Religion was clearly at the centre of just about every aspect of life in the ancient world, and played a major role in warfare. However this is often rather skipped over in accounts of ancient warfare, and the most famous example of it, when the Spartans refused to send their full army against the Persians because they were in the middle of a religious festival is often treated with some cynicism. This series of articles is thus of great value in examining the evidence for the importance of religious to the ancient Greeks, and how it impacted on the way they made war.
As with any book of this nature, there will be areas where one doesn’t agree with a particular author. One example for me is the idea that the belief that your fate is predetermined would make Greek warriors less nervous before a battle – the individual had no way to know if this particular battle was the one they were fated to die in or not, so it hardly seems that reassuring! It is true that the writings that have survived suggest that men were meant to be stoic in the face of danger and death, but the same could be said of the British troops of 1914-18, and it was only generally later in life when veterans were willing to open up about their fears. For the ancient Greek world we don’t have that access to individual thoughts.
However all of the articles have something valuable to say, starting with an examination of the different attitudes of the three most famous early Greek historians to religion. The article on fate and predestination brings up some interesting questions about how far people thought they might be able to influence their fate and which gods decided people’s fate. The articles on Omens, Oracles and Portents makes the point that it was perfectly acceptable to keep trying to get a good omen, and to try and alter the circumstances of the ceremony or the question being asked. It was normally seen to be the fault of the person asking the question if they failed to understand the answer, the most famous example being the oracle telling Croesus that he would ‘destroy a great Empire’ if he went to war with Persia, an oracle that would be correct whichever side won the war. However it is also clear from these articles that many people took their religion very seriously in this period, so the topics covered here will have had a major impact on the conduct of warfare.
1 – Religion and Warfare in Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, Bruce LaForse
2 – The Role of Religion in Declaration of War in Archaic and Classical Greece, Matthew Trundle
3 – Omens, Oracles and Portents: Divine Guidance in Warfare, Sonya Nevin
4 – Oaths and Vows: Binding the Gods to One’s Military Success, Ian Plant
5 – Sacred Truces and Festivals Interrupting War: Piety or Manipulation? Ian Rutherford
6 – Militarizing the Divine: The Bellicosity of the Greek Gods, Matthew Dillon
7 – Epiphanies in Classical and Hellenistic Warfare, Lara O’Sullivan
8 – Fate, Predestination and the Mindset of the Greek Hoplite in Battle, Christopher Matthew
9 – Thanking the Gods and Declaring Victory: Trophies and Dedications in Classical Greek Warfare, Michael Schmitz
10 – Magic and Religion in Military Medicae of Classical Greece, Matther Gonzales
Author: Matthew Dillon, Christopher Matthew, Michael Schmitz
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military