Alright, going to pick up again live-tweeting my reactions to the next few videos in Steven Pressfield's 'The Warrior Archteype series.' I looked at the first five videos last time here:
The short summary of the first five videos is that they presented a utopian Sparta, almost entirely from Plutarch, read very uncritically & thus fell prey to the Myths of Spartan Equality and Spartan Military Excellence, which I have already exploded here:…
Now I want to change up my tone a little bit because in the first posts I was rather flip and dismissive and I want to offer a bit more intellectual charity here.

Now on to 'Episode Six' which is...oh good heavens...which is "Come and Take Them." Because of course it is.
He opens by presenting 'Molon Labe' (still being questionably pronounced 'Molan Labe' rather than mol-own lah-bay) as something we absolutely know Leonidas said.

Tricky. μολὼν λαβέ does not appear in Herodotus, our best source for Thermopylae.
Instead, the saying is reported by Plutarch (surprise, more Plutarch read uncritically). Now while Herodotus wrote about the battle probably around 50 years after it happened (and doesn't include the phrase), Plutarch is writing c. 100 **AD**, 580 years later.
Needless to say, Plutarch - who gives no sense of his source and is often willing to rely on hearsay and legend - can hardly be considered reliable at this point.

So we cannot be confident that Leonidas even said that thing at that moment (or ever).

Not a great start.
"A force of 300 picked Spartan warriors, supported by 4,000 other Greek allies..."

That's going to be a hard no. Herodotus gives (excluding the Spartans) 2,800 Peloponnesians, 1,100 Boeotians, 1,000 Phocians, 'the full force' of the Locrians, plus the fleet.
Plus we know there were other Lacedaemonians (Perioikoi) there, around a thousand.

That's no less than 5,900 non-Spartiates on land - unclear why we get no number for the Locrians - plus the (mostly Athenian) fleet at Artemisium (271 ships, c. 50,000 men).
Diodorus gives a fuller - but perhaps not more accurate? - accounting and lands at 7,400.

So 300 Spartans, supported by c. 6-7k other land troops, supported in turn by c. 50,000 sailors and marines, for a combined operational strength of almost 60,000.
And as Herodotus is quick to note, Thermopylae was *not* imagined as a delaying action. The small force there expected new troops to arrive day by day. The plan - which failed catastrophically - was to hold Xerxes *indefinitely* at the pass.
"An invading army of what Herodotus named 2 million Persians."

Two problems.

1) Absolutely no modern historian believes Herodotus on this point. Much smaller.

2) He's gotten Herodotus wrong too - Herodotus is very clear about the multi-ethnic nature of this army.
He lists out all of the various peoples that Xerxes has brought, of which the Persians were only a small minority.

I could excuse this if it was '2 million Persian Soldiers' - where we might imagine 'Persian' means 'in service of the Persian state'...
But '2 million Persians' without that word 'soldiers' implies ethnic Persians, which is an incorrect characterization of Herodotus.

Which is, again, a double error, since Herodotus is telling tall-tales. So Pressfield has given a false report of a false report.
We are 50 seconds into this video, guys. Jeepers.
"The Spartans died there, to the last man, as they knew they would..."

NO. Herodotus is clear: the Greeks expected to achieve decisive victory at Thermopylae. The 300 Spartans left Sparta expecting to win and come home.

This was not a suicide mission, just a disastrous defeat.
"by their sacrifice...and they saved Western Civilization."

Even if you buy the 'western civ' narrative hook, line and sinker (and you should be skeptical) this line is still bunk.

The western Med. - Syracuse, Rome, Etruria, Carthage - just peachy if Persia takes Greece.
I think this is a problem in how the ancient Med. is taught, with Greece first and then Rome, which gives a sense that the one happened and then the other.

By Thermopylae, the Roman Republic had been founded, Syracuse was 300+ years old, Carthage about as old.
"If there's such a thing as a good war, this was was entirely defensive."

Uh, this conflict started because Athens funded rebel proxy groups in Persian territory and then Sparta backed them when the Persians got upset. Not *entirely* defensive.
"It was against overwhelming odds" and thus heroic.

Or stupid? I come back to this, but Thermopylae was just a really bad plan - forward defense with a half-formed up army in an exposed position giving pitched battle while wildly outnumbered.
"Had the Persians won, there would have been no such thing as democracy."

Ok, 1) democracy already existed by this point - Cleisthenes' reforms, typically taken as the start of Athenian democracy, were in 508.

But 2) Persia did not generally interfere with internal government.
Greek poleis would have continued to have their assemblies and their councils and so on. There were Greek democracies under Persian rule!

They were not independent, of course - and this is a meaningful distinction - but they existed!
Also, the Spartans: not fans of democracy. The idea of the Spartans as 'defenders of democracy' is pretty laughable - the Spartan Cleomenes had tried to strangle Athenian democracy in its crib in 510 and 506.
"No such thing as the rights of man"

Natural Law has antecedents in Greek philosophy (though it only appears in full in Roman writing), but that philosophy was stoicism - one of the 'philosophies of comfort' that emerges as a response to the loss of Greek liberty to Alexander.
Unlike the Romans, the Greeks didn't have a strongly developed idea of a 'ius gentium' ('Law of Peoples'), that is, a law that held and bound all peoples regardless of citizenship of ethnicity.

So, no, 'human rights' weren't saved at Thermopylae.
He comes back to the idea that the Spartans knew they were going to die (they didn't) and it is his central point about this battle.

So...the whole argument collapses because he didn't read Herodotus very closely.
'The Spartans fought in a very dense compact mass'

Two issues. First, if I don't note real uncertainty about how battle worked in 480, @Roelkonijn is going to bop me on the head. I think it is plausible that something like a phalanx was in use by this point, but we don't know.
The bigger issue is that this style of fighting when it did emerge was not unique to the Spartans. It was not some unique Spartan warrior formation.

It was how every Greek fought, including the potters and bakers the Spartans *despised* with all of their being.
'Now the Spartan shield'

GREEK shield. Spartan aspides were not special.

Oak as the material for Spartan shields. No.

Shield woods were generally light and that went double for the already heavy aspis. Pliny says poplar, we have an example from Sicily with willow.
He goes on for a bit on the qualities of oak, which is rather pointless given the previous point.

Also, he declares that 'nothing is going to penetrate this' which flies in the face of both some combat narratives in the sources and modern tests. Shields are good, not perfect.
Making declarative statements about the grips (overhand/underhand) of hoplite weapons.

This is something that drives me absolutely nuts about pop-history like this: confident statements about points of real uncertainty.

*Probably* overhand was more common, as in art.
On this debate, note @Roelkonijn 's r/AskHistorians realtalk here:…
'How did the Persians fight..they fought as archers, primarily.'

Wild oversimplification of a complex, combined arms Achaemenid army that incorporated light infantry, missile troops, what I'd call 'medium' infantry, skirmish cavalry, etc.
The general point here - that Achaemenid armies were more 'fire' oriented and Greek armies more 'shock' oriented is, I think, sound, but the degree of difference is wildly overstated.
'They might have a leather jerkin that they wore'

FFS. 'Leather Jerkin' is mostly a thing in Dungeons and Dragons. No serious student of historical armor uses this phrase, except for very early modern things like buff coats.

So no, not leather jerkins.
I'd say, conservatively, 75% references to leather armor I see are bunk; most often the armor in question is actually textile.

Not to say there weren't leather armors! Hardened leather, buff coats, leather lamellar, sure...but the DnD imagined leather is vastly overgeneralized.
"Leonidas seems like he was a quotation machine" - as related in legend by an author 600 years later and this prompts no suspicion or critical thinking at all?

That video was 8 minutes and 16 seconds long and I count 18 points of either error or significant misrepresentation.

I expected to get through more of these tonight, but the next batch will have to wait.
Before I bounce out, I should note that, after six videos about the Spartans - looking at the list, a lot of these are about Sparta - still no mention of the 80-90% of Spartan society which were not Spartiates.

Or any mention the Spartans had slaves at all.

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More from @BretDevereaux

11 Jan
Alright, I think it's time to get more ancient stuff on this twitter, so I'm going to start sharing some of my favorite ancient artifacts.

Let's start with BM 2001,0501.1: The Braganza Brooch:… 1/12 Image
The brooch was part of the collection of the House of Braganza (the kings of Portugal). How it got there, I don't believe we know, but based on the piece itself, it was likely manufactured in the third century BCE. 2/12
It has a warrior on it, equipped in La Tene Material culture (read: Gallic) style. The artist has taken care to render the kit very accurately: the odd Gallic scabbard suspension is recreated correctly (despite not being shared by the Romans or Greeks)... 3/12 Image
Read 13 tweets
10 Jan
Thucydides (3.82.7) has a line about civil strife, "revenge was held better than avoiding harm in the first place and oaths of reconciliation, being offered only to meet a current setback, held good only while there was no other weapon to hand."

Lot of that going around now.
When Marco Rubio thought he was winning, he was all, "We Love What They Did" about violence and intimidation (…), now that he's losing and has "no other weapon to hand" he's all about forgiveness and 'unity.'
You know who didn't do that?➡️Joe freakin' Biden⬅️. @JoeBiden was for the same program of justice, accountability and unity today as he was during the general election.

He was for the law when the rioters were supposedly on 'his side' and when they were on 'the other side.'
Read 4 tweets
10 Jan
Eash. Don't do that.

My pedagogy on this point isn't by any means perfect, but my method has been to focus on the experience of slavery for the enslaved people - use the sources to talk about varying conditions, norms, etc.

I treat 'slavery is bad' as a self-evident premise.
Of course we also talk about ancient attitudes towards slavery, how it was generally treated as normal and even how it was justified - but from the premise that we, possessed of greater understanding, know that slavery is, in fact, bad.
Which, to be honest, if you take an enslaved-person-centric approach to ancient slavery and just give the students sources (e.g.…), the premise really is self-evident, given how awful a lot of the treatment is.
Read 4 tweets
7 Jan
So I'm seeing the same set of reactions to the line "this isn't what America is" which is to respond with the obvious truth that...well, yes it is.

The United States has been lots of things, good and bad and this sad moment is one of them.

But I think that misses the point. 1/
I was struck, in reading Andrew Wolpert's Remembering Defeat (2001), in how central the act of communal redefinition was to restoring the Athenian democracy in the aftermath of the Thirty Tyrants. 2/
In speech after speech, inscription after inscription, that same formula - 'that is/isn't what we are' - recurs. The 'real Athens,' speakers insisted, was the one that had lived in exile, the one that had remained committed to the democracy. Not the Thirty. 3/
Read 8 tweets
6 Jan
Since y'all wanted me to write about the silly idea of the 'universal warrior' and warrior vs. soldier dichotomy, and it came up in the context of Steven Pressfield's silly video...I am now watching his video series.

Y'all do not know the pains I go through to educate the public
Seriously, he opens by treating Plutarch's Sayings of Spartan Women entirely uncritically as a representation of Spartan culture pre-490.

That is the very first thing he does and it causes me physical pain.
Also, he's calling Sparta a warrior culture, which...I hate Sparta. A lot. I am on record on this point.

But even I would contend that the Spartans were soldiers, not warriors.
Read 39 tweets
4 Jan
This thing!

Sanctions have their uses (mostly actually as a diplomatic tool for bloc-building, I'd argue), but as a means of suasion, they really only work on issues an adversary considers relatively unimportant.
That said, I think there is a tendency to confuse sanctions-as-suasion vs. sanctions-as-economic-warfare (not being made by @EmmaMAshford here, to be clear), because we often pretend we're doing the former when we're really doing the later.
"We are going to intentionally crater the economy of X so they have less resources to do Y" is a fairly reasonable strategic maneuver, but not a very politic one given that
1) the pain falls on regular people and
2) admitting the goal is essentially admitting to hostilities.
Read 4 tweets

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