The Age of Pericles

The Age of Pericles

The Age of Pericles overlaps handily with two different but concurrent phases of the City of Athens. First was the aggressive Imperial phase of Athenian foreign policy; the other was the flowering of creativity and commerce sometimes referred to as the Athenian Golden Age. If is fair to say that Pericles helped define and drive the former while benefiting from the latter.

It was during the age of Pericles that the former Delian League became the Athenian Empire. Originally established after the Second Persian War to protect Greece from further Persian aggression and eject Persian forces from the Aegean Sea and Ionia. The Delian League was originally headquartered on the island of Delos, but Athens was without a doubt its leading state. However and soon, the Delian League changed into the Athenian Empire. The treasury was moved from Delos to Athens and states were no longer allowed to leave at will. Further, while contributions at the start of the League could either be men and ships or money, in the Imperial phase they were only money. Meaning tributary states were now paying for the military forces which suppressed them. Also, it was this tribute that paid for Athens strong military and defense establishment, such as the Long Walls that would give them the ability to have an aggressive foreign policy, defy Sparta and lead to the Periclian polices which resulted in the Peloponnesian War.

The cultural flowering that took place during the Age of Pericles has no clear source. Although my favorite theory is that as the concept of freedom and democracy spread throughout all the classes in Athens that it also freed the minds of men to question, think and create. After all Socrates was a humble stonemason. Aeschylus the playwright, was of the old nobility, but still worked the land as a vintner. The famous Parthenon was built on the Acropolis at the behest of Pericles. It was also during this age that Aeschylus, often called the Father of Tragedy, along with Sophocles and Euripides, wrote and had produced their famous plays. However, it should never be forgotten that the famous playwrights saw themselves as citizen of Athens first and their works, however brilliant, were designed to edify other citizens.   The best example of this is Aeschylus’ grave inscription, supposedly written by the great man himself:

“Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,

who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;

of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,

or the long-haired Persian who knows it well.”

Even Pericles himself saw himself as citizen and hoplite. Even though he was of the Pentacosiomedimni class, he was sculpted with a Corinthian hoplite helmet on his head.

The noble savage

While Hobbes was perhaps a bit of a dark view of human nature, or rather man in a state of nature. I have little truck with Rousseau and all his noble savage ruminating. The simple facts are that civilized people live longer, materially better and certainly more intellectually enlightened lives than primitive tribes’ people.

Women’s rights, just for example, is the direct result of modern industrial and post industrial civilization. Women are now freed from the tyranny of being nothing more than a homemaker, the fear of unwanted pregnancy and the real threat of dying in child birth.   Civilization has freed at least parts of mankind from the threat of being at the mercy of merciless nature.

To put it bluntly as one of my philosophy professors put it: “The noble savage is an interesting idea, but otherwise total Bull crap. There nothing noble about being hungry, poor and living a short life.”

Assessment of Napoleon and his era

Konstam’s assessment of Napoleon seems to me to be honest and truthful, if a bit unctuous. Napoleon was indeed a very great general; a military genius. His genius was not limited to the military; the law code he oversaw is still used in France today to name one example. He was also a skilled politician.  But on the other hand, Napoleon’s ambition was megalomaniacal in its scope, and he thought nothing of plunging into wars where thousands died to support that ambition.  Napoleon was indeed the Colossus that stood astride his times and much of the history of that time was either caused by him or a reaction to his actions.

The Napoleonic Era was both an extension and culmination of the Enlightenment or “Age of Reason”. Certainly Napoleon felt he was a son of the Enlightenment, having read many of the great Enlightenment philosophes, such as Rousseau and Voltaire.[1]   Napoleon certainly applied the enlightenment ideals of logic and reason to many of his great projects, not the least of which was rationalizing the government of many of the territories France conquered, like the Rhineland and Westphalia.[2] Although others have argued that the Enlightenment ended in the blood and death of the French Revolution, regardless of the fact that Napoleonic France tried to continue the Enlightenment ideals and even impose them on other countries.[3]

It is fair to say that all of Napoleon’s other successes in life were built on his success in the military realm. So any kind of assessment of the Emperor’s life and career has to focus on his military acumen.   However, he never let military requirements get in the way of his ambition, after all he abandoned defeated or cut off armies twice in his life to feed his own political aspirations; one in Egypt after the Battle of the Nile in 1799 and another again after Moscow in 1812.[4]

Without a doubt, Napoleon was a military genius. Building on the innovation for the French Revolutionary Army, his largest contribution to the operational art of war was twofold, he eliminated the huge and slow baggage trains that bogged down rapid maneuver and he formed his armies into combined arms Corps with a strong central reserve under his personal command. The Napoleonic Corps would have infantry, artillery and cavalry arms under one commander and these different branches would cooperate closely with each other within the Corps structure. These formations were so powerful they could and often did fight battles by themselves, or at least engage the enemy on terms that would allow other Corps to arrive in support. [5] This basic operational structure is still used by most armies in the world today. Further, the Emperor’s real genius was that he could get inside his opponents decision cycle so that even if his subordinates or he made a mistake, chances are that he could quickly recover and still win the war.[6]

During the time of relative peace between 1802 and 1804, Napoleon turned his considerable powers to the law code and education. He managed to attend 57 out of 109 meetings that wrote the Code Civil, also called the Code Napoleon. The Code Civil in its two thousand articles replaced and rationalized the 360 different law codes in effect in France. But the First Consul couldn’t escape his Corsican roots and the Code was a step backward for women’s property rights. Despite that, it was still a great achievement and in exile Napoleon thought it his greatest.[7]

In the area of education reform, the Napoleon applied the same rational, centralized and equalitarian ideals to the school system as he did the army. Taking away education from the Church, he created the high school, or Lycee system, he centralized control such that it was said that the same subject was taught at exactly the same time in every Lycee throughout France. He imposed a military order on the schools, so that students were actually called to class with drum rolls. But these high schools were only for the most promising students. In Post secondary education in 1802 he took the Ecole Polytechnique and turned it into a military academy for engineers and artillerists.[8]

It should never be forgotten that despite all the social good that the Napoleonic reforms did, they were not imposed to merely do that social good, but rather they were done to strengthen the state and the state apparatus of control.[9] Napoleon, as First Consul and later Emperor, certainly took to heart the famous observation of Charles Tilly: “War made the state and the state made war.” [10] Napoleon made a more powerful state to make a more powerful military machine so he could win his interminable wars.

In summation, the assessment of Napoleon is ultimately much like that of another famous historical figure. A figure that followed a very similar career path to one the Emperor did. That is to say, he born in relatively humble circumstances, rose to supreme power in a time of violence and tumult by dint of his superior military skills and ability to seize political opportunities. This figure is of course the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. That is to say, as Earl of Clarendon called Cromwell, “a great bad man”, So Napoleon could also be called “a great bad man.” [11]

[1] Frederick C. Schneid, “Napoleon’s conquest of Europe: the War of the Third Coalition”, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2005), 6.

[2] “The Rhineland under the French” at rhineland_french/ (accessed 7 October 2010)

[3] Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, The Rise of Modern Paganism, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1966), 17; William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, New York, 2002), 210.

[4] Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, James R. Jacob, Margaret C. Jacob, Theodore H. Von Laue, Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Harcourt Publishing Co., 2009), 483.

[5] Claus Telp, “The Evolution of Operational Art, 1740-1813: from Frederick the Great to Napoleon”, (Oxon, UK: Frank Cass Publishing, 2005), 77-80.

[6] Phil Grabsky, “The Great Commanders – Napoleon Bonaparte – The Battle of Austerlitz”, The History Channel DVD, July 1 1993.

[7] Alistair Horne, “The Age of Napoleon” (New York: The Modern Library, 2004), 37-39.

[8] Ibid., 40-42

[9] Grabsky, “Battle of Austerlitz”.

[10] Charles Tilly, “Reflections on the History European State Making” in The Formation of national States in Western Europe, ed. Charles Tilly (Princetone, NJ: Pricneton University Press, 1975), 42.

[11] Grabsky, “Battle of Austerlitz”.

Beer and Civilization

Civilization was built on bread and beer. For years it was thought that bread was the primary reason for Neolithic humans settling down and growing grain.[1]  But in the 1950’s another idea was brought to the front: that brewing was the driving force for developing grain cultivation and a settled lifestyle.  Of course, there is no archeological evidence for which came first, since both baking and brewing were discovered well before writing was invented.[2]  Also, as one paleontologist and amateur brewer has said: “. . .  the argument over the primacy of bread versus beer is as academic as that of the chicken vs. egg.” [3]

In any case, both products rely on the same raw materials; grain, yeast and water. Harvest the grain, either wild or domestic, grind or mash the seeds and add water to make gruel.  This gruel is edible as is while the raw grain is not.  Bake a thick gruel near a fire or even on a sun-heated stone and it produces a rough kind of unleavened bread.  Naturally occurring, wild yeast could and did enter the mix at some point causing the bread to rise as it baked, creating leavened bread.  On the other hand, make the mix thin, leave it sitting around for a couple of days in the open, again with an accidental addition of naturally occurring yeast and a kind of very rough beer is brewed.[4]  Beer and bread also have similar nutritional values; both are rich in carbohydrates and vitamins.[5]

In short, beer is liquid bread and bread is solid beer.[6]

Both foods had advantages and disadvantages as a source of nutrition. Beer was easier to prepare than bread. Grain for bread required finer grinding, kneading and a relatively large and consistent source of heat.  Whereas beer needed only roughly ground grain, water, a holding receptacle and time.[7]  However, beer was not as easily stored or carried as bread.[8]

By 9500 BCE wild grains were being harvested with real agriculture following about 7000 BCE.[9]  Both baking and brewing require a sedentary lifestyle.  Brewers and bakers must be close to the sources of grain, and have some kind of facilities to process the grain, bake the bread or brew the beer and then store and guard them.[10]  Humanity was now well on the way to civilization with permanent settlements and a stable food supply with some surplus for non-farming specialists.

There are several life advantages of a settled, agricultural lifestyle over the nomadic life of hunter-gathers: a rising birthrate, much lower child mortality and by storing food, some protections from the vagaries of nature. All of which lead to a massive increase in population of farmers.[11]  However, there are some scientists that assert that agriculture was a horrible mistake for humankind and early farmers were far less healthy then hunter-gathers.  Also, farming caused a number of other human ills, such as the spread of disease, despotism and inequality.[12]  However, if the ‘mistake hypotheses’ is clearly in error because agriculture ‘conquered’ world, while hunter-gathers societies were pushed into remote and marginal areas and failed to develop materially.

In any case, because of farming, the population increased, society became more complex and maintaining the all-important food supply and surplus grew very difficult for the imperfect human memory. Writing was invented to track the logistics of food, who contributed what, how much was available, who was receiving supplies.[13]  Tracking the products of society was so important that it seems that at least one complete language, Linear B, was invented or adapted by the Minoans to do nothing but record lists of supplies.  There seems to be no writing of literary merit in Linear B script, only lists of names, records of livestock and grain; in other words, only the dry language of bureaucracy.[14]

However, the Sumerians soon turned writing from a barebones bureaucratic exercise to rich artistic use, producing the world’s oldest written epic: The Epic of Gilgamesh. In this narrative the ancients recognized the civilizing affect of beer by reporting its effect on Enkidu, the wild man.  A holy priestess/prostitute, Shamhat, is sent to tame Enkidu. After spending the night with Enkidu, Shamhat takes him to some shepherds and says to him:

“Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.

Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land.

Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,

he drank the beer-seven jugs!”


After eating and more importantly, drinking his fill, Enkidu took a bath, dressed in clothes, took up weapons, hunted wild animals and guarded the flocks of the shepherds.[15]

The connections between beer and civilization in this episode are manifest.  First, drinking beer was a social activity, unlike the sharing of other foods.  In drinking together, all imbibers share equally from the jar.[16]  Enkidu is introduced to human society, by the shepherds, through the shared drinking of beer.

The second connection is indirect.  Beer was a gift from the gods and also the most widespread alcoholic drink in the ancient world. [17]  As William James said:  “The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates and says no; drunkenness expands, unites and says yes.”[18]    Clearly, drinking alcohol was both social and religious, not only bringing the drinker in closer contact with his fellow imbibers, but also closer to the gods.  In short, by drinking beer Enkidu undergoes a religious experience as well as a socializing experience.

The last connection involves women and their role in civilization. Indicative of women’s role in baking and brewing; that is in providing “bread and beer”[19], the very basics of life, is that the patron divinities of beer were goddesses.[20]  After all, as one unknown author has said: “The stomach is the center and origin of civilization.”[21] Women took care of the stomach of their family in the household and the ‘stomach’ of the whole civilized society through baking bread and brewing beer.  In fact, the Great Pyramids of Giza, perhaps the greatest expression of ancient Egyptian civilization, were built on a by workmen, living on a diet primarily of bread and beer.[22]

Of course, the influence of beer on civilization didn’t end with the Mesopotamians and Egyptians.  It seems that brewing was independently discovered in all the other major world civilizations.  The Incas, Aztecs and Chinese all had beers made from the locally available grains and all these societies thought beer was a gift from heaven.[23]  Other areas of the worlds and other cultures also developed important fermented foods, without necessarily developing civilization.[24]

In later centuries, beer dominated non-grape growing areas.  Beer was often looked down on as a poor man’s drink, especially by the wining-drinking Southern Europeans.  However, when the brew was tried, many people became enthusiastic quaffers.  Beer drinkers not only praised the drink as a refreshing beverage, but also as a medicine.[25]  Brewing even affected settlement of the New World, with the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth specifically because they were out of supplies; especially beer.[26]

More recently, everywhere Westerners immigrated or colonized; breweries sprang up like mushroom after a rainstorm. For examples, the oldest extant brewery in America, Yuengling, was founded in 1829 by German immigrant. The Tsingtao Brewery of China was founded by Germans in 1903. Mexican beers have also been influenced by European immigrants.[27] Moreover, beer continues to be an important product in the 21st Century, with worldwide beer consumption in 2004 of 150 GigaLiters.[28]

In conclusion, it can be asserted that beer was and is an essential foodstuff and social lubricate, but also, along with bread, jumpstarted human civilization and for good or ill, supported the spread of Western culture throughout the world.

[1] J.M.J DeWet, “Grasses and the Culture History of Man”, Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Vol. 68, No. 1 (1981), at

[2] Robert J. Braidwood, Jonathan D. Sauer, et al, “Did Man Once Live by Beer Alone?” American Anthropologist, 55:4 (Oct., 1953), at


[3] Ed Hitchcock, “Kitchen Anthropology: Home Brewing an Ancient Beer,”

[4] Reay Tannahill, Food in History, (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1988), 48-52

[5]  Andrew Webber, “Beer or Bread: Was Beer the First Great Cereal Food?” Archeology and the Bible Project, (Rice University EducationWeb, April 12, 1995) at http://www.owlnet. ~reli205/andrew_beer/beer.html

[6] Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, (New York: Walker and Co., 2005), 17.

[7] Webber, “Beer or Bread: Was Beer the First Great Cereal Food?”

[8] Standage, 6 Glasses, 21.

[9] J. M. Roberts, A Short History of the World (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 23

[10] Standage, 6 glasses, 13.

[11] Jeffery Sachs, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2009), 60-61

[12] Jared Diamond, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”, Discover Magazine, (May 1987), at

[13] Standage, 6 glasses, 23.

[14] P. E. Easterling, ed., The Cambridge History of Classical Literature: Volume 1, Greek Literature, Part 4, The Hellenistic Period and the Empire, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 154.

[15] The Epic of Gilgamesh, Table I and II, mesopotamian/gilgamesh/

[16] Standage, 6 glasses, 18.

[17] Ibid, 19.

[18] William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience; A Study in Human Nature, 32nd ed. (New York, NY: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920), 387

[19] Standage, 6 glasses, 37

13 Hymn to Ninkasi: translation,

14 Food Reference, Culinary Quotes Section, qcivilization.html.

[22] Standage, 6 Glasses, 37

[23] Ibid, 19

[24] Webber, “Beer or Bread”.

[25] Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Vol. I: The Structure of Everyday Life, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 1992), 239-240

[26]  Ken Wells , Travels with Barley: A journey through Beer Culture in America, (New York: Wall Street Journal Books, 2004),  73

[27] Yuengling Brewing Company, History of Yuengling Brewing Company history.htm. Tsingtao Beer Company, History of Tsingtao Brewing Company,  A Brief History of Mexican Beer,

[28] Volume of World Beer Consumption, JohnnyAlicea.shtml.

Greece and Roman and the Modern West

I am a “Man of the West”. I live in a Western country and speak a Western language. So this week I chose to address the following question:  What are the Greeks and Romans relationship to our civilization?  I am trying to illustrate that our current Western civilization has a direct and close relationship with the Greeks and Romans. You can’t swing a metaphorical cat without hitting some idea, concept or paradigm that came from the Greco-Roman world.  In many ways large and small, obvious and subtle we live in a world that grew from these ancient cultures.  I have selected to highlight, admittedly superficial, examples of how the Greco-Roman world affected our current world in politics, the military, the arts and religion.  I have also selected sources outside of the Roberts’ text, in support of the theme and also to demonstrate that Roberts’ shows no obvious bias and fits in the major historical stream regarding this question.

In the political realm the language and many of the ideas of government and politics came from Greece and Rome. The concepts of democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, even the very word “politics” (derived from the polis, or the city-state), all come from Greece. (Roberts, 104) A further example is that the American Founding Fathers consciously copied the Roman Republic during the founding of America (Schlesinger, 5).  It is no accident the upper house of Congress is called the Senate.

Militarily, the Western idea of a trained and disciplined military, while rediscovered by the Dutch Counts of Nassau in the 1500’s are based on writings of Roman military authors like Aelians and Vegetius (Parker, 20-21) Further, the paradigm of a relatively small, professional, long-service, government supported and equipped military, which most Western countries follow, comes from the reforms in the Roman Army of the counsel, Gaius Marius. (Cowley and Parker, 89).

Linking the two aforementioned concepts of democratic-republicanism is civic militarism, in that the citizenry, not a ruling elite or a tyrant, both governs and defends the state. Civic militarism was ‘invented’ by Athens and Sparta (Porter, 17). While this ideal faded in the 20th century, (Black, 12), echoes of it continue on into the 21st century; for example the American military expedites citizenship for resident aliens serving as members (Lee). And as we are continually reminded by TV and radio ads, the law still requires eighteen-year old men to register for the draft. It is no accident that registering for the draft, reaching voting age and becoming a fully legal adult all take place at age eighteen. Adulthood confers not just the right to vote, but the potential obligation to fight for the state. The ancient Greeks hoplites would have understood this relationship very well (Roberts, 104).

In cultural areas: the Greeks invented theater; specifically: “Thespis impersonated a character in dialogue with the chorus, and so invented true drama,” (Hadas, 6). Also it has been argued that Homer wrote the first novels (Fitts, backpanel) by composing the Iliad and the Odyssey, although that honor might go to much older the Epic of Gilgamesh.

There can be no argument that, for good or ill, Christianity has had and continues to have a major influence on Western civilization even into the 21st Century.  Indicative of the influence of the Hellenistic and Roman world on this very Western religion are the facts that the New Testament was first written in Greek.  The apostle (Saint) Paul sat astride both the Jewish Diaspora world and Greco-Roman world.  He was a product the yeshiva and the gymnasium, (Cahill, 118) and wrote in Greek, the language of the educated people in the Roman Empire. It is also an important fact that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome (Roberts,138-139).  Also the Roman Catholic headquarters continues to reside in Rome (Vatican City), and further, the organization of the Church was taken directly from the political organization of the late Roman Empire.

I could go on and on.  Philosophy and logic, rational history and geography, science and math were all essentially invented or highly refined by the Greeks and then passed on to the modern world through the Romans (Roberts 117-118).

In conclusion, it may be said that the Greeks and Roman influence on Modern Western civilization is a literally incalculable. In short, the Greco-Roman world gave birth to Western civilization in all its glory and with all its failings.





Black, Jeremy. War in the New Century. London, Continuum Press, 2001


Cahill, Thomas. Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus. Oxford, Lion

Hudson Plc, 2002.


Fitts, Dudley. Homer’s Odyssey. New York, NY: Signet Classics, 1999.


Hadas, Moses. Greek Drama. New York, NY Bantam Classics, 1983.


Lee, Margaret Mikyung. Expedited Citizenship Through Military Service: Policy and Issues,

Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. RL31884.pdf.


Parker, Geoffery. The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-

            1800 2nd Ed. New York, NY; Cambridge University Press 1996.


Porter, Bruce. War and the Rise of the State: The foundations of Modern Politics. New York,

NY: The Free Press, 1994.


Roberts, J. M. A Short History of the World. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.


Schlesinger, Arthur. The Cycles of American History. New York NY: Mariner Books, 1999.

Book Review: The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization by Victor Davis Hanson

Doctor Hanson in his boo,: The Other Greeks proposes an interesting thesis. That thesis is that while it is true that the Ancient Greeks originated many of the concepts of the Western World such as drama, history and philosophy as well as the very ideals of democratic government and civic militarism, but it also gave us the concept of the freeborn yeoman farmer and that, if fact it was these men in the middle, the hoi mesoi, that made the flowering of the city-state possible by growing the food and fighting the wars.

The work under review can be considered the final and culminating book of Hanson’s ancient Greek society trilogy. The other two works are Warfare and Agriculture in Ancient Greece and The Western Way of War. In this final work, Hanson explores how the Greek farmers or georgoi, developed and shaped what later became known as Classical Greek society. This work, of course stands on its own, but it would edify the reader to have some familiarity with the earlier two works to see how Hanson’s ideas have grown and developed.

The author contends that the agrarian basis of Classical Greece has been long ignored by mainstream Classists. In a takedown of the ivory tower academic that professes to know all about Ancient Greece, Hanson says: “Many successful American PhD candidates in Classics can still review the difficult odes of Pindar. . . Few know when olives, vines or grain were harvested” (P. 7). Hanson, the son and grandson of California farmers, has a unique point of view on agriculture and how the ideal of the family farm influenced Greek society and still continue to influence the wider, modern Western world.

For Hanson, the men in the middle, or as the great Athenian lawgiver Solon called them the zeugitai, or “yoked men”, the word likely has two meanings, first that these men could afford a yoke of oxen to plow their fields and second that they would be “yoked” together in the phalanx fighting as hoplites, were the group that made the flowering of civilization in the Classical period possible. However, the rough and ready farmers hardily despised and avoided the actual “city” part of the city-state as much as possible.

Like his other works this one is supposedly written for a popular audience, yet the prose is neither fully colloquial nor fully scholarly but falls in the middle. Hanson also includes many personal stories about his experiences as a contemporary American farmer to draw parallels between modern and ancient rustics. These interpolations further dilute the book as a purely scholarly work. The book has an extensive end notes and bibliography, as well as a chapter by chapter supplementary bibliography as well as an extensive Index Locorum. With all that being said the Bachelors and Masters level student would find the book useful and interesting for an exploration of Greek life outside of the city, as well as perhaps, a starting point for research on the discussed themes.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part One “The Rise of the Small Farmer in Ancient Greece” has four chapters. In these four chapters Hanson discusses the rise of the small, diversified farms after the fall of the Mycenaean Palace culture and the subsequent interregnum. These small freeholders produced a new, very Greek concept, the city-state or Polis. Hanson sees these poleis as socially flexible, largely equalitarian and anti-elite. Using Book 24 of Homer’s Odyssey which describes Laertes’ farm as a primary source Hanson delineates the six main features of these new independent farms: (1) permanent homes for the farmers on the freeholding, (2) private irrigation to water diverse crops, (3) cheap labor, (4) crop diversification that spreads the workload over the whole year and reduced the risk associated with monoculture, (5) new crops that allowed the cultivation of previously marginal land and (6) localized processing and storage making the farmer more self-sufficient. Hanson goes on to describe the growing political and social clout of these new middling farmers and how it affected the poleis. Lastly, in “The Way of the Framer” Hanson really shines when he details the daily struggle and challenge of the georgoi, but not forgetting how bigoted and narrow minded these fellows could be in their thinking.

Part Two: “The Preservation of Agrarianism” the author explores how these new and growing of class yeomen rustics affected the economy, politics and military organization of the Greek world. Hanson argues that the hoi mesoi, all being near peers in economic and social power and unified by the common ideal of hard work and rough egalitarianism worked together to preserve their unique social, political and economic position. This concept of working together, being “yoked together” as it were, extended from the political into the military realm. The citizen hoplite in the phalanx is a direct and perfect expression of this ideal. In short, wars were about land to farm and therefore only land owning farmers should do the fighting. Fighting and farming are intimately linked. The phalanx was approximate to the grid of roughly equal farms. When the average georgoi bothered to look around, the farmer that worked the next plot over, also stood next to him in formation and sat next to him in the assembly. Even the language of war is the language of farming; “’horns’ of ‘yoked’ men who ‘threshed it out’” in battle (p. 241).

Lastly in this section Hanson tells us for the hoi mesoi the best thing about hoplite warfare was its low cost. Arms and armor were expensive, but not overly so. Campaigns, such as they were, were short and limited to the summer when farming work was at its ebb. The hoplite didn’t train, so no long period away from home was required like in modern military life and the chance of getting killed in battle was only about 10%, nearly negligible compared to working long, hard hours with dangerous farm equipment and large animals.

Section Three: “To Lose a Culture” details the decline of Greek agrarianism with the concurrent decline of the city-state. No social system lasts forever. Hanson describes under what conditions the social contract both within the city-state and between the various poleis began to breakdown as trade grew, the underclass, or thetes, began to make demands of and get political concessions from, the powerful zeugitai class. Further, warfare began to change, starting with the Persian Wars and accelerating with the long Peloponnesian War. Now campaigns were long, with sieges and naval warfare coming to predominate over the simple one- day hoplite battles. As these changes happened the landless began to take up more of the burden of fighting, especially in the vast Athenian navy and as light fighters; archers and javelin men, and so made further economic demands, such as pay for military service and demanding still more of a voice in the government. For Hanson, this radicalization of democracy spelt the end of the Classical agrarian based poleis. The last chapter, rightly called an epilogue, restates the main points of the book, offers what Hanson thinks are the fundaments of Western Civilization that grew from Greek agrarianism and lastly offers a paean to the American family farm as it fades in the face of new economic realities.

While The Other Greeks is noteworthy and important for its discussion of previously overlooked aspects of Greek life in the poleis period, it is far from a prefect work. The most glaring flaw is Hanson’s claim that nearly all aspects of Greek society in the poleis rose from agrarianism. He seems to go out of his way to ignore any contradictory evidence that other things might have had at least some influence.

Just three examples of these should suffice: First, except for a single throwaway line, he seems to ignore the large number of tyrants that arose in the Sixth century BCE in the city-states and how they helped in reducing the old aristocracy in the face of the new yeoman farmers, often by leading the new hoplite kakoi into battle against the horse riding agathoi. Second, when discussing hoplite battle Hanson concludes that “nerve” was the primary morale factor in getting citizen hoplites to fight and this “nerve” came from being a middling farmer among middling farmers with the same ideology. This statement completely disregards the military predominance of Sparta during the Archaic and Classical Periods. Thirdly, in his discussion of the economics of warfare he complete ignores the affects of trade on the subject, for it would be fair to say that Athens would not have been the Classical Athens we know were it not for its large commercial fleet and trading routes.

Ultimately, The Other Greeks is well worth the time it takes to read such a large work. While it does suffers somewhat from Hanson’s single-mindedness as to his themes and evidence and also from its half-popular, half-scholarly approach to the subject. Hanson’s writing style is surprising clear and rather concise given the breath of the thesis. The well-informed casual reader and the student of Greek and military history would find it valuable and informative.

Book Review: The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece by Victor Davis Hanson

For Professor Hanson, two activities dominated the lives of the Ancient Greeks; farming and fighting. In his later book, The Other Greeks, Dr. Hanson, now a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University and conservative political writer, explores the former. In this book, The Western Way of War, Dr. Hanson, explores the latter. In the work under review the author asks and attempts to answer a basic question; what was battle like for the Ancient Greek hoplites? In the course of answering that question he also explores what motivated the Greeks to march out and fight, how did the ancient Greeks themselves view battle and how did the Classic Greek concept of battle affect how the West thinks about war and fighting? It would not be too much to say that this work, while complete and capable of standing on its own, represents the middle volume of a trilogy, sandwiched by Hanson’s Warfare and Agriculture in Ancient Greece and The Other Greeks.

Self-consciously borrowing a page from famed military historian, John Keegan, who wrote the introduction, Hanson uses a structure similar to the one used in the The Face of Battle. First, he eschews discussions of grand strategy and tactics and focuses as much as possible on what the experience in battle was like for the individual infantryman. The man, who stood in the blazing Mediterranean sun, covered nearly in head to toe in heavy bronze armor, shouldered his spear and lumbered out to kill, or be killed, by opponents what were very much like him. Relying as much as possible on primary sources Hanson describes the ordeal of the hoplite and the burden of his armor. Further, he details whom he fought with and against and how he was organized. He further discusses the morale and motivations of the ancient Greek citizen-soldier. He details as much as possible the experience of actual hand to hand combat in the densely packed ranks of the phalanx and lastly the horrible aftermath of dealing with the dead and wounded of battle.

The author further makes the strong point of the association of soldiering and citizenship. How important being a citizen hoplite was to the ancient Greeks is pointed out by Hanson’s quote of the grave inscription of Aeschylus, the father of Greek Tragedy, where no mention of his many awards for his dramas is made, instead it says: “of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak, or the long-haired Persian who knows it well.” This only refers to his service as a hoplite at the Battle of Marathon, as if his writing was of no import. To the Greeks and for Hanson, citizenship in the City-State is based on the ability to arm oneself and fight; nothing else.

To Hanson, the Western way of war is simply this: to fight a short, decisive battle that reaches a conclusion. No maneuvering, ambushes or deceptions for the Ancient Greeks, instead they suited up in their armor, picked their massive hoplon shields and marched out to fight a short, bloody battle that would settle the war, and then they matched home again to either acclaim or derision based on whether they won or lost. Herodotus speaking through the Persian commander, Mardonios called that kind of war “senseless” and yet as the author reminds the reader, that “senseless” method of battle dominated the world for 2,500 years.

The introduction, two prefaces (one for this edition and one from the first edition) and Part One of the book informs the reader that the work is “interesting and important” and why. These parts also discuss the lack of interest most classicists have shown in the actual conditions of hoplite battles. They also give a general account of the development of warfare in the Greek agrarian social structures. Lastly, the sources of information, primarily ancient, regarding the topics, are discussed.

Part Two of the work describes the physical and mental conditions that each hoplite had to endure even before the first blow was struck. Part Three explores the whys and wherefores of the hoplites “will to battle.” The ‘how” of commanders and the generals inspiring and leading their soldiers. Also discussed is the “regimental system” of the city-states citizen hoplite; how the men were surrounded and supported by their family and friends during the fight. Also discussed in detail are the effects of alcohol, even to the point of drunkenness, on men before battle. This part also features much comparing between hoplites and later soldiers to help demonstrate the universality of experience in infantry battle, but also is used to show the close relationship to Greek hoplite battle and subsequent Western style fighting. Also he discusses the ideals that drove the Greeks to fight as they did, the primary one being that “No man should give way to another.”

Part Four delineates in almost crushing detail the sequence of events that was a hoplite on hoplite battle in Ancient Greece. Hanson’s focus here is on the actions and reactions of the individual in the midst of the kill or be killed conflict of a phalanx versus phalanx battle. For all the detail given in this part of the book, it is also the most exciting section for the average reader.

Part Five: “Aftermath” is a reminder that the battle doesn’t end when one side withdraws. Hanson describes what happened to the wounded and the dead and the battles aftermath, weeks and even months after the last blow is struck. In the brief epilogue, Hanson returns and explores some of the issues he raised in chapters one and two. That is to say, he again addresses in what way the Greeks really developed a Western way of war and what was the connection between soldiering and citizenship.

While supposedly written for a popular audience, the prose is dense and academic and while Hanson does not use the standard Turabian foot note system, what he does use is a variation of the American Psychological Association or Modern Language Association styles for direct quotes and for his primary ancient sources. He also includes a significant chapter on his sources, as well as a long supplementary bibliography and a lengthy Index Locorum of primary sources. This book is therefore betwixt and between when it comes to the target audience. Hanson assumes that his reader has a relatively large amount of prerequisite knowledge about the Greeks and warfare, which may not be true for the casual reader, and yet it is not exhaustively foot noted as a true scholarly work would be. In fact, the work reads like a doctoral dissertation that edited and rewritten for a general audience. Not that is a bad thing, but neither does it fit comfortably in either category. Certainly this book would be interesting and useful to the well versed amateur military or Greek historian and the bachelors’ level or masters’ level students of Greek history.

Of course, the book is not perfect. Hanson has taken on a difficult task, to discuss classic hoplite battle in the age before most written sources were penned. He is forced to rely on archaeology, iconography and to extrapolate backward in time from the written sources available, for example when using sources like Thucydides, Herodotus or Xenophon, he acknowledges that they are writing from the very end of the era of his inquiry. Further, Hanson also used ancient sources that are some five centuries removed from the Classical era; in point of fact, such works become almost secondary source material, rather than primary ones. Yet, Hanson depends on these less than direct sources.

The other fault, although not a fatal one, in the book is that Hanson places far too much on the paradigm of decisive infantry battle as THE Western way of war. The Western way of war does indeed exist, the ideas that wars should be short and decisive and fought by citizens invested in the outcome of the war. But that idea also includes the use of advanced technologies to both protect from harm and inflict harm on soldiers. It also supposes highly disciplined and trained and well supported soldiers that respond to a central state authority. None of these are mentioned in the book and yet they are also part and parcel of the Western way of war. In short, while decisive infantry battle is indeed part of the model for Western warfare it is not the only part.

In conclusion, the book: The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece received well deserved raved reviews on its release. The book is indeed interesting and well written, despite it neither “fish nor fowl nor good red meat”  style, nor its approach to the supposed target audience. In fact, removing the strictures of strictly academic style improved the work and the assumption of intelligence and some background knowledge on the part of the interested reader is also a benefit. Any student studying Greek history, military history or Western civilization would benefit from reading this work.