Why I love Ancient Warfare
Five years ago today then-editor of Ancient Warfare Josho Brouwers wrote a well-reasoned blog about why Ancient Warfare is an important topic for study among all other topics in the ancient world. It’s all very true, but for me, stating why something is academically worthwhile, does not explain why it tugs at the heartstrings. Thousands of you read this magazine every two months (you don’t? Shame on you — get a subscription!), thousands more paint scale hoplites for their display case or tabletop battlefield, hundreds go to great lengths to reconstruct legionary kit and live the experience, you travel to ancient sites and museums, read endless books, or play ancient-themed strategy games. That can’t just be because it’s academically important, surely?
We’re discussing the topic this Friday on the Ancient Warfare podcast, and I thought I’d try to put in words what I’ve been asked with some regularity over the last twenty-odd years: why do you love Ancient Warfare? Well, first of all, Ancient Warfare magazine is my baby, warts and all, so I’m bound to love it, aren’t I? Har, har... With that out of the way, what is it about those soldiers so long ago that keeps me coming back? As a proper historian, I should probably try to go back to the beginning.
What came before
As far as I can remember, I've always been interested in history. I had the classic combo: a teacher in primary school who loved history and enjoyed telling about it, and at home both my dad and my grandfathers were very interested in history. One of the latter had even made it his profession (Dutch only), and there was a general sense of family history around (e.g. here and here). In short, it's pretty amazing my younger brother is only now getting interested in history!
Where the particular interest in military history comes from, I can't explain. It's just always been there. My main interests have drifted, but World War 2 and Napoleonic history were there from the start. In my mind's eye, I also see myself on vacation in my tent reading a library copy of Peter Connolly's The Roman Army (admit it, were you waiting for that name to drop?) but it took a little longer to settle in. Undoubtedly that had something to do with the lack of easily available reading material, this being the dark days before the internet, and the village library not being equipped for my tastes. But then there was university.
At the time, history students had to select their area of specialisation. The 'ancients' professor at the time was known for passionate lectures on warfare using any available accessories. Come time to choose, I asked him if an MA thesis on an ancient military topic was possible. It was, without doubt. That sealed the deal. I initially considered a thesis on ancient cavalry, but in the end ended up with the Roman imperial navy.
From there, my interest fairly spiralled out of control. RomanArmyTalk was founded the same month I graduated (though I didn't know it yet), and I signed up as member number 43 or 44 I think. Finding people worldwide with a similar interest certainly didn't hurt. Having a job and finding Amazon was perhaps a mixed blessing, but left me with lots of interesting books. For me, learning more about a topic makes it yet more interesting, which creates a sort of self-perpetuating and deepening interest.
The members of Romanarmytalk organised meetings once in a while and a few years later, at a dinner in of all places Niagara Falls (it's true!), the idea of a magazine dedicated to our mutual interest came up. I had been a business magazine editor for about five years, and there was perhaps serendipity...
Does that explain why I love ancient warfare? Maybe not. I could talk about being fascinated to read about battles, soldiers' experiences or the minutiae of how the Roman army functioned, or about loving the historian's puzzle. That'd also be completely true. In the end, it's just fascinating to me and though I have been caught reenacting, I prefer to paint scale hoplites and legionaries. How about you?