classical Greek

Some Thoughts on “Classical Greek Tactics: A Cultural History”

A wall of gigantic rounded stones roughly shaped and placed together with a few smaller stones to fill gaps
Even the most overwhelming project can be completed if you take it one stone at a time! Photo of the Cyclopean walls of Mycenae by Sharon Mollerus, Wikimedia Commons, with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Konijnendijk, Roel (2017) Classical Greek Tactics: A Cultural History. Mnemosyne, Supplements History and Archaeology of Classical Antiquity, Band 409 (Brill: Leiden)

Since the 1990s, there has been intense debate about early Greek warfare. Most people agreed that there was something wrong with the versions available in English, but it took time to agree on just what that wrongness was and whether it could be fixed with a few small changes or was more fundamental. This book is another Cyclopean stone in the walls of the current consensus.

Konijnendijk argues that the California School of writers on Greek warfare (John Kinloch Anderson, William K. Pritchett, and Victor Davis Hanson) were basically refining the ideas of Austrian, German, and English scholars before the First World War. The continentals were interested in a comparative history of warfare with the practices of the Prussian army at the top, the Roman army in the middle, and early Greek armies near the bottom, while the English scholars tried to explain why Greek warfare as described by the Prussians was so peculiar. For a long time it seemed like these early writers had solved the problem so little was written on the subject in English. When a new group of scholars in Cold War California became interested in warfare, they launched a flood of research in English which almost erased the original German context of their theories. In short, the ‘orthodoxy’ is really a set of received ideas from 19th century Europe which survived until a group of ‘scientific historians’ began to question them.
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Our Transliterations are Inconsistent

A photo of a tabbycat sitting on a pathway and staring at a closed door with a white rabbit painted on it
Although a brute beast who does not even know aleph bet gamel, this cat knows exactly what that sign means! A model of clear communication. Photo by Sean Manning, October 2017.

Over on Language Hat, people are arguing about how to pronounce LaTeX, the encoding for mathematical formulas: does it end with <k> like in <tech> or <ks> like in <hex>?

And for me it was worth it just for this footnote: “TeX is pronounced ‘tek’ and is an English representation of the Greek letters τεχ, which is an abbreviation of τέχνη (or technē).” All these years I’ve been saying “tex” (and “latex” for LaTeX) like a doofus!

And LaTeX is pronounced [lɑːtɛk]

If you cast your mind back to “How do you pronounce those accented characters in ancient Near Eastern languages anyways?” two lines on the chart might spring out:

Table 1: Special Characters Used for Transcribing Ancient Languages

Character Name Approximate Pronunciation IPA
n/a
H with breve below
Classical Greek chi, <ch> as in Scots loch, German ich x
x n/a
x
In Old Persian, <ch> as in German auch (not [ks] as in English hex) x

One letter in Latinized Akkadian (ḫ) and one in Latinized Old Persian and the International Phonetic Alphabet (x) have the same pronunciation. But look at which pronunciation it is!

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Some Thoughts on “Hoplites at War”

The cover of "Hoplites at War: A Comprehensive Analysis of Heavy Infantry Combat in the Greek World, 750-100 BCE" ISBN-13 978-1-4766-6602-0

Paul M. Bardunias and Fred Eugene Ray, Jr., Hoplites at War: A Comprehensive Analysis of Heavy Infantry Combat in the Greek World, 750-100 BCE. McFarland and Company: Jefferson, NC, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4766-6602-0 (paperback) 978-1-4766-2636-9 (ebook). 233 pages.

In 1989 Victor Davis Hanson threw a match into some scholarly tinder by publishing a book which was both very readable and obviously flawed. Since no two scholars could agree about which parts of his book were incorrect, this has lead to thirty years of argument about just what happened on Greek battlefields. Unlike most scholarly debates, this one has fascinated people outside the university who follow the debates and try to push forward their own theories. Some of them have gone on to graduate school, others organize re-enactments and backyard tests, and a few write books. One of these amateur contributions is Hoplites at War: A Comprehensive Analysis of Heavy Infantry Combat in the Greek World, 750-100 BCE by Paul Bardunias and Fred Eugene Ray. That is an ambitious title for a book of 233 pages, and the preface is bold too:

In this book, we make use of traditional sources, but combine those with cutting-edge (apt for a book on warfare!) science … We hope the result provides a comprehensive source on hoplite warfare that will advance key debates for modern scholars, while entertaining the general reader. … [what we present here] is an assessment of what we firmly believe to be most probable based on all evidence at hand.

While this book’s reach exceeds its grasp, I think it contains some important ideas.

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Some Thoughts on “A Greek Army on the March”

John W.I. Lee, A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon’s Anabasis. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2007. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511482830 Bookfinder link to the hardcover version.

John Lee’s book on the Greek-speaking half of the army of Cyrus the Younger does not seem to have found the audience which I think it deserves. That is a shame, because I found it very useful when I was writing my Master’s thesis, and I think that a wide variety of other people both inside and outside the university would find it helpful too.

Many books on life in the Ten Thousand have been written by retired soldiers or policemen, and implicitly or explicitly take the bureaucratic armies of the last hundred and fifty years as a model. Writers searched for a detailed chain of command with large units made up of small ones and a network of officers and non-commissioned officers, a relationship between the organization of the army in camp and the organization of the army in formation, and other things which modern armies have. It was possible to do this by ignoring or minimizing a large number of anomalies. John Lee had the courage to ask “what if we take Xenophon seriously? What if we accept that what he describes seems very different from a modern army, and ask him what he means?” And so he wrote a book about how the Ten Thousand functioned as a community of men and women living and marching and fighting together.
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