In 490 B.C. a force of some 10,000 Athenians and their allies met a much larger Persian army on the rocky beach at Marathon. The Greeks arrayed themselves in a thin line, advancing on the Persians slowly, then breaking into a run, splitting the center and enfolding the Persian army in their wings. The tactic surprised the Persians, and even some Greeks. But, argues Cambridge University archaeologist A.M. Snodgrass, tactical innovation alone did not carry the day. "We shall never know quite how Marathon was won," he writes, but "the superiority of Greek equipment must have been an important factor here and elsewhere, and at times perhaps a decisive one."
The Greeks, in short, were better armed than the Persians, an edge that had evolved over centuries of martial experimentation. Snodgrass traces the development of armor and weapons and the use of adjuncts like cavalry and war dogs through Greek history, from Mycenaean times to the age of Alexander. He notes, gainsaying many other military historians of ancient Greece, that the Greeks were nowhere near as effective in using cavalry as were their opponents, Persian and otherwise; even in Alexander's time, he writes, cavalry was neglected in favor of mass infantry attacks from heavily armed phalanxes--a tactic that must have cost many lives, but that surely put an unholy fear in the Greeks' enemies. Snodgrass's slender volume is a useful companion for students of Herodotus, Xenophon, Homer, and other chroniclers of ancient warfare. --Gregory McNamee
About the Author
Anthony M. Snodgrass is the Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge University. He is the author of several works, including The Dark Age of Greece, Archaeology and the Rise of the Greek State, and Archaic Greece.