Brill (2021) h/b 376pp £118.00 (ISBN 9789004501720)
This powerful collection of scholarly papers was conceived in 2014 at a conference held at the London Institute of Classical Studies, entitled ‘The Phalanx and Beyond: Ways Forward in the Study of Greek Warfare’. It radically transforms the terms of reference of the ‘hoplite debate’, a debate that has been waged for decades longer than the siege of Troy. In dispute are the origins and nature of hoplite warfare and its relationship with Greek society and culture through the archaic period and into the 4th century.
Broadly speaking, the arguments were between holders of an ‘orthodox’ view that can be dated back to the 19th century in the writings of George Grote and George Grundy, and its challengers, ‘revisionists’, who first emerged in the 1960s. In the orthodox model, as pithily (and somewhat provocatively) summarised in Men of Bronze; Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece (Editors Donald Kagan & Gregory Viggiano 2013), ‘Conflicts [between ‘farmer-citizen-soldiers’] became highly-ritualized pitched battles fought over farmland. The main elements included the tight deployment of troops, an accumulation of shields, and the charge across a level field, the crashing together of opposing lines, the push and collapse and the rout. Hoplite warfare remained virtually unchanged for more than two centuries, from its start until the fifth century… [The soldier-farmers] shaped the ideals, institutions and culture that gave rise to the polis.’
A great deal has been published on either side. An earlier landmark survey, Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience (Editor Victor Davis Hanson 1993), was a robust defence of the orthodox citadel. Men of Bronze succeeded in penetrating that defence at various points but ended inconclusively in agreement to differ. As the two editors, one from each side, put it in their introduction, ‘Despite the recognition of much common ground … instead of working towards a consensus, each side sharpened its position in response to the latest research’. But a ‘new orthodoxy’ had begun to take shape. The clear articulation of key points of difference represented significant progress towards what K., K. and L. describe as ‘a growing consensus that Greek warfare was not singular and simple, but complex and multiform’, a consensus which they and their contributors share and build upon. They develop a convincing case for advancing the exploration of Greek warfare far beyond the time-honoured narrow focus on the hoplite in his phalanx, seen as an exceptionally Greek phenomenon. They reach out chronologically into the post-Mycenaean Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, geographically to Magna Graecia, Asia and Egypt, and tactically and operationally in chapters on cavalry, light-armed troops, and invasions and sieges. Contributors also look beyond the battlefield at aspects of warfare such as religion, the experiences of women in conflict, and the recovery and commemoration of the dead.
The book’s scope is well set out in the Editors’ Introduction and Matthew Sears’ short Epilogue. The Editors’ modestly declared mission is to assemble a cross section of the latest scholarship in the field of land warfare in the Greek world ‘beyond the phalanx’ and to show the potential for further research in new directions. The ten chapters that follow amply achieve these aims and the cumulative effect is a powerful call for a radically reframed and properly inter-disciplinary approach to this branch of ancient military history.
The first half of the book follows a chronological sequence. In ‘Men of Iron: Pre-Archaic Greek Warfare in Context’, Matthew Lloyd reviews the evidence for the evolution of warfare from 1200 to 600 BC and convincingly argues that early Greek warfare can be better understood in terms of continuity and change rather than revolutionary process. Josho Brouwers explores ‘The Anatolian Roots of Archaic Greek Warfare‘, highlighting the interconnections between the ways of war of the Greeks and their nearest Asian neighbours and challenging the perception of the former’s exclusive ‘Greekness’. ‘The War Dead in Archaic Sparta’ (Cezary Kucewicz) provides new insights into the nature and ethos of the Spartan military system as it evolved. Archaeological evidence features strongly in each of these three opening chapters.
In ‘Women, Diversity, and War off the Battlefield in Classical Greece’, Jennifer Martinez Morales expands the narrow view that tends to confine studies of the topic to prominent individuals (more often literary characters than historical), combatants and victims. She assembles evidence to show the greater diversity of ways in which ordinary Greek women contributed to the war effort, as women have done and continue to do in every war. In ‘Worshipping Violence‘, Alexander Millington analyses the cult of Ares by means of an analysis of its representation by Aeschylus and Euripides in Seven against Thebes and Phoenician Women. Here the god’s character and functions can be seen to be little different from the Ares of the Iliad. Millington points up the ambiguity of the Greeks’ conception of this deity, as violent and unpredictable as war itself, one whose support must be secured but who cannot be celebrated and cannot be counted upon.
'The next three chapters focus on blind spots in the "hoplite warfare" paradigm.' They build on recent work seeking to integrate non-hoplite warriors and assaults and sieges (non-phalanx activity) into the broader picture. In ‘Cavalry and the Character of Classical Warfare’, Roel Konijnendijk tackles the widely held view that cavalry generally played a marginal and limited role in the wars of the Greeks before the Hellenistic period. He explores the evidence for what he sees as its most important functions: protecting territory; pursuing fleeing enemies; covering flight; ‘herding’ enemy infantry forces; controlling open ground; and winning pitched battles. Engaging at the right moment and in appropriate terrain, a relatively small number of horsemen could have a disproportionate and often decisive effect on the outcome of a battle. Next, the book’s Editors collaborate in ‘“Not Many Bows?”: Light-Armed Fighters of the Tenth through Fourth Centuries’ to survey a category of troops whose importance is largely overshadowed by surviving sources’ bias in favour of the hoplite elite, and that of much of the scholarship of ancient warfare since the 19th century. Light-armed troops were not always useful, but there is evidence in the ancient sources that they could play a significant, even decisive part in many battles in the Classical period. ‘Eventually they were recognised as so important that Greek poleis turned principally to specialist mercenaries to fulfil their role.’
In ‘Assaults and Sieges: Rewriting the Other Side of Greek Land Warfare’, Fernando Echeverria looks beyond formal siege warfare to place it in the wider context of all the potential elements of an invasion or expedition (epistrateia), including pitched battle. He includes a striking analysis of the sources covering the period from the beginning of the pentekontaetia to the end of the Peloponnesian War. This shows that over that period Greek armies mounted 199 expeditions, marched against 155 urban settlements and captured at least 83 of them. In the same period they fought 78 pitched battles. It has previously been argued that attacks on towns and other settlements were an incidental and minor aspect of Greek warfare, but they should be seen as a major feature of campaigns in enemy territory, occurring at least twice as frequently as formal pitched battles, the quintessential hoplite experience.
The last two chapters consider the practices and experiences of Greek warriors in Magna Graecia and Egypt and the influence on them of local conditions and the non-Greeks they fought against or served. Both writers argue that the warfare of Greek communities outside mainland Greece cannot be properly understood in the light of an assumed universal model of Greek warfare. Joshua Hall in ‘The Western Greeks and the “Greek Warfare” Narrative’ demonstrates how far the warfare of the Western Greeks differed from this. Finally, Hans van Wees in ‘The First Greek Soldiers in Egypt: Myths and Realities’, takes as a starting point Herodotus’ tale of ‘men of bronze coming from the sea’ to the aid of Psammetichus (2.152) and draws on Near Eastern sources to build a much more detailed account of the employment by the pharaohs of Ionian and Carian mercenaries. The (Greek) myth is that hoplites were hired for their exceptional quality as heavy infantry. Van Wees concludes that, in reality, ‘we have no reason to believe that they were sought out for their particular arms, armour or combat tactics. The rest of the world was not in awe of the “men of bronze” as much as the Greeks themselves were.’
In his short Epilogue, Matthew Sears neatly sums it all up: ‘This volume challenges us to recognise that military historians were not only too focused on hoplites, but were even wrongly focused on hoplites. It is now time to increase the pace of correcting that scholarly distortion…’. In its Introduction and ten chapters, this book not only energetically sets the pace. It also marks out many fresh research pathways that will lead to a better, more rounded and balanced model of warfare in Ancient Greece.
Sadly, the price is eye-wateringly high, even by academic publishing standards!