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Greek Warfare: Myth and Realities [Paperback]

Hans Van Wees
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Aug 2004
From the soldier's-eye view of combat to the broad social and economic structures which shaped campaigns and wars, ancient Greek warfare in all its aspects has been studied more intensively in the last few decades than ever before. This book ranges from the concrete details of conducting raids, battles and sieges to more theoretical questions about the causes, costs, and consequences of warfare in archaic and classical Greece. It argues that the Greek sources present a highly selective and idealised picture, too easily accepted by most modern scholars, and that a more critical study of the evidence leads to radically different conclusions about the Greek way of war.

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Greek Warfare: Myth and Realities + The Landmark Xenophon's Hellenika + The Landmark Thucydides : A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War
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Product details

  • Paperback: 349 pages
  • Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd (19 Aug 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0715629670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0715629673
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.7 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 505,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The book seems set to provoke much rethinking on the nature of inter-state relations in the Greek world.' -- Greece and Rome

A fascinating book...a collection of extraordinary anecdotes about a hitherto neglected aspect of ancient warfare. -- Mail on Sunday

Fascinating..Adreinne Mayor's book is a jam-packed gem -- West End Extra

an intruiging new book-with often startling and unsettling results -- Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Hans van Wees is Reader in Ancient History at University College London. He is the author of "Status Warriors: war, violence, and society in Homer and history, "editor of "War and Violence in Ancient Greece "and joint editor of the "Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The author - Hans van Wees - is Reader in Ancient History at University College London, and has worked on a number of books regarding warfare in Greece and Rome. He is uniquely placed, through his published works, to comment with authority on this subject. The book carries the subtitle of 'Myths and Reality' and covers the subject of warfare as practiced in ancient and classical Greece.

The paperback (2011) edition contains 349 numbered pages, and contains an Introduction, a Conclusion and an Appendices, as well as 15 chapters separated into 6 parts. The book is illustrated throughout by lined drawings and coloured photographs. The book is comprised of the following:

Part I - War and Peace
Part II - Citizens and Soldiers
Part III - Amateur Arms
Part IV - Agonal and Total Warfare
Part V - The Experience of Combat
Part VI - Ruling the Waves
1) Athenian manpower in 480 and 431 BC
2) Changes in Spartan military organisation from 480 to 371 BC
3) The historicity and date of Homeric warfare

Much of the content that comprises the chapters has been drawn from a number of earlier published work by Hans van Wees. This has been skillfully organised and bond together by new research developed solely for this volume. Whilst offering a highly readable narrative about Greek warfare, Van Wees argues that much of the evidence from ancient and classical Greece (in the form of written texts and artistic depictions of various kinds, and historical artefacts), is often interpreted far too literally by modern scholars, who are motivated by a highly selective and idealised vision of their subject. To rectify this, Van Wees offers a much more critical assessment of the evidence.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This is a book that is difficult to merely dip into. He covers a lot of ground and so tends not to repeat himself. A friend of mine was disappointed in this book and when I questioned him further I found he had skipped the "Homeric" sections. Hans van Wees argues that the warfare of Homer is an accurate description of the era in which Homer lived - that is the early iron age rather than the Bronze age when the legendary Trojan War supposedly occurred. He further argues that classical, hoplite warfare is a development of the earlier iron age warfare. Hence, to concentrate on on the section on classical warfare is to read only half the argument.

To me, reading this book was a dream, opening a window onto how ancient Greek battles were fought and all my ideas on Greek battles have grown out of the reading of this book.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
wrote my dissertation saying how much s*** this is. but the content is excellent. it is the cutting edge of modern scholarship but i'm afraid i cannot accept that hoplites stood 6ft apart.....why the space necessary if they are using a thrusting weapon? better that A) fought closer (i say 3ft) or B) that combat was divided into phases (though this also hard to believe... as in imagine two armies engaged.. killing pushing s***ting themselves and somehow they manage to all separate to a set space from an unidentified middle space.. it would be chaos)
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading 12 Jan 2007
By Leif A. Torkelsen - Published on Amazon.com
This book is brilliant. Seamlessly combining archaeology, history and anthropology, Hans van Wees re-works long-standing notions about the evolution of Greek warfare. In contrast to the works of Victor Davis Hanson, van Wees' theory is amply supported by the historical record and reflects a deep understanding of Greek culture (particularly its often dark and brutal side). It is a portrait of the Greek warrior as he was, rather than Hanson's vision of the Greek hoplite as a reflection of ourselves. It is correspondingly much more convincing, if less flattering to our modern cultural ego.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful revisionism 24 Jan 2008
By Clifford Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
Although I did not agree with all his conclusions (the hoplite still seems pretty "middle class" to me) I found this book full of interesting ideas. It drew my attention to the significance of passages in the sources I had not recognized, particularly regarding Archaic and Homeric battle. Don't take the author's conclusions as gospel, but the book is very much worth reading for those interested in the topic.

Prof. Clifford J. Rogers
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A non-political review 2 Oct 2006
By Endre Fodstad - Published on Amazon.com
Wees' book does a nice job of what he is trying to do: reexamine the older theories about greek warfare before the hellenistic period and test them according to the sources available. His argumentation against many older views (Hanson is not alone among them) can sometimes seem a bit superficial, but his points remain very valid; the evidence, such as we have it, do not support many of these older theorizations for greek warfare. That the "middle" classes of classical greece imitated upper-class ideals to a certain extent isn't especially surprising and hardly a new idea when one looks at other literature on archaic and classical society.

His weakest chapters is probably those on naval warfare, who seems unfinished and incomplete. Also, his conclusions could be voiced stronger than they are presented in the book - he certainly has material enough.

Compared to the orthodox view of greek warfare and drawing on a larger variety of sources, Wees brings new views into a field that has stagnated somewhat over the years. It is important to get away from, or at least question, the simplistic and mechanistic way of looking at pre-modern warfare - and showing how the old models contrast with reality is a good way to do so.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment 23 May 2007
By Martin Kuskis - Published on Amazon.com
In this book Van Wees sets out to explode what he sees as 'myths' about ancient Greek warfare, which have built up over the years and acquired the status of received wisdom without having been adequately challenged. The problem is that in attacking these views, Van Wees is guilty of taking a doctrinaire approach himself. I thought it may be a bad sign when I noted that by far the most cited author in the bibliography is Van Wees himself, with no fewer than 22 articles or books.

I started to lose patience with this book quite early on. On page 69 for example, Van Wees says "It is a fair assumption that, at the back of the heavy infantry formation, servants and citizen light-armed mingled and threw stones and even javelins at the enemy, over the heads of the hoplites". This is indeed an assumption, but far from fair as it is a major leap from the evidence that Van Wees has presented up to this point. Any book purporting to present a scholarly approach should not be presenting assumptions of this sort.

I agree with the reviewer who felt the chapter on naval warfare seemed incomplete. It is incomplete because Van Wees did not identify any 'myths' against which he could tilt his lance, probably because he is really only interested in land warfare. Actually the chapter is quite good as far as it goes.

For a single book on Greek land warfare I would recommend instead Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience (ed Victor Davis Hanson), while the Greek State at War series by W. Kendrick Pritchett remains invaluable.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Initial Reactions 22 Jun 2009
By S.Borw - Published on Amazon.com
Just finished reading this book and I am still reeling. This book is brilliant.

There are some fascinating pictures and drawings but the book's strongest point is the amazing richness of its ideas.

Not only does the author openly shatter received opinions about the relationship between military advancements and the development of Athenian political order (e.g. the canard that radical democracy depends on the thetes rowing the Athenian ships or that moderate democracy was the result of the rise of middle class hoplites), he also sketches a subtler reading of Athenian ideology that seems to explain how and why Athenian democracy was so stable. You have to look for it but it is there and it opens the door to a new understanding that puts him at odds with what I believe are Ober's flawed interpretations on the same subject. (One could drink many a beer discussing it because it really is fascinating.)

But the book also presents a refreshingly practical analysis of how Greek warfare must have operated without the adornments of the idealized reading that the both the ancients and some moderns, Hanson in particular, seem so eager to represent. In short the book is the work of a professional historian who clearly knows his primary source and can interpret them contextually. What I would pay to sit in one of his classes, seriously.
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