Plataea 479 BC

plataea“What’ll we do for our next period?” asked Anthony.

“Dunno”, says I. “I have a hankering for something 30 Years War ish, or Napoleonic, or maybe even Malburian or the American War of Independence.”

“Yeah”, says Anthony, “or maybe Saxons versus Vikings, after all, Napoleonics is just like American Civil War wargaming with more uniforms and squares.”

“Greeks” he then said! “Let’s do Greeks or Romans. The Peloponnesian War, that’s what we should do.”

“OK” says Thomo thinking to himself “we are doing American Civil War at the moment which has two sides very similar, Greeks versus Greeks, much the same. I wonder if we can call the Isthmus of Corinth the Mason-Dixon line?”

So, I needed to start to think about Greeks. Would it have been the Spartans or the evil Empire (Athens). I wanted reference works and one or two good planning sessions. Out came the electronic version of Thucydides, something to read again on the Kindle on the flight back to Australia.

Just before leaving Singapore for Australia, I noticed that Osprey had just released Campaign 239, Plataea 479 BC, written by William Shepherd and illustrated by Peter Dennis. William had been good enough in December 2010 to send me a copy of Salamis 480 BC – the Naval Campaign That Saved Greece for review. Apart from being stimulated by that read, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read in any case.

So, I think I should get a copy of Plataea I thought to myself. Whilst it is not a Greek versus Greek affair as such, it was perhaps the catalyst that gave rise to the actions that resulted in Athens becoming an empire and as such, facilitating the start of the Peloponnesian Wars. I thought, then, that I would order Shepherd’s Plataea but it was time to travel back to Australia so never got around to it.

What a lovely surprise then when a parcel arrived in the post today – a review copy of Plataea provided by William (thank you sir).

Plataea itself was one of the largest land battles in the Ancient World with around 100,000 Greeks taking on a larger number eastern forces, members of the Persian Empire and including some more Greeks. The battle lasted over several days and at the end the Persian threat to Greece was at an end. The Athenians in particular used this campaign as an excuse to take the struggle to Asia Minor and ultimately led to the development of the Athenian Empire.

Herodotus is the main source for the battle and campaign. Whilst perhaps not as accurate as Thucydides later, Herodotus is credited with being the father of history and he tells a fine story

Shepherd has a very clear writing style and is easy to read. Peter Dennis’s illustrations really bring this battle alive and it has certainly provided a great inspiration to me for the next great wargames project in Singapore … but more of that later. I am really looking forward to reading this book and as I have an 8-hour flight to Singapore coming up in 10 days time, I know what I will be reading on the plane.

Once I have read it, I’ll provide a more in depth review of the book and publish that here as well.

In the meantime, here are the details of the book:

Campaign 239.

Author: William Shepherd

Illustrator: Peter Dennis

Plataea 479BC

The Contents are:

  1. Origins of the campaign
  2. Chronology
  3. Opposing commanders
  4. Opposing forces
  5. Opposing plans
  6. The campaign to Plataea and Mycale
  7. Plataea
  8. Mycale
  9. After the battles
  10. The battlefields today
  11. Further reading and bibliography
  12. Index

It is released as a paperback; January 2012; 96 pages; ISBN: 9781849085540


Warrior of Rome – Fire in the East

Thomo Notes: Doug Melville sent this as a comment to Curse You Harry Sidebottom but because it was so detailed (and a good review) I posted it here as an article.

I wrote the review of the Sidebottom book for the Canberra Times:

Warrior of Rome – Fire in the East

Ballista is an odd name. Technically it’s a torsion powered artillery piece. Imagine two giant bars, held in place by tightly wound ropes, (or in emergencies, human hair), that are wound back against the resistance of the ropes, then finally released to hurl a giant arrow at the enemy. Think Heath Robinson meets ‘Scrapheap Challenge’. The Roman army used them in the same way as today an army might use artillery, to defend a position or attack other ‘machines’. It’s also our hero, who has some of the same characteristics, tightly wound and liable to cause great destruction when discharged.

Ballista; or to give him his full name, Marcus Clodius Ballista, knight of Rome, and Dux Ripae, (Duke of the Riverbanks) has a mission to fulfill. He must defend the city of Arete from the invader.

Originally a barbarian hostage from Britain, enobled for his role in the death of Emperor Maximus the Thracian, he is accompanied by faithful servants from Hibernia (Ireland) and Caledonia (Scotland). Both are somewhat caricatured, but at various points provide comic relief as well as the Deus ex machina that sustains the plot. His Greek secretary and a Persian captive create an interesting contrast, and allow the author to present different cultural perspectives.

The author Harry Sidebottom, is in fact Dr. Harry Sidebottom, who teaches Classical History at Oxford, and this is one of the great strengths of this novel, as well as being a source of weakness, of which more later. To further the historical accuracy, the city of Arete is based on Dura Europus, formerly a Palmyran outpost, captured once by the Parthians, recaptured by Rome. It’s final fate is recorded faithfully, and Sidebottom tells the story well.

In the third century AD, (or now, being politically correct, ‘CE’ – Common Era), the Roman Empire faced it’s greatest challenge since Hannibal. Caesar had been a mere amateur, facing tribal confederations and small towns and villages. The emperors of the third century, when not actively tearing lumps off each other, faced the other superpower of the day, the Persians. These are not the Persians of ‘300′ – no war rhinoceroses, but a later dynasty – the Sasanians, sometimes known as the Sassanids. Their empire covered what is now Iraq, Iran, extended into Northern India, Afghanistan, and Armenia and supported a disiplined army and a civilisation as advanced as the Romans themselves, building huge fortified walls, vast irrigation schemes, fortresses and cities, some even populated by their Roman prisoners. Ultimately they would kill or capture three separate Roman Emperors.

The main concern of our hero however, is that on the fluid borders between the two states lie numerous fortified towns; Dura, Amida, Edessa, and many others. It is 255CE, Shapur I, Shahanshah (King of Kings) is moving to attack Roman territory, and Arete is his objective.

Haunted by the dead Emperor, Ballista is also distrusted by Rome, and so is spied upon and expected to fail. He is given few resources – and the defence is something of a suicide mission in the face of the Persian army. Regardless, he motivates his men, (in the same vein as countless movies where tough officers win over recalcitrant troopers), and mounts a sturdy defence. Here is where the real meat of the book benefits from the author’s knowledge of the period. The various means of attacking a fortified city and the counter-measures are almost text book, the artillery, the siege towers, the mine and counter-mine.

Incidents recorded by classical authors such as Ammianus and Procopius in other sieges are woven into the story, adding authenticity. One such is when the common prostitutes of Arete insult the Persians by exposing themselves upon the walls. The original, in Ammianus has it: “Besides this some courtesans shamelessly drew up their clothing and displayed to Cabades (Kawad the Persian King), who was standing close by, those parts of a woman’s body which it is not proper that men should see uncovered.”

The incidents of combat are well told and pacy, and suspense is maintained with sub-plots and potential betrayals. The only weakness is the author’s erudition. On any one page you may encounter italicised terms like spatha, kyrios or contubernium flocking together. To the casual reader this can be confusing; and while most terms are explained initially, by the time the action heats up, it can be frustrating to have to flick back and discover that a spatha is a long slashing sword, a contubernium the group of legionaries who mess together.

The book itself is subtitled ‘Part One’ so we must assume that Ballista will re-appear in further volumes. I look forward to them.

The reviewer has an ongoing interest in Sasanian Persian History.

Warrior of Rome – Fire in the East
Publisher: Penguin/Michael Joseph
Release date: 4 August 2008
RRP: $32.95

Korean War Memorial Museum

Jeffro has done it again and got the gallery back in Thomo’s Hole. That means that the Korean War Memorial Museum exhibits I’d photographed are able to be viewed again. I’ll back these up over time to a cloud service somewhere and post alternate links, however, in the interim, will take you to those albums, the albums covering the Koryo, Three Kingdoms and Chosun periods of Korean history.

Also there is some images from the Righteous Army times in the early 20th, late 19th centuries.