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 Post subject: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2017 5:41 pm 
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Starting with this one. Propaganda leading to myth, even back in their time.



Remember the Thespians. ;)

(and the other Greek city states)

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:34 am 
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The movie 300 is not an accurate historical account - but it is *very* accurate on how the Greeks *felt* about the war against the Persians.

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 9:44 am 
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I learned the Spartans were quite spartan and were effective militarily, though apparently never militarily effective enough to dominate the rest of the archipelago.

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:46 pm 
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Kameolontti wrote:
The movie 300 is not an accurate historical account - but it is *very* accurate on how the Greeks *felt* about the war against the Persians.


Not even considering the obviously fictional 300 movie, the Spartans had a great PR campaign for a VERY long time. When it came to Spartans vs other ancient Greek city states it was their public image, as much as anything else, which gave them the same reputation back in the day.

Epaminondas finally recognized that large Spartan armies cruised by on the Spartiates' reputation. They were certainly no pushover in their day, just like many Greek armies, but their biggest asset was their reputation and their battlefield opponents' tendency to flee, early in a battle, due to that rep.

So the Theban general knew that if he concentrated on breaking the Spartiate unit as early as possible, then not only would he avoid some of his units fleeing early, but would cause it to happen to the Spartan army. He stacked his best on the left, opposing the Spartiates he knew would get the 'place of honor' on the right, and mowed them down. As expected, the rest fled.

I'm surprised it took them so long to figure that out, but it may just be modern hindsight looking clear and the Greek military traditions of the time being so rigid. Being placed on the left of the battle line was to be considered inferior in recognition, after all.


The linked video does a good job of breaking it all down. Over the years, I've been surprised at the amount of denial and pushback I've received when telling people some of those points regarding the Spartans not being so militarily different and/or greater than other Greek armies as the myths imply.

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 5:09 pm 
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Greek warfare was very ritualised, I believe, until around the midpoint of the Peloponnesian War. Epaminondas was just after, at that point I guess it was less about proving your manliness and more about winning battles.

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Thu Nov 30, 2017 8:19 am 
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EUBanana wrote:
Greek warfare was very ritualised, I believe, until around the midpoint of the Peloponnesian War. Epaminondas was just after, at that point I guess it was less about proving your manliness and more about winning battles.


Most warfare ever isn't about cutting down 80% of the opposing formation.

Most warfare ever is about trying to deter enemy charges and committing to your charges in a way that hopefully routes the enemy before casualties mount too high.

Actual high intensity charge to charge kind of warfare was called by medieval Italians "bad war"

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The push of pike would continue until one of the opposing formations routed or fled, which would generally lead to massive casualties. Each man pressed on the one in front, and so sometimes the formations would crush against each other and many pikemen would have to fight in closer melee combat.[1][2] The Italians referred to this as 'Bad War' after seeing Swiss pikemen become locked in thick combat, where because both formations refused to back down both sides lost huge numbers of men in the bloody melee. Rodeleros along with the Doppelsöldner were used in order to break push of pike engagements.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Push_of_pike

This is related to how perhaps most historical charges weren't running charges. A good charge could simply mean unwavering advance in good formation though due to terrain and incoming fire and skirmishers the formation could often break apart. In some cases it also made sense to commit to a final sprint to minimize the most lethal point blank fire but this starts to be a bigger issue when firearms become common.

There is certain imposing factor about a tight organized formation of thousands of enemy soldiers marching at you without wavering, disregarding their losses. It's a game of "chicken" - the defenders hope that the charge will lose momentum and they want the charging party to waver and turn back, hence they try to deter them. Failing to do so often causes a rout in the defenders, the front rows become demoralized in the face of such a foe that disregards casualties.

Being charged by heavy cavalry simply multiplies the morale impact as when the cavalry has sufficient mass the earth itself will tremble beneath their hooves.


So, indeed, morale is what makes or breaks a formation and once a formation routs it easily throws in a chain reaction: "the left flank has fallen, the enemy is moving to block our escape". Few things are as demoralizing to a soldier than seeing your escape route cut by the enemy. Soldiers could find courage from the knowledge that there was a hill or woods behind them into which they could flee - perhaps orderly fighting withdrawal - in case things went south.

If I remember my ancient Greek warfare reading properly, Spartans always placed themselves in the right wing of battle. It was customary in Greek warfare that the strongest units were on right wing and weakest on left wing. Hence Spartans would position themselves to face the weakest wing of the enemy and many times their enemy would be demoralized simply from hearing that their wing was facing Spartans. The relentless charge of Spartans would then finish the job and they did fight hard and were really difficult to rout so they could call the bluff too, it wasn't just rumors.

And this was one of the weak points of their society. Because they'd refuse to be routed they would often fight in tactically difficult position suffering heavy casualties which their society could not easily replace. As wars were fought both their training rites and the battles they fought reduced their population significantly.

Eventually Spartans faced the Thebans at Battle of Leuctra, the Thebans positioned themselves to face the Spartans, "tough against tough" so to speak.



Ultimately the Spartans show us what we can see from other militaristic martial cultures. If your culture revolves around war and military, you will not be the worst of armies out there. In fact your troops will in general have higher morale than most anyone else. Your culture will also produce a larger than usual number of elite troops.

However, warriors exist in most cultures. Just because someone is a farmer by trade doesn't mean that he cannot be tough as nails or train to use his weapons well.

We see this with various cultures: Prussians, Samurai, Vikings etc., these cultures will generate a high military reputation that is actually based on real merits but since most people don't understand warfare the myths are eventually blown out of proportion.

And eventually a similarly sized army of dedicated conscripts can face a 'warrior culture' army and defeat it. Once you command large forces the individual heroes are lost in the masses and no society can command such overwhelming genetic superiority over another that the latter cannot roughly match their military prowess with sufficient training and equipment. Ultimately battles are won through leadership, communications and logistics.

Otherwise one of these martial cultures would rule the entire world by now. But they don't, because no matter how martial your culture is, you cannot underestimate a fully equipped farmer defending his family. 5 years more of martial training count very little when the other guy doesn't flinch, when he stands his ground and you find yourself in tactically inferior position.

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Thu Nov 30, 2017 10:57 am 
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I also think the ancient Greek warriors get underestimated by some.

They assume since most of them were land owning farmers, that they performed like last minute militia. I don't think that gives them as much credit as they might deserve.

Being landowners obligated to fight in wars wasn't just some poor dirt farmers being drafted into the army at the last minute. They had to keep their own arms ready at all times, and had to have some training in order to operate properly as a phalanx.

More importantly, they would've been much more motivated being free land owning citizens, often in some form of democracy where they had a say in their own government. And because they were the ones with the most property & livelihood at risk from a wartime loss, not to mention their family, their rights, and everything else they owned.

That's just not the same situation as some peasant subject being pressed into the military to go fight for the higher class civic leaders in many other societies of the time. I think the Greek soldier-citizens, in general, would've been more highly motivated than many of their opponents. It definitely showed when they were fighting non-Greeks. Yet I still see the occasional person refer to them as simple militia. :?

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Thu Nov 30, 2017 1:53 pm 
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I think your view is too narrow:The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) was an ancient Greek war fought by the Delian League led by Athens against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta.

There was more to the Spartans then pretty faces.


Too paraphrase some frenchie at the 'Charge of the Light Brigade', magnificent but not history.

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Thu Nov 30, 2017 2:08 pm 
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I took several ancient history classes in uni many decades ago. One of the distinct features of Spartan society was that: every free man was expected to be a warrior, there was virtually no opting out as n many of the other Greek tribes. Also, the training was lifelong and intense. Boys began to be trained as warriors when they were around 7 or 8 and the conditions in which they had to survive were quite spartan.

As Kamel explains, this likely did produce units of soldiers that were distinctive, and likely more fearsome than comparable opponent units.

But wars are not only about fearsome companies of soldiers. As Kamel pointed out, leadership, communication, logistics, planning, etc. can use "inferior" soldiers (perhaps in larger numbers) to defeat superior soldiers. That is arguably how the allies defeated the Nazis. I've seen several analyses indicating that the "average Nazi soldier" was more effective than the average allied soldier (ranging from ~2 or 3 to 1 up to quite high ratios even as high as 12 to 1 if memory serves); nonetheless they lost the war. They simply did not have enough of the soldiers and everything else they needed to meet the overwhelming forces of the allies.

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 Post subject: Re: Overblown Historical Myths
PostPosted: Fri Dec 01, 2017 6:20 am 
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Anthropoid wrote:
I took several ancient history classes in uni many decades ago. One of the distinct features of Spartan society was that: every free man was expected to be a warrior, there was virtually no opting out as n many of the other Greek tribes. Also, the training was lifelong and intense. Boys began to be trained as warriors when they were around 7 or 8 and the conditions in which they had to survive were quite spartan.

As Kamel explains, this likely did produce units of soldiers that were distinctive, and likely more fearsome than comparable opponent units.

But wars are not only about fearsome companies of soldiers. As Kamel pointed out, leadership, communication, logistics, planning, etc. can use "inferior" soldiers (perhaps in larger numbers) to defeat superior soldiers. That is arguably how the allies defeated the Nazis. I've seen several analyses indicating that the "average Nazi soldier" was more effective than the average allied soldier (ranging from ~2 or 3 to 1 up to quite high ratios even as high as 12 to 1 if memory serves); nonetheless they lost the war. They simply did not have enough of the soldiers and everything else they needed to meet the overwhelming forces of the allies.


Also, for Nazis, it doesn't help you to have a really good elite unit at the front if it's flank is guarded by an inferior unit and the enemy finds out of this and pushes through the weakest spot of the front, forcing the elite units to withdraw rapidly if Hitler actually gives a permission to withdraw as opposed to how he 99% of the time insisted they allow themselves to be surrounded and destroyed as they run out of bullets and food.

For Spartans, their training was so intense and unconditional that it led to many fatalities already during peace time, so much so that it had an impact on their population's sustainability, taxing it heavily. Phalanx fighting style requires intense team training. Even if historical sources don't specifically say "on Tuesday we went to the fields with the boys" it doesn't mean that it didn't exist. Medieval fencing books don't mention leg movement at all but legs certainly were used - it was just such a trivial thing that it was expected to be taken for granted which leads to certain omissions in source texts from time to time. It is impossible to fight effectively as a phalanx without intensive drilling and refresher training. It would be the same for as long as pikes were used - you can't just throw a bunch of pikes on levied infantry and expect them to mount an effective wall of points. They won't know how to fight, they won't trust each other and they will rout when faced by a trained enemy - and they won't be able to hold ground against cavalry either. Getting hit with arrows will already cause them to waver. The Swiss were especially notorious because each sub unit was based on their local village in their canton. Essentially you were fighting with your brothers, cousins and neighbors - you trusted them and you wanted to cover your sector and not let them down either.

But the downside of being dependable and having high morale is always heavy casualties when things go south. Sometimes it is better to withdraw early and try again later, rather than losing your elites in a pointless uphill battle. There's a reason it was so customary to hold your elites in reserve or some similar position where the highest attrition would initially be inflicted on lesser troops.

Romans also had a less strict but truly a 'spartan' training until towards the end they lost their way and gave in to vanity and decadence, having to rely on foreign auxiliaries for their defense. But until then they had a very martial spartan culture, boys were molded into soldiers.

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