34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
I have been waiting for this book to be published for a long time, since I happen to have more than a passing interest in Byzantium, and in its military and political history in particular. I must admit that I am rather disappointed but what turns out to be a problematic book in many respects.
The first issue is the book's scope, or perhaps should I have written the author's intentions? Both are rather uncertain, not to say confusing
"Road to Mantzikert", a battle that opposed the Byzantine army lead by Romanos IV Diogenis to the Seljuk Turks and ended with the defeat of the Byzantines and the capture of the Emperor. So you could believe that this book was about Byzantium's so-called "crisis of the XI century" or that it is a story of the Mantzikert campaign and the few others that preceded a battle that has traditionnally been protrayed as an utter disaster. This is, however, only the topic of Chapter 5, so it is NOT quite the case. The subtitle then tells you that the book is in fact about "Byzantine and Islamic Warfare", while giving 527-1071 AD as the dates of the period covered. Accordingly, I was expecting an analysis of conflcits opposing the various Byzantine armies against the various Islamic ones over the period. This is NOT what I got, since the book contains a section on the wars of Justinian, a chapter on early Islamic warfare, where battles at the time of the Prophet (which should more accuratly been portrayed as skirmishes) as conflated with the conquest of Arabia, then of the eastern provinces of Byzantium (Palestine, Syria, Egypt etc...) and of the Sassanid Empire. Then, in "Byzantine Warfare in an Age of Crisis and Recovery", you also get treated to the conflicts between Byzantium and the various Bulgarian Kingdoms.
So, in practice, this book appears to be an concealed attempt to superseed John Haldon's "Byzantine Wars", first published in 1999. Unfortunately, the original is still much better than the imitation for several reasons (in addition to having a much clearer scope):
- Haldon's book starts by setting the scene: geography of the Empire, its communications, its strategic issues (war on two or more fronts). This book starts with a piece on the historiography of Mantzikert - how historians and populations have viewed and interpreted this battle, and how these views have evolved and changed over time. So, somewhat confusingly, "Road to Mantzikert" starts with the end and then jumps back to the beginning, that is the wars and the armies at the time of Justinian and up to Herakleios
- This chapter (Byzantine Warfare from Justinian to Herakleios) is perhaps the most revealing: the battles that the authors chose to illustrate are the same as those analyzed by Haldon (Dara, against the Persians, Tricameron, against the Vandals, Taginae and Casilinus, against the Goths and the Franks). None of them has anything to do with Islamic Warfare and none of the battles actually fought by Herakleios is analyzed, let alone any of the battles fought under the reigns of Maurikios (582-602) or even Tiberios II (regent 547-578 and reigned 578-582). Moreover, Haldon's presentation, where the main sources are listed at the end of each chapter, with sources specified for each of the main battles, is preferable, both from a general reader's viewpoint and for a researcher. Finally, there are multiple inaccuracies - I counted about 20 in this chapter alone. Most of them are just exagerations and/or simplifications, such as stating that Justinian relied on the "battlefied genius" of Belisarios and of Narses. The term is rather excessive. Besides, Justinian was lucky to have a whole pool of experienced and talented generals from which he could draw, such as his cousin Germanus, but also Mundus in the earlier part of the reign, Sittas, John the Armenian, and half a dozen other competent generals...
- I particularly liked the pieces on the early battles of Islam and the Conquest of Arabia, although, to be honest, I liked them mainly because I knew next to nothing about them before reading this book. Readers should also note that the narratives of the early Arab Conquests are "heavily inspired" (I am trying to be nice here!) by three authors: Hugh Kennedy (Early Arab Conquests), Walter Kaegi (Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests) and David Nicolle's Yarmuk: The Muslim Conquest of Syria (in Osprey).
- Oddly enough, I found that the most interesting piece in the whole book was included in the chapter on the Age of Crisis and REcovery and that deals in detail with the Sieges of Constantinople and the Bulgarian wars. This is probably because the battles described in detail are NOT included in Haldon's piece (Pliska and Anchialos, in particular), although the battle of Dorostolon against the Russians in 976 is covered (and better covered) by Haldon. There is virtually nothing on the reign of Nikephoros II Phokas, the first of the great soldier-emperors, which is rather astonishing for a book dealing with Byzantine warfare, and the wars of Basile II are expedited in less than two pages!
- Then we jump back again to deal with Islamic warfare from 661 to 750, before jumping again to the coming of the Seljuk Turks. This includes the battle of Poitiers in AD 732 opposing Muslims and Franks, which the author - rather strangely - keeps calling the battle of Tours while mentioning that the battle took place about midway between the two cities, which is incorrect (it took place close to, but a few miles away from the actual town of Poitiers). This might be because the author's knowledge of France's geography may be somewhat shaky. I was interesting to learn, for instance, that Orléans was in Burgundy! (page 100). A more charitable interpretation would be that, under the Merovingians, Orléans had indeed been part of the kingdom of Burgundy - so this might be yet another case of sloopy editing and sloopy proof reading which happens so often with the Pen and Sword collection and is rather annoying for readers.
There is, however, a more serious flaw in the book: it simply fails to cover the rise of the Turkish Ghulams from the end of the 8th century onwards, under the Abbassids, and well before the Seljuks ever emerged. Because this major shift in Muslim armies (from "Arab" to "Turk", and from infantry and cavalry to mostly horse archers, at the risk of over-simplifying) is not covered as it should be, the first encounter (in 838) oppposing the Byzantines and this Turkish horse archers serving the Caliph is simply skipped and you get the impression that, all of a sudden, a couple of decades after the death of Basile II (who died AD 1025), the Byzantines were cnfronted with horse archers for the first time and had to work out what to do about them.
However, another good piece in this book is the chapter leading to and describing the battle of Mantzikert in 1071. To give credit where credit is due, this is largely because the chapter combines Alfred Friendly's "The Dreadfull Day: the Battle of Mantzikert", which contains the best account of the events and early campaigns leading up to the battle, with John Haldon's piece of the battle in his "Byzantine Wars" (with its associated bibliography and comments).
Finally, there are some other issues:
- one are further examples of inaccuracies and simplifications, but this tme in the glossary of terms that the author has come up with. Here you learn, for instance, that the limitaneri were a militia made up of retired legionaries mustered to defend their homeland. They became a militia overtime (that is over a century and a half) but, at leat initially, they were very much front line troops and, of course, they were not only made up of "retired legionaries". Another blunder is the definition of a peltastoi as "named after the heavy thick-necked javelin"! The name, of course, comes from the pelta, the light shield in the shape of a crescent that Thracians (the first peltasts) wore in Antiquity. There are a few other annoying bits like that...
- another issue is that this book overuses battle diagrams. Generally, 3 to 5 should be enough to illustrate a battle and the accompanying text. In some cases, you have ten of them (for instance for Yarmuk) or eleven (for Dorostolon). In addition, you have these diagrams for each and every battle. By the time I finished the book, I had got to loathing these diagrams who spelling it out for you, just in case you were too dum to understand the text...
- A third issue is the author's sometimes surprising choices for his select bibliography. Amminianus Marcellinus - a fourth century Roman source gets bunched together with Al-Tabari and others under "Medieval Sources". Then Nicephoros Bryennos gets included but Anna Komnena (his wife and the author of the Alexiad) does not make it to the bibliography. Rather strange, to say the least, and not explained by the author...
- A fourth issue is that the author is sometimes a bit confusing when it gets to numbers. Examples of this includes Persian losses at Dara or the grand total of Belisarios' expeditionary force to reconquer Africa, among others.
So, at the end of this long critical review, I can only advise those wanting to learn about Byzantium's Wars to turn to John Haldon's little book, rather than this one, which is average, at best. Those wanting to go more in-depth can have a look at another of Haldon's book on Byzantine warfare, state and society (which, interestingly, is not listed in this book's biliography, although it is the reference in this field) or, perhaps a bit more general but also easier to read, Mark Whittow's excellent book on the Making of Byzantium (600-1025).
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2012
I enjoyed Brian Todd Carey's Road to Manzikert as an introduction to Byzantine and Islamic warfare over the first six centuries of the medieval period. It highlights changes in military organization, strategy and tactics in the Byzantine, Arab Muslim and Turkish Muslim worlds. The text is clearly written, covering both the Byzantine (chapters 1 and 3) and Islamic subjects (Chapters 2 and 4), and culminating in the important battle of Manzikert in 1071 (chapter 5). This book can also be seen as an update to Alfred Friendly's fine (but dated) The Dreadful Day: The Battle of Manzikert, placing this pivotal engagement between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuk Sultanate in its proper place as a decisive political defeat, rather than a devastating military one.
Carey and his team of cartographers reconstruct numerous battles in multiphase map sequences, including campaigns from Justinian's Persian and Gothic wars, the early battles of Muhammad (Badr, Uhud, and the battle of the Trench), significant battles between Islam and Byzantium and Persia during the Rashidun Caliphate (highlighting the important battles of Yarmuk River and Qadisiya), as well as discussing strategic issues faced by a Byzantine Empire imperiled by a growing Muslim threat to the East and Bulgar and Rus attacks from the North.
At a 164 pages, this work was clearly never designed to go into as much detail as earlier excellent but separate treatments of Byzantine and Islamic warfare by John Haldon, Warren Treadgold, Hugh Kennedy, and others. These works concentrate on either the Byzantine or Islamic martial perspective, and rarely give adequate treatment to both. Road to Manzikert present its reader with an excellent introduction to warfare in this period that includes snippets of relevant primary source readings from Byzantine and Islamic historians, an engaging narrative, and a chronology and two glossaries covering the various characters covered in the work, as well as important military terms. This book is an excellent addition to military history libraries seeking information on early Byzantine and Islamic warfare in one short book.