Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Army Composition and Tactics Part III

Garrisons: Alma 48:8 described small forts, or places of resort, that had earth piled up. Hugh Nibley described these (in Approach to the Book of Mormon I believe) as similar to other ancient hill forts. The location of these forts are described as being by various choke points such as river crossings and road junctures. Other garrisons are at larger cities. The quick capture of the capital in Helaman 1, and the coup described in Alma 61 suggest that some city garrisons could be quite small. We should also remember the fear of Laman and Lemeul of the 50 soldiers that Laban could command. And the boast of the Nephites in Mosiah 11:19, that 50 soldiers of their soldiers could stand against thousands. Hugh Nibley (In Lehi in the Desert) contends that 50 was often the number contained in a city garrison.

The activities of these garrisons are mostly implied. In Alma 55 some Lamanite guards are enticed into a drunken stupor. As a product of the United States military I can understand the boredom that would spur that behavior. So there is a definite amount of implied boredom. Garrisons at critical junctures would function as an advanced warning system. And maybe imply a defense in depth, where lightly fortified outer garrisons would funnel enemy advances into better defenses in the rear, and give time for the Nephites to raise the requisite forces. Although some frontiers had no early warning system (see Alma 16), and the cities on the east sea fell so quickly there is no indication of a time advantage gained, so the defense in depth was partial at best. A more appropriate function indicated in the text would be to control movement between cities. This would allow the capital to control information by placing garrisons along key road junctures. (like knowledge about the coup of the capital being contained). They could also work in conjunction with Nephite scouts/spies in observing enemy movement. Dr. Ainsworth at bookofmormonsites.org has suggested that towers could be used for look out as well. These would look roughly similar to what we now call mesoamerican stone pyramids.

The dangers of this position would include possible ruses, such as poisoned wine, enemy attempts to infiltrate the city, being cut off by enemy scouts, being killed in a coup attempt, or by a quick raid by skirmishers. (See Mosiah 11:17 for example)

Guard Duty: This does not appear to be a permanent function but simply a reassignment based on conditions- like capturing enemy prisoners. Enemies were put to labor because they were easier to guard. This seems rather odd, since taking them outside the city would seem to make it easier for them to run. There is no information concerning restraints. Alma 57:30-34 mentions a prison break of Lamanites, where an unarmed group of Lamanites simply rushed upon the sword wielding box of Nephite guards ("They broke through"). This group also met a group of spies, who see to act more like scouts. The danger from guard duty seemed to the shame from a allowing men to escape. But in Alma 57 the prison guards make it back to the main army in time to help win the fight. This event also portrays the flexible nature of the Nephite belief system. Allowing prisoners to escape could have been seen as a sign of God's displeasure, but since the prison guards were then allowed to win the fight it was seen as a blessing. This is consistent with other ancient societies.

Body Guards: As talked about in my post Homeric warfare the elites of the Nephites fought the elites of the Lamanites (Alma 2). Body guards are mentioned in this context as well. This could explain the 50 number mentioned in the garrison section. Since the agricultural nature of Nephite society would dictate a mostly part time army. The standing army would be a few professional soldiers. These could be from the military caste (see "Military Caste" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon), and would be likely commanders of detachments (like those in charge of transporting prisoners in Alma 57), as well as the bodyguards. See Mosiah 7:7,10-11,16 for more.

Their dangers are numerous. They would have to fight the elites and full time soldiers of the other side. In Alma 2:34, Alma and his bodyguards had to fight for a bridgehead across the river. In Alma 52 the body guards of Moroni had to deal with an "exceedingly fierce" opponent trying to hack their way through a trap. And they were said not to "give way", suggesting they acted like Persia Immortals- the discipline corps of an largely conscripted army. The body guards also had city security, and palace duty during times of peace. Helaman 2 describes how those guards were killed quickly after a rapid thrust of the enemy.

Conclusion: These are few of the occupations that make up the Nephite armies. This also explained the tactical options and dangers associated with them. The brevity of the text forbids definite conclusions. But the text is consistent with other ancient armies, and provides many clues that allow us to draw tentative conclusions. There is also a time difference between many of the detailed war narratives- like 400 years between the account in Alma and those in Mormon. Thus even out tentative conclusions may not apply to all of Nephite history. But we can assume that basic elements remain the same with complications arising as Nephite society became increasingly complex. This also allows us to examine the parts of Nephite armies that we can then compare to other ancient armies. As with most study of the Book of Mormon, a few tentative answers lead to more questions. I hope to hear your comments, and that you read my other posts as I attempt to answer these questions.

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