Man and Wound in the Ancient World: A History of Military Medicine from Sumer to the Fall of Constantinople

By Robson, Eleanor | The Historian, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Man and Wound in the Ancient World: A History of Military Medicine from Sumer to the Fall of Constantinople


Robson, Eleanor, The Historian


Man and Wound in the Ancient World: A History of Military Medicine from Sumer to the Fall of Constantinople. By Richard A. Gabriel. (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012. Pp. 267. $29.95.)

As an ancient historian, this reviewer is often called on to describe long-ago conflicts, from palace coups to staged confrontations between major military powers. In her own field of specialization, for instance, it is a truism that the Assyrian army went on campaign almost every year for much of the ninth to seventh centuries BC. Historians write of their long marches across the plains and mountains of the Middle East, their sieges of hostile cities, and the booty and deportees returned to the Assyrian heartland on the Tigris river in modern-day northern Iraq. But as much of the documentation is far removed from the action--letters of courtiers playing armchair strategy; official annals, often heavily revised; highly stylized bas-reliefs that adorned palace walls in Kalhu and Nineveh--it is often impossible to access the realities of ancient warfare for the combatants themselves.

Now, however, military historian Richard Gabriel provides readers with the hard data and the empathetic perspective to enable them to do just that. For instance, he tabulates the energy produced by an average soldier wielding various ancient weapons and compares them to the energy required to do serious injury through bronze or iron armor (7). Armor wins, almost every time. He surveys the major causes of death in battle--essentially shock and bleeding, tetanus and gangrene, and septicemia--and calculates that "twenty-five percent of wounded soldiers would die of their wounds within a week to ten days" (22-25). Inadequate diet, epidemic disease, heatstroke, severe cold, exhaustion, and the routine wear and tear of the march could take out around 20 percent of an army (33). …

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