John Buckler - Cavalry Operations in the Ancient Greek World (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 218-219

Cavalry Operations in the Ancient Greek World. By Robert E. Gaebel. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8061-3365-1. Maps. Figures. Glossary. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xiv, 345. $34.95.

Robert E. Gaebel has provided a complete history of the use of cavalry in ancient warfare from the first appearance of the horse in the Ancient Near East and Greece until the Second Punic War. The most valuable aspects of the book are its author's experience as a classical historian and an equestrian. His sources include literary accounts of battles and such archaeological evidence as vase painting and sculpture. Although he provides maps and battle plans, the selection of the latter includes only two battles of the fifty-five discussed. Neither include any of the victories of Alexander the Great.

Gaebel fuses his knowledge of the horse with its capacities and limitations in actual use. Here he makes his most valuable contribution to any understanding of the horse in the military history of antiquity. He successfully argues that the lack of stirrups did not impede the effectiveness of horsemen. Even if they could not use lances as did the mediaeval knights, they could still wield hand-held spears to strike at the enemy. This conclusion amounts almost to heresy, but the author amply proves his case by discussing the capability of Greek horses and the nature of their equipment.

In the narrative proper Gaebel conservatively and carefully follows the findings of previous scholars, while drawing his own conclusions. He concentrates on giving a general account of various battles, laying particular emphasis on the functioning of cavalry. For the most part, before the days of Alexander it found its primary function in protecting the flanks of the phalanx and pursuing the defeated enemy. Three fourth-century battles, however, illustrated the offensive capability of well-trained horses and men. At Tegyra in 375 BC, Leuktra in 371, and Mantineia in 362 Theban generals employed cavalry to penetrate enemy lines. Philip II of Macedonia and his son Alexander proved the most ardent students of these developments. They first systematically concentrated on turning cavalry from a supporting arm into an offensive force. Philip used his Thessalian cavalry at the Crocus Plain [End Page 218] in 353 to crush the Phokian flank, the first example of the new Macedonian tactics. Although Philip deployed no cavalry at his masterpiece of Chaeroneia in 338, Alexander transformed the arm into a formidable part of the army that he led to India. Hannibal in the west learned Alexander's eastern lessons, which he used in a string of victories against Rome. Only Scipio Africanus, himself a member of this equestrian tradition, overcame the Carthaginians at Zama in 202.

In sum, Gaebel has traced the evolution of a scouting and secondary branch of service into an effective arm of attack. The coverage is complete and for the most part sound.


John Buckler
University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

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