fate pt 6: the ruin of Samos

When Polycrates, ruler of Samos died, a victim of his own greed, his power and riches passed to his steward Maeandrius.

Now Maeandrius was a good man, who wanted nothing more than justice for the Samians. He assembled them and said to them, “People of Samos, you know that all the authority held by Polycrates has passed on to me. If I wanted to, I could rule all of you as he has done. But I do not wish to, for I refuse to lord it over people equal to myself. I will proclaim everyone equal before the law. All I ask in return is a share in Polycrates’ riches, and the right for my family and I to serve as priests.” Continue reading “fate pt 6: the ruin of Samos”

fate pt 4: the death of King Cyrus

When King Cyrus the Great was approaching the end of his days, he was consumed with desire to conquer the wild horsemen of the north. Queen Tomyris of the sun-worshipping Massagetae was his next target. Her husband had died and now she was the sole ruler of her people. So King Cyrus asked for her hand in marriage. But she refused, for Tomyris was wise as she was fair. She knew that it was not her, but her people, that Cyrus wanted. “King of the Persians,” she wrote to him, “I know that you are a great and powerful man. Do not covet my land, for it will end badly for you. Rule your own people, and let me rule mine.” Now the lands of the Massagetae were wide and empty; a man could ride for days and not see a single tree, lake or mountain. Entire armies could be swallowed up by the wilderness. Yet such was the desire of King Cyrus, that he gathered his army and marched to conquer Tomyris and her people. Continue reading “fate pt 4: the death of King Cyrus”

on ancient superweapons, pt 2

Last time we looked at some of the more well-known ‘superweapons’ of the ancient classical world: war elephants and scythed chariots. This time we finish our look at ancient superweapons with some of the more inconspicuous and obscure (though still spectacular):

Cataphracts
Used by Heavily-armoured (or ‘fully covered’ in the original Greek), lance-armed cavalry riding large, sometimes armoured, chargers were used by many different armies of the ancient world: most notably the Parthians and Sassanid Persians; the Palmyrenes in the 3rd century; also used occasionally by the Romans (mostly in their later imperial period, as at the Battle of Strasbourg). Used extensively by ancient steppe cultures (Alans, Sarmatians, etc), as well as by the Hellenistic kingdoms of the east (most notably the Seleukids at the Battle of Magnesia).
Continue reading “on ancient superweapons, pt 2”

on ancient superweapons, pt 1

Hollywood and TV like to portray ancient warfare as an orgy of oiled muscles, whirling blades and decapitations. While it sometimes was like that, it was usually much more mundane. Prof. P Sabin likened the mechanics of the average ancient battle to a modern riot – opposing sides often stood at a distance hurling war cries (and missiles) at each other, and only closed distance when one side was sufficiently psyched to advance. Fear was often your greatest weapon. Ideally one side would stand down and retreat without even having to come to blows (though this rarely happened in large battles involving hundreds of thousands of men). Continue reading “on ancient superweapons, pt 1”

on neglected commanders of the roman world: surena

Sources Plutarch, Life of Crassus (17-33); Cassius Dio (40.14-27)

His time General Surena (we don’t actually know his real name; Surena was the name of his clan) was born in 84BC into an unstable time, and would become one of the most celebrated military commanders of the Parthian Empire. The Parthians had originated as nomadic horsemen from northern Iran, but having fought their way into the Seleucid (Syrian Greek) Empire they gradually replaced it as the major power of the near east. By the early 1st century BC however, Rome’s eastward adventures had brought it into direct contact with Parthia; though relations between the two were initially cordial if cautious, things took a turn for the worse in 69BC, when Roman general Lucullus invaded Armenia (near Parthian territory). This would mark the start of a 300 year-long see-saw struggle as both Parthia and Rome claimed Armenia as their own. It was on the cusp of this interminable war that Surena came of age.
Continue reading “on neglected commanders of the roman world: surena”

on neglected commanders of the roman world: mithridates VI

Sources Appian, Mithridatic Wars (46-50); Plutarch, Life of Sulla; Cassius Dio (30-37)

His time Mithridates’ world was a time of war, when the Roman Republic was rapidly expanding its power through military conquest and economic strong-arming. The old Greek-speaking kingdoms established by Alexander the Great’s generals, which till now had dominated the known world, were on the wane, fighting a losing battle against Rome. Mithridates ruled the kingdom of Pontus on the southern shore of the Black Sea, yet another Greek-speaking kingdom among many in the region. Though relatively small it was rich, and a perfect target of Rome’s depredations. Continue reading “on neglected commanders of the roman world: mithridates VI”

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