Tuesday, March 31, 2015
A Storm of Spears
I just finished a compelling and enlightening book: A Storm of Spears: Understanding the Greek Hoplite At War. If you have any interest in the manner in which ancient warriors fought each other, this book may be a required read. Amazon describes it thus:
The backbone of classical Greek armies was the phalanx of heavily armored 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 armor 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.
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.
“…groundbreaking reassessment combines rigorous analysis of literary and archaeological evidence with the new disciplines of reconstructive archaeology, reenactment and ballistic science…painstakingly examines and reconstructs details of hoplites’ equipment, tactics and capabilities…Both experts and laymen can gain fresh knowledge from reading this well written analysis of ancient warfare…”
Toy Soldier and Model Figure Magazine
"The author has taken a fresh look at old evidence of ancient Greek writers and artists and coupled that with modern research. . . . In the process, some interesting and groundbreaking developments emerge that shed new light on just what the ancient writers meant and how much artistic license was used in creating the vase paintings we envision when we think of this period of history. This is a serious work of intellectual pursuit."—IPMS/USA
"…indispensable reading for anyone interested in ancient warfare."
"...practical and thought provoking...a well-argued, well-written and well-illustrated chance to think about the problem anew."
I recommend this book unreservedly. It changed the way I view Hoplite warfare. As a martial artist and product development professional I appreciate Dr. Matthew's use of re-enactment and applied science to reach his conclusions.
So what "game effect" does all this theorizing make? I don't think it changes the way Hoplites should be represented in any of the rulesets I currently use. It may effect the miniatures chosen to represent said Hoplites. For instance, according to Dr. Matthews my favorite beloved Wargames Foundry Hoplites are using an overhand grip to throw a javelin. . .
. . . since spear-fighting while in the phalanx was done underhanded. . .
I have a lot of these overhand-spear-wielding figures in the Lead Mountain. I sure do like them, even though I now believe they don't accurately depict Hoplites in the Phalanx.
Hmmm. Vive artistic license!