The Cretan way of war: Status, violence and values from the Classical period to the Roman conquest

David Lewis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The tactics of Cretan citizen armies differed markedly from those utilized in most regions of the Classical and Hellenistic Greek world: instead of fighting in phalanxes, Cretans fought in open order, specializing in archery, skirmishing, ambushes and night actions. These tactics (and the cultural attitudes that went with them) were disparaged by mainland Greeks such as Polybios and explained in terms of moral deviancy: a sign of the duplicitous nature of the Cretans. This article demonstrates that these descriptions of Cretan tactics and behaviours are factual, but argues against the idea that they derive from moral deviancy. Rather, they represent the outcome of a different line of historical development than that followed in mainland Greece. Cretan tactics and attitudes stand far closer to those described by archaic poets (especially Homer, Archilochos and Kallinos); in this regard, Cretan city states displayed strong continuities with archaic social practices and values, detectable in other areas of Cretan society and culture. The stability of Cretan sociopolitical organization from the late seventh century down to the Roman conquest fostered the endurance of such practices and attitudes, leading to cultural divergence from mainland Greece and, accordingly, a generally hostile representation of Cretans in our main historiographical sources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Hellenic Studies
Early online date25 Oct 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Oct 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • archery
  • Crete
  • ethics
  • piracy
  • warfare


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