Monday, April 13, 2020

The Battle Pause in Alma 44

The battle account in Alma 44 always confused me a bit. In this chapter the Lamanites are caught in Captain Moroni’s trap and the battle is reported in Alma 43 as being incredibly intense. The Lamanites fought with such fury they were described as dragons that could spilt breast plates in two (Alma 43:44).  Yet a short time later the battle ended, Moroni gave a speech, Zarahemnah handed the weapons to Moroni, gives a counter speech, and Moroni hands the weapons back. 

This was very confusing to me because it suggests a level of command and control over the battlefield that seemed too great for Nephite armies. Once battles are joined, they aren’t paused and restarted multiple times like a stop watch.  Having some extra time at home on my hands I’ve been rereading my material from grad school, and I found a quote which suggests that battles could be paused or put into some sort of stasis. 

Speaking of Roman warfare Harry Sidebottom wrote: 

“That [hand to hand] fighting was physically exhausting- and we can estimate some battles like Cannae, lasted for hours- has led some modern scholars to hypothesize that at times such combat reverted to a ‘default state,’ where the two sides would draw back and hurl missiles and insults at each other as they got up their courage [and strength] for another short burst of hand to hand fighting.”[1]

There is certainly a great deal of this that applies to the Book of Mormon. This is the battle in which the Nephites debuted their heavier armor. (I say heavier instead of heavy because the Nephites armor was enough to scare their loin clad enemies, but not metal enough to be similar to heavy infantry throughout history as I explain here.)  The Nephite armor would have caused their fatigued. The Lamanite exertion would have caused their fatigue. And certainly, the exchange between the two leaders was testy so this matches up in some respects to Sidebottom’s quote.

But this quote is not completely satisfactory. This battle includes some sort of ceremonial element when Moroni demanded his opponent’s weapons and a covenant (Alma 44:7-10). Thus, the description of battle as a free for all that eludes any ability to pause the battle, but then is so exhausting that it produces a stalemate isn’t completely satisfactory. I suspect these ritual elements hold the key. They represent the paused elements in the battle and there seems to be some sort of mixture between formal rules to battle and the lack of it. After all, this was a pivotal battle that first displayed Moroni's heavier armor, and he seems to defensive about his ambush (Alma 43:29-30), which makes sense if one is to be believe there is a ritualistic element to the battle.  I believe that research more into such items as flower wars, mourning wars, desecrecation ceremonies and similar conflicts that limited warfare to find a better answer. I’ll just have to wait for the libraries to open again.  

[1] Harry Sidebottom, Ancient Warfare: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2004, pg. 88.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very nice explanation.