All appeared well as the Romans had the “pacification” of modern-day Germany underway in A.D. 9. The early Principate Roman Army had driven the “barbarians” before it, as it had done many times before. Then revolt stirred and Rome relied on a charismatic German prince, raised as a hostage and then proven auxiliary commander in Roman civilization, to help reaffirm the Empire’s authority in his country…

Check out this episode!

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For Further Awesome Reading…

Teutoburg Forest AD 9: The destruction of Varus and his legions

Military history professionally undertaken—with maps and excellent color illustrations

The Battle that stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest

I hesitate to post this, because I have issues with this anthropologist’s description of the actual battle, but he offers a far more detailed explanation and look at German culture and motivations at that time. Read for the anthropology!

Complete Roman Army

I’ve recommended this book before and I’ll do it again! This is a large and definitive history of the Roman fighting machine, excellently illustrated.

The image of the samurai is almost synonymous with Japanese history for many people: the honor-bound, bow and sword wielding individual warrior on horseback. It could have been very different. When the early Japanese Court was trying hard to adopt the massed infantry tactics of China, a series of defeats to an impressive “barbarian” guerrilla warrior from the north changed the military culture of the country.

Check out this episode!

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For Further Awesome Reading…

A History of Japan to 1334

The OG—Sansom wrote a comprehensive history of Japan that is readable and scholarly at the same time, while still respected many decades later. Volume 2 is even better, although it covers events centuries later than those of this podcast.

Heavenly Warriors: The Evolution of Japan’s Military, 500–1300

When my own history professor assigned this way back when, she made clear it was a “counter” narrative to a lot of how Japanese history had been interpreted for many decades. It’s a great companion source to something like Sansom.

Part 3 of a series on historical events that are widely overrated in aspects of their impact and yet actually underrated and deeply misunderstood. The decisive victory Hannibal Barca won over the Roman Republic at Cannae in 216 BC was the crown jewel of his many achievements, and has been studied so often that perhaps it’s now cliché. I retell the story to focus on why it was so significant in that war and why it still has lessons for us, despite what modern scholars might think.

Check out this episode!

  • Hannibal
  • Cannae order of battle
  • Carthaginian mercenaries
  • war elephant with infantryman
  • Spanish cavalry
  • Numidian

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Show Notes

  • Carthage was the natural rival to Rome’s power. Carthage was a maritime empire centered in modern day Tunisia and covering North Africa.
  • Carthage had an excellent navy. Rome was the major power in Italy after driving out the Celtic Gauls.
  • 1st Punic War: Rome defeated Carthage under general Hamilcar and this established Rome as the front runner over Carthage. Both were in competition to colonize Spain.
  • Hannibal is Hamilcar’s son.
  • Rome had every advantage over Carthage: more troops, maniple legion.
  • Carthage had more money, but that was it.
  • Hannibal came as close to defeating Rome as anyone did in the first 1000 years of Roman history.
  • Hannibal is known as the dude who could win battles, not the war. Also known for war elephants that he brought across 2 major mountain ranges.
  • History sidenote: there’s a movement to tell the peoples’ history, but that often includes devaluing and degrading the rulers and great men who were major players in history.
  • Anachronism: you have to try to put your bias aside and not judge people of the past according to everything civilization has come to develop inbetween.
  • SPQR by Mary Beard – one of the prominent modern Roman history scholars, guilty of anachronism.
  • Cannae was Hannibal’s greatest victory and part of a great test to Roman civilization.
  • Hannibal crosses the Pyrenes and Alps to take the Romans by surprise.
  • He picked up the Gauls and fought the first battle of Trebbia – where/after which most of the elephants die.
  • Hannibal’s strategy was to pry away Rome’s allies, but he misread the situation; the allies never lost their faith in Rome.
  • In Rome, 2 consuls raise biggest Roman army ever assembled: 8 legions + allies (85,000 guys).
  • Hannibal had 50,000 guys: Celts, Spaniards, African levies.
  • Hannibal was outnumbered and Roman troops were superior.
  • However, Hannibal had the better cavalry and he drew up a clever battle plan.
  • During the Battle of Cannae, the sun was in the Roman army’s eyes and dust was blowing too.
  • Hannibal had set up his army with the Celts + Spaniards in the center, they were the worst men in the group and historically, you would put your best guys in the center.
  • While the Celts were very brave, they were unreliable and not trained as well.
  • He put the veteran Carthaginians on the flanks with the best troops on the very outside.
  • Rome went straight for the center and put themselves into a double envelopment. As the Celts gave way, the Carthaginian flanks push in from the sides. The Roman legions were surrounded on three sides, with many of the troops stuck in a crush. Their cavalry was driven off and then they were completely surrounded.
  • 70,000 Roman soldiers were killed in one day: the greatest loss of life in a single battle in a single day in the history of the world.
  • In 27 months, Rome lost 120,000 of their best young men.
  • After this loss, Rome changed a lot of laws to allow more men to join the military: freeing slaves, giving amnesty to criminals, getting rid of property owner requirement.
  • Fabius Maximus: Rome’s own unconventional leader. Desperate times promote people with different solutions.
  • Fabian tactics: delaying, harassing, not directly fighting. The anti-Roman approach, but it worked.
  • Scipio defeated Hannibal.
  • Carthaginians lost 2nd Punic War but they make a traumatic impact on Romans.
  • Cato the Elder: Carthage must be destroyed.
  • Rome became world power after knocking off Carthage.
  • Singular ability of Hannibal: How do I turn my greatest weakness into a strength?

For Further Awesome Reading…

Hannibal

Complete Roman Army

In The Complete Roman Army, Goldsworthy writes an accessible and detailed account of the evolution of Roman arms, with plenty of visuals to help the general audience understand how things looked. In Roman Warfare, the Roman ethos over the development of their civilization is also effectively captured.

Roman Warfare

Livy: The Early History of Rome

Polybius: The Histories

Both Polybius and Livy were historians under the Roman thumb, who were expected to write accounts that reflected well on Roman development. Their bias has to be taken into account, but they remain invaluable sources for the rise of Rome. Polybius in particular had a great influence on the subject of history and the idea that it should be a rational discussion of causes and effects. I can remember my first time reading him, while on a plane in 2002—excellent history, even translated and read out of context over 2000 years later!

Part 2 of a series on historical events that are widely overrated in aspects of their impact and yet actually underrated and deeply misunderstood. The Roman civilization is famous all over the world, but few people know just how unlikely and unique their rise to power was. Through an uncommon combination of ruthlessness and humility, Rome built a culture and a war machine that learned from mistakes, adapted to circumstances, and relentlessly pursued total victory. 

Check out this episode!

Show Notes

  • Roman rise included overthrowing kings, becoming a republic, elected consuls and even a Senate.
  • One of the incredible things about Romans was their ability to absorb defeat and learn from it.
  • They maintained a culture-wide focus on how to win.
  • They began their rise to power in Italy in the 400s and 300s BC.
  • Battle of Allia
  • The Celtic sack refines Roman warfare.
  • Ancient warfare used the Phalanx military formation and the goal was not to utterly annihilate opponents, just to get them to do what you wanted.
  • For more details on the original Phalanx warfare, check out my This is Sparta! episode
  • While the Phalanx was the custom in warfare, it was vulnerable from the sides and rear.
  • Alexander the Great and Philip the Second improved upon the Phalanx by making the spears longer and the formation deeper, as well as adding companion cavalry.
  • Samnites were a rival Italian group, from a hilly rocky land that made it hard keep the Phalanx together
  • Battle of the Caudine Forks 321 BC, a big defeat that figured deeply into the Roman sense of self.
  • “Under the Yolk”
  • Romans innovated warfare, creating Triplex Acies, three lines of soldiers: the Hastati, Principes, and Triarii
  • Romans got rid of the Phalanx pikes and invented the Gladius (short heavy sword) and pila (javelins)
  • This all eventually came to be called the Manipular Legion.

For Further Awesome Reading…

Complete Roman Army

In The Complete Roman Army, Goldsworthy writes an accessible and detailed account of the evolution of Roman arms, with plenty of visuals to help the general audience understand how things looked. In Roman Warfare, the Roman ethos over the development of their civilization is also effectively captured.

Roman Warfare

Livy: The Early History of Rome

Polybius: The Histories

Both Polybius and Livy were historians under the Roman thumb, who were expected to write accounts that reflected well on Roman development. Their bias has to be taken into account, but they remain invaluable sources for the rise of Rome. Polybius in particular had a great influence on the subject of history and the idea that it should be a rational discussion of causes and effects. I can remember my first time reading him, while on a plane in 2002—excellent history, even translated and read out of context over 2000 years later!

Support the Edge of History podcast!

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Part 1 of a series on historical events that are widely overrated in aspects of their impact and yet actually underrated and deeply misunderstood. President Abraham Lincoln ‘s landmark Emancipation Proclamation is known popularly as what “freed the slaves,” but its story is far more complex. Skeptics correctly point out that it did very little to change the legal and actual status of slaves anywhere in America at that time, but I break it down here for the brilliant practical strike at the institution of slavery that it was. Honest Abe for the win, and within the limits of his Constitutional Power to boot.

Check out this episode!

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Chechens have been in an almost 200-year struggle against Russian imperialism. While they remain in an occupied state, the spirit of their people is very much alive. Through their struggle, we can see the consequences of brutality, the power of evil, the heart of a people, the early buds of radicalization, the way misinformation shifts focus and spreads lies. Ultimately, this episode is a reflection on how small events can have a huge ripple effect on the modern world and how we ALL have a role to play in that, either through silent consent, ignorance, or informed action.

Check out this episode!

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The last of the rebel “old guard” are hunted down, killed, or driven into exile. Chechen traitor/Russian puppet Ramzan Kadyrov rules Chechnya through fear. A generation of traumatized and/or radicalized children remain.  Some depart for the bloodbaths of Ukraine or Syria in a tragic epilogue. What’s next? How do we evaluate the legacy of the struggle?

Check out this episode!

From left to right: President Abdul Khalim Sadulayev (killed in 2006), leader of Dagestani allied rebels Rappani Khalilov (killed in 2007) and Abu Hafs, third commander of the Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya (killed in 2006)

For Further Awesome Reading…

Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya by Sebastian Smith

This is hard-hitting embedded journalism, but Smith does a great job introducing the roots of the Chechen conflict in the opening chapters. From there he covers his experiences on the frontlines reporting the war for the French Press in the mid-90s.

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings by Brian Glyn-Williams

In-depth historical look at the conflict and its roots. I wish it had been by a better writer: this is one of those books that you read after you’re already interested deeply in the subject. It wouldn’t make a convert out of anybody else. Still, there’s really useful stuff here and it’s easy to read.

The Lost American: Killing Chechnya by Fred Cuny 

This is an excellent article by an embedded American journalist—one who paid the ultimate price for his bravery in reporting. While he was with the rebels, Russian double agents passed along false information that he was a Russian spy, resulting in his execution. The opening paragraphs of this article, written in 1995, are eerily accurate for the future Cuny would never see.

The Sky Wept Fire by Mikhail Eldin

This is a personal account of a Chechen fighter and spy during the 1990s. While occasionally a little too purple in prose, it captures the desperate position of the guerrillas well.

One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko

A personal account from the other side: a Russian conscript, but then, curiously, a volunteer. Babchenko recounts the hazing, poor training, and hopeless situation of the Russian draftee deployed to Chechnya, and the moral trouble and “gunpowder disease” (read: addiction to combat) of the redeployed volunteer. Grim book, worth reading for anyone.

Jocko Podcast #13: Chechens vs. Russians

Jocko has a great podcast in general, but this one is particularly relevant here as he analyzes U.S.  and Russian military primary sources for conclusions about urban combat in the Chechen Wars. Jocko does a great job breaking down the disintegration of morale in the Russian forces and the discipline problems that resulted, along with the effective tactics of the guerrillas.   If you like this one, check out his review of Babchenko’s book as well.

For the tactical observation text Jocko references:

The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad by Robert W. Schaefer 

Schaefer is a Special Forces Colonel and intelligence analyst. I love this book because it was made to be informative for future analysis and action as it concerns this conflict, and it comes from a military expert. Too many books on Chechnya are written by amateur scholars trying to grab a buck or arrogant, ignorant blowhards like Mark Galeotti (avoid his work). Schaefer is occasionally a little dry, but he’s the real deal.

Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State

Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya

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After years of attrition taking their toll, a desperate Shamil Basayev turns once more to terrorism. Things are very different in 2004 than they were in 1995, however. The 9/11 attacks and state control of Russian media ensure that instead of helping the rebels, horrific events like the Beslan School Siege further cut off the Chechen cause from any hope.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

The School, Esquire Article by C.J. Chivers, March 14, 2007

“On the first day of school in 2004, a Chechen terrorist group struck the Russian town of Beslan. Targeting children, they took more than eleven hundred hostages. The attack represented a horrifying innovation in human brutality. Here, an extraordinary accounting of the experience of terror in the age of terrorism.”

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings by Brian Glyn-Williams

In-depth historical look at the conflict and its roots. I wish it had been by a better writer: this is one of those books that you read after you’re already interested deeply in the subject. It wouldn’t make a convert out of anybody else. Still, there’s really useful stuff here and it’s easy to read.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

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The brutality and incompetence of the Russian Army is on full display in opening months of the war. Their overwhelming force and the assistance of Chechen turncoats begin to turn the tide in their favor, however. Supplies choked off and numbers dwindling, the rebels disperse for guerrilla war.

Check out this episode!

Chechen fighters kneeling to pray
Russian soldiers climbing a mountain in southern Chechnya

For Further Awesome Reading…

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings by Brian Glyn-Williams

In-depth historical look at the conflict and its roots. I wish it had been by a better writer: this is one of those books that you read after you’re already interested deeply in the subject. It wouldn’t make a convert out of anybody else. Still, there’s really useful stuff here and it’s easy to read.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing, or making a donation at the bottom of the page. We love reviews and the Centurion reads every single one! Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Thank You!

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The overreach of the Chechen warlords and the rise of Vladimir Putin combine to precipitate the re-
invasion of Chechnya in 1999. Grozny is besieged once again and destroyed in urban combat. Both sides
have learned from ’94-‘96 but this time Russia is committing far more. Staged “terrorist” attacks help
Putin rally support, even as he kills his own people.

Check out this episode!

Russian Army on the move
Moscow Apartment Bombings September 1999

For Further Awesome Reading…

Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State

Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing, or making a donation at the bottom of the page. We love reviews and the Centurion reads every single one! Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Thank You!

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