It is time to look at the Macedonian War Machine by David Karunanithy (ISBN# 9781783469963). First I have to note that this book is perhaps intended for casual reader – but, if you have keen interest on antiquity and you are very much into understanding how armies were organized, how the operated in the field, and what research evidence supports the conclusions, then this book is for you.
Book is divided in 14 chapters, each targeting specific topic and while there is brief discussion about Macedonian history, it is purely from the Army perspective. Book concentrates a lot on Philip II and Alexander. Former prepared the way for Macedonian army conquest of the known world. It was trained to it’s peak battlefield performance, and careful logistics and support foundations were laid down. Philips son, Alexander, then utilized the Macedonian army to the highest degree – and as history attests, his conquests could not have happened without careful planning and execution. It is perhaps not obvious that during ancient era, even moderately sized army required massive infrastructure and logistics operations to keep the army functional. Ordinarily, no history book that tells the story of Alexander’s conquests ever delve in the little details and ask how was it possible.
What the Macedonian War Machine does, is just that. There is very little said about battles or the generally well known history, but nearly entire book (half of the book is notes and references) concentrates on those details that are omitted elsewhere and that is refreshing. Author goes thorough almost every aspect of the Macedonian army. Training, dresses and panoplies, marching and camp life have treatment among other minute details. Of course, with painstaking attention to details, the drawback is that the book is at times rather dry read. Unless you are familiar with historical artifacts located in various museums, you might miss detail here and another there. Therefore, certain level of knowledge is perhaps needed to fully appreciate the book.
The Macedonian War Machine concentrates very much on the excellence of Macedonian army during Philip II and Alexander. At the end, however, all that brilliantly efficient organization, training and discipline came to nothing. As it is often the case, peak performing army only offers so much force multipliers, and if faced repeatedly with renewing mass, even highest quality army is bound to be defeated. Macedonian army is probably one of the best examples where force met nearly inexhaustible manpower pool, and was utterly defeated after 150 years of domination, and reputation of invincibility.
In conclusion, book conveyed few disappointments. While Successors were discussed at times, book jumps somewhat between various eras, and Successors do not perhaps receive the treatment they ought. While I understand the reasons, I would have wished little bit more accessible approach. A timeline – or brief history would have anchored the topics discussed in their rightful place – as was done in recent book ‘Defeat of Rome in the East’. This perhaps could have opened the book more readily to wider audience.
One questionable point was found concerning sarissa (Macedonian pike). Author appears(?) to assume that sarissa was carried as a single piece during marches, albeit it well established that sarissa was actually made not from single piece, but two. Nevertheless, two 2,5-3m long shafts would have been very cumbersome – while full 5 to 6m would be next to impossible to handle during long marches.
On the positive side, book opens entirely new aspect to ancient warfare and many things that not entirely alien even for Napoleonic era. Many innovations that Macedonians developed to their peak were used by many that came after them. As usual, Romans readily adopted everything they saw useful – and carried the innovations further west. Because Roman empire lasted as long as it did, many of the innovations were carried to entirely different era.