Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.08.63 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.08.63

Cédric​ Brélaz​, Sylvian Fachard (ed.), Pratiques militaires et art de la guerre dans le monde grec antique: études offertes à Pierre Ducrey à l'occasion de son 75e anniversaire. Revue des Études Militaires Anciennes, 6 - 2013​.   Paris:  Éditions A. et J. Picard​, 2013.  Pp. 158.  ISBN 9782708409682.  €25.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Fernando Echeverría​, Complutense University, Madrid (

Table of Contents

This book is a collection of essays addressing different aspects of warfare in the ancient Greek world, presented in honour of Pierre Ducrey on the occasion of his 75th birthday and published as a special issue of the Revue des Études Militaires Anciennes. It aims to represent Ducrey’s main lines of research and fields of interest, from Homeric Greece to imperial Rome. The eleven papers, written by well-known figures in the study of classical warfare, are only superficially connected to each other, but all employ a sociological approach according to the editors, Cédric Brélaz and Sylvian Fachard (8). Since they are intended to be read separately, there are no cross-references between them and no integrated analysis by the editors. Written in English (6 papers), French (3 papers), German (1 paper) and Italian (1 paper), the book is clearly addressed to specialists in the field of Greek warfare, but will also be of interest to graduate students.

Denis Knoepfler opens the volume with some comments on Pierre Ducrey’s approach to ancient warfare, and after a brief introduction by the editors, the eleven papers follow, with the different topics arranged in chronological order. I will offer but a few comments on each of them, to highlight their main contributions and arguments.

John Ma’s brief paper (“Histoires (militaires) de Suisse et de Grèce”) draws a comparison between classical Greece and modern Switzerland based on the shared experiences of landscape, poverty and emigration. This comparison is just a prelude to his sociological approach to the “affinities” between Greeks and Swiss, or better to the Swiss vision of ancient Greece: fondness for Greek antiquities, Greek leagues and federations as an inspiration, a sense of territory in a complex geography, and a way of war based on citizen militias. He concludes that Swiss historians (such as Pierre Ducrey himself) have a natural understanding of certain notions of ancient Greece, since they are similar to their own “historical landscape” (15).

Kurt A. Raaflaub’s piece (“Homer und die Agonie des Hoplitenkampfes”), partially a reply to Lawrence Tritle’s 2009 paper (“Inside the hoplite agony”, AHB 23), further develops his theory (detailed in a number of earlier works cited in his note 6) that Homeric battle descriptions present a preliminary stage of the classical phalanx, a “proto-phalanx”. Raaflaub summarizes with great precision the complex philological, archaeological and historical problems surrounding the historicity of the military information contained in the epics, and argues that the experience of combat described by Homer resembles closely that reconstructed for the classical period.

Jean-Nicolas Corvisier presents an interesting essay on failure and incompetence in Greek warfare (“Incompétences militaires et causes de l’échec en Grèce ancienne”), and on the relationship between both elements in the perspective of the ancient Greeks. He rightly points out that political institutions rarely prosecuted commanders for incompetence and preferred other charges such as misuse of public funds, and argues that failure clearly had an impact on the rise of trials against generals at the end of the fifth and the beginning of the fourth centuries BC. He also suggests that the emphasis on incompetence depends on the narrative choices of the historian in question, but that a chain of military mistakes from the period between the fifth and the third centuries BC can be drawn from our sources. Corvisier engages in statistical work to illustrate his findings and offers a set of useful tables illustrating the alleged causes of military failure according to the different historians.

The following contribution, by Philip de Souza (“Xenophon on naval warfare”), deals with Xenophon’s experience in naval campaigns and the reliability of his descriptions of naval warfare compared to Thucydides’ and other classical historians’. De Souza analyzes in detail several aspects of Xenophon’s approach to the issue, such as his own naval experience, his narrative technique when describing naval encounters, his assessment of Spartan naval power, his presentation of Iphikrates’ campaign in Corcyra in the late 370s, his comments on Athenian and Spartan naval manpower, and finally his essay on the Athenian resources and strategies for an increasing power and lasting peace (the Poroi). De Souza concludes that Xenophon had a broad and precise understanding of naval warfare, most certainly on account of his own military experience.

Vincent Gabrielsen in his paper (“The navies of classical Athens and Hellenistic Rhodes: an epigraphic comparison”) argues that the epigraphic record reveals considerable differences in the organization of the navies in Athens and Rhodes in their respective periods of naval ascendancy. Evidence from Athens points at a strongly bureaucratic and entirely public system of naval organization and logistics, while at Rhodes private participation was encouraged in many fields (ships’ ownership, recruitment of crews, distribution of booty). The paper is a concise analysis of a vast amount of epigraphic information that raises crucial questions regarding the organizational capacities of ancient states.

Sylvian Fachard follows with a contribution on the fortress of Gyphtokastro (“Eleutherai as the gates to Boiotia”), one of the best preserved Greek fortifications and commonly assumed to be part of the Athenian defensive system in the Boeotian frontier. Using a “landscape approach” (82), i.e. interpreting Eleutherai “in its historical, material and environmental context”, Fachard attempts to achieve a better understanding of the origin and functions of the fort. He claims that, since Eleutherai was in fact redundant with nearby Oinoe, just 6 kilometres away, it must have been built by the Boeotians by the mid-fourth century BC, with the frontier running between both forts. Fachard’s study effectively draws on landscape, settlement pattern, architecture, and epigraphy, producing a very persuasive explanation for the construction of Eleutherai.

Marco Bettalli (“La kataphronesis di Cabria”) focuses on a minor engagement between Spartans and Athenians during Agesilaos’ expedition against Thebes in 378 BC. The victory of the Athenian contingent, sent to the aid of the Thebans, over the Spartan troops, and especially the role and reputation of its commander Chabrias, are emphasized by Bettalli as a sign of Athenian contempt for the Spartan military reputation and interpreted as a new Athenian claim to “imperial” identity. This brief piece emphasizes the role of the “psychological sphere” (112) in classical Greek warfare, in a period in which Athens is trying to rebuild the empire and regain a position as a first-rank power in Greece.

John Ma offers a second contribution to the volume, this time on Alexander’s generalship (“Alexander’s decision-making as historical problem”). Ma addresses a complex and wide-ranging question, why did Alexander win, through the analysis of his decisions in combat, a process described as rational by the literary sources. He offers interesting insights into the problems and paradoxes of recent studies on Alexander’s generalship, dominated to a considerable extent by didactic approaches that seek to draw lessons from the life of a military “genius”. Ma explores three fields of research in which Alexander’s decision-making can be of relevance: intellectual history, military history, and historiography. If anything, Ma confirms that military success is much more than optimal decision-making or better troops and weapons: army management, logistics, intelligence, qualified subordinates, and so on, also play a considerable role.

Robin Lane Fox presents an overview of warfare during the early period of the Successors (“Aspects of warfare: Alexander and the Successors”), which he considers extremely revealing but “not always exploited fully” (127). He emphasizes continuity in a broad range of military patterns and practices between Alexander and the Successors, specially “heroic” generalship, tactics and battle planning, and preference for cavalry charges and the use of elephants (with fascinating remarks from his personal experience in re-enactment for Oliver Stone’s Alexander). There are differences as well, such as the relevance of siege warfare, and particularly naval warfare, which developed considerably under the Successors. Lane Fox discusses in some detail questions of logistics and the mobility of armies, and points out that baggage trains “contained the livelihood and families of armies” (134), which in the end determined loyalties.

The following piece, by Jean-Christophe Couvenhes (“Érétrie, la garnison de Rhamnonte et Dikaiarchos, d’Antigone Gonatas à Démétrios II”), explores the relationship between the town of Eretria and the Athenian fortress of Rhamnous during the third century BC, analyzing several pieces of epigraphic evidence. A decree in honour of Dikaiarchos, Athenian commander of the Macedonian garrison posted at Eretria by 235 BC, is presented by Couvenhes as especially revealing of this relationship, and particularly of the Macedonian domination of Euboea and the northern regions of Attica during the third century BC. The inscription, containing a wealth of information about Dikaiarchos’ life and military career, seems to present the region of the Euripus as an integrated strategic area, with the different forts and towns in permanent contact, and playing a considerable role in the Macedonian effort to control Athens.

Angelos Chaniotis concludes the volume with his contribution “Roman army in Aphrodisias”, in which he presents a funerary inscription from Aphrodisias dated to the first quarter of the third century AD. The inscription illustrates the relationship between the city and Roman imperial institutions, especially the provincial governor, the army, and several Roman officials. Chaniotis argues that this attests to the process of gradual integration of Aphrodisias into the Roman provincial administration that finally led to its promotion as capital of the province.

Although some of the papers in this volume offer a broader perspective, in general the essays are rather specialized, tending to focus on specific aspects of fairly narrow questions and very concrete issues. At the same time, they all address current problems in the different fields of scholarship on ancient Greek warfare, making relevant (albeit at times minor) contributions to the general discussion. As a collection of disparate and heterogeneous papers, the present volume must be assessed according to the quality not of the total sum, but of the individual works, and in this respect I believe that it has a great deal to offer to an interested reader.

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