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Looking for specific primary sources on ancient armies/battles....

Ancient History

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Sep 21, 2011, 4:36pm Top

I am submitting an abstract to the next CAMWS (Classical Association of the Middlewest and South) conference, and am currently mining primary sources for specific examples that pertain to my argument. I was just wondering if anyone around these parts knows of anything off-hand that may help me save some time :-)

Essentially, what I am looking for are instances in Roman or Hellenic armies where language use was an issue. That is, troops not understanding/disobeying their commanders' orders because they have different mother tongues; animosity between different ethno-linguistic groups in the army; lack of cohesion in battle for the same reason; general reactions/thoughts about different language speakers in the army, etc.

On the whole, what I am shooting for is a comparison of the situation in Rome's legionary/native-auxiliary armies vs. that in the armies of the Hellenistic kingdoms, where the ranks were essentially (or, necessarily, one might say) filled with mercenaries and levies from the four corners of the globe.

Sep 21, 2011, 4:53pm Top

Ah, CAMWS. I did two talks there.

Interesting question. I'd love to hear the answer. While I can't think of any battlefield examples, Alexander's campaign is the obvious starting point for ethnic and linguistic conflict in a Greek army.

In general, I doubt you'll find much. Army language was a small, learned subset of any language. Soldiers looked to officers. So long as you had officers who understood both languages, you were in good shape.

Have you looked through Mercenaries of the Hellenistic World and Mercenaries of the Ancient World? I'm guessing there's a fair amount of scholarship on Latin and the Romanization of barbarians under Roman arms around too.

Sep 21, 2011, 7:35pm Top

Yeah that's exactly the problem I'm having. Much of what I've put together so far is more "inference" than "proof", if you know what I mean; for instance, in Plutarch's Pyrrhus, there's a bit where he has the Epirote look at the Romans across the way, and marvel at their own organization and efficiency in contrast to his own troops. I brought this up to my adviser today, and he basically said "alright, but did Plutarch mention this was because of language?" and implied that I shouldn't use it if he didn't. But my thing is, to an extent, you're going to HAVE to infer some things, right?

And yeah, I think I pretty much have everything I need re: the Romans; actually I've found enough stuff that it has sort of made me question some of my own conclusions at times (Especially Adams' Bilingualism and the Latin Language). But finding stuff on the Hellenistic monarchies is proving to be a bit of a task.

Also, I own the Yalichev book, but it is VERY difficult to use him to mine for primary sources, because as far as I can tell, he can't read Latin or Greek and when referencing, refers to the PAGE NUMBERS in the English translation of whatever Classical work he used. *facepalm*

Sep 22, 2011, 7:20pm Top

Feicht, I don't recall where but there is a significant instance of this in Thucydides -- I think it was the Sicilian expedition -- where the Dorian dialect of certain Athenian allies caused confusion that led to fatal misdirection.

This might be it:


Athenian forces became scattered; they were confused by the paean of their Dorian allies, which was so like that of their Dorian foes

Sep 22, 2011, 8:36pm Top

Thanks a lot Stan, that is the kind of source I was looking for! I'll have to modify it to go in my abstract (it is a bit outside the time frame I'm working with), but sadly since I've yet to find any concrete examples of the same thing from Hellenistic times it might be the best I can get..

Sep 23, 2011, 3:02am Top

Might not be much, but there's a bit in Livy 30.33-34 where he talks about the Carthaginian side being less effective because of the plurality of languages.

Sep 23, 2011, 10:20am Top

>3 Feicht:

Ha. I haven't read Yalichev. I was just aware of it. I've read Griffith.

>6 binders:

That's good.

Sep 23, 2011, 1:59pm Top

Yeah it was a tad disappointing, because he is actually a damn good writer. I just wish he could have at least cited the ancient sources properly.

Binders: Thanks for the Livy bit, that's a good one.

Sep 23, 2011, 7:49pm Top

I suppose I should mention that I've already submitted my abstract, but I'd still appreciate the extra researcher eyes on the lookout; it will be most helpful if my abstract is selected, but if it's not I plan on turning my research into a longer paper anyway.

Sep 23, 2011, 11:14pm Top

I remember submitting an abstract not knowing much of anything about what I was going to say. You can revise it as much as you want. Nobody gives a damn about the abstracts anyway.

Sep 23, 2011, 11:33pm Top

Some may use them to decide which presentation to attend. If you want to keep it relatively low key, don't mention anything like "Sex Lives of the Roman Emperors", for example.

Sep 23, 2011, 11:43pm Top

> 11

Oh! Did you have to bring Agrippina into this? :-)

Edited: Sep 24, 2011, 12:10am Top

> 10 Tim:

It's funny, because I've heard both opposing opinions on that, and opinion is split pretty much 50/50 haha... Also I was reading through old CAMWS abstracts, and some of them are like... straight up BAD. But I'm assuming the website only has ones which were presented, so it would seem to suggest that if I don't end up presenting, it must mean my abstract document file crashed the CAMWS computer with porno viruses or something :-D

EDIT: Though by following Stellar's suggestion of combining sex and the classics, maybe I'd get in anyway HAHA

Sep 25, 2011, 9:21pm Top

>13 Feicht:

My year there was a woman who'd actually won the all-CAMWS award for best presentation—awarded on a draft. It was hands-down the worst I had ever heard, and an embarrassment to the conference. It's a pretty random affair.

Sep 25, 2011, 9:35pm Top


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