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He Died Young,
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This review is from: Pyrrhus of Epirus (Hardcover)
According to Plutarch, Antigonos, when asked who was the best general of the generation following Alexander, replied “Pyrrhus, if he lives to be old”.
From the author’s preface:
“His life would span the period of history known as the ‘age of the Successors’… The Successors were those generals of Alexander the Great, who would, to quote Plutarch, ‘carve up his empire like the carcass of some great slaughtered beast’…
Although this book is primarily a narrative history, any course of historical events cannot be understood in isolation. There will be, therefore, a number of short discourses on topics that are relevant to the general historical context of the period. Topics covered will include: the military developments of both the Greeks and Romans in the period immediately before Pyrrhus’ reign; short histories of Rome’s expansion into southern Italy and the conflicts between the Greeks and Carthaginians in Sicily; the character of Hellenistic kingship and the nature of the relationships between the Greek cities and the kings. This last theme is important in understanding the eventual failure of Pyrrhus’ expeditions to both Italy and Sicily… The first chapter will mainly be concerned with giving the background to the wars of the Successors and how Epirus, and more particularly the Epirot royal family, were drawn into these events.”
That basically sums up the book - it is a straightforward account of the life and campaigns of Pyrrhus. The chapters are:
Notes, Bibliography, Index – pp140-156.
The book is well written and as authoritative as you can be given the lack of contemporary sources for much of the Successors’ activities. The maps are good, and the reconstructed battle plans are very interesting (and useful for wargamers).
Recommended further reading would be John D. Grainger’s Alexander the Great Failure: The Collapse of the Macedonian Empire (Hambledon Continuum). The opening chapters on the early history of Macedon, the kingship and succession crises will give you a great understanding of the almost identical problems faced by Epirus. Much of that book focuses on the view from Macedon of the age of the Successors, and Pyrrhus and Epirus play a big part.
Nick Sekunda’s Hellenistic Infantry Reform in the 160s BC (Studies in the Ancient and Medieval Art of Warfare) has some interesting information on Pyrrhus in the Appendices. From Appendix A - The evidence for Roman influence on Hellenistic armies before the Third Macedonian War:
The first Appendix discusses Pyrrhus’s army reforms –“Ever since the Macedonian phalanx first emerged as a tactical formation, there existed a danger that the frontage would rupture if the phalanx was required to move forward for any distance over rough terrain… It seems that Pyrrhus was the first commander to attempt to solve this problem by alternating blocks of pike-men and medium infantry in the front line. According to Polybius… Pyrrhus made use of Roman weapons and of Italian troops, placing a maniple… of Italians alongside a phalanx block… in his battles with the Romans… The maniples of Italians would have served as flexible ‘joints’ between the pike-blocks, enabling the latter to deliver a series of individual ‘hammer-blows’ without disrupting the line. In this way the phalanx could ‘articulate’ and a rupture in the line was prevented.”
“An ‘articulating’ phalanx also seems to have been the tactical formation used at the battle of Magnesia in 190 BC, where Antiochus the Great deployed the pikemen of the Seleucid army as follows:
…”There were 16,000 infantry armed in the Macedonian manner, who are called phalangites. They formed the centre of the line, and their frontage was divided into 10 parts; and these parts were separated by intervals in which two elephants were placed (Livy)”. “The appearance of the phalanx was like that of a wall, of which the elephants were the towers (Appian)” Each of the elephants would have been accompanied by a guard of an uncertain number of infantry.”
“We have seen that it was reasonably common practice for the phalanxes of third century Hellenistic armies to be drawn up in articulating phalanx blocks until the battle of Magnesia. It seems that this ‘articulating phalanx’ was a military innovation of Pyrrhus, the result of his experiences in the Italian Campaign. Pyrrhus was clearly influenced by manipular tactics. There is no indication, however, that later armies used weapons other than the traditional ones of the phalanx.” And so on.