Gap Week: April 22, 2021

Hey folks, no post this week. My schedule got disrupted this week by some unexpected stuff (nothing terribly bad, but time sensitive and pressing), so I don’t have anything new for you just yet. I am currently working on what will be next down the pipline, which will be a (three part, I think) look at some of the historical assumptions behind Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy game Europa Universalis IV (to be followed at some later point by taking similar looks at some other Paradox games).

If you are just desperate to read more of my writing though, I should note that I did have an article appear earlier this week in Foreign Policy, discussing why the U.S. military in particular needs citizen-soldiers, rather than the ‘warriors’ that it keeps discussing in so much of its recruiting and internal messaging. Though fair warning that I think that article may be behind the subscriber-paywall over there. Nevertheless, I think it is a conversation about organizational culture within the U.S. military which needs to happen, for the reasons I lay out.

I’ll also note that, looking at my view statistics, a lot of you haven’t necessarily yet read some of the older posts, particularly the “A Trip Through…” posts which take a look at short passages from historical primary sources and discussing the significance of the ideas and values presented there. We’ve had five of these so far, and if you haven’t read them, check them out. They are:

  • A Three-piece set on the values of medieval mounted aristocrats (read: knights, but also knight-like aristocrats from places that aren’t western Europe), from the writings of three members of mounted, medieval aristocracies:
    1. Dhuoda of Uzès, laying out court values for how aristocrats interact with each other in a 9th century Christian royal court.
    2. ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad setting out one version of mounted military manliness, rooted in the military culture of 6th century Arabia, but also prized as a great warrior-poet subsequently.
    3. Bertran de Born, laying out another version of mounted military manliness, rooted in the military culture of late 12th-century France.
  • We also looked at Thucydides, laying the foundations for the international relations theory of ‘Realism’ in his history of the fifth-century BCE Peloponnesian War (in which he participated).
  • And also Cicero, discussing natural law theory, on which the modern concept of human rights is based.

Finally, I was amused to see that my series on Sparta has apparently been memed by the jokesters over at r/HistoryMemes. Seeing that was an amusing experience, because I saw the hits coming in from reddit and looked to see where they were coming from (assuming it was, as it usually is, someone just dropping a link to something in the comments) only to read the meme and recognize the references to the twin myths of Spartan military excellence and Spartan equality and the complaint about Spartan logistics (which might as well be my signature). Low and behold, the original poster noted “This. Isn’t. Sparta” as the inspiration. So that’s cool!

And because everyone loves cat pictures, here are our redoubtable feline research assistants, taking a well-deserved break from their busy work schedules:

That is Ollie, on the left, doing his best impression of me when I have to read about numismatic evidence. Percy is on the right, with his usual cheery expression (the poor cat has resting grumpy-face, but he is also a very wilful, sometimes grumpy cat, so I suppose it works).

So that’s it for this week. Next week though, we should start into our look Europa Universalis IV. Also, I think our first guest post will be coming up in the next few weeks as well and I am so excited about it.

50 thoughts on “Gap Week: April 22, 2021

  1. Love your writing!Small typo: it’s “Lo and behold” (lo’ i.e. look and behold) rather than “low.” My grandmother who was from coastal North Carolina used to say it so I looked it up

  2. Great FP article that pulls no punches (no paywall problems either). I hope it ruffles a lot of feathers.

  3. If the EUIV series doesn’t have an interlude on Crusader Kings I’m going to cry a little bit. Although the murder and seduction is a bit overdone, the overwhelming role of family, personal relations and complex aristocratic social & legal structures the game focuses on has been useful for me in understanding good chunks of European Medieval history.

  4. I don’t quite get the entirety of Your position on warriors. Like, I understand it as a position in a debate and as a concern that should be voiced, but I there are details in it that cause my objection. For one, I am afraid that the only way to provide a positive program that fully follows your line of thinking is to return to a conscription-based army. Like, I get Private Ryan as a rhetorical point but perhaps not as an example. As far as I remember the film, Private Ryan was not a career military man, and that’s what would make it easy for him to retire to civilian life; ditto for Civil War soldiers. (The other factor is that pretty much every other man was in the same situation, so no sense of being different.)

    Now, picture a modern, volunteer soldier. After some fifteen or twenty years of active service, he (she? I wonder how much women in the service subscribe to the “warrior” ethos) either stays in some sort of commanding, training, or administrative position, or… well, he just spent his youth either in combat or anticipating it, on top of being specifically prepared for that way of life. It’s like a parent hit with a hard case of empty nest syndrome, you know, sudden loss of the meaning of life. No wonder these guys end up in the police or mercen-*ahem*-“Private Military Contractor” establishments so often.

    At this point I am reminded of Machiavelli’s thoughts. The way one should run the military is by making it an experience that strengthens the sense of being a citizen in a polity; and on another topic, he said that a republic should make sure the citizenry does not look to other sources of power beyond (within as much as without) the republic itself. (The guy has a bad rep, but many good points.) Belonging to a separate class of “warriors” weakens it. But then, how to organize a volunteer force without setting it apart in any way at all? When it’s a volunteer experience, it is by definition not for everyone. So here’s whence my claim comes, that a military as a life-long vocation for volunteers won’t fully achieve the ideal of citizen-military. And, a degree of professionalization is pretty much necessary to be effective: citizen armies seem to require a good deal of training to reach some decent combat effectiveness, or barring that, at least a few months of fighting to achieve the same by practice.

    Now, on how to mitigate it when you can’t do perfect. You give one way: just shut up about warriors and Spartans already. Another would be to make the most of the military run like the National Guard, I guess, these guys don’t quite get in the lifestyle mindset.

    So, lastly. When you talk about how, like, every Genghis-era Mongol was a warrior, this makes me think that in many societies being a warrior was what about every (free) man was, so there was no apartness to society. (At least until feudalism kicked in and suddenly it was small opulent warrior aristocracy versus hard-working masses.) If anything, the “career military” were men sworn to one or another chieftain and receiving sustenance from his coffer (and also probably the only force that could be counted on for good drilling), so, in a fashion, “soldiers”. Which, taken together, feels like the opposite of what “warrior” and “soldier” mean today. I’m not sure how much this factors in with the above, but I felt like it’s something to add. A pattern? A source of inspiration? A possible argument in a discussion? I dunno.

  5. I’ve perused through the reddit thread you’ve linked and found a discussion about Cyrus’ (and Persians’ in general) hatred of lies.
    And also how they apparently considered democratic agoras as an abominable theater of lies.

    Do you plan to write something on that topic someday ?
    Or are there available references already ?

  6. The parts of the article about warriors being set apart from (or, well, setting themselves apart) and then set above the rest of society reminded me of the comparison between tribal levies and professional militaries, specifically the idea of professional armies being deracinated, set apart from the rest of society. Do you think deracination inherently pushes armies towards a warrior ethos, or is it just about how our soldiers have been serving in an unusually long war far from home? If the former, how could that tendency be countered? Returning to a more locally based levy system is an obvious answer, but would likely lose the effectiveness of the professional military, so that’s probably not an actually good answer

    1. Do you think deracination inherently pushes armies towards a warrior ethos,

      Probably, yes. For an army to be effective, you normally need to soldiers to feel strong bonds with each other. In militias or levies, your comrades are the same people you interact with in ordinary civilian life, and “I don’t want to let down/look like a coward in front of my mates” is a powerful motivator. With deracinated armies, you don’t have these pre-existing bonds, so you need to form them through drill and training, a process which normally results in an us (the unit) vs. them (people not in the unit) outlook.

  7. Always nice to see more of your articles published by the “big press”, Mr. Deveraux. Hopefully, this articles of the “tl;dr/excerpts” type of your bigger blogpost will attract more readers and commenters of quality to your fine blog.

    Back in the day, I had no chance to read and comment your original series on the “Soldier/Warrior” dichotomy, but, judging by the number of comments, you already had your hands full “entertaining”, ah, diverse opinions and hot takes. So, I’d like to use this occasion to finally post my own short comments.

    Point I. Both in the article and in the original blogpost, you draw attention to the differences ingrained in various languages between the terms “warrior” and “soldier”. In Latin, you write:

    “[M]embers of the Roman army were… milites, which comes from the same mil-root as the word “mile,” signifying a collection of things (a Roman mile being a collection of a thousand paces). Roman milites were thus men “put together,” defined by their collective action in service to a larger community. Soldiers belong to groups, whereas warriors, being attached to war by their own personal identity, may not.”

    Further, you point out:

    “[Medieval knights] were born warriors and would die warriors; the label was as inextricable to them as their ethnic, religious, or gender identity”

    The thing is, in the Medieval literature, be it narrative sources or documentation, the term used to describe *precisely the knights* (i.e. mounted warrior aristocracy) is exactly “milites” (singular – “miles”). Probably as early as Richer’s of Reims Histoire de France we see that, for as early as 10th c., “miles” became to mean a member of “ordo equestris” and, simultaneously, “ordo militaris”. The same author made a distinction between the “unarmed rabble” (inerme vulgus) and armed elite (pugnatores). I can go on and on quoting later sources only to make one point – that the term “milites” (soldiers) became “highjacked” very successfully in the Middle Ages.

    At the same time, there were different terms for the mercenaries, i.e. hired warriors, such as “stipendarii milites”, “conducti milites” and… “solidarii”. E.g., William Rufus and Henry I often employed mercenary units that from the continent, especially William Rufus, who had a reputation as a “buyer of warriors” (militum mercator et solidator). The term “solidarii” meaning “mercenaries” became especially widespread starting with the 2\3 11th c.

    Point II. It’s a good thing, that both in the article and in the original blogpost you mention Umberto Ecos “Ur-Fascism” are draw attention to the creeping fascisation that might result from the elitism in the military. Understanding full well the constraints, placed upon you – in the article – I think there could be said much more about that and more forceful. Just one example.

    Why that kind of “term hijacking” I took place, why “milites” became to mean “warrior”? The core identity shifted. You too overemphasize the individualistic streak of any given especially noble warrior. At the same time they possessed a collective identity – to their professional corporation. They were indeed men “put together,” defined by their collective action in service to a larger community, i.e. to the noble clans and families of a given region. Other simply did not count as really “human” enough to make up a “community”, which would require their professional service.

    The entirety of the Middle Ages is the dominion of these “professional corporations” over individual humans or, most often, of other forms of collective indemnities – yes, even often over religious ones, as can be attested by the facts that, at times, it was possible for, say, a Jew to become a guildmember in the Southern France. This also bred “apartness”, as individuals connection to their professional vocation (oftentimes, inherited over generations) also resulted in unveiled contempt to all others, not belonging to their professional corporation. To shadowquote your article, it was, of course, a short leap for such men to assume that, because their, say, spiritual vocation set them outside of civilian society, it also set them above it and therefore, they were its natural rulers. Just think about – in the Middle Ages Europe the Church virtually monopolize the ideological apparatus, the administrative apparatus (registration of demographic changes), storage of measures and weights, education, substitution of the science and the definition of the national selfhood. They are also very much the enemies of the free societies.

    A reactionary desire to resurrect corporatism in the modern era, with the explicit favoring of certain professional corporations over others, and with complete destruction of the modern state structure – *that’s fascism*. Really doesn’t matter, whether it will be a military Junta or an alt-right “tech-bros” technocracy – these are merely shades of “brown”.

    As for implied Point III… is it really necessary? Any corporatism, professional elitism is evil and has to be fought, for the sake of preservation of the real and tangible progress that we, the humanity, have achieved mere several centuries ago – a blink away in the history of the Universe.

    1. I figure medieval writers applied the same word to contemporary knights and ancient soldiers because they defined the word broadly enough to cover both. If everyone made the distinction between soldiers and warriors, Devereaux wouldn’t need to explain it! And even if you do make the distinction, it’s not unreasonable to also have a word that covers both.

      1. “Milites” meant very particular “military professionals”. Now, who were military professionals of the Medieval period? The nobility. But here lies a catch – “milites” of antiquity meant, primarily, members of the regular armed forces, mostly infantry. Both professional and regular infantry disappears for the nearly entirety of the Middle Ages. Who’s left? Irregular equestrian military professionals who are not in charge of things and desire a retro-active “legitimacy” to tie them down to the Roman legacy.

        1. Who’s left? Irregular equestrian military professionals who are not in charge of things and desire a retro-active “legitimacy” to tie them down to the Roman legacy.

          Early medieval milites got their legitimacy more from Germanic-derived ideas of mutual oaths and obligations than from the Roman military legacy. I think that the adoption of the term milites had less to do with people trying to LARP as ancient Romans, and more to do with the fact that they were, as you point out, the only professional (even if not regular) soldiers left.

      2. The keen awareness of the modern era that “a foreign country; they do things differently there.”?

        A lack of that awareness is one of the things they did differently. Medieval writers writing chivalric romance in the Matter of Rome would portray ancient soldiers as identical to contemporary knights.

        1. Then again, some of the well-taken points in Prof. Devereux’s universal soldiers discussion involved noting how often our culture portrays various ancient soldiers as identical to modern American soldiers.

          1. Identical? As in using machine guns and radios?

            Because the medieval writers would calmly put ancient warriors in full plate and have them fight in tournaments.

    2. Just think about – in the Middle Ages Europe the Church virtually monopolize the ideological apparatus, the administrative apparatus (registration of demographic changes), storage of measures and weights, education, substitution of the science and the definition of the national selfhood. They are also very much the enemies of the free societies.

      That had more to do with the fact that churchmen were usually the only people who could read or write. If you’re a kind and want any kind of bureaucracy, you need literate people to staff it; and if literate people are overwhelmingly members of the clergy, the obvious choice is to staff your bureaucracy with clergymen.

      1. “…if literate people are overwhelmingly members of the clergy, the obvious choice is to staff your bureaucracy with clergymen

        You are having it somewhat backwards. First of all, by and large for the duration of the European Middle ages we can’t talk about “bureaucracy” (any kind) because there are no “bureaus” aka institutions of the State, as there is not much in the way of the state.

        Second, consider what was the clergy back then. They are professionals, tasked with fulfilling certain very important task – caring for the souls of the sinners (aka the Humanity). This requires for them to receive certain (higher than average) familiarity with the specialized professional literature, which, in term, requires them being literate in the language of these specialized literature. Soul-saving is considered very important both by the Powers That Be and the common population, that’s why the clergy is provided (via feudalism) with all sorts of assets to assure that cadres of future professional soul-savers will be educated ad eternam gloriam, etc, etc.

        And that’s it. No one says anything about “any kind of bureaucracy”. Them, clergy, executing their direct duties and possessing certain capabilities, makes them, though, substitutes for it. For an analogy, it looks as if (virtually nonexistent) state outsources certain governmental functions to… someone else supranational. True, by registering (i.e. writing it all down) marriages, births and deaths they perform administrative function… but they don’t do it in the capacity of the “bureaucracy”. They don’t even keep a double set of records – one for the “state” and one for themselves. These parish books are for the “internal use” of their supranational entity, not for the “state”. They are not *professional* bureaucrats and will never become them even when they perform their functions in the capacity of, say, Lord Chancellor or local administrator. Because of this (the primacy of their primarily professional training and identity), the way they execute their bureaucratic functions if/when they do it, without doubt, colored by it.

        Also, because this is all feudalism, areas of influence and expertise are jealously guarded from infringement to the point, of making access to the professional knowledge/expertise restricted and, therefore, the access to said professional corporations restricted as well. Which means, in this particular, doing your utmost from to prevent the appearance of the *real* professional bureaucracy and, going back to the military, of the *regular* professional armed forces.

        1. This confuses the clergy – ie the ordained – with the ‘clerically-trained’ – those who went to monastic or episcopal schools, and learned to read and write. Bishops often advised kings and headed chancelleries, but the unordained went on to be clerks – in manors, law-courts, exchequers and so on. They wrote up the manor rolls, court rolls, exchequer rolls, army lists, muster notices, warrants and receipts that very partially survive. It was not quite a bureaucracy – they did not specialise, but it was essential to running both the state and any large domain.

          1. “This confuses the clergy – ie the ordained – with the ‘clerically-trained’ – those who went to monastic or episcopal schools, and learned to read and write.”

            Good thing then, that I’m not doing such a thing ;).

            The amount of people who, indeed, went to the few schools that existed at the largesse of richer monasteries and centers of the bishop sees with the explicit purpose of becoming, eventually, *civilian* clerks but not to attend them as a first step to join the clergy, is very, very small. Granted – this number will be increasing through the centuries in some places of Europe faster than in the rest.

            The point I’m making is still valid – by holding, among other things, a monopoly on the education the Church tried to create, first of all, future clergymen, which, naturally, affected the kind and type of the education received there. There were no “Ye Olde Office Schools”. Likewise, there were no specialized schools to furnish people with special “manor manager” diplomas. Besides, the “labour market” for the civilians receiving such education was small and grew very incrementally. Here lies the quirkiness of talking about “The Middle Ages” – one has to constantly point out specific period and place when and where such and such phenomenon or process happened.

            “they did not specialise, but it was essential to running both the state and any large domain.”

            Estate managers =/= professional bureaucracy. The scale and tasks are different, therefore the quality of education and subjects taught are also different. At the same time clergy (often – any clergy, lacking the alternatives) had to fulfill bureaucratic tasks.

        2. You are having it somewhat backwards. First of all, by and large for the duration of the European Middle ages we can’t talk about “bureaucracy” (any kind) because there are no “bureaus” aka institutions of the State, as there is not much in the way of the state.

          I was using “bureaucracy” in the broad sense of “people doing administrative work for the government”. So, e.g., a Bishop who is also Lord Chancellor would count as a bureaucrat working as part of the bureaucracy, even if he spends most of his time doing Bishop-related stuff rather than Lord Chancellor-related stuff.

          Also, because this is all feudalism, areas of influence and expertise are jealously guarded from infringement to the point, of making access to the professional knowledge/expertise restricted and, therefore, the access to said professional corporations restricted as well. Which means, in this particular, doing your utmost from to prevent the appearance of the *real* professional bureaucracy and, going back to the military, of the *regular* professional armed forces.

          That’s not really what happened, though. The use of clerics in the administration, and the establishment of the feudal system, were both responses to the situation of early medieval Western Europe, which generally didn’t have the wealth, population, or agricultural capacity to support a large class of literate bureaucrats. Getting clerics, who knew how to read and write anyway, to double up as administrators made sense when you didn’t have the resources to train and maintain dedicated administrators; assigning military men land to support themselves is less administratively burdensome than collecting agricultural surplus and then redistributing it to your soldiers. When agricultural capacity improved during the high middle ages and the continent could support a higher proportion of non-farmers, pretty much every kingdom began increasing the size of its chancery, using larger numbers of non-noble soldiers, and the like, without much notable opposition from the clerical or knightly classes.

          1. “When agricultural capacity improved during the high middle ages and the continent could support a higher proportion of non-farmers, pretty much every kingdom began increasing the size of its chancery, using larger numbers of non-noble soldiers, and the like, without much notable opposition from the clerical or knightly classes.”

            Which, being mostly true, does not invalidate points that I made, i.e. that:

            A) There were constant attempts to insulate already established professional corporations from the entry of “undesirables” into them.
            B) There were constant efforts to enshrine their monopolies into permanent privileges.
            C) There was a very negative reaction when trying to achieve/uphold “A” and/or “B” got threatened by new developments or new actors.

            As for the “without much notable opposition from the clerical or knightly classes”… That’s cute. Really, really cute. It is also not true.

            First of all, I’d like to hear, what do you understand by “clerical” and “knightly” classes. There is a high chance I (everyone, really) might learn something new here. I can cite numerous examples of when the priestly professional corporation (aka The Church) and diverse professional corporations of the nobility fought tooth and nail slowly emerging State for their monopolies, rights and privileges. I can also find you examples in official (i.e. sponsored by these 2 dominant professional corporations) culture examples of maligning something and some ones deemed “lesser” than their esteemed patrons. Finally, I could end up with examples from the Lat(er) Middle Ages/Early Modern Period, when a fullblown reaction of these two became most loud and visible.

            I could… but what’s the point? I will spare you the salad since I know it’s gonna be fruitless anyway…

            Also – what’s the point you are trying to make here? That, given circumstances, the progress is possible? Well, so is a regress.

          2. First of all, I’d like to hear, what do you understand by “clerical” and “knightly” classes.

            By “clerical class”, I mean ordained members of the Church; by “knightly class”, I mean men who held land in return for providing military service to their lord.

            I can cite numerous examples of when the priestly professional corporation (aka The Church) and diverse professional corporations of the nobility fought tooth and nail slowly emerging State for their monopolies, rights and privileges.

            I would be surprised if you could find even one example of the Church trying to stop monarchs from employing non-churchmen in administrative posts, much less numerous examples.

            Also – what’s the point you are trying to make here? That, given circumstances, the progress is possible? Well, so is a regress.

            That it’s inaccurate to say that the Church monopolised the administrative apparatus because they thought they were better than everybody else. There was a period in the early middle ages when administration was generally in the hands of churchmen, but that was because churchmen were normally the only people who could read and write, not because they thought that their position made them inherently more deserving of the position. When education became more widespread and large numbers of laymen became literate, kings began employing them as well — without the Church seeing this as some kind of infringement of its prerogatives.

    3. Just think about – in the Middle Ages Europe the Church virtually monopolize the ideological apparatus, the administrative apparatus (registration of demographic changes), storage of measures and weights, education, substitution of the science and the definition of the national selfhood. They are also very much the enemies of the free societies.

      One gets very tired of the persistent demonization of the medieval Church, which persistently ignores the fact that ‘the church’ was riven by ideological and national divisions and FAR from a monolithic power block. Bishops, priests and clerks usually came from knightly or noble families and had a lot more in common with their lay kinsmen than the Roman hierarchy.
      Everybody was in favor of a strictly hierarchical static society in the MA! Social mobility and progress were totally not ideals. But they happened anyway, greatly to the annoyance of right thinking people everywhere!

  8. I read the “A Trip Through” posts, and had an interesting thought that the Qur’an has a surah that has a very similar structure to Bertran’s poem but in reverse. Al-Adiyat (https://quran.com/100) is a short surah that starts with vivid language of horses or camels panting, raising dust and making sparks from their hooves on the ground as they charge into a raid. This is meant to evoke the raids that Arabs would be accustomed to taking part in as part of *their* martial culture that accepted the “war is awesome” thesis (or in this case “raiding is awesome”) . But immediately following this description, there is a somewhat jarring shift in tone to say “Truly man is, to his Lord, ungrateful // And to that (fact) he bears witness (by his deeds)”, with the rest of the verses about the soul’s journey in the afterlife.

    There is a critique of the martial culture expressed in the first verses that, while they are exciting and are used to draw attention of the listener, the hereafter is more important. So raiding for wealth is discouraged, as it is only gratitude to the Divine that is valued. This also echoes the duality of Dhuoda and Bertran/’Antarah in a short space – it doesn’t say explicitly that raiding is bad or unfortunate. It is exciting, and in some exegesis, a social good (as long as it follows the rules for Islamically-permissible warring). But at the same time, it expresses the total integration of religious thought into even the martial aspects of the culture, as it shuns hoarding wealth and prioritizes service to God in the same short space. As an explicitly religious text, the parallels to the values of piety highlighted in Dhuoda’s writing are somewhat expected, but the degree that it also echoes the latent martial values shown in Bertran or ‘Antarah is striking.

  9. I’m a regular reader of Foreign Policy, and it was a pleasant surprise to find you in it. Especially on an issue where I wholeheartedly agree with you.

  10. A little question here: you talk about the “myth” of Spartan military excellence (Disclaimer: Not a fan of Sparta as a society, and never have been. I’ve always preferred Athens.), but I think you might be overstating the case a little.
    Going back to the original blog post, you point out that, overall, the Spartan win/loss record is “disappointingly average.” Thing is, though, I think it’s worth noting that Sparta’s losses are disproportionately after the Peloponnesian War.

    Using your table, between Sepeia (494) and Aegospotami (405), the Spartans fight twenty-five battles, lose eight, have two draws, and win fifteen. Not enough to completely justify their reputation, but a 15-2-8 record isn’t bad. Now, after Aegospotami, from Haliartus to Megalopolis, the Spartan record takes an absolute nosedive. They fight thirteen battles and only manage three victories, a draw, and suffer nine defeats, a record that absolutely stinks.

    Which is why I think you’re being a little unfair to Herodotus–he writes his history and lives during the Spartan heyday, before Thebes shows up and wrecks Sparta’s little empire after they’re utterly exhausted by the Peloponnesian War.

    1. Using your table, between Sepeia (494) and Aegospotami (405), the Spartans fight twenty-five battles, lose eight, have two draws, and win fifteen. Not enough to completely justify their reputation, but a 15-2-8 record isn’t bad.

      It’s even better if you look at their pre-Peloponnesian War record, where they win seven, draw one and lose one (according to Bret’s ranking — personally I’d discount Artemisium and Thermopylae, Artemisium because only a small minority of the ships were actually from Sparta and because the fleet only withdrew because the Persian victory at Thermopylae had rendered its position untenable, and Thermopylae because the Greek force there was just an advance guard rather than a full army). That’s a win rate of 78% (or 89% if you discount Artemisium, or 100% if you discount both Artemisium and Thermopylae). Rather than dismissing Sparta’s record as “disappointingly average”, therefore, I think it would be more accurate to say that Sparta had an excellent record in the early part of the fifth century, before suffering a precipitous decline later on.

      Which is why I think you’re being a little unfair to Herodotus–he writes his history and lives during the Spartan heyday, before Thebes shows up and wrecks Sparta’s little empire after they’re utterly exhausted by the Peloponnesian War.

      The bit about Herodotus “manufacturing” the Spartan reputation always seemed to me like a weak link in the argument, TBH. Even at his most popular, Herodotus was never the undisputed arbiter of Greek history — Thucydides, for example, directly criticises him on the first page of his account of the Peloponnesian War — so even if Herodotus had wanted to big up Sparta’s military prowess for narrative reasons, there’d be no reason for everybody else to follow along. Plus, it seems from internal evidence in the Histories that Herodotus was writing during the Peloponnesian War, but Pericles’ strategy of withdrawing behind the walls of Athens and avoiding pitched battle implies that the Spartans already had a well-established reputation for military prowess, even before the outbreak of hostilities.

      1. Also, whilst it’s been a long time (over a decade, in fact) since I last looked into the Mirror Of Herodotus debate, I recall that plenty of scholars disagreed with Hartog’s thesis that Herodotus was all about setting up barbarian/Greek dichotomies and that Herodotus’ ethnography was “really” all about the Greeks. Saying “François Hartog famously pointed out [that] Herodotus is writing about Greece, even when he is writing about Persia” is, therefore, an oversimplification — yes, it is a theory, but it’s not as uncontroversial or universally accepted as this phrasing implies (at least not unless the state of the debate has changed pretty drastically over the last ten years).

    2. Phil Barker, writing about Ancient Greek armies in one of his wargaming books, noted that Sparta was good at finding reasons why they shouldn’t fight battles, especially if they might lose. The most obvious example is Marathon during the first Persian invasion. The Greeks didn’t know, then, much about the Persian military, but they did know that Persia was big and powerful. When the Athenians asked Sparta for help before the battle of Marathon, the response was something like “Well we’d love to help defend Greece against the most powerful empire in the known world, really we would, but we have this religious festival. Terribly sorry.”

      1. The most obvious example is Marathon during the first Persian invasion. The Greeks didn’t know, then, much about the Persian military, but they did know that Persia was big and powerful. When the Athenians asked Sparta for help before the battle of Marathon, the response was something like “Well we’d love to help defend Greece against the most powerful empire in the known world, really we would, but we have this religious festival. Terribly sorry.”

        The Spartans did send an army to help the Athenians, although in the event the Athenians attacked before the Spartans could arrive. Whilst it might be the case that the Spartans deliberately dawdled and arrived late, there isn’t, as far as I’m aware, any positive evidence that this was the case.

      2. Which might not be an unfair criticism, but the fact is that, for a while, the Spartan system did what it was designed to do: produce excellent fighters who could be relied on to win battles and overawe the helots with their martial prowess. That it did not produce master strategists or a society with any sort of resilience at all–note that Athens recovers faster from the plague that happens during the Peloponnesian Wars and losing said wars than Sparta recovers from the earthquake of 464 and the costs of winning the Peloponnesian Wars–does not change that, and it’s worth noting that almost all of Sparta’s defeats come after their system starts breaking down.

        1. The Spartan system was always going to break down, though. It was inevitable that landholdings, if not forcibly redistributed, would become concentrated in a smaller and smaller number of families and thus the number of people able to join the communal mess — a requirement to become a citizen of Sparta and have your children potentially be citizens! — would decline. You’re proposing a 50-year period where Sparta is a local power but compared to something like the Delian League or Rome’s periods of hegemony that’s a drop in the bucket.

          That comparison is important because people use Sparta’s military dominance to justify its cultural program of child abuse (the agoge) as well as as massive slave state was was notably cruel even in its time. By comparison we can look at much more open and more broadly productive societies (Sparta produced only two poets of note, and no visual art or technological or tactical innovations to speak of) which did not require Sparta’s toll of human misery.

          Spartan society is not and never has been some perfect warrior state as it’s often presented as in the popular culture, and it’s good to push back against that image.

  11. I think the commenters explained before (in response to the universal soldier series) why Prof. Devereux’s Foreign Policy article is wrong, so I will be brief.
    1. Soldiers are required to be team-oriented, obedient, and patriotic. A society as individualistic, antinomian, and cosmopolitan as ours can never integrate such people very well. (As Prof. Devereux himself concedes, the academy, where those social characteristics are in full flower, has trouble integrating even the discipline of military history.) So American military leaders have no choice, if they want to have an effective military, but to create a separate subculture with a warrior ethos.
    2. As the history of Georgian and Victorian England demonstrates, a professional military with its own distinctive subculture is highly compatible with liberal democracy. It was the levee en masse which overthrew the First Republic.
    3. Calling people fascists may make academics tingle with joy, but it really doesn’t advance the discussion.

    1. 1. Civ-Mil is a two-way street. It’s not only about soldiers seeing themselves as elite warriors, but also about increasing parts of the public (especially elites, including most academics outside of military history) having no active or former soldiers in their social circle (and “Dad served in WWII” is also not applicable to Millennials or Gen Z), consequently seeing everything military as slightly icky and a necessary evil best left to professionals outside of society, leading to a mixture of private disgust and public deference among non-military elites, and outright deference among the non-military masses. A healthy democracy needs civilian elites who aren’t part of the military, but know and understand it well enough to criticize it if necessary. Which is something America today lacks. So the proposed solution of abandoning the all-volunteer principle in favor of a broader conscription would necessarily not only change the military, but also society. Maybe the change to society would even be more profound than that to the military. Civilian elite’s resistance against abandoning volunteerism (watch out for the “draft = tyranny” slogans) might be a symptom of this.

      Also, “American Leaders” (whoever you mean with that) who are willing to employ means that are liable to damage democracy, in order to create a force that is supposed to defend (and possibly spread) democracy, are maybe not suited to leadership of a democratic country.

      2. Liberal, yes. But British politics were (and to some part still are) a more elite affair than in America. Considering how much ado America makes currently about ensuring that everyone who has the theoretical right to vote can also make meaningful use of it, I wonder how many Americans would consider Victorian Britain a democracy if it existed today. The de facto demos of 19th century British democracy was more identical with its military elite than the American demos today.

      1. The de facto demos of 19th century British democracy was more identical with its military elite than the American demos today.

        The British electorate was never even close to identical with the military elite, even before the various Reform Acts.

      2. Prof. Devereux was criticizing military leaders for their handling of today’s professional army. If he or anyone else wants to write articles for Foreign Policy advocating a return to the draft as essential to the preservation of a healthy democracy, that would be a totally different argument.

        1. My bad; that wasn’t actually in the article itself, but something I read elsewhere.

          (Do hyperlinks work? Referring to this: https://twitter.com/BretDevereaux/status/1383834434676224007 )

          However, in the article itself, the last paragraph:

          As the United States looks to leave its “forever war” in Afghanistan, it is long past time for policymakers and the public to engage in a real discussion concerning the civil-military relationship and the role soldiers take in U.S. society.

          …also looks to me like it isn’t just the military that should change itself, but also civilian society that should change its attitude to the military. Because if a society is truly as antipodal to military values as you describe it, it simply cannot survive, as it will either be subjugated by a more martial society, or will be overthrown by the segregated warrior elite it breeds (or, in a synthesis of the two, it outsources its military capabilities to barbarian hirelings who then seize power).

          1. I am all in favor of changes in the values and attitudes of civilian society. Other than highly insightful, mildly snarky blog comments, I don’t know what I could do to effect that.

  12. It would be interesting (though probably in danger of descending into sophistry and really bitter modern-day ethics arguments) to consider how a society’s \ the warrior elite’s ideals translate to reality, and whether you can really call a certain time and place more “moral” or “honorable” based on how closely ideals and reality align.

  13. I assume you realize that not quite everybody loves cat pictures. Of course yours are adorable or whatever. They are certainly smart cats in that they seem to occupy the most comfortable furniture. Almost like it was built for them.

    Cats are sort of useful at killing smaller rodents. But if you ever watched one doing this- well mouse traps seem more humane.

    I inherited a cat once. I like to think we came to some understanding eventually. Pretty much it was I would feed him and he wouldn’t bite me while I was sleeping. Hopefully you have a better relationship with yours.

    1. Humans get along fine with cats, as long as they , the humans, know their place and keep to it. In our house my mother is the cuddly human cushion and I am the cranky door opener! 😉

  14. Speaking of Paradox games, April 1st is on a Friday next year if you wanted to do a historical analysis of Stellaris.

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