Thursday, February 9, 2017


Nicholas Victor Sekunda, Bogdan Burliga (ed.), Iphicrates, Peltasts and Lechaeum. Monograph series 'Akanthina', 9. Gdańsk: Foundation for the Development of Gdańsk University, 2014. Pp. 144. ISBN 9788375311679. £35.00.

Reviewed by Jacek Rzepka (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The battle of Lechaeum in 390 BC is—due mainly to Xenophon's short but touching description—a symbol of the collapse of traditional hoplite warfare under pressure from light forces. It is also believed to be the first major success in the career of Iphicrates. The present book, the first scholarly collection devoted to that encounter, includes six new chapters on various topics related to the battle of Lechaeum. It starts, however, with a translated and slightly expanded version of Andreas Konecny's 2001 Chiron article, which is also a very thorough study of the famous clash between Iphicrates' mercenaries and Spartan hoplites.

Konecny's contribution offers an in-depth analysis of the battle. This results in a detailed description, based to a degree on assumed psychological mass reaction to the developments at the battlefield. The reviewer must admit that Konecny's explanation for how the peltasts became the winning fighting style, and for how the Spartan hoplite force was driven under stress towards unavoidable loss and massacre, is persuasive.

Konecny's reconstruction of the battle is followed by chapters shedding light on some specific aspects of the battle. The first, and perhaps also the most needed, is Nick Sekunda's analysis of the internal structures and numerical strength of the Lacedaemonian mora, explaining some divergences in our sources regarding the size of this unit. His conclusion that morai numbered between 500 and 600 men (with nominal 576 rank and files plus some officers) seems very plausible.

Bogdan Burliga, offers a valuable addition to Konecny's remarks on the Spartan reactions to the Athenian attacks, while analyzing the Spartans' hoplite ethos and their attitude toward military defeat and surrender. He strengthens the view that success is not the only characteristic of military prowess and that the Spartans indeed believed that beautiful and honorable defeats were possible.

Three chapters address the possible circumstances and the date of Iphicrates' peltast reform. Roel Konijnendijk offers a very informative study of how modern scholars have dealt with the feeling of surprise caused by the Athenian victory, still visible in the ancient texts (Xen. Hell. 4,5.9-19; Plut., Ages. 22.2), in spite of Spartan hoplites' earlier losses against lighter forces (such as on Sphacteria). Konijnendijk duly reports scholarly opinions associating or disassociating Iphicrates' peltast reform with the Corinthian war (as well as those denying that he was the innovator of Greek warfare and those crediting him with the reform). Although not stated explicitly, the sympathy of the author seems to be with the view that "it was a perfect example of the effectiveness of combined arms tactics of the kind seen earlier on Sphakteria".

Similar is the focus of the second chapter by Nick Sekunda, who argues that the peltasts who won the battle of Lechaeum were not the Iphicratean new model peltasts (introduced first in 370s BC). The former were simply a traditional missile-throwing force (like the winners at Sphacteria), whereas the latter are convincingly portrayed as "substitute hoplites." Likewise Brian Bertosa's study of Iphicratean peltasts' equipment as a link between earlier javelin-throwing peltasts and the Macedonian phalangites supports the view that the Athenian victory was by old style missile-throwing light soldiers, and the actual peltast reform was a decade or so later.

It does not seem reasonable to question the conclusions of these three essays, since they agree in essential points and are compelling. Still, one has to note that the problem of the name of the peltasts for both, the winners from Lechaeum and the Iphicrateans remains. Perhaps the best explanation of the scholarly confusion noticed by Sekunda (p. 129, 137) is that Iphicrates simply chose the term peltastai, being a recollection of his success, as a name of honour for his new type of phalangites.

Sławomir Sprawski throws some light on possible fifth-century influence on military changes of the fourth century. Being an expert on Thessaly, he analyses the ancient evidence for the early emergence of peltast forces in Thessaly. Sprawski explains a scholion on Rhesos 307 (based on Aristotle's Thettalon politeia, Arist., fr. 498 Rose) as a projection of later reality onto distant past –Aleuas, who became for the Thessalians a figure comparable to Solon in fourth-century Athens as the founding father of their constitution and the author of the Constitution of the Thessalians, may have used the technical language of his age.1 Sprawski soberly remarks that the fifth-century Thessalians, although they very likely used foot- soldiers with pelte from mid-fifth century BC onwards, did not necessarily describe their soldiers as peltasts or hoplites. Sprawski characterizes Thessalian purported peltasts of the fifth century as something "between the classic hoplites and the lightly armoured foot soldiers known as psiloi or gymnetes". Indeed, one has to agree with his conclusion that it is impossible to assess the Thessalian influence on the Iphicratean change in the Greek warfare.

Burliga and Sekunda's volume offers the readers high-quality research on the topic. It is an inspiring volume and the way in which the editors employed their specialist colleagues to re-approach Lechaeum and produced a fine collective book may be a model for scholars interested in major battles of the ancient world. It is also worth stressing that, although the book is primarily an academic collection, it should attract the general enthusiasts of the history of ancient warfare.

Table of Contents

Preface (N. Sekunda) 3-4
Notes on Contributors 6
Chapter 1. Andreas Konecny, Κατέκoψεv τὴv μόραv 'Iφiκράτης. The Battle of Lechaeum, Early Summer, 390 BC 7-48
Chapter 2 Nicholas Sekunda, The Composition of the Lakedaimonian Mora at Lechaeum 49-65
Chapter 3 Bogdan Burliga, Did They Really Return upon Their Shields? The ὕβρις of the Spartan Hoplites at Lechaeum, 390 BC 66-83
Chapter 4 Roel Konijnendijk, Iphikrates the Innovator and the Historiography of Lechaeum 84-94
Chapter 5 Sławomir Sprawski, Peltasts in Thessaly 95-112
Chapter 6 Brian Bertosa, Peltast Equipment and the Battle of Lechaeum 113-125
Chapter 7 Nicholas Sekunda, The Chronology of the Iphicratean Peltast Reform 126-144


1.   Sprawski develops a similar thought in a slightly earlier article with different focuses, see: S. Sprawski, "Remarks on Aristotle's Thettalon politeia," Electrum 19 (2012) 137-147.

No comments:

Post a Comment