Giants in Ancient Warfare
By Adrienne Mayor
MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History, Vol.2:2 (Winter 1999)
Introduction: Out of the ranks of the Philistines strode the champion warrior Goliath of Gath, a mountain of a man standing almost ten feet tall. His bronze helmet, chain mail, and greaves weighed 150 pounds. He carried a javelin with a wooden shaft like a beam; the bronze spearhead alone weighed almost twenty pounds. For forty days Goliath spewed insults at the Israelites, defying them to send out their best warrior. No one stepped forward until the young shepherd David vowed to kill the giant of Gath. The Israelites plied a helmet and coat of mail on David and handed him a sword, but the armor was so heavy he could not move. Throwing off the armor, David selected five smooth stones and took up his sling. The skinny boy let fly a stone that struck the giant, and Goliath crashed down dead.
David and Goliath…Odysseus and the Cyclops…Jack the Giant-killer. Powerful stories, but aren’t they just symbolic fairy tales illustrating the triumph of the righteous underdog over towering evil? What would happen if average men found themselves pitted against actual giants? Modern military thought generally ranks opposing forces in terms of numbers of combatants or technological superiority. Throughout much of history, however, there has been another important factor: stature differences among combatants.