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Hippeis: The Cavalry of Ancient Greece.

Leslie Worley sets out to trace the evolution of cavalry on the battlefields of ancient Greece. He succeeds at doing that with general clarity, and this account will probably prove of great interest to the general reader. He discerns three stages in the evolution of cavalry in Greece. The first involved the use of cavalry as rapid conveyance to, from, and sometimes across the field of battle. This phase begins in the Bronze Age with the Mycenaeans and ends with the final battle of the Second Persian War, Plataea, in 479 B.C. The second stage was use as a platform for "harassment, screening, and pursuit." This period runs from Plataea through the end of the Peloponnesian War in 4134 B.C. The third period was characterized by use of the weight and speed of cavalry units in shock tactics. Worley recognizes that these practices evolved gradually and he does not over-schematize.

The book's strengths are its excellent use of painted depictions and data from epigraphy in. The illustrations are well-chosen and are integrated usefully into the text. Worley uses this wide selection of evidence to evoke the realities of Greek life. For instance, he notes such details as the attention paid to the lower rim of armor, where it might be expected to come into contact with man or horse and in that way lets the grave of the putative horseman tell us its story. He also makes telling use of the bare and superficially boring numbers from the records of the Athenian sitos (the grain allowance to cavalrymen). He uses these to draw a picture of the rapidly rising casualties toward the end of the Peloponnesian War.

Worley constructs interesting narratives of all-too-well-known battles from the little regarded perspective of horseback, and many of these accounts will give even a Greek military historian an opportunity to rethink an engagement. A few parts of the discussion seem naive. For example, there is a discussion of what Agamemnon might have used in the way of equipment, and acceptance of an intrinsically implausible later anecdote about Peisistratus disarming the Athenians in the mid-sixth century. What were neighboring states and families already in exile and hostile to the regime supposed to be doing while Athens was disarmed? Consider, too, the author's use of a story about one attack-horse, which even Herodotus found remarkable, to generalize implausibly about the excellence of the Persian training of mounts, and his romanticization of the fourth-century hard-bitten mercenary, depicted here as physically toughened, willing to tackle any task, and directed by intense discipline. All of these things were true to some degree, of course, but one would like to see a few concessions to the gritty realities in Xenophon's Ariabasis.

In some other cases one would like to see more conceptual clarity as a concession even to the ancient historian or militarily-affiliated reader. It is not at all clear, for instance, why the modern term "platform," is useful in the second phase of cavalry development. Is Worley conceiving of the horse as a platform for the delivery of missile weapons? Does that represent a shift from reliance on thrusting weapons and on the horse as supplier of force behind the thrust? General readers could use some help with such Greek social terms as "the best." Some professional readers trained in either the ancient or medieval eras will doubt the correlation between horses and long swords and will want more information on whether each sword is double-edged or otherwise meant for slashing. Finally, Worley has not been well-served by his press, which has let its computer software run amuck and turned the famous Macedonian Companion cavalry into the [central Italian] Campanian cavalry, a glitch that must make any teacher wince at the thought of the strategic picture of the Mediterranean world that undergraduates could draw from that!

But these are quibbles. It is more likely that the reader will wish that Worley had explored, more thoroughly than he does in this short book, the implications of some of his suggestions. One would like to hear more about the implications of the cavalry-navy trade-off implied in exemption of the cavalry from the trierarchy, about the tactical consequences of supplementing the left of a right-wheeling phalanx with cavalry, about the implications for Athenian policy and aspirations that the Athenian democracy went into the Peloponnesian War with a strong cavalry second only to the traditional horse-breeding region of Thessaly, and about his extension of the argument of others that Xenophon served as cavalry commander to Agesilaus. Just where are all the "Asian and Persian influences" in the Greek cavalry of the new era? The efficacy of Worley's attempt to redress the neglect of cavalry-history is demonstrated by the questions it raises.

Phyllis Culham United States Naval Academy
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Author:Culham, Phyllis
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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