Site hosted by Build your free website today!


The Rogues


Book Reviews


by Fred Dilger


Cannae by Mark Healy (Campaign Series)

This book summarizes the Punic Wars and the classic battle of those wars-Cannae. Though Zama finally put paid to Carthage, it was Cannae that has the most interest from a tactical viewpoint. The book is developed with wargamers in mind and even has a section devoted to wargaming Cannae. The book describes the ascent of Hannibal and the first two Punic wars. The descriptions of the battles leading up to Cannae are also described-the battle of Triasmene lakes and Trebbia.

The book begins with a description of the strategic situation and Hannibal's objectives. It touches on the opposing commanders and then describes the opposing armies. The book makes clear that the Romans had much better troops but far worse cavalry and commanders. Hannibal's success in battle prior to Cannae was due mainly to poor reconnaissance on the part of the Romans. Had the Romans reconnoitered, there would have been no Triasmene debacle. The book makes the interesting point that the Romans drew the wrong conclusion from Trebbia by concluding that massed infantry was invincible and therefore more massed infantry would be more invincible.

The book provides a very comprehensive description of the actual battle, along with pictures of area as it looks today.

Healy, Mark. Cannae 216. Osprey Military campaign series 36 London, 1994.


Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience Edited by Victor Davis Hanson

As the title implies, this book is a compilation of essays about what it was like to fight in a land battle in classical Greece (it is dedicated to John Keegan). The book is a scholarly piece and the authors write from an academic perspective. The essays are very uneven in their content but this does not distract from the usefulness of the book. The primary point driven home by the book is that battle was a social and cultural ritual. This reinforces my own ideas about wargaming. It is useless to pair off the Greek phalanx to the Norse raiding party.

One of the signal dimensions of Greek battle was its geography. Ancient Greeks chose to fight on the same terrain again and again. They built roads to speed them to the traditional battleground and seldom fortified their borders because to do so would be to violate the unwritten pact between the city states. It is easy to see how the Roman legions and the Macedonian phalanx were able to best the Greek City States.

The use of the salpinx or horn to sound battle is a ritual explored in the book. The authors contrast the sophisticated use of aural signals by Roman armies to the oral commands of the Greeks. The need to use voice communication has implications on where leaders placed themselves in battle and on their ability to influence battles. Another dimension highlighted in the book is the role sacrifice played in the battle ritual. The authors point out that sacrifices were performed at various times and ways around the battle, even during the run into the enemy.

In summary, this is a very useful book that provides insight into the mechanics of fighting a battle in ancient Greece. The book provides useful detail of hoplite combat and is a rich source of references for further research.

The History of Alexander; by Quintus Curtius Rufus

I did not read this book for a long time. I had read somewhere that this book was a bastardization of the life of Alexander. I then read that further scholarship had found that Curtius was more reliable that his competitor Arrian on some aspects of Alexander's life. After reading the book, I find that Curtius has a lot to say about Alexander that is worth hearing. Firstly, the prose of this edition (translated by Jonathan Yardley) is much more attractive than Arrian-"Gloomy darkness and a never-ending night brooding over the deep … a sea filled with shoals of savage monsters…stagnant waters where dying nature had lost her power (p 221)." The account of Alexander's early life is straightforward, although unfortunately interrupted by the loss of some of the text.

The author begins with Alexander's accession and follows his campaigns and travels through to his death in Babylon. Curtius is a moralist, like Plutarch and frequently interrupts his narrative with an aside on Alexander's gifts from fortune or on his decaying behavior. Curtius is flat in favor of Greek civilization, declaring the Persians barbarians and blatantly favoring the Greeks over the Persian civilization. Alexander's subordinates receive a more thorough treatment (particularly Craterus) and the descriptions of battles seem to be more detailed than in Arrian. The author appears to conflate some of the later events in Alexander's life and Arrian's treatment is stronger chronologically. In sum, the book gives a more balanced treatment of Alexander's subordinates, the beauty of the prose makes it a good read, but some facts deserve careful checking.

This was a great read that really kept me interested as the plot thickened. I think the story is great and the treatment in the book very good. The moralizing comments on Alexander are also good because they provide a balance to the usual hagiography. They are also a necessary palliative to bland, uncritical narrative. Curtius provides a good, interesting account of what happened and how Alexander spun away from his roots, as he became the Great King.

Dawn of Modern Warfare Thomas E. Greiss ed.

This edition of the West Point military history series covers the end of the mediaeval period through the campaigns of Frederick the great. The theme of pivotal battles is thoroughly explored here. The development of warfare from the disorganized battles of mediaeval times to the Swiss pike phalanx, to the Spanish tercio and then to the linear order of Gustavus Adolphus and Marlborough and finally the oblique order of Frederick. The book focuses on tactics presumably because the logistic of armies was very simple given their fairly small size. This edition of the series provides more information about the individual generals in question, but it does so in a way that properly recognizes the role of the general in fighting the battle. The book is an outstanding introduction because it cites specific battles and key personalities. The changes in battle tactics over the years are closely tied to technological innovations such as the socket bayonet. They are also tied to the organizational capabilities of the societies that produce military.