Friday, February 27, 2009

Full time soldiers?

This post will discuss the permanence of Nephite armies. I touched upon this in my army composition posts and in my response to Mormon Mesoamerica.

Alma 44:23 states "that the armies of the Nephites, or of Moroni, returned and came to their houses and their lands." And Alma 16 states that the Nephites could not raise an army in the amount of time available. But other verses such as Alma 62:42-43 suggest that the Nephites kept fortifications and garrisons after the war ended. Helaman 1:26 describes the numerous strong armies that were posted in the frontier cities. So which is it? Did the Nephites keep a standing army or not. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. It seems the Nephites kept a small standing army supplemented by what we would call reservists, but with the increasing size of Nephite lands many more full time soldiers were required which changed Nephite society. With this in mind I will discuss what we glean from each verse.

Alma 16 mentions that the Nephites could not gather a "sufficiently" big army. This matches Helaman 1 where the Lamanite leader destroyed the wall guards, anybody who opposed them and small groups of soldiers. It would make sense that these small groups were body guards, and garrison soldiers. There is no indication of weapons being stacked at an armory. Many ancient soldiers were given tax breaks or land bonuses but were required to maintain their own weapons in return. (see Hamblin: Warfare in the Ancient Near East, and deremilitari.org has primary sources from Charlemagne) So many of the part time soldiers would have time to grab their weapons, but were in insufficient numbers and scattered about their lands to slow the big Lamanite army.

Helaman 1:26 also mentions that the "strong armies" were in the borders of the land. Both words could mean different things. "Strong" could mean stronger- implying that there were more than one army. What is a Nephite "army" we have no idea. Brent Merrill suggests that an army was like a Roman Legion. (See Nephite Captains and Armies p266 in Warfare in the Book of Mormon) Ideally, 10 thousand soldiers made up a Nephite army according to Merrill but this was often not the case. Just as Roman Legions were often under strength so were Nephite armies. This could imply that the stronger armies were full strength "legions" while the other armies were just paper legions that would be filled with part time soldiers upon the outbreak of war. The only soldiers available in the paper legions would be full time soldiers such as body guards, military caste, small garrisons and the officers or "captains and chief captains" as the Nephites called them. The United States had a flexible structure like this for a long time. Where the regular army officers would command shadow battalions until the outbreak of war and conscripts would join their units. The other option could be that both the border and inner "armies" were simply full time soldiers. But v.26 implies that Moronihah could contend with the army of the Lamanites, so either he had an actual army in the borders, or he assumed his intelligence would provide enough time to argument his small active duty force with the part time soldiers that lived in the border lands.

V. 28 says that Moronihah immediately ordered Lehi's army to march to Bountiful. Thus Lehi must already have been placed in the other border. (Remember the Nephites had a center, west sea, and east sea: Moronihah was at one, and Lehi at the other with the center assumed to be safe) This suggests that many soldiers remained full time. Perhaps all of the armies were less than full strength and the ones on the borders simply contained a few more men, and more veterans.

Finally, Alma 44:23 said that Moroni and his armies returned to their homes and lands. Again, both homes and lands can mean two things. The assumed reading would mean that like Roman Consul Cincinnatis (or Maximus from Gladiator if you must) they were all part time soldiers that wished to return home as soon as possible. But home could mean a permanent barracks or garrisons, and lands could be a general term used in the sense as "the land of the free". I doubt the latter interpretation since the battle in Alma 43 and 44 occurred just outside of Zarahemla, and there is never a mention of barracks in the Book of Mormon.

Alma 44:23 stronger implies a part time army, but disagrees with latter texts. Critics of the Book of Mormon will naturally proclaim victory and go home. But upon further review this trend from part time to professional soldiers is completely consistent with other ancient societies. P.A. Brunt discussed the problems facing the Roman soldier in the late republic. (See his book: Roman war and society in the Late Republic) The Roman wars were so frequent and far away that the average soldier was forced to leave their lands for years at a time. This caused great resentment among the soldiers as many of them came home to realize they lost their lands and it forced Roman armies away from part time citizen soldiers into professional career soldiers. This changed society as there were an increasing amount of rich and large landholders and a greater amount of landless poor. The landless poor then joined the army or went to the cities for work, changing Roman society and the composition of Roman armies. (see Sidebottom: A Short Introduction to Ancient Warfare) The process happened over the course of many years but it also mirrors the collapse of the Fubing system in the late Tang Dynasty as well. (see David Graff, Medieval Chinese Warfare) The change from French Republic to Napoleonic Empire also mirrored this trend too. (see John Lynn, Bayonets of the Republic) Thus in preserving a nation through the use of part time and motivated soldiers, the nation expands into an Empire requiring full time soldiers loyal to their general.

Alma 44:23 does mention the army was Moronis. And the command of these armies was apparently heredity, since the next commander was Moroni's son. And we witness the rise of a more complex society in the Book of Helaman, and an almost imperial reign of Nephite judges with an increasing amount of pride and stiff neckedness. Ancient Emperors though they were literal representatives of God, a prideful Judge and military commander would think the same thing. As I read the Book of Helaman (again with this new mindset) I assume I will find an increasing amount of pride reminiscent of an Empire that corresponds to the rise of the full time armies mentioned in Helaman 1. Thus Nephite armies seemed to have changed from a part time force into an increasingly full time one. How big these "armies" were we still have no idea, and we don't have enough information to judge if these were simply paper armies meant to be augmented or full time effective forces. But I believe the increasing pride and prosperity of the upper Nephite class suggests that Nephite armies were increasingly full time.

I will discuss the "sins" depicted in the Book of Helaman and how that reflects the changing army composition at a later time. As with much of this blog, these are tentative conclusions that invite comment from other interested scholars.

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