Humanity is a classifying species. In fact, it is presumed that all animals are. Our cat, for example, classifies the world into things to eat, things to play with and things to run away from. Being of a slightly nervous disposition, she classifies all things in the last category initially, and might then upgrade them to one of the others. It is a way in which we, as animals, cope with a complex world.
This sort of classification has not been without its philosophical problems, of course, and they date back to Plato, at least. On the face of it, people are not obviously, in any sense, the same. They have similar features to each other, of course, but there are also significant differences in size, shape, colour, hairiness and so on. How then can we say that all humans are, in fact, the same kind of thing?
Plato tackled this by imagining an unchanging other place, where the ideals of tall the things that we see and understand are to be found. A chair, in our world, was just a flawed instantiation of the ideal chair. People, then, are instantiations of the ideal person, and obtain their single species status by participation in the ideal, although obviously that participation cannot be perfect.
This idea of participation is one that has puzzled me for a long time, because I cannot for the life of me see how it works. How does something in this world ‘participate’ in another thing in another, perfect world. Recently, I have started to have a sneaking suspicion that no-one else knows how it works, they just hide behind the word and hope no-one finds them out.
Plato’s idea did not go unchallenged, of course, and Aristotle subjected it to significant criticism, arguing that we only have the instances we see, and that we can categorize them because they do have sufficient similarity to be recognised as the same species, of the same genus. Humans, therefore, are of the human species and the animal genus, whereby they share some similarities with other species in the genus but are differentiated from them.
Here, I think we can see already, the issue which affects wargames and wargame rules: what is a sufficient difference to create a new species? Is a citizen hoplite different from a Saxon fryd spearman?
I suspect that the answer to these questions depend on your point of view. From a technological point of view, a bloke with a large shield and a pointy stick is very much like another bloke with a large shield and a pointy stick, no matter how many hundreds of years there are between them. You might argue that, whatever the differences in world view between the Greek and the Saxon, the technology is very similar, and that means that the tactical options are the same, so there is no difference in the way a set of wargame rules should treat them.
On the other hand, you can argue that the world of a Greek citizen hoplite was very different from that of a fryd-man or a similar medieval spearman. The hoplite, by definition, was a citizen of his polis and had rights and power. There are, for example, a number of instances of hoplites taking their generals to court (after the battle) and using them for things like defamation and incompetence. In short, a Greek army did not score highly in the discipline stakes, and hoplites could and did argue back against orders.
A medieval, feudally raised army was not of this nature. A spearman would have been raised by his Lord who, even in cases where the soldier was not actually in serfdom, was still a powerful figure in the soldier’s life. Arguing back, or taking his landlord to court, would have meant that the soldier and his family could quickly have become landless, homeless and starving. Discipline may well still have been lax, but there would have been a lot less argument over decisions made by the leaders than in Greece.
There is also the cultural view to be considered. A citizen hoplite was sent out by his polis to fight for it, and was expected to return either with his shield or on it. Running away, in theory, was not really an option. Socrates, for example, received a good deal of acclaim for being one of the few Athenians who did not run away after Delium, forming instead a point on which others could rally. For a polis citizen, honour was of great significance, and to lose it was to lose so much that suicide or exile became really viable options.
I suspect that for the medieval spearman, honour was not such a big issue. Obviously, for the knights and lords, honour and chivalry were big deals, but not so much for the lower ranks. Running for it, if things looked a bit dodgy, was much more a viable option and, often, Lords were not too punishing on those who did because they still needed tenants to farm their land and provide income. A feudal levy was probably as untrained as a Greek phalanx, but more unstable, as those who made up the spear array had less invested in staying for the fight.
Now, of course, the determination of how these differences play out is in the eye of the rule writer and wargame player. I am of the camp that thinks that this sort of difference is significant for our wargame rules; not everyone would agree with me, I am sure. But I do think that those who regard a hoplite and a feudal spearman as equivalent need slightly better grounds than the simple technological one.