Isotope study suggests ancient Greeks used foreign fighters in key battle
The ancient Greeks relied on the help of non-Greek mercenaries to fight their enemies, an analysis of bodies in 2,500-year-old mass graves suggests.
The western Mediterranean experienced several conflicts around 2,600 to 2,300 years ago as a number of Greek-ruled city-states – including Syracuse on the island of Sicily – fought against the Carthaginians, whose base of power resided in what is now Tunisia. The Sicilian Wars have been documented by contemporary writers, including Herodotus in his book The stories. But given that Herodotus was Greek, it is possible that his accounts of the conflicts were biased to paint the Greek fighters in a favorable light.
In particular, Herodotus suggests that in 480 BC, during the First Battle of Himera, local soldiers received help from other Greek allies and successfully defeated the Carthaginians. But in a second battle in 409 BC, local soldiers were left unaided and the city of Himera fell to the Carthaginians.
Following the recent discovery of eight mass graves associated with the battles of Himera, it is now possible to determine whether Herodotus’ account was accurate or not.
Katherine Reinberger of the University of Georgia and her colleagues analyzed the strontium and oxygen isotopes of tooth enamel from 62 people in mass graves, which can reveal whether a person was born and raised locally or not.
The team’s analysis revealed that some historical claims could be validated – there were two battles, around two-thirds of the Himeran forces in the first conflict were not local while only a quarter of the second battle n were not from there, and Greek soldiers from outside the city fought alongside the local Himerans. But contemporary accounts weren’t entirely accurate: Isotopic evidence suggests that many non-local soldiers were not actually Greek, but came from across the Mediterranean.
“Finding evidence of people who were foreign and maybe not even Greek is unusual and interesting and somehow indicates that ancient communities, and certainly ancient armies, could have been more diverse than we originally thought. », Explains Reinberger. These foreign soldiers could have been hired mercenaries, she said.
“Isotope studies suggest that it could be people hired from the Catalan coast, the Iberian peninsula, mainland Greece or even the Black Sea coast,” explains Mario Novak at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Croatia.
“So it could have been either Greeks, but also indigenous peoples that classical sources considered barbarians. Obviously, these “barbarians” were much more integrated into the daily life of the “real” Greeks than previously thought, “he says.
The team theorizes that historical accounts have played down the involvement of foreign mercenaries in order to create a narrative more centered on Greece and to align the victory of the first battle with the Greek successes against other forces they faced. the time, including the Persians under Xerxes the Great. .
Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0248803
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