Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Great Battles of the Ancient World: "'Battles, for all their madness, are worthy of study if for no other reason than that they are the crucibles of history,' says Professor Fagan, who notes that a few hours of hard fighting can determine the fates of entire empires.
This course focuses on warfare in the ancient Mediterranean world, encompassing the region from Mesopotamia to Western Europe, including Egypt and North Africa.
The first eight lectures chart the development of warfare from prehistoric times down to the glory days of the great states of the ancient Near East and Egypt. After examining theories about how to define war, you survey different models for the origins of warfare in the Upper Paleolithic (c. 37,000?12,000 years ago) and Neolithic (c. 10,000?5,000 years ago), testing them against the archaeological evidence, which provides our only clues to organized violence among prehistoric peoples.
Then you move into the historical era, starting with the first battles for which we have written accounts. These took place between the city-states of early Sumer (c. 3000?2350 B.C.), with armies of infantry using rudimentary chariots clashing over honor, irrigation rights, and boundaries. Next you travel to Egypt and survey the changing nature of warfare in the Old to New Kingdoms (c. 2700?1070 B.C.), including the first fully recorded battle in history: the Battle of Megiddo between Pharaoh Thutmose III and a coalition of Syrian lords, fought outside the walls of a town in Palestine. You examine the fearsome Assyrian war machine as it developed ca. 900?612 B.C., and the sophisticated army that allowed the Assyrians to forge the largest empire yet seen in the region. You also address disputed matters of the Trojan War and Homeric warfare.
In the next eight lectures you cover warfare among the Greeks and their distinctive form of combat using hoplites, a type of armored infantryman who fought in a close formation called the phalanx. You study the Persian invasions of Greece (490?479 B.C.), examining the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea that decided this titanic clash. The disastrous Athenian expedition against Sicily (415?413 B.C.) during the Peloponnesian War is next, followed by the military revolution in the 4th century B.C., which saw the creation of a new and formidable fighting unit spearheaded by the cavalry and a reformed phalanx. This integrated and flexible army reached its pinnacle of efficiency under Alexander the Great, and you survey the battles at the Granicus River, Issus, and Gaugamela that made Alexander king of Persia.
In the third part of the course you study the legions of Rome, which evolved brutally effective tactics that gave them dominion over the entire Mediterranean basin. It is unclear how Roman legionary armies actually fought, and you explore various theories before following the legions into combat in their colossal struggle with Hannibal in the Second Punic War (218?202 B.C.). Then you compare the Roman legion and Macedonian phalanx?the two most efficient killing machines of the day?in duels fought in Italy in the 3rd century B.C. and in the Balkans and Asia Minor in the 2nd century. Next you consider Roman skill in siege warfare as exemplified by Julius Caesar's siege of Alesia (52 B.C.) and the siege of Masada in Judea in 72?73 A.D. The final two battles covered are Roman defeats and introduce the German tribal warrior. These are the battles of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D., considered one of the most important battles in European history, and Adrianople in 378 A.D., which heralded the decline of Roman imperial power.
In the final lecture, Professor Fagan considers the recent proposal by scholar Victor Davis Hanson that there is a distinctively "Western way of war," traceable from the Greeks to the modern age. This intriguing view represents hoplite warfare as a unique development of Greek conditions that casts its shadow down to the present. Despite the theory's attractive simplicity, it has problems that Dr. Fagan details in a fascinating glimpse of scholarly debate in action."