In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek Military

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews of Ancient Warfare
  • General Overviews of Greek Warfare
  • Bibliographies

Classics Greek Military
Fernando Echeverría
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0128


War was an overriding phenomenon in Greek civilization. It determined to a great extent the political, social, and economic institutions in ancient Greece, in a permanent interaction with society and politics. War also figured prominently in ancient Greek sources as a literary and historical topic, and monuments celebrating or commemorating military events invaded the public spaces in most Greek cities. “War,” says Heraclitus, “is the father of all and king of all” (fragment 53 D). This paramount relevance of warfare as a cultural factor was, however, counterbalanced by an early and permanent awareness of its catastrophic effects on individuals and communities. The Greeks frequently lamented its inevitable nature and feared its horrific consequences: “War,” says Pindar, “is sweet to those who have no experience of it, but the experienced man trembles exceedingly at heart on its approach” (fragment 110). The Greeks thus had an ambivalent approach to war, and this troubled relationship contributed decisively to shape both the material and the ideological aspects of Greek warfare. Academic research has traditionally paid a considerable attention to the subject, but this attention has rocketed since the late 20th century, leading to a real overflow of scholarship on Greek military issues. The current article, ranging roughly from Mycenaean times to the conquest of Corinth by the Romans (c. 1400–146 BCE), tries to do justice to a longstanding academic effort to understand and reconstruct one of the most genuinely human activities.

General Overviews of Ancient Warfare

In general studies on ancient warfare it is not uncommon to present the Greek way of war as an original phenomenon, even as the foundation of a distinctively “Western” (that is, non-Asiatic) way of war (Dawson 1996). Even critics of this “Western way of war” theory concede that Greek warfare represented a new era in the organization, materialization, and interpretation of combat (Lynn 2003, Lendon 2005). The approach shown in Gabriel and Metz 1991, Lloyd 1996, Bekker-Nielsen and Hannestad 2001, Chaniotis and Ducrey 2002, Montagu 2006, Chrissanthos 2008, and de Souza 2008 is useful to illuminate aspects of the Greek experience through their comparison with other cultures and historical periods. Sabin, et al. 2007 and Campbell and Tritle 2013 offer comprehensive, detailed, and up-to-date summaries.

  • Bekker-Nielsen, Tønnes, and Lise Hannestad, eds. 2001. War as a cultural and social force: Essays on warfare in Antiquity. Historisk-Filosofiske Skrifter 22. Copenhagen: Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab.

    Interesting collection of papers approaching ancient warfare from a cultural perspective. Illuminating and compelling contributions on Greek warfare by Catherine Morgan (symbolism), Hans van Wees (military and social status), Vincent Gabrielsen (naval warfare), Michel Austin (Seleucid Empire), and Lise Hannestad (art).

  • Campbell, Brian, and Lawrence A. Tritle, eds. 2013. The Oxford handbook of warfare in the classical world. Oxford Handbooks. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195304657.001.0001

    Collection of essays describing the different aspects of war in Greece and Rome. Up-to-date analysis of the most-controversial questions.

  • Chaniotis, Angelos, and Pierre Ducrey. 2002. Army and power in the ancient world. Stuttgart: Steiner.

    Interdisciplinary collection of papers on warfare in ancient cultures, arranged as academic discussions. On Greek warfare: chapters by Pierre Ducrey (army and power), Hans van Wees (tyrants and citizen militias), Vincent Gabrielsen (response to van Wees), Angelos Chaniotis (Hellenistic garrisons), and John Ma (response to Chaniotis).

  • Chrissanthos, Stefan G. 2008. Warfare in the ancient world: From the Bronze Age to the fall of Rome. London: Praeger.

    General account of Greek and Roman warfare in the historical period (despite the title). Introductory and accessible for general audiences. Preference for description rather than for interpretation.

  • Dawson, Doyne. 1996. The origins of Western warfare: Militarism and morality in the ancient world. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    A theoretical approach to the origins of the main features of modern Western warfare, starting with “primitive warfare” and following with Greece and Rome. Special emphasis on the “ritualistic” aspects of Greek combat.

  • de Souza, Philip, ed. 2008. The ancient world at war: A global history. London: Thames & Hudson.

    Wide collection of papers on ancient warfare, from Neolithic Europe to ancient South America, arranged in chronological order. On Greek warfare, chapters by Alan Peatfield (Minoan and Mycenaean warfare), Hans van Wees (Archaic and classical Greece), and David Potter (Hellenistic warfare).

  • Gabriel, Richard A., and Karen S. Metz. 1991. From Sumer to Rome: The military capabilities of ancient armies. Contributions in Military Studies 108. New York: Greenwood.

    General overview of warfare in the ancient world, focusing on the operational limitations of ancient armies. Nicely illustrated.

  • Lendon, John E. 2005. Soldiers and ghosts: A history of battle in classical Antiquity. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Interesting approach to ancient Greek and Roman combat from the point of view of culture and ideology. Emphasis on the crucial influence of the mythological or historical past (the “ghosts” of the title) to shape classical attitudes toward combat, and actual performance in it.

  • Lloyd, Alan B., ed. 1996. Battle in Antiquity. London: Duckworth.

    Collection of papers on ancient warfare. Interesting studies devoted to Greek military by Hans van Wees (Homeric warfare), Stephen Mitchell (hoplite warfare), Daniel Ogden (homosexuality and warfare), and Alan B. Lloyd (Macedonian warfare).

  • Lynn, John A. 2003. Battle: A history of combat and culture. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    A wide-ranging survey of battle from ancient to modern times. The chapter on Greek warfare is specifically intended to refute Victor Hanson’s theory of the “Western way of war.”

  • Montagu, John Drogo. 2006. Greek and Roman warfare: Battle, tactics, and trickery. London: Greenhill.

    General overview of warfare in the classical period, with special emphasis on the mechanics of combat.

  • Sabin, Philip, Hans van Wees, and Michael Whitby, eds. 2007. The Cambridge history of Greek and Roman warfare. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The most detailed and comprehensive collection of papers on Greek and Roman warfare. Thorough and updated studies by top-ranking specialists, representing all the relevant topics and periods.

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