SPARTANS, ELITE WARRIORS OF ANCIENT GREECE 3: THE FATRICIDAL PELOPONNESIAN WAR BEGINS

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“For the Spartans, it wasn’t walls or magnificent public buildings that made a city; it was their own ideals. In essence, Sparta was a city of the head and the heart. And it existed in its purest form in the disciplined march of a hoplite phalanx on their way to war!”

– Bettany Hughes, writer/historian.

(For Part Two, go here)

SPARTA AND ATHENS

In the decades following the Persian Wars, Sparta would find herself enmeshed in a long fratricidal struggle against her erstwhile ally, Athens.

These two leading Greek cities could not have been more different.

1422561.jpgThe Acropolis of Athens, with the Areopagus in the foreground.

Physically, Athens was a great cosmopolitan metropolis. Its public buildings, such as the Parthenon crowning the lofty Acropolis, were the wonder of the ancient world, and still amaze visitors today. Sparta, by contrast, was but a collection of villages. Its public buildings were modest, and Sparta left us no lasting stone monuments of any note. Athens was defended by great fortress walls, including the “Long Walls” that connected the city to her harbor, Piraeus. Sparta had no walls: her “walls” were the spears and shields of her scarlet-cloaked warriors. Athens is remembered for its philosophers and playwrights. Sparta is remembered for the simplicity and hardness of its men and the conditions under which they chose to live (“spartan”). That, and their pithy, sarcastic way of speaking that we today call “laconic“. Sparta produced neither a Socrates nor Sophocles; it produced warriors like Cleomenes, Leonidas and Brasidas.

Sparta is remembered only for its invincible warriors, the Spartans, and their immortal stand at Thermopylae.

1422560 Ancient Sparta

Athens was a democratic state, where every issue of governance and policy was voted upon daily by the (male) citizens. Meeting on a rocky outcropping beside the Acropolis, all Athenians so interested could come and hear or take part in the oratory and vote on the issues of the day. It was a system that allowed maximum civic participation; but which put no constitutional restraints on the passions of the citizens.

Sparta, on the other hand was a constitutional monarchy, in which policy was administered by the annually elected ephors; and laws were made by a senate (Gerousia) composed of elderly Spartans, and ratified by a polling of all Spartiates 30 years or older[1]. Of the two systems, Sparta proved the more enduring, surviving for nearly 500 years with little internal strife. Athenian democracy was short-lived, lasting less than two centuries and interrupted by periods of faction strife, demagoguery and tyranny.

Militarily, the two greatest powers in Hellas could not have been any more different, as well.

Athens was a maritime power, relying on foreign trade for her wealth, and foreign grain imports for her sustenance. To defend her far-flung interests, the Athenians maintained the Eastern Mediterranean’s greatest navy. Athens used her power aggressively, forcing Greek cities around the Aegean to join her alliance and contribute funds to her navy.

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Sparta, by contrast was a land power, an agrarian power, with little monetary wealth (Sparta didn’t mint gold or silver, but instead used iron bars for internal financial transactions). But her army, composed of every Spartan male, was the finest and most professional in the world. Though the true Spartan (Spartiate) component of any Spartan field force was relatively small (there were never more than 5,000 Spartiates at the city’s peak at the beginning of the 5th century), the Spartan Alliance of Peloponnesian states could field the largest and best hoplite force in the Greek world.

Where Athens’ foreign policy was aggressive and dynamic, Sparta’s was conservative and inward-looking. Sparta had no desire to expand her power; but was content to maintain her insular domination of the Peloponnese.

The Athenian Empire morphed out of the “Delian League“, a voluntary alliance of Greek maritime cites formed in 478 BC; and meant to provide a common defense against the return of Persian aggression. Over time, the Persian threat was successfully beaten back and Persian naval forces swept from the sea. Athens under the leadership of her greatest statesman, Pericles, forced her weaker allies to continue to pay tribute as their contribution to the League, rather than with military contingents of their own. Pericles used this tribute to maintain a superb and irresistible fleet of 250-300 triremes (of which 60 were put to sea every year, the rest kept dry and ready in ship-sheds at the port of Piraeus); as well as diverting some of the Delian League treasury to beautify Athens with magnificent public buildings. This forced-contribution to Athenian greatness caused widespread dissension and simmering resentment among her “allies”.

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Under Pericles, the Athenian fleet intervened in foreign conflicts from Sicily to Egypt; ever active to expand Athenian influence and dominance in the Mediterranean. Pericles was aware of the resentment and jealousy his policies incited among the other Greek states; but counseled his fellow Athenians to disregard such sentiment and to continue his policies aimed at increasing the strength of their empire:

No doubt this will disparaged by people who are politically apathetic. But those who, like us, prefer at life of action will try to imitate us. If they fail to gain what we have gained, they will envy us. All those who have taken it upon themselves to rule over others have incurred hatred and and unpopularity for a time. If one pursues a great aim, this burden of envy must be accepted, and it is wise to accept it. Hatred does not long last, but present brilliance will become future glory when it is stored up everlastingly in the memory of mankind. 

Under Pericles’ aggressive leadership the Athenians were a uniquely intrepid people; “adventurous beyond their power, and daring beyond their judgment… born into the world to take no rest themselves and to give none to others.”[2]

The 42 years of active conflict between these two very different states has come to be known as the First (460–445 BC) and Second Peloponnesian Wars (431–404 BC, often referred to simply as the Peloponnesian War); pitting the Athenian Empire against Sparta and her Peloponnesian allies. Its chief cause was Athenian imperial expansion under Pericles.

Sparta had watched the rise of the Athenian Empire with concern. Though in no way competing with her own more narrow interest in and around the Peloponnese, the Athenian’s democratic ways rubbed the oligarchic Spartans the wrong way. But Sparta in the 6th century had played a role in freeing other Greek cities (including Athens) from their own local tyrants. So it was to Sparta that Corinth, Thebes, and dozens of smaller cities appealed for succor from Athenian aggression. With great reticence the Spartans decided to support the enemies of Athens, and lead them against that 5th century Greek super-power.

The First Peloponnesian War broke out in 460, lasting 15 years. Athens had the advantage early in the conflict. Its powerful fleet won battles at sea, and despite a Spartan victory at Tanagra in 457, the Athenians had the better of the land battles against Sparta’s allies; most notably defeating Thebes and temporarily knocking that city out of the war. However, Athens overreached; sending a large portion of its fleet and army to Egypt to intervene in a revolt against Persia. Though initially successful, that expedition ended in a disastrous loss for Athens, her entire force destroyed.

Athens needed a respite, and the so-called Thirty Years Peace brought active hostilities to a close in 445; with Athens making concessions in territory and policy to appease Sparta and her allies.

THE ARCHIDAMIAN WAR: THE SHARK AGAINST THE LION

The Thirty Years Peace lasted only 14 years. In 431, war broke out again, this time because of Athenian support of the island of Corcyra (Corfu) against her mother-city, Corinth; and over Athenian military action against the former Corinthian colony of Potidaea in the northern Aegean.

At Corcyra, where the democratic government had aligned itself with Athens, a Corinthian naval force was on the verge of defeating its Corcyran opponents when an Athenian naval squadron intervened, preventing a Corinthian victory. At Potidaea, a city in southern Macedonia and member of the Delian League/Athenian Empire, an Athenian army was laying siege to the city to bring it into compliance with Athenian dictates. Corinth, the mother-city, sent “unofficial” aid to the city, including contingents of warriors to help defend it. This directly violated the terms of the Thirty Years’ Peace, which had stipulated that the Athenians and the Peloponnesians would respect each other’s autonomy and “spheres of influence”.

The final provocation was Megarian Decree, issued in 433/2 BC, imposing stringent trade sanctions on Megara. Once an Athenian ally, Megara had treacherously turned on its Athenian garrison and joined the Spartan Alliance. A more recent provocation was the killing of an Athenian herald. By forbidding Megara to trade with the Athenian Empire, the city was essentially cut-out of all Aegean trade and ports. An economic disaster for the Megarans, it led them to appeal to Sparta for redress.

In 432 a conclave of the Spartan allies and delegates from Athens met at Corinth to debate the issues. The allies (particularly Corinth, Megara, and Thebes) were for renewed war against Athens. The Corinthian delegation warned Sparta that if it remained passive in the face of Athenian aggression against its allies, it would find itself eventually at war in any case, but bereft of allies. The Athenians, in turn, cautioned Sparta to think carefully before going to war against so powerful a state as Athens!

Sparta deliberated, and despite the risks involved, the Gerousia moved that Sparta declare war against Athens and its League. The motion carried in the Apella, and Sparta duly declared war. Thus began the so-called “Archidamian War” (431-421 BC), named for the senior king in Sparta at the time; Act One in the bloody drama that was the Second Peloponnesian War.

As noted by historian Victory Davis Hanson[3], this was to be a war like no other before it. It would be fought in multiple theaters of war, simultaneously, both on land and sea. Unlike most previous wars, it was not decided by one campaign, battle, or siege. It would involve many of these, small and large; as well as low-intensity raids and “special operations”. It would embroil most of the Greek world, as well as those “barbarian” states on the fringe of Greece. And it would last an unprecedented 27 years;  far longer than any of the belligerents could foresee in 431. It did so primarily because neither of the two leading powers could successfully fight (nor force the other to fight) on its “own turf”.

Athenian strategy from the beginning was to refuse to meet the Spartans on land. Pericles believed (and articulated to the Athenians at the beginning of hostilities) that time was on the side of Athens. That safe behind herLong Walls (fortifications that surrounded Athens and connected the city to her principal harbors of Piraeus and Phaleron, approximately 6 kilometers away) Athens could avoid land battle with the Spartans. Meanwhile, due to its control of the sea, the Athenians could continue life as normal at home while using their fleet and army to keep the subject-cities of their league in line; all while harassing the Peloponnesian coast. By pinprick raids and naval blockades, the Athenians could wear down the Peloponnesians economically, in time forcing Sparta to agree (at the least) to a peace based upon status quo ante bellum.

1422572.jpg Athens, showing the long walls connecting the city to Piraeus and Phaleron.

Sparta started the war without any fleet to speak of. Its Corinthian allies were a naval power, but they were no match for the Athenians in number of ships or quality of crews; and lost nearly every engagement of the war. With its trade and wealth undisturbed, and food brought in by sea from grain fields in the Black Sea littoral (the so-called “Pontic grain), Pericles was confident that Athens could wait-out the Peloponnesians till they exhausted themselves; all the while cutting them off from foreign trade.

However, the Spartans and their allies had a very different view of the coming conflict. The Peloponnesians (and particularly Sparta) were agrarian states, and did not rely on foreign trade. Their armies were invincible on land, so their cities could not be reduced by the Athenians. Sparta, in the best practice of contemporary Greek military convention, believed that its matchless hoplite army could and would march into Attica (the territory around the city of Athens) unhindered. The Athenians would be forced to leave the shelter of their walls and defend their farmlands from devastation. When they did so, the resulting battle could only end in Spartan victory.

However, the Spartan leaders had not taken into account one critical flaw in their strategy: Athens did not rely upon the farms of Attica for sustenance. Their chief source of grain was imports from the Black Sea region.

Each side began the war with a strategy it confidently believed would bring victory; each was mistaken. It was as if a lion were to challenge a shark: however bellicose, neither was in a position to hurt the other in its own sphere.

Ever the canny statesman and strategist, Pericles presciently warned the Athenians that they must not expand the war or start any new military ventures until peace with Sparta was achieved. Pericles knew his people. He understood that Athens’ greatest risk lay in the mercurial Athenians losing patience with his slow strategy of attrition; and that while prosecuting the war then over-extending themselves by some bold new adventure. If Athens could just stay the course he set for them at the beginning of the conflict, victory would (in his mind) be certain.

The first year of the war indeed went very much as Pericles predicted. The Spartans marched into Attica, and ravaged the territory. The Athenians refused to come out from behind the Long Walls and give the Spartans what they wanted, a battle. Instead, Athenian naval forces raided the coasts of the Peloponnese and continued steadfastly the siege of Potidaea, much to the frustration of Corinth.

THE PLAGUE IN ATHENS

What Pericles couldn’t foresee was the arrival in the second year of the war of a devastating plague; one that would sweep through Athens, decimating its population.

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To this day, the exact etiology of this “plague” is unknown. Its multiple symptoms are unlike any disease currently in existence. The disease has traditionally been considered an outbreak of the bubonic plague; but modern scholars have advanced alternative explanations. These include typhus, smallpox, measles, anthrax and even Eloba. Thucydides claimed that the plague began in Ethiopia, following the trade routes through Egypt and then to the Greek world. This possible African origin has led to a theory that a form of Ebola or other viral hemorrhagic fever may have been the cause of this plague.

With the Peloponnesian army ravaging the Attic countryside (for the second year in a row) and Athens overcrowded with refugees, the city was ripe for an epidemic. The effect was devastating: Athens lost perhaps one third of the people sheltered within its walls. Most significantly and irreplaceably, among the dead was the Athenian leader Pericles, who died during one of the secondary outbreaks in 429 BC.

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The war went on.

Athens won minor naval victories, under its brilliant admiral, Phormio, in the Gulf of Corinth. Her naval squadrons raided the Peloponnesian coasts, and kept their “allies” cowed and obedient.

Sparta and her allies dutifully marched every year into Attica, fruitlessly challenged the Athenians to battle; and disappointed, burned the farms in the countryside as compensation. The only strategic victory for the Peloponnesians in these early years was the siege and capture of the Athenian friend and ally, Plataea. Site of Greece’s crowning victory of the Persian War, she paid for her amity with Athens and enmity of neighboring Thebes with destruction.

That said, this brought Spartan victory in the war not one wit closer. Athens still stood strong and defiant, despite a devastated countryside, despite the decimation of plague. Pericles’ strategy seemed to be working.

The Archidamian War dragged on inconclusively till 425 BC; until an otherwise insignificant skirmish on the fringes of the Spartan dominion sent shockwaves through the Greek world.

NEXT: BRASIDAS AND DEMOSTHENES


  1. See Part One
  2. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.66-77.
  3. Hanson, V.D A WarLike No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War Random House, New York 2005
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SCHLIEFFEN PLAN: A STUDY IN ECONOMY OF FORCE

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A bold plan timidly executed

At the dawn of the 20th century, Germany and France were already preparing for the war that would break-out in 1914. Following the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, these two Great Powers spent the intervening 44 years preparing for a Franco-Prussian War redux. But after analyzing their first encounter, each had drawn a very different conclusions as to how to best fight the next one.

The problem for the potential combatants was one of space and magnitude of forces available. There was too little of one and too much of the other.

The Franco-German frontier was only 150 miles long, from Belgium and Luxembourg in the north to the Swiss border in the south. Because of the conscription system developed and implemented by both countries in the years since 1870, both had greater masses available to fill this frontier zone than ever before; creating a virtual wall of divisions from north to south.

1378215.jpg The Kaiser inspects his troops on the eve of the Great War. All the Great Powers had instituted universal conscription, with much of the male population of Europe enlisted in either regular or reserve formations. This created massive armies, on a scale unseen. The Schlieffen Plan gave the Kaiser’s General Staff confidence that they had the means of defeating the French Army rapidly on the Western Front; allowing them to then shift forces east to meet the Russians.

To make matters worse for any offensive-minded theorist, both countries had spent a great deal of effort and treasure in creating fortress belts on their side of the frontier. An attack across the mutual border by either promised to be a very hard slog indeed!

For the Germans, the problem was also one of time: they were facing a potential two-front war, with the possibility of Tsarist Russia throwing-in with the French out the outbreak of hostilities. But Russia was a backwards country, whose poor (or nonexistent) roads and limited rail system would not allow for a rapid mobilization of its immense human resources. So, for German planners, the optimal solution called for a rapid campaign in the west against France, bringing about her decisive defeat before Russia could mount a threat from the east.

THE SCHLIEFFEN PLAN: THE WEIGHTED WING

In 1905, the Chief of the German General Staff, Graf Von Schlieffen, developed a plan to achieve this much-needed rapid victory. The plan, which bore his name, called for a strategic “indirect approach” to capture Paris; using maneuver instead of blood to defeat the French armies.

1584227.jpgFaced with the solid wall of divisions and forts along the French frontier, Schlieffen decided the logical solution was to by-pass the French defenses and defenders via a ruthless drive through the relatively weak nations of Belgium and Luxemburg to their north. That these nations were neutral meant nothing to the single-minded Teutonic planners in Berlin.

To achieve success, the Schlieffen Plan placed 53 of the available 72 divisions (roughly 75 percent of the available combat strength) in the north, opposite the Belgian border; attached to the right-wing. In strategic terms, this would be the “wing of decision”, tasked to move forward and crush all opposition. Only 10 divisions in the center would form a pivot, in front of Verdun; and even fewer, a mere 9 division, would anchor the left, guarding most of the Franco-German border.

The very weakness of the German defenses in the south, Schlieffen postulated, would draw the French across the border, deep into Alsace-Lorraine, the German provinces that bordered France and which had been ripped from her as part of the terms of surrender to Germany in 1870. Schlieffen (and all the world) knew how French honor burned to recover these lost territories. Schlieffen had little worries about French success: any offensive would eventually fizzle when it reached the fortress of Strasbourg and the Rhine River. By which time, Schlieffen was betting, the German right-wing would be through Belgium and encircling Paris.

1378223.jpgThe German left-wing was in strategic terms the “wing of delay”. They would trade space for time. The deeper they allowed the French to press into Alsace-Lorraine, the more difficult it would be for the French to correct their mistake and extricate themselves in time to parry the main German thrust through Belgium, and to protect Paris.

The strong right, Schlieffen’s “Hammer of God”, would make short work of the Belgians; and push through the weak French defenses in Flanders. With most of the French Army tied up in Alsace-Lorraine, there would be little to stop the oncoming German masses from reaching and enveloping the city of Paris.

At that point, the German First Army, right-most in the deployment (and the one which would be furthest west once they had turned south into France) had the crucial assignment of sweeping out to the west of Paris, avoiding its defending forts. Instead of a direct assault on the heavily fortified French capital, the German forces would swing wide of the city to the west; and then encircle it to the southeast. By this maneuver, Paris would be surrounded and cut off from its supplies and from the rest of the country. A city of more than four-and-half million souls could not long go without daily replenishment and would very soon be forced to surrender.

Meanwhile, all the German armies would continue advancing in concentric arcs; from an initial southwest direction to a southern and then eastern direction; until they were in fact rolling up into the rear of the French armies embroiled deep in Alsace-Lorraine. Their very mass would ensure rapid success, as they brushed aside what little opposition the French and Belgians threw in their path.

Like the quintain, the rotating jousting target used during the Middle Ages by knights to practice their skills with lance, when one struck one side the other end swiveled around to hit the rider in the back of the head; just so with the French in Alsace-Lorrain: the harder they pushed on the German left, the harder would come the blow from behind, delivered with gusto by the German right!

With their capital encircled, and the bulk of their armies cut-off from their sources of supply and attacked from behind, France would be sure to collapse. The timetable called for a defeat of France in 6 weeks. After which, Germany’s armies would be rapidly moved via the extensive German rail system east, to confront the (by now) growing Russian threat.

On paper, the Schlieffen Plan was a brilliant piece of strategic thinking, utilizing the concept of economy of force and the “weighted wing” to gain a massive numerical superiority at the point of decision. It only needed the French to take the bait and attack deeply into Alsace-Lorraine to succeed.

The gods of war seemed to smile on Germany, when the French, for their part, developed their own “Plan XVII”.

ATTACK TO EXCESS

France had undergone its own military revolution, of sorts, following its defeat in 1870.

That defeat had been deeply traumatic to the proud French psyche. Before the war, tehy were considered the premiere land power in the world, and the French army second to none. Following their defeat the Germans took pride-of-place as having the best army in the world.

After much soul-searching a new school of tactical thought took root, whose chief gardener was Louis de Grandmaison, Chief Operations Officer of the General Staff. This was the theory of the attaque à outrance: the attack to excess.

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The French Army began WWI wearing traditional blue jackets with red trousers; an impractical anachronism in 1914

More a spiritual than a tactical doctrine, it was the belief that constant, aggressive attack carried out with sufficient élan and supported with all available resources could overcome any opposition. In practice, it meant masses of men charging forward, bayonets fixed, into the teeth of enemy fire. In an age of bolt-action rifles with effective ranges of 1,000 yards, belt-fed Maxim machine guns, and very accurate heavy artillery this was tantamount to attacking a meat grinder with great lumps of raw meat; resulting, of course, in so much bloody hamburger. An identical tactical philosophy infected the Japanese Imperial Army in the years leading up to WW-II; and was responsible for thousands of Japanese infantry abandoning well sited and camouflaged fighting positions to throw themselves in mass “Banzai” charges against U.S. Marine defensive-lines throughout the islands of the Pacific; with predictable and disastrous result.

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French infantry advancing with bayonets fixed. The French tactical doctrine in 1914 emphasized massed infantry attacks

A plan was developed, the now-notorious Plan XVII, which would take advantage of this new doctrine of attaque à outrance (and, unbeknownst to the French General Staff, play nicely into German hands). It called for an all-out offensive into Alsace-Lorraine by the French Army, abandoning their own fortresses along the frontier and hurling themselves against the German’s. Should the Germans invade Luxembourg (or the battle spill into southern Belgium) the northern, left-wing of the French armies were expected to be able to deal with the threat.

The French planners had no idea that according to Schlieffen’s plan the German’s would have deliberately left this region weak; and so the French plan would indeed have gained much initial success, if success was measured by the depth of penetration into enemy territory. However, they would soon find themselves pushing against the barrier of the Rhine and the strong fortress of Strasbourg; at precisely the same time that Schlieffen’s “Hammer of God” was smashing into their rear area, with Paris encircled.

Neither side knew for certain the other’s plans, but the Germans had correctly taken the measure of their foe; and their plan perfectly exploited his predictability. Success seemed assured.

But there is an old saying: while man plans, God laughs; and in the summer of 1914, God must have enjoyed a very good laugh indeed.

VON MOLTKE’S MEDDLING

When his brilliant plan was finally put to the test in 1914, Von Schlieffen was dead, and had been replaced by the cautious and less detail-oriented commander, Helmuth Von Moltke “the Younger”. Son of the victor of the Franco-Prussian War, he shared nothing of the military brilliance of his great father except a name.

1378232Afraid of losing Alsace-Lorraine (a situation the Schlieffen Plan had cheerfully counted upon) Moltke made the foolish decision to dilute the “wing of decision” on the German right, opposite Belgium; and used the divisions stripped from there to bolster what he saw as a too week left wing in Alsace-Lorraine.

Thus, when the Great War broke out in August 1914, and the French armies crossed the frontier in mass, instead of penetrating deeply (and fatally) into Alsace-Lorrain they were repulsed by the strengthened German forces. Worse still, the local German army commanders counter-attacked, throwing the French back to their own frontier. This meant that as the battle in Belgium unfolded, French forces were closer to the point of crises than Schlieffen ever envisioned; all because of Moltke’s unfortunate tampering.

All might still have come out well for the Germans, who by late August 1914 were driving on Paris, seemingly unstoppable. Having overrun Belgium, steadily pushing back the French left wing (reinforced by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) under Sir John French), they had won the Battle of the Frontiers and were moving inexorably south towards the French capital. The French were in full retreat, and a battered BEF was pulling out of the battle, retreating towards the west; Sir John choosing to preserve his force from what looked like sure destruction if they continued the fight. All seemed to be working, from the German perspective; when all at once Von Moltke’s mucking-up of the original plan came back to bite them.

1378236.jpgMucked-up the plan was, indeed. Not only had 6 divisions been sent to reinforce the left-wing in Lorraine; but as the German army advanced through Belgium seven more were detached to invest or stand guard over Antwerp, Given, and Maubeuge; to defend against a phantom landing force on the Belgian coast. A rumor circulated that not only was another British corps preparing to land in Belgium behind the advancing German forces; but, improbably enough, that a Russian expeditionary force had somehow made its way to Britain and was preparing to land as well! Four more divisions were also withdrawn by Moltke during the early stages to reinforce the garrison of East Prussia, facing the advance of two Russian armies. All of these reductions in strength to the German “wing of decision” was to cost the Germans the margin of superiority needed to achieve the stated objectives of the Schlieffen Plan.

1378239.jpgSo, when Von Kluck’s First Army on the extreme right neared Paris, he no longer had enough divisions to both swing wide to the west of Paris; and to maintain contact with the neighboring German army to his east. At that commander’s request, and with Moltke’s blessing, Kluck wheeled southeast prematurely, short of Paris. By doing so, he maintained a continuity of forces along the German line of advance, allowing no gap between his army and the next. But he forfeited an investiture of Paris in doing so.

Worse, the outside, right flank of First Army and the entire German advance was now exposed to counter attack by the considerable French garrison within Paris and by the BEF, back now in the fight; and as French troops streamed to the west from their bloody repulse in Lorraine, they were available to shore up the defenses in and around Paris, and along the Marne. What followed was the extraordinary spectacle of Parisian taxi cabs rushing from the capital to the east; where they ferried lift-after-lift of footsore infantrymen to their new positions, facing the German advance along the River Marne, in time to stop the German advance.

The resulting “Miracle of the Marne” was as much a gift from Von Moltke as it was from God!

CONCLUSION

In concept, the Schlieffen Plan is (literally) a text-book example of the tactical principle of economy of force and of the “weighted wing” theory of offensive operations. That it failed was not caused by flawed conception, but by timid execution. The resulting failure of the German offensive in the west in 1914 doomed Germany to a two-front war, and bloody stalemate in the trenches that soon grew up between the opposing armies from the Swiss border to the English Channel.

Had Schlieffen’s Plan been followed assiduously, it is likely the Great War would have been good-and-done shortly after it began, and four-more years of unspeakable carnage forestalled. Such an outcome, a short and not-too-terrible war that left Europe intact, honor assuaged and all sides little worse for the wear; would have spared the world not only the horrors of four years of bloody trench warfare. It might well have prevented the birth of something much more terrible that followed: the fall of the Czar in Russia and the Kaiser in Germany, replaced respectfully by the communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. From this bitter beginning would rise all the terrible evils of the 20th century: death camps and gulags, and a butcher’s bill that would eventually reach over 100 million dead killed by repressive regimes.

In a very strange way, we can blame the timid Von Moltke the Younger for Adolph Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin; as well as Mao, the Kim regimes in Korea, and Pol Pot in Cambodia. Failure and its consequences, on a very large scale indeed.

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(If you liked this post, perhaps you would enjoy IF WORLD WAR ONE WAS A BAR FIGHT)

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THE AGE OF ARTHUR, PART NINE: THE ORIGINS OF ARTHUR

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Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic conquest for nearly two centuries. This was an age of heroes… It was the Age of Arthur!

This is the ninth-part of our discussion of Britain in the so-called Age of Arthur: the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”. It was the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain; it was the Age of Arthur!

But who was Arthur?

Before we answer that question, it is necessary we understand the world in which he lived.

(Read Part Eight here; or start from the beginning here!)

ORIGINS OF ARTHUR

If King Arthur was indeed a historical character (and that is the underlying hypothesis of this series) then we must place his life somewhere between the last decades of the 5th century and the first decades of the 6th. He is roughly contemporaneous with Fergus Mór, the first Scot-King of Scotland, and with the Scandinavian heroes Beowulf and Hrolf Kraki (whose saga enjoys many points of similarity with the Arthurian legends). He occupies a place as leader of the British resistance against the Anglo-Saxon invaders following Ambrosius Aurelianus (mid-to-late 5th century) and before Gildas’ De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (“On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain”), in the 540s.

The name “Arthur”, itself, is the subject of some debate.

It doesn’t appear in usage among the Britons (or any other Celts) till after the mid-6th century. John Morris argues that the name Arthur, appearing as it does suddenly  among Scottish, Welsh and Pennine princes after this time, and taken with the absence of the name in usage at any time earlier, suggests that in the early 6th century the name became popular amongst the indigenous British due to the celebrity of some great warrior-hero who bore that name: the historical/legendary Arthur[1].

The Brythonic/Celtic word for bear is arth, or “Artos”. One theory is that the name “Arthur” derives from this root. Another possible source of the name may have its roots not in the Celtic languages, but in Etruscan: a Roman officer stationed in Britain in the 2nd or 3rd century bore the name Lucius Artorius Castus; whose family’s origin may have come from Etruria, in Italy. The name may have lived on in Britain after his departure, in a family he may have sired. More on him below.

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Statue of Gildas near the village named for him,  Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys, France

Gildas the Monk (the nearest contemporary chronicler of this period in Britain) refers to “the Bear”, or Artos; possibly in reference to Arthur. Unhelpfully, Gildas’ references to “the Bear” are, at best, oblique. Though he writes primarily of the events following the life (of a possible) Arthur, Gildas also mentions such events as the Battle of Badon (Mons Badonicus, or, Mount Badon); an event before his time but fresh in the minds of himself and his contemporaries.

The Battle of Badon is named by later writers as Arthur’s crowning victory. Yet in mentioning Badon Gildas omits to give credit to Arthur (or Artos). In fact, it has been argued that Gildas’ wording could be construed as crediting the victory at Badon to Ambrosius Aurelianus. In any case, if it was indeed Arthur who led the Britons to victory over the Saxons at Badon, why would Gildas’ fail to name him as the hero of that day?

One explanation may be a personal animus borne by Gildas against Arthur.

According to Gildas’ biographer, Caradoc of Llancarfan, Gildas’ brother was one Huail/Hueil ap Caw; a northern British or Pictish warlord from the area near Dumbarton Rock in Strathclyde (though alternate theories place Caw and his warlike son’s stronghold to the east, near modern Glasgow). Llancarfan states that Huail was an opponent of Arthur, refusing to acknowledge his leadership. A pirate/raider, he was captured and executed by Arthur in North Wales. Gildas, away on Christian mission in Ireland at the time, was grieved by the news and bore Arthur an eternal grudge. For this reason, perhaps, he deliberately and steadfastly refused to acknowledge or even name Arthur in his commentary (one of the many examples in history illustrating the importance of a friendly bard or chronicler to record one’s achievements).  Gerald of Wales even claims that Gildas destroyed “a number of outstanding books“, presumably in monastic libraries, which praised Arthur!

With Gildas, the nearest contemporary, obstinately silent as to the existence of Arthur historians are left only with accounts from later sources (Bede, Nennius, the Annales Cambriae, Geoffrey of Monmouth, etc). Trying to piece together the disparate chronicles and legends and to come up with a coherent theory for a “historical Arthur” has been the cause of much spent ink, particularly in the last six decades.

Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, in their book, King Arthur: The True Story (1992) concluded that the true identity of the historical King Arthur was a Welsh prince, named Owain Ddantgwyn (“White Teeth”). This tenuous identification rests solely on a reference in Gildas to a certain contemporary Welsh prince named Cynlas; who Gildas states was “charioteer of the Bear”. In ancient Celtic Britain, chieftains rode into battle in chariots, often driven by their eldest son. Though chariots had long been obsolete in Romano-Celtic Britain, the title of “Charioteer” (chariot driver) may well have continued in usage among the Celtic nobility as a ceremonial one; designating perhaps a chieftain’s heir, or his right-hand man, constable, champion or even bodyguard commander.

1427749Celtic chariot in pre-Roman Britain, 1st cent BC. Though described as “charioteer of the Bear, Cynlas’ title must have been a ceremonial one, as chariots had long gone from usage in Britain by the 5th/6th century

Phillips and Keatman assumed that the name “the Bear” (Artos) was Arthur’s nickname rather than his proper name. Assuming further that as his charioteer Cynlas must have been his son and heir; the authors then used existing genealogies to arrive at the “true” identity of Artos the Bear: Cynlas’ father, the Welsh prince Owain Ddantgwyn[2].

Thin thread from which to hang such a weighty theory.

Even accepting the premise that “the Bear” for whom Cynlas was “charioteer” is, indeed, Arthur; there is no reason to assume that he was Cynlas’ father. Without knowing the true significance of the title “charioteer” in 6th century Romano-British society the relationship between Cynlas and Artos the Bear is wildly speculative.

Another equally specious theory would place Arthur after Gildas, rather than before. This “Northern Arthur” theory identifies Artúr mac Áedán, king of the 7th century Dalriada Scots, as the model for Arthur. Aidan supported the Britons in their local fights in the north against Angle and Pictish enemies. The documentation for the existence of this Scottish prince comes from the 7th century manuscript known as the ‘Vita Columba’, written on the remote island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. While Aidan’s son was indeed a prince named Artúr (or Arturius), to identify him as the historic Arthur solely on their shared name is, at best, a stretch. Morris’ point seems pertinent here: that this Scottish prince was likely named after the famous hero, rather than being the hero. Certainly this Scot ruler did nothing of great note to earn a place as an immortal hero of the Welsh!

While some theories have Arthur a northern British hero, others place him in the southwest of Britain.

Geoffrey Ashe placed Arthur in the Sub-Roman British kingdom of Dumnonia; with Camelot, Arthur’s legendary stronghold, at Cadbury Castle in Somerset. Excavation (primarily by the late Professor Leslie Alcock of the University of Glasgow) has revealed that in the Arthurian period Cadbury was reoccupied and fortified. It may indeed have been a stronghold of a powerful south British warlord. But who this may have been is speculative.

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1427729.jpg (Top) Cadbury Castle hillfort. (Bottom) Artist’s reconstruction of Sub-Roman fortified gate at Cadbury.

In King Arthur: the Truth Behind the Legend (1999) Rodney Castleden makes a strong case for a Cornish-based Arthur. The ubiquity of Arthur name-sites and related places in the southwest, and particularly in Cornwall (including Tintagel, where in the legend Arthur was conceived; the Camel River and Slaughterbridge, possible site for Arthur’s last battle, at Camlann; and Lanyon Quoit, known as King Arthur’s Table, near Land’s End, to name a few) suggest a strong connection.

Cornwall, in post-Roman Britain, was the western half of the strong Sub-Roman British kingdom of Dumnonia; and has much to recommend it as a possible base of power for Arthur. Its eastern regions bordered (and perhaps included) the Salisbury Plain, where as discussed previously Arthur’s predecessor and possible kinsman, Ambrosius Aurelianus, may have had his chief stronghold (Amesbury). This also bordered the southern most of the “debatable lands”, the no-man’s-land between those regions still under British control and those of the emerging Saxon kingdoms of Sussex and Kent (and, soon, Wessex). Whoever led Dumnonia would perforce have been a prince in the forefront of the war against the Saxon invader.

Another alternative identification for Arthur sinks his roots more deeply in Roman history.  In From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail (Arthurian Characters and Themes C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor have suggested in recent scholarship that the archetype for the Arthur legend lies in the life of Lucius Artorius Castus, the 2nd/3rd century Roman officer mentioned above. Their theory is that this Roman officer’s name and exploits lived on in the memories of the Britons long after his departure from the island (in the early 3rd century?); later attaching themselves to an unknown hero or heroes who led the British resistance against the Saxons.

1427724.jpgGravestone of Roman cavalry officer, 1st-2nd century

Though Lucius Artorius Castus had a successful career in Roman service, his exploits were hardly the stuff of legend. Far more celebrated Roman commanders in Britain, such as Agricola or Magnus Maximus (Macsen Wledig in Welsh) would seem more likely candidates for having their name and exploits handed down to future generations than this rather obscure figure; whose only real recommendation is the similarity of his name to the legendary hero.

While a direct link seems highly improbable, a connection between Lucius Artorius and the Sarmatian cavalry that were stationed in Britain at the time of his posting is possible. While it is not known with any certainty if Lucius Artorius Castus actually ever commanded these Sarmatian foederati, Littleton and Malcor attempt to make that case. (Contrary to how he was depicted in the film, “King Arthur” (2004), Lucius Artorius Castus certainly was not a Sarmatian officer in late Roman Britain.)

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What is highly likely is a connection between the 5th-6th century Arthur and the descendants of these Sarmatian warriors; and/or northern British cavalrymen who fought in the Sarmatian style. That they provided the nucleus of his mounted strike force seems likely, as will be discussed later. There are many tantalizing similarities between Sarmatian culture and legends and pieces of the Arthurian legends; too many for mere coincidence. That their customs and legends bled into the Arthur myth seems likely.

Some of these are superficial, such as dragon standards: the Sarmatians used the Draco-windsock as a standard. Arthur, known as “Pendragon”, used a similar standard in the legends. The chief British warlords after Arthur are called “Great Dragon of the Island”; perhaps a title adopted by later British and Welsh High Kings in emulation of Arthur. However, we must not put too much store in such a connection. The “Draco” standard was used by the late Romans, and need not be attributed to a Sarmatian connection.

A somewhat more intriguing connection is the similarity of the “Sword-in-the-stone” legend: Arthur pulls the sword of the king from a stone, thus symbolizing his rightful claim to the throne. In Sarmatian religious practice swords thrust into the ground were part of religious observance, symbols of their god(s).

The strongest connection between the Sarmatians and the Arthurian legends, however, lies in the striking similarities between Arthur and the Sarmatian legendary hero, Batraz.

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In the Arthur story, the sword is pulled from the stone. In the Sarmatian tradition, the hero Batraz pulls his magical sword from the roots of a great tree. At his death Arthur commands his close companion, Bedivere, to cast his sword into the lake. This is mirrored in the Sarmatian legend of Batraz: as he lies mortally wounded, Batraz too orders his magical blade cast into the sea. Like Bedivere in the Arthurian myth, Batraz’s companion is reluctant to lose such a wonderful sword and lies to his master twice before finally casting the sword into the water. In both legends, an enchanted lady (the “Lady of the Lake” in the Arthurian legends) catches the sword and takes it beneath the waves.

That the Sarmatian settlers in northern Britain retained their national legends (as well as other elements of their culture), and that these in time spread amongst their Celtic neighbors and comrades-in-arms seems a plausible explanation for these similarities. More of this later, but it seems likely that the Sarmatian legends of Batraz merged with those of the Romano-British hero that we know as Arthur; fusing together over the centuries that followed Arthur’s death.

If we accept that there can be, at this stage of archaeology and scholarship, no certainty of a historical Arthur; we can at least build a plausible theory of who Arthur may have been, within the working premises already established.

NEXT: DUX BELLORUM

(1) Morris, John. The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650, P.116. Butler and Tanner, Ltd (1973).

(2) Phillips, Graham; Keatman, Martin. King Arthur: The True Story. Arrow Books, Limited; New Ed edition (1993)

 

Some of the artwork in this article has been reproduced with the permission of Osprey Publishing, and is © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
www.ospreypublishing.com

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THE KNIGHTS OF FRANCE DEFEAT THE POWER OF THE EMPIRE AT BOUVINES, 1214!

 In one of the most decisive battles of the 13th century,  King Philip II Augustus establishes France as the premiere power in Medieval Europe. 

Philip II, called “Augustus”, can fairly be called the greatest of France’s Medieval monarchs. Not since Charlemagne had a French king wielded such royal authority over the fiercely feudal nobility that ruled the duchies and counties of France. But his reign began at a very different place. 

CAPETS AND PLANTAGENETS

When he came to the throne in 1180, Philip II of the House of Capet inherited a royal power whose writ at times  barely extended beyond the area immediately surrounding his capital of Paris. France was ruled by its great feudal magnates, who while owing fealty to the Capetian king in Paris had a free hand to rule their own lands as near-independent overlords. The king only directly ruled, and drew revenues from, the crown lands (domaine royal); and the history of his House was of the kings constantly striving to expand the royal domaine.

The strongest and most independent of the great lords throughout the 11th and 12th century was the Duke of Normandy; who, in 1066, also became the ruler of England following the Norman Conquest.

The 12th century in Europe could fairly be called the Norman Century, as the intrepid descendants of Viking settlers in northern France conquered England, created a Duchy (later a kingdom) in southern Italy and Sicily, and won a principality in Antioch and northern Syria[1].  In the mid-century Henry II Plantagenet combined the Norman lands in France and England (his maternal inheritance) with the Angevin lands of his father; and after marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine added his wife’s holdings in southwestern France to the burgeoning Plantagenet Empire. By the time of his death in July of 1189 Henry Plantagenet ruled over more of France than did the King of France.

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Philip’s early years as king of France were spent in political and occassional military struggle with the brilliant Henry. At times he allied himself with one or more of Henry’s often rebellious sons, attempting to drive a wedge into and exploit fraction within the House of Plantagenet. In all of these he was ultimately thwarted.

But Philip learned, and his early struggles with Henry II made him a far more canny politician than most of his predecessors.

Henry’s son and successor, Richard Cœur de Lion, spent most of his 10 year reign absent on the Third Crusade; or a prisoner in Austria. But Richard was a renown warrior and military leader, and while he lived the Plantagenet lands in France were (for the most part) defended against Philip’s ready aggression. 

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Philip II and Richard the Lionheart

But after Richard’s death in 1199 the Plantagenet realm passed to his mercurial brother,  John I (Prince John of “Robin Hood” fame). John was called “Lackland”, because of all Henry II’s four sons he was the only one not to be granted lands to rule during his father’s reign. This lack of experience (combined with a temperament wholly unsuited to the task of ruling a feudal kingdom) caused the Plantagenet lands in France to fall away under the relentless predation of Philip of France.  By 1204 all of the Plantagenet Empire in France was lost to Philip, save the Duchy of Aquitaine in the south.

THE CAMPAIGN OF BOUVINES

Following the loss of Normandy in 1204, John sought to restore the lost Plantagenet Empire through a series of (mostly failed) military efforts. In 1212 John had successfully concluded alliances with his nephew Otto IV “the Welf”, a contender for the crown of Holy Roman Emperor in Germany; as well as with Count Renaud of Boulogne and Dammartin and Count Ferdinand of Flanders (a Portuguese royal prince, who acquired the title and lands of Flanders through marriage to the heiress). Though baronial unrest in England delayed operations[2] by 1214 John and his Imperial allies were prepared to strike.

The plan of operation called for the allies to approach Paris from two directions: John’s forces, based in Aquitaine, from the southwest; while Otto’s Imperial forces attack from the northeast. This would threaten Paris and Philip from two directions, potentially paralyzing him till the allies could unite.

King John of England

However, as is so often the case with even the best laid plans, it soon went awry.

In response to these movements, Philip took personal command of the northern front against the emperor and his allies, while his son Prince Louis was dispatched to contain John, coming from the southwest. As John advanced he initially had success against Louis, recapturing Anjou by late June. But when faced with battle, John’s bad relations with his vassals hurt him: the local Angevin nobles refused to advance; and, left with insufficient forces, he was forced to retreat back to the port of La Rochelle.

In the meantime, Philip, who had grown as a commander since his early years on the Third Crusade (where he played “second fiddle” to John’s elder brother Richard the Lionheart), now turned upon the Germans. He outmaneuvered the sluggish Otto and forced a battle on his own terms, on a plain suitable for cavalry; the arm he most trusted in. The armies met on July 27, 1214 east of Bouvines in Flanders.

At this period in western Europe the Holy Roman Empire was considered the dominant military power; while France was the cultural center of Europe, from which the cult of chivalry and the troubadour had sprung. At Bouvines the chivalry (knights) of France would have the opportunity to test their prowess on the battlefield against their Teutonic rivals. This would be the greatest battle fought between the East and West Franks since the dissolution of Charlemagne’s empire[3].

THE BATTLE OF BOUVINES

To the field at Bouvines Philip brought an army of between 5,500 and 7,600 men. The all-important cavalry component, the battle-winners of 13th century Europe, numbered roughly 1,500;  1,200-1,360 of which were knights, and 200-300 mounted sergeants[4]. The French were slightly outnumbered by their Imperial and allied opponents, who numbered as many as 9,000 and may have outnumbered the French in mounted knights by a few hundred. An English contingent, led by the renown William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, comprised part of the Imperial right.[5]

The French were drawn up facing northeast, the emperor and his allies the opposite. Both armies placed their infantry in the center, the heavy cavalry divided on both wings, and a mounted reserve behind the center. On the French side, Philip placed the knights of Champagne and Burgundy, commanded by the Duke of Burgundy, on his right. On his left was a mixed force from mostly Ponthieu and Brittany, commanded by Count Robert of Dreux (brother of the Count of Brittany) and Count William of Ponthieu. The French infantry in the center were town militia drawn from the Île de France and Normandy. His central reserve was composed of 700 knights, 175  of which were members of his own Mesne du Roi, his household knights. The military standard of France, the sacred  Oriflamme, flew behind the infantry and in front of the king’s reserve.

Otto deployed his forces with Renaud de Dammartin, Count of Boulogne and Dammartin commanding the right, composed of Brabant (Low Country) infantry and English knights under the command of the William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury (King John’s illegitimate half-brother). The Flemings were placed on the Imperial left, under the command of their lord Count Ferdinand. Otto himself commanded the Imperial center, along with Theobald Duke of LorraineHenry Duke of Brabant, and Philip Courtenay, the Marquis of Namur. In front of the center the emperor placed high-quality Flemish and Saxon infantry. Otto was himself surrounded by a guard of 50 picked German knights, renown for the their stature and prowess in tournament and battle.

The front of both armies stretched nearly three miles across!

The battle began on the French right, and soon became general as both armies advanced straight ahead and engaged the forces before them. No attempt was made by either commander to maneuver for tactical advantage. Nor was there coordination between the divisions of either army, and even within each division feudal households seem to have operated as independent entities. Knights on both sides sought out and fought each other for personal reputation and to gain ransoms from capture of noble opponents. In essence this was a tournament writ large, the grand melee where knights fought for glory and to gain captives for rich ransoms. A chronicler known as the Anonymous of Bethune even praised the fighting as “good tourneying”!

In the center the Imperial Flemish and Saxon infantry, considered the best in Western Europe, pushed back the French town militia, dismounted sergeants and feudal levies. Philip was forced to commit his reserve of 700 knights, to try to stem their advance. I the ensuing melee, the king was unhorsed and almost slain when dragged from his horse by a hooked pole arm. Only the quality of his armor and the steadfast loyalty of his household knights prevented his death; and the king was remounted on a borrowed horse. The Imperial foot were only driven back after a furious melee.

“Lances are shattering, swords and daggers hit each other, combatants split each other’s heads with their two-sided-axes (?), and their lowered swords plunge into the bowels of the horses when the iron protection which covers the bodies of their masters prevents iron from penetrating”. [6]

On the allied right, William Longsword and Count Renaud Count  charged forward, initially pushing back the French left; inflicting heavy casualties on Count Robert’s forces and threatening to turn the flank.

Meanwhile, on the opposite wing, the Flemish knights were at last bested by the Burgundians, when Count Ferdinand, exhausted after hours of combat and weakened by wounds, was taken prisoner. After this the Flemish resistance collapsed and many fled.

In the center, Otto led his mounted reserve of Imperial knights against Philip’s household cavalry. In the resulting melee, the French knights got the better of their German counterparts. The emperor was cut off from his bodyguard, and assaulted by one French knight after another. Wielding a falchion “like a halberd”,  Otto struck fiercely to all sides, fending off one assault after another. His horse was killed beneath him, and this time it was the emperor’s turn to be rescued and remounted by his loyal retainers. With the Imperial center collapsing around him, and the Burgundians now joining the fighting here after the collapse of his Flemish allies, Otto could only escape capture by fleeing the field. But the French captured the Imperial banner bearing the double-headed eagle.

The battle continued on the French left, where the English mercenaries under Longsword pressed hard their opponents until the Earl was unhorsed and captured by Philip of Dreux, the fighting Bishop of Beauvais, brother of Count Robert and a veteran of the Third Crusade. The French pressed their advantage as the English contingent lost coherence, and the survivors of the Imperial right formed a circle of Brabanter pikemen, under Count Renaud and fought to the bitter end. Renaud was captured at last, and his men slaughtered; ending the fighting at Bouvines and leaving Philip triumphant.

AFTERMATH

The French victory at Bouvines had wide-ranging consequences.

In Germany it led to Otto’s deposition as emperor, replaced  by his rival, the Hohenstaufen prince Frederick II. Frederick would go on to become one of the most powerful and celebrated rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, an enlightened prince who would come to be called by his contemporaries “Il stupor mundi” (the astonishment of the world).

Bouvines doomed John’s chance of recovering the lost Plantagenet lands in France. John’s loss of land and prestige would lead to a baronial rebellion against his tyrannical; and the following year, at Runnymede, they would force him to sign the Magna Charta, England’s first step towards a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.

In France Philip would use the prestige of his victories and the lands captured from John to establish the tradition of a strong, central monarchy. Bouvines will also grant the chivalry of France “bragging rights” as the most valorous knights in Christendom; a reputation they would maintain throughout the Middle Ages.

 

NOTES:

  1. See Elite Warriors of the Dark Ages: Norman Knight by this author.
  2. A problem John would experience continuously throughout the later years of his reign; and which would eventually spark into full-fledged rebellion in that of his son, Henry III.
  3. The kings of France retained the title of “King of the Franks” following the breakup of the Carolingian Empire; while the kingdom of East Francia (Ostfrankenreich) became the Regnum Teutonicum (“Teutonic Kingdom”) and eventually the Holy Roman Empire. Philip II was the first French monarch to style himself “King of France” instead of “King of the Franks”.
  4. The ratio of knights to mounted sergeant (sergeants-at-arms) seems disproportionately high, compared to examples we have from later Medieval practice. A knight was usually accompanied in battle by a mounted squire, himself armed-and-armored not much lighter (if at all) than the knight he served; and often a pair of sergeants or alternately a a crossbowman. By the late Middle Ages France had developed the lances fournies, a squad-sized unit comprised of a knight or man-at-arms, a squire armed in similar though lighter fashion, one or two archers, and a servant with the rather sinister title of  “coutilier” (literally, “dagger man”). This ratio of one or two men-at-arms per unit five (or six) may be a later, 15th century innovation. But it is unlikely that this was far out of the norm from early practice.
  5. Verbruggen, JF,  The Art of Warfare in Western Europe During the Middle Ages: From the Eighth Century to 1340 1997, pp. 245–247. Traditional numbers for both armies are considerably higher; but author makes compelling case for the lower number used here.
  6. William of Breton, The Battle of Bouvines
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DEADLIEST BLOGGER’S GREATEST QUOTES ON WAR 4

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Once again we provide, for your reading enjoyment and edification, some of our favorite quotes on military matters. If you missed part 3, go here

Courage is the foundation of victory – Plutarch, “Themistocles”

To retreat is impossible, to surrender is unthinkable! – Janos Hunyadi, at the Battle of Varna, 1444

If you lose your ensigns, cornets or flags, do never lose sight of my panache (white plume); you will always find it on the road to honor and victory. – Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV of France) to his captains before the Battle of Ivry

1426510.jpgBattle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base. – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign… Secondly, a just cause… Thirdly … a rightful intention. – Thomas Aquinas

The great issues of the day are not decided by speeches and majority votes, but by blood and iron. – Otto Von Bismarck

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Expect success, plan for failure. – Military axiom

On dangerous ground maneuver, on deadly ground fight. – Military axiom

If your flank march is going well, the enemy expects you to outflank him. If your attack is going really well, it’s an ambush. – Murphy’s Laws of War

Let the die be cast. – Julius Caesar, preparing to cross the Rubicon River in defiance of the Senate and Pompey; starting a Roman civil war.

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In the struggle between nationalities, one nation is the hammer and the other the anvil: one is the victor and the other the vanquished. – Bernhard von Bülow

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.  – G.K. Chesterton

In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Good Will. – Winston Churchill, History of the Second World War.

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One of the serious problems in planning against the American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals nor do they feel any obligations to follow their doctrine. – Soviet Admiral Chernavin

The reason that the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices chaos on a daily basis. – German General

War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography. – Ambrose Bierce

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DEADLIEST BLOGGER’S RECOMMENDED READING LIST

I am a voracious reader, and over the years have had the pleasure of happening upon some real gems. Here is my list of favorite books. I promise you, spending time with any of these will be time well spent!

NON-FICTION :

War Through the Ages – Lynn Montross

  • Best primer on the broad spectrum of military history.
  • Great thesis: all tactics are either shock or missile; or, most effectively, both.

 

 

Strategy – B. H. Liddell Hart

  • The book that most influenced my military thinking.
  • Hart was a major influence on Hitler’s panzer leaders and the tactics of the German Blitzkrieg.

 

 

Carnage and Culture – Victor Davis Hanson (VDH)

  • History of western warfare; focusing on why the West throughout history has dominated.

 

 

 

Hoplites: the Classic Battle Experience – VDH

  • Everything by this writer is golden!
  • Here, Hanson dissects the essence of Greek hoplite warfare and what it was that made the heroes of Greece the most feared fighting men of their age.

 

The Mask of Command – John Keegan (JK)

  • Bios of 4 military leaders, focusing on their unique command styles.
  • Excellently written and insightful biographies.

 

 

 

A History of Warfare – JK

  • If you ever wondered why man makes war; where it all began; and how we got where we are today… This is your book!

 

 

 

Soul of the Sword – Robert L. O’Connell

  • VERY cool book; history of war, warriors, and weapons.

 

 

Warfare in the Classic World –  John Warry

  • Great reference book; terrific illustrations.

 

 

Greece and Rome at War – Peter Connolly

  • Every book by this writer is worth owning. This is a compilation of two of these…

 

 

The Spartans: The World of the Warrior Heroes of Ancient Greece – Paul Cartledge

  • The history of Sparta, its warriors, women, and culture by the foremost academic expert on the Spartans today.

 

HISTORICAL FICTION:

Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield

  • The Spartans at Thermopylae, and much more!
  • What made the Spartans the warrior par excellence of the ancient world?

 

 

The Last Kingdom (Saxon Chronicles) (series) – Bernard Cornwall (BC)

  • Set during the wars between Danes and English, in the time Alfred the Great.
  • An English lord is raised by Danish-Vikings to be a great warrior. He uses these skills to turn back the Danish conquest of England; becoming Alfred’s greatest general and champion.

 

Sharpe’s Rifles (series) – BC

  • Bernard Cornwell is the best living historical novelist for my money. Sharpe was his original serial badass.
  • Set in Napoleonic Wars and India, follows the life and adventures of Wellington’s finest fighting soldier, Richard Sharpe!

 

The Archer’s Tale (Grail Series) and Agincourt – BC

  •  Another great Bernard Cornwell series about the career of a fighting man during the Hundred Years War.

 

Flashman (series) – George McDonald Frasier

  • Harry Paget Flashman is one of the greatest anti-heroes in fiction. A great series of historical novels, laced with humor.

 

 

 

Warrior in Bronze & A King in Splendor – George Shipway

  • Heroic Age of Greece, from Hercules to Troy.
  • Told from the POV of Agamemnon (not the same weenie you are used to seeing in film).

 

The Imperial Governor – George Shipway

  • Roman Britain, time of Boudicca

 

 

Image result for the prince of foxes samuel shellabarger 1947The Prince of Foxes – Samuel Shellabarger

  • Set in Renaissance Italy, Caesare Borgia attempts to unit Italy. His most capable agent is our wily hero, Andre Orsini.
  • This is a terrific read, and inspired a film version with Orson Welles and Tyrone Power.

 

Image result for the prince of foxes samuel shellabarger 1947Captain from Castile – Samuel Shellabarger

  • An exiled Spanish nobleman joins Cortez’s expedition to conquer Aztec Mexico; and in the process regain his name and honor.
  • An excellent novel by a terrific writer; this too spawned a film version with Tyrone Power.

 

Whom the Gods Would Destroy –  Richard Powell

  • The Trojan War brought to life as never before.

 

 

The Lady for Ransom –  Alfred Duggan (AD)

  • Normans in Byzantine service during the Manzikert Campaign and after.
  • Every book by this splendid writer is worth reading.

 

 

Count Bohemond  (AD)

  • A novel about the great Norman leader of the First Crusade.
  • No one brings Medieval life (and thought) alive like Duggan!

 

 

King of Pontus (AD)

  • A bio-novel about Mithridates of Pontus.

 

 

 

Lord Geoffrey’s Fancy  (AD)

  • A tale set in the Crusader Principality of Greece in the 13th century

 

 

 

Hercules My Shipmate – Robert Graves

  • The best telling of the voyage of Jason and the collection of heroes that became known as the Argonauts

 

 

Count Belisarius – Graves

  • The life and times of the 6th century Byzantine conqueror

 

 

 

Young Caesar & Imperial Caesar – Rex Warner

  • Life of the “noblest Roman of them all”

 

 

First Man in Rome (series) – Colleen McCullough

  • Series about the end of the Republic, beginning of Empire

 

 

The Relgion – Tim Willocks

  • A novel about the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. One of the best recent novels of its kind, with a truly terrific Uhtred-like hero.

Sci-Fi /Adventure 

Island in the Sea of Time (series) – S.M. Sterling

  • Time travel, Americans to the Bronze Age

 

 

Dies the Fires (series) – S.M. Sterling

  • People struggle to survive end of civilization; SCA dominates

 

 

 

A Hymn Before Battle (Posleen invasion series) – John Ringo

  • Too good to describe! Earth invaded… Starship troopers meets Bolo meets… intelligent Velociraptors!

 

 

March Upcountry (series) – David Weber and John Ringo

  • Super-soldiers must survive on hostile world then get home and win a civil war

 

 

 A Desert Called Peace (Carrera Series Book 1) – Tom Kratman

  • One of the best authors of military scyfi, Kratman brings real world military knowledge (he is a retired US Army Lt. Colonel) to his story.
  • This is a VERY enjoyable series, one that asks the question, “what price victory”.
  • Our current war on terror and the geopolitical situation reimagined on another planet colonized by earth.

 

Into the Looking Glass –  John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor

  • Earth invaded by… well, just read it!

Action / Adventure 

 

Ghost & “Kildar” (series) – John Ringo

  • Ex-Spec Ops guy becomes free-lance anti-terrorist!

 

 

Without Remorse – Tom Clancy

  • After girl friend is murdered, ex-Navy SEAL becomes vigilante (and hero of Jack Ryan series)

 

 

Hunt for Red October (Jack Ryan series) – Tom Clancy

  • Jack Ryan’s continuing career throughout the Cold  War and beyond.

 

 

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DIADOCHI – MACEDONIAN GAME OF THRONES (PART 8): EUMENES AND CRATERUS

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Long before George R.R. Martin penned his tale of war, intrigue and treachery the ancient world was scene to its own version of Game of Thrones.

(This is the eighth  in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadochi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. The previous installment, Part 7, can be found here  . Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! Special thanks to Michael Park for his indispensable help in filling in the gaps in the sources and putting-up with my incessant questions!)

It was now early summer, 320, three years after the death of Alexander the Great[1].  Perdiccas, to whom Alexander had passed his signet ring on his death-bed; and who had ruled the empire ever since was now dead as well, murdered by his mutinous officers. He had played the “game of thrones” to win, gambling all and coming up short.

The day after his death there was an assembly of the Macedonian Royal Army in their camp in Egypt. Ptolemy son of Lagos, yesterday’s enemy, was invited to speak [2]. This invitation so close on the heels of Perdiccas’ murder may suggest his collusion with the officers responsible.

1585723.jpgPtolemy was well received, and  the soldiers offered him the regency for the two kings. But the politically canny son of Lagos refused to step into Perdiccas sandals, a move guaranteed to make him the focus of every ambitious leader’s envy. Instead, he nominated to be custodians of the  kings two other officers:  Peithon, Alexander’s former Bodyguard, satrap of Media and Perdiccas’ former senior sub-commander (as well as one of his three killers); and Arrhidaeus, the officer who’d aided Ptolemy in the bringing of Alexander’s corpse to Egypt. They were given the mission to take the Royal Army out of Egypt and back to Syria, to where Antipater was enroute from Asia Minor.

It is likely that all understood that with Perdiccas gone primacy now belonged to Craterus or Antipater, allies of Ptolemy against the late Regent. It had already been agreed between these two men that Antipater would rule in Europe, while Craterus acted as guardian for the Kings and Regent in Asia.

The soldiers agreed enthusiastically to Ptolemy’s proposals, and the army and court prepared for its trek back to Syria. Ptolemy returned to Memphis, where he continued to organize Egypt into his own personal fief and base of power. Here he would bide his time, watching and waiting for opportunities to expand his power, one careful bite at at time. He was a gambler who made only safe bets, and never risked all on a single throw of the dice.

But  just two days after the murder of Perdiccas, before the Royal Army could break camp and begin the march back, word came that there had been a momentous battle between Craterus and the late Perdiccas’ lieutenant, Eumenes of Cardia, in Asia Minor; one that would once again change the game and reset the pieces on the board.

EUMENES AND NEOPTOLEMUS

When Perdiccas set off for Egypt he left his philos, the wily Eumenes of Cardia in command in Anatolia; with instructions to block Antipater and Craterus from crossing the Hellespont into Asia. To help him in this endeavor Perdiccas instructed his hotheaded brother, Alcetas, satrap of Pisidia; and Neoptolemus,  satrap of Armenia to obey Eumenes and join their forces to his. Together their combined armies would be approximately equal to that of the “Europeans” (Antipater and Craterus). Further, he had dispatched the imperial fleet, under Cleitus the White (who had successfully commanded at sea against the Greek allies during the Lamian War) to the Hellespont; to help Eumenes in preventing Antipater and Craterus from crossing into Asia. Operating from ports along the Asian side of the strait, Cleitus’ fleet [3] could have made transporting Antipater and Craterus’ forces across the straits potentially suicidal. For this reason, the Perdiccas had felt safe in marching the bulk of the Royal Army to Egypt, with these strategically sound arrangements left in place for defending his rear in Anatolia.

1585722.jpgBut his plans relied upon his commanders staying loyal and working together in harmony. As events would show, this was an unrealistic expectation.

The first set-back may have been the defection of Cleitus. We don’t know at what point this occurred, but promised the satrapy of Lydia he defected to the “Europeans”. Perhaps the victor of Amorgos couldn’t stomach supporting a Greek[4], his erstwhile enemies in the Lamian War (even one who had always served the Macedonian throne) against his old commanding officers, Craterus and Antipater; the most respected Macedonian leaders then alive. Whatever his motivation, he now placed the royal fleet at the disposal of Craterus and Antipater.

They were now free to cross into Asia at their pleasure.

With Antipater and Craterus’ march into Asia inevitable, Eumenes could only  gather his subordinate forces and fight a holding action; giving Perdiccas time to defeat Ptolemy. Accompanied by a strong force of his Cappadocian cavalry (see below), Eumenes moved towards Hellespontine Phrygia; expecting to link up with Alcetus and Neoptolemus.

Neoptolemus and Eumenes had very recently campaigned together in western Armenia. This highland region, allotted at the Babylon accord to Neoptolemus, was crucial to the security of Cappadocia. Armenia straddled the lines of communication from east to west, including the old Achaemenid Royal Road from Susa to Sardis. Following the Cappadocian campaign in the summer of 322 Perdiccas had given Neoptolemus a body of Macedonian troops as the core of an army to subdue Armenia.

But campaigning in this harsh land of upland valleys and high mountain ridges is notoriously difficult [5]. The Armenians, famous for their heavy cavalry, proved more trouble than Neoptolemus, at best an indifferent commander, could deal with. Short of cavalry, he and his troops were in any case at a severe disadvantage. Worse, the Macedonian veterans, garrulous and opinionated as only old grognards can be,  were soon disaffected and mutinous; and Neoptolemus found himself in something of the same predicament as the far more capable Lucullus would when campaigning in this same region two-and-a-half centuries later. Eumenes, as ruler of neighboring Cappadocia, was tasked by Perdiccas with aiding Neoptolemus’ faltering expedition. [6]

However, Perdiccas failed to take into consideration the deep animosity that existed between Neoptolemus and Eumenes, as well as the former’s pride and arrogance. The source of these two men’s mutual enmity is not stated in the sources. It may have begun during Alexander’s campaigns, where Eumenes was first the royal secretary and later a commander of a squadron of Companion Cavalry; and Neoptolemus the king’s “Armor Bearer” and at one point commander of the Royal Foot Guards (the Agema).  Neoptolemus was a Molossian of Epirus, related to the royal family on Alexander’s maternal side. This proud officer obviously resented Eumenes being foisted upon him as co-commander in Armenia. He is recorded to have insulted Eumenes during this campaign, sneering that he (Neoptolemus) had followed Alexander through Asia with shield and spear; while Eumenes had only done so with stylus and tablet. As a Greek in the high councils of the ruling Macedonians [7], Eumenes had to take such slights with grace. But he returned Neoptolemus’ scorn with a quiet disdain of his own.

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The ghost of Hellenism still haunts the Armenian uplands in abandoned temples such as this

Eumenes was able to restore the situation. He did so by raising at his own expense (and with promises of immunity from future taxation) a large body of cavalry from amongst the Graeco-Macedonian officers of his satrapal court and from the Iranian gentry of his province; some 6,300 in a very short time. With these he came to Neoptolemus’ aid. With cajoling words and diplomacy he quelled Neoptolemus’ mutinous troops and restored some order. The situation was soon restored and Neoptolemus left in possession of his province.

But his resentment and jealousy of Eumenes lingered on.

Now in the spring of 320 Neoptolemus was expected to bring his army west and serve under Eumenes against Antipater and Craterus. As was Alcetus, brother of the Regent. However, Macedonian chauvinism made serving under Eumenes, a Greek, problematic at best. Alcetus flatly refused the summons, staying at home in his own satrapy and defying his brother’s orders. When Perdiccas became aware of his brother’s obstinance, and again ordered him to join Eumenes, Alcetus replied that his troops could not be relied upon to fight against Antipater, an iconic Macedonian leader; and especially not against Craterus, the very best of Alexander’s marshals, who was beloved by the rank-and-file Macedonians. Alcetus steadfastly refused to move from his base in Psidia.

Neoptolemus, weighing his options, went even further; deciding to secretly treat with Antipater and Craterus rather than serve under a man he despised. Feigning compliance with his instructions, he marched his army towards Eumenes, all the while planning to betray him at the first opportunity.

Meanwhile, Antipater and Craterus crossed into Asia. At the subsequent battle against Eumenes, Craterus had an army of 20,000 infantry [8] and 2,000 cavalry. But this was after Antipater  left the army with a detached force for operation in Cilicia (see below). Since the numbers of Antipater’s division is nowhere stated in the sources we can assume that the grande armee the Europeans brought into Asia was closer to or even exceeded 30,000: not much less (if at all) than Alexander crossed into Asia with in 334. Diodorus makes the point that ” the majority were Macedonians celebrated for their valor” [9]. These were the veterans of Philip and Alexander’s long wars, the men who had stood up to Alexander at Opis and demanded discharge and return home; and who once reconciled had been sent with Craterus back to Macedon in 323.[10] The victors of Crannon, they were the steadiest infantry in the world. Only the Silver Shields (Argyraspides), currently with Perdiccas on the way to Egypt, enjoyed a greater reputation.

1585725.jpgTo face these Eumenes had a scratch force of mixed quality, of which no more than 5,000 could have been Macedonians. These latter were with Neoptolemus, the veterans of his Armenian campaign; and were not yet united with Eumenes’ army. The Molossian was indeed approaching, but with no intention of joining Eumenes and every intent of betraying him.

For the sake of clarity, we shall call Perdiccas’/Eumenes side the “Royalists”, as the Regent had possession of the two kings and the royal court;  and thus acted with royal authority. Those aligned against Perdiccas (chiefly Antipater, Craterus, and Ptolemy) we shall call the “Allies”.

THE BATTLE FOR ANATOLIA

Things could hardly have started off any worst for the Royalists in Anatolia.  Their fleet had switched sides, making blocking the crossing of Antipater and Craterus into Asia impossible. To complicate matters even further Antigonas (acting as Antipater’s subordinate) had established a bridgehead in southwestern Anatolia, landing there in early spring with 3,000 troops; and nearly capturing Eumenes at Sardis (see Part 7). The local satraps, Asander of Caria and Menander of Lydia had immediately gone over to the Allies. With these forces behind him, Eumenes could in no way attempt to block Antipater and Craterus from crossing the Hellespont into Asia. He had no choice but to fall back towards his own satrapy of Cappadocia.

The Royalist defense of Anatolia was collapsing before the campaign had even properly begun.

Eumenes must have known that Alcetus was refusing to leave Pisidia and join him. But he expected Neoptolemus to unite forces with him. This combined with his Cappadocian heavy cavalry would given him an army nearly as large as the Allies; though with a fraction of the number of Macedonians, who made up the phalanx, the solid core of any Diadochi army.

At some point before their junture Eumenes learned of Neoptolemus’ planned treachery; we don’t know how or precisely when. He marched against his unfaithful subordinate immediately. Where this, the first battle of the Wars of the Diadochi, was fought is unknown. Due to the animosity between the two men, it took on the aspects of a grudge match. Neoptolemus’ had the advantage in infantry, Eumenes having no heavy infantry to oppose Neoptolemus’ Macedonian phalanx. His own were likely a mixed lot of Asian light troops and perhaps some Greek mercenaries drawn from local garrisons. However, Eumenes had his 6,000 heavily-armored Cappadocian noble cavalry and another 300 Graeco-Macedonian lancers of his Agema (bodyguard). The number of cavalry that Neoptolemus  had at his command seems to have been negligible, perhaps no more than his own bodyguard of 300 horsemen.

1585727.jpgIn the resulting battle, for which no historian gives a name or location, Neoptolemus’ Macedonians broke and pursued the lighter infantry of Eumenes’ center. However, the Cappadocian horse swept around the flanks and captured Neoptolemus’ camp; in which the soldiers’ baggage was stored. As would be shown throughout the wars to come the Macedonian soldiery valued nothing more than the accumulated plunder of some 14 years of conquests. Their families, the women who followed them and the children they bore, also waited in the camp. By this move Eumenes had captured a powerful bargaining chip.

Having captured the camp, Eumenes and his masses of cavalry turned about and charged back towards the rear of the enemy. Apparently the loss of their camp had gone unnoticed: ancient battles, involving large numbers of horses galloping about, were often cloaked in clouds of dust. Chasing down fleeing light infantry, Neoptolemus’ Macedonian phalanx had broken ranks, advancing sloppily, in poor order. From seemingly out of nowhere came Eumenes massed squadrons, thundering into the rear of the phalanx!

1585736.jpgNothing is more devastating in ancient battle than a cavalry charge into the unsuspecting rear of a body of troops. The initial impact of the Cappadocian’s charge likely killed many, and shattered the phalanx’s formation (what remained of it in the midst of their pursuit). The Macedonians surrendered in mass, signalling their submission by raising their pikes. Eumenes, pulled back his riders, accepting their surrender upon receiving their oaths to serve under him.

Neoptolemus escaped the debacle, fleeing the field with just the 300 horsemen[11] of his personal agema. He rode off to find the camp of Antipater and Craterus, where he was welcomed in their councils.

Eumenes had won the initial clash-of-arms of the First Diadochi War; and with it no little prestige. A largely untried commander until them, he had proved himself able to weigh the means at hand to come up with a successful plan. The addition to his army of a  force of crack Macedonian infantry was a welcome addition, balancing his already very strong cavalry forces. He could count on these for the most part to accept his leadership, up to a point. As the Regent’s appointed legate in the theater, he could legitimately claim to be commanding them in the name of the kings. Certainly they had no loyalty to Neoptolemus, who had never been popular with these troops, as evidenced by earlier their mutiny in Armenia. No doubt the return of their captured baggage weighed heavily on their decision to change sides.

What Eumenes could not rely upon was their willingness to fight for him, a Greek, against the two most respected Macedonian leaders then alive: Antipater and Craterus. In this, Alcetus had not been wrong when he told Perdiccas his reasons for not bringing his own Macedonians to fight with Eumenes. Though these (5,000?) Macedonian phalangites would give his army the stiffening it needed, they could not be relied upon in the battle to come.

THE FINAL RECKONING 

At this point Craterus and Antipater reached out to Eumenes. In contrast to his bitter relationship with Neoptolemus, Eumenes and Craterus had been on friendly terms throughout Alexander’s campaigns. While many Macedonians looked down their noses at Eumenes as nothing but a jumped-up Greek, the affable Craterus had been the exception. So now he offered Eumenes a complete amnesty, rank and honor if he switched sides and joined against Perdiccas. Knowing of Eumenes long distrust of Antipater (patron and supporter of Eumenes’ personal enemy, the tyrant of his home city of Cardia), Craterus proposed to reconcile the two, and Antipater for his part offered Eumenes his friendship.

Eumenes now showed the firmness of his loyalty by replying to Antipater that he already had all of the friends that he needed, thank you. To Craterus, he responded with no little cheek: that if he would change sides and join Perdiccas’, he (Eumenes) would undertake to reconcile him to the Regent!

Thus the die was cast, and a fateful battle was inevitable.

The Allied leaders took council and deliberated the next move in the game. Present were the four principal commanders: Antipater, Craterus, Antigonas, and Neoptolemus. The latter gave a jaundiced account of Eumenes’ victory over him, disparaging the Greek’s abilities and the composition of his forces; and assured all that Eumenes’ Macedonians would never stand with him against Craterus, who was beloved:

…for the Macedonians longed for him exceedingly, and if they should only see his cap and hear his voice, they would come to him with a rush, arms and all. And indeed the name of Craterus was really great among them, and after the death of Alexander most of them had longed for him as their commander.[12]

Reminiscent of Napoleon, it was thus suggested that the mere site of Craterus’ hat [13] would be enough to win over Eumenes’ Macedonian infantry without striking a blow!

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Craterus was known always wearing his kausia, even into battle. The modern Afghan Pakol, or “Chitrali cap” is reminiscent of and perhaps descended from the Macedonian kausia.

The Allies decided to divide their forces. Plutarch implies that Craterus now assumed over-all command; for he states that “Craterus sent Antipater into Cilicia, while he himself with a large part of the forces advanced with Neoptolemus against Eumenes.” [14] This makes perfect sense, in that Antipater was at this point a very old man while Craterus was in the prime of his life. Antigonas was sent (presumably still in command of the force he had landed in Caria with) to thwart Perdiccas’ operations in Cyprus, and secure the island for the allies.

Two question arise regarding this division of forces.

The first concerns the purpose of Antipater taking a force away from the main army when a clash with Eumenes was imminent. Diodorus states that Antipater was sent to Cilicia “to fight against Perdiccas”. But militarily speaking this is nonsensical. Perdiccas was marching on Egypt, and would have been at least at that country’s borders if not already in the northern Sinai. Antipater can have given Ptolemy little immediate help from Cilicia at this stage. So why was he sent there?

The second question regards numbers: was the split an even one?

Unfortunately for our analysis, we are missing a vital piece of information: what was the grand total of the Allied army before the division? We know from Diodorus what portion Craterus had with him in his fight against Eumenes: 20,000 infantry, and 2,000 cavalry. But that is after Antipater took his division to Cilicia. As Craterus’ force was roughly of equal size to Eumenes’, it seems likely that the Allies arranged it so that Craterus would retain enough to ensure numerical parity in the coming battle, and the excess would go with Antipater. Since the Allied army can not have been much more than 30,000 it is likely that Antipater’s force was not more than 10,000, and likely less; and that it was mostly light auxiliaries or mercenaries, as we know the veteran Macedonians were with Craterus.

But to what purpose? Surely, as we note above, Antipater was not detached to engage the distant Perdiccas.

1585751The Cilician Gates; through which ran the main road between Asia Minor and Syria.

What seems far more likely is that Antipater’s detachment was sent to occupy the passes leading from Anatolia into Cilicia, particularly the so-called Cilician Gates.  His objective was to cut off Eumenes retreat and prevent him from withdrawing south to join Perdiccas. Eumenes position in Anatolia must have seemed doomed to the Allies; faced by their superior forces, and himself with a questionable army of “barbarians” and disaffected Macedonians (ready to switch sides, if Neoptolemus was to be believed). His only option would seem (to Craterus and Antipater) was to withdraw, and Antipater was sent to Cilicia to prevent this. Or, should Eumenes be foolish enough to give battle to Craterus, Antipater would be in position to block his escape following his inevitable defeat, sealing the victory.

Craterus now marched the bulk of the Allied army against Eumenes.

To the Allies utter surprise, the latter had no plans for withdrawing. With breathtaking audacity, Eumenes attacked.

Moving rapidly towards Craterus, the opposing forces came upon each other somewhere between the Hellespont and Cappadocia. That is all we know of the location. That we know so little is surprising in a battle of such consequence, as is the fact that it isn’t even given a name in the sources. In any case, a hill (or ridge) seems to have separated the two armies, and they could not initially see each other.

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A broad plain in central Anatolia. On just such a field, Craterus faced Eumenes.

The night before, Eumenes (according to Plutarch) dreamed of Alexander and victory; and that the goddess Demeter would be his patron. He therefore had his soldiers adorn their helmets with wreaths of wheat in honor of the harvest goddess; and “Demeter” became their watchword in the coming fight (“Athena” was to be used by Craterus’ army, for what reason the sources are silent).

Eumenes seems to have scouted ahead and accurately discerned Craterus’ deployment on the day of battle, as evidenced by his counter dispositions. That, or he knew his opponent so well he could accurately guess as to his dispositions. In either case, he deployed his army in such a fashion as was to give him his best (only?) chance of winning this one-sided engagement.

That his Macedonians would not fight against their hero, Craterus, was a very real concern. To prevent their defection, Eumenes concealed from his troops who their enemy was. He put it out that they were facing Neoptolemus once again; a Molossian and even less popular with his Macedonians than he, a Greek. But he knew that this fiction would collapse the minute his Macedonians spotted Craterus approaching, wearing his trademark jaunty kausia.

Eumenes therefore posted the mass of his Cappadocian heavy cavalry, 5,000 strong, on his left, opposite to where Craterus would be leading his own smaller force of cavalry, on the Allied right. These “barbarians” cared little who they were opposed to, and Craterus’ name carried no weight with them. They were commanded by the old Persian grandee, Phanabazus the son of Artabazus, Eumenes’ brother-in-law[15] , and Phoenix of Tenedos, likely an officer of his inner-circle. Their orders were to advance rapidly, ahead of the infantry in the center; and upon seeing Craterus coming on, to charge him with all their might. On no account were they to accept parlay if offered: Craterus must be given no chance to announce himself to Eumenes’ Macedonians!

1585748.jpgEumenes himself rode to the opposite flank, his right (where generals in Graeco-Macedonian armies typcally took station) with the 300 troopers of his personal agema. Here he expected to be opposed by his enemy, Neoptolemus with the men of his bodyguard. For the two leaders facing each other on this wing the battle would take on the character of a grudge match. For Eumenes and Neoptolemus, this was personal!

Eumenes infantry were posted in the center, further back than his cavalry wings and were apparently told to advance but slowly. This force was comprised of “twenty thousand foot soldiers, men of every race”, according to Diodorus, of which between 3-5,000 were his Macedonian phalangites; until recently Neoptolemus’ troops. His most unreliable element, they must be kept out of the battle till he could win it with the element in which he had the most confidence: his cavalry.

Craterus had arranged his army for battle as Eumenes anticipated: with himself and the bulk of the 2,000 cavalry under his command on his right; his Macedonian phalanx (and supporting light infantry skirmishers) in the center; and Neoptolemus with his own 300 agema cavalry on the left. We know from Diodorus that the Allied infantry numbered 20,000 mostly Macedonians, “famed for their valor” (see above, and note 10 below). We don’t know how many cavalry were heavy horse or light. Certainly those of Craterus’ and Neoptolemus’ own bodyguards were Graeco-Macedonian heavy horse, in the model and perhaps veterans of Alexander’s Companion Cavalry: lance armed and armored shock cavalry.  Unfortunately for Craterus, they were no match head-to-head with the even more heavily armored Cappadocians they were facing.

1585745.jpgIn all of Alexander’s battles, Iranian heavy cavalry such as these had given the Macedonians their toughest opponent. At Granicus he had bested them in a furious melee along the river’s bank; the longer Macedonian xyston giving the Companions greater reach. That, and the mistake the Persians had made in deploying along the river bank in static position and remaining stationary instead of charging. At Issus, massed Persian heavily armored cavalry charged the Thessalian horse on Alexander’s left under Parmenio; and succeeded in pushing back these, reputedly the best horsemen in Greece. At Gaugamela Alexander had countered the Bactrian and “Scythian” heavy cavalry on Darius’ left with small groups of light infantry and cavalry, shielding and supported by his Companions; using short, sharp charges to delay and string them out, taking them out of the battle and creating the vital gap with their own center that he was able to exploit.

In no wise did he attempt to meet “force with force”, by charging his Companions directly into the Persian heavy cavalry. Alexander had better uses for his Companions.

1585744.jpgUnfortunately for Craterus, he had made no similar arrangements for dealing with Eumenes 5,000 Cappadocian heavy horse.

Haranguing his troops, Craterus promised them the spoils of Eumenes camp. Then, signalling a general advance, he spurred forward at the head of his own right wing cavalry, quickly leaving the infantry of his phalanx far behind. His intentions are unknown, but it is likely he planned to scout ahead, and to show himself to Eumenes’ Macedonian infantry. Perhaps he believed that with a wave of his hat he could induce them to lay down their arms or switch sides. However, if this was what he expected as he crested the intervening ridge, he was dissapointed.

Directly ahead,  bearing down furiously upon him, was a mountain of bronze-clad riders in close formation. In the distance and to his left he could see Eumenes infantry coming on as well, but he had no time or opportunity to address them.  Muttering curses at Neoptolemus for deceiving him, he quickly “exhorted his officers to act like brave men, and he charged upon the enemy”[16].

The two charging masses of horse met  with a thunderous clash. Plutarch says their lances were quickly shattered, and the opponents laid on each other with swords. Craterus, at the head of his squadrons in the fashion of Alexander, fought admirably, slaying many about him[17]. He had thrown off his hat, that he would be more readily recognized. But the Cappadocians who pressed about him cared not a fig for whom he was; and the Macedonians who did were at some distance, unable to catch site of their beloved leader, unaware he was even on the battlefield. At last he was speared and fell from his horse[18]. Diodorus claims he was trampled under in the cavalry melee and thus perished. But Plutarch tells a different and more dramatic tale:

As he lay prostrate there all his enemies rode past him, not knowing who he was, except Gorgias, one of the (Graeco-Macedonian) officers of Eumenes; he recognized him, dismounted from his horse, and stood guard over his body, for he was now in an evil plight and struggling with death.[19]

The Cappadocians, more heavily armored and outnumbering their foe by more than 2-1, drove Craterus cavalry off in flight; and the survivors took refuge behind their slowly advancing phalanx.

Simultaneously, on the opposite flank, an even greater drama was playing out.

Here, Eumenes and Neoptolemus’ led their respective bodyguard squadrons (agemata); each 300 horsemen strong. They charged each other, smashed together, and then withdrew to prepare to charge again. This they did twice before Eumenes spotted his enemy, and Neoptolemus he; recognizing one another by their horses and the splendor of their arms. On this third clash, the two men made directly for each other with murderous intent. They”dashed together with the violence of colliding triremes” and exchanged furious stokes at close quarters. Their respective squadrons drew back, watching the duel and allowing the outcome to decide the contest. It was a scene right out of Homer.

Letting go of their reins, they each leaned over, grappling the other and seeking to pull him from his horse. While they were struggling, their horses ran from under them and they fell to the ground; where they wrestled about for advantage. Neoptolemus rose first. But Eumenes, rising to one knee, viciously slashed the back of his legs; partially “hamstringing” his enemy. Collapsed back to his knees, Neoptolemus nevertheless had the strength to return the favor, striking Eumenes with a flurry of blows; slashing him on the arm and both thighs.  Eumenes finally struck him down with a blow to the neck, between the top of his cuirass and helmet. Neoptolemus fell to the ground and Eumenes, as though in duel on the plains of Ilium, began to strip the armor from his fallen foe, reviling him all the while.

However, Neoptolemus was not yet dead; and still retained his sword in hand. Mustering what little life was left in him, he thrust his blade into Eumenes groin, beneath the lower edge of his cuirass. But his fading strength was too feeble to inflict a killing wound, and Eumenes was only injured.

Thus died Neoptolemus, whose reach far exceeded his grasp.

Helped onto his horse, a bloody Eumenes then led his squadrons to the opposite side of the field. There, according to Plutarch, he found his officer, Gorgias, still warding the dying Craterus. Eumenes dismounted, and comforted his old friend before he died; weeping and  bitterly cursing the “evil fortune” that pitted two friends against each other. Craterus died in his arms, the foremost of Alexander’s generals then alive.

When Craterus’ infantry learned of the death of both of their commanders, they halted their advance. Eumenes, though weakened by his wounds, rode before them and convinced them to cease the struggle, and to join him. However, in the night they struck camp, marching to join Antipater in Cilicia.

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The approval and allegiance of the Macedonian soldiery, the steadiest infantry in the world, was the goal of every Diadochi warlord. Ironically, in the two opening battles of the First Diadochi War the phalanxes played at best a minor role; Eumenes deciding both with his cavalry alone. The underlying truth of the conflict was that the cynical veterans had no stake in the outcome other than their own financial gain and welfare. While loyal in an abstract sense to their Royal House, they saw little profit in dying to advance one Diadochi’s power over another.

Improbably, Eumenes had won a great victory, and should have earned as great a renown. He had triumphed over far superior forces, led by the best of Macedonians commanders. However, far from gaining from this, he found himself reviled by the Macedonians as the killer of their hero, Craterus.

In Egypt, word of Eumenes victory and the death of Craterus came too late to help Perdiccas; this news arriving in the Royal camp just two days after his assassination. The enraged and grief-stricken Macedonians of the Royal Army voted a sentence of death against Eumenes; as well as fifty other leaders who had been of Perdiccas’ faction, including his brother Alcetus. The soldiers  even went so far as to vent their fury against Perdiccas’ sister, Atalante and other of his associates in their camp; murdering them all.

The First War of the Diadochi had reached an ugly conclusion; but one without a true decision. Perdiccas was dead. But with Craterus out of the game, who was to replace him was now an open question. As the Royal Army and the kings marched out of Egypt, Antipater marched south from Cilicia to join them. The two armies would meet at a place called Triparadeisos, in Syria.

NEXT: EURYDIKE AND ANTIPATER, A CLASH OF WILLS AT TRIPARADEISOS 

NOTES

  1. In this narrative I follow the so-called “low chronology”. Scholars are in disagreement as to the dating for the events leading up to and for the Diadochi Wars. The alternative “high chronology” has much to recommend it, as well; and would place the outbreak of hostilities and all subsequent events one year earlier.
  2. Diodorus XVIII 36.1-2; Arrian Succ. 29
  3. The size of the imperial fleet in 320 under Cleitus is unknown. Two years earlier, At the Battle of Amorgos, it had numbered 240 warships.  At this early date  most would have been triremes, but included  quadremes and penteres/quinqueremes, the largest galleys available at the time. But Cleitus had returned to port in Cilicia after the Lamian War. How many of these ships stayed with Cleitus, at the command of Perdiccas; as opposed to returning to Greek or Macedonian ports, where they would have remained at the disposal of Antipater and Craterus in this conflict, is unknown. At the start of the First Diadochi War, 90 warships and most of the transports were detached under the command of Perdiccas’ brother-in-law Attalus to support the Regent in the Egyptian expedition. The balance of the the fleet at Cilicia then sailed with Cleitus to the Hellespont.
  4. For purposes of this discussion I maintain the ancient distinction between “Greeks” and Macedonians. Though it is nearly universally accepted today that the ancient Macedonians were ethnically and culturally Greek, this was not the accepted belief in the ancient world. There is volumes of evidence to support this, though it has become a politically incorrect fact today.
  5. Plutarch, Lucullus 32; Xenophon, Anabasis, 4. 3-5
  6. Plut., Eumenes, 4. 1-3
  7. While modern Greeks resent any notion that the ancient Macedonians were anything but “Greek”, it is irrefutable that in the ancient world the Macedonians and Greeks thought of each other as two different, if related, peoples. Much of this was mere prejudice and chauvinism; and any objective analysis must conclude that they were two branches of the same Hellenic tree. But for the purposes of this series, I will refer to them as two different peoples, as they considered themselves at the time.
  8. Perhaps as may as 15,000 of the total 20,000 were Macedonians, the men of the phalanx; the rest were likely mixed light infantry auxiliaries (peltasts and psiloi, armed with javelin, sling or bow).
  9. Diodorus XVIII.30,4
  10. Arrian VII.8-12; Diodorus XVII.108-109. How many of the 10,000 veterans of Opis remained in service at this time is unknown. Certainly a number must have take their discharges and retired.  But Diodorus’ description of Antipater and Craterus’ Macedonians as men “celebrated for their valor” implies that these were veterans; and those young Macedonians who were recruited during the emergency of the Lamian War are unlikely to have warranted this description. How many of the Allied cavalry were Macedonian heavy horse, as opposed to light cavalry Balkans auxiliaries is also unknown. That Eumenes Cappadocian heavy cavalry won handily on both flanks argues that most of the Allied cavalry were Paeonian or Thracian light cavalry; and only a portion were Macedonian “Companions” or the bodyguards (agema) of the three generals.
  11. After Alexander’s death, and the division of his empire at Babylon in 323, most of the Macedonian leaders who became satraps of various provinces enlisted their own bodyguards (agema) of Macedonian cavalry. These were almost universally recruited from members of the elite Companions (Hetairoi), Alexander’s elite heavy cavalry. This corps disappears as a unified force soon after Babylon, as its members were dispersed into the agema of various satraps. The number 300 reoccurs regularly in the accounts of the Diadochi armies; so it is likely that this was the standard size of such bodyguard units. (This was also the size of Alexander’s own elite squadron of the Companions, the basilike ileat the end of his campaigns; at which time it was also referred to as the agema. Arrian, 4.24.1)
  12. Plutarch, Eumenes. 6.1-2
  13. Likely the Kausia, a beret-like cap worn by the ancient Macedonians. The Persians referred to the Macedonians as Yaunã Takabara or “Greeks with hats that look like shields”; possibly referring to the kausia.
  14. Plut., Eumenes. 6.3
  15. Pharnabazus had fought against Alexander, chiefly as commander of the Persian fleet operating in the Aegean in 334-333;  but was later reconciled. His sister had been given to Eumenes as bride at the mass marriage at Susa four years earlier.
  16. Plut. Eumenes. 7.2. Plutarch says Craterus “heaped much abuse upon Neoptolemus for having deceived him about the Macedonians changing sides“. While we can well believe he muttered curses regarding his Molassian ally “deceiving” him, the nature of the deception can have had nothing to do with Eumenes’ Macedonians changing sides. That they didn’t was not because Neoptolemus had lied regarding where their loyalty lay. Given the chance, they likely would have joined Craterus. But he had no opportunity to put this to the test: the Cappadocians were coming on hard, and Craterus had his hands full. It is far more likely that the deception was in not appraising him of the true number of heavy horse he would be facing; but instead “downplaying” the formidable nature and numbers of Eumenes cavalry.
  17. Diodorus XVIII.30.5
  18. Plutarch claims Craterus assailant was a Thracian. Arrian claims he was “slain by some Paphlagonians”, implying several had a hand in his unhorsing. As his opponents were Eumenes’ Cappadocian noble cavalry, it seems likely that both historians are confused as to the identity and the number of Craterus’ killers.
  19. Plut. Eumenes. 7.4

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