With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World

With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World

With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World

With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World


"This account analyzes ancient armies in terms of modern military doctrine, allowing the reader to make comparisons between the combatants. Recruitment, for example, varied tremendously with Romans drawing from a limited pool of recruits for service terms of twenty to thirty years and Chinese planners preferring a large pool with short-term service. While various types of governments prepared for and waged war in significantly different ways, Bradford finds that better organization led to success on the battlefield and that, for the most part, societal innovation was more important than technological innovation. The ongoing discussion of the lessons of ancient warfare around the globe will provide valuable insights for interested general readers and military professionals alike." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


The first literary work about war in the Western world is Homer's Iliad. The Iliad is a powerful story, told with vivid language, about heroism and fear, duty and honor, sorrow and loss; it has appealed to generation after generation, from the audience of its own day down to the present day; it is the only literary work surviving from the ancient world that takes us inside the hearts of the combatants as they struggle in hand-to-hand combat.

The Iliad (composed about 800 B.C.) relates an incident from the tenth year of the Trojan War (which, if it occurred at all, occurred about 1200 B.C.). The war was caused by the kidnapping of the Greek queen, Helen, by Paris, a Trojan prince. Helen's husband, Menelaus, and his brother, Agamemnon, collected an enormous force to seek revenge. No Greek army (so Homer thought) could take a fortified city by siege; rather it would have to deny the Trojans free use of their own land, harry them continually until they abandoned Troy and conceded their land to the Greeks, or, short of that, negotiated some end to the war: to give up Helen and all her possessions, to pay an indemnity (perhaps half the wealth of the city), or to agree to a duel between the aggrieved parties, Menelaus, the injured husband, and Paris, the offending kidnapper. Homer's war did end when the heroes used a subterfuge—the Trojan horse—to get within the walls of Troy.

The Greeks of Homer's time had just emerged from the tribal stage, they had the slenderest of resources at their command, they did not build, nor need to build, massive fortifications, they did not obey any central authority and they did not have an extensive bureaucracy, but rather they lived in societies ruled by the heads of aristocratic families alternately cooperating and competing. We characterize these societies, their armed forces, and the wars they fight, as “primitive” (defined by studies of primitive societies and primitive warfare of our own time).

Primitive “armies”—as in the Iliad—are organized by familial relationships and do not fight in formation. Primitive wars—as in the Iliad—are caused by . . .

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