Shielding Culture Clashes
Freshman colloquium brings ancient Greek warfare to Asheville
(September 10, 2013)
Students in Assistant Professor of Classics Jake Butera’s “War and Warfare in Ancient Greece and Rome” course knew from the syllabus that they had signed up for mock battles, but until they stepped onto the field of Reynolds Green, they only had a textbook knowledge of what that entailed. On September 5, the 20 some students in the freshman colloquium and several extras became modern-day hoplites – the ancient Greek soldiers who used shield and spear in close rectangular formations called phalanxes.
“There are a lot of political, social concerns with this kind of hoplite fighting,” said Butera. “One of the ways to get students to think more about this is to have them experience it. It’s fighting communally with someone beside you, instead of individually.”
The students trained for their reenactment by reading poems from the period under study. Their weapons, “hand-forged” by a few students in the class and funded by the University Teaching Council, included round plywood shields 3 feet in diameter, held on by rope ties, and 10-foot PVC electrical conduit “spears.” Though accurate in size, the mock battle weapons were much lighter than those that would have been carried by a Greek warrior during the Archaic and Classical periods.
“We really don’t know much about it,” said Butera. “We have drawings of phalanx formations. We know that people presumably marched at one another, but once they met in battle, it all falls apart. We know that there were not a whole lot of causalities in the initial fight, but rather in the aftermath, during flight and pursuit.”
The students’ experienced a lighter version of the battle as well, with a simple rule of no one gets hurt. In this case, everyone walked away from the battle at the end of class with a better understanding of the other side.
To learn more about this course, visit the Freshman Colloquia page.