Book Review: Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East, 401-330 BCE


by Jeffrey Rop

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xviii, 268. Maps, tables., diagr., chron., notes, biblio., index. $99.99. ISBN: 1108499503

Why Did Ancient Kings Hire Greek Mercenaries?

By examining the role of Greek mercenaries in the service of Persia and Egypt from the end of the Peloponnesian War to the conquests of Alexander, Prof. Rop (Minnesota-Duluth), takes on one of the most persistent assumptions of Western historians, that Greek military prowess was greatly superior to that of any other power at the time, which he calls the “Greek thesis”.

Rop argues that the relatively large numbers of Greek mercenary troops in Egyptian or Persian service was due not so much to their superiority as to other factors. The relative poverty of the Hellenic statelets made mercenary service a viable employment option, especially in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, when literally tens of thousands of seasoned warriors found themselves without a job. Both Egypt and Persia not only had a need for troops, but they had the surplus cash, to pay for them, and by hiring mercenaries, they reserved their own manpower for the production of more wealth; despite resorting to the use of mercenaries, Persian and Egyptian armies were usually always composed of at least four-fifths native troops.

In addition, serving the Shah or the Pharaoh brought prestige not only to those who soldiered, but also to their cities, which could benefit from their ties to the great kings. Rop attributes the rise of the “Greek thesis” to the limited nature of our sources, literally all Greek or Graeco-Roman, and their authors were thus likely to stress successful performances by Greek troops, while explaining away failures, of which he notes more than a few, and to proponents of Western supremacy.

Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East is an essential read for anyone interested in the ancient west, not only throwing light on the military practice of the times, but also gives us some insights in the uses and abuses of history.


Note: Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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