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Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece, Revised edition

Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece, Revised edition

Victor Davis Hanson
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 260
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    Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece, Revised edition
    Book Description:

    The ancient Greeks were for the most part a rural, not an urban, society. And for much of the Classical period, war was more common than peace. Almost all accounts of ancient history assume that farming and fighting were critical events in the lives of the citizenry. Yet never before have we had a comprehensive modern study of the relationship between agriculture and warfare in the Greek world. In this completely revised edition ofWarfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece, Victor Davis Hanson provides a systematic review of Greek agriculture and warfare and describes the relationship between these two important aspects of life in ancient communities. With careful attention to agronomic as well as military details, this well-written, thoroughly researched study reveals the remarkable resilience of those farmland communities. In the past, scholars have assumed that the agricultural infrastructure of ancient society was often ruined by attack, as, for example, Athens was relegated to poverty in the aftermath of the Persian and later Peloponnesian invasions. Hanson's study shows, however, that in reality attacks on agriculture rarely resulted in famines or permanent agrarian depression. Trees and vines are hard to destroy, and grainfields are only briefly vulnerable to torching. In addition, ancient armies were rather inefficient systematic ravagers and instead used other tactics, such as occupying their enemies' farms to incite infantry battle.Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greecesuggests that for all ancient societies, rural depression and desolation came about from more subtle phenomena-taxes, changes in political and social structure, and new cultural values-rather than from destructive warfare.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92175-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Armies need food. Any society that mobilizes troops must plan both to feed its own men and to seek to deny supplies to the enemy. In a preindustrial society, in which the vast majority of the population was engaged in agriculture, and armies were thus composed largely of rural folk, comprehension of the relationship of agriculture to warfare is fundamental to an understanding of the culture. All histories of Greece, it seems to me, must consider these salient facts: most Hellenes were farmers, war was endemic, and the energies of the citizens were largely consumed with either working, protecting, or...


    • ONE Military Organization
      (pp. 19-41)

      An army of invasion in the classical age usually sought decisive battle, but it needed to utilize the countryside of its adversary to accomplish that goal—both to feed itself and to provoke the enemy to fight by attacking farmland. Consequently, Greek armies brought along mobile light-armed troops, built field camps from local materials, had specialized tools, and were careful to time their arrival to particular cycles of the farming year. Almost every consideration of a Greek army—logistical, tactical, strategic, psychological, and technological—was in some way connected to agriculture.

      After entering enemy farmland an invading army attempted to...

    • TWO The Methods of Agricultural Destruction
      (pp. 42-76)

      Under the diverse conditions of Mediterranean farming in ancient Greece, “agriculture” is, of course, an abstraction and can refer to radically different types of crops—olives, figs, and other deciduous fruit trees, barleys and wheats, vegetables, and various species of grapes. Moreover, since these fruits were both permanent and annual, cultivated under different practices, and part of a larger rural infrastructure of fences, sheds, houses, terraces, and walls, a review of the ancient Greek farm and its more important crops is critical for any understanding of agricultural devastation.

      A brief outline of the size and physical nature of the Greek...


    • THREE Fortification
      (pp. 79-102)

      Greek plans of defense in the classical period seldom incorporated either stockades built directly around cultivated fields or extensive frontier walls designed to stop invading armies from reaching the croplands of the interiors.¹ Although it is true that in a few early instances walls were constructed at key border passes to prevent entry into friendly territory,² the usual practice was to gather the country’s population, valuables, and movable property into places of refuge (see chapter 4, “Evacuation”), and consequently either to prevent the enemy from ravaging the fields by pitched hoplite battle or to submit to terms and thereby save...

    • FOUR Evacuation
      (pp. 103-121)

      The most effective method of “defense” was evacuation from the countryside. From descriptions in ancient literature it seems to have been a commonplace activity. Rural residents routinely gathered their possessions together and trekked to places of refuge, regardless of whether their own forces chose to fight in pitched battle or border skirmishes. A wealth of fascinating detail surrounds this process of rural evacuation—most of it unnoticed or passed over—which makes careful study desirable. Many questions come to mind. For example, where did refugees go in times of invasion? What crops and valuables were taken along or had to...

    • FIVE Sorties
      (pp. 122-128)

      Once rural citizens had been evacuated to a place of refuge, and the enemy was in control of the countryside, as a result of either victory in hoplite battle or default, the invaded still had one last—and very good—chance of impeding ravagers. Well-organized, sudden sorties, usually made up of cavalry troops,¹ could issue forth from the city, not only forcing the enemy hoplites to remain in formation, but also going after light-armed ravaging patrols who were dispersed throughout the countryside. (See updated commentary, page 230 [Cavalry against Ravagers].)

      Theoretical treatises about military tactics and strategy give much attention...


    • SIX The Devastation of Attica during the Peloponnesian War
      (pp. 131-173)

      The Spartan annual invasions and eventual occupation of Attica during the course of the Peloponnesian War are the best-known and best-documented examples of wartime destruction of agriculture in classical antiquity. So far I have emphasized the pragmatic difficulties of crop devastation in warfare and suggested that perlnanent destruction of farmland was often not achieved. Nowhere can the validity of these conclusions be better determined than in the countryside around Athens during the Peloponnesian War, when for over a generation the Spartans engaged in an unparalleled effort to ruin the agriculture of the Athenians.

      The contemporary works of Thucydides and Aristophanes...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 174-184)

    To be effective, agricultural devastation in classical Greece, as in any preindustrial society, required time and extensive effort, and therefore was not always accomplished. The light-armed ravaging parties whose duties were to overrun small Greek farms and destroy crops were vulnerable to counterattack. They needed constant hoplite or cavalry protection. During much of the year fruit trees, vines, and even grainfields “vere difficult to destroy. Even when chopped or cut down, vines and olive trees grew again quickly. Border forts and garrisons in the mountains, especially in the fourth century B.C., sometimes delayed and even halted the enemy before they...

  10. Appendix: The Vocabulary of Agricultural Devastation
    (pp. 185-194)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 195-200)
  12. Updated Commentary and Bibliography
    (pp. 201-252)
  13. General Index
    (pp. 253-268)
  14. Index Locorum
    (pp. 269-281)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-282)