How many legions and equivalents at Zama?

Nov 2011
837
The Bluff
So, in our context, someone was at a battle. They may have had certain impressions of that battle and they may even have been 'in the know' about numbers etc - if anyone knew! They go away and tell someone else, others, who tell many others. Then many miles away and maybe a century later, our 'source' writes an account of said event, which many today will take as gospel truth.

But you can just imagine all the variations of that story along the way!
That's not exactly how source transmission and preservation works. It is, though, how oral transmission works. One might think of "Homer" for example. Confusing the two doesn't help matters. Even so, in times when illiteracy was the norm, Chinese whispers were far more accurate than the example you give; it had to be.

Back to our sources, many are participants or coeval with events (Xenophon, Thukydides, Ephoros, Polybios, etc) yet others (Diodoros, Livy, etc) rely on prevoius written histories. The danger in transmission is not Chinese whispers but rather twofold: summarising of earlier works necessarily leaves information out based on personal preferences and what remains of the original is even more obscured when it is done more than once (Ephorps using the Oxyrhynchus historian and then summarised by Diodoros for example); all surviving sources were copied from existing manuscripts and so scribal innattention can introduce error into the text which can grow with each copying process. The degredation seen in Chinese whispers is strongly mitigated by the fact that this material is written. Still Livy is a good case in point when he fails to understand Polybios' Greek at Kynoskephalai and says the Macedonians threw down their sarisai as they were useless and resorted to swords. All due to not comprehending Polybios' term for "couching".
 
Nov 2010
7,266
Cornwall
That's not exactly how source transmission and preservation works. It is, though, how oral transmission works. One might think of "Homer" for example. Confusing the two doesn't help matters. Even so, in times when illiteracy was the norm, Chinese whispers were far more accurate than the example you give; it had to be.

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How on earth can they be? First lets say Rome had more actual system and documentation than before and after. But in medieval times I have read 6 different accounts of the same event. Even in the workplace a story can get distorted before it even gets around the site, let alone 1000 miles and 100 years later. Too many people take accounts written by a third party, one or two hundred years later, under the influence of whatever leader they serve, whatever religion they serve, whatever embellishments have been added as gospel truth. For the medieval era certainly that is bordering on the ridiculous. There are accounts of 150-300,000 dead in an army of 30,000 (Las Navas). You have to compare sources, add a bit of common sense and strip out the rubbish. Archeology and newly unearthed sources (eg from arabic) come to the rescue these days too, so history is a moving subject.
 
Nov 2011
837
The Bluff
Of course sources are weighed and source criticism is a part of that process. Again, what goes around the office is not the same as the transmission of written sources. And, yes, different individuals can have different views of the same event(s) which can come from either the background of the informants or historian or a lack of interest in the events. A comparison of Xenophon and Diodoros along with the latter's original, the OH. See Notium or Aigospotomoi or even Arginusai for examples. Xenophon's bias against Thebes sees Pelopidas never mentioned and Epameinondas only when he must be. The Second Athenian Alliance does not exist for him. His surviving manuscript shows alterations by another party (copier) where the scribe has added glosses and other explanatory insertions that have latet crept into the actual text. It is the study of these sources which elucidates these issues. Difficult to go into detail or type cohetently on a phone in a very expensive bar at Changi airport!! $16 a beer is most discombobulating...
 
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Nov 2011
837
The Bluff
Finally on a laptop. I do dislike "typing" on a phone.

Three of the sources noted above are good examples of what I've attempted to illustrate. Xenophon lived through everything he wrote about and was one of several "continuators" of Thukydides (the Oxyrhyncus historian being another). As has been long known, his Hellika was written in two, chronologically separated, distinct parts: the falll of Athens and the end of the war and the Spartan hegemony. George Cawkwell summed it up best in his Penguin introduction, describing Xenophon's method as essentially writing memoirs. In this he relied on his memory and that of his circle (mostly Spartan). Hence it is easier to understand his gaps regarding Athens (from which he was an exile) and his dislike of Thebes and everything associated with her. Un like other writers, he seems not to have relied on other written sources and thus his disagreements with Diodoros/Ephoros/Oxyrhyncus. A classic example is Notion or, even better, Aigospotamoi where he sees the action almost entirely from a Spartan perspective while Diodoros has much more from the Athenian side as well as Spartan. His manuscript, as noted above, has had several insertions over time not from Xenophon's hand. Therse come from glosses or explanations/filling in of events by ancient copiers who felt a need to clarify matters. Over the many hand written copies, they have become blended into the manuscript. That does not diminish his value thoughNext he tells us that the king posted the elephants at some distance in advance of the phalanx together with Antipater's Tarantines, the spaces between the elephants being filled with bowmen and slingers, as long as one understands his background and the history of his transmission.

Polybios, central to the current thread, is an admixture. He wrote of events he was coeval with and also events he participated in. Given that he begins his history with the accession of Ptolemy IV, Antiochos III and Philip V, he also necessarilly relied on prior histories and records (he mentions documents). He is plain in that he seeks to write from autopsy, that is, he speaks with those involved and tries, as best he can, to see the geography of where events took place. He also evaluates the sources he uses - many times abusing them for their military sillyness. A case in point being Zeno (of Rhodes) and his description of Panion (19.18-19) or his misplaced spleenetic criticism of Kallisthenes (12.18.17-22). In the former, and also cogent to this thread, Polybios has no problem with Zeno's description of the elephants, only what happens later (16.18.7):

Next he tells us that the king posted the elephants at some distance in advance of the phalanx together with Antipater's Tarantines, the spaces between the elephants being filled with bowmen and slingers,
Polybios mentions more writers than I could call to mind. It is clear he'd read these and digested them - if only to end up criticising them for the most part - and can hardly be considered poorly researched. These have not survived the vagaries of source preservation but they were available to him and to others.

Which brings us to Diodoros. The Sicilian, too, had access to these and their intermediaries. Typical of the Sicilian, he would use the easier digested intermediaries such as Ephoros who had, for the earlier part of his history, used the Oxyrhyncus historian. For Books 18-20 (the Diadochoi), he has, to my mind, used a source which relied heavily upon the lost history of Hieronymus of Kardia. Thus we have no real reflection of Hieronymus but what that inmtermediary found interesting and also then what suited Diodoros. The details preserved in 18-20 come, ultimately, from a source that was well into detail (thus the many chronological markers for example). That source has not survived famously being described as a bore by Dionysius of Halikarnassos (who won't have bothered to have him copied I suspect!).

As Diocletiansbetterthanyou has pointed out, we are lucky that enough was thought of Polybios that what we have has survived. Hieronymus suffered from a terrible Neilsen rating and has not. Diodoros, copied countless times, exists in two main manuscripts but unfortunately has suffered the fate of Polybios in that much, much more has not survived. The Oxyrhyncus historian wound up in a garbage dump while Xenophon has survived nearly unscathed. Such are the vagaries of written source presevation. The pitiful amount remaining to us should never be dismissed as "crap" or "Boys' Own" rubbish. Rather we should savour that information which remains to us - always with the understanding of their provenance, biases and faults. Rewriting them to suit a preconceived notion does not apply that understanding; rather undermines the entire process.
 
Finally on a laptop. I do dislike "typing" on a phone.

Three of the sources noted above are good examples of what I've attempted to illustrate. Xenophon lived through everything he wrote about and was one of several "continuators" of Thukydides (the Oxyrhyncus historian being another). As has been long known, his Hellika was written in two, chronologically separated, distinct parts: the falll of Athens and the end of the war and the Spartan hegemony. George Cawkwell summed it up best in his Penguin introduction, describing Xenophon's method as essentially writing memoirs. In this he relied on his memory and that of his circle (mostly Spartan). Hence it is easier to understand his gaps regarding Athens (from which he was an exile) and his dislike of Thebes and everything associated with her. Un like other writers, he seems not to have relied on other written sources and thus his disagreements with Diodoros/Ephoros/Oxyrhyncus. A classic example is Notion or, even better, Aigospotamoi where he sees the action almost entirely from a Spartan perspective while Diodoros has much more from the Athenian side as well as Spartan. His manuscript, as noted above, has had several insertions over time not from Xenophon's hand. Therse come from glosses or explanations/filling in of events by ancient copiers who felt a need to clarify matters. Over the many hand written copies, they have become blended into the manuscript. That does not diminish his value thoughNext he tells us that the king posted the elephants at some distance in advance of the phalanx together with Antipater's Tarantines, the spaces between the elephants being filled with bowmen and slingers, as long as one understands his background and the history of his transmission.

Polybios, central to the current thread, is an admixture. He wrote of events he was coeval with and also events he participated in. Given that he begins his history with the accession of Ptolemy IV, Antiochos III and Philip V, he also necessarilly relied on prior histories and records (he mentions documents). He is plain in that he seeks to write from autopsy, that is, he speaks with those involved and tries, as best he can, to see the geography of where events took place. He also evaluates the sources he uses - many times abusing them for their military sillyness. A case in point being Zeno (of Rhodes) and his description of Panion (19.18-19) or his misplaced spleenetic criticism of Kallisthenes (12.18.17-22). In the former, and also cogent to this thread, Polybios has no problem with Zeno's description of the elephants, only what happens later (16.18.7):



Polybios mentions more writers than I could call to mind. It is clear he'd read these and digested them - if only to end up criticising them for the most part - and can hardly be considered poorly researched. These have not survived the vagaries of source preservation but they were available to him and to others.

Which brings us to Diodoros. The Sicilian, too, had access to these and their intermediaries. Typical of the Sicilian, he would use the easier digested intermediaries such as Ephoros who had, for the earlier part of his history, used the Oxyrhyncus historian. For Books 18-20 (the Diadochoi), he has, to my mind, used a source which relied heavily upon the lost history of Hieronymus of Kardia. Thus we have no real reflection of Hieronymus but what that inmtermediary found interesting and also then what suited Diodoros. The details preserved in 18-20 come, ultimately, from a source that was well into detail (thus the many chronological markers for example). That source has not survived famously being described as a bore by Dionysius of Halikarnassos (who won't have bothered to have him copied I suspect!).

As Diocletiansbetterthanyou has pointed out, we are lucky that enough was thought of Polybios that what we have has survived. Hieronymus suffered from a terrible Neilsen rating and has not. Diodoros, copied countless times, exists in two main manuscripts but unfortunately has suffered the fate of Polybios in that much, much more has not survived. The Oxyrhyncus historian wound up in a garbage dump while Xenophon has survived nearly unscathed. Such are the vagaries of written source presevation. The pitiful amount remaining to us should never be dismissed as "crap" or "Boys' Own" rubbish. Rather we should savour that information which remains to us - always with the understanding of their provenance, biases and faults. Rewriting them to suit a preconceived notion does not apply that understanding; rather undermines the entire process.
Don't trust history. Trust fact. For decades, archaeologists had stated there was no real evidence of an Anglo-Saxon Invasion of England. This opinion was dismissed because the written word was considered more important than scientific evidence. We now know that there was no Anglo Saxon invasion of Britain, and every Medieval written record that states so is a lie.

OTOH we should savour the written accounts of the time as colour, ie an insight into opinions and politics of that time, rather than actual fact.
 
Nov 2011
837
The Bluff
Don't trust history. Trust fact. For decades, archaeologists had stated there was no real evidence of an Anglo-Saxon Invasion of England. This opinion was dismissed because the written word was considered more important than scientific evidence. We now know that there was no Anglo Saxon invasion of Britain, and every Medieval written record that states so is a lie.

OTOH we should savour the written accounts of the time as colour, ie an insight into opinions and politics of that time, rather than actual fact.
After all the effort put into this thread, that is the best you can put together? Folding your arms and saying "So what? I don't care because I don't trust history"? On that basis, there's little for you here.
 
Don't trust history. Trust fact. For decades, archaeologists had stated there was no real evidence of an Anglo-Saxon Invasion of England. This opinion was dismissed because the written word was considered more important than scientific evidence. We now know that there was no Anglo Saxon invasion of Britain, and every Medieval written record that states so is a lie.

OTOH we should savour the written accounts of the time as colour, ie an insight into opinions and politics of that time, rather than actual fact.
No-one is saying that ancient written accounts are perfect. In my own research, I can think of many occasions where Lactantius, Aurelius Victor and other fourth century AD histories have been proven false by coinage, inscriptions, laws, the testimony of other written accounts as well as logic and general common-sense. But there is also a lot in these accounts that have been shown to be true, or at least probably true. As a general rule, I'm not going to dismiss something in a written account unless there is good reason to do so, and I have not been convinced that there is a good reason to dismiss Livy (and by probable extension Polybius) on the Battle of Zama.
 

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