Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

J. Lendon in his book, Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity, uses Greek and Roman culture to explain fundamental changes in the conduct of war. Lendon persuasively argues that competition and an obsession with the ancient past were the guiding principles of Greek warfare. Likewise, Roman warfare was characterized by an insatiable lust for single combat and a delicate balancing act between virtus and disciplina. What makes Lendon's book interesting, too, is the evolution of generalship and command, which reaches its zenith under Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, only to deteriorate under Titus and Julian. Lendon painstakingly reinforces his argument with ample literary, pictorial, and archaeological evidence. The illustrations and maps are easy to interpret and help the reader to understand, for example, the way phalanxes and cohorts were assembled and structured. This book is appropriate for use in undergraduate and graduate study in military history, classics, and Greek and Roman history survey courses.

Lendon begins by surveying competition, single combat, and heroic deeds in the Iliad. The Iliad contained the history of the Greeks and every Greek military leader and soldier lived to emulate the deeds recorded in it. Glory in battle was determined ". not only upon his observed performance but also on the excellence of the defeated . (26).” Cavalry and archers were looked upon with disdain in the Iliad because cavalryman could flee from combat and an archer killed from a distance. However, in the Odyssey, archery is a "heroic achievement par excellence (34).” This is one of many contradictions in the Iliad of what is considered heroic and what is not.

Precepts from the Iliad trickled down through the centuries. Leonidas and Amompheretus exemplified the idea of passive courage best. The Spartans, led by Leonidas, gave their lives voluntarily to defend Greece. They knew they were going to an early grave but they placed too much importance in the ideals inculcated in them from birth – that a Spartan does his duty and will hold his ground. At the battle of Plataea, another Spartan defied his superior’s orders because it went against conscience. Amompheretus would stand his ground and not leave his original position. Though his actions resulted in devastating losses, Amompheretus was honored as the third bravest of the battle. Flagrant disobedience was not punished but rewarded.

Phalanx was, in theory, supposed to meet opposing phalanx on a flat plain and both were to fight hand-to-hand until one phalanx was worsted by the other. To some generals, this was lunacy. They would employ various devices, trickery to name one, to see that they were victorious and to ensure that their men would live to fight again. Tension was palpable between generals and rank-and-file because they were given “command” in loose terms. They were unable to dictate to those under their command as is common in the modern era. If the men wanted battle, it was unwise for a general to delay fearing to be labeled a coward. This aggressive bloodlust was yet another feature of Greek warfare that kept it more connected to the distant past than the future.

The Homeric ideal was personified in Alexander. Lendon argues that Achilles served not only as Alexander’s idol and as mentor but was also the measuring stick with which he compared himself.

The Homeric ideal was personified in Alexander. Lendon argues that Achilles served not only as Alexander’s idol and as mentor but was also the measuring stick with which he compared himself. This obsession, according to Lendon, fueled a rivalry that began in Alexander's youth. The notion that Alexander was competing against the deeds of Achilles would explain Alexander's propensity to put his person constantly at risk. To illustrate this, Lendon focuses on Alexander’s bravery at Issus: “In battle, Alexander took two blows to the breastplate, one on the helmet, and three upon the shield, a testimony to his Iliadic Homeric? heroism (119).” To sum up the chapters on Greek warfare, Lendon concludes covering two battles in Persia between Alexander’s lieutenants: Antigonus and Eumenes. Both men employed Alexandrian tactics to good effect but both erred when they possessed the advantage. Antigonus, the seasoned warrior, defeated Eumenes, a bureaucrat, at Gabinae.

The second half of the book covers Roman military history. Rome began fighting their neighbors as a phalanx and often sought single combat as a way to bolster one's reputation and impress one's superiors. At the turn of the 4th century BCE, the phalanx was scrapped and the manipular legions were introduced. The selection of soldiers in Rome was unique and unlike any of their contemporaries. The beauty of such an arrangement was that individual strengths were given precedence over familiarity and cohesiveness as a group. Whereas Greeks focused on camaraderie and shared loyalties, Romans focused on the talents of each individual. Single combat was encouraged in certain situations but would be punished severely too. Lendon cites two examples of fathers executing their sons for disobedience and engaging in single combat. A soldier was expected to display virtus and disciplina simultaneously. Romans persisted in their belief that war should be fought one-dimensionally. In other words, battle should be fought face-to-face with the best man as the winner. Even the legendary Scipio Africanus "was severely criticized at Rome for lack of aggression, for moving too slowly, and for spoiling his soldiers (p. 207).”

Lendon devotes two chapters to the battle of Gergovia in Gaul and Jerusalem in Palestine. He contrasts the leadership style of Julius Caesar at Gergovia and Titus at Jerusalem and the methods employed by each general. At Gergovia, Caesar utilized Greek strategy. However, the manipular legions were supplanted by cohorts. Cohorts "allow the commander a great deal of flexibility in a arraying his line of battle (235).” Willful disobedience and bad communication nearly cost Caesar his reputation and his legions. Many centurions died at Gergovia giving their men time to flee. Caesar lost more officers than legionaries. In the Holy Land, Vespasian handed over command to his son Titus. As supreme commander in his late 20s, Titus proved to be an able general with a penchant for close combat. Like Caesar, Titus struggled to restrain his men from foolhardy endeavors. Nevertheless, Titus was not content merely issuing orders and commanding from afar. He wanted to be at the forefront of battle and in the mix of action. Titus' own impetuous example may have spurred his men to push the limits and seek glory in emulation of their general. In this respect, Titus shared more in common with Alexander than with Caesar. During Titus's campaign, auxiliaries were employed specifically for hand-to-hand combat while legionaries specialized in fortification, engineering, and the like. Virtus associated with auxiliaries and disciplina, “. [which] came to include . nearly every military excellence that was not encompassed under virtus, including training and building,” with legionaries (252).

Roman ways of fighting gave way, yet again, to Greek ways of fighting by the 4th century CE. Lendon concludes his survey of Roman military history and his book with Julian's campaign in Persia. Julian was at a great disadvantage from the beginning. What Lendon fails to tell the reader is that Julian, before he ascended to the purple, was educated in Athens as a philosopher. He was trained in all-things Greek and preferred to speak in Greek too. It is very likely that he favored Greek military theory and culture in comparison to his less-cultured Roman heritage. Julian was thoroughly brainwashed with Greek ideas and his military decisions were naturally guided by Greek strategies and tactics. His decision to bypass Ctesiphon as an impregnable bulwark, though Roman commanders had successfully laid siege to it in the past, and burn his baggage train on the river were two costly mistakes that would ensure his untimely demise. These decisions must have been weighed by Julian who, like Marcus Aurelius, would spend many late nights in study and meditation. Why did he choose such a course?Simple: because he took his cues from Greek history’s greatest epic and hero – the Iliad and Alexander.

Lendon covers all the key points of Julian’s campaign and asks the right questions and, where history fails to provide a straightforward answer, provides his own. It is interesting, however, to note Lendon’s silence concerning Julian’s predilection for following omens and basing decisions upon their interpretation. A careful study of Ammianus Marcellinus’ Res Gestae would reveal numerous omens and Julian’s often-precipitous actions. Despite being educated and worldly, Julian was haunted by the supernatural and was very superstitious. This may have more to do with his Greek education that his Roman upbringing. Lendon utilizes the best historical source on Julian with an eyewitness account by Marcellinus but minimizes Julian’s Greek connection. Aside from a few minor omissions and dubious conclusions, Lendon has written an outstanding chapter on Julian.

Lendon's book is a delight to read. He offers a different lens for viewing Greek and Roman military history. With determination, Lendon substantiates his thesis with a variety of sources, ranging from various primary sources to archaeological evidence, and the annotated bibliography aids students in pursuing further studies. Lendon argues that culture, not technology or any other external force, dictated the slow advancement and even regression of the evolution of warfare. His interpretations and conclusions are stimulating even if one does not completely agree.


Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity.

Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity by J. E. Lendon. Yale University Press (http://www.yale.edu/yup), P.O. Box 209040, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-9040, 2005, 480 pages, $35.00 (hardcover), $20.00 (softcover).

Once upon a time, there was an ad campaign promoting public libraries, the theme of which declared "You Are What You Read." This promotion emphasized the idea that increasing the amount of material read would mold anyone into a better educated and more productive person. Nothing could illustrate this concept more effectively than using ancient Greece and Rome as role models. J. E. Lendon's book Soldiers and Ghosts, a far cry from a fairy tale or an ad campaign, gives the reader a very thorough appreciation for why these two cultures' military forces became what they read. Across the pages of both Greek and Roman history, he decisively shows us that neither culture suffered from a shortage of reading and that both had ample opportunity to employ what they read.

Lendon starts with a review of the Greeks' military culture and mind-set--an important introduction because it sets the historical stage for the entire book. Noting that the ancient Greeks based many of their warrior principles upon The Iliad, written around 700 BC, he stresses that a number of historians refer to the Homeric poems as the bible of the Greeks (p. 36). Lendon further observes that the Greeks based their warrior principles not so much on the military discipline and order familiar to modern warriors but on the characteristics of a sports team. That is, war became a competition, with the contestants battling more for recognition as the bravest or most glorious (as in The Iliad) than because their general ordered them to fight.

This mind-set plays throughout Greek military history--from the Spartan philosophy and culture of conduct in warfare--and culminates with a discussion of Alexander the Great's campaign to the Middle East (itself Homeric in proportion and deed). It also plays into the use and evolution of Greek military formations from 500 BC into early 200-300 AD. Technology seldom drove changes in the Greek method in fact, the Greeks had forsaken advances in military technology in favor of implementing interpretations of historical writings and discussions over "the right way" to conduct war and behave in it.

Through this review of history and analysis of Greek writings, Lendon shows the reader how the Greek military philosophy operated, why it operated the way it did, and the natural conclusions of this track. Choosing not to concern itself solely with the military side of affairs, Soldiers and Ghosts also explores the civilian and political connections of Greek society since the Greeks initially believed in a citizen-soldier as much as Americans do (but in a somewhat different context). Throughout this study, one finds the underpinning that Greek writings, rooted in ideals from and interpretations of The Iliad, constituted the foundation for the Greeks' military psyche and doctrine.

Lendon uses the second half of Soldiers and Ghosts to discuss Rome and its rise as a republic as well as its fall as an empire. The Romans also believed in a citizen-soldier concept but with a Roman twist. Like the Greeks, they based their military psyche and doctrine on their historical readings (some of which were probably fabrications loosely based on a historical event). As Romans' cultural awareness grew during the first two centuries AD, so did their interest in "ancient" Greece. Without belaboring the point, suffice it to say that the author does an equally admirable job in discussing the Roman war and civil psyche as well as their application to military campaigns as Rome's highwater mark rose and then fell.

Why is a book as obscure as Soldiers and Ghosts important to advocates of airpower and space power today? We all recall Sun Tzu's mantra "know your enemy as yourself." To better anticipate the enemy, it's important not only to find out what he would do but why he would do "that something" that way. Such is the rationale that Lendon presents--to great effect! The Greeks and Romans behaved as they did for the most part because of the readings they incorporated into their military and civilian cultures. Our military employs its doctrine as it does, based upon lessons learned and continued professional readings likewise, people in our society view military ideals as they do, based upon what they read and see. It's not far fetched to say that other militaries and societies, past and present, function similarly.

My only complaint about Soldiers and Ghosts involves the constant sidebar diversions within chapters that the author uses to build further points. Imagine sitting in a math lecture only to have a socialsciences topic emerge on the professor's board for a 10-minute discussion. Eventually, all of these points that Lendon brings up come back to roost at the end of the chapter. Some help to clarify main points or even bring up new points upon which other chapters elaborate. Still, the sudden jumps from one topic to a completely different topic on the same page were distracting--I frequently wondered where the tangents were leading.

Nevertheless, Lendon's study makes for very enjoyable reading about ancient Greece and Rome. More importantly, it gives the reader tools to ponder other militaries and their societies--a skill that could no doubt prove beneficial to future analysts and planners in the ongoing global war on terror. Soldiers and Ghosts gets my vote as a must-read.


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Soldiers and Ghosts : A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

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.

Отзывы - Написать отзыв

LibraryThing Review

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 . Читать весь отзыв

LibraryThing Review

"In the end, the soldiers did not overcome the ghosts of the past. In the end, it was the ghosts who won." It is with that epithet that Lendon passes judgement on the Roman military in this cultural . Читать весь отзыв


Soldiers & Ghosts : A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

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.

Отзывы - Написать отзыв

LibraryThing Review

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 . Читать весь отзыв

LibraryThing Review

"In the end, the soldiers did not overcome the ghosts of the past. In the end, it was the ghosts who won." It is with that epithet that Lendon passes judgement on the Roman military in this cultural . Читать весь отзыв


Product Details

  • Publisher &rlm : &lrm Yale University Press Illustrated edition (August 22, 2006)
  • Publication date &rlm : &lrm August 22, 2006
  • Language &rlm : &lrm English
  • Paperback &rlm : &lrm 480 pages
  • ISBN-10 &rlm : &lrm 0300119798
  • ISBN-13 &rlm : &lrm 978-0300119794
  • Dimensions &rlm : &lrm 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Amazon Bestseller: #707,919 in Foreign Language Books (See Top 100 in Foreign Language Books)
    • #72 in Macedonian History
    • #395 in Greek History (Foreign Language Books)
    • #569 in Historical Study Reference

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