Book Review: A Storm of Spears: Understanding the Greek Hoplite in Action


by Christopher Matthew

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2012. Pp. xxii, 314. Illus., diagr., tables, notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 161200119X

How did the Hoplite fight?

A thoughtful introduction by Richard A. Gabriel pointing out the numerous problems of doing ancient military history opens A Storm of Spears.  The book is based on Matthew’s 2009 doctoral dissertation, and is an excellent example of how the use of traditional textual sources and analysis of art and archaeological finds can be supplemented by experimental archaeology to provide ground breaking insights into ancient cultures. 

Matthew combines a mastery of the relevant ancient documents and material remains with hands-on experience in fabricating, wearing, and using hoplite arms and armor to totally reshape our understanding of how the hoplite fought.  Using numerous diagrams, tables, and photographs, Matthew shows how re-enacting can help understand often hazy or incomplete ancient texts.  He addresses questions such as why was the hoplon, the characteristic shield of the hoplite, circular rather than square, what was “drill” like, how did one manage to wear the full hoplite panoply, how did tactical formations work, and what were the actual mechanics of engaging in combat, all of which taken together help explain how hoplite battles unfolded. 

A Storm of Spears is indispensable reading for anyone interested in ancient warfare.      

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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