7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing and potentially confusing,
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This review is from: Macedonian Armies after Alexander 323-168 BC (Men-at-Arms) (Paperback)
I largely aggree with the other three star review on Amazon.co.uk: there isn't a huge amount of substance and whatever there is arguable and should have been subjetc to a disclaimer. Having mentioned this, however, this little Osprey could have been made significantly better.
Right from the beginning, the section titled "The historical background" was rather problematic. The choice of title alone, and the fact that over a century and a half are summarized and crammed into three and a half pages, shows that this is conceived as no more than a very high level introduction. I found this rather surprising since the history of the Kingdom of Macedon and of its Kings is linked somewhat closely to that of its armies, to sat the least. Nocholas Sekunda could have at least tried to alleviate the supposedly limited information available on arms, equipment, appearances and unit organization of the post Alexandian and Antigonid armies. In fact, there are a number of books published on the Antigonids, including some that he has not bothered to mention in his bibliography, such as a biography of Antigonos Doson (BC 229 to 221). It would have been useful for the author to rely on it, especially since it is not accessible in English and contains a rather significant section on the Macedonian army and some excellent developments on Macedonian campaigns and battles, especially Sellasia. However, Sekunda chose not to do so.
Even if not willing to tell the history of the Macedonian Army after Alexander, which might have been somewhat difficult to squeeze into this very limited format, I was at least expecting some assessment of the Macedonian armies' perfomances against his ennemies including the various Greek Leagues, Illyrians and Celts (and not only the usual flawed comparisons against the Roman legions with the usual overreliance on the somewhat biaised Polybios and Livy). However, there is none of this either. Simply nothing at all...
Then there is the contents of the so-called "historical background" which, despite its size (and perhaps, in some cases, because of it!) still manages to be problematic in several respects. Its deliberately small size means that the author keeps "cutting corners" and simplifying. So, for instance, you learn about Lysimachos "defeated and killed at Kouropedion by another coalition of monarchs" in 281, but you do not learn that "all the work" was essentially done by Seleukos who was shortly afterwards assassinated by Ptolemy Keraunos who took over his army AND what was left of that of Lysimachus, proclaimed himself King of Macedon but was cut to pieces by the invading Galatian (Celts) in BC 279. Instead, after a vague reference to "marauding Galatian barbarians" (they were rather more than "marauding", by the way), the author jumps to the victory of Antigonos Gonatas two years latter. This King had the longest reign of all (almost 40 years) and made sure that Macedon retained control of Greece and remained a major, if much poorer, power that both the Seleukids and the Ptolemies had to count with. Sekunda has almost nothing to say about his reign which ended in BC 239 and probably was the apogee of the Macedonian Kingdom of the Antigonid. Neither does he have much to say about Antigonus Doson, who, despite being ill with consumption (tuberculosis), spend his short reign almost constantly on campaign, defeating all of the numerous ennemies of the Kingdom who had taken the opportunity to invade as soon as his predecessor had died, living an infant son (the future Philip V) behind. Doson finally died on the battlefield after a crushing victory against the Illyrians. Allegedly, he died by laughing so much that he burst a blood vessel but this was not "in battle", but after having won the battle against the odds. The entire reign of Philip V (another 42 years) is worth just about 24 lines - 2 paragraphs with one of them being of course about his first encounter with Rome. Finally, the second encounter and the defeat of Perseus is evacuated in five lines, with another seventeen mentioning three further revolts over the next thirty years.
What you do get instead are mostly detailed, but sometimes almost confusing, explanations and descriptions of the various pieces of equipment used by the various units of the army, complete with measures of shields and sarissa. You also get explanations and discussions about the various units, what they really were (at least according to the author) and what they could corresponded to. You also need to bear in mind that the meaning of Greek words tended to change over time. A given word did not always have the same meaning in - say - 200 BC as it had in the time of Alexander - just to make things even more confusing... So, in addition with a certain amount of confusion, I found this title rather dry and uninteresting. In addition, and just like the other reviewer, I simply did not like the plates very much. A wasted opportunity: it could have been so much better because there was a much more interesting story to tell...
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Dec 2012 09:31:07 GMT
Chitanous Exoskeleton says:
I don't think you understand how short an Osprey Men-At-Arms book really is. There is simply no space to go into extensive detail on the historical background, especially something as complex as the Hellenistic age. The author's remit is to write about how the army was dressed, armed and organised, and not to expend thousands of words repeating banal stuff you can find on Wikipedia. Although the book is far from perfect, it offers a huge amount of new information from little known primary sources and hellenistic art. There are also new ideas that will shake up the historical establishment and gaming communities, not least the argument that the leukaspides ('white shield' line infantry, previously thought to be Macedonian pikemen) are one and the same as Celtic thureophoroi (with their white-felt-faced oval shields).
In reply to an earlier post on 22 Dec 2012 14:11:38 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Dec 2012 14:35:29 GMT
Same answer as the one posted on Amazon.com, since this is a duplicated comment.
Look at the other Osprey Men-At-Arms series and compare for yourself. You will see that at least some of them definitely do find the space to provide background and context. Besides, the series is not - and has not been - targeted at the narrow audience that you describe for a very long time. Finally, I (and many other readers!) expect Osprey publications, to do much better than simply "repeating banal stuff (you could have added "and often inaccurate"!) you can find on Wikipedia.
Others do it and I am quite sure than Mr Sekunda could have done it also, had he wanted to. It would also have been extremely useful, since the history of Macedonia after Alexander is poorly known and the references are rather scaterred, difficult to access and often expensive or out of print. Also, writting a book on an army, whatever this army may be, but limiting yourself to organization, troop types, armes and uniforms is, at best, telling half the story (hence two stars where it could have been worth four). How about the army's leadership (at least some of the post-Alexandrian battle-kings were pretty impressive, despite being little-known) and how about its performances in the field? How about saying something about the ways in which it adapted to the threats it faced over some 150 years? All of this is missing in this book.
The army wasn't exactly decorative and the missing elements are at least as important than disputing whether the leukaspides and the thureophoroi (who were not all Celtic, by the way!) were the same or not. What would, for instance, have been at least as interesting than this rather narrow piece of scholarship would have been to discuss why thureophoroi became more important during the third century and from which troop type did they evolve from (pikement or peltats? Although even this distiction is a bit of an arbitrary one, according to some historians) . Once the "big picture" issues had been dealt with, we could then have been treated with the usual discussions and the author's rather personal interpretations as to whether this or that name referred to this or that troop type...
So, definitely a missed opportunity in my mind, even if it worked well for you...
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