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Edmund Heza

Stratagem in Battle (from Homer to Thucydides)

In the history of Indo-European peoples warriors were known to possess characteristic physical and ethical features which went together with special social status. This is undoubtedly true of ancient Greeks. According to Homer characters who made heroic feats depicted in his books had moulded their personality in accordance with requirements of arete and battle was the best means to achieve this end, even though particular ways of obtaining it were heavily affected by subjective considerations. The individualism of the epic heroes can best be seen in the freedom they enjoyed to choose any method of fighting that suited them at the moment. The highest credit, however, was given for the fortitude displayed in a duel monomachia, which often awarded the warrior with eternal fame. But in exceptional circumstances the heroes resorted to guiles mētis or ambushes dolos. We have no ground to believe, therefore, that any kind of „chivalry code” was observed at that time.

In the archaic period of Greek history we can see first attempts to establish principles and „rules” to govern the ways of solving conflicts and mitigate their consequences. This end was first achieved by amphictyonies, the organization of city-states polis and the reform of hoplites. In the new political system new forms of social life prevailed, and the dominant value was assigned to collective fortitude and discipline. These norms required that every warrior might count on the loyalty of other warriors and battle tricks were consequently no longer allowed. War policies of the mare developed states depended primarily on phalanxies of hoplites. Land city-states like Athens, Sparta, Thebes and Argos depended on hoplites almost exclusively, even though at a later time Thebes had a cavalry and Athens in the 5th century B.C. created a navy. We may believe that the departure from the agonistic form of battle was caused by two kinds of factors: natural conditions in different city-states and psychological dispositions which under influence of hate orge led warriors to break the common law and adopt any ruthless means in battle which seemed efficient. In this perspective stratagems can be seen as a dual problem: they can be morally evaluated as a violation of the athletic ideal which assured equal chances to both warriors involved in an agonistic fighting, or they can be assessed from the military point of view as one of the most effective means in war tactics founded on the norm of techne rather than on the norm of arete.

The turning point in the development of the „craft of war-making” was the Peloponnesian War. From that time on shrewdness and cunning gnome became integral components of war-making, and so were vicious stratagems.