Armies of the Hellenistic States 323 BC to AD 30 by Gabriele Esposito – Review

I have had an interest in the successor states since I first read Alfred Duggan’s historical fiction, “He Died Old”, which was set in the life and times of Mithradates of Pontus, who fought Rome for around 60 years.

From there it was a short step back to Robin Fox’s “Alexander” for some more academic ancient history. This was at the same time as starting to wargame as a hobby so building a Macedonian Army in 25mm size was a natural step given the interest I had in Alexander. Off to university studying Economics but at the same time managing to squeeze in some Ancient History in between lectures covering Malthus, Adam Smith, Galbraith, Solow, Keynes and Friedman, among others.

Pike phalanxes and Alexander’s Successors led to reading about the political machinations that exceeded even the best the popular soap operas could manage for skulduggery and I was hooked.

Over the years I referenced many Osprey publications as well as those from the Wargames Research Group when painting the models trying to achieve accuracy when painting them.

Gabriele Esposito, well known already for his articles in Karwansaray Publishers Ancient Warfare magazine has turned his attention to the Hellenistic States in a book published by Pen & Sword Military, titled Armies of the Hellenistic States 323 BC to AD 30, History, Organization and Equipment. The book is 155 pages long, (ISBN: 9781526730299) and was published on 17 July 2019.

Esposito has attempted to cover 350 years of Hellenistic history in a single volume analysing the organization and equipment employed by the armies of the Hellenistic States. Alexander the Great died in 323 BC and this resulted in his empire fragmenting into the various states of the Diadochi. Kingdoms were formed from Asia, to  North Africa and the Eastern European areas.

The book covers the complex Hellenistic military forces from the breakdown of Alexander’s empire until contact with the simplified Roman military machine obsoleted the pike phalanxes almost over night (OK, well it might have been over several years but in all interactions between the Legions and Phalanxes the Legions won and excuses were made for the failure of the Phalanx).

The Diadochi fielded armies with thousands of men, chariots, elephants and siege machines. The book covers these armies and analyses the forces of Macedon, the Seleucid Empire, Ptolemaic Egypt, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Armenia, Pergamon, Pontus, Cappadocia, Galatia, the Bosporan Kingdom, Epirus, Sicily, the Achaean League and the Aetolian League.

To take such a broad subject and cover it within 155 pages means that the text rips along and Esposito’s writing style is very easy to read. The book is well illustrated with colourful maps (taken from Wikimedia under the Wikimedia Commons license). To illustrate the uniforms of the time the author has used the resources of a German based Hellenistic re-enactment group, Hetairoi which are a group covering much of the period. The re-enactors are used to illustrate uniforms, armour and weapons, shields and the like all in colour. Particularly impressive are the photos of the pikes.

The book is organised into 15 chapters, and Acknowledgement, Introduction, Bibliography and Index. There is also an appendix that discusses the re-enactors, Hetairoi e.V. (hetairoi is the Greek for “companion” and a reference to Alexander’s companions).

The chapters present are:

  1. The Military Revolution of Philip of Macedon
  2. The Macedonian Army of Alexander the Great
  3. The Succession to Alexander and the Wars of the Diadochi
  4. The Wars of the Hellenistic World
  5. The Armies of the Early Successors
  6. The Antigonid Army
  7. The Ptolemaic Army
  8. The Seleucid Army
  9. The Attalid Army
  10. Hellenistic Anatolia
  11. Pontus, Armenia and the Bosporan Kingdom
  12. The Epirote Army
  13. The Greek Cities
  14. Hellenistic Israel
  15. The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and the Indo-Greek Kingdom

That pretty much covers the entire Hellenistic world post Alexander.

At the end of the book there is a bibliography. Interestingly, after listing some 20 primary sources, Esposito lists the secondary sources he used. These are a mix of academic works such as Bar-Kochva’s, The Seleucid Army to popular works such as Peter Connolly’s, Greece and Rome but by far the largest number of secondary sources are the publications of the Wargames Research Group, Montvert and Osprey. Esposito then lists his 17 secondary article sources, which are all from various issues of the Ancient Warfare Magazine.

This book will be of interest to ancient wargamers and military modellers in particular, full as it is with uniform and weapon detail. It is a good primer on Hellenistic Warfare. It would also interest those undertaking more serious Ancient History studies, at least enabling them to more clearly see uniforms and equipment from the past. Best of all, it is currently on sale at Pen and Sword. I will admit, now I am looking forward to both reading his older work on the Armies of the Late Roman Empire as well as the imminent release of Armies of Celtic Europe 700 BC to AD 106 at the end of next month. Recommended.

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.