Post Tue Jan 22, 2013 10:56 am

Re: Favorite Ancient Empire

The Greeks were never an "empire," is the thing. They were a powerful civilization, sure, but they never managed to offensively cohere except against themselves until Alexander the Great came along - and he wasn't even Greek, but a Macedonian, who actually have roots that are more Celtic than Mediterranean. (Respect for the Celts, nemoidian.) Every example of a united greek military up until then was in a defensive capacity, mostly against the Persians. And sure, we can cite the Spartans at Thermopylae* and Plataea and stand in full recognition of how badass they were, certainly. They had solid tactics - not great, but solid - and good strategy. I would hesitate to call them great, but we should probably ask our favorite Dandalore on that one. However, though in modern culture it's become quite popular to root for the Spartans, and they were indeed formidable, they weren't invincible or inexorable by any means. They ran into the same problem against other city-states that the Romans ran into against the Parthians, the Europeans ran into against the Mongols, that the British and Americans ran into against the Native Americans during the French & Indian War, and that the Americans ran into against the Japanese and Vietnamese: how does a large, slow, powerfully armed and armored war machine deal with an enemy who is quick and aggressive and packing firepower; won't stand and fight them, but simply runs before the wind and picks away at you in a war of attrition?

Answer? Adapt or die. There are several recorded instances (sorry I don't have sources on hand to cite; I'm relying on memory from a paper I wrote freshman year) of Spartans forming up to fight Athenians or Bereans or what-have-you in their gloried shield-wall formation, and their enemies simply wouldn't touch them because they knew that the close-quarters hand-to-hand game was what the Spartans excelled at. So what did they do? They deployed skirmishers to pick away at the Spartan line with slings and javelins. The Spartans had two options: advance slowly in formation, in which case they would never catch their lightly-armored and fleet-footed opponents, or break formation and charge, which would deprive them of their tank-like protective formation. Quite often the record shows the Spartans taking the first option, failing to adapt their tactics, and simply eventually breaking under a withering hail of missiles.

These hit-and-run tactics were exactly what the Mongols excelled at, and what made them so hard to beat. Their enemies were attempting to kill a cloud of poison gas with a battle-axe.

*That story IS true, by the way: although the numbers for each side vary from account to account, the Greeks were still massively outnumbered and still inflicted absurd casualties on the Persians and held them for a few days.

Liya Tawaza wrote:Mongolians. Definitely.

Here's another ancient culture that hasn't been mentioned: the Phoenicians. Not an empire per se, but they went *everywhere*. They probably circumnavigated the world, a feat that wasn't repeated for millenia.

Shout-out to the Phoenicians, certainly.