« PreviousContinue »
their youth, was the chief cause of the courage and martial spirit of that people.
With respect therefore to the manners, and particularly to the article which I am now treating of, we must make some distinction between the different nations of Asia. So that in the following account of military affairs, whatever perfection and excellence may be found in the rules and principles of war, is to be applied only to the Persians, as they were in Cyrus's reign; the rest belongs to the other nations of Asia, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Lydians, and to the Persians likewise after they had degenerated from their ancient valour, which happened not long after Cyrus, as will be shown in the sequel.
I. Their Entrance upon Military Discipline. The Persians were trained up to the service from their tender years, by passing through different exercises.* Generally speaking, they served in the armies from the age of twenty to fifty years. And whether in peace or war, they always wore swords, as our gentlemen do, which was never practised among the Greeks or the Romans. They were obliged to enlist themselves at the time appointed; and it was esteemed a crime to desire to be dispensed with in that respect, as will be seen hereafter, by the cruel treatment given by Darius and Xerxes to two young noblemen, whose fathers had desired as a favour, that their sons might be permitted to stay at home, for a comfort to them in their old age.t
Herodotus speaks of a body of troops appointed to be the king's guard, who were called The immortals, because this body consisted always of the same number, which was 10,000; for as soon as any of the men died, another was immediately put into his place. The establishment of this body probably began with the 10,000 men sent for by Cyrus out of Persia to be his guard. They were distinguished from all the other troops by the richness of their armour, and still more by their courage. Quintus Curtius mentions also this body of men, and another body besides, consisting of 15,000, designed in like manner to be a guard to the king's person: the latter were called Doryphori, or Spearmen.
II. Their Armour.
The ordinary arms of the Persians were a sabre, or scimitar, acinaces, as it is called in Latin ; a kind of dagger, which hung in their belt on the right side; a javelin, or half pike, having a sharppointed iron at the
end. It seems that they carried two javelins, or lances, one to fling, and the other to use in close fight. They made great use of the
* Stral). l. xv. p. 734. Am. Mar. I. xxiii. sub finem. de Ira. I. iii. c. 16, 17.
| Herod. I. vii. c. 83.
† Herod. 1. iv. and vi. Sen
Lib. iii. c. 3.
bow, and of the quiver in which they carried their arrows. The sling was not unknown amongst them; but they did not set much value upon it.
It appears from several passages in ancient authors, that the Per. sians wore no helmets, but only their common caps, which they call tiaras; this is particularly said of Cyrus the younger, and of his army.* And yet the same authors, in other places, make mention of their helmets; from whence we must conclude, that this custom had changed according to the times.
The foot for the most part wore cuirasses made of brass, which were so artificially fitted to their bodies, that they were no impediment to the motion and agility of their limbs; no more than the vambraces, or greaves which covered the arms, thighs, and legs of the horsemen. Their horses themselves, for the most part, had their faces, chests, and flanks covered with brass. These were what are called equi cataphracti, barbed horses.
Authors differ very much about the form and fashion of the shields. At first they made use of very small and light ones, made only of twigs of osier, gerra. But it appears from several passages, that they had also shields of brass, which were of a great length.
We have already observed, that in the first ages the light-armed soldiers, that is, the archers and those who used missile weapons, composed the bulk of the armies amongst the Persians and Medes. Cyrus, who had found by experience, that such troops were only fit for skirmishing, or fighting at a distance, and who thought it most advantageous to come directly to close fight, made a change in his army, and reduced those light-armed troops to a very few, arming the far greater number at all points, like the rest of the army.
III. Chario's armed with Scythes. Cyrus introduced a considerable change likewise with respect to the chariots of war.t These had been in use a long while before his time, as appears both from Homer and the sacred writings. These cliariots had only two wheels, and were generally drawn by four horses abreast, with two men in each; one of distinguished birth and valour, who fought, and another who was engaged only in driving the chariot. Cyrus thought this method, which was very expensive, was but of little service; since for the equipping of 300 chariots, were required 1200 horses, and 600 men, of which there were but 300 who really fought, the other 300, though all men of mer; and distinction, and capable of doing great service if otherwise employed, serving Jnly as charioteers or drivers. To remedy this inconvenience, he altered the form of the chariots, and doubled the number of the fighting men that rode in them, by enabling the drivers also to fight as well as the others. He caused the wheels of the chariots to be made stronger, that * Xen. de Exped. Cyr. I. i. p. 263
+ Xen. Cyrop. I. vi. D. 152.
they should not be so easily broken; and the axletreus to be made longer, to inake them the more firm and steady. At each end of the axletree he caused scythes to be fastened that were three feet long, and placed horizontally; and caused other scythes to be fixed under the same axletree with their edges turned to the ground, that they might cut in pieces men, or horses, or whatever the impetuous violence of the chariots should overturn. It appears from several passages in authors,* that in after-times, besides all this, they added iwo long iron spikes at the end of the pole, in order to pierce whatever came in the way; and that they armed the hinder part of the chariot with several rows of sharp knives to hinder any one from mounting behind.
These chariots were in use for many ages in all the Eastern countries. They were looked upon as the principal strength of the armies, as the most certain cause of the victory, and as an apparatus the most capable of all other to strike the enemy with consternation and terror.
But in proportion as the military art improved, the inconveniences of them were discovered, and at length they were laid aside. For, in order to reap any advantage from them, it was necessary to fight in vast and extensive plains, where the soil was very even, and where there were no rivulets, gulleys, woods, nor vineyards.
In after-times several methods were invented to render these chariots absolutely useless. It was enough to cut a ditch in their way, which immediately stopped their course. Sometimes an able and experienced general, as Eumenes in the battle which Scipio fought with Antiochus, would attack the chariots with a detachment of slingers, archers, and spearmen, who, spreading themselves on all sides, would pour such a storm of stones, arrows, and lances upon them, and at the same time fall a shouting so loud with the whole army, that they terrified the horses, and often made them turn upon their own forces. At other times they would render the chariots useless and incapable of acting,t only by marching over the space, which separated the two armies, with an extraordinary swiftness, and advancing suddenly upon the enemy. For the strength and execution of the chariots proceeded from the length of their course, which was what gave that impetuosity and rapidity to their motion, without which they were but very feeble and insignificant. It was after this manner, that the Romans under Sylla, at the battle of Chæronæ, defeated and put to flight the enemy's chariots, raising loud peals of laughter, and crying out to them, as if they had been at the games of the Circus, to send more.
IV. Their Discipline in Peace as well as Wan Nothing can be imagined more perfect than the discipline and good order of the troops in Cyrus's reign, whether in peace or war.
| Ibid. * Plut, in Syl. p. 463.
+ Liv, l. xxxvii. n. 41.
The method used by that great prince in peace, as is fully related in Xenophon’s Cyropædia, in order to form his troops, by frequent exercises, to inure them to fatigue by keeping them continually employed in laborious works, to prepare them for real battles by mock engagements, to fire them with courage and resolution by exhortations, praises, and rewards: all this, I say, is a perfect model for all who have the command of troops, to which, generally speaking, peace and tranquillity become extremely pernicious; for a relaxation of discipline, which usually ensues, enervates the vigour of the sol. diers; and their inaction blunts that edge of courage, which the motion of armies, and the approach of enemies, infinitely sharpen and excite. A wise foresight of the future ought to make us prepare in time of peace whatever may be needful in time of war.*
Whenever the Persian armies marched, every thing was ordered and carried on with as much regularity and exactness as on a day of battle: not a soldier or officer daring to quit his rank, or remove from the colours. It was the custom amongst all the nations of Asia, whenever they encamped, though but for a day or a night, to have their camp surrounded with pretty deep ditches. This they did to prevent being surprised by the enemy, and that they might not be forced to engage against their inclinations. They usually contented themselves with covering their camp with a bank of earth dug out of these ditches ;t though sometimes they fortified them with strong pallisa does, and long stakes driven into the ground.
By what has been said of their discipline in time of peace, and in the marching and encamping their armies, we may judge of that which was preserved on a day of battle. Nothing can be more deserving our admiration than the accounts we have of it in the several parts of the Cyropædia. No single family could be better regulated, or pay a more speedy and exact obedience to the first signal, than the whole army of Cyrus. He had long accustomed them to that prompt obedience, on which the success of all enterprises depends. For what arails the best head in the world, if the arms do not act conformably, and follow its directions? At first he had used some severity, which is necessary in the beginning, in order to establish good discipline; but this severity was always accompanied with reason, and tempered with kindness. The example of their leader, who was the first upon all duty, gave weight and authority to his injunctions, and softened the rigour of his commands. The unalterable rule he laid down to himself, of granting nothing but to merit only, and of refusing every thing to favour, was a sure means of keeping all the officers attached to their duty, and of making them perpetually vigilant and careful. For there is nothing
-Metuensque futuri, In pace, ut sapiens, aptarit idonea bello. Hor. Satyr. ij. I. 2. † Diod. I. i. p. 24, 25.
Dus, cultu levi, capite intecto, in agmine, laboribus frequens adesse: laudem strenuis, solatium invalidis, exemplum omnibus ostendere. Tacit Annal. 1. xiii. cap 35
more discouraging to persons of that profession,* even to those who love their prince and their country, than to see the rewards, to which the dangers they have undergone, and the blood they have spilt, entitle them, conferred upon others. Cyrus had the art of inspiring even his common soldiers with a zeal for discipline and order, by first inspiring them with a love for their country, for their honour, and their fellow-citizens; nd, above all, by endearing himself to them by his bounty and liberality. These are the true and only methods of establishing and supporting military discipline in its ful force and vigour.
V. Their Order of Battle. As there were but very few fortified places in Cyrus's time, all their wars were little else but field expeditions; for which reason that wise prince found out, by his own reflection and experience, that nothing contributed more to decide a victory, than a numerous and good cavalry; and the gaining of one single pitched battle was often attended with the conquest of a whole kingdom. Accordingly we see, that having found the Persian army entirely destitute of that important and necessary succour, he turned all his thoughts towards remedying that defect; and, by his great application and activity, succeeded in forming a body of Persian cavalry, which became superior to that of his enemies, in goodness, at least, if not in number. There were several breeds of horses in Persia and Media ;t but in the latter province, those of a place called Nisea, were the most esteemed ; and it was from thence the king's stable was furnished. We shall now examine what use they made of their cavalry and infantry.
The celebrated battle of Thymbra, may serve to give us a just notion of the tactics of the ancients in the days of Cyrus, and to show how far their ability extended either in the use of arms, or the disposition of armies.
They knew that the most advantageous order of battle was to place the infantry in the centre, and the cavalry, which consisted chiefly of the cuirassiers, on the two wings of the army. By this disposition the flanks of the foot were covered, and the horse were at liberty to act and extend themselves as occasion should require.
They likewise understood the necessity of drawing out an army mto several lines, in order to support one another; because otherwise, as one single line might easily be pierced through and broken; it would not be able to rally, and consequently the army would be left without resource. For which reason they formed the first line of foot heavily armed, twelve men deep, who, on the first onset,
* Cecidisse in irritum labores, si præmia periculorum soli assequantur, qui periculis non affuerunt. Tacit. Hist. lib. iii. cap. 53. | Herod. I. vii. C. 40. Strab. 1. xi. p. 530
Before Cyrus's time it was of twenty-four men.