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The Wars of the Ancient Greeks and Their Invention of Western Military Culture (The Cassell history of Warfare) Hardcover – December 31, 1999

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About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is Professor of Classics at California State University. His particular interest is in the military history of the Greek city-states, and his books have revolutionized the study of the subject.


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Product Details

  • Series: The Cassell history of Warfare
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Cassell; 1st edition (December 31, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0304352225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0304352227
  • Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #854,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is Professor of Greek and Director of the Classics Program at California State University, Fresno. He is the author or editor of many books, including Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (with John Heath, Free Press, 1998), and The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999). In 1992 he was named the most outstanding undergraduate teacher of classics in the nation.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Susan Paxton on June 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
The series of Cassell's History of Warfare, edited by John Keegan, started coming out a couple of years ago in an oversized hardback format encrusted with graphics and large type in the style of the age. Thank God that Cassell has reissued Victor Davis Hanson's excellent contribution in this new compact trade paperback format. Most of the illustrations are gone, the remaining ones are well chosen, and compared with the hardback version I believe that all of the maps have been retained. In addition, the book is really well bound and promises to hold up.
Hanson, for those who somehow have missed him until now, is a professor of Classics at California State and also is a part time farmer, both of which have contributed to his writing as a military historian. As a classicist, Hanson is well versed in the sources in their original Greek, and as a farmer he understands how agriculture affected the experience of the Greeks at war. For it was the farmers of the early Greek polis who developed modern western warfare. Unlike other cultures, the Greek farmers couldn't afford to support professional armies or hire mercenaries, and they couldn't spend a great deal of time away from their farms campaigning. The Greek way of war was to gather up the militia, which comprised all the able bodied men of property who could afford the armor and equipment of a hoplite, march out to a convenient flat field to meet the men of the polis they were warring with, and in a matter of hours, get it over with in quick, brutal, decisive battle.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent summary of Victor Davis Hanson's views on Greek warfare presented in the format of a coffeetable-style book. This volume is superior to most books of this type because Davis Hanson's analysis is really a social history of Greek warfare, not the usual compendium of battles, campaigns, and military technology. Davis Hanson does a very nice job of presenting the historical development of Greek warfare from the emergence of citizen hoplite militias associated with the classical polis to the large standing armies associated with large Hellenistic states. For Davis Hanson, Greek military history is a key feature of classical history. The hoplite militia and hoplite battles are the ultimate expression of the relative egalitarianism and solidarity of the polis. Changes in military technology become semi-independent forces in classical history and an important aspect of the development of the polis and its replacement by authoritarian Hellenistic states. This book is a clear digest of Davis Hanson's very interesting views of classical history. His analysis is bold and largely convincing. One area, however, where I think he is on shaky ground is his assertion that the Greeks invented heavy infantry combat and set the pattern for Western warfare. He asserts further that this is distinctive feature of Western culture. While it is true that military innovators of the early modern period did draw on classical models, it is much more likely that the development of assault infantry in early modern Europe is re-invention, as opposed to re-discovery. Similarly, heavy infantry assault was independently developed by disparate non-Western societies such as the Zulus and the medieval Japanese. I think Davis Hanson has identified something that is characteristically human, as opposed to characteristically Western.
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39 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Sailoil on November 11, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book examines the development of war in ancient Greece through the dark ages after the collapse of Mycenean civilization and through the Classical period, Hellenic Period and up to the conquest of Greece by Roman Legions.
First of all it is important to be aware that the author assumes the readers knowledge of primary texts of the era. He refers frequently to books such as Herodotous Histories, Thucydides Peloponnesian war, Xenophon's Anabasis and the works of Plutarch, Arrian, Polybius and Xeno amongst others.
Victor Davis Hanson believes that the way we fight today is a direct descendant of the Greek method of fighting. He contends that the successes of the Greeks against Persian armies dictated the development of war down to the present day.
This is a huge contention and one that I believe he fails to support. He speaks at length about the "Western way of war" without establishing how this differed significantly from other military systems. His contention that it was only in Greece that shock battle developed is flawed. Shaka, king of the Zulu nation, independently developed shock battle tactics, and he can be only one of many who came to the same end result from different starting points.
At times I felt that Hanson was trying to be sensationalist in making contentious statements that are ill supported by argument. Some examples of this tendancy are the following brave assertions!:
"The great Chinese military strategist Sun-tzu is sometimes cryptic, often mystical, and always part of some larger religious paradigm."
"Too many scholars like to compare Alexander to Hannibal or Napoleon. A far better match would be Hitler....
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