Military reconstructionists

I've previously said that for book research I prefer to trust original ancient sources over modern ones, but there's one field where I would never dare to question the modern experts, and that's the people who are into military re-enactment.  I don't think there's anyone more into getting details right than these guys.

You've probably heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism.  SCA is more mediaeval than ancient, though it does have its ancient enthusiasts.  SCA covers all the aspects of past times, but anyone who's ever been to a SCA festival could tell you it's the skirmish combats that get the crowds.

There are similar re-enactment groups who're more ancient oriented, though the organisations don't seem to be as closely knit so if you're interested you'd need to google around for what's in your area.  Most of them are into Roman army reconstruction but there are some Greek Hoplite groups too.

A good place to start would be Ancient Warfare Magazine.  I'm pretty sure most of the people who write or read it are into doing re-enactments.  (No, I don't do this myself, but it's fun to watch.)

Despite its name, the Roman Army Talk forum has a substantial Greek section.  These guys are awesome for minute details about how people used to slaughter each other.   If you want the pros and cons of holding your spear overhand vs underhand, then this is the place to be.  Their knowledge of military history would  rival that of any Oxford don.

I don't need this sort of information very often, because Nico's not into regular army life.  When he gets into a fight, it's invariably a street brawl in some grotty back alley, or else a tavern brawl (I had such fun writing the barroom fight in Ionia Sanction).

But when I do need soldierly detail, the re-enactors have the advantage that they've actually tried out in real life the stuff that's mentioned in original sources.  They bring a certain practicality to the subject that makes it easier to sort out from the original sources what's likely true and what might be false.


Sean Wright said...

I caught a series on SBS a couple of months ago it was going through the designs/catalogue of one of the medieval armorers. Can't remember its name. But they made replicas and tested them. It included a submersible breathing suit, trebuchets but the most interesting part was the expensive high-end plate armour. Its often depicted as very heavy but in reality is lighter and less bulky than modern kevlar worn by tactical response groups. The did a number of tests ie running and vaulting but they also did unarmoured verses armoured and went through a number of techniques that seemed counter intuitive ie pummeling an armoured opponent with the pommel of the sword. Wish I could remember the name of it.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Sean,

I once helped fire a trebuchet! I'll see if I can dredge up the video.

Yes, the technology obviously worked better than we give it credit for, or it wouldn't have been in use for hundreds of years. A really good place to see this stuff, if anyone gets the chance, is the military museum at Les Invalides in Paris.

But there are people still making a lot of these things and if you turn up to a mediaeval festival you can see for yourself. The people who do this for a hobby love to show off their stuff.

If you want to give it a go Sean, you live within the Barony of Innilgard, of the Kingdom of Lochac. (In SCA terms). Looking at their web site, I see the Baron's Championship is coming up soon.

万理 (Mari) said...

I recently attended a lecture at an event held by the American Chemical Society where the speaker was into Roman military reconstructions.

He brought helmets, swords, bits of chainmail, cloaks, tunics, plate mail... you name it, he had it, and he gave a very long presentation on the minute details of Why Horizontal Headbands Appear on Roman Helmets During a Particular Time. Because it WAS supposed to be a lecture about chemistry, he had a few slides giving line-angle diagrams for the structures of the dyes used in Roman garments.

The chemistry professor who brought our class to this event made a snarky comment about the whole thing: "This is what happens when a man never comes in contact with women." Then said professor proceeded to explain to our class, in great length and detail, the history of Roman military campaigns, insignia, and the reasons Roman military equipage began to decline and disappear during the Empire's later years. Then he spent a good third of our next class period explaining the history of the Draco standard.

So I guess if you need to find a hypocrite or a chemist in a pinch, hitting up the local historical reconstructionist group wouldn't be a bad idea. :D