War from Myceneans to Rome

7 July 2002
The modern day soldier did not arrive at the current level of training methods overnight. Throughout history warfare techniques and strategies have evolved from the earliest primitive battles to the latest technologies. The only way to learn about war is to study the past engagements and lessons learned. There are nine principles of war as follows: Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of force, Maneuver, Unity of command, Security, Surprise, and Simplicity. These are the areas of study in order to gain a better understanding of what to do and what to avoid during any engagement.
The battles from yesterday differ from those in recent years and today, because the more primitive cultures fought under their leader for food, territory, or the domination of another group. Todays motives are based more on economic, political, or social reasons regarded as appropriate by a group of individuals instead of the thoughts or intentions of one man.

Mainland Greece is the first study of warfare in the selected readings and by 1600 B.C. a civilization emerged from the Hellas culture and the Minoan culture. This group, known as the Myceneans, fought using chariots and armor made of bronze. By the eighth century B.C., the Myceneans art of war consisted of the phalanx. The phalanx was a solid rectangle of infantrymen carrying armor and spears eight deep. When an army approached another army the phalanxes of both sides would come head to head. The soldiers, who were normally citizens not professional soldiers, would find themselves in the midst of blood and sweat pouring out of the bodies surrounding them from the hand to hand combat. The only way of victory was to hold the lines strong and fight until the other side fled. The problems with this type of formation was that there was no overall leadership within the phalanx, no reserve was established to outflank the opposing army, and there was no way to pursue the fleeing enemy, left them capable to heal and fight another day.

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The technique of phalanx had not changed for some time and the Greek warfare stayed the same due to no major opposition force that used different techniques against Greek system. The phalanx was also used because it was a proven technique that had been tested and used successfully. Other factors governing the Greek warfare from the eight to fourth century B.C. were terrain consideration, food shortages, and the unwritten warrior code, which would not allow the Greek infantryman to aggressively attack a community itself.

The Persian Imperial soldier used a different weapon, the bow, and preferred to engage the enemy from a distance. Although the average soldier also wielded a spear and a knife for close combat, the standard scheme was to launch a barrage of arrows from a safe distance from the Mycenean phalanx. A Persian foot soldier as well as a cavalry soldier usually wore little armor as opposed to the Mycenean infantry soldier.

The Persians launched an offensive effort against Greece to stop the eventual takeover of their soil. The most noteworthy fact of the Persian Wars is that the Greek armies never launched an offensive attack on the Persians, but instead kept to defensive positions that protected them from wide open areas and the Persian assaults. The Persian Wars did expose a weakness; the Greek states were unprepared to cooperate together as a coalition against an outsiders attack.

The problem of the city-states not cooperating was resolved by forming a new alliance, the Delian League, which was converted into the Athenian Empire. At the heart of the union was a new form of tactic, a navy to control the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean Seas. With a navy to control the waters, the trade market grew and guaranteed the Athenian control of all commercial wealth.
The Athenian control of the surrounding areas caused the remainder of the states in Greece to turn to Sparta. The Spartans were a true martial culture that was left to concentrate solely on military training. The Spartans conquered the Messenians in the eight century and the dominated citizens were used to cultivate the land. The Spartan family consisted of warriors, male and female, that began training at the age of seven to the age of sixty. The sole purpose of every Spartan citizen was military service. Infants that were born less than perfect were rejected and marriages of fit male and female were encouraged. The problem with this type of culture is that there is little evidence of development in arts after the Messenian defeat.

The Athenian and Spartan armies were the greatest powers on the peninsula (one on land and the other at sea), and the two met together only fifty years after the defeat of the Persians. When the Athenian navy placed a boycott on Megara, the Spartans were forced to try and stop the eventual total takeover of Greece. The problem of not being able to fight on the oppositions ground, either sea or land, caused the two nations to make changes to the previous Greek art of war. The lighter-armored infantry soldiers were added to the ground order of battle, which was observed from the Persian Wars to be just as effective as heavily armored infantrymen in a phalanx. The Spartan army eventually prevailed.
Sparta was left as the greatest power in Greece and with that came responsibility to control the rest of the empire, but the Spartans were unprepared to hold Greece together due to the fact that the only training the citizens had received was in military not political matters. Thebes took over handling Greece from the Spartans after the victory at the battle of Leuctra (371 B.C.).
By the time that Theban power had control of the empire, there was too much lost over the past Peloponnesian War and they ran out of manpower to control Greece, and were thus conquered by the Macedonian army at the battle of Chaeronaea (338 B.C.). Phillip II was the creator of the greatest military power of the time, the Macedonia army. This army used a stronger phalanx that had sixteen ranks, and its arsenal consisted of towers, rams, and catapults.
After the assassination of Phillip II, his son Alexander took control as the master of Greece.

Alexander the Great was the greatest military leader of his time, and he took his fathers goal of obtaining Persia seriously. Alexanders campaign took him further out of Greece and towards the end of the third century B.C., his Empire controlled lands in Syria, Egypt, Babylonia, and of course Persia. Also during this time a new army was formed in Italy at Rome.

The Romans discovered that the phalanx was not an effective formation and developed the maniple. Each maniple consisted of about 120 men arranged in a checkered board pattern of 30 maniples and was proven to be effective in Italy. They key to the Romans success was that each new state was not treated as a servant, but as an ally of Rome. With Italy under its control, Rome was forced to move to surrounding areas due to troubles with the merchants at sea. Sicily became the first offshore ally of Rome during the first Punic War, but navy superiority was not established.

Carthage was working on reestablishing itself under the leadership of Hannibal. Controlling the surrounding water of the western Mediterranean, Hannibal moved to engage the Romans and almost conquered them at Cannae (216 B.C.), where the largest Roman army was surrounded, enveloped, and destroyed. The Romans needed military leadership to outwit Hannibal and found it in Scipio.

Scipio made the maniples stronger than ever and increased the amount of horsemen in the cavalry to solve the problem that the Romans had against Hannibal. By using adapting techniques to envelop and control sea power, Scipio was able to defeat Carthage at the battle of Zama (202 B.C.), and thus the Romans were ready to expand their empire from Spain to Asia Minor and from Britain to Northern Africa.

Preston, Richard A., Alex Roland, and Sydney F. Wise. Men
In Arms: A History of Warfare and its interrelationships
With Western Society. (Belmont, California:Wadsworth/
Thomson Learning, 2001). Chap 1-3
Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World: An Illustrated
Encyclopedia of Weapons, Warriors, and Warfare in the
Ancient Civilisations of Greece and Rome. (Norman,
Oklahoma:University of Oklahoma Press, 1995). Chap 1-13


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