Now, you have to admit that, whatever the content of the post, that is a fairly good title. It alliterates; it draws you in, it makes you wonder. But what does it mean?
What I’d like to ponder is, actually, a question that arose in the context of ‘military culture’. Some rule sets, it was observed, treat a man armed with a shield and a spear pretty much the same no matter which era he fought in. The bloke with the pointy stick and dustbin lid performed pretty much the same no matter if he were a Greek, a Pict or a Saxon.
Now, at a technological level, of course, we can see that this must be so. There are only certain things that a man can do with a pointy stick (no sniggering at the back there). Mostly, he can stand in a line with a lot of other men with pointy sticks and defy all comers. This might be called a phalanx, or a shield wall or whatever, but essentially the formation, its possibilities and results are defined by the weapons. The weapons define the ends to which they can be used. Technological teleology, you see.
The next move is, of course to question whether that is a correct picture of warfare across the ages. Could you swap a Saxon shield wall formation of a hoplite phalanx and expect to get the same results? Is a whole bunch of men with pointy sticks and dustbin lids at, say, Hastings the same as a whole bunch of men with dustbin lids and pointy sticks at Delium?
I cannot really see why we should assume that they would be the same. The societies from which they were raised were different, after all, so why should they behave in the same way?
Now here I have to confess that my knowledge of Anglo-Saxon society is sorely lacking, so I’ll have to change the example to something else. Now, some rule sets equate the Roman legionary to a dismounted medieval knight. This is perhaps, something of a more extreme example than the last one, but hopefully it will allow me to explore the issue.
The Roman legionary was a long service professional deployed to the frontiers of the empire to keep order, fight battles, do patrols, build roads and fortifications and so on. The French knight was a fairly professional solider from the upper classes whose main interest was honour and his estates, and who fought for the King when called out and made to.
Both of these troop types wore heavy armour for their day, both used swords, shields, possibly spears and other polearms. Technologically, they can be categorised as the same thing.
Can this be true, however? The differences are as spectacular as the similarities. The legionaries were trained and disciplines as units. The knights were not, however much individual training they had received. The legionaries obeyed orders on pain of pain. The knights did not, notoriously, obey commands and could (and did) argue back, or even change sides if they though that way lay their best interests.
In short, the societies from which these two types of warriors came from differed so much that it is really a bit rich to describe them in any way except technologically similar. The world views of these people were significantly different. People do not usually fight because they have a weapon to hand; they fight because of a complex of social, cultural and ideological factors.
Legionaries fought because that is what they trained to do as individuals and units, and not doing so would lead them to a sticky end. Medieval knights fought because that is what they trained to do at an individual level, and not to fight when required would land them up in a sticky mess, possibly with dishonourable charges laid against them.
The point is that these differing world views have consequences on the battle field, I think. A base of knights is not going to be as coherent as one of legionaries, if only because the latter had been together for a number of years. And that, surely, is going to have an impact on their battlefield behaviour.
Now, it could be argued that these differences can be accounted for under some sort of factor system. Legionaries would get extra for cohesion, for example, while knights might get extra for élan but lose it for inability to obey orders or the general dim-wittedness of the upper classes. In some rule sets that may well be the case, but when you start to look in any great detail at either army, the only conclusion you can honestly come to is that they were sufficiently different to warrant different rules.
So, what do we gain from these considerations. Firstly, most wargame rule writers being male and western, I suspect that we do rely quite heavily on technology to determine category. ‘All men with pointy sticks are the same’, we declare, and write our rules appropriately. Secondly, as humans, we like to categorize our lives and experiences, so putting as many historical types into one category is neat, tidy and makes us feel like we have some control over the knowledge. Unfortunately, as I hope the example makes clear, it is also wrong.
So, what can we do? As I’ve mentioned before, broad sweep rules tend to make these assumptions. I suspect that, as they tend to key in to our own ideas and categories, many of us go along with them. But actually, it is in fact probably better to zoom in on smaller eras and try to model what was actually there on the ground, not to fit what we see to a bunch of pre-designated categories.