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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Battle System of

Though the Hebrews in their mode of conducting warlike operations varied somewhat in the course of ages, and are elsewhere shown to have been swayed by the practice of greater and more military nations, still, from the period when the institution of royalty gave rise to an organized system, it was a maxim to spare the soldiers all unnecessary fatigue before an engagement, and to supply them liberally with food. Their arms were enjoined to be in the best order, and when drawn up for battle they formed a line of solid squares of a hundred men, each square being ten deep, and with sufficient interval between them to allow of facility in movements, and for the slingers to pass through. The archers may have occupied the two flanks, or formed in the rear, according to the intentions of the commander on the occasion; but the slingers were always stationed in the rear until they were ordered forward to impede a hostile approach, or to commence an engagement somewhat in the manner of modern skirmishers. Meantime, while the trumpets waited to sound the last signal, the king, or his representative, appeared in his sacred dress, except when he wished to remain unknown, as at Megiddo (2 Chronicles 35:22), and proceeded to make the final dispositions, in the middle of his chosen braves, attended by priests who, by their exhortations, animated the ranks within hearing. It was now, we may suppose, when the enemy was at hand, that the slingers would be ordered to pass between the intervals of the line of solid squares, open their order, and with shouts, let fly their stone or leaden missiles, until by the gradual approach of the opposing fronts they would be hemmed in, and be recalled to the rear, or to cover a flank. Then would come the signal to charge, and the great shout of battle; the heavy infantry, receiving the order to attack, would press direct upon the front of the enemy, under cover of their shields and leveled spears; the rear ranks might then, if so armed, cast their second darts, and archers from their rear shoot high, so as to pitch the arrows over their own main line of spearmen into the dense masses beyond them. If the enemy broke through the intervals, we may imagine that a line of charioteers in reserve, breaking from their position, might in part charge among the disordered ranks of the foe, drive them back, and facilitate the restoration of the oppressed masses, or wheeling round a flank, fall upon the enemy, or be encountered by a similar maneuver, and perhaps repulsed. The king, meanwhile, surrounded by his princes, posted close to the rear of his line of battle, and in the middle of the showered missiles, would watch the enemy and remedy every disorder. Thus it was that several of the sovereigns of Judah were slain (2 Chronicles 18:33; 2 Chronicles 35:23), and that such an enormous waste of human life took place: for the shock of two hostile lines of masses at least ten in depth, advancing under the confidence of breastplate and shield, when once engaged hand to hand, had difficulties of no ordinary nature to retreat; because the hindermost ranks not feeling personally the first slaughter, would not, and the foremost could not, fall back; neither could the commanders disengage the line without a certainty of being defeated. The fate of the day was therefore no longer within the control of the chief, and nothing but obstinate valor was left to decide the victory. Under such circumstances defeat led to irretrievable confusion; and where either party possessed superiority in cavalry and chariots of war, it would be materially increased: but where the infantry alone had principally to pursue a broken enemy, that force, laden with shields, and preserving order, could overtake very few who chose to abandon their defensive armor, unless they were hemmed in by the locality. Sometimes a part of the army was posted in ambush, but this maneuver was most commonly practiced against the garrisons of cities (Joshua 8:12; Judges 20:38). In the case of Abraham (Genesis 14:16), when he led a small body of his own people suddenly collected, and fell upon the guard of the captives, released them, and recovered the booty, it was a surprise, not an ambush; nor is it necessary that he should have fallen in with the main army of the enemy. At a later period, there is no doubt the Hebrew armies, in imitation of the Romans, formed into more than one line of masses; but, it may be added, there is ample evidence that they always possessed more stubborn valor than discipline.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Battle System of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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