Book Review: Greek Warfare beyond the Polis: Defense, Strategy, and the Making of Ancient Federal States


by David A. Blome

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2020. Pp. xiv, 156. Maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. 39.95. ISBN: 1501747525

Ungentlemanly Warfare among the Upland Greeks

While part of the Hellenic world, the peoples of the upland regions – the Arcadians, Phocians, Aetolians, Acarnanians, and others – were largely regarded as “backward” both by the peoples of the more famous coastal and lowland poleis – particularly the Athenians – but also most scholars. Dr. Blome, an independent scholar and former Marine who came to ancient history through his experience of war, makes a major contribution to recent efforts to study ancient Greece “Beyond the Polis”, from the perspective of the ways in which these peoples waged war and how this helps explain the origins of their “confederal” institutions.

Blome examines four cases in which these supposedly less sophisticated peoples defended themselves successfully against invasion by more powerful enemies. Although largely armed and organized more or less like their foes, with hoplite infantry supplemented by some light infantry and cavalry, they waged war quite differently in three ways.

Firstly, they “displayed little interest in fair, open, or gentlemanly fights” (p. 98), but rather were willing to retreat in order to lure their foes on to terrain favorable to ambushes, attacked at night when possible, and only engaged under favorable circumstances.

Secondly, unlike the “mainstream” Greeks, they were willing to cede territory, rather than defend every inch of their soil, a practice that helped lure their foes into vulnerable situations, while lulling them into a false sense of security.

Thirdly, they viewed victory not as a matter of winning battles or slaying hecatombs of their enemies, but in terms of driving them out of their territories.

Blome uses a campaign by each of the four peoples he studies to illustrate these differences, of which perhaps the “Phocian Chalk Raid” on a Thessalian encampment is perhaps the most unorthodox.

A valuable contribution to the study of polities and warfare in ancient Greece, Greek Warfare Beyond the Polis is also likely to prove a valuable read for anyone with an interest in “unconventional” warfare.



Note: Greek Warfare Beyond the Polis is also available in several e-editions.


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

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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