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Subject: Re: (urth) Immortals and Archaic Rome
From: Josh Geller 
Date: 18 Jun 2003 06:24:50 -0700

The Persians generally lacked infantry to match the Greeks. Before,
during and after the war they went to some efforts to hire Greek 
infantry. They would have definitely found a use for a cohort or two
of Roman infantry.



On Wed, 2003-06-18 at 01:27, Andrew Bollen wrote:
> 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
> novel.
> 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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