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  • A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon's Anabasis
  • Tim Rood
A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon's Anabasis. By John W. I. Lee. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-521-87068-9. Illustrations. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 323. $99.00.

John W. I. Lee has produced a stimulating and highly readable book that should appeal not just to scholars of Xenophon or classical Greek history, but to anyone interested in military history. He situates his work in relation to two recent trends in military history: a focus on logistics and a concern with recreating the experiences of the common soldier (here he acknowledges the influence of John Keegan and Victor Davis Hanson). His own work is concerned more with logistics, and draws on a wide variety of comparative data, both modern and ancient; the book's title A Greek Army on the March can be read as an indication of the composite nature of the picture (though Lee does note points where the experience of the Ten Thousand differed from normal Greek conditions). But he manages to treat this seemingly dry material with some of the gripping humanity typical of Keegan's work on the face of battle.

The book is neatly organized, with successive chapters offering detailed discussions of unit organization and community; the hoplites' load ('The things they carried' – a nod to Tim O'Brien); how the soldiers marched and set up camp; how they cooked and disposed of their waste (Lee even calculates the daily mass of feces produced by the army); and attendants and companions. There are three extremely helpful Appendixes on the chronology and conditions of the march, troop strengths, and recorded casualties.

A key theme throughout the work is the lack of centralized administration in the army (in contrast with the more idealized Persian army of the Cyropaedia). Lee scores some good hits on scholarly obsession with regarding the Ten Thousand as a 'marching democracy' or 'a polis on the march'. He makes us focus on smaller units within the army: the company or lochos and the small mess group or suskenia. He reads Xenophon carefully to extract evidence for the hold of these small units on soldiers' identities and on their day-to-day lives, but there may be a danger of going too far: the problem is that he often has to recreate elements of soldiers' experience on the basis of what seems likely, and the priority of the mess group is so firmly entrenched that it tends to dominate what are compelling – and yet still essentially fictional – reconstructions. That is, the very attractiveness of Lee's style [End Page 625] of presentation may make his picture of the army seem more firmly rooted in hard evidence than is always the case. Given that, as Lee himself admits, some of his conclusions are at most 'plausible reconstructions' (p. 280), I would also have liked a more focussed discussion of the ideological grounds for Xenophon's selective presentation.

Readers may find themselves disagreeing with a few other elements in Lee's reconstruction – and Lee himself overmodestly regards the book as a beginning rather than an end. I was struck, for instance, by his suggestion that the Greek soldiers deliberately attempted to take advantage of the drug effects of the honey of the Pontic mountains (p. 229), but wonder whether this makes them too close to the pill-popping American soldiers of Michael Herr's Dispatches. Lee does also tend to adopt the perspective of the centre (the Greek mercenaries) rather than the margins (the people through whose lands they passed). He writes that the mercenaries were 'fortunately' able to find indoor quarters in Carduchia (p. 149) – but what about those they had displaced? And once, after noting that two foreign youngsters who were taken away as lovers by Greek mercenaries had no choice in the matter, he adds that 'the army's march into their native lands must have been the kind of exciting event that far surpassed anything else that had ever happened in their remote corners of the world' (p. 269: 'remote' for whom?). The same...


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pp. 625-626
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2010
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