Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.06.16

W. Kendrick Pritchett, The Greek State at War. Part V. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Pp. 578. ISBN 0-520-02758-2. $60.00.

Reviewed by Matthew R. Christ, Indiana University.

In his introduction to Part II of The Greek State at War (GSAW) Pritchett states clearly the method and goal of his series: "My practice has been to collect the testimonia about a given topic and present the facts as succinctly as possible, preferably in the form of tables. I hope that this procedure may lead others into further exploration of the subjects treated... My approach is mainly philological; the interpretation of specific words is the keystone."1 Consistent with this approach, Pritchett has gathered together in Part V a remarkably diverse group of ancient testimonia on two topics, "Stone Throwers and Slingers in Ancient Greek Warfare" (1-67) and "Booty" (68-541), and commented on them with the expertise that scholars have come to expect of him. One regrets, however, the reluctance of this able researcher to draw from his observations general and provocative conclusions.

Pritchett's treatment of the evidence he assembles is rather dry and predictable. Typically, he divides the testimonia into subtopics and then proceeds to list, under each division, the relevant ancient sources (quoting some in full, but generally paraphrasing them). Pritchett usually comments selectively on these sources and the modern bibliography, draws a few conclusions, and then moves on to the next subtopic. Although this approach is orderly, it hinders developed argumentation: as soon as one becomes interested, for example, in Pritchett's treatment of artwork as booty, one finds oneself in a section on livestock as spoils. A further frustration for the reader is the fact that the information within each subtopic often reads as if it were a long footnote assembled from assorted notecards. One wonders too if Pritchett's practice of listing paraphrased testimonia from the major historians (Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius and Diodorus Siculus) makes as much sense now that the computerized TLG is available as it did when he began GSAW two decades ago.

In his section on "Stone Throwers and Slingers in Ancient Greek Warfare," Pritchett gathers literary, artistic, numismatic and archeological evidence for the use in warfare of stone missiles/sling bullets as well as lead sling bullets. Though one misses illustrations of the artistic and numismatic material, the treatment is generally clear and impressively comprehensive. It includes, for example, evidence from nineteenth-century travellers' accounts. The section on slogans inscribed on lead bullets (e.g., "take that," "[this one's] for you," "ouch," "get pregnant with this") is particularly intriguing (45-46). Pritchett's conclusions are suggestive, if only partially developed: the status of slingers was low relative to other troops; slingers were particularly useful against elephants and cavalry; in the ritual of Greek battle, slingers appear often to initiate the battle and then withdraw.

Pritchett's discussion of booty is an elaboration on his earlier treatment of the topic in GSAW I (53-100). I highlight here just a few features of his seven-part discussion. 1) Vocabulary for Booty. In this dense and difficult section, Pritchett discusses in detail the general Greek terms for booty and related concepts (e.g., asylia). Placing particular emphasis on evidence from the lexicographers and on examples for which we have a context, he convincingly refutes Benedetto Bravo's recent extensive study of the evidence.2 2) Objects of Booty. This category includes cities, camps, and sanctuaries, as well as persons and specific items, e.g., rings, drinking cups, clothing. As elsewhere questions of vocabulary figure prominently. 3) Fate of Captives. This very readable section documents precisely what defeat meant for the conquered: death, enslavement, ransoming, or release. Noteworthy is the bizarre method of execution Diodorus (20.71) attributes to Agathocles: captives from Egesta (306 B.C.) were tied to catapults and hurled to their deaths. Pritchett's treatment of the topic of ransoming is extensive and illuminating. 4) Raids and Pirates. Included are a chronological list of evidence for piracy and brigandage and a discussion of towers in rural areas used as a defense against raids. The final three sections are concerned with Division of Booty, Sale of Booty, and Profits of War, the last of which entails a rather inconclusive inquiry into the role of booty in the economy of fourth-century B.C. Athens. A long appendix tabulates references to booty in the major Greek historians.

On the whole, one learns a great deal from Pritchett's comments on the vast and varied information he gathers. Lacking, however, is an integrated discussion of the role and function of booty in Greek culture. Although Pritchett attends closely to the language associated with booty by Greek authors and occasionally draws in modern material, one leaves his account wondering if the Greek view of booty differed fundamentally from that of other societies. His work will be valuable as a reference work, however, to those interested in pursuing this and many other questions.


  • [1] W.K. Pritchett, The Greek State at War Part II (Berkeley 1974) 1.

  • [2] "Sulan. Représailles et justice privée contre des étrangers dans les cités grecques. Étude du vocabulaire et des institutions," ASNP serie III, vol. X.3 (1980) 675-987.