WARFARE IN MYCENAEAN TIMES, THE ILIAD AS A PARADIGM

 

Dr M. E. Kambouris, for the Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES

 

 

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About

The study is part of the lecture “Warfare in Mycenaean times: the Iliad as a paradigm and the applications emerging for experimental archaeology”, the Association members gave in VIII Experimental Archaeology Conference of OPENARCH (Viminacium Museum, Serbia, Sept 2014)

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Associated Assets

To download the Viminacium presentation in .ppt format, please click here: Viminacium Warfare in Mycenaean times

To download the Viminacium presentation text in .pdf format, please click here: Viminacium Warfare in Mycenaean times_Presentation text

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Thesis

Introduction

Although the Homeric issue rages, in the Iliad the cohesion of military information makes certain that the author was contemporary, had top-quality information as tactics and injuries cannot be imagined if not experienced/witnessed and was very well acquainted with combat particulars, although some shadows do loom in some excerpts (N-685); such inconsistencies may be due to the ages-long oral transmission, as, before Peisistratic recording, the epic cycle was transmitted orally. This by no means implies it was compiled in oral form: it was compiled, however, to be orally transmitted in a world of myth, lore and legent.

Geopolitics

The Homeric world is focused on two competing powers: the Mycenaean or Achaeans and the Trojans and their allies. The former were very much from Axios river, in Macedonia, all the way to Cyprus (Λ-20), with some exceptions: a part of western Greece (Acarnania-Ampilochia) did not participate due to enmity towards the high king Agamemnon, a part in NW Peloponnese is also vividly absent despite its wealth of archaeological findings of the era (Museum of Patras), and the Cyclades Isles are not mentioned. To the contrary, the SE Aegean was securely under Mycenaean control and part of the campaigning force.

The Trojan confederacy was securely from the Axios River in Macedonia (Π-287) to Lycia in SW Asia Minor, whereas its alliances were extending deep into Asia Minor, at least to the river Sagarius (Γ-185). Thrace and almost half of Macedonia are with the Trojans, and so is the NE Aegean, with the prominent Exception of Limnos, which was turned to the Mycenaean side a generation previously. For the big island of Chios there is no mention, nor is any for Samos and Ikaria. Contrarily, Lesbos and Tenedos were Trojan allies and stormed by Achilles at the first phases of the war. Imbros and Samothrace are mentioned as islands but not as theaters of action, and their allegiance is not declared. The relations with the Levant proper are uncertain: a contingent came to help under Memnon, the king of Ethiopians, but this name even in Herodotus is used for the black population south of Egypt, for a similar population in India and for the Assyrians just opposite of Cyprus. Homer mentions nothing on the subject, but he does mention that Paris has sacked Sidon, the greatest Phoenician city.

Reconstruction of plate Mycaenean armors, during presentation in Viminacium Museum (Serbia). Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES

Reconstruction of plate Mycaenean armors, during presentation in Viminacium Museum (Serbia).
Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES

Armies’ organization

There is no question that the Trojan and allied army is a feudal conglomerate under the high command of the Lord of the Hosts of Troy, Prince Hector (who might or might not have been crown prince). Allied contingents have arrived before his offering battle to the invaders, after 10 years behind his walls, and continue to arrive by the day and are thrown piecemeal at the battle, as they arrive. The basic unit are the 50 men and the size is approximately 50.000; Dolon, the Trojan spy arrested and debriefed by two Greek Rangers declared 1.000 campfires, around each 50 men sleeping , sitting or eating (Θ-562/4).

The Greek army had the same unit of 50, as the main ship is the 50-oared galley (pentekonter) of unknown model (B-720, Π-170). Nevertheless there are some very large ships carrying 120 troops of a certain contingent (B-510); whether all of them were doubling as rowers or not is not stated. There were also 20-oared galleys for other missions (A-309). But the similarities stop there.

The Greek army is NOT a feudal levy, but an integrated organization with distinct functions. During the most part of the Iliad it is indeed operating-and with little success) as a feudal levy, since Achilles, the mind and soul and acting Commander in Chief (as stated in Odyssey γ-106) is estranged. Before the new series of clashes, described in Iliad, which happen in the 10th year of the war, the elderly tactician Nestor advises the High Commander Agamemnon to deploy the army in feudal manner (Β-361/8). This means that for 9 years the army was NOT deployed in such a manner, and this differentiation is due to the absence of Achilles. Once he is back, he clearly issues all the executive directions and orders (Τ-155, Ω-670) and the army is no feudal assembly, but an efficient war machine. Many scholars detect dramatic effect and projection in this advice of Nestor, but had it been so the poet would have easily projected it into the past, as he did in other cases, as with the pursuit of Aeneas (Y-187/91).

Reconstructed “Dendra Cuirass” (15 Century BC) and heavy leather helmet, courtesy of Association KORYVANTES. Testing the usage of the Mycenean Spear “Eghos” (Greek “Έγχος”). Photo: KORYVANTES Association

Reconstructed “Dendra Cuirass” (15 Century BC) and heavy leather helmet, courtesy of Association KORYVANTES. Testing the usage of the Mycenean Spear “Eghos” (Greek “Έγχος”). Photo: KORYVANTES Association

The Greeks have a well-organized  medical Corps, with two Asclepiad brothers (Δ-193, Λ-833), Machaon (surgeon) and Podaleirios (Internist). They tend both wounded and sick and are much admired and valued, but their humanity is not in question. Nothing divine or miraculous. Moreover, many a warrior, such as Achilles, Patroclus, Sthenelus and others are adequately trained in first aids and wound care, extracting arrowheads and dressing the wound (Λ-830) while also offering analgesic medication. No such thing with the Trojans. There the Gods, within their temples or ad hoc offer miraculous treatment (Π-528, Ε-447/8), implying that the healthcare is at the hands of the priesthood, mostly of that of Apollo, the patron deity par excellance. The best a Trojan noble or follower can do is to bandage a wound with a woolen strip, (Agenor  brought along a number for such an emergency and used it on Helenos) to stop the bleeding or any major mechanical deterioration (N-599/610)

Both armies are centered on the heavy armed and armored noble warrior. The armor of such nobles is plate bronze or copper, but the mention of «copper tunic» (N-439) for one – rather elder-Trojan ally implies also a scaled body panoply. The warriors combine heavy armor with mobility; both Achilles and Hector is fleet of foot, excellent charioteers, big of stature and very strong, epitomizing the heroic concept of «tall, strong and brave» adding the «fast». Other heavily armored warriors in both sides are also notoriously fast: the Greek Antilochos who is an accomplished charioteer, and the wily Odysseus, who has no chariot (not to mention the lightly armed Ajax the Lesser). From the Trojan side, Aeneas, Glaukos and Paris, all of them possessing chariots. The heavily armed and excessively trained warriors disembark their chariots to fight on foot, and are supported by chariot runners in the Egyptian manner (they are implied twice for the Trojans, one being the prince Polydoros) and rank and file infantry, while the chariot proper awaits nearby with the driver at the ready to extract them from the fray or to allow a hot pursuit. The Trojans have better chariotry: some of their allies use two-horse teams (Ε-195), but some of the Trojans (Hector himself mentioned specifically and by name of the horses) have four-horse teams (Θ-185); whether in two tandem pairs or four abreast it is not known. The Greeks have two-horse teams (Ψ-290/305), and Achilles uses a third horse (Π-149/53) not to drag the chariot, but to make the turns swifter.

Both Trojans and Greeks use from their chariots extremely long and heavy lances, perhaps the «egheia» of the tablets, with massive warheads reminding Japanese naginatas of the 16-17th centuries; that is for both thrusting and cutting. Hector, who is specifically mentioned as holding a 11-cubit such lance (Θ-494), is also mentioned to pursuit the rank and file on chariot and thrashing heads (Λ-309) and wielding his spear. This adds up to the aforementioned weapon. Most obviously, this is also the nature of the great spear donned to Achilles by his father, which could not be wielded by anyone else (Π-140/3). So heavy a weapon might not be a javelin or anything light enough for casting. It is not accidental, that the Greeks considered lanced chariotry fighting in jousts (as Nestor advocates, Δ-306/7) a thing of the past; Nestor, the Elder, is synchronous with the apex of such practice, as had been the father of Achilles. But, for dismounted fighting, the lance may prove impractical. For this reason the warrior is always equipped with a general purpose spear, for casting and thrusting alike, and generally carried in pairs (Ζ-104). This reminds us of the very later Persian «palta» of the cavalry, much praised by Xenophon. The pair of spears is mentioned many a time Hector jumps out of his chariot, and this might imply that he changes weapons, from lance to spears. It is obvious that both lance and spears are routinely secured within the chariot. What is of importance, is the fact that one of the very few Trojan allies who came on foot because he doubted the adequacy of fodder for his (two-horse) teams, has taken his bow INSTEAD; his phrasing points to the bow being mutually exclusive with charging chariotry (E-192/210), much unlike the Egyptian practice-but perhaps consenting to the one of Hittites.

Reconstruction of plate Mycaenean armor and helmets, during presentation in Viminacium Museum (Serbia). Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES

Reconstruction of plate Mycaenean armor and helmets, during presentation in Viminacium Museum (Serbia).
Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES

Moreover, the Greeks have many first-line heroes and kings who do not possessor use a chariot. Some do fight the heroic way, an agile skirmishing fight with javelin and heavy armor (Odysseus), while others (both Ajaxes) fight in a way unsuitable to and incompatible with chariotry, although from close range. Thus, the Greek army has more troop types than the Trojans, who have medium infantry, runners, archers and heavy charioteers (knights). The Trojan archers might fire from within the ranks as did Pandaros (Δ-114), covered by shields, or individually. It is a fact that they may fire en masse, volleys, especially from their walls; the latter is stated, the former not really but the conjecture is secure.

It is very strange that the Greeks, who despise the weapon, have also competent archery skills. The troops of Philoktetes are good archers and may fire individually (Β-720), Teukros exemplifies the pair of heavy shield-bearer-archer (Θ-265/70) with his brother Ajax the Great although he may fight with spear and shield, as medium or heavy infantry, whereas the Locrian contingent fires en masse from a distance (Ν-716/22), shirking contact and shooting some Trojan assaults to pieces from behind the storm troops’ lines. Except medium infantry, chariotry and missile troops, that is archers, the Greeks also have heavy shielded infantry for static defense, a commodity never implied for the Trojans. The personification is Ajax the Great, a very tall and strong warrior, the second in valor and merit to Achilles, but never accused as fleet of foot nor seen to mount a chariot. His resolve, steadfastness and endurance are admirable. He is supported by either his brother Teykros, the archer, or another chariotless king, the Locrian chief Αjax the Lesser. Although his contingent is archers only, Ajax the lesser is storm trooper, but definitively light infantryman, as he substitutes metal armor with linen corselet (B-529). He is very fast, an excellent spearman and offers to Ajax the Great’s stability a skirmishing support (Ρ-719/21) and a destructive power of pursuit (Ξ-520/1), more or less exposing the combined tactics of the integrated Greek army.

Tactics

  • For army tactics, Achilles favors charge and clash (Y-354/5); this is not always the choice of neither commander, who may stop at a distance and exchange missile fire as did the European armies of the 16-18th centuries, while skirmishers, usually the well-protected nobles, may jump in between opposing armies and strike targets of opportunity. After a prolonged exchange which has softened up the one opponent, the other one charges (Λ-85/90)
  • Trojans attack with fire, but also making good use of the wind and fog (Ο-668-70, Ρ645/50),  by mimicking thunderbolts (Θ-135) and by opening dams and using water to flood a portion of the battlefield (Φ-235/70)
  • Ajax long naval spear, 22 cubits (Ο-678)
  • Greeks have very tight phalanx formations (N-130, Ρ352-65); the Trojans cannot do the same, nor break them
  • Greeks tower shields and perhaps 8-shields, Trojans 8-shields. Hector has a body shield which demands dexterity in moving and when thrown back it is felt at heel and neck while running (Z-118). Both use round shields (Pelte, and elipse shields as in warrior base???), there might also be double-grip shields, as in Pylos frescoes, reminiscent of argive shields
  • Straight axe in Trojan ally’s use (Ν-612 αξίνη) instead of «πέλεκυς«/regular axe
  • Greeks use greaves (Λ-17), Trojans maybe not
  • Medium infantry: helmet, spear, shield, sword (Ν-714/5)
  • Odyssey: armed for war: spear(s), bodyshield, perhaps helmet, no sword
  • Pylos frescoes: bodyshields not in contact, the lances cover the space. Being able to get INTO the shield is important when not in phalanx. In phalanx, enough to go behind the shield
  • Menelaus wound by Pandaros is indicative of Dendra-type armor, as the arrow hits and pierces three armor parts (Δ-133/5)
  • No clash: obviously the advantage lies with the offensive weapons, thus contact with a large and expedient in missile warfare enemy body is ill-advised. Shields and armor are more often penetrated than not. Menelaus, an important and powerful and wealthy king is hit by an arrow and wounded after the point pierces through three successive armor parts (Δ-133/5); such a succession would not have been found in other body parts. Only Achilles (with armor made by a God) suffers no penetration-his greave even staves off a direct spearcast (Φ-591/4). But he himself is not very confident on the subject (Y-261/5). Despite this fact, he chooses to strike Hector in a spot not covered by his own, captured armor: as the latter charges leaning forward, Achilles thrusts at the joint of neck and shoulder (X-322/6)
  • Trojan use runners (O-516), fighting form a distance O-710
  • Antilochos either casting from afar or charging at contact N-559- in both cases spears are used, thus the double-use dory exemplifies this type of fighting and fighter
  • Possible Athenian corruption/forgery (N-685), as Iones are mentioned fighting in proximity with the Athenian contingent; Herodotus explains how politically sensitive this issue has been from 510 to 478 BC for the Athenians, and it might have been previously and afterwards as well. There is no mention of their leaders, kings, weapons, warriors at this extract, while there are analytical ones for all others  (but the Boetians, who are mentioned elsewhere and in detail) nor any mention in the catalogue, nor anywhere else.

 

Reconstruction of plate Mycaenean armor and helmets, during presentation in Viminacium Museum (Serbia). Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES

Reconstruction of plate Mycaenean armor and helmets, during presentation in Viminacium Museum (Serbia).
Association of Historical Studies KORYVANTES

 

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3 thoughts on “WARFARE IN MYCENAEAN TIMES, THE ILIAD AS A PARADIGM

  1. Interesting article. One difference in tactics not mentioned unless I missed it is the difference in sound of the two armies. The Greeks march in silence so they can hear their commanders whereas the Trojans raise a war cry presumably to frighten the enemy (iliad book 4).

    The Greeks did have the doctors Machaon and Podaleiros but they would differ from a modern medical corps in that they actively took part in the fighting. But it was their medical skill they were valued for.

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