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Part 1: Significance of Gothic Architecture

Josiah Oldham

HNRS 2210: Final Project

Gothic Cathedral Architecture


“Ugh, look at those ugly spires, those pointed ceilings. Not classical in the slightest.”

“I have to agree. It’s all because of the Goths. Those barbarians ruined everything good about architecture when they ended the Empire and its culture!”

“Exactly. This, fellows, is why we’re returning to the classical styles. We’re making things the way they used to be- good.”

Such, perhaps, was the dialogue between Giorgio Vasari and his fellow Italian renaissance writers, who falsely attributed medieval architecture to the Goths. Colored by their overwhelming admiration for classical Roman culture, they believed that the drastic change from Romanesque to medieval building came from the 5th century barbarian cultural takeover, and not from simple evolution of style. “Then arose new architects who after the manner of their barbarous nations erected buildings in that style which we call Gothic (dei Gotthi),” said Vasari in his book Lives of the Artists. Unfortunately, this misconception carried on for almost three hundred years from the renaissance era. “The term retained its derogatory overtones until the 19th century; at which time a positive critical revaluation of Gothic architecture took place” (Martindale). Today, we can look back at Gothic style cathedrals with admiration, for these marvels of art and engineering are certainly the pinnacle of their era.


The Reims Cathedral in France.

Before the Gothic style came into full usage, there was that of the Cistercian order. It may appear as if the simpler Cistercian designs evolved into the more grandiose Gothic style, however, the connection is not so simple. St. Bernard Clairvaux firmly believed in a stark contrast between architecture for the monks and for regular citizens. Rooted in the spirituality of the monastic lifestyle, “He readily conceded that [the secular cathedrals], ‘since they cannot excite the devotion of the carnal populace with spiritual ornaments, must employ material ones,’ in other words, that cathedral art had to make concessions to sensuous experience which the mystic no longer required” (von Simson). Rather than one deriving from the other, the Cistercian and Gothic styles ran parallel, connected to different ways of life.


The Fontenay Abbey, an example of Cistercian architecture.

But the Gothic style is, again, grandiose. Abbeys in the Cistercian style are expansive, but not elaborate. They emphasized function, for their inhabitants focused inward and upward in faith, not outward to everyday life. Gothic cathedrals impressed and inspired the general population with their ornate facades, vibrant colored windows and extravagant statuary. As Bernard claimed, the populous would draw closer to God in this atmosphere, full of tangible reminders and projections of glory. Fitting, considering the overwhelming focus on pointed arches as a theme of the Gothic style.

There was, of course, other significance in Gothic architecture aside from the spiritual, particularly in the construction of cathedrals. In the spirit of progress and innovation, masons would indirectly compete for the tallest, most expansive buildings. This competition, naturally, resulted in powerful engineering inventions- discussed in the next section- with incredible successes as well as spectacular failures. “Competition in height akin to that in twentieth-century American skyscraper construction led to a record spire at Strasbourg of 468 feet, equivalent to the height of a modern forty-six-story building, but also to the collapse of the nave at Beauvais in 1284, which put a damper on the competition” (Gies).

Strasbourg (left) and Beauvais (right) Cathedrals.

Gothic architecture is an incredibly significant aspect of art history. Those who built the cathedrals in the middle ages often knew that the work would not be complete in their lifetime. After all, some cathedrals took tens or hundreds of years to finish! Still, at the same time, these workers must have also known that the work was bigger than them, and would last far beyond them. That sentiment, an important trait of humanity, lasts to this day through these cathedrals, a silent reminder of hope.

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Part 2: Efficient Engineering Innovations

There were many specific breakthroughs in the field of architectural engineering during this period of the Middle Ages. These breakthroughs, though some of them did nothing more than increase building efficiency and safety, are also associated with the beauty inherent in the Gothic style. Many of these innovations, in fact, came about as architects and engineers became more and more daring, making ceilings higher and higher, expanses wider and wider, all to evoke feelings of grandness and awe in visitors.

The first of these, and the one most important to this goal is the rib vault, a form of ceiling construction. Now, to understand why the invention of the rib vault is significant, one must compare it to its Romanesque predecessor, the barrel vault or groin vault. Barrel vaults, much like their namesake, are shaped like a barrel. They are nothing more than a domed ceiling, sometimes supported by periodic arches. This is all well and good, but has a severe limitation. Barrel vaults are limited in height and width by simple physics. If the stones are correctly mortared together and the ceiling is in one piece, all that mass in the dome places the walls under high stress, pushing them outwards. The larger the ceiling, the thicker and stronger the walls need to be, adding tremendous expense to the construction.


In a basic barrel vault (left) the forces from the heavy ceiling push the walls outward. It works, but you need very thick walls, like this Romanesque cathedral in Rome (right).

The advent of the rib vault solved this puzzling ceiling weight problem. The ribs are of stone, arching and crossing back and forth through the ceiling’s expanse. The ceiling itself is composed of much thinner stone plates. No longer do the architects need to lift prohibitively enormous stone bricks so far up. The ribs hold these panels up with little to no trouble, since the weight of the ceiling is now supported along the ribs instead of by the walls. In addition, rib vaults tend to have more pointed inner arches rather than a semicircular dome. This also carries the weight of the ceiling more evenly, in many directions instead of one or two.


The final piece of the puzzle, easily remedied, is the support of the ribs themselves. Piers attached to the walls carry the force from the ribs down through the piers. This architectural choice is twofold: first, it allows for slightly thinner walls, since the piers take the ceiling’s weight, not the whole wall. As discussed later, this is also an important decision where stone transportation is concerned. In addition, since the piers are small relative to the wall’s area, this leaves the wall space open for other ornaments, any kind of art befitting the building.


Rib vault in the Basilica of St. Denis in Paris. The columns in the center and against the walls carry the force of the ceiling ribs. Also note the several pointed arches in the ceiling. The columns leave plenty of room for the stained-glass arched windows.

The second primary innovation in Gothic architecture is the flying buttress. Now, buttressing was a common method of support since antiquity and before, but this variation of buttressing solves the specific problems medieval architects faced, correcting the outer-wall equivalents of the inner-wall and ceiling issues.

A buttress supports a wall by arranging material in such a way that a section of wall is leaning partially on it. Buttresses are used for initial support- i.e. knowing that a wall needs them, as well as replacement, if a wall is in danger of collapsing. Flying buttresses are unique in that unlike traditional buttressing, the whole flying buttress is not in contact with the wall. Instead, an arch is attached from the wall to an outside pier. Because the arch is what transfers the outward force of the wall down through the pier, and the arch is suspended in the air between the two points, it appears to be flying. Hence the name ‘flying buttress.’ Just like the rib vault, the flying buttress opened up the walls to allow for increased display of art, and as a result, beautifully ornate facades and pointed, arched windows greet visitors to the many Gothic cathedrals around Europe.

In a basic flying buttress (left), the wall is only supported by a thin, “flying” arch. The force travels down through the arch into a separate column, as in this example from the Chartres Cathedral (right).

Far from being the Dark Ages, the high medieval era was a period of vibrancy and incredible art. As sculptors and artists completed work after work, the masons, a different kind of artist, plied their own trade to build some of the most beautiful buildings ever made, despite little to no knowledge of modern engineering principles. The result of their labor certainly commands our respect today.

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Part 3: Methods, Monies and Manpower

NOTE: Removed blog post 5, and doubled the length of this one.

What is an ambition so grand as a Gothic cathedral without the workers to complete it? An effort as large as this took hundreds to thousands of people, working between the stone quarries and the work sites. In the quarries, skilled stonecutters plied their mallets and chisels to cut down limestone blocks as much as possible. Even in the middle ages, efficiency was key. The less they had to transport from the quarry to the build site, the easier it would be for them in the long run. For this reason, cathedrals were often built a short distance from a quarry. Given the number of limestone pits that existed in Europe at the time, this was not a difficult task. There were so many cathedrals constructed during this period, in fact, that “More stone was quarried in France [from 1050-1350] than in ancient Egypt during its whole history” (Gimpel).

In addition to shaping the stone, stonecutters would often make a mark on it indicating that they were the ones to cut the stone. Being paid by the piece, this was a convenient way to both show off one’s workmanship and tally your payment. When the stonecutters finished cutting their stone in the quarry, they would usually move on to another job. Being skilled labor, these masons could find work elsewhere, since there were usually several construction projects going on at one time.


Mason’s mark on a stone in the Durham Cathedral.

Of course, the stone needed to get to the build site somehow. Some construction crews had horses or other animals to lug the cut stone up the roads, but the church would also hire average citizens to pick up the slack in transportation. Because the church funds were always tied up in the skilled labor and build costs, they would offer indulgences- forgiveness of sins- for those laborers who participated willingly in this work of the Lord.

The other group, those at the building site, was much more occupationally diverse. Unskilled laborers dug out foundations and removed other detritus around the site, while the skilled plaster-men, masons, glaziers and others laid the actual stones. These men used many tools in their work, including plumb lines and levels to ensure complete accuracy. In addition, based on recent research, they would also have been reinforcing walls and pillars with iron, perhaps laying stones in place in or around iron supports.


Gothic illuminated rendition of the construction of the Tower of Babel. Workers include the stonecutter, the mortar carrier and the masons laying stones.

As for lifting the heavy stones into place, any manner of windlass would do this job. Smaller stones could take a simple pulley, while larger ones worked with a setup at the top of the vault, where one person would walk inside a wooden treadmill. In this instance, they themselves were the pulleys. Everyone in the build site had a vested interest in working quickly, whatever their job, for while the stone quarry functioned year-round, the build site shut down in the winter as the all-important mortar froze and would not adhere to the stones.


Another example of Gothic construction. There is a windlass in the upper left lifting stones up to the masons. In the lower right, a stonecutter utilizes a c-square for exact corners on his stones.

Finally, once the frame of the building was nearing completion, only then would the sculptors and glassmakers do their parts. Broken statues and shattered glass do nobody any good. Their processes are covered in the section on integration of art.

While every worker had their role, hundreds of disparate workers do not a cathedral make. They needed a leader, whether they liked it or not. The master masons were those leaders. Very highly respected in the community, they were revered to the point that in some Gothic art, God was depicted as a master mason, complete with cap, gown and measuring tools. However, despite their status and mastery, early medieval master masons were also described as typical overbearing, micro managing bosses. Jacques de Vitry and Nicolas de Biard, French writers and critics are quoted as complaining that master masons did nothing but order their workers around, receiving a ludicrously high salary in exchange for no real labor.

These criticisms are not unfounded. The master masons certainly knew what they were talking about. They were the designers, rather than the builders. Your average master mason, of which there were only a couple hundred, had an average education. They knew how to read and write, but more importantly, they had an innate grasp of math and geometry and the know-how and experience to apply it. They dealt practically, most often by rule of thumb, since they had none of our modern engineering training to utilize. They designed the cathedrals on the tracing floor with nothing but their c-squares, their compasses and their minds to guide them.

Now, given all these unskilled workers, plus masons, stonecutters, glassworkers, sculptors, and master masons, and the colossal amounts of stone, glass, iron and other materials, where does all this money come from? The short answer is the church. The longer answer, of course, is much more complicated. The laws in the Catholic Church varied during the middle ages, and at first required that “all clerical beneficiaries had to give support commensurate with their means” (Scholler), when a church needed renovation or rebuilding. However, this changed with the advent of a specific fund designated for building, the ‘bona fabricae’, and only had to provide from their own salary when absolutely necessary.

Where did they get the money for the bona fabricae? Besides the obvious tithes and offerings, the Catholic Church had many methods to make money. In many cases, people would pay well to see ancient relics. Sometimes the church could elicit extra donations to build a fitting home for a relic belonging in the area, or sometimes they would even send their relics ‘on tour’, so to speak, and bring income from other regions paying to see the marvelous item. In addition, the churches brought in money from several other widespread sources, from food produced by monks to rent money off of a piece of land.

As incredible as the cathedrals are, some believe that the overwhelming political power of the Catholic Church had an economically detrimental effect on the middle ages. In her thesis on the costs of Gothic cathedrals, Amy Denning discovers that “over this 150-year period [in the high Middle Ages], on average, 21.5 percent of the regional economy was devoted to the construction of these Gothic churches, 1.5 percent of which is directly related to the implicit cost of labor… during the period known as the High Middle Ages, between 1100-1250, the Catholic Church built over 1400 Gothic churches in the Paris Basin alone.” This is certainly a colossal investment, and Denning argues that sinking such incredible amounts of money into these projects had an economic impact that prolonged the Middle Ages by several hundred years.

Whether this is true or not, it is unarguable that the Catholic Church had highly effective methods at its disposal to pay for everything they needed, be it materials or skilled labor, and these monies were not carelessly spent- the countless Gothic cathedrals still standing after over 500 years are a testament to that.

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Part 4: Spirituality and the Integration of Art

Geometry is at the heart of Gothic architecture. Believing that God is a God of order and logic, the master masons reflected that attribute heavily in their designs. “Only by observing geometrical principles did architecture become a science in Augustine’s sense; by submitting to its laws, the human architect imitated his divine master and in doing so his calling acquired metaphysical significance” (von Simson). The most obvious factor here is the symmetry in construction. While the Romanesque style was symmetrical, the ornate facades and window decorations give the Gothic style many, many more layers of symmetry. In other words, it’s not just the architecture, but also the complex patterns that mirror themselves, providing a beautiful visual experience.

The basic symmetry (left) of a Romanesque window on the Saint Sulpicius Marignac Charente church, contrasted with the multifaceted symmetry of a Gothic window on the Church of St. Mary in Norfolk.

However, geometry and symmetry were not just for show. As with the rib vault and flying buttress, the artistic value of this design has immense practical value as well. “The square- along with the other polygons, such as the famous π/4 triangle, which the medieval architect derived from the square- and the proportion ‘according to true measure’ have determined Gothic design to a remarkable extent… they were practical rather than artistic devices of which the observer usually remains unconscious” (von Simson). Master masons only had access to their special compasses and tools on the tracing floor, not in practice in the building. They had no real measurement tools. To make their buildings as exact as possible, perfect geometry required that they build symmetrically. With each side equal, it is much easier to match a completed side- whatever size- to its opposite without messing anything up.

One of the most iconic images connected with Gothic architecture is its expansive stained glass and rose windows. These windows depict beautiful scenes from the Bible, with Jesus Christ as the centerpiece in the largest of the windows. While stained glass has existed since Roman times, it was only in the Middle Ages that its use as an art form intensified and perfected. We do, in fact, have an accurate extant source describing the process of glass window making: entitled On Diverse Arts, the author, a monk by the name of Theophilus details the processes of glassmakers and glaziers as they worked, in order to complete this ‘manual’ for windows of ‘inestimable beauty,’ as he puts it.


Rose window in the Reims Cathedral. The ‘rose’ description refers to the round, almost petaled shape of the panels, not the color of the glass.


Undecorated outside portion of a rose window on the Lusanne Cathedral in Switzerland. Rose windows are distinct from wheel windows, due to their intricacy. Wheel windows are characterized by spokes, whereas these two examples have highly complex flowery designs.


Western stained glass windows in the Chartres Cathedral. To assemble a stained glass window, glassmakers had to take great care. The making of the colored glass was simple enough for a skilled craftsman, the difficult part came in setting each individual piece of glass in its lead frame (visible below) called a came, and securing it all by waterproof putty and soldering. Given the height of the windows, setting the group of panels in an iron frame and lifting it up into the window-well must have been a very precarious job.


More stained glass in the Chartres Cathedral. This detailed portion shows scenes from the Passion window, detailing some of Jesus Christ’s actions such as washing His disciples’ feet and eating with them at the Last Supper.

All these factors- the geometry, the symmetry, the stained glass, the statuary, the engineering, and more- they all came together to form a cohesive whole, inspiring awe in parishioners of the time and other visitors today. As the light creeps in, covering the walls and floor in a rainbow of color, as footsteps echo in the vast ceiling expanse sweeping higher and higher upward, the mindset of the designers and the workers is clear. Gothic cathedral architecture is one of the most incredible works of art and science ever produced, and a gift of light and life from the Dark Ages.



Works Cited (Cumulative)

Gies, Frances and Joseph. (1994). Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel. Harper- Collins, New York.

Chapuis, Julien. “Gothic Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2002). Accessed December 1, 2016.

Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “Stained Glass in Medieval Europe.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2001). Accessed December 1, 2016.

Von Simson, Otto G. “The Gothic Cathedral: Design and Meaning.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 11.3 (1952): 6-16. JSTOR. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <;.

Scholler, Wolfgang. “Funding the Construction of Gothic Cathedrals: Financial and Legal Realities of the Middle Ages.” Athena Review 4.2. Web. 30 Nov. 2016. <>.

Martindale, Andrew Henry Robert. “A History of the Gothic Period of Art and Architecture.” Web. 30 Nov. 2016. <>.

Denning, Amy. “How Much did the Gothic Churches Cost? An Estimate of Ecclesiastical Building Costs in the Paris Basin between 1100-1250”. Diss. The Wilkes Honors College, 2012. Print.

Clark, Laura. “Europe’s Great Gothic Cathedrals Weren’t Built Just of Concrete.” SmartNews. The Smithsonian, 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2016. <;.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Gothic Architecture.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 12 December 2016. Web. 29 November 2016.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Flying Buttress.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 17 November 2016. Web. 30 November 2016.

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Legionary Living

Introduction: Preston Hodson

Our group has chosen to base our blog on the Roman Legions during the High Imperial Age. This group includes some of what are referred to as the Classic Legions, and also includes the legions formed by Julius Caesar, which is why it was particularly interesting for us.

Recruitment and Physical Training: Nathan Blue

Joining the Roman army was not the easiest of tasks. There were many common traits on what a recruit would have been judged, including racial prejudice, background, and a rural origin to an urban origin. Tall soldiers would have been preferred to shorter men, but shorter men of exceptional physical condition would have had a chance to join a well. Average age of most recruits was late teens to mid-20’s. Criminals of exile and other serious crimes could not join the army.

Otherwise, all Roman citizens required to serve military service whenever the need was great enough. Conscription was widely unpopular with most Romans including emperors. There were three kinds of recruits, voluntarii (volunteers) which were the citizen army, lecti (conscripts) who were recruited by local authorities, and vicarii (substitutes) people who had been sent by conscripted citizens in their charge.

Once a recruit joined the army they went under a medical test and a physical test, and some may have brought letters of recommendation to make the process easier during basic training.

Slaves, surprisingly, could not serve in the military as they were not considered loyal. (Campbell page 11) If the slave was recruited as a conscript, the system was considered at fault and they were bared entry. If the slave was sent as a substitute, then the person who sent them was considered in the wrong. If the slave volunteered falsely as a free Roman, they were executed if enough evidence was there against them.

Discipline and Punishment: Josiah Oldham

As someone currently taking a course in Supervisory Management, the idea of reinforcement and discipline, and how it has changed over the years is an interesting one for me. How do you get people to do what you want them to, while at the same time molding them into mean, lean, systematic killing machines (well, nowadays just good workers)? This is why I chose discipline as a sub-topic.

While today, fear is generally seen as an inappropriate method of reinforcement, it was common in these times for soldiers. Fear was a necessity, for it kept soldiers alive longer. As Flavius Josephus notes, “They are moreover hardened for war by fear; for their laws inflict capital punishments, not only for soldiers running away from the ranks, but for slothfulness and inactivity, though it be but in a lesser degree…” (Josephus).

Josephus is correct. Deserters were worthy of death. Mutineers were worthy of death. Guards who were caught asleep at their posts were left to the mercy of their fellow soldiers, often resulting in death. A deserter is one fewer man in the fight, and one man can turn the tide of a battle. A sleeping soldier will miss the enemy, not sound the alarm, and bring death to the entire unit. A mutinous group is just not acceptable. Better to live and fear your commanders, than to bring your entire company to the grave with you.

Of course, death is not the only punishment, not by a long shot. Executing soldiers left and right for the smallest offense is illogical- your army has to come from somewhere. Rather than kill them, it is much easier to beat them with a switch (known as ‘castigato’). Pain is a very important biological trigger, and punishment in this sense sends a very strong ‘don’t do that again’ response to the brain.

There are also several psychological punishments for the discerning centurion who prefers his men un-bruised. The drudgery and monotony of extra undesirable tasks (who wants to clean out the toilets?), or a decrease in pay (gear and food aren’t cheap!) are additional methods of conditioning to keep soldiers in line and always, always ready for anything that might happen on the battlefield.

The method of reinforcement by fear and punishment is cruel, and perhaps unfair to the soldiers. However, it is undeniable that this same method, combined with intense training made the Roman Legions into the unstoppable force of nature they were known as. They were disciplined into an intense focus on their commanders, as Josephus again notes:

“…the readiness of obeying their commanders is so great, that it is very ornamental in peace; but when they come to a battle, the whole army is but one body, so well coupled together are their ranks, so sudden are their turnings about, so sharp their hearing as to what orders are given them, so quick their sight of the ensigns, and so nimble are their hands when they set to work; whereby it comes to pass that what they do is done quickly, and what they suffer they bear with the greatest patience.” (Josephus)

With discipline but no training, the Romans would have been perfect at following orders, but wholly ineffective in any fight. Similarly, with training but without discipline these soldiers would act powerfully, but recklessly in anarchy, and be likewise ineffectual. The techniques used by the Roman Empire to keep their soldiers in check are a critical part of high imperial history.

Uniforms and Armor: Preston Hodson

My specific topic is the Uniform and armor which I have have subsequently divided into two sub topics: Main Armor and Weaponry, and Other Clothing and additional items. Various resources have been utilized in these descriptions, which are cited below. A photographic representation is also included for your personal benefit as a viewer.

Main Armor and Weaponry

A typical Roman uniform would’ve consisted of several main pieces.

Helmet. The style and shape varied slightly over the first century as improvements were made, with both the Coolus and the Gallic style helmets being used. A common addition to a normal military helmet during this period was the neck guard, used to protect the neck from gladius strikes. (Goldsworthy 122-123)
Body armor.Popular styles ranged from typical mail cuirass, to scale mail which was harder to maintain and therefore less popular, to the preferred segmented plate armor, made of iron plates, bronze fittings and leather straps which created a layered method of bodily protection. This version came into play specifically in the Imperial era. (Connoly, 228-230)

Shield(Scutum). They were made of reinforced wooden strips, and contained designs including the name and symbol of the Legion. Large and durable, but light enough to be carried extremely long distances, weighing in at about 15 or so pounds. It had a wooden grip in the middle, covered by a metal plate, and played an essential role in the safety of each Legionnaire. (Kelly, et al.)

Click to enlarge (Kelly, et al.)

Sword(Gladius). A slightly tapering blade with a large point made this weapon extremely lethal. Usually short, approximately 15- 22 inches in length, it was excellent for jabbing, and could be easily removed from it’s sheath in a closed proximity, allowing the wielder to remain protected behind his scutum and draw his weapon at the same time.

Spear(Pilum). Another main weapon of Legionary was the pilum. These spears were mainly used for throwing. Many of them featured a butt spike, and were made of a wooden shaft with an iron heads. Apart from being used to kill enemy soldiers, it was also used to render their shields less effective as the spears were very flexible and difficult to remove. (Goldsworthy 131-133)

Other Clothing/ Additional Items

Aside from the aforementioned items, a Legionary would’ve also typically been equipped with:

Open toed boots were typically worn, as well as socks depending on the occasion. These items are mentioned in the Vindolanda tablets and were used increasingly in colder climates and seasons.
Soldiers also wore decorated belts or aprons, mostly as a status symbol, to distinguish them from citizens.
Another necessary item was a pack, usually made of piece of fabric fastened to a wooden pole which was then fastened to the aforementioned pilum. These packs were typically used to carry cooking equipment, personal items etc.
A typical addition to the tops of the helmets would’ve been a wide crest of hair. Although originally used solely by high ranking officials, the practice became more common during the reign of Julius Caesar.

(Cavvazi, F.)

“Borrowing” from other cultures: Troy Esquibel

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Summary: Josiah Oldham

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Works Cited

Campbell, J. B. The Roman Army, 31 BC-AD 337: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Josephus, Flavius. (trans. 1737). The War of the Jews. Whiston, William (trans). Accessed October 24, 2016.

Goldsworthy, Asdrian. The Complete Roman Army. Thames and Hudson, 2003. Print.

Connoly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Frontline Books, 2012. Print.

Kelly, Patrick, et al. “The Shield: An Abridged History of its Use and Development.” Ed. Patrick Kelly., 2012. Web. 23 October 2016.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames and Hudson, 2009. Print.

Cavvazi, F. The Roman Army. 4 June 2008. Accessed 23 October 2016.

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To India and Beyond!

Preston Hodson, Troy Esquibel, Josiah Oldham and Nathan Blue


Introduction (Time, Place and Troops): Preston Hodson

It’s the year 327 b.c. After years of struggles I’ve finally conquered the Persians! Some say that this should be sufficient, that I should enjoy the victory and be content, but not me. I crave a challenge, and I won’t be stopped. This time I’ve set my sights on India. We’ve crossed the Hindu Kush and invaded Kabul, as well as Swat. My army is, as my name states, nothing short of great. With my force of nearly 90,000, comprised of mostly Macedonian and Persian soldiers, along with some Greek cavalry and other Balkan allies, we’ve had great success. As many of them have been with me since the beginning of my conquests, they’re getting to be pretty old. It’s now necessary for me to leave them behind as garrison troops and guards in each of the cities that we conquer, that way they won’t take up valuable provisions from my younger, healthier troops, and at the same time they can at least somewhat enjoy the rest of their lives in peace. As we lose soldiers it’s proven rather difficult to acquire new ones. We have garnered a few here and there as we conquer cities and villages, but not sufficient. We’ve also asked for reinforcements from the homeland, but with minimal results. All in all, our situation isn’t too bleak to be quite honest, we’re having a lot of success. I just hope my burning desire to conquer more territory doesn’t cause my troops to revolt and turn against me, that would throw a nasty kink in my plans for world conquest… But hey, it’s not like that would ever happen, right? On we go to Porus! To India, and beyond!

Supply Logistics: Troy Esquibel

Philip, before Alexander, revolutionized the speed and agility of a massive army, breaking with Greek tradition on several fronts. The Macedonian members of the Phalanx were typically too poor to invest in heavy armor or Hoplite equipment, and as a consequence they’re personal effects were able to be transported, for the most part, on their person. This had the effect of reducing the amount of members needed in a baggage train and also reduced the reliance on pack animals. As a result, the need for grain, water, and other supplies was greatly reduced, and as the army was able to march over vast distances more swiftly, it also reduced the amount of provisions they would need from location to location.

The minimum amount of grain to satisfy a Macedonian soldier was 3 pounds and the minimum amount of water needed was 2 quarts (Engels p. 9). These are bare minimum quantities, and it is assumed, most prominently in Engels—verified by modern military experiments—that an army could only possibly march through desert conditions with 4 days’ worth of supplies. Alexander dealt with this problem in several ways, one of them was by marching along rivers, that way provisions could be delivered by watercraft as opposed to beasts of burden. Secondly, by ordering quickened and double timed marches out of problem areas, such as deserts, thus conserving rations and escaping problem areas more quickly. Thirdly, this was combated was by making allies out of his enemies, frequently before there was any chance of combat, and using the new partnerships of his allies to have outposts laden with supplies ready for his troops before they arrived (Van Mieghem p. 42).

Another important factor, alluded to by Engels, was the agricultural prowess of ancient peoples. The desert areas that Alexander had marched through were vastly more productive than contemporary times, referring to “the Negev Desert and the Tigris—Euphrates Valley. the respective yield rate was five times and twenty times higher than today, and the extent of the cultivated area was about ten times greater” (Engels p. 8). This meant that whatever amount of supplies Alexander did not bring, he was able to forage, steal, or barter for amongst local peoples. Many times those cities he conquered forfeited supplies for the campaign. Alexander was also careful to march during the harvest season to maximize efficiency (Engels p. 9).

Baggage Train and Local Encounters: Josiah Oldham

The baggage train is just as important as the army itself. Alexander could not depend on his soldiers to carry all the war equipment and siege devices by themselves, but he also couldn’t afford to bring an over-abundance of staff and items. This was, after all, a very long journey, and carrying enough food is a must (needless to say). While his soldiers often brought their own personal effects, as previously mentioned, he needed servants or pack animals to lug along the food and water. Pack animals, though, likely outnumbered the human servants. In an emergency without rations, only one of those options is edible. With careful budgeting and planning, Alexander can get away with bringing less food than the army needs, gambling on contributions from smaller towns along the march. Conversely, it is also important to bring plenty of extra weapons and armament- explained further when dealing with locals.

On this campaign, speed is of the utmost importance. While they need to keep critical personnel such as doctors and veterinarians, and guards for the siege equipment, other people just slow the trail down. These include the merchants, philosophers and poets, as well as secretaries and soldiers’ families. The veterans are also assets, as detailed in the following paragraph.

On the way to India, as is explained in the Route section, the river paths dictate that the army will encounter several small towns. They severely outnumber anyone in these towns, and as such threats of force are serious. He can station veterans and contingents of soldiers from the train in these towns, armed well enough to prevent rebellion. After the new government is in place, and the train takes supplies from them, they are several mouths fewer and several pounds of supply richer. In other words, the more towns they conquer, the easier and faster the march becomes.

However, there is one important note: as tempting as it seems, looting these towns for anything but supplies is not a good idea. Better to wait for higher-value targets than to slow the army and train down with dead weight.


Route: Nathan Blue

Alexander the Great would have been in a bind to get his men from location to location without wasting supplies or time on the march to India. There would have been a constant press to make sure that the soldiers had the proper food and water between towns and cities. An important factor on getting to each city would be simple to ask the locals the best route to the next place to stop. Many times these routes follow rivers, and the invasion path occasionally crosses them when necessary. The crossing of the Arius River from Susia to Alexandria Areia is a good example. Battles won would have also allowed for captured enemies to be brought along and provide on the trail instructions.


Accuracy of Information: Troy Esquibel

Like a lot of ancient history, most of this information is the best approximation of the logistical and supply chain strategies of Alexander during the duration of his campaign. There are many extant sources, but all of these were written centuries after the actual campaign. The most trusted of these sources was Arian, from the first and second century current era, but even he relied heavily on Ptolemy, who existed several centuries after Alexander. Engels suggests that Ptolemy is the most reliable, and gives proof to geographical and fossil records that still prove to be extremely accurate today. Like all ancient history, we can only give our best approximation of the facts.


Works Cited

Lendering, Jona. “Alexander the Great.”, 30 Jul. 2016. Web. 8 Oct. 2016. (

Arrian trans. Chinnock, E.J. “The Anabasis of Alexander.” The Selwood Printing Works, 1884.

Van Mieghem, Timothy. “Logistic Lessons From Alexander the Great.” Quality Progress January 1998. P 41-46, Web

Engels, Donald. Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. University of California Press, 1978.

Google Earth Version 6.2 (12/31/1969) Iran (Susia). Lat 35.99N Lon 60.01E, 2299 ft. Eye alt. 563.82 mi. Places Layers Alexander’s Route Out. Digital Globe (Accessed October 5, 2016).


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Elephants? They’re Relephant!

HNRS 2210: Hannibal’s Elephants

Josiah Oldham, Preston Hadley, Troy Esquibel and Nathan Blue


Despite the fact that it is not the prevailing opinion among historians, we believe that Hannibal took the Col de Traversette pass through the Alps.

  1. Col de Traversette is a shorter path than most of the options. While there is a longer march after they exit the pass, strategically a longer march on good terrain is better than a longer march over difficult travel in snowy and icy conditions. In addition, it is advantageous to take the post-Alps rest further from the battle site, so as not to be intercepted and attacked with a tired army.


Actual Traversette.png

  1. Any route through the Alps has problems with grazing grounds for animals. Paths from the summit are devoid of vegetation, and Livy states that “Four days were spent over the rock, and the animals were almost starved to death, for the heights are mostly bare of vegetation.” Taking a longer route, such as Col du Montgenevre, surely would have spelled death for their animals.
  1. Recently, scientists have discovered a massive dump of mammal feces in this pass. The type of microbes found there fit the particular horses of the era, and date back to precisely the time of the Second Punic War.

How did Hannibal get the elephants over the Alps? In short, we believe that it was simply due to training. Elephant riders in Alexander’s army trained single animals for years and years, and in addition to their experience with their elephants had particular techniques and tools with which to get it to go where they wanted.

Two other ways to move the elephants are (1) leading them by ropes and such and enticing with food, or (2) getting them drunk, as some sources suggest. The latter is unlikely, since it presents several dangers commonly associated with drunkenness in any being.

Works Cited

Larzo, Enrico de. “Scientists Find Hannibal’s Route Through Alps.” Accessed 9/30/16.

Lendering, Jona. “Hannibal in the Alps.” Accessed 9/30/16.

Livius, Titus. The History of Rome, Vol. 3. Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts. J.M. Dent & Sons, LTD. London. 1905

Cartwright, Mark. “Elephants in Greek & Roman Warfare,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified March 16, 2016. /article/876/. Accessed October 4, 2016.

Google Earth Version 6.2. (10/26/2005) Col du Montgenévre. Lat 44.93N Lon 6.73E, 6093 ft. Eye alt. 17039 ft. Places Layers. Digital Globe (Accessed October 3, 2016)

Google Earth Version 6.2. (10/26/2005) Col de la Traversette. Lat 44.25N Lon 7.07E, 9661 ft. Eye alt. 20694 ft. Places Layers. Digital Globe (Accessed October 3, 2016)

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The Battle for Salamis

The Battle for Salamis

HNRS 2210: Blog Post 1


Josiah Oldham, Preston Hodson, Troy Esquibel and Nathan Blue


Introduction [Josiah Oldham]


As the first rays of sunlight crept over the horizon, the gulf seemed almost too peaceful. Each trireme rocked gently in the water, creaking as the waves lapped across their bows. Soldiers shifted in their armor as they adjusted their helmets or polished their weapons. The tiers of oarsmen below-decks waited nervously, prepared to row with all their strength at the first command. Commanders and subordinates alike, they all waited for the first sign of their mortal enemies.

At last, a call echoed throughout the Greek fleet as the first of the Persian ships appeared on its path towards the fleet. Followed by another, and another, yet another, they funneled past the island on both sides, each minute increasing their numbers, yet not their advantage. The lack of room to maneuver, the constricted waters, would be their downfall. A lone Greek ship sped forward, taking advantage of the confusion and ramming the closest enemy. The day-long conflict had begun.

This is the battle of Salamis, a great Greek naval victory, and the major turning point in the second Persian invasion of Greece.


Main Combatants [Preston Hodson]

The Battle of Salamis was one of the most important and decisive military victories for the Greek army during the Greek and Persian War. Themistokles, who had previously convinced the Athenians to invest a large amount of silver to improve their navy, was a key leader and strategist for the Greeks in this battle. After Themistokles had convinced Eurybiades, the Spartan leader of the allied forces and his soldiers to stand their ground and fight at Salamis, the Greeks were prepared to take on a far greater Persian fleet using an advanced strategy which involved luring the Persians into the strait where their larger, slower boats would not be able to maneuver rapidly which would leave them vulnerable to an attack from the smaller, swifter Greek fleet which was composed of triremes such as those illustrated in the following image. (Herodotus, 622-625)

The Persians, led by Xerxes I, on the other hand were more than confident in their ability to easily defeat the Greek feet and continue on to capture the Isthmus of Corinth. Xerxes himself was so confident that he set up a throne on the shore to be able to have an advantageous viewpoint of the battle. Artemisia of Halicarnassus, one of the fiercest war generals for the Persian side, and trusted adviser of King Xerxes, actually went against the common Persian opinion and counseled him to hold his position and not attack, stating that they had already accomplished what the y set out to do, and that they could claim victory much more efficiently by closing in on Peloponnese instead of engaging in direct naval combat with the Greeks. Unfortunately for the Persians, Xerxes decided not to heed the warnings of his adviser as Eurybiades had done, and this fatal mistake eventually led to a brutal loss for the Persians. (Herodotus, 627-629)


Other Combatants [Josiah Oldham]

In addition to the primary forces from Athens, Corinth and Aegina, the Greek allied forces consisted of small groups of ships from several city-states, including many of the Peloponnesian ones. Between the writings of Herodotus, Aeschylus and Thucydides, we infer and estimate forces from the following places: Megara, Sparta, Sicydon, Epidaurus, Eretria, Ambracia, Troezen, Naxos, Hermione, Leucas, Styra, Ceos and Cynthos.

The Persian fleet was nearly as diverse, containing triremes from several locations other than Phoenicia and Egypt. In addition to hundreds of home-built and allied vessels, the Persians utilized captured triremes from conquered cities as well as ships from sympathizers. These locations are Cyprus, Cicily, Ionia, Hellespontine, Cria, Aolia, Lycia, Pamphylia, Doria and Cyclades.

Now, while we are aware of the sources of the Greek and Persian armadas, scholars remain partially unsure of their numbers. Herodotus claims that the battle pitted 380 Greek ships against 1,207 Persian ships. This would place 200 ships each under the command of 6 Persian admirals- 1200 ships- plus one ship for each of those commanders- 6 ships-  and one last ship from which Xerxes would watch the battle, for a total of 1,207. However, this is somewhat uncertain based on what we know about Persian activity and losses prior to the battle at Salamis. Scholarly evidence and research ranges from 500 ships, to 800 ships, to the 1,207 reported by Herodotus, Darius, Lysias and others. Overall, despite the wide range of possibilities for the size of the Persian navy, the Greek forces were severely outnumbered, making their tactical victory all the more impressive.


Casus Belli [Troy Esquibel]

The reasons and motives that existed prior to the battle of Salamis, are long and complex, so I will try to explain the situation as concisely and with as much brevity as possible. The tension first arose with the Athenian support of the Ionian Rebellion against Darius the 1st in 499 B.C. and was further exasperated by the execution of Persian ambassadors by Athens and Sparta in 491 B.C. After the death of King Darius, his successor, Xerxes, continued the battle against the Hellenes and rampaged his way from Thrace (modern-day Northeastern Greece), all the way through the Greek mainland and eventually into Athens. The reasons and motives for the Greek speaking world were clear; their language, culture, and political way of life were at risk of extinction by the encroaching Persian empire. The motives for the Greeks was not only personal survival, but cultural survival.


Location [Nathan Blue]

The battle of Salamis took place in the inside and around the Strait of Salamis outside of Athens. The straight is 1.73 miles long, and 1 mile across. While the Greek Allies had maneuverability with a small fleet, the larger numbers of the Persian fleet prevented them from navigating the waters during the battle as smoothly. Roughly only 600 ships total could get through the natural bottle neck, they had to come into the battle moving west. The Greek ships could be stationed facing the north along the coast, giving them the advantage hitting many ships from the side. The rising sun would have not been problematic for either fleet other than general low visibility at dawn, and with the battle ending at night, once again no issues for either side in particular. The battle would have to be fairly closely packed with the shores of either side of the straight being risky to row nearby.



The battle outside of Salamis might have been a different story. The Persians had a ground advantage should they have chosen to march on foot, and outside of the straight the Persians had at least the open ocean to take advantage of.


Strategy and Tactics [Troy Esquibel]

One of the most brilliant examples of pre-emptive strategy was the foresight of Themistocles to build a new naval fleet. Newfound silver mines in Attica presented a surplus of resources in Athens, and Themistocles persuade the citizenry that it would be in their best interest to build 200 triremes to better defend themselves against the imminent Persian retaliation.  As the Athenians evacuated the city, and watched the Persians raze the city, the naval fleet held in wat, protected by the thin Isthmus of Salamis, waiting for the Persians to commit to a naval battle in the thin confines of the strait. “if you do as I advise, you will find many advantages: first, if we engage the enemy in a narrow strait with our few ships against their many, then, …we shall achieve a great victory; for fighting in a narrow strait is best for us, while fighting on the open sea is best for them” (Histories p.624). This proved fruitful, as the long, slender, battering ram style ships proved invaluable in their ability to outmaneuver and outperform the over encumbered Persian fleet in the strait of Salamis.

From the Persian perspective, they had already rampaged their way across the majority of the Greek world. Victory was at hand, and persuaded by his main advisor, Mardonios, Xerxes pressed for an unnecessary risk at Salamis rather than heading for the Peloponnese as suggested by his other advisor, Artemisia. “’My lord, it is right and just that I express my opinion, and what I think is best regarding your interests. Here is what I think you should do: spare your fleet; do not wage a battle at sea. For their men surpass yours in strength at sea” (Histories p.628). This could be the turning point in Western civilization. Had Xerxes pursued battle at the Peloponnese and came back to defeat the Greek naval forces at open sea, the course of world history could be entirely different.


Works Cited

Strauss, Barry S. The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece – and Western Civilization. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Valin. “On this Day In History, The Battle of Salamis, 480 B.C.” Accessed 24 September 2016.

Lazenby, JF. (1993). The Defence of Greece 490–479 BC. Aris & Phillips Ltd. (ISBN 0-85668-591-7).

Herodotus. The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories. Translated by Andrea L. Purvis, Anchor Books. 2009.

Lendering, Jona. “Salamis.” Accessed September 20, 2016.

Google Earth Version 6.2. (4/12/2016) The Strait of Salamis. Lat 34.94N Lon 23.57E, 43539 ft. Places Layers. Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO (Accessed September 20, 2016)

Cartwright, Mark. “Salamis.” Accessed September 22, 2016.

CAIS (The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies). “The Size of Persian Fleet.” Accessed September 22, 2016.





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