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A Storm of Spears: Understanding the Greek Hoplite in Action

A Storm of Spears: Understanding the Greek Hoplite in Action [Kindle Edition]

Christopher Matthew
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

The backbone of classical Greek armies was the phalanx of heavily armoured spearmen, or hoplites. These were the soldiers that defied the might of Persia at Marathon, Thermopylae and Plataea and, more often, fought each other in the countless battles of the Greek city-states. For around two centuries they were the dominant soldiers of the Classical world, in great demand as mercenaries throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Yet, despite the battle descriptions of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon etc, and copious evidence of Greek art and archaeology, there are still many aspects of hoplite warfare that are little understood or the subject of fierce academic debate.

Christopher Matthew's groundbreaking reassessment combines rigorous analysis of the literary and archaeological evidence with the new disciplines of reconstructive archaeology, re-enactment and ballistic science. He focuses meticulously on the details of the equipment, tactics and capabilities of the individual hoplites. In so doing he challenges some long-established assumptions. For example, despite a couple of centuries of study of the hoplites portrayed in Greek vase paintings, Matthew manages to glean from them some startlingly fresh insights into how hoplites wielded their spears. These findings are supported by practical testing with his own replica hoplite panoply and the experiences of a group of dedicated re-enactors. He also tackles such questions as the protective properties of hoplite shields and armour and the much-vexed debate on the exact nature of the 'othismos' , the climax of phalanx-on-phalanx clashes.

This is an innovative and refreshing reassessment of one of the most important kinds of troops in ancient warfare, sure to make a genuine contribution to the state of knowledge.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 6597 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword (20 Nov 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #136,054 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read....not entirely convincing 8 Jan 2013
By bobm
As is so often the case these days new books have to challenge "old" ideas...otherwise we don't need a new book. To summarise the contest; this book argues that a hoplite normally used his spear underarm as opposed to the "normal" interpretation of an overarm thrust.
To do this the author puts a lot of faith in his re-enactment experience. There is a basic flaw in doing are not trying to kill each other. Whether a spear can or can't penetrate a shield best with an under or over arm stroke does not add up to all that much when we know that the actual users weren't trying to penetrate a shield. In fact you could argue it's better to not penetrate and glance off than to have the spearpoint wedged fast. Successful thrusts to the exposed neck and face don't leave punctured armour and are easier to achieve overarm. Apparently the author's group of modern hoplites travelled to Marathon for the anniversary celebrations and were roughly handled when confronted with others using an overarm the evidence is not as clear as he'd like us to believe in his conclusions.
It also seems that much of the discussion about formations (file spacing etc) is based on works describing later Hellenistic period pike phalanx operation. These are always depicted in art using their weapon two handed and underarm (which, strangely, contrasts with 17th century useage where pikes were levelled at shoulder height) so agree with his conclusions.
After reading the book my personal view is that both ways were used as appropriate, under arm when relatively passive (i.e. a long engagement where keeping your opponent at a distance is valuable)and overarm when you are aggressively seeking a quick resolution. I enjoyed reading the book.....I just found I didn't agree with it all.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, but heavy going 15 Feb 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A superb appraisal of Hoplite warfare, meticulously researched, based on ancient sources and modern reconstruction. Being an accademic work this is somewhat heavy going. Having witnessed several hundred dark age re-enactors fighting in shield walls I believe Mr Mathews conclusions are valid: the Hoplites fought at spear point distance, probably wielding their spears underarm. Highly Recommended; similar treatments on Hellenistic pike and Roman legions would complete the story.
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5 of 16 people found the following review helpful
I am very glad to see Dr Christopher Matthew's PhD thesis published for a general audience. While I have not seen the final published version, I have had the amazing good fortune to read Dr Matthew's thesis and to meet him and discuss his research ideas with him.

Dr Matthew brings a fresh approach to the study of hoplite warfare and convincingly challenges some long-standing yet erroneous ideas about how hoplite battle would have been engaged.

For anyone with a genuine interest in hoplite warfare Dr Matthew's work will be a valuable reference.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Putting the spear in it's correct place 22 Nov 2012
By Anibal Madeira - Published on
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Thesis From Unique Viewpoint 3 Mar 2014
By Matthew Diaz - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
While strident, the author brings two attributes to his arguments that many academics lack: Practical experience as a former soldier (and thus a soldier's mindset) and a willingness to physically recreate hoplite equipment and see how it best works. While I don't agree with all his conclusions, as a reenactor and former Marine infantryman (who's shaken his head at historian' s conventional wisdom more than once after practical experience) I can appreciate his methodology. I for shake my head at still oft-repeated facts that, somehow, a bronze cuirass only 1mm thick weighed over 60ins; not likely. Worse, many books state the 1mm average armor thickness...then give that weight. And even if the gear weighed in at 60+ibs, they ignore that folks like me, at 5'9" routinely carry 90ins of non-breathing body armor, ammo, water, weapons etc, far less well distributed and patrol, fight, crawl, climb walls, run etc...for hours on end. It's normal. It's the average weight of gear soldiers have carried and fought under for centuries!
Thus I can buy the bulk of his thesis, more so when (such as when covering tactics) the author, unlike many, proposes that there likely more than one way to fight and these multiple ways were used. To many academics take all or nothing stands on such nuanced subjects as tactics and techniques.
Dry, but if you want a near complete primer on the subject as you'll ever see, buy it. If nothing else, many solid questions are asked that need a deeper look. Such living archaeology and reenactment methods have radically changed our views on Medieval European warfare, such could happen here!

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very scholarly book. 27 Jan 2013
By Charlie Richardson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a interesting read. It provides the mechanics of Hoplite battle formation. It is overly dry and not for a light reader. But if technical specs interest you, this book will to.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dry but best scientific analysis of Hoplite Warfare 7 May 2013
By Cody Beaton - Published on
I picked up the book a week or so ago and am still in the process of reading it. The primary, if only, complaint I can air is that it's a rather dry read - very scientific and analytic, not quite as riveting as Victor Davis Hanson's Western way of war or J.E. Lendon's Soldiers & Ghosts. What Storm of Spears is, however, is the most exhaustive and thorough approach to hoplite warfare (with a focus on the spear) I have encountered in my years of voracious interest in military antiquity history. Beyond just analyzing the period sources a strong emphasis is placed on physical experimenting with hoplite panoply. I went into the book a believer in the literal othismos and primarily/exclusive use of overhand spears. Now I am much more amenable to the author's thesis regarding the predominance of the underhand spear and fluidity between a literal and figurative othismos.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Reality 22 May 2014
By Joseph L. Behringer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Being able to understand and see, at least mentally, what it actually was like to perform and be in a Ancient Greek phalanx was exciting and important to someone who is fanatic about Ancient history. Warfare decided history back then and the Ancient Greeks set the standard for that moment in time.
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