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From: "Andrew Bollen" 
Subject: Re: (urth) Immortals and Archaic Rome
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003 18:27:03 +1000

Matthew says:

> The ancient historians had a pretty clear idea of what were Persians and
> what were other nations conquered by the Persian Empire.  Just as they
> made the distinction between Romans by origin, Roman citizens and subjects
> of Roman Empire.  I don't know but I suspect that Medes, Parthians,
> Assyrians etc in the Immortal Guard would have been worth of comment.
> Of course I'm assuming that Herodotus didn't just make it up.  ;-)

Anyway, the relevant passage is Ch 37 of Mist for Thermopylae:

Latro addresses "the hundred" (I guess he is acting as centurion, if that
term existed then): "While the Immortals are gone, we could have no higher
honor than to be the protectors of the Universal King ...".

Her 8.210-224 gives the background. The Medes go in on the first day,
failing & making it plain to the King "that although he had plenty of
troops, he did not have many men." The Immortals are then sent in, but they
do no better - fighting in a restricted area, with spears shorter than the
Greeks'. Then Ephialtes the traitor reveals a path thru the mountains,
allowing the Persians to attack from a more favorable position. The
engagement takes place outside the narrows; Persian conscripts whipped on by
their officers die like flies (as in Latro's account); but in the end appear
to overwhelm the Spartans by weight of numbers. The Spartans fight with
swords, their spears broken,  their spears broken, and Leonidas falls but
with no deatils given. The Immortals are not mentioned.

So there's a blank space here concerning the Immortals, and the precise
details of Leonidas' death, which GW has painted in. I think his premiss is
that the light infantry Medes and bowmen, not just the conscripts but
probably the Immortals also, have shown themselves inferior to the hoplite &
the phalanx, and Latro's heavy-armed, disciplined Romans are recognized as
being a better "force-on-force" solution. This of course makes sense
historically, since the Roman tactical organization which GW describes (the
two pila, the short stabbing sword etc) was to prove superior to the
hoplite/phalanx combination, but maybe anachronistic?

For Plataea, the passage is Ch 24 of Mist:

Latro sees the red cloaks of the Spartiates in their falling-back manouevre.
He sees Mardonius on his white stallion in the midst of the Immortals - so
presumably the Roman unit is somewhere close by, I imagine for the reason I
give above. The lightly-armed Medes and bowmen charge ahead, totally
disrupting Latro's formation, and smash themselves up on the reformed
Spartan shield wall. The Persian forces are completely disorganized during
this charge, and are routed by the counter-attack.

"We broke ... Even when they made a new shield-wall we were only a mob
behind it. The Medes took the spears in their hands and broke them, died.
The arrows were no good ..."

This all squares reasonably well with Her 9.59-9.63. The "shield-wall" is
the wall of the Persians' wickerwork shields mentioned in 9.61. The
Lacedaemonians attack this in 9.62, knocking it down, and the battle moves
to around the temple of Demeter. The Persians grapple their spears & break
them, but are defeated due to their lack of body armor.

For whatever reason, it's clear that Latro's Romans have been given a place
of honor, with the Persians, against the Spartans. Her 9.31 gives the
disposition of his army, mentioning "only the most important ones by name -
the ones which were particularly prominent and famous ...". The Romans
*should* be included in this list, but of course they're not - hey, it's a

Her 9.65 is interesting. "I find it surprising that although the battle took
place by the gove of Demeter, not a single Persian either entered the
precinct or died there ... I think the goddess kept them away because they
ahd burnt her temple at Eleusis."  Somewhere in that, I suppose, is the
story of what happened between Latro, "bearer of the wolf's tooth", and the
Goddess, which I hope we'll someday get to hear.


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