Cross-Post: Ways Forward in the Study of Ancient Greek Warfare
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Cross-Post: Ways Forward in the Study of Ancient Greek Warfare

Back in 2014, archaeologist Josho Brouwers and I both headed west to give talks in different cities on why the study of warfare in the middle of the first millennium BCE is not very scientific, and how it could be brought up to the standards expected in other areas of ancient world studies. Mine, on the study of Near Eastern warfare, is still in press in the proceedings of Melammu-Symposium 8, but Josho has dug up his paper from 2014 on warfare in the Greek world and posted it in all its uncensored glory (most academics try to give their talks in an entertaining way, then print a more moderate version):

First of all, students examining ancient Greek warfare tend to be myopic (i.e. hellenocentric), in the sense that they focus almost entirely on ancient Greece itself and ancient Greek sources, usually from a particular period, with little or no use made of comparative data. Compare this, for example, with the study of Roman warfare, where it is commonplace to compare Roman equipment, tactics, and so forth, with those of the peoples that they fought against, such as the Etruscans, Carthaginians, and various Celtic tribes.

Secondly, and by extension, ancient historians, classicists, and archaeologists tend to put their focus squarely on their own material. Thus, ancient historians and classicists rely almost entirely on texts, each with a different approach, while archaeologists limit themselves to producing detailed overviews of arms and armour. Whenever use is made of another discipline’s evidence, the treatment is often simplistic

Thirdly, there is little scientific rigour that students of Greek warfare apply to how they approach their material. Theoretical frameworks, preconceived notions, and the like, are never made explicit, and one gets the impression that proper interpretation of the sources is on the same level as connoisseurship in the study of Greek vases

Lastly, ancient Greek warfare seems to be one of the few areas of ancient history where rampant nineteenth-century colonialist ideology is still commonly accepted … it is still commonplace to regard the ancient Greeks as immediate ancestors of Western nations (mostly the United States and Western Europe), as inventors of democracy, philosophy, and a “Western”-style of warfare, despite literally decades’ worth of research that have proven these notions false.

– Josho Brouwers, “Phalanx and fallacies: Ways Forward in the Study of Ancient Greek Warfare,” 3 July 2014

In my view, the debate between ‘hoplite revolution’ theorists and gradualists (“orthodoxy” and “heretics”, “California school” and revisionists) lasted roughly from 1985 to 2013. Most of the former school dropped out of the debate as they found they could not answer questions from other schools of thought. Since 2013, the interesting debate has been between the majority of gradualists like Peter Krentz and Hans van Wees and some young bucks who think that they did not go nearly far enough and that a true study of Greek warfare needs to include the whole Greek world from Marseilles to Abu Simbel, and a study of hoplites needs to include Sidonians and Phrygians as well as Laconians.

Further Reading: “War and Soldiers in the Achaemenid Empire: Some Historiographical and Methodological Considerations.” In Sebastian Fink and Kerstin Droß-Krüpe (eds.) Melammu-Symposia 8 and 10 (ÖAW: Wien) pp. 495-515 {IN PRESS: I have the proofs of this and can send them to anyone interested}

Warin, Isabelle (2011) “Review: Reinstating the Hoplite by Adam Schwartz.” L’Antiquité Classique 80 pp. 456-459 (in French)

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3 thoughts on “Cross-Post: Ways Forward in the Study of Ancient Greek Warfare

  1. Andrew Hobley says:

    Thanks for the link, and interesting read. The bit where he comments on the use of Greek Mercenaries as ‘available bodies’ made me suddenly think of 8-10th Century AD Scandinavia – a land of possible population expansion, lack of good farmland and the ‘second sons’ head off in search of loot (a very simple summary I appreciate). So why not the same in 7/6th Century BC Greece?

    1. Sean Manning says:

      And then the east Romans hire Harald Hardrada after his father lost his life and his kingdom, and then hire a lot of English after they lost a war and their kingdom. They were a bunch of tough-looking foreigners willing to break some heads, and they had no connections to any political faction in Constantinople other than the one paying their wages, so good enough!

  2. Shameless Plug: War and Soldiers in the Achaemenid Empire | Book and Sword says:

    […] Achaemenid History Workshops gave research into early Greek warfare and into the Achaemenid empire the peculiar shape they had in the 1990s and the 2000s. I argue that the ancient historians in the 1990s and 2000s who thought they were rejecting older […]

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