Intermezzo – a war like no other

In the previous post your narrator has written an intermezzo about the self-image of world class amateur oarsmen, who with (almost) every effort want to be selected for the race teams which will compete for the victory of an annual rowing race on the Thames. This post is about the self-image of people involved in violence and participation in warfare.

Violence and warfare between people exist as long a mankind [1]. The hunter-gatherers appear to live in a relative peaceful co-existence. Once your narrator read that a researcher has interviewed a peaceful living elderly woman that still lived in a hunting and gathering society about violence in her life. She said to live a peaceful life. The investigator asked her about the men in her life. She told that she was married to three men: the first husband was killed during a conflict with another tribe, her second husband was killed by her third husband when he wanted to occupy the place of her second husband. Now she lived happily and peacefully with her third husband.

The cattle-raid that is part of the rituals within the cattle cycle, is probably accompagnied with violence and bloodshed between people [2]. The first myths and sagas – such as the Gilgamesh Epic, the Iliad, the Mahābhārata and the Old Testament of the Bible are full of violence and warfare. These myths describe not only the meaning of life, the motives of our ancestors and trust and mistrust, but they also imprints a self-image for the listeners. They give meaning and interpretations to warfare and violence, and they provide to the listeners archetypes of meaning to their own life – including meaning to life and death by violence and acts of warfare. In the Mahābhārata a warrior acquires immortal fame at the moment women mourn him in shrill cries when fallen on the battlefield and weep over his life boasting his former beautiful appearance [3]. A contemporary reflection of this, the first protagonist heard in a video which is shown in the Memorial building at the military cemetery next to Omaha Beach at Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy in France: one of the survivors called the fallen the real heroes of the war.

Another example of the great importance that heroic deeds in warfare is granted upon, is the philosopher Socrates.


Socrates lived from about 470 BC to 399 BC in Athens. He is famous as a philosopher. Socrates himself valued his deeds on the battlefield during the Peloponnesian War higher than his contribution to philosophy. In his middle age, Socrates partook in the battle of Delium [5] as a hoplite – see image below.


At the time of Socrates most freemen had a weapon equipment in which they – reasonably  protected by a bronze helmet, shield and breast and leg plates – took part in battle very close together. Each fighter had to partly seek protection behind the shield of his neighbour.

Formerly in Greece combats between two villages took place on e.g. disagreements on the right to use a field. The men of both villages met on this field early in the morning. In battle order – with their heavy armour on – they tried to prevail similar to a rugby-scrum.


At the moment a party broke their line and the losing party fled, the real blood thirst started within the winning party. On the run most victims fell among the losers. By running away abandoning their heavy armour, the losing party could leave the battlefield. The dead number among the losers was often 10% of the fighters. The losses among the victors were much less. Probably reality was much crueller than the stylized descriptions.

During the battle of Delium in 424 BC – in which about 14,000 hoplites took part – the lines of Athens rotated under pressure so that a part of the Athenians attacked their own lines. This confusion caused that the Athenians fled. During this very chaotic flight, Socrates quitely held the honour as hoplite by retreating fighting with group of co-fighters in a quiet fashion and guarding all attacks [8]. Here, too, the myth described in Plato’s Symposion is probably be more stylized than reality. The Athens lost around 1000 men; more bloodshed was prevented due to late start of the battle and the onset of darkness.

The following post continues on the Peloponnesian war.

[1] See also: Keegan, John, A History of Warfare. London: Pimlico, 2004

[2] See also the posts Rituels – Part 2 dd. 27 March 2011 and Three – Dubio transcendit dd. 28 April 2011.

[3] Source: McGrath, Kevin, STR women in Epic Mahâbhârata. Cambridge: Ilex Foundation, 2009 p. 25

[4] Source image:

[5] See also:

[6] Source image:

[7] Photo made by Maree Reveley. See:

[8] Sources: Hanson, Victor Davies, The wars of the ancient Greeks. London: Cassell & Co, 2000 p. 112-113 and Lendon, J.E., Song of Wrath – the Peloponnesian war begins. New York: Basic Books, 2010 p. 314


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