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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story but poor editing and some flaws, 16 April 2012
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This review is from: Mithridates the Great: Rome's Indomitable Enemy (Hardcover)
This is a good introduction to Mithridate the Great and it tells the story of Rome's most persistent ennemy in the last century of the Republic with talent. The military and diplomatic developments are particularly good, showing how the king timed his attacks to make use of Rome's internal problems. The book's structure is clear. It is easy to read and it presents a concise yet comprehensive picture of events for an otherwise less well known and complex period of the history of Greece and Asia Minor.

There are however some problems, most of which are concentrated in the introduction (6 mistakes altogether). Some of these may be related to the usual low standard of editing that can be found in the Pen & Sword collection. For instance, Mithridate was NOT born in 120 BC. The Seleukids after their defeat at Magnesia in 190 BC was certainly NOT "content to allow their empire to moulder slowly away" so that the opposition made by the author with the Macedonian Antigonid is simply wrong. Rather, the Seleukids fought the Parthians every inch of the way until 139 BC (about 50 years!) because these were threatening to take over Media and Mesopotamia - two of the empire's richest regions and it is incorrect to state that after Magnesia there was little to limit the Parthian state's expansion. Also, Armenia was NOT "originally part of the empire of Alexander the Great" and, of course, the Colossus of Rhodes was raised by the Rhodians to commemorate their victory against Demetrius (son of Antigonus) and NOT the Seleukids. Finally, Priene is the name is a relatively small Greek city-state of Asia Minor and not, as suggested by the text, a principality that has previously been a Seleukid administrative area.

Fortunately, the book improves considerably afterwards, but the introduction does leave a rather bad first impression that a reader who knows a bit about the Hellenistic period needs to overcome. One very good point is the author's mention that the Romans were in fact defeated several times by Mithridate's armies and that the pro-Roman sources did everything possible to minimize these defeats when they didn't simply ignore them. However, probably because of space constraints, the author does not sufficiently insist on Pontic victories and on the fact that it took first class Roman generals such as Sylla as Lucullus to beat the Pontic armies. Another limitation, also due to space constraints, is that the author does not discuss in detail the huge discrepancies in numbers with Pontic troops being at one point (and according to Pro-Roman sources) more than six times stronger that the Romans (120000 against 17000 or 18000) who nevertheless won. A simple explanation that would significantly reduce such a discrepancy is to consider that the number for the Pontic army is a total that includes non-combattants and that actual combattants may have been around half that total (a number similar to that gathered by the much more powerful Antiochus III a century before). As for Sylla's army, this could include Romans only. If this is the case, and knowing that he heavily relied on Greek allies ande mercenaries for ilght troops and cavalry, the size of his army may be in fact double the number given by the sources. A battle opposing 30000 Roman and allies/mercenaries against6 60000 Pontics would, of course, be somewhat more plausible. Unfortunately, none of this is discussed due to size constraints...

So, this is a good introduction to Mithridates and his wars and a good summary for a general reader. It is however a pity that size constraints have, once again, cut down analysis and discussions to a minimum so that, in many cases, the author is obliged to go along with the very implausible numbers that the author's come up with. And, once again, the editing is rather poor...
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