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Year 10: Term 2: Ancient Warfare

Western War of War and Art of War

Western Way of War (Victor Davis Hanson)

This is based on five principles:

  1. the exploitation of technology (receptive to new technology: technology compensates for inferior numbers)
  2. unusually rigid forms of discipline (especially important when infantry plays a crucial role)
  3. challenge and response (West became successful because able to respond quickly to change)
  4. continuous innovation (willingness to look to the past (precedent) AND accept ideas from range of sources e.g. Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul, Schlieffen Plan)
  5. mechanisms for state financing of war. (structures in place to fund war – stable government, taxation – war is expensive)

The Art of War (Sun Tzu)

A (very) abridged version…

  1. Plan carefully to improve chance of victory - some things to consider…terrain, leadership, season.
  2. Waging war: war is expensive – successful campaigns require limiting costs – win decisive engagements quickly.
  3. Strategic attack: defines the source of strength as unity, not size. Among other things to consider to succeed in any war: form of attack, strategy, alliances, army
  4. Disposition of the army: it is important to defend existing positions until a commander can move safely. Recognize strategic opportunities and do not create opportunities for the enemy.
  5. Forces: explains the use of creativity and timing in building an army's momentum.
  6. Weaknesses and strengths: an army's opportunities come from the openings in the environment caused by the relative weakness of the enemy.  Ability to respond to changes; a battlefield is not static.
  7. Military manoeuvres: explains how to avoid direct conflict and, if faced with it, how the commander can win in that situation.
  8. Variations and adaptability: army and commander have to be flexible in responding to changing circumstances.
  9. Movement and development of troops: describes different situations an army is faced with in new enemy territory, and how to respond to these situations. Think about what your opponent may do.
  10. Terrain: looks at the three general areas of resistance (distance, dangers and barriers) and the advantages/disadvantages of various field positions e.g. accessible ground has good communications, many access points for both you and your opponent
  11. The nine battlegrounds: describes the nine common situations (or stages) in a campaign, from scattering to deadly, and the specific focus that a commander will need in order to successfully deal with them.
  12. Attacking with fire: explains how to use the environment as a weapon and to respond to how others use it.
  13. Intelligence and espionage: crucial that you know what your opponent is doing so spies etc. are very important.

Major Weapons and Technology

This could include Heavy and Light Infantry, Heavy and Light Cavalry, Fortification, Siegecraft, the Long bow, and the humble Stirrup.

Alexander at the Siege of Tyre (engineers) 332 BC

Battle of  Alesia (Julius Caesar def. Vercingetorix and Commius) 52 BC (engineers and the siege tower)

Battle of Hastings (William of Normandy def. Harold of England 1066). William had better armour and weapons. For example - the cavalry were all equipped with mail hauberk, there is some evidence that archers used crossbows in addition to bows and arrows, some battle maces were also used along with spears and swords, round shields and kite shaped shields.

Battle of Crecy ( King Edward III with his son, the Black Prince, def. Philip VI, King of France1346). Long bow proved superior - the rate of fire was up to one arrow every 5 seconds against the crossbow’s rate of a shot every two minutes; the crossbow requiring to be reloaded by means of a winch. Also English army possessed simple artillery; improvements in the composition of black powder reducing the size of guns and projectiles and making them sufficiently mobile to be used in the field. French did not have artillery.

Battle of Agincourt (King Henry V of England def. the Constable of France, Charles d’Albret, Comte de Dreux 1415). Again, the long bow proved superior - A trained archer could shoot six aimed arrows a minute which could wound at 400 yards, kill at 200 and penetrate armour at 100 yards. Terrified the French knights' horses.

See this website: 10 Reasons Why the French Lost at Agincourt

Don't forget - the Greeks invented military technology! Also Try these: Moats, Longbows (Agincourt), Crossbows, Mounted cavalry (Genghis Khan), Trebuchet and ramming rods (sieges), Fireballs, oil cannisters and drums (sieges), Chariots, Axes (Vikings), Armour, heavy swords (Japan), spears, Walls (China), Falcata (Hannibal - Battle of Cannae).

Importance of chariots: 'Chariots were perhaps the most dominant instrument of warfare before nuclear weapons. Indeed, historian William H. McNeill has called them the superweapon of their day. When they appeared in the Levant in the eighteenth century BC, they swept all before them. From Egypt to Mesopotamia, states either adopted chariots or ceased to compete in interstate war'. The Battle of Kadesh (275 B.C.) illustrates this.

From Foreign Policy Research Initiative


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 Warfare in the ancient world 

Includes: Great Wars of Classical Greece (Persian War, Battle of Salamis)

Primary Sources




Fordham University's Internet History Sourcebooks Project  
(Ancient and Medieval History)

This website has an excellent range of primary sources for both Ancient and Medieval history.

Features Plutarch, Aristotle, Casius Dio, Europides, 
Herodotus, Thucydides, etc.

Famous Military Commandeers

Leonidas (Battle of Thermopylae 480 BC)
Leonidas was a king of Sparta at the time of invasion of Xerxes. His famous defense of the pass of Thermopylae is one of the greatest military feats of all time, and has come to symbolize Spartan valor and tenacity.

Alexander (Battle of Granicus 334 BC; Battle of Issus 333 BC; Battle of Gaugamela 331 BC)
Alexander the Great, King of Macedon from 336 - 323 B.C., may claim the title of the greatest military leader the world has ever known. His empire spread from Gibraltar to the Punjab, and he made Greek the language of his world. His leadership promoted superior discipline.

Hannibal (Battle of Cannae 216 BC; Battle of Zama 202 BC)
Hannibal was the leader of the Carthaginian forces against Rome in the Second Punic War. Hannibal almost overpowered Rome and was considered Rome's greatest enemy. Why was he so great? 
They say he has masterly control over  ‘a hotch-potch of the riff-raff of all nationalities’),

Scipio (Battle of Zama 202 BC)
Scipio Africanus is the Roman commander who defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in the Second Punic War via tactics he'd learned from the enemy. Since Scipio's victory was in Africa, following his triumph he was allowed to take the agnomen Africanus.

Julius Caesar (Battle of Alesia 52 BC; Battle of Pharsalus 48 BC)
Julius Caesar not only led the army and won many battles, but he wrote about his military adventures. It's from his description of the wars of the Romans against the Gauls (in modern France) that we get the familiar line "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" 'all Gaul is divided into 3 parts,' which Caesar proceeded to conquer.

Arminius (Battle of Teutoberg Forest 9 AD)
German tribal leader who inflicted a major defeat on Rome by destroying three legions under Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Teutoberg Forest (southeast of modern Bielefeld, Germany), late in the summer of  9 AD. This defeat severely checked the emperor Augustus’ plans, the exact nature of which is uncertain, for the country between the Rhine and Elbe rivers.

Egypt: Thutmose III; Ramesses II

Persia:  Darius I; Xerxes I

Greece: Pericles (Athens), Leonidas (Sparta); Miltiades

Macedonia: Phillip II of Macedon (father of Alexander); Alexander the Great (excellent strategies and tactics)

Carthage: Hannibal (excellent strategies and tactics; use of the "bow-shape" formation by Hannibal, which was used to lure the Romans into a trap by making them think they were winning).

Rome:  Scipio Africanus; Gaius Marius; Sulla; Pompey; Julius Caesar; Marcus Agrippa; Vespasian, Trajan

Byzantium: Belisarius

Central & Eastern Europe: Attila the Hun

Europe: Alaric I (Visigoth), Vercingetorix (Gaul), Charlemagne (Frank), Charles Martel (Frank)

Britain/England: Boudicca, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart

Middle East: Saladin (Crusades)

Eurasia: Genghis Khan (Mongols) - The secret history of the Mongols

China: Qin Shi Huangdi (Terracotta Warriors)

Japan: Tokugawa Ieyasu

Oliver Library Catalogue

Useful Databases