzantine magnate, Leo Gabalas. Attalia had been seized by the Italian condottiere Aldobrandini. Three more magnates held the Meander valley: Sabas Asidenus around Priene, the old rebel Theodore Mangaphas around Philadelphia, and in the east Manuel Maurozomes, who had given refuge to the fugitive sultan Kaykhusraw. Northwestern Anatolia was held by Theodore Lascaris, a son-in-law and nominal partisan of Alexius III. The Pontus had just fallen to David and Alexius Comnenus, grandsons of the emperor Andronicus who had been lynched nineteen years before. Alexius Comnenus now proclaimed himself Byzantine emperor at Trebizond.

The Byzantine resistance therefore included three men who claimed to be emperor, Alexius III, Alexius V, and Alexius of Trebizond. Of these Alexius III seemed the most plausible. He certainly hoped to retake Constantinople, and with his son-in-law Theodore Lascaris he could claim footholds in both the Balkans and Asia Minor. But he had been a disappointing ruler and had fled from the Crusaders early on. Alexius V had fled later, but after accomplishing even less. Alexius of Trebizond, descended from a widely detested usurper, was far away in a peripheral province. Although Kaloyan of Bulgaria also called himself emperor and was thinking of bigger things, few Byzantines thought of him as one of themselves. The rebel magnates had purely local ambitions. Byzantium appeared to be smashed beyond repair.

By the same token, the Latin emperor Baldwin had a hard task to create a Latin empire that would be nearly comparable to the Byzantine one his men had wrecked. The Latins had already ruined their new capital by plundering it and giving much of the booty to Venice. The Venetian doge Enrico Dandolo was not even Baldwin’s vassal, though many other Venetians were. Boniface of Montferrat, disappointed at losing the imperial election to Baldwin, remained suspicious of him, though Boniface was consoled with the promise of a vassal kingdom around Thessalonica, then held by Alexius III. After first welcoming the Latin capture of Constantinople as a means of reuniting the Church, Pope Innocent discovered how brutal the conquest had been, and condemned the sack of the city and the Crusaders’ plundering of Byzantine church property.

Once elected, Baldwin found himself one of many adventurers, and only a little stronger than the others. That summer he attacked his most formidable Byzantine enemies, the deposed emperors Alexius III and Alexius V. Fleeing west, Alexius V very reasonably sought an alliance with Alexius III, whose deposer he had after all deposed. Alexius III accepted the offer and married his daughter Eudocia to Alexius V, then had his new ally blinded. This stupid act threw away the best chance fro an early and effective Byzantine resistance to the Latins. As Baldwin marched to Mosynopolis, Alexius III retreated before him.

But the Crusaders could be as pigheaded as the Byzantines. The Latins emperor insisted on marching to Thessalonica, ignoring the protests of Boniface, whose kingdom it was supposed to be. Boniface retaliated by attacking Baldwin’s men around Adrianople. This dangerous dispute was hastily arbitrated by the crusader barons and the Venetians. Boniface agreed to leave Baldwin’s domain and to sell Venice his holdings in Create for a thousand marks, while Baldwin let Boniface occupy Thessalonica and help the Crusaders claim their fiefs in Greece. Toward the end of the summer, the confused Thessalonians received Boniface as their king.

Among the Byzantines accompanying Boniface was Michael Ducas, the cousin of Alexius III who had rebelled against him in 1200. In early autumn, however, Michael left for Epirus to answer an appeal from a local governor related to him. Arriving to find his relative dead, Michael stayed at Arta to organize Byzantine resistance in Epirus. Mountainous Epirus, though not rich, was easy to defend against the Latins, and Michael, though a bastard, had his connection with the Angelus dynasty in his favor, and a driving ambition at a time when many others were uncertain what to do next.

Meanwhile Alexius III retreated to Greece, where he joined forces with the rebel magnate Leo Sgurus. Sgurus married Alexius’s daughter Eudocia, undeterred by Alexius’s treatment of her previous husband Alexius V Alexius V was now dead, having been captured after his blinding and killed by the emperor Baldwin. Before the Byzantine alliance between the deposed emperor and the rebel magnate had taken definite shape, King Boniface of Thessalonica advanced into Greece. He captured Alexius III and drove Sgurus into the Peloponnesus, besieging him in the Acrocorinth, Corinth’s almost impregnable upper town. Thus the two former Byzantine emperors, Alexius III and Alexius V, were put out of contention.

While Boniface expanded his vassal Kingdom of Thessalonica, the emperor Baldwin took over his designated holdings in Thrace and prepared to claim his Anatolian domains from Theodore Lascaris. Theodore, apparently still professing loyalty to his father-in-law Alexius III, had organized an army in the northwest. But Theodore had plenty of Byzantine rivals to his rear. The rebel magnates remained active in the south, while the self-proclaimed emperor Alexius of Trebizond had sent his brother David with an army that captured coastal Paphlagonia. Against this divided Byzantine opposition, the Latins crossed the Hellespont and defeated Lascaris near Poemanenum, south of the Sea of Marmara. They went on to besiege Lascaris’s city of Prusa.

The Latins were apparently carrying everything before them. Michael Ducas of Epirus submitted to Pope Innocent to protect his fledgling state. Kaloyan of Bulgaria also made an agreement with the pope, accepting the authority of the papacy in return for a royal crown from Rome. As a nominal member of the western church, Kaloyan then offered an alliance to the Latin emperor Baldwin. But Baldwin refused, annoyed that Kaloyan had been taking border territory in Thrace.

The Crusaders seemed to need no allies. In early 1205 Baldwin’s brother Henry led reinforcements into Asia Minor, captured Adramyttium, and defeated the magnate Theodore Mangaphas. In the Balkans King Boniface of Thessalonica conquered Euboea, central Greece, and most of the eastern Peloponnesus, where he continued besieging Sgurus in the Acrocorinth. The western Peloponnesus fell to some Crusaders recently arrived from Syria, who defeated an army apparently brought from Epirus by Michael Ducas.

Rebuffed by the emperor Baldwin, Kaloyan of Bulgaria incited the Byzantines in Latin Thrace to revolt. They expelled the Latins from Adrianople and several other towns. Baldwin, with whatever troops his brother had not taken to Asia Minor, marched on Adrianople and besieged it. In April Kaloyan arrived with his army and attacked the Latin emperor. The Bulgarians routed the overconfident and outnumbered Latins, killing many of them and capturing Baldwin himself. The aged doge Dandolo died soon afterward. After so much rapid success, suddenly the Latin Empire seemed on the verge of collapse.

Baldwin’s brother Henry hurried back to Constantinople to assume the regency of the Latin Empire and call for help from the West. He had to abandon practically all his conquests in Anatolia to Theodore Lascaris. Kaloyan, who already held most of Thrace, turned on the Kingdom of Thessalonica and sacked Serres before King Boniface could arrive from the Peloponnesus. But Kaloyan made the mistake of mistreating and fighting his Byzantine allies, and the Latins profited by recapturing some of Thrace. Since Kaloyan failed to exploit his victory, the main beneficiary of the Latin rout was Theodore Lascaris. The Latins had already broken the power of one of his rivals, Theodore Mangaphas, whom Lascaris soon took prisoner. When Alexius of Trebizond’s brother David sent an army against Theodore, Lascaris defeated it and captured its commander. Probably after this victory, Theodore proclaimed himself Byzantine emperor at Nicaea.

Now that the new emperor of Nicaea had defeated the forces of Alexius of Trebizond, while Alexius III was Boniface’s captive, Theodore had as good a claim as anyone to the imperial title. Aged about thirty-one, with no less ability than his rivals and more vision, Theodore had already built up a functioning successor state in northwestern Anatolia from next to nothing. Later in 1205 the Nicene emperor defeated his two competitors to the south, Sabas Asidenus and Manuel Maurozomes. By early 1206 Theodore made peace with Maurozomes, who kept only the border forts of Chonae and Laodicea as a vassal of the recently restored sultan Kaykhusraw. Theodore tried to secure his claim as the leading Byzantine pretender by inviting the exiled patriarch of Constantinople John to leave the rebel-held part of Thrace for Nicaea. But the patriarch would not desert his embattled countrymen, and in any case died in spring 1206.

The same spring Kaloyan raided Thrace with a ferocity that drove the Byzantine rebels into the arms of the Latin regent Henry. The rebels surrendered Adrianople to Theodore Branas, a Byzantine general in Henry’s service, and allowed Henry and his men to reoccupy most of Thrace. Having learned that his brother Baldwin had died in Bulgarian captivity, Henry had himself crowned Latin emperor. Although the Latin Empire he inherited was gravely weakened, he was a much more gifted leader than his brother and set about regaining what had been lost.

Henry tried to restrain Theodore Lascaris of Nicaea by allying with David Comnenus, the last Byzantine rival bordering on Theodore’s territory. The Nicene emperor was marching on David’s city of Heraclea Pontica when the Latins attacked him from the rear, and he had to turn back to chase them off. In the winter the Latins invaded Theodore’s lands again, capturing Nicomedia and Cyzicus from him. He retaliated by persuading Kaloyan to attack Latin Thrace. In spring 1207 Henry had to withdraw troops from Anatolia to rescue Adrianople from the Bulgarians. To obtain a badly needed truce from Theodore, the Latin emperor agreed to return Nicomedia and Cyzicus to him.

By this time all the surviving combatants were becoming exhausted. The Latins seemed to have Kaloyan at bay, until the Bulgarians ambushed and killed Boniface of Thessalonica in late summer. Kaloyan was besieging Thessalonica when he too suddenly died in the early autumn. Since both Boniface and Kaloyan left only underage sons, a group of rebellious barons took over Thessalonica, and Kaloyan’s nephew Boril usurped the Bulgarian throne. Both Bulgaria and Thessalonica were incapacitated.

By early 1208 the major players eliminated some minor ones from the game and made matters a little less chaotic. Leo Sgurus, cornered on the Acrocorinth by the Latins, committed suicide by riding his horse off a cliff. The sultan Kaykhusraw took Attalia from the freebooter Aldobrandini. Venice and its vassals finished conquering most of the islands except Crete, which had been seized by the Genoese. Theodore Lascaris chose a patriarch, nominally of Constantinople but resident at Nicaea, who crowned him emperor, nominally of the Byzantine Empire but at Nicaea for the present.

That summer the Latin emperor Henry crushed a raid by Boril of Bulgaria, secured Thrace, and took Philippopolis. Henry then marched against the rebel barons of Thessalonica. In the first part of 1209 he suppressed their rebellion by a combination of diplomacy and warfare, installed his brother Eustace at Thessalonica as regent for Boniface’s infant son, and received the homage of the Latin vassals throughout Greece. To avoid trouble with the resurgent Latins, Michael Ducas of Epirus married his daughter to Eustace and made a formal submission to Henry.

After several years of anarchy, the principal powers within former Byzantine territory had established themselves. Except for Genoese Crete, independent Rhodes, and Turkish Attalia, nearly all the lands that had been Byzantine around 1200 were in the hands of four rulers. The emperor of Nicaea Theodore ruled western Anatolia. The emperor of Trebizond Alexius held the Crimea and the northern Anatolian coast, including Paphlagonia under his brother David. Michael Ducas, content to do without a title, ruled Epirus. The remainder of Greece and almost all of Thrace were subject to the Latin emperor Henry and his vassals, who had subdued the Bulgarians and made the Latin Empire the leading state in the region. Though the three main Byzantine successes held about half of what had been Byzantine territory, they remained rivals.

“Terrible Terry” Allen

The case of Maj. Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen represented another challenge to the Marshall system. In this situation, Marshall disagreed with his top men in Europe, Eisenhower and Bradley, over the nature of generalship in the military of the nascent American superpower. The point of disagreement was what to do about Gen. Allen.

“Terrible Terry” Allen was as Old Army as they came, a tough, rumpled, hard-driving, hard-drinking cavalryman who had ridden the dusty trails of the American West. As a young lieutenant in 1913, he led six soldiers on a ride against thirty border-crossing Mexican cattle rustlers and captured or killed all of them. In World War I he achieved some notoriety in the Army for refusing to be medically evacuated after being shot in the face. In 1920, he represented the Army in a three-hundred-mile “cowboy vs. cavalryman” horse race across central Texas, which he won in 101 hours and 56 minutes of riding. Allen was in the same class as Eisenhower at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff School, but while Eisenhower was ranked first, Allen was a bottom-dweller, placing at 221 out of 241 students. Eisenhower didn’t mind taking a drink—he had made bathtub gin at Fort Meade, Maryland, during Prohibition, and while with the 15th Infantry Regiment at Fort Lewis, Washington, before the war, he had declared “Beer Barrel Polka” to be the regiment’s official marching song. But Ike did not consume alcohol like Allen, who could become so staggering drunk that an aide remembered that after one party he “couldn’t get into his jeep under his own power.”

Marshall was aware of Allen’s excesses but believed that his ability as a combat leader was more important. In a prewar letter, he described Allen as one of the few officers he knew who were “of that unusual type who enthuse all of their subordinates and carry through almost impossible tasks.” This was a trait that Marshall knew was likely to be especially helpful in the early phases of a war, as an unprepared America sent green troops into battle. In October 1940, Marshall made Allen a brigadier general despite the opposition of several subordinates. “Terry Allen, nobody wanted to give a star to and the General [Marshall] insisted on it,” recalled Merrill Pasco, a Marshall aide during World War II. “Terry Allen is one of those I recall General Marshall pushed along over the objection of G-1,” the chief of personnel. Lt. Col. Allen was being chewed out by the commanding colonel of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, and perhaps facing a court-martial, when a telegram arrived notifying Allen that he had been jumped to brigadier general—and so immediately outranked the officer berating him.

Marshall kept a protective eye on Allen. Two years later, while in the midst of overseeing the American entrance into a global war, he took the time to send a personal note to Allen expressing concern about his consumption of alcohol. “I must explain to you that there had come to me from several different sources an indication that you had been drinking,” Marshall wrote. “I don’t mean you were appearing under the influence of liquor, but I do mean drinking in the daytime.” Yet he left Allen in command of the 1st Infantry Division, which Allen loved leading. “It is the most honorable place in the most honorable Army in the world, the commander of the First Division,” he had once told a group of soldiers new to the division.

Marshall’s instincts were correct on both counts. Allen was a rascal, irritating his superiors, but he also would be one of the best combat leaders the U.S. Army had in its first year of operations in Africa and Europe. Early on the morning of March 17, 1943, not long after taking over from the ousted Fredendall, Lt. Gen. George Patton arrived at a frontline position to watch Allen’s 1st Infantry Division launch an attack on the Germans in Tunisia. Seeing no troop movement or other signs of imminent attack, Patton stormed off to find Allen. “What the hell is this?” Patton snarled at him, believing that the lack of perceivable movement meant the assault was proceeding hesitantly. To the contrary, Allen replied to Patton: He had decided to attack earlier than planned. His troops were not only moving out; they already were standing on their first set of objectives. Allen had out-Pattoned Patton and was in the vanguard of the war’s first clear American-led victory over the Germans.

Yet Allen found it difficult to get along with the new Army way of operating. He tried to toe the Marshall-Eisenhower line about being a team player, but his heart was not in it. “I think the division has done fairly well today,” he began in an impromptu post-battle press conference under a Tunisian almond tree. He started by saying the right things: “I want to stress the idea that whatever it did was due to teamwork. Everybody in the division deserves credit. The artillery deserves credit, and so do the engineers, the tank destroyers, and the Ranger battalion—and don’t forget the medics and the birds who drive the trucks.” But he could keep this up for only so long, and soon he veered into finger-pointing sarcasm. “I don’t want anybody to think I’m sore about air support. I guess the Air Force here has a lot of demands on it. I guess maybe there was some other division on the front that was attacked by two or three Panzer divisions and the Air Force had to help them first”—which everyone present knew was not the case. He even took a pop at another Army unit, Orlando Ward’s 1st Armored Division, which held an adjacent sector. “I guess they had motor trouble,” he sneered.

Gen. Allen’s finest day of the war came on July 11, 1943, the day after the Americans landed in Sicily. It was the largest amphibious landing in history—and it was in trouble. The Americans had stormed ashore in south-central Sicily, with paratroopers and British forces to the east, but high winds and heavy seas had impeded the landings. German forces were counterattacking fiercely, rolling down the island ridgelines toward the Americans splashing ashore. Panzer tanks pushed to within two thousand yards of the water’s edge. Allen’s infantrymen had burrowed down as the Panzers passed and then attacked the following German foot soldiers. Most of his artillery had not yet come ashore, so Allen called for naval gunfire. Cruisers and destroyers just beyond the breakers, nearly running aground, began to engage the Panzers. That night, when elements of the division were fighting hard just to hold their positions, Allen surprised them with an aggressive order: “THE DIVISION ATTACKS AT MIDNIGHT.” It was a brilliant move. Allen could issue the order with some confidence because, atypically for the Army, he long had emphasized training in night fighting, reasoning that some soldiers would be lost in the confusion, but ultimately far fewer than would be killed in a prolonged daylight assault. His sense of combat timing was impeccable: The division’s attack surprised German reinforcements, who were marshaling in assembly areas for their own attack, planned for dawn.

Even Allen’s nemesis, Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, was impressed by this surprising rout of the Germans, writing later with evident mixed feelings,

I question whether any other U.S. division could have repelled that charge in time to save the beach from tank penetration. Only the perverse Big Red One with its no less perverse commander was both hard and experienced enough to take that assault in stride. A greener division might easily have panicked and seriously embarrassed the landing.

Bradley only indirectly praised Allen’s leadership. He respected what Allen’s division had done, but never went out of his way to praise the way Allen had led it.

After the beachhead was secure, Allen led the 1st Infantry Division into Sicily’s hot, mountainous interior, ultimately waging a weeklong battle in the island’s center, near Troina, the highest town in Sicily and the anchor point of the German defensive line. It was a difficult encounter with an adversary that launched no fewer than twenty-four counterattacks against Allen’s division. Westmoreland, whose artillery battalion was attached to Allen’s division, was thrown into the air and nearly killed when his jeep ran over a German Teller mine. Allen and the division won the fight, which in Patton’s estimation was “the hardest battle” of the Sicily campaign and, in the opinion of John Lucas, the toughest of the war to that point. Allen later wrote that German prisoners reported “they had been ordered to hold Troina, at all costs.” The week that Troina fell, Allen appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

Then came an astonishing move. As the battle was ending, Bradley removed Allen as commander of the 1st Infantry Division. Allen was replaced by Maj. Gen. Clarence Huebner, a Marshall favorite who was available, having been fired the previous month as deputy chief of staff to Gen. Harold Alexander, apparently as a result of Huebner’s unwillingness to mutely accept the British commander’s persistent disparagement of American troops. Bradley emphasized the point by also relieving Allen’s assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Adding to the injury, very little explanation was offered to Allen, who was crushed. The division artillery commander recalled that after the relief “it was painful to see Terry break down. Many wondered if he would ever recover.” He had been “shanghaied,” Allen would later bitterly tell an aide. It is heartbreaking to read the puzzled notes Allen wrote in pencil to his wife in the wake of his relief as he tried to figure out what had happened and why. He went to see Patton, who unhelpfully told him that perhaps he was being moved out in preparation for promoting him to corps command.

Why was Terry Allen fired? This is a question that bears some examination. His relief cannot be attributed to battlefield failure, for he was among the most successful field commanders the Army had in the European theater in 1942–43.

Official accounts of why Bradley relieved Allen are unclear, and the reasoning given in Bradley’s two autobiographies are “inconsistent and confusing,” observed Maj. Richard Johnson in a 2009 review of the historical record. In various accounts, it has been explained that Allen was tired (Eisenhower’s version), that his troops were undisciplined (one of Bradley’s versions), or that he was too aggressive against the Germans (another, less credible Bradley version). But the real reason seems to be simply that Bradley and Eisenhower did not like his type. Bradley thought of Allen as the sort of general who should not be tolerated, writing that “Allen had become too much of an individualist to submerge himself without friction in the group undertakings of war.”

But the new men had not read their own boss well. Marshall, as it happened, had visited the 1st Division just before it headed to Sicily and had come away impressed, noting in a letter that it had “won the respect and admiration of all who have seen it in action.” When a despondent Allen arrived in the United States, Marshall effectively overruled Bradley’s decision. By the end of September, Marshall was looking for a division for Allen to command. Ultimately he gave Allen the 104th Infantry Division, then training in the United States. Unlike many other training generals, Allen would be allowed to deploy overseas with the division and take it into combat. This move was not popular with the generals of the new school. “Terry was nothing but a tramp,” said Gen. Wade Haislip, a longtime friend of Eisenhower’s who served as chief of Army personnel early in the war. “He was a classmate of mine, but he was just a tramp. . . . Old Terry Allen got relieved for cause and he [Marshall] brought him back home and gave him another division.”

A year later, Allen led the 104th Division into Normandy and across France into Germany. Joe Collins, his corps commander, considered Allen a “problem child” but came to judge Allen’s new unit, the 104th, as “just as good” as his old one, the 1st Division. True to form, Allen was especially impressive in launching a series of night attacks, breaking through German defenses and demonstrating the sharp training he had given his soldiers. An aide to Gen. Courtney Hodges noted in a headquarters diary, “The whole artillery section functions beautifully according to the book and what the General [Hodges] particularly likes thus far of what he has seen of the 104th is their ability to button up tight and hold the place tight once they have taken it. There is no record yet of the 104th giving ground.”

In the short term, Marshall would prevail, with Allen being back in a combat leadership role. But in the long run, in shaping the future of the U.S. Army, Eisenhower and, even more, Bradley would win this argument. There would be few if any Terry Allen types rising to the top in the Army after World War II. Eisenhower and Bradley wanted cooperative team players, not go-it-alone mavericks. Ike believed that the sprawling nature of modern warfare made such nonconformism dangerous. “Misfits defeat the purpose of the command organization essential to the supply and control of the vast land, air, sea, and logistical forces that must be brought to bear against the enemy,” he later wrote.