Posted in book review

‘Ancient Greek Cavalry’ and Alexander the Great’s Companion – review

Ancient Greek Cavalry: The History and Legacy of Classical Greece’s Forgotten SoldiersAncient Greek Cavalry: The History and Legacy of Classical Greece’s Forgotten Soldiers by Charles River Editors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The image of a gallant bedight knight on a steed heading for a romantic journey for El Dorado or a noble cause for joining a loyal cavalry would have been a laughing stock of the ancient Greek soldiers. They regarded cavalry soldiers as aristocratic good-for-nothing redundant auxiliary to the mighty phalanx composed of ordinary foot soldiers called hoplites. From the Bronze Mycenean age until the emergence of Macedonia as the Greek military superpower, the historical context of the ancient Greek cavalry reflected the signs of military and sociopolitical developments in the 5th century BC Greece and the world beyond. The book informs the reader of the background of the rise of the cavalry in ancient Greek society thanks to Alexander the Great and its effects on military and societal contexts proven to be timelessly brilliant.

First of all, the geographical factor of the Greek islands, in general, made it difficult for the effective use of horse-driven chariots in battles due to its mountainous terrain as illustrated by the Oracle of Delphi in the valley, the Mount Olympus, and other divine earthly places. The rocky roads were not conducive to heavily charged chariots, preventing them from maneuvering the moves swiftly in warfare. In fact, the introduction of a horse race in the Olympic Games where the wealthy horse breeders reconciled the equestrian equipment’s military value to a sports game’s monetary value.

Secondly, horses were expensive to breed and maintain, as they still are in our time, and only a few wealthy (the oligarchs) were able to own horses. So much so that Aristotle acknowledged that horse-breeding was not easy to do unless you were rich. Accordingly, the democratic ideal of the mingling of titles and the exertion of the synchronized force from the collaboration of duties for the common good excluded the value of cavalry whose soldiers were also outside the Homerian value of Arete, the highest soldierly code of honor consisting of military finesse and personal integrity. To the democratic minds, the pampered nobility on horseback in battlefields had a better chance to escape on a horse than its hoplites on foot who had to confront the rains of lances and strokes of swords showered in blood.

However, Philip II of Macedonia and his son Alexander the Great saved the grace of the falling Greek cavalry by the brilliant military innovation that reflected society’s progress in the economy and political contexts. Along with its loyal ally Thessaly, Macedonia was an oligarchy unlike its contemporary city-states run by the democratic populace that usually lacked the foresight of tactical military strategy due to a general contempt for the art of war held by experienced noble soldiers. Macedonian nobles, especially the young and ambitious noblemen, made up most of the excellent Macedonian army that fully utilized the offensive and defensive cavalry force into the phalanx. The offensive on the phalanx’s right flank, the Companion, consisted of 2000 trusted and honored members of the king’s inner circle, the oldest noble families of Macedonia. The defensive on the left side, “The Thessalian,” proved to effectively outflank the enemy force with as least casualty as possible on the Macedonian side. Such cracking military operational order surpassed the Persian scythed chariots’ hideousness, cutting men in halves, mangling the still breathing fragments on the wheels and the scythes.

The unprecedentedly thriving economy due to the discovery of gold and silver mines and minting of coins meant a stable government and expensive military maintenance. The state’s wealth made it possible for financing a standing cavalry in peacetime and on a campaign. The minting of coins under the unified currency system paid salaries to professional soldiers, unlike the unorganized military structures where soldiers were ill-equipped and poorly trained in the other Greek city-states’ armies.

Upon reading this book, I felt that the title should have been “The Wooden Trojan Cavalry of Macedonia” or “Alexander the Great and His Cavalry” for the staging of Macedonian Alexander the Great in the arena of the world’s superpower upended the archaic military organization, let alone ineffective strategies. The role and value of mounted soldiers corresponded with the notion that the economic progress propelled by the natural wit of a leader who integrated all society members, high and low, won the war most productively. Alexander’s democracy in military strategy elevated the status of contemptuous willy-nilly horseback soldiers to gallant bedight warriors. It shows the reader that true democracy means the magnanimous participation of all classes for the commonwealth of a country.



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I write stuff of my interest that does not interest anyone in my blog. No grammarians, no copy editors, no marketers, no cynics are welcome.

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