Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: Ancient World

Composite War Bow Was Revolutionary

April 2, 2023

…The simple wooden bow was a very old weapon which showed some important affinities with “civilian” devices used for kindling fire and for boring holes as well as with certain musical instruments. Its emergence as a specialized tool took place at some unknown time and place, and for millennia it was employed for hunting as well as for war. It so happened, however, that the rise of the chariot was soon followed by—if indeed it did not coincide with—the invention of the composite reflex bow, a very different weapon. Made of wood, sinew, and horn glued together, with each material carefully coordinated with all the others so as to yield the optimum combination of strength and flexibility, the composite bow represented as great an advance over its simple predecessor as did the breech-loading rifle over the muzzle-loading flintlock musket. Capable of firing arrows rapidly to an effective range of 200-300 yards, its power and effectiveness remained unsurpassed for several thousand years.

Technology and War, Chapter 1

Emphasis mine.

Blood Sacrifice Was the Central Religous Ritual

April 16, 2022

Ritual sacrifice is the most clear-cut instance of violence made sacred. When the victim is nonhuman, the central act of violence is essentially a familiar and understandable one: the slaughter of animals for food. The fact that the simple act of butchery has so often been sacralized hints at a sinister side to the deities so honored and is suggestive, as we shall see, of an anxiety far older than either religion or war, and possibly central to both.

Few religions today openly practice blood sacrifice…. But contemporary historians of religion remind us of what religious practitioners often prefer to ignore or forget: that blood sacrifice is not just “a” religious ritual; it is the central ritual of the religions of all ancient and traditional civilizations. For thousands of years, the core religious ritual from the highlands of the Andes to the valley of the Ganges was the act of sacrificial killing. The temple that housed the altar, or the raised platform or stone circle that constituted a holy place, was also an abattoir….

Animal sacrifice…was an all-pervasive reality in the ancient world.” Hebrew sacrificial ritual resembled that of the Greeks, which in turn resembled that of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, the Babylonians and Persians, the Etruscans, and the Romans. The names of the gods who were the recipients of the sacrifices varied from culture to culture, but the main elements of the ritual were everywhere recognizable and familiar to the ancients: the procession, the climactic throat-slitting or beheading, the butchering, the examination of entrails, the ritual uses of the fresh blood, the burning or cooking of the remains.

Blood Rites, pp. 23, 28

Emphases mine.

Stacking the Odds in Your Favor

February 6, 2022

Command in ancient armies was a collective as much as an individual endeavour, because the primitive communications made it hard for one man to exercise control even over the relatively short distances involved. Indeed, command limitations seem to have been a major reason why large armies formed up in greater depth, rather than trying to coordinate operations across an unpractically long front. Pre-planning and delegation of authority to local subordinates were the norm, and some forces did not even have a single overall general. It was because command was so problematic that most ancient armies achieved so much less than the troops themselves were theoretically capable of, as inertia and confusion reduced movement rates and inhibited decisive attacks. This meant that asymmetries in command, which allowed one army to suffer less than its opponents from the restrictions involved, could have a major impact on fighting performance.

Perhaps paradoxically, given the difficulties for any single individual of maintaining real-time control of anything more than a small segment of the battle line, this was the golden age of ‘great captains’ like Alexander, Hannibal, Scipio and Caesar whose generalship was a very significant determinant of victory. The explanation seems to be that there were many other ways in which such individuals contributed to success besides their personal influence during the battle itself. Training and motivating their troops and building up capable subordinates in the months and years beforehand could significantly improve the quality of the army as a whole. Winning the intelligence contest could allow novel pre-planned deployments and manoeuvres precisely tailored to counter the enemy battle line, and seizing the initiative could panic or provoke the enemy into hurried reactions that left their army vulnerable and unprepared. The actual fighting was thus only the culmination of an overall process that stacked the odds heavily in favour of the better-commanded side.

Philip Sabin, Lost Battles, p. 224

Emphasis mine.

Ancient War Was More Civilized

September 3, 2021

In one respect at least, ancient war was more civilized than our own. The aim of ancient war was generally to kill or capture the opposing chief and display him in a cage. Because of the primitive state of technology, the only way to get to the opposing leader and his inner circle was to cut through the mass of his people and army, necessitating bloody battles and great cruelty. But since the Enlightenment, Western leaders have exempted themselves from retribution and have sought to punish each other indirectly: by destroying each other’s armies and—since Grant and Sherman—by making the civilian populations suffer as well. But is it really more honorable to kill thousands by high-altitude bombing than by the sword and ax?

Warrior Politics, pp. 122-23

Assaulting Cities is the Oldest Expression of Warfare

May 2, 2008

Assaulting cities is the oldest, and often the most brutal, expression of warfare. The earliest Western literature begins with the biblical siege of Jericho and the Achaeans’ attack on Troy. The most moving passages in Thucydides‘ entire history of the [Peloponnesian] war—the Plataeans’ pleas for mercy, the debate between Cleon and Diodotus over the fate of the Mytileneans, the Melian Dialogue, the butchery of the boys at Mycalessus, and the great siege at Syracuse—revolve around the assault on communities of men, women, and children when war came to the very doorstep of the Greek family. Indeed, Mycalessus proved horrific precisely because the Thracian mercenaries sought no real military objective other than the psychological terror of slaughtering children at school—the ancient version of the Chechnyan terrorist assault on the Russian school in Belsan during early September 2004, which shocked the modern world and confirmed Thucydides’ prognosis that his history really was a possession for all time, inasmuch as human nature, as he saw, has remained constant across time and space.

There is something surrealistic about storming a city. Sieges are final, ultimate verdicts about not merely the fate of soldiers but of a very people. Nothing is more chilling, for example, than the final hours of Constantinople—10,000 people huddled under the dome of St. Sophia, praying in vain for the angel of deliverance on the early afternoon of May 29, 1453 [C.E.], as the sultan’s shock troops burst in to end for good the thousand-year culture of Byzantium. In sieges, women and old men fight from the walls. Ad hoc genius is manifested in countermeasures—history’s array of missiles, flame, cranes, and flying roof tiles—as the fate of thousands sometimes depends solely on their own collective intelligence and resolve. In the age of bombers, whose aerial weapons can make walls superfluous, sieges might seem a thing of the past, until one recalls that Leningrad and Stalingrad were two of the greatest and most costly sieges of the ages.

A War Like No Other, pp. 179-80

Magicians as Intellectuals

November 7, 1997

Right up to and through the Renaissance, magicians were classed among what we today would call intellectuals. They were learned men, familiar with ancient lore and languages, with the obscure symbolism of signs and numbers. They read the stars and dabbled in the mysticism that surrounded alchemy. They were respected. In the early centuries of Christianity, magic was not considered an evil thing. In a world thought to be inhabited by men and angels and devils, men also believed in spirits neither good or bad; spirits of the air, of fire, of the sea, of the mountains, of the woods, of the winds. It was believed that if a person was sufficiently learned in the art of magic, he could summon and control these powers; make them do his bidding. It was only at the very end of the Middle Ages, and particularly in the Renaissance enlightenment, that animism lost its hold on men’s minds.

Leonard Ashley, The Wonderful World of Magic and Witchcraft, p. 2