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on 30 April 2017
This is an excellent book that does exactly what it says on the tin. From 1400BC through to Alexander and beyond, this book gives a great insight into how the Greeks fought, and their impact on modern warfare. Many modern parallels are drawn, and the analysis of Alexander is interesting and unusual, flying in the face of popular opinion, but still balanced. An excellent, very informative read.
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on 20 August 2011
The full title of this book is `The Wars of the Ancient Greeks and their Invention of Western Military Culture', a theme that the author has been preaching since his first book - The Western Way of War in 1990.

The Contents are
P017: Introduction - The Greek Military Legacy
P030: Early Greek Fighting (1400-750) - The collapse of Mycenaean Greece; plundering and raiding in the Greek Dark Ages; The Homeric battlefield.
P048: The Rise of the City-State and the Invention of Western Warfare (750-490) - The coming of the hoplite; the agrarian duels; the emergence of Athenian and Spartan military power.
P082: The Great Wars (490-362) - The defence of Greece; The Peloponnesian War; an army to remember.
P136: The Second Military Revolution (362-336) - Philip of Macedon and the reinvention of Greek warfare; war as a specialized science.
P166: Alexander the Great and the Creation of Hellenistic Warfare (335-146) - marching through Asia; total war; the Successors, the coming of Rome, and the collapse of Greek warfare.
P204: Conclusion - The Hellenistic Legacy
P208: Glossary, Further Reading, Statistics, Index
18 maps, mostly 2-pagers

From the Introduction - "The military mastery of the Greeks can be summarized broadly by eight general military customs and beliefs which are unique to the Hellenic and indeed later European tradition, and which remain thematic throughout the four-century life of the city-state (700-300):
1. Advanced technology
2. Superior discipline
3. Ingenuity in response
4. The creation of a broad, shared military observance among the majority of the population
5. Choice of decisive engagement
6. Dominance of infantry
7. A systematic application of capital to warmaking
8. A moral opposition to militarism"
I am just quoting the titles here - these are expanded on in the text.

Professor Hanson is an expert on the period of Greek hoplite warfare, and it shows in the relevant chapters here. However, his chapters on the pre-hoplite period are a bit bland, and the chapters on Philip and Alexander are nothing more than an extended rant - page 138: "Philip's solution was to create a professional army of predators, whose constant military aggression would pay for the costs of its own operation... the state was a mere ancillary to the army, and was therefore organized on the sole principle of providing manpower, labor and capital to ensure that the Macedonian phalanx would be fuelled for further aggrandizement to the south. Even the old constraints of time and space in agrarian warfare were now irrelevant, as Philip's hired killers fought all year round..." Page 150:"Philip's destructive mechanism for conquest and annexation was a radical source of social unrest and cultural upheaval, not a conservative Greek institution to preserve the existing agrarian community. Philip's territorial ambitions had nothing to do with a few acres outside the polis, but rather encompassed a broader vision of mines, harbours, and tribute-paying communities that might be his solely to fuel his rapacious army... Against Philip's trained hired killers, the reactionary militiamen of the polis had little chance... The Thebans' Sacred Band, of course, stayed put on the right, killed to the last man. They were to be interred under the proud stone lion that still stands beside the modern highway - a reminder to the Greeks that about all that brave hoplites could exact from Philip was a limestone beast over their corpses." Page 188: "Alexander the Great's legacy was to leave the Hellenistic world with generations of would-be Alexanders, who practiced their master's savage brand of political autocracy and butchery of all under suspicion. The army in the West was now not to be a militia or even a professional force subject to civilian oversight, but, like the later Nazi military, an autocratic tool that would murder at will far from the battlefield, friend and foe, soldier and civilian alike... Too many scholars like to compare Alexander to Hannibal or Napoleon. A far better match would be Hitler... Both Alexander and Hitler were both crack-pot mystics, intent solely on loot and plunder under the guise of bringing `culture' to the East and `freeing' oppressed peoples from a corrupt empire. Both were kind to animals, showed deference to women, talked constantly of their own destiny and divinity, and could be especially courteous to subordinates even as they planned the destruction of hundreds of thousands, and murdered their closest associates. In sum, Alexander's decade-long expedition to the Indus resulted in death and displacement for millions, and the enslavement of thousands more, earning him rightly a place amid the worst monsters history has to offer. Western warfare now to be total: killing men in the field, on the run, in their homes, families and all - killing even one's own lieutenants if need be, killing relatives, friends, anyone at any time at all. In the end, the legacy of this drunken brawler is one of murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide, and we would do well to remember his dead - always the dead. Under thirteen years of generalship of Alexander the Great, more people were killed through his use of western warfare than had died in all the Greek battles in the century and a half from marathon to Chaeronea. And his successors were eager to continue." And so on. I'm not saying that he is wrong in his assessment, just his approach seems rather over the top. See John Grainger's more academically disdainful way of saying much the same thing in his Alexander the Great Failure: The Collapse of the Macedonian Empire (Hambledon Continuum), for example.

The good professor sees the early Hoplite age as a Golden Age of middle-class farmer (American?) militias, going out to defend their land and homes from neighbouring and foreign (British?) despots, and who were eventually betrayed by the democratic politicians who created a military-industrial complex that was in turn subverted by power-hungry dictators, the principles of which still dominate the world today. See his recent How the Obama Administration Threatens Our National Security (Encounter Broadsides) for more along those lines.

Note - weight of hoplite armour: Professor Hanson is of the traditional opinion that hoplite armour was extremely heavy - weighing in at about 60 pounds. Peter Krentz in New Perspectives on Ancient Warfare (History of Warfare (Brill)) having examined surviving pieces of hoplite armour, and checked on re-enactors modern equipment manufactured using classical processes, finds that the weight is closer to 20 pounds. He also found that the modern writers who made the claim that the armour weighed 60 pounds were based on no evidence other than guesswork.

Further reading:
The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization
Hellenistic and Roman Naval Warfare 336BC - 31BC
Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire
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on 3 August 2002
The title of this book is completely wrong. It should be How Warfare effected the Society of the Ancient Greeks. Although a few battles are described in a little detail the main content of the text details the effect the wars and warfare had on the political and social structures of the various greek city-states. If you want information on the individual battles and wars look elsewere.
My other gripes with this book are the illustrations. Although quiet good it would be more helpful if they were anywhere near the text that refers to them. Some illustrations are pages before they are mentioned and others are several pages later. The author also has a rant at the end of the book with regards to Alexander the Great. He spends pages putting his argument that Alexander should be compared to Hitler than actually telling us about his great campaign across Persia.
I was very disappointed with this book.
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on 30 March 2001
A superb well-illustrated and comprehensive history of the Ancient Greek states from the earliest times to the Hellenic period . The informative maps and illustrations of battle tactics are particularly interesting. A well constructed and valuable addition to any Ancient History collection.
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