Above: The so-called "Dying Warrior" from the east pediment of the Temple of Aphaia. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Creator: Daderot. License: CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Articles from the
Oxford Classical Dictionary
archers | armies | art of war | attitudes to warfare | booty | fortifications | hippeis | hoplites | horses | mercenaries | military logistics | military training | navies | phalanx | rules of war | sea power | trireme
The Greek and Macedonian Art of War
This informal history traces battle tactics and military strategy from the time of the city-states' phalanxes of spearmen to the far-reaching combined operations of specialized land and sea forces in the Hellenistic Age. The author first describes the attitude of the Greek city-state toward war, and shows the military conventions and strategies associated with it. He then recounts how the art of war gradually evolved into new forms through the contributions of such men as the great commander Epaminondas, Philip of Macedon, his son Alexander the Great, and others. He also discusses the independence of land and sea power, describes the first use of calvary, and tells of the ingenious Greek devices of siegecraft, including the "fifth column."
Glenn Bugh provides a comprehensive discussion of a subject that has not been treated in full since the last century: the history of the Athenian cavalry. Integrated into a narrative history of the cavalry from the Archaic period through the Hellenistic age is a detailed analysis of a military and social organization the members of which came predominantly from the upper classes of Athens. Bugh demonstrates that this organization was not merely a military institution but an aristocratic social class with political expectations and fluctuating loyalties to the Athenian democracy. The last major work devoted exclusively to the subject appeared in French in 1886 and predated the publication of Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians, which provides valuable information not only on the administration of the Athenian cavalry but also on the democracy that financed it. Furthermore, since the 1930s the American excavations of the Athenian marketplace and the German excavations of the ancient cemetery have yielded unparalleled epigraphical evidence pertaining to the Athenian cavalry, particularly in the areas of personnel and administration.
From the clash of bronze weapons on bronze armor to the fall of Rome, war often decided the course of ancient history. This volume is a practical introduction to the study of warfare in the ancient world, beginning with Egypt and Mesopotamia, and tracing the advances made in battle tactics, technology, and government over hundreds of years, culminating with developments in Greece and the Roman Empire. The chronological structure allows the reader to trace certain general themes down through the centuries: how various civilizations waged war; who served in the various armies and why; who the generals and officers were who made the decisions in the field; what type of government controlled these armies; and from what type of society they sprang. Major events and important individuals are discussed in their historical contexts, providing a complete understanding of underlying causes, and enabling readers to follow the evolution of ancient warfare as armies and empires became steadily larger and more sophisticated. Yet as Chrissanthos makes clear, history comes full circle during this period. Rome's collapse in 476 C.E. inaugurated an unforeseen dark age in which great armies were left decimated despite advanced technology that, while proving decisive in the outcome of many critical battles and stand-offs, had vanished amidst the Empire's crumbling walls. In addition to the chronological treatment, Chrissanthos also includes sections on such important topics as chariot warfare, cavalry, naval warfare, elephants in battle, the face of battle, and such vital, but often-overlooked topics as the provisioning of the army with sufficient food and water. Eyewitness accounts are incorporated throughout each chapter, allowing the reader brief glimpses into the life and times of peasants and soldiers, generals and politicians, all of whom were dealing with war and its irreconcilable consequences from differing vantage points. Battle diagrams and maps are carefully placed throughout the text to help the reader visualize particular aspects of ancient warfare. The book also furnishes a detailed timeline and an extensive bibliography containing both modern and ancient sources.
The Psychology of the Athenian Hoplite: The Culture of Combat in Classical Athens
Throughout the Classical period, the Athenian hoplite demonstrated an unwavering willingness to close with and kill the enemies of Athens, whenever and wherever he was required to do so. Yet, despite his pugnacity, he was not a professional soldier; he was an untrained amateur who was neither forced into battle nor adequately remunerated for the risks he faced in combat. As such, when he took his place in the phalanx, when he met his enemy, when he fought, killed and died, he did so largely as an act of will. By applying modern theories of combat motivation, this book seeks to understand that will, to explore the psychology of the Athenian hoplite and to reveal how that impressive warrior repeatedly stifled his fears, mustered his courage and willingly plunged himself into the ferocious savagery of close-quarters battle.
Below: Detail of silver-gilt shield designed ca. 1821/22 by John Flaxman (1755-1826) after the Shield of Achilles as described in Iliad 18.368-616.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Thad Zajdowicz. License: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Declaration.
Warfare in Ancient Greece: Arms and Armour from the Heroes of Homer to Alexander the Great
In this first comprehensive study of Ancient Greek warfare for over 35 years, Tim Everson discusses clearly and thoroughly the background, weapons and tactics of the ancient Greeks. He describes the weapons, armour, helmets, chariots and other military equipment used in from c. 1550 to 150 BC and traces how and when various pieces of equipment came into use; whether they were introduced from other regions or were native developments; the effectiveness of the armour and weapons used and when and why things changed (or not). Set against a background of a broad history of Greek warfare - how they fought, why they fought and the developments in tactics over the centuries - he examines both the archaeological evidence of actual finds, as well as ancient depictions of military equipment on vases and in sculpture and literary evidence of Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and many other ancient authors.
To meet the enormous expenses of maintaining its powerful navy, democratic Athens gave wealthy citizens responsibility for financing and commanding the fleet. Known as trierarchs—literally, ship commanders—they bore the expenses of maintaining and repairing the ships, as well as recruiting and provisioning their crews. The trierarchy grew into a powerful social institution that was indispensable to Athens and primarily responsible for the city's naval prowess in the classical period. This work is the first full-length study of the financial, logistical, and social organization of the Athenian navy. Using a rich variety of sources, particularly the enormous body of inscriptions that served as naval records, Vincent Gabrielsen examines the development and function of the Athenian trierarchy and revises our understanding of the social, political, and ideological mechanisms of which that institution was a part. Exploring the workings, ships, and gear of Athens' navy, Gabrielsen explains how a huge, costly, and highly effective operation was run thanks to the voluntary service and contributions of the wealthy trierarchs. He concludes with a discussion of the broader implications of the relationship between Athens' democracy and its wealthiest citizens.
The ancient Greeks were for the most part a rural, not an urban, society. And for much of the Classical period, war was more common than peace. Almost all accounts of ancient history assume that farming and fighting were critical events in the lives of the citizenry. Yet never before have we had a comprehensive modern study of the relationship between agriculture and warfare in the Greek world. In this completely revised edition of Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece, Victor Davis Hanson provides a systematic review of Greek agriculture and warfare and describes the relationship between these two important aspects of life in ancient communities. With careful attention to agronomic as well as military details, this well-written, thoroughly researched study reveals the remarkable resilience of those farmland communities. In the past, scholars have assumed that the agricultural infrastructure of ancient society was often ruined by attack, as, for example, Athens was relegated to poverty in the aftermath of the Persian and later Peloponnesian invasions. Hanson's study shows, however, that in reality attacks on agriculture rarely resulted in famines or permanent agrarian depression. Trees and vines are hard to destroy, and grainfields are only briefly vulnerable to torching. In addition, ancient armies were rather inefficient systematic ravagers and instead used other tactics, such as occupying their enemies' farms to incite infantry battle. Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece suggests that for all ancient societies, rural depression and desolation came about from more subtle phenomena—taxes, changes in political and social structure, and new cultural values—rather than from destructive warfare.
What set the successful armies of Sparta, Macedon, and Rome apart from those they defeated? In this major new history of battle from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire, J. E. Lendon surveys a millennium of warfare to discover how militaries change—and don’t change—and how an army’s greatness depends on its use of the past. Noting this was an age that witnessed few technological advances, J. E. Lendon shows us that the most successful armies were those that made the most effective use of cultural tradition. Ancient combat moved forward by looking backward for inspiration—the Greeks, to Homer; the Romans, to the Greeks and to their own heroic past. The best ancient armies recruited soldiers from societies with strong competitive traditions; and the best ancient leaders, from Alexander to Julius Caesar, called upon those traditions to encourage ferocious competition at every rank. Ranging from the Battle of Champions between Sparta and Argos in 550 B.C. through Julian’s invasion of Persia in A.D. 363, Soldiers and Ghosts brings to life the most decisive military contests of ancient Greece and Rome. Lendon places these battles, and the methods by which they were fought, in a sweeping narrative of ancient military history. On every battlefield, living soldiers fought alongside the ghosts of tradition—ghosts that would inspire greatness for almost a millennium before ultimately coming to stifle it.
Below: The Alexander Mosaic is a Roman floor mosaic originally from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, ca. 100 BCE, and is believed to be a copy of an early 3rd c. BCE Hellenistic painting, possibly by Philoxenos of Eretria. It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia and measures 2.72 x 5.13m (8 ft 11in x 16 ft 9in). The original is preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum; the detail below shows the portrait of Darius III. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Carole Raddato. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.
Battle: A History of Combat and Culture spans the globe and the centuries to explore the way ideas shape the conduct of warfare. Drawing its examples from Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and America, John A. Lynn challenges the belief that technology has been the dominant influence on combat from ancient times to the present day. In battle, ideas can be more far more important than bullets or bombs. Clausewitz proclaimed that war is politics, but even more basically, war is culture. The hard reality of armed conflict is formed by -- and, in turn, forms -- a culture's values, assumptions, and expectations about fighting. The author examines the relationship between the real and the ideal, arguing that feedback between the two follows certain discernable paths. Battle rejects the currently fashionable notion of a "Western way of warfare" and replaces it with more nuanced concepts of varied and evolving cultural patterns of combat. After considering history, Lynn finally asks how the knowledge gained might illuminate our understanding of the war on terrorism.
The Athenian Trireme: The History and Reconstruction of an Ancient Greek Warship
J.S. Morrison, J.F. Coates, and N.B. Rankov, 2nd ed. 2000
Shortly before the launch of the reconstructed Greek warship, Olympias, the first edition of The Athenian Trireme was published, providing historical and technical background to the reconstruction of the ship. Since then, five seasons of experimental trials have been conducted on the ship under oar and sail, and the lessons learned have been supplemented by new archaeological discoveries and by historical, scientific and physiological research over the past fifteen years. For this second edition, the text has been recast and a number of substantive changes have been made. In addition, there is an entirely new chapter that describes the trials of Olympias in detail, reports the performance figures, and outlines the changes desirable in any second reconstruction. There are nineteen new illustrations, including eleven photographs of Olympias at sea demonstrating features of the design that could be represented only by drawings in the first edition.
Warfare was the single biggest preoccupation of historians in antiquity. In recent decades fresh textual interpretations, numerous new archaeological discoveries and a much broader analytical focus emphasising social, economic, political and cultural approaches have transformed our understanding of ancient warfare. Volume I of this two-volume History reflects these developments and provides a systematic account, written by a distinguished cast of contributors, of the various themes underlying the warfare of the Greek world from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period and of Early and Middle Republican Rome. For each broad period developments in troop-types, equipment, strategy and tactics are discussed. These are placed in the broader context of developments in international relations and the relationship of warfare to both the state and wider society. Numerous illustrations, a glossary and chronology, and information about the authors mentioned supplement the text. This will become the primary reference work for specialists and non-specialists alike. Cambridge Histories Online
Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character
An original and groundbreaking book that examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In this moving, dazzlingly creative book, Dr. Shay examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A classic of war literature that has as much relevance as ever in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a “transcendent literary adventure” (The New York Times) and “clearly one of the most original and most important scholarly works to have emerged from the Vietnam War” (Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried).
Below: Installation view of Fifty Days at Iliam, a series of paintings based on Homer's Iliad by Cy Twombly (1928-2011), on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Source: Wikimedia Commons. Creator: Regan Vercruysse. License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
The Cavalry of Classical Greece: A Social and Military History
This book is the first to examine how classical Greek cavalry actually operated on the battlefield. It looks at its prime characteristics, including mobility, protection, armament, training, leadership, flexibility, and motivation. Until now, it was generally assumed that ancient Greek cavalry was subordinated to the infantry because it was less effective in battle. This book challenges this assumption, analyzing the position of Greek cavalry, and especially the Athenian arm, not only in the battlefield but in society as a whole.
Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities
From the soldier's eye view of combat to the broad social and economic structures which shaped campaigns and wars, ancient Greek warfare in all its aspects has been studied more intensively in the last few decades than ever before. This book ranges from the concrete details of conducting raids, battles and sieges to more theoretical questions about the causes, costs, and consequences of warfare in archaic and classical Greece. It argues that the Greek sources present a highly selective and idealised picture, too easily accepted by most modern scholars, and that a more critical study of the evidence leads to radically different conclusions about the Greek way of war.
The achievements of Greek cavalry - hippeis - on the field of battle should be legendary. However, in most military histories of ancient Greece, the hoplite has received by far the most attention and praise. The modern preoccupation with the heavy infantry of Greece has led to a disregard of the important role played by cavalry. This book is the first to trace the history of Greek cavalry and offers a startling reassessment of the place of mounted troops in ancient Greek warfare. The first tentative steps toward creating cavalry began as early as the Mycenaean period. Around 1400 B.C., the Greeks began to mount warriors on horseback. The original intent was to gain mobility rather than power on the battlefield. But even at this early stage, some hippeis were equipped to fight mounted and were employed for their "shock" effect in battle. The early Archaic period saw the hippeis emerge preeminent on the battlefields of the Greek world. Cavalry played an important role in the first Messenian War and was decisive in the Lelantine War. Success led to specialization - heavy cavalry, light cavalry, and dragoons. Although the dominance of the hippeis was gradually eroded by the advent of the hoplite and the phalanx, the employment of cavalry actually increased in the Classical period. Boeotia, Athens, and Syracuse all fielded formidable mounted forces that played a vital role in the Peloponnesian War. Xenophon's mounted units enabled the "Ten Thousand" to escape the Persians and permitted Agesilaus to conduct a successful campaign in Asis Minor. Epaminondas used the charge of the Theban horse to open the fighting and gain victories at the battles of Leuctra and Mantinea. Philip and Alexander used their cavalry as the "hammer" of the Macedonian army in campaigns that won them dominance of Greece and crushed the Persian Empire. Leslie Worley's Hippeis restores the skilled horsemen of Greece to their rightful position in the history of the ancient world.
Below: Terracotta volute-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water) depicting an Amazonomachy (battle between Greeks and Amazons).
Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.