Ethnicity as a factor in military success

Status
Closed
Sep 2018
31
Battlefrance
Greetings fellow avid history readers. As a new member on this forum this is my very first thread.

One of my main interests is military history with a special focus on textual description of engagements between armies, spanning the whole ancient and medieval periods.

One of my conclusions is that some ethnicities seem to both physically and mentally better geared for war, with the result that they always give the impressions to their enemies as formidable warriors, both as victors But even as defeated.

Here is my list of these warrior in no particular order:
Germanics
Slavic
Ural-Altaic (Turks, mongols etc)
Thracians
Illyrians
Celts
Bactrian
Schytian
Armenians
Georgians
Circassians
Romans
Greeks

Peoples i consider to belong to a non-warrior people:
Syrians
Hebrews
Phonecians
Persians
Arabs
Egyptians
Indians
Chinese
Berbers

I’ve reached this conclusion based on accounts (quite a few of them eyewitness accounts), clearly conveying the impression that the above mentioned peoples either as belong to a warrior type people or not.

Definition of a warrior people: Strong body, often a mesomorph body type or endomorph type. Mentally tough, oftens withstand enemy attacks for a very long time, inflicting heavy casualties on their enemies even when they lose.

Definition of non-warrior people: medium to small body type, either ectomorph or at best case a combination of ecto-mesomorph type. Mentally not very tough, often needs to be assured of its numerical superiority, or knowing they have their enemies trapped in ambush. Can not sustain enemy charges for a very long time, if at all. Easily routed, seldom initative to perform individual feats.

That’s my take. Feel free to agree or disagree with explanation.
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,743
Lower Styria, Slovenia
An awful overgeneralisation. You can't just say this peoples is warrior like and this one isn't. You don't take time in account. You lumped a lot of people together just by language families, which makes little sense. The difference between Celts or between Slavs can be bigger than one Celtic tribe compared to one Germanic tribe etc. Romans alone is an incredibly broad term that needs defining. Why aren't Persians considered warlike, considering they had several great Empires, even beating Rome? Same for Egyptians, Chinese, Arabs. Except in tribal communities (= primitive, smaller groups of people) there are almost no whole nations or ethnic groups that are all warriors. Once you get over a certain point of soffistication it's really just a small portion that deals with war - be it nobility, mercenaries, a professional army or a citizen army (one generation at a time). Not to say that not all people of the same ethnicity or tribe or nation have the same body structure. There's just too many holes in this.
 
Sep 2018
31
Battlefrance
An awful overgeneralisation. You can't just say this peoples is warrior like and this one isn't. You don't take time in account. You lumped a lot of people together just by language families, which makes little sense. The difference between Celts or between Slavs can be bigger than one Celtic tribe compared to one Germanic tribe etc. Romans alone is an incredibly broad term that needs defining. Why aren't Persians considered warlike, considering they had several great Empires, even beating Rome? Same for Egyptians, Chinese, Arabs. Except in tribal communities (= primitive, smaller groups of people) there are almost no whole nations or ethnic groups that are all warriors. Once you get over a certain point of soffistication it's really just a small portion that deals with war - be it nobility, mercenaries, a professional army or a citizen army (one generation at a time). Not to say that not all people of the same ethnicity or tribe or nation have the same body structure. There's just too many holes in this.
Thanks for the reply. Now here why is disagree. Body types certinantly differ amongst different ethnicites. In our modern times this is still evident, with the differences perhaps decreasing a little. However, based on many accounts, both western and non-western, there seems to be a broad agreement that certain ethnicites enjoy a greater sucess and reputation in war based on their physical body and mental toughness. Both Greco-roman and arab sources agree that north european and East european people are stronger and more attractive as a warriors, both individually and in group.

The reason I did not include the persians is because the persians enjoyed most of their sucess in war against other people whole I define as mon-warrior people, like mesopotamians, arabs, egyptians, syrians etc. But whenever they fought warrior peoples like the Ural-altaic or european, they had less success. Also, it is important not to forgot that the persians employed large numbers of foreign troops from warrior peoples to confront the romans. For instance, in the siege of Amida, Shapur II had, besides ethnic persians, also many caucasians, north asians and north iranians (closely related to other caucasians).
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,743
Lower Styria, Slovenia
Thanks for the reply. Now here why is disagree. Body types certinantly differ amongst different ethnicites. In our modern times this is still evident, with the differences perhaps decreasing a little. However, based on many accounts, both western and non-western, there seems to be a broad agreement that certain ethnicites enjoy a greater sucess and reputation in war based on their physical body and mental toughness. Both Greco-roman and arab sources agree that north european and East european people are stronger and more attractive as a warriors, both individually and in group.

The reason I did not include the persians is because the persians enjoyed most of their sucess in war against other people whole I define as mon-warrior people, like mesopotamians, arabs, egyptians, syrians etc. But whenever they fought warrior peoples like the Ural-altaic or european, they had less success. Also, it is important not to forgot that the persians employed large numbers of foreign troops from warrior peoples to confront the romans. For instance, in the siege of Amida, Shapur II had, besides ethnic persians, also many caucasians, north asians and north iranians (closely related to other caucasians).
That is true for Antiquity, sources do indeed say that Germanics, Celts and Slavs are usually taller than Italics and of a robust built. I guess that has to do with their way of living as well as some others. Diet alone can have a big impact on height. Chinese peasents, mostly relying on rice, are shorter than their contemporary city people who eat more varried food and get more nutrition out of it.

You say Persians empoyed a lot of foreign troops. So did the Romans. At first they used a lot of soldiers from allied Latin tribes, later on they employed Germanic cavalry, even later whole tribes fought for them or provided soldiers. Also, 8th century BC to 5th century AD is a long period. Same for Germanics, Slavs and others. When are we speaking? It's a more than 2000 year wide window. Frisians were feared raiders once. From the middle ages hardly anyone regards them as a militarised group. Half the Germans states in the Napoleonic period are considered to have had good soldiers, the other half not so much. What about the Flemish? Where are the Danes and Norwegians after the Viking period? I see no big praise of Ruthenians, Sorbs or Macedonians for most of history yet you lump them together with Russians, Poles and others just because they speak a related language.

Just a friendly heads up, the Ural-Altaic theory is widely rejected today. It lumps together Mongolic, Tungusic, Turkic (these being Altaic), Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic (these two being Utalic) LANGUAGES. As the theory is rejected the term is obsolete anyway but beside that, it doesn't fit in such a discussion as it is a linguistic term. Just say Turkic and Mongol, I asume it is these who groups speciffically that you mean?
 
Sep 2018
31
Battlefrance
That is true for Antiquity, sources do indeed say that Germanics, Celts and Slavs are usually taller than Italics and of a robust built. I guess that has to do with their way of living as well as some others. Diet alone can have a big impact on height. Chinese peasents, mostly relying on rice, are shorter than their contemporary city people who eat more varried food and get more nutrition out of it.

You say Persians empoyed a lot of foreign troops. So did the Romans. At first they used a lot of soldiers from allied Latin tribes, later on they employed Germanic cavalry, even later whole tribes fought for them or provided soldiers. Also, 8th century BC to 5th century AD is a long period. Same for Germanics, Slavs and others. When are we speaking? It's a more than 2000 year wide window. Frisians were feared raiders once. From the middle ages hardly anyone regards them as a militarised group. Half the Germans states in the Napoleonic period are considered to have had good soldiers, the other half not so much. What about the Flemish? Where are the Danes and Norwegians after the Viking period? I see no big praise of Ruthenians, Sorbs or Macedonians for most of history yet you lump them together with Russians, Poles and others just because they speak a related language.

Just a friendly heads up, the Ural-Altaic theory is widely rejected today. It lumps together Mongolic, Tungusic, Turkic (these being Altaic), Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic (these two being Utalic) LANGUAGES. As the theory is rejected the term is obsolete anyway but beside that, it doesn't fit in such a discussion as it is a linguistic term. Just say Turkic and Mongol, I asume it is these who groups speciffically that you mean?
So, I need to make a few clarifications.
I try to make the categorisation easier. When refering to East Europe, It’s true i lump all of them together, without necesserily implying that they are of the same stock however.

My time frame spans from the start of the Greco-Persian wars until the ottoman conquest of constantinople, when gradually gunpowder is making entrance in history of warfare.

Allow me to make a few modifications to my definition of warrior peoples. There is a hierachy within the warrior people group and the not warrior peoples. For instance, I consider romans and greeks as warrior peoples and hence often stronger than their non-warrior opponents like arabs, persians, egyptians etc. Although the physical difference doesn’t seem to that big between greeks, romans and the rest of the near East. Many times when greeks fight without armour they seem to take a good beating, suffering heavy casualties, even when they are the victorius. The battle of mycale is a case in point. While the greeks were still armoured, they at least could not fight the persians in cohesion, perhaps many times having to fight the persians on an individual-individual basis or group for group. Despite greeks winning the battle, Herodotus still writes that many greeks were killed, probably the first time admits it unlike previous battles where greek losses never exceeds 200 even after hours of firece fighting.

BUT... compared to germans, slavic and turkic peoples, then I think the romans and greeks are a little below the hiearchy. Many times the above mentioned peoples inflict heavy casualties and store great victories against the romans and greeks, on a scale the persians and arabs never manage to inflict on them.

Yes you’re right the Ural-Altaic is not so sound a theory, so my primary reference is turks and mongols. It is my thesis that without the turks, the arabs simply have chance against the frankish crusaders.
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,743
Lower Styria, Slovenia
So, I need to make a few clarifications.
I try to make the categorisation easier. When refering to East Europe, It’s true i lump all of them together, without necesserily implying that they are of the same stock however.

My time frame spans from the start of the Greco-Persian wars until the ottoman conquest of constantinople, when gradually gunpowder is making entrance in history of warfare.

Allow me to make a few modifications to my definition of warrior peoples. There is a hierachy within the warrior people group and the not warrior peoples. For instance, I consider romans and greeks as warrior peoples and hence often stronger than their non-warrior opponents like arabs, persians, egyptians etc. Although the physical difference doesn’t seem to that big between greeks, romans and the rest of the near East. Many times when greeks fight without armour they seem to take a good beating, suffering heavy casualties, even when they are the victorius. The battle of mycale is a case in point. While the greeks were still armoured, they at least could not fight the persians in cohesion, perhaps many times having to fight the persians on an individual-individual basis or group for group. Despite greeks winning the battle, Herodotus still writes that many greeks were killed, probably the first time admits it unlike previous battles where greek losses never exceeds 200 even after hours of firece fighting.

BUT... compared to germans, slavic and turkic peoples, then I think the romans and greeks are a little below the hiearchy. Many times the above mentioned peoples inflict heavy casualties and store great victories against the romans and greeks, on a scale the persians and arabs never manage to inflict on them.

Yes you’re right the Ural-Altaic is not so sound a theory, so my primary reference is turks and mongols. It is my thesis that without the turks, the arabs simply have chance against the frankish crusaders.
Ok, this narrows it down a bit, which will make for an easier discussion. :)

I don't know a lot about antiquity, but I'm sure other members will chime in to give their opinions and examples of why they think something is the case.
 

Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,649
Ontario, Canada
I don't disagree with the basic premise. When I was in South America I was speaking to some soldiers who were out on road duty (basically looking at people's papers to see if they are illegals, criminals or insurgents). One thing they said is that whenever they get trained by American officers they struggle because the Americans have Anglo-Saxon standards. What they mean by this is that the locals are usually not as big as "Anglo-Saxons" so they struggle in keeping up physically and sometimes have trouble carrying all of their equipment. From what I've heard this is also true in South Korea. One officer told me "if a war breaks out I hope we don't have to drag them with us... our guys are better on the ground and our other services are also better". Granted he wasn't only talking about differences in size and strength but that was a factor. There was also an interesting observation during the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War that the Japanese were generally smaller and this put them at a slight disadvantage when they were in close combat. There was also the claim that the Japanese made up for it by carrying out savage charges, which then resulted in huge casualties.


Britain, United States, Australia, India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan

As can be seen the average Japanese soldiers was much shorter than the average regular army requirements.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2018
31
Battlefrance
I don't disagree with the basic premise. When I was in South America I was speaking to some soldiers who were out on road duty (basically looking at people's papers to see if they are illegals, criminals or insurgents). One thing they said is that whenever they get trained by American officers they struggle because the Americans have Anglo-Saxon standards. What they mean by this is that the locals are usually not as big as "Anglo-Saxons" so they struggle in keeping up physically and sometimes have trouble carrying all of their equipment. From what I've heard this is also true in South Korea. One officer told me "if a war breaks out I hope we don't have to drag them with us... our guys are better on the ground and our other services are also better". Granted he wasn't only talking about differences in size and strength but that was a factor. There was also an interesting observation during the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War that the Japanese were generally smaller and this put them at a slight disadvantage when they were in close combat. There was also the claim that the Japanese made up for it by carrying out savage charges, which then resulted in huge casualties.
Thank for the input! Yes precisly. There is No question that physical size and strenght was a big factor in pre-gunpowder era. Obviously in our modern age, modern technology make up for lack of size in some ethnic groups. Before that However size was a big factor. There is a big difference facing an ancient indian infantry soldier swinging his sword against you versus a big celt or broud shouldered and bulky mongolian sending you a heavy blow.

Not only that, But in manu ancient sources this is many times noticed, many authors do not that some ethnic groups were more prefered as warriors even when they many times were technologically inferior. Why else would an Arab calip in Medieval Baghdad invest so much time and money recruting turkic and caucasians boys and placing them as elite troops when he could have easily done so with the local population or boys from his own tribal community, many perhaps even happy to again such high ranking the army. Many arab authors like Al-Masudi simply noted that he had never seen a people more formidable in combat and strenght in war as the turks compared to the arabs. In many arab accounts turks are almost the only ones known for performing individual feats against their crusader foes, while the arabs can hardly face one Frank in single combat. Also, Ibn Mishkawayi, provides an eyewitness account of how the Swedish vikings invaded the northern provinces of Iran. By his own admission, even though the local Persian troops numbered in total 5000 men, outnumbering the vikings who were only a few thousands, they still could not stand the viking charge, breaking and running away at first contact. Ibn Mishkawayi even states that the general himself, Mazurban ibn Muhammad had trouble forcing his men facing the vikings, as No one dared face these warriors from the north in single combat.

Ibn Mishkawayi writes that the 5000 persians at first thought that the vikings were another people like ”the greeks and armenians”, hence implying that they imagined their opponents would in physical size resemble the averege greek or armenian. I could go on and on prividing more references like this But I think this conveys my point clearly. I am not saying this is the only factor that determines sucess in war.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
I'm confused. Is this about actual martial prowess (due entirely to culture) or some people looking at people's body for the purposes of attraction?
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,743
Lower Styria, Slovenia


As can be seen the average Japanese soldiers was much shorter than the average regular army requirements.
May I ask at whom we're looking here? I asume it goes left to right: British, American, Russian, Indian (Sikh?), German, French, Austrian-Hungarian, Italian, Japanese. Yay or nay?
 
Status
Closed