Book Review: Hoplites at War: A Comprehensive Analysis of Heavy Infantry Combat in the Greek World, 750-100 BCE


by Paul M Bardunias & Fred Eugene Ray Jr,

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016. Pp. viii, 234. Illus., maps, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 1476666024

How the Greeks Fought

Bardunias and Ray, authors of a number of books and articles on various aspects of ancient warfare, take a technical look at the mechanics of Hoplite combat. They are critical – often amusingly so – of misrepresentations made by earlier authors and especially Hollywood, in such notoriously inaccurate films as 300, and wisely note that “we make no claim that what we present here is undisputed truth.”

The book is divided into three parts:

  • “The Tools”: A look at the weapons and equipment and their evolution, use, and effects, including war siege engines and catapults.
  • “The Men”: A discussion of the physical capabilities, cultural conditioning, and psychology of the “typical” ancient Greek warrior, which even touches n PTSD.
  • “The Phalanx”: A look at different tactical formations within the framework of the equipment and terrain, with close attention to several actions, such as Mantinea, Marathon, and Cunaxa.

Throughout, Bardunias and Ray offer some well-reasoned conclusions based on a careful combing of the ancient sources, even drawing on evidence from Greek theatre and poetry, as well as the extensive modern literature on the subject, and, of course, take a look at archaeological finds. They supplement this evidence with what can be derived from “experimental archaeology”, re-enacting, behavioral science, comparative history, and more. Readers are encouraged to perused the footnotes.

Some of their battle analyses are very impressive, taking into account troops, arms, tactics, terrain, season, communications, and so forth, as they discuss the rise of Hoplite warfare, its centuries of dominance in the greater Mediterranean world and its subsequent decline.

Hoplites at War is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in ancient warfare, full of useful insights.

Note: Hoplites at War is also available as an e-pub, ISBN 978-1-4766-2636-9.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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