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Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare: Temples, Sanctuaries and Conflict in Antiquity

Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare: Temples, Sanctuaries and Conflict in Antiquity
Sonya Nevin

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The ancient Greeks attributed great importance to the sacred during war and campaigning, as demonstrated from their earliest texts. Among the first four lines of the Iliad, for example, is a declaration that Apollo began the feud between Achilles and Agamemnon and sent a plague upon the Greek army because its leader, Agamemnon, had mistreated Apollo's priest. In this first in-depth study of the attitude of military commanders towards holy ground, Sonya Nevin addresses the customs and conduct of these leaders in relation to sanctuaries, precincts, shrines, temples and sacral objects. Focusing on a variety of Greek kings and captains, the author shows how military leaders were expected to react to the sacred sites of their foes. She further explores how they were likely to respond, and how their responses shaped the way such generals were viewed by their communities, by their troops, by their enemies and also by those like Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon who were writing their lives. This is a groundbreaking study of the significance of the sacred in warfare and the wider culture of antiquity."

Author Info

Sonya Nevin is Honorary Research Fellow in Classics at the University of Roehampton. This is her first book.


‘This is a well-written and very interesting book. It addresses a fundamental question of Classical Greek history — religion and war — but it approaches the subject in an innovative way, by analyzing Greek leaders, Greek writers, and their attitudes as shown through their actions towards sacred space and sacred objects. How, for instance, should a military leader conduct himself towards foreign shrines, how do military leaders actually conduct themselves, and what consequences do classical authors assign to their behavior? Any reader interested in the history, religion, or war of the classical world will find this book indispensable.’ - Alfred S Bradford, John Saxon Chair of Ancient History, University of Oklahoma

Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Ancient Greek Warfare explores the interaction between two central facets of ancient Greek life: war and religion. The author examines how generals and soldiers dealt with conflicts between their military needs and the deeply-ingrained cultural imperatives that required all Greeks to respect the inviolability of shrines, sanctuaries and temples, as well as the rich dedications these often housed. Sonya Nevin’s searching analyses of the discourse of war in the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch and other writers reveals how negative reports of their treatment of sacred space could harm the reputations of even the most successful generals – such as Miltiades, the victor of Marathon, or the great Spartan king Agesilaus. In a culture that placed a high premium on respect for the gods, accusations of impiety could seriously undermine a general’s authority. Conversely a leader who was conspicuous in honouring the gods could – as Nevin shows – enhance his own prestige and raise the morale of his followers. This is an innovative and penetrating work.’ - Philip De Souza, Senior Lecturer in Classics, University College Dublin


Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.

ISBN: 9781784532857
Publication Date: 29 Oct 2016
Number of Pages: 304
Height: 216
Width: 138

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