This book paints a very different picture of Spartan warfare – punctuated by frequent and heavy losses. We also discover a society dedicated to militarism not in service to Greek unity or to the Spartan state itself, but as a desperate measure intended to keep its massive population of helots (a near-slave underclass) in line. What successes there were, such as in the Peloponnesian Wars, gave Sparta only a brief period of hegemony over Greece. Today, there is no greater testament to this than the relative position of modern Sparta and its famous rival Athens.
The Bronze Lie explores the Spartans' arms and armor, tactics and strategy, the personalities of commanders and the common soldiery alike. It looks at the major battles, with a special focus on previously under-publicized Spartan reverses that have been left largely unexamined. The result is a refreshingly honest and accurate account of Spartan warfare.
Table of Contents
List of Maps
PART I: THE MYTH OF SPARTA
PART II: THE REALITY OF SPARTA
I. Cuckold Kings and Wolves' Work: Behind the Spartan Mirage
II. Archaic Sparta at War: Early Losses, Foreign Roots
III. The Greco-Persian War: The Thermopylae Speed Bump
IV. The Peloponnesian Wars: Floundering at Sea, Surrendering on Land
V. Masters of Greece? Sparta Squanders its Hegemony
VI. The Boeotian War: What Cannot Bend Must Break
VII. The End of Sparta: Irreformable and Irrelevant
VIII. Conclusion: The Bronze Lie
PART III: TANGLING MYTH AND REALITY
IX. The “Moron Label”: The Spartans and the Political Far Right
Appendix A. Historiography and Objectivity
Appendix B. The Fundamentals of Ancient Battle
Review... to be up front, I struggled to finish this book as, and the book repeats this frequently, there is still a lot not known about Spartans and Sparta, but it is a good start nonetheless. It is an easy read, not intended as definitive guide to Spartan history, it covers the basics well and makes more than a few inferences from the available information to support the premise of the book: shattering the myth of Spartan warrior supremacy.
There is some commentary around a Spartan "cult" mentality that is based on the myth which is used to invoke certain characteristics and behaviors, or be motivational in nature. There is even a brief mention of the movie '300' and how it portrayed Persians in a racist manner, thereby feeding into the "cult".
I do wonder at the intended audience for the book as any serious scholar of Spartan history would not buy into the myth of the "warrior supremacy", and those people who do are unlikely to either read the book, or be swayed by it.
The author, very helpfully, lists known battles of Spartans and notes whether the battle was a victory, defeat, or stalemate, and there are more defeats than there are victories or stalemates, which, while informative, lacks context and requires further explanation to give it value.
In conclusion, yes, I'd recommend the book as part of any study of Sparta, and while it does shatter the myth of Spartan warrior supremacy, it will not change the way in which Spartans are viewed historically, thanks in part, if not in full, to the above mentioned movie and the ongoing association in the public eye of Spartans and fighting to win, even if it is only motivational.