BMCR 1997.06.01

1997.6.1, Sage, Warfare in Ancient Greece: a sourcebook

, London and New York: Routledge, 1996. xxviii, 252 pp.. $65.00 (Hb), $19.95 (Pb).

Sage’s sourcebook includes 302 translated passages divided among five chapters, whose subjects are Homer and the Dark Ages, the “age of hoplite warfare,” the fourth century, Philip and Alexander, and the Hellenistic period. Within each chapter discussion is organized thematically, with subdivisions addressing questions of, for example, military command, treaties of alliance, and mercenaries. Undergraduates are presumably the intended audience of the book, though that question is never in fact addressed by the author, and S. has provided a useful supplementary text for classes in which ancient military history is a component. The individual passages, chapter subdivisions, and chapters are introduced by discussions which provide the necessary context for understanding the translated passages. (Nonetheless—and despite the author’s 19-page introduction, which traces the development of Greek warfare from the Homeric to the Hellenistic periods—readers of the book would benefit from a general familiarity with Greek history.) The passages are for the most part well chosen, and the thematically-arranged bibliography of works in English should be adequate to launch students interested in pursuing topics addressed in the book. The great merit of S.’s work is that in addition to traditional military subjects—tactics and armaments—the author has included material of greater social interest. Thus one finds in S.’s pages, for example, sections on burial practices, the treatment of vanquished populations, military pay, and the collection, division, and sale of booty. Students should find something among the diverse subjects covered to excite their interest.

But S.’s book might have been better. While it is inevitable that opinions will differ on what topics merit inclusion in a work of this sort , I am surprised that the author elected to exclude from the collection any extended discussion of naval warfare, the importance of which surely needs no defense. With other desiderata of mine one might quibble: discussions of military discipline (particularly as it is alluded to on pp. 30, 156, and 216), aristeia (mentioned but not discussed at length on pp. 34 and 125), battle exhortations (p. 79), and rotating commands (p. 61). If the publisher would not allow a longer book, space for a treatment of naval warfare might have been found. Some of the passages which were included in the book could have been shortened considerably while remaining illustrative of the point being made by the author (so, for example, nos. 158, 167, and 169), while at other times the same material appears translated in two different places in the book (thus the passage translated as no. 83 appears as part of no. 111, no. 233 as part of no. 278, and no. 238 of no. 264). This is surely a convenience for the reader, but these repetitions could have been eliminated had it been necessary.

The text is riddled with typographical and other small errors, sometimes two or three per page. (Less important, but annoying to this pedant, is the author’s habit of omitting commas before non-restrictive relative clauses.) The usefulness of the author’s discussions would be improved at times by the insertion of references to ancient testimonia where his comments might prompt curious readers to further investigation. (See, for example, p. 5: “Yet it [raiding for profit] remains a somewhat ambiguous activity that can on occasion be condemned, as it is later in the poem by Odysseus’ swineherd Eumaeus”; p. 101: “Though there are traditions about trophies reaching as far back as the eighth and seventh centuries, it is probable that these examples are anachronistic…”; p. 154: “It [the prestige of military leadership] is visible within city states such as Athens in the deification of Iphicrates…”; p. 173: “There is some evidence for the use of a shield [by Macedonian cavalry] but it is certainly the most questionable piece of equipment. Xenophon had recommended against it.”) So much for general considerations. My discussion below of specific passages and comments made by the author will, given the nature of the book under review, necessarily be a series of unconnected remarks.

1. In the introduction to his second chapter (p. 27) S. summarizes the two principal theories which have been advanced to explain the Greeks’ adoption of hoplite tactics. In brief, adherents of the “sudden change” hypothesis argue that the introduction of hoplite tactics was closely associated with the adoption of hoplite equipment, particularly the double-handled shield, which could not easily be moved to protect the warrior’s right side as could earlier, single-handled shields and which could not, as its predecessors, be slung around the back to protect its owner in flight. (This vivid detail, not mentioned by S., might have brought home to his readers one reason for the association of the hoplite shield with formation fighting.) 1 According to the “gradual change” hypothesis, the adoption of hoplite weapons and armor was followed more slowly by the adoption of hoplite tactics. 2 Of these, S. prefers the former explanation, but the reason for his preference is not clear to me. (“The second view is inherently less plausible. One would expect those with resources and a fighting tradition to be the first to respond to military innovation.”) In the end S. accepts neither explanation, however, regarding as most plausible that “the hoplite shield was adopted at the same time as the phalanx. One was dependent upon the other.” Strict simultaneity, however, neither innovation prompting the adoption of the other, seems to me an unlikely scenario. More probable is a reconstruction proposed by Victor Hanson, that the Greeks’ adoption of hoplite equipment followed rather than preceded—as the gradual and sudden change theories presuppose—the introduction of the phalanx. 3 This theory, which does not appear to have influenced S.’s discussion, merits consideration by the author.

2. S. mistakenly writes on p. 38 that eligibility for hoplite service in Athens extended “from the age of 18 to 42.” Actually, citizens were eligible for service to the age of 59 ( Ath. Pol. 53.4). The author’s error was probably suggested by the fact that there were 42 age classes ( helikiai) of citizens between the ages of 18 and 59, by means of which hoplites required for a particular campaign were identified when call-up was en tois eponymois.

3. S. remarks on p. 49 that “In general the cavalry forces of the western Greek states were more developed and effective than those of the homeland.” But the passage he offers as evidence for this claim, Pind. Nem. 1.15-19, is weak support at best. Pindar is concerned here not with warfare but with Olympic victory (the λαὸν ἵππαιχμον is, after all, only a πολέμου μναστῆρα), a fact which S.’s translation obscures: “The son of Cronus has honored Sicily, rich with the wealthy summits of its cities. In addition he has given a people of horsemen, suitors of bronze-armored war.”

4. In the introduction to his section on military command S. writes: “In fifth-century Athens, the generalship became the most important political office. Typically it combined the most important civil powers with the chief responsibility in military matters. The equation of civil and military leadership was, in part, the result of the fact that military leadership was simply a facet of overall command…” (p. 60, cf. p. 63). It is not clear to what “civil powers” the author is referring, but the assumption of civil authority did not in fact attend election to the strategia. However active generals may have been in ekklesiastic debate, and however much military success may have enhanced the credentials of strategoi as advisors in the ekklesia, generals did not enjoy political authority in Athens by virtue of their tenure of the generalship. Moreover, the authority which individual generals exercised even in the military sphere was muted both by the collegiate nature of their office and by a demos which by various means exercised a pervasive control over its strategoi. 4

5. S. should perhaps explain in his introduction to no. 143 (pp. 96-97), a casualty list of the Erechtheid tribe, that of the eighteen names listed only two, Ph[ryni]chus and Hippodamus, were generals: the appearance of the document would suggest to most readers, I think, that all of the dead listed were strategoi.

6. I am at a loss to understand how S. can write, on p. 100, of a “general absence of militarism in Spartan life.”

7. On p. 124, in his introduction to a translation of Diod. 11.25.1, S. writes: “Gelon, the tyrant of Syracuse, had the right to dispose of the booty after his victory at the battle of Himera against the Carthaginians in 480. ..The passage again illustrates the relative freedom of the commander in such circumstances….” This remark is misleading, however, insofar as it suggests that military leaders in a democracy would necessarily enjoy a degree of freedom comparable to that exercised by a tyrant. The evidence for the disposal of booty by Athenian generals of the classical period is in fact not so clear cut, but it is at the least consistent with the conclusion that in disposing of booty Athens’ generals acted in accord with the expectations of their home government, if not actually in obedience to its direct orders. 5

8. On p. 136 S. writes of “men like Lamachus at Athens who held traditional offices because of their military expertise….” In fact, apart from his strategiai, Lamachos is known only to have served as an envoy in 426/5 (Ar. Acharn. 614) and to have been among those who swore to the Peace of Nikias in 422/1 (Thuc. 5.19.2 and 24.1; see Index I no. 1770 of Robert Develin, Athenian Officials 684-321 B.C., Cambridge, 1989). But even if Lamachos had held more offices, it would be stretching our evidence, in the absence of explicit testimony, to suggest he did so because of his military expertise.

9. As evidence for the existence in Athens of a force of mounted archers S. cites (p. 212) his no. 81 (p. 50), a translation of Andoc. 3.5. But while this passage has been taken by some to refer to mounted archers, Andocides in fact mentions only cavalry and Scythian archers, i.e., toxotai rather than hippotoxotai. 6

The problems with Warfare in Ancient Greece are numerous but easily corrected, and it is to be hoped that the author may have the opportunity to offer a second edition. In its current state the sourcebook can nonetheless function well as a class text, provided that instructors are careful to correct any mistaken impressions that it might leave.

1. See H.L. Lorimer, “The Hoplite Phalanx with Special Reference to the Poems of Archilochus and Tyrtaeus,” BSA 42 (1946), 76-138; P.A.L. Greenhalgh, Early Greek Warfare (Cambridge, 1973), p. 73; Paul Cartledge, “Hoplites and Heroes: Sparta’s Contribution to the Technique of Ancient Warfare,” JHS 97 (1977), 11-27.

2. See A.M. Snodgrass, “The Hoplite Reform and History,” JHS 85 (1965), 110-122; Walter Donlan, “Archilochus, Strabo and the Lelantine War,” TAPA 101 (1970), 131-142; John Salmon, “Political Hoplites?” JHS 97 (1977), 84-101.

3. Victor Davis Hanson, “Hoplite Technology in Phalanx Battle,” in Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience, ed. Victor Davis Hanson (London and New York, 1991), 63-84. While this collection of articles appears elsewhere in S.’s bibliography, reference to the specific article should perhaps have been added under the rubric “The Archaic period and the introduction and development of hoplite warfare.”

4. For pertinent discussion see my Athenian Generals: Military Authority in the Classical Period (Leiden, forthcoming).

5. See ch. 2 section 2.1 of Athenian Generals for discussion.

6. See Glenn Richard Bugh, The Horsemen of Athens (Princeton, 1988), pp. 39-40, and cf. I.G. Spence, The Cavalry of Classical Greece (Oxford, 1993), p. 57.