When we talk about ancient warfare, inevitably the discussion drifts toward the arms and equipment of the day. The relative merits of sword and shield can give rise to raging arguments over what might be seen as minor details.
Our love of artwork reflects that as many books featuring Greek and Roman warfare are packed with colorful graphics depicting major variations of arms and equipment. However aesthetic they may be, most books of this type do not go into much detail about how wars were fought by the men who used these items.
This book does not fall into that category. Instead, it delves into the commanders’ tent and shows us a side of ancient warfare that generally gets ignored. We discover an environment where army commanders do not have access to the information and infrastructure we are so accustomed to today. We are made aware of the spontaneous nature of ancient warfare, the need of immediate decision, and how with a little imagination and cunning, a good commander could turn this lack of planning to his advantage.
The book is divided into two parts. The first is a general discussion of strategy and tactics covering a plethora of elements and factors, many of which get overlooked in our modern hindsight. These concepts are cleverly packaged by anecdotes that allow us to understand without an in-depth study of each case. It is a very accessible way to learn about these factors and one that makes for a very readable book.
The second part features eighteen battles between 418BC to 48BC. These landmark confrontations, some of which are now obscure, are each given their own chapter, with background, analysis, and conclusions regarding the events of the day. Maps show the deployment of troops on the field.
It remains illuminating to discover just what an impact is made with simple decisions in the heat of battle. Looming disasters are turned into heroic victories, and certain victories become bloody routs, yet the action on the battlefield was often dictated by the way the armies confronted each other, as opposed to the fighting between soldiers.
Given that soldiers of this time were sometimes armed in pretty much the same way as each other, it required some sort of advantage to win the day. Necessity is the mother of invention, and many commanders of ancient times rose to this challenge spectacularly by the exercise of cunning, intelligence, experience, and talent. Like competitive chess players, the commanders probed and looked for their enemies’ mistakes, pouncing on any weakness in their enemies actions.
Greek & Roman Warfare by John Drogo Montagu is a mature book for the serious student, military enthusiast, or the wargamer seeking better understanding of how men fought thousands of years ago, The book focuses on psychology and surroundings rather than the minute details of swordplay to give us a strategic and operational view, rather than a tactical one. He brings alive some of the flavor of the period and illustrates how personality has colored ancient warfare. There is five hundred years of martial experience locked within these pages, and I enjoyed reading every one of them. So should you.
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