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Light Infantry of the Greek and Roman World (Hardback)

Forgotten Heroes of Ancient Warfare


By Dr Jean Charl du Plessis
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 35 mono
ISBN: 9781399081481
Published: 30th August 2024


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Ancient accounts of battle often neglected the role of lightly-armed infantry, presenting the deeds of the heavy infantry, such as Greek hoplites or Roman legionaries, or dashing cavalry charges as the decisive battle winners. This bias was partly due to the light infantry typically being drawn from the poorer sections of society, who could not afford to equip themselves with armour and because they generally fought from a distance, killing from afar with missile weapons, not bravely face-to-face like heroes worthy of recording. Modern research has generally followed this bias.

Dr Jean Charl Du Plessis argues that while light infantry might have had a subordinate role in pitched battles, such clashes were relatively rare occurrences. Most ancient campaigns consisted mostly of foraging, raiding and pillaging of enemy territory, minor skirmishes and ambushes, all roles in which light infantry excelled. In particular they were indispensable for an army traversing mountainous or forested terrain. Moreover, he shows that even in pitched battles they were far from useless and made a valuable contribution, typically harassing the enemy as they deployed and screening friendly battle lines from similar treatment. Some, such as Cretan archers or Balearic slingers were highly sought-after specialists.

Uniquely, the author draws on years of practical experimentation to demonstrate and test the various weapons used: slings, bows and javelins, including the use of the amentum throwing strap. This yields fresh evidence and insights into matters such as range, penetrative power and the level of skill and practice required. Overall, this is a valuable study of these forgotten heroes of ancient warfare.

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About Dr Jean Charl du Plessis

Dr Jean du Plessis recently completed his doctorate in ancient history and was recommended to publish his thesis (this book). As well as traditiomal academic research, Jean puts great value upon practical research and ‘experimental archaeology’. He practises traditional slinging and archery, and was placed second in the South African National Traditional Archery Championships in 2008. He is also an avid Historical European Martial Artist (HEMA) and was placed 1st in the 2007 and 2008 National Championships in both sword-and-shield and longsword.

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