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God of War by Christian Cameron

annis
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Post by annis » Wed April 18th, 2012, 5:39 am

Sadly, like many cool stories, this is apocryphal. It had its basis in an Indian play known as the Mudrarakshasa, thought to date from the 4th-5th centuries, in which one of two political rivals gifts the other a visha kanya, a beautiful girl who is fed on poison. The subject of the play is a historical figure from an earlier period, the king Chandragupta Maurya. Plutarch claims this king, who lived in the 4th century BC, met Alexander, so there is an Alexander connection in there - just not the poison maiden one :)

Quote:
"This theme of a woman transformed into a phial of venom is popular in Indian literature and appears in the Puranas. From India, the story from the Mudrarakshasa passed to the West and featured in the Gesta Romanorum and other texts. In the 17th century, Robert Burton picked up the tale in The Anatomy of Melancholy and gave it a historical character: Indian king Porus sends Alexander the Great a girl brimming with poison."
Last edited by annis on Wed April 18th, 2012, 6:31 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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Shield-of-Dardania
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Post by Shield-of-Dardania » Sat April 28th, 2012, 3:39 pm

Ok. Oh well, learn something every day. Now you've jogged my memory a bit.

It is a tempting theme though. I mean, there are these real life girls making a living by living with snakes, and they do develop a relatively higher than average tolerance for venom. And once you've read about the scientific theory, no matter how flimsy it sounds, you'd think more than twice about messing about with one. At least I would.

Maybe you've just taught me the Sanskrit (or is it Pali?) word for poison too. By my inspired guess :cool: , it must be visha, because in my native language Malay - which I just happen to believe is around 60 - 70% of Indic origin in terms of lexicon - 'poison' is bisa, likely a Malayified derivative of visha. So, guessing again, kanya must be maiden.

I'll check out that Mudrarakshasha some time.

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Justin Swanton
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Post by Justin Swanton » Mon April 30th, 2012, 5:58 am

[quote=""Shield-of-Dardania""]Good work, Annis. I agree, I think a mortal Alexander is infinitely more interesting, as well as more believable, than that demigod figure so many authors and historians seem to have liked to sell him as. In that vein, Cameron's Alexander would very much remind me of Scott Oden's version in Memnon. For goodness sake, I don't know why the man has been so revered as such. He was just a kid who woke up one day and found himself in the candy store.

As an empire administrator, he couldn't hold a candle to either Cyrus or Darius (the Great), could he? He backed away from a fight with the Nanda Empire of Chandragupta Maurya's grandfather, didn't he? Who with their 9,000 elephants might well have crushed and buried Alexander's entire knackered army in the dust of northern India. While reputable Alexander biographer Peter Green believes that he was actually beaten on the first day at Granicus River and was only saved by Parmenion on the second day. Sorry, I'm suddently in rant mode now. :D

I knew, when I read Christian's Tyrant: Storm of Arrows, that there were some things I especially liked about his style. Now that you've specifically mentioned worldbuilding and characterisation, I'm inclined to agree. He also has a great eye for fine logistical detail, you can depend on him to meticulously deliver and vividly describe, to use your words, the nuts and bolts of a military campaign. Not surprising considering his military background. I believe that he also has a soft spot for the strong woman. His Srayanka in Storm of Arrows is magnificent, I think.[/quote]

Alexander was a good general but he was also lucky in that he went up against an incompetent opponent. The Persian state was the last of the great Middle Eastern empires to follow the old military tradition which consisted of fielding vast numbers of poorly armed and trained conscripts, backed by a core of professional troops. The huge numbers quoted by Herodotus and others may well be accurate. Given its resources and preparations (the Persian empire would spend several years stockpiling food reserves and cutting wide highways on which its hosts would pass) it was quite possible to field and supply an army of several million men. It was a point of prestige as well as a psychological ploy: arrive at your enemy's doorstep with a couple of million men at your back and he would usually be shocked into submission.

Greek warfare, however, had progressed to the next level. The Greeks made the revolutionary discovery that numbers don't matter. A vast but poor-quality army had a fragile morale. A smaller, more determined and better equipped force needed only to hit hard where it mattered. Routing one section of its opponent had a domino effect: routed troops would panic others and make them rout in turn, causing the whole army to decamp in chain reaction.

It didn't need Alexander to prove the point: the saga of the Ten Thousand and the campaign of Xerxes had already done that. All Alexander needed to do was field a respectable army - even better than the Greek version since his father had developed the phalangite system and perfected the superb Companion Cavalry - and then help himself to the Persian east.

It was when he came up against opponents who were not Persian that his problems began. He won at Hydaspes but just barely. I always wonder how he would have coped with a tough professional army like his own led by a competent general. Alexander versus Scipio Africanus.....personally my money is on Scipio.
Last edited by Justin Swanton on Tue May 1st, 2012, 12:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Shield-of-Dardania
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Post by Shield-of-Dardania » Wed May 2nd, 2012, 2:01 am

It was the Macedonian phalanx, with their 21 ft sarissa, which simply stumped their foes most of the time. The initial shock-and-awe effect of it, plus its ability to surround and immobilise a strategic contingent of the enemy, were what likely caused the most confusion and morale damage in their opponent's army. I mean, let's just face it. Having to cope with an adversary (or two or three) who could casually stab his spearpoint in your face while he's standing 7 yards away would rattle even the most battle hardened soldier. That plus their formidable discipline and staying power too.

They also carried a relatively light baggage train, enabling their army to march at stupendously high speed, so that many times they arrived to catch their enemy with their pants down, often several days before the expected date. Alexander's rapid succession of victories, of course, also built for him a growing aura of invincibility, which gave him an instant powerful advantage over each next enemy he encountered.

Greek soldiers, including Macedonians, had another strategic advantage. Many of their veterans had the experience of fighting as mercenaries in the Persian army, so they already knew Persian battle tactics inside out.

Faced with an equally disciplined opponent, however, possibly also better trained as well as more creative and flexible, the Macedonians were proven to be defeatable after all, as the Romans under Aimilios Pavlos proved at Pydna.

The Battle of Pydna was highly significant because it meant the defeat of Macedonia, the most important Greek state left unconquered by Rome. This left the way open for the total subjection of Greece to Rome, the new master of the world.

One likely reason Alexander struggled at Hydaspes River was that King Porus used elephants, a staple of Indian armies and the un-resistible 'battletanks' of that time, something which Alexander hadn't faced before. That's also a probable reason Alexander's generals refused to march further eastward against the Nanda Empire, because their army had 9,000 elephants, possiblly 90 times more than Porus' army.

But the Persians later learned their lessons, they wised up and bucked up too. Post-Achaemenid armies like those of the Parthians and Sassanians eventually became capable of going to head-to-head with the Romans, indeed whupped their arse on more than a few occassions.

The Parthians would logically have taken some cues from the Macedonians' Companion Cavalry, which would have been, in turn, improved upon even further by the Sassanians in the evolution of the Savaran, the cavalry of the Sassanians. Indeed, as believed by some, the French term cavalerie was ultimately derived from the Persian savaran, which meant horserider.
Last edited by Shield-of-Dardania on Wed May 2nd, 2012, 5:17 am, edited 18 times in total.

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Post by Justin Swanton » Fri May 4th, 2012, 11:30 am

You're right. The phalanx was formidable. Nothing, not even the Roman legions, ever beat a formed phalanx frontally in open terrain. A regular phalanx was 16 men deep, and the sarissas of the first five ranks would project ahead at the enemy. That meant that each enemy soldier faced 5 spearpoints.

Then there was the special close or compact phalanx, developed by Alexander. A non-skirmisher infantryman normally occupied a frontage three feet wide. the close phalanx reduced that to 18 inches - men literally packed shoulder to shoulder, which meant that each enemy soldier now faced 10 spearpoints. He simply had no chance.

The only way to take a phalanx out was either to outflank it or disrupts its formation. The Romans won against Macedonia at Cynocephalae thanks to an enterprising tribune who led the Principes and Triarii of his legion around to the rear of the Macedonian phalanx and then charged it. At Pydna the Romans initially recoiled before the phalanx, drawing it onto rough ground where its tight formation was broken up by the terrain, and then hitting it through the gaps.

The phalanx could just about cope with elephants, who were adverse to being pricked with lots of pointy objects, but it was the successors of Alexander who learned how best to neutralise them: use skirmishers to blind them (javelins or slingshots in the eyes) and then panic them off the field. Later Successor elephants were protected from this by a skirmisher escort, but which could itself be eliminated by cavalry or archers, and so on. An ongoing game of paper-scissors-stone.

As a corollary, I have always thought warfare particularly cruel on animals, who had to go through a human hell without the slightest idea of what it was all about.
Last edited by Justin Swanton on Fri May 4th, 2012, 11:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Shield-of-Dardania
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Post by Shield-of-Dardania » Sat May 5th, 2012, 2:54 pm

I don't know, perhaps an average phalanx could cope with 20 - 30 elephants. But I'd be inclined to believe that it would find something like 300 elephants or more a much tougher proposition.

I myself do not find the elephant formation interesting, because it tends to favour the stronger party. For me, it's like, if you have the bigger army, you must have better resources, therefore you'd likely have more elephants (for a region that has elephants). I prefer to read about the smaller army whupping the arse of the bigger one. The underdog thing, yes.

Yes, some novel tactics have been employed in overcoming an enemy elephant force. The Romans have used flaming pigs or pigs gone berserk, or just made space between themselves for the huge beasts to simply pass straight through unchallenged. Caltrops, camouflaged pits in the ground, horses fitted with fake tusks and trunks then dressed up to look like baby elephants (adult elephants won't attack baby elephants, they'll just turn away) etc. are some other options.

The Northern Song Chinese once decimated the elephant army of a southern enemy with crossbows. An invading Mongol army was gazzumped by a Burmese army with elephants the first time they met. The second time around, however, the Mongols despatched the Burmese elephant corps with a shower of arrows.

As for targetting the elephants' eyes, maybe a sharpshooting bowman could do it, but I'm not sure you could get the level of accuracy to be effective enough with the javelin or the sling.

Not being sadistic, :cool: but I think that an elephant's genitals could also be targetted, especially a bull's testicles or even his arse. The advantage with this is the attack can be made from behind, reducing the risk of getting impaled on a tusk, or grabbed by a trunk then smashed against a tree or a boulder. Get him where it really hurts, and where subsequenty any significant movement of his will cause him severe pain, and you might just make him bolt away from the field.

I once asked a Cambodian friend while visiting Angkor Wat (was lucky enough some official assignment gave me the chance to be in Seam Reap) how best you could kill an enemy elephant in battle. His answer was that you don't need to, you just take it away from your enemy, and it becomes yours. But I'm sure that you'd need a helluva lot of skill as well as spunk to do that though.
Last edited by Shield-of-Dardania on Sun May 6th, 2012, 10:42 am, edited 12 times in total.

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