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Men's Life
History of Warfare

Warfare before the early 5th century BC was restricted mainly to border skirmishes between neighboring Greek states. The objective was usually limited to destroying the agricultural basis of the enemy´s economy in order to extract specific political and economic concessions. While individual battles could be extremely bloody, the total destruction of cities and complete annihilation of their populations were usually avoided. The actual campaigning was normally carried out between March and October when the weather facilitated troop movement over mountainous terrain, and was broken off at the mutual convenience of the two opposing sides. Click here for the use of chariots.

The Persian conflict (492-478 BC) established the practice of total war. This eventually led to mass invasion and counterinvasion by both land and sea, wholesale destruction of cities, and -- on rare occasions -- the punishment and enslavement of entire bodies of citizens, including women and children. Many of the same disruptive practices occurred again during the Peloponnesian War between Athens, Sparta and their respective allies (431-404 BC). By the 4th century BC warfare was well on its way to becoming the internationalized institution that Alexander the Great and his followers are generally thought to have perfected. Click here for Weapons and Armor.

Attic Black Figure Olpe
ca. 540-520 BC
Dot&endash;Ivy Class
Italy, with an Etruscan inscription on underside of foot
MS 4800
Three soldiers are shown fighting, while spectators stand to either side. Since the soldiers wear helmets and greaves and carry shields but are otherwise unarmed, they may be performing a ritual dance. However, artistic imprecision may provide a simpler and more likely explanation for the discrepancy.
H. 21.7; Dia. 13.0 cm. UM neg. 41132 (99k)

Attic Black Figure Amphora
ca. 530-525 BC
In the manner of the Lysippides Painter
MS 5467
Both sides portray scenes of mythological battle, which symbolize the Greek preoccupation with struggle as well as their love for detailed battle narrations. Such scenes are a hallmark of Archaic art. Here, Heracles (at the left) fights with two Amazons, a race of female warriors thought to live on the fringes of the civilized world.
H. 41.0; Dia. 28.0 cm. Photo by Maria Daniels for the Perseus Project (132k)

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