Treatment of Captives in Ancient Greek Warfare – A Vicious Circle






Treatment of Captives in Ancient Greek Warfare – A Vicious Circle

Antony Kalashnikov (University of Alberta)

Vexillum, Vol.3 (2013)

Abstract

The Nereid Monument in the Lycean tomb, dated to 390-380 BC, depicts a besieged city in which a woman is tearing out her hair in lament of her potential fate – rape, enslavement, death. The image testifies to the cruel and inhumane treatment of captives that often characterized Ancient Greek warfare, particularly siege warfare. It was only the taking of a city that resulted in a large number of captives, both combatants and civilians. This essay will argue that the treatment of captives constituted a vicious circle, in which defendants of city would resolutely resist the siege for fear of massacre, mass rape, and enslavement; this stalwart defence, in turn, would contribute to cruel treatment of captives if/ once the city fell. The paper will be organized in the following way: after 1) outlining the treatment of captives in Greek siege warfare in general, I will 2) explore the options that defendants faced, and 3) examine the motives of cruel treatment of captives in the light of having faced hardened resistance during the siege. Lastly, I will examine a possible limitation to the argument – the Greek/ barbarian distinction – but demonstrate the argument’s continued validity.



The Nereid Monument in the Lycean tomb, dated to between 390 and 380 BCE, depicts a besieged city in which a woman is tearing out her hair in lament of her potential fate – rape, enslavement, and possibly death. The image testifies to the cruel and inhumane treatment of captives that often characterized ancient Greek warfare, particularly with respect to siege warfare. In ancient Greece, only the taking of a city resulted in a large number of captives, both combatants and civilians. This essay argues that the treatment of captives constituted a vicious cycle in which the defenders of city would resolutely resist the siege for fear of massacre, mass rape, and enslavement; this stalwart defense, in turn, would contribute to cruel treatment of captives when and if the city fell.

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