Reading for the Weekend – Warfare in the Ancient World

Ancient WarfareIn search of book about command and troop control, I happened to come by Warfare in the Ancient World from Pen & Sword Publishing by Brian Todd Carey, Joshua B. Allfree and John Cairns (ISBN# 978-1-84884-630-2). Essentially, this is the first volume of two, another being Warfare in the Medieval World.

I thought initially that the book would be about warfare in the ancient world, as the title suggests, and assumed perhaps on false grounds that warfare during the period would contain command and control. While true, author(s) had elected to skim only the surface of that aspect, displaying mostly the known faults or virtues of individual commanders, but leaving the practicalities in the shadows of history. Authors do however concentrate more on the other important point. Development of logistics. So, it was not all waste then.

Structure of the book follows linear historical timeline, where each evolutionary step in the Western and Middle Eastern warfare is brought to focus by example battles. Each of the example battles give something to the topic. Mostly they highlight one or more tactical changes, or changing roles of infantry, cavalry or other arms such as elephants and chariots. While many of the battles are well known, each include force compositions and maps that could translate nicely to tabletop. However, the biggest issue, and perhaps not surprisingly is that the title is quite generous for book that is essentially very Eurocentric with minor deviation to Eastern boundary of Macedonian and Roman Empire. Something that perhaps one would not expect from book this recent.

There are some issues with the book. While some armies get better treatment than others, after reading the Greek part, I started to doubt the correctness of other eras as well. This has of course something to do with A Storm of Spears. Nevertheless, I had creeping sensation that if there are issues with Greeks, perhaps the others do not fare much better. That said, I have to admit that it is not all that faulty. This is one of the few titles that grant Surena the laurels for victory over Romans in Carrhae. Crassus is not treated as foolish and inept commander as the tradition usually suggests. On the same token however, it is said that Parthian army was horse only – which is not exactly true. For those three days in Carrhae it was so because Parthian main army and the foot contingents were elsewhere with the king. However, given that there are errors that perhaps have their root cause on long tradition of probable erroneous assumptions, at least first volume of the book does fill a role of giving overview of how the warfare changed from the earliest Sumerian ways to the collapse of West Roman Empire.

Author takes some time to describe how the logistics and road network development expanded the range and speed of armies, and how the baggage trains were traveling when whole army was on a march. It is also noted in general terms the amount of people on a march when relatively small army took a field in more remote location, something that is too often ignored but which is essential for army performance. Author puts a good bit of effort to describe the changes in the army logistics over time.

I am not sure if the second volume is worth of investment. Eurocentricity and lack of command structure study reduce the value greatly. However, book is pleasant and smooth read and if interested in the European medieval era, perhaps the second volume is very good.

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