I'm annoyed...truly annoyed. I read dozens of works on ancient Greek warfare, studied more than a hundred academic journals. And Dr Christopher Mathew's, from the Australian outback's, makes this magnificent doctoral thesis and so many things I took for granted are just...squashed. Dr. Mathew...I want my wasted time back.
For any serious student or scholar of ancient warfare, this book is truly essential, and I'm pretty sure it will turn out to be one of the most quoted (the book and the academic thesis) about hoplite warfare in future years.
The main battle of the author, and most of the book is dedicated to it, is to understand and revaluate the hoplite fighting stance and he completely convinces me that the "overhead" spear fighting isn't correct at all; the underarm thrust is also frequently depicted in art, it has all physics on their side, it's more comfortable; it is possible to easily low spears and go from marching to fighting position and most importantly, respects all the classical sources information about hoplite warfare. He also shows how the arm can extend further and with more power than using "overhead" thrusts. Analyses that armor battle damage don't show descending attacks, but mostly frontal. The author also shows the impossibility or immense difficulty of changing stances (from overhead to low) in a phalanx, and that in a safe environment (in a battle it would be much more difficult). Among many, many other reasons the author states convincingly, using archeology, physics, ancient sources and analyzing most contemporary scholars opinions and conclusions with extreme care and academic thoroughness.
Also in this masterpiece you will find valuable information on formations and the othismos. Dr Christopher Mathew's is extremely reasonable and shows both sides of the barricades. And obviously determines the wise solution that both the pushing and the fighting must have occurred in several engagements...truly one doesn't excludes the other, although the author states that the "normal" practice would be the spear fighting (and I agree with him, if it was just a contest of shields why would the main weapon be the Dory (spear)?), but on occasion the situation would turn to the "pushing" fight.
The dimension of the phalanx to provide morale and maintain itself more time on the battlefield (they could soak more casualties) vs the weight of human strength pushing is another matter of discussion that the author also argues with great skill (supporting the former).
I have a very small criticism on the shield wall logic of the author. Although the interlocking shields action with the aspis is better than a square shield held with a horizontal forearm grip, even when one of the warrior holding it tires, the interlocking shield of the hoplite will also suffer from the consequence of the exhaustion (contrary to the drawn figure on page 194); if we lower our forearm keeping the rim of the shield on the shoulder, the porpax and elbow must forcibly go to the left, and that leads to less overlap on the shield to the right. Even so, the round shield is infinitely better then the square to form the shield wall, so the author's conclusions are completely correct (although IMHO the vertical grip, like the romans used, can form a looser but more sustainable shield wall when necessary, because it can really be maintained even with tired warriors, the arm is already extended vertically; of course the interlocking of shields possible with round aspis makes a more solid wall when in close 45 cm formation, so it is possibly better for a static, fresh defense).
Now the only true weakness of this book - TYPOS!!!! LOTS OF TYPOS! Please, in 2012 there are tools and techniques that eliminate most typos and the team working in this book must be more careful in future editions.
Fabulous book overall, great bibliography, excellent notes. I'm waiting for Dr. Christopher book on Macedonian warfare. Truly and highly recommended.