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Legion vs Phalanx Read Along 1.1 “Who Would Win In A Fight?”

Myke covers A LOT of ground here in Section 1 chapter 1! A lot. This is also the bit you really, really need if you want to have, well, a modern shepherd’s hope in hell of understanding what is going on in Book II of Xenophon’s Anabasis.

Hi, I’m Andrea. I go by NeolithicSheep over most of the internet because I’m a shepherd and amateur historian concentrating in zooarchaeology, that is the study of animals in the archaeological record. I’m also a dab hand at quite a lot of experimental archaeology, and my sheep are nearly identical to the very first sheep to reach Britain at the dawn of the Neolithic. I’m training my first ox these days. Anyway! Assassin’s Creed Odyssey rekindled the interest in Classical Greece I’d had when I was a teenager, and I’ve started learning Classical Greek again, which led me to Xenophon’s Anabasis, which led me to “what in the actual hell is going on here?” A twitter friend asked Myke Cole to recommend a Greek edition of Anabasis for me, which is how I found out about him and his new book, and that’s how we’ve all ended up here.

And there’s so much fascinating stuff going on just in the first chapter! Although mentions of Frank Miller’s 300 make me grumble, because now everyone “knows” that it was Leonidas and his 300 Spartans at Thermopylae — in actuality, per Herodotus it was Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, Demophilus and his 700 Thespians, and around 400 Thebans. Also probably 900 either helots (Spartan slaves) or perioikoi (free non-citizens who performed skilled labor in Sparta). The early mention of Miller’s rendition of Thermopylae ties in very nicely to the later discussion of historiography!

There’s also a lot to chew on in terms of the objectivity of historians and what ancient historians thought they were doing, the context of the battles we’re going to look at later, and then the section titled The Fundamentals of Ancient Battle is especially meaty if you want to know what was happening on any battlefield that featured a phalanx. It’s also important to keep in mind when we read the word “cavalry” that the soldiers were using their horses to get somewhere then jumping off and fighting. Mounted combat techniques weren’t quite there yet.

So hey, where do we want to go? We’ve got a lot to chew on and we’re not even specifically talking the phalanx yet! That’s the next chapter. I’m game to complain about Frank Miller in the context of historiography, mutter direly about the erasure of the fact that non-citizen Spartans outnumbered the 300 Spartiate soldiers 3 to 1 probably and ALSO got wiped out at Thermopylae, etc etc. Maybe also introduce yourself if you’re feeling froggy?

Oh and a note: I tend to transliterate on my own. Myke does a great job with his transliterations in the book! But neither he nor I are generally using what you’d normally see outside of academic circles when using Greek terms, because we’ve ditched the problems that came when we inherited most of those terms via Rome.

7 thoughts on “Legion vs Phalanx Read Along 1.1 “Who Would Win In A Fight?”

  1. Hi there!

    I am definitely not a scholar of history (or much of anything else). I found Myke Cole through his Twitter interactions with other authors I follow, read Control Point and The Armored Saint, and have now dived into my first history book since high school. I do love reading anything and everything, but lean towards sci-fi, fantasy, horror, thriller and mysteries.

    The objectivity of historians is a new concept for me. While I never considered myself to be a sheep (no offense intended!!), I realize I’ve never questioned historical writings. Myke has already made history much more interesting!

    Looking forward to other comments and commentary. Part II is awaiting me tonight. I may read after I go to happy hour or take it with me and do a round of drunk history.

    What did the Greeks and Romans drink? Wine, I guess?

    1. I don’t know about the Romans but the Greeks drank wine. Lots, and lots, of wine, with every single meal including breakfast. They cut it with water — drinking your wine straight was uncivilized and possibly dangerous, they thought. But breakfast was commonly bread dipped in wine to soften it. Great way to start the day?

      1. I do believe the Greeks invented brunch! A little wine and bread – mimosas and a buffet of carbs!

  2. The Romans definitely drank wine. Lots of wine. Ovid goes on at length about it.

    Hi, I’m Alex. I studied history at the graduate level (specifically, Tudor-era women’s clothing), absorbed a bit of Roman history through Latin classes in high school, and I like to make armor and things from wool, wood, and metal.

    Myke’s discussion of source bias is excellent — that’s one of the more succinct ways I’ve seen that explained. It always disappoints me that the concept of authorial bias isn’t taught as part of basic history — I didn’t have it explicitly discussed until I took college level classes — and I’m so glad to see it as a foundational part of this book.

    1. As a shepherd I love hearing people love wool. :D I mean, I generally love hearing people are doing historic textiles in general.

      Hard agree on the subject of authorial bias. Everyone has an angle, whether they admit it or not! I really appreciated Myke not only discussing it but pretty much laying out his own biases here in the beginning, so I knew up front where he was coming from.

      1. My original interest was even earlier textiles — I love Viking-era textile technology and know how to do some of it (tablet weaving, naalbindning, a little sprang)

  3. Just wanted to check in; I have thoughts on chapter one but too tired to be coherent. Tomorrow afternoon!

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