H-Net Review: Ray, Greek and Macedonian Land Battles of the 4th Century B.C.

Fred Eugene Ray Jr.  Greek and Macedonian Land Battles of the 4th
Century B.C.: A History and Analysis of 187 Engagements.  Jefferson
McFarland, 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

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.”[1] 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.

Note

[1]. 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.

Citation: 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. April, 2013.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=37499

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