We’re often presented with a romanticized view of history and warfare, with films such as Braveheart and Gladiator depicting wars in a way that doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.
But some myths persist despite the hard evidence disproving them—myths about historical warfare that have passed from generation to generation.
Here is a list of a few of the myths that bother me.
Myth #1: That Ancient Armies Were Primitive Backwaters
One of the more persistent myths about historical warfare is that warriors from antiquity used primitive weapons and tactics. This is not true!
Although there have been some changes throughout the centuries, tactics such as flanking manoeuvres and early missile weapons have been utilized since ancient times.
The Spartans were well-known for their meticulously organized phalanx formations, and the Romans employed fields of stakes to prevent cavalry attacks. Many ancient armies were far from primitive!
Myth #2: That You Had to be Hugely Strong to Fight in Battle
This myth persists even though archaeological evidence shows that men fought in battle without being incredibly strong or muscular.
Strength wasn’t necessarily an important factor in winning battles since skill at arms was often more important than sheer strength or size when fighting against an enemy.
Many warriors who were considered highly skilled fighters weren’t particularly robust!
Myth #3: That Shields Weren’t Efficient
Another myth is that shields were inefficient because they gave weary warriors too much weight to carry.
However, this is also untrue because shields allowed warriors to protect themselves while using their other hand for an offence.
Furthermore, shields provided vital protection against missiles and arrows during battle, allowing combatants to cover part of their bodies until they could restore order on the battlefield.
Myth #4: Warfare Has Always Been Brutal & Savage
This final myth suggests that warfare has always been savagely brutal, but this couldn’t be further from the truth!
War can become brutal when combatants get desperate or bloodthirsty enough, but generally speaking. It has always been an art. It is not just a wild game of survival.
From Sun Tzu’s Art of War in ancient China to rules for 18th-century European officers designed by Frederick the Great, a long history shows us how humans have developed war into an art form over time. Rather than simply attacking each other with savagery and brutality alone.
Myth #5: That Women Were Not Allowed to Fight in Battle
This is another myth that has been disproven by historical evidence. Women have fought in battles throughout history, from the Amazons of Greek mythology to the female warriors of the Dahomey kingdom in Africa.
Many examples of women who were highly skilled and successful warriors, such as Joan of Arc and Boudicca. Women have always been a part of warfare, and this myth should be put to rest once and for all!
Myth #6: That Ancient Armies Were Unorganized
That Ancient Armies Were Unorganized is a common misconception about historical warfare. While it is true that some ancient armies were less organized than their modern counterparts, many of them had highly sophisticated tactics and strategies.
The Assyrians, for example, employed complex siege techniques such as building ramps to scale walls and battering rams to break through gates. The Romans also had a well-developed military organization and discipline system, which allowed them to conquer vast swathes of territory.
What bothers me about this myth is that it perpetuates the idea that women were incapable of fighting in battle when they have been doing so for centuries.
This misconception has led to the exclusion of women from many aspects of warfare, including leadership roles and combat positions. By perpetuating this myth, we are denying women the opportunity to participate in and contribute to warfare in a meaningful way.
Myth #7: That Ancient Armies Were Primitive
This myth suggests that ancient armies were primitive and lacked the sophistication of modern armies. However, this is far from the truth!
Ancient armies had complex strategies and tactics, such as siege warfare, flanking manoeuvres, and cavalry charges. They also employed sophisticated weapons such as catapults, battering rams, and crossbows.
What bothers me about this myth is that it implies that ancient armies were not capable of the same level of sophistication as modern armies when they had many of the same tactics and strategies.
This misconception can lead to a lack of appreciation for the skill and ingenuity of ancient warriors, which is an injustice to their legacy.
Myth #8: That Ancient Warfare Was Always Brutal
Contrary to the popular belief that ancient warfare was always brutal, some ancient armies used morality and non-lethal force to avoid heavy casualties.
Ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu stressed rational strategies such as deception and outsmarting opponents to win battles instead of relying on bloody violence.
Similarly, Romans were known for their organization and discipline during battles; this prevented soldiers from rushing in recklessly and suffering unnecessary casualties. So while there were examples of brutality in ancient warfare, it is wrong to say that all ancient warfare was brutally violent.
Myth #9: That The Strongest Side Always won Ancient Warfare
This myth is particularly pervasive, suggesting that the side with the most powerful army would always win in ancient warfare. However, this could not be further from the truth! While it is true that having a strong and well-equipped army was important, many other factors played a role in determining the outcome of a battle.
For example, strategy and tactics were just as important as strength and numbers. Ancient armies often employed complex strategies such as feigned retreats and ambushes to gain the upper hand against their enemies.
Furthermore, many ancient battles were won by smaller forces that were able to outwit their opponents rather than overpower them.
Overall, it is clear that the myth about ancient warfare being won by the strongest side is simply untrue.
Myth #10: That Ancient Warfare Was Always Fair
This myth is particularly pervasive, as it suggests that ancient warfare was always a fair and equal affair.
However, this could not be further from the truth! While there were certainly some battles that were fought with honor and respect, many ancient wars were incredibly brutal and one-sided affairs.
For example, in the Middle Ages, knights often had access to superior weapons and armour, which gave them a huge advantage over their opponents. Many ancient civilizations used scorched earth policies and siege warfare to gain the upper hand against their enemies.
Overall, it is clear that the myth about ancient warfare being fair is simply untrue.
Myth #11: That Ancient Warfare Was Always Decisive
The myth that ancient warfare was always decisive is one of the most pervasive myths about historical warfare. This misconception implies that all ancient battles were fought with a clear winner and loser when many ancient wars were drawn out with no clear victor.
For example, during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, neither side gained a decisive victory despite years of fighting.
Overall, it is clear that the myth about ancient warfare being decisive is simply untrue.