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Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  604 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
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
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published June 15th 2005 by Yale University Press (first published 2005)
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Ancient military history and its technical aspects are surprisingly popular topic among modern historians. One could almost say that the market is currently saturated by books analyzing the Greek hoplites, campaigns of Alexander the Great and military history of Rome. It is therefore no surprise that historians trying to contribute to the topic better ensure that they come up with something innovative if they are to be noticed.

J.E. Lendon tries to do exactly that with his rather innovative reapp
Oct 03, 2011 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people familiar with ancient history
Shelves: history
This is not a compendium of maneuvers, weapons and tactics usual to most military histories. Instead, we are given a social history of warfare in ancient Greece and Rome that looks to the morals, literature and social values of the age that inspired men to fight the way they did. It's an analysis that shows how the structure of their armies were modeled on that of the civil societies which produced them, and the degree to which warrior ideals reflected those of their society as a whole. The book ...more
Not so much a history of battle in classical antiquity as why and how it developed as it did. Covers the millennium from the Age of Homer until Julian in Persia and Valens at Adrianople [300s A.D.] Author makes surprising leaps in his perceptions of the development of land warfare and psychology of the warriors. Apparently, it went slower at first, then picked up speed. Today it seems that methods of fighting change every time you turn around. The author intended this for the beginner to the ver ...more
Luka Novak
This book does not explain how ancients fought but rather why did they fight the way they did. Lendon argues that ancients' (Greece, Macedon, Rome) way of war wasn't determined by their equipment but rather their culture. Lendon's leitmotif is that these militaries harnessed the competition between individuals and used that to create formidable armies, even armies that on the surface seem to replace individual with mass such as phalanx or legion.

Having said that this is not a book for beginners.
Dec 22, 2009 Erunion rated it liked it
Recommends it for: classics scholars, military history buffs
Shelves: classical, greek, history, own
Soldiers and Ghosts sets out to track the changes in Greek and Roman military structures and why they molded over time. While such a topic is quite fascinating, Lendon does not quite cash out many of his arguments, and unfortunately spends most of his time recounting ancient battles from a limited third person perspective rather than using such accounts to illuminate or demonstrate his points throughout the book. Such a feature is rather curious, since the accounts often seem to on the one hand ...more
Jan 19, 2012 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Soldiers and Ghosts is an unusually literary analysis of ancient militaries. The book, in two halves, traces the evolution of the Classical Greek and Hellenistic armies and those of Rome. In each portion, Lendon adopts a very simple thesis stating how specific cultural values influenced the development of these militaries and their uses in otherwise counterintuitive ways. Among the Greeks, Lendon identifies innate competitiveness and veneration of the Homeric epics as primary drivers; among the ...more
Bruce Hesselbach
This insightful and well-written book uses the ancient Greek and Roman world to study how cultural factors make an army successful or unsuccessful. The book begins with a modern example to show the relevance of this study. In the Prologue, we are given a vivid description of a skirmish in which the U.S. Marines took casualties because of their cultural belief that they should recover the bodies of their dead. Why would they do that? Doesn't it interfere with their success as an army? What possi ...more
Mar 22, 2016 Darren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable read on the changes of battle, fighting and leadership across Greek and Roman history. The book opens with an excellent analysis of the Iliad and draws out the ideology of ancient Greek fighting.

Lendon does a great job connecting the dots and supporting his conclusions with examples and text from the original historians of antiquity.

I find it fascinating how often soldiers acted on their own or against command, but in the end were publicly honored for their actions. Understanding the
A part of me wants to give this 3 stars to be fair because I have a feeling that the reason I enjoyed it so little is simply because I've already read so much on the subject of warfare in antiquity and a large number of books on antiquity in general. There just wasn't much of anything new here for me and it wasn't very exciting to read which is reflected in the fact that it took me as long as it did to actually finish this book.

Now, it wasn't bad and it would be a good place to start for someone
Endre Fodstad
Mar 01, 2012 Endre Fodstad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one is really good. Lendon's case is argued clearly for both the greek and roman parts of the book, and is an excellent counterpoint to the idea that premodern warfare went through something like evolutionary processes. Instead, he argues, greek and roman society looked to ideals, ideas and actions of earlier warfare for solutions - the "ghosts" - even when the ghosts did not provide useful answers to their problems. This also extended to the individual level, especially during the roman pe ...more
Steven Wolstenholme
I never finished this book. I think Lendon tried too hard to reconcile the differences between the individualistic heroic warfare depicted in Epic (Homer) and the massed phalangites of real warfare. He gives a lot of convoluted rationalizations to show that phalanx warfare could actually be considered heroic in the minds of Greek soldiers and generals, as if ancient soldiers actually needed this validation. He never convinced me that more needed to be said on the matter than people do what works ...more
Mike Anastasia
Jul 20, 2014 Mike Anastasia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is mostly a social history of the ancient advocating for cultural annihilation due to, again, social ineptitude.

Lendon's book is a perfect "intro to" book for classes of military, classical, Greco-Roman or weaponry history but his efforts are dwarfed in larger-scale by some of the anthologies put together by Favro, Smith, etc.

For someone looking for the glory of old war, skip this and read Herodotus' own account.

For something looking for the glory of old statesmanship and public ora
Frédéric Bey
Aug 03, 2011 Frédéric Bey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Encore un livre fabuleux (selon mes critères) qui s'intéressent aux explication via les mentalités de chaque époque.
La conclusion me convient bien, et résumé parfaitement le propos du livre : "Les meilleures armées antiques n'étaient pas celles qui s'arc-boutaient contre les mœurs de leur temps. Les meilleures furent celles qui trouvèrent les moyens d'amplifier et d'exploiter les aspirations de leurs soldats. Les meilleurs généraux antiques ne se tenaient pas en travers du courant contemporain m
Mar 24, 2015 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A book on why the Roman and Greeks fought instead of how. The authors premise that it was based more on there adulation of the illiiad and Odyssey is well thought out and does explain some of the idiosyncrasies of the empires fighting methods. My only problem with the book is that in never really engages the reader and reads more like a dissertation than anything else. Still very interesting just a bit of a slog to get through.
Bryn Hammond
Jan 10, 2012 Bryn Hammond rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-other
A lovely book. A cultural study of war in Greece and Rome - not of the Victor Davis Hanson type, either. For instance, the chapter that most fascinated me is on antiquarianism in the Roman military: the dress or parade outfits that mimicked (in a sort of postmodern fashion) ancient Greek regalia and the masks that might have been off the stage of a Greek tragedy. Real insight.
Steve Switzer
Jan 15, 2016 Steve Switzer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-warfare
Really wonderful book about the evolution of the roman and greek armies
So good that i left it on a table with the chapter on julians invasion of persia open
and a female relative read it while waiting for me to get ready
She doesn't even like military history but it was so nicely written it just
was read
Say no more
M.L. Rio
Soldiers and Ghosts: The Evolution of Classical Military Strategy would have been a more accurate title. An interesting read, but not at all a comprehensive history. Lendon is much more concerned with how and why battle tactics changed over time and prone to repeating himself. Still worth reading and well-written enough, but be forewarned--the subtitle is misleading.
Mike Angelillo
I enjoyed the section on the Greeks and how Homer influenced the way they fought. But really....for a book about warfare it is awfully dull. I had to put it down before I finished the review of Roman warfare.
Nov 25, 2013 Josiah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those who care about this sort of thing, it's an awesome book! It was a detailed study of ancient warfare. Readers who are looking for a novel about Spartans and Persians should look elsewhere.
Dan Weiss
Jan 19, 2011 Dan Weiss rated it it was amazing
Shelves: antiquity
I love this book. From start to finish it is concise and thorough and actually a page turner. Lendon's great accomplishment is his prose which makes this book accessible to both scholars and casual readers.
Feb 22, 2011 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
excellent book on greco-roman warfare and the take on the thought process of these ancient civilizations. Highly recommended.
Dec 13, 2010 Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good clean fun. The Greek section was a bit slow for me, but it picked up with the Romans- I never realized how much the legion changed through the years. Fascinating for a select group of people.
Yago de Artaza Paramo
Great book about the social evolution and mixtures of the Greek and Roman war tactics.
Gerry Germond
Aug 15, 2016 Gerry Germond rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-history
Boring. Didn't finish, but I understand his thesis. Mostly.
Jun 23, 2011 Loren rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
too heavy, too obscure and too difficult to get into properly
Review pending..
Mar 02, 2012 José rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Quite repetitive. The main point of the book is he tension between virtus and disciplina as key factors in the success of the Greeks and Romans. It could have been conveyed effectively in 100 pages.
Jul 06, 2008 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting look at infantry in antiquity
A rated it did not like it
Aug 22, 2013
Sean rated it really liked it
Sep 18, 2016
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