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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:44 am 
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Grettir wrote:
But throughout the period, the main method of storming cities was to bring up massive earthen ramps against the walls, the construction of which the defenders tried to obstruct by missile fire, sorties, undermining the ramp and other ingenuous methods. Once – and if – the ramp was constructed, the attackers would use it to storm the wall.
I'm not sure how high the average bronze age city wall was, but that seems a HUGE amount work... especially if you don't have access to a bulldozer. :o

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:03 am 
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higgins wrote:
I'm not sure how high the average bronze age city wall was, but that seems a HUGE amount work... especially if you don't have access to a bulldozer. :o

It sure was. But if you’ve got an army to do the digging for you…

In fact Alexander the Great used this method when taking the Phoenician island city of Tyros, by constructing dams from the mainland tot he island, to bring up his siege towers – while the Tyrian fleet and artillery tried to interfere with the construction. And building ramps was still the main way to carry a city during the Roman Empire. Just look at the monstrous ramp still visible at Masada:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vista ... Masada.jpg

For sieges before the age of gunpowder, one can largely forget the notion of the walls being battered down by artillery; that was just not what did happen – otherwise, fortress engineers would have rather built thick than high walls. Artillery of the age served to terrorize the civilian population oft he city, to pound towers and other pesky (but not massive) defensive works, and to clear the tops of the walls of ramparts – but not to reduce the walls themselves to rubble. That they were not powerful enough to do.

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 5:59 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
Apart from that, I would advise you to leap at the opportunity, to – for once! – have no long swords in a game. Players tend to go for swords anyhow, and I think ist lame. Here you have the opportunity to force them to chose another weapon for their characters, so I wouldn’t spoil this by shoehorning in long bronze swords. :)


In a game like this, I suspect the spear would win the day anyway. I wouldn't have anything longer than an early gladius regardless, I'm just attempting to sort through visual aids for my players and gather references for when I invariably wind up doing concept art stuff for the campaign.

Any insight on when the battlefield transitioned from one-on-one fighting to opposing shield-walls crushed together?

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 6:42 pm 
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KazianG wrote:
Any insight on when the battlefield transitioned from one-on-one fighting to opposing shield-walls crushed together?

I don’t know when the transition was made in ancient China, but in Europe it was first made by the Greeks in around or soon after 700 BC. This goes hand in hand with the rise of the Greek citystate as we know it – when the first political communities raised hoplite armies, those simply swept aside other communities’ armies of more highly trained but less numerous aristocratic warriors. The disciplined body of troops advancing and fighting in close order and refusing to be drawn into single combats beats the army fighting in more open order and more individually (in this case “Homeric”) every time.

Once some political entities began to field hoplite armies, others had to follow suit to avoid being overrun – but with hoplite armies, it is numbers that count more than individual weapon skill. A hoplite does not need to have the high level of weapon training of a Homeric warrior and does subsequently not have to spend much of his time acquiring, honing and retaining weapon skills (i.e. he does not have to be a professional, full-time warrior). With that, the responsibility of defending the political entity passed out of the hands of the aristocracy of full-time warriors into the hands of all members of the political entity affluent enough to afford the war gear. But when a political entity led by an aristocratic warrior elite is suddenly not defended by this narrow elite alone, the elite suddenly lacks the justification for being the leader of the political entity. Moreover, if large parts of the former subjects are suddenly armed and battle-trained, loss of justification for leadership is very soon followed by loss of actual leadership. In ancient Greece, this happened not by the people rising up against the monarchs and nobles on their own, but rather by some ambitious nobleman instrumentalizing the armed citizens. Playing the demagogue and and promisng the citizens all manner of privileges at the time enjoyed solely by the aristocracy, he becomes the champion and leader of the people and ousts his fellow aristocrats from political power, setting himself up as an autocrat – or tyrant, as the Greeks called these rulers. It cannot be stressed sufficiently that these tyrants where invariably greatly beloved by the common people, but hated dearly by the aristocrats, whom the tyrants had removed from power. The aristocrats blackened the name of the tyrants, and it was always aristocrats who schemed against tyrants and deposed them (usually by murdering them).

But once a tyrant was deposed, the aristocrats found that the clock could not be turned back – the peope, usually miffed with the slayers of the demagogic tyrants anyhow, would not be reduced to being lorded over by the aristocrats. And thus, democracy was born.

This happened in Greece during the 7th and 6th centuries BC, and one can say without exaggeration that the invention of hoplite warfare with its attendant empowerment of the commoner was the direct reason for the emergence of democracy.

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 7:46 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
For sieges before the age of gunpowder, one can largely forget the notion of the walls being battered down by artillery; that was just not what did happen – otherwise, fortress engineers would have rather built thick than high walls. Artillery of the age served to terrorize the civilian population oft he city, to pound towers and other pesky (but not massive) defensive works, and to clear the tops of the walls of ramparts – but not to reduce the walls themselves to rubble. That they were not powerful enough to do.
If that was the case, why were the later fortifications built in funny angles and such? I was under the impression that this was a direct counter to the devastating artillery which beat flat walls to pulp. And if this never happened, what is meant under "a breached wall"?

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:12 pm 
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higgins wrote:
If that was the case, why were the later fortifications built in funny angles and such? I was under the impression that this was a direct counter to the devastating artillery which beat flat walls to pulp. And if this never happened, what is meant under "a breached wall"?

I assume that you are not talking about the age when cannons pounded walls and bastions, which led to a completely new era of fortress architecture – walls being built rather thick than high, with outlying bastions as forward firing platforms for the defenders to keep enemy artillery way back from the walls.

Before this age, weird angles (and protruding towers) were incorporated in the design to provide flanking fire, mostly of the antipersonal type, but of course also against siege engines being brought up against the walls. If a wall runs all straight, only ever a few defenders can bring fire to bear on an attacker having advanced reasonably close to it (with a ladder or a ram); but if it is curved and maybe even has protruding towers, many more can concentrate their fire on him. And what’s even better: Much of the fire will not be from the front, but from one or both sides!

Walls were mainy breached by mining under them. You know: Digging a corridor under the wall’s foundation that is braced with stout beams, then filling the coridor with combustibles and firing them – and the beams – and having the now unsupported cavity under the foundations collapse with the weight of the wall. And of course having a stretch of the wall collapse with it. The second, though somewhat less common method, was to bring up a large wheeled shed against the wall, with a huge piece of equipment in it and set the equipment to work on the wall. Said equipment would either be a real heavy battering ram, or else a drill, either battering or drilling a hole into the base of the wall and thus again bringing the wall on top of this hole to collapse.
(It would of course have been easier to batter through the gate, but gates, as the natural weak points of any wall, have a habit to be really well defended by outworks, massive flanking towers bringing tons of enfilading fire to bear, and other unpleasantries. Sometimes, it might be preferable to look for a stretch of wall that is not defended as well and batter your way through here.)

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 8:13 am 
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I will eventually exhaust your patience, I'm sure, but until such a time as you tell me to go away I am going to continue to pick your brain.

Might I ask for a compare / contrast between the shield wall tactics used by the greek hoplites and the Roman Legionaries? As well, you mentioned that that kind of warfare was about numbers rather than individual skill - how did the romans handle their military? Were all males expected to be able to help defend or was their population so great that not everyone was needed and thus it was enough to have designated soldiers?

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 9:57 am 
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KazianG wrote:
Might I ask for a compare / contrast between the shield wall tactics used by the greek hoplites and the Roman Legionaries?

Difference 1: Flexibility

Greek hoplites fought in one solid battle array, a single wall of hoplites stretching across the field. The Roman battle array was made up of several (often actually a lot) individual units, the cohorts. These cohorts fought side by side in a line, but were somewhat self-sufficient and not so slavishly dependent on keeping close contact with the units next tot hem. Thus, advancing over rough terrain didn’t throw the entire line as easily into disarray as the hoplites, and individual, hard-pressed cohorts could be pulled back and reinforced by cohort from the second line.

Difference 2: Armament

Main weapon oft he Greek hoplite was the spear, oft he Roman legionary the short stabbing sword. The disadvantages oft he latter was that wielding it successfully required more skill and also slightly more room than the former – but unlike the Greek citizen soldier, who need not internalize nifty moves for which their close-order fighting did not leave room anyhow, Romans trained to this level, and their slightly more open and flexible battle order gave them what little room was needed for stabs.

Taken together, these two differences allowed the Romans to advance more quickly then the Greeks (whose rigid line a quick advance would have likely thrown into disarray), and then to get stuck in quick, close and dirty. And if their line failed in one place, its modular make-up of building blockst hat could be reinforced by further building blocks held in reserve behind the front line did preclude the entire line from breaking, as would have been the case with Greek hoplites.

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 11:03 am 
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Thanks, Michael!

Your explanation makes indeed more sense than the cannon balls bouncing off the walls due weird angles, that I read from somewhere. Especially as I get it, the cannons of the naval ships in the late age of sail were of a much larger calibre than the ones carried around by the land troops -- and one can't compare the timbers of the ship to a fortress wall. Sure, the wall isn't moving around, but still.

So, cannons in sieges for bombarding bastions and dismounting enemy cannons, clearing ramparts, but what... except for the noise the general populace would have to fear? Unless they were bombarded by howitzers or mortars of course.

I've also been puzzled by glascis. I get how it helps to keep the enemy under fire and how it makes a death trap before the walls, but surely if defending cannons have a clear line of fire, so do the besieging cannons?

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 11:41 am 
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Poor Michael. Dare I ask the follow up: why sword over spear?

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 12:03 pm 
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higgins wrote:
Your explanation makes indeed more sense than the cannon balls bouncing off the walls due weird angles, that I read from somewhere.

Ah, no, you’ve got me slightly wrong. When I said artillery wasn’t powerful enough to reduce wallst o rubble, I was specifically referring to pre-Renaissance artillery, that is early cannons, ballistae, catapults and trebuchets. It was sieges in antiquity KazianG was asking about, after all.

Renaissance cannons were very much able to virtually „drill“ through the base of a wall, making it collapse under its own weigt, at least walls built in the middle ages. To counter this new threat, fortress engineers began building differently: Walls that were rather thick than high and that had flared out bases. If a cannon ball hit such a flared out base, it did of course not hit perpendicular to it, but in an angle – the blow was effectively a glancing blow and not all of the force was transferred into the wall, but some o fit can be said to have slid off it. Maybe that’s what you have read about bouncing off.

higgins wrote:
I've also been puzzled by glascis. I get how it helps to keep the enemy under fire and how it makes a death trap before the walls, but surely if defending cannons have a clear line of fire, so do the besieging cannons?

The glacis offered a free field of fire to friend and enemy alike, but that’s why Renaissance and Baroque fortress engineers built outworks – bastions – some distance in front of the actual walls. These bastions bristled with cannons, and these cannons‘ fire kept the besiegers‘ cannons out of range – until the bastion was taken. Then, and only then, the besiegers‘ cannons could get close enough to bombard the walls proper.

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:20 pm 
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KazianG wrote:
As well, you mentioned that that kind of warfare was about numbers rather than individual skill - how did the romans handle their military? Were all males expected to be able to help defend or was their population so great that not everyone was needed and thus it was enough to have designated soldiers?

Prior to about 100 BC, when the Roman switched to a professional army, every adult male citizen was eligible for military service. Every five years, the wealth of all these men was reassessed by officials, and their wealth determinedwhat war gear they were required to own and keep, and what war gear they had determined how they fought – as cavalry, super-heavy infantry, heavy infantry, or skirmishers - , and how they fought determined how much weight their vote carried in the people’s assembly. So apart from the truly destitute, everybody could be called up.

The rather high populationdensity of ancient Italy was together with the incredible doggedness of the Roman leadership one reason for their military success. Roman generals were more often than not worse than the generals of their leaders, but their great military system compensated or this. Still, they lost a surprisingly many battles and sustained surprisingly heavy manpower losses – but they had both the manpower reseves and the cold-blooded determination to just shrug those off and keep going, where practically all other contemporary people would have sued for peace. That, more than everything else, was the secret of their success.

KazianG wrote:
Dare I ask the follow up: why sword over spear?

Romans didn’t always use spears. It was only during the 3rd century BC that the sword graduated from secondary to primary weapon. As to the exact reason for this switch – I cannot tell, and there are so many convoluted theories that I can’t even begin summarizing them in this limited space. To me personally, it seems most convincing that it had to do with the Romans being more backward, uncouth and, if you want, primitive, than the Greeks and therefore still closer to tribal warfare - which is largely individual combat. I guess the Romans just liked it better to fight in a slightly less tightly-packed and slightly more individual way than the Greek hoplite and did therefore like to frequently resort to their secondary weapon, the sword. This preference influenced the tactical doctrine to move toward the more open and flexible order of battle I've described above, and such an order did in turn favour the use of the sword over the spear. But, like I said, that's just one theory of several.

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:52 pm 
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Thanks again for your responses. This thread has slowly turned into historical theory Q&A.

A lot of why I ask is that Ive been trying to fabricate a bronze age society that has "moved forward" in certain ways but remains primitive in others, trying to create something of an anachronistic fantasy with distinctly greek flavor.

My group is sort of.. spit-balling these ideas back and forth. I'm mostly serving to try to make them all work together. Being the resident history nerd, it is a task I'm both enjoying and finding troublesome to reconcile. ha.

One of the big things I'm tinkering about is how warriors are viewed in this fictional society. We seem to want the city-state and vague ideals of citizenship, but at the same time they seem to also be keen on the idea of a professional warrior class.

As well, the ideas of "heroic individual combat" vs. the sort of massed crush that the hoplite warfare was about seem to be a matter of discussion - how war was fought in our fictional Hellas.

ahem..So if I seem to be asking questions from odd angles, you now know why.

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 Post subject: Re: What is this?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 4:41 pm 
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KazianG wrote:
One of the big things I'm tinkering about is how warriors are viewed in this fictional society. We seem to want the city-state and vague ideals of citizenship, but at the same time they seem to also be keen on the idea of a professional warrior class.

Warrior elites and citizen armies of hoplites are hard to reconcile; as I have shown they almost virtually exclude each other. :(

But thinking of the Sacred Band of Thebes on the one hand and the Greek worship for successful athletes, whom they fed for life on public expense, on the other hand I can well imagine that a Grek polis might conceivably have kept a small corps of professional elite soldiers maintained by public expense. Maybe parents of eceptionally athletic youths could have them reviewed by a military council who would chose the most promising ones to be trained to a high level of weapon proficiency and especially battle-field discipline and who would later serve as full-time elite soldiers, the anchor of the hoplites on the battle fields during war and a kind of city watch during peace. For that, they would receive a salary and later a pension from the polis and would be esteemed and maybe even hero-worshipped members of the citizenry. But the post would not be hereditary, and would not carry special political privileges apart from the prestige.

That would of course be no “class” in the sense of being established by descent, but it is the one approach I can think of at the drop of the hat.

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