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Warrior Cultures

Before the dawn of civilization and the advent of technology, war was a small-scale affair, with evidence dating back some 12,000 years. But researchers say most societies throughout history fought constantly for various reasons. Some psychologists say humans are inherently violent, and warfare creates an outlet for their aggression. Others say most general populace are reluctant to go to war, and that it is their leaders with a need for power who cause wars. Theories abound as to the reasons of going to war, but the fact is that warrior cultures have existed in many ancient societies around the world.

The Spartan Army was the military force of Sparta, one of the leading city-states of ancient Greece. Citizens' primary obligation was to be good soldiers. Drilled from infancy, the Spartans were one of the most feared military forces in history. When boys reach the age of seven, they are sent for military training where they learn to endure physical pain, and lack of food and clothing. If they are caught stealing, they are punished not for stealing, but for getting caught. In Sparta's heyday, it was commonly accepted that "one Spartan was worth several men of any other state". At the Battle of Thermopylae led by King Leonidas, they were said to be vastly outnumbered -. 7,000 men to 250,000, although modern scholars reject these figures as unrealistic.

A Viking Invasion Of Northern England

In England, sunbathing opportunities are as rare as good-looking women with straight teeth. So when a 1066 Viking invasion of northern England coincided with a sunny day, the invaders took time out from pillaging and plundering to slip off their armor and catch some rays. After all, the English army was tied up on the south coast…wasn’t it? When the Vikings saw forces approaching, they didn’t bother putting their armor back on, assuming that the group was their reinforcements. The Vikings were slaughtered-but their corpses had a lovely tan.

A knight is a "gentleman soldier" or a member of the warrior class of Medieval Europe. The path to knighthood began at age seven, when boys were sent for training that included instruction in courtesy, cleanliness and religion. After seven years of this, the boy would serve as a personal attendant to a knight, who would teach him horse riding, hunting and other skills of war. He would be ready for knighthood in his late teenage years. Chivalry was important as a knight, so he would have to swear to abide by the knightly code: "protect the weak, defenceless and helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all". One of the greatest signs of chivalry was the flying of colored banners, to display power and to distinguish knights in battle.

These highly skilled Japanese warriors came into existence in the 12th century and grew in importance and influence when powerful landowners hired them for protection. Although they used a range of weapons, such as bows and arrows, spears and guns, their most famous weapon and their symbol was the sword. During a certain period, they were even allowed to behead a commoner who had offended them. The Samurai lived according to the ethic code of "bushido" or "the way of the warrior". Strongly Confucian in nature, "bushido" stressed concepts such as loyalty to one's master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behavior.

During the first millennium, while Europe was deep in the Dark Ages, the Maya civilization flourished, with the construction of vast cities and great achievements in art, architecture, astronomy and written language. The Maya also had a warrior culture, which evolved over time. Initially, the Maya fought in small groups for the purpose of capturing prisoners to be used as human sacrifices to the gods. The Maya's preferred form of sacrifice was to decapitate their victims. Later, the purpose of Maya warfare shifted to conquest, with one city-state fighting another for territory and power.

However, even as Maya wars became broader and more brutal, the capture and sacrifice of prisoners remained a key part of the culture. Some prisoners were forced to help build hieroglyphic staircases on temples, but once the job was done, they would be sacrificed, their bodies tied in bundles and thrown down the steps they had constructed.

When it came to weapons, the Maya were a stone-age culture and had no metal-working technology. Their arsenal included stone axes, wooden clubs, atlatls (dart-throwers), spears and lances with obsidian blades. They also used shields made of wood and hide and, for added protection, wore short vests or jackets made of quilted cotton.   

During the first century, present-day Germany was dominated by small, semi-nomadic, warring tribes, who honed their fighting skills by battling each other. The Barbarians favoured hand-to-hand combat and surprise ambushes and fought without any rules. They had almost no armour or helmets and sometimes fought bare-chested or even naked. Because armour was almost non-existent, the Barbarians preferred long thrusting spears, rather than swords, to keep some distance between themselves and their enemies. They also fought with wooden clubs and used slings to propel rocks at their foes. Rocks were plentiful and useful to fighters who lacked a supply line to repair or replenish their weapons during a campaign.

The Barbarians' reputation for savagery was intensified by their belief that their gods required slow, painful human sacrifices. They reportedly slit the throats of some of their captives and filled bronze cauldrons with the blood. Some victims were skinned and their decapitated heads nailed to trees. Whether or not these stories were entirely true, they made the Barbarians seem more intimidating to their enemies.

The Knights of St. John, a group of 700 warrior monks, defended the Mediterranean island of Malta against a massive attack by 40,000 Ottoman Turks who intended to establish a strategic base there to attack Europe and wipe out Christianity. The birth of the Order dates back to around 1048. Merchants from the ancient Marine Republic of Amalfi obtained from the Caliph of Egypt the authorisation to build a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem, to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race. The Order of St.John of Jerusalem â€" the monastic community that ran the hospital for the pilgrims in the Holy Land â€" became independent under the guidance of its founder, Blessed Gérard. With the Bull of 15 February 1113, Pope Paschal II approved the foundation of the Hospital and placed it under the aegis of the Holy See, granting it the right to freely elect its superiors without interference from other secular or religious authorities. By virtue of the Papal Bull, the Hospital became an Order exempt from the Church. All the Knights were religious, bound by the three monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In 1565, the Ottoman Turks, who had made advances across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, were looking to expand their empire into continental Europe and needed to capture Malta to do so. Some 40,000 troops attacked the island and eventually gained a foothold. However, the Knights continued to fight back, using such incendiary weapons as "garandes," clay jars filled with inflammable liquid that would break and engulf an enemy in a bath of fire. They also used "trumps," hollowed-out tubes of wood or metal filled with inflammable liquid and attached to the ends of long poles. When lit, this device became a crude flamethrower. Another weapon of choice was a burning hoop, a hoop of flexible wood wrapped in cotton or rope and soaked in a mix of such substances as rum, saltpeter and gunpowder, then lit and thrown at enemies attempting to scale the walls of a fort.

The Zulus were a small, insignificant African tribe who had to constantly fight to defend their grazing lands. Eventually they were transformed into ruthless, aggressive warriors by the brilliant military leader Shaka Zulu.

Born around 1786, Shaka, the illegitimate son of a Zulu chief, was banished from his home and raised by the larger, warring Mthethwa tribe. As a teenager, he joined the Mthethwa army and soon earned a reputation as a ferocious fighter. After Shaka's Zulu chief father died around 1815, the chief of the Mthethwa sent Shaka home with 400 troops to conquer the Zulus. Shaka succeeded, took control of the Zulu army and went on to build it into a large, fearsome fighting force.

Shaka grouped young warriors from various regions into a single unit, which broke down regional alliances and created a team that would serve him above all else. During training, young men were forced to toughen up by fighting for food, stomping on thorns in bare feet and traveling distances of 50 miles in a single day. Zulu warriors were trained to be confrontational and engage in hand-to-hand combat.

Their weapons included the knobkerrie (a wooden skull crusher) and the stabbing spear and they used a "horns of the beast" strategy developed by Shaka and designed to encircle the enemy. They used cow-hide shields and believed that potions and blessings from shamans could make them invincible - and invisible - on the battlefield. By 1824, Shaka had conquered all of his neighboring tribes and grown his original small army to more than 40,000 skilled warriors.

However, in 1828, he was assassinated in a coup organized by his own half-brothers, who had grown tired of his ruthless regime. Just before dying, Shaka reportedly warned his killers that Zululand would "succumb to the white people that come from the seas." Decades later, the British, who wanted control of Zululand so they could exploit the diamond mines in the region, would face off with the Zulu at the Battle of Isandlwana. Underestimating their opponents, the British were massacred. However, the British recovered from the devastating defeat and later that year captured the Zulu capital and gained control of Zululand.

Two centuries before the Aloha State joined the Union in 1959, the Hawaiian Islands were ruled by frequently warring tribal chieftains, or ali'i. Their warriors trained for battle and tested their courage and strength through activities such as spear catching, surfing and the dangerous sport of holua, which involved sledding/surfing down steep (and snow-less) mountains at average speeds of between 50 to 70 miles per hour. The chiefs and warriors practiced a combat system known as lua, a physical and spiritual discipline that incorporated punching, kicking, bone-breaking, wrestling and pressure-point attacks. In order to keep lua shrouded in secrecy, warriors trained at night and were forbidden from teaching it to people outside of a sanctioned group.

Hawaiian warriors used spears, daggers and shark-tooth weapons that were especially effective for cutting throats, poking out eyes, lacerating arteries or disemboweling a fallen enemy. War canoes, which could carry anywhere from 50 to 100 men, also played a key role in the battles across the islands. These vessels were often equipped with a stone tied to a rope that could be swung around and thrown at the hull of an enemy canoe in order to break it or entangle opponents.

In 1795, King Kamehameha, who had been battling other chiefs for control of the Hawaiian Islands for more than a decade, set sail from the Big Island of Hawaii with thousands of warriors, hundreds of war canoes and a supply of Europeans weapons, including cannons and muskets obtained through trade and attacks on foreign ships. The king's forces were victorious at Oahu, where they drove enemy troops over a massive cliff in the Nu'uanu Valley. The victory gave Kamehameha control of all the Hawaiian Islands except for Kauai and Niihau. By 1810, he secured these remaining two islands through diplomatic actions and Hawaii was considered a unified kingdom.



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