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Dark Age Warfare
I've been reading Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece lately and its made me wonder about Dark Age warfare, especially the sources. The contributors universally talk about the duels between the aristocrats. Nowhere is there any mention of the possibility of massed warfare. However, massed warfare in the Dark Age would seem to fit the mold well. The contributors to the book accept that the Iliad is at least partially a reflection of contemporary reality, and there is much massed combat within that poem. Many of the contributors even believe that, while the focus of the poem is on the heroes, it is the nameless masses that are the real drivers of combat. In addition, previously existing massed warfare would solve the chicken and egg problem that much of the hoplite panoply (especially the Corinthian helmet) was created for massed combat rather than individual duels. However, the possibility of the phalanx being a simple evolution of previous Dark Age combat rather than an entirely new formation is not considered within the book. So what are our sources for Dark Age warfare that have caused scholars to not even consider the possibility of massed combat during the Greek Dark Age?

There is no Dark Age. It is an artificial construct to help reconcile the discrepancies between the Egyptian chronology and the others. The Trojan War and "the Catastrophe" likely happened in the 10th C. James et al. outlined the problem the best in Centuries of Darkness but there are plenty of other attempts to address the chronology issues.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
Hi Ethan,

The trouble with any Dark Age is that we have almost no written sources for it - that's why it's a dark age. People, especially in the 19th century, have then tended to extrapolate from the lack of written evidence that Dark Ages, especially when they follow a seemingly glorious period like the Mycenaean palaces or the Roman Empire, were a period when everyone spontaneously forgot about human achievements and reverted to a much more primitive existence. I exaggerate slightly, but only just according to a mate of mine who's a post-Roman archaeologist, and hates the term 'Dark Age' with a passion.

The same goes for Dark Age or Archaic warfare - those who do write about it are writing much later, and very rarely give us much military insight. Thucydides mentions the late 8th century Lelantine War, for example, as does Herodotus, but without giving any real tactical detail or combat descriptions. Homer is by far the best source we have, but his reliability has been seriously questioned over the years; it was once thought that Homeric warfare was completely stylised, but that has been very much challenged lately - "The Homeric Way of War: The Iliad and the Hoplite Phalanx" by Hans Van Wees gives a good run down. Particularly, he points out that descriptions of individual combats and duels is perfectly compatible with massed combat in a reasonably tight formation.

I personally think we get our Zomata in a twist a bit about the differences between Dark Age/Archaic warfare and the Classical Phalanx; the Greeks don't seem to agonise over the details of a military revolution of some sort - if they did, we'd have a lot more information to go on. Homer uses the term Phalanx to describe a general massed battle line, as do most Greek authors if they use it at all. The picture of the uniformly-armed serried ranks of hoplites in perfect formation seems to owe more to artistic license than reality, where even the best-drilled Spartiates would have difficulty maintaining parade-ground dressing under combat conditions. As for phalanx warfare being all about 'othismos' or a giant formation pushing match - that seems to me to be a misunderstanding along the same lines as the one about "push of pike" in the early modern period; if your soldiers’ primary job is to get face to face with their opponents and push them back physically like a gigantic rugby scrum, you don’t arm them with an eight foot long stabbing spear that they won't be able to use. There is no reason why hoplite equipment cannot be used one-on-one, whilst the idea of a massed battle line is common to pretty much every ancient army from Sumer onwards.

Long story short: I think “Dark Age” combat has been overly individualised, whilst Classical combat has been overly “massed”. Homer’s still your best source  Smile

Teacher of Latin, Ancient Greek and Ancient History. All-round fan of all things Classical, especially Military History. Aspiring/dreaming writer of Historical Fiction.

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