- Hardcover: 468 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (December 31, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300106637
- ISBN-13: 978-0300106633
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,090,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity Hardcover – December 31, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
A classical scholar displays formidable scholarship and dense prose in this history of combat in the classical world from the Illiad to the fall of Rome. Because of the comparatively static technology-there was less change in weaponry, Lendon argues, during the whole period than between 1910 and 1940-the individual heroism depicted in the Illiad casts a very long shadow. When the Greeks invented the phalanx, the competition shifted its basis: now individuals competed to see who held his place in the formation best, and whole phalanxes competed to see which one presented the most solid wall of spear points. In other highlights along this difficult journey, we find the Romans also had a tradition, whether Homeric in origin or not, of the individual commander engaging his opposite and stripping him of his armor as a trophy, which led to the future Emperor Titus performing heroic feats of arms in the siege of Jerusalem. The varying arrangements of cohorts (about three times the size of a maniple) involved makes the plethora of illustrations here essential. Witty, erudite and painstaking , this book rewards the serious reader who marches (in whatever formation) to the end.
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Obviously several authors already wrote about some of the ideas, but none managed to clarify this issue like in this masterpiece. The emulation and the search for answers in the the past by Greeks and Romans and how it influenced their military (also the civil political world, we must remember the Sibylline books for example) is detailed through analyses of the tactical formations used and how they were influenced by the Homeric Epics (the Greeks and the Romans after the second Sophistic) and the Historical Epic (the Romans).
Other influences like the old question of Virtus vs Disciplina and how Romans tried to live with both sets of values. Considerations regarding Disciplina, which contrary to popular belief, weren’t exclusively to maintain the troops disciplined in the field and to improve morale but also to refrain the men from trying to exercise their virtus.
There are some points that I disagree; e.g. that aristocrats in the late Republic left the virtus display for the centurions. Like in the former period, when young, aristocrats would definitively put themselves in risky situations: Caesar received a grass crown when young, Sulla captured a Numidian King, Marius fought in single combat, Marcus Crassus considered his single combat victory his greatest feat, both Sertorius and Marc Antony issued challenges for single combat, Pompey fought in the ranks, and the list goes on…so here the author is mistaken; I believe that we have more occurrences of aristocratic displays of Virtus in the late republic than from any other period. Although, like the author states, the main defenders of the heroic fighting spirit were obviously the centurions.
A remarkable work that I’m certain it will be quoted for a long time.
Competition was admired, valued, and promoted heavily in both of these cultures. Soldiers were not only competing against their enemies, but also with their fellow countrymen. The author makes the comparison of this mindset to modern athletes. Generals could become transfixed by the past, trying to reenact the triumphs of previous leaders, only to find failure against an updated enemy force instead of a stereotyped army of a bygone era.
The Greeks wanted to know who was the "most". It was a first place or no place society. They concluded that war with no rules was more about luck rather than excellence. A system of warfare was developed to more easily judge this excellence. Phalanx fighting showed which man could hold his place, who could be great in this way. A competition of self-mastery as the author puts it. Simplifying warfare made for better competition. Eventually, some generals saw these rules as needing to be broken. These men were competing in the realm of trickery/strategy.
Both societies moved away from armies of landed elites and aristocracy with a supposedly inborn quality of greatness to armies of poor men trained to be brave. The role of a general changed over time. Previously considered an equal to their men with limited authority, generals became more powerful. The nature of the Republic promoted an unrestrained ambition among its men. The Roman soldier prepared constantly for a lifestyle of war, never waiting for crises. Aggressive Roman republic evolved into civilized empire. Soldiering was for the barbarians to do on behalf of the empire. Competition arose in unlikely places for the legionnaire, such as the building of fortifications. During the empire, generals feared being too outstanding in victory under the suspicious gaze of a Caesar. A man could be a man without pursuing military greatness, while more easily protecting his neck. Corruption was rampant. Character is fate as they say and a martial society built on conquest lost its edge. The hunger which drove this culture to devour ever distant lands was sated, expansion stopped, and borders began to crumble and collapse. Living in the shadow of previous military greatness was a burden these men could not bear.
Photos/illustrations are of good quality. The author's examples of legendary soldiers were somewhat unique and interesting to read. For example, the story of Titus Manlius Torquatus defeating a Gaul in single combat, decapitating the barbarian, and placing the bloody arm and neck bands(torques) upon himself. Additional examples include the battle of champions at Thyrea, the single combat of Marcus Valerius Corvus "The Raven", or the exercise in virtus of the centurions Pullo and Vorenus.
I think that the application of this approach in the Roman era (cultural norms affecting warfare) is less profound. In Greece, the epics actually affected an army's structure and tactics. With Rome, it is more about how the army operated and conducted itself in warfare and the balance between discipline and virtue - less an explaination and more a description.
Five stars for the Greek section, three for the Roman, averaging a solid four.
I am as far from being a scholar as one can get,and found this book to be entertaining as well as informative.
I would highly recomend this book to anyone with an intrest in this perriod.
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J.E. Lendon is a professor at University of Virginia, with a specialization in Greek and Roman history.Read more