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How ancient battles were fought

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  • How ancient battles were fought

    Speaking personally, something that I often find myself with difficulty conceptualising is the manner in which troops were deployed and tactics were planned for pre-modern armies. I can find a bit of a block in imagining the command structure in those circumstances of limited communication and, especially, being confined to close-quarters armaments, especially for the subject of moment-to-moment activities within such a battle and what might be expected to progress over several hours.

    As this pertains to Exalted, given how the game is not well suited to tracking command of large scale battles and the kind of advice given for handling such, I think it can be helpful to have a guideline for where player characters might be located and what they would be doing.

    On that subject, I think this recent video from historian YouTube channel Invicta might be helpful. Especially for some of the excerpts given of battlefield commands in the ancient world; I think those could provide inspiration both for the characters who might be devising and issuing such orders from the top, and being the people who are actually in the position to flank or ambush as needed.



    It might also have some ideas that could inspire novel approaches to the world views and travel plans of characters.

    Note: there are one or two still images that recur through the video that I think constitute spoilers for later seasons of Game of Thrones.


    I have approximate knowledge of many things.
    Watch me play Dark Souls III (completed)
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  • #2
    Oh my god I was thinking about making a post concerning this map video like last week. It is very worth watching. I mean most of the civilizations the Realm fights shouldn't even have maps as the Realm knows it, unless they absorbed that level of advancement from the Realm.


    It is a time for great deeds!

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    • #3
      "They give us unmatched communication and intelligence! When Stanley sees you have tampered with their functioning..."

      "Wait... unmatched? I thought everyone has a set up like this?"

      "Why would you think that? Ansom has no Lookamancers!"

      "... Oh I am an idiot. Of course! They have to use scouts. They have to use hats! He can't see us! Hoohoo! That's going to add a whole new dimension to this plan!"

      ****

      I think probably one of the biggest logistical advantages the Realm Before, the Scarlet Realm and probably the 7th Legion have is not only maps, but the means to create new maps.
      Last edited by JohnDoe244; 07-04-2019, 10:41 AM.


      Hi, I'm JohnDoe244. My posts represent my opinions, not facts.

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      • #4
        That looks pretty good actually.

        Incidentally, here's a historians' explanation about maps in ancient Greece, including an interesting example of when a map was used.

        In Classical Greece, my area of expertise, using battle maps certainly did not happen. I'm not as qualified to speak on other premodern eras or regions. But I think there's pretty good reason to assume that the large boardgame-like battle map wasn't actually used by any armed force anywhere until the mid-to-late 19th century.
        The first and most obvious point is that detailed maps of this kind didn't exist. Of course, map making goes back at least to the Late Archaic Greeks, but these maps were only rough visualisations of geographical knowledge. It took many centuries for trigonometry and other relevant fields of mathematics to develop to the point where accurate representations of 3-dimensional space on a 2-dimensional plane were even feasible.
        Now, you might say that this is irrelevant because there's no need for an accurate map when planning broad strategical manoeuvres. An outline of the country and its cities and geographical features will do. But that's putting the cart before the horse. The point is that it wasn't until militaries realised their need of good maps that they started making such maps. This is what drove the development of detailed map making in the first place. The reason people in Antiquity didn't have maps like ours is because their commanders did not see the need for such maps.
        It can be hard for us to wrap our heads around this. We modern people learn to think of space in terms of maps. We visualise everything from countries to transportation networks to buildings in a top-down, schematic manner. We are accustomed to situating ourselves in space by coordinates on a flat grid. We learn to understand notions like compass points, scale, and legend. When we play strategy games, we take it for granted that there will be a geographical map and a strategic map and a battle minimap and whatever else - visual aides that allow us to understand where we are and what's going on. But this is because in our day, such maps are widely available. Universal digital maps have replaced partial physical maps; we are the first generation of humans that can see exactly where we are on the globe anywhere at any time. People in Antiquity did not have such tools. Unsurprisingly, they thought of space very differently.
        When you read accounts of Greek military campaigns, and accounts of Greek generals debating strategy and tactics, you'll never find a single reference to a map. Instead, space is conceptualised as a number of known routes from one location to another; as a succession of conjoined territories occupied by different peoples; as a number of days' marching or sailing; as the area around notable features, like mountains, rivers, cities or sanctuaries; and as ground where an army can or cannot pass or deploy for battle. In other words, space is not defined in terms of abstract schematics, but in terms of observed reality and relevant knowledge. If a Greek general needed information about terrain, he would seek out a local guide. If he needed to plan a campaign, he would rely on common knowledge about the distance to the target and the roads one took to get there.
        I'll show you how this works. Herodotos describes how the tyrant Aristagoras tried to convince the Spartan king Kleomenes to support his rebellion against Persia in 499 BC. This scene is the only time in Greek history that a map is used to support war planning. But it doesn't go as we'd expect:
        "The lands in which they dwell lie next to each other, as I shall show: next to the Ionians are the Lydians, who inhabit a good land and have great store of silver." This he said, pointing to the map of the earth which he had brought engraved on the tablet. "Next to the Lydians," said Aristagoras, "you see the Phrygians to the east, men that of all known to me are the richest in flocks and in the fruits of the earth..." [he goes on to describe one people after another]
        Kleomenes asked Aristagoras how many days' journey it was from the Ionian sea to the king [of Persia]. Till now, Aristagoras had been cunning and fooled the Spartan well, but here he made a false step. If he desired to take the Spartans away into Asia he should never have told the truth. But he did tell it, and said that it was a three months' journey inland.
        At that, Kleomenes cut short Aristagoras' account of the prospective journey. He then bade his Milesian guest depart from Sparta before sunset, for never, he said, would the Lakedaimonians listen to the plan, if Aristagoras desired to lead them a three months' journey from the sea.
        -- Hdt. 5.49-50
        First, Kleomenes clearly struggles with the concept of a map, and Aristagoras effectively translates the image into ethnographical information that will make sense to him. Second, Kleomenes does not independently grasp the scale of what he's seeing, and needs that translated as well. Once he is told what the map really means - once it is reduced to the key information on which he would base his own war planning - he immediately dismisses Aristagoras and abandons the Greeks of Asia to their fate.
        We can speculate how useful detailed maps would have been to the Greeks in their many wars, and how much easier a well-informed strategist and tactician would have found it to wage their campaigns. But the point is that, to them, it was not needed. They knew the land, and if they didn't they would explore it on the spot or simply ask someone about it. All they needed to know was easily conveyed by word of mouth and didn't need to be complicated by abstraction and projection. Why would they develop sophisticated map making techniques, or ponder large map tables as they considered their plan for the next campaign?
        Most commanders throughout premodern history will have agreed with Herodotos that maps, in all their abstraction and distortion, can decieve as easily as they can inform. They would argue that maps may be useful in navigation, and in the visualisation of ideal geographies or past events, but that they are not the most efficient way to convey the critical information needed to wage war. So where does the notion of the big tactical and strategic map come from?
        This may be only a partial explanation, but a key driver of military map making in Europe was the sense of Napoleon's enemies that they had been beaten by superior knowledge, and that the only way to prevent such humiliation was to take preparation for future wars seriously. This had never been done at any scale on an institutional level. In Prussia, the establishment of the Great General Staff in 1824 triggered the first wave of government-sanctioned mapping for the use of the military; in the course of the 19th century, Prussian map makers became leaders in the production of high-quality, accurate maps for both tactical and strategic purposes. As other European powers followed their lead, all of Europe was mapped out in meticulous detail for the first time. Most of the maps used today are still built on the results of this military initiative.
        The war exercises of the Great General Staff focused heavily on the use of maps for the gathering of information, the weighing of possibilities and the giving of orders. The first thing you did as a participant of such exercises was receive and take stock of your maps. At the same time, efforts to train officers in different ways also spurred the development of war games more similar to modern board games like Risk, with tokens in different colours moved around stylised maps and encounters resolved by dice rolls. As the Prussian victories of 1864-1871 cemented the status of their staff as the most effective military organisation in the world (deserved or otherwise), other powers made it their business to learn from Prussian ways, and this probably did a lot to solidify the idea that proper military training involved abstracting tactical problems into maps and tokens, and proper military planning was done around big, detailed, carefully compiled tactical and strategic maps.
        The large map has become such a fixture of battle planning scenes in war movies (based on real map rooms and map tables like the ones still visible in the Cabinet War Rooms and the Battle of Britain bunker in London) that we now expect maps and tokens to be there, even if the story is set as far back as Antiquity. We struggle to imagine another way for a council of commanders to survey the situation and decide on a plan. It gives a delightful visualisation of the setup as it is explained to the viewer, and it allows characters to pore over maps brooding, which is how we imagine the tactical mastermind. Game of Thrones is a particularly serious offender, with large strategic maps appearing as decorative furniture in Dragonstone, as a floor mosaic in King's Landing, and as a tabletop game in Winterfell.
        But none of this is even slightly historical. The peoples of the time period that inspired Game of Thrones did not have such maps, or the way of thinking about tactics and strategy that would have produced them. We are just projecting what we've come to think of as normal into an imagined past.



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        • #5
          Does the Realm necessarily have maps at a smaller scale than the Blessed Isle, of anywhere outside of it?

          Does it need them? They're still mostly fighting in close quarters formations of the kind the video points out makes such mapping a bit unnecessary.

          Every legion is being led by a few dozen Exalted, among whom are presumably some with appropriate Survival and War Charms. Is contemporary mapping required when your forces are being led by people with that sense of direction?

          One might say that the setting is not actually ancient world and is following on from the First Age, but that raises the question of whether anybody ever felt a need for such precision cartography.

          What does a world look like, including in its maps, when you don't have anything analogous to European exploration and world domination, for instance?


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          • #6
            They might have maps to help with road-building. Or maps for tax collection purposes, something like that.

            These may not be maps designed to look accurate from above likes ours are*, of course.

            *Although of course our own world maps are hilariously inaccurate, due to the issues of putting a round world on a flat map. And they tend to ignore geographical features in favour of what governments claim to control, which may not really be what they control.


            My characters:
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            • #7
              My suspicion is that the first accurate maps would have been created for geomantic surveys. The precise vagueries of terrain will matter a great deal to those involved in any sort of geomantic engineering.

              So one possible way that maps could have entered the military sphere is that a general didn't have good scouts for an area so had to rely on the survey maps which may have included enough useful details for that use to become more common.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Exthalion View Post
                My suspicion is that the first accurate maps would have been created for geomantic surveys. The precise vagueries of terrain will matter a great deal to those involved in any sort of geomantic engineering.
                Even those won't necessarily be tightly bound to material precision. the way that dragon lines cross and spread is what's more important to measure and thus geography without any sensible resonance would be a sidenote.
                "Points of Light" logic is solid for these mapping paradigms.

                That said, things like flight are far more achievable in Creation than they were in Earth's antiquity, as are the occasions where someone will show up with overwhelming spatial advantages. So there should be some push for maps as we know them, especially in places like the River Province.


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                • #9
                  While I think there's plenty of good points on the use of maps in war planning, I'd imagine Creation has far more advanced cartography than antiquity real world for a very simple reason: relatively easy access to a bird's eye view. Unlike real world ancient people, Creation has a large number of ways to either extend your senses above an area, or literally fly.

                  Even something as simple as having a flying familiar that you share senses with means being able to scout from the air, and change the perspective that the video talks about.

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                  • #10
                    The video was pretty interesting. Do you people know channels/blogs or similar that deal with themes like that? My next campaign is going to be about military campaigns in the North, and would like to get some accesible info (I prefer blogs and videos because I can then send links to my players. But interesting books would be cool too)

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Exthalion View Post
                      My suspicion is that the first accurate maps would have been created for geomantic surveys. The precise vagueries of terrain will matter a great deal to those involved in any sort of geomantic engineering.
                      Which could always be represented with maps that look more like mandelas.


                      Originally posted by Synapse View Post
                      That said, things like flight are far more achievable in Creation than they were in Earth's antiquity, as are the occasions where someone will show up with overwhelming spatial advantages. So there should be some push for maps as we know them, especially in places like the River Province.
                      "Overwhelming spatial advantages"?

                      Why the River Province specifically?

                      Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
                      While I think there's plenty of good points on the use of maps in war planning, I'd imagine Creation has far more advanced cartography than antiquity real world for a very simple reason: relatively easy access to a bird's eye view. Unlike real world ancient people, Creation has a large number of ways to either extend your senses above an area, or literally fly.

                      Even something as simple as having a flying familiar that you share senses with means being able to scout from the air, and change the perspective that the video talks about.
                      I don't think that being able to see something from the vantage of something relatively small and not very high up obviates the necessities of technical drawing skills, and it still begs the question of whether they would rather than could.

                      Originally posted by Clophiroth View Post
                      The video was pretty interesting. Do you people know channels/blogs or similar that deal with themes like that? My next campaign is going to be about military campaigns in the North, and would like to get some accesible info (I prefer blogs and videos because I can then send links to my players. But interesting books would be cool too)
                      Check out the Kings and Generals channel.


                      I have approximate knowledge of many things.
                      Watch me play Dark Souls III (completed)
                      https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDtbr08HW8RW4jOHN881YA3yRZBV4lpYw Watch me play Breath of the Wild (updated 12/03)

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Isator Levi View Post
                        I don't think that being able to see something from the vantage of something relatively small and not very high up obviates the necessities of technical drawing skills, and it still begs the question of whether they would rather than could.
                        The size of a bird is fairly irrelevant. They have vision that vastly outperforms humans. A hawk can respond to signed commands at a range where humans couldn't even see the falconer distinctly... which is farther than the range of the Familiar Merit yes, but Long Range up is plenty for the battlefield size of the armies in question.

                        Technical drawing skills are certainly important, but Creation has had access to sky down views for thousands of years for those skills to be of value and cartography to get refined.

                        And would? Sure. The video notes that there are plenty of times when such maps would have been exceedingly useful even in antiquity where it's less important than in modern warfare. The battle of Thermopylae would have gone much better for Xerxes and worse for the resisting Greeks if the Persians knew about that goat path before battle began instead of it taking a few days before a local betrayed that to the Persian forces.

                        I don't think the "stand around a giant map and move miniatures around," trope would inherently be part of it, but the ability to have good maps to use to start plans with, combined with scouts to make sure the maps aren't outdated, is more useful than not; thus would be used because using it would lead to more victories than not.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Synapse View Post
                          That said, things like flight are far more achievable in Creation than they were in Earth's antiquity, as are the occasions where someone will show up with overwhelming spatial advantages. So there should be some push for maps as we know them, especially in places like the River Province.
                          Edition lore change. Second edition's "Lookshy has the only remaining fleet of first age ships" has in third edition become "Lookshy maintains a few decrepit, mothballed, skyships."

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                          • #14
                            Notice, that this fleet Second edition has been talking about was mostly a wet navy, not skyships. It's only later that people started to equate "first age" with "flying".



                            The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Isator Levi View Post
                              "Overwhelming spatial advantages"?

                              Why the River Province specifically?
                              "Every legion is being led by a few dozen Exalted, among whom are presumably some with appropriate Survival and War Charms."
                              These guys. They literally have superior awareness of the environment they are tracking and fighting on. This includes mapping techniques and the need to compete.


                              And the river province because it's one of the more simultaneously richer and war-torn areas of Creation.


                              Originally posted by Greyman View Post
                              Edition lore change. Second edition's "Lookshy has the only remaining fleet of first age ships" has in third edition become "Lookshy maintains a few decrepit, mothballed, skyships."

                              I was talking about familiars, spirits, clairvoyance, the occasional exalted doing exalted stuff. Sky fleets take a long, looooooooooooooong step back.



                              Just like we have a skewed perspective of ancient techniques because we use something else, we also have a skewed perspective of our ancient techniques in respect to the setting's, as they literally have tools we never had.
                              Last edited by Synapse; 07-06-2019, 05:52 PM.

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