THE SPARTAN ARMY by Nick Sekunda, color plates by
Richard Hook. Osprey Elite Series No. 66, Osprey Publishing, 1998.
64 pages, 12 color plates, dozens of B&W illos.
One of an ongoing series of titles aimed primarily at an audience
of military modelers, enthusiasts, and wargamers, The Spartan Army
fills a definite hole in Osprey's line and is a valuable addition
to any library of Greek history. Sekunda, who has written several
other books on ancient military topics and holds his Ph.D from Manchester
University, is preparing a larger book on this topic, and I hope
he takes the opportunity to examine some topics and periods left
unexplored here. While this book is very well done, it does leave
room for expansion and improvement. There are many annoying typos,
for example, and the focus on the Spartan hoplite's equipment and
dress means that there is very little discussion of historical battles,
leadership on the battlefield, and tactics. Furthermore, the entire
period post-370 B.C. is ignored, which is a shame, as the campaign
of Sellasia and the era of the reform kings (Agis IV, Cleomenes
III, Nabis) deserves more attention, even if hard information is
sketchy. But this book makes a fine attempt to present a lot of
up-to-date information in a concise format for the general reader.
Sekunda draws his information mainly from literary and archaeological
evidence, and though some of his conclusions may be debated, he
has done an admirable job of making much obscure information available
between a single set of covers. The institution of the Spartan army
is examined from its beginnings in the Archaic Age through the wars
of the Spartan Hegemony, its classic era. Perhaps in his follow-up
book, Sekunda will look more carefully at the internal organization
of the phalanx, discuss how the mess units might have formed the
basis of the Spartan enomotia (platoon), and address the problem
of how declining citizenship status took a toll on the Spartan ranks.
A particularly glaring oversight, I thought, was the lack of any
information at all about the hippeis, or Royal Bodyguard. Finally,
the author retells some of the old stories about the mass killing
of helots by their Spartan overlords but fails to reconcile these
accounts-if wholly true-with the loyalty and bravery Laconian helots
frequently displayed in battle. This is just one of the mysteries
of Sparta that perplex the modern scholar.
But enough quibbling. The Spartan Army belongs on every classicist's
shelf, and is especially noteworthy for Hook's detailed and evocative
paintings, which cover warriors and events from the time of Lycurgus
to the early 4th century. Each color plate illustrates several different
figures in period armor and weaponry or highlights a significant
event, such as the commander Amompharetus at the battle of Plataea.
The original paintings are offered for sale through an English gallery,
and I can think of no finer ornament for a Philakone's library wall.
A good book indeed; Lycurgus says, "Check it out!"