For many people, their ideas about what ancient warfare was like come from the epic tales of vast fields of battle and courageous warriors dueling one another. This romanticized version of history has become something that most people nowadays accept to be true without a second thought, even though the reality is far from what they may think.
These myths of warfare in the past have largely come from our literature and the many film adaptations from these monumental written works. Yet, as harmless as it may seem, modern perceptions about ancient battles have blinded us to many of the realities of our collective past.
Romanticizing War Throughout History
The romanticizing of warfare is not at all a new concept. Even Homer’s epics, written around 2,800 years ago, were filled with exaggerated tales of brave men fighting and dying by the sword.
That trend continued even into today, with Tolkien’s works serving as the main inspiration for many of the modern world’s stories of warfare in the distant past. These stories of vast armies charging at one another and fighting until one had been beaten into oblivion are certainly thrilling, and of course there is no necessity for fiction to be accurate.
However, much of the public’s knowledge about how our ancestors waged war comes only from these fictitious works. And, as one might expect, the truth is far from what fantasy would have you believe.
Misconceptions of Ancient War
The inaccuracies are far too plentiful to be thoroughly discussed in a single article, but the overall notion is the thing that needs most attention. Most people nowadays think of ancient warfare almost as gentlemen’s conduct.
Those who took up arms were men of the highest morality, who fought their battles with honor not seen in today’s world. Even those who were supposed to have emulated this the best, such as medieval European knights, were far from this, though. They were just as any man thrown into war would be like.
Some fought only because they had to, and were cowards on the battlefield. Others were bloodthirsty monsters of men who committed the most violent and senseless acts imaginable. There was no one way in which the warriors of the past acted.
The Culprit of Misinformation
Here can be found the greatest threat in misunderstanding the past. We tend to think of the conduct of ancient warfare as something that was universal among all people. I
n fact, the way in which wars were fought varied wildly between different states and different periods of history that are barely distinguishable from each other by most modern people. To make wide generalizations about things that have been vital to the development of our nations and cultures is not as harmless as it may seem.
The problem lies not with the literature itself though, but our interpretations of it and the assumptions we’ve made because of it. Perhaps the true culprit of our many cultural misconceptions about the world around us is ourselves.
Literature and film is not to blame for all that we think we know but do not. We are to blame, and the only way for us to correct this blame is to educate ourselves on all that we, as individuals, deem worthy of being educated about.