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The Upbringing of a Knight

Great knights of medieval times were reared and trained from a young age. A young boy’s early life was dictated by this ambition. Years of training and careful upbringing contributed to the prestigious accomplishment of becoming a knight, and potential candidates for knighthood were expected to display certain qualities (Prestwich, 13). Initially, the qualities of knighthood would manifest and then be fostered through play and activities. As the boy grows, he will subsequently become a page and then a squire if he displays and develops the right skills and qualities (“Knights, Squires and Pages”).

Similar to modern day children, activities and entertainment during medieval times was primarily a small scale replication of adult life. Model toys imitating common objects used by adults have been traced back as early as the 1300’s (“The Culture of Children in Medieval England”; Orme, 53). Similar to toy soldiers of today, fragments have been discovered “portraying knights in armour on horseback” (“Culture…”; Orme, 53).

[Museum of London: replica of a mounted knight; alloy of tin and lead]

(“Childhood in Medieval England”; Orme)

Play also became a form of military training in itself. “The liking of children to imitate adults in their play is very ancient, if not natural to humanity” (“Culture…”; Orme 63). Children during medieval times modeled their play after kings and knights, but this had the potential to turn into a “mimicry of their wars and battles” and children were often hurt, or even killed in these mock military engagements (“Culture…”; Orme 63-64). Often young noble children were given small scale weapons to practice with. Young Henry V is said to have had a sword at the age of nine (Prestwich, 20).  Research also indicates that a royal statute in 1512 required that “every man with boys in his house, aged from seven to seventeen, was to provide them with a bow and two arrows and bring them up to shoot. Play became formally merged with military training” (“Culture…”; Orme, 63). This merger of military training and childhood activities played a significant role in a young boy’s potential for knighthood later in his life.

Although a boy began his journey toward knighthood in his own home, but he could not be expected to acquire all the necessary skills and experience without specific guidance (Alchin). Around the age of seven many boys were sent to become pages where they were able to gain an education at the hands of a nobleman and his wife (Prestwich, 14). This education included: caring for and using military equipment, learning proper manners at court, learning to read and write, riding and handling horses, practice wielding lance and sword, and gaining the necessary physical strength and stamina to endure difficult training and future battles (Prestwich, 14-19).

After years of being trained as a page—around the age of fifteen—a young prospective knight could become a squire (“Knights, Squires and Pages”). Each squire would continue his training in the service of a knight, and hopefully after acquiring and proving that he possessed all the necessary skills, the young squire would “receive the accolade of knighthood” (Prestwich, 21).

Works Cited:

Alchin, Linda. “Steps to Knighthood.”  Middle Ages. 2 April 2012.

Orme, Nicolas. “The Culture of Children in Medieval England.” Past & Present, 148. (1995): 48-88. JSTOR. PDF file. 2 April 2012.

Orme, Nicolas. “Childhood in Medieval England, c. 500-1500.” Historical Essays, University of Pittsburgh. (2005). 2 April 2012.

Prestwich, Michael. “Upbringing & Training.” Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson, 2010. Print.

“Knights, Squires & Pages.” The Middle Ages for Kids. 2 April 2012.


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The Column of Trajan: Forts

The Column of Trajan provides an accurate historical reference for Dacian military architecture in one regard: we know they built forts. As in any military campaign, fortifications play a role in both defense of an army’s supplies and troops, and are an obstacle that must be overcome in the siege of an enemy city or encampment. Much of a legionary’s time was spent either trying to undermine the defenses of another fort, or creating an impenetrable barrier around themselves (Matyszak, 149).

In an argument regarding the reality of representation, it is noted that “for all…camps and fortifications on the frieze, the basic material making up the walls is depicted in the same way: regular, horizontal rectangular blocks, with alternating joins between the rows” (Wolfram, 40). The type and material of construction however, is subject for argument. Historical evidence suggests that fortifications built during Roman Empire were constructed primarily of timber and turf, yet the representation on the Column depicts forts constructed with meticulous cut stone masonry (Trueman; Wolfram, 55).

Scene 12, image 17. Legionaries constructing a fort. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Scene 16, image 24. Building a Fort. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

The debate regarding materials in scenes of construction suggest that not only is it illogical for an army to construct a fort out of stone while on campaign, but it would be nearly impossible for any army to create the necessary defensive structures within the given time frame if they were to construct with blocks of masonry as depicted on Trajan’s column (Wolfram, 41). Explanation of the inconsistencies in material vary from blocks of timber and turf to ashlar masonry to cut stone—in reality, various fortifications were likely constructed using all three and others (Wolfram, 54).

Although incongruities exist regarding mode and material of fort construction, it is generally agreed upon that the uniform depiction of Roman and Dacian fortifications throughout the frieze on Trajan’s column is a sculptural misrepresentation of military architecture, and gives very limited historical information (Wolfram).

Works Cited:

Matyszak, Philip. “How to Storm a City.” Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson; 2009. Print (149-164). 7 Mar 2012.

Rockwell, Peter. “Trajan’s Column.” The McMaster Trajan Project, 1999. Web. 7 Mar 2012.

Trueman, Chris. “The Roman Army and Warfare.” History Learning Cite, A History of Ancient Rome. 2000. Web. 8 Mar 2012.

Wolfram, Elizabeth. The glory of Rome: Depictions of architecture on the Column of Trajan. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Pg 24-60. Web: Google Books. 8 Mar 2012.

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The Budget of the Roman Empire

Roman Currency (Wikipedia Contributors)

While there is a relative shortage of accurate information about the finances of the Imperial era, it is assumed that state expenditures of the Roman Empire were first and foremost devoted to military payments. It is estimated that these expenditures most likely accounted for half of the revenues of the Empire. Whatever these revenues may have been they were eaten up so quickly that often taxes were increased (or invented) depending on circumstances (Southern, 75-76).

For the average legionary, military life was not a life of great wealth, even though “[Roman] soldiers formed part of the rare salaried class in antiquity” (Bohec, 209). The appeal of legionary life did not lie in an opportunity to earn a large fortune, or even anything resembling affluence. Why then did so many young recruits volunteer for service under rather unappealing conditions? The answer lies in looking outside of the military: conditions of daily life were not much better. When under military service, a “[soldier] could…look forward to regular meals, pay, and free medical treatment form an army doctor” (Herz, 307). Each soldier’s level of pay was blatantly uneven and not dependent upon task difficulty or capability, but upon social status (Herz, 308).

Polybius provides the first indication of the amount of a legionary’s stipendium (pay that initially covered a six-month time period). He states that legionaries received two obols daily, centurions double, cavalrymen a whole drachma (Brunt). Polybius’s drachma is taken to mean the Roman denarius which is the equivalent of 10 asses (Brunt).


Denarii depicting various Roman Emperors (Wikipedia Contributors)

It has also been noted that the stipendium is not so much the equivalent of a modern day wage, but more a credit record to compensate for costs incurred by a legionary during the term of service, i.e. clothing, food and arms supplied by the Empire (Brunt). One example of deductions made for a soldier’s foodstuffs over the period of service indicated that “state deductions for provisions were usually higher than their cost, and that the state normally made a profit” (Herz, 311). The assumption has been made that generally, about two-thirds of a soldier’s gross income was kept back and remained under the control of the state (Herz, 311). Perhaps the most distinct example of pay deductions can be seen in a young recruit—with the necessary supply of weapons, clothing and food, a new legionary incurred a large deficit that could only be paid off after a few years of service (Herz, 314).

Although the costs of maintaining a functioning army were certainly the largest portion of the Roman budget, the political and economic benefits provided by the army’s existence cannot be translated into a financial figure. The stability and security provided by the army both internally and externally, as well as the valuable contributions to the infrastructure of the Roman Empire are astronomically important to the history of the Roman state, and “represented the largest organized and qualified work-force that was present throughout the empire” (Herz, 319). Though it was costly, the value of the Roman army was well worth the price required to sustain it.

Denarius of Marcus Aurelius

Denarius of Marcus Aurelius (Wikipedia Contributors)

Works Cited:

Bohec, Yann Le. The Imperial Roman Army. Trans. Raphael Bate. Routledge, 2000. Print. 28 Feb. 2012.

Brunt. P. A. “Pay and Superannuation in the Roman Army.” Papers of the British School at Rome. Vol. 18. British School at Rome, 1950. Pg. 50-71. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Herz, Peter. “Finances and Costs of the Roman Army.” A Companion to the Roman Army. Ed. Paul Erdkamp. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Southern, Pat. The Roman Army: A Social & Institutional History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print. 28 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Denarius.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Roman currency.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

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To Rome!! Or not…

After a victory of epic proportions at the Battle of Cannae, the assumed logical step for Hannibal and the Carthaginian army would be to march on Rome and overtake the capital. With 20/20 hindsight, it is in fact quite obvious that Hannibal’s failure to capture Rome “cost him his one good chance of final victory” and eventually led to his downfall (Matyszac). Livy has recorded that while congratulating him on an incredible victory, Hannibal’s general Maharbal stated:

“That you may know, what has been gained by this battle I prophesy that in five days you will be feasting as victor in the Capitol. Follow me; I will go in advance with the cavalry; they will know that you are come before they know that you are coming” (22.51). Livy records that Hannibal “told Maharbal that he commended his zeal, but he needed time to think out his plans” (22.51). To this Maharbal replied: “The gods have not given all their gifts to one man. You know how to win victory Hannibal, you do not how to use it” (22.51).

One can only speculate his true motivation behind the decision not to march on Rome, but clues exist that help to illustrate a clearer picture of Hannibal’s judgment.

Hannibal (Wikipedia Contributors)

One of the most fundamental, yet easily overlooked reasons behind Hannibal’s decision is his supply of food. Prior to Cannae, Hannibal lacked the sustenance necessary to support an army. At this time he was not receiving any support from Carthage and his troops spent much of their time foraging across the Italian countryside (Shean, 185). Hannibal’s strategy once in Italy focused largely on relying upon Rome’s resources (Lazenby, 43). Shean states that “logistical problems had dogged him throughout his early campaigns in Italy [and] the victory at Cannae brought no immediate relief to these problems” (185). It is not difficult to imagine why Hannibal chose not to drag an already battered, poorly provisioned and underfed army on a 250 mile march to attack a walled and fortified city. Even after a catastrophic defeat, the Romans still had an advantage of an “inexhaustible suppl[y] of provisions and of men” (Lazenby, 43). According to Shean, “Hannibal’s failure to move on Rome stemmed from the least glamorous and most mundane reason of all: no food” (185).

Maharbal’s eager exclamation of Hannibal dining as a victor in Rome within five days is indeed a pretty sentiment, but would be logistically next to impossible. The distance Hannibal’s forces would be required to cover the between Cannae and Rome within five days would equate to a pace of fifty miles per day, as opposed to the usual pace of Hannibal’s army which hovered around nine (Lazenby, 41).  After such a sprint across the Italian countryside, it is highly unlikely that his troops would be able to accomplish anything significant once they reached Rome—a city that was by no means left unfortified or lacking in able-bodied civilians (Lazenby, 41). Hannibal would not only face many who would have already seen military service, but many armed slaves, and all who would rise to defend their country, honor, wives and children (Lazenby, 41; Polybius, par. 109).

It is impossible to pinpoint a single motivation for Hannibal’s decision not to attack the capitol. Food, logistics and manpower may have all contributed to the objections against taking the city. Hannibal may have recognized his disadvantage in the particular type of “trench warfare” that would have been required to take Rome (Lazenby, 41). It is also a possibility that the victory at Cannae left Hannibal with the impression that the “war was already won” (Matyszac, 38). Whatever the reason behind the decision, “that day’s delay is believed to have saved the City and the empire [of Rome]” (Livy, 22.51).


Knox, E.L. Skip. The Punic Wars: Battle of Cannae. Boise State University History of Western Civilization. 15 Feb 2012.

Lazenby, John. Was Maharbal Right?. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. 22 Feb 2011. Web. 16 Feb 2012.

Livy. Livy’s History of Rome: The Disaster of Cannae. Book 22. University of Virginia Electronic Text Center. Web. 15 Feb 2012.

Matyszac, Philip. The Enemies of Rome From Hannibal to Attila the Hun. London: Thames and Hudson, 2004. Print.

Polybius. The Battle of Cannae, 216 BCE. Book III. Fordham University Ancient History Sourcebook. Web. 15 Feb 2012.

Shean, John F. Hannibal’s Mules: The Logistical Limitations of Hannibal’s Army and the Battle of Cannae, 216 B.C.. Franz Steiner Verlag, 1996. 16 Feb 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Hannibal.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2012.

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Alexander the Great: Organization and Leadership of the Macedonian Army

As leader of the Macedonian army, Alexander the Great showed by example what he wished his soldiers to be. He dressed like his soldiers and interacted with them in camp, which gave his troops a feeling of love and concern from their commander and won great affection (Straker). Coupled with his determination and courage, he was able to win the loyalty of his men that endured even in the most desperate of times (Straker). He would most commonly be found at the front of a charge in clear view of  his men and as an obvious target for his enemy. It is likely that he was wounded in battle more frequently than any of his men (Burn, 140).  He built their morale up from the beginning, instilling in them a sense of moral superiority and the belief that under his command nothing was impossible (Burn, 140).

Alexander kept a relatively small army, never numbering more than 40,000 total cavalry and infantry, giving them the advantage of speed and mobility (Straker).


Hetairoi or companion cavalry was the most prestigious of the mounted troops. During the reign of Phillip II, these soldiers were selected only from Macedonian nobility. Under Alexander, the number increased from 600 horsemen to 3000 troopers. The hetairoi were organized in ilai or “wings” of 200 men, with the exception of the basilike ile (royal squadron) which consisted of 300 to 400 cavalrymen (van Dorst). During battle, these soldiers generally rode in a wedge formation and depending on the circumstances could be heavily or lightly armed. Cavalry men generally always wore metal helmets and body armor (consisting of linen or leather corselets with metal scales, or breastplates made from iron or bronze) and were equipped with heavy thrusting spears, javelins and always carried a sword as a secondary weapon. Shields were reserved for dismounted actions. Prodromoi, the light cavalrymen and scouts of the Macedonian army, were equipped with javelins when on a reconnaissance mission but could be redressed and serve as heavy cavalry (or sarissophori) in battle (van Dorst).It is believed that Alexander’s cavalry forces were an important part of his success in battle, and they were “unmatched on their own ground” (Burn, 141).


Infantry men were recruited territorially. Each Macedonian province provided a single taxis or regiment of pezhetairoi or foot companions, and each regiment consisted of approximately 1500 soldiers (van Dorst). Command of these regiments was usually given to nobles originating from the same province as the men they commanded. The phalanx infantry was much more flexible than the Greek hoplites—equipment and tactics were adjusted to suit different battle situations. Each was equipped with a hoplite shield and normal length spear, which could be traded for light  javelins or a a long pike requiring both hands and a sarissa, or rimpless shield hanging from the shoulder (van Dorst).

Phalanx with Pikes (Wikipedia contributors)

Another very important part of the infantry was the hypaspistai or shield bearers, comprised of 3000 men organized into subunits of 1000 soldiers. The elite formation of shield bearers was the argyraspides or “silvershileds.” Membership in this unit was based entirely upon merit as a soldier in one of the taxes, rather than upon status and nobility (van Dorst). These soldiers were frequently used on special duties and were more likely to carry lighter arms and equipment. In engagements, the shield bearers were generally deployed in the dangerous place of honor—the right flank of the heavy infantry line (van Dorst).


Alexander generally aimed to force his enemy into rapid decisions that would confuse and lower morale. Success depended largely on undermining the confidence of the enemy, and attacking them at weak moments—particularly when the enemy forces were tired after long marches or lack of sleep (van Dorst). He also used tactics such as a fierce cavalry charge on a small portion of the enemy’s forces to break morale and cause panic among the units not yet engaged in the battle (van Dorst).

Works Cited:

Burn. A. R.. “The Generalship of Alexander.” Greece & Rome, Second Series. Vol. 12, No. 2. The Classical Association, Cambridge University Press. 1965. JSTOR. 7 Feb. 2012.

Straker, David. “Alexander the Great.” Changing Minds. Changing Minds. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.

van Dorst, Sander. The Army of Alexander the Great. Ancient Warfare. 2000. Web. 7 Feb 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Macedonian army.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 Apr. 2009. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.


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Greek Strategy in the Battle of Marathon

  Battle of Marathon Battle of Thermopylae Battle of Salamis
Time August/September

490 BCE

August 7 or September 8-10, 480 BCE September, 480 BCE
Where it was fought Marathon Greece Thermopylae, Greece The Straits of Salamis

Who’s fighting who


And Plateans

Greek City- States Persian Empire Persians Greek City-states Achaemenid Empire


Led By

Miltiades the younger, Callimachus Themistocles, Leonidas I and Demophilus Xerxes I of Persia, Mardonius, and Hydarnes Datis,  Artaphernes Eurybiades, Themistocles Xerxes I of Persia, Artemisia I of Caria, and Ariabignes
Result Greek victory Persian Victory Greek Victory

Looking at the Battle of Marathon from the Greek side, we see that strategically the Greek (particularly Athenian) motivation was to defend themselves against Persian invaders. It is believed that King Darius of Persia ordered his general, Mardonius, to pillage, burn and enslave Athens as punishment for their role in the feeding the Ionian Revolt which lasted from c. 499 to 493 BCE (“Greco-Persian Wars”). In the battle of Marathon, 10,000 Athenian citizen-soldiers confronted an overwhelmingly larger Persian force and miraculously emerged victorious.

Even though fighting on home turf, the Greek force was still at a disadvantage.  Terrain is a definite deciding factor in any battle as each group developed fighting tactics based on the nature of the country—therefore, if one group can entice their opponent into an engagement on favorable terrain, there is a decisive advantage given to one party while the other is fatally handicapped. While the Greeks may have had home court advantage, the flat battlefield and surrounding country was ideal for the Persian cavalry (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC). Greek victory may be partially attributed to the ineffectiveness or tardiness of the Persian cavalry.

To Fight, or Not to Fight:

Herodotus recounts Athenian generals being divided in opinion whether to risk battle with the Persians because the Athenian forces were too few in number. The ten generals cast a vote, with the deciding eleventh vote belonging to Callimachus of Aphindae. It is believed that Miltiades, a general in favor of battle, approached Callimachus in an attempt to persuade his vote toward engaging in battle. His argument for conflict was that the people of Athens were faced with one of two options: submit to slavery without engaging in conflict or fight to defend themselves with the hopes that with a just cause and the assistance of the gods they can overcome the enemy and leave a legacy for future generations (Koeller).

When the vote was cast, the Athenian force prepared for battle. The small army succeeded in blocking the two exits to the plain of Marathon which brought about a stalemate. After waiting five days, the Athenians attacked the Persians (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC”). To the astonishment of the Persian army, what appeared to be a small handful of men charged across the plain of Marathon without archers or cavalry—apparently welcoming their own destruction (Koeller). Even outnumbered as they were, the Greek hoplites were much more effective against the Persian infantry (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC”).  In defense of their lives, freedom and city, the Athenian army slew about six thousand four hundred barbarians, while only losing one hundred ninety two of their own (Koeller). The victory at Marathon was monumental to Greeks, so much so that after the death of Aeschylus (a famous Greek playwright who is considered the father of tragedy) his participation in the Battle of Marathon was held in higher esteem than his life as a successful playwright (West).

Αἰσχύλον Εὐφορίωνος Ἀθηναῖον τόδε κεύθει

μνῆμα καταφθίμενον πυροφόροιο Γέλας·

ἀλκὴν δ’ εὐδόκιμον Μαραθώνιον ἄλσος ἂν εἴποι

καὶ βαθυχαιτήεις Μῆδος ἐπιστάμενος

Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,

who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;

of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,

and the long-haired Persian knows it well.

Copy & Translation of the inscription on Aeschylus’s tomb (“Aeschylus”)


Battle Plan: Battle of Marathon (Hatzigeorgiou)


Fighting on the plain of Marathon (Hatzigeorgiou)




Koeller, David. Then Again. “Herodotus The Persian Wars: The Battle of Marathon.” Liberal Arts College in Chicago , IL., 2005. Web. 24 Jan 2012.

“Aeschylus.” Wikipedia, 26 Jan 2012. Web. 24 Jan 2012.

“Greco-Persian Wars” Wikipedia, 20 Jan 2012. Web. 31 Jan 2012.

“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC.” EyeWitness to History, 2006. Web. 31 Jan 2012.


Hatzigeorgiou, Karen J. “Battle of Marathon.” Karen’s Whimsy, 2011. Web. 31Jan 2012.

“Aeschylus.” Wikipedia, 26 Jan 2012. Web. 24 Jan 2012.


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