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.
Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity 4.7 out of 5based on
Shrike58 on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
"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 epithat that Lendon passes judement on the Roman military in this cultural history of the Greeks and Romans at war. After considering the ways that the epic example of Homer infused the competitive mentality of the Greeks, and influenced their style of war, Lendon then considers how this culture recombined with the Roman tradition of blending aggressive individual courage with disciplined social restraint. The ultimate result is that the Roman tradition of history as a series of exemplary stories that challenged the living to live up to the past led to the dead end of Julian's defeat at the hands of the Persians and the disaster of Adrianople The aggressive search for glory eventually destroying a military machine no longer easily reconstituted. If you are looking for an entertaining and informative survey of war in the Classical world you could do much worse.
More than 1 year ago
You have to like that sort of thing, but it's absolutely excellent. The discussions of ancient battle tactics are intelligible even to a reader not familiar with military history and Landon unabashedly acknowledges the limits of historical knowledge. He uses the Iliad to explain the ideals that the Greeks held regarding military combat and coherently explains how an epic poem in which officers sprint through active battle and exchange long verbal jabs before entering one-on-one combat led to the packed phalanx--as the closest possible facsimile.