London colloquium on Greek warfare in April

An incredible amount of ink has been spilled discussing that most thorny of ancient Greek military problems: the hoplite phalanx. In hefty discussions some thirty years ago, two camps emerged. On the one side, we had the “orthodoxy”, which claimed that hoplite equipment and phalanx tactics developed in tandem, no later than ca. 650 BC, and could be associated with sociopolitical developments in the form of an emerging “middle class” of citizen-farmers that broke the might of ruling aristocracies. Fighting between rival hoplite phalanxes often led to a scrum or othismos, a “pushing” contest that ended when one side finally broke and ran.

The second camp opposes the orthodox narrative, supposedly embracing a “heresy”. These scholars generally don’t assume that hoplite equipment and phalanx tactics emerged simultaneously. In fact, they generally argue that phalanx tactics did not emerge until quite late, perhaps shortly before the Persian Wars or sometimes even after. They also generally argue against the notion that the “rise of the hoplite” went hand-in-hand with marked social changes, emphasizing instead that early hoplites were members of the elite. Hoplite fighting is often regarded as more fluid and freeform than is often assumed under the “orthodoxy”, and the othismos is typically assumed to have been meant metaphorically by our sources

Those who have read my Henchmen of Ares know that I belong firmly in the “heretical” camp of the discussion, siding with notable authors such as Hans van Wees, G.L. Cawkwell, and Peter Krentz. The strongest proponent of the “orthodoxy” is undoubtedly Victor Davis Hanson. A few years ago, there was an attempt to bring the discussion on the hoplite phalanx forward, which resulted in the publication last year of Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece (edited by Donald Kagan and Gregory Viggiano). Unfortunately, consensus still seems unattainable.

Cezary Kucewicz, who will be contributing an article to issue VIII.2 of Ancient Warfare, is one of the organizers of a colloquium to be held on 25 April at University College London. Yours truly will be one of the speakers there. The official announcement is below. If you are in London around that time, please register and attend. It is sure to become an interesting day.

The official announcement by Cezary Kucewicz is displayed below.

The Phalanx and Beyond: Ways Forward in the Study of Greek Warfare

25 April 2014, Institute of Classical Studies, Senate House, London

The field of ancient Greek warfare has been one of the most controversial and fiercely debated fields in the whole of ancient Greek history. Many topics have been at the centre of lively discussion in recent years, including: the nature and historical reliability of Homeric warfare; the emergence of the phalanx and its implications on early Greek social and political history; the mechanics of hoplite combat and the othismos debate; the “agonal” conventions of Greek war; and the uniqueness of Greek hoplite warfare in the Mediterranean world. The 2008 conference on early Greek hoplite warfare in Yale University, papers of which were recently published in an edited volume by D. Kagan and G. F. Viggiano (Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece), has only emphasized the differences between the leading scholars’ approaches to the subject, giving a somewhat misleading impression of a stalemate in the field.

The present colloquium – generously supported by the Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London – seeks to address this stalemate, bringing together the latest research in the multifarious field of ancient Greek warfare, from both early career researchers and established academics. By looking at the ideology and practice of war, as well as its social and political implications on the wider Greek world in three different periods (Iron Age, Archaic Greece, Classical Greece), the colloquium will consider the subject of Greek warfare from a broader perspective, shifting the focus away from the traditional discourses surrounding the ‘hoplite revolution’. Combining a number of different approaches, including archaeology, iconography, the wider social impact of war, and tactics, the speakers will propose new avenues for research, redefining the old questions and controversies, and breaking from a number of outdated and misleading assumptions. The importance of the ‘men of bronze’ for our understanding of ancient Greek warfare, as it will be argued, is in fact much smaller than once thought.

Confirmed speakers include Hans van Wees (UCL), Fernando Echeverria (Madrid), Stephen O’Brien (Chester), Katherine Harrell (Louvain), Josho Brouwers (Editor, Ancient Warfare), Matthew Lloyd (Oxford), Joshua Hall (Cardiff), Roel Konijnendijk (UCL), Cezary Kucewicz (UCL), Benedict Lowe (Aarhus).

The one-day colloquium will be held at the Institute of Classical Studies at Senate House in London on Friday 25th April 2014, 09:30–17.00. The colloquium is free of charge and open to both students and academics, but places are limited and must be reserved in advance. Registration closes on Friday, 11 April 2014.

To book your place and for more information please contact Cezary Kucewicz.

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