Robin Osborne (ed.), Classical Greece 500-323. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. ix + 271. ISBN 0198731531.
Hans van WEES (ed.), War and Violence in Ancient Greece. London: Duckworth & The Classical Press of Wales, 2000. Pp. ix + 389. ISBN 0715630466.
Review by Kieran McGroarty
National University of Ireland
Classical Greece 500-323 is a volume in the Short Oxford History of Europe. It is intended as a starting point for a general history of Europe to the present day. The General Editor of the Series, T. C. W. Blanning, covers the period through contributions from specialist authors rather than through a single writer, believing that this method has the fewest disadvantages in presenting a civilisation in all its various aspects. As a result a number of specialists have contributed to this volume under the editorship of Robin Osborne. The book contains the following chapters: ?the creation of the classical state? by Robin Osborne, ?the economy? by Paul Millet, ?the classical city? by Rosalind Thomas, ?the city at war? by Hans van Wees, ?political conflicts, political debates, and political thought? by Josiah Ober, ?private life? by James Davidson, ?the fifth century: political and military narrative? by Lisa Kallet, and ?the fourth century: political and military narrative? by Robin Osborne. An impressive list of contributors. The book then, by and large, adopts a thematic approach. It also contains some useful maps, a chronology and a glossary. Understandably a book of this sort cannot cover every topic in classical Greece in detail and must have a limited aim, which is described in the General Editor?s preface as ?a short but sharp and deep entry into the history of Europe?.
We are informed that each contributor read all the other chapters and Osborne, presumably, has attempted to enhance further the overall coherence of this book by providing helpful internal cross-references. Does the book succeed in its agenda of presenting a unified picture of the classical period using specialists and at the same time avoiding overlap and omission? Not entirely. The chapters, I feel, to a small degree still tend to stand in isolation and betray the specialist roots which anchor them.
As is the case with most books on this period, much of the material understandably focuses on Athens and Sparta as the source material dictates; but in Classical Greece this occurs, I think, to a greater degree than is necessary. The chapters on the political and military narrative of the fifth and fourth centuries also seem to clash with rather than complement the more specific chapters on the economy, private life etc. My main criticism concerns the overall design of the book. On an individual level, most of the chapters are well written, lucid and authoritative, with contributors clearly in control of their material; but in a book designed for non specialists some I feel may find it a little too challenging. J. Ober?s chapter in particular would, I feel, require the reader to have already a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the Greek world in the classical period to be fully understood. It might have been best to follow the opening chapter on the creation of classical Greece with the general chapters on the fifth and fourth century. The more specific individual chapters would make better sense within an historical framework; that would certainly be the case for the articles by Thomas, Ober and van Wees. All in all these are not major criticisms, having more to do with the structure than content.
As well as being a contributor to Classical Greece van Wees is also a contributor to and the editor of the second book for review, War and Violence in Ancient Greece. This book is designed for a more specialist audience. It grew out of a seminar series on ?War and Violence in Greek Society? which took place from January to March 1998 in the Institute of Classical Studies in London. The editor has divided the contributions into five parts: ?Causes of War?, ?Forms of Violence within the Polis?, ?Beyond the classical Phalanx?, ?War and Religion? and finally ?Continuities in Hellenistic Warfare?. I can give only a general summary of what the book contains and shall confine my comments to some of the papers that I found particularly interesting in what was in general an absorbing collection of essays.
Parts one and two, for the most part, focus on differing kinds of conflict and their motivations, from private disputes to full-scale wars. These themes are explored in four essays: ?Homeric Vengeance and the Outbreak of Greek wars? by J. Lendon, ?Killing Rage: physis or nomos-or both?? by J. Shay, ?Sticks, stones, and Spartans: the sociology of Spartan violence? by S. Hornblower and ?Hybris, revenge and stasis in the Greek city-states? by N. Fisher. Of these, the papers by Lendon and Fisher are the most substantial. F., in particular, drawing on some of his earlier work in Hybris (Warminster, 1992), gives a clear and thorough examination of the roles of hybris and revenge in the production of stasis in the city-states. Lendon?s paper ties in well with this theme, examining similar issues in the earlier Homeric age. L. makes some interesting points, demonstrating how some of the values of the Homeric age, mutatis mutandis, can be detected as sources of conflict in archaic times. This interesting paper is slightly marred through some repetition.
Part three concerns itself mainly with the hoplite soldier. It focuses on some of the current debate concerning our understanding of the nature and development of this combatant. This part contains ?The development of the hoplite phalanx: iconography and reality in the seventh century? by H. van Wees; ?Deception in archaic and classical Greek warfare? by P. Krentz, ?Hoplite battle as ancient Greek warfare: where, when and why?? by V. Hanson, ?Alternative agonies: hoplite martial and combat experiences beyond the phalanx? by L. Rawlings and ?Perspectives on the death of fifth-century Athenian seamen? by B. Strauss. Van Wees begins by taking up the long-running debate on the dating of the appearance of the hoplite and his fighting in a phalanx formation. Using iconographic (especially the Chigi vase) and literary evidence van Wees argues persuasively (pro Andrewes, contra Cartledge) that hoplite warfare developed in piece-meal fashion. He argues that there was a greater fluidity of movement on the battlefield and goes beyond Andrewes in suggesting that the classical phalanx described by Thucydides and Xenophon was not fully in place even by the mid-seventh century. The argument is impressive though some of the ideas are not totally convincing; that the hoplite ?push? should be taken metaphorically was one idea I found hard to swallow. Complementing this is Hanson? paper which examines essentially when and how poleis fought. Like van Wees, H. attacks our traditional understanding of hoplite engagement. He suggests that the classical era saw an erosion of simple pitched hoplite battles dictated by formal convention. H. argues for a gradual development in the complexity of hoplite warfare, due in no small part to the fact that poleis could, from the 4th century on, no longer depend on the opposition being composed of agrarian militiamen. This, H. believes, paved the way for the variety of troop contingents that developed under Philip and Alexander. Rawlings? paper adds support to this general theory by pointing out that the hoplite soldier was capable ultimately of playing a variety of roles in warfare and was by no means confined to the heavy infantry.
Part four examines the link between war and religion and contains two papers: ?Athena and Ares: war violence and warlike deities by Susan Deacy? and ?Sacrifice and battle? by Robert Parker. Deacy?s paper looks at the variety and complexity of the roles played by Athena and Ares and suggests that they were variable and complex due ultimately to the multifaceted nature of warfare itself. Parker?s paper resumes somewhat the hoplite connection of earlier contributors by tracing the gradual disappearance of the consultative sacrifice before battle; what was de rigeur for Xenophon had effectively disappeared by the time of Alexander the Great. This paper also attempts to define the complex relationship between sacrifice and battle. Was it an expression of aggression or a kind of ?precautionary self-maiming?? (p. 309).
The fifth and final part of the volume is entitled ?Continuties in hellenistic warfare?. Paul Beston writes on ?Hellenistic military leadership? and the volume closes with ?Fighting poleis in the hellenistic world? by John Ma. M.?s paper argues convincingly that the small poleis of the hellenistic world were not simply pawns in the ?big wars? of the successors but that they had their own agendas and fought their own wars for their own reasons. To see them only as instruments of larger powers is to do an injustice to the complexity of these individual poleis. What emerges from this collection of papers is perhaps the message that we still have many gaps in our understanding of how and why the city-states of the archaic and classical periods made war. What becomes apparent is the obvious complexity of individual poleis and the centrality of the hoplite soldier to these poleis. Anyone interested in how and why war in ancient Greece was conducted should read this book.