The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece
Victor Davis Hanson
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The Greeks of the classical age invented not only the central idea of Western politics--that the power of state should be guided by a majority of its citizens--but also the central act of Western warfare, the decisive infantry battle. Instead of ambush, skirmish, maneuver, or combat between individual heroes, the Greeks of the fifth century b.c. devised a ferocious, brief, and destructive head-on clash between armed men of all ages. In this bold, original study, Victor Davis Hanson shows how this brutal enterprise was dedicated to the same outcome as consensual government--an unequivocal, instant resolution to dispute.
The Western Way of War draws from an extraordinary range of sources--Greek poetry, drama, and vase painting, as well as historical records--to describe what actually took place on the battlefield. It is the first study to explore the actual mechanics of classical Greek battle from the vantage point of the infantryman--the brutal spear-thrusting, the difficulty of fighting in heavy bronze armor which made it hard to see, hear and move, and the fear. Hanson also discusses the physical condition and age of the men, weaponry, wounds, and morale.
This compelling account of what happened on the killing fields of the ancient Greeks ultimately shows that their style of armament and battle was contrived to minimize time and life lost by making the battle experience as decisive and appalling as possible. Linking this new style of fighting to the rise of constitutional government, Hanson raises new issues and questions old assumptions about the history of war.
universally popular during the past four decades, a period of relative calm in the West, both for the veteran and—more ominously—for the uninitiated. Lately in England and France, a variety of well-written, nicely illustrated, and seriously scholarly books on Greek and Roman warfare have appeared that successfully meet the general enthusiasm for military history. I have tried to make this study accessible and also interesting to the same general reader; has not the legacy of the Greek manner of
nearly all the major Greek literary and historical texts, but I would have missed much had I not been constantly surprised by relevant passages which became known to me only through the works of other scholars. The bibliography of ancient warfare is immense, as the select list at the end of this book suggests, but here I would like to draw attention to two unique works: Kendrick Pritchett’s four-volume “encyclopedia” of Greek warfare, and J. K. Anderson’s sensible account of fourth century B.C.
not even see the enemy upon impact. Surely, all of us have experienced this natural desire at the split second before an unavoidable crash to close our eyes, or better yet, shield our face and cover up—as if this made the frightful experience somehow more tolerable. Yet, those final moments of “blindness” ensure that the collision cannot be averted. At this point the enemy line was not necessarily an absolutely impenetrable wall of shields, touching rim to rim. The men were, of course, running
The great Theban general Epameinondas perished thus in the initial phase of the battle of Mantineia; although his charge against the Spartan left wing had been successful, he fell with a spear shaft in his chest, leaving his men unable to capitalize on their victory. (Diod. 15.87.6) Agesilaos, too, at Koroneia probably suffered a similar type of spear wound during the initial crash, since Xenophon says he was wounded “right through his armor.” (Ages. 18.3) This first clash of spears was the very
no part in the fighting. After the Athenian victory at Marathon, the two thousand Peloponnesians who arrived too late to join in the fighting nevertheless marched on past Athens to the battlefield. Herodotus explains, “they went out of a desire to look upon the Persian dead.” (7.120) Xenophon illustrates that same curiosity when he writes of the aftermath of Koroneia that “there was now the chance to view the spectacle” (Ages. 2.14); apparently the carnage was unbelievable where the Theban