Scholia Reviews ns 12 (2003) 11.
K. Raaflaub and N. Rosenstein (edd.), War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, and Mesoamerica. Center for Hellenic Studies Colloquia 3. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1999. Pp. viii + 484. ISBN 0-674-00659-3. UKú13.50.
Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Auckland
This volume sprang from papers presented at a colloquium held in June 1996 at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C..[] The editors have sought to produce a book about the social history of war in the pre-industrial age. They have encouraged their contributors to write not about army organization, battles, tactics, and so on, but about the social and political contexts of war, and about the interrelationship between war and the institutional structures of the various states which are surveyed. The result, aimed at both the specialist and the non-specialist (pp. vii, 3), is a volume of broad scope with much potential for comparison and cross-fertilization. It certainly comes across as a work of solid scholarship and interesting insights which should appeal to a wide audience.
A variety of general points can be made. For a start, there is a pleasing overall coherence to the collection. Each chapter contains approximately thirty pages, with around twenty pages of text and ten or so of endnotes and a generous bibliography. All the writers appear to have attained a uniformly high standard. I found that even those chapters on topics completely new to me (e.g. Mayan warfare) were both readable and comprehensible. The editors and contributors deserve great credit for these and other positive features. As an introductory textbook for an American college course on War and Society, it would be hard to beat the book under review. Yet in any light it stands as a useful and authoritative work about the 'social history of war from the 3rd millenium BCE to the 10th Century CE in Europe and the Near East, with parallels from Mesoamerica and East Asia' (p. 2). As a classical scholar, primarily a Romanist, I was naturally interested in the content of the Greek and Roman chapters, especially since the editors are well known for their contributions to the study of Greek and Roman war respectively. I was also hopeful that comparisons with other pre-industrial societies might prove illuminating. The relevant chapters did not disappoint for high quality and innovation.
Kurt Raaflaub's chapter (Chapter Six, pp. 129-61) on archaic and classical Greece contains a condensed version of the case he has been developing in recent years against the pervasive idea that there was a 'hoplite revolution' in ancient Greece. According to the traditional view, military change prompted political change. In other words, the rise of hoplite warfare created a class of powerful men who subsequently challenged the aristocracy for political rights. Raaflaub argues for a more nuanced version of polis development. He sees economic, social and political changes producing the hoplite phalanx c. 650 BCE (p. 134). Population growth produced a rise in the number of landholders and saw competition for land intensify. Massed forms of fighting proved effective in repelling invaders. Military and technological reforms accompanied rather than caused such warfare. Hoplite battles had a strong ritual character -- the idea was to defeat rather than to annihilate. There was a long evolution rather than a hoplite revolution (p. 135). Why did the hoplite style of open-terrain fighting last so long? For a start, the fighting was taking place on the hoplites' own land. In addition, as time passed the system was maintained for the sake of tradition, shared values and social prejudice (p. 137). Hoplite warfare was for prestige rather than for the survival of a polis (p. 138). Sparta was an exception to the rule -- her hoplites were 'permanent and essential' rather than 'occasional and ritual' (p. 139). The existence of egalitarian structures in poleis at the end of the archaic period was not the result of hoplite pressure on the aristocracy as a class. It had more to do with recognition of the detrimental effects of aristocratic competition. Instability resulting from such competition made the polis vulnerable, and so the entire community, Úlites plus masses, opted for the more egalitarian model for purposes of stability (p. 140). It seems certain that the evolutionary model is destined for severe questioning and refinement in the future, but there can be little doubt that it provides a stimulating and generally plausible alternative to the revolutionary model which has held sway for so long.
In the second part of his chapter, Raaflaub describes how the emergence of naval warfare in the fifth Century BCE made war permanent, professional and total. Athens' decision to commit to a large-scale fleet was pivotal. Politics and wars henceforth increasingly involved large alliance systems and empires (p. 132). Scholars have argued that the rise of naval warfare was crucial to the rise of democracy because it enabled the thetes, indispensable to the fleet as rowers, to win political concessions from the upper classes. Once again, Raaflaub believes that the process was more complex. Athenian hoplites, for instance, were supporters of democracy too (p. 141). His preferred view is that Athenian society as a whole embraced enthusiastically the structures and consequences of empire-maintenance by means of a large fleet. This included the gradual realization that, since war had become more intense and 'total' (p. 141), the thetes had to be integrated politically (p. 145). 5th Century Athens emerges as a hybrid between intermittent and permanent warfare -- and also between foreign and Greek forms of imperialism.
Charles D. Hamilton's chapter on the Hellenistic World (Chapter Seven, pp. 163-91) opens with an effective summary of developments in Greek warfare in the fourth Century BCE, especially the rise of peltasts and mercenaries, and the increased role of cavalry. It was the reforms of Philip II, however, which were decisive for Macedonian success and the form of later Hellenistic armies (pp. 166-71). Revenues from the mines of Mt. Pangaeus funded a professional army that was marked by payment for service and use of the sarissa. The success of this army imbued the Macedonian soldier and the sarissa phalanx with an almost sacred aura. This was perhaps a big reason why the phalanx failed to adapt when faced by the flexible, manipular legions of Rome. Philip and Alexander may have been esteemed too highly (p. 185). Several interesting views are floated during the course of this discussion: there was considerable emigration of Macedonian hoplites to Asia and into Hellenistic armies, i.e. it was not just a matter of non-Macedonian hoplites being armed in Macedonian fashion (p. 174); and divine kingship was a vital integrating mechanism in the East (p. 179).
Nathan Rosenstein's chapter on Republican Rome (Chapter Eight, pp. 193-216) seems to be a distilled version of a forthcoming book.[] Its central thesis is that war helped Rome to mitigate socio-economic and political conflicts. The major issue was not so much ownership of land but access to public land (ager publicus). Small farmers, it is argued, depended on access to ager publicus in order to make ends meet. Perhaps certain matters will be made clearer in the larger scope afforded by a book, but I wondered about the ways in which access to ager publicus might have assisted the profitability of small farmers. Were they after pasture or an extra plot for cultivation? How would such land relate to their 'family' plots and to the religious connotations of ancestral land? It seems unlikely that contiguous plots of land were at issue, so how precisely did the exploitation of ager publicus by small farmers work in practice? And if conflict between rich and poor Romans for access to ager publicus was palliated by war, it was apparently not solved by war (p. 198). Each Roman conquest in Italy was followed by land confiscations that created a new class of needy people. One group in need was only satisfied by creating another group in need. So why maintain an imperfect 'solution'? Rosenstein's answer seems to be that the Romans (and subsequently the Italians) were content with a string of ad hoc solutions. Of course, this accords with much ancient practice and it has a reasonably plausible air, especially for the period of Roman expansion in Italy.
Yet even if one is prepared to allow that Roman war- making was inextricably tied to constant pressure for land and expansion, several additional questions arise. In describing how the Roman war-machine adapted to the never-ending demands placed upon it, Rosenstein emphasizes that the introduction of pay during the Samnite wars enabled Rome's soldiers to stay in the field longer (p. 201). At this point, it is argued, recruits into the legions became those in their teens and twenties who were not primarily responsible for the profitability of family farms (p. 202). In addition, Roman war increased the number of prosperous farmers who paid the tax which funded military pay (the tributum) (p. 202). Pay and longer service permitted the development of the manipular army, 'the most effective infantry the ancient world ever knew' (p. 203). It is even said that the Romans credited the maniples rather than their commanders with victories, so that iteration of the consulate became less common in the middle and late republics (p. 205). This seems to underestimate the esteem in which great military commanders were held. It also masks the military reasons behind iteration of the consulate during (say) the Second Punic War, and it tends to deny the extent of political opposition to iteration of the consulate which existed in the second and first centuries BCE.
At any rate, this reconstruction certainly stands at odds with the traditional theory of Peter Brunt and others that Rome experienced a manpower shortage and decline in the number of small farms and farmers in the second and first centuries BCE []. I would like to see more work done on the younger brothers and other recruits who were apparently not vital for the profitability of their ancestral farms (p. 207). Rosenstein repeats that the problem was not one of declining smallholders and recruits but of access to the ager publicus. He does concede, however, that landlessness and poverty are crucial to understanding the army of the late Republic and its impact on society (p. 208). So to some extent the debate remains a matter of relative wealth and a matter of the viability of farms in relation to one another. Are we left with a situation substantially different in its consequences? Rosenstein is inclined to downplay the significance of the 'client' army and to think that no socio-economic crisis precipitated the fall of the Republic: most soldiers continued to serve Rome rather than their generals; soldiers did not fight to overthrow the res publica; they all hoped to join rather than overthrow the status quo; they did not question the legitimacy of the traditional order; Caesar's legions were loyal to Caesar and the Republic, and not necessarily in that order (pp. 209f.). This seems a bit too one-sided. It tends to underestimate the personal loyalty that soldiers felt for men like Pompey, Caesar and Augustus; it downplays the severe questioning of the morality of Rome's leaders which is a major feature of the second and first centuries BCE; and in general it misses the point that it is tension between loyalty to the general and to the res publica that is the crucial thing; this tension continued well into the imperial period, even after Augustus ended the problem of landlessness in Italy by putting an end to confiscations and assigning discharged legionaries to colonies in Italy and overseas. In the end I find myself stimulated but also perturbed by aspects of this chapter and want to read the forthcoming book to appreciate the argument in more detail.
Brian Campbell writes about the relationship between the Roman imperial army and the provincials in Chapter Nine (pp. 217-40). The army which began under Augustus as a permanent, professional occupation force of Italians gradually became a force of non-Italians with strong local ties. In fact, in opposition to theories which highlight the separation of soldier from civilian under the Empire, Campbell emphasizes the integration of the army into its local area. Its economic impact was considerable -- canabae grew up around legionary camps (p. 224) and vici around auxiliary camps (p. 225). These provide evidence for a range of trade, supply and social contacts. By the second century CE, recruiting was largely conducted on a local basis (p. 226). The process of Romanization probably owed more to the army than to the Roman Úlite, who had little in common with rural dwellers in the countryside (p. 227). When change occurred in the third and fourth centuries CE with the development of mobile field armies, traditional Roman conservatism meant that it took some time for the full consequences to be felt. The soldiers' local links and loyalties actually helped the resilience of the empire during the Third Century Crisis (p. 233). Subsequently, the enlistment of 'barbarians' meant that the 'Roman' army became a non-Roman mercenary force. Local loyalty bonds between soldiers and civilians were finally broken (p. 235). This led, in the West, to the collapse of imperial power through the inability to find and maintain reliable soldiers (p. 236).
It might be said, then, that the Greek and Roman chapters are innovative and solid by turns, and each is valuable in its own right. What is also valuable, it seems to me, is the clear demonstration through comparison that war for the Greeks and Romans was not, as the sources so often imply, merely a response to external aggression or a matter of fear or revenge. Alongside such psychological and specific factors, there were institutional and general factors which link the Greek and Roman experiences of war with the experiences of other pre-industrial societies as they emerge from this collection of studies. The most important point to note is that warfare is pervasive in human society (p. 440). It often depends on an agricultural surplus, which permits the formation of large armies, and major population growth over time is commonly responsible for territorial friction and war (p. 423). The reasons for war seem to be rational. Time and again, the contributors to this volume describe political or economic reasons for war which brought material benefits to the societies concerned (p. 441). It was also a matter of ritual and prestige (e.g. p. 442), though scholars (especially anthropologists) seem to have over-estimated the ritual aspects (p. 420). Geography and terrain are crucial to the particular experience (p. 444). Western military systems have perhaps shown a greater readiness to change, and they have certainly been more inclined to obliterate and to send forces beyond their borders (p. 445).
As to the future of war, Victor Davis Hanson and Barry S. Strauss sound a number of pessimistic notes in the 'Epilogue' (Chapter Sixteen, pp. 439-53). Given that humans are essentially vain, fearful and illogical, and that we depend upon natural resources so heavily, 'war is likely to continue forever' (p. 452). Regrettably, this may be so. But is it inevitable? One lesson from this book is that pre-industrial war was a rational business. Another is that protracted war and protracted peace contribute to their perpetuation (p. 426). War is a habit, a learned behaviour, 'a societal addiction' (p. 427). This implies that it can be unlearned if the collective will can be made strong enough. It can hardly be made a less attractive habit.
[] In addition to an introduction (Chapter One, pp. 1-6), an epilogue (Chapter Sixteen, pp. 439-53), and a chapter proposing a paradigm for the study of war and society (Chapter Fifteen, pp. 389-437), there are chapters on Early China (Chapter Two, pp. 7- 45), Japan to 1300 (Chapter Three, pp. 47-70), Ancient Egypt (Chapter Four, pp. 71-104), the Achaemenid Empire (Chapter Five, pp. 105-28), Archaic and Classical Greece (Chapter Six, pp. 129-61), the Hellenistic World (Chapter Seven, pp. 163-91), Republican Rome (Chapter Eight, pp. 193-216), the Roman Empire (Chapter Nine, pp. 217-40), the Byzantine World (Chapter Ten, pp. 241-70), Early Medieval Europe (Chapter Eleven, pp. 271-307), the Early Islamic World (Chapter Twelve, pp. 309-32), Ancient Maya Warfare (Chapter Thirteen, pp. 333-60), and the Aztec World (Chapter Fourteen, pp. 361-87).
[] N. Rosenstein, War, Agriculture, and the Family in Mid-Republican Rome, ca. 320-100 B.C. (forthcoming).
[] P.A. Brunt, Italian Manpower (Oxford 1971) pp. 75- 7, 402-8. Note the reply of John Rich, 'The Supposed Manpower Shortage of the Later Second Century B.C.,' Historia 32 (1983) 287-331.