Hot Best Seller

Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

Availability: Ready to download

What set the successful armies of Sparta, Macedon, and Rome apart from those they defeated? In this major new history of battle from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire, J. E. Lendon surveys a millennium of warfare to discover how militaries change—and don’t change—and how an army’s greatness depends on its use of the past.  Noting this was an age that What set the successful armies of Sparta, Macedon, and Rome apart from those they defeated? In this major new history of battle from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire, J. E. Lendon surveys a millennium of warfare to discover how militaries change—and don’t change—and how an army’s greatness depends on its use of the past.  Noting this was an age that witnessed few technological advances, J. E. Lendon shows us that the most successful armies were those that made the most effective use of cultural tradition. Ancient combat moved forward by looking backward for inspiration—the Greeks, to Homer; the Romans, to the Greeks and to their own heroic past. The best ancient armies recruited soldiers from societies with strong competitive traditions; and the best ancient leaders, from Alexander to Julius Caesar, called upon those traditions to encourage ferocious competition at every rank. Ranging from the Battle of Champions between Sparta and Argos in 550 B.C. through Julian’s invasion of Persia in A.D. 363, Soldiers and Ghosts brings to life the most decisive military contests of ancient Greece and Rome. Lendon places these battles, and the methods by which they were fought, in a sweeping narrative of ancient military history. On every battlefield, living soldiers fought alongside the ghosts of tradition—ghosts that would inspire greatness for almost a millennium before ultimately coming to stifle it.


Compare

What set the successful armies of Sparta, Macedon, and Rome apart from those they defeated? In this major new history of battle from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire, J. E. Lendon surveys a millennium of warfare to discover how militaries change—and don’t change—and how an army’s greatness depends on its use of the past.  Noting this was an age that What set the successful armies of Sparta, Macedon, and Rome apart from those they defeated? In this major new history of battle from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire, J. E. Lendon surveys a millennium of warfare to discover how militaries change—and don’t change—and how an army’s greatness depends on its use of the past.  Noting this was an age that witnessed few technological advances, J. E. Lendon shows us that the most successful armies were those that made the most effective use of cultural tradition. Ancient combat moved forward by looking backward for inspiration—the Greeks, to Homer; the Romans, to the Greeks and to their own heroic past. The best ancient armies recruited soldiers from societies with strong competitive traditions; and the best ancient leaders, from Alexander to Julius Caesar, called upon those traditions to encourage ferocious competition at every rank. Ranging from the Battle of Champions between Sparta and Argos in 550 B.C. through Julian’s invasion of Persia in A.D. 363, Soldiers and Ghosts brings to life the most decisive military contests of ancient Greece and Rome. Lendon places these battles, and the methods by which they were fought, in a sweeping narrative of ancient military history. On every battlefield, living soldiers fought alongside the ghosts of tradition—ghosts that would inspire greatness for almost a millennium before ultimately coming to stifle it.

30 review for Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    Ancient military history and its technical aspects are surprisingly popular topics among modern historians. One could almost say that the market is currently saturated by books analyzing the Greek hoplites, campaigns of Alexander the Great and military history of Rome. It is therefore no surprise that historians trying to contribute to the topic better ensure that they come up with something innovative if they are to be noticed. J.E. Lendon tries to do exactly that with his rather innovative reap Ancient military history and its technical aspects are surprisingly popular topics among modern historians. One could almost say that the market is currently saturated by books analyzing the Greek hoplites, campaigns of Alexander the Great and military history of Rome. It is therefore no surprise that historians trying to contribute to the topic better ensure that they come up with something innovative if they are to be noticed. J.E. Lendon tries to do exactly that with his rather innovative reappraisal of the history of Greek and Roman art of war. Instead of taking the worn-out path of chronological recount of events and technical analysis, he chooses to examine Greek phalanx and Roman legion from cultural point of view. By doing this, he comes to the conclusion that the explanation to those two formations and everything that followed with them are not a product of conscious development of military art, but rather an expression of cultural values and beliefs held by Greek and Roman societies. Foundation of Lendon's thesis in case of Greek hoplite formation consists of the fact that Homeros and his Iliad provided Greek culture with the core of its values as well as an ideal for its warriors. According to the author, the primary characteristic of Homeric warrior is his competitiveness, against friend and foe alike. It is this competitiveness that, if one is to believe Lendon, drives the Greek style of warfare to more and more organized and structured form. The ultimate goal for this formalization was to counter the natural chaos of the battlefield and provide an environment where prowess of an individual could be reliably judged, which in turn allowed ranking of warriors, according to the level of excellence they displayed. Roman legion in its original form is explained by the author by focusing on two of Roman society's most precious virtues. Virtus, which is the martial courage and aggressiveness was one and disciplina, which in simplest possible terms can be described as obedience of a superior and discipline while in ranks, is the other. Lendon regards those two equally valued characteristics as directly opposing concepts and therefore in constant conflict with each other. He uses this conflict as an explanation for the rather peculiar manipular formation, which Roman legions used pretty much until the final century of the Republic period. Lendon's analysis doesn't stop there - he argues that virtus and disciplina manifest themselves equally strongly also in the later legion formation, where cohorts replaced maniples as tactical unit. Finally, Lendon deals with the transformation of cohort formations into smaller legions of later empire. His explanation for this development is provided by apparent archaisation of later Roman society and reemergence of old Greek virtues as something worthy aspiring toward. One of those virtues would of course be Homer and his Iliad, which in turn would explain reemergence of hoplite formation as preferred Roman fighting method during 3rd and 4th century. I must admit that theories presented in "Soldiers and Ghosts" are well-argued and rather compelling. I wouldn't be surprised if the author is actually on to something. However, regardless of Landon's valiant effort to provide innovative and certainly different explanation for developments the art of war in Greece and Rome of classical period, I find his theories as rather speculative and in the end unsubstantiated. Lendon fails to make lasting impression on me for many reasons, but first and foremost it's because I just can't imagine the almost Bushido-like effect of few selected meta-physical ideas on Greeks and Romans, who in most aspects of life strike me as very pragmatic people. Just as an example, let's look at hoplite formation and ask ourselves following question: which is more resonable explanation for its existence - its formidable strength and protection it gave its members or a subconscious strife to reach a semi-mythical ideal? Likewise, when Lendon points out eagerness of Roman soldiers to get to grips with their opponents, which at times was so intense that their leaders couldn't control them - was it because of some lofty idea praised by highest echelons of their society? Or was the explanation something as prosaic as an ordinary Roman warrior's wish for loot? I guess that ultimately, whether you'll agree with ideas presented in "Ghosts and Soldiers" will depend on individual willingness to accept the idea that Greeks and Romans were rather different people than us. Personally, I don't believe that and I think that regardless of their, by our standards, "exotic" belief systems and moral codes, they were nonetheless driven by motivations and impulses pretty much identical to our own. That's why I regard "Soldiers and Ghost" as interesting and thought-provoking read, but ultimately as a misguided attempt to solve some of the many riddles that still remain unsolved in regard of military aspects of Greek and Roman civilizations.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mary Catelli

    Armies and soldiers in ancient Greece and Rome. A bit various. It opens with an analysis of how battle is treated in the Iliad, as a matter for heroes. Even when the massed troops fight well, the emphasis is on the wisdom of the hero who arrayed them. The trade-offs in standing your ground and fleeing, and how Ajax is assured that with all the Trojans he killed, no one will believe him weak when he leaves. Organization and battle in the Greek cities -- it was actually commented on by Greek author Armies and soldiers in ancient Greece and Rome. A bit various. It opens with an analysis of how battle is treated in the Iliad, as a matter for heroes. Even when the massed troops fight well, the emphasis is on the wisdom of the hero who arrayed them. The trade-offs in standing your ground and fleeing, and how Ajax is assured that with all the Trojans he killed, no one will believe him weak when he leaves. Organization and battle in the Greek cities -- it was actually commented on by Greek authors that they didn't take advantage of terrain but lined up on good fighting ground to go at it -- and how Athens requiring drill caused many rich citizens to take up calvary. Refinements by Alexander. And the conflicting love of virtus, manly prowess best shown in single combat, vs disciplina, much wider than our term, so that a soldier who fled battle could suffer less punishment than one who got orders to withdraw and wasn't prompt about it. Their battlefield formations, and changes up to the time of Julian the Apostate.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Not so much a history of battle in classical antiquity as why and how it developed as it did. Covers the millennium from the Age of Homer until Julian in Persia and Valens at Adrianople [300s A.D.] Author makes surprising leaps in his perceptions of the development of land warfare and psychology of the warriors. Apparently, it went slower at first, then picked up speed. Today it seems that methods of fighting change every time you turn around. The author intended this for the beginner to the ver Not so much a history of battle in classical antiquity as why and how it developed as it did. Covers the millennium from the Age of Homer until Julian in Persia and Valens at Adrianople [300s A.D.] Author makes surprising leaps in his perceptions of the development of land warfare and psychology of the warriors. Apparently, it went slower at first, then picked up speed. Today it seems that methods of fighting change every time you turn around. The author intended this for the beginner to the very knowledgeable reader. It WAS readable but sometimes I felt there were too many details over my head. I'm assuming that "ghosts" in the title refers to the heroes of the Trojan War in the background as an inspiration. Recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    This is not a compendium of maneuvers, weapons and tactics usual to most military histories. Instead, we are given a social history of warfare in ancient Greece and Rome that looks to the morals, literature and social values of the age that inspired men to fight the way they did. It's an analysis that shows how the structure of their armies were modeled on that of the civil societies which produced them, and the degree to which warrior ideals reflected those of their society as a whole. The book This is not a compendium of maneuvers, weapons and tactics usual to most military histories. Instead, we are given a social history of warfare in ancient Greece and Rome that looks to the morals, literature and social values of the age that inspired men to fight the way they did. It's an analysis that shows how the structure of their armies were modeled on that of the civil societies which produced them, and the degree to which warrior ideals reflected those of their society as a whole. The book is divided into two halves, one focusing on Greece, and the other Rome. The era's were similar, but not identical, and the first threw a long shadow over the second. Interpretations of the Iliad being shown to have a disproportionate influence on how men expected war to be, often guiding commanders decision (sometimes catastrophically) on battlefields centuries after any lessons it contained were obsolete. The half focusing on Rome is particularly insightful for its frequent analyses of how an observer's perspective influenced Rome's understanding of the past, or for that matter how we understand Rome, and the misconceptions that can arise from that. One of the more intriguing discussions is about Rome's inability to understand just how much conditions changed over time, often blinding later leaders to the reality that the equipment and formations their men were using were not those used by the soldiers of an earlier age. This was a fatal flaw in a backward society obsessed with emulating the past, that accepts change only in the form of doing a past triumph the same way only better. Or which accepts innovation by disguising innovation as a return to some lost past practice. The theme of living by the ghosts of the past leads the final chapter to close the book out with an interesting twist. This is good read for somebody with a serious historical inclination who does not mind seeing some of the standard notions of the Greco-Roman challenged.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Luka Novak

    This book does not explain how ancients fought but rather why did they fight the way they did. Lendon argues that ancients' (Greece, Macedon, Rome) way of war wasn't determined by their equipment but rather their culture. Lendon's leitmotif is that these militaries harnessed the competition between individuals and used that to create formidable armies, even armies that on the surface seem to replace individual with mass such as phalanx or legion. Having said that this is not a book for beginners. This book does not explain how ancients fought but rather why did they fight the way they did. Lendon argues that ancients' (Greece, Macedon, Rome) way of war wasn't determined by their equipment but rather their culture. Lendon's leitmotif is that these militaries harnessed the competition between individuals and used that to create formidable armies, even armies that on the surface seem to replace individual with mass such as phalanx or legion. Having said that this is not a book for beginners. Reader will require some prior knowledge about world and wars of the period in question, simply because author doesn't go into details about campaigns, doctrine and equipment. If you have no idea what Roman legion of any period was about, how legionaires were equiped and how legion was organised you'll have troubles following Lendon's ideas. If you are not familiar with history of Rome you'll have trouble understanding how Rome went from fighting Greeks to fighting Germanic invaders to invading Mesopotamia. But as with many other authors who stumble upon a new idea Lendon sees his discovery as panacea, able to explain everything it is applied to. While I'm not saying the idea is wrong, I don't think it was the sole reason why militaries operated the way they did. It should be seen as so far overlooked additional reason, one that may explain others a bit more.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Udy Kumra

    I still have a *little* bit left to read, but I've now read enough to know that my Professor Lendon truly is the genius that he seems to be. I went ahead and marked this as read because I wanted to clear some of my currently reading sections, but I'll be done with it soon. I still have a *little* bit left to read, but I've now read enough to know that my Professor Lendon truly is the genius that he seems to be. I went ahead and marked this as read because I wanted to clear some of my currently reading sections, but I'll be done with it soon.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    A lovely book. A cultural study of war in Greece and Rome - not of the Victor Davis Hanson type, either. For instance, the chapter that most fascinated me is on antiquarianism in the Roman military: the dress or parade outfits that mimicked (in a sort of postmodern fashion) ancient Greek regalia and the masks that might have been off the stage of a Greek tragedy. Real insight.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kiley

    J.E. Lendon is a professor at University of Virginia, with a specialization in Greek and Roman history. Lendon completed both his bachelors and Ph. D. at Yale University, shortly before publishing his first book Empire of Honour: The Art of Government in the Roman World in 1997. Lendon then went on to release Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity in 2005 and Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins in 2010. Lendon has received multiple awards for his teaching abilit J.E. Lendon is a professor at University of Virginia, with a specialization in Greek and Roman history. Lendon completed both his bachelors and Ph. D. at Yale University, shortly before publishing his first book Empire of Honour: The Art of Government in the Roman World in 1997. Lendon then went on to release Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity in 2005 and Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins in 2010. Lendon has received multiple awards for his teaching abilities, as well as for his historical studies and published work. Lendon’s Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity is listed on yalebooks.com as being a major new history battle, spanning from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire, in order to show how militaries, change as well as how they don’t, as well as how an army’s success greatly depended on its use of the past. Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity was given positive reviews from common house hold names that most people are familiar with, such as the New York Times, stating the topic was “brilliantly analyzed”, as well as Publishers Weekly, stating “witty, erudite, and painstaking”. The book was also reviewed by Nicholas E. Efstathiou who specializes in military history, stating the book was “an excellent starting point for readers interested in the military histories of Greece and Rome”. There are more positive reviews online, that include other historians, journals, and magazines. The book itself is published by Yale University Press, and sold in a multitude of stores and websites such as Barns and Noble, and amazon.com. The book was selected for Association of American University Presses Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries in 2006, as well as becoming runner up for the Longman- History Today Book of the Year award in 2006. Lendon’s description of Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity states that he covers how militaries change and don’t change, what worked for certain militaries and what their downfalls were, and how the “most successful armies were those that made the most effective use of cultural tradition” (Lendon, 5). Lendon states that the best ancient armies traditionally recruited soldiers from areas with strong competitive traditions and values, and encouraged that kind of ferocious competition within all ranks. Lendon’s thesis to the book is that historians have traditionally overestimated the technology and tactics influence on military, and have looked over the importance of things like politics, and culture. Lendon argues that ancient armies would tend to look to the past for guidance in their future endeavors; each military strived to live up to the ancestral ideals. Focusing on the Roman empire, Lendon tends to criticize Rome’s honored ideal of iron discipline being the key to their success, as well as shows doubt that there was much cohesion in the key to their success. Lendon argues that the key to Roman success was its innate cultural motives such as Roman conservatism, “virtus” which is described to be “manliness” in the terms of ambition when it came to combat, and “disciplina” which is described as being more than just disciplined, but showing levels of restrain, obedience, the ability to channel their aggression until the right moment in battle, and punishment (Lendon, 249, 252). Lendon argues that these values were the keys to the Roman empires success, as well as conflict. He discusses however, a conflict that commonly happened with “brave but foolish” soldiers attempting to pursue their virtus that would lead to a lack in their success (Lendon, 189). Lendon quotes Aemilius Paullus; the victor of the Roman battle of Pydna in 167 B.C., talking about a “good general does not fight a pitched battle unless it is absolutely necessary or a sure path to victory” (Lendon, 298). Lendon’s Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity contains maps, photographs of pottery, art work, statues, and other historical evidence that shows the Roman’s story telling’s of their battles won and lost. The book is set up in a general format that makes it simple for most average paced readers to follow. There is a lengthy appendix, as well as index that provides for answers to any questions the reader may have about a topic or word. Lendon’s analysis focuses on the political, social, and technological balances in the influences of culture and war, and uses a well written, easily readable format for optimal comprehension for the reader. This book would be great for any history class that is specifically focusing on Greek and Roman history with regards to military.

  9. 4 out of 5

    George Siehl

    Deep scholarship into the military systems of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire presented through writing that is both accessible and enjoyable: what a winning combination. Author Lendon's prologue describes a U. S. Marine company in Vietnam in 1967 trying to recover the bodies of members of the company who were killed several days earlier. The North Vietnamese are using the effort to kill more Marines with artillery and mortar fire. It is a military moment three thousand years removed from the Deep scholarship into the military systems of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire presented through writing that is both accessible and enjoyable: what a winning combination. Author Lendon's prologue describes a U. S. Marine company in Vietnam in 1967 trying to recover the bodies of members of the company who were killed several days earlier. The North Vietnamese are using the effort to kill more Marines with artillery and mortar fire. It is a military moment three thousand years removed from the initial focus of this book, Homer's account of the Greek attack on Troy: The Iliad. Of this fusing of antiquity and modernity Lendon writes, "However primitive or sleekly modern the machinery of war, the idiosyncratic beliefs of the men of every time and place play their role in how war is fought." This constancy of beliefs, of ethics, is the sustaining core of his book. The book describes the continuing importance of the Iliad, first in the military of classical Greece, and then in the armies of ancient Rome. He writes, "most technical military writing that survives from antiquity looks not into the future or even at contemporary methods, but into the past." He goes on, " Innovating by attempting to recreate what has gone before--going forward by looking backward--is, in fact, entirely characteristic of ancient habits of mind." He begins the Greek portion of the book with a detailed explication of the fighting in the Iliad, "the Nursery of Ghosts." He notes there are many contradictions and discrepancies in the poem itself. One of major importance is how the fighting took place. Nestor, one of the Greek leaders is famed for his excellence in arranging troop formations and deploying them to battle in careful order, and suggests such an ordered array at Troy. What the poem describes, for the most part is a mad rush with the heroes rushing to the fore. One might compare the performance of the marching band at halftime of an American football game with the rush of the hooligans onto the field at a European soccer match. Another important contradiction is the varying definition of what behaviors are honored. Here the competitive nature of the Greeks appears. Fleetness of foot is highly regarded, although fleeing the battlefield is not. So, too, the various arms of the force: spearmen, charioteers, archers, peltasts. Each holds itself in high regard, but is less impressed by the others. Lendon notes that the effort to depict "the heroes excelling in the full set of Homeric virtues" results in "a confusion of fighting styles, as the poem moves quickly from the representation of one kind of excellence to another." Homer's epics held a disproportionate influence on Greek culture, "called the Bible of the Greeks." Lendon writes that, "epic was the ancient history of the Greeks," but, moreover, "a moral text: 'One should arrange one's entire life according to this poet.'" The "cult of Homer," had foundational consequences in Greek culture as "epic and Greek competitive ethics walked like conjoined twins through the centuries." Lendon adds on this influence, "The heroes of epic always sat invisible upon the shoulders of the Greeks, whispering their counsel." There follow five chapters in which Lendon engagingly chronicles those "whispered counsels" to Greek soldiers and citizens down to the year 31 BC. His topics include the development of the phalanx as a fighting formation and its cultural significance, The Persian War, Alexander the Great, guile versus tradition among commanders, and the evolving art of war. The author then turns to how epic and competitiveness operated in the armies of Rome. In addressing the Roman military, he traces the arc of success that was close run early on, showing a slight edge in victories until about 338 BC. Its success was thereafter greater until the decline of the third and fourth centuries AD. He notes that "In no generation was Rome's military superiority absolute; there were always reverses, even disasters." For centuries, Roman success was attributed to its strong tradition of discipline. In more recent times the idea of cohesion has gained support as the reason for the success. Lendon holds that both discipline and cohesion played a role, by virtue of their being a part of a Roman cultural drive, "competition in aggressive bravery arising from a heroic tradition of single combat." He adds, "For as with the Greeks, the Roman past, real or imagined, combined with the admiration of later men for the past, is a powerful tool for explaining how the Romans fought... and changed over time." Though without a Homer, the Romans had their own tales and myths of early Roman warriors to provide the role model of individual, heroic combat. In time, because of growing admiration of all things Greek, they borrowed from the Greek model of warrior behavior. "Later Romans, in short imagined a heroic culture not too far distant from the military culture depicted in the Iliad but even more ceremonious and ritualized," Lendon writes. He draws on the Jewish war in AD 67-70 to illustrate the interplay of discipline and competitiveness. The discipline imposed by formation and directions from leaders was sometimes sacrificed by the troops to undertake heroic individual actions. They were motivated to do this by the desire to show "virtus," or bravery. This reflected both their natural competitiveness and a way to gain recognition and advance in rank. The commanding general, Titus, used the competitive urge of the troops at the siege of Jerusalem. "Building a circuit of entrenchment around the whole great city--nearly four and a half miles, with thirteen attached forts--took only three days." Each small unit had been assigned a specific part of the project to complete--and the race was on. Lendon also notes a number of examples of soldiers disobeying orders to undertake offensive actions on their own during the fight for Jerusalem. He draws an interesting analogy: "A Roman unit was less like a modern family, and more like a modern professional sports team, whose members come together to compete against other teams, but whose members' feelings are often more rivalrous than affectionate." Good managers can exploit such chemistry for victories. Nearing the end of the Roman Empire, the managers were not good. Lendon illustrates the Emperor Julian's ill-fated excursion into Persia in AD 363, in a chapter he subtitles, Triumph of the Ghosts. Julian was urged to counter threats by the Goths in the North. "He replied that he was seeking a 'better' enemy and prepared instead, against widespread opposition, to invade Persia. Lendon explains," they were better because they were the ancient enemy, the enemy hallowed by tradition as the ancestral foe of Greek civilization. They were better because they had once threatened Greece and had been thrown back by better men; they were better because they had been conquered by Alexander, the best of all, and more recently by Trajan, the best of the Roman emperors." Julian was proven correct in naming the Persians the 'better enemy." His army was destroyed and he was killed in the final battle. Only remnants of his army returned home. In AD 378, a successor emperor, Valens, again led a Roman army to defeat, this time to the Goths. This effectively marked the end of the Roman Empire. Lendon contends that both Julian and Valens misdirected their army because of their reliance, knowingly or unknowingly, because their "relationship with and admired past" allowed them to be "lashed on by history." Reliance on the old ideas of bold frontal attacks, "led the Roman army to defeats from which it could not recover. In the end, the soldiers did not overcome the ghosts of the past. In the end, it was the ghosts who won." In his brief concluding chapter Lendon outlines four powerful cultural features which directed the Roman military operation and development. Here he draws connections with the previously discussed Greek cultural influences on their military and the transmission of large parts of that military culture to the Romans. Lastly, noting the value that both nations attributed to the past, to history, he defines the different outcomes for each nation. He writes," In the end the Greek relationship with the military past made the Greek army better, but in Rome's later centuries the Roman relationship with the military past made the Roman army worse. Soldiers and Ghosts is highly recommended, not only for the obvious audience of military history readers, but for those interested in broader aspects of history and the humanities. The book comes with value in addition to the text; it includes maps, illustrations, photographs, glossary, and detailed bibliographic notes. This review has noted only a few of the cogent highlights in Lendon's fine narrative. When your local library springs back from the coronavirus shutdown, do them a favor and suggest they too add a copy. Details to follow.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pedro Ceneme

    This book provides a fresh perspective on cultural factors of ancient warfare. Competition seemed to be a major drive for the Greeks, with a great focus on individual achievement. Greek army tactics evolved as a form to attest to that, leading to a highly ritualized way of warfare very influenced by the Homeric narrative in the Illiad. This was epitomized by the hoplite warfare that dominated Greece between 500 – 400 b.C.. Its also interesting to see how technological and tactical development we This book provides a fresh perspective on cultural factors of ancient warfare. Competition seemed to be a major drive for the Greeks, with a great focus on individual achievement. Greek army tactics evolved as a form to attest to that, leading to a highly ritualized way of warfare very influenced by the Homeric narrative in the Illiad. This was epitomized by the hoplite warfare that dominated Greece between 500 – 400 b.C.. Its also interesting to see how technological and tactical development were influenced by culture, with the author combining archeological evidence with art, either from plays, poems and narrative, in order to form a cohesive theory on how the Greeks approached warfare and reacted to that. It is also remarkable to see how Sparta and Alexander changed somewhat the typical structure of the Greek army to fit their imperial ambitions. The Spartans were much more focused on discipline as show of strength, with a greater emphasis on the leaders’ wit (a twist, since glory for generals usually conflicted with that for the common soldier, but Spartan society was much less democratic than the typical Greek polis). The Macedonians gave new meaning to combined arms in the form of specialized units which robbed the prominence of the hoplite-citizen and found a way to insert competition between units in an army that was much less uniform and relied on a confederation of forces. The segment on Roman culture is also interesting but I’ve found the analogies and insights less credible. Lendon argues that the Roman culture also emphasized individual achievement, and this manifested in the tenuous balance between virtus (displays of personal courage and aggressiveness of the Roman troops) and disciplina (following orders and considering one’s role in society). While it is a neat simplification and works as an overall philosophy of the culture, it’s difficult to use this as a justification for the organizational changes in the Roman armies between maniples and cohorts and latter the return to the phalanx. Romans are usually depicted as a pragmatic people, adopting and discarding solutions and customs with comparative ease. Lendon however chooses to depict their military evolution as a “conservative” reaction to outside forces, something that he doesn’t argue nearly as well as he does for the Greeks. Nonetheless, the book is interesting since it approaches history from a different standpoint than that of the materialistic views usually applied to explain historical events.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christian Dibblee

    An academic exploration to be sure, but not a boring one by any stretch! I thought this book was very enlightening - obviously, we Americans look to our past a lot too so it was fascinating to see ancient civilizations doing the exact same thing. A couple things struck my interest. First, that ancient generals sometimes had to reason with their soldiers to gain their following. This feels anathema to current military ethos, but it was spurred mainly by soldiers believing (and informed by their r An academic exploration to be sure, but not a boring one by any stretch! I thought this book was very enlightening - obviously, we Americans look to our past a lot too so it was fascinating to see ancient civilizations doing the exact same thing. A couple things struck my interest. First, that ancient generals sometimes had to reason with their soldiers to gain their following. This feels anathema to current military ethos, but it was spurred mainly by soldiers believing (and informed by their respective cultural pasts) that they needed to seek bravery in combat for recognition. That is a common theme through the book. Second, the prevalence of Greek history for Romans was interesting, particularly because it eventually led Roman leaders to undertake foolhardy expeditions or combat strategies during battle. Third, Homer's relevance to so many of these military changes astounded me. Obviously it makes sense that these cultures would look on The Iliad with reverence, but the extent to which they emulated its military judgments (such as discounting the practice of archery) was revealing. A testament to the power of literature. Fourth, the overall point - Greeks looked to the past for inspiration, while Romans looked to re-create the past. An interesting spin on military advances and how the same motivation in different cultures can work out very differently. Again, an academic treatment. But rekindled my interest in ancient history, so for that it's a win.

  12. 4 out of 5

    April

    This was a weird sort of read for me. The moments Lendon chose to touch on for the Greek half of his book made complete sense to me, although I don't particularly love the Lattimore translation of the Iliad, so he didn't sell me on that. However, I found the Roman events to be strange. He didn't choose only battles the Romans won, so why he barely touched on Cannae, which loomed large in the Roman psyche for years (Carthago delenda est anyone?) but spent an entire chapter on Pydna was a bizarre This was a weird sort of read for me. The moments Lendon chose to touch on for the Greek half of his book made complete sense to me, although I don't particularly love the Lattimore translation of the Iliad, so he didn't sell me on that. However, I found the Roman events to be strange. He didn't choose only battles the Romans won, so why he barely touched on Cannae, which loomed large in the Roman psyche for years (Carthago delenda est anyone?) but spent an entire chapter on Pydna was a bizarre choice to me. Also, his complete avoidance of any of the civil war battles, or indeed any serious discussion of the revolution of the army from Marius on outside of a couple of side-long mentions to the increasing loyalty to generals was another strange decision to me. Finally, his choice to spend two whole chapters talking about warfare under Julian and later was a complete mystery to me, especially since he completely jumped over Constantine (who barely rated a mention). Overall, I didn't find his argument 100% compelling, but he did make an interesting case for the motivating factors in ancient warfare (although there is a pointed lack of anything not Greek or Roman), but of course there is not way to know anything about this definitively.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

    A good book covering the authors opinion about the philosophy of Ancient Warfare with the Greeks, Macedonians and Romans. It does get dry and repeats the authors theory quite a lot. But the theory seems to be well researched.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Read about half of this before giving up. Might download for my kindle and try again, though.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cordellya Smith

    I loved this book! It is a well written, interesting reflection of the events that shaped Greece and Rome.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erunion

    Soldiers and Ghosts sets out to track the changes in Greek and Roman military structures and why they molded over time. While such a topic is quite fascinating, Lendon does not quite cash out many of his arguments, and unfortunately spends most of his time recounting ancient battles from a limited third person perspective rather than using such accounts to illuminate or demonstrate his points throughout the book. Such a feature is rather curious, since the accounts often seem to on the one hand Soldiers and Ghosts sets out to track the changes in Greek and Roman military structures and why they molded over time. While such a topic is quite fascinating, Lendon does not quite cash out many of his arguments, and unfortunately spends most of his time recounting ancient battles from a limited third person perspective rather than using such accounts to illuminate or demonstrate his points throughout the book. Such a feature is rather curious, since the accounts often seem to on the one hand assume that the reader is familiar with the concepts of Polis, Senate, Socrates, Xenophon, and Caesar; while on the other assume that the reader is not quite acquainted with a gladius or a pilum. Perhaps Lendon does this to add a bit of excitement to the material, but the reader is often left wondering if the book is meant to be a textbook for the uninitiated, or a scholarly treatise. What arguments he does make are quite interesting, however. He emphasizes the more ritual nature of battle, such as maintaining possession of the battlefield, setting up trophies, and winning glory against an individual opponent against the more modern, traditional concerns of tactics (flanking, envelopment) and supply. He also places interesting emphasis on active, martial courage, which he connotes with the greek word agathos and the latin word virtus, versus passive courage, connoted with eutaxia and disciplina. These two impulses -- the impulse to leave the line and engage the enemy and the impulse to stay in the lines and defend one's comrades -- are constantly at war to a degree in the Greeks and always present in the Romans. Caesar must fight with the virtus of his legions to maintain disciplina, and Themistocles must deal with the entire city of Athens. The ultimate problem of such an emphasis is that, aside from a bit of (largely unnecessary) narrative at the beginning of the book, Lendon seems to be unaware that such concepts not only carry into modern warfare, and almost assumes that such concepts died off (becoming the "Ghosts" of the title) with the Romans. But one can easily point to the conflict between Patton's virtus and Montgomery's disciplina in World War 2, or the Confederate versus Union styles of fighting in the American Civil War. Such impulses seem present in all warfare in all time in all places, and not just in the classical period. It is not clear how such impulses uniquely affect the Greeks and Romans, or if they are bringing unique solutions to such problems. It is of course dangerous to pontificate on any discipline outside of one's own, but nonetheless it is an interesting comparison to make, if only as a question. Further, such an idea of academic modesty certainly doesn't stop Victor Davis Hanson from making the comment in his Western Way of War that commanders should emulate the Greek model and lead from the front. In short, the book seems viciously padded out, but is quite intriguing if the reader is already familiar with classical history, is interested in the sociological dimension of warfare, and has perhaps already read Victor Davis Hanson's The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece or perhaps even (if one has a bit of virtus and disciplina) the initial chapters of Alasdair MacIntyre's philosophical treatise After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory.

  17. 5 out of 5

    David

    Soldiers and Ghosts is an unusually literary analysis of ancient militaries. The book, in two halves, traces the evolution of the Classical Greek and Hellenistic armies and those of Rome. In each portion, Lendon adopts a very simple thesis stating how specific cultural values influenced the development of these militaries and their uses in otherwise counterintuitive ways. Among the Greeks, Lendon identifies innate competitiveness and veneration of the Homeric epics as primary drivers; among the Soldiers and Ghosts is an unusually literary analysis of ancient militaries. The book, in two halves, traces the evolution of the Classical Greek and Hellenistic armies and those of Rome. In each portion, Lendon adopts a very simple thesis stating how specific cultural values influenced the development of these militaries and their uses in otherwise counterintuitive ways. Among the Greeks, Lendon identifies innate competitiveness and veneration of the Homeric epics as primary drivers; among the Romans, a long-enduring conflict between virtus, martial courage and excellence, and disciplina, restraint and order, coupled with a strong impulse towards emulating the past. The former is not in its simplest form an especially controversial thesis; no one would seriously argue that the Greeks did not venerate Homer and the Homeric values. But Lendon's case, that Homeric values and competitions underlaid, while not dictating, a variety of changes in military technologies and tactics through the history of Greece is subtler than that, and it is quite persuasive. Homer, he notes, does not posit an internally consistent and complete value system, and this flexibility allowed for the ferocious competitiveness Lendon finds in Greek culture to express itself in very different ways while still claiming the authority of epic. (Because Greece is my specialty, it is this section I found most prepossessing). Despite his willingness to challenge the authors from whose texts he works, Lendon does leave himself open occasionally to the charge that he takes unreliable ancient writers too seriously and too universally. In the main, I don't believe this particularly damages the book: many of its arguments work just as well if what is being related is ancient perception rather than ancient reality, and Lendon does include reasonable, if abbreviated, justifications of his inferences. Nonetheless, readers, like me, of a more philological bent may find Lendon a bit too cavalier with his sources from time to time. The other "flaw", if it may be so called, with the book is its focus. Lendon hews very closely to the line that he sets out, and the relative absence of counter-examples and areas in which other forcing causes contributed to military changes contribute to a sense that the author is overplaying his hand. And he may be: the two summary sections on Greece and Rome, in which Lendon sums up his theses and explores how military technology might have developed if guided purely by rational exigency, are perhaps the weakest portions of the book. Nonetheless, Lendon does what he sets out to do, and despite the tight focus of the book shows his awareness that the ideas he explores do not constitute an exhaustive explanation. Lendon's prose style echoes his themes nicely. He writes in a restrained, clear, occasionally archaicizing register, filled with classical tropes and cadences. At times, Soldiers and Ghosts flows like a very fine translation from the Greek. The book is a genuine pleasure to read, and its style a lovely complement to its extended discussions of the emulation of the revered past.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Hesselbach

    This insightful and well-written book uses the ancient Greek and Roman world to study how cultural factors make an army successful or unsuccessful. The book begins with a modern example to show the relevance of this study. In the Prologue, we are given a vivid description of a skirmish in which the U.S. Marines took casualties because of their cultural belief that they should recover the bodies of their dead. Why would they do that? Doesn't it interfere with their success as an army? What possi This insightful and well-written book uses the ancient Greek and Roman world to study how cultural factors make an army successful or unsuccessful. The book begins with a modern example to show the relevance of this study. In the Prologue, we are given a vivid description of a skirmish in which the U.S. Marines took casualties because of their cultural belief that they should recover the bodies of their dead. Why would they do that? Doesn't it interfere with their success as an army? What possible use can it have from a military standpoint? I particularly enjoyed reading about the tension in the Roman army between virtus (reckless courage) and disciplina (the discipline to follow orders). When the system worked well, both these concepts increased the effectiveness of the Roman army. However, when homage to the martial past degenerated into mindless imitation, cultural values destroyed the army's prowess. As Lendon aptly points out: "However primitive or sleekly modern the machinery of war, the idiosyncratic beliefs of the men of every time and place play their role in how war is fought."

  19. 4 out of 5

    R.

    A part of me wants to give this 3 stars to be fair because I have a feeling that the reason I enjoyed it so little is simply because I've already read so much on the subject of warfare in antiquity and a large number of books on antiquity in general. There just wasn't much of anything new here for me and it wasn't very exciting to read which is reflected in the fact that it took me as long as it did to actually finish this book. Now, it wasn't bad and it would be a good place to start for someone A part of me wants to give this 3 stars to be fair because I have a feeling that the reason I enjoyed it so little is simply because I've already read so much on the subject of warfare in antiquity and a large number of books on antiquity in general. There just wasn't much of anything new here for me and it wasn't very exciting to read which is reflected in the fact that it took me as long as it did to actually finish this book. Now, it wasn't bad and it would be a good place to start for someone interested in a broad overview of Greek and Roman history, but for someone looking for more depth, or someone who doesn't need the overview this is not a book for you at all. Decently well written, it wasn't bad, it just wasn't exciting as some others. At least it wasn't quite like reading a textbook.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Endre Fodstad

    This one is really good. Lendon's case is argued clearly for both the greek and roman parts of the book, and is an excellent counterpoint to the idea that premodern warfare went through something like evolutionary processes. Instead, he argues, greek and roman society looked to ideals, ideas and actions of earlier warfare for solutions - the "ghosts" - even when the ghosts did not provide useful answers to their problems. This also extended to the individual level, especially during the roman pe This one is really good. Lendon's case is argued clearly for both the greek and roman parts of the book, and is an excellent counterpoint to the idea that premodern warfare went through something like evolutionary processes. Instead, he argues, greek and roman society looked to ideals, ideas and actions of earlier warfare for solutions - the "ghosts" - even when the ghosts did not provide useful answers to their problems. This also extended to the individual level, especially during the roman period - roman commanders would frequently attempt to imitate their idolized heroes, not always very successfully.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steven Wolstenholme

    I never finished this book. I think Lendon tried too hard to reconcile the differences between the individualistic heroic warfare depicted in Epic (Homer) and the massed phalangites of real warfare. He gives a lot of convoluted rationalizations to show that phalanx warfare could actually be considered heroic in the minds of Greek soldiers and generals, as if ancient soldiers actually needed this validation. He never convinced me that more needed to be said on the matter than people do what works I never finished this book. I think Lendon tried too hard to reconcile the differences between the individualistic heroic warfare depicted in Epic (Homer) and the massed phalangites of real warfare. He gives a lot of convoluted rationalizations to show that phalanx warfare could actually be considered heroic in the minds of Greek soldiers and generals, as if ancient soldiers actually needed this validation. He never convinced me that more needed to be said on the matter than people do what works in war, not what sounds cool in a book. Besides all that, his prose reminds me of how mine read in my first year of college. Maybe that's just me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike Anastasia

    This book is mostly a social history of the ancient advocating for cultural annihilation due to, again, social ineptitude. Lendon's book is a perfect "intro to" book for classes of military, classical, Greco-Roman or weaponry history but his efforts are dwarfed in larger-scale by some of the anthologies put together by Favro, Smith, etc. For someone looking for the glory of old war, skip this and read Herodotus' own account. For something looking for the glory of old statesmanship and public ora This book is mostly a social history of the ancient advocating for cultural annihilation due to, again, social ineptitude. Lendon's book is a perfect "intro to" book for classes of military, classical, Greco-Roman or weaponry history but his efforts are dwarfed in larger-scale by some of the anthologies put together by Favro, Smith, etc. For someone looking for the glory of old war, skip this and read Herodotus' own account. For something looking for the glory of old statesmanship and public oration, give this a try.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A book on why the Roman and Greeks fought instead of how. The authors premise that it was based more on there adulation of the illiiad and Odyssey is well thought out and does explain some of the idiosyncrasies of the empires fighting methods. My only problem with the book is that in never really engages the reader and reads more like a dissertation than anything else. Still very interesting just a bit of a slog to get through.

  24. 5 out of 5

    M.L. Rio

    Soldiers and Ghosts: The Evolution of Classical Military Strategy would have been a more accurate title. An interesting read, but not at all a comprehensive history. Lendon is much more concerned with how and why battle tactics changed over time and prone to repeating himself. Still worth reading and well-written enough, but be forewarned--the subtitle is misleading.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Steve Switzer

    Really wonderful book about the evolution of the roman and greek armies So good that i left it on a table with the chapter on julians invasion of persia open and a female relative read it while waiting for me to get ready She doesn't even like military history but it was so nicely written it just was read Say no more Really wonderful book about the evolution of the roman and greek armies So good that i left it on a table with the chapter on julians invasion of persia open and a female relative read it while waiting for me to get ready She doesn't even like military history but it was so nicely written it just was read Say no more

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mike Angelillo

    I enjoyed the section on the Greeks and how Homer influenced the way they fought. But really....for a book about warfare it is awfully dull. I had to put it down before I finished the review of Roman warfare.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dan Weiss

    I love this book. From start to finish it is concise and thorough and actually a page turner. Lendon's great accomplishment is his prose which makes this book accessible to both scholars and casual readers. I love this book. From start to finish it is concise and thorough and actually a page turner. Lendon's great accomplishment is his prose which makes this book accessible to both scholars and casual readers.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Josiah

    For those who care about this sort of thing, it's an awesome book! It was a detailed study of ancient warfare. Readers who are looking for a novel about Spartans and Persians should look elsewhere. For those who care about this sort of thing, it's an awesome book! It was a detailed study of ancient warfare. Readers who are looking for a novel about Spartans and Persians should look elsewhere.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    A very interesting look at infantry in antiquity

  30. 5 out of 5

    Owen

    Good clean fun. The Greek section was a bit slow for me, but it picked up with the Romans- I never realized how much the legion changed through the years. Fascinating for a select group of people.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...