I always dread when Osprey authors accept to take on the rather impossible task of writing in some 64 pages about a multi secular period. For me, it feels like the author decided to play with loaded dice and has somehow staked the odds against himself. Sometimes (although not very often) it works out well. In other cases, it becomes more or less problematic and this volume if one of the "problematic" ones.
The first problem of having to cram masses of content covering three centuries (AD 900 to 1204) within some 64 pages is the risk of being rather superficial. The second is the risk of leaving out whole pieces of the subject while concentrating on others. The third risk is to emphasize continuity and somewhat underplay changes, whether in the infantry's functions and roles or in its equipment.
To some extent, this volume exhibits all three risks. Portrayed as being about the Byzantine infantryman from about 900 to 1204, it really focuses on the 10th century, as shown by the plates, with the 11th assumed to be mostly "more of the same", and the 12th century limited to a single plate. The descriptions of Byzantine infantry equipment, and the pieces of the various types of body protection, are particularly good, but even there, it is assumed, rather than demonstrated that they also apply to the second half of the 11th and to the 12th century.
Also good is the section on the experience of battle - with, in particular, a very telling illustration of the "grim effectiveness of ancient weaponry and the ferocity of battle", and more generally, the sections on "conditions of service", "belief and belonging" and "on campaign.
There are, however, major problems with the historical background piece and the chronology, which contains numerous (I counted almost twenty of them!) and rather surprising mistakes which I will not bother to list in this review (I was surprised, for instance, to learn wthat Venice was a "colony" of Byzantium!). Also misleading in this section is the presentation of the "force structure" almost exactly as they were under the Strategikon (which Leo's Taktika largely copied), given the impression of a uniform display of units with fixed numbers in each of them. While Leo did copy his 6th century predecessor, we essentially do not know whether the description he gave in his Taktika really reflected the organization of his forces of vwhether it was one of these antiquarian "topoi" that could be expected by such an "armchair general". The author, however, seems to take everything for granted...
on 10 July 2008
Countless books have been written on the subject of Classical Roman warfare, but very little has been written on the Byzantines in comparison.
Dr. Timothy Dawson, a Historian and re-enactor has tried re-adress this balance. In this book he sets out to describe the Byzantine infantryman: his equipment; tools; weapons and armour. As well as describing the Byzantine infantry's appearance he also attempts to reconstruct a typical infantryman's experiences, as in his training; conditions of service; experience of battle; and life on campaign. The book is very illuminating in this regard, and it should act as a great introduction to the topic for any non-expert.
Dozens of photographs, basic maps and line drawings help compliment the text. The use of a chronological timeline, a glossary, a guide to re-enactment and museums and a bibliography are also extremly useful.
A special not should be made about the colour plates by Angus McBride. McBride was the foremost artist for Osprey Pulishing, and he provided countless wonderful paintings for this series over the last 30 years. The 8 colour plates for this book are Angus's last ever published art as he died before the book's publication. It is a real shame that we'll never see another Osprey title illustrated by McBride, and he will be sadly missed.
A well written and well illustrated title on the Byzantine Warriors. A must have for anyone who has an interest in this period of history.