Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Brian Campbell, Lawrence A. Tritle (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World. Oxford handbooks in classics and ancient history. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xxxviii, 783. ISBN 9780195304657. $175.00.

Reviewed by Jorit Wintjes, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (jorit.wintjes@mail.uni-wuerzburg.de)

Version at BMCR home site


TheOxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World covers the history of war in antiquity from the beginning of the classical period in Greek history down to the end of the Roman principate, with some essays exploring even later issues, though late antiquity clearly is not the focus of the volume. It begins with a long introduction focussing on the sources for the study of war in the ancient world (pp. 3-139). This is then followed by a second part looking at Greek and Roman societies at war (pp. 143-276). The third and by far largest part (pp. 279-620) offers thematic discussions on a wide array of topics related to the different facets of fighting a war in the Greek and Roman world; one focus here is on operational and technological matters, while issues of strategy receive less coverage. A number of selected case studies form the fourth part (pp. 623-725), while an epilogue on the legacy of war in classical antiquity (pp. 726-742) concludes the volume.

The first part of the volume opens with two essays by Louis Rawlings (pp. 3-28) and Randall S. Howarth (pp. 29-45), each giving general overviews of war and warfare in Greece and Rome and highlighting current trends in scholarship on the subject. P. C. Millett (pp. 46-73) and Michael Lovano (pp. 74-90) then cover the literary sources for the history of war in Greece and Rome, not limiting themselves to historiography and military writers proper but also taking other literary genres into account, while Simon James (pp. 91-127) provides a thoughtful and excellently illustrated introduction on the use, potential and limitations of archaeological evidence, even covering experimental archaeology. The final essay in the introductory part of the volume by J. Donald Hughes (pp. 128-139) offers a slightly unusual yet highly stimulating approach by looking closer at how warfare could affect the environment, for example by one or more of the parties involved in a military conflict laying waste to the countryside.

The first essay of the second part by John W. Lee (pp. 143-161) covers troop types, equipment and organization, formations and battle mechanics in the classical Greek world usually associated primarily with hoplite warfare. Waldemar Heckel's essay (pp. 162-178) concentrates on the development and history of a specific "unit" and sketches the development, equipment and operational history of the Macedonian infantry guard. John Serrati (pp. 179-198) provides a general overview of warfare in the Hellenistic period explaining how the era was characterized both by change as well as technological innovation and by considerable continuity. Nicholas V. Sekunda focuses (pp. 199-215) on the impact of military organization and war on Greek society from the archaic period down to the Hellenistic era. With Michael Sage's essay (pp. 216-235) the second part of the volume turns to Roman military history. Sage gives an overview of the history of military technology, tactics and organization from early Rome to the development of the semi-professional army of the late Republic, while Phyllis Culham (pp. 236-260) continues this overview into the Roman principate. Colin Adams (pp. 261-276) explains how the professional Roman imperial army had a profound influence on Roman society, stressing particularly the role of the army in the provinces.

The first essay of the third part by Lawrence A. Tritle (pp. 279-293) focuses on the individual experience of the soldier before, during and after combat in the Greek and Roman world. Inevitably, this involves talking at some length about various forms of bodily harm that could be inflicted upon someone on an ancient battlefield; it is rather fitting, then, that the following essay by Christine F. Salazar (pp. 294-311) gives an extremely useful overview over Greek and Roman military medicine. Stefan G. Chrissanthos (pp. 312-329) discusses the development of military discipline from the Homeric era down to the Roman imperial period. Matthew Trundle's essay (pp. 330-350) covers the rise of mercenaries in the classical and post-classical Greek world and looks at how mercenaries were hired and paid, whereas the role of mercenaries in Roman military history is only briefly mentioned; while mercenaries are certainly much more obvious in Greek military history it might have been interesting also to take a closer look at developments in the late Roman military. Donald Engels (pp. 351-368) provides a brief overview over the logistical challenges faced by ancient commanders, taking examples from the Hellenistic and Roman imperial periods. Philip de Souza's essay (pp. 369-394) focuses on the history of war at sea in the Greek and Roman world, turning his attention not only to the "usual suspects" – technological and tactical development – but also to the equally important yet often neglected issue of naval infrastructure. Eero Jarva (pp. 395-418) and Duncan B. Campbell (pp. 419-437) provide a two-part essay of the individual soldier's arms and armour, beginning with the Homeric period down to the high principate; Jarva's overview of the development of hoplite armour is particularly useful and well illustrated. Angelos Chaniotis' (pp. 438-456) excellent essay on siege warfare in the Greek world concentrates not only on technology and logistics, but also on issues like military leadership and the psychological impact of siege warfare. Rosemary Moore (pp. 457-473) discusses how the overall command function developed from Homeric times to late antiquity; her stimulating essay focuses on the highest level of military decision making, mostly leaving out the issue of command and leadership lower down in Greek and Roman chains of command. Frank Russell (pp. 474-492) turns to military intelligence, covering both the gathering of operational intelligence and its role in the surveillance of military frontiers. A two-part essay by Ann Hyland is dedicated to the importance of the horse for ancient military establishments. While the first essay (pp. 493-511) concentrates on the animal itself, its breeding, upkeep, equipment and related issues, the second essay (pp. 512-526) focuses on its employment on the battlefield, focusing mainly on the history of Greek and Roman cavalry. Daniel P. Tompkins (pp. 527-541) and John Rich (pp. 542-568) provide valuable introductions into the ritual aspects of Greek and Roman warfare, covering a wide array of issues ranging from pre-combat rituals to burying the dead and dedicating war booty. The final three essays of the third part turn to the enemies of the Greeks and Romans. Bruce Laforse (pp. 569-587) covers how the Greeks interpreted their conflict with the Persians, while Peter S. Wells (pp. 588-600) describes the ever changing tribal environment beyond the Rhine and Danube river frontiers during the Roman empire, and Scott McDonough (pp. 601-620) gives a brief overview over the evolution and history of the Sasanian army, going down right to the very end of the Sasanian empire in the 7th century. While providing only a small sample, these three essays nevertheless serve well to contextualize some of the Greek and Roman military developments described at length in the handbook.

Six case studies covering specific campaigns or even single actions make up the fourth part of the handbook. Lee L. Brice (pp. 623-641) describes in considerable detail the Sicilian expedition of 415 – 413 BC, while Michael Seaman (pp. 642-656) gives an overview of siege warfare in the Peloponnesian War, stressing that the usually rather robust treatment of a defeated population had its origin well before the conflict; two useful appendices list sources for sieges undertaken during the pentekontaetia and the Peloponnesian War. John Buckler (pp. 657-670) analyzes the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, taking a closer look at how recent scholarship has evaluated Epaminondas' generalship. Thomas R. Martin (pp. 671-687) turns to another well-known Greek general, Demetrios Poliorketes, using his example as an introduction to various aspects of Hellenistic warfare. Dexter Hoyos (pp. 688-707) covers the Second Punic War in his essay focusing mainly on strategic questions. Finally, A. D. Lee (pp. 708-725) gives an overview of Roman-Persian warfare from the early 3rd until the early 7th century, his article making an excellent companion piece to McDonough's introduction to Sasanian warfare.

The final essay by Thomas Palaima and Lawrence A. Tritle (pp. 726-742) serves as an "Epilogue" and covers briefly the legacy of ancient warfare in the modern world, ranging from Hemingway's famous anthology "Men at War" to recent experiences of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A useful chronology (pp. xv-xxiii), a list of emperors from Augustus to Heraclius (pp. xxv-xxvii) and eight maps (pp. xxxiii-xxxviii) precede the essays, a number of which are illustrated with further maps; a comprehensive general index is located at the end of the volume (pp. 743-783). Each essay is followed by a bibliography; some of these are more extensive than others, and many display a certain tendency of focussing nearly exclusively on Anglophone literature. While this may well be intentional and due to the handbook targeting primarily English-speaking audiences, in some case this choice seems to be slightly less than fortunate. Thus it is, for example, a bit unsettling not to find Ritterling's seminal article on the Roman legions or any of Yann LeBohec's important studies in a standard reference work covering war in the Roman world. Also, as is generally the case with works of such a wide scope, the specialist could find himself in disagreement with one or the other detail.

Nonetheless, the Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World is a major scholarly achievement. As a handbook it offers an excellent starting point for anyone studying the history of war in antiquity in all its variety – but the volume edited by Campbell and Tritle is more than that. Innovative and stimulating, it stands out as an important contribution to the study of war in Greece and Rome.

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