TOP 100 REVIEWERon 23 March 2013
This book from Osprey's warrior series is a good and solid introduction to Sparta, its wars and its warriors. It is an excellent place to begin for anyone wanting to develop an interest in Sparta, but also a good way for anyone who wants to "brush up" on what he/she knew (or thought she/he knew) on the warriors.
Once again, the author should be commended for taking on a well-known subject on which, as a specialist on Sparta used to say with only a bit of exaggeration, "about fifty books are published every year", and managing nevertheless to come up with such a good overview, just as he had done a couple of years earlier with the battle of Mont Graupius.
The contents include all of the essentials, or, perhaps more accurately, everything I was expecting to find, starting with training and education, during which the young Spartiates was toughened up and taught the rigid sense of discipline and code of honour that would make the Spartan phalanx so difficult to beat. It then covers dress and appearance, equipment and military service.
Also included is a section on the Spartan warrior's "belief and belonging", that is his psychology, his warrior ethos and sense of loyalty and his deeply religious beliefs that were so important to him, and to the extent that we can reconstitute them. Finally, there is also a (unfortunately very short) section on "the warrior in battle", although a number of points that could have been included there are in fact made elsewhere in the book.
I do, however, have a couple of additional comments, if only to ensure that future readers are not surprised, or perhaps even a bit disappointed by this little book.
First of all, this book is what its title portrays it to be, no more, but no less. Accordingly, it is not, and does not intend to be a history of "Sparta at war". Anyone looking for this should go for Scott Rusch's book which bears this very same title. It is not, either, a history of Sparta, a topic which is better covered by Paul Cartledge's book (Sparta and Lakonia) or, for the history of Sparta's hegemony and fall, his superb, erudite but difficult to access "Agesilaos and the Crisis of Sparta. Finally, it is not a book about the Spartan Army (see Lazenby for that), although Duncan Campbell has very much inspired himself from Lazenby's book (and its first chapter in particular) to the extent that several of his sections are almost summaries.
Second, the author does come up with a number of interpretations that he is not always able to discuss and present thoroughly, simply because of the severe space limitations of the Osprey collections. One of these is the view that Spartan warrior by the Peloponnesian War and the end of the Fifth Century had discarded body armour and the "Corinthian" helmet and all wore the metal conical "pilos" instead. This is rather controversial among historians and, given the lack of evidence and the contradictions between the few sources that we happen to have, these points can be argued (and have been!) at infinitum. With regards to armour, for instance, whether the Spartans still wore body armour or not, whether some still wore it and not others, and what types of armour was worn are all points that are still very much debated, contrary to the impression given by this book in both the text and the illustrations. Also controversial is the organization of the Spartan forces and the numbers fielded on different campaigns, although this is a topic that the author did not have to explore too much.
So, while this is a very valuable introduction and starting point, it is not quite perfect.