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 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.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Prearranged Battle in the Book of Mormon?

In page 7 of Warfare in the Book of Mormon John Welch describes tactics in the Amlicite War as a "prearranged, open battle". I disagree and find the text unsporting of that claim.

Verses 12 through 15 describe the pre battle preparation and would presumably describe the agreement for battle. In particular v. 12 and 13 say that:

The people of the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlicites, and therefore they did prepare to meet them; yea, they did arm themselves[...]with all manner of weapons of war, of every kind. And thus they were prepared to meet the Amlicites at the time of their coming...

It seems that Welch's argument comes from his interpretation of "prepared to meet them" as though they had prearranged correspondence concerning the time and place of their conflict. There is internal evidence to support this, Captain Moroni requested that the garrison in Mulek meet him on the open plains. (Alma 52:20) And the final battle at Cumorah was also prearranged.

In my reading of the Book of Mormmon the strategy and tactics of this war seems similar to the American Civil War. Both Richmond and Washington were very close to each other, and it was a basic conclusion that each side would aim for the others capital. The close proximity of capitals, route of the railroads and ease of gaining intelligence made a direct clash seem scheduled. If we accept Sorenson's model, the city Sidon was more populous and culturally significant than Zarahemla and text suggests that the Amlicites anointed their King and created the apparatus (at least an army) of an independent state. Thus the Nephites were prepared to meet them, not because they arranged a play date, but because the intelligence almost fell in their lap. They already knew a city just upstream was bigger, they had appointed a king, formed an army, and even marked their foreheads with their tribal affiliation. (Alma 3:4-5, which would sure make human intelligence easy)

The tactics surrounding the location of the fight also support a seemingly foreordained battle. The hill just to the east of Zarahemla could have screened the Amlicite force. This hill could also be vital defensive terrain for the city, armies with cannon would love to have a hill top view of the city beneath them. And the text says the Nephite armies went "up" to the hill. The defensive benefits of this terrain would force the armies to fight over it, and make the ensuing battle seem prearranged. Later in the Book of Mormon the Chief Judge Pahoran lost control of the capital due to a coup. But he was able to flee with the government to the city of Gideon. (Alma 61:5-7) Notice v. 7 where the rebellious forces were "fearful" to strike at Gideon despite the fact that they just seized the government. Perhaps a part of his enemies fear was due to his control of the decisive defensive terrain just across the river from the city.

After reading Alma chapters 1-3 I find scant evidence for a prearranged battle. I did find a great deal of evidence that suggests the tactics of this episode were heavily influenced by cultural and physical geography to the point where the battle seemed foreordained. The creation of a new nation and rival army combined with dominant terrain around the city broadcast the intent of the enemy to the point where the Nephites were "prepared" to meet them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wickedness and Warfare in Omni

So I was reading my scriptures last night and I realized a couple things. First, much of the military discussion is focused on the two Moronis. The pre Christ (75-60 BC)and final warrior (320-400 AD) Moronis. But upon reading Omni and Words of Mormon I found there were several questions and some possible answers that do relate to warfare and will help us understand further.

The Nature of Wickedness in Omni: I suggest the the Plates of Nephi ended due to the wickedness of his successors as described in Omni. In v.2 Omni admits that he is a wicked man. This could be an example of Nephi's Psalm (2 Nephi 4:15-35), and it could be like the words of Joseph Smith. After confessing to being a sinful Joseph adds that nobody should think he is guilty of any great and malicious sin, but simply subject to the errors of youth. (JS History, 1:28) Since we don't have much we can assume that his sins were bad enough to warrant mention, and could be represented in later events.

The small book of Omni includes many mentions of war: v.3, 7, and 10 as well as the numerous mentions in the next small book. In connection with these wars Amaron mentions how if they would only follow God they would prosper in the land. (v7.) And the great grandson of Omni, Amaleki had to flee from the land of Nephi with the people of God. This could represent a newly made minority seeking a new land. Just as Nephi had to flee his brothers, and Lehi had to flee Jerusalem, the righteous are commanded to flee and gather.

But, even the brother of Amaleki wanted to go back. And Amaleki had no son, living relative, or righteous combination of the previous two that could take the plates. Thus there is evidence that, like the children of Israel in the desert, many looked back during the Exodus towards Egypt/their sinly ways. (See 1 Nephi 17:20-21 for an internal example)
The text reads:

And now I would speak somewhat concerning a certain number who went up into the wilderness to return to the land of Nephi; for there was a large number who were desirous to possess the land of their inheritance. Wherefore, they went up into the wilderness. And their leader being a strong and mighty man, and a stiffnecked man, wherefore he caused a contention among them; and they were all slain, save fifty, in the wilderness, and they returned again to the land of Zarahemla.
The footnote refers to Mosiah 9:2 which reads from a first hand account of the journey:
Therefore, I contended with my brethren in the wilderness, for I would that our ruler should make a treaty with [the Lamanites in the land of Nephi]; but he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain; but I was rescued by the shedding of much blood; for father fought against father, and brother against brother, until the greater number of our army was destroyed in the wilderness; and we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children.

Lessons: It seems the contention was between fighting for the land through battle, and peacefully possessing the land through treaty. The number 50 also suggests that the strongest survived. Again these could be body guards or full time soldiers.(See Army Tactics and Composition for more) In this case it seems the body guards (the 50 that survived which includes at least one spy) turned against their leader. This somewhat matches the latter rebellion against king Noah, where a wicked and bloodthirsty commander forfeits his right to rule. (Mosiah 19:1-6,19-20) The text also reinforces the suggestion that spies were actually closer to scouts and rangers than cloak and dagger forces. (see Army Tactics and Composition) The familial strife may also indicate that units were tribally created along family lines. And it indicates a simpler level of society compared to the time of two Moronis. In this case right made might- the side that won decided to make a treaty and colonize the land. There also seemed to be less control over tribal secession. Since in Omni there is no indication of government control over tribal movement. (compare to Alma 27:14-15, or the mission to reclaim the Zoramites, or Moroni's aggressive attempts to prevent the King Men escape) Also in Words of Mormon v. 16, there are numerous dissents unto the Lamanites but no mention of control or trying to control them.

Conclusion: I was amazed that I could glean so much from only a couple pages of text. The Book of Mormon continually amazes me, and there is so much research to do concerning warfare in that book. In this short chapter alone we find information about Nephite society, army composition, and even some political detail. Coming soon...Words of Mormon

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Strategy and military theory in the Book of Mormon

What follows is a preliminary examination of strategy and military thought within the Book of Mormon.

Clausewitzean thought and strategy: Carl Von Clausewitz is the most influential theorist ever and it is fitting we should start with him. In making this list I must confess that I am not an expert on military theory, especially the incredibly dense writings of somebody like Clausewitz. But I have studied application of his words in a publications (In consideration for the Napoleon Series) in conference presentations (2009 Napoleon Conference) on my blog (Clausewitz on Captain Moroni's Genius) and from numerous studies in school (like the debate over Confederate strategy during the United States Civil War). Thus with my credentials at least basically established I will examine a few ways the Book of Mormon accurately conforms to the principles of Clausewitz and other military theorists.

-My post title "Clausewitz on Captain Moroni's Genius" covered how Moroni's actions match the criteria established by Clausewitz

-Strategic Policy: The Nephites attempted to take an active defense but were expressly forbidden by God and their leaders to take the offensive. This corresponds to Clausewitz who states that the weaker power usually goes on the defensive (the Nephites in this case), but a truly passive defensive is fatal.

-Defensive strength: Thus Moroni commanded Teancum to seek opportunity to "scourge" the Lamanites as possible, yet not take any major offensive like reclaiming the city until Moroni arrived. Clausewitz also said that defenses were normally stronger than offensives. The latter had the burden of positive purpose, I.E. they had to conquer to win, while the defender simply had to not lose. The negative purpose of the Nephites worked to their advantage in some cases as they used the threat to their homes and families as a motivator in the fight. One can think of the French thinking of "la patria" as they mobilized and fought with vigor to defend and spread the revolution. There are draw backs to being on the defensive that were of particular concern to the Nephites based on Mesoamerican politics, but I will address that in another post.

-Culmination point: This is the point at which the army on the offensive operates past its ability to gains its objective and the offensive then quickly moves to the other side. In history this is exemplified most by Napoleon's Russia campaign. Capturing Moscow moved Napoleon beyond the culmination point, where he then went on a defensive all the way back to Germany. In the Book of Mormon, Moroni reclaiming the capital, seizing Lamanite reinforcements, and then defeating the last Lamanite force represents the Lamanites moving past the culmination point. Teancum's midnight raid on the Lamanite king also represents a more limited culmination point, since the Lamanites never pursued anything more than a limited offensive in that area for the rest of the war.

Antoin Henri Jomini: While not as famous as Clausewitz, his post Napoleonic writings have influenced contemporary military thought to a great degree.

-General Maxim: The first rule of Jomini was to concentrate all available strength at the decisive point to win the battle. Moroni's tactical maneuvers excel at this rule. In Alma 43, 52, and 56, the Nephites maneuvered their forces in such as way so that they could " fall upon them in their rear, and thus bring them up in the rear at the same time they were met in the front" (Alma 56:23). This could represent a Jominian attempt to apply decisive combat power at the critical place and time.

-Interior lines: Jomini loved to discuss how interior lines are an advantage. To describe this concept think of a circle; the forces on the inside of the circle would have a shorter route and easier time defending any part of that circle compared to the forces outside the circle. A nation on the defensive, and the position of the Nephite Capital with forces on seas to the east and the west could apply the principle of interior lines. They could transfer forces to either side faster than the Lamanites; who had to go "round about" (Alma 43:22) in order to re-engage the Nephites.


-Psychological preparation: Chinese and Japanese writers were intent on being mentally prepared. "Those that excel in warfare first make themselves unconquerable" (Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Ralph Sawyer trans, 163) Sun-Tzu also described the effects of certain terrain on fighting skills "Fatal terrain" is one where you throw the army into an impossible situation, like fighting with your backs to a river, and when you throw "soldiers into a place from which there is nowhere to go, they will die rather than flee. When they are facing death, how can one not obtain the utmost strength from the officers and men?”(Sun Tzu, 179, see also David Graff's Medieval Chinese Warfare pg,169). I have a paper under consideration from the Journal of BoM studies that examines one case of Moroni placing the armies of the Nephites in protection of women and children, thus activating a psychologically trigger among what otherwise would be lethargic levies.

-Fatherly care: Sun-Tzu said, "When the general regards his troops as young children, they will advance into the deepest valleys with him. When he regards the troops as his beloved children, they will be willing to die with him." (177) Compare with the words of Helaman and the performance of his soldiers: And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites. For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus. (Alma 56:45-46)

-Unorthodox tactics: This is a peculiar definition, but according to scholars orthodox tactics were meant to hold an enemy in place so that the unorthodox flanking blow will strike successfully. Thus Nephite commanders would approach a city, and establish contact with the enemy: the orthodox method. Then they would execute some sort of ruse designed to overwhelm the army physically and undo them psychologically, and constitute the unorthodox manner of victory.

De Re Militari and the Strategikon: These are Roman and Byzantine writings, respectively, that describe strategy further. I cannot comment in great detail on these since I have not read a great deal about them. (Geeze, I'm not an encyclopedia) But in writing my book about Book of Mormon warfare I intend to make great use of them, and other ancient writers such as Frontinus.

Conclusion: A preliminary comparison of the Book of Mormon to seminal military texts reveals that the Book generally conforms to established principles of good generalship and seems authentic due to its verification through military theory. There are some differences such as the lack of defensive strength that Clausewitz describes. These can be attributed to cultural idiosyncrasies. A study of military theory from different cultures and time periods allows us more depth in examining what the Book of Mormon has to say concerning strategy and theory. It also bypasses the criticisms associated with "parallel mania" due to the universal nature of good military principles.

I hoped you enjoyed the read, and I look forward to bringing more knowledge and background to the study of Book of Mormon warfare.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

But Ricky!!!

This post will list a few of the evidences that I have found that strengthen the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, and draws its title from the television show "I Love Lucy". Some will notice that I said plausibility, and not prove. Personally, I don't like to overstate my case. I don't think there is one silver bullet that will suddenly convince everybody (or even many people) of the BoM's historicity. There is however something that Hugh Nibley described. Concerning the Book of Mormon he said that:

Even if every parallel were the purest coincidence, we would still have to explain how the Prophet contrived to pack such a dense succession of happy accidents into the scriptures he gave us. Where the world has a perfect right to expect a great potpourri of the most outrageous nonsense, and in anticipation has indeed rushed to judgment with all manner of premature accusations, we discover whenever ancient texts turn up to offer the necessary checks and controls that the man was astonishingly on target in his depiction of general situations, in the almost casual mention of peculiar oddities, in the strange proper names, and countless other unaccountable details. . . . As the evidence accumulates, it is not the Prophet but his critics who find themselves with a lot of explaining to do
Prophetic Book of Mormon 325-326

For my part, I read the Book of Mormon and found many small examples of consistent warfare that stack up very nicely with the checks and controls of ancient sources. Here are a few that I found:
-Desecration rituals resemble Captain Moroni's actions against the King Men. Alma 51:17 compared to Brown and Stanton: Mesoamerican Warfare
-Banners charged with supernatural power used in Battle. David Friedal: "Maya Warfare"
-Cloth armor similar to Aztec use. Alma 43:19, compared to the "thick clothing" described by Ross Hassig
-Pre Battle Divination. Alma 43, compared to many ancient societies such as David Graff in Medieval Chinese Warfare
-Similar army composition to ancient armies.
-Ritualization of combat.
-Correct use of principles of war See the writings of J.F.C. Fuller for more.
-Proper application of military theory: Clausewitz on Captain Moroni's leadership, the offensive defense described by Clausewitz, attacking the enemy's center of gravity, principles of Mass described by Antoine Henri Jomini, penchant for shock battle due to mountainous terrain similar to Greek City states (I will expand this section to a whole post soon, don't worry).
-Proper social contexts such as: part time military due to agricultural needs (Alma 53:7), classification of population by military obligation (young men v. children- see John Welch's "Law of War" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon), inclusion of families for logistical support.
-Possible military colonies similar to Asian and Mesopotamian nations see Micheal Lowe's description of Han Dynasty colonies and William Hamblin's description of Mesopotamian colonies.
-Difficulty defending due to nature of Mesoamerican politics, compare the war chapters to Ross Hassig's Aztec Warfare.
-Accurate description of military elites similar to other ancient societies

In short: the detailed narrative included in the war chapters provide so many evidences for the validity of the Book of Mormon that it is the critics and not Joseph Smith that have some "splaining" to do. Its possible that Joseph Smith guessed or plagiarized from many sources to do this. But where is the evidence? Where are the eye witness descriptions of the notes Smith used? What library had these resources? Who saw Smith researching all of these sources? Who among the associates of Smith had access to this information? The critics would rather respond with snark and sarcasm than answer these questions.

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 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.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Army Composition and Tactics, Part II

Skirmishers: My classification is based largely on mission and not by armament. There is no indication that the BoM distinguishes between skirmishers and heavy infantry. The most in depth description of Nephite armor comes from the activities of Moroni in making the Title of Liberty (Alma 46:13). As mentioned in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, and Mesocamerican books like Aztec Warfare, the elites normally wore more armor (and more colorful armor) than the average soldier. Thus I classified the skirmishers based on their tactics. Teancum was commanded to "seek opportunity to scourge" the Lamanites in that quarter of the land. (Alma 52:10). Thus when he marched passed a city Brant Gardner assumes that they were aiming to destroy farm land around the city, prompting the Lamanites to exit the city and attack. And the Lamanites began to "sally forth" from the cities, indicating a different policy than turtling in their fortresses. (Alma 56: 26-29) Earlier in the chapter there is also an indication that fighting for the city was different than defending the city. By day the Nephites skirmished with their lamanite counter parts, and by night they fortified the city. When Helaman's reinforcements arrived the skirmishers reported back to the commander who then ordered a retreat to their fortifications.

Thus the two examples (Teancum's maneuvers ,and the operations around Judea) suggest that cities were a base of operations from which raids were conducted against opposing farmland. Commanders also sent "feelers" out to probe enemy the strength of enemy defenses, and the defenders would sent out forces to screen and prevent the collection of enemy intelligence. Thus, skirmishers acted as quick attack forces and a supplement for the scouts and spies employed.

Heavy Infantry: This is a tough category. As mentioned before, there is no indication of a difference in armor between the leaders and the mass of the army. However, other ancient societies and mesoamerican societies did have that division. There is also Western Way of War baggage in classifying something as heavy infantry. According to Victor David Hanson, the Greeks developed and enshrined the concept of heavy infantry allowing Greek, Roman, and later Western forces a decisive advantage in combat. Combined with the penchant for shock battle (exemplified by Alexander the Great according to Hanson), the heavy infantry would literally run over their enemies on their way to victory. While "others" would focus on maneuver, intrigue and ruses to attain victory. Thus the Nephites possessing heavy infantry would suggest a break down in the distinctiveness of the Western Way of War.

The Book of Mormon mentions one battle in particular that can help us determine the nature of Nephite warfare. After a Lamanite force was surrounded "they did fight like dragons...yea, for they did smite in two many of their head-plates, and they did pierce many of their breastplates, and they did smite off many of their arms; and thus the Lamanites did smite in their fierce anger." (Alma 43:44) But the Lamanites did not have the same armor that they did later in the war. So there is indication of a decisive clash and armor among the Nephites. The enemies commanders complaint in the peace discussion suggest that the armor was new and perhaps the Nephites had their own hoplite revolution. (see the post titled Homeric Warfare) However, the fact that the armies could disengage for a lengthy offer of peace from Moroni suggest a great deal of continuing ritualization in Nephite society. (Alma 44) Also, Alma 44:8-15 describes some of the weapons that heavy infantry would carry: sword, cimeter, and bow.

Thus a final verdict is difficult to describe. The Nephite used enough armor to classify as heavy infantry (at least the elites did). There is a lack of evidence if the use of armor was widespread enough to classify an entire band of warriors as heavy infantry. The participation of entire armies in shock battle, and the chaotic nature of the scrum suggest a distinction by function between skirmishers and heavy infantry.
Alma 52:31-38 says that:
Moroni being in their course of march, therefore Jacob was determined to slay them and cut his way through to the city of Mulek. But behold, Moroni and his men were more powerful; therefore they did not give way before the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they fought on both hands with exceeding fury; and there were many slain on both sides; yea, and Moroni was wounded and Jacob was killed.

The Battle of Mulek and others like the First Battle of Zarahemla (Alma 43-44) suggest that the Nephites participated in decisive shock battle between heavily armored and armed infantry forces. The impact of that fact on the Western Way of War must wait for another post. The impact on the average soldier must have been immense. In the BoM we read of severed arms, severed heads, blood drinking, human sacrifice, slavery, being burned alive, starvation, cannibalism and sexual exploitation.

The heavy infantry and the forces in shock battle faced those punishments upon a loss, and many of those in the pursuit of victory. The skirmishers could often survive upon their mobility (think Monty Python: run away!!!), the heavy infantry often could not due to the need to defend fixed objects and the often defensive nature of their conflicts.

Coming soon: garrisons, prison guards, and body guards.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Army Composition and tactics, Part I

In my second post, titled "the past and the future", I discussed the tactical options that many commentators overlook, and how we can examine the face of battle by examining these things. My purpose is two fold: First, I want to show that the Book of Mormon text adequately describes the various functions and contains snippets of detail that provide solid evidence for its ancient origin. Second, I wish to examine those pieces of data to provide a better picture of the composition and activities of an ancient army, which I hope will help other war historians.

These goals involve a two step process and necessarily entails a certain amount of skepticism, since the brevity of the text allows for often nothing more than implications. And we can then deduct what tasks the average soldier would be required of the soldier to achieve the description in the text.

Here are some of the options that I have come up with:

Courier: Letters are exchanged between military commanders (Alma 52:10), between commanders and the central government(Alma 59:1-3), commanders and the local government (Alma 58:4), and the leaders of separate nations (Alma 54). There is also "requests" to fight in certain places (Alma 52:20), or diplomatic negotiations (Alma 57:1-3). Of note is that in some places the courier had to travel past the capital with a letter containing a question about the capital. (Alma 58:34) Since a coup at the capital was partially the cause of the letter, the fact that a courier could travel from one side of the land to the other suggests a significant amount of information control in the Capital by the usurpers. It could suggest a degree of interference imposed on those couriers as well, and connotes physical dangers with the job above the basic requirement to move fast.

Alma 54:4 suggests that the courier was a dedicated position (At least dedicated until the return trip was finished). There is no word on what material this was written on and if that matched Mesoamerican trends. Given the warm climate, any paper records would be transitory. But, the fact that Mormon is quoting from this letter over 400 years later suggests letters were in another material or the Nephite's had depository for paper as well as metal records.

Spies: This section is related to the notion of information control associated with the previous section. It seems the army included numerous spies. Ross Hassig (Aztec Warfare) shows that merchants and refugees were one type of human intelligence. The text in Alma 52 and 57 suggest that the term spy refers more to "scouts." When the scouts/spies were cut off the Lamanite armies fell victim to tactical battle ruses. Alma 50:30-31 suggests that Moroni was willing to trust and exploit human intelligence, similar to the harlot at Jericho for Joshua.

From the text there is a good deal of evidence suggesting that spies associated with the army were more like scouts. And often faced the chance of being killed by counter intelligence, and subject to being "cut off" by the enemy.

Labor: Alma 56:16 mentions fighting valiantly by day and toiling by night to maintain the city. This implies a last ditch effort to fortify the city and an effort to keep the city, or keep the enemy away from the city. The scene could involve fighting around their limited fortifications, and then trying to raise them high enough during the night to repeat Alma 49. Alma 53:7 suggests than the entire army could be used for food harvest and distribution. This may seem one of the safer occupations, but the stronger soldiers would also be required to perform labor and the labor was often military related and done under the threat of attack.

Coming up soon: Skirmishers,heavy infantry, prison guards, Garrisons, and Body Guards.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Homeric warfare

This post will discuss what kind of "scrum" Nephite battles consisted of. The first version consists of a relatively bloodless combat similar to the battles described in the Illiad. The second involves greater participation and greater casualties evocative of shock battle.

In the Illiad, Homer describes a type of warfare that consisted of battle between elites. This involved relatively few people in that battle, which is one reason why the siege could go for ten years. It was also highly ritualized and one on one. Other societies have had similar conventions. European knights during the middle ages, the individual combat of the Samurai, and the Flower Wars of the Aztecs all have similar features to this style of combat.

Around the 6th century B.C. the Greeks went through what is called the "Hoplite Revolution". This revolution moved away from individual combat into a more egalitarian combat featuring the phalanx formation. (See: Harry Sidebottom's "A Very Short Introduction to Ancient Warfare") This type of combat stressed duty and discipline ("Staying in formation") more than individual heroics ("how many kills can I get").

An example of this shift is found in Virgil's Epic poem The Aeneid. In this poem, the Latin hero Turnus had penetrated the gate of the Greek colony. If he had opened the gate, i.e. shown the discipline of leader, the Latins would have won the battle. Fueled by the heroic impulse however, Turnus sought individual glory and fought and lost on his own. Thus by the time of the Pax Romana, Western society had thoroughly embraced the concept of discipline and subordinated the Achilles like tendency for individual glory. (See Victor David Hanson's Carnage and Culture chapter 8 for more)

In the Book of Mormon, it does not explicitly describe individual combat. In Alma 2:29-33, the Chief judge contended one on one with the apostate leader, and the Lamanite leader, then his bodyguards contended with the enemy king's bodyguards. There is also a whiff of editorial attack here, as the Lamanite King fled and allowed his bodyguards to cover his retreat. But the battle also described the attempt at gaining a beach head on the other side of the river, implying a vicious scrum. Thus the evidence is mixed for what type that episode describes.

The Book of Mosiah described small armies. And a situation where the people advanced without weapons, and with their women in front in order to dissuade an enemy attack.(Mosiah, 19:14-15; 20:24-25) This may describe a bloodless, individual and small scale combat. But the people were in a tributary relationship, so that may have skewed the conduct of war from the norm in other parts of the Book of Mormon. Plus, chapter 20 of Mosiah also suggests a violent war ("fought like lions for their pray" v. 10-11) and the people of Limhi seemed to ambush their foes ("laid wait in the fields and forests" v. 8). These both suggest a departure away from a style of combat which focuses on epic one on one duels for the glory of the hero, and a relatively bloodless encounter. And perhaps most damning, v. 12 mentions how the King was found wounded among the dead bodies. If there was a Homeric duel between the King and the general, there would be no mention of "finding" the body, it would have been obvious to the winner of the duel that he won and the body would be right in front of him.

These are just a few examples of the discussion that needs to take place concerning the method of battle described in the Book of Mormon. There is contradictory evidence, but more in favor of egalitarian and violent combat opposed to ritualistic individual combat. Finding out what the Book of Mormon says will help us develop contrasts and deeper understanding of other ancient cultures and literature, and it should help shape the current debate among Mesoamerican scholars concerning the nature of Battle.