OxBlog

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

# Posted 6:04 AM by Patrick Porter  

IN SEARCH OF SCYTHIANS: I know that Oxblog is lucky enough to have a number of classical historians as readers.

I need some help: for my research on the concept of 'eastern' or 'oriental' ways of war, I'm looking (or going on a tangent!) into the campaign of Persian Emperor Darius against the Scythians, around 513-12 BC, an expedition mentioned in book 4 of Herodotus' Histories.

Are there good journal articles or even books specifically on this? In particular, on the reliability of Herodotus' account?

any help in the 'comments' box would be appreciated!
(13) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
Is this going to be an attempt to mimic Victor Davis Hanson's attempt to group all non-European warfare into an undifferentiated mass?
 
"Is this going to be an attempt to mimic Victor Davis Hanson's attempt to group all non-European warfare into an undifferentiated mass?"

I bloody hope so because I'm currently preparing a paper arguing that the notion of an "Eastern" way of war is a load of guff and I could do without the competition, frankly.
 
Tequila and Anthony,

Sorry, I basically agree with Anthony, but am trying to write a history of the concept, with case studies etc.

Anthony, get in touch and we'll talk!

Patrick
 
I think Herodotus is your main source, unfortunately.

Good case study for differentiated Eastern warfare: compare Sui Dynasty expeditionary force circa 565 AD to Byzantine expeditionary army of about the same time period.
 
I believe the Scythian campaign is referenced in Asprey's "War in the Shadows," but I am not certain. (I have my copy on backorder.)
 
When you write about eastern or oriental ways of warfare you should be clear about the fact that the real divide is not east-west but nomadic Inner Asians (e.g., Xiongnu, Turks, Mongols) one the one hand and the sedentary states that surround them (e.g., Roman, Persian, Chinese) on the other. As such, the Chinese response to the Xiongnu and the Roman response to the Huns are more comparable than Chinese and Mongol warfare would be, in spite of the fact that Chinese and Mongols are eastern, so to speak. Though the examples are later, you might want to look at some of the essays in Nicola Di Cosmo (ed.), Warfare in Inner Asian History (500-1800). The admittedly dated "classics" by Rene Grousett (Empire of the Steppes) and Otto Maenchen-Helfen (the World of the Huns) are also worth looking at.
 
On Herodotus, you should take a look at:

Francois Hartog, _The Mirror of Herodotus: The Representation of the Other in the Writing of History_
 
thanks so much all!

While not straying too close to anthony's topic (I think), I agree that culture is rarely determinative of a people's approach to war, which is often shaped also by social organisation, relative economic/military power, geography, individuals, and the events of a war itself.

Tequila, if I could borrow your phrase, 'undifferentiated Eastern warfare', that would be great!

Darius' expedition into Scythia illustrates how inadequate that concept is: two 'eastern' forces, wanting to fight one another in profoundly different ways.
 
Steal away, Mr. Porter.

Another good case study: Mongol invasion of Japan, where Mongol armies utilizing mass infantry and horse archers went up against samurai bent on single combat with swords preceded by ceremonial exchange of archery.

See also: Shaka's unification and expansion of the Zulu Empire and the Qing conquest of the Zunghar Mongols. A good source for the latter is Peter Perdue's China Marches West.

A good reference also is John Lynn's Battle: A History of Combat and Culture and Jeremy Black's Rethinking Military History.
 
Tequila,

have read Lynn and Black, they are indeed good references on this and much else besides.

Another difficulty with the concept is that it assumes these neatly separated and tidy strategic cultures, not allowing for the exchange and transmission of ideas, tactics, weaponry, etc.

What interests me is that, despite the fact that the idea is often false, it is repeatedly appealed to by strategists, policymakers, historians, etc.
 
1) Shallowness of the audience. Not having the time or patience to delve into the historical facts, which are often murky at best and represented on only one side, especially in the English language.

2) Fits their own prejudices. See VDH and his rather unseemly embrace of agrarian hoplite warfare. Especially instructive is his chapter on the Boeotians in THE SOUL OF BATTLE --- compare his description of the Theban agrarian utopia of honest, upright farmers, despised by the "radical democrats" and "elites" of Athens, politically dominated by the "urban poor", and ask yourself if this has anything to do with VDH's own upbringing as a farmboy in the countercultural 1960s in academia.

3) Appeals to a broad audience, again especially in English. Not much of an audience for books about the Second Crusade, for instance, but plenty for books about the First --- despite the fact that the Second Crusade was a larger campaign than the First.
 
I just typed "scythians" into JSTOR, searched the classical and history journals, and got 735 hits. AMong the first 25 several referred to Herodotus.
 
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