Roman multi tool

The "Roman Swiss Army Knife" multi tool exhibit received some attention early this year. It is a piece of great metal working (reminds me a bit of a Roman lock I saw in a German museum).

It's a good reminder for those interested in military history: Our knowledge of history is very fragmentary. Descriptions of historical societies and organisations tend to underestimate the capabilities and complexities that were achieved long before our times.

One example: An old mine was discovered somewhere in the Mediterranean region years ago (forgot the location). The people who found it believed that it was a 18th century mine because of the elaborate water pump system. It turned out to be almost two thousand years old.

Military historians can easily underestimate complexities because of our merely fragmentary understanding of earlier military forces. The bow is such an example. Mongol and even more so Janissary bows were very advanced (the contemporary English longbow is primitive by comparison) and archery was an art at a much higher level than for example a modern basic military training.
All Janissaries were supposed to be their own bowyer and arrow-maker (and this was achieved for many generations)! It required much training to be effective with a relatively low velocity arrow against moving man-sized targets in battle. A superficial look can easily lead to a low opinion of archers.

It's similar with the art of war. Yes, there was a low point in the art of war in Europe during the Dark Ages because of chivalry and arrogance excesses. The art of war - and especially the knowledge of ruses of war - was on the other hand quite advanced and interesting in Europe from Leuctra (371 BC) till Belisarius (560 AD) at least.


1 comment:

  1. You have some dated concepts about Dark Age warfare. Lack of written sources does not imply a decline in strategy and tactics. Siegecraft likely suffered like all crafts and horse breeding was not on an as exalted level, while lots of military encyclopedias from the Byzantine Empire contained an assembly of ideas you better not field tested.