Friday, 13 January 2006

Soldiers & Ghosts

Just finished reading Soldiers & Ghosts by J.E. Lendon. Excellent! I can heartily endorse the verdict of Publishers Weekly:

Witty, erudite, and painstaking

From the U.S. Marines in Vietnam on p.1 to the fourth century Roman army on p.309, I could barely put it down. Subtitled A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity, it's actually a very perspicacious study of the ancient battle experience.

Veteran U.S. strategist Edward Luttwak, famous for his outsider's view of Roman military frontiers in The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, has reviewed the book for The London Review of Books. More helpfully, Polish scholar Jacek Rzepka presents his opinions in the on-line Scholia Review, hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (S Africa).

However, it is the Bryn Mawr review by Barry Strauss of Cornell University that hits the nail squarely on the head: "Unlike moderns", he writes, "the ancients measured themselves less by efficiency than by pedigree." In other words, in waging war, the Greeks and Romans did not share our modern obsession with technological advance, but were more interested in living up to their ancestral ideals. These are the soldiers and the ghosts of Lendon's title.

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