Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

CONSIDERABLE outrage has been expressed at a European ruling that servicemen will be allowed to sue their commanding officers for compensation if they have been given wrong or bad orders. The feeling is that an army cannot function without a hierarchy of strictly enforced authority. Ancient Greeks, no mean soldiers themselves, would have thought the idea deranged.

Greek armies were citizen armies and were in the field for comparably short periods of time, after which they went home. They had their pride and saw no reason why they should be treated on the battlefield differently from the way they were treated in civilian life. This was true of mercenary armies too. For example, the Greek general Xenophon has left an account of his (failed) attempt to support the Persian king Cyrus in- Babylon in 401 Bc, and of his subsequent famous march home through Iraq and eastern Turkey to the Black Sea (the Anabasis). During that time there were mutinies, betrayals, desertions and disobedience - but they got there in the end.

The point is well illustrated by the episode in which the Greek Clearchus tried to force his men to advance and was pelted with stones for his pains. …

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