Battles and Battlefields of Ancient Greece – A Guide to Their History, Topography and Archaeology – Book Review

I received a heavy tome from Pen and Sword books recently and this one is a cracker. It is definitely heavy, weighing in at 1.2kgs and I think the weight is the paper stock used in printing this largely colour work. The basis of this book is a look at ancient battlefields and battles in and around Greece with reference to modern topography. All the battles covered are illustrated with a location map, satellite photographs of the area, many from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), along with any relevant ground based photographs from the authors’ collection.

The USGS maps have battlefield deployments superimposed over the them. As Dr Matthew A. Sears and Dr C. Jacob Butera note in the book’s preface, “This is a book designed for the traveller to Greece, whether the member of a tour group, the independent adventurer, or the curious scholar.” I believe that if one carries this book on tour, your excess baggage charges will increase. However if you have an interest in Ancient Battles and Battlefields or are simply curious to maximise the interesting points from a tour, then this book is worth the effort to lug around.

The book, Battles and Battlefields of Ancient Greece – A Guide to Their History, Topography and Archaeology, by C. Jacob Butera and Matthew A. Sears has been published by Pen & Sword Military. It contains 385 pages, its ISBN is 9781783831869 and it was published on 13 May 2019. It is a cracker of a volume and I have had difficulty putting it down. The writing style of the authors is readable to all and while the subject is wide reaching, the slicing and dicing of their topic has been skilfully performed.

The Introduction discusses the various periods covered by the book with explanations of the Phalanx style and type of warfare, and the armies that used them. It does not restrict itself to simply land battles either but includes some naval warfare – two notable ancient naval battles in particular. The Introduction then discusses briefly Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare, splitting the introduction into:

  • The Archaic and Classical Periods
    • The Hoplite Phalanx
    • Cavalry and Light-Armed Infantry
    • Greek Naval Warfare
  • The Hellenistic Period and Roman Middle Republic
    • The Macedonian Army
    • The Roman Manipular Legion
    • Phalanx vs Legion
  • The End of the Roman Republic
    • The Roman Army of the Late Republic
    • Roman Naval Warfare

There are photos from various museums and collections illustrating items through there as well with items such as, for example, the Lenormant Relief from the acropolis Museum depicting a trireme and its rowers. This section is then concluded with a list of Further Reading covering the topics – and unlike many book lists and bibliographies, this comes with comments. So, for example, the following entry:

Kagan, D., and Viggiano, G.F. (eds), Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece (Princeton, 2013). — The best resource on the debate surrounding the nature of hoplite warfare, with contributions from the leading voices in the debate

Other entries are similarly marked.

The Book is then divided into four main parts with each part covering three to seven battles for that geographic area:

  • Athens and Attica
    1. The Battle of Marathon, 490 BCE
    2. The Battle of Salamis, 480 BCE
    3. The Battle of Piraeus/Mounichia, 403 BCE
  • Boeotia and Central Greece
    1. The Battle of Thermopylae, 480 BCE
    2. The Battle of Artemisium, 480 BCE
    3. The Battle of Plataea, 479 BCE
    4. The Battle of Delium, 424 BCE
    5. The Battle of Coronea, 394 BCE
    6. The Battle of Leuctra, 371 BCE
    7. The Battles of Chaeronea, 338 and 86 BCE
  • Northern Greece
    1. The Battle of Amphipolis, 422 BCE
    2. The Battle of Cynoscephalae, 197 BCE
    3. The Battle of Pydna, 168 BCE
    4. The Battle of Pharsalus, 48 BCE
    5. The Battle of Philippi, 42 BCE
  • The Peloponnese and Western Greece
    1. The Battles of Naupactus, 429 BCE
    2. The Battle of Pylos, 425 BCE
    3. The Battles of Mantinea, 418 and 362 BCE
    4. The Battle of the Nemea River, 394 BCE
    5. The Battle of Actium, 31 BCE

Each of the battle chapters is then divided into:

  • General Map of the Battle Location on the Chapter facing page
  • Introduction — brief description of the location and the events around the battle
  • Directions to the Site — how to get there and landmarks
  • Historical Outline of the Battle — details of the battle from the primary sources and archeological studies including the USGS maps of the area of the battle with deployments and movements superimposed
  • The Battle Site Today — what the site looks like today including photographs of items of interest
  • Further Reading — this section is broken up into two main areas – Historical Sources, and Modern Sources with the Modern Sources including books and articles

Lastly the book contains a useful index.

Each chapter is about 15 to 20 pages long, a perfect length for reading over a cup of coffee or when there is an hour or so spare. With the references added however, the temptation is to read the chapter then read back in the primary sources but with a greater understanding of the topography of the battle.

The authors are both academics, Dr C. Jacob Butera is an assistant professor of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and Dr Matthew A. Sears is an associate professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

This is a book is simply great. If you ever wanted a general reference for the battlefields of Ancient Greece, this is the one. It is a bonus that it is clearly written and well illustrated with maps, satellite photographs and photographs of items of interest remaining on the battlefield, and where each chapter identifies the primary sources for the battle as well as modern source material. Well recommended. It is also available in digital form which does lighten the physical load a little.

Rome Seizes the Trident – The Defeat of Carthaginian Seapower and the Forging of the Roman Empire – Review

After reading Great Naval Battles of the Ancient Greek World by Owen Rees recently, it only seemed natural to pick up the story by looking at Rome and Carthage. Carthage was famous for its seafaring having been originally a Phoenician colony, the same Phoenicians who participated (we must assume unwillingly) in the ill-fated Persian invasions of Greece. Rome certainly was not famous for its seafaring.

Where the naval battles were mostly fought in  the Ancient Greek World by triremes and to a lesser extent, penteconters, when Rome and Carthage faced off against each other the vessels had become heavier, consisting to quadriremes and more importantly, the peak of the ancient Mediterranean galleys, quinqueremes.

Pen & Sword Books published Rome Seizes the Trident – The Defeat of Carthaginian Seapower and the Forging of the Roman Empire by Marc G DeSantis. The book is 272 pages long (ISBN: 9781473826984) and was originally published on 16 May 2016. It is available in hardback, Kindle and ePub versions with the electronic versions somewhat cheaper than the printed copy.

Owen Rees noted that in the Battle of Catane, part of the Hegemony period, in the the battle between Syracuse and Carthage it appears that this is where the Carthaginians were first exposed to quadriremes and quinqueremes, noting:

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.

When Carthage and Rome finally faced off in the Punic Wars, the standard warships at the stage were the quadriremes and quinqueremes Carthage may have been exposed to in Syracuse.

Marc G DeSantis commences his book by a look at the sources, and for this period , the preeminent source is Polybius. Also important of course were Livy although a much later author and concentrating on the Second Punic War and Plutarch, later still with his Parallel lives. Appian is the main source for the final Punic War and the destruction of Carthage. The Byzantine, John Zonaras was an author from the 12th Century but his value here is the summaries in Epitome Historiarum where he recounts information from the now fragmentary Dio with some naval aspects from the First Punic War that Polybius did not mention.

In Part I of his work, DeSantis breaks that section up into the following chapters:

Part I: Breaking Carthage

Chapter 1 – Sources
Chapter 2 – The Contestants
Chapter 3 – Sicily: Theatre of War, History and Blood
Chapter 4 – War at Sea in the Age of the War Galley
Chapter 5 – Breaking Athens: A Case Study

Chapters 4 and 5 are where DeSantis really gets swinging. The early chapters really set the scene, discussing Rome and Carthage and Sicily, for much of the naval aspects of the Punic Wars, the battleground. In Chapter 4 however he talks about the ways galleys fought, and for once he does not draw a straight dichotomy between ramming and boarding tactics, rather noting that both were used by all sides, depending on situation. He does draw a clear distinction, however, between the skilled seafarers who seemed to prefer ramming over boarding, such as the Athenians, the Phocaeans, the Rhodians and the Carthaginians. However he does point out that “ramming and boarding would have been carried out as the opportunities presented themselves”.

He notes the use of lemboi as a means of transferring signals across a fleet by standing off a little and repeating the signals, much like the frigates of the Napoleonic Wars at sea.

Chapter 5 is a review of the breaking of Athens through the negation of naval superiority in the Peloponnesian Wars. He also recounts a Corinthian tactic where the Corinthians at the Battle of Erineus in 413 BCE, slightly outnumbered by the 33 Athenian vessels, had made changes to their rams and adopted the tactic of a headlong charge at the Athenian fleet, looking to ram their vessels straight on and not giving the Athenians a chance to use their superior seamanship.  While no vessels were sunk from either side so technically a draw, the Corinthians looked on it as a victory and the Athenians saw it as a defeat.

After this survey of early naval tactics, DeSantis starts on the meat of his work – the Punic Wars.

Part II – The First Punic War

Chapter 6 – Trouble at the Toe of Italy
Chapter 7 – Opening Moves
Chapter 8 – Mylae, 260 BC: Rome’s Fleet Sails in Harm’s Way
Chapter 9 – After Mylae
Chapter 10 – Ecnomus, 256 BC
Chapter 11 – The Battle of Cape Hermaeum, 255 BC
Chapter 12 – Rome Tries Again
Chapter 13 – Drepna, 249 BC
Chapter 14 – The Debut of Hamilcar Barca
Chapter 15 – Endgame: The Battle of the Aegates Islands, 241 BC
Chapter 16 – Peace
Chapter 17 – Was Seapower Worth the Cost?

DeSantis starts with the trouble at Messana and Rhegium and the effect of the perceived threat from Pyrrhus. Mercenaries and garrisons revolting and taking over, enter Hiero of Syracuse who placed the city of Messana under siege after defeating the Mamertimes at the Battle of Longanus River in 264 BC. The Mamertimes appealed to both Rome and Carthage for assistance. Rome really stepped in to prevent Carthage developing a toehold in Sicily, fearing that the Carthaginians would use that as a springboard to an invasion of Italy.

From this point in and narrative DeSantis examines the moves and counter moves of the protagonists. The Romans built a fleet, copying a Carthaginian galley that had grounded itself on the coast back in 264 when it was trying to oppose the Roman landings in Sicily. The Roman vessels however were not of the same quality as Carthaginian or Greek vessels. DeSantis the follows the course of the war, the defeats and then victories of the Romans, stopping briefly to discuss the Corvus and its origins. The necessity for the corvus was probably because of the poor quality of the Roman vessels and seamanship. The suggestion for the corvus appears to have come from an unnamed Sicilian Greek. The suggestion may have come from within Messana although there are a number of compelling suggestion that it may have come from Syracuse, given the Syracusans being an enthusiastic practitioner of the Corinthian style headlong rush into the enemy. Grappling from that position was a natural extension of that tactic and building a boarding bride, the next logical step.

DeSantis also examines the negative answer to this version of the corvus mounting as well and provides a good counter argument. His discussion of the corvus and the Roman quinquereme versus the Carthaginian quinquereme is a far argument of both sides of the tale. I will admit that his discussion has me reexamining some of my thoughts and perceptions of naval warfare in those times.

He then discusses the more famous battles, Mylae; Ecnomus; Cape Hermaeum; Drepna; and Aegates Islands. To conclude the section on the First Punic War DeSantis looks at the question, “was the seapower worth the cost?”

Part III: Conflicts Between the Wars

Chapter 18 – Illyria and Gaul
Chapter 19 – The Mercenary Revolt 240-238 BC

The two chapters here deal with Rome’s intervention in Illyria in 229 and the overseas deployment, this time across the Adriatic, of the Roman army. The start of this intervention paralleled that of the start of the First Punic War but in this case it was a bunch of Gallic mercenaries seized control of the city of Phoenice in Epirus. The people of the city asked the Romans for assistance and that coupled with the Illyrian pirates attacking Italian shipping the situation became one that Rome could ignore. Polybius even records that previously the Senate in Rome always ignored complaints about the Illyrians. Rome sent a couple of commissioners to Queen Teuta’s court but she dismissed them and apparently had one murdered while he was returning to Rome.

Naval operations got underway with the Illyrians attacking Epidamnus and Corcyra. The Corcyraeans appealed for assistance to the Achaeans and Aetolians for assistance and 10 Achaean ships were sent (quadriremes it seems). Acarnanians allied themselves to the Illyrians and sent seven galleys. A small inconclusive battle was fought off the Paxi Islands. The Illyrians used lighter galleys than the Achaeans but developed an interesting tactic when they faced the Achaeans. The Illyrians lasd their vessels together in groups of four. This was a tempting broadside target for the Achaeans who dutifully increased the stroke rate to ram speed and hit the Illyrians vessels only then to become entangled with the four lashed vessels and as their crews were well outnumbered (about 4 to 1), the Illyrians stormed the Achaean vessels and four Achaean quadriremes were either lost or captured.

The Roman army and fleet became engaged in the area now and the result was around 20 Illyrian galleys and most of the coastal cities captured by the fleet while the army moved inland and took control of cities there.

Part IV: Strangling Carthage

Chapter 20 – The Second Punic War, 218-202 BC
Chapter 21 – A Second War with Carthage
Chapter 22 – Hannibal in Italy
Chapter 23 – Holding the Line in the Adriatic: The War with Macedonia
Chapter 24 – Sicily and Sardinia
Chapter 25 – Carthage’s Spanish Ulcer
Chapter 26 – Africa
Chapter 27 – Seapower and the Second Punic War

The Second Punic War is one that modern readers mostly associate with Hannibal (with or without his elephants); Scipio Africanus; battles such as Cannae, Trebia, Trasimene and Zama; and a small largely mercenary army spending 16 years in enemy territory undefeated. This is not to ignore the contribution of Scipio, especially with the battles he fought in Spain but mostly the Second Punic War is remembered for land actions.

DeSantis makes a good survey of naval action as well as other theatres over this period. The details of the treaty Hannibal struck with Philip V of Macedon, for example, where the Macedonians would assemble a fleet of 200 ships and harry the west coast of Italy as well as operations on land. Once the Romans had been defeated, Macedon would be given control of the Illyrian coast and Hannibal would assist Philip to defeat his Greek enemies.

Over the period of the Second Punic War there were a number of naval expeditions, mostly in and around Sicily. Bomilcar in 212 with 130 war galleys and 700 transport ships sailing to Sicily to rescue Syracuse from the Romans was one such expedition.  Over this period, Rome maintained some measure of control over the sea between Africa and Sicily but there were many other  areas where control of the sea was not so complete.

DeSantis also notes that the Carthaginians may have been reluctant to try their hand against Rome at sea as the First Punic War and the naval defeats there were only a generation previously.

Part V: Destroying Carthage

Chapter 28 – Roman Naval Operation in the East
Chapter 29 – A Third War with Carthage

Interestingly, DeSantis notes as well about this period, “the First Macedonian War (215-205), fought as part of the larger Second Punic War, had sputtered along once the Romans lost interest in it.” In chapter 28 he surveys the Roman naval operations in and around Greece, especially with regards to the Second Macedonian War and makes mention of the monster galley building of the Hellenistic monarchs (for further detail on those monster galleys, I can suggest Giant Hellenistic warships with more than 7000 crew members).

To conclude his work, DeSantis notes a number of changes in Roman Society as a result of the Punic Wars. He contends that the huge influx on slaves after the First Punic War changed the state from one of yeoman farmers into a state with great inequality among the citizenry. The appearance of the patron-client relationship over this period as well would cause issues for the later Republic. This relationship first appeared in the Second Punic War. As more provinces were added to the Roman Empire, the equites or knights became more and more wealthy as the class that were the tax collectors. This stymied any future attempts of the aristocrats to return Italian peasant farmers to the land as well as causing provincial populations to hate the state as a result of the deprivations of the tax collectors.

The Romans also simplified their ship building (as did the Carthaginians for that matter), preparing premade parts and stockpiling them, building the ship as a large kit. Rome settled on two ship designs over the period, the being based on the Carthaginian war galley that had run aground in 264 and the second on the vessel of Hannibal the Rhodian, captured in 250.

DeSantis’ book is a good survey of Rome’s efforts at sea and the effects of the strategy and tactics involved in the period covered. He discusses the effects of battles and political manoeuvring, including its effects on the struggles underway on land. This is a great read, and one I have been waiting to read since I read A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC – Marc G DeSantis last year (yes, I know, read them in the wrong order). I am happy to recommend this book to anyone interested in ancient history, military history, naval history, classic naval warfare. I will admit to having learnt a few new things here, especially about Queen Teuta and her conflict with Rome.

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.

A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC – Marc G DeSantis – Review

Apart from reading Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees, at the same time I was also reading A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War – Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC published by Pen & Sword Maritime in 2017, ISBN 978 1 47386 158 9.

The book is the result of DeSantis’s research for his previous book, Rome Seizes the Trident, where he looked at Rome’s eventual defeat of Carthage at sea by the application of simple tactics against a more skillful opponent along with steadfast resolve. The Athenian fleet (skillful mariners) were brought low by Syracusan blunt force, prow-to-prow tactics.

The Peloponnesian War was largely decided by battles and a strategy at sea. When Athens’ control of the sea crumbled, so did its empire. The classical sources used for the book are Thucydides, Plutarch, Diodorus and Xenophon.

The Naval History of the Peloponnesian War commences with a number of maps of the area of operations as well as a map of the Battle of Arginusae. The book is then divided into 5 main parts parts 3 to 5 consisting of the usual split of the war:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Trireme
  3. The Archidamian War
  4. The Sicilian Expedition
  5. The Ionian War

There are also a Preface, Conclusions, Notes, Bibliography and Index. The itself book covers the naval history of the 27 years of conflict that was the Peloponnesian War.

DeSantis outlines the struggle in the Introduction, noting that Sparta supported by Persian gold eventually overcame Athens although it was the loss of the Athenian fleet at Syracuse that signaled the end for Athens rather than any action of Sparta.

DeSantis traces the war from the sources, first looking at the causes of the war presented by Thucydides as he saw it and he mostly relies on Thucydides’s narrative to 411 BC. Xenophon picks up the tale from then along with Diodorus of Siculus. Plutarch of Chaeronea writing some 500 years or so later in his Parallel Lives looks at the biographies of the Athenians Themistocles, Cimon, Pericles, and Alcibiades along with the Spartan Lysander. Lastly the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia also mentions wartime events including the Athenian seaborne campaign in Asia Minor in 409 BC and the Battle of Notium in 406 BC. These then are the classical references used by DeSantis.

DeSantis covers the economics of the naval build-up of Athens, noting that the 100 talents (600,000 drachmae) in silver extracted from the Laurium silver mines was sufficient to build 200 triremes. He then notes that Pericles estimated the same cost for each year of war against Sparta.

In the second section the author examines the trireme (triers in Greek) with Thucydides identifying Corinth as the first to construct a trireme although there is a competing theory that the trireme may have actually originated in the east with the Sidonian of Phoenicia (trikrotis naus) or the Phoenicans themselves constructing the first such vessels.

The construction of the triremes of Athens is covered including details of where the wood and pitch was sourced from along with the number of men required to move a trireme up the 1 in 10 ramp into its shed (140) as well as take it back into the water (110). One thing that had not occurred to me before but perhaps should of is that there were different quality triremes. The best were known as exairetoi (selects) while others were identified as first, seconds or thirds. Old vessels were converted for troop transport – with a converted trireme able to transport 85 soldiers.

Tactics are covered with discussions of sailing with the wind and under the power of oars. Masts and sails were generally taken down before battle and preferably left on shore to lighten the load in the trireme prior to battle. The main battle manoeuvres are described, being the diekplous and the periplous. Less skillful fleets relied on coming alongside and boarding the enemy.

Rounding out his review of the trireme, DeSantis covers shipboard fighting, funding a fleet, the officers on board, payment on campaign, and propulsion.

DeSantis then moves on the Archidamian War which started when Corcyra and Corinth came to blows over Epidamnus. He looks at:

  • The Battle of Sybota
  • Potidaea
  • The Athenian empire and rival coalitions
  • The Battle of Chalcis
  • The Battle of Naupachus
  • The Attack on Piraeus
  • The Revolt at Lesbos
  • The Second Battle of Sybota
  • Pylos and Sphacteria
  • Strait of Messana engagements
  • Expeditions to Corinth and Corcyra
  • Attack on Nisaea
  • Delium
  • Brasidas’s campaign
  • Amphipolis
  • Meude
  • The Peace of Nicias
  • The Fate of Melos

The next part covers the whole hubristic disaster for Athens that was the Sicilian Expedition.

Lastly the Ionian War is examined. After the defeat in Sicily, the Athenians were spurred on to lock down their Ionian allies, and ensure Euboea in particular remained within the empire. The author looks at:

  • Alcibiades’s seduction of Timaea, the wife of King Agis
  • Alcibiades’s undermining Persian efforts to assist the Peloponnesians
  • The Battle of Cynossema
  • The Battle of Abydos
  • The Battle of Cyzicus
  • Alcibiades and the Athenian plundering expeditions
  • Action off Mytilene
  • The Battle of Arginusae
  • The Battle of Aegospotami

DeSantis concludes with the eventual defeat of the Athenian Empire.

While there were many land battles throughout the Peloponnesian War, it was at sea that Athens was at first strong, then later faltered.

I very much enjoyed this book, especially as I was reading it at the same time as Great Battles of the Classical Greek World. There was some overlap between the two books so taking an alternate view on some matters was a benefit.

If you are a naval tragic like me, and an ancient history addict as well, this book will serve well as an overview of the Peloponnesian War from the naval perspective. Thucydides and Xenophon are still the main sources to read but DeSantis’s book is both easy to read and factual.

This is a good book providing a good amount of detail and covering one the more exciting stories from Ancient Greece. I am now looking for my copy of Thucydides to read further into this conflict again, one that I have not looked at for about 30 years. Recommended.

Great Battles of the Classical Greek World – Review

A book I received some time ago and have been slowly reading is Great Battles of the Classical Greek World by Owen Rees, published by Pen & Sword Military in 2016, ISBN 978 1 47382 729 5. The book is divided into four familiar main subject areas and a conclusion. Each of the parts are then split into between three and six Chapters covering various significant battles:

  1. The Peloponnesian War
    • The Battle of Olpae (426/5 BC)
    • The Battle of Delium (424 BC)
    • The Battle of Amphipolis (422 BC)
    • The First Battle of Mantinea (418 BC)
  2. The Spartan Hegemony
    • Battle of the Nemea (394 BC)
    • Battle of Coronea (394 BC)
    • The Battle of the Long Walls of Corinth (392 BC)
    • The Battle of Lechaeum (390 BC)
    • The Battle of Leuctra (371 BC)
    • The Second Battle of Mantinea (362 BC)
  3. Siege Warfare
    • The Siege of Plataea (429-427 BC)
    • The Sieges of Pylos and Sphacteria (425 BC)
    • The Siege of Syracuse (415-413 BC)
    • The Siege of Drilae (400 BC)
  4. Greco-Persian conflicts
    • The Battle of Marathon (490 BC)
    • The Battle of Plataea (479 BC)
    • The Battle of Cunaxa (401 BC)
  5. Conclusions

I have run across some of Owen Rees’s writing before in the Ancient Warfare magazine. Rees’s narrative style makes this book easy to read with discrete footnoting at key points through each chapter. The footnotes are presented as endnotes and so do not distract from the narrative but still enable the reader to check source material or other references at leisure.

The first two parts of the book examine battles in two key areas of Classical Greek military history – the Peloponnesian War and the Rise and Fall of Sparta. The third part examines Greek Siege Warfare whilst the fourth section deals with the Greco-Persian conflicts. Including this the fourth section was a decision by Rees because it is clear that “the Greeks did not fight the Persians in the same manner in which they fought one another, but placing this conflict at the beginning allows a false image to arise concerning Greek battle, and Greek tactics in turn” (Rees, 2016, p. xvi). Rees therefore covers the internal conflicts of the Greeks first to develop an image of Greek warfare before dealing with their interaction with the Persians.

The structure of each of the chapters is consistent with the first section being the background and identifying the classical sources used for that battle. This is then followed by a description and location (where possible) of the battlefield. The armies are then examined followed by a description of the battle itself, with specific references to the sources as well as maps outlining the probably deployment of the forces present. The last section is the aftermath of the battle.

For example, chapter 3 deals with the Battle of Amphipolis (422 BC). The Background identifies the sources for this battle as Thucydides, (IV.70, 78-88, 102-V.3) and Diodorus (XII.67.3-68.6, 72-3). The Battlefield is identified as outside the walls of Amphipolis and Amphipolis is located by Rees in a U-Bend of the River Strymon. The armies are discussed and any assumptions about troops presented. So for the Battle of Amphipolis, Brasidas’s army is noted as a conglomerate force of allies under his command, some 6,500 men strong. The size of Cleon’s army is not known but it appears that his force was roughly the same size, or a little larger.

The battle itself is then described with the references for that being Thucydides V.6-11 and Diodorus XII-74. The battle description includes three maps representing the three phases of the battle. The Aftermath of the battle is then discussed:

After Brasidas fell in battle, he was dragged back into the walls of Amphipolis where he held on to life, waiting to hear news from the battlefield. A messenger was sent to inform the city of the Athenian rout and, with victory ringing in his ears, Brasidas was able to release his final breath in the knowledge that his legend had been cemented in the history of his beloved Sparta.

Clearidas brought the army back into Amphipolis and, in full armaments, they buried their commander in a tomb at the front of the agora. This spot became the focus of a hero-cult dedicated to the man the Amphipolitans appointed their new founder of the city – replacing the true founder, Hagnon the Athenian.

For Athens, the defeat, alongside the defeat at Delium, was too much for them to consider continuing the war. Similarly the Spartans were still trying to recover from their embarrassing defeat at Pylos and no amount of success in Chalcidice was enough to compensate for this. A ten-year peace was finally agreed and, although in fact it only lasted seven years, this gave both sides time to recover from their tragic losses (Rees, 2016, p. 40).

Apart from the five parts mentioned above, the book also contains a glossary covering technical words from the book, a section of Notes (endnotes) from each chapter, a bibliography, an index and six useful URLs for further research.

Overall, Rees’s book is well supported with tactical diagrams through each chapter. Rees is also willing to challenge popularly held beliefs, such as the invincibility of the Spartans.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book to those interested in Classical Greek Warfare or the development of Hoplite tactics. The short chapters make the book the perfect companion with a fine coffee and a spare 20 minutes. The book itself has inspired me to look further into Greek warfare again and to start a collection of Ancient Greek armies to wargame these battles.

An Interlude

Figures bases are soaked n water which generally weakens the bond with the glue
Figures bases are soaked n water which generally weakens the bond with the glue

Before settling into the next painting project I thought I’d take the opportunity to rebase some 15mm ancient Greeks I had purchased some time ago from eBay. They were all on different bases and some were based incorrectly. In addition I had had some Greeks painted to basic standard and they needed basing as well.

A good soak, a quick bit of finger work and most of them were separated from their basis – all except the Psiloi that had been based on solid plastic bases. They took a little skilful knife work.

The rare earth magnet under the hoplite base
The rare earth magnet under the hoplite base

I also have a lot of hoplites based on a plastic base with a rare earth magnet underneath that allows them to stick to a metal surface. Unfortunately, the rare earth magnet was not really strong enough for the job. I was therefore looking at ripping these off the bases, repairing any spears damaged as a result and then re-gluing them to new bases.

The lady came up with a suggestion however. “Why don’t you stick them to the new bases as they are?”

“They’d be too tall”, says I.

“Try one”, says she.

The "too high" hoplites
The “too high” hoplites

I did. Now I can’t decide either way. I guess it’s OK. See how I feel in a week!

A 15mm Diversion – Ancient Greeks

DSC01434A little while back Anthony and I decided that we needed a little 15mm DBA action here in Singapore. Whilst I am building 6mm DBA armies, Anthony is being a bit conservative with the old “too small, can’t see them” arguments. We shall see on that note.

So, 15mm DBA. What was it going to be? Beer was produced and a planning session started. After some discussion, we decided that Ancient Greeks offered a good possibility. We had not really decided on Early or Late Hoplite Greek, just Ancient Greek.

Anthony had an interest in Spartans, so, as it looked like the Peloponnesian War was going to erupt in Singapore, the Delian League seemed appropriate for me.

I knew Anthony wasn’t planning on painting figures but rather would buy painted. I wondered how I was going to find time to paint and so thought “nah, let’s have a look for painted figures!”

Off to eBay I went and found some light infantry and hoplites (both armoured and unarmoured). I needed about 12 elements of Hoplites but over achieved and ended up buying 32 elements (it was a good deal). Oh well, some big battle DBA coming up.

I also needed some peltasts so some more hunting and I found some 15mm Thracians. Add some Thessalian Light Horse and four elements of Greek Cavalry and I have enough for two or three Greek DBA armies now. I also ended up buying some new Old Glory 15mm Greek cavalry as a plan B when I could not find any painted ones so I may just paint those up as well.

In the typical model of megalomania found in most true wargamers, I am also considering the odd purchase of more painted hoplites to take the army up to DBMM size. I was also thinking that as the Persian War was the lead in to the Peloponnesian War that perhaps I should look for the odd Persian as well.

Look out KL, I may actually get to your annual DBA competition this year! 

Plataea 479 BC – Part 2

plataea
I finally finished reading this and I am glad I did. Already, as a result of the first quick look, Anthony and I had decided to expand our little ancient Greek project to include the Persian invasion. I thought I had a good understanding of the politics, military systems and battlegrounds of this conflict but Shepherd’s book has me reaching for other reference works as I reassess my understanding of this conflict of systems.

The coverage of the forces, commanders and opposing plans sets the stage for the conflicts to come. A good interpretation of Herodotus along with a review of other sources and secondary works makes this book one of the few that actually covers the battle of Plataea.

The illustrations of Peter Dennis are very evocative and help bring the text further to life. I particularly like “the Most Glorious Victory Ever Known” illustration on pages 70-71 and want my Greeks and Persians to look like that.

The battle maps really help to understand the flow of the battle and Shepherd’s interpretation of it. It is also quite nice to have an Osprey where the supporting photos are generally all colour and not taken in the 1950s – modern photos of the supporting materials.

Well done William, this is a wonderful addition to the Osprey range and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with an interest in ancient history generally and the Greek and Persian Wars in particular.

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

Wanted – Some Greek Cavalry

For one of the many wargame projects I have running here I need some Greek Cavalry. I have some Thessalian light horse already so I’m looking for 9 to 12 painted 15mm Greek Cavalry – either from the Early or Later Hoplite period. Basing not required. I have picked up enough figures off eBay to do pretty much all the Greek DBA Armies (or at least, two sides at a time). The only thing missing is the Greek cavalry.

Anyone got any?

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