Which ancient historical battles are corroborated by mass graves ?

Dan Howard

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Aug 2014
5,153
Australia
The "reported" casualties of some of these battles run in the 10s of thousands... So there must have been mass burials....
Fatalities were rarely more than 5%, and that was for the loser. When an army was "decimated" (losing one in ten), it was considered a particularly devastating battle. When the percentage of deaths was so low, it was easy for the rest of the army to take the bodies away for proper burial. Any bodies that were left were scattered by animals. Mass graves are a lot rarer than many think. Wisby is one of the better-known examples.
 
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tomar

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Jan 2011
14,301
Fatalities were rarely more than 5%, and that was for the loser. When an army was "decimated" (losing one in ten), it was considered a particularly devastating battle. When the percentage of deaths was so low, it was easy for the rest of the army to take the bodies away for proper burial. Any bodies that were left were scattered by animals. Mass graves are a lot rarer than many think. Wisby is one of the better-known examples.
Not if you take ancient texts at face value... Battles of anhilation are not uncommon (e.g. Cannae or in fact many battles of the second punic war such as trasimene where 50%+ are reported dead on the roman side, or trebia 70%+ or Zama 50%+ on the carthaginian side, or Ilipa again 70%+ on the carthaginian side).... Also, the loser would typically leave the battlefield (and often times run away) so only the winners could afford proper burial for their dead, and presumably would not care much about fallen ennemies....
 
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Matthew Amt

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Jan 2015
3,074
MD, USA
Not if you take ancient texts at face value... Battles of anhilation are not uncommon (e.g. Cannae or in fact many battles of the second punic war such as trasimene where 50%+ are reported dead on the roman side, or trebia 70%+ or Zama 50%+ on the carthaginian side, or Ilipa again 70%+ on the carthaginian side).... Also, the loser would typically leave the battlefield (and often times run away) so only the winners could afford proper burial for their dead, and presumably would not care much about fallen ennemies....
I'm more likely to take ancient sources at face value than some folks, but battles with that sort of massive death numbers were pretty rare. Cannae is one exception which always gets mentioned, of course, in large part because that whole campaign was unusually well-documented.

Keep in mind that it was a Greek custom to concede defeat by asking the winners permission to gather your dead for burial. And of course the winners would collect their own, plus discarded weaponry (mostly for deposition in temples). And we don't often hear of mass graves on the spot for that purpose, either. One fascinating case is a tomb in Athens which has been excavated in modern times, containing a small number of Spartans (9? 12? I forget...) who died in an attack there. There is a nicely detailed surviving account of the battle, AND a description of the tomb! It don't get much better than that. But it was also a pretty small action, not a huge mass slaughter.

Matthew
 
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Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,153
Australia
Not if you take ancient texts at face value... Battles of anhilation are not uncommon (e.g. Cannae or in fact many battles of the second punic war such as trasimene where 50%+ are reported dead on the roman side, or trebia 70%+ or Zama 50%+ on the carthaginian side, or Ilipa again 70%+ on the carthaginian side).... Also, the loser would typically leave the battlefield (and often times run away) so only the winners could afford proper burial for their dead, and presumably would not care much about fallen ennemies....
A few exceptions don't make the rule; your first post already answered the question. If your above examples were common, we would be finding more mass graves. We haven't been finding them because they never existed.
 
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MG1962a

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Mar 2019
2,392
Kansas
A few exceptions don't make the rule; your first post already answered the question. If your above examples were common, we would be finding more mass graves. We haven't been finding them because they never existed.
And even if mass graves existed the location of many of these battles is tenuous. The battlefield at Hastings has never turned up one archaeological item relating to the battle. Bosworth, a far younger battle has until very recently had similar results
 

Matthew Amt

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Jan 2015
3,074
MD, USA
Plus, it should be noted that even bones do not survive for centuries in many soil conditions. It would take an extraordinary stroke of luck to find a grave with almost nothing in it. Heck, it's lucky enough finding large archeological features as it is!

I should note that I think the original question is an interesting one! Just wish we had more examples to list.

Matthew
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,153
Australia
Think about it. Who would be digging these mass graves?

The winners won't. They loot the losing corpses and take their own comrades back with them for a proper burial.
The losers won't. They have already fled or been taken captive.
The locals won't. They pick over the bodies and leave them to rot. At best they would dump them into a nearby river or pile them off to the side so they can replough the field. Maybe take a few limbs back for their dogs and pigs to eat.
 
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Matthew Amt

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Jan 2015
3,074
MD, USA
Think about it. Who would be digging these mass graves?

The winners won't. They loot the losing corpses and take their own comrades back with them for a proper burial.
The losers won't. They have already fled or been taken captive.
The locals won't. They pick over the bodies and leave them to rot. At best they would dump them into a nearby river or pile them off to the side so they can replough the field. Maybe take a few limbs back for their dogs and pigs to eat.
Well, I'm not sure I'd go *that* far! Many people felt that a decent burial was a moral duty. The winners may have dug some holes for that reason, or just to clean the place up if they were staying. Locals wouldn't want corpses rotting in the open, if only because their dogs would be bringing home "presents". The losers might ask for a truce to bury their dead, or captives might have done the work for the winners. And I think people were a lot less timid about digging big holes back then than we might be today! Shovels are cheap.

Matthew
 
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