Oaths, Vows and the Conduct of War in Ancient Greece
Oaths were a vital part of the social conventions that underpinned the conduct of war in ancient Greece. The gods were an important party in such oaths. In making an oath, a person called upon gods and goddesses as witnesses to oversee the fulfilment of the promise that was being made. The oath included an explicit or implicit punishment enforced by a god if the promise were not kept. Fundamental to the making of such an oath was a ritual sacrifice that included acknowledgement of the gods in the act being undertaken as well as the gift of the sacrifice itself.
In a military context, vows were important too. A vow was, like the oath, also a type of promise made to a god or a number of gods. Vows in a military context were made by individuals, by armies, or by city-states. Like the oath, the vow was predicated on belief in the gods; the ubiquity of the vow demonstrates a widespread belief in the efficacy of such a prayer accompanied by a gift to be given to a god to gain his or her good will.
Homer provides an example of a vow: Hom. Il. 3.298-301.
Zeus, most glorious and great, and the other immortal gods: whoever are first to break their oaths, may their brains be poured onto the ground just as this wine is – theirs and their children’s, and may their wives become other men’s women.
Have you come across a good example of an oath or vow in a military context? Do you have any examples of gods taking action in retaliation for a broken oath? Or maybe supporting someone because of their vow?