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▶  More from Histories Red-Face-Island War
‘What is Wrong in Itself’
Red-Face-Island War #8
CHAPTER VIII: Third Year of the War—Investment of Plataea—Naval Victories of Phormio—Thracian Irruption into Macedonia under Sitalces
The Spartan King below demonstrates the type of Pan-Aryan spirit of metaphysic honor compressed into Pan-Hellenic respect for a shared supernature:
"Ye gods and heroes of the Plataean territory, be my witnesses that not as aggressors originally, nor until these had first departed from the common oath, did we invade this land, in which our fathers offered you their prayers before defeating the Medes, and which you made auspicious to the Hellenic arms; nor shall we be aggressors in the measures to which we may now resort, since we have made many fair proposals but have not been successful. Graciously accord that those who were the first to offend may be punished for it, and that vengeance may be attained by those who would righteously inflict it."
The siege of Plataea, as related by Thucydides in such detail, has granted us the modern reader a study of the elvolution of ancient siegecraft, which would be advanced by Alexander a century later.
“Peloponnesians also brought up engines against the city, one of which was brought up upon the mound against the great building and shook down a good piece of it, to the no small alarm of the Plataeans. Others were advanced against different parts of the wall but were lassoed and broken by the Plataeans; who also hung up great beams by long iron chains from either extremity of two poles laid on the wall and projecting over it, and drew them up at an angle whenever any point was threatened by the engine, and loosing their hold let the beam go with its chains slack, so that it fell with a run and snapped off the nose of the battering ram.
“After this the Peloponnesians, finding that their engines effected nothing, and that their mound was met by the counterwork, concluded that their present means of offence were unequal to the taking of the city, and prepared for its circumvallation. First, however, they determined to try the effects of fire and see whether they could not, with the help of a wind, burn the town, as it was not a large one; indeed they thought of every possible expedient by which the place might be reduced without the expense of a blockade. They accordingly brought faggots of brushwood and threw them from the mound, first into the space between it and the wall; and this soon becoming full from the number of hands at work, they next heaped the faggots up as far into the town as they could reach from the top, and then lighted the wood by setting fire to it with sulphur and pitch. The consequence was a fire greater than any one had ever yet seen produced by human agency, though it could not of course be compared to the spontaneous conflagrations sometimes known to occur through the wind rubbing the branches of a mountain forest together. And this fire was not only remarkable for its magnitude, but was also, at the end of so many perils, within an ace of proving fatal to the Plataeans; a great part of the town became entirely inaccessible, and had a wind blown upon it, in accordance with the hopes of the enemy, nothing could have saved them. As it was, there is also a story of heavy rain and thunder having come on by which the fire was put out and the danger averted.
“Failing in this last attempt the Peloponnesians left a portion of their forces on the spot, dismissing the rest, and built a wall of circumvallation round the town, dividing the ground among the various cities present; a ditch being made within and without the lines, from which they got their bricks. All being finished by about the rising of Arcturus, they left men enough to man half the wall, the rest being manned by the Boeotians, and drawing off their army dispersed to their several cities…”
Here we have ancient, localized trench warfare of the sort that was implicit in much early modern siegecraft, such as at Lille and Yorktown and finally maturing at Petersberg in 1864 and would reach full maturity in winter 1914. Thucydides prosaically describes the siege as a blockade, as a military officer of the world’s first class naval power would.
Despite the total nature of the war the combatants hold to a common honor code, which includes the commitment of generals to lead from the front:
“The Athenians took refuge in Potidaea, and afterwards recovered their dead under truce, and returned to Athens with the remnant of their army; four hundred and thirty men and all the generals having fallen. The Chalcidians and Bottiaeans set up a trophy, took up their dead, and dispersed to their several cities.”
Notes on the devolution of Aryan leadership from chieftain, to kingdom, to oligarchy and down to the pits of democracy can be found when the command structure of semi-Hellenic barbarians are described:
“…the barbarian of a thousand Chaonians, who, belonging to a nation that has no king, were led by Photys and Nicanor, the two members of the royal family to whom the chieftainship for that year had been confided. With the Chaonians came also some Thesprotians, like them without a king, some Molossians and Atintanians led by Sabylinthus, the guardian of King Tharyps who was still a minor, and some Paravaeans, under their king Oroedus, accompanied by a thousand Orestians, subjects of King Antichus and placed by him under the command of Oroedus.”
The operational character of this long war would usher in the light foot solider as a prominent killer on the field and begin reducing the effectiveness of the heavy infantry, which was a cyclic throw-back to Dark Age warriors of the Bronze Age collapse, showing that the same type of light trooper with small shield, large knife and hurled weapons that drove the chariot to extinction would compromise the shield-man and eventually see Alexander using such light troops as a hammer and relegating his heavy troops to an anvil. The evolution of shock cavalry was also beginning here, the arm that Alexander and his father would elevate to its maximum effectiveness until the late middle ages.
“…the Stratians not offering to engage them, as the rest of the Acarnanians had not yet arrived, but contenting themselves with slinging at them from a distance, which distressed them greatly, as there was no stirring without their armour. The Acarnanians would seem to excel in this mode of warfare.”
The Agrianians would be the best of these peltasts, which the British translator called targeteers, after their Scottish Highland analog.
Below we have a description of more primitive, barbarian custom of gift-giving and also naming that the remaining Aryan lords of the Steppes were unbeaten by their civilized cousins:
“…this prevailed elsewhere in Thrace, it was practised most extensively among the powerful Odrysians, it being impossible to get anything done without a present. It was thus a very powerful kingdom; in revenue and general prosperity surpassing all in Europe between the Ionian Gulf and the Euxine, and in numbers and military resources coming decidedly next to the Scythians, with whom indeed no people in Europe can bear comparison, there not being even in Asia any nation singly a match for them if unanimous, though of course they are not on a level with other races in general intelligence and the arts of civilized life.”
The martial character of the Hinterlands Aryan warrior is touched upon briefly:
“Most of this was infantry, though there was about a third cavalry, furnished principally by the Odrysians themselves and next to them by the Getae. The most warlike of the infantry were the independent swordsmen who came down from Rhodope; [1] the rest of the mixed multitude that followed him being chiefly formidable by their numbers.
The author finishes this chapter in a charming fashion:
“And so ended this winter, and the third year of this war, of which Thucydides was the historian.”
Notes
-1. Highlanders from the Carpathians
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