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):

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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