Fred Eugene Ray Jr. Greek and Macedonian Land Battles of the 4th Century B.C.: A History and Analysis of 187 Engagements. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, 2012. 244 pp. $45.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-6973-4.
Reviewed by Nathan D. Wells (Quincy College)
Published on H-War (April, 2013)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
The fourth century BC was a seminal period in military history, especially with regard to the Western way of war. From the period of Spartan dominance in the wake of the Peloponnesian War to the initial wars waged by Alexander the Great’s successors, the fourth century saw multiple variations of the Doric phalanx on battlefields, in the Greek heartland, in the Mediterranean, and on its border with India. These formations were initially used by rival city-states, then crafters of empires. Such a pivotal period deserves a thorough analysis, and Fred Eugene Ray Jr., a retired geologist and oil industry executive, has gamely accepted the challenge.
This is not the first time that Ray has explored the subject of warfare in the classical Greek world. In his Land Battles in 5th Century B.C. Greece: A History and Analysis of 173 Engagements (2008), Ray covered the century preceding the current volume’s subject. Ray’s knowledge of geology and topography are evident in both books.
While Greek and Macedonian Land Battles of the 4th Century B.C. provides an analysis of engagements and military developments, it is also examines what led to those developments. Indeed, this may be the strongest asset of Ray’s volume. When the fourth century began, Sparta was the dominant land power in Greece, as it had been in the previous century. Sparta had emerged victorious in the Peloponnesian War, and the Greek world looked to be in for a long-term Lacedaemonic hegemony. Yet, by mid-century, the fulcrum had shifted first to the up-and-coming Thebans and then to the even more up-and-coming Macedonians. This was a fascinating and critical period, and Philip II’s time as a hostage in Thebes during the glory years of that polis has rightly so often been remarked on. Ray recounts all of this, with Philip, his son Alexander III (the Great), and the Theban strategists Pelopidas and Epaminondas who inspired them each getting their due. Ray also draws attention to a lesser-known Athenian general, Iphicrates. While most historians look to Thebes, and especially to Epaminondas as the inspiration for Philip’s reforms of the Doric phalanx, Ray believes that Iphicrates was perhaps more deserving of credit, especially with regard to tactical deployment of the oblique assault. Learning strategy from Epaminondas and tactics from Iphicrates would prove to be a deadly education, ironically so for their native poleis. Ray also does an excellent job in discussing the Persian kardakes, which was a stopgap attempt to deal with the phalanxes, both mercenary and Macedonian.
This is a fine book overall, but I have three major criticisms. The first is that the volume is strictly chronological. Given the nature of warfare in the fourth century with hoplite armies, often mercenary based, fighting simultaneous wars throughout the Mediterranean and Near East, the same characters appear and reappear often. Focusing on regions might have made the narrative less confusing. The second criticism relates to citation. As noted above, this volume is a companion to a work on the fifth century BC. In his review of Land Battles in 5th Century B.C. Greece, A. A. Nofi comments that “the chief flaw of Ray’s book is that he fails to provide proper foot-notes, using instead in-text ‘documentation’ which is often too brief to permit easy checking of references, not to mention disrupts the narrative flow.” Ray follows the same pattern in this volume and it is similarly distracting. His sources are also primarily drawn from period material whose numbers must be used with caution. The final criticism is the most glaring, though whether the blame goes to Ray or the publisher is unknown. While the author clearly understands the importance of geography and topography in military affairs, maps, especially detailed maps, are few and far between in this book. This is most acute in covering the “Sacred War” between city-states, as well as trying to follow Alexander’s march from the Aegean to India.
All criticisms aside, I would certainly recommend the book to anyone interested in ancient warfare or the classical and Hellenistic world. Just make sure that you have an atlas within arm’s reach.
. A. A. Nofi, review of Land Battles in 5th Century B.C. Greece: A History and Analysis of 173 Engagements, by Fred Eugene Ray Jr., http://www.strategypage.com/bookreviews/395.asp.
to its very extreme
McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, NC,
brings his work experience to both endeavors, and his
Both works are similar in other regards, as well.
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: A History and Analysis of 173 Engagements
(McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, NC, 2008)
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-war.
Nathan D. Wells. Review of Ray Jr, Fred Eugene, Greek and Macedonian Land Battles of the 4th Century B.C.: A History and Analysis of 187 Engagements.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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