Cat Shields

The Battle of Pelusium was the first major battle between the Persian Empire and Egypt, soon to be conquered by its growing foe.  The Persians easily routed the Egyptians and won a great battle, and they did so in the following way, according to Polyaenus.  The Egyptians held cats to be sacred and inviolate, and refused to harm one for any reason.  Cambyses, who disdained such religious devotion, took advantage of this.  He had his men carry cats in front of them as they advanced, as shields, preventing the Egyptians from launching their arrows at the Persians, lest they wound and kill the cats instead.  In this way, the Persians ended the independence of Egypt, which it would not regain for more than a millennium.


Introducing the Potato

When the potato was first introduced to Europe, many were wary of the mysterious tuber.  Believed by some to cause leprosy, peasants had no desire to try it, and often used it solely for animal feed.  Only in fits and spurts did far-sighted individuals realize the crop’s potential and seek to share it with the world.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was a Frenchman taken captive by the Prussians during the Seven Years War.  During his captivity, he was fed almost exclusively potatoes, and came to realize their value.  Upon return to France, he became determined to spread them and their benefits throughout France.  He managed to introduce potatoes to the aristocracy, but the peasants were less susceptible.  However, he concocted the following plan.

He planted potatoes at Les Sablons, on the western edge of Paris, and had soldiers guard the crops during the day, ordering them to chase away any curious peasants.  At night, however, they promptly left, giving the peasants time to sneak in and steal the crop, eager to try something so valuable that it needed to be guarded so thoroughly.  Soon, potatoes spread throughout the city as people tried them and discovered their quality.

As for Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, he was awarded the Legion of Honor by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 for his accomplishments and efforts.

Cyrus’s Camels

Cyrus the Great invaded Lydia in order to defeat King Croesus.  The Lydians were famed for their proficiency with cavalry.  In order to defeat them at their strength, Cyrus mounted his cavalry upon camels instead of horses.  For horses naturally fear the smell of camels, unless trained to familiarity.  So when Cyrus’s camel troops advanced, Croesus’s horses were unable to stand the smell of them and retreated from the camels, and thusly did Cyrus defeat Croesus.

Cleomenes’s Mirrored Orders

In a war between Sparta and Argos, King Cleomenes was in charge of the Spartan troops.  Sparta had such a reputation for military prowess and trickery that the Argives, for fear of being caught off-guard, matched every Spartan order.  If Cleomenes ordered his troops to arm themselves, the Argives did the same.  If he ordered his troops to rest, the Argives did the same.  Cleomenes therefore gave secret orders to his troops that the next time he ordered a retreat, they should instead advance.  When he gave that order, the Argives sound found themselves being pressed upon while unarmed and unprepared, and Cleomenes thereby gained an easy victory.

It’s not well-known, but despite the popular conception of Spartans as strong, honorable warriors, they actually preferred victory by deceit.  If a victory were won by force, a rooster were sacrificed.  If by deceit, a bull.  They were excellent warriors, but they would rather win without battle.

Agathocles against Carthage

The Carthaginians and the Greeks spent centuries fighting over Sicily.  By the late 300s BCE, Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse, was the undisputed master of the Sicilian Greeks.  Carthage besieged his city, trapping him and his army within.  However, with the bulk of their forces in Sicily, Carthage itself lay undefended.  Realizing this, Agathocles snuck out of the city by ship and landed in North Africa, threatening Carthage directly.  Carthage was forced to recall its army for its own defense, saving Syracuse.  This strategy would later by used by Scipio Africanus to great effect against Hannibal’s Carthage, as well.