My Problem With Battles ...

I've been grappling with Marius' battles for a while.

One rather pompous male British historian patted me on the knee whilst so terribly kindly explaining to me that the problem is girls just aren't meant to be interested in politics or war ...
Actually my problem is with men like him.

And, more importantly, with some of the ancient accounts.

For the Jugurthine War, we have extensive descriptions by Sallust but are still not sure which town was where, so the terrain of many of the battles is unknown and has to be reconstructed solely from his text.

With another battle, that took place in Rome, I made the mistake of comparing the description to my map of the city ... and realised that since I had the terrain, I could be certain that a large chunk of the description had to be missing (unless a cohort was magically able to teleport from one side of the river to the other).

Battles can be very hard to reconstruct, even with the very good software available these days. The best description of the difficulties in doing so comes from Adrian Murdoch, writing about the battle in which Julian the Apostate died, in The Last Pagan (2005, pp. 185-6):

If it is always hard to look into the past and get a satisfactory answer to questions of where people were and when, let alone why they were there; it is doubly difficult to do so for battle scenes. Your eye-witnesses are invariably preoccupied, trying not to succumb to one of the many invitations to death that combat offers, rather than taking accurate notes for future historians. If this makes any first-hand accounts of a battle of dubious reliability, it holds particularly true for accounts by contemporaries who relied on those eye-witnesses. The hero returning from the military is hardly likely to confess to the prodding questions of would-be historians that he spent the battle hiding behind auxiliary wagons, for example, and inevitably an element of fictionalisation creeps in.

When one has to add misinformed speculation, deliberate propaganda and pure fiction into the mix, it gives some idea of the near-impossibility of the task of deducing what happened ...

Adrian is one of my favorite writers, and I would highly recommend his book to anyone wishing to learn more about Julian, the last gasp of paganism before the conversion of the Roman Empire into a fully Christian Byzantine one:

The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World - Amazon.com
The Last Pagan - Amazon.co.uk

I had been saving the image to illustrate a post about religion, but it is equally apt here. It of course comes from Sign Spotting.

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