Saturday, January 31, 2015


Josho Brouwers, Henchmen of Ares: Warriors and Warfare in Early Greece . Ancient Warfare special, 4. Rotterdam: Karwansaray Publishers, 2013. Pp. v, 203. ISBN 9789490258078. €29.95.

Reviewed by Christopher Matthew, Australian Catholic University (

Version at BMCR home site

Josho Brouwers's Henchmen of Ares is a recent addition to the growing body of non-scholarly literature examining warfare in the ancient Greek world from earliest times the end of the Classical Period. This work is beautifully presented with magnificent colour illustrations reconstructing the warriors of ancient Greece and images of artefacts and artworks throughout. Text boxes and sidebars scattered across the chapters take the reader to additional information about specific elements of ancient Greek warfare without taking anything away from the flow of the main narrative of the text. The book is well written and easy to read and appears to have been designed with the layman and/or general reader with an interest in this period of history as its target audience. Consequently, this book is not academic in its feel—despite being a reworked version of Brouwers's doctoral dissertation. There are, for example, no references (footnotes or endnotes) within the book, other than in-text citations of key ancient texts when they are quoted within the chapters. Nor is there a list of suggested 'further reading' or a standard bibliography. Rather, the 'bibliographical notes' at the end of the book (pages 150-170) contain pages of discussion of some modern texts which deal with various aspects of the chapters to which they are associated. However, even these notes are in places simplistic in their form and are missing references to some key works relevant to the examined topics.

Nor does the text as a whole engage with many of the scholarly debates which have raged (and in some cases are still raging) over many of the aspects of ancient Greek warfare that are being discussed. There is no in-depth analysis within this work and nothing overly new is presented in the book's pages. Brouwers, possibly due to the intended market for the work, has instead presented a clear, but in some cases one-sided, view of many features to do with the changing nature of ancient Greek warfare. In other cases, where a debate over a certain topic is mentioned, Brouwers does not offer his own view or interpretation of what he perceives to be the correct perspective or argument, and some sides of a multi-viewpoint debate are omitted entirely. Thus, while the material is well-presented and easy to read, the limited engagement with the topic means that the information provided within the book can be, in parts, lacking.

However, a lack of rigorous academic engagement with the subject matter should not detract from the book in its entirety because that is not what the work has set out to be. When viewed as a basic, introductory-level, text detailing the evolution of warfare in early Greece, the book adequately fulfils its role. Those just starting out on their investigation of this fascinating period of human history could do far worse than to use Henchmen of Ares as their starting point.


  1. "the book adequately fulfils its role"

    I would have liked to hear more on this: is it accurate despite being simple, does it omit aspects of early Greek warfare we might want the general reader to learn about, does it include things that are unexpected?

    In essence, rather than limiting the review to noting that it's not scholarly, I wish that you had reviewed how this work succeeds or fails as a piece of outreach.

    (from "the book adequately fulfils its role" and "could do far worse" I take it that it is not outstandingly successful - so as a discipline, how should we be writing works of outreach that are?)

  2. Somehow my earlier comment disappeared, so I'm posting it here again. (I'm the author, by the way!)


    Ah, that's a real pity. This is the first sort of negative review that I've read of my book. I disagree with almost everything stated and find it curious that in a review that criticizes the book for not feeling "academic" that there are no references in this review (for example, why not give some references of the vital pieces of literature that I seem to have omitted).

    The errors in the review are also glaring. For example, Matthew seems to not have noticed that the book doesn't deal with the period from "earliest times" down to the "end of the Classical period". In fact, my book focuses on the period from the Mycenaean palaces down to the end of the Persian Wars -- quite a short period of time and a difference of nearly 200 years, depending on when one regards the "earliest times" to have started.

    I also have to express my surprise about the fact that Matthew claims the book has no references. Key secondary literature is, in fact, discussed within the main body of text -- but I assume he didn't read it carefully enough to notice this. The bibliographic notes are, I would argue, actually more useful than standard footnotes and a largely abstract list of referenced works, but to each his own, I guess. The notes also provide ample jumping-off points for further study.

    All in all, this was a rather disappointing review. Uncharacteristically short for Bryn Mawr standards and erroneous to boot. I would not have minded a negative review, since those can be quite constructive (such as my own critical review of Matthew's book _Storm of Spears_ on the Ancient Warfare website posted in July of 2013!). Indeed, earlier reviews of the book elsewhere have been positive without holding any punches, and have given me plenty to consider for a new edition of the book. Sadly, Matthew's review doesn't give me anything to go on and that I find a real pity.

  3. The above comment is an apt observation which academics would do well to heed when advising non-academic but intelligent readers on the quality of a general text.

    Many general readers (and aren't we all sometimes?)appreciate accurate, readable, non-academic texts that illuminate, but they also expect such texts to be trustworthy insofar as is possible. The academic reviewer has a special mission, then: to encourage or remove trust from the reader based on what is in the book, not necessarily what is not.

    Any text, general or otherwise, will of necessity leave out some pertinent data, points of view, back-up evidence, and so forth. It is regrettable that there are no endnotes or bibliography but the important thing is that what is said is reasonably accurate and verifiable by due diligence of the reader.

    Finally, this reviewer did make me want to read the book, so he has accomplished what perhaps he set out to do.

  4. Perhaps the reviewer should have let this book pass if all he has to say is that the book is not an "academic" publication. That much is obvious given the publisher.