Soldiers and Ghosts A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity J. E. Lendon

Publication date:
29 Sep 2006
Yale University Press
480 pages: 235 x 156mm

A major new history of battle in the ancient world, from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire

What set the successful armies of Sparta, Macedon, and Rome apart from those they defeated? In this major new history of battle from the age of Homer through the decline of the Roman empire, J. E. Lendon surveys a millennium of warfare to discover how militaries change—and don’t change—and how an army’s greatness depends on its use of the past. 

Noting this was an age that witnessed few technological advances, J. E. Lendon shows us that the most successful armies were those that made the most effective use of cultural tradition. Ancient combat moved forward by looking backward for inspiration—the Greeks, to Homer; the Romans, to the Greeks and to their own heroic past. The best ancient armies recruited soldiers from societies with strong competitive traditions; and the best ancient leaders, from Alexander to Julius Caesar, called upon those traditions to encourage ferocious competition at every rank.

Ranging from the Battle of Champions between Sparta and Argos in 550 B.C. through Julian’s invasion of Persia in A.D. 363, Soldiers and Ghosts brings to life the most decisive military contests of ancient Greece and Rome. Lendon places these battles, and the methods by which they were fought, in a sweeping narrative of ancient military history. On every battlefield, living soldiers fought alongside the ghosts of tradition—ghosts that would inspire greatness for almost a millennium before ultimately coming to stifle it.

J. E. Lendon teaches history at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Empire of Honour: The Art of Government in the Roman World.

"Brilliantly analyzed."—William Grimes, New York Times

"Soldiers and Ghosts, like any ghost story should be, is fast-paced, cunningly constructed and supplied with an eerie final twist. And it deserves to be read far beyond the confines of university classics departments, because its theme is a universal one: the impulse that drives men to go to war."—Tom Holland, Sunday Telegraph

"A classical scholar displays formidable scholarship . . . in this history of combat in the classical world from the Iliad to the fall of Rome. . . . Witty, erudite, and painstaking."—Publishers Weekly

"Soldiers and Ghosts stimulates the reader and has many interesting insights. I particularly like the bibliographic notes pointing to further research."—Matthew Trundle, Ancient History

". . . [Lendon] offers an interesting analysis of the Homeric cult of the individual warrior in the subsequent age of the hoplite."—Jeremy Black, History Today

"[The Peloponnesian War] continues to attract astoundingly good historians. [Lendon's book is] among the very best . . . [He puts] the fighting he describes and analyses so well into its broadest social context . . . [His] unconventional narrative and expository strategies . . . [provide] fruitfully wide impact and interest . . ."—Paul Cartledge, The Anglo- Hellenic Review

Runner-up for the Longman-History Today Book of the Year award, 2006

Selected for Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, 2006

"Soldiers and Ghosts isa stunningly original contribution to our understanding of ancient warfare, written with great style and verve. It is one of those rare books that powerfully challenges received opinion and demands attention. At the same time, it is a wonderful read that should hold appeal for any layman with an interest in the Greeks and Romans or simply in the history of warfare."—Donald Kagan, author of The Peloponnesian War

"Soldiers and Ghosts offersa wholly original cultural history of Greek and Roman warfare. The book is hugely impressive in scope and ambition, often brilliant in interpretation, elegantly constructed and wonderfully written."—Hans van Wees, University College, London, author of Greek Warfare: myths and realities

"This fascinating book is an eloquent reminder that ideals matter even more than technology in war, then and now. Athenian and Spartan generals, and Alexander in Asia fought their battles with Homer’s Iliad in mind, mindful of the enduring Greek values of rivalry and cleverness. But (as Lendon encourages us to wonder) if Roman leaders had not continued this tradition of individual distinction, would fewer soldiers have died, and would the Roman Empire have been able to withstand the forces that eventually destroyed it?"—Mary Lefkowitz, Wellesley College

"An ambitious and interesting attempt at a cultural approach to military history."—reviewing shortlist for 2005 History Today Award