Different images of warrior peoples in Greco-Roman litterature

Sep 2018
25
Battlefrance
#1
In surveying the corpus of Greco-roman litterature dealing with politics and warfare, there is a consistency between them as far as rating the fighting qualities of different peoples, usually opponents of greeks and romans.

For instance, european peoples like thracians, celts, germans, illyrians, slavs are always regarded as fierce and brave warriors. This positive qualities are ascribed to them by often hostile greek and roman authors. In contrast, asiatics, here refering to oriental peoples in proximity to Rome and Greece, like levantines, egyptians, arabs, persians are viewed as inferior with respect to warfare and warrior qualities.

Why is this? What accounts for this different views of europeans vs asiatics? Is it because asiatics were settled, urbanised and hence more soft, whereas europeans were semi-nomadic, wild, primitive and hence hardy? Could it be differences in body size? Europeans are larger species in the human race?
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,531
#2
Probably because the Europeans mostly fought like the Romans and Greeks in stand up battles and where they didn't (Huns, Vandals) they were hugely castigated. Eastern people tended to prefer a different style of fighting with less focus on infantry and decisive battles.

Also keep in mind much of the scholarship interpreting the Roman and Greek views of non-Europeans is made during the height of European ethnocentrism. More recent scholarship has a slightly different take though there was certainly hubris about Roman and Greeks being the 'best' in their own descriptions of themselves and because most of the former European peoples become somewhat Romanized they became part of that 'us' while the animus vs others was not so one sided against non-Europeans as some guys in the 1800-1970s wrote.
 
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Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
4,988
Canary Islands-Spain
#3
I don't get this idea by reading the original sources

Some peoples, particularly those settled on the East with high civilizations, were regarded as less fierce than Romans or Greeks. But many other less sophisticated peoples from Asia Minor to India were considered extremly warlike and effective

It was more about Rome-Greece vs others, and civilizated vs non civilizated. The less sophisticated, the more warlike considere they were
 
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Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,531
#4
I don't get this idea by reading the original sources

Some peoples, particularly those settled on the East with high civilizations, were regarded as less fierce than Romans or Greeks. But many other less sophisticated peoples from Asia Minor to India were considered extremly warlike and effective

It was more about Rome-Greece vs others, and civilizated vs non civilizated. The less sophisticated, the more warlike considere they were
Most descriptions written by contemporary Romans (not many Greek descriptions prior to Roman rule of Greece) I've read seem to regard non-Greek/Romans as usually fierce but primitive barbarians who might be terrifying but also tired quickly and were disorganized. One of the reasons Caesar's dispatches are so interesting is that he talks with a bit more equanimity about the Gauls (probably due to having to both maintain Gaulish alliances and because he knew the adversaries personally) but Caesar was not above delving into the normal Roman attitudes about less civilized peoples.
 
Last edited:
Jul 2016
8,718
USA
#5
It often came down to the rulers and elite of a people. If their rulers were literally effeminate individuals, who surrounded themselves with sycophants, did little besides pursue court intrigue killing family members or debauchery, chose to pursue wine, sex, art, music, or other vices over more manly and respected venues like warfare and stoicism, then of course a people like the Romans, who in the early years where tradition was built on would kill themselves or family members over matters of honor, were of course to hold them in low esteem. Even when the Roman elite themselves took to debauchery and excess in the 2nd Cent BC and onwards, they were still tougher than many of the Eastern rulers and people. At least in the Roman eyes, this is a generalized bias we're talking about, not truth.
 
Sep 2017
690
United States
#6
I think part of it is how certain peoples lived and fought.

The stereotype of a wild man, hunting and gathering in the forests, sounds a lot "tougher" than a port-city merchant or civilian living in a mud-brick house.

Onto how they fought. The Persians, Carthaginians, etc. all fought in a more "modernized" way, conscripting levies and fighting as more or less as a nation. Their armies were similarly structured, more bureaucratically organized and trained to conduct warfare in all sorts of ways, some of which included hit-and-run tactics and other manners that may be deemed as cowardice.

The various European tribes fought differently; they were smaller societies, whose freemen were called upon all the time as they had no recruitment or levying systems. Being warrior-centric cultures, displays of great courage and strength were highly encouraged and they often had a mindset coming from smaller tribal warfare. In a war between two smaller parties, breaking the enemy with an overwhelming charge in a battle probably wrapped things up. As such, more nuanced strategies and tactics were probably less developed, so they did what they knew best.
 
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