Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

By Niesen, Paul | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity


Niesen, Paul, Air & Space Power Journal


Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity by J. E. Lendon. Yale University Press (http://www.yale.edu/yup), P.O. Box 209040, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-9040, 2q005, 480 pages, $35.00 (hardcover), $20.00 (softcover).

Once upon a time, there was an ad campaign promoting public libraries, the theme of which declared 'You Are What You Read." This promotion emphasized the idea that increasing the amount of material read would mold anyone into a better educated and more productive person. Nothing could illustrate this concept more effectively than using ancient Greece and Rome as role models. J. E. Lendon's book Soldiers and Ghosts, a far cry from a fairy tale or an ad campaign, gives the reader a very thorough appreciation for why these two cultures' military forces became what they read. Across the pages of both Greek and Roman history, he decisively shows us that neither culture suffered from a shortage of reading and that both had ample opportunity to employ what they read.

Lendon starts with a review of the Greeks' military culture and mind-set-an important introduction because it sets the historical stage for the entire book. Noting that the ancient Greeks based many of their warrior principles upon The Iliad, written around 700 BC, he stresses that a number of historians refer to the Homeric poems as the bible of the Greeks (p. 36). Lendon further observes that the Greeks based their warrior principles not so much on the military discipline and order familiar to modern warriors but on the characteristics of a sports team. That is, war became a competition, with the contestants battling more for recognition as the bravest or most glorious (as in The Iliad) than because their general ordered them to fight.

This mind-set plays throughout Greek military history-from the Spartan philosophy and culture of conduct in warfare-and culminates with a discussion of Alexander the Great's campaign to the Middle East (itself Homeric in proportion and deed). It also plays into the use and evolution of Greek military formations from 500 BC into early 200-300 AD. Technology seldom drove changes in the Greek method; in fact, the Greeks had forsaken advances in military technology in favor of implementing interpretations of historical writings and discussions over "the right way" to conduct war and behave in it.

Through this review of history and analysis of Greek writings, Lendon shows the reader how the Greek military philosophy operated, why it operated the way it did, and the natural conclusions of this track. Choosing not to concern itself solely with the military side of affairs, Soldiers and Ghosts also explores the civilian and political connections of Greek society since the Greeks initially believed in a citizen-soldier as much as Americans do (but in a somewhat different context). …

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