Ancient vs. Modern Violence: Julia: A Romance

Two Cheops Books LLC editors, Gary Bennet and Kay Bognar will debate the issue of the modern versus ancient violence on Monday at 2PM on the Cheops Books Facebook Page. Gary will present the modern point of view. Kay will argue for the ancient point of view found in the novel Julia: A Romance which is being published on Amazon Kindle on April 9. You are all invited to join the group with prizes available for winners.

Here are the five questions under discussion. The novel concerns the time period of Sulla in the first century B.C., but the discussion will be a little more far ranging than that to prove a point:

1) Compare/Contrast the Battle of the Somme in WW1 with the Battle of Cannae in the Second Punic War. Which was more violent? Which had more lasting implications?

The Battle of the Somme

Kay Bognar: The Battle of Cannae was far more violent, given that most of the Roman army was literally slaughtered and dismembered where it stood, in the space of a single day, caught in a double envelopment by Hannibal’s Carthaginians, suffering approximately 40,000 to 60,000 dead out of an army that did not number much above the casualty figures. Only about 14,000 Romans escaped, 10,000 were captured, and the rest were killed. It is estimated that 20 percent of Roman males between the ages of 18 and 50 died at Cannae.

Battle of Cannae, Second Punic War

Gary Bennett: In the Battle of the Somme, the British Army suffered very severe losses: 20,000 dead and 57,000 total casualties on the first day, July 1, 1916, and total casualties (killed & wounded) of approximately 420,000 (350,000+ from the UK alone) from July 1 to November 18, 1916.

Kay Bognar: But those losses were less than a third of the British Army forces serving on the Western Front during that time period (1,530,000 in 50 divisions), and they were suffered over a period of months, not in a single day. Even on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the number of dead was well under half of the attacking force.

The Battle of the Somme

Gary Bennett: I should mention that the Germans also suffered severe losses during the course of the Somme campaign, some 435,000 to 500,000 casualties. One German officer wrote: “Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.” According to British Historian Philpott (2009): “ The German army was exhausted by the end of 1916, with loss of morale and the cumulative effects of attrition and frequent defeats causing it o collapse in 1918, a process which began on the Somme, echoing Churchill that the German soldiery was never the same again” after the Somme.

Kay Bognar: While those are heavy losses, still the German Army divisions involved in the Somme campaign numbered 1,500,000. Proportionately, they suffered far less that the Roman army at Cannae.

Battle of Cannae

Kay Bognar: As for lasting implications, the Romans would never forget this loss, one of the worst they ever suffered. Rome, however, did recovered from the crushing defeat at Cannae and eventually won the Second Punic War. Carthage would be destroyed at the end of the Third Punic War. The battle itself, however, lived on after the end of the ancient world as a classic example of a double envelopment and as a pseudonym for victory.

Gary Bennett: The Somme, along with the Battle of Verdun, resulted in a huge bloodletting by the Allies (France and Britain) and Germany during 1916. The battle itself was inconclusive, but the casualties largely contributed to the view of the futility of the war in the trenches and to what became to be called “The Lost Generation”.

In the short term, the battle led the British to improve their battle tactics (including the use of the tank), and the Germans to gamble on the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917 – a gamble the Germans lost, after bringing the United States into the war — and into world affairs.

Kenny Cargill: Arnold Toynbee argues in his Hannibal’s Legacy – The Hannibalic War’s Effects on Roman Life that the Battle of Cannae in particular and Hannibal’s campaign in general had lasting effects on southern Italy. He believes that the Carthaginian destruction of Italian farmsteads during the Second Punic War could have set socio-economic processes in motion that not only led to the end of the Roman Republic and even the later demise of the Roman Empire, but that also trapped southern Italy in relative economic poverty up until the present.

Kay Bognar: Compared to this, dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was nothing. And we moderns think of the atomic bomb at the ultimate weapon.

Kenny Cargill: Richard Miles in his recent book Carthage Must be Destroyed talks about how Hannibal tried to isolate Rome from its Italian and Latin allies in the wake of his victory at Cannae by positioning himself as Hellenistic leader with a Greek education who could protect the rights of central and western Mediterranean city states against the encroachments of Rome. Capua and Tarentum defected to Hannibal’s side, though Rome, of course, was able to win them back.

2) Compare/Contrast Sulla’s victory over Athens to Hitler’s move into the Sudetenland.

Gary Bennett: In 1938, Hitler achieved the Anschluss (annexation of Austria) and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the annexation of the Sudetenland without firing a shot, through intimidation and negotiation. All of these areas contained ethnic Germans, a large proportion of whom supported Hitler. The result was the Greater German Reich. It was Hitler’s best year, the year he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

Hitler the on the cover of Time magazine, 1938

Kay Bognar: Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, commonly known as Sulla, was a famous Roman general of the late Republic. Ahead of the siege of Athens, Sulla met with ambassadors from all of the Greek city states (except Athens) and explained that wanted to preserve Greek civilization and only desired to drive out the forces of King Mithridates from Greece. He then succeeded in besieging Athens and taking the city in 88-86 B.C.

Sulla, late 2nd century BC


3) Compare/Contrast Sulla’s victory over Athens to Hitler’s move into Poland in 1939 that precipitated Britain’s declaration of war. Which was more lasting and permanent?

Gary Bennett: Hitler made a big mistake on the Ides of March 1939 when he and his army appeared in Prague. No worshipful Germans saluting the dictator here. Just sullen Czechs. Thereafter, British public opinion quickly turned against Hitler and the policy of appeasement pursued up until then by British PM Neville Chamberlain, who was forced to issue a territorial guarantee to Poland. When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, Britain honored the guarantee by declaring war on Germany, followed by France, thereby starting the Second World War. Hitler’s occupation of Poland lasted only 5 and ½ years. At the end of the Second World War, Germany also lost East Prussia, eastern Pomerania and Silesia, all of which eastern territories were ethnically cleansed of Germans.

Kay Bognar: Sulla made no such big mistake. Greece, including Athens, remained part of the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire for centuries. Indeed, the currency that Sulla minted while in Greece besieging Athens remained in circulation for centuries and was prized for its quality.

Rare Roman coin of Titus on the obverse and Colosseum on the reverse, late 1st century AD


4) Compare/Contrast Titus’s expulsion of the Jews from ancient Israel to the solutions in the current problems in the Middle East. Who acted more serious?

Kay Bognar: The Romans under Titus acted very deliberately and decisively in exiling the Jews from Palestine after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. The current dispersal of the population of Syria appears to be much less attributable to a deliberate policy of any one state actor, but a result of the chaos left by the Syrian war.

Titus coin.

Gary Bennet: What is happening in Syria today, including the diaspora of millions Syrians throughout the Middle East and Europe, stems from the United States refusing to take charge. In 2013, President Obama, at the last minute, decided not to take retaliatory military action against Basher Assad’s regime for it use of poison gas against civilians. This American inaction opened the door to Russian involvement in Syria to prop up the Assad regime. Also Obama in pursuing a pro-Iranian policy — the Iran Nuclear Deal — turned a blind eye to the Iranians providing aid to the Assad regime.

Trump speaking on Syrian strikes

Kay Bognar: Trump is now confronting the latest Syrian disaster.

Kay Bognar: What about President Trump? Hasn’t he pursued a more forceful American policy in the Middle East? Destroying Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, strengthening ties with Israel and recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeili capital, bombing a Syrian air base in response to a poison gas attack that took place in April 2017, and threatening to rip up the Iran Nuclear Deal?

Gary Bennett: But Trump wants to withdraw American troops from Syria, numbering about 2,000, just as soon as the last pockets of the Islamic State are mopped up, in just a few months. Part of his “America First” policy. That will leave Russia and Iran free to pursue their agendas in Syria without any effective restraints.

Kay Bognar: Trump may have to rethink his plans in light of Assad’s latest poison gas attack, on Sunday. Trump is definitely poised to take retaliatory military action against Assad’s regime, along with Britain and France. He’s also threatened that Russia and Iran will pay a “big price” if they’re found to be involved or responsible for the use of poison gas.

Ancient bust of Julius Caesar

5) What do you think causes this big difference in violence and philosophy of warfare in ancient Rome versus nowadays?

Gary Bennett: In the wake of the two 20th century world wars, Europe has no more stomach for war. The United States is traditionally isolationist and only gets involved in global wars at the last minute and usually only in response to a big attack. The Army is all volunteer, women are in the military, including in combat positions, and, most Americans are no longer directly involved.

Atom bomb

Kay Bognar: The Battle of Cannae wrought more destruction in ancient times than the atomic bomb did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Gary Bennett: By contrast, service in the Roman Army was considered mandatory for all male Roman citizens, and war was considered an acceptable way of resolving conflicts between Rome and its enemies. Warfare, moreover, was conducted primarily by hand-to-hand combat, and not by remote control.

Kay Bognar: It is the economy, stupid. In the ancient world you had to steal wealth, you couldn’t create it. Now warfare interferes with the economy. I think that is the biggest difference.

Kay Bognar: Make sure to vote in the poll. Who won the debate, Gary Bennet or Kay Bognar? And make sure to go on Amazon and take a close look at the newly published title by Dora Benley, Julia: A Romance. You will find the paperback available for sale on the Cheops Books LLC website: