The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter IX

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The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter IX. Of the arms of the Parthians.

Chapter IX. Of the arms of the Parthians.[edit]

'Tis an ill custom and unmanly that the gentlemen of our time have got,
not to put on arms but just upon the point of the most extreme necessity,
and to lay them by again, so soon as ever there is any show of the danger
being over; hence many disorders arise; for every one bustling and
running to his arms just when he should go to charge, has his cuirass to
buckle on when his companions are already put to rout. Our ancestors
were wont to give their head-piece, lance and gauntlets to be carried,
but never put off the other pieces so long as there was any work to be
done. Our troops are now cumbered and rendered unsightly with the
clutter of baggage and servants who cannot be from their masters, by
reason they carry their arms. Titus Livius speaking of our nation:

     "Intolerantissima laboris corpora vix arma humeris gerebant."

     ["Bodies most impatient of labour could scarce endure to wear
     their arms on their shoulders."—Livy, x. 28.]

Many nations do yet, and did anciently, go to war without defensive arms,
or with such, at least, as were of very little proof:

          "Tegmina queis capitum, raptus de subere cortex."

     ["To whom the coverings of the heads were the bark of the
     cork-tree."—AEneid, vii. 742.]

Alexander, the most adventurous captain that ever was, very seldom wore
armour, and such amongst us as slight it, do not by that much harm to the
main concern; for if we see some killed for want of it, there are few
less whom the lumber of arms helps to destroy, either by being
overburthened, crushed, and cramped with their weight, by a rude shock,
or otherwise. For, in plain truth, to observe the weight and thickness
of the armour we have now in use, it seems as if we only sought to defend
ourselves, and are rather loaded than secured by it. We have enough to
do to support its weight, being so manacled and immured, as if we were
only to contend with our own arms, and as if we had not the same
obligation to defend them, that they have to defend us. Tacitus gives a
pleasant description of the men-at-arms among our ancient Gauls, who were
so armed as only to be able to stand, without power to harm or to be
harmed, or to rise again if once struck down. Lucullus, seeing certain
soldiers of the Medes, who formed the van of Tigranes' army, heavily
armed and very uneasy, as if in prisons of iron, thence conceived hopes
with great ease to defeat them, and by them began his charge and victory.
And now that our musketeers are in credit, I believe some invention will
be found out to immure us for our safety, and to draw us to the war in
castles, such as those the ancients loaded their elephants withal.

This humour is far differing from that of the younger Scipio, who sharply
reprehended his soldiers for having planted caltrops under water, in a
ditch by which those of the town he held besieged might sally out upon
him; saying, that those who assaulted should think of attacking, and not
to fear; suspecting, with good reason, that this stop they had put to the
enemies, would make themselves less vigilant upon their guard. He said
also to a young man, who showed him a fine buckler he had, that he was
very proud of, "It is a very fine buckler indeed, but a Roman soldier
ought to repose greater confidence in his right hand than in his left."

Now 'tis nothing but the not being used to wear it that makes the weight
of our armour so intolerable:

         "L'usbergo in dosso haveano, et l'elmo in testa,
          Due di questi guerrier, de' quali io canto;
          Ne notte o di, d' appoi ch' entraro in questa
          Stanza, gl'haveano mai messi da canto;
          Che facile a portar come la vesta
          Era lor, perche in uso l'havean tanto:"

     ["Two of the warriors, of whom I sing, had on their backs their
     cuirass and on their heads their casque, and never had night or day
     once laid them by, whilst here they were; those arms, by long
     practice, were grown as light to bear as a garment"
     —Ariosto, Cant., MI. 30.]

the Emperor Caracalla was wont to march on foot, completely armed, at the
head of his army. The Roman infantry always carried not only a morion, a
sword, and a shield (for as to arms, says Cicero, they were so accustomed
to have them always on, that they were no more trouble to them than their
own limbs):

               "Arma enim membra militis esse dicunt."

but, moreover, fifteen days' provision, together with a certain number of
stakes, wherewith to fortify their camp, sixty pounds in weight. And
Marius' soldiers, laden at the same rate, were inured to march in order
of battle five leagues in five hours, and sometimes, upon any urgent
occasion, six.

Their military discipline was much ruder than ours, and accordingly
produced much greater effects. The younger Scipio, reforming his army in
Spain, ordered his soldiers to eat standing, and nothing that was drest.
The jeer that was given a Lacedaemonian soldier is marvellously pat to
this purpose, who, in an expedition of war, was reproached for having
been seen under the roof of a house: they were so inured to hardship
that, let the weather be what it would, it was a shame to be seen under
any other cover than the roof of heaven. We should not march our people
very far at that rate.

As to what remains, Marcellinus, a man bred up in the Roman wars,
curiously observes the manner of the Parthians arming themselves, and the
rather, for being so different from that of the Romans. "They had," says
he, "armour so woven as to have all the scales fall over one another like
so many little feathers; which did nothing hinder the motion of the body,
and yet were of such resistance, that our darts hitting upon them, would
rebound" (these were the coats of mail our forefathers were so constantly
wont to use). And in another place: "they had," says he, "strong and
able horses, covered with thick tanned hides of leather, and were
themselves armed 'cap-a-pie' with great plates of iron, so artificially
ordered, that in all parts of the limbs, which required bending, they
lent themselves to the motion. One would have said, that they had been
men of iron; having armour for the head so neatly fitted, and so
naturally representing the form of a face, that they were nowhere
vulnerable, save at two little round holes, that gave them a little
light, corresponding with their eyes, and certain small chinks about
their nostrils, through which they, with great difficulty, breathed,"

              "Flexilis inductis animatur lamina membris,
               Horribilis visu; credas simulacra moveri
               Ferrea, cognatoque viros spirare metallo.
               Par vestitus equis: ferrata fronte minantur,
               Ferratosque movent, securi vulneris, armos."

     ["Plates of steel are placed over the body, so flexible that,
     dreadful to be seen, you would think these not living men, but
     moving images. The horses are similarly armed, and, secured from
     wounds, move their iron shoulders."—Claud, In Ruf., ii. 358.]

'Tis a description drawing very near resembling the equipage of the
men-at-arms in France, with their barded horses. Plutarch says, that
Demetrius caused two complete suits of armour to be made for himself and
for Alcimus, a captain of the greatest note and authority about him, of
six score pounds weight each, whereas the ordinary suits weighed but half
as much.