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This is a good introduction to the subject of ancient warfare. No, it isn't the basic work covering how the Greeks and Romans fought in detail. Mostly it's concerned with their perceptions of warfare and their neighboring peoples (ie: the barbarians). Starting and ending this book is a look at how the army was depicted in the film Gladiator. His argument is that the modern depiction reflects our own impression of the "western way of war" just as art and architecture would for the Greeks and Romans.

This all revolves around Victor Davis Hanson and his rather disgraceful books The Western Way of War and Why the West has Won. Hanson is a far right American nationalist who seems convinced that the last 2500 years of European history represents one continuous manner of fighting: that of the citizen-soldier and the decisive set piece battle. This is despite the first concept only really making sense for a couple of centuries in Classical Greek history (and a few decades in American Colonial history) and the second concept making no sense throughout most of the middle ages or even consistently for the time in question.

Despite being rightfully dismissive of such claims Sidebottom, unlike some other historians, believes that he is representing a real and long-lasting cultural belief started by the Greeks themselves. In his view the Greeks felt that their way of war was superior to barbarians' (for basically the reasons mentioned by Hanson) and this belief was passed on to the Romans who were convinced that the Greeks had gotten soft and lost it. Then the idea was passed down through the middle ages through respect for Roman culture until it reached today. I'm not quite sure if I buy some of the wider-ranging implications of his conclusions but he has convinced me that he is describing an actual phenomenon from the classical period.

That's not all this book is about, though it is the main point. It also looks at the way in which battles were conceived of and details some of the issues argued about by modern historians. If I had a major complaint (apart from the somewhat misleading title) it would be that the frequent pictures are not of very good quality. A good book for the beginner to start on. If you're interested in a more thorough look at ancient warfare I'd check out The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare. It's harder to find (and much more expensive) but it does cover the material in a much more thorough manner.
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on 7 July 2013
This book is a joy to read. It provides fascinating insights into ancient warfare while avoiding being written in a dry, scholarly manner. That isn't to say that the author isn't an expert in what he writes. He clearly is. He just has an engaging writing style that makes reading the book a pleasure.
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on 9 November 2013
A very good introduction to ancient warfare from a leading historian. The book is both easy to read and conveys a large amount of information. The depth and breadth of the authors knowledge of the field makes this book a very good buy.
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on 22 February 2013
I was hoping to read about the art of ancient warfare, but the book contained very little concerning fighting. It was entirely devoted to the social aspects and the author's interpretation of perceptions of war in ancient times.

I think there would be general agreement that when talking about war, the terms tactics and strategy would respectively refer to the way in which individuals and small groups would fight and the major movement of armies to and on the battlefield. Sidebottom makes little mention of tactics and his chapter on strategy deals with the reasons for invading particular regions, i.e. the political motivations rather than the military reasons.

The book is valid in that it offers some interesting conjecture, but it should really be entitled something like, "The Social Implications and Political Motivations of Ancient Warfare".
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on 7 October 2011
Let's get the one criticism I have of the book out of the way. It should probably have been titled "Classical (Western) Ancienmt Warfare:..." Otherwise it is an excellent little treatise to put classical thinking on war in context. In the process dealing with not a few misconceptions and highlighting most modern thinking on the subject.

Just to deal with a few of the comments left by others.

The discussion on the existence or not of a purely Western style of warfare does not take take up an innordinate amount of space.

The complaint about actual military techniques not appearing till chapters 5 should have been prefaced by an admission that chapters 1 - 4 are pretty short. Chapter 5 starts at 38% on my kindle....

As for "A well researched book but unlesss you like factual accounts (with a dry delivery) you really should stick to fiction and factions."... It is a factual book....and certainly not delivered in the a dry scholarly tone. So if you are looking for historical faction this is not the book for you.
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This is an interesting and thought provoking book, though rather than a factual introduction - as the title might suggest - it does rather go off the point into a debate about whether or not there ever was a uniquely Western style of war. Given the contraints implied by the "Very Short Introduction", this is a shame, as there is then little room for the book's proper subject matter: discussion of how ancient wars were actually fought does not appear until chapter 5 (of 7). But it does get going, and is then worth buying for chapters 5 and 6 alone.
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on 14 August 2014
Excellent
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on 15 May 2014
Should you be interested in Warfare in pre-history, this book will not help you; should you be interested in how Assyrians won battles, or Egyptians, or Celts, or Scythians, let alone the Chinese or Indians, you will not be enlightened. We know a certain amount about how Greeks won and a lot about Roman won wars (frequently against Greeks) and that is what you get. Of course history is not merely written by the victor but in this case transmitted by him as well. Perhaps a fairer title might have been Romans at War or Roman Warfare.
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on 4 October 2009
Having read novels by this author I was interested to see what he would write about historical warfare. A well researched book but unlesss you like factual accounts (with a dry delivery) you really should stick to fiction and factions.
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