Sunday, January 5, 2014

Military history books: Warfare and fortifcations in the ancient world

Bryn Mawr Classical Review provides reviews of three books dealing with ancient warfare.

The first book reviewed is Mercenaries in the Classical World: To the Death of Alexander by Stephen English.  The book’s focus is on Greek mercenaries but suffice it to say the reviewer was not impressed by the volume.  He points out several serious factual mistakes and mis-readings of ancient sources by the author.   In addition, the author appears to have barely used non-English sources.  Moreover, the author does not really focus very much on its subject except for random stories and such.  The full review can be found here.  I agree with the assessment of the reviewer and would avoid this book.  There are many good books on the subject but this is not one. 

The next review is on fortifications, Hendrik W. Dey’s The Aurelian Wall and the Refashioning of Imperial Rome, A.D. 271-855.  The wall was 19 kilometers and surrounded Rome when built in the 3rd cenutry.  It maintained its importance through the early Middle Ages.  The author describes the building of the wall and the many restorations and expansions done over the centuries.  He also discusses the cultural, political and spiritual importance of the wall to Rome.  The reviewer says that at times the author stretches his theorizing a bit far but overall he provides very interesting thoughts on the wall and its presence around Rome.  The book is noted as being good for graduate level readers and it is recommended as a very detailed look at the Aurelian Wall.  The full review is here.    

1756- Aurelian Walls by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Finally we consider Brian Campbell and Lawrence A. Tritle (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World.  The book is a major work dealing with tactics, weapons, soldiers, logistics and so on.  It covers the period from the beginning of  the classical period of Greece to the end of the Roman principate.  The book starts with a general review of the subject and also addresses current methods of studying this history and the evidence used.  Then the book addresses troops, equipment, organization, for these periods and the effects of the military on society.  The book continues with essays on injuries, medicine, Greek mercenaries, navies and naval logistics.  Following this are discussions of horses, their equipment, upkeep and use on the battlefield.

The book then turns to the enemies of the Greeks and Romans and details on them.  Following this are detailed discussions  on six battles and campaigns chosen to illustrate overall concepts.  Finally the book connects the legacy of ancient warfare to today.  The book has extensive notes and bibliographies.  The reviewer notes that there is a lack of some non-English studies and certain details and findings can be challenged but that overall the book is a very comprehensive, detailed and important work for anyone studying ancient warfare in Greece and Rome.  I highly recommend it for anyone wanting a thorough read of the subject.   The full review is here

"The Sea! The Sea!" Heroic march of the Ten Thousand Greek mercenaries - From Life magazine, 1901 - by Bernard Granville Baker


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