Top positive review
A Contemporary View of Classical Warfare
Reviewed in the United States on November 20, 2018
This book is a interesting analysis of the struggle between the legion and the phalanx. The author has quite a few thoughtful insights into the nature of classical warfare. The maps, if a bit creative, are quite good, and most of the illustrations are useful.
My negative thoughts on this book center around several areas. The author’s writing style, often seemingly a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ discussion weakens his arguments and interferes with one wanting to take them seriously. The author’s reliance on the experience of reenactors cannot be taken seriously by most historians. As a group they mostly take the role of heavy infantry with virtually no horse and few light troops. Unlike American Civil War reenactors, classical participants lack the large number of ‘troops’ to simulate the actual maneuvers, real or hypothetical. The author’s battlefield experience, while commendable, is only limited in value, as it did not reflect troops fighting in large formations. The author is somewhat unclear over the role that peltasts and theuphoroi, medium troops, played on the field. They were developed as a counter to light troops but were also expected to be able to fight on the main battle line, particularly if they could take advantage of the rough terrain that would disorder troops that fought in a tighter formation. This would be reflected in their somewhat more open formation.
Perhaps the most annoying thing in this book is the six references the author makes to the dreadful movie ‘300’; “Those familiar with the story of the Spartan stand at Thermopylae depicted in the movie 300 might remember..,” The author seems to ignore much of what we know of the role of Hellenistic monarchs, and even hoplite generals. They were all expected to fight in the front rank; this was not a matter of ego. I must admit that his description of Magnesia is outstanding as is his analysis of the long term histoprical role of the pike phalanx.
It would have been useful if he started with an analysis of Chaeronea, wherethe pike phalanx,with great difficulty crushed the hoplites of Thebes and Athens. The fact is, that the pike phalanx never did well against good formed infantry, even warbands such as the Galatians. The pike grew in length mainly to give troops an advantage over other phalanx. It is interesting to note that the Swiss started using the pike after they already had the halberd, and never gave up the halberd which they would use for close-in fighting or in rough terrain.