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The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,102 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Second Edition

The Greeks of the classical age invented not only the central idea of Western politics--that the power of state should be guided by a majority of its citizens--but also the central act of Western warfare, the decisive infantry battle. Instead of ambush, skirmish, maneuver, or combat between individual heroes, the Greeks of the fifth century b.c. devised a fer
Paperback, 303 pages
Published March 10th 2000 by University of California Press (first published April 15th 1989)
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4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,102 ratings  ·  42 reviews

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Myke Cole
May 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
This is not a work of history. It is a bigoted, political treatise, aimed at rabble-rousing and satisfying fear-of-the-other in the post 9/11 west.

Hanson uses his admittedly excellent prose styling to craft an unsupportable narrative that associates individuality, free-thinking liberalism, and martial close-order valor with the "Western" world, and subterfuge, insurgency and mendacity with the "Eastern." It is a bald-faced jab at the Islamic world with whom tensions were so high at the time of t
Josho Brouwers
Nov 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: ancient, history
Much of what I write here about Hanson's Western Way of War is a summary of an older blog post of mine that was originally published on my personal website, but is now available on the website of Ancient Warfare magazine. In short, I think this is a bad book for a large number of reasons, the most important one is that it presents an entirely fictitious reconstruction of (the nature of) warfare in ancient Greece, relying on ideology and cheap rhetorical tricks to convince the reader into thinkin ...more
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Much has been said about this book in other reviews, so I'll focus on one interesting aspect. Nassim Nicholas Taleb said that he thought the scientific community would be better served if scientists left their labs and spent more time going to parties. There, interacting with real people, they'd stumble upon interesting new angles to test or ways of thinking about things.

VD Hanson's book is fantastic proof of that suggestion. The author was tearing out trees from his Fresno farm when he realized
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book brings you up close and personal with the greek hoplite warrior.But not in the manner we may be accustomed to envision him but as a human being trying to survive a few hours of horrible,devastating violence.What actually happened in those few hours,what did he do,think and experience?What were his weapons,his role in the battle and ultimately why did he fight at all?The author seeks to provide those answers while proposing that the greeks invented the act of western warfare through the ...more
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely incredible book, especially the chapters that get into the psychology of hoplite battle. VDH is a top-notch classicist and war historian, not to mention a great stylist.

"Success or defeat depended only on the fighters’ ability to stand upright in bronze armor for the next hour or so, resisting the temptation to fall back or even to shy away from the lance head at his face and groin. Nor was the manner of death unexpected, unimagined, or unknown: men knew precisely how they would d
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: acquisto
Parlando di arte della guerra, in particolare quelle ai tempi della Grecia classica, la letteratura moderna ha sempre incentrato l’attenzione sulle campagne, le tattiche, le dimensioni delle forze in campo; a volte perfino sui discorsi dei generali prima della battaglia.

Grazie al lavoro di numerosi storici, abbiamo appreso molti particolari circa gli armamenti, l’addestramento, i movimenti e le strategie militari.

Tuttavia, spesso e volentieri, il loro punto di vista risulta in qualche modo dista
Aug 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-war
Pretty good tour of the aspects of hoplite battle. These bronze armored, and wooden shielded heavy infantry of the Greeks were the ancient 'tank' when in formation, charging toward each other into a crash, push, and eventual rout of one side. If you have seen the movie '300,' you have seen the likeness of Greek battle (with some mythology thrown in).

However, the most interesting question for us today is the purpose of this Greek / Western way of war. Hanson defines the 'Western Way of War' as be
Петър Стойков
Jan 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Военните историци и теоретици отдавна са отчели, че има съществена разлика между Изтока и Запада не само в начина на живот и световъзприятие, но и в начина на водене на война. Западният начин на воюване винаги е бил директен, брутален, хвърляне на цялата сила в атака, с цел бързо и тотално приключване на конфликта.

Според автора, този начин на воюване води началото си от древна Гърция, от наследството на нейните хоплити, които опаковани в тежка бронзова броня си уговаряли място за битка, подрежда
Shawn Veltheim
May 18, 2015 rated it liked it
He has college kids mess about with Greek Hoplite armor and concludes that it's too heavy to wear for more than a couple of minutes. Did nobody else notice how that's like comparing apples to oranges?

Servicemen hump tons of gear for miles and miles, flack jacket, kevlar helmet, ammunition, machine gun and a full backpack... it's only heavy till your body gets used to it.

It was hard to take the rest of the book seriously after that.
Ike Sharpless
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, war, greeks
Note that this review is emphatically *not* an endorsement of Hanson's newfound xenophobic culture wars bully pulpit - this is a review of a well-written and well-researched book on hoplite warfare. Nothing more, nothing less.
Nathan Albright
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge-2018
Overall, this is a fine scholarly monograph on military history that demonstrates Hanson's skill in writing about the hoplite experience and how it was viewed in ancient and classical Greece.  As someone with some interest in the subject [1], I was pleased to see that however poor the author may be at extrapolating his insights into Greek military history into the larger historical panorama, he at least has a sound understanding of the subject matter of this book.  All that makes this short book ...more
Recensione sul blog Alessandro Magno – Il blog su Alessandro il Grande

Sì purtroppo l’ho letto in due mesi ma non è a causa del libro ma di impegni lavorativi, infatti non ho proprio letto per un bel po’ di tempo ma appena sono riuscita a ritagliarmi del tempo libero ho ripreso in mano questo libro 🙂

Questa interessante lettura è anche parte della collaborazione con l’editore che ringrazio molto per questa possibilità. In cambio, come sempre, vi parlo sinceramente di questo libro.

Questa lettura no
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, storici
Pensavo di aver preso un saggio storico, piuttosto tecnico, ed invece ho trovato un piccolo capolavoro!
Sorprendente nelle conclusioni, condivisibili per altro grazie ad un buon uso delle fonti primarie, mi ha entusiasmato in più punti.
La battaglia tra opliti è una sublimazione e sintesi della guerra che è sia ordalia sia male minore quasi necessario, nonchè archetipo del modo occidentale del fare la guerra, rivolto alla ricerca della battaglia campale decisiva.
Al di là delle parole, però, quello
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: military-history
Classicist Victor Davis Hanson’s The Western Way of War explores what the Greek hoplite experienced before, during, and after battle, the origins of phalanx war, and whether Greek precedents created a distinct western way of war. Hanson uses archaeological sources, visual culture, the Homeric epics, ancient poetry and drama, the writings of the three ancient historians Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, early Roman sources, and tactical manuals to describe what the hoplite experienced in battle ...more
John Warren
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
very interesting read like his books a lot
Joseph Stieb
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
In The Western Way of War, Victor Davis Hanson examines the experience and broader historical significance of hoplite battle in Classical Greece from 650-338 BCE. He successfully explains this way of war as a product of Classical Greece’s particular historical conditions. Although his broader claims about the persistence of Greek approaches to battle in Western culture are dubious, Hanson’s persuasive and well-sourced examination of the links between culture and battle merits much praise.
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
The book is at its best when Hanson sticks with his true purpose: relating the experience of hoplite warfare to the reader. It goes into fantastic detail about the physical and psychological demands of being an Ancient Greek warrior just prior to, during, and after opposing phalanxes met on the battlefield. He pieces together a wide variety of literary and archeological sources to describe something that nobody alive today has or probably ever will experience. What was it like to carry 50-70 lbs ...more
Aidan Nancarrow
Jan 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is a succinct and fairly informal attempt to recreate the ordeal of classical Greek phalanx combat for the lay-reader. It draws primarily on ancient sources (Greek epics, poems, dramas, and histories) and small body of secondary research. It is not *especially* scholarly and I think it is overly reliant on textual sources. No doubt some of it's conclusions are likely to be overturned by younger, more modern scholars that utilize more creative historical reenactment. (A Storm of Spears: Unde ...more
Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating study. Hanson proposes that Greek hoplite warfare was a regular event and a means of contesting armies under conditions that limited casualties and interruptions to the critical rhythms of life. The battles, he states, did not last more than an hour, and their outcome was accepted by both parties. Greek men of all ages participated, and each felt more allegiance to his neighbors and family than higher ideals or notions. There was little specialization in the phalanx, and, with ...more
F.P.G. Camerman
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'd read a book about ancient warfare before and walked away with the impression that the author didn't really know the finer details of how battles were fought in ancient times and just skirted the issue without even acknowledging the gap in knowledge. No such thing in this book, which deals exclusively with battles in ancient Greece between the phalanxes of city states. Every detail is examined, from equipment to preparation of the battle to advancement to the initial clash, the collapse of on ...more
Steve Bivans
Jul 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Hanson attempts to reconstruct the ‘face of battle’ from the perspective of the citizen soldiers of Greece during the period from the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries, BC. Hanson argues that the focus of Greek warfare was not the destruction of crops, but a response to a perceived threat to crops, and the insult of foreign troops marching into ones territory. While war was an ever present reality, the conventions of hoplite battle were designed to limit the scope of war and therefore casualties.

Christopher Nekolny
A classic of historical research. If you ever wondered what it was like to be in the ranks of the soldiers in an ancient battle this book will provide you with the best understanding of what that would have entailed. Even more importantly, it raises the idea that our entire idea of war and how it should be fought in the western world is descended from how the Greek city states utilized the phalanx. You really can draw a straight line from ancient history to the modern day in terms of western mil ...more
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
This books explores infantry combat in Ancient Greece. Hanson takes a "face of battle" approach to military history, drawing on literary sources, modern reconstructions, archaeology, modern psychology to deliver a compelling description of what combat in the phalanx was like. One fascinating idea from the book is that the phalanx contributed to the rise and relative stability of democracy in Ancient Greece, since citizens who fought in the phalanx had to depend on their neighbors for protection ...more
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, history
An excellent piece of work that demystifies the art of hoplite warfare. Hanson's writing style is engaging, and unlike many other military writers he has not simply relied on traditional sources of historical information such as texts and archaeology, he has also tested Greek military practices with volunteers and arms in comparable conditions. This gives his analysis great authority, and his conclusions are by and large accepted as fact. A worthy addition to the library of any Greek or Military ...more
Mar 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Dr. Hanson's treatment of life as an ancient Greek hoplite was a wonderful blend of analysis and comparative history. By stressing the connections between the ancient Greek warrior and many examples in modern times, he brings the world of ancient warfare out of maps and statistics and onto the battlefield where any reader can feel the press of the enemy. This history was accessible and detailed without becoming dryly technical, but still conveyed a lot of well-documented information.
Scott Olson
Oct 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
For my money, Victor Davis Hanson is the world's preeminent scholarly writer on classical Greek military and warfare. A professor of classics at Cal State Fresno, VDH masterfully relates the ancient Greek's style of warfare and how it evolved as a byproduct of the changing Greek political power base.
Sep 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Yes, this is a straight history book, but he's interested in the bodies of soldiers - how much their armor weighed, how hot they must have been, how they moved. Not as interested in war strategies. Given the nature of the evidence we have, it's tough to imagine a soldier's life on the ground in 4th century BCE Greece, but he manages to do it.
May 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
It definitely reads to some extent like an expansion of a doctoral thesis into a book (which I believe it was), in a certain repetitive redundancy of quotations (of course, in defense, somewhat inevitable when working with incomplete ancient texts), but, it reads quickly while still providing tasty imagery for the reader's consumption.
Aug 05, 2013 rated it liked it
His basic premise is that olive trees and vineyards are too hard to destroy in a hurry, so rather then trying to destroy your opponent's economy, it makes more sense to fight on big battle quickly to destroy his army, so you can hurry home to havest the afore mentioned olives and grapes.
John Bladek
Dec 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Classic in the study of hoplite warfare. If you want to know the practicalities of strapping on a panolply, hoisting a hoplon (shield)and lining up eight men deep to try and push another army while sticking them with your dori (spear), this is your book.
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Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975), the American School of Classical Studies (1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He lives and works with his family on their forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953.