Revisiting Henchmen of Ares

The publication of Henchmen of Ares: Warriors and Warfare in Early Greece, back in late 2013, was a milestone in a research career that dates back to at least the year 2000, when I first started to seriously think about ancient Greek warfare. I finished my master’s thesis on Early Greek warfare in 2005 and then spent another four years turning that into a PhD thesis, which I defended in March of 2010.

The final book has a completely different structure from the PhD thesis. The latter had an introduction, a chapter on Mycenaean Greece, and then various chapters dealing with different types of evidence for the Iron Age and Archaic periods (burials with arms, arms deposited at sanctuaries and temples, fortifications, iconographic evidence, Homer, other Archaic poets and inscriptions, and finally Herodotus). The book’s contents are organized chronologically, using a division proposed in the conclusion to my original dissertation.

Some of the finer details from my dissertation were dropped from the book for various reasons. A PhD thesis by necessity has to be overly thorough, taking various things into account that don’t necessarily make for a very gripping read. But the book does, of course, keep the key points from my thesis, and I managed to emphasize points that I believe were especially important (such as the notion that Greece was more or less peripheral to the larger Mediterranean world at the time).

Reviews

Since the book’s release, a number of reviews have been published, all of which – I am happy to say – have been positive. Recently, Philip Matyszak wrote a favourable review about the book over at the UNRV website, writing that ‘if you want only one book on pre-classical Greek warfare, this should be it.’ That’s high praise indeed!

Earlier, favourable reviews were published by Antike Welt and on Strife (the blog created by students from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London). Cezary Kucewicz, in his review in Antike Welt, called the book ‘ambitious’, and wrote that it ‘provides an excellent overview of the cultural history of warriors and warfare in early Greece’. Likewise, Louis Mignot on Strife called it ‘an important foundational read for anyone interested in Greek warfare.’

A more negative review was very recently published on the Bryn Mawr website. The review was written by Christopher Matthew, whose PhD thesis was published by Pen & Sword as Storm of Spears: Understanding the Greek Hoplite at War (about which I published a critical review in July 2013 on this very blog). Matthew’s comments are a little hard to parse for me, so I will briefly discuss them here.

First of all, Matthew asserts that Henchmen of Ares is a non-scholarly book before stating that is a reworked version of my PhD thesis. I think he calls it ‘non-scholarly’ solely because it lacks footnotes and has prettier pictures than what he would deem typical of scholarly works. He points out that I list references to ancient texts in the main body, but somehow neglects to spot that I also discuss important secondary literature in the same way.

Secondly, he also glosses over the quite extensive bibliographic notes. He says that there is no further reading and no regular bibliography (as in a largely nondescript list of referenced works), despite the fact that the bibliographic notes are, in fact, a combination of footnotes, suggestions for further reading, and a list of references. He also says that my notes are in places ‘simplistic’ and ‘missing references to some key works’ (I would like to know which ones, but Matthew’s review has no references – I assume he believes that I don’t write enough about the inner workings of the phalanx).

Additions and corrections

As with any book, every reader looks for different things, and the comments made by reviewers have certainly fuelled my thoughts as regards what I would add, correct, or change for a (hypothetical) second edition.

Nearly all of the reviewers raise similar points of criticism with regards to the book. The first point is that perhaps the vase-paintings and other forms of Greek art are not treated with enough scepticism. Problems of interpretation were discussed in more detail in the PhD thesis – because it was structured differently – and I think they may have fallen by the wayside in Henchmen. I think in a future edition of the book I will devote more space to discussion the problems inherent in studying the different types of material, as interpretive problems arise not just with the iconographic evidence, but also with the archaeological data and the texts (as Louis Mignot pointed out specifically).

In fact, for a future edition, I should probably add a kind of ‘primer’ that discusses the different types of evidence and their associated interpretive problems (for example, the fact that burials with arms are comparatively rare, that we don’t have iconographic evidence for all periods under examination, that texts should be treated with caution because of this-and-that). It would be an appendix like the bibliographic notes, but devoted exclusively to the evidence (with references that are now scattered across the bibliographic essay integrated here).

What most reviewers also note is that the modern reconstructions perhaps should be accompanied with more of an explanation as to how we (author and artists) arrived at the final image. I’m thinking something similar to the explanation for plates in Osprey titles would work really well here, added as an appendix of sorts.

A penultimate point of criticism, raised by Louis Mignot, is that tactics are not explored in detail in Henchmen of Ares. The reason for that is that my interest is largely cultural – I don’t particularly care overmuch about battlefield tactics, but in a future edition of the book I should probably explore this topic a little better.

The final point, raised by Cezary Kucewicz, is that Henchmen doesn’t focus as much on the social aspect of the developments in the Archaic period in particular. I agree with this: there is probably room to explore socio-political change from the Iron Age down to the Persian Wars in a little more detail. In particular, the shift from smallish warbands to large armies, which I date to the second half of the sixth century BC, can be made stronger when more of the socio-political aspects are taken into consideration.

Closing remarks

As kind of a side project, I plan on putting together a PDF with some notes about the book, including additions and corrections (and explanations for the plates!). I hope to make these notes available here sometime during the summer. If you have any comments or questions regarding Henchmen of Ares, I would love to hear from you, so that perhaps I can incorporate your comments in the PDF. You can reach me via email or by using the website’s contact form.

Right now, though, we’re really busy with trying to get the new Ancient History Magazine up and running! If you haven’t yet filled in the survey, please visit the blog post that I just posted. My thanks for your support.

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