Ancient Greeks at War, by Simon Elliott

Oliver Webb-Carter

A new book giving an overview of Greek warfare has just been released.
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Simon Elliott is a busy man. When he’s not appearing in documentaries, working as an archaeologist and lecturing in Pompeii, he is a prolific writer of ancient Roman history, most recently with an account of the IX Hispania (Roman Britain’s Missing Legion). He’s now published a new title, Ancient Greeks at War, and a follow up to Romans at Waralso published by Casemate. It is not only an all too rarely seen overview of warfare in Greek antiquity, but is also a graphical triumph, and the publisher has done a great job of producing an aesthetically pleasing book.

Elliott’s taken the chronological approach and begun with the Minoans through to the decline of the Seleucids and Macedonians at the hands of Rome, describing their methods of warfare, key battles and leaders. For the Minoan and Mycenaean, Elliott’s archaeological experience has meant he’s been able to describe this often hazy period with clarity. The Graeco-Persian Wars will be a section many will turn to, and Elliot has written accounts of the key battles that highlight how hoplite warfare was hugely successful against the Persians, with their armour a key factor, never more so than at Plataea.

The period of history between the end of the Peloponnesian War, and the campaigns of Alexander is often overlooked, but there are so many great stories here, with the dismantling of Spartan hegemony by the Thebans and the rise of Macedon through the brilliant Philip II (not even the best general in his own family). Of course, Alexander’s campaigns make riveting reading, but the wars of the Successors do too, as these men (in many cases young), fought over vast tracts of land and carved out empires for themselves. The Seleucids emerged as the major power, but eventually succumbed to Roman and Parthian superiority.

Throughout this engaging work of narrative history, Elliott has clearly enjoyed describing some of the great personalities that have gained a following since, including Alexander, Pyrrhus and Antiochus III. The images that accompany the text vary from photographs taken at battlefields to artist impressions of the various troops described. There are even images of Wargame figures (I told you Elliott is a busy man), giving an almost geeky tribute to the great battles of antiquity.

In his conclusion Elliott lists many of the great Greek generals, but his analysis of Alexander the Great’s legacy is what he most wants to convey. Despite his short-lived empire, that legacy resonates, and is why Alexander is often mentioned as the greatest commander of the ancient world. Once you’ve finished this wonderful book, you’ll be able to convincingly make an argument for others too.

Ancient Greeks at War is published by Casemate Publishers and is available now.