What did battle look like at the chest to chest range on the ancient battlefields of Europe and the Near East? The sheer brutality, shock, and visceral nature of Classical Warfare has intrigued classicists, historians, and military officers alike for centuries.
On the importance of Classical military history / history of warfare to the formation of the military officers of today – specifically, the US Army Corps of Cadets at West Point:
Classical warfare encapsulates some of the most important lessons a cadet will study at West Point. My students study the strategic, operational, and tactical facets of this time period. Throughout our studies, we march alongside our ancient officer counterparts through the pages of works such as Xenophon’s Anabasis, Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander, and Julius Caesar’s Gallic War. We stand with them in their phalanxes or maniples and wait. We gaze across the plains at our enemy—an enemy that we cannot dispatch with a projectile fueled by gunpowder; rather, we must end our enemy with our spears and swords, or crush their bones with shield upon shield during the othismos.
The question which many may ask is “Why is it important for cadets aspiring to be military officers to study Classical Warfare?” “What can cadets possibly learn from dead Greeks, Macedonians, and Italians?” I have developed the following answer:
When cadets graduate they will become managers of violence. They will practice their craft in a sea of chaos, where mistakes are not measured in bad grades, but rather in lives. In training, armies will never be able to fully replicate the concert of violence and pulls of self-preservation that one may feel in battle. Since we cannot fully replicate battlefield conditions in training, it can be difficult to know how a leader may act. The study of Classical military history helps to fill the void where training cannot. Past battles and campaigns are the best examples to us as to how leaders will behave and make decisions while within the maelstrom. Historic battles are the cadavers for future military officers. We dissect battles and campaigns, so that we may better practice our own craft.