Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
24 March 2011
Review by Peter Probst, Universität Hamburg
A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon's Anabasis
By John W. I. Lee
Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. Pp xxii, 323. ISBN 978-0-521-87068-9.
Descriptors: Volume 2011, Antiquity, Greco-Persian Wars, Logistics Print Version

Although ancient historians and classical philologists have studied Xenophon's Anabasis intensively in a wide range of publications, A Greek Army on the March proves that it is still possible to discover a new, fascinating, and meaningful approach to this work of ancient literature. John W.I. Lee (UC Santa Barbara), a recognized expert in the military history of classical Greece,[1] has analyzed in detail of the march of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries in the service of Cyrus the Younger; in particular, his focus on the army's smaller subunits, the lochoi and suskeniai, yields new insights into the everyday life of the ancient Greek soldier. His new book builds on his considerable earlier work the Anabasis.[2]

In chapter 1 ("Introduction," 1-17), Lee sketches the historical background and outlines the three main points of his analysis: drawing on the influential work of John Keegan[3] and Victor Davis Hanson,[4] he concentrates on the individual experiences and the daily lives of common soldiers during the two-year campaign, from its beginning at Sardis to its conclusion in Byzantium, and the later period when many of the men took service with Spartan forces in Asia Minor. Secondly, applying the findings of Donald Engels,[5] Lee treats the logistical problems and complications that the army faced. Thirdly, he examines the social community and organizational elements of the army's structure observable especially in the above mentioned subunits, the importance of which has already been demonstrated by Andrew Dalby.[6] There follows a short overview of the subsequent chapters and finally an evaluation of the Anabasis as a historical source and Xenophon's ambivalent position as both participant in the campaign and author of the text.

The book's chapters, which at all times keep every stage of the march in mind, are structured alike: a short précis of the topic at hand and the key issues involved precedes the main presentation, the analysis, and a summary of the most significant points.

Like other studies of the Anabasis, Lee's work begins (chapter 2: "The Marching Route," 18-42) with a detailed survey of the route taken by the Greek mercenaries. He divides the entire distance into six segments and analyzes the geographical peculiarities, logistical challenges, and military problems confronted in each. He adopts throughout a very broad, "environmental rather than … topographical approach" (18), with special emphasis on climatic conditions as they may be deduced from modern data.

Chapter 3 ("The Army," 43-79) presents "a portrait of the army as a whole, with particular attention to its changing contingent organization, and to its ethnic, demographic, and economic characteristics" (11). Lee highlights the different contingents and their commanders, noting that interactions among these groups produced a kind of "corporate identity" that, owing to the exigencies of military life, greatly reduced the effect of ethnic loyalties.

The fourth chapter ("Unit Organization and Community," 80-108) deals with the organization of the entire army, with an emphasis on the lochoi, a subunit of about 100 men, and suskeniai (and sussitiai), smaller groups about the size of a mess-units, comparable to the Roman contubernia. Both comprised essential reference groups for common soldiers. Besides the recruitment and composition of these units, Lee delineates their tactical, administrative, and social functions, discerning an "institutional identity" that defined each soldier's place in the army (91, 107). The suskeniai were especially significant in the everyday lives of soldiers: "The intimate nature of suskenic and sussitic life both provided a sense of security and fostered a sort of group code" (98), although under the conditions of a military campaign this arose not from a "social cohesion" but from a "task cohesion" (104). Though Lee cautions that the coexistence of the two types of units could cause divided loyalties among the men, he posits an overarching "tenuous balance between lochos and suskenia" (108).

Chapter 5 ("The Things They Carried," 109-39) is concerned with various facets of military logistics. Lee catalogues the sorts of things soldiers had to transport (weapons, armor, clothes, tents, equipment, food), the available means and the difficulties of transportation (total weight, pack and draught animals, bags, sacks, and containers), and how the equipment was maintained, repaired, and replaced. He reveals how the soldiers coped with problems that arose at specific stages of the campaign.

Chapter 6 ("Marching," 140-72) is dedicated to the actual marching itself as a complex procedure consisting of manifold tasks. Lee investigates the several marching formations, the effect of weather on march rates, and the risks and dangers the men were exposed to—all through the eyes of the common soldier. As soon as the troops reached the Black Sea, they could continue their route by ship, the easiest mode of transportation in those days, but very difficult to organize for so large a force.

Chapter 7 ("Resting," 173-207) describes in detail where and how the army rested during the different phases of the campaign, the space needed for lochoi and suskeniai, and the daily tasks the soldiers had to perform. Rest periods were also important as times free from fighting or marching when social contact was possible. After Cyrus's death at the battle of Cunaxa, when safe, regular encampment was often impossible during the perilous retreat through enemy territory, the soldiers simply drew closer together and maintained additional security measures. The troops certainly made use of villages, if available, but Lee rightly asserts that such places lacked structures sufficient to shelter all the soldiers.

The eighth chapter, on "Eating and Drinking" (208-31), concentrates on the social interactions involved in cooking and common meals, tasks of the suskeniai. Lee also discusses fire and fuel, the nutritional value of available provisions, and problems of transporting, preparing, and (especially in the case of meat) preserving food. His lively and meticulous description underscores the social value of the tent- and mess-units and the extent of the individual soldier's dependence on his comrades.

Chapter 9 ("The Soldier's Body," 232-54) details how much the Greeks were burdened by skirmishes, weather, and difficulties in securing provisions. Lee examines the health and perseverance of the men as well as the problems of provisioning at the beginning of and during the campaign. He also studies sanitary conditions and personal hygiene. As for medical care, even light wounds and injuries as well as diseases could be lethal under the conditions of the campaign. The near nonexistence of any centralized medical treatment meant the soldiers had to depend on each other for help and expertise. As far as possible, they also saw to decent burials and funeral rites for the dead.

Chapter 10 ("Slaves, Servants, and Companions," 255-75) addresses the dearth of noncombatants in the mercenary army. Many examples are adduced to show that the soldiers themselves performed tasks normally carried out by slaves, though higher ranking soldiers and officers had servants. Xenophon distinguishes between ochlos ("multitude"), skeuophora ("baggage animals"), and andrapoda ("captives"). We first hear of the latter only after Cunaxa; in some cases, they were likely sexual companions of soldiers.

Finally, Lee summarizes the essential aspects of the study (chapter 11: "Beyond the Battlefield," 276-81). He argues convincingly that some tasks (medical care, securing provisions) were the responsibility of the lochoi and suskeniai because of the army's lack of central organization. The experience of the soldiers in these matters and their ability to make independent decisions were critical to the implementation of routine military operations. And, too, the networks of friendship that unquestionably developed within the suskeniai were "a fitting counterpoint to the emphasis on the aristocratic symposion" (279). Although he does not force this analogy, Lee nevertheless calls for more research in this direction even though fewer sources are available for the suskeniai.

End matter includes three tables charting the chronology of the expedition and the general conditions of the march (283-89), the strength of the mercenary force at different times during the campaign (290), and verifiable casualties; Lee also provides a comprehensive bibliography (293-317), and indices (318-23) of special terms, Greek words, persons and places, and ancient and modern authors.

Since some of the matters discussed in this study are mentioned in the Anabasis only rarely and in passing, we are often dealing with assumptions or (Lee's term) "reconstructions" (280). The critical reader will note, for example, that speculations about the social networking within the suskeniai are sometimes based on a single anecdote in the Anabasis (101-103). Nonetheless, Lee usually supports his assumptions and suppositions with relevant references to other works of Xenophon (Hellenica, Cyropedia), to military life and logistics in later armies (e.g., in Roman times or the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), and to circumstantial evidence. He pointedly calls his study "a beginning rather than an end" (280) of intensive research into the questions he addresses. Though we may regret that he seldom touches on various other areas, for example, tactics and strategy, or the impact of the march on local populations along the route, we must accept his well-founded reasons for restricting the investigation to the specific topics he has selected.[7]

On the whole, Lee has presented a fascinating, valuable, easy to read study. By adopting a far-reaching view "beyond the battlefield" into the lives of Xenophon's mercenaries, he provides a refreshingly new analysis that will surprise even those closely familiar with the Anabasis. I can, therefore, heartily recommend A Greek Army on the March both to readers interested in ancient military history and to specialists in Xenophon and his works.

[1] See most recently "Urban Warfare in the Classical Greek World," in Victor Hanson, ed., Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton: Princeton U Pr, 2010) 138-62; "Land Warfare in Xenophon's Hellenika," in Robert Strassler, ed., The Landmark Xenophon's Hellenika (NY: Pantheon, 2009) 391-94; "Warfare in the Classical Age," in Konrad Kinzl, ed., A Companion to the Classical Greek World (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006) 481-508.

[2] See, e.g., his "Xenophon's Anabasis and the Origins of Military Autobiography," in Alex Vernon, ed., Arms and the Self: War, the Military, and Autobiographical Discourse (Kent: Kent State U Pr, 2005) 41-60; "'For there were many hetairai in the army': Women in Xenophon's Anabasis," The Ancient World 35 (2004) 145-65; and "The Lochos in Xenophon's Anabasis," in Christopher Tuplin, ed., Xenophon and His World: Papers from a Conference Held in Liverpool in July 1999 (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2004) 289-317.

[3] The Face of Battle (NY: Viking, 1976).

[4] The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: U Cal Pr, 2000).

[5] Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (Berkeley: U Cal Pr, 1978).

[6] "Greeks Abroad: Social Organization and Food among the Ten Thousand," Journal of Hellenic Studies 112 (1992) 16-30.

[7] For complementary contributions on matters of social history, see Robin Lane Fox, ed., The Long March: Xenophon and the Ten Thousand (New Haven: Yale U Pr, 2004).

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