56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Anything But Modern Warfare!,
This review is from: The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece (Paperback)
Victor Davis Hanson is by trade apparently both a California viniculturist and an academic scholar of classical Greek history. So John Keegan says in his introduction to this new edition of an established minor classic. The improbable combination of such disparate occupations has shaped his conception of ancient Greek warfare: he argues that the ritualistic hoplite battle formalized during the "golden period" of Greek antiquity was inextricably linked to the nature of Greek agriculture. To avoid devastating loss of food (particularly wine) production and desolation of invaluable land, the seemingly ceaseless wars between Greek city states and their various shifting alliances had to be short, rapidly decisive, and--necessarily as a result--brutally sanguineous. Greeks deliberately fought according to a set of mutually acknowledged rules that limited wartime injury to the participating infantrymen themselves, and kept intact the soil and farms from which they came.
In his book Hanson takes us step by step through the violent clash of opposing Greek armies and reveals in remarkably technical detail just what was involved. Perhaps even more important, he recreates the personal experience of individual participants during such a battle. Following in the footsteps of many modern (post-World War II) historians who are more interested in the private soldier than the commanding general, he gives us a gritty sense of what it was like for Greek farmer soldiers to undergo combat in traditional phalanx formation. (Consequently, Steven Pressfield acknowleges that Hanson was one of the sources he referred to when writing his engrossing "Gates of Fire", a fictional treatment of the famous Battle of Thermopylae.)
In this sense there is a firm connection between ancient and modern warfare: ultimately it was--and is--fought by men who must deal with their own personal fears of wounding, dismemberment, and death. This has not changed, and so long as there is still a human element to war, will not change. But Hanson takes a step beyond simple individual motivation; and in the closing pages of the book he discusses the implications of modern total warfare, where the ritualized, bloody (but still carefully limited) battle of ancient Greece has given way to the usually uncontrolled, all-destructive (rather than fundamentally conserving) combat of today. It makes for thoughtful, stimulating reading.
(Those who find this subject matter interesting might find other Hanson books worth looking at. His more recent "Soul of Battle" devotes its first third to a discussion of war between Thebes and Sparta. "The Wars of the Ancient Greeks" is one volume of a slick series of popular histories which have John Keegan as their editor; aimed at the uninitiated general public, this title nonetheless is a good introduction to warfare in classical Greece.)
Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 7, 2013 8:42:29 AM PDT
Yes Hanson's book "The Wars of the Ancient Greeks" is excellent for new comers to ancient warfare. Additionally, I think he has written the best account and impact that Philip of Macedonia had on the art of battle in ancient times that I have read. Most historians emphasize the Sarissa and Macedonian heavy cavalry, but Hanson brings in the social, economic, logistical, and political aspects of Macedonian warfare that enabled his son to conquer Persia.
‹ Previous 1 Next ›