Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World by Owen Rees – Review

I have waited for this to be published since receiving and reading the previous work of Owen Rees, Great Battles of the Classical Greek World and A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC by Marc G DeSantis.

Where DeSantis looked at the trireme then three wars (Archidamian, the Sicilian Expedition, and Ionian War), Rees breaks his work up into the following parts:

Part 1 – The Persian Conflicts
Chapter 1 – The Battle of Lade (494 BC)
Chapter 2 – The Battle of Artemisium (480 BC)
Chapter 3 – The Battle of Salamis (480 BC)

Part 2 – Archidamian War
Chapter 4 – The Battle of Sybota (433 BC)
Chapter 5 – The Battle of the Corinthian Gulf (429 BC)
Chapter 6 – The Battle of Corcyra (427 BC)

Part 3 – The Ionian War
Chapter 7 – Battle of Erineus (413 BC)
Chapter 8 – The Battle for the Great Harbour of Syracuse (413 BC)
Chapter 9 – Battles of the Ionian Coast (412-411 BC)
Chapter 10 – The Battle of Arginusae (406 BC)
Chapter 11 – The Battle of Aegospotami (405 BC)

Part 4 – Turning of the Tide
Chapter 12 – Battle of Catane (396 BC)
Chapter 13 – Battle of Cnidus (394 BC)

The book, Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World was published on 10 January 2019 in Hardback, Kindle and ePub versions. The author is Owen Rees and Pen & Sword Military publish it. The book is 218 pages line and its ISBN is 9781473827301. The URL to the book is https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Great-Naval-Battles-of-the-Ancient-Greek-World-Hardback/p/14504

As you would expect there is also an introduction, glossary, conclusion, endnotes, select bibliography, acknowledgements and index.

While DeSantis covers various parts of the Peloponnesian War in greater detail than Rees, Rees is working to a broader canvas so appears to concentrate on only those battles he consider relevant to the argument.

Rees, as expected, starts his book with a discussion on the trireme, a tool central to any story concerning Greek naval warfare. He also looks at the differences between the different poleis, noting for examples that while a trireme normally carried a marine complement of 14 (10 hoplites and 4 archers), Athenian triremes generally had less to enable them to maintain their manoeuvrability while Corinthian triremes that specialised in boarding generally had more.

Rees follows with a brief discussion of Naval tactics covering the usual diekplous, kyklos, and periplous. The last section of the Introduction is where Rees discusses what a Great Battle is. He also notes that the Battle of Catane is included as part of the Hegemony period but notes its importance as a battle between Syracus and Carthage is perhaps for exposing Carthaginians to quadriremes and quinqueremes for the first time.

Leptines had already shown himself a capable commander, having been in charge of the fleet since the siege of Motya, at the latest. Within his fleet he is said to have had thirty superior ships, a crack force of the same number which had confronted the Carthaginian armada at the beginning of their expedition. It seems extremely probably that these thirty ships, or at least a proportion of them, were of the new designs: quadriremes and quinqueremes. This ships were bigger and more powerful, propelled forward for four or five men to each oar (an attribute which most likely gave the ships their names).

Rees covers each battle in the same manner, initially with a background, referencing a primary source. He indicates as a heading within the chapter the source used and the chapters within that source. After the back ground, the forces are identified (or estimated). The description of the battle itself follows, again with the source identified. There is a map outlining where Rees believes the opposing fleets deployed and then each battle section finishes with a discussion of the aftermath.

I am really enjoying this book (as I did his Classical Greek Warfare and DeSantis’s Naval Warfare of the Peloponnesian War).

Rees has an easy to read style and his book is a delight to read. I do recommend grabbing a copy of this (which is actually on sale currently at Pen and Sword), grab a good java, put your feet up, and then smell the salt in the air as you read of these classical battles of the past. For a wargamer, this will likely drag you into another period. For the general reader of military history, it will remind you of the importance of naval warfare in Classical Greece, as well as suggesting where the quadriremes and quinqueremes of the Punic Wars may have come from.

Well worth purchasing.

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