by Alfred S. Bradford
I.B. Tauris (2015) p/b 176pp (ISBN 9781848859357)
Writing in the I.B. Tauris ‘Ancients and Moderns’ series, Professor Alfred Bradford, a Vietnam veteran (1968-9), covers the field from Homer to the Roman Empire and up to the Vietnam war. Chapters follow on the study of war (theorists on the rights and wrongs), writing war (the Old Testament to novels and the modern memoir) and images of war (the Narmer palette to cartoons and video games).
Homer’s Iliad, the West’s first work of literature (c. 700 BC), has war at its heart, and already there are procedures and issues with which we are familiar today: the justice of going to war, parleys, treaties, treatment of the dead and setting up of monuments to them. Classical Greeks made peace under treaty by means of sacred oaths and exchange of hostages, vowing ‘to have the same friends and enemies’. Romans instituted their own official procedure of surrender—handing oneself over into Roman good faith. Cicero (1st C BC) defined the two big questions as ius ad bellum (justification for declaring war) and ius in bello (rightful conduct on the battlefield): retaliation and self-defence, under the appropriate authority, were at the heart of the former. St Augustine thought war should punish wrongdoing, vengeance was not permitted and the defeated should be converted to Christianity. Machiavelli argued that all war was just. Others argued that war could be pre-emptive: fear along could justify it. The Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (17th C) was most influential in arguing for a true ‘law of nations’ and the concept of international intervention.
Writing about war began with Homer and became a staple diet of ancient Greek and Roman poets and historians. Xenophon left a memoir of his expedition to help the Persian Cyrus, and Julius Caesar left diaries of his wars in Gaul and the civil against Pompey: the personal account was born, and flourishes today. One of the most important books on Roman battle tactics was written by Vegetius, and was used widely up to the 17th C.
Depictions of war on pottery were commonplace in the Greek world, and soldiers, both the living and the dead; decorated marble monuments were also put up to them. Romans followed suit. Trajan’s column celebrates that emperor’s victories in Dacia, depicting the army in all its various activities; the arch of Titus celebrates a victory parade after the capture of Jerusalem. The tradition continues today, expanded into film, photography, cartoons and so on.
This excellent account lives up to the reputation of the series: engaging, accessible and written by experts with non-specialists in mind.