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Author Topic: Are Orthodox armies merciful?  (Read 1064 times) Average Rating: 0
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William
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« on: January 09, 2011, 03:38:03 PM »

Does anyone have any specific examples of the armies of Orthodox Rome, Constantinople or Russia being merciful to defeated foes?
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« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2011, 04:12:59 PM »

You'll have to look up the sources, but I believe that Alexandr Nevskii only hung the Russian traitors, but let the Germans and Danes leave.  I would try to back this up, but my dad has the Lake Pepius book at his house.

Basil the Bulgar-Slayer is an interesting case.  He gouged the eyes out of the captured Bulgars, but this may have been a gruesome act of mercy.  You cannot allow your enemy to just surrender, go home, and then invade again.  Basil had their eyes gouged out so they could never fight against him again but would still be alive (and would cripple their own people who would have to take care of them for the rest of their lives).

If I can think of more things I will write back later.  I have done plenty of research on the military history of Orthodox nations (specifically Medieval/Renaissance Russia and the Eastern Roman Empire).
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« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2011, 05:20:06 PM »


Basil the Bulgar-Slayer is an interesting case.  He gouged the eyes out of the captured Bulgars, but this may have been a gruesome act of mercy.

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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2011, 08:44:03 PM »

Basil the Bulgar-Slayer is an interesting case.  He gouged the eyes out of the captured Bulgars, but this may have been a gruesome act of mercy.  You cannot allow your enemy to just surrender, go home, and then invade again.  Basil had their eyes gouged out so they could never fight against him again but would still be alive (and would cripple their own people who would have to take care of them for the rest of their lives).

Yeah... I get what you're saying with this example, but I'm just not sure... it sort of reminds me of how people try to explain those stories in the Old Testament, where all the men and adult women and many children are massacred, but the female virgins old enough to marry are taken as spoils of war. "Well hey," some people say, "at least they were alive!" I'm not sure that that really qualifies as mercy.

Regarding the OP though, I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with military conquests by Orthodox to contribute much. I know a bit about St. Justinian, but his methods hardly seemed merciful to me. That's not to say that I'm calling St. Justinian a murdered or monster--war and governance can be a messy business--I just don't think his actions would qualify as merciful. Not the ones I can remember, anyway.
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« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2011, 02:27:04 AM »

Are any armies merciful? Is that the role of an army?
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« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2011, 02:30:27 AM »

Are any armies merciful? Is that the role of an army?

Yes. See Geneva conventions below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Conventions
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« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2011, 02:34:04 AM »

Sorry, ortho_cat: that's simplistic. By their very nature, armies are destructive. They aren't the Boy Scouts.
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« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2011, 02:36:43 AM »

Sorry, ortho_cat: that's simplistic. By their very nature, armies are destructive. They aren't the Boy Scouts.

I think we can speak of degrees of mercy, however. Killing armed adult men in a war is one thing; killing armed children in a war another; and killing two year olds in a war because, hey, they'll grow up some day to be armed combatants still another.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2011, 02:37:01 AM by Asteriktos » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2011, 02:38:40 AM »

Sorry, ortho_cat: that's simplistic. By their very nature, armies are destructive. They aren't the Boy Scouts.

I would argue your point of view is overly simplistic. Army's are meant to be destructive to their direct opposition yes, but merciful to the innocent who are unfortunate enough to get in the way.
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« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2011, 09:37:37 AM »

Basil the Bulgar-Slayer is an interesting case.  He gouged the eyes out of the captured Bulgars, but this may have been a gruesome act of mercy.  You cannot allow your enemy to just surrender, go home, and then invade again.  Basil had their eyes gouged out so they could never fight against him again but would still be alive (and would cripple their own people who would have to take care of them for the rest of their lives).

Yeah... I get what you're saying with this example, but I'm just not sure... it sort of reminds me of how people try to explain those stories in the Old Testament, where all the men and adult women and many children are massacred, but the female virgins old enough to marry are taken as spoils of war. "Well hey," some people say, "at least they were alive!" I'm not sure that that really qualifies as mercy.

Regarding the OP though, I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with military conquests by Orthodox to contribute much. I know a bit about St. Justinian, but his methods hardly seemed merciful to me. That's not to say that I'm calling St. Justinian a murdered or monster--war and governance can be a messy business--I just don't think his actions would qualify as merciful. Not the ones I can remember, anyway.

I'll admit, I was stretching the definition of "merciful" quite a bit, but in the Middle Ages and in the Ancient Era, let's just say loosing sucked.  Actually, I highly doubt you will find many act of mercy that would register to the modern mind in Ancient/Medieval warfare.  In Arnhem, the Germans medevac'ed wounded British Paras.  In the old days, you were lucky if the enemy put wounded soldiers out of their misery rather than let them rot under the hot sun the following day.  Definitions of mercy and what is wrong have changed.  In WWII, if you wanted to be mean you gunned down your prisoners.  In Iraq, you scare them with dogs and put dirty underwear on their head.  If you rebelled against Assyria, you got your skin peeled off and nailed to the city walls (basically saying: Tiglath-Pilesar III was here, which is kind of tricky to spray paint in cuneiform!).  At the end of the day, if you want to brutalize me, go ahead and shoot me in the back of the head.  I'll pass on the boiling, flaying, impalation, crucifixion, scaphism, and other fun stuff the ancient world gave us!
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« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2011, 10:28:20 PM »

I ask because I'm debating someone who is saying that Christianity is barbaric but Islam is civilized. So I was trying to find an example of Christians not being barbaric when fighting. I think that telling him about Basil II would defeat the purpose, though. And I've read that he had women and children blinded at some point.
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« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2011, 10:53:17 PM »

I ask because I'm debating someone who is saying that Christianity is barbaric but Islam is civilized. So I was trying to find an example of Christians not being barbaric when fighting. I think that telling him about Basil II would defeat the purpose, though. And I've read that he had women and children blinded at some point.
I've never heard the last point, IIRC. When he blinded the soldiers, standard practice of the day was to kill all hostages (now called POW) if you didn't enslave them.  The Emperor Heracleus was known for just letting them go.
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« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2011, 12:50:59 PM »

I ask because I'm debating someone who is saying that Christianity is barbaric but Islam is civilized. So I was trying to find an example of Christians not being barbaric when fighting. I think that telling him about Basil II would defeat the purpose, though. And I've read that he had women and children blinded at some point.

I find this too obtuse to be an effective topic for debate. I mean, people can think whatever they want about this, and evidence one way or the other becomes rather meaningless because of prejudice.
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« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2011, 06:02:44 PM »

Were muslim armies known to be exceptionally merciful?
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« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2011, 07:29:32 PM »

Throughout the history of war, there are examples of mercy and examples of the most extreme cruelty. These can often be found within the history of a single war, studying only the actions of one side. For example, one general may take mercy on his enemy while another may be cruel. Even the same general may act differently at different times in the conduct of the war. For example, the case of Grant requiring unconditional surrender of Fort Donaldson in 1862 can be compared to his terms for the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox. I agree that this is too obtuse and subjective of a topic to have it result in any meaningful conclusion. As Sherman aptly observed, war is hell.
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William
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« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2011, 09:00:14 PM »

I stopped the debate after they started using ad hominem, so an example is no longer necessary. Thanks to everyone who helped.
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« Reply #16 on: January 12, 2011, 09:39:23 AM »

I stopped the debate after they started using ad hominem, so an example is no longer necessary. Thanks to everyone who helped.

It's still a fun conversation, though!  I think the initial argument was flawed (that Moslem armies are more merciful than others).  We generally don't saw people's heads off with dull knives these days, they do.  Even if not focusing on comparing Orthodox armies to those of the Moslems I personally am interested in seeing how Orthodox armies behaved in wartime. 
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« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2011, 07:34:46 PM »

Are any armies merciful? Is that the role of an army?

Yes. See Geneva conventions below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Conventions

In regards to the OP's question and a more general formulation of it, as in 'Are armies merciful?' - it isn't in the nature of such. The purpose of an army in battle is to defeat its opponents and that is best and most effectively done by killing, maiming, wounding those opponents. I would suggest that the best hope would be that an army be 'civilized'.

The Geneva Convention (to which the US is not a signatory) was and is a laudable attempt to achieve civility in war and, were it adhered to in all respects, might achieve that end. Regretably, its very provisions, in some regards, contribute to its disregard by warring nations.

An example: Non-combatants are defined in the GC to include medical personnel and signatories are abjured to refrain from harming them (picture, if you will, the chivalrous acts, sometimes referenced in reports of battles when a truce was declared to allow collection and withdrawal of the wounded from the battlefield). To assist armies in meeting this standard, the GC looks for medical personnel to be readily identifiable by armbands or markings on helmets of an appropriate symbol (red cross or red crescent, chiefly, although there are other alternatives).

Now, let me take you to the battlefields of VietNam, circa 1960s, early 1970s. Information, imparted to combat medic trainees at the US Army Medical Training Center, Fort Sam Houston, TX and to other medical personnel at the Medical Field Service School on the same base, was that they were entitled to wear the white armband with red cross when serving in a combat zone and/or to paint a white circle, with a red cross within it, on the sides and rear of their combat helmets. They were told, however, in the next breath (and I know this because I heard it first-hand and I taught it myself at the Training Center) that it would very likely be used as a target. And it was! I proudly own one of those armbands, displayed beneath my Combat Medical Badge, but never worn.

Common wisdom was (and had been for a long time prior to VietNam) that the most effective technique to take in battle - short of mowing down the enemy - was to absolutely demoralize it. How? Kill or at least wound and disable (1) its commissioned and non-commissioned officers, (2) its radio operators (3) its medics (4) its guidon (flag) bearer. Bereft of leadership, communications, medical care, and a rallying point, it takes a strong military unit to survive and carry on. In identifying medical personnel, the GC's lofty goal of assuring their well-being made rifle fodder of them.

Mercy in war is, sadly, more often the acts of individuals - such as those heroically performed by Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Specialist Glenn Andreotta, both of blessed memory, and Specialist Lawrence Colburn, who intervened to bring an end to the My Lai massacre. It is rarely the act of an army.

Many years,

Neil
« Last Edit: January 12, 2011, 07:40:46 PM by Irish Melkite » Logged

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