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Ancient Warfare: A Very Short Introduction (2004)

de Harry Sidebottom

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"This book explores the ways in which ancient society thought about conflict. Many aspects of ancient warfare are examined from philosophy to the technical skills needed to fight"--Provided by publisher.
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Focusing solely on ancient Greece and Rome, the author discusses how the Western Way of War evolved from a concept to an ideology and how it was practiced during the classical period. A little short on actual war strategy and battle tactics, the book instead concentrates on the motivations, politics and prejudices of the practitioners of Ancient Warfare. Overall, another useful addition to the Very Short Introduction series.
  Abbas.Jafri | Jul 19, 2012 |
Harry Sidebottom's Ancient Warfare is highly regarded by Robin Lane Fox in his "The Classical World" and he lists Sidebottom's "Further Reading" as worthy of note. It is an well-written and informative volume and its size belies the impressive prose within. The Oxford series is uniformly excellent.

Related titles:
1. The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Kelly
2. The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece by Victor Davis Hanson
3. Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World (3000 B.C. to 500 A.D.): Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics by Simon Anglim
4. Warfare in the Classical World by John Gibson Warry
5. Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly
6. The Ancient Greeks (Elite) by Nicholas Sekunda
7. The Complete Roman Army by Adrian Goldsworthy
8. The Generalship of Alexander the Great by J. F. C. Fuller
9. Pat Southern, The Roman Army
  gmicksmith | Jun 22, 2010 |
Presenting a millennium of warfare on less than 120 pages is a daunting task. It can be done - if an author establishes a framework and concentrates on key messages. Unfortunately, this author does neither. This book is a poor choice for a reader seeking a fast, general introduction to the topic as the book is badly structured and misses its topic. He shows a vexing tendency of not naming his references in the text (p. 85), "some scholars see hoplite battle in a different way". He lists these scholars in the (quite good if biased) further reading section (and a knowledgeable but not the general reader will identify them easily). Read Keegan's History of Warfare for an entertaining primer or Azar Gat's heavier War in Human Civilization for a serious discussion of Ancient warfare.

For a book about Ancient warfare, the author is surprisingly ignorant about the basics of soldiering and military history. It shows right at the start with his obsession with the film Gladiator. Ancient warfare through the eyes of an art history student. His method consists of a free interpretation of single works of art: "This lack (ie a missing beard) of male secondary sexual characteristics juxtaposed with the carefully illustrated male genitals of both opponent and horse creates an impression of femininity." Well, it's all in the eyes of the beholder. Exposing a horseman's "package" is a challenge for a Picasso. But in today's post-modern anything goes, all opinions are equally valid.

The book is filled with other deep insights (p.16): "For example, when inhabitants of the Roman empire looked to the east, unsurprisingly they saw ‘eastern’ cultures." Chapter 2 expands on Roman foreigner and gender stereotypes (relevance?). Chapter 3 titled "war and society" is a cursory look at hoplite warfare, the Roman imperial machine and the "barbarization" of the Late Roman army. The author wonders how the Greek soldiers achieved to get into a phalanx formation. Well, two approaches could have solved this question. Either witness how current soldiers perform a roll call. Or examine the source texts. It all boils down to self-organization based on simple rules (front rank as a position of honor, the right as the most important place, veterans to the front, youngsters in the middle, steady old men at the rear).

Chapter 4 starts with "after 9/11 ..." and offers a cursory overview of some historians' and philosopher's thoughts about war (again without rigor or framework). Chapter 5 "strategy" argues that some of the Ancient commanders' world conquest plans were more than figments. A little familiarity with recent dictator's ideas (such as Napoleon's plans to conquer India) might have led to a more realistic assessment. He then presents a potted version of Luttwak's Roman grand strategy as well as logistics - with plenty of howlers, eg "one type of expense incurred in modern wars was not always present in the ancient world: paying the troops" (p.74). Chapter 6 "fighting" is a Keeganesque attempt which rapidly breaks down in a hyperventilating presentation of a hoplite and Macedonian phalanx, the Roman legionary, cavalry, motivation, siege and naval warfare. It reads like a student paper relying on a limited set of sources. Chapter 7 returns to the Western Way of War and Gladiator. Presenting first the author's interpretation of some illustrations from Marc Aurel's column, it ends in rambling thoughts about the Western Way of War (p. 128): "It is much better, and safer, to see the ‘Western Way of War’ for what it is: a long-lived, highly adaptable, and powerful ideology. The Western Way of War is constantly reinvented, as, of course, it has been in this book." I concur with Sidebottom that the Western Way of War is a historically doubtful concept. Ideology has little to do with science, as does reinvention and facts. So Sidebottom's critique of Hanson applies to him too. Too much interpretation based on too little data. Read at your own peril. ( )
1 vota jcbrunner | Apr 14, 2008 |
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