BMCR 2015.09.23

The Antigonid Army. Akanthina, 8

, The Antigonid Army. Akanthina, 8. Gdańsk: Foundation for the Development of University of Gdańsk, for the Department of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Gdańsk, 2013. 139. ISBN 9788375312669. £35.00​.

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[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Over the past generation, Nicholas Sekunda has established himself as one of the most original of ancient military historians, while nonetheless focusing upon relatively old-fashioned research questions. He has proven particularly innovative in his synthesis of visual evidence with literary and epigraphic sources, while maintaining a more traditional interest in military institutions as war-fighting entities, asking questions about weapons, clothing, pay, command, organization and tactics that are too often ignored by the “new” military history and its “war and society” approach.1 Both aspects of Sekunda’s scholarship are on display in The Antigonid Army, which is part nuts-and-bolts treatise on Antigonid military organization, part monograph on Macedonian art history.

The book is by my count the third major overview of the Macedonian army that Sekunda has written. In 2010, he authored an excellent overview of Macedonian armies under both the Argeads and Antigonids as part of the Wiley-Blackwell A Companion to Ancient Macedonia, while in 2012 he published Macedonian Armies after Alexander, part of the colorful Osprey series aimed a popular audiences.2 These were in addition to his cogent 2007 contribution to the Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Ancient Warfare, which included discussion of the Macedonian-style armies of the Hellenistic world.3 By Sekunda’s own admission, many of the chapters in this monograph represent revised versions of his past contributions to the topic, supplemented with several previously published articles, some of which had been buried in relatively hard-to-obtain Polish academic journals. In many ways, The Antigonid Army is essentially a collection of kleine Schriften that has been lightly edited into a monograph.

The first two chapters of the book deal with the intersection of art and military history. Chapter 1 discusses the murals featuring Macedonian arms and armor on the Tomb of Lyson and Kallikles, two brothers possibly killed during the Second Macedonian War. The frescoes are valuable in part because they are in color, and give a sense of the polychromatic aspect of Macedonian military equipment. It is unfortunate that most of the illustrations in the book are in black and white and of poor quality, although full-color images of the tomb frescoes appear on the front and back covers.

Chapter 2 focuses on the survival of Macedonian art in Roman copies, and the chapter is the most out of place in the volume. The first half of the chapter is devoted to the relatively obscure problem of whether the portrait of a Macedonian king on a Roman coin is Antigonus Doson or Philip V. The second part of the chapter is perhaps more relevant, as it suggests murals surviving from “the House of Menander” in Pompeii are based on a Macedonian original. While the scenes depict the Trojan War, Sekunda argues that the uniforms and equipment worn by the Greeks are in fact those of elite Macedonian troops. Indeed, the figure of Ajax prying Cassandra from the altar may provide the best evidence we have for the straps rigging the Macedonian shield, showing three straps (two arm bands and a hand grip). The bands would make it feasible to balance the shield on the arm while holding a sarisa with both hands, while the hand grip would only be used when fighting with a sword.

Chapter 3 discusses the command and staff of the Antigonid army, making it essentially a study on the martial aspects of the Macedonian court: the bodyguards ( somatophylakes), the royal pages (Sekunda identifies a page “uniform” from both Pompeian frescoes and a funeral stele from Demetrias), as well as the hypaspists, no longer a fighting unit in the Antigonid dynasty as they were in Alexander’s day, but now an organized body of court functionaries. Chapter 4 provides an overview of cavalry organization and equipment. Chapter 5 discusses infantry equipment, including the appropriate type of wood for making the Macedonian sarisa (Sekunda suggests ash, not cornel). Chapters 6 and 7 focus on infantry organization and national mobilization.

Sekunda has changed his mind on one major aspect of Macedonian military organization, a theory that if correct would have major implications for our understanding of the organization of the Macedonian army. Ancient sources mention two main divisions of heavy Macedonian infantry phalanx (excluding the elite peltasts): the “bronze shields” ( chalkaspides) and the “white shields” ( leukaspides). The general consensus, embodied by none other than Sekunda himself in his 2010 essay for the Wiley-Blackwell Companion, suggests that both these divisions were manned by ethnically Macedonian citizen soldiers armed “in the Macedonian fashion” with sarisai and round shields, and that together they comprised the main phalanx of the Macedonian army.

Yet in Chapter 8, Sekunda argues that the entire Macedonian phalanx was comprised of the chalkaspides, and that the leukaspides were not Macedonian phalangites at all, but rather foreign thureophoroi infantry, fighting as light infantry with long oval shields. Sekunda’s justifications for this bold new assertion, however, are quite thin. Admittedly, it does not help that the leukaspides are only mentioned twice in battle: by Plutarch at Sellasia (222 BC) and by Livy at Pydna (168 BC). First off, Plutarch ( Cleomenes 23.1) reports that the Spartan king Cleomenes equipped some newly enfranchised helots to fight as heavy phalangites, and did so because he had intelligence that Antigonus Doson was bringing his leukaspides. Sekunda argues that this should mean that Cleomenes thought that Antigonus was bringing some extra light thureophoroi infantry, and so he armed some additional heavy infantry to outclass them. This is rather dubious: it makes much more sense if the leukaspides were in fact heavy phalangite infantry, and that Cleomenes, hearing that Antiognus Doson was mobilizing an extra element of his phalanx, responded by raising a new contingent of heavy infantry for himself.

At the Battle of Pydna in 168 B.C., Livy (44.41.1-2) reports that one legion (without the aid of its allied wing) faced off against the entire phalanx of the chalkaspides. Livy (42.51.3) puts the entire strength of Perseus’ main phalanx at around 20,000, and if we take the traditional view, this would mean the legion, 6000 strong, faced off against roughly 10,000 chalkaspides (i.e. half the total phalanx), a not impossible feat given the dense nature of the Macedonian phalanx and the loose fighting order of the manipular legion. But if we accept Sekunda’s hypothesis that the chalkaspides comprised the whole of the main phalanx then Paullus’ legion of 6000 beat over 20,000 heavy phalangites! Finally, after Livy describes the defeat of the leukaspides by the other Roman legion at Pydna, he launches into a digression about the strengths and weaknesses of the phalanx (44.41.6-9), which would be nonsensical if the leukaspides had been auxiliary light infantry, as Sekunda claims, equipped with oval shields that were not dissimilar to those carried by the Roman legionaries themselves. Despite Sekunda’s novel arguments in the last chapter of this book, the standard view on this poorly attested Macedonian unit is most likely correct.

Scholars with a close interest in Hellenistic military history will benefit from this monograph, as it contains many small gems in its various discussions of this important institution. The reader looking for a quick synopsis of the titular theme is best directed towards Sekunda’s elegant contribution in the Wiley-Blackwell Companion, while non-academic readers will likely instead appreciate his colorful Osprey on the same topic.4

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Tomb of Lyson and Kallikles
Chapter 2: Macedonian Court Art in Roman Copies
Chapter 3: Army Command and Staff
Chapter 4: Cavalry
Chapter 5: Infantry Equipment
Chapter 6: Infantry Organization
Chapter 7: Mobilization
Chapter 8: The Phalanx of the Leukaspides


1. The “war and society” approach of military history in the Hellenstic world is perhaps best embodied by Angelos Chaniotis, War in the Hellenistic World: A Social and Cultural History (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).

2. Nicholas Sekunda, “The Macedonian Army” in J. Roisman and I. Worthington (eds.) A Companion to Ancient Macedonia (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 446-71; Nicholas Sekunda, Macedonian Armies after Alexander: 323-168 BC (Oxford: Osprey, 2012).

3. Nicholas Sekunda, “Land Forces” in P. Sabin, H. van Wees, and M. Whitby (eds.). The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare 1 (Cambridge: CUP, 2007), 325-57.

4. This book is distributed in the United Kingdom and North America through Oxbow Books.