by Myke Cole
Oxford and New York: Osprey Bloomsbury, 2021. Pp. 464+.
Illus., maps, appends., gloss., biblio., index. $30.00. ISBN: 1472843754
How Tough Were the Spartans?
Cole, author of Legion Versus Phalanx and many other works, uses his experiences as a military analyst, Afghanistan veteran, wargamer, and reenactor, together with extensive research in ancient and modern literature, to raise some serious questions about the military reputation of the Spartans.
Based on an analysis of the evidence from 126 battles, Cole concludes that the Spartans clearly won only 50, while losing a surprising 71 and drawing in five more, hardly a record that one would expect based on their reputations as a warrior people. He advances evidence that the Spartans and their reputedly rigorous social, educational, and military institutions were perhaps not what they’re reputed to have been; not even their reputed piety holds up under close scrutiny.
One excellent example is Cole’s analysis of the famed stand of Leonidas and the 300 at Thermopylae. He concludes that the Spartans did not march off believing they were on a suicide mission, and, of course, they were no alone there, nor – as in the recent graphic novel and motion picture 300 -- did they fight virtually naked. Nor, in all probability, was the “secret” of the pass that led to their final defeat revealed by a traitor, but was probably well known.
In making his case, Cole draws on extensive research, and carefully lays out evidence that can be drawn from the often contradictory ancient sources to raise these questions, and has come to the conclusion that much of what we “know” about Sparta is untrue.
The Bronze Lie is an important read for those with an interest in ancient Greece and the supposed origins of the “Western Way of War”, but the book is marred by a lack of notes.
Note: The Bronze Lie is also available in several e-editions.
StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium (www.nymas.org)