Bloomsbury (2022) h/b 252 pp £85 (ISBN 9781350188648)

R. is an Associate Professor of Ancient Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University. He specialises in military history, especially in Greek naval warfare during the classical period. This current book is a worked up version of his Phd thesis.

One of his significant interests seems to be whether classical military personnel suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the same way as modern military personnel. In his introduction he briefly describes the current academic debate on this topic, where the ‘diachronics’ who, put simplistically, argue that because combatants in Vietnam experienced PTSD combatants at Marathon must also have done so, are ranged against the ‘relativists’, who, again put simplistically, argue that even if the circumstances are conducive to experiencing PTSD, the individual context of each conflict must determine the facts. R. argues that the quality of this debate would be improved by a fuller understanding of how military personnel were mobilised and demobilised during the classical period and sets out partially to remedy that by examining the experience of the hoplite in classical Athens.

In six chapters he explores the mobilisation of the hoplite, both as an individual on recruitment and as part of a corporate body once recruited; his demobilisation after the campaign both as part of a corporate body and as a returned citizen; and the treatment of the war dead, both by the state and subsequently by their families. This examination is supported by 100 pages of notes and bibliography, together with 13 illustrations (mainly of ceramics).

He identifies the distinction between the rituals performed for the hoplite in his home (oikos) as an individual private citizen and the corporate (polis) rituals performed on his behalf by his superiors while he is part of the fighting force. He also examines the purpose of the funeral oration for the fallen and the way in which their funeral treatment binds them more firmly to the polis than to their family.

His style is clear, fluid and admirably free of jargon. This enables him to set out some fascinating details about the recruitment process; how men were chosen if it was a partial mobilisation (by tribe); how they were informed that they had been chosen; how they were initially mustered (by deme). There are three useful tables listing more than 40 musters raised between 433 and 362 BC, together (when known) with the number of ships used to transport them if their mission was overseas. The numbers involved range, for hoplites, from 20,000 at Delium in 424 to 1,000 e.g. at Potidaea in 433 and, for ships, from 30 e.g. to the Chalcidice in 433 and 200 to the Peloponnese in 377. The lower numbers in each case predominate. His estimates of the hoplite strength on the battlefield range from 13,000 at Tanagra in 457 to 1,000 at the first battle of Mantinea in 418. The crews of the ships which accompanied the hoplites had a separate series of rituals to the hoplites themselves and it is unclear whether they attended the decommissioning parade for hoplites or had their dead commemorated in the same way as hoplites. The remains of those who died in battle were brought back to Athens in ten coffins (one for each tribe). They had been at least partially cremated and the contents of the coffins may have been more symbolic than comprehensive.

As with many of such topics the evidence is scanty; that drawn from contemporary historians such as Thucydides and Xenophon is intuitively the most reliable; that drawn from vase paintings is ambivalent and open to interpretation; that drawn from contemporary theatre is open to artistic licence.

R. has put forward a powerful and plausible account of what the hoplite experienced at both ends of his military experience whether at home or abroad. But he has not established that the experience was uniform at each muster nor that any pattern can be attributed to the behaviour of the individual serviceman. Although therefore he may not have achieved his goal of simplifying the PTSD debate, he has undoubtedly contributed some significant insights for the military or social historian of classical Athens. Only its price deters me from recommending this book warmly to the general Classics for All reader.

Roger Barnes