Contrary to popular traditions, ancient Greek armies relied on foreign mercenaries | Smart News


Historians of ancient Greece loved to write about the heroism of their compatriots in battle. Homer, Herodotus, and their peers often described the valiant actions of Greek warriors engaged in combat and conquest.

But did the war really go that way? Teeth found in fifth century BC mass graves in Sicily suggest otherwise. As University of Georgia anthropologist Katherine Reinberger, lead author of a new study published in the journal PLOS One, written for the ConversationThe Greek armies used the mercenary forces of other countries more extensively than previously thought.

For the study, Reinberger and his colleagues analyzed the isotopes present in the teeth of 62 soldiers killed in action in the town of Himera in 480 BC and 409 BC The results of the interdisciplinary team indicate that two-thirds of soldiers buried in 480 were not of Greek origin. of origin, while a quarter of those buried in 409 were “non-local”.

“We realized that it was possible that many of the 480 soldiers were coming from outside Sicily, and maybe even from outside the Mediterranean,” says Reinberger. Live ScienceIt’s Laura Geggel.

By Krista Charles from New scientist, these mercenaries may have come from the Catalan coast, the Iberian Peninsula, mainland Greece or the Black Sea coast.

Carthaginian forces attacked Himera both times, losing the first battle and winning the second. Herodotus wrote that Greeks across Sicily united to deal with these threats – but as researchers have discovered, the historian’s account seems to have missed the mark.

“These soldiers had such high strontium values ​​and such low oxygen values ​​compared to what one would expect in a native of Himera that my colleagues and I believe they came from even more places. remote than just other parts of Sicily, ”notes Reinberger in the Conversation. “Based on the elemental isotope ratios of their teeth, the soldiers likely had diverse geographic origins ranging from the Mediterranean and possibly beyond.

A fictionalized depiction of the Battle of Himera in 480 BC.

(Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists use strontium levels to identify where people grew up. The isotope acts as a geographic marker indicating what and where individuals have consumed.

“Researchers know that the type of strontium in your body reflects the underlying geology or bedrock where the plants and animals you ate grew,” writes the anthropologist. “Oxygen isotopes come from your water source. These elements become a physical record of your origins. “

The higher number of non-local soldiers present at the first battle shows how foreign mercenaries helped the Greeks defeat the Carthaginians, Sarah Wells reports for Reverse. The team postulates that the lower tally of non-local deaths in the second battle indicates how Himera may have been cut off from the protective forces and sentenced to a deadly end.

“This study suggests that ancient communities were more diverse than previously thought,” says Reinberger Reverse. “The recruitment of foreign mercenaries may have opened avenues of access to citizenship that are not often mentioned in Greek history.”

Talk with Live Science, Reinberger underlines that “the historians of ancient Greece had an interest in keeping the armies entirely Greek”.

She adds: “The Greeks were obsessed with being Greeks”, considering all those who did not speak the “barbarian” language.

As Mario Novak, a researcher at the Anthropological Research Institute of Croatia, who did not participate in the study, recounts New scientist, the results suggest that “these ‘barbarians’ were much more integrated into the daily lives of true Greeks than previously thought.”

Reinberger says that further study of the isotopes of ancient teeth could lead to more discoveries about Greek history and how it might differ from written accounts.

“It would be amazing to have this kind of information from other battles in ancient history,” she said. Reverse. “It would be interesting to see if there are similar levels of geographic diversity in other Greek armies or if it is unique to Greek colonies which may have already been in contact with more groups than the mainland.”

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