This is another Osprey title on Carthaginian armies, but this time in the Warrior series and with coverage limited to the time of the Punic Wars.
The contents are somewhat similar to the more recent title just published by Salimbeti, d’Amato and Rava, although they are also a number of interesting differences that make the two titles complementary rather than redundant.
This title, in particular, insists upon what it meant to be a mercenary soldier and barely scraping a living with pay which was at best irregular and allowances for food which were barely sufficient. It also shows how and why Carthage, which at least initially seems to have relied on an army made up of first-class (the Carthaginians from Carthage) and second-class citizens (the levies of the so-called “Libyan-Phoenicians” subjects or “Africans”) switched to an army made up almost entirely of levies from subjects and mercenaries from around the Mediterranean, except for the senior officers and some of the heavy cavalry. Nic Fields clearly outlines the main reasons, which were about economics with the Carthaginians conducting war like a business and wanting to preserve their citizens’ lives which anyway were not very numerous and may have been largely used to make up the crews of the fleet.
Another merit of this title is to devote quite a lot of space to discussing the recruitment, the living conditions and the mentality and psychology of these mercenaries, as far as we can grasp these elements. One particularly interesting insight is to show to what extent these professional soldiers’ loyalty would go to their comrades in arms and, to the extent that they were both competent and charismatic, to their leaders, as evidenced with the Barcas (but also by a few others).
Then there are the plates, for which I had somewhat mixed feelings, unlike some other reviewers. I loved the one showing Xanthippus boosting his fellow mercenary troops’ morale. I very much liked the Carthaginian conscript citizen, of the type raised by Hannibal just before Zama to make up the numbers, or the Spanish caetrati and the Oscan mercenary, although it is somewhat doubtful that this veteran of Hannibal’s army in Italy would still be wearing his traditional armour just before Zama, especially since their general reequipped most (or perhaps even all) his troops with Roman arms and armour.
However, I had a bit more of a problem with the two plates depicting the Crimisos defeat (341 BC) and the destruction of the Carthaginian “Sacred Band”, on the one hand, and the “street fighting” during the fall of Carthage. I did not find either of them very realistic. In the first, the supposedly “elite” heavy infantry are almost all blundering into the river, with hardly any of them fighting any kind of holding action. While this is possible, of course, I could not help thinking this was a bit of a caricature. It somehow did not “ring true” to me, even if this was no more than a subjective impression.
The so-called “street fighting” – which, more accurately, is about fighting on the rooftops - was even more problematic. Here again, the illustrator seems to have gone a bit “overboard” and overdid the “dramatic effects”. All of the surviving Carthaginians are in rags. Most are wounded. Not a single one of them is armoured or wearing any kind of military equipment, apart from the odd helmet, a spear and a couple of swords. The picture, especially when contrasted with the fully equipped Romans just about to slaughter them, would have been perhaps more realistic if a couple of surviving Carthaginian soldiers have been mixed up with the survivors. Here again, however, this is more about personal subjectivity than anything else.
One last comment is perhaps needed to praise the author for his rather excellent little list of references. All the main ones on Carthage and the Punic Wars are there, including Bagnall, Lazenby, Lancel and Goldsworthy bar one. This missing one is “Carthage must be destroyed”, first published in March 2010, some six months before this title was released. Four solid stars, but not quite five.