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A Storm of Spears (ePub)

Understanding the Greek Hoplite in Action

Ancient History Colour eBooks Military

By Christopher Matthew
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 27.0 MB (.epub)
Pages: 336
Illustrations: 50 colour & black and white illustrations & 33 black and white diagrams
ISBN: 9781781594223
Published: 9th May 2012


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The backbone of classical Greek armies was the phalanx of heavily armoured spearmen, or hoplites. These were the soldiers that defied the might of Persia at Marathon, Thermopylae and Plataea and, more often, fought each other in the countless battles of the Greek city-states. For around two centuries they were the dominant soldiers of the Classical world, in great demand as mercenaries throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Yet, despite the battle descriptions of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon etc, and copious evidence of Greek art and archaeology, there are still many aspects of hoplite warfare that are little understood or the subject of fierce academic debate.

Christopher Matthew's groundbreaking reassessment combines rigorous analysis of the literary and archaeological evidence with the new disciplines of reconstructive archaeology, re-enactment and ballistic science. He focuses meticulously on the details of the equipment, tactics and capabilities of the individual hoplites. In so doing he challenges some long-established assumptions. For example, despite a couple of centuries of study of the hoplites portrayed in Greek vase paintings, Matthew manages to glean from them some startlingly fresh insights into how hoplites wielded their spears. These findings are supported by practical testing with his own replica hoplite panoply and the experiences of a group of dedicated re-enactors. He also tackles such questions as the protective properties of hoplite shields and armour and the much-vexed debate on the exact nature of the 'othismos' , the climax of phalanx-on-phalanx clashes.

This is an innovative and refreshing reassessment of one of the most important kinds of troops in ancient warfare, sure to make a genuine contribution to the state of knowledge.

Matthew's work represents an intriguing and original treatment of this subject, supported by a critical evaluation of both models of hoplite warfare. Matthew draws extensively upon comtemporary sources. Familiar authorities such as Xenophon and Thucydides are evaluated along with the plays of Aeschylus, all of which is supplemented with a discussion of pictorial sources and the results of modern archaeology and re-enactment. Matthew's conclusions are well-reasoned and interesting.

Ancient Warfare

The author has taken a fresh look at old evidence of ancient Greek writers and artists and coupled that with modern research, primarily in the form of re-enactors who put on the panopy, (or armor) and the weapons – in this case, the thrusting spear of the Greek soldiers – and tests his theories of methods and tactics. In the process, some interesting and groundbreaking developments emerge that shed light on just what the ancient writers meant. This is a serious work of intellectual pursuit. I learned a lot from this book and watching movies like 300 or looking at Greek warrior vase art will never be quite the same.


About Christopher Matthew

Christopher Matthew has just completed his doctoral thesis on hoplite warfare at MacQuarie University in Sydney, where one of his assessors has said he 'singlehandedly advanced the whole field'. He has also been invited to lecture on the subject at other Australian universities. This book, closely based on his doctoral thesis, will be his first, although he has already had several articles published in academic journals. 'He is currently working on a new translation of Aelian's work on tactics and co-editing (with Dr Matthew Trundle) Beyond the Gates of Fire: New Perspectives on the Battle of Thermopylae, both of which will be published by Pen & Sword.

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